The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 18.

Sal Rawlins Tells All she Knows.

And, indeed, such was the case. Sal Rawlins had made her appearance at the eleventh hour, to the heartfelt thankfulness of Calton, who saw in her an angel from heaven, sent to save the life of an innocent man.

It was at the conclusion of the trial; and, together with Madge, he had gone down to his office, when his clerk entered with a telegram. The lawyer opened it hastily, and, with a silent look of pleasure on his face, handed the telegram to Madge.

She, womanlike, being more impulsive, gave a cry when she read it, and, falling on her knees, thanked God for having heard her prayers, and saved her lover’s life.

“Take me to her at once,” she implored the lawyer.

She was anxious to hear from Sal Rawlins’ own lips the joyful words which would save Brian from a felon’s death.

“No, my dear,” answered Calton, firmly, but kindly. “I can hardly take a lady to the place where Sal Rawlins lives. You will know all to-morrow, but, meanwhile, you must go home and get some sleep.”

“And you will tell him?” she whispered, clasping her hands on Calton’s arm.

“At once,” he answered promptly. “And I will see Sal Rawlins to-night, and hear what she has to say. Rest content, my dear,” he added, as he placed her in the carriage, “he is perfectly safe now.”

Brian heard the good news with a deep feeling of gratitude, knowing that his life was safe, and that he could still keep his secret. It was the natural revulsion of feeling after the unnatural life he had been leading since his arrest. When one is young and healthy, and has all the world before one, it is a terrible thing to contemplate a sudden death. And yet, in spite of his joy at being delivered from the hangman’s rope, there mingled with his delight the horror of that secret which the dying woman had told him with such malignant joy.

“I had rather she had died in silence than she should have bequeathed me this legacy of sorrow.”

And the gaoler, seeing his haggard face the next morning, muttered to himself, “He war blest if the swell warn’t sorry he war safe.”

So, while Brian was pacing up and down his cell during the weary watches of the night, Madge, in her own room, was kneeling beside her bed and thanking God for His great mercy; and Calton, the good fairy of the two lovers, was hurrying towards the humble abode of Mrs. Rawlins, familiarly known as Mother Guttersnipe. Kilsip was beside him, and they were talking eagerly about the providential appearance of the invaluable witness.

“What I like,” observed Kilsip, in his soft, purring tone, “is the sell it will be for that Gorby. He was so certain that Mr. Fitzgerald was the man, and when he gets off to-morrow Gorby will be in a rage.”

“Where was Sal the whole time?” asked Calton, absently, not thinking of what the detective was saying.

“Ill,” answered Kilsip. “After she left the Chinaman she went into the country, caught cold by falling into some river, and ended up by getting brain fever. Some people found her, took her in, and nursed her. When she got well she came back to her grandmother’s.”

“But why didn’t the people who nursed her tell her she was wanted? They must have seen the papers.”

“Not they,” retorted the detective. “They knew nothing.”

“Vegetables!” muttered Calton, contemptuously. “How can people be so ignorant! Why, all Australia has been ringing with the case. At any rate, it’s money out of their pocket. Well?”

“There’s nothing more to tell,” said Kilsip, “except that she turned up to-night at five o’clock, looking more like a corpse than anything else.”

When they entered the squalid, dingy passage that led to Mother Guttersnipe’s abode, they saw a faint light streaming down the stair. As they climbed up they could hear the rancorous voice of the old hag pouring forth alternate blessings and curses on her prodigal offspring, and the low tones of a girl’s voice in reply. On entering the room Calton saw that the sick woman, who had been lying in the corner on the occasion of his last visit, was gone. Mother Guttersnipe was seated in front of the deal table, with a broken cup and her favourite bottle of spirits before her. She evidently intended to have a night of it, in order to celebrate Sal’s return, and had commenced early, so as to lose no time. Sal herself was seated on a broken chair, and leaned wearily against the wall. She stood up as Calton and the detective entered, and they saw that she was a tall, slender woman of about twenty-five, not bad-looking, but with a pallid and haggard appearance from recent illness. She was clothed in a kind of tawdry blue dress, much soiled and torn, and had over her shoulders an old tartan shawl, which she drew tightly across her breast as the strangers entered. Her grandmother, who looked more weird and grotesquely horrible than ever, saluted Calton and the detective on their entrance with a shrill yell, and a volley of choice language.

