This Fergus Hume thriller collection is formatted to the highest digital standards. The edition incorporates an interactive table of contents, footnotes and other information relevant to the content which makes the reading experience meticulously organized and enjoyable. Fergus Hume (1859-1932) was a prolific English novelist. His self-published novel, "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab", became a great success. Hume based his descriptions of poor urban life on his knowledge of Little Bourke Street. It eventually became the best selling mystery novel of the Victorian era, author John Sutherland terming it the "most sensationally popular crime and detective novel of the century". Table of Contents: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab Professor Brankel's Secret Madame Midas The Harlequin Opal The Expedition of Captain Flick Hagar of the Pawn-Shop The Silent House The Bishop's Secret A Woman's Burden The Pagan's Cup A Coin of Edward VII The Mandarin's Fan The Red Window The Secret Passage The Opal Serpent The Green Mummy The Crowned Skull The Solitary Farm The Mystery Queen Red Money A Son of Perdition
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In its original form, “The Mystery of a Hansom Cab” has reached the sale of 375,000 copies in this country, and some few editions in the United States of America. Notwithstanding this, the present publishers have the best of reasons for believing, that there are thousands of persons whom the book has never reached. The causes of this have doubtless been many, but chief among them was the form of the publication itself. It is for this section of the public chiefly that the present edition is issued. In placing it before my new readers, I have been asked by the publishers thoroughly to revise the work, and, at the same time, to set at rest the many conflicting reports concerning it and myself, which have been current since its initial issue. The first of these requests I have complied with, and the many typographic, and other errors, which disfigured the first edition, have, I think I can safely say, now disappeared. The second request I am about to fulfil; but, in order to do so, I must ask my readers to go back with me to the beginning of all things, so far as this special book is concerned.
The writing of the book was due more to accident than to design. I was bent on becoming a dramatist, but, being quite unknown, I found it impossible to induce the managers of the Melbourne Theatres to accept, or even to read a play. At length it occurred to me I might further my purpose by writing a novel. I should at all events secure a certain amount of local attention. Up to that time I had written only one or two short stories, and the “Cab” was not only the first book I ever published, but the first book I ever wrote; so to youth and lack of experience must be ascribed whatever was wanting in the book. I repeat that the story was written only to attract local attention, and no one was more astonished than I when it passed beyond the narrow circle for which it had originally been intended.
My mind made up on this point, I enquired of a leading Melbourne bookseller what style of book he sold most of. He replied that the detective stories of Gaboriau had a large sale; and as, at this time, I had never even heard of this author, I bought all his works—eleven or thereabouts—and read them carefully. The style of these stories attracted me, and I determined to write a book of the same class; containing a mystery, a murder, and a description of low life in Melbourne. This was the origin of the “Cab.” The central idea i.e. the murder in a cab—came to me while driving at a late hour to St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne; but it took some time and much thought to work it out to a logical conclusion. I was two months sketching out the skeleton of the novel, but even so, when I had written it, the result proved unsatisfactory, for I found I had not sufficiently well concealed the mystery upon which the whole interest of the book depended. In the first draft I made Frettlby the criminal, but on reading over the M.S. I found that his guilt was so obvious that I wrote out the story for a second time, introducing the character of Moreland as a scape-goat. Mother Guttersnipe I unearthed in the slums off Little Bourke Street; and I gave what I am afraid was perhaps too vivid a picture of her language and personality. These I have toned down in the present edition. Calton and the two lodging-house keepers were actual personages whom I knew very well, and I do not think I have exaggerated their idiosyncracies, although many have, I believe, doubted the existence of such oddities. All the scenes in the book, especially the slums, are described from personal observation; and I passed a great many nights in Little Bourke Street, gathering material.
Having completed the book, I tried to get it published, but every one to whom I offered it refused even to look at the manuscript on the ground that no Colonial could write anything worth reading. They gave no reason for this extraordinary opinion, but it was sufficient for them, and they laughed to scorn the idea that any good could come out of Nazareth—i.e., the Colonies. The story thus being boycotted on all hands, I determined to publish it myself, and accordingly an edition of, I think, some five thousand copies was brought out at my own cost. Contrary to the expectations of the publishers, and I must add to my own, the whole edition went off in three weeks, and the public demanded a second. This also sold rapidly, and after some months, proposals were made to me that the book should be brought out in London. Later on I parted with the book to several speculators, who formed themselves into what they called “The Hansom Cab Publishing Company.” Taking the book to London, they published it there with great success, and it had a phenomenal sale, which brought in a large sum of money. The success was, in the first instance, due, in no small degree, to a very kind and generous criticism written by Mr. Clement Scott. I may here state that I had nothing to do with the Company, nor did I receive any money for the English sale of the book beyond what I sold it for; and, as a matter of fact, I did not arrive in England until a year after the novel was published. I have heard it declared that the plot is founded on a real criminal case; but such a statement is utterly without foundation, as the story is pure fiction from beginning to end. Several people before and since my arrival in England, have assumed the authorship of the book to themselves; and one gentleman went so far as to declare that he would shoot me if I claimed to have written it. I am glad to say that up to the present he has not carried out his intention. Another individual had his cards printed, “Fergus Hume. Author of ‘The Mystery of a Hansom Cab,’” and also added the price for which he was prepared to write a similar book. Many of the papers put this last piece of eccentricity down to my account.
