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18: What Really Happened

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Author Topic: 18: What Really Happened  (Read 2 times)
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« on: March 25, 2023, 08:19:06 am »

AFTER Janet had finished her history there ensued a short silence. Ellis was lost in admiration at the wonderful pluck and resolution of the girl, which had enabled her to face and carry through a difficult matter for the sake of her weaker sister. Now that the worst was over---since she had rescued Laura Moxton from the ordeal of a public accusation---Janet seemed to be in danger of breaking down. After the tension of nerve and will came the inevitable relaxation. The impulse of Ellis was to take her in his arms, and comfort her with assurances of love and protection. But the time was not yet ripe for him to speak of his personal feelings. There was much to do, much to be learnt, before the crooked could be made straight; therefore Ellis, sacrificing self, began to question Janet on points which did not seem quite clear to him. At his first remark she braced herself and gave him immediate attention.

"If you thought that your sister had killed Moxton, why did you not hide the carving-knife?"

"How could I? She threw it away before I could stop her, and there was no time for me to search. When I sent Laura off, I had to call in you and the police, so I could not go out to look for it in the darkness. Next morning, when I could evade the policeman in charge, I slipped out to search. But by that time the knife was gone."

"Busham took it," said Ellis, with a nod. "I wonder how he found it. There was no need for him to search. It looks as though he knew beforehand that with such a weapon Moxton had been stabbed, and came here to secure it."

Janet mused. "I have my doubts of Mr. Busham," she said at last. "He knows more about the matter than he says. Indeed, I should not be at all surprised to hear that he is the guilty person!"

"Impossible! He declares that he can prove an alibi---that at the time of the crime he was talking to a policeman, and afterwards followed your sister to Pimlico."

"Have you seen the policeman?"

"No, but I intend to see him as soon as I learn his name or number from Busham."

"He won't tell it to you."

"I can but try, at all events. To do away with my suspicions he may speak out. But, Miss Gordon, I have yet to learn how Edgar Moxton was killed."

"Laura can tell you that," said Janet, rising. "Now that you have heard my story you must listen to what she has to say; then, doctor, you will see how to save her. I was forced into the position I took up."

"I shall be glad to hear Mrs. Moxton's story. Shall I come with you?"

"No, Laura is not so ill as all that; she is merely lying down in the next room and I will bring her in shortly."

She left Ellis alone for a few minutes, which he employed in considering the possibility of Busham being implicated in the crime---indeed, he himself might be the actual criminal. Zirknitz had seen him following Moxton from the Dukesfield Station, and his subsequent acts were related by himself as harmless; but the story of the conversation with the policeman and the following of Mrs. Moxton to Pimlico might be invented to hide the truth. There was nothing to show that Busham had not murdered Edgar, for at that time he was ignorant that Moxton's will was in existence, and by getting rid of his cousin he might hope to clutch a portion of his uncle's money. Ellis made up his mind to do two things---first to see Busham and learn with whom he had been engaged at the time of the crime; second, to interview the policeman hinted at, and discover if Busham was speaking the truth. While he was arguing the necessity of this course in his own mind, Janet returned with Mrs. Moxton leaning on her arm.

The resemblance between the sisters was striking. They were of the same height, their figures were moulded to the same contour, and in face, feature and colouring they were remarkably alike. The difference between them lay in the expression, and in the character of the eye. Laura's glance was soft and wandering, that of Janet steady and calm; the face of Mrs. Moxton was weak, the countenance of Miss Gordon firm. Janet, indeed, seemed to be the masculine counterpart of her sister; she had all the strength of will and resolution of purpose which the other lacked. She was a being of flesh and blood, Laura a shadow, a feather blown by the wind. At the first sight of her face Ellis no longer wondered that she had married a brute like Moxton. She would have married any man had the necessary force of will been exerted. When Ellis beheld this frail creature, when he recalled the evil, scampish nature of Rudolph Zirknitz, he admired Janet more than ever for the wonderful manner in which she had controlled the pair. She was a female Prospero, who ruled at once a weakly, flighty Ariel and a refined Caliban. It must be admitted, however, that the latter part of the above illustration is too severe on Zirknitz, as he was rather a Lazun, a Duc de Richelieu, a Count D'Orsay than the son of Sycorax. However, he was certainly a scamp and dangerous.

Mrs. Moxton, who looked ill and weary, bowed in silence to Ellis, and sank exhausted into the chair vacated by her sister. Janet took a seat beside her and motioned with her head that the doctor should do the same. Ellis obeyed and looked at Mrs. Moxton with some curiosity, but more eagerness, for from her lips he hoped to learn sufficient to indicate the mysterious assassin of Moxton. But the widow, with her eyes fixed on the fire, seemed in no hurry to begin.

"Laura, dear," said Janet, in a coaxing tone, such as a nurse would use to a fractious child, "this is our best friend, Dr. Ellis. He is the only one who can help us out of our difficulties, and I want you to tell him all you remember about Edgar's death."

Mrs. Moxton uttered a low wail, and with a shudder covered her face. When she did speak, it was in so low a tone that Ellis could with difficulty catch what she was saying. "Shall I ever forget that horrible night?" she murmured.

"Tell Dr. Ellis about it, dear," urged Janet, and after a pause Mrs. Moxton did as she was requested. At first her voice was low and nervous, but as she proceeded in the recital it grew powerful. Her nerves responded to the demand made upon them, and gave her a surprising strength of speech in comparison with her frail body. From a physiological standpoint, Ellis was as much interested in her as in the story she told.

