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- The Mystery of a Hansom Cab - 9/55 -
The same night Fitzgerald had an interview with Mr. Frettlby. He confessed that he loved Madge, and that his love was returned. So, when Madge added her entreaties to Brian's, Mr. Frettlby found himself unable to withstand the combined forces, and gave his consent to their engagement.
Whyte was absent in the country for the next few days after his stormy interview with Brian, and it was only on his return that he learnt that Madge was engaged to his rival. He saw Mr. Frettlby, and having learnt from his own lips that such was the case, he left the house at once, and swore that he would never enter it again. He little knew how prophetic were his words, for on that same night he met his death in the hansom cab. He had passed out of the life of both the lovers, and they, glad that he troubled them no more, never suspected for a moment that the body of the unknown man found in Royston's cab was that of Oliver Whyte.
About two weeks after Whyte's disappearance Mr. Frettlby gave a dinner party in honour of his daughter's birthday. It was a delightful evening, and the wide French windows which led on to the verandah were open, letting in a gentle breeze from the ocean. Outside there was a kind of screen of tropical plants, and through the tangle of the boughs the guests, seated at the table, could just see the waters of the bay glittering in the pale moonlight. Brian was seated opposite to Madge, and every now and then he caught a glimpse of her bright face from behind the fruit and flowers, which stood in the centre of the table. Mark Frettlby was at the head of the table, and appeared in very good spirits. His stern features were somewhat relaxed, and he drank more wine than usual.
The soup had just been removed when some one, who was late, entered with apologies and took his seat. Some one in this case was Mr. Felix Rolleston, one of the best known young men in Melbourne. He had an income of his own, scribbled a little for the papers, was to be seen at every house of any pretensions in Melbourne, and was always bright, happy, and full of news. For details of any scandal you were safe in applying to Felix Rolleston. He knew all that was going on, both at home and abroad. And his knowledge, if not very accurate, was at least extensive, while his conversation was piquant, and at times witty. Calton, one of the leading lawyers of the city, remarked that "Rolleston put him in mind of what Beaconsfield said of one of the personages in Lothair, 'He wasn't an intellectual Croesus, but his pockets were always full of sixpences.'" Be it said in his favour that Felix was free with his sixpences.
The conversation, which had shown signs of languishing before his arrival, now brightened up.
"So awfully sorry, don't you know," said Felix, as he slipped into a seat by Madge; "but a fellow like me has got to be careful of his time--so many calls on it."
"So many calls in it, you mean," retorted Madge, with a disbelieving smile. "Confess, now, you have been paying a round of visits."
"Well, yes," assented Mr. Rolleston; "that's the disadvantage of having a large circle of acquaintances. They give you weak tea and thin bread and butter, whereas--"
"You would rather have something else," finished Brian.
There was a laugh at this, but Mr. Rolleston disdained to notice the interruption.
"The only advantage of five o'clock tea," he went on, "is, that it brings people together, and one hears what's going on."
"Ah, yes, Rolleston," said Mr. Frettlby, who was looking at him with an amused smile. "What news have you?"
"Good news, bad news, and such news as you have never heard of," quoted Rolleston gravely. "Yes, I have a bit of news--haven't you heard it?"
Rolleston felt he held sensation in his hands. There was nothing he liked better.
"Well, do you know," he said, gravely fixing in his eyeglass, "they have found out the name of the fellow who was murdered in the hansom cab."
"Never!" cried every one eagerly.
"Yes," went on Rolleston, "and what's more, you all know him."
"It's never Whyte?" said Brian, in a horrified tone.
"Hang it, how did you know?" said Rolleston, rather annoyed at being forestalled. "Why, I just heard it at the St. Kilda station."
"Oh, easily enough," said Brian, rather confused. "I used to meet Whyte constantly, and as I have not seen him for the last two weeks, I thought he might be the victim."
"How did they find out?" asked Mr. Frettlby, idly toying with his wine-glass.