I may state in conclusion, that I belong to New Zealand, and not to Australia, that I am a barrister, and not a retired policeman, that I am yet two decades off fifty years of age, that Fergus Hume is my real name, and not a nom-de-plume; and finally, that far from making a fortune out of the book, all I received for the English and American rights, previous to the issue of this Revised Edition by my present publishers, was the sum of fifty pounds. With this I take my leave, and I trust that the present edition may prove as successful as did the first.
The following report appeared in the Argus newspaper of Saturday, the 28th July, 18—
“Truth is said to be stranger than fiction, and certainly the extraordinary murder which took place in Melbourne on Thursday night, or rather Friday morning, goes a long way towards verifying this saying. A crime has been committed by an unknown assassin, within a short distance of the principal streets of this great city, and is surrounded by an inpenetrable mystery. Indeed, from the nature of the crime itself, the place where it was committed, and the fact that the assassin has escaped without leaving a trace behind him, it would seem as though the case itself had been taken bodily from one of Gaboreau’s novels, and that his famous detective Lecoq alone would be able to unravel it. The facts of the case are simply these:—
“On the twenty-seventh day of July, at the hour of twenty minutes to two o’clock in the morning, a hansom cab drove up to the police station in Grey Street, St. Kilda, and the driver made the startling statement that his cab contained the body of a man who he had reason to believe had been murdered. Being taken into the presence of the inspector, the cabman, who gave his name as Malcolm Royston, related the following strange story:—
“At the hour of one o’clock in the morning, he was driving down Collins Street East, when, as he was passing the Burke and Wills’ monument, he was hailed by a gentleman standing at the corner by the Scotch Church. He immediately drove up, and saw that the gentleman who hailed him was supporting the deceased, who appeared to be intoxicated. Both were in evening dress, but the deceased had on no overcoat, while the other wore a short covert coat of a light fawn colour, which was open. As Royston drove up, the gentleman in the light coat said, ‘Look here, cabby, here’s some fellow awfully tight, you’d better take him home!’
“Royston then asked him if the drunken man was his friend, but this the other denied, saying that he had just picked him up from the footpath, and did not know him from Adam. At this moment the deceased turned his face up to the light of the lamp under which both were standing, and the other seemed to recognise him, for he recoiled a pace, letting the drunken man fall in a heap on the pavement, and gasping out ‘You?’ he turned on his heel, and walked rapidly away down Russell Street in the direction of Bourke Street.
“Royston was staring after him, and wondering at his strange conduct, when he was recalled to himself by the voice of the deceased, who had struggled to his feet, and was holding on to the lamp-post, swaying to and fro. ‘I wan’ g’ome,’ he said in a thick voice, ‘St. Kilda.’ He then tried to get into the cab, but was too drunk to do so, and finally sat down again on the pavement. Seeing this, Royston got down, and lifting him up, helped him into the cab with some considerable difficulty. The deceased fell back into the cab, and seemed to drop off to sleep; so, after closing the door, Royston turned to remount his driving-seat, when he found the gentleman in the light coat whom he had seen holding up the deceased, close to his elbow. Royston said, ‘Oh, you’ve come back,’ and the other answered, ‘Yes, I’ve changed my mind, and will see him home.’ As he said this he opened the door of the cab, stepped in beside the deceased, and told Royston to drive down to St. Kilda. Royston, who was glad that the friend of the deceased had come to look after him, drove as he had been directed, but near the Church of England Grammar School, on the St. Kilda Road, the gentleman in the light coat called out to him to stop. He did so, and the gentleman got out of the cab, closing the door after him.
“‘He won’t let me take him home,’ he said, ‘so I’ll just walk back to the city, and you can drive him to St. Kilda.’
“‘What street, sir?’ asked Royston.
“‘Grey Street, I fancy,’ said the other, ‘but my friend will direct you when you get to the Junction.’ “‘Ain’t he too much on, sir?’ said Royston, dubiously.
“‘Oh, no! I think he’ll be able to tell you where he lives—it’s Grey Street or Ackland Street, I fancy. I don’t know which.’
