The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 32.

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum.

“Nothing is certain but the unforeseen;” so says a French proverb, and judging from the unexpected things which daily happen to us, it is without doubt a very true one. If anyone had told Madge Frettlby one day that she would be stretched on a bed of sickness the next, and would be quite oblivious of the world and its doings, she would have laughed the prophet to scorn. Yet it was so, and she was tossing and turning on a bed of pain to which the couch of Procustes was one of roses. Sal sat beside her, ever watchful of her wants, and listened through the bright hours of the day, or the still ones of the night, to the wild and incoherent words which issued from her lips. She incessantly called on her father to save himself, and then would talk about Brian, and sing snatches of song, or would sob broken sentences about her dead mother, until the heart of the listener ached to hear her. No one was allowed into the room except Sal, and when Dr. Chinston heard the things she was saying, although used to such cases, he recoiled.

“There is blood on your hands,” cried Madge, sitting up in bed, with her hair all tangled and falling over her shoulders; “red blood, and you cannot wash it off. Oh, Cain! God save him! Brian, you are not guilty; my father killed him. God! God!” and she fell back on her disordered pillows weeping bitterly.

Dr. Chinston did not say anything, but shortly afterwards took his leave, after telling Sal on no account to let anyone see the patient.

“‘Tain’t likely,” said Sal, in a disgusted tone, as she closed the door after him. “I’m not a viper to sting the bosom as fed me,” from which it may be gathered she was advancing rapidly in her education.

Meanwhile Dr. Chinston had received Calton’s telegram, and was considerably astonished thereat. He was still more so when, on arriving at the office at the time appointed, he found Calton and Fitzgerald were not alone, but a third man whom he had never seen was with them. The latter Calton introduced to him as Mr. Kilsip, of the detective office, a fact which made the worthy doctor uneasy, as he could in no wise divine the meaning of it. However, he made no remark, but took the seat handed to him by Mr. Calton and prepared to listen. Calton locked the door of the office, and then went back to his desk, having the other three seated before him in a kind of semi-circle.

“In the first place,” said Calton to the doctor, “I have to inform you that you are one of the executors under the will of the late Mr. Frettlby, and that is why I asked you to come here to-day. The other executors are Mr. Fitzgerald and myself.”

“Oh, indeed,” murmured the doctor, politely.

“And now,” said Calton, looking at him, “do you remember the hansom cab murder, which caused such a sensation some months ago?”

“Yes, I do,” replied the doctor, rather astonished; “but what has that to do with the will?”

“Nothing to do with the will,” answered Calton, gravely; “but the fact is, Mr. Frettlby was implicated in the affair.”

Dr. Chinston glanced enquiringly at Brian, but that gentleman shook his head.

“It has nothing to do with my arrest,” he said, sadly.

Madge’s words, uttered in her delirium, flashed across the doctor’s memory.

“What do you mean?” he gasped, pushing back his chair. “How was he implicated?”

“That I cannot tell you,” answered Calton, “until I read his confession.”

“Ah!” said Kilsip, becoming very attentive.

“Yes,” said Calton, turning to Kilsip, “your hunt after Moreland is a wild-goose chase, for the murderer of Oliver Whyte is discovered.”

“Discovered!” cried Kilsip and the doctor in one breath.

“Yes, and his name is Mark Frettlby.”

Kilsip shot a glance of disdain out of his bright black eyes, and gave a low laugh of disbelief, but the doctor pushed back his chair furiously, and arose to his feet.

“This is monstrous,” he cried, in a rage. “I won’t sit still and hear this accusation against my dead friend.”

“Unfortunately, it is too true,” said Brian, sadly.

“How dare you say so?” said Chinston, turning angrily on him. “And you going to marry his daughter!”

“There is only one way to settle the question,” said Calton, coldly. “We must read his confession.”

“But why the detective?” asked the doctor, ungraciously, as he took his seat.

“Because I want him to hear for himself that Mr. Frettlby committed the crime, that he may keep silence.”

“Not till I’ve arrested him,” said Kilsip, determinedly.

“But he’s dead,” said Brian.

“I’m speaking of Roger Moreland,” retorted Kilsip. “For he and no other murdered Oliver Whyte.”

“That’s a much more likely story,” Chinston said.

