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20: Busham at Bay

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Author Topic: 20: Busham at Bay  (Read 2 times)
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« on: March 25, 2023, 08:48:40 am »

IT was in a state of subdued excitement that Ellis left the rooms of Zirknitz. He now seemed to be nearer solving the mystery than he had ever been before. There was no doubt that Moxton had been murdered in order to obtain the forged bill; but Ellis was uncertain in his own mind whether Busham had actually struck the blow. A silk hat and a fur-lined coat was not a distinctive dress on a cold evening for any man---a dozen might wear it. Still, the coincidence of dress was striking. Busham might be the criminal, after all, and Ellis drove directly to Esher Lane for the purpose of satisfying himself on this point.

What the doctor particularly wished to know was who had forged the elder Moxton's name? If Busham had done so he would scarcely have given the bill to Edgar, who had no great love for him. To hand him over an incriminating document and then murder him to get it back again would have been the height of folly. If, therefore, Busham was innocent of the forgery, he would scarcely risk his life in endeavouring to recover the bill. Thus, if anyone had a reason to desire the death of Edgar, it must have been the forger himself. Having committed one crime he certainly would not hesitate to commit a second, if only to conceal the first. This theory was excellent, and Ellis wished to prove its truth. To do so, it was necessary that he should learn the name of the man who had forged the bill. Busham had given the document to Edgar Moxton, as was asserted by Zirknitz, therefore Busham could inform him of what he wished to know. But would he do so? Ellis, for want of experience of the man, could not answer this question, and arrived at Esher Lane in a state of perplexity. However, his head was clear and his will determined---a most necessary frame of mind for anyone who had to deal with so crafty a creature as Busham.

The office was as dingy and dirty as ever. The lean clerks still scribbled interminable folios, and strained their eyes in the uncertain light. From the inner room came the rasping cough of Busham, which showed that he was alive and plotting. Ellis sent in his card, which was received by the lawyer with anything but pleasure. However, he did not think it wise to betray any fear of his visitor, so gave orders that he was to be admitted at once. More than that, he threw into his greeting as much cordiality as was possible with one of his detestable nature.

"I am glad to see you, doctor," said he, pointing to one of the two chairs. "That seems strange, does it not? We had a tiff last time we met here, eh? Quite so. But I never bear malice, not I. How is Mrs. Moxton?"

"The true Mrs. Moxton is quite well."

Busham's naturally pale face became of a greenish hue. "What do you mean with your 'true Mrs. Moxton?'" he demanded, narrowing his eyes until they looked like those of a cat.

"What I say, and what you know. Janet Gordon, to fight her sister's battles, took that sister's place."

"You are well informed," sneered Busham. "On whose authority?"

"I have the best authority. Miss Gordon told me herself."

"How dare you say that I knew of this plot!" cried the lawyer, savagely. "Ridiculous! I know nothing about the sisters."

"That is a lie!" replied Ellis, coolly. "You know everything about them. For months you have been watching for an opportunity to get them into your toils."

"Who says this?"

"Rudolph Zirknitz."

"Bah! that silly fool! What does he know?"

"More than you think," retorted Ellis. "Zirknitz is a scamp, but no fool, and he told me all about the questions you had asked him. He even mentioned the sums of money you have paid him for his information."

"What information?" said Busham, fighting every inch.

"Is it necessary for me to inform you?" questioned Ellis, with icy contempt.

"What information?" repeated the lawyer.

"He told you that the supposed Mrs. Moxton was really Janet Gordon. He betrayed his sisters for money like the contemptible creature he is, and in turn he has betrayed you."

"I don't understand your hint of betrayal."

"I think you do. But if you wish me to be more explicit, I can inform you that Zirknitz saw you following Moxton on that night."

Busham sneered, and his brow cleared. "So you said when Mrs. Moxton---I beg your pardon---Miss Gordon was here. I then admitted that I was at Dukesfield on that night, and gave my reasons for being there. Also, I gave an account of my actions."

"I know you did, Mr. Busham. A very pretty account which did justice to your imagination."

"I told the truth," cried Busham, gnawing his lip.

"No, you did not. You told what suited your purpose. You spoke to no policeman on that night, for those who were on duty then have all been closely questioned. You never followed Mrs. Moxton to Pimlico, but you called there later and bribed the servant, Sarah, to tell you the truth."

"Who says I did?"

"Zirknitz. I am afraid you were a trifle overconfident of his silence, Mr. Busham."

"Zirknitz is a liar!"

"Oh, no, only a traitor who changes sides when he sees a chance of making money."

"He won't make any out of his sisters," growled Busham. "I have burnt that will, and the Moxton property will come to me."

Ellis smiled when he thought on how slight a foundation this belief rested. "Well, we will say nothing about the will. But even though you have destroyed it, Mrs. Moxton takes a great portion of her husband's property as his widow."

