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16: Another Mystery

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« on: March 25, 2023, 07:06:45 am »

THE behaviour of Schwartz perplexed Ellis, and during his homeward journey he pondered over the meaning of that glance. Could it be possible that the German was lying; that Janet Gordon had seen him, and had confessed what she knew of the crime? Ellis did not know what to think, but he was satisfied that the woman could solve the mystery. But she was not to be found; she had vanished as suddenly as Mrs. Moxton, and it seemed as though both of them were keeping out of the way lest they should get into trouble. But Ellis was bent upon discovering them at all costs.

In order to achieve this necessary purpose he kept a close watch on Myrtle Villa for the next few days, but all in vain. The house remained empty, and Mrs. Moxton gave no sign of reappearing. Ellis advertised judiciously in the Standard, but no notice was taken of his advertisement; he waited impatiently for the post, but no letter arrived. Mrs. Moxton and her sister had vanished as completely as though the earth had swallowed them up. The anxiety began to tell on Ellis's health, and Harry Cass advised him to abandon his pursuit of these shadows. As an intimate friend, Cass was brutally candid.

"It is no use mincing matters, Bob," said he, "the widow never loved you, and has made use of you only to secure her own ends. She will never return to Dukesfield."

"She must, Harry; if only to take the furniture out of her house."

"Oh, I daresay she will delegate that office to Zirknitz. There is no doubt that Janet Gordon knows the truth about the murder, and has confessed it to Mrs. Moxton. That is why both women are keeping out of the way."

"Zirknitz," repeated Ellis, paying no attention to the latter part of this speech. "I quite forgot about him. He may know where they are?"

"If he does he will not tell."

"I'll see about that, Harry. To-morrow I shall call on Zirknitz."

Cass shrugged his shoulders, but said no more. The obstinacy of Ellis was not to be overcome by argument, so, like a wise man, the journalist did not waste his breath in futile protestations. Secretly he was pleased that Mrs. Moxton should have voluntarily taken herself out of the way, as he did not wish Ellis to marry her. But in his own mind he was satisfied that the widow herself had proved by her last action that there was little fear of such an alliance taking place. To gain her own ends she had feigned a passion for Ellis; now that she saw nothing further was to be got out of him she had put an end to a disagreeable situation by disappearing. And this---in the opinion of Cass---was the end of Mrs. Moxton and her shady doings.

The next day Ellis went to see Zirknitz, the first thing in the morning, as he hoped to catch him before he left home. He knew that the Austrian was the most indolent of men, as Mrs. Moxton had told him as much, so it was unlikely that he would find him out of bed before ten o'clock. The doctor presented himself at the Bloomsbury lodging shortly before eleven, and found that even at so late an hour Zirknitz had not shaken off his slumbers. A smart maid-servant conducted him into an elegantly-furnished sitting-room, and took in his card. Shortly she returned with a message that M. Zirknitz in ten minutes would be at the disposal of his visitor. Like its owner, the room was very pretty. Wherever Zirknitz got the money to pander to his luxurious tastes, he certainly knew how to spend it. Ellis marvelled at the luxury by which he was surrounded, and wondered in what shady way it had been obtained. The walls were hung with Japanese silks of marvellous design and colouring, the floor was covered with a velvet-pile carpet of pale green, with a pattern of primroses. Green silk curtains draped the windows; there were charming pictures in every corner, and the furniture---also of pale green---was in the best possible taste. Near the window stood a piano, opposite to it a satinwood bookcase filled with French novels, and everywhere articles of useless luxury, evidently bought merely for the sake of buying. While Ellis was wondering at this bachelor's paradise, which more resembled the boudoir of a pretty woman, M. Zirknitz, fresh and pink from his bath, appeared through an inner door. He wore a loose dressing-gown of blue silk, and looked wonderfully handsome, if a trifle effeminate. With a joyous air he advanced to greet his visitor.

