The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 16.

Missing.

The next day Kilsip called at Calton’s office late in the afternoon, and found the lawyer eagerly expecting him. The detective’s face, however, looked rather dismal, and Calton was not reassured.

“Well!” he said, impatiently, when Kilsip had closed the door and taken his seat. “Where is she?”

“That’s just what I want to know,” answered the detective, coolly; “I went to the Salvation Army headquarters and made enquiries about her. It appears that she had been in the Army as a hallelujah lass, but got tired of it in a week, and went off with a friend of hers to Sydney. She carried on her old life of dissipation, but, ultimately, her friend got sick of her, and the last thing they heard about her was that she had taken up with a Chinaman in one of the Sydney slums. I telegraphed at once to Sydney, and got a reply that there was no person of the name of Sal Rawlins known to the Sydney police, but they said they would make enquiries, and let me know the result.”

“Ah! she has, no doubt, changed her name,” said Calton, thoughtfully, stroking his chin. “I wonder why?”

“Wanted to get rid of the Army, I expect,” answered Kilsip, drily. “The straying lamb did not care about being hunted back to the fold.”

“And when did she join the Army?”

“The very day after the murder.”

“Rather sudden conversion?”

“Yes, but she said the death of the woman on Thursday night had so startled her, that she went straight off to the Army to get her religion properly fixed up.”

“The effects of fright, no doubt,” said Calton, dryly. “I’ve met a good many examples of these sudden conversions, but they never last long as a rule — it’s a case of ‘the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be,’ more than anything else. Good-looking?”

“So-so, I believe,” replied Kilsip, shrugging his shoulders.

“Very ignorant — could neither read nor write.”

“That accounts for her not asking for Fitzgerald when she called at the Club — she probably did not know whom she had been sent for. It will resolve itself into a question of identification, I expect. However, if the police can’t find her, we will put an advertisement in the papers offering a reward, and send out handbills to the same effect. She must be found. Brian Fitzgerald’s life hangs on a thread, and that thread is Sal Rawlins.”

“Yes!” assented Kilsip, rubbing his hands together. “Even if Mr. Fitzgerald acknowledges that he was at Mother Guttersnipe’s on the night in question, she will have to prove that he was there, as no one else saw him.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“As sure as anyone can be in such a case. It was a late hour when he came, and everyone seems to have been asleep except the dying woman and Sal; and as one is dead, the other is the only person that can prove that he was there at the time when the murder was being committed in the hansom.”

“And Mother Guttersnipe?”

“Was drunk, as she acknowledged last night. She thought that if a gentleman did call it must have been the other one.”

“The other one?” repeated Calton, in a puzzled voice. “What other one?”

“Oliver Whyte.”

Calton arose from his seat with a blank air of astonishment.

“Oliver Whyte!” he said, as soon as he could find his voice. “Was he in the habit of going there?”

Kilsip curled himself up in his seat like a sleek cat, and pushing forward his head till his nose looked like the beak of a bird of prey, looked keenly at Calton.

“Look here, sir,” he said, in his low, purring voice, “there’s a good deal in this case which don’t seem plain — in fact, the further we go into it, — the more mixed up it seems to get. I went to see Mother Guttersnipe this morning, and she told me that Whyte had visited the ‘Queen’ several times while she lay ill, and that he seemed to be pretty well acquainted with her.”

“But who the deuce is this woman they call the ‘Queen’?” said Calton, irritably. “She seems to be at the bottom of the whole affair — every path we take leads to her.”

“I know hardly anything about her,” replied Kilsip, “except that she was a good-looking woman, of about forty-nine — she come out from England to Sydney a few months ago, then on here — how she got to Mother Guttersnipe’s I can’t find out, though I’ve tried to pump that old woman, but she’s as close as wax, and it’s my belief she knows more about this dead woman than she chooses to tell.”

“But what could she have told Fitzgerald to make him act in this silly manner? A stranger who comes from England, and dies in a Melbourne slum, can’t possibly know anything about Miss Frettlby.”

“Not unless Miss Frettlby was secretly married to Whyte,” suggested Kilsip, “and the ‘Queen’ knew it.”

“Nonsense,” retorted Calton, sharply. “Why, she hated him and loves Fitzgerald; besides, why on earth should she marry secretly, and make a confidant of a woman in one of the lowest parts of Melbourne? At one time her father wanted her to marry Whyte, but she made such strong opposition, that he eventually gave his consent to her engagement with Fitzgerald.”

“And Whyte?”

“Oh, he had a row with Mr. Frettlby, and left the house in a rage. He was murdered the same night, for the sake of some papers he carried.”

“Oh, that’s Gorby’s idea,” said Kilsip, scornfully, with a vicious snarl.

“And it’s mine too,” answered Calton, firmly. “Whyte had some valuable papers, which he always carried about with him. The woman who died evidently told Fitzgerald that he did so; I gathered as much from an accidental admission he made.”

Kilsip looked puzzled.

“I must confess that it is a riddle,” he said at length; “but if Mr. Fitzgerald would only speak, it would clear everything up.”

“Speak about what — the man who murdered Whyte?”

