|Newspaper Title||The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957)|
|Trove Title||The Last Fare: A Melbourne Detective Story|
THE LAST FARE.
A MELBOURNE DETECTIVE STORY.
By C. H. CHOMLEY.
I was awakened next morning by a loud knocking at my door, and when it was no longer fitted in with my dreams I made some sleepy, grumbling response. The voice of my landlady answered, "You must get up, Winton. There's a lady downstairs says she wants to see you very particular, and she says she's in a hurry."
"Oh, is she," I replied, not in a very good humour, for I hate visitors who call before I am up. "What is her name?"
"She wouldn't give it."
"Well, what is she like?"
"I can't say that, sir, either," said Mrs. Blake, in an injured tone. She has a veil, but, judging from her figure, I should say she was a young woman."
"All right," I answered, "tell her I will be down directly," and I dressed myself as quickly as I could, wondering what on earth any young woman could want with me. I concluded she must be a beggar, and, making up my mind that she was an impostor, assumed my sternest expression and opened the door of the parlour, prepared to repel her advances. The room was dark and stuffy, like most boarding- house parlours in the morning but in spite of the veil and the bad light there seemed something familiar about the figure that rose from a chair as I entered. With a stiff bow I began, "To what do I owe the houour of this visit, madam?" when with a silvery laugh, she raised her veil and said, It is an honour which you don't seem to appreciate much, Mr Winton."
"You here! I gasped, with astonishment, as I recognised Dorothy Lister, the girl I had spent three years wandering around the world to forget. "I scarcely expected to ever set eyes on you again."
"Yes, it is I," she answered. "I think your last remark was i little uncalled for and cruel, but, believe me I should not have forced myself upon you without the gravest reasons. How shockingly late you get up.'
With her sudden change from seriousness to gaiety, I saw she was just the same Dorothy who had driven me to distraction years ago. She looked older than I should have expected, I suppose because her cheeks were pale and she had been crying, but in spite of the black dress, for black never suited her, I was sure that I had never seen a prettier girl on all my travels. I was piqued by her accusation of laziness and said, "I was up very late last night and went through some unpleasant experiences, which prevented me from sleeping. I suppose you have heard nothing of the murder in the Dandenong-road omnibus?"
"Yes, I have," she answered, sadly. "I know more of it than you, and it is just about that that I have come to see you."
"She read my astonishment in my face.
"You ne surpnsed, she said, "naturally, but shake hands, we are still friends, are we not?" and then sit down and I will explain it all to you."
As I took her hand, and her beautiful brown eyes met mine, I felt a contempt for friendship that I had never felt before, and all the resolutions that had built up so painfullv vanished into air.
Withdrawing her hand, which, perhaps, I held rather long for friendship, she smiled and pointed me to a chair beside
"You will wonder," she began, "how I found you out, and why I carne to you. This paper," and she took up an "Argus" from the table beside her, "answers the first question, and the fact that you are my
I was going to speak, but she stopped
"You said you were just now. Don't let us speak of anything else. The fact that you are my oldest friend answers the second."
"Yes - but Miss Lister - Dorothy," I interjected, more puzzled than ever. "How am I to show my friendship? What kind of help is it that you want?"
I thought she blushed slightly when I called her by the name that I had not used for so Iong, but she did not reprovc me, and
"Have patience and I will tell vou, or, rather, this paper and I together will.
Briefly, the facts are these. Mrs. Corfield, the woman who was murdered - you will remember her as Mary Seddon?"
"Yes, I remember her."
"Well you most likely do not know that, though I knew her veey little as a girl, after her marriage I became her most intimate - in fact, her only intimate - friend."
"No, I was not aware of that," I answered, as she paused and seemed overwhelmed with grief. "All this must have been a terrible shock to you."
"Oh, yes it is horrible, horrible," she said, vehemently, "and yet, poor girl, for her sake I can scarcely be sorry that she is dead. She had a more miserable life than any other woman that I knew."
"Indeed," said I. "I am surprised to hear you say that. She was young, pretty, and rich/ Her husband, I suppose, was in love with her; at any rate, she must have been very much in love with him to throw over poor Cunningham as she did."
