The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 4.

Mr. Gorby Makes a Start.

“Well,” said Mr. Gorby, addressing his reflection in the looking-glass, “I’ve been finding out things these last twenty years, but this is a puzzler, and no mistake.”

Mr. Gorby was shaving, and, as was his usual custom, conversed with his reflection. Being a detective, and of an extremely reticent disposition, he never talked outside about his business, or made a confidant of anyone. When he did want to unbosom himself, he retired to his bedroom and talked to his reflection in the mirror. This method of procedure he found to work capitally, for it relieved his sometimes overburdened mind with absolute security to himself. Did not the barber of Midas when he found out what was under the royal crown of his master, fret and chafe over his secret, until one morning he stole to the reeds by the river, and whispered, “Midas, has ass’s ears?” In the like manner Mr. Gorby felt a longing at times to give speech to his innermost secrets; and having no fancy for chattering to the air, he made his mirror his confidant. So far it had never betrayed him, while for the rest it joyed him to see his own jolly red face nodding gravely at him from out the shining surface, like a mandarin. This morning the detective was unusually animated in his confidences to his mirror. At times, too, a puzzled expression would pass over his face. The hansom cab murder had been placed in his hands for solution, and he was trying to think how he should make a beginning.

“Hang it,” he said, thoughtfully stropping his razor, “a thing with an end must have a start, and if I don’t get the start how am I to get the end?”

As the mirror did not answer this question, Mr. Gorby lathered his face, and started shaving in a somewhat mechanical fashion, for his thoughts were with the case, and ran on in this manner:—

“Here’s a man — well, say a gentleman — who gets drunk, and, therefore, don’t know what he’s up to. Another gent who is on the square comes up and sings out for a cab for him — first he says he don’t know him, and then he shows plainly he does — he walks away in a temper, changes his mind, comes back and gets into the cab, after telling the cabby to drive down to St. Kilda. Then he polishes the drunk one off with chloroform, gets out of the cab, jumps into another, and after getting out at Powlett Street, vanishes — that’s the riddle I’ve got to find out, and I don’t think the Sphinx ever had a harder one. There are three things to be discovered — First, who is the dead man? Second, what was he killed for? And third, who did it?

“Once I get hold of the first the other two won’t be very hard to find out, for one can tell pretty well from a man’s life whether it’s to anyone’s interest that he should be got off the books. The man that murdered that chap must have had some strong motive, and I must find out what that motive was. Love? No, it wasn’t that — men in love don’t go to such lengths in real life — they do in novels and plays, but I’ve never seen it occurring in my experience. Robbery? No, there was plenty of money in his pocket. Revenge? Now, really it might be that — it’s a kind of thing that carries most people further than they want to go. There was no violence used, for his clothes, weren’t torn, so he must have been taken sudden, and before he knew what the other chap was up to. By the way, I don’t think I examined his clothes sufficiently, there might be something about them to give a clue; at any rate it’s worth looking after, so I’ll start with his clothes.”

So Mr. Gorby, having dressed and breakfasted, walked quickly to the police station, where he asked for the clothes of the deceased to be shown to him. When he received them he retired into a corner, and commenced an exhaustive examination of them.

There was nothing remarkable about the coat. It was merely a well-cut and well-made dress coat; so with a grunt of dissatisfaction Mr. Gorby threw it aside, and picked up the waistcoat. Here he found something to interest him, in the shape of a pocket made on the left-hand side and on the inside, of the garment.

“Now, what the deuce is this for?” said Mr. Gorby, scratching his head; “it ain’t usual for a dress waistcoat to have a pocket on its inside as I’m aware of; and,” continued the detective, greatly excited, “this ain’t tailor’s work, he did it himself, and jolly badly he did it too. Now he must have taken the trouble to make this pocket himself, so that no one else would know anything about it, and it was made to carry something valuable — so valuable that he had to carry it with him even when he wore evening clothes. Ah! here’s a tear on the side nearest the outside of the waistcoat; something has been pulled out roughly. I begin to see now. The dead man possessed something which the other man wanted, and which he knew the dead one carried about with him. He sees him drunk, gets into the cab with him, and tries to get what he wants. The dead man resists, upon which the other kills him by means of the chloroform which he had with him, and being afraid that the cab will stop, and he will be found out, snatches what he wants out of the pocket so quickly that he tears the waistcoat and then makes off. That’s clear enough, but the question is, What was it he wanted? A case with jewels? No! It could not have been anything so bulky, or the dead man would never have carried it about inside his waistcoat. It was something flat, which could easily lie in the pocket — a paper — some valuable paper which the assassin wanted, and for which he killed the other.”

“This is all very well,” said Mr. Gorby, throwing down the waistcoat, and rising. “I have found number two before number one. The first question is: Who is the murdered man. He’s a stranger in Melbourne, that’s pretty clear, or else some one would have been sure to recognise him before now by the description given in the reward. Now, I wonder if he has any relations here? No, he can’t, or else they would have made enquiries, before this. Well, there’s one thing certain, he must have had a landlady or landlord, unless he slept in the open air. He can’t have lived in an hotel, as the landlord of any hotel in Melbourne would have recognised him from the description, especially when the whole place is ringing with the murder. Private lodgings more like, and a landlady who doesn’t read the papers and doesn’t gossip, or she’d have known all about it by this time. Now, if he did live, as I think, in private lodgings, and suddenly disappeared, his landlady wouldn’t keep quiet. It’s a whole week since the murder, and as the lodger has not been seen or heard of, the landlady will naturally make enquiries. If, however, as I surmise, the lodger is a stranger, she will not know where to enquire; therefore, under these circumstances, the most natural thing for her to do would be to advertise for him, so I’ll have a look at the newspapers.”

Mr. Gorby got a file of the different newspapers, and looked carefully through those columns in which missing friends and people who will hear “something to their advantage” are generally advertised for.

“He was murdered,” said Mr. Gorby to himself, “on a Friday morning, between one and two o’clock, so he might stay away till Monday without exciting any suspicion. On Monday, however, the landlady would begin to feel uneasy, and on Tuesday she would advertise for him. Therefore,” said Mr. Gorby, running his fat finger down the column, “Wednesday it is.”

It did not appear in Wednesday’s paper, neither did it in Thursday’s, but in Friday’s issue, exactly one week after the murder, Mr. Gorby suddenly came upon the following advertisement:—

“If Mr. Oliver Whyte does not return to Possum Villa, Grey Street, St. Kilda, before the end of the week, his rooms will be let again. — Rubina Hableton.”

“Oliver Whyte,” repeated Mr. Gorby slowly, “and the initials on the pocket-handkerchief which was proved to have belonged to the deceased were ‘O.W.’ So his name is Oliver Whyte, is it? Now, I wonder if Rubina Hableton knows anything about this matter. At any rate,” said Mr. Gorby, putting on his hat, “as I’m fond of sea breezes, I think I’ll go down, and call at Possum Villa, Grey Street, St. Kilda.”

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