"Cher ami, so you have found me out. Well, I am charmed to see you, doctor. Is that chair comfortable? Good. Try this cigarette, it is a new brand. Can I offer you any refreshment---No? Ah, you are wiser than the majority of Englishmen. They eat and drink too much; bad for the nerves, pardy. Over-eating, over-feeding. Quelle bêtise."

Zirknitz ran on thus lightly, but kept a sharp eye on his visitor, as he was anxious to know what had brought him there so early in the morning. Having fulfilled the duties of hospitality, he waited for Ellis to explain himself, which the doctor did almost immediately.

"I have called, M. Zirknitz, to inquire if you can inform me of the whereabouts of Mrs. Moxton?"

"Eh? How should I know? Am I my sister's keeper? Is she not in Myrtle Villa, Dukesfield?"

"No, she has not been there for five days. Your sister Janet has disappeared from Pimlico also."

"How do you know that, my brave doctor?" demanded Zirknitz, mockingly, yet with a shade of anxiety in his manner.

"Because I called there. Mrs. Amber informed me that Mrs. Moxton had taken away Miss Gordon. She did not know whither they had gone. I thought you might have had some idea."

"I fear, monsieur, I cannot assist you. I have not seen Mrs. Moxton since that day you spoke to me at Dukesfield. My sisters leave me much to myself. Why do you wish to see them?"

"I have my reasons," said Ellis, stiffly.

"And they are connected with that murder. Mon cher Ellis, soyez tranquil. I do not want to penetrate your secrets. I do not know where mesdames my sisters are. If I did I should tell you most assuredly, in spite of your bad opinion of me. But I am pleased you have come." Here M. Zirknitz rose and touched an electric button. "You will hear from my landlady that I was here on the night our dear Edgar was killed."

"I don't want any evidence to prove that, M. Zirknitz. I am satisfied that you are innocent."

"Bon. But there is a doubt in your suspicious English mind which peeps out of your eye. Ah, here is Jane. Jane," addressing the smart servant, "will you be so kind as to tell Mrs. Pastor I wish to see her at once. A pretty girl, Jane," resumed Zirknitz, as she vanished. "I like pretty women and all pretty things. You think my rooms nice, eh?"

"Charming. But I did not know you were so rich."

"Rich! Ma foi, I am as poor as a mousie mouse. If you--"

Before the Austrian could explain the source of his domestic magnificence his landlady entered the room. She was a formidable-looking woman, as tall as a Guardsman, with a severe face and the glance of a predatory bird. Dressed in black, with a lace cap and lace apron, she presented a wonderfully dignified and stately appearance. Anyone more unlike the scampish, airy Zirknitz it would have been impossible to conceive, yet the relaxing of her iron visage and the softening of her eagle glance showed that Mrs. Pastor was under the spell of her lodger's charm of manner. He greeted her with a sunny smile when she entered, and pointed to a chair, but Mrs. Pastor tacitly refused to be seated, and continued to stand bolt upright in the doorway.

"Chère madame," said Zirknitz, in his most caressing tone, "this is Dr. Ellis, of Dukesfield, who examined the dead body of my brother-in-law, Mr. Moxton. He wants to know at what hour I returned here on the night of August 16th last, the night of the murder."

"Is it possible, sir, that you suspect Monsieur Zirknitz in any way?" asked Mrs. Pastor, solemnly, addressing herself to Ellis.

"No, I do not. M. Zirknitz is performing a little comedy for his own satisfaction."

"Eh bien," said Rudolph, with a graceful wave of his hand, "then for my own satisfaction, madame, tell this dear doctor what I ask."

"Monsieur Zirknitz returned here at a quarter to twelve," said Mrs. Pastor. "I was still out of bed, and I admitted him myself. Next morning, when we were informed of the murder, M. Zirknitz begged me to take note of the time."

"Most assuredly," broke in the Austrian, impetuously, "for evil people might have accused me of the murder, since I was at Dukesfield then. But you see, my brave Ellis, I was here before twelve. As monsieur, mon beau frère, met his fate by your own showing about half-past eleven, I must be innocent."

