The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 9.

Mr. Gorby is Satisfied at Last.

In spite of his long walk, and still longer drive, Brian did not sleep well that night. He kept tossing and turning, or lying on his back, wide awake, looking into the darkness and thinking of Whyte. Towards dawn, when the first faint glimmer of morning came through the venetian blinds, he fell into a sort of uneasy doze, haunted by horrible dreams. He thought he was driving in a hansom, when suddenly he found Whyte by his side, clad in white cerements, grinning and gibbering at him with ghastly merriment. Then the cab went over a precipice, and he fell from a great height, down, down, with the mocking laughter still sounding in his ears, until he woke with a loud cry, and found it was broad daylight, and that drops of perspiration were standing on his brow. It was no use trying to sleep any longer, so, with a weary sigh, he arose and went to his tub, feeling jaded and worn out by worry and want of sleep. His bath did him some good. The cold water brightened him up and pulled him together. Still he could not help giving a start of surprise when he saw his face reflected in the mirror, old and haggard-looking, with dark circles round the eyes.

“A pleasant life I’ll have of it if this sort of thing goes on,” he said, bitterly, “I wish I had never seen, or heard of Whyte.”

He dressed himself carefully. He was not a man to neglect his toilet, however worried and out of sorts he might happen to feel. Yet, notwithstanding all his efforts the change in his appearance did not escape the eye of his landlady. She was a small, dried-up little woman, with a wrinkled yellowish face. She seemed parched up and brittle. Whenever she moved she crackled, and one went in constant dread of seeing a wizen-looking limb break off short like the branch of some dead tree. When she spoke it was in a voice hard and shrill, not unlike the chirp of a cricket. When — as was frequently the case — she clothed her attenuated form in a faded brown silk gown, her resemblance to that lively insect was remarkable.

And, as on this morning she crackled into Brian’s sitting-room with the Argus and his coffee, a look of dismay at his altered appearance, came over her stony little countenance.

“Dear me, sir,” she chirped out in her shrill voice, as she placed her burden on the table, “are you took bad?”

Brian shook his head.

“Want of sleep, that’s all, Mrs. Sampson,” he answered, unfolding the Argus.

“Ah! that’s because ye ain’t got enough blood in yer ’ead,” said Mrs. Sampson, wisely, for she had her own ideas on the subject of health. “If you ain’t got blood you ain’t got sleep.”

Brian looked at her as she said this, for there seemed such an obvious want of blood in her veins that he wondered if she had ever slept in all her life.

“There was my father’s brother, which, of course, makes ’im my uncle,” went on the landlady, pouring out a cup of coffee for Brian, “an’ the blood ’e ’ad was somethin’ astoundin’, which it made ’im sleep that long as they ’ad to draw pints from ’im afore ’e’d wake in the mornin’.”

Brian had the Argus before his face, and under its friendly cover he laughed quietly to himself.

“His blood poured out like a river,” went on the landlady, still drawing from the rich stores of her imagination, “and the doctor was struck dumb with astonishment at seein’ the Nigagerer which burst from ’im — but I’m not so full-blooded myself.”

Fitzgerald again stifled a laugh, and wondered that Mrs. Sampson was not afraid of being treated as were Ananias and Sapphira. However, he said nothing, but merely intimated that if she would leave the room he would take his breakfast.

“An’ if you wants anythin’ else, Mr. Fitzgerald,” she said, going to the door, “you knows your way to the bell as easily as I do to the kitching,” and, with a final chirrup, she crackled out of the room.

As soon as the door was closed, Brian put down his paper and roared, in spite of his worries. He had that extraordinary vivacious Irish temperament, which enables a man to put all trouble behind his back, and thoroughly enjoy the present. His landlady, with her Arabian Nightlike romances, was a source of great amusement to him, and he felt considerably cheered by the odd turn her humour had taken this morning. After a time, however, his laughter ceased, and his troubles came crowding on him again. He drank his coffee, but pushed away the food which was before him; and looked through the Argus, for the latest report about the murder case. What he read made his cheek turn a shade paler than before. He could feel his heart thumping wildly.