“He then opened the door of the cab and looked in. ‘Good night, old man,’ he said—the other apparently did not answer, for the gentleman in the light coat, shrugging his shoulders, and muttering ‘sulky brute,’ closed the door again. He then gave Royston half-a-sovereign, lit a cigarette, and after making a few remarks about the beauty of the night, walked off quickly in the direction of Melbourne. Royston drove down to the Junction, and having stopped there, according to his instructions he asked his ‘fare’ several times where he was to drive him to. Receiving no response and thinking that the deceased was too drunk to answer, he got down from his seat, opened the door of the cab, and found the deceased lying back in the corner with a handkerchief across his mouth. He put out his hand with the intention of rousing him, thinking that he had gone to sleep. But on touching him the deceased fell forward, and on examination, to his horror, he found that he was quite dead. Alarmed at what had taken place, and suspecting the gentleman in the light coat, he drove to the police station at St. Kilda, and there made the above report. The body of the deceased was taken out of the cab and brought into the station, a doctor being sent for at once. On his arrival, however, he found that life was quite extinct, and also discovered that the handkerchief which was tied lightly over the mouth was saturated with chloroform. He had no hesitation in stating that from the way in which the handkerchief was placed, and the presence of chloroform, that a murder had been committed, and from all appearances the deceased died easily, and without a struggle. The deceased is a slender man, of medium height, with a dark complexion, and is dressed in evening dress, which will render identification difficult, as it is a costume which has no distinctive mark to render it noticeable. There were no papers or cards found on the deceased from which his name could be discovered, and the clothing was not marked in any way. The handkerchief, however, which was tied across his mouth, was of white silk, and marked in one of the corners with the letters ‘O.W.’ in red silk. The assassin, of course, may have used his own handkerchief to commit the crime, so that if the initials are those of his name they may ultimately lead to his detection. There will be an inquest held on the body of the deceased this morning, when, no doubt, some evidence may be elicited which may solve the mystery.”
In Monday morning’s issue of the ARGUS the following article appeared with reference to the matter:—
“The following additional evidence which has been obtained may throw some light on the mysterious murder in a hansom cab of which we gave a full description in Saturday’s issue:—‘Another hansom cabman called at the police office, and gave a clue which will, no doubt, prove of value to the detectives in their search for the murderer. He states that he was driving up the St. Kilda Road on Friday morning about half-past one o’clock, when he was hailed by a gentleman in a light coat, who stepped into the cab and told him to drive to Powlett Street, in East Melbourne. He did so, and, after paying him, the gentleman got out at the corner of Wellington Parade and Powlett Street and walked slowly up Powlett Street, while the cab drove back to town. Here all clue ends, but there can be no doubt in the minds of our readers as to the identity of the man in the light coat who got out of Royston’s cab on the St. Kilda Road, with the one who entered the other cab and alighted therefrom at Powlett Street. There could have been no struggle, as had any taken place the cabman, Royston, surely would have heard the noise. The supposition is, therefore, that the deceased was too drunk to make any resistance, and that the other, watching his opportunity, placed the handkerchief saturated with chloroform over the mouth of his victim. Then after perhaps a few ineffectual struggles the latter would succumb to the effects of his inhalation. The man in the light coat, judging from his conduct before getting into the cab, appears to have known the deceased, though the circumstance of his walking away on recognition, and returning again, shows that his attitude towards the deceased was not altogether a friendly one.
“The difficulty is where to start from in the search after the author of what appears to be a deliberate murder, as the deceased seems to be unknown, and his presumed murderer has escaped. But it is impossible that the body can remain long without being identified by someone, as though Melbourne is a large city, yet it is neither Paris nor London, where a man can disappear in a crowd and never be heard of again. The first thing to be done is to establish the identity of the deceased, and then, no doubt, a clue will be obtained leading to the detection of the man in the light coat who appears to have been the perpetrator of the crime. It is of the utmost importance that the mystery in which the crime is shrouded should be cleared up, not only in the interests of justice, but also in those of the public—taking place as it did in a public conveyance, and in the public street. To think that the author of such a crime is at present at large, walking in our midst, and perhaps preparing for the committal of another, is enough to shake the strongest nerves. In one of Du Boisgobey’s stories, entitled ‘An Omnibus Mystery,’ a murder closely resembling this tragedy takes place in an omnibus, but we question if even that author would have been daring enough to write about a crime being committed in such an unlikely place as a hansom cab. Here is a great chance for some of our detectives to render themselves famous, and we feel sure that they will do their utmost to trace the author of this cowardly and dastardly murder.”