“Well, if he did not go quite so far as that he might at least supply the motive for the crime.”

“Perhaps so,” answered Calton, as the detective rose to go; “but it’s no use. Fitzgerald for some reason or another, has evidently made up his mind not to speak, so our only hope in saving him lies in finding this girl.”

“If she’s anywhere in Australia you may be sure she’ll be found,” answered Kilsip, confidently, as he took his departure. “Australia isn’t so over-crowded as all that.”

But if Sal Rawlins was in Australia at all she certainly must have been in some very remote part. All efforts to find her proved futile. It was an open question if she was alive or dead; she seemed to have vanished completely. She was last seen in a Sydney den with a Chinaman whom afterwards she appears to have left. Since then, nothing whatever was known of her. Notices offering large rewards for her discovery were inserted in all the newspapers, Australian and New Zealand; but nothing came of them. As she herself was unable to read there seemed little chance of her knowing of them; and, if, as Calton surmised she had changed her name, no one would be likely to tell her of them. There was only the bare chance that she might hear of them casually, or that she might turn up of her own accord. If she returned to Melbourne she would certainly go to her grandmother’s. She had no motive for not doing so. So Kilsip kept a sharp watch on the house, much to Mrs. Rawlins’ disgust, for, with true English pride, she objected to this system of espionage.

“Cuss ’im,” she croaked over her evening drink, to an old crone, as withered and evil-looking as herself, “why can’t ’e stop in ’is own bloomin’ ’ouse, an’ leave mine alone — a-comin’ round ’ere a-pokin’ and pryin’ and a-perwenting people from earnin’ their livin’ an’ a-gittin’ drunk when they ain’t well.”

“What do ’e want?” asked her friend, rubbing her weak old knees.

“Wants? — ’e wants ’is throat cut,” said Mother Guttersnipe, viciously. “An’ s’elp me I’ll do for ’im some night w’en ’e’s a watchin’ round ’ere as if it were Pentridge — ’e can git what he can out of that whelp as ran away, but I knows suthin’ ’e don’t know, cuss ’im.”

She ended with a senile laugh, and her companion having taken advantage of the long speech to drink some gin out of the broken cup, Mother Guttersnipe seized the unfortunate old creature by the hair, and in spite of her feeble cries, banged her head against the wall.

“I’ll have the perlice in at yer,” whimpered the assaulted one, as she tottered as quickly away as her rheumatics would allow her. “See if I don’t.”

“Get out,” retorted Mother Guttersnipe, indifferently, as she filled herself a fresh cup. “You come a-falutin’ round ’ere agin priggin’ my drinks, cuss you, an’ I’ll cut yer throat an’ wring yer wicked old ’ead orf.”

The other gave a howl of dismay at hearing this pleasant proposal, and tottered out as quickly as possible, leaving Mother Guttersnipe in undisputed possession of the field.

Meanwhile Calton had seen Brian several times, and used every argument in his power to get him to tell everything, but he either maintained an obstinate silence, or merely answered,

“It would only break her heart.”

He admitted to Calton, after a good deal of questioning, that he had been at Mother Guttersnipe’s on the night of the murder. After he had left Whyte by the corner of the Scotch Church, as the cabman — Royston — had stated, he had gone along Russell Street, and met Sal Rawlins near the Unicorn Hotel. She had taken him to Mother Guttersnipe’s, where he had seen the dying woman, who had told him something he could not reveal.

“Well,” said Mr. Calton, after hearing the admission, “you might have saved us all this trouble by admitting this before, and yet kept your secret, whatever it may be. Had you done so, we might have got hold of Sal Rawlins before she left Melbourne; but now it’s a mere chance whether she turns up or not.”

Brian did not answer to this; in fact, he seemed hardly to be thinking of what the lawyer was saying; but just as Calton was leaving, he asked —

“How is Madge?”

“How can you expect her to be?” said Calton, turning angrily on him. “She is very ill, owing to the worry she has had over this affair.”

“My darling! My darling!” cried Brian, in agony, clasping his hands above his head. “I did it only to save you.”

Calton approached him, and laid his hand lightly on his shoulder.

“My dear fellow,” he said, gravely, “the confidences between lawyer and client are as sacred as those between priest and penitent. You must tell me this secret which concerns Miss Frettlby so deeply.”

“No,” said Brian, firmly, “I will never repeat what that wretched woman told me. When I would not tell you before, in order to save my life, it is not likely I am going to do so now, when I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by telling it.”

“I will never ask you again,” said Calton, rather annoyed, as he walked to the door. “And as to this accusation of murder, if I can find this girl, you are safe.”

When the lawyer left the gaol, he went to the Detective Office to see Kilsip, and ascertain if there was any news of Sal Rawlins; but, as usual, there was none.

“It is fighting against Fate,” he said, sadly, as he went away; “his life hangs on a mere chance.”

The trial was fixed to come off in September, and, of course, there was great excitement in Melbourne as the time drew near. Great, therefore, was the disappointment when it was discovered that the prisoner’s counsel had applied for an adjournment of the trial till October, on the ground that an important witness for the defence could not be found.

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