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19: The Red Pocket-Book

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Author Topic: 19: The Red Pocket-Book  (Read 2 times)
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« on: March 25, 2023, 08:25:35 am »

"DO you mean to say that the paper Mr. Busham destroyed was not Edgar's will?" asked Janet, while her sister uttered an exclamation of joy.

"I do mean it. I reported your conversation about our mutual friend to Cass, and we both agreed that he was not to be trusted with the original will. Cass, who is clever at imitating handwriting, procured a sheet of paper similar to that upon which the will was written, and copied it out, signatures and all. I am afraid it was a species of forgery, but as it had to be done if we wished to checkmate Busham, we contrived the crime. It was just as well we did so, Miss Gordon, as Busham had no compunction in destroying the will. My wonder is that a clever pettifogger such as he is could not see that the document was forged. Singular obtuseness on his part."

"If it had remained longer in his possession, he no doubt would have discovered the truth," replied Janet, "but, if you remember, he merely glanced at it, and not crediting me with so clever an idea as substituting a copy for the original, took it for the genuine will. I can never thank you sufficiently, doctor, for what you have done."

"Nor I either," chimed in Laura, who, seeing that there was a prospect of recovering her husband's money, plucked up her spirits. "Now Mr. Busham will not be able to rob me."

"H'm!" said Janet, with a frown, "putting the will out of the question, my dear, you are still in the same dangerous position as formerly. If he finds out the trick Dr. Ellis has played him, he may denounce you."

"He will do so at his own risk," cried Ellis, promptly. "And you may be sure he will never learn the truth from me until it can be told with safety to Mrs. Moxton. Leave Busham to me. I shall know how to deal with him. In some way or another we must clear up this mystery, and exonerate Mrs. Moxton. If there was only some clue."

Janet and Laura looked meaningly at one another. "There is a clue, although it is only a slight one," said Miss Gordon, hesitatingly.

"To the identity of the murderer?"

"No, but a clue which may lead to his discovery. When Laura was lying in a faint, the man who stabbed Edgar robbed him of his pocket-book."

"But how could he do that without Moxton recognising him?" asked Ellis. "You know that Moxton did not die at once, but lived long enough to scrawl those blood signs on his arm denouncing Zirknitz. Now, I know that your brother is innocent, as he has established an alibi with the assistance of his landlady, Mrs. Pastor."

"I cannot explain that, doctor, but undoubtedly Edgar thought that Rudolph stabbed him, and so wrote on his arm to let Laura know."

"You can read the cryptogram, I presume, Mrs. Moxton?"

"Oh, yes, I know the signs very well. Janet taught them to me, and I showed them to Edgar for amusement. He, no doubt, wished me to know that Rudolph had stabbed him, but why he used the signs I cannot say. He hated Rudolph always, and would have got him into trouble if he could."

"Well," said Ellis, after a pause, "I can conceive no reason why he acted as he did. I don't suppose the truth will ever be revealed. But about this pocket-book, Mrs. Moxton. How do you know that the murderer took it?"

"I only think so. It was a red Morocco pocket-book with Edgar's initials on it in gold. He had it when he went out that night, and I saw him put it into his breast pocket. When Janet came to Pimlico I asked her if she had seen it, as I thought that there might be some bank-notes in it, and we needed money badly."

"Did he carry money in it?"

"Yes, when he had any."

"On that night were there any notes in the pocket-book?"

"I cannot say. Rudolph declares that he won twenty pounds from Edgar on that night. Edgar could not pay him save with an I.O.U., so I don't think there could have been money in the book."

"Then why should the assassin steal it?"

"Why, indeed!" echoed Janet, who had been silent for some time; "that is what we wish to find out. As Edgar's jewellery was untouched, robbery could not have been the motive of the crime. I believe myself that the pocket-book must have contained some papers of value to the murderer. No person but he could have taken it, for I examined very carefully the clothes Edgar wore when he was killed, and could not find the pocket-book. Dr. Ellis," said Janet, earnestly, "it seems to me that if you can find that book, you will be able to lay hands on the criminal."

