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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHalf A Hero: A Novel - Chapter 22. The Story Of A Photograph
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Half A Hero: A Novel - Chapter 22. The Story Of A Photograph Post by :dcbiz Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2455

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Half A Hero: A Novel - Chapter 22. The Story Of A Photograph

CHAPTER XXII. THE STORY OF A PHOTOGRAPH

Mr. Coxon may be forgiven for being, on this same important Monday, in a state of some nervous excitement. He had a severe attack of what are vulgarly called "the fidgets," and Sir John, who was spending the morning at the Club (for his court was not sitting), glanced at him over his eye-glasses with an irritated look. The ex-Attorney-General would not sit still, but flitted continually from window to table, and back from table to window, taking up and putting down journal after journal. Much depended, in Mr. Coxon's view, on the event of that day, for Sir John spoke openly of his approaching retirement, and an appointment sometimes thought worthy of a Premier's acceptance might be in Coxon's grasp before many weeks were past, if only Medland and his noxious idea of getting a first-class man out from England could be swept together into limbo.

"What's the betting about to-night?" asked the Chief Justice, as in one of his restless turns the brooding politician passed near.

"We reckon to beat him by five," answered Coxon.

"Unless any of your men turn tail, that is? I hear Fenton's very wobbly--says he daren't show his face in the North-east Ward if he throws Medland over."

"Oh, he's all right."

"Been promised something?"

"You might allow some of us to have consciences, Chief Justice," said Coxon, with an attempt at geniality.

"Oh, some of you, yes. But I'll pick my men, please," remarked Sir John, with a pleasant smile. "Perry's got a conscience, and Kilshaw--well, Kilshaw's got a gadfly that does instead, and of course, Coxon, I add you to the list."

"Much obliged for your testimonial," said Coxon sourly.

"I add any man I'm talking to, to the list," continued the Chief Justice. "I expect him to do the same by me. But, honestly, I add you even in your absence. You're not a man who puts party ties above everything."

Mr. Coxon darted a suspicious glance at the head of his profession, but the Chief Justice's air was blandly innocent.

"My party's my party," he remarked, "just so long as it carries out my principles. I don't say either party does it perfectly."

"I dare say not; but of course you're right to act with the one that does most for you."

Again the Chief Justice had hit on a somewhat ambiguous expression. Coxon detected a grin on the face of Captain Heseltine, who was sitting near, but he could not hold Sir John's grave face guilty of the Captain's grin.

"I see," remarked the Captain, perhaps in order to cover the retreat of his grin, "that they've discharged the woman who was arrested last night for the murder."

"Really no evidence against her," said the Chief Justice. "But, Heseltine, wasn't this man Benham the fellow Medland had a sort of shindy with at that flower-show?"

"Yes, he was. Kilshaw seemed to know all about him."

"He was talking to Miss Medland."

"And the Premier had her away from him in no time. Queer start, Sir John?"

"Oh, well, he seems to have been a loose fellow, and I suppose was murdered for the money he had on him. But I mustn't talk about it. I may have to try it."

"Gad! you'll be committing contempt of yourself," suggested the Captain.

"Like that snake that swallows itself, eh?"

"What snake?" asked the Captain, with interest.

"The snake in the story," answered the Chief Justice; and he added in an undertone--"Why can't that fellow sit still?"

Mr. Coxon had wandered to the window again, and was thrumming on the panes. He turned on hearing some one enter. It was Sir Robert Perry.

"Well," he began, "I bring news of the event of the day."

"About to-night?" asked Coxon eagerly.

"To-night! That's not the event of the day. Ministers are a deal commoner than murders. No, last night."

Coxon turned away disappointed.

"The murder!" exclaimed the Captain.

"Don't talk to me about it, Perry," the Chief Justice requested, opening a paper in front of his face. He did not, however, withdraw out of earshot.

