The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 6.

Mr. Gorby Makes Further Discoveries.

When Mr. Gorby left Possum Villa no doubt remained in his mind as to who had committed the murder. The gentleman in the light coat had threatened to murder Whyte, even in the open street — these last words being especially significant — and there was no doubt that he had carried out his threat. The committal of the crime was merely the fulfilment of the words uttered in anger. What the detective had now to do was to find who the gentleman in the light coat was, where he lived, and, that done, to ascertain his doings on the night of the murder. Mrs. Hableton had described him, but was ignorant of his name, and her very vague description might apply to dozens of young men in Melbourne. There was only one person who, in Mr. Gorby’s opinion, could tell the name of the gentleman in the light coat, and that was Moreland, the intimate friend of the dead man. They appeared, from the landlady’s description, to have been so friendly that it was more than likely Whyte would have told Moreland all about his angry visitor. Besides, Moreland’s knowledge of his dead friend’s life and habits might be able to supply information on two points, namely, who was most likely to gain by Whyte’s death, and who the heiress was that the deceased boasted he would marry. But the fact that Moreland should be ignorant of his friend’s tragic death, notwithstanding that the papers were full of it, and that the reward gave an excellent description of his personal appearance, greatly puzzled Gorby.

The only way in which to account for Moreland’s extraordinary silence was that he was out of town, and had neither seen the papers nor heard anyone talking about the murder. If this were the case he might either stay away for an indefinite time or return after a few days. At all events it was worth while going down to St. Kilda in the evening on the chance that Moreland might have returned to town, and world call to see his friend. So, after his tea, Mr. Gorby put on his hat, and went down to Possum Villa, on what he could not help acknowledging to himself was a very slender possibility.

Mrs. Hableton opened the door for him, and in silence led the way, not into her own sitting-room, but into a much more luxuriously furnished apartment, which Gorby guessed at once was that of Whyte’s. He looked keenly round the room, and his estimate of the dead man’s character was formed at once.

“Fast,” he said to himself, “and a spendthrift. A man who would have his friends, and possibly his enemies, among a very shady lot of people.”

What led Mr. Gorby to this belief was the evidence which surrounded him of Whyte’s mode of life. The room was well furnished, the furniture being covered with dark-red velvet, while the curtains on the windows and the carpet were all of the same somewhat sombre hue.

“I did the thing properly,” observed Mrs. Hableton, with a satisfactory smile on her hard face. “When you wants young men to stop with you, the rooms must be well furnished, an’ Mr. Whyte paid well, tho’ ’e was rather pertickler about ’is food, which I’m only a plain cook, an’ can’t make them French things which spile the stomach.”

The globes of the gas lamps were of a pale pink colour, and Mrs. Hableton having lit the gas in expectation of Mr. Gorby’s arrival, there was a soft roseate hue through the room. Mr. Gorby put his hands in his capacious pockets, and strolled leisurely through the room, examining everything with a curious eye. The walls were covered with pictures of celebrated horses and famous jockeys. Alternating with these were photographs of ladies of the stage, mostly London actresses, Nellie Farren, Kate Vaughan, and other burlesque stars, evidently being the objects of the late Mr. Whyte’s adoration. Over the mantelpiece hung a rack of pipes, above which were two crossed foils, and under these a number of plush frames of all colours, with pretty faces smiling out of them; a remarkable fact being, that all the photographs were of ladies, and not a single male face was to be seen, either on the walls or in the plush frames.

“Fond of the ladies, I see,” said Mr. Gorby, nodding his head towards the mantelpiece.

“A set of hussies,” said Mrs. Hableton grimly, closing her lips tightly. “I feel that ashamed when I dusts ’em as never was — I don’t believe in gals gettin’ their picters taken with ’ardly any clothes on, as if they just got out of bed, but Mr. Whyte seems to like ’em.”

“Most young men do,” answered Mr. Gorby dryly, going over to the bookcase.

“Brutes,” said the lady of the house. “I’d drown ’em in the Yarrer, I would, a settin’ ’emselves and a callin’ ’emselves lords of creation, as if women were made for nothin’ but to earn money an’ see ’em drink it, as my ’usband did, which ’is inside never seemed to ’ave enough beer, an’ me a poor lone woman with no family, thank God, or they’d ’ave taken arter their father in ’is drinkin’ ’abits.”

Mr. Gorby took no notice of this tirade against men, but stood looking at Mr. Whyte’s library, which seemed to consist mostly of French novels and sporting newspapers.

“Zola,” said Mr. Gorby, thoughtfully, taking down a flimsy yellow book rather tattered. “I’ve heard of him; if his novels are as bad as his reputation I shouldn’t care to read them.”