At the inquest held on the body found in the hansom cab the following articles taken from the deceased were placed on the table:—
1. Two pounds ten shillings in gold and silver.
2. The white silk handkerchief which was saturated with chloroform, and was found tied across the mouth of the deceased, marked with the letters O.W. in red silk.
3. A cigarette case of Russian leather, half filled with “Old Judge” cigarettes. 4. A left-hand white glove of kid—rather soiled—with black seams down the back. Samuel Gorby, of the detective office, was present in order to see if anything might be said by the witnesses likely to point to the cause or to the author of the crime.
The first witness called was Malcolm Royston, in whose cab the crime had been committed. He told the same story as had already appeared in the ARGUS, and the following facts were elicited by the Coroner:—
Q. Can you give a description of the gentleman in the light coat, who was holding the deceased when you drove up?
A. I did not observe him very closely, as my attention was taken up by the deceased; and, besides, the gentleman in the light coat was in the shadow.
Q Describe him from what you saw of him.
A. He was fair, I think, because I could see his moustache, rather tall, and in evening dress, with a light coat over it. I could not see his face very plainly, as he wore a soft felt hat, which was pulled down over his eyes.
Q. What kind of hat was it he wore—a wide-awake?
A. Yes. The brim was turned down, and I could see only his mouth and moustache.
Q. What did he say when you asked him if he knew the deceased?
A. He said he didn’t; that he had just picked him up.
Q. And afterwards he seemed to recognise him?
A. Yes. When the deceased looked up he said “You!” and let him fall on to the ground; then he walked away towards Bourke Street.
Q. Did he look back?
A. Not that I saw.
Q. How long were you looking after him?
A. About a minute.
Q. And when did you see him again?
A. After I put deceased into the cab I turned round and found him at my elbow.
Q. And what did he say?
A. I said, “Oh! you’ve come back,” and he said, “Yes, I’ve changed my mind, and will see him home,” and then he got into the cab, and told me to drive to St. Kilda.
Q. He spoke then as if he knew the deceased?
A. Yes; I thought that he recognised him only when he looked up, and perhaps having had a row with him walked away, but thought he’d come back.
Q. Did you see him coming back?
A. No; the first I saw of him was at my elbow when I turned.
Q. And when did he get out? A. Just as I was turning down by the Grammar School on the St. Kilda Road.
Q. Did you hear any sounds of fighting or struggling in the cab during the drive?
A. No; the road was rather rough, and the noise of the wheels going over the stones would have prevented my hearing anything.
Q. When the gentleman in the light coat got out did he appear disturbed?
A. No; he was perfectly calm.
Q. How could you tell that?
A. Because the moon had risen, and I could see plainly.
Q. Did you see his face then?
A. No; his hat was pulled down over it. I only saw as much as I did when he entered the cab in Collins Street.
Q. Were his clothes torn or disarranged in any way?
A. No; the only difference I remarked in him was that his coat was buttoned.
Q. And was it open when he got in?
A. No; but it was when he was holding up the deceased.
Q. Then he buttoned it before he came back and got into the cab?
A. Yes. I suppose so.
Q. What did he say when he got out of the cab on the St. Kilda Road?
A. He said that the deceased would not let him take him home, and that he would walk back to Melbourne.
Q. And you asked him where you were to drive the deceased to?
A. Yes; and he said that the deceased lived either in Grey Street or Ackland Street, St. Kilda, but that the deceased would direct me at the Junction.
Q. Did you not think that the deceased was too drunk to direct you?
A. Yes, I did; but his friend said that the sleep and the shaking of the cab would sober him a bit by the time I got to the Junction.
Q. The gentleman in the light coat apparently did not know where the deceased lived?
A. No; he said it was either in Ackland Street or Grey Street.
Q. Did you not think that curious?
A. No; I thought he might be a club friend of the deceased.
Q. For how long did the man in the light coat talk to you?
A. About five minutes.
Q. And during that time you heard no noise in the cab?
A. No; I thought the deceased had gone to sleep.
Q. And after the man in the light coat said “good-night” to the deceased, what happened?
A. He lit a cigarette, gave me a half-sovereign, and walked off towards Melbourne.
Q. Did you observe if the gentleman in the light coat had his handkerchief with him?
A. Oh, yes; because he dusted his boots with it. The road was very dusty.
Q. Did you notice any striking peculiarity about him?
A. Well, no; except that he wore a diamond ring.
Q. What was there peculiar about that?
A. He wore it on the forefinger of the right hand, and I never saw it that way before.
Q. When did you notice this?
A. When he was lighting his cigarette.
Q. How often did you call to the deceased when you got to the Junction?
A. Three or four times. I then got down, and found he was quite dead.
Q. How was he lying?
A. He was doubled up in the far corner of the cab, very much in the same position as I left him when I put him in. His head was hanging on one side, and there was a handkerchief across his mouth. When I touched him he fell into the other corner of the cab, and then I found out he was dead. I immediately drove to the St. Kilda police station and told the police.
