The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 25.

What Dr. Chinston Said.

His resolution taken, Brian did not let the grass grow under his feet, but rode over in the afternoon to tell Madge of his intended departure.

The servant told him she was in the garden, so he went there, and, guided by the sound of merry voices, and the laughter of pretty women, soon found his way to the lawn — tennis ground. Madge and her guests were there, seated under the shade of a great witch elm, and watching, with great interest, a single-handed match being played between Rolleston and Peterson, both of whom were capital players. Mr. Frettlby was not present. He was inside writing letters, and talking with old Mr. Valpy, and Brian gave a sigh of relief as he noted his absence. Madge caught sight of him as he came down the garden path, and flew quickly towards him with outstretched hands, as he took his hat off.

“How good of you to come,” she said, in a delighted tone, as she took his arm, “and on such a hot day.”

“Yes, it’s something fearful in the shade,” said pretty Mrs. Rolleston, with a laugh, putting up her sunshade.

“Pardon me if I think the contrary,” replied Fitzgerald, bowing, with an expressive look at the charming group of ladies under the great tree.

Mrs. Rolleston blushed and shook her head.

“Ah! it’s easy seen you come from Ireland, Mr. Fitzgerald,” she observed, as she resumed her seat. “You are making Madge jealous.”

“So he is,” answered Madge, with a gay laugh. “I shall certainly inform Mr. Rolleston about you, Brian, if you make these gallant remarks.”

“Here he comes, then,” said her lover, as Rolleston and Peterson, having finished their game, walked off the tennis ground, and joined the group under the tree. Though in tennis flannels, they both looked remarkably warm, and, throwing aside his racket, Mr. Rolleston sat down with a sigh of relief.

“Thank goodness it’s over, and that I have won,” he said, wiping his heated brow; “galley slaves couldn’t have worked harder than we have done, while all you idle folks sat sub tegmine fagi.”

“Which means?” asked his wife, lazily.

“That onlookers see most of the game,” answered her husband, impudently.

“I suppose that’s what you call a free and easy translation,” said Peterson, laughing. “Mrs. Rolleston ought to give you something for your new and original adaptation of Virgil.”

“Let it be iced then,” retorted Rolleston, lying full length on the ground, and staring up at the blue of the sky as seen through the network of leaves. “I always like my ‘something’ iced.”

“It’s a way you’ve got,” said Madge, with a laugh, as she gave him a glass filled with some sparkling, golden-coloured liquor, with a lump of ice clinking musically against the side of it.

“He’s not the only one who’s got that way,” said Peterson, gaily, when he had been similarly supplied.

“It’s a way we’ve got in the army, It’s a way we’ve got in the navy, It’s a way we’ve got in the ‘Varsity.”

“And so say all of us,” finished Rolleston, and holding out his glass to be replenished; “I’ll have another, please. Whew, it is hot.”

“What, the drink?” asked Julia, with a giggle.

“No — the day,” answered Felix, making a face at her. “It’s the kind of day one feels inclined to adopt Sydney Smith’s advice, by getting out of one’s skin, and letting the wind whistle through one’s bones.”

“With such a hot wind blowing,” said Peterson, gravely, “I’m afraid they’d soon be broiled bones.”

“Go, giddy one,” retorted Felix, throwing his hat at him, “or I’ll drag you into the blazing sun, and make you play another game.”

“Not I,” replied Peterson, coolly. “Not being a salamander, I’m hardly used to your climate yet, and there is a limit even to lawn tennis;” and turning his back on Rolleston, he began to talk to Julia Featherweight.

Meanwhile, Madge and her lover, leaving all this frivolous chatter behind them, were walking slowly towards the house, and Brian was telling her of his approaching departure, though not of his reasons for it.

“I received a letter last night,” he said, turning his face away from her; “and, as it’s about some important business, I must start at once.”

“I don’t think it will be long before we follow,” answered Madge, thoughtfully. “Papa leaves here at the end of the week.”

“Why?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Madge, petulantly; “he is so restless, and never seems to settle down to anything. He says for the rest of his life he is going to do nothing; but wander all over the world.”

There suddenly flashed across Fitzgerald’s mind a line from Genesis, which seemed singularly applicable to Mr. Frettlby — “A fugitive and a vagabond thou shalt be in the earth.”

“Everyone gets these restless fits sooner or later,” he said, idly. “In fact,” with an uneasy laugh, “I believe I’m in one myself.”

“That puts me in mind of what I heard Dr. Chinston say yesterday,” she said. “This is the age of unrest, as electricity and steam have turned us all into Bohemians.”

