The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 24.

Brian Receives a Letter.

Notwithstanding the hospitable invitation of Mr. Frettlby, Brian refused to stay at Yabba Yallook that night, but after saying good-bye to Madge, mounted his horse and rode slowly away in the moonlight. He felt very happy, and letting the reins lie on his horse’s neck, he gave himself up unreservedly to his thoughts. Atra cura certainly did not sit behind the horseman on this night; and Brian, to his surprise, found himself singing “Kitty of Coleraine,” as he rode along in the silver moonlight. And was he not right to sing when the future seemed so bright and pleasant? Oh, yes! they would live on the ocean, and she would find how much pleasanter it was on the restless waters, with their solemn sense of mystery, than on the crowded land.

“Was not the sea Made for the free — Land for courts and slaves alone?”

Moore was perfectly right. She would learn that when with a fair wind, and all sail set, they were flying over the blue Pacific waters.

And then they would go home to Ireland to the ancestral home of the Fitzgeralds, where he would lead her in under the arch, with “CEAD MILLE FAILTHE” on it, and everyone would bless the fair young bride. Why should he trouble himself about the crime of another? No! He had made a resolve and intended to keep it; he would put this secret with which he had been entrusted behind his back, and would wander about the world with Madge and — her father. He felt a sudden chill come over him as he murmured the last words to himself “her father.”

“I’m a fool,” he said, impatiently, as he gathered up the reins, and spurred his horse into a canter. “It can make no difference to me so long as Madge remains ignorant; but to sit beside him, to eat with him, to have him always present like a skeleton at a feast — God help me!”

He urged his horse into a gallop, and as he rushed over the turf, with the fresh, cool night wind blowing keenly against his face, he felt a sense of relief, as though he were leaving some dark spectre behind. On he galloped, with the blood throbbing in his young veins, over miles of plain, with the dark-blue, star-studded sky above, and the pale moon shining down on him — past a silent shepherd’s hut, which stood near a wide creek; splashing through the cool water, which wound through the dark plain like a thread of silver in the moonlight — then, again, the wide, grassy plain, dotted here and there with tall clumps of shadowy trees, and on either side he could see the sheep skurrying away like fantastic spectres — on — on — ever on, until his own homestead appears, and he sees the star-like light shining brightly in the distance — a long avenue of tall trees, over whose wavering shadows his horse thundered, and then the wide grassy space in front of the house, with the clamorous barking of dogs. A groom, roused by the clatter of hoofs up the avenue, comes round the side of the house, and Brian leaps off his horse, and flinging the reins to the man, walks into his own room. There he finds a lighted lamp, brandy and soda on the table, and a packet of letters and newspapers. He flung his hat on the sofa, and opened the window and door, so as to let in the cool breeze; then mixing for himself a glass of brandy and soda, he turned up the lamp, and prepared to read his letters. The first he took up was from a lady. “Always a she correspondent for me,” says Isaac Disraeli, “provided she does not cross.” Brian’s correspondence did not cross, but notwithstanding this, after reading half a page of small talk and scandal, he flung the letter on the table with an impatient ejaculation. The other letters were principally business ones, but the last one proved to be from Calton, and Fitzgerald opened it with a sensation of pleasure. Calton was a capital letter-writer, and his epistles had done much to cheer Fitzgerald in the dismal period which succeeded his acquittal of Whyte’s murder, when he was in danger of getting into a morbid state of mind. Brian, therefore, sipped his brandy and soda, and, lying back in his chair, prepared to enjoy himself.