Here a knock came at the front door, loud and decisive. On hearing it Mrs. Hableton sprang hastily to her feet. “That may be Mr. Moreland,” she said, as the detective quickly replaced “Zola” in the bookcase. “I never ’ave visitors in the evenin’, bein’ a lone widder, and if it is ’im I’ll bring ’im in ’ere.”

She went out, and presently Gorby, who was listening intently, heard a man’s voice ask if Mr. Whyte was at home.

“No, sir, he ain’t,” answered the landlady; “but there’s a gentleman in his room askin’ after ’im. Won’t you come in, sir?”

“For a rest, yes,” returned the visitor, and immediately afterwards Mrs. Hableton appeared, ushering in the late Oliver Whyte’s most intimate friend. He was a tall, slender man, with a pink and white complexion, curly fair hair, and a drooping straw-coloured moustache — altogether a strikingly aristocratic individual. He was well-dressed in a suit of check, and had a cool, nonchalant air about him.

“And where is Mr. Whyte to-night?” he asked, sinking into a chair, and taking no more notice of the detective than if he had been an article of furniture.

“Haven’t you seen him lately?” asked the detective quickly. Mr. Moreland stared in an insolent manner at his questioner for a few moments, as if he were debating the advisability of answering or not. At last he apparently decided that he would, for slowly pulling off one glove he leaned back in his chair.

“No, I have not,” he said with a yawn. “I have been up the country for a few days, and arrived back only this evening, so I have not seen him for over a week. Why do you ask?”

The detective did not answer, but stood looking at the young man before him in a thoughtful manner.

“I hope,” said Mr. Moreland, nonchalantly, “I hope you will know me again, my friend, but I didn’t know Whyte had started a lunatic asylum during my absence. Who are you?”

Mr. Gorby came forward and stood under the gas light.

“My name is Gorby, sir, and I am a detective,” he said quietly.

“Ah! indeed,” said Moreland, coolly looking him up and down. “What has Whyte been doing; running away with someone’s wife, eh? I know he has little weaknesses of that sort.”

Gorby shook his head.

“Do you know where Mr. Whyte is to be found?” he asked, cautiously.

Moreland laughed.

“Not I, my friend,” said he, lightly. “I presume he is somewhere about here, as these are his head-quarters. What has he been doing? Nothing that can surprise me, I assure you — he was always an erratic individual, and — ”

“He paid reg’ler,” interrupted Mrs. Hableton, pursing up her lips.

“A most enviable reputation to possess,” answered the other with a sneer, “and one I’m afraid I’ll never enjoy. But why all this questioning about Whyte? What’s the matter with him?”

“He’s dead!” said Gorby, abruptly.

All Moreland’s nonchalance vanished on hearing this, and he started up from his chair.

“Dead,” he repeated mechanically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that Mr. Oliver Whyte was murdered in a hansom cab.” Moreland stared at the detective in a puzzled sort of way, and passed his hand across his forehead.

“Excuse me, my head is in a whirl,” he said, as he sat down again. “Whyte murdered! He was all right when I left him nearly two weeks ago.”

“Haven’t you seen the papers?” asked Gorby.

“Not for the last two weeks,” replied Moreland. “I have been up country, and it was only on arriving back in town tonight that I heard about the murder at all, as my landlady gave me a garbled account of it, but I never for a moment connected it with Whyte, and I came down here to see him, as I had agreed to do when I left. Poor fellow! poor fellow! poor fellow!” and much overcome, he buried his face in his hands.

Mr. Gorby was touched by his evident distress, and even Mrs. Hableton permitted a small tear to roll down one hard cheek as a tribute of sorrow and sympathy. Presently Moreland raised his head, and spoke to Gorby in a husky tone.

“Tell me all about it,” he said, leaning his cheek on his hand. “Everything you know.”

He placed his elbows on the table, and buried his face in his hands again, while the detective sat down and related all that he knew about Whyte’s murder. When it was done he lifted up his head, and looked sadly at the detective.

“If I had been in town,” he said, “this would not have happened, for I was always beside Whyte.”

“You knew him very well, sir?” said the detective, in a sympathetic tone.

“We were like brothers,” replied Moreland, mournfully.

“I came out from England in the same steamer with him, and used to visit him constantly here.”

Mr. Hableton nodded her head to imply that such was the case.

“In fact,” said Mr. Moreland, after a moment’s thought, “I believe I was with him on the night he was murdered.”

Mrs. Hableton gave a slight scream, and threw her apron over her face, but the detective sat unmoved, though Moreland’s last remark had startled him considerably.

“What’s the matter?” said Moreland, turning to Mrs. Hableton.

“Don’t be afraid; I didn’t kill him — no — but I met him last Thursday week, and I left for the country on Friday morning at half-past six.”

