The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 33.

The Confession.

“What I am now about to write is set forth by me so that the true circumstances connected with the ‘Hansom Cab Tragedy,’ which took place in Melbourne in 18 — may be known. I owe a confession, particularly to Brian Fitzgerald, seeing that he was accused of the crime. Although I know he was rightfully acquitted of the charge, yet I wish him to know all about the case, though I am convinced, from his altered demeanour towards me, that he is better acquainted with it than he chooses to confess. In order to account for the murder of Oliver Whyte, I must go back to the beginning of my life in this colony, and show how the series of events began which culminated in the committal of the crime.

“Should it be necessary to make this confession public, in the interests of justice, I can say nothing against such a course being taken; but I would be grateful if it could be suppressed, both on account of my good name and of my dear daughter Margaret, whose love and affection has so soothed and brightened my life.

“If, however, she should be informed of the contents of these pages, I ask her to deal leniently with the memory of one who was sorely tried and tempted.

“I came to the colony of Victoria, or, rather, as it was called then, New South Wales, in the year 18 —. I had been in a merchant’s office in London, but not finding much opportunity for advancement, I looked about to see if I could better myself I heard of this new land across the, ocean, and though it was not then the El Dorado which it afterwards turned out, and, truth to tell, had rather a shady name, owing to the transportation of convicts, yet I longed to go there and start a new life. Unhappily, however, I had not the means, and saw nothing better before me than the dreary life of a London clerk, as it was impossible that I could save out of the small salary I got. Just at this time, an old maiden aunt of my mother’s died and left a few hundred pounds to me. With this, I came out to Australia, determined to become a rich man. I stayed some time in Sydney, and then came over to Port Phillip, now so widely known as Marvellous Melbourne, where I intended to pitch my tent. I saw that it was a young and rising colony, though, of course, coming as I did, before the days of the, gold diggings, I never dreamt it would spring up, as it has done since, into a nation. I was careful and saving in those days, and, indeed, I think it was the happiest time of my life.