At the conclusion of Royston’s evidence, during which Gorby had been continually taking notes, Robert Chinston was called. He deposed:—
I am a duly qualified medical practitioner, residing in Collins Street East. I made a POST-MORTEM examination of the body of the deceased on Friday.
Q. That was within a few hours of his death?
A. Yes, judging from the position of the handkerchief and the presence of chloroform that the deceased had died from the effects of ANAESTHESIA, and knowing how rapidly the poison evaporates I made the examination at once.
Coroner: Go on, sir.
Dr. Chinston: Externally, the body was healthy-looking and well nourished. There were no marks of violence. The staining apparent at the back of the legs and trunk was due to POST-MORTEM congestion. Internally, the brain was hyperaemic, and there was a considerable amount of congestion, especially apparent in the superficial vessels. There was no brain disease. The lungs were healthy, but slightly congested. On opening the thorax there was a faint spirituous odour discernible. The stomach contained about a pint of completely digested food. The heart was flaccid. The right-heart contained a considerable quantity of dark, fluid blood. There was a tendency to fatty degeneration of that organ.
I am of opinion that the deceased died from the inhalation of some such vapour as chloroform or methylene.
Q. You say there was a tendency to fatty degeneration of the heart? Would that have anything to do with the death of deceased?
A. Not of itself. But chloroform administered while the heart was in such a state would have a decided tendency to accelerate the fatal result. At the same time, I may mention that the POST-MORTEM signs of poisoning by chloroform are mostly negative.
Dr. Chinston was then permitted to retire, and Clement Rankin, another hansom cabman, was called. He deposed: I am a cabman, living in Collingwood, and usually drive a hansom cab. I remember Thursday last. I had driven a party down to St. Kilda, and was returning about half-past one o’clock. A short distance past the Grammar School I was hailed by a gentleman in a light coat; he was smoking a cigarette, and told me to drive him to Powlett Street, East Melbourne. I did so, and he got out at the corner of Wellington Parade and Powlett Street. He paid me half-a-sovereign for my fare, and then walked up Powlett Street, while I drove back to town.
Q. What time was it when you stopped at Powlett Street?
A. Two o’clock exactly.
Q. How do you know?
A. Because it was a still night, and I heard the Post Office clock strike two o’clock.
Q. Did you notice anything peculiar about the man in the light coat?
A. No! He looked just the same as anyone else. I thought he was some swell of the town out for a lark. His hat was pulled down over his eyes, and I could not see his face.
Q. Did you notice if he wore a ring?
A. Yes! I did. When he was handing me the half-sovereign, I saw he had a diamond ring on the forefinger of his right hand.
Q. He did not say why he was on the St. Kilda Road at such an hour?
A. No! He did not.
Clement Rankin was then ordered to stand down, and the Coroner then summed up in an address of half-an-hour’s duration. There was, he pointed out, no doubt that the death of the deceased had resulted not from natural causes, but from the effects of poisoning. Only slight evidence had been obtained up to the present time regarding the circumstances of the case, but the only person who could be accused of committing the crime was the unknown man who entered the cab with the deceased on Friday morning at the corner of the Scotch Church, near the Burke and Wills’ monument. It had been proved that the deceased, when he entered the cab, was, to all appearances, in good health, though in a state of intoxication, and the fact that he was found by the cabman, Royston, after the man in the light coat had left the cab, with a handkerchief, saturated with chloroform, tied over his mouth, would seem to show that he had died through the inhalation of chloroform, which had been deliberately administered. All the obtainable evidence in the case was circumstantial, but, nevertheless, showed conclusively that a crime had been committed. Therefore, as the circumstances of the case pointed to one conclusion, the jury could not do otherwise than frame a verdict in accordance with that conclusion.
The jury retired at four o’clock, and, after an absence of a quarter of an hour, returned with the following verdict:—
“That the deceased, whose name there is no evidence to determine, died on the 27th day of July, from the effects of poison, namely, chloroform, feloniously administered by some person unknown; and the jury, on their oaths, say that the said unknown person feloniously, wilfully, and maliciously did murder the said deceased.”
“Whereas, on Friday, the 27th day of July, the body of a man, name unknown, was found in a hansom cab. AND WHEREAS, at an inquest held at St. Kilda, on the 30th day of July, a verdict of wilful murder, against some person unknown, was brought in by the jury. The deceased is of medium height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, clean shaved, has a mole on the left temple, and was dressed in evening dress. Notice is hereby given that a reward of 100 pounds will be paid by the Government for such information as will lead to the conviction of the murderer, who is presumed to be a man who entered the hansom cab with the deceased at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, on the morning of the 27th day of July.”