"Gerald," she said, "you only just knew her husband - I got to know him well. I could not help it, because, much as I hated him, I forced mvself to go to the house, and to be civil to him, in order to be near her."
"I never heard he was such a bad chap, What form did it take?'' I asked.
"Oh, he was a brute - a cultivated brute, who used all the resources of his culture to make his cruelty more effective. Of course there was no physical violence, but her life was just a hell upon earth."
"Then why did she marry him?"
She hesitated, as if considering something, and then, looking into my face, she
"You think she was in love with him. She was not. I am going to tell you something that, now she is dead, no one knows
but myself and him. He had a kind of mesmeric influence over her. That was
what made her throw over poor Jack Cunningham. She loved him all along, though after her marriage she pretended not to, and tried to forget him and be a good wife to her husband. His influence over her gradually grew less, and as he felt it weakening, annoyed at her power of resistance to him, he grew more and more cruel. I tell you all this in confidence. I do not like betraying the poor dead girl's secrets, but I am forced to do it in justice to the living."
"You can rely on mv discretion," I answered, "but I don't understand what you mean by justice to the living, and I am still quite in the dark as to what you want
me to do."
"I am coming to that," she said. "You know, I suppose, that Mr Cunningham is suspected of the murder?"
"I did not know that he was actually suspected," I answered, "but I had an idea that the police connected him with it in some way and intended to watch him."
"Yes, not only is he suspected, but probably by this time he has been arrested on the definite charge of murdering Mrs. Corfield
and I want you to help me in proving that he is innocent."
She looked anxiously at me, waiting for me to speak, while I hesitated, wondering vaguely why she had taken up this case and what she wanted me to do; how I was to prove him innocent, and indeed, whether he was innocent at all. At last I said, "I will do what I can, Miss Lister, but I am, afraid I shall be of very little use, and you must remember that I still know almost nothing about the case."
"All, or almost all that I know is in that paper," she said, handing it to me. "Read it, and I will tell you the rest."
As I opened the sheet, mid rend tint double leaded headlines, "TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IV WINDSOR - A LADY FOUND MURDERED IN THE DANDENONG- ROAD OMNIBUS - A PROBABLE
CLUE" - and
printed matter, she went to the window and drew aside the curtains. Though she had her back turned to me I was sure that she was crying. Suddenly she turned round and, with a little sob in her voice, said "Excuse me, Mr Winton. I can't bear this inaction. Anything is
better than doing nothing. Let me read it to you, if I can, and you don't mind."
I handed the paper to her.
All the first part of it, down to where you left the omnibus stables, you know; there is a column of it in which you figure, quite as a hero," she said, with a faint little smile. "you can read that for yourself afterwards."
Then she read me the account of the development of the case after I had gone
home to bed.
Sinclair, after sending the omnibus to the police station, had visited Cunningham's house. A reporter whom he met accompanied him, which accounted for the elaborate details in the morning journal.
Cunningham's story was that he was walking home from a house in Alma-road through the AlI Saints' Reserve, intending to catch the last omnibus at Chapel-street. As he crossed the railway-brodge in Dandenong-road a cabman named Parker, with whom he was well acquainted, recognised him and stopped. Parker said that he was going up Malvern way and offered Cunningham a lift, which he accepted. Parker was more than half drunk and, after he had passed Williams-road, he told Cunningham that there was a lady passenger inside, a neighbour of his. On learning that it was Mrs. Corfield Cunningham insisted on getting down and walking back to meet the omnibus as he had private reasons which he preferred not to disclose, for refusing to travel in the same cab with her.
"You, of course, know what those reasons are." said Dorothy Lister, pausing at this part of the narrative.
"Yes," I asserted, thinking to myself what an unlikely tale it was.