"Oh, one of those detective fellows, you know," answered Felix. "They know everything."
"I'm sorry to hear it," said Frettlby, referring to the fact that Whyte was murdered. "He had a letter of introduction to me, and seemed a clever, pushing young fellow."
"A confounded cad," muttered Felix, under his breath; and Brian, who overheard him, seemed inclined to assent. For the rest of the meal nothing was talked about but the murder, and the mystery in which it was shrouded. When the ladies retired they chatted about it in the drawingroom, but finally dropped it for more agreeable subjects. The men, however, when the cloth Was removed, filled their glasses, and continued the discussion with unabated vigour. Brian alone did not take part in the conversation. He sat moodily staring at his untasted wine, wrapped in a brown study.
"What I can't make out," observed Rolleston, who was amusing himself with cracking nuts, "is why they did not find out who he was before."
"That is not hard to answer," said Frettlby, filling his--glass. "He was comparatively little known here, as he had been out from England such a short time, and I fancy that this was the only house at which he visited."
"And look here, Rolleston," said Calton, who was sitting near him, "if you were to find a man dead in a hansom cab, dressed in evening clothes--which nine men out of ten are in the habit of wearing in the evening--no cards in his pockets, and no name on his linen, I rather think you would find it hard to discover who he was. I consider it reflects great credit on the police for finding out so quickly."
"Puts one in mind of 'The Leavenworth Case,' and all that sort of thing," said Felix, whose reading was of the lightest description. "Awfully exciting, like putting a Chinese puzzle together. Gad, I wouldn't mind being a detective myself."
"I'm afraid if that were the case," said Mr. Frettlby, with an amused smile, "criminals would be pretty safe."
"Oh, I don't know so much about that," answered Felix, shrewdly; "some fellows are like trifle at a party, froth on top, but something better underneath."
"What a greedy simile," said Calton, sipping his wine; "but I'm afraid the police will have a more difficult task in discovering the man who committed the crime. In my opinion he's a deuced clever fellow."
"Then you don't think he will be discovered?" asked Brian, rousing himself out of his brown study.
"Well, I don't go as far as that," rejoined Calton; "but he has certainly left no trace behind him, and even the Red Indian, in whom instinct for tracking is so highly developed, needs some sort of a trail to enable him to find out his enemies. Depend upon it," went on Calton, warming to his subject, "the man who murdered Whyte is no ordinary criminal; the place he chose for the committal of the crime was such a safe one."
"Do you think so?" said Rolleston. "Why, I should think that a hansom cab in a public street would be very unsafe."
"It is that very fact that makes it safer," replied Mr. Calton, epigrammatically. "You read De Quincey's account of the Marr murders in London, and you will see that the more public the place the less risk there is of detection. There was nothing about the gentleman in the light coat who murdered Whyte to excite Royston's suspicions. He entered the cab with Whyte; no noise or anything likely to attract attention was heard, and then he alighted. Naturally enough, Royston drove to St. Kilda, and never suspected Whyte was dead till he looked inside and touched him. As to the man in the light coat, he doesn't live in Powlett Street--no--nor in East Melbourne either."
"Why not?" asked Frettlby.
"Because he wouldn't have been such a fool as to leave a trail to his own door; he did what the fox often does--he doubled. My opinion is that he went either right through East Melbourne to Fitzroy, or he walked back through the Fitzroy Gardens into town. There was no one about at that time of the morning, and he could return to his lodgings, hotel, or wherever he is staying, with impunity. Of course, this is a theory that may be wrong; but from what insight into human nature my profession has given me, I think that my idea is a correct one."
All present agreed with Mr. Calton's idea, as it really did seem the most natural thing that would be done by a man desirous of escaping detection.
"Tell you what," said Felix to Brian, as they were on their way to the drawing-room, "if the fellow that committed the crime, is found out, by gad, he ought to get Calton to defend him."
BRIAN TAKES A WALK AND A DRIVE.
When the gentlemen entered the drawing-room a young lady was engaged in
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