“They’ve found a clue, have they?” he muttered, rising and pacing restlessly up and down. “I wonder what it can be? I threw that man off the scent last night, but if he suspects me, there will be no difficulty in his finding out where I live. Bah! What nonsense I am talking. I am the victim of my own morbid imagination. There is nothing to connect me with the crime, so I need not be afraid of my shadow. I’ve a good mind to leave town for a time, but if I am suspected that would excite suspicion. Oh, Madge! my darling,” he cried passionately, “if you only knew what I suffer, I know that you would pity me — but you must never know the truth — Never! Never!” and sinking into a chair by the window, he covered his face with his hands. After remaining in this position for some minutes, occupied with his own gloomy thoughts, he arose and rang the bell. A faint crackle in the distance announced that Mrs. Sampson had heard it, and she soon came into the room, looking more like a cricket than ever. Brian had gone into his bedroom, and called out to her from there —

“I am going down to St. Kilda, Mrs. Sampson,” he said, “and probably I shall not be back all day.”

“Which I ’opes it ’ull do you good,” she answered, “for you’ve eaten nothin’, an’ the sea breezes is miraculous for makin’ you take to your victuals. My mother’s brother, bein’ a sailor, an’ wonderful for ’is stomach, which, when ’e ’ad done a meal, the table looked as if a low-cuss had gone over it.”

“A what?” asked Fitzgerald, buttoning his gloves.

“A low-cuss!” replied the landlady, in surprise at his ignorance, “as I’ve read in ‘Oly Writ, as ’ow John the Baptist was partial to ’em, not that I think they’d be very fillin’, tho’, to be sure, ’e ’ad a sweet tooth, and ate ’oney with ’em.”

“Oh! you mean locusts,” said Brian now enlightened.

“An’ what else?” asked Mrs. Sampson, indignantly; “which, tho’ not bein’ a scholar’d, I speaks English, I ’opes, my mother’s second cousin ’avin’ ’ad first prize at a spellin’ bee, tho’ ’e died early through brain fever, ’avin’ crowded ’is ’ead over much with the dictionary.”

“Dear me!” answered Brian, mechanically. “How unfortunate!” He was not listening to Mrs. Sampson’s remarks. He suddenly remembered an arrangement which Madge had made, and which up till now had slipped his memory.

“Mrs. Sampson,” he said, turning round at the door, “I am going to bring Mr. Frettlby and his daughter to have a cup of afternoon tea here, so you might have some ready.”

“You ’ave only to ask and to ’ave,” answered Mrs. Sampson, hospitably, with a gratified crackle of all her joints. “I’ll make the tea, sir, an’ also some of my own perticler cakes, bein’ a special kind I ’ave, which my mother showed me. ’ow to make, ’avin’ been taught by a lady as she nussed thro’ the scarlet fever, tho’ bein’ of a weak constitootion, she died soon arter, bein’ in the ’abit of contractin’ any disease she might chance on.”

Brian hurried off lest in her Poe-like appreciation of them, Mrs. Sampson should give vent to more charnel-house horrors.

At one period of her life, the little woman had been a nurse, and it was told of her that she had frightened one of her patients into convulsions during the night by narrating to her the history of all the corpses she had laid out. This ghoul-like tendency in the end proved fatal to her professional advancement.

As soon as Fitzgerald had gone, she went over to the window and watched him as he walked slowly down the street — a tall, handsome man, of whom any woman would be proud.

“What an awful thing it are to think ’e’ll be a corpse some day,” she chirped cheerily to herself, “tho’ of course bein’ a great swell in ’is own place, ’e’ll ’ave a nice airy vault, which ’ud be far more comfortable than a close, stuffy grave, even tho’ it ’as a tombstone an’ vi’lets over it. Ah, now! Who are you, impertinence?” she broke off, as a stout man in a light suit of clothes crossed the road and rang the bell, “a-pullin’ at the bell as if it were a pump ’andle.”

As the gentleman at the door, who was none other than Mr. Gorby, did not hear her, he of course did not reply, so she hurried down the stairs, crackling with anger at the rough usage her bell had received.

