The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 13.

Madge Makes a Discovery.

Madge stepped into the cab, and Calton paused a moment to tell the cabman to drive to the railway station Suddenly she stopped him.

“Tell him to drive to Brian’s lodgings in Powlett Street,” she said, laying her hand on Calton’s arm.

“What for?” asked the lawyer, in astonishment.

“And also to go past the Melbourne Club, as I want to stop there.”

“What the deuce does she mean?” muttered Calton, as he gave the necessary orders, and stepped into the cab.

“And now,” he asked, looking at his companion, who had let down her veil, while the cab rattled quickly down the street, “what do you intend to do?”

She threw back her veil, and he was astonished to see the sudden change which had come over her. There were no tears now, and her eyes were hard and glittering, while her mouth was firmly closed. She looked like a woman who had determined to do a certain thing, and would carry out her intention at whatever cost.

“I intend to save Brian in spite of himself,” she said, very distinctly.

“But how?”

“Ah, you think that, being a woman, I can do nothing,” she said, bitterly. “Well, you shall see.”

“I beg your pardon,” retorted Calton, with a grim smile, “my opinion of your sex has always been an excellent one — every lawyer’s is; stands to reason that it should be so, seeing that a woman is at the bottom of nine cases out of ten.”

“The old cry.”

“Nevertheless a true one,” answered Calton. “Ever since the time of Father Adam it has been acknowledged that women influence the world either for good or evil more than men. But this is not to the point,” he went on, rather impatiently.

“What do you propose to do?”

“Simply this,” she answered. “In the first place, I may tell you that I do not understand Brian’s statement that he keeps silence for my sake, as there are no secrets in my life that can justify his saying so. The facts of the case are simply these: Brian, on the night in question, left our house at St. Kilda, at eleven o’clock. He told me that he would call at the Club to see if there were any letters for him, and then go straight home.”

“But he might have said that merely as a blind.”

Madge shook her head.

“No, I don’t think so. I did not ask him where he was going. He told me quite spontaneously. I know Brian’s character, and he would not tell a deliberate lie, especially when there was no necessity for it. I am quite certain that he intended to do as he said, and go straight home. When he got to the Club, he found a letter there, which caused him to alter his mind.”

“From whom was the letter?”

“Can’t you guess,” she said impatiently. “From the person, man or woman, who wanted to see him and reveal this secret about me, whatever it is. He got the letter at his Club, and went down Collins Street to meet the writer. At the corner of the Scotch Church he found Mr. Whyte, and on recognising him, left in disgust, and walked down Russell Street to keep his appointment.”

“Then you don’t think he came back.”

“I am certain he did not, for, as Brian told you, there are plenty of young men who wear the same kind of coat and hat as he does. Who the second man who got into the cab was I do not know, but I will swear that it was not Brian.”

“And you are going to look for that letter?”

“Yes, in Brian’s lodgings.”

“He might have burnt it.”

“He might have done a thousand things, but he did not,” she answered. “Brian is the most careless man in the world; he would put the letter into his pocket, or throw it into the waste-paper basket, and never think of it again.”

“In this case he did, however.”

“Yes, he thought of the conversation he had with the writer, but not of the letter itself. Depend upon it, we shall find it in his desk, or in one of the pockets of the clothes he wore that night.”

“Then there’s another thing,” said Calton, thoughtfully. “The letter might, have been delivered to him between the Elizabeth Street Railway Station and the Club.”

“We can soon find out about that,” answered Madge; “for Mr. Rolleston was with him at the time.”

“So he was,” answered Calton; “and here is Rolleston coming down the street. We’ll ask him now.”

The cab was just passing the Burke and Wills’ monument, and Calton’s quick eye had caught a glimpse of Rolleston walking down the left-hand side. What first attracted Calton’s attention was the glittering appearance of Felix. His well-brushed top hat glittered, his varnished boots glittered, and his rings and scarf-pin glittered; in fact, so resplendent was his appearance that he looked like an animated diamond coming along in the blazing sunshine.

The cab drove up to the kerb, and Rolleston stopped short, as Calton sprang out directly in front of him. Madge lay back in the cab and pulled down her veil, not wishing to be recognised by Felix, as she knew that if he did it would soon be all over the town.

“Hallo! old chap,” said Rolleston, in considerable astonishment. “Where did you spring from?”

“From the cab, of course,” answered Calton, with a laugh.