“Oh, ye’ve come again, ’ave ye,” she screeched, raising her skinny arms, “to take my gal away from ’er pore old gran’mother, as nussed ’er, cuss her, when ’er own mother had gone a-gallivantin’ with swells. I’ll ’ave the lawr of ye both, s’elp me, I will.”

Kilsip paid no attention to this outbreak of the old fury, but turned to the girl.

“This is the gentleman who wants to speak to you,” he said, gently, making the girl sit on the chair again, for indeed she looked too ill to stand. “Just tell him what you told me.”

“‘Bout the ‘Queen,’ sir?” said Sal, in a low, hoarse voice, fixing her wild eyes on Calton. “If I’d only known as you was a-wantin’ me I’d ’ave come afore.”

“Where were you?” asked Calton, in a pitying tone.

“Noo South Wales,” answered the girl with a shiver. “The cove as I went with t’ Sydney left me — yes, left me to die like a dog in the gutter.”

“Cuss ’im!” croaked the old woman in a sympathetic manner, as she took a drink from the broken cup.

“I tooked up with a Chinerman,” went on her granddaughter, wearily, “an’ lived with ’im for a bit — it’s orful, ain’t it?” she said with a dreary laugh, as she saw the disgust on the lawyer’s face. “But Chinermen ain’t bad; they treat a pore girl a dashed sight better nor a white cove does. They don’t beat the life out of ’em with their fists, nor drag ’em about the floor by the ’air.”

“Cuss ’em!” croaked Mother Guttersnipe, drowsily, “I’ll tear their ’earts out.”

“I think I must have gone mad, I must,” said Sal, pushing her tangled hair off her forehead, “for arter I left the Chiner cove, I went on walkin’ and walkin’ right into the bush, a-tryin’ to cool my ’ead, for it felt on fire like. I went into a river an’ got wet, an’ then I took my ’at an’ boots orf an’ lay down on the grass, an’ then the rain comed on, an’ I walked to a ’ouse as was near, where they tooked me in. Oh, sich kind people,” she sobbed, stretching out her hands, “that didn’t badger me ’bout my soul, but gave me good food to eat. I gave ’em a wrong name. I was so ’fraid of that Army a-findin’ me. Then I got ill, an’ knowd nothin’ for weeks They said I was orf my chump. An’ then I came back ’ere to see gran’.”

“Cuss ye,” said the old woman, but in such a tender tons that it sounded like a blessing.

“And did the people who took you in never tell you anything about the murder?” asked Calton.

Sal shook her head.

“No, it were a long way in the country, and they never knowd anythin’, they didn’t.”

“Ah! that explains it,” muttered Calton to himself.

“Come, now,” he said cheerfully, “tell me all that happened on the night you brought Mr. Fitzgerald to see the ‘Queen.’”

“Who’s ’e?” asked Sal, puzzled.

“Mr. Fitzgerald, the gentleman you brought the letter for to the Melbourne Club.”

“Oh, ’im?” said Sal, a sudden light breaking over her wan face. “I never knowd his name afore.”

Calton nodded complacently.

“I knew you didn’t,” he said, “that’s why you didn’t ask for him at the Club.”

“She never told me ’is name,” said Sal, jerking her head in the direction of the bed.

“Then whom did she ask you to bring to her?” asked Calton, eagerly.

“No one,” replied the girl. “This was the way of it. On that night she was orfil ill, an’ I sat beside ’er while gran’ was asleep.”

“I was drunk,” broke in gran’, fiercely, “none of yer lies; I was blazin’ drunk.”

“An’ ses she to me, she ses,” went on the girl, indifferent to her grandmother’s interruption, “‘Get me some paper an’ a pencil, an’ I’ll write a note to ’im, I will.’ So I goes an’ gits ’er what she arsks fur out of gran’s box.”

“Stole it, cuss ye,” shrieked the old hag, shaking her fist.

“Hold your tongue,” said Kilsip, in a peremptory tone.

Mother Guttersnipe burst into a volley of oaths, and having run rapidly through all she knew, subsided into a sulky silence.

“She wrote on it,” went on Sal, “an’ then arsked me to take it to the Melbourne Club an’ give it to ’im. Ses I, ‘Who’s ’im?’ Ses she, ‘It’s on the letter; don’t you arsk no questions an’ you won’t ’ear no lies, but give it to ’im at the Club, an’ wait for ’im at the corner of Bourke Street and Russell Street.’ So out I goes, and gives it to a cove at the Club, an’ then ’e comes along, an’ ses ’e, ‘Take me to ’er,’ and I tooked ’im.”