Mr. Gorby had seen Brian go out, and deeming it a good opportunity for enquiry had lost no time in making a start.

“You nearly tored the bell down,” said Mrs. Sampson, as she presented her thin body and wrinkled face to the view of the detective.

“I’m very sorry,” answered Gorby, meekly. “I’ll knock next time.”

“Oh, no you won’t,” said the landlady, tossing her head, “me not ’avin’ a knocker, an’ your ’and a-scratchin’ the paint off the door, which it ain’t been done over six months by my sister-in-law’s cousin, which ’e is a painter, with a shop in Fitzroy, an’ a wonderful heye to colour.”

“Does Mr. Fitzgerald live here?” asked Mr. Gorby, quietly.

“He do,” replied Mrs. Sampson, “but ’e’s gone out, an’ won’t be back till the arternoon, which any messige ’ull be delivered to ’im punctual on ’is arrival.”

“I’m glad he’s not in,” said Mr. Gorby. “Would you allow me to have a few moments’ conversation?”

“What is it?” asked the landlady, her curiosity being roused.

“I’ll tell you when we get inside,” answered Mr. Gorby.

She looked at him with her sharp little eyes, and seeing nothing disreputable about him, led the way upstairs, crackling loudly the whole time. This so astonished Mr. Gorby that he cast about in his own mind for an explanation of the phenomenon.

“Wants oiling about the jints,” was his conclusion, “but I never heard anything like it, and she looks as if she’d snap in two, she’s that brittle.”

Mrs. Sampson took Gorby into Brian’s sitting-room, and having closed the door, sat down and prepared to hear what he had to say for himself.

“I ’ope it ain’t bills,” she said. “Mr. Fitzgerald ’avin’ money in the bank, and everythin’ respectable like a gentleman as ’e is, tho’, to be sure, your bill might come down on him unbeknown, ’e not ’avin’ kept it in mind, which it ain’t everybody as ’ave sich a good memory as my aunt on my mother’s side, she ’avin’ been famous for ’er dates like a ’istory, not to speak of ’er multiplication tables, and the numbers of people’s ’ouses.”

“It’s not bills,” answered Mr. Gorby, who, having vainly attempted to stem the shrill torrent of words, had given in, and waited mildly until she had finished; “I only want to know a few things about Mr. Fitzgerald’s habits.”

“And what for?” asked Mrs. Sampson, indignantly. “Are you a noospaper a-putin’ in articles about people who don’t want to see ’emselves in print, which I knows your ’abits, my late ’usband ’avin’ bin a printer on a paper which bust up, not ’avin’ the money to pay wages, thro’ which, there was doo to him the sum of one pound seven and sixpence halfpenny, which I, bein’ ’is widder, ought to ’ave, not that I expects to see it on this side of the grave — oh, dear, no!” and she gave a shrill, elfish laugh.

Mr. Gorby, seeing that unless he took the bull by the horns, he would never be able to get what he wanted, grew desperate, and plunged in medias res.

“I am an insurance agent,” he said, rapidly, so as to prevent any interruption, “and Mr. Fitzgerald desires to insure his life in our company. I, therefore, want to find out if he is a good life to insure; does he live temperately? keep early hours? and, in fact, all about him?”

“I shall be ’appy to answer any enquiries which may be of use to you, sir,” replied Mrs. Sampson; “knowin’ as I do, ’ow good a insurance is to a family, should the ’ead of it be taken off unexpected, leavin’ a widder, which, as I know, Mr. Fitzgerald is a-goin’ to be married soon, an’ I ’opes ’e’ll be ’appy, tho’ thro’ it I loses a lodger as ’as allays paid regler, an’ be’aved like a gentleman.”

“So he is a temperate man?” said Mr. Gorby, feeling his way cautiously.

“Not bein’ a blue ribbing all the same,” answered Mrs. Sampson; “and I never saw him the wuss for drink, ’e being allays able to use his latch-key, and take ’is boots off afore going to bed, which is no more than a woman ought to expect from a lodger, she ’avin’ to do ’er own washin’.”

“And he keeps good hours?”