“A kind of DEUS EX MACHINA,” replied Rolleston, attempting a bad pun.

“Exactly,” said Calton. “Look here, Rolleston, do you remember the night of Whyte’s murder — you met Fitzgerald at the Railway Station.”

“In the train,” corrected Felix.

“Well, well, no matter, you came up with him to the Club.”

“Yes, and left him there.”

“Did you notice if he received any message while he was with you?”

“Any message?” repeated Felix. “No, he did not; we were talking together the whole time, and he spoke to no one but me.”

“Was he in good spirits?”

“Excellent, made me laugh awfully — but why all this thusness?”

“Oh, nothing,” answered Calton, getting back into the cab. “I wanted a little information from you; I’ll explain next time I see you — Good-bye!”

“But I say,” began Felix, but the cab had already rattled away, so Mr. Rolleston turned angrily away.

“I never saw anything like these lawyers,” he said to himself.

“Calton’s a perfect whirlwind, by Jove.”

Meanwhile Calton was talking to Madge.

“You were right,” he said, “there must have been a message for him at the Club, for he got none from the time he left your place.”

“And what shall we do now?” asked Madge, who, having heard all the conversation, did not trouble to question the lawyer about it.

“Find out at the Club if any letter was waiting for him on that night,” said Calton, as the cab stopped at the door of the Melbourne Club. “Here we are,” and with a hasty word to Madge, he ran up the steps.

He went to the office of the Club to find out if any letters had been waiting for Fitzgerald, and found there a waiter with whom he was pretty well acquainted.

“Look here, Brown,” said the lawyer, “do you remember on that Thursday night when the hansom cab murder took place if any letters were waiting here for Mr. Fitzgerald?”

“Well, really, sir,” hesitated Brown, “it’s so long ago that I almost forget.”

Calton gave him a sovereign.

“Oh! it’s not that, Mr. Calton,” said the waiter, pocketing the coin, nevertheless. “But I really do forget.”

“Try and remember,” said Calton, shortly.

Brown made a tremendous effort of memory, and at last gave a satisfactory answer.

“No, sir, there were none!”

“Are you sure?” said Calton, feeling a thrill of disappointment.

“Quite sure, sir,” replied the other, confidently, “I went to the letter rack several times that night, and I am sure there were none for Mr. Fitzgerald.”

“Ah! I thought as much,” said Calton, heaving a sigh.

“Stop!” said Brown, as though struck with a sudden idea. “Though there was no letter came by post, sir, there was one brought to him on that night.”

“Ah!” said Calton, turning sharply. “At what time?”

“Just before twelve o’clock, sir.”

“Who brought it?”

“A young woman, sir,” said Brown, in a tone of disgust. “A bold thing, beggin’ your pardon, sir; and no better than she should be. She bounced in at the door as bold as brass, and sings out, ‘Is he in?’ ‘Get out,’ I says, ‘or I’ll call the perlice.’ ‘Oh no, you won’t,’ says she. ‘You’ll give him that,’ and she shoves a letter into my hands. ‘Who’s him?’ I asks. ‘I dunno,’ she answers. ‘It’s written there, and I can’t read; give it him at once.’ And then she clears out before I could stop her.”

“And the letter was for Mr. Fitzgerald?”

“Yes, sir; and a precious dirty letter it was, too.”

“You gave it to him, of course?”

“I did, sir. He was playing cards, and he put it in his pocket, after having looked at the outside of it, and went on with his game.”

“Didn’t he open it?”

“Not then, sir; but he did later on, about a quarter to one o’clock. I was in the room, and he opens it and reads it. Then he says to himself, ‘What d — d impertinence,’ and puts it into his pocket.”

“Was he disturbed!”

“Well, sir, he looked angry like, and put his coat and hat on, and walked out about five minutes to one.”

“Ah! and he met Whyte at one,” muttered Calton. “There’s no doubt about it. The letter was an appointment, and he was going to keep it. What kind of a letter was it?” he asked.

“Very dirty, sir, in a square envelope; but the paper was good, and so was the writing.”

“That will do,” said Calton; “I am much obliged to you,” and he hurried down to where Madge awaited him in the cab.

“You were right,” he said to her, when the cab was once more in motion “He got a letter on that night, and went to keep his appointment at the time he met Whyte.”

“I knew it,” cried Madge with delight. “You see, we will find it in his lodgings.”

“I hope so,” answered Calton; “but we must not be too sanguine; he may have destroyed it.”