"They've got a sort of a clue. A wretched hobbledehoy of a fellow, something in the bookseller's shop at the corner of Kettle Street, has come with a rigmarole about a society that he and a few more belonged to, including this Francois Gaspard, who is missing. He protests that the thing was legal, and all that--only a Radical inner ring--but he says that at the last meeting this fellow was dropping hints about putting somebody out of the way. Dyer--that's the lad's name--swears the rest of them disowned him and said they'd have nothing to do with it, and hoped he'd given up the idea."

"I suppose he's in a blue funk?" asked the Captain.

"He is no doubt alarmed," said Sir Robert. "He gave the police the names of the rest of their precious society, and, oddly enough, Ned Evans, of the House--you know him, Coxon?--was one."

"Heard such an awful lot of debates, poor chap," observed Captain Heseltine.

"Well, they went to Evans' and collared him. For a time he stuck out that he knew nothing about it, but they threatened him with heaven knows what, and at last he confessed to having seen this Gaspard in company with the murdered man in Digby Square a little before twelve on the night."

"By Jove! That's awkward!" said the Captain.

Coxon showed more interest now, and remarked,

"Why, Gaspard was one of Medland's organisers. I saw him with both Medland and Norburn on Saturday."

"I don't suppose they were planning to murder this Benham. Indeed, I don't see that the thing can have been political at all. What did it matter whether Benham lived or died?"

"I don't see that it did, except to Benham," assented the Captain. "But what's become of Gaspard?"

"Ah, that they don't know. He's supposed to have taken ship, and they've cabled to search all ships that left the port that morning."

"He'll find the man in blue--or the local equivalent--on the wharf," said the Captain. "Rather a jar that, Sir Robert, when you're in from a voyage. What are they doing now?"

"Well, the Superintendent said they were going to have a thorough search through the dead man's lodgings, to see if they could find out anything about him which would throw light on the motive. The police don't think much of the political theory of the crime."

"Dashed nonsense, _I should think," said the Captain, and he sauntered off to play billiards.

"That young man," said the Chief Justice, "is really not a fool, though he does his best to look like one."

"That queer conduct seems to me rather common in young men at home. I noticed it when I was over."

"Is it meant to imply independent means?"

"I dare say that idea may be dormant under it somewhere. My wife says the girls like it."

"Then your wife, Perry, is a traitor to her sex to make such confessions. Besides, they didn't in my time."

"Come, you know, you're a forlorn bachelor. What can you know about it?"

"Bachelors, Perry, are the men who know. Which gathers most knowledge from a vivisection, the attentive student or the writhing frog?"

"The operator, most of all."

"Doubtless."

"And that's the woman. Therefore, Oakapple, you're wrong and my wife's right."

"The deuce!" said the Chief Justice. "I wonder how I ever got any briefs."

In the afternoon, when these idlers had one and all set out for the Legislative Assembly, some to work, others still to idle, Mr. Kilshaw felt interest enough in the fate of his late henchman to drop in at the police office on his way to the same destination. He was well known, and no one objected to his walking in and making for the door of the Superintendent's room. An officer to whom he spoke told him that Ned Evans was in custody, and that it was rumoured that some startling discoveries had been made at Benham's lodgings.

"Indeed, sir," said the man, "I believe the Superintendent wished to see you."

"Ah, I dare say," said Kilshaw. "Tell him I'm here."

When he was ushered into the inner room, the Superintendent confirmed the officer's surmise.

"I was going to send a message to ask you to step round, sir," he remarked.

"Here I am, but don't be long. I don't want to miss the Premier's speech."

"Mr. Medland speaking to-day?"

"Of course. It's a great day with us at the House."

"I think it looks like being a great day all round. Well, Mr. Kilshaw, you told me you knew the deceased."

"Yes, I knew Benham."

"Benyon," corrected the Superintendent.

"Yes, that was his real name," assented Kilshaw.

"At his lodgings there was found a packet. That's the wrapper," and he handed a piece of brown paper to Kilshaw.

"In case," Kilshaw read, "of my death or disappearance, please deliver this parcel to Mr. Kilshaw, Legislative Assembly, Kirton."