“My dear Fitzgerald,” wrote Calton his peculiarly clear handwriting, which was such an exception to the usual crabbed hieroglyphics of his brethren of the bar, “while you are enjoying the cool breezes and delightful freshness of the country, here am I, with numerous other poor devils, cooped up in this hot and dusty city. How I wish I were with you in the land of Goschen, by the rolling waters of the Murray, where everything is bright and green, and unsophisticated — the two latter terms are almost identical — instead of which my view is bounded by bricks and mortar, and the muddy waters of the Yarra have to do duty for your noble river. Ah! I too have lived in Arcadia, but I don’t now: and even if some power gave me the choice to go back again, I am not sure that I would accept. Arcadia, after all, is a lotus-eating Paradise of blissful ignorance, and I love the world with its pomps, vanities, and wickedness. While you, therefore, oh Corydon — don’t be afraid, I’m not going to quote Virgil — are studying Nature’s book, I am deep in the musty leaves of Themis’ volume, but I dare say that the great mother teaches you much better things than her artificial daughter does me. However, you remember that pithy proverb, ‘When one is in Rome, one must not speak ill of the Pope,’ so being in the legal profession, I must respect its muse. I suppose when you saw that this letter came from a law office, you wondered what the deuce a lawyer was writing to you for, and my handwriting, no doubt suggested a writ — pshaw! I am wrong there, you are past the age of writs — not that I hint that you are old; by no means — you are just at that appreciative age when a man enjoys life most, when the fire of youth is tempered by the experience of age, and one knows how to enjoy to the utmost the good things of this world, videlicet — love, wine, and friendship. I am afraid I am growing poetical, which is a bad thing for a lawyer, for the flower of poetry cannot flourish in the arid wastes of the law. On reading what I have written, I find I have been as discursive as Praed’s Vicar, and as this letter is supposed to be a business one, I must deny myself the luxury of following out a train of idle ideas, and write sense. I suppose you still hold the secret which Rosanna Moore entrusted you with — ah! you see I know her name, and why? — simply because, with the natural curiosity of the human race, I have been trying to find out who murdered Oliver Whyte, and as the Argus very cleverly pointed out Rosanna Moore as likely to be at the bottom of the whole affair, I have been learning her past history. The secret of Whyte’s murder, and the reason for it, is known to you, but you refuse, even in the interests of justice, to reveal it — why, I don’t know; but we all have our little faults, and from an amiable though mistaken sense of — shall I say — duty? — you refuse to deliver up the man whose cowardly crime so nearly cost you your life. “After your departure from Melbourne every one said, ‘The hansom cab tragedy is at an end, and the murderer will never be discovered.’ I ventured to disagree with the wiseacres who made such a remark, and asked myself, ‘Who was this woman who died at Mother Guttersnipe’s?’ Receiving no satisfactory answer from myself, I determined to find out, and took steps accordingly. In the first place, I learned from Roger Moreland, who, if you remember, was a witness against you at the trial, that Whyte and Rosanna Moore had come out to Sydney in the John Elder about a year ago as Mr. and Mrs. Whyte. I need hardly say that they did not think it needful to go through the formality of marriage, as such a tie might have been found inconvenient on some future occasion. Moreland knew nothing about Rosanna Moore, and advised me to give up the search, as, coming from a city like London, it would be difficult to find anyone that knew her there. Notwithstanding this, I telegraphed home to a friend of mine, who is a bit of an amateur detective, ‘Find out the name and all about the woman who left England in the John Elder on the 21st day of August, 18 — as wife of Oliver Whyte.’ Mirabile dictu, he found out all about her, and knowing, as you do, what a maelstrom of humanity London is, you must admit my friend was clever. It appears, however, that the task I set him was easier than he expected, for the so-called Mrs. Whyte was rather a notorious individual in her own way. She was a burlesque actress at the Frivolity Theatre in London, and, being a very handsome woman, had been photographed innumerable times. Consequently, when she very foolishly went with Whyte to choose a berth on board the boat, she was recognised by the clerks in the office as Rosanna Moore, better known as Musette of the Frivolity. Why she ran away with Whyte I cannot tell you. With reference to men understanding women, I refer you to Balzac’s remark anent the same. Perhaps Musette got weary of St. John’s Wood and champagne suppers, and longed for the purer air of her native land. Ah! you open your eyes at this latter statement — you are surprised — no, on second thoughts you are not, because she told you herself that she was a native of Sydney, and had gone home in 1858, after a triumphant career of acting in Melbourne. And why did she leave the applauding Melbourne public and the flesh-pots of Egypt? You know this also. She ran away with a rich young squatter, with more money than morals, who happened to be in Melbourne at the time. She seems to have had a weakness for running away. But why she chose Whyte to go with this time puzzles me. He was not rich, not particularly good-looking, had no position, and a bad temper. How do I know all these traits of Mr. Whyte’s character, morally and socially? Easily enough; my omniscient friend found them all out. Mr. Oliver Whyte was the son of a London tailor, and his father being