The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 11.

Counsel for the Prisoner.

Brian Fitzgerald was arrested at a few minutes past three o’clock, and by five all Melbourne was ringing with the news that the perpetrator of the now famous hansom cab murder had been caught. The evening papers were full of the affair, and the Herald went through several editions, the demand being far in the excess of the supply. Such a crime had not been committed in Melbourne since the Greer shooting case in the Opera House, and the mystery by which it was surrounded, made it even more sensational. The committal of the crime in such an extraordinary place as a hansom cab had been startling enough, but the discovery that the assassin was one of the most fashionable young men in Melbourne was still more so. Brian Fitzgerald being well known in society as a wealthy squatter, and the future husband of one of the richest and prettiest girls in Victoria, it was no wonder that his arrest caused some sensation. The Herald, which was fortunate enough to obtain the earliest information about the arrest, made the best use of it, and published a flaming article in its most sensational type, somewhat after this fashion:—

HANSOM CAB TRAGEDY. ARREST OF THE SUPPOSED MURDERER. STARTLING REVELATIONS IN HIGH LIFE.

It is needless to say that some of the reporters had painted the lily pretty freely, but the public were ready to believe everything that came out in the papers.

Mr. Frettlby, the day after Brian’s arrest, had a long conversation with his daughter, and wanted her to go up to Yabba Yallook Station until the public excitement had somewhat subsided. But this Madge flatly refused to do.

“I’m not going to desert him when he most needs me,” she said, resolutely; “everybody has turned against him, even before they have heard the facts of the case. He says he is not guilty, and I believe him.”

“Then let him prove his innocence,” said her father, who was pacing slowly up and down the room; “if he did not get into the cab with Whyte he must have been somewhere else; so he ought to set up the defence of an alibi.”

“He can easily do that,” said Madge, with a ray of hope lighting up her sad face, “he was here till eleven o’clock on Thursday night.”

“Very probably,” returned her father, dryly; “but where was he at one o’clock on Friday morning?”

“Besides, Mr. Whyte left the house long before Brian did,” she went on rapidly. “You must remember — it was when you quarrelled with Mr. Whyte.”

“My dear Madge,” said Frettlby, stopping in front of her with a displeased look, “you are incorrect — Whyte and myself did not quarrel. He asked me if it were true that Fitzgerald was engaged to you, and I answered ‘Yes.’ That was all, and then he left the house.”

“Yes, and Brian didn’t go until two hours after,” said Madge, triumphantly. “He never saw Mr. Whyte the whole night.”

“So he says,” replied Mr. Frettlby, significantly. “I believe Brian before any one else in the world,” said his daughter, hotly, with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes.

“Ah! but will a jury?” queried her father.

“You have turned against him, too,” answered Madge, her eyes filling with tears. “You believe him guilty.”

“I am not prepared either to deny or confirm his guilt,” said Mr. Frettlby, coldly. “I have done what I could to help him — I have engaged Calton to defend him, and, if eloquence and skill can save him, you may set your mind at rest.”

“My dear father,” said Madge, throwing her arms round his neck, “I knew you would not desert him altogether, for my sake.”

“My darling,” replied her father, in a faltering voice, as he kissed her, “there is nothing in the world I would not do for your sake.”

Meanwhile Brian was sitting in his cell in the Melbourne Jail, thinking sadly enough about his position. He saw no hope of escape except one, and that he did not intend to take advantage of.

“It would kill her; it would kill her,” he said, feverishly, as he paced to and fro over the echoing stones. “Better that the last of the Fitzgeralds should perish like a common thief than that she should know the bitter truth. If I engage a lawyer to defend me,” he went on, “the first question he will ask me will be where was I on that night, and if I tell him all will be discovered, and then — no — no — I cannot do it; it would kill her, my darling,” and throwing himself down on the bed, he covered his face with his hands.

He was roused by the opening of the door of his cell, and on looking up saw that it was Calton who entered. He was a great friend of Fitzgerald’s, and Brian was deeply touched by his kindness in coming to see him.

Duncan Calton had a kindly heart, and was anxious to help Brian, but there was also a touch of self interest in the matter. He had received a note from Mr. Frettlby, asking him to defend Fitzgerald, which he agreed to do with avidity, as he foresaw in this case an opportunity for his name becoming known throughout the Australian colonies. It is true that he was already a celebrated lawyer, but his reputation was purely a local one, and as he foresaw that Fitzgerald’s trial for murder would cause a great sensation throughout Australia and New Zealand, he determined to take advantage of it as another step in the ladder which led to fame, wealth, and position. So this tall, keen-eyed man, with the clean shaven face and expressive mouth, advanced into the cell, and took Brian by the hand.

“It is very kind of you to come and see me,” said Fitzgerald; “it is at a time like this that one appreciates friendship.”

“Yes, of course,” answered the lawyer, fixing his keen eyes on the other’s haggard face, as if he would read his innermost thoughts. “I came partly on my own account, and partly because Frettlby asked me to see you as to your defence.”