“I bought land whenever I could scrape the money together, and, at the time of the gold rush, was considered well-to-do. When, however, the cry that gold had been discovered was raised, and the eyes of all the nations were turned to Australia, with her glittering treasures, men poured in from all parts of the world, and the ‘Golden Age’ commenced. I began to grow rich rapidly, and was soon pointed out as the wealthiest man in the Colonies. I bought a station, and, leaving the riotous, feverish Melbourne life, went to live on it. I enjoyed myself there, for the wild, open-air life had great charms for me, and there was a sense of freedom to which I had hitherto been a stranger. But man is a gregarious animal, and I, growing weary of solitude and communings with Mother Nature, came down on a visit to Melbourne, where, with companions as gay as myself, I spent my money freely, and, as the phrase goes, saw life. After confessing that I loved the pure life of the country, it sounds strange to say I enjoyed the wild life of the town, but I did. I was neither a Joseph nor a St. Anthony, and I was delighted with Bohemia, with its good fellowship and charming suppers, which took place in the small hours of the morning, when wit and humour reigned supreme. It was at one of these suppers that I first met Rosanna Moore, the woman who was destined to curse my existence. She was a burlesque actress, and all the young fellows in those days were madly in love with her. She was not exactly what was called beautiful, but there was a brilliancy and fascination about her which few could resist. On first seeing her I did not admire her much, but laughed at my companions as they raved about her. On becoming personally acquainted with her, however, I found that her powers of fascination had not been over-rated, and I ended by falling desperately in love with her. I made enquiries about her private life, and found that it was irreproachable, as she was guarded by a veritable dragon of a mother, who would let no one approach her daughter. I need not tell about my courtship, as these phases of a man’s life are generally the same, but it will be sufficient to prove the depth of my passion for her when I say that I determined to make her my wife. It was on condition, however, that the marriage should be kept secret until such time as I should choose to reveal it. My reason for such a course was this, my father was still alive, and he, being a rigid Presbyterian, would never has forgiven me for having married a woman of the stage; so, as he was old and feeble, I did not wish him to learn that I had done so, fearing that the shock would be too much for him in his then state of health. I told Rosanna I would marry her, but wanted her to leave her mother, who was a perfect fury, and not an agreeable person to live with. As I was rich, young, and not bad looking, Rosanna consented, and, during an engagement she had in Sydney, I went over there and married her. She never told her mother she had married me, why, I do not know, as I laid no restriction on her doing so. The mother made a great noise over the matter, but I gave Rosanna a large sum of money for her, and this the old harridan accepted, and left for New Zealand. Rosanna went with me to my station, where we lived as man and wife, though, in Melbourne, she was supposed to be my mistress. At last, feeling degraded in my own eyes at the way in which I was supposed to be living, I wanted to reveal our secret, but this Rosanna would not consent to. I was astonished at this, and could never discover the reason, but in many ways Rosanna was an enigma to me. She then grew weary of the quiet country life, and longed to return to the glitter and glare of the footlights. This I refused to let her do, and from that moment she took a dislike to me. A child was born, and for a time she was engrossed with it, but soon wearied of the new plaything, and again pressed me to allow her to return to the stage. I again refused, and we became estranged from one another. I grew gloomy and irritable, and was accustomed to take long rides by myself, frequently being away for days. There was a great friend of mine who owned the next station, a fine, handsome young fellow, called Frank Kelly, with a gay, sunny disposition, and a wonderful flow of humour. When he found I was so much away, thinking Rosanna was only my mistress, he began to console her, and succeeded so well that one day, on my return from a ride, I found she had fled with him, and had taken the child with her. She left a letter saying that she had never really cared for me, but had married me for my money — she would keep our marriage secret, and was going to return to the stage. I followed my false friend and false wife down to Melbourne, but arrived too late, as they had just left for England. Disgusted with the manner in which I had been treated, I plunged into a whirl of dissipation, trying to drown the memory of my married life. My friends, of course, thought that my loss amounted to no more than that of a mistress, and I soon began myself to doubt that I had ever been married, so far away and visionary did my life of the previous year seem. I continued my fast life for about six months, when suddenly I was arrested upon the brink of destruction by — an angel. I say this advisedly, for if ever there was an angel upon earth, it was she who afterwards became my wife. She was the daughter of a doctor, and it was her influence which drew me back from the dreary path of profligacy and dissipation which I was then leading. I paid her great attention, and we were, in fact, looked upon as good as engaged; but I knew that I was still linked to that accursed woman, and could not ask her to be my wife. At this second crisis of my life Fate again intervened, for I received a letter from England, which informed me that Rosanna Moore had been run over in the streets of London, and had died in an hospital. The writer was a young doctor who had attended her, and I wrote home to him, begging him to send out a certificate of her death, so that I might be sure she was no more. He did so, and also enclosed an account of the accident, which had appeared in a newspaper. Then, indeed, I felt that I was free, and closing, as I thought, for ever the darkest page of my life’s history, I began to look forward to the future. I married again, and my domestic life was a singularly happy one. As the colony grew greater, with every year I became even more wealthy than I had been, and was looked up to and respected by my fellow-citizens. When my dear daughter Margaret was born, I felt that my cup of happiness was full, but suddenly I received a disagreeable reminder of the past. Rosanna’s mother made her appearance one day — a disreputable-looking creature, smelling of gin, in whom I could not recognise the respectably-dressed woman who used to accompany Rosanna to the theatre. She had spent long ago all the money I had given her, and had sank lower and lower, until she now lived in a slum off Little Bourke Street. I made enquiries after the child, and she told me it was dead. Rosanna had not taken it to England with her, but