“Allays in afore the clock strikes twelve,” answered the landlady; “tho’, to be sure, I uses it as a figger of speech, none of the clocks in the ’ouse strikin’ but one, which is bein’ mended, ’avin’ broke through overwindin’.”

“Is he always in before twelve?” asked Mr. Gorby, keenly disappointed at this answer.

Mrs. Sampson eyed him waggishly, and a smile crept over her wrinkled little face.

“Young men, not bein’ old men,” she replied, cautiously, “and sinners not bein’ saints, it’s not nattral as latch-keys should be made for ornament instead of use, and Mr. Fitzgerald bein’ one of the ’andsomest men in Melbourne, it ain’t to be expected as ’e should let ’is latch-key git rusty, tho’ ’avin’ a good moral character, ’e uses it with moderation.”

“But I suppose you are seldom awake when he comes in really late,” said the detective.

“Not as a rule,” assented Mrs. Sampson; “bein’ a ’eavy sleeper, and much disposed for bed, but I ’ave ’eard ’im come in arter twelve, the last time bein’ Thursday week.”

“Ah!” Mr. Gorby drew a long breath, for Thursday week was the night upon which the murder was committed.

“Bein’ troubled with my ’ead,” said Mrs. Sampson, “thro’ ’avin’ been out in the sun all day a-washin’, I did not feel so partial to my bed that night as in general, so went down to the kitching with the intent of getting a linseed poultice to put at the back of my ’ead, it being calculated to remove pain, as was told to me, when a nuss, by a doctor in the horspital, ’e now bein’ in business for hisself, at Geelong, with a large family, ’avin’ married early. Just as I was leavin’ the kitching I ’eard Mr. Fitzgerald a-comin’ in, and, turnin’ round, looked at the clock, that ’avin’ been my custom when my late ’usband came in, in the early mornin’, I bein’ a-preparin’ ’is meal.”

“And the time was?” asked Mr. Gorby, breathlessly.

“Five minutes to two o’clock,” replied Mrs. Sampson. Mr. Gorby thought for a moment.

“Cab was hailed at one o’clock — started for St. Kilda at about ten minutes past — reached Grammar School, say, at twenty-five minutes past — Fitzgerald talks five minutes to cabman, making it half-past — say, he waited ten minutes for other cab to turn up, makes it twenty minutes to two — it would take another twenty minutes to get to East Melbourne — and five minutes to walk up here — that makes it five minutes past two instead of before — confound it. ‘Was your clock in the kitchen right?’” he asked, aloud.

“Well, I think so,” answered Mrs. Sampson. “It does get a little slow sometimes, not ’avin’ been cleaned for some time, which my nevy bein’ a watchmaker I allays ’ands it over to ’im.”

“Of course it was slow on that night,” said Gorby, triumphantly.

“He must have come in at five minutes past two — which makes it right.”

“Makes what right?” asked the landlady, sharply. “And ’ow do you know my clock was ten minutes wrong?”

“Oh, it was, was it?” asked Gorby, eagerly.

“I’m not denyin’ of it,” replied Mrs. Sampson; “clocks ain’t allays to be relied on more than men an’ women — but it won’t be anythin’ agin ’is insurance, will it, as in general ’e’s in afore twelve?”

“Oh, all that will be quite safe,” answered the detective, delighted with the information he had obtained. “Is this Mr. Fitzgerald’s room?”

“Yes, it is,” replied the landlady; “but ’e furnished it ’imself, bein’ of a luxurus turn of mind, not but what ’is taste is good, tho’ far be it from me to deny I ’elped ’im to select; but ’avin’ another room of the same to let, any friends as you might ’ave in search of a ’ome ’ud be well looked arter, my references bein’ very ’igh, an’ my cookin’ tasty — an’ if — ”

Here a ring at the front door bell called Mrs. Sampson away, so with a hurried word to Gorby she crackled downstairs. Left to himself, Mr. Gorby arose and looked round the room. It was excellently furnished, and the pictures were good. At one end of the room, by the window, there was a writing-table covered with papers.