"Possibly, Miss Gordon. But in what direction am I to look. In the autumn many men wear fur-lined overcoats, so that is not a strong clue. Moreover, the pocket-book must long since have been destroyed if the murderer valued his neck. No; on the whole I think it will be best to see Busham, as I said before. My movements will depend upon the sort of information he supplies."

"He will tell you nothing."

"Not of his own free will, perhaps, but I may be in a position to force his confidence."

It was now late, as this conversation between the three had lasted a considerable time. Laura looked so fatigued and ill that Ellis, in his capacity of medical man, insisted that she should retire. "Take as much rest and sleep as you can, Mrs. Moxton, and don't worry. I will help you all I can in this matter, and I have no doubt I shall be able to clear you of all suspicion. Good-night."

Ellis was accompanied to the door by Janet, who was hopeful of his success.

"You will be certain to solve this mystery---you and Mr. Cass," said she. "Think how much you have discovered already by observation."

"And if I do solve it, and right your sister, what then, Miss Gordon?"

Janet laughed, and, in the kindly darkness, blushed. "We can talk of that when the time comes," she said, answering his thought after the manner of women.

With this assurance the doctor was fain to be content, and departed without gaining the kiss of which he had dreamt. Needless to say, he was more in love than ever, and thanked Heaven that he had been brought into contact with so noble and earnest a woman as Janet Gordon. Anxious to hear the result of his friend's visit, Cass was waiting up for him, and into his astonished ears Ellis poured the whole story which exonerated and cleansed Janet. Cass admitted that he had been wrong in his estimate of her character.

"But how was one to read it properly under the circumstances," he said testily. "I could not believe in the woman without proof."

"I did," said Ellis, smiling.

"Still, your experience is sufficiently strange, and I am glad that your instinct has been justified. Miss Gordon, on the face of it, has proved herself a singularly able, and, I may say, a noble woman; but I must see more of her, and learn to know her better before I can rescind my former opinion.

"The main question at present is how to extricate her and Mrs. Moxton from their equivocal position. Until the assassin is found, and all is made plain, Mrs. Moxton dare not explain our trick to Busham or claim her property. If she did he might be dangerous."

"Can he be dangerous?"

"So far as inclination goes I should say so, but whether he has the power is another question, and one not so easily answered. However, for your satisfaction, Bob, I can tell you that Busham is a liar. While you were at Myrtle Villa I went round to Drake at the Police Office and tried to find out if Busham had spoken to any policeman on that night. If you remember he declared that he held a long conversation with one at, or near, the station. He trusts to that for an alibi."

"But Drake does not know Busham; he could tell you nothing, Harry."

"Quite so, but he could tell me who was on duty on that night. I did not inform him of my reasons, save that I was curious on my own account to learn who killed Moxton, so I found out the names of the police on duty that night. Queerly enough their term of service has come round again for night duty, so I went out and questioned at least half a dozen about Busham."

"Well?" asked Ellis, impatiently.

"Well, Busham is a liar; he spoke to none of them, and none spoke to him. They never saw a gentleman of his description about on that night, so I judged that he dodged after Moxton in the shadows to avoid recognition. Now, Bob, your best plan is to see Busham and accuse him; then we shall see if he can bring forward in his defence this supposititious policeman."

"Good. I'll call on our mutual friend to-morrow. But I shall see Zirknitz first."

"What for?"

"To ask him how Busham was dressed on that night. As the police would not recognise Busham by his face, they might by his dress. In that way we can learn if anyone of them saw him following Moxton after they left the railway station."

Having decided upon this course, which, under the circumstances, was the most sensible, both men retired to bed. Next morning, after a further discussion with Cass, the doctor set out for Bloomsbury. As yet he had not many patients, so he could afford the time, but his practice was increasing, and he foresaw that unless he could bring the matter of the murder to a speedy conclusion, he would be obliged to throw it over altogether. But on Janet's account he was unwilling to do this.