“No, he has not,” she replied. “I am convinced it is there.”

“Well,” answered Calton, looking at her, “I don’t contradict you, for your feminine instincts have done more to discover the truth than my reasonings; but that is often the case with women — they jump in the dark where a man would hesitate, and in nine cases out of ten land safely.”

“Alas for the tenth!” said Miss Frettlby. “She has to be the one exception to prove the rule.”

She had in a great measure recovered her spirits, and seemed confident that she would save her lover. But Mr. Calton saw that her nerves were strung up to the highest pitch, and that it; was only her strong will that kept her from breaking down altogether.

“By Jove,” he muttered, in an admiring tone, as he watched her. “She’s a plucky girl, and Fitzgerald is a lucky man to have the love of such a woman.”

They soon arrived at Brian’s lodgings, and the door was opened by Mrs. Sampson, who looked very disconsolate indeed. The poor cricket had been blaming herself severely for the information she had given to the false insurance agent, and the floods of tears which she had wept had apparently had an effect on her physical condition, for she crackled less loudly than usual, though her voice was as shrill as ever.

“That sich a thing should ’ave ’appened to ’im,” she wailed, in her thin, high voice. “An’ me that proud of ’im, not ’avin’ any family of my own, except one as died and went up to ’eaving arter ’is father, which I ’opes as they both are now angels, an’ friendly, as ’is nature ’ad not developed in this valley of the shadder to determine ’is feelin’s towards is father when ’e died, bein’ carried off by a chill, caused by the change from ’ot to cold, the weather bein’ that contrary.”

They had arrived in Brian’s sitting-room by this time, and Madge sank into a chair, while Calton, anxious to begin the search, hinted to Mrs. Sampson that she could go.

“I’m departin’, sir,” piped the cricket, with a sad shake of her head, as she opened the door; “knowin’, as I do, as ’e’s as innocent as an unborn babe, an’ to think of me ’avin’ told that ’orrid pusson who ’ad no regard for the truth all about ’im as is now in a cold cell, not as what the weather ain’t warm, an’ ’e won’t want a fire as long as they allows ’im blankets.”

“What did you tell him?” asked Calton, sharply.

“Ah! you may well say that,” lamented Mrs. Sampson, rolling her dingy handkerchief into a ball, and dabbing at her red-rimmed eyes, which presented quite a bacchanalian appearance, due, be it said in justice, to grief, not to liquor. “‘Avin’ bin beguiled by that serping in light clothes as wanted to know if ’e allays come ’ome afore twelve, which I said ’e was in the ’abit of doin’, tho’, to be sure, ’e did sometimes use ’is latch-key.”

“The night of the murder, for instance.”

“Oh! don’t say that, sir,” said Mrs. Sampson, with a terrified crackle. “Me bein’ weak an’ ailin’, tho’ comin’ of a strong family, as allays lived to a good age, thro’ bein’ in the ’abit of wearin’ flannels, which my mother’s father thought better nor a-spilin’ the inside with chemistry.”

“Clever man, that detective,” murmured Calton to himself. “He got out of her by strategy what he never would have done by force. It’s a strong piece of evidence against Fitzgerald, but it does not matter much if he can prove an alibi. You’ll likely be called as a witness for the prosecution,” he said aloud.

“Me, sir!” squeaked Mrs. Sampson, trembling violently, and thereby producing a subdued rustle, as of wind in the trees. “As I’ve never bin in the court, ’cept the time as father tooked me for a treat, to ’ear a murder, which there’s no denyin’ is as good as a play, ’e bein’ ’ung, ’avin’ ’it ’is wife over the ’ead with the poker when she weren’t lookin’, and a-berryin’ ’er corpse in a back garding, without even a stone to mark the place, let alone a line from the Psalms and a remuneration of ’er virtues.”

“Well, well,” said Calton, rather impatiently, as he opened the door for her, “leave us for a short time, there’s a good soul. Miss Frettlby and I want to rest, and we will ring for you when we are going.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the lachrymose landlady, “an’ I ’opes they won’t ’ang ’im, which is sich a choky way of dyin’; but in life we are in death,” she went on, rather incoherently, “as is well known to them as ’as diseases, an’ may be corpsed at any minute, and as — ”

Here Calton, unable to restrain his impatience any longer, shut the door, and they heard Mrs. Sampson’s shrill voice and subdued cracklings die away in the distance.