“I tell you no,” said Calton, vehemently. “God knows I would like to preserve Mark Frettlby’s good name, and it is with this object I have brought you all together. I will read the confession, and when you know the truth, I want you all to keep silent about it, as Mark Frettlby is dead, and the publication of his crime can do no good to anyone.”

“I know,” resumed Calton, addressing the detective, “that you are fully convinced in your own mind that you are right and I am wrong, but what if I tell you that Mark Frettlby died holding those very papers for the sake of which the crime was committed?”

Kilsip’s face lengthened considerably.

“What were the papers?”

“The marriage certificate of Mark Frettlby and Rosanna Moore, the woman who died in the back slum.”

Kilsip was not often astonished; but he was so now. And Dr. Chinston fell back in his chair, staring at the barrister in blank amazement.

“And what’s more,” went on Calton, triumphantly, “do you know that Moreland went to Frettlby two nights ago and obtained a certain sum for hush-money?”

“What!” cried Kilsip.

“Yes, Moreland, in coming out of the hotel, evidently saw Frettlby, and threatened to expose him unless he paid for his silence.”

“Very strange,” murmured Kilsip, to himself, with a disappointed look on his face. “But why did Moreland keep still so long?”

“I cannot tell you,” replied Calton, “but, no doubt, the confession will explain all.”

“Then for Heaven’s sake read it,” broke in Dr. Chinston, impatiently. “I’m quite in the dark, and all your talk is Greek to me.”

“One moment,” said Kilsip, dragging a bundle from under his chair, and untying it. “If you are right, what about this?” and he held up a light coat, very much soiled and weather-worn.

“Whose is that?” asked Calton, startled. “Not Whyte’s?”

“Yes, Whyte’s,” repeated Kilsip, with great satisfaction. “I found it in the Fitzroy Gardens, near the gate that opens to George Street, East Melbourne. It was up in a fir-tree.”

“Then Mr. Frettlby must have got out at Powlett Street, and walked down George Street, and then through the Fitzroy Gardens into town,” said Calton.

Kilsip took no heed of the remark, but took a small bottle out of the pocket of the coat and held it up.

“I also found this,” he said.

“Chloroform,” cried everyone, guessing at once that it was the missing bottle.

“Exactly,” said Kilsip, replacing it. “This was the bottle which contained the poison used by — by — well, call him the murderer. The name of the chemist being on the label, I went to him and found out who bought it. Now, who do you think?” with a look of triumph.

“Frettlby,” said Calton, decidedly.

“No, Moreland,” burst out Chinston, greatly excited.

“Neither,” retorted the detective, calmly. “The man who purchased this was Oliver Whyte himself.”

“Himself?” echoed Brian, now thoroughly surprised, as, indeed were all the others.

“Yes. I had no trouble in finding out that, thanks to the ‘Poisons Act.’ As I knew no one would be so foolish as to carry chloroform about in his pocket for any length of time, I mentioned the day of the murder as the probable date it was bought. The chemist turned up in his book, and found that Whyte was the purchaser.”

“And what did he buy it for?” asked Chinston.

“That’s more than I can tell you,” said Kilsip, with a shrug of his shoulders. “It’s down in the book as being bought for medicinal uses, which may mean anything.”

“The law requires a witness,” observed Calton, cautiously. “Who was the witness?”

Again Kilsip smiled triumphantly.

“I think I can guess,” said Fitzgerald. “Moreland?”

Kilsip nodded.

“And I suppose,” remarked Calton, in a slightly sarcastic tone, “that is another of your proofs against Moreland. He knew that Whyte had chloroform on him, therefore he followed him that night and murdered him?”

“Well, I— ”

“It’s a lot of nonsense,” said the barrister, impatiently. “There’s nothing against Moreland to implicate him. If he killed Whyte, what made him go and see Frettlby?”

“But,” said Kilsip, sagely nodding his head, “if, as Moreland Bays, he had Whyte’s coat in his possession before the murder how is it that I should discover it afterwards up a fir-tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, with an empty chloroform bottle in the pocket.”

“He may have been an accomplice,” suggested Calton.

“What’s the good of all this conjecturing?” said Chinston, impatiently, now thoroughly tired of the discussion. “Read the confession, and we will soon know the truth, without all this talk.”

Calton assented, and all having settled themselves to listen, he began to read what the dead man had written.

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