“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.”
Mrs. Hableton was a lady with a grievance, as anybody who happened to become acquainted with her, soon found out. It is Beaconsfield who says, in one of his novels, that no one is so interesting as when he is talking about himself; and, judging Mrs. Hableton by this statement, she was an extremely fascinating individual, as she never by any chance talked upon any other subject. What was the threat of a Russian invasion to her so long as she had her special grievance—once let that be removed, and she would have time to attend to such minor details as affected the colony.
Mrs. Hableton’s particular grievance was want of money. Not by any means an uncommon one, you might remind her; but she snappishly would tell you that “she knowd that, but some people weren’t like other people.” In time one came to learn what she meant by this. She had come to the Colonies in the early days—days when the making of money in appreciable quantity was an easier matter than it is now. Owing to a bad husband, she had failed to save any. The late Mr. Hableton—for he had long since departed this life—had been addicted to alcohol, and at those times when he should have been earning, he was usually to be found in a drinking shanty spending his wife’s earnings in “shouting” for himself and his friends. The constant drinking, and the hot Victorian climate, soon carried him off, and when Mrs. Hableton had seen him safely under the ground in the Melbourne Cemetery, she returned home to survey her position, and see how it could be bettered. She gathered together a little money from the wreck of her fortune, and land being cheap, purchased a small “section” at St. Kilda, and built a house on it. She supported herself by going out charing, taking in sewing, and acting as a sick nurse, So, among this multiplicity of occupations, she managed to exist fairly well.
And in truth it was somewhat hard upon Mrs. Hableton. For at the time when she should have been resting and reaping the fruit of her early industry, she was obliged to toil more assiduously than ever. It was little consolation to her that she was but a type of many women, who, hardworking and thrifty themselves, are married to men who are nothing but an incubus to their wives and to their families. Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Hableton should condense all her knowledge of the male sex into the one bitter aphorism, “Men is brutes.”
Possum Villa was an unpretentious-looking place, with one bow-window and a narrow verandah in front. It was surrounded by a small garden in which were a few sparse flowers—the especial delight of Mrs. Hableton. It was her way to tie an old handkerchief round her head and to go out into the garden and dig and water her beloved flowers until, from sheer desperation at the overwhelming odds, they gave up all attempt to grow. She was engaged in this favourite occupation about a week after her lodger had gone. She wondered where he was.
“Lyin’ drunk in a public-‘ouse, I’ll be bound,” she said, viciously pulling up a weed, “a-spendin’ ‘is, rent and a-spilin’ ‘is inside with beer—ah, men is brutes, drat ‘em!”
Just as she said this, a shadow fell across the garden, and on looking up, she saw a man leaning over the fence, staring at her.
“Git out,” she said, sharply, rising from her knees and shaking her trowel at the intruder. “I don’t want no apples to-day, an’ I don’t care how cheap you sells ‘em.”
Mrs. Hableton evidently laboured under the delusion that the man was a hawker, but seeing no hand-cart with him, she changed her mind.
“You’re takin’ a plan of the ‘ouse to rob it, are you?” she said. “Well, you needn’t, ‘cause there ain’t nothin’ to rob, the silver spoons as belonged to my father’s mother ‘avin’ gone down my ‘usband’s, throat long ago, an’ I ain’t ‘ad money to buy more. I’m a lone pusson as is put on by brutes like you, an’ I’ll thank you to leave the fence I bought with my own ‘ard earned money alone, and git out.”
Mrs. Hableton stopped short for want of breath, and stood shaking her trowel, and gasping like a fish out of water.
“My dear lady,” said the man at the fence, mildly, “are you—”
“No, I ain’t,” retorted Mrs. Hableton, fiercely, “I ain’t neither a member of the ‘Ouse, nor a school teacher, to answer your questions. I’m a woman as pays my rates an’ taxes, and don’t gossip nor read yer rubbishin’ newspapers, nor care for the Russings, no how, so git out.”
“Don’t read the papers?” repeated the man, in a satisfied tone, “ah! that accounts for it.”
Mrs. Hableton stared suspiciously at the intruder. He was a burly-looking man, with a jovial red face, clean shaven, and his sharp, shrewd-looking grey eyes twinkled like two stars. He was well-dressed in a suit of light clothes, and wore a stiffly-starched white waistcoat, with a massive gold chain stretched across it. Altogether he gave Mrs. Hableton finally the impression of being a well-to-do tradesman, and she mentally wondered what he wanted.
“What d’y want?” she asked, abruptly.
“Does Mr. Oliver Whyte live here?” asked the stranger.
