Sunday, February 23, 2014

Some passages from Fergus Hume's "The Mystery of the Hansom Cab", a 19th c. Melbourne mystery

2014.01.30-IMG_8192 Fergus Hume (1859-1932), born in England, relocated to Australia where he became a well-known and successful author. His first book, The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886), is a mystery set in Melbourne, often in the then disreputable area around Little Bourke Street (none other than the neighborhood I'm staying at!). Alas, no Mother Guttersnipe, Musette, or Sal to be seen, nor, hansom cabs. Below are some passages I highlighted.




The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume
  • 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.
  • "Let me see," said Moreland, crossing his legs and looking thoughtfully up to the ceiling, "it was about half-past nine o'clock. I was in the Orient Hotel, in Bourke Street. We had a drink together, and then went up the street to an hotel in Russell Street, where we had another. In fact," said Moreland, coolly, "we had several other drinks."
  • And on either side Gorby could see the dim white forms of the old Greek gods and goddesses—Venus Victrix, with the apple in her hand (which Mr. Gorby, in his happy ignorance of heathen mythology, took for Eve offering Adam the forbidden fruit); Diana, with the hound at her feet, and Bacchus and Ariadne (which the detective imagined were the Babes in the Wood). He knew that each of the statues had queer names, but thought they were merely allegorical.

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  • Then he went along the Wellington Parade, and turned up Powlett Street, where he stopped at a house near Cairns' Memorial Church, much to Mr. Gorby's relief, who, being like Hamlet, "fat and scant of breath," found himself rather exhausted.
  • It was a broiling hot day—one of those cloudless days, with the blazing sun beating down on the arid streets, and casting deep, black shadows—
  • It was Saturday morning, and fashionable Melbourne was "doing the Block." Collins Street is to the Southern city what Bond Street and the Row are to London, and the Boulevards to Paris.
  • "I don't like Latin," said Miss Frettlby, shaking her pretty head. "I agree with Heine's remark, that if the Romans had been forced to learn it they would not have found time to conquer the world."
  • Bourke Street is a more crowded thoroughfare than Collins Street at Night.


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  • Some writer has described Melbourne, as Glasgow with the sky of Alexandria; and certainly the beautiful climate of Australia, so Italian in its brightness, must have a great effect on the nature of such an adaptable race as the Anglo-Saxon.
  • But his guide, with whom familiarity with the proletarians had, in a great measure, bred indifference, hurried him away to Little Bourke Street, where the narrowness of the thoroughfare, with the high buildings on each side, the dim light of the sparsely scattered gas-lamps, and the few ragged-looking figures slouching along, formed a strong contrast to the brilliant and crowded scene they had just left. Turning off Little Bourke Street, the detective led the way down a dark lane. It was as hot as a furnace from the accumulated heat of the day. To look up at the clear starlit sky was to experience a sensation of delicious coolness.
  • But here in Australia we are in the realm of contrariety, and many things other than dreams go by contrary. Here black swans are an established fact, and the proverb concerning them, made when they were considered as mythical a bird as the Phoenix, has been rendered null and void by the