"I'm sorry to say, sir," said the Superintendent, "that the detective sergeant conducting the search took upon him to open this packet in the presence of one or two persons. It ought to have been opened by no one but----"

"Myself."

"Pardon me, but myself," said the Superintendent, with a slight smile. "Owing to the inexcusable blunder, I'm afraid something about what it contains may leak out prematurely. Those pests, the reporters, are everywhere; you can't keep 'em out."

"Well, what does it contain?" asked Kilshaw. He was annoyed at this unsought publicity, but he saw at once that he must show no sign of vexation.

"That, for one thing," and the Superintendent handed Kilshaw a photograph of two persons, a young woman and a young man. "Look at the back," he added.

Kilshaw looked, and read--"My wife and M."

"That's the deceased's handwriting?"

"Yes."

"And you know the persons?"

"I've no doubt about them. It's the Premier--and--and Mrs. Medland."

"Exactly. Now read this," and he gave him the copy of a certificate of marriage between George Benyon and Margaret Aspland.

"Quite so," nodded Kilshaw.

"And this."

Kilshaw took the slip of newspaper, old and yellow. It contained a few lines, briefly recording that Mrs. Benyon had left her home secretly by night, in her husband's absence, and could not be found.

Kilshaw nodded again.

"It doesn't surprise me," he said. "I knew all this. I was in Mr. Benyon's confidence."

"Perhaps you can tell us how he lived?" hazarded the Superintendent, with a shrewd look.

Mr. Kilshaw looked doubtful.

"The inquest is fixed for to-morrow. The more we know now, the less it will be necessary to protract it."

"I have been helping him lately," admitted Kilshaw; and he added, "Look here, Superintendent, I don't want that more talked about than necessary."

"You needn't say a word to me now unless you like, sir; but I only want to make things as comfortable as I can. You see, the coroner is bound to look into it a bit. Had you given him money lately?"

"Yes."

"Much?"

Kilshaw leant forward and answered, almost in a whisper,

"Five hundred on Friday night," and in spite of himself he avoided the Superintendent's shrewd eye. But that officer's business was not to pass moral judgments. Law is one thing, morality another.

"Then the thing's as plain as a pikestaff. This Gaspard got to know about the money, and murdered him to get it. We needn't look further for a motive."

"I suppose all this will have to come out? I wonder if Gaspard knew who Benham was?"

"It's not necessary to suppose that, unless we believe all Evans says. Certainly, if we trust Evans, Gaspard hinted designs on some one before he could have known Benyon had this money. Could he have known he was going to have it?"

"Benyon may have told him I had promised to help him."

"Well, sir, we must see about that. We shall want you at the inquest, sir."

"I suppose you will, confound you! And I should think you'd want a greater man than I am, too."

The Superintendent looked grave.

"I am going up to try and see the Premier at the House to-day," he said. "I think we shall have to trouble him. You see, he knew Gaspard as well as the deceased."

"I'll give you a lift. You can keep out of the way till he's at leisure."

At this moment one of the police entered, and handed the Superintendent a copy of the _Evening Mail_.

"It's as you feared, sir," he remarked as he went out.

The Superintendent opened the paper, looked at it for an instant, and then indicated a passage with his forefinger.

"It is rumoured," read Mr. Kilshaw, "that certain very startling facts have come to light regarding the identity of the deceased man Benham, and that the name of a very prominent politician, now holding an exalted office, is likely to be introduced into the case. As the matter will be public property to-morrow, we may be allowed to state that trustworthy reports point to the fact of the Premier being in a position to give some important information as to the past life of the deceased. It is said that a photograph of two persons, one of whom is Mr. Medland, has been discovered among the papers at Mr. Benham's (or we should say Benyon's) lodgings. Further developments of this strange affair will be awaited with interest."

"I wish," commented the Superintendent grimly, "that my men could keep a secret as well as their man can sniff one out."

But Mr. Kilshaw was too excited to listen.

"By Jove," he cried, "the news'll be at the House by now! Come along, man, come along!"

And, as they went, they read the rest; for the paper had it all--even a copy of that marriage certificate.

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