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14: The Pimlico House

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Author Topic: 14: The Pimlico House  (Read 1 times)
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« on: March 25, 2023, 06:22:36 am »

HAVING seen Busham commit a felony by burning the will, Ellis left the office. He did not even protest against the destruction of the document, since it was none of his business to do so. Mrs. Moxton, who benefited under the will, had not only handed it over to her enemy, but had advised him to destroy it. She had exchanged it, so to speak, for the knife with which Moxton had been killed, and, in addition, had secured the lawyer's silence by yielding up her property. Silence about what? That was the question Ellis asked himself, and which he put to Cass when reporting the extraordinary scene which had taken place in the Esher Lane office.

"I think I can guess what Busham hinted at," said the reporter. "He accuses Janet Gordon of the crime?"

"Why should he? She had no motive to kill Moxton, so far as I can see."

"Precisely, so far as you can see, Bob. Depend upon it, Busham is certain that Janet Gordon is guilty, and Mrs. Moxton knows that such is the case, else she would not give up her property so freely."

"You mean that she allowed the will to be destroyed so that Busham should not accuse her sister?"

"Yes. All along I said that Mrs. Moxton was shielding some person; now we know who the person is."

"It might be so," said Ellis, reflectively. "Janet Gordon may have rushed out of the house with that knife and have killed Moxton, and afterwards she may have ran weeping to take a cab from so perilous a place. But why did she stab the man? Why? Why?" and Ellis, according to custom, began to pace the room.

"Ah," said Cass, who was resting on the sofa, "you must ask Mrs. Moxton for a reply to that question."

"She won't reply to it. For some reason which I cannot fathom she persistently keeps me in the dark."

"H'm!" mused the journalist. "A dangerous, secretive woman! Don't get your back up, Bob, I am not calling her names. But you must admit that she is secretive, and secretive people are always very dangerous to those of a more open disposition. But how did Mrs. Moxton excuse herself for letting Busham burn the will?"

"I don't know, Harry. I have not seen her since she left the office with that knife concealed in her pocket."

"What! Did she not wait for you outside?"

"No," replied Ellis, gloomily, "there was not a sign of her, although I searched all round. What is queerer still, she has not been home since. I have called twice at Myrtle Villa this afternoon, but no one is there."

"Queer. I wonder what she is up to. After all, Bob, the burning of the will does not amount to much. Mrs. Moxton, as the dead man's widow, retains half the money. Busham has not got the whole."

"No, but he will get it," said the doctor, vehemently. "He'll not keep silence in spite of her giving up half. He will blackmail her into giving up the whole by threatening to betray her sister."

"You forget. By burning the will he has committed a felony. If Mrs. Moxton is clever she can checkmate him with that."

Ellis shook his head doubtfully. "I think not, Harry. She might get him put in prison; but then, in revenge, he could hang her sister. No, Busham is all right on that point; he would not have burnt the will had he not known how to protect himself."

Cass stared at the ceiling and mused for a few moments. "From what you tell me of Zirknitz," he said at length, "I am not inclined to trust that man. He is too thick with Busham, and, moreover, he is a venal creature who would sell any information for money."

"Do you think he is in league with Busham?"

"I would not put him on so high a plane. I think he is the tool of Busham, though. I should not be at all surprised to find the whole of this mystery traced to that Esher Lane office."

"What! Do you think that Busham is guilty?"

"No; he is too clever to risk his neck."


"No; the Austrian is a coward."

"Then what do you mean?"

"I hardly know how to explain," said Cass. "I fancy old Moxton's money is at the bottom of all this business, and that Busham is the moving spirit. Watch him, Bob, he is the clue to the mystery."

"H'm! I don't know. He is too crafty for me to tackle directly, but I might get at his secret through other people. The person to question, Harry, is Janet Gordon. Mrs. Moxton evidently thinks her guilty, and to save her surrendered the property. Now, I wish to see the girl personally and judge for myself."

"Mrs. Moxton won't speak out."

"Hitherto she has refused, but in the face of the destroyed will she may do so. I shall question her closely when I next see her."

"You are still firm in your belief about her honesty?"

"Yes," said Ellis, firmly. "Depend upon it, Harry, when the truth comes to light, Mrs. Moxton will not be to blame."

"Humph!" said Cass. "I hope so, for your sake. But I tell you one thing, Ellis, the widow won't show herself again to you in a hurry."

"Why not?"

"Because, like Zirknitz, she will not risk your indiscreet questions. She has gone away to avoid answering them. My opinion is that she will remain away."

For the next few days the arrest of events in connection with the case seemed to point to a realisation of this prophecy. Mrs. Moxton did not return to Myrtle Villa, and it remained shut up and empty. Dr. Ellis called at least once a day, but on no occasion did he find the widow within. From the time she vanished so suddenly from Busham's office, he never set eyes on her. Firm as was his belief in her innocence, Ellis began to have his doubts about her absolute rectitude. Why had she vanished? Why did she remain away from her best friend, as she considered him to be? Whither had she gone? Ellis wondered if he could trace her, but, after consideration, decided in the negative. There was no clue to her hiding-place. She had disappeared as a drop of water in a mighty ocean. Failing in his attempt to trace the widow, Ellis made up his mind to follow another clue. For this purpose, four or five days after Mrs. Moxton's disappearance, he sought out number thirty-two in Geneva Square, Pimlico. Here, according to Busham's statement, he expected to find Janet Gordon.