“Mr. Frettlby?” said Brian, in a mechanical way. “He is very kind; I thought he believed me guilty.”

“No man is considered guilty until he has been proved so,” answered Calton, evasively.

Brian noticed how guarded the answer was, for he heaved an impatient sigh.

“And Miss Frettlby?” he asked, in a hesitating manner. This time he got a decided answer.

“She declines to believe you guilty, and will not hear a word said against you.”

“God bless her,” said Brian, fervently; “she is a true woman. I suppose I am pretty well canvassed?” he added, bitterly.

“Nothing else talked about,” answered Calton, calmly. “Your arrest has for the present suspended all interest in theatres, cricket matches, and balls, and you are at the present moment being discussed threadbare in Clubs and drawing-rooms.”

Fitzgerald writhed. He was a singularly proud man, and there was something inexpressibly galling in this unpleasant publicity.

“But this is all idle chatter,” said Calton, taking a seat.

“We must get to business. Of course, you will accept me as your counsel.”

“It’s no good my doing so,” replied Brian, gloomily. “The rope is already round my neck.”

“Nonsense,” replied the lawyer, cheerfully, “the rope is round no man’s neck until he is on the scaffold. Now, you need not say a word,” he went on, holding up his hand as Brian was about to speak; “I intend to defend you, whether you like it or not. I do not know all the facts, except what the papers have stated, and they exaggerate so much that one can place no reliance on them. At all events, I believe from my heart that you are innocent, and you must walk out of the prisoner’s dock a free man, if only for the sake of that noble girl who loves you.”

Brian did not answer, but put out his hand, which the other grasped warmly.

“I will not deny,” went on Calton, “that there is a little bit of professional curiosity about me. This case is such an extraordinary one, that I feel as if I were unable to let slip an opportunity of doing something with it. I don’t care for your humdrum murders with the poker, and all that sort of thing, but this is something clever, and therefore interesting. When you are safe we will look together for the real criminal, and the pleasure of the search will be proportionate to the excitement when we find him out.”

“I agree with everything you say,” said Fitzgerald, calmly, “but I have no defence to make.”

“No defence? You are not going to confess you killed him?”

“No,” with an angry flush, “but there are certain circumstances which prevent me from defending myself.”

“What nonsense,” retorted Calton, sharply, “as if any circumstances should prevent a man from saving his own life. But never mind, I like these objections; they make the nut harder to crack — but the kernel must be worth getting at. Now, I want you to answer certain questions.”

“I won’t promise.”

“Well, we shall see,” said the lawyer, cheerfully, taking out his note-book, and resting it on his knee. “First, where were you on the Thursday night preceding the murder?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Oh, yes, you can, my friend. You left St. Kilda, and came up to town by the eleven o’clock train.”

“Eleven-twenty,” corrected Brian.

Calton smiled in a gratified manner as he noted this down. “A little diplomacy is all that’s required,” he said mentally.

“And where did you go then?” he added, aloud.

“I met Rolleston in the train, and we took a cab from the Flinders Street station up to the Club.”

“What Club?”

“The Melbourne Club.”

“Yes?” interrogatively.

“Rolleston went home, and I went into the Club and played cards for a time.”

“When did you leave the Club?”

“A few minutes to one o’clock in the morning.”

“And then, I suppose, you went home?”

“No; I did not.”

“Then where did you go?”

“Down the street.”

“Rather vague. I presume you mean Collins Street?”

“Yes.”

“You were going to meet some one, I suppose?”

“I never said so.”

“Probably not; but young men don’t wander about the streets at night without some object.”

“I was restless and wanted a walk.”

“Indeed! How curious you should prefer going into the heart of the dusty town for a walk to strolling through the Fitzroy Gardens, which were on your way home! It won’t do; you had an appointment to meet some one.”

“Well — er — yes.”

“I thought as much. Man or woman?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Then I must find out for myself.”

“You can’t.”

“Indeed! Why not?”

“You don’t know where to look for her.”

“Her,” cried Calton, delighted at the success of his craftily-put question. “I knew it was a woman.”

Brian did not answer, but sat biting his lips with vexation.

“Now, who is this woman?”

No answer.

“Come now, Fitzgerald, I know that young men will be young men, and, of course, you don’t like these things talked about; but in this case your character must be sacrificed to save your neck. What is her name?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Oh! you know it, then?”

“Well, yes.”

“And you won’t tell me?”

“No!”

Calton, however, had found out two things that pleased him; first, that Fitzgerald had an appointment, and, second that it had been with a woman. He pursued another line.

“When did you last see Whyte!”

Brian answered with great reluctance, “I saw him drunk by the Scotch Church.”

“What! you were the man who hailed the hansom?”

“Yes,” assented the other, hesitating slightly, “I was!”

The thought flashed through Calton’s brain as to whether the young man before him was guilty or not, and he was obliged to confess that things looked very black against him.

“Then what the newspapers said was correct?”