“Now then,” he said, “now that we have got rid of that woman and her tongue, where are we to begin?”

“The desk,” replied Madge, going over to it. “it’s the most likely place.”

“Don’t think so,” said Calton, shaking his head. “If, as you say, Fitzgerald is a careless man, he would not have troubled to put it there. However; perhaps we’d better look.”

The desk was very untidy (“Just like Brian,” as Madge remarked) — full of paid and unpaid bills, old letters, play-bills, ball-programmes, and withered flowers.

“Reminiscences of former flirtations,” said Calton, with a laugh, pointing to these.

“I should not wonder,” retorted Miss Frettlby, coolly. “Brian always was in love with some one or other; but you know what Lytton says, ‘There are many counterfeits, but only one Eros,’ so I can afford to forget these things.”

The letter, however, was not to be found in the desk, nor was it in the sitting-room. They tried the bedroom, but with no better result. Madge was about to give up the search in despair, when suddenly Calton’s eye fell on the waste-paper basket, which, by some unaccountable reason, they had over-looked. The basket was half-full, in fact; more than half, and, on looking at it, a sudden thought struck the lawyer. He rang the bell, and presently Mrs. Sampson made her appearance.

“How long has that waste-paper basket been standing like that?” he asked, pointing to it.

“It bein’ the only fault I ’ad to find with ’im,” said Mrs. Sampson, “’e bein’ that untidy that ’e a never let me clean it out until ’e told me pussonly. ‘E said as ’ow ’e throwed things into it as ’e might ’ave to look up again; an’ I ’aven’t touched it for more nor six weeks, ’opin’ you won’t think me a bad ’ousekeeper, it bein’ ’is own wish — bein’ fond of litter an’ sich like.”

“Six weeks,” repeated Calton, with a look at Madge. “Ah, and he got the letter four weeks ago. Depend upon it, we shall find it there.”

Madge gave a cry, and falling on her knees, emptied the basket out on the floor, and both she and Calton were soon as busy among the fragments of paper as though they were rag-pickers.

“‘Opin they ain’t orf their ’eads,” murmured Mrs. Sampson, as she went to the door, “but it looks like it, they bein’ — ”

Suddenly a cry broke from Madge, as she drew out of the mass of paper a half-burnt letter, written on thick and creamy-looking paper.

“At last,” she cried, rising off her knees, and smoothing it out; “I knew he had not destroyed it.”

“Pretty nearly, however,” said Calton, as his eye glanced rapidly over it; “it’s almost useless as it is. There’s no name to it.”

He took it over to the window, and spread it out upon the table. It was dirty, and half burnt, but still it was a clue. Here is a FAC-SIMILE of the letter:—

“There is not much to be gained from that, I’m afraid,” said Madge, sadly. “It shows that he had an appointment — but where?”

Calton did not answer, but, leaning his head on his hands, stared hard at the paper. At last he jumped up with a cry —

“I have it,” he said, in an excited tone. “Look at that paper; see how creamy and white it is, and above all, look at the printing in the corner — ‘OT VILLA, TOORAK.’”

“Then he went down to Toorak?”

“In an hour, and back again — hardly!”

“Then it was not written from Toorak?”

“No, it was written in one of the Melbourne back slums.”

“How do you know?”

“Look at the girl who brought it,” said Calton, quickly. “A disreputable woman, one far more likely to come from the back slums than from Toorak. As to the paper, three months ago there was a robbery at Toorak, and this is some of the paper that was stolen by the thieves.”

Madge said nothing, but her sparkling eyes and the nervous trembling of her hands showed her excitement.

“I will see a detective this evening,” said Calton, exultingly, “find out where this letter came from, and who wrote it. We’ll save him yet,” he said, placing the precious letter carefully in his pocket-book.

“You think that you will be able to find the woman who wrote that?”

“Hum,” said the lawyer, looking thoughtful, “she may be dead, as the letter says she is in a dying condition. However, if I can find the woman who delivered the letter at the Club, and who waited for Fitzgerald at the corner of Bourke and Russell Streets, that will be sufficient. All I want to prove is that he was not in the hansom cab with Whyte.”

“And do you think you can do that?”

“Depends upon this letter,” said Calton, tapping his pocket-book with his finger. “I’ll tell you to-morrow.”

Shortly afterwards they left the house, and when Calton put Madge safely into the St. Kilda train, her heart felt lighter than it had done since Fitzgerald’s arrest.

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