Everybody in London knows Geneva Square. It obtained an unpleasant celebrity in connection with the tragedy of the Silent House, and was given as a sketch in many weekly papers at the time of the murder. The Silent House is pulled down now, and its position occupied by a brand-new mansion of red brick, which, amongst the sober grey houses of the square, looks like a purple patch on a ragged cloak. Number thirty-two was in the corner of the square, and from the notice in the window Ellis saw that it was a boarding-house. On inquiring for its mistress, a sluttish servant introduced him into a tawdry drawing-room, where he found himself in the presence of a lean, yellow-faced woman, overdressed and effusive in manner. At one time of her life Mrs. Amber---such she informed him was her name---must have been very pretty, but the years had turned her into a lean and withered hag on the wrong side of forty. She wore a gaudy pink tea-gown, trimmed with cheap black lace, and carried on wrists and neck a considerable number of jingling ornaments, inexpensive and showy. For the sake of her faded beauty the window-blinds were drawn down, and Ellis found himself in a kind of subdued twilight. Mrs. Amber was affected and garrulous, but, on the whole, did not appear to be an ill-natured woman. She seemed to have a high opinion of Janet Gordon.

"Dr. Ellis!" said she, disposing herself in a graceful attitude in a basket-chair. "Do you wish to see me with a view to becoming a lodger?"

"No, madam. I have come to inquire for Miss Gordon."

Mrs. Amber raised her painted eye-brows---they were painted, although the obscurity of the room prevented that fact becoming too apparent. "You are a day after the fair, doctor," said Mrs. Amber, with an artificial laugh. "I regret to say that Miss Gordon has left us."

"Left this house?" said Ellis, astonished at this information.

"Three days ago she left us. Her sister came for her and took her away. I am very sorry Miss Gordon is gone; I always had, and always shall have, the highest opinion of Miss Gordon. Of course, she was not the kind of person with whom I have been accustomed to associate," added Mrs. Amber, arranging the bracelets on her lean wrists, "being only an attendant at a low music-hall. Still, she was thoroughly respectable, and a thorough lady, I will say that. You wonder, perhaps, Dr. Ellis, that I should have a lodger of that occupation. But I am liberal in my views. I was on the boards myself many years ago. You must have heard of the beautiful Miss Tracey, who appeared in the burlesque of 'Cupid,' at the Piccadilly Theatre---I was Miss Tracey. I was Cupid, and I retired only when I married Mr. Amber. Ah!" sighed the ex-actress, "he is dead now, and I keep a boarding-house. Such is life!"

As soon as Ellis could cut short these biographical reminiscences he did so. "I am sure that Miss Gordon is all you say, madam," he observed politely. "But can you tell me where she now is?"

"No," replied Mrs. Amber, promptly, "I can not. Her sister came for her. She packed her box and they left the house. She gave no address to the driver of the cab. Mrs. Moxton simply told him to go to the Marble Arch. I was out at the time Mrs. Moxton arrived, and she went straight up to her sister's bedroom. I was glad that I returned before Miss Gordon went away."

"Why do you say that?" asked Ellis. "Did you not see her daily?"

Mrs. Amber glanced round apprehensively. "I wouldn't say it to everybody," said Mrs. Amber, giving a queer reason for her confidence, "but as you are a stranger it does not matter. Since that horrid murder of poor young Moxton, Miss Gordon has been very strange. She came back from seeing her sister on the night of the crime, and from that time until she left, remained shut up in her room."

"Shut up in her room?"

"Yes. Was it not strange? In vain I wished to see her. She refused to let me into the room. Sarah, my servant, took up her meals and told me that Miss Gordon was in bed the whole time. Through the door, and by sending a message with Sarah, I implored her to have a doctor, but she refused constantly. Yet when she went away she did not look so ill as Mrs. Moxton. Ah!" said Mrs. Amber, expressively, "she looked ill if you like."

"Strange!" murmured Ellis. "I suppose you knew the Moxtons intimately?"

"Very intimately. Laura Gordon lived here before her marriage, and she was married to Edgar Moxton from this house. It was terrible that he should have been killed in so savage a manner, Dr. Ellis. I never liked Mr. Moxton; but I must say I was horrified when I heard of his doom. I wonder who killed him?"

"That is what I and many other people would like to know," said Ellis, drily. "I suppose you guess from my name, Mrs. Amber, that I am the doctor who examined the body?"

"Yes. I guessed that when I received your card, and was certain of it when you asked for Miss Gordon. You know Miss Gordon, of course?"

"No, I never set eyes on her."

"Really! Then why do you wish to see her?" asked Mrs. Amber, anxiously.

"To see if she knows anything about this murder."

Mrs. Amber did not reply immediately, but trembled so violently that her ornaments jingled like so many little bells. "Dr. Ellis," said she at length, in a shaking voice, "you speak the doubts that are in my own mind."

"What! Do you think she knows of the murder?"

"I am unwilling to harm Miss Gordon," said Mrs. Amber, in a scared tone, "as I have a great respect for her. But I fancy she must have seen something on that night or she would not have shut herself up in her bedroom all these weeks. And, Dr. Ellis, do you know I have sometimes suspected her myself."

"Of the murder?"

Mrs. Amber nodded. "I was afraid of getting into trouble if I spoke," she said nervously, "and I really can't bring myself to believe that Miss Gordon killed her brother-in-law. But Sarah brought down a pair of cuffs to be washed---Miss Gordon's cuffs---and they were spotted with blood!"

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