"She sha'n't have one penny," snarled Busham. "A jade, an adventuress and a murderess! that's what she is. If she refuses to give me the whole of the Moxton property, I'll denounce her. He! he! then she will be hanged."

"I doubt it, Busham. There is a prejudice against hanging women in this country. As to your saying that she killed Moxton, that is a lie, and you know it. The man who murdered your cousin wore a silk hat and fur coat."

"Who says so?"

"Mrs. Moxton herself. She saw the man strike the blow, but could not recognise him."

"Oh, that is an invention to save her neck," scoffed Busham. "A man in a silk hat and a fur coat? Bosh! Who is the man!"

"Well, I am not quite clear on that point," replied Ellis, speaking very slowly, "but I fancied he might be you."

Busham started from his seat with a kind of screech hardly human. "I?" he gasped. "You dare to accuse me of that crime! And on what grounds?"

"You wore similar dress on the night you followed Moxton."

"Who says I did?"

"Your dear friend, M. Zirknitz."

Busham ground his teeth, and said something not precisely complimentary to the Austrian. After a time he recovered his calmness, but not his colour. "You accuse me of murdering Moxton?" he said.

"Oh, no, I don't accuse you, I merely state that such might be the case."

"Bah! The accusation is not worth considering. What motive could I have for killing my cousin! It is true that his father altered his will at the last moment and left everything to Edgar. What then? I had sufficient influence with him to finger that money, and I certainly intended to do so. Why should I risk my neck to upset all my plans?"

"You might have hoped to get the money after Moxton's death, or, at least, a share of it."

"Don't deceive yourself," snapped the lawyer. "I hoped for none of it. Edgar told me that, after his marriage, he had made a will leaving all to his wife. What motive, then, had I to commit so purposeless a crime. I could manage Edgar because I knew him; but I never met,---I never saw Mrs. Moxton, and could hope to gain no influence over her, especially with that infernal sister in the way. If she---"

"Speak more respectfully of Miss Gordon," interrupted the doctor, angrily. "She is my friend, and I will not permit a word against her. You say that Mrs. Moxton killed her husband. Prove it!"

"She was always quarrelling with him," replied Busham, sullenly. "I know that for a fact, because Edgar told me so. He said that he was afraid of his wife, that she frequently threatened him with the carving-knife. When I heard of the murder next morning I went down to see Mrs. Moxton, as I was certain she had killed Edgar. As I walked up the garden I saw the flash of steel in a laurel bush, and on going to it I found a knife stuck in one of the branches. It was a carving-knife, and there was blood on the blade and the handle. I was certain then that Mrs. Moxton was guilty, but having my own ends to gain I did not denounce her then, but simply slipped the knife up my sleeve and went away. I produced it as you saw to make Miss Gordon---for thanks to Zirknitz I knew my visitor was not Mrs. Moxton---give up the will. She made the exchange and took away the knife. I burnt the will as you saw, and by destroying it could hope to get a portion of the property. Now I mean to have the whole, or else I shall denounce Mrs. Moxton."

"I don't think you'll do that, Busham, for I shall then state that you committed a felony by burning the will. No, no, whatever happens you can't afford to denounce Mrs. Moxton. You might frighten her, and, perhaps---as she is only a woman---Miss Gordon, but you can't frighten me. As to your finding of the knife, Mrs. Moxton threw it into the laurel bush after the murder, but she did not use it."

"You will find it difficult to prove that," snarled Busham, beginning to feel beaten. "If she did not use it, who did?"

"The man in the fur coat, who snatched it from her when she was in her husband's grip."

"And who is the man in the fur coat?"

"I think you know, Busham."

"Indeed, I don't, confound you!"

"At least you know the name of the man who endorsed that bill."

With a gasp the lawyer started out of his chair. "Bill? What bill?"

"The forged bill which you gave to Moxton at the Merryman Music-Hail on the night of the murder."

"I gave no bill. I know of none."

"Oh, yes, you do. Moxton showed the bill to Zirknitz and told him that it was forged on his father. It was placed in a red pocket-book, Mr. Busham, and that pocket-book was stolen from the corpse."

"Lies! Lies! All lies!" raved Busham, stamping. "I know nothing of any bill! I don't know who killed Moxton!"

Ellis did not waste words, but rising to his feet glanced at his watch with a calm air. "I must go now," said he. "I shall give you five days to tell the truth, Mr. Busham. Failing that, I shall place the whole matter in the hands of the police, and re-open the case. Good-day, sir;" and with that last warning Ellis walked out of the room.

With a white face and a haggard expression, Busham sat for an hour or more in his chair. Twice one of his clerks opened the door and looked in, but awed by the expression of terror in the lawyer's eyes, withdrew. At last Busham wiped his brow, which was beaded with perspiration, and rose to his feet. "Shall I fly or stay?" he asked himself; then, bringing down his fist on the table, he cried: "No, by Heaven! I'll stay and fight it out!"

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