The omnibus was coming up the road, she continued, and Cunningham waited for it at the Williams-road corner. Just as he had hailed it and was about to get in he noticed that Parker had driven back a few hundred yards and had come to speak to him, leaving his cab standing in the road. He must give Cunningham, he insisted a straight tip to put every dollar on at the races next day. They had at one time been in each other's confidence in racing matters. Cunningham spoke angrily to Parker for leaving the passengers in the cab, and got into the omnibus. As he did so a man got out and brushed against him on the step. As far as he could see in that light he had a beard and moustache, and wore a dark over coat and a soft felt slouch hat. He noticed that there was no light in the omnibus but thought nothing of it, as, late at night, that was not an unusual occurrence. He put his fare in the box directly he entered, and as he did so he thought he observed someone sitting in the corner on the left-hand seat. He then sat down himself on the same side, near the door. All the windows of the vehicle, so far as he remembered, were closed. He got out a little before the Kooyong-road terminus, said goodnight to the driver, mentionedl that he felt rather queer in the head, and walked lo his home.
Cunningham gave all these details to the police belore he heard of Mrs Corfield's death. He displayeded no surprise when asked for an account of his movements but appeared uite overcome with emotion and shock when told of the discovery in the omnibus at the Windsor stables. Cunningham was not arrested but it was thought wise to have his movements watched by the police
"Such a disgusting idea to suppose that he would run awasy," interjected Dorothy when she came to this and, quailing before a contemptuous flash of her eyes as I remained silent, I was compelled against my better judgment to admit that it did seem a little unnecessary.
When the police arrived at Corfield's house to tell him of his wife's death they found everything in a state of commotion. It was a big establishment and Corfield was interrogating all the servants while a cab waited at the door. He had arrived half an hour before, expecting to find his
wife at home.
His story was that he and Mrs Corfield had been in Melbourne at the theatre that night. They had caught the 11.15 train to Windsor. Wishing to get a prescription made up at a chemist's in Chapel-street, and not desiring to keep Ins wife out on such a stormy night, he had engaged a waggonette - the only cab on the rank at the time - and, putting her into it, had given the driver his name and address, paid him half a sovereign, and told him to drive Mrs Corfoeld
home. He told her that he would follow when he had got the medicine - a remedy for neuralgia - which the chemist was in the habit of making up for him. After his wife had gone he waited under shelter for a few minutes for the rain, which was then very heavy, to moderate, before !eaving the station and crossing the road to Chapel- street. He then rang up the chemist, who was in bed, and after waiting some time for the medicine went back to Windsor, where he obtained the cab winch drove him home and was at the door when the police arrived.
On reaching his house and inquiring of tile man who opened the door whether his mistress had gone to bed, he was naturally much astonished and alarmed to hear that she had not come home.
"What time was that?"
"About half past 12," answered Dorothy, !ooking at the paper. "Waiting for the rain and the delay at the chemist's had made him late."
"Yes," I said, "it was just about that time when I saw the 'bus going into the stables in Chapel-street."
She resumed reading, and I learnt that on being questioned by the police Mr. Corfield's man had mentioned - something which his master had not heard, and which, it seemed, might have an important bearing on the case. Half an hour befor Mr Corfield's arrival he thought he heard a cab drive up the street and stop at the gate. He believed he heard the noise of the latch and the rattling of the wheels on the gravel of the drive, and, thinking it was his master and
mistress returning, he went to the door to open it. A gust of wind and a rain storm came on just then, and, as he neither saw nor heard any more of the cab, he concluded that his ears had deceived him. As soon as Sinclair heard this, accompanied by the reporter, he went to the gate and searched the gravel carefully by the light of a bull's- eye lantern. In spite of the rain that had fallen, the wheel marks of Corfield's cab were still plainly visible leading to the door and much fainter, but still unmistakable were others, seeming to show that a vehicle had latley come through the gates and,
turning sharply in the drive, had gone away arain. It was probable, therefore that Corfield's servant was not mistaken. It was noted in the paper that though the drive was very short, owing to a turn in it, a light at the gate would be hidden from anyone standing at Corfield's front door,
"What on earth can be the meaning of that cab's visit?" I queried, more puzzled, if possible, than ever.
"I have not the slightest idea," said Dorothy, "unless - but I will tell you my
theiry later on.
"Well, what does the cabman say that drove Mrs. Corfield from Windsor? He must have some explanation to offer."
"He has disappeared," answered Dorothy slowly. "The detectives went immediately to his house to look for him, and to the cab rank, but he had gone without leaving the slightest clue to trace him by. That is practically all, except some description of the locality, that is in the paper," and she put it down.