"I quite believe in your innocence," said Ellis, rising. "There is no need to convince me so thoroughly. Thank you, M. Zirknitz, for the trouble you have taken in proving your case. Since you know nothing of the whereabouts of your sisters, my errand here is at an end. I shall go now."

"Ah, I am sorry to lose you. Je suis désolé, mon bon ami. Another cigarette? No? Good-bye. Au revoir! Some day we shall meet again. Mrs. Pastor, may I ask you to conduct monsieur, mon ami, to the door."

The landlady bowed solemnly, and, leading Ellis from the society of this graceful babbler, dismissed him with a second bow into the street. And in this unsatisfactory way ended the doctor's visit to the Austrian. Unsatisfactory, because he had obtained no information save that Zirknitz was innocent of the imputed charge, a conclusion at which Ellis had long since arrived. That same evening, after supper, he informed Cass about the alibi, but found that the journalist was less ready to accept the information.

"I don't trust Zirknitz," said he, emphatically, "neither does Schwartz. The man is a bad egg. I believe this murder is a family affair to get money. Zirknitz, I daresay, murdered Moxton with that knife. Janet saw him do so, and told Mrs. Moxton, and they have both disappeared so that they may not be asked questions likely to lead to their brother's arrest. As for Busham, now that the will is destroyed he will hold his tongue."

"But the alibi," protested Ellis. "If Zirknitz was at Bloomsbury before midnight, he could not have been in Dukesfield at half-past eleven."

"The alibi may be a false one."

"You would not say so if you saw the witness to its truth. Mrs. Pastor is a regular Puritan, as rigid and unbending as a piece of iron."

"Yet she tolerates that frivolous scamp?"

Ellis shrugged his shoulders. "All women have their weaknesses," said he. "However, the main point is, that Zirknitz could not inform me of his sisters' whereabouts."

"Humph! Would not, rather than could not, I should say," observed Cass, crossly. "I don't believe myself that you will see Mrs. Moxton again, and I fervently hope that such will be the case. You have now one or two patients, Bob, the nucleus of a good practice, so give up this wild-goose chase after the widow and settle down to your work."

Before Ellis could answer this friendly appeal, which was made in all good faith, Mrs. Basket entered with a note for Ellis, which had been brought that moment by a boy. "Clark, the grocer's son," explained the fat landlady. "I 'ope, doctor, it's a noo patient, for if ever a gent deserved the sick and ailing, you are that gent," after which expression of sympathy Mrs. Basket waddled out of the room with much noise.

"Great heavens!" cried Ellis, who was reading the note.

"What is the matter, Bob?"

For answer Ellis threw the note to Cass on the sofa, and he read it also. Then the two men looked at one another in amazement. And well they might be amazed, for the note, inviting Ellis to call at Myrtle Villa, was from no less a person than Janet Gordon.

"Why should she write to me?" asked Ellis, on finding his tongue.

"Mrs. Moxton must have told her about your friendly spirit. Perhaps she wishes to confide in you, and her sister has brought her to Myrtle Villa for that purpose. Shall you go, Bob?"

"Go? I should think so. To-night I may learn the secret of the murder," and Ellis, putting on hat and coat, immediately left the room in a great hurry.

He ran rather than walked to Myrtle Villa, and, to his joy, saw a light in the sitting-room window. Mrs. Moxton had returned, and Ellis could hardly restrain his joy when the widow herself opened the door to him. After greetings, hurried and brief, were over, she conducted him into the sitting-room. At once Ellis looked round for the writer of the note.

"Where is your sister?" he asked.

"She is in the next room. You will see her soon. But you are making a mistake, Dr. Ellis. I wrote that note asking you to call."

"You? Good Heavens! Then you are--"

"I am Janet Gordon. It is my sister who is Mrs. Moxton."

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