“Ah! Bohemia is a pleasant place,” said Brian, absently, unconsciously quoting Thackeray, “but we all lose our way to it late in life.”

“At that rate we won’t lose our way to it for some time,” she said laughing, as they stepped into the drawing-room, so cool and shady, after the heat and glare outside.

As they entered Mr. Frettlby rose from a chair near the window. He appeared to have been reading, for he held a book in his hand.

“What! Fitzgerald,” he exclaimed, in a hearty tone, as he held out his hand; “I am glad to see you.”

“I let you know I am living, don’t I?” replied Brian, his face flushing as he reluctantly took the proffered hand. “But the fact is I have come to say good-bye for a few days.”

“Ah! going back to town, I suppose,” said Mr. Frettlby, lying back in his chair, and playing with his watch chain. “I don’t know that you are wise, exchanging the clear air of the country for the dusty atmosphere of Melbourne.”

“Yet Madge tells me you are going back,” said Brian, idly toying with a vase of flowers on the table.

“Depends upon circumstances,” replied the other carelessly. “I may and I may not. You go on business, I presume?”

“Well, the fact is Calton — ” Here Brian stopped suddenly, and bit his lip with vexation, for he had not intended to mention the lawyer’s name.

“Yes?” said Mr. Frettlby, interrogatively, sitting up quickly, and looking keenly at Brian.

“Wants to see me on business,” he finished, awkwardly.

“Connected with the sale of your station, I suppose,” said Frettlby, still keeping his eyes on the young man’s face.

“Can’t have a better man. Calton’s an excellent man of business.”

“A little too excellent,” replied Fitzgerald, ruefully, “he’s a man who can’t leave well alone.”

A propos of what?”

“Oh, nothing,” answered Fitzgerald, hastily, and just then his eyes met those of Frettlby. The two men looked at one another steadily for a moment, but in that short space of time a single name flashed through their brains — the name of Rosanna Moore. Mr. Frettlby was the first to lower his eyes, and break the spell.

“Ah, well,” he said, lightly, as he rose from his chair and held out his hand, “if you are two weeks in town, call at St. Kilda, and it’s more than likely you will find us there.”

Brian shook hands in silence, and watched him pick up his hat, and move on to the verandah, and then out into the hot sunshine.

“He knows,” he muttered involuntarily.

“Knows what, sir?” said Madge, who came silently behind him, and slipped her arm through his. “That you are hungry, and want something to eat before you leave us?”

“I don’t feel hungry,” said Brian, as they walked towards the door.

“Nonsense,” answered Madge, merrily, who, like Eve, was on hospitable thoughts intent. “I’m not going to have you appear in Melbourne a pale, fond lover, as though I were treating you badly. Come, sir — no,” she continued, putting up her hand as he tried to kiss her, “business first, pleasure afterwards,” and they went into the dining-room laughing.

Mark Frettlby wandered down to the lawn-tennis ground, thinking of the look he had seen in Brian’s eyes. He shivered for a moment in the hot sunshine, as though it had grown suddenly chill.

“Someone stepping across my grave,” he murmured to himself, with a cynical smile. “Bah! how superstitious I am, and yet — he knows, he knows!”

“Come on, sir,” cried Felix, who had just caught sight of him, “a racket awaits you.”

Frettlby awoke with a start, and found himself near the lawn-tennis ground, and Felix at his elbow, smoking a cigarette.

He roused himself with a great effort, and tapped the young man lightly on the shoulder.

“What?” he said with a forced laugh, “do you really expect me to play lawn tennis on such a day? You are mad.”

“I am hot, you mean,” retorted the imperturbable Rolleston, blowing a wreath of smoke.

“That’s a foregone conclusion,” said Dr. Chinston, who came up at that moment.

“Such a charming novel,” cried Julia, who had just caught the last remark.

“What is?” asked Peterson, rather puzzled.

“Howell’s book, ‘A Foregone Conclusion,’” said Julia, also looking puzzled. “Weren’t you talking about it?”

“I’m afraid this talk is getting slightly incoherent,” said Felix, with a sigh. “We all seem madder than usual to-day.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Chinston, indignantly, “I’m as sane as any man in the world.”

“Exactly,” retorted the other coolly, “that’s what I say, and you, being a doctor, ought to know that every man and woman in the world is more or less mad.”

“Where are your facts?” asked Chinston, smiling.

“My facts are all visible ones,” said Felix, gravely pointing to the company. “They’re all crooked on some point or another.”

There was a chorus of indignant denial at this, and then every one burst out laughing at the extraordinary way in which Mr. Rolleston was arguing.

“If you go on like that in the House,” said Frettlby, amused, “you will, at all events, have an entertaining Parliament.”