well off, retired into a private life, and ultimately went the way of all flesh. His son, finding himself with a capital income, and a pretty taste for amusement, cut the shop of his late lamented parent, found out that his family had come over with the Conqueror — Glanville de Whyte helped to sew the Bayeux tapestry, I suppose — and graduated at the Frivolity Theatre as a masher. In common with the other gilded youth of the day, he worshipped at the gas-lit shrine of Musette, and the goddess, pleased with his incense, left her other admirers in the lurch, and ran off with fortunate Mr. Whyte. So far as this goes there is nothing to show why the murder was committed. Men do not perpetrate crimes for the sake of light o’ loves like Musette, unless, indeed, some wretched youth embezzles money to buy jewellery for his divinity. The career of Musette, in London, was simply that of a clever member of the demi-monde, and, as far as I can learn, no one was so much in love with her as to commit a crime for her sake. So far so good; the motive of the crime must be found in Australia. Whyte had spent nearly all his money in England, and, consequently, Musette and her lover arrived in Sydney with comparatively very little cash. However, with an Epicurean-like philosophy, they enjoyed themselves on what little they had, and then came to Melbourne, where they stayed at a second-rate hotel. Musette, I may tell you, had one special vice, a common one — drink. She loved champagne, and drank a good deal of it. Consequently, on arriving at Melbourne, and finding that a new generation had arisen, which knew not Joseph — I mean Musette — she drowned her sorrows in the flowing bowl, and went out after a quarrel with Mr. Whyte, to view Melbourne by night — a familiar scene to her, no doubt. What took her to Little Bourke Street I don’t know. Perhaps she got lost — perhaps it had been a favourite walk of hers in the old days; at all events she was found dead drunk in that unsavoury locality, by Sal Rawlins. I know this is so, because Sal told me so herself. Sal acted the part of the good Samaritan — took her to the squalid den she called home, and there Rosanna Moore fell dangerously ill. Whyte, who had missed her, found out where she was, and that she was too ill to be removed. I presume he was rather glad to get rid of such an encumbrance, so he went back to his lodgings at St. Kilda, which, judging from the landlady’s story, he must have occupied for some time, while Rosanna Moore was drinking herself to death in a quiet hotel Still he does not break off his connection with the dying woman; but one night is murdered in a hansom cab, and that same night Rosanna Moore dies. So, from all appearance, everything is ended; not so, for before dying Rosanna sends for Brian Fitzgerald at his club, and reveals to him a secret which he locks up in his own heart. The writer of this letter has a theory — a fanciful one, if you will — that the secret told to Brian Fitzgerald contains the mystery of Oliver Whyte’s death. Now then, have I not found out a good deal without you, and do you still decline to reveal the rest? I do not say you know who killed Whyte, but I do say you know sufficient to lead to the detection of the murderer. If you tell me, so much the better, both for your own sense of justice and for your peace of mind; if you do not — well, I shall find out without you. I have taken, and still take, a great interest in this strange case, and I have sworn to bring the murderer to justice; so I make this last appeal to you to tell me what you know. If you refuse, I will set to work to find out all about Rosanna Moore prior to her departure from Australia in 1858, and I am certain sooner or later to discover the secret which led to Whyte’s murder. If there is any strong reason why it should be kept silent, I perhaps, will come round to your view, and let the matter drop; but if I have to find it out myself, the murderer of Oliver Whyte need expect no mercy at my hands So think over what I have said; if I do not hear from you within the next week, I shall regard your decision as final, and pursue the search myself. “I am sure, my dear Fitzgerald, you will find this letter too long, in spite of the interesting story it contains, so I will have pity on you, and draw to a close. Remember me to Miss Frettlby and to her father. With kind regards to yourself, I remain, yours very truly,

“DUNCAN CALTON.”

When Fitzgerald had finished the last of the closely-written sheets, he let the letter fall from his hands, and, leaning back in his chair, stared blankly into the dawning light outside. He arose after a few moments, and, pouring himself out a glass of brandy, drank it quickly. Then mechanically lighting a cigar, he stepped out of the door into the fresh beauty of the dawn. There was a soft crimson glow in the east, which announced the approach of the sun, and he could hear the chirping of the awakening birds in the trees. But Brian did not see the marvellous breaking of the dawn. He stood staring at the red light flaring in the east, and thinking of Calton’s letter.

“I can do no more,” he said bitterly, leaning his head against the wall of the house. “There is only one way of stopping Calton, and that is by telling him all. My poor Madge! My poor Madge!”

A soft wind arose, and rustled among the trees, and there appeared great shafts of crimson light in the east; then, with a sudden blaze, the sun peered over the brim of the wide plain. The warm yellow rays touched lightly the comely head of the weary man, and, turning round, he held up his arms to the great luminary, as though he were a fire-worshipper.

“I accept the omen of the dawn,” he cried, “for her life and for mine.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/fergus/h93my/chapter24.html

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