“It’s no good looking for the papers he took out of Whyte’s pocket, I suppose,” said the detective to himself, as he turned over some letters, “as I don’t know what they are, and I couldn’t tell them if I saw them; but I’d like to find that missing glove and the bottle that held the chloroform — unless he’s done away with them. There doesn’t seem any sign of them here, so I’ll have a look in his bedroom.”

There was no time to lose, as Mrs. Sampson might return at any moment, so Mr. Gorby walked quickly into the bedroom, which opened off the sitting-room. The first thing that caught the detective’s eye was a large photograph, in a plush frame, of Madge Frettlby. It stood on the dressing-table, and was similar to that one which he had already seen in Whyte’s album. He took it up with a laugh.

“You’re a pretty girl,” he said, apostrophising the picture, “but you give your photograph to two young men, both in love with you, and both hot-tempered. The result is that one is dead, and the other won’t survive him long. That’s what you’ve done.”

He put it down again, and looking round the room, caught sight of a light covert coat hanging behind the door and also a soft hat.

“Ah,” said the detective, going up to the door, “here is the very coat you wore when you killed that poor fellow wonder what you have in the pockets,” and he plunged his hand into them in turn. There were an old theatre programme and a pair of brown gloves in one, but in the second pocket Mr. Gorby made a discovery — none other than that of the missing glove. There it was — a soiled white glove for the right hand, with black bands down the back; and the detective smiled in a gratified manner as he put it carefully in his pocket.

“My morning has not been wasted,” he said to himself. “I’ve found out that he came in at a time which corresponds to all his movements after one o’clock on Thursday night, and this is the missing glove, which clearly belonged to Whyte. If I could only get hold of the chloroform bottle I’d be satisfied.”

But the chloroform bottle was not to be found, though he searched most carefully for it. At last, hearing Mrs. Sampson coming upstairs again, he gave up the search, and came back to the sitting-room.

“Threw it away, I suspect,” he said, as he sat down in his, old place; “but it doesn’t matter. I think I can form a chain of evidence, from what I have discovered, which will be sufficient to convict him. Besides, I expect when he is arrested he will confess everything; he seems to feel remorse for what he has done.”

The door opened, and Mrs. Sampson entered the room in a state of indignation.

“One of them Chinese ’awkers,” she explained, “’e’s bin a-tryin’ to git the better of me over carrots — as if I didn’t know what carrots was — and ’im a-talkin’ about a shillin’ in his gibberish, as if ’e ’adn’t been brought up in a place where they don’t know what a shillin’ is. But I never could abide furreigners ever since a Frenchman, as taught me ’is language, made orf with my mother’s silver tea-pot, unbeknown to ’er, it bein’ set out on the sideboard for company.”

Mr. Gorby interrupted these domestic reminiscences of Mrs. Sampson’s by stating that, now she had given him all necessary information, he would take his departure.

“An’ I ’opes,” said Mrs. Sampson, as she opened the door for him, “as I’ll ’ave the pleasure of seein’ you again should any business on be’alf of Mr. Fitzgerald require it.”

“Oh, I’ll see you again,” said Mr. Gorby, with heavy jocularity, “and in a way you won’t like, as you’ll be called as a witness,” he added, mentally. “Did I understand you to say, Mrs. Sampson,” he went on, “that Mr. Fitzgerald would be at home this afternoon?”

“Oh, yes, sir, ’e will,” answered Mrs. Sampson, “a-drinkin’ tea with his young lady, who is Miss Frettlby, and ’as got no end of money, not but what I mightn’t ’ave ’ad the same ’ad I been born in a ’igher spear.”

“You need not tell Mr. Fitzgerald I have been here,” said Gorby, closing the gate; “I’ll probably call and see him myself this afternoon.”

“What a stout person ’e are,” said Mrs. Sampson to herself, as the detective walked away, “just like my late father, who was allays fleshy, bein’ a great eater, and fond of ’is glass, but I took arter my mother’s family, they bein’ thin-like, and proud of keeping ’emselves so, as the vinegar they drank could testify, not that I indulge in it myself.”

She shut the door, and went upstairs to take away the breakfast things, while Gorby was being driven along at a good pace to the police office, to obtain a warrant for Brian’s arrest, on a charge of wilful murder.

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