I walked up and down the room for a few seconds trying to piece the rvidence together, and she watched me anxiously.
"Well, what do you think of it?" she asked, at last.
It seemed only too clear to me that Cunningham and the cabman, Parker, were both concerned in the murder, but I did not much like saying so.
"Is that all you know?" I said to gain time. "You spoke of having some intelligence later than the paper."
"Yes," she said, with an effort. "I will tell you that," and I listened while she began:-
"I was up early this morning to see how my garden had fared after the storm, and on taking up 'The Argus' that was on the doorstep, the first thing that met my eye was the account that I have just read to you. I could scarcely believe it at first, but soon made up my mind to go straight to the Corfields' house, to find out the truth. When I got there they were just bringing
me feel what a brute I was to make the poor girl go over her experiences again.
"Mr Corfield thanked me - in words - for my sympathy, but I could see that he did not like mv being there, and I never hated him so much as I did when I saw him standing there, cool and quiet, already in mourning, discussing his wife's death withwith the police as if it were quite an impersonal
" 'It is shocking, is it not, Miss Lister,' he said once to me. 'You will feel the loss of your friend more than anyone else can do except, of course, myself.'
"I could have flown at him then and there, and told him that I was almost glad she was dead and out of his clutches, but I managed to restrain mvself."
"It was just as well you did," I said, drily, for I know how women exaggerate things, and Corfield had my sympathy.
"Perhaps," she answered, with a faint smile, but he would have deserved it all the same. There was nothing for me to do and I was forcnig myself to utter some commonplace words of condolence as I said good-bye to Mr Corfield in the hall. when Mr Sinclair came up to speak to him. He had the handkerchief in his hand and was asking Mr Corfield a question, when I saw the eyes of the latter rest on the handkerchief, and they fascinated me. He did not start or move, but stared with such a look of cold malice and cunning that it arrested Sinclair's attention as weil as mine. He stopped in the middle of his remark and
stared at the scarf which he held.
" 'Allow me to see that, said Mr. Corfield, and Sinclair handed it to him.
We waited while Corfield examined it, looked at the corners (you know it was unmarked), and then pulled it slowly through a link in his watch chain. Then he gave it back to Sinclair, saying, 'There are very few handkerchiefs of such fine silk as that.'
" 'There are indeed, sir,' said Sinclair eagerly, 'and you seem to recognise it,'
" 'I should be sorry to throw undeserved suspicion upon anybody,' said Mr Corfield, 'but I think it my duty to say that I have only seen one handkerchief that would stand that test, and it was in the possession of John Cunningham.
"That looks very bad for jack," I exclaimed surprised into an opinion, in spite
"I don't care what it looks," said Dorothy, angrily, with a stamp of her foot,
"I know - I know lie didn't do it, whatever
the evidence is."
"Very likely you are right," I replied, "but you needn't get angry with me for merely saying that it looked bad. What did Sinclair think of it?"
"He said it put an end to any doubt he had about arresting Mr Cunningham," answered Dorothy, bursting into tears.
I stood there helpless. I alwavs am, on the rare occasions upon which women are inconsiderate enough to cry in my presence, and this was a particularlv awkward case. I wass intensely sorry for the girl, overwrought and upset as she was by the shocking death of her friend and the events of the morning, and, at the same time, it could not but grate on me to know that the cause of her present grief was more the suspicion that rested upon Cunningham than the murder of Mrs Corfield. I was angry that she should lavish her sympathy and tears upon him. Jealousy may have had something to do with it too. I knew now that I was more in love with her than ever,
and that the years of absence, which I thought had cured me, from that point of view at least were wasted.
It is not necessary for me to go into private affairs which do not concern this story but to explain our present relations, I may say that Dorothy Lister and I had known each other from
her childhood. Friendship had deveíoped, at least on my part, into something warmer, and I had hoped that Dorothy Lister would some day be Dorothy Winton. Perhaps I took things too much for granted, but at any rate there had been a coolness, then a lively quarrel; and when I suggested that it was better we should part, perhaps for ever, she agreed with a cordiality that roused my pride and turned an idle threat into a settled resolution, which I regretted while I acted upon it. I hoped that she would write and call me back but all the time I was away I received from her never a line. What the quarrel was all about I scarcely remember now. Perhaps I was most to blame. Probably I was, At any rate we both had hot tempers that took some time to cool, and did not like owning ourselves in
The strangeness of our present position was bewildering - that the girl I had determined to avoid for the rest of my life should have come to ask my help in a wild, quixotic enterprise, and should now be crying
her eyes out with sympathy for the man accused of brutally murdering her friend.
