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- The Mystery of a Hansom Cab - 10/55 -
playing one of those detestable pieces of the MORCEAU DE SALON order, in which an unoffending air is taken, and variations embroidered on it, till it becomes a perfect agony to distinguish the tune, amid the perpetual rattle of quavers and demi-semi-quavers. The melody in this case was "Over the Garden Wall," with variations by Signor Thumpanini, and the young lady who played it was a pupil of that celebrated Italian musician. When the male portion of the guests entered, the air was being played in the bass with a great deal of power (that is, the loud pedal was down), and with a perpetual rattle of treble notes, trying with all their shrill might to drown the tune.
"Gad! it's getting over the garden wall in a hailstorm," said Felix, as he strolled over to the piano, for he saw that the musician was Dora Featherweight, an heiress to whom he was then paying attention, in the hope that she might be induced to take the name of Rolleston. So, when the fair Dora had paralysed her audience with one final bang and rattle, as if the gentleman going over the garden wall had tumbled into the cucumber-frame, Felix was loud in his expressions of delight.
"Such power, you know, Miss Featherweight," he said, sinking into a chair, and mentally wondering if any of the piano strings had given way at that last crash. "You put your heart into it--and all your muscle, too, by gad," he added mentally.
"It's nothing but practice," answered Miss Featherweight, with a modest blush. "I am at the piano four hours every day."
"Good heavens!" thought Felix, "what a time the family must have of it." But he kept this remark to himself, and, screwing his eye-glass into his left organ of vision, merely ejaculated, "Lucky piano."
Miss Featherweight, not being able to think of any answer to this, looked down and blushed, while the ingenuous Felix looked up and sighed.
Madge and Brian were in a corner of the room talking over Whyte's death.
"I never liked him," she said, "but it is horrible to think of him dying like that."
"I don't know," answered Brian, gloomily; "from all I can hear dying by chloroform is a very easy death."
"Death can never be easy," replied Madge, "especially to a young man so full of health and spirits as Mr. Whyte was."
"I believe you are sorry he's dead," said Brian, jealously.
"Aren't you?" she asked in some surprise.
"De mortuis nil nisi bonum," quoted Fitzgerald. "But as I detested him when alive, you can't expect me to regret his end."
Madge did not answer him, but glanced quickly at his face, and for the first time it struck her that he looked ill.
"What is the matter with you, dear?" she asked, placing her hand on his arm. "You are not looking well."
"Nothing--nothing," he answered hurriedly. "I've been a little worried about business lately--but come," he said, rising, "let us go outside, for I see your father has got that girl with the steam-whistle voice to sing."
The girl with the steam-whistle voice was Julia Featherweight, the sister of Rolleston's inamorata, and Madge stifled a laugh as she went on to the verandah with Fitzgerald.
"What a shame of you," she said, bursting into a laugh when they were safely outside; "she's been taught by the best masters."
"How I pity them," retorted Brian, grimly, as Julia wailed out, "Meet me once again," with an ear-piercing shrillness.
"I'd much rather listen to our ancestral Banshee, and as to meeting her again, one interview would be more than enough." Madge did not answer, but leaning lightly over the high rail of the verandah looked out into the beautiful moonlit night. There were a number of people passing along the Esplanade, some of whom stopped and listened to Julia's shrill notes. One man in particular seemed to have a taste for music, for he persistently stared over the fence at the house. Brian and Madge talked of divers subjects, but every time Madge looked up she saw the man watching the house.
"What does that man want, Brian?" she asked.
"What man?" asked Brian, starting. "Oh," he went on indifferently, as the watcher moved away from the gate and crossed the road on to the footpath, "he's taken up with the music, I suppose; that's all."
Madge said nothing, but she could not help thinking there was more in it than the music. Presently Julia ceased, and she proposed to go in.
"Why?" asked Brian, who was lying back in a comfortable seat, smoking a cigarette. "It's nice enough here."
"I must attend to my guests," she answered, rising. "You stop here and finish your cigarette," and with a gay laugh she flitted into the house.