“He do, an’ he don’t,” answered Mrs. Hableton, epigrammatically. “I ain’t seen ‘im for over a week, so I s’pose ‘e’s gone on the drink, like the rest of ‘em, but I’ve put sumthin’ in the paper as ‘ill pull him up pretty sharp, and let ‘im know I ain’t a carpet to be trod on, an’ if you’re a friend of ‘im, you can tell ‘im from me ‘e’s a brute, an’ it’s no more but what I expected of ‘im, ‘e bein’ a male.”
The stranger waited placidly during the outburst, and Mrs. Hableton, having stopped for want of breath, he interposed, quietly—
“Can I speak to you for a few moments?”
“An’ who’s a-stoppin’ of you?” said Mrs. Hableton, defiantly. “Go on with you, not as I expects the truth from a male, but go on.”
“Well, really,” said the other, looking up at the cloudless blue sky, and wiping his face with a gaudy red silk pocket-handkerchief, “it is rather hot, you know, and—”
Mrs. Hableton did not give him time to finish, but walking to the gate, opened it with a jerk.
“Use your legs and walk in,” she said, and the stranger having done so, she led the way into the house, and into a small neat sitting-room, which seemed to overflow with antimacassars, wool mats, and wax flowers. There were also a row of emu eggs on the mantelpiece, a cutlass on the wall, and a grimy line of hard-looking little books, set in a stiff row on a shelf, presumably for ornament, for their appearance in no way tempted one to read them.
The furniture was of horsehair, and everything was hard and shiny, so when the stranger sat down in the slippery-looking arm-chair that Mrs. Hableton pushed towards him; he could not help thinking it had been stuffed with stones, it felt so cold and hard. The lady herself sat opposite to him in another hard chair, and having taken the handkerchief off her head, folded it carefully, laid it on her lap, and then looked straight at her unexpected visitor.
“Now then,” she said, letting her mouth fly open so rapidly that it gave one the impression that it was moved by strings like a marionette, “Who are you? what are you? and what do you want?”
The stranger put his red silk handkerchief into his hat, placed it on the table, and answered deliberately—
“My name is Gorby. I am a detective. I want Mr. Oliver Whyte.”
“He ain’t here,” said Mrs. Hableton, thinking that Whyte had got into trouble, and was in danger of arrest.
“I know that,” answered Mr. Gorby.
“Then where is ‘e?”
Mr. Gorby answered abruptly, and watched the effect of his words.
“He is dead.”
Mrs. Hableton grew pale, and pushed back her chair. “No,” she cried, “he never killed ‘im, did ‘e?”
“Who never killed him?” queried Mr. Gorby, sharply.
Mrs. Hableton evidently knew more than she intended to say, for, recovering herself with a violent effort, she answered evasively—
“He never killed himself.”
Mr. Gorby looked at her keenly, and she returned his gaze with a defiant stare.
“Clever,” muttered the detective to himself; “knows something more than she chooses to tell, but I’ll get it out of her.” He paused a moment, and then went on smoothly:
“Oh, no! he did not commit suicide; what makes you think so?” Mrs. Hableton did not answer, but, rising from her seat, went over to a hard and shiny-looking sideboard, from whence she took a bottle of brandy and a small wine-glass. Half filling the glass, she drank it off, and returned to her seat.
“I don’t take much of that stuff,” she said, seeing the detective’s eyes fixed curiously on her, “but you ‘ave given me such a turn that I must take something to steady my nerves; what do you want me to do?”
“Tell me all you know,” said Mr. Gorby, keeping his eyes fixed on her face.
“Where was Mr. Whyte killed?” she asked.
“He was murdered in a hansom cab on the St. Kilda Road.”
“In the open street?” she asked in a startled tone.
“Yes, in the open street.”
“Ah!” she drew a long breath, and closed her lips, firmly. Mr. Gorby said nothing. He saw that she was deliberating whether or not to speak, and a word from him might seal her lips, so, like a wise man, he kept silent. He obtained his reward sooner than he expected.
“Mr. Gorby,” she said at length, “I ‘ave ‘ad a ‘ard struggle all my life, which it came along of a bad husband, who was a brute and a drunkard, so, God knows, I ain’t got much inducement to think well of the lot of you, but—murder,” she shivered slightly, though the room was quite warm, “I didn’t think of that.”
“In connection with whom?”
“Mr. Whyte, of course,” she answered, hurriedly.
“And who else?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then there is nobody else?”
“Well, I don’t know—I’m not sure.”
The detective was puzzled.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I will tell you all I know,” said Mrs. Hableton, “an’ if ‘e’s innocent, God will ‘elp ‘im.”
“If who is innocent?”
“I’ll tell you everythin’ from the start,” said Mrs. Hableton, “an’ you can judge for yourself.”