had left it in her mother’s charge, and, no doubt, neglect and want of proper nourishment was the cause of its death. There now seemed to be no link to bind me to the past with the exception of the old hag, who knew nothing about the marriage. I did not attempt to undeceive her, but agreed to allow her enough to live on if she promised never to trouble me again, and to keep quiet about everything which had reference to my connection with her daughter. She promised readily enough, and went back to her squalid dwelling in the slums, where, for all I know, she still lives, as money has been paid to her regularly every month by my solicitors. I heard nothing more about the matter, and now felt quite satisfied that I had heard the last of Rosanna. As years rolled on, things prospered with me, and so fortunate was I in all speculations that my luck became proverbial. Then, alas! when all things seemed to smile upon me, my wife died, and the world has never seemed the same to me since. But I had my dear daughter to console me, and in her love and affection I became reconciled to the loss of my wife. A young Irish gentleman, called Brian Fitzgerald, came out to Australia, and I soon saw that my daughter was in love with him, and that he reciprocated that affection, whereat I was glad, as I have always esteemed him highly. I looked forward to their marriage, when suddenly a series of events occurred, which must be fresh in the memory of those who read these pages. Mr. Oliver Whyte, a gentleman from London, called on me and startled me with the news that my first wife, Rosanna Moore, was still living, and that the story of her death had been an ingenious fabrication in order to deceive me. She had met with an accident, as stated in the newspaper, and had been taken to an hospital, where she recovered. The young doctor, who had sent me the certificate of her death, had fallen in love with her, and wanted to marry her, and had told me that she was dead in order that her past life might be obliterated. The doctor, however, died before the marriage, and Rosanna did not trouble herself about undeceiving me. She was then acting on the burlesque stage under the name of ‘Musette,’ and seemed to have gained an unenviable notoriety by her extravagance and infamy. Whyte met her in London, and she became his mistress. He seemed to have had a wonderful influence over her, for she told him all her past life, and about her marriage with me. Her popularity being on the wane in London, as she was now growing old-, and had to make way for younger actresses, Whyte proposed that they should proceed to the colonies and extort money from me, and he had come to me for that purpose. The villain told me all this in the coolest manner, and I, knowing he held the secret of my life, was unable to resent it. I refused to see Rosanna, but told Whyte I would agree to his terms, which were, first, a large sum of money was to be paid to Rosanna, and, secondly, that he should marry my daughter. I, at first, absolutely declined to sanction the latter proposal, but as he threatened to publish the story, and that meant the proclamation to the world of my daughter’s illegitimacy, I at last — agreed, and he began to pay his addresses to Madge. She, however, refused to marry him, and told me she was engaged to Fitzgerald, so, after a severe struggle with myself, I told Whyte that I would not allow him to marry Madge, but would give him whatever sum he liked to name. On the night he was murdered he came to see me, and showed me the certificate of marriage between myself and Rosanna Moore. He refused to take a sum of money, and said that unless I consented to his marriage with Madge he would publish the whole affair. I implored him to give me time to think, so he said he would give me two days, but no more, and left the house, taking the marriage certificate with him. I was in despair, and saw that the only way to save myself was to obtain possession of the marriage certificate and deny everything. With this idea in my mind I followed him up to town and saw him meet Moreland, and drink with him. They went into the hotel in Russell Street, and when Whyte came out, at half-past twelve, he was quite intoxicated. I saw him go along to the Scotch Church, near the Bourke and Wills’ monument, and cling to the lamp-post at the corner. I thought I would then be able to get the certificate from him, as he was so drunk, when I saw a gentleman in a light coat — I did not know it was Fitzgerald — come up to him and hail a cab for him. I saw there was nothing more to be done at that time, so, in despair, went home and waited for the next day, in fear lest he should carry out his determination. Nothing, however, turned up, and I was beginning to think that Whyte had abandoned his purpose, when I heard that he had been murdered in the hansom cab. I was in great fear lest the marriage certificate should be found on him, but nothing was said about it. This I could not understand at all. I knew he had it on him, and I could only conclude that the murderer, whoever he was, had taken it from the body, and would sooner or later come to me to extort money, knowing that I dare not denounce him. Fitzgerald was arrested, and afterwards acquitted, so I began to think that the certificate had been lost, and my troubles were at an end. However, I was always haunted by a dread that the sword was hanging over my head, and would fall sooner or later. I was right, for two nights ago Roger Moreland, who was an intimate friend of Whyte’s, called on me, and produced the marriage certificate, which he offered to sell to me for five thousand pounds. In horror, I accused him of murdering Whyte, which he denied at first, but afterwards acknowledged, stating that I dare not betray him for my own sake. I was nearly mad with the horror I was placed in, either to denounce my daughter as illegitimate or let a murderer escape the penalty of his crime. At last I agreed to keep silent, and handed him a cheque for five thousand pounds, receiving in return the marriage certificate. I then made Moreland swear to leave the colony, which he readily agreed to do, saying Melbourne was dangerous. When he left I reflected upon the awfulness of my position, and I had almost determined to commit suicide, but, thank God, I was saved from that crime. I write this confession in order that after my death the true story of the murder of Whyte may be known, and that any one who may hereafter be accused of the murder may not be wrongfully punished. I have no hopes of Moreland ever receiving the penalty of his crime, as when this is opened all trace of him will, no doubt, be lost. I will not destroy the marriage certificate, but place it with these papers, so that the truth of my story can be seen. In conclusion, I would ask forgiveness of my daughter Margaret for my sins, which have been visited on her, but she can see for herself that circumstances were too strong for me. May she forgive me, as I hope God in His infinite mercy will, and may she come sometimes and pray over my grave, nor think too hardly upon her dead father.”

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