As usual, M. Zirknitz was still in bed, and Ellis waited for some time in the gorgeous sitting-room, which its owner---apparently---had created out of nothing. When the Austrian made his appearance he was as lively as ever, and greeted Ellis in his most genial manner.

"Ah, Ellis, mon ami, mon cher, so you have arrived once more. Is it to take me to a prison or to join me at déjeuner---the latter, I hope; friendship is so much more charming than enmity."

"I have come only to ask you a few questions, Zirknitz; also to tell you something which may astonish you."

"Astonish me! C'est une mauvaise plaisanterie, mon cher. I am never astonished at anything in this best of all possible worlds. You have not read Candide, in which that saying occurs? No. Ah, you should. Voltaire is the most witty of his race. Eh bien! What is your astonishing news?"

"I know your history and that of your sisters, and I have learnt how Miss Gordon took the place of Mrs. Moxton to fight her battles."

"You know that? Ah, well, Janet must have told you. If she did, she is right. Janet can do no wrong. She is the dearest and most excellent sister in the world."

"Are you the best brother to her?"

"I? Mon ami, I am a scamp. I have no good in me. If I had it would not be so creditable to Janet that she is fond of me. So she has told you all her intrigues. What can I do?"

"Inform me about Busham. You saw him on that night?"

"Oui da! He followed that poor Edgar from the station."

"How was he dressed?"

Zirknitz reflected. "It was cold that night," said he, musingly. "I put on a fur coat. Eh! Ah, yes. Busham had a coat of the same and a tall hat. I can say no more than that."

A fur-lined coat, a tall hat. This was precisely the scanty description given by Laura of her momentary glimpse of the assassin. What if the lawyer, after all, should be the guilty person? Full of excitement Ellis detailed to Zirknitz his suspicions, and cited the fact of the red pocket-book. The Austrian uttered an exclamation of astonishment on hearing that this was missing.

"Edgar, excellent Edgar, had it in his pocket at the music-hall. Eh! yes, I quite remember. He took out the book to show me a bill."

"A bill? What kind of a bill?"

"A bill of exchange or a promissory note. Now you speak, mon cher ami, it all comes back to me. Edgar showed me the name of his father on the bill and declared that it was forged."

"A forged bill!" said Ellis, "and in the pocket-book which was stolen? Ah, this, then, may be the motive for the crime. Zirknitz, did Moxton say who had forged the bill?"

"Eh? No. He said, 'My Rudolph, see what I got from Busham this night.'"

"Busham! Busham! Could he have forged the bill?"

"Eh? No, I think not, or he would not give it to Edgar."

"Still, a forged bill, obtained from Busham, and he followed Edgar out of the station. He wore a tall hat and a fur coat. As the assassin was dressed the same it might be---By Heavens! Zirknitz, I believe that Busham is the guilty person, after all."

Zirknitz shrugged his shoulders, but did not offer an opinion, and as the doctor did not think that there was anything further to be learnt from him, he rose to go. At the door, however, he paused, and made a chance remark which gained him greater results than any of his previous questions.

"I forgot to tell you," said Ellis, "that I have tricked Busham. He thinks that he has a claim to a portion of Mrs. Moxton's property because he destroyed the will. But what he destroyed, M. Zirknitz, was a copy made by me; the original is in my possession."

Rudolph's eyes sparkled. "Then Laura will inherit all Moxton's wealth?"

"Undoubtedly, as soon as she can claim it, without risking any danger from Busham. He knows too much."

"But not as much as I know. Listen, mon ami. I can tell you a great deal about Busham which will help you to save Laura. Eh, yes, I will see that she gets the money of that poor Edgar."

"So that you may get a share of it, I suppose?" said Ellis, drily. Zirknitz laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "But, certainly---- Why not? I am her brother; I need money. If I help her, she must help me. Listen! mon cher."

With this exordium Zirknitz poured forth into Ellis's ears a story about the lawyer and about his own treachery which at once pleased and horrified Ellis. He did not know whether most to hate or admire the scamp; but in the end he decided that it would be diplomatic to hide his feelings, and so ended his visit.

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