Mr. Gorby assented, and she began:
“It’s only two months ago since I decided to take in lodgers; but charin’s ‘ard work, and sewin’s tryin’ for the eyes, So, bein’ a lone woman, ‘avin’ bin badly treated by a brute, who is now dead, which I was allays a good wife to ‘im, I thought lodgers ‘ud ‘elp me a little, so I put a notice in the paper, an’ Mr. Oliver Whyte took the rooms two months ago.”
“What was he like?”
“Not very tall, dark face, no whiskers nor moustache, an’ quite the gentleman.”
“Anything peculiar about him?”
Mrs. Hableton thought for a moment.
“Well,” she said at length, “he ‘ad a mole on his left temple, but it was covered with ‘is ‘air, an’ few people ‘ud ‘ave seen it.”
“The very man,” said Gorby to himself, “I’m on the right path.”
“Mr. Whyte said ‘e ‘ad just come from England,” went on the woman.
“Which,” thought Mr. Gorby, “accounts for the corpse not being recognised by friends.”
“He took the rooms, an’ said ‘e’d stay with me for six months, an’ paid a week’s rent in advance, an’ ‘e allays paid up reg’ler like a respectable man, tho’ I don’t believe in ‘em myself. He said ‘e’d lots of friends, an’ used to go out every night.”
“Who were his friends?”
“That I can’t tell you, for ‘e were very close, an’ when ‘e went out of doors I never knowd where ‘e went, which is jest like ‘em; for they ses they’re goin’ to work, an’ you finds ‘em in the beershop. Mr. Whyte told me ‘e was a-goin’ to marry a heiress, ‘e was.”
“Ah!” interjected Mr. Gorby, sapiently.
“He ‘ad only one friend as I ever saw—a Mr. Moreland—who comed ‘ere with ‘m, an’ was allays with ‘im—brother-like.”
“What is this Mr. Moreland like?”
“Good-lookin’ enough,” said Mrs. Hableton sourly, “but ‘is ‘abits weren’t as good as ‘is face—‘andsom is as ‘andsom does, is what I ses.”
“I wonder if he knows anything about this affair,” thought Gorby to himself “Where is Mr. Moreland to be found?” he asked.
“Not knowin’, can’t tell,” retorted the landlady, “‘e used to be ‘ere reg’lar, but I ain’t seen ‘im for over a week.”
“Strange! very!” said Gorby, shaking his head. “I should like to see this Mr. Moreland. I suppose it’s probable he’ll call again?”
“‘Abit bein’ second nature I s’pose he will,” answered the woman, “‘e might call at any time, mostly ‘avin’ called at night.”
“Ah! then I’ll come down this evening on chance of seeing him,” replied the detective. “Coincidences happen in real life as well as in novels, and the gentleman in question may turn up in the nick of time. Now, what else about Mr. Whyte?”
“About two weeks ago, or three, I’m not cert’in which, a gentleman called to see Mr. Whyte; ‘e was very tall, and wore a light coat.”
“Ah! a morning coat?”
“No! ‘e was in evenin’ dress, and wore a light coat over it, an’ a soft ‘at.”
“The very man,” said the detective below his breath; “go on.”
“He went into Mr. Whyte’s room, an’ shut the door. I don’t know how long they were talkin’ together; but I was sittin’ in this very room and heard their voices git angry, and they were a-swearin’ at one another, which is the way with men, the brutes. I got up and went into the passage in order to ask ‘em not to make such a noise, when Mr. Whyte’s door opens, an’ the gentleman in the light coat comes out, and bangs along to the door. Mr. Whyte ‘e comes to the door of ‘is room, an’ ‘e ‘ollers out. ‘She is mine; you can’t do anything; an’ the other turns with ‘is ‘and on the door an’ says, ‘I can kill you, an’ if you marry ‘er I’ll do it, even in the open street.’”
“Ah!” said Mr. Gorby, drawing a long breath, “and then?”
“Then he bangs the door to, which it’s never shut easy since, an’ I ain’t got no money to get it put right, an’ Mr. Whyte walks back to his room, laughing.”
“Did he make any remark to you?”
“No; except he’d been worried by a loonatic.”
“And what was the stranger’s name?”
“That I can’t tell you, as Mr. Whyte never told me. He was very tall, with a fair moustache, an’ dressed as I told you.”
Mr. Gorby was satisfied.
“That is the man,” he said to himself, “who got into the hansom cab, and murdered Whyte; there’s no doubt of it! Whyte and he were rivals for the heiress.”
“What d’y think of it?” said Mrs. Hableton curiously.
“I think,” said Mr. Gorby slowly, with his eyes fixed on her, “I think that there is a woman at the bottom of this crime.”
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 would 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.
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