I felt a mad desire to take her in my arms; to dry her tears with kisses and to scold her back to the common sense view, that she should leave Cunningham to his deserts and forget everybody else for me.
Luckily I do not always act upon my impulses, and resisted this one. Before I had determined what to do. she ceased crying
without assistance from me.
"You must excuse me for breaking down in that silly way," she said, "but everything has been so terrible that I am upset, and really feel quite weak."
"I can sympathise with you deeply." I answered, "I know what a chock it must have been. and I quite understand your sorrow for Mrs Corfield, but - " I hesitated, and she said, sharply, "But nor my anxiety for Mr Cunningham - Is that what you
"I confess it does seem strange," I replied.
"Much better not mix yourself up
A flush mounted to her cheek which I could not interpret beyond that it was a danger signal. She turned her back on me for a moment without speaking and then walked rapidly to the window where I was standing, and laid her hand on my arm.
"Mr Winton," she said, "I will try to make you understand. I am very fond indeed of Jack Cunningham."
I moved my arm slightly, and looked out of the window but she seemed to take no notice, and I felt that both hands grasped
"Gerald," she said, "he has had such a sad life, with everything to ruin it. He went to the bad and has made a man of himself again. I think I helped him a little. At any rate, I admire and respect him for it, and he is one of my dearest
"You seem to have a good many dear friends," I said.
I have two or three," she answered.
"Would you do as much for them all?"
"You mean for you?" Her smile was difficult to resist. "You see, you have not been accused of committing a murder."
I don't know what devil in me prompted me to say, "But you see I have not committed
Her hands dropped to her sides, and she stood erect looking at me with a contempt which I tried to feel I did not deserve. I was surprised to see how beautiful and, at the same time, how unpleasant, an angry woman can look. I would have withdrawn or qualified my words, but she did not give
"Gerald Winton," she said slowly, "I am
disappointed in you. You condemn a man
on the flimsiest evidence - from the meanest motive - from jealousy, mere vulgar jealousy - nothing else. And what right have you to be jealous?"
I did not attempt to answer, and she went on, worming up to her work. "You have none - none whatever. You might have had once - but for your wicked pride and temper. That destroyed everything."
There was a momentary pause in her invective, occasioned by a sob, which I interpreted,
together with her last admisssion, as a favourable chance for a rally.
"Dorothy, dear," I ventured, seizing her hand, but I got no further. She wrenched it away from me, crying, "Don't dare to talk, to me like that. I thought our friendship remained, but you have spoilt even that by your cowardly suspicion. I am as sure as I am of anything that Jack Cunningham is perfectly innocent."
"If he is, he shall he able to prove it," I interrupted sulkily.
"How will he?" she burst in, "if all his friends desert him? I came to you, knowing that you had brains - which you waste in doing nothing - that we were old friends, and that you professed to be fond of
me." "I admit the last count," I said.
"I don't want such friendship," she answered passsionately. "I expected you to believe me and to be generous enough to help me try to clear an innocent man. But I see I was mistaken in you. Your wretched jealousy, which is in itself an insult to me is disgusting and I will do without your help."
She waited for me to speak but nothing conciliatory occurred to me to say, so I held my tongue, and, taking her parasol, she walked to the door. I did not believe she meant to go till ahe had turned the handle.
"Don't go yet, Dorothy," I said.
"Why not?'" she asked haughtily. "Do you admit that you have been most unjust, and that Mr Cunningham is perfectly innocent?*'
When pride and conscience point in opposite directions it is a toss up which I should take. Where they point the same way the
matter is settled.
"I see no reason to suppose he is," I
"Then I see no reason for remaining." she retorted, and before I could say another word the door closed and left me alone in the room to wonder if all the wicked pride and temper in the world were really a monopoly of mine.