Brian sat and smoked, staring out into the moonlight the while. Yes, the man was certainly watching the house, for he sat on one of the seats, and kept his eyes fixed on the brilliantly-lighted windows. Brian threw away his cigarette and shivered slightly.
"Could anyone have seen me?" he muttered, rising uneasily.
"Pshaw! of course not; and the cabman would never recognise me again. Curse Whyte, I wish I'd never set eyes upon him."
He gave one glance at the dark figure on the seat, and then, with a shiver, passed into the warm, well-lighted room. He did not feel easy in his mind, and he would have felt still less so had he known that the man on the seat was one of the cleverest of the Melbourne detectives.
Mr. Gorby had been watching the Frettlby mansion the whole evening, and was getting rather annoyed. Moreland did not know where Fitzgerald lived, and as that was one of the primary facts the detective wished to ascertain, he determined to watch Brian's movements, and to trace him home.
"If he's the lover of that pretty girl, I'll wait till he leaves the house," argued Mr. Gorby to himself, as he took his seat on the Esplanade. "He won't long remain away from her, and once he leaves the house it will be no difficult matter to find out where he lives."
When Brian made his appearance early in the evening, on his way to Mark Frettlby's mansion, he wore evening dress, a light overcoat, and a soft hat.
"Well, I'm dashed!" ejaculated Mr. Gorby, when he saw Fitzgerald disappear; "if he isn't a fool I don't know who is, to go about in the very clothes he wore when he polished Whyte off, and think he won't be recognised. Melbourne ain't Paris or London, that he can afford to be so careless, and when I put the darbies on him he will be astonished. Ah, well," he went on, lighting his pipe and taking a seat on the Esplanade, "I suppose I'll have to wait here till he comes out."
Mr. Gorby's patience was pretty severely tried, for hour after hour passed, and no one appeared. He smoked several pipes, and watched the people strolling along in the soft silver moonlight. A bevy of girls passed by with their arms round one another's waists. Then a young man and woman, evidently lovers, came walking along. They sat down by Mr. Gorby and looked hard at him, to hint that he need not stay. But the detective took no heed of them, and kept his eyes steadily upon the great house opposite. Finally, the lovers took themselves off with a very bad grace.
Then Mr. Gorby saw Madge and Brian come out on to the verandah, and heard in the stillness of the night, a sound weird and unearthly. It was Miss Featherweight singing. He saw Madge go in, shortly followed by Brian. The latter turned and stared at him for a moment.
"Ah," said Gorby to himself as he re-lit his pipe; "your conscience is a-smiting you, is it? Wait a bit, my boy, till I have you in gaol."
Then the guests came out of the house, and their black figures disappeared one by one from the moonlight as they shook hands and said good-night.
Shortly after Brian came down the path with Frettlby at his side, and Madge hanging on her father's arm. Frettlby opened the gate and held out his hand.
"Good-night, Fitzgerald," he said, in a hearty voice; "come soon again."
"Good-night, Brian, dearest," said Madge, kissing him, "and don't forget to-morrow."
Then father and daughter closed the gate, leaving Brian outside, and walked back to the house.
"Ah!" said Mr. Gorby to himself, "if you only knew what I know, you wouldn't be so precious kind to him."
Brian strolled along the Esplanade, and crossing over, passed by Gorby and walked on till he was opposite the Esplanade Hotel. Then he leaned his arms on the fence, and, taking off his hat, enjoyed the calm beauty of the hour.
"What a good-looking fellow," murmured Mr. Gorby, in a regretful tone. "I can hardly believe it of him, but the proofs are too clear."
The night was perfectly still. Not a breath of wind stirred, for what breeze there had been had long since died away. But
Brian could see the white wavelets breaking lightly on the sands. The long narrow pier ran out like a black thread into the sheet of gleaming silver, and away in the distance the line of the Williamstown lights sparkled like some fairy illumination.
Over all this placid scene of land and water was a sky such as Dore loved--a great heavy mass of rain-clouds heaped one on top of the other, as the rocks the Titans piled to reach Olympus. Then a break in the woof, and a bit of dark blue sky could be seen glittering with stars, in the midst of which sailed the serene moon, shedding down her light on the cloudland beneath, giving to it all, one silver lining.
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