“Ah! they’ll never have an entertaining Parliament till they admit ladies,” observed Peterson, with a quizzical glance at Julia.

“It will be a Parliament of love then,” retorted the doctor, dryly, “and not mediaeval either.”

Frettlby took the doctor’s arm, and walked away with him. “I want you to come up to my study, doctor,” he said, as they strolled towards the house, “and examine me.”

“Why, don’t you feel well?” said Chinston, as they entered the house.

“Not lately,” replied Frettlby. “I’m afraid I’ve got heart disease.”

The doctor looked sharply at him, and then shook his head.

“Nonsense,” he said, cheerfully, “it’s a common delusion with people that they have heart disease, and in nine cases, out of ten it’s all imagination; unless, indeed,” he added waggishly, “the patient happens to be a young man.”

“Ah! I suppose you think I’m safe as far as that goes,” said Frettlby, as they entered the study; “and what did you think of Rolleston’s argument about people being mad?”

“It was amusing,” replied Chinston, taking a seat, Frettlby doing the same. “That’s all I can say about it, though, mind you, I think there are more mad people at large than the world is aware of.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes; do you remember that horrible story of Dickens’, in the ‘Pickwick Papers,’ about the man who was mad, and knew it, yet successfully concealed it for years? Well, I believe there are many people like that in the world, people whose lives are one long struggle against insanity, and yet who eat, drink, talk, and walk with the rest of their fellow-men, apparently as gay and light-hearted as they are.”

“How extraordinary.”

“Half the murders and suicides are done in temporary fits of insanity,” went on Chinston, “and if a person broods over anything, his incipient madness is sure to break out sooner or later; but, of course, there are cases where a perfectly sane person may commit a murder on the impulse of the moment, but I regard such persons as mad for the time being; but, again, a murder may be planned and executed in the most cold-blooded manner.”

“And in the latter case,” said Frettlby, without looking at the doctor, and playing with a paper knife, “do you regard the murderer as mad?”

“Yes, I do,” answered the doctor, bluntly. “He is as mad as a person who kills another because he supposes he has been told by God to do so — only there is method in his madness. For instance, I believe that hansom cab murder, in which you were mixed up — ”

“I wasn’t mixed up in it,” interrupted Frettlby, pale with anger.

“Beg pardon,” said Chinston, coolly, “a slip of the tongue; I was thinking of Fitzgerald. Well, I believe that crime to have been premeditated, and that the man who committed it was mad. He is, no doubt, at large now, walking about and conducting himself as sanely as you or I, yet the germ of insanity is there, and sooner or later he will commit another crime.”

“How do you know it was premeditated?” asked Frettlby, abruptly.

“Any one can see that,” answered the other. “Whyte was watched on that night, and when Fitzgerald went away the other was ready to take his place, dressed the same.”

“That’s nothing,” retorted Frettlby, looking at his companion sharply. “There are dozens of men in Melbourne who wear evening dress, light coats, and soft hats — in fact, I generally wear them myself.”

“Well, that might have been a coincidence,” said the doctor, rather disconcerted; “but the use of chloroform puts the question beyond a doubt; people don’t usually carry chloroform about with them.”

“I suppose not,” answered the other, and then the matter dropped. Chinston made an examination of Mark Frettlby, and when he had finished, his face was very grave, though he laughed at the millionaire’s fears.

“You are all right,” he said, gaily. “Action of the heart a little weak, that’s all — only,” impressively, “avoid excitement — avoid excitement.”

Just as Frettlby was putting on his coat, a knock came to the door, and Madge entered.

“Brian is gone,” she began. “Oh, I beg your pardon, doctor — but is papa ill?” she asked with sudden fear.

“No, child, no,” said Frettlby, hastily, “I’m all right; I thought my heart was affected, but it isn’t.”

“Not a bit of it,” answered Chinston, reassuringly. “All right — only avoid excitement.”

But when Frettlby turned to go to the door, Madge, who had her eyes fixed on the doctor’s face, saw how grave it was.

“There is danger?” she said, touching his arm as they paused for a moment at the door.

“No! No!” he answered, hastily.

“Yes, there is,” she persisted. “Tell me the worst, it is best for me to know.”

The doctor looked at her in some doubt for a few moments, and then placed his hand on her shoulder.

“My dear young lady,” he said gravely, “I will tell you what I have not dared to tell your father.”

“What?” she asked in a low voice, her face growing pale.

“His heart is affected.”

“And there is great danger?”

“Yes, great danger. In the event of any sudden shock — ” he hesitated.

“Yes — ”

“He would probably drop down dead.”

“My God!”

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