“And what time did you meet Whyte on Thursday night?” asked Gorby.

“Let me see,” said Moreland, crossing his legs and looking thoughtfully up to the ceiling, “it was about half-past nine o’clock. I was in the Orient Hotel, in Bourke Street. We had a drink together, and then went up the street to an hotel in Russell Street, where we had another. In fact,” said Moreland, coolly, “we had several other drinks.”

“Brutes!” muttered Mrs. Hableton, below her breath.

“Yes,” said Gorby, placidly. “Go on.”

“Well of — it’s hardly the thing to confess it,” said Moreland, looking from one to the other with a pleasant smile, “but in a case like this, I feel it my duty to throw all social scruples aside. We both became very drunk.”

“Ah! Whyte was, as we know, drunk when he got into the cab — and you —?”

“I was not quite so bad as Whyte,” answered the other. “I had my senses about me. I fancy he left the hotel some minutes before one o’clock on Friday morning.”

“And what did you do?”

“I remained in the hotel. He left his overcoat behind him, and I picked it up and followed him shortly afterwards, to return it. I was too drunk to see in which direction he had gone, and stood leaning against the hotel door in Bourke Street with the coat in my hand. Then some one came up, and, snatching the coat from me, made off with it, and the last thing I remember was shouting out: ‘Stop, thief!’ Then I must have fallen down, for next morning I was in bed with all my clothes on, and they were very muddy. I got up and left town for the country by the six-thirty train, so I knew nothing about the matter until I came back to Melbourne tonight. That’s all I know.”

“And you had no impression that Whyte was watched that night?”

“No, I had not,” answered Moreland, frankly. “He was in pretty good spirits, though he was put out at first.”

“What was the cause of his being put out?”

Moreland arose, and going to a side table, brought Whyte’s album, which he laid on the table and opened in silence. The contents were very much the same as the photographs in the room, burlesque actresses and ladies of the ballet predominating; but Mr. Moreland turned over the pages till nearly the end, when he stopped at a large cabinet photograph, and pushed the album towards Mr. Gorby.

“That was the cause,” he said.

It was the portrait of a charmingly pretty girl, dressed in white, with a sailor hat on her fair hair, and holding a lawn tennis racquet. She was bending half forward, with a winning smile, and in the background bloomed a mass of tropical plants. Mrs. Hableton uttered a cry of surprise at seeing this.

“Why, it’s Miss Frettlby,” she said. “How did he know her?”

“Knew her father — letter of introduction, and all that sort of thing,” said Mr. Moreland, glibly.

“Ah! indeed,” said Mr. Gorby, slowly. “So Mr. Whyte knew Mark Frettlby, the millionaire; but how did he obtain a photograph of the daughter?”

“She gave it to him,” said Moreland. “The, fact is, Whyte was very much in love with Miss Frettlby.”

“And she — ”

“Was in love with someone else,” finished Moreland. “Exactly! Yes, she loved a Mr. Brian Fitzgerald, to whom she is now engaged. He was mad on her; and Whyte and he used to quarrel desperately over the young lady.”

“Indeed!” said Mr. Gorby. “And do you know this Mr. Fitzgerald?”

“Oh, dear, no!” answered the other, coolly. “Whyte’s friends were not mine. He was a rich young man who had good introductions. I am only a poor devil on the outskirts of society, trying to push my way in the world.”

“You are acquainted with his personal appearance, of course?” observed Mr. Gorby.

“Oh, yes, I can describe that,” said Moreland. “In fact, he’s not at all unlike me, which I take to be rather a compliment, as he is said to be good-looking. He is tall, rather fair, talks in a bored sort of manner, and is altogether what one would call a heavy swell; but you must have seen him,” he went on, turning to Mrs. Hableton, “he was here three or four weeks ago, Whyte told me.”

“Oh, that was Mr. Fitzgerald, was it?” said Mrs. Hableton, in surprise. “Yes, he is rather like you; the lady they quarrelled over must have been Miss Frettlby.”

“Very likely,” said Moreland, rising. “Well, I’m off; here’s my address,” putting a card in Gorby’s, hand. “I’m glad to be of any use to you in this matter, as Whyte was my dearest friend, and I’ll do all in my power to help you to find out the murderer.”

“I don’t think that is a very difficult matter,” said Mr. Gorby, slowly.

“Oh, you have your suspicions?” asked Moreland, looking at him.

“I have.”

“Then who do you think murdered Whyte?”

Mr. Gorby paused a moment, and then said deliberately: “I have an idea — but I am not certain — when I am certain, I’ll speak.”

“You think Fitzgerald killed my friend,” said Moreland. “I see it in your face.”

Mr. Gorby smiled.” Perhaps,” he said, ambiguously. “Wait till I’m certain.”

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