"Edgar and I quarrelled on that night about Polly Horley," she began, "for Rudolph told me that he was paying attention to that horrid woman. Edgar swore that it was not true, and I wanted to go to the music-hall to see for myself. He refused to take me and flung out of doors in a great rage. Then Janet came, and her company and conversation calmed me. When she went, and I was left alone, I grew frightened, and got out the carving-knife. I heard Edgar come in at the gate and, not thinking, I ran to open the door with the knife in my hand. When I met him he was on the step, but seeing the knife, and knowing how furious I could be, I suppose he grew frightened. At any rate, he ran back to the gate. I followed, calling out: 'Edgar, Edgar, what is the matter?' When I came up to him he must have thought I meant to strike him, for he was half drunk at the time. His face was white and terrified as I saw in the moonlight; although, as the night was cloudy, that was not very strong."

"I remember the night," interpolated Ellis, "it was windy and rainy, with a fitful moonlight showing through the flying clouds. Well, Mrs. Moxton, what did your husband do when you came up to him?"

"He seized me by the throat," said the widow, hysterically. "I believe that, being half intoxicated, he wished to kill me, and I struggled to get away. But he held me tightly, so that I could not cry out. We were pressed right against the gate. I held the knife above my head, as I was afraid of hurting him with it."

"Why did you not drop it?" asked Ellis.

"I don't know. I never thought of dropping it. The more Edgar fought with me the tighter I held it. He was strangling me, and I could not cry out. Then I saw, all at once, a man on the other side of the gate."

"Could you describe his looks?" asked Ellis, eagerly.

Mrs. Moxton shook her head. "Remember it was a darkish night, with only occasional gleams of moonlight. I was struggling with Edgar, and, holding me by the throat, he had half strangled me. As I said, I held up the knife out of the way. The man on the other side of the gate wore a tall hat and a great coat with a fur collar. I tried to call out to Edgar, but he did not see the man. Suddenly the stranger snatched the knife out of my hand, and struck at Edgar's back. Edgar gave a yell which, I wonder, was not heard all over Dukesfield, so loud it was. He fell forward on me, and crushed by his weight, worn with the struggle, and terrified by the murder, I fainted clean away. The last thing I remember was that Edgar lay over me, struggling and moaning."

"Was the man still at the gate after he struck the blow?"

"I don't know. When I came to myself Janet was bending over me, and I was so frightened that I could explain nothing. After that I picked up the knife which was lying by Edgar's body and flung it over some bushes against the fence. Then Janet hurried me away, and told me she would take my place and deny everything. I was so dazed that I did not know what I was doing. I ran down to the cab-rank and told a cabman to drive me to Pimlico. He did so, and I recovered myself sufficiently in the cab to pay him, and to slip into the house with the latchkey which Janet had pushed into my hand. I knew that she still had our old room, so I ran up to it without seeing anyone, and locked myself in."

"Mrs. Amber told me that you isolated yourself for weeks."

"I did so by Janet's advice, lest Mrs. Amber should recognise me. Janet came to see me a few days afterwards, and told me about the inquest."

"Did you call at Geneva Square?" asked Ellis, turning to Miss Gordon. "That is strange, for Mrs. Amber particularly explained that until a few days ago no one called save Schwartz."

"I paid a visit one night when Mrs. Amber was at the theatre," explained Janet, "and I bribed Sarah, the servant---a most venal creature---to say nothing about it. It was necessary that I should tell Laura what had taken place, and hear her story. Now you know, doctor, why I fenced with you and refused to tell the truth. I was afraid lest my sister should be brought into the matter."

"But Mrs. Moxton is innocent, and you knew it," protested Ellis.

"Yes, I am innocent," wailed Mrs. Moxton, "but what could I do in the face of all I have told you. I cannot hold my tongue like Janet, or foresee things as she does. In one way or another I should have betrayed myself and perhaps have been arrested. Janet was right, Janet was wise to advise me to stay at Pimlico. I feigned ill-health, and would not let Mrs. Amber into my room lest she should get to know too much. Only Sarah knew me, as I had to confide in her to get food. But she held her tongue."

"She nearly betrayed you though, Mrs. Moxton, by taking those cuffs to Mrs. Amber."

"That was a mistake," said the widow. "In touching Edgar's body I got blood on my cuffs, and threw them aside in the bedroom. I never thought of hiding them, and Sarah took them downstairs without consulting me."

"How did you manage to keep up the concealment of your identity to the end?"

"I managed that," said Janet, in her firm, clear voice. "I called when I knew that Mrs. Amber was absent, and told Laura that, on account of Busham, I intended to take her away. When Mrs. Amber came back, of course, she thought that I had been in my bedroom all the time, and that Laura had called for me. She was so deceived," added Janet, smiling, "that she told me how ill I looked after lying so long in bed. But I am afraid I did look ill, with all the worry."

"I don't wonder at it," said Ellis, sympathetically. "I cannot imagine how you have borne up through all the troubles you have had. Few women would have taken another's burden so bravely on their shoulders as you have done, Miss Gordon."

"Indeed, she has been the best of sisters," exclaimed Mrs. Moxton, with tears in her eyes. "Never shall I forget what Janet has done for me."

"At some cost to yourself, dear Laura," said Janet, patting her sister's hand. "After all, my defence of you has cost you your fortune."

"I don't mind in the least, Janet. Let Mr. Busham take all so long as he holds his tongue."

"I fancy Busham will keep silent for his own sake," remarked Ellis, drily, "for I feel certain that he has more to do with this murder than you think."

"You don't believe that he killed Edgar?"

"I might even go so far as that, but I must collect sufficient evidence to justify such belief. However, we can talk of that later. With reference to the destruction of the will, Miss Gordon, you need not worry about that."

"Oh, but I do. Laura will lose her father-in-law's money."

"Not by the destruction of the will, because the original document is in my possession, and what Busham burnt was a copy carefully prepared by myself and my friend Mr. Cass."

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