“And what like was the gentleman?”

“Oh, werry good lookin’,” said Sal. “Werry tall, with yeller ’air an’ moustache. He ’ad party clothes on, an’ a masher coat, an’ a soft ’at.”

“That’s Fitzgerald right enough,” muttered Calton. “And what did he do when he came?”

“He goes right up to ’er, and she ses, ‘Are you ’e?’ and ’e ses, ‘I am.’ Then ses she, ‘Do you know what I’m a-goin’ to tell you?’ an’ ’e says, ‘No.’ Then she ses, ‘It’s about ’er;’ and ses ’e, lookin’ very white, ‘’Ow dare you ’ave ’er name on your vile lips?’ an’ she gits up an’ screeches, ‘Turn that gal out, an’ I’ll tell you;’ an’ ’e takes me by the arm, an’ ses ’e, ‘‘Ere git out,’ an’ I gits out, an’ that’s all I knows.”

“And how long was he with her?” asked Calton, who had been listening attentively.

“‘Bout arf-a-hour,” answered Sal. “I takes ’im back to Russell Street ’bout twenty-five minutes to two, ’cause I looked at the clock on the Post Office, an’ ’e gives me a sov., an’ then he goes a-tearin’ up the street like anything.”

“Take him about twenty minutes to walk to East Melbourne,” said Calton to himself “So he must just have got in at the time Mrs. Sampson said. He was in with the ‘Queen’ the whole time, I suppose?” he asked, looking keenly at Sal.

“I was at that door,” said Sal, pointing to it, “an’ ’e couldn’t ’ave got out unless I’d seen ’im.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” said Calton, nodding to Kilsip, “there won’t be any difficulty in proving an alibi. But I say,” he added, turning to Sal, “what were they talking about?”

“I dunno,” answered Sal. “I was at the door, an’ they talks that quiet I couldn’t ’ear ’em. Then he sings out, ‘My G — it’s too horrible!’ an’ I ’ear ’er a larfin’ like to bust, an’ then ’e comes to me, and ses, quite wild like, ‘Take me out of this ’ell!’ an’ I tooked ’im.”

“And when you came back?”

“She was dead.”

“Dead?”

“As a blessed door-nail,” said Sal, cheerfully.

“An’ I never knowd I was in the room with a corpse,” wailed Mother Guttersnipe, waking up. “Cuss ’er, she was allays a-doin’ contrary things.”

“How do you know?” said Calton, sharply, as he rose to go.

“I knowd ’er longer nor you,” croaked the old woman, fixing one evil eye on the lawyer; “an’ I know what you’d like to know; but ye shan’t, ye shan’t.”

Calton turned from her with a shrug of his shoulders.

“You will come to the Court to-morrow with Mr. Kilsip,” he said to Sal, “and tell what you have just now told me.”

“It’s all true, s’elp me,” said Sal, eagerly; “’e was ’ere all the time.”

Calton stepped towards the door, followed by the detective, when Mother Guttersnipe rose.

“Where’s the money for finin’ her?” she screeched, pointing one skinny finger at Sal.

“Well, considering the girl found herself,” said Calton, dryly, “the money is in the bank, and will remain there.”

“An’ I’m to be done out of my ’ard earned tin, s’elp me?” howled the old fury. “Cuss ye, I’ll ’ave the lawr of ye, and get ye put in quod.”

“You’ll go there yourself if you don’t take care,” said Kilsip, in his soft, purring tones.

“Yah!” shrieked Mother Guttersnipe, snapping her fingers at him. “What do I care about yer quod? Ain’t I bin in Pentrig’, an’ it ain’t ’urt me, it ain’t? I’m as lively as a gal, I am.”

And the old fury, to prove the truth of her words, danced a kind of war dance in front of Mr. Calton, snapping her fingers and yelling out curses, as an accompaniment to her ballet. Her luxurious white hair streamed out during her gyrations, and with her grotesque appearance and the faint light of the candle, she presented a gruesome spectacle.

Calton remembered the tales he had heard of the women of Paris, at the revolution, and the way they danced “La Carmagnole.” Mother Guttersnipe would have been in her element in that sea of blood and turbulence he thought. But he merely shrugged his shoulders, and walked out of the room, as with a final curse, delivered in a hoarse voice, Mother Guttersnipe sank exhausted on the floor, and yelled for gin.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/fergus/h93my/chapter18.html

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