“Partly.”

“Ah!” Calton drew a long breath — here was a ray of hope.

“You did not know it was Whyte when you found him lying drunk near the Scotch Church?”

“No, I did not. Had I known it was he I would not have picked him up.”

“Of course, you recognised him afterwards?”

“Yes I did. And, as the paper stated, I dropped him and walked away.”

“Why did you leave him so abruptly?”

Brian looked at his questioner in some surprise.

“Because I detested him,” he said, shortly.

“Why did you detest him?”

No answer. “Was it because he admired Miss Frettlby, and from all appearances, was going to marry her?”

“Well, yes,” sullenly.

“And now,” said Calton, impressively, “this is the whole point upon which the case turns. Why did you get into the cab with him?”

“I did not get into the cab.”

“The cabman declares that you did.”

“He is wrong. I never came back after I recognised Whyte.”

“Then who was the man who got into the cab with Whyte?”

“I don’t know.”

“You have no idea?”

“Not the least.”

“You are certain?”

“Yes, perfectly certain.”

“He seems to have been dressed exactly like you.”

“Very probably. I could name at least a dozen of my acquaintances who wear light coats over their evening dress, and soft hats.”

“Do you know if Whyte had any enemies?”

“No, I don’t; I know nothing about him, beyond that he came from England a short time ago with a letter of introduction to Mr. Frettlby, and had the impertinence to ask Madge to marry him.”

“Where did Whyte live?”

“Down in St. Kilda, at the end of Grey Street.”

“How do you know?”

“It was in the papers, and — and — ” hesitatingly, “I called on him.”

“Why?”

“To see if he would cease his attentions to Madge, and to tell him that she was engaged to me.”

“And what did he say?”

“Laughed at me. Curse him.”

“You had high words, evidently?”

Brian laughed bitterly.

“Yes, we had.”

“Did anyone hear you?”

“The landlady did, I think. I saw her in the passage as I left the house.”

“The prosecution will bring her forward as a witness.”

“Very likely,” indifferently.

“Did you say anything likely to incriminate yourself?” Fitzgerald turned away his head.

“Yes,” he answered in a low voice, “I spoke very wildly — indeed, I did not know at the time what I said.”

“Did you threaten him?”

“Yes, I did. I told him I would kill him if he persisted in his plan of marrying Madge.”

“Ah! if the landlady can swear that she heard you say so, it will form a strong piece of evidence against you. So far as I can see, there is only one defence, and that is an easy one — you must prove an alibi.”

No answer.

“You say you did not come back and get into the cab?” said Calton, watching the face of the other closely.

“No, it was some one else dressed like me.”

“And you have no idea who it was?”

“No, I have not.”

“Then, after you left Whyte, and walked along Russel! Street, where did you go?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Were you intoxicated?”

“No!” indignantly.

“Then you remember?”

“Yes.”

“And where were you?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“You refuse.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Take time to consider. You may have to pay a heavy price for your refusal.”

“If necessary, I will pay it.”

“And you won’t tell me where you were?”

“No, I won’t.”

Calton was beginning to feel annoyed.

“You’re very foolish,” he said, “sacrificing your life to some feeling of false modesty. You must prove an alibi.”

No answer.

“At what hour did you get home?”

“About two o’clock in the morning.”

“Did you walk home?”

“Yes — through the Fitzroy Gardens.”

“Did you see anyone on your way home?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Did anyone see you?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Then you refuse to tell me where you were between one and two o’clock on Friday morning?”

“Absolutely!”

Calton thought for a moment, to consider his next move.

“Did you know that Whyte carried valuable papers about with him?”

Fitzgerald hesitated, and turned pale.

“No! I did not know,” he said, reluctantly.

The lawyer made a master stroke.

“Then why did you take them from him?”

“What! Had he it with him?”

Calton saw his advantage, and seized it at once.

“Yes, he had it with him. Why did you take it?”

“I did not take it. I didn’t even know he had it with him.”

“Indeed! Will you kindly tell me what ‘it’ is Brian saw the trap into which he had fallen.”

“No! I will not,” he answered steadily.

“Was it a jewel?”

“No!”

“Was it an important paper?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ah! It was a paper. I can see it in your face. And was that paper of importance to you?”

“Why do you ask?”

Calton fixed his keen grey eyes steadily on Brian’s face.

“Because,” he answered slowly, “the man to whom that paper was of such value murdered Whyte.”

Brian started up, ghastly pale.

“My God!” he almost shrieked, stretching out his hands, “it is true after all,” and he fell down on the stone pavement in a dead faint.

Calton, alarmed, summoned the gaoler, and between them they placed him on the bed, and dashed some cold water over his face. He recovered, and moaned feebly, while Calton, seeing that he was unfit to be spoken to, left the prison. When he got outside he stopped for a moment and looked back on the grim, grey walls.

“Brian Fitzgerald,” he said to himself “you did not commit the murder yourself, but you know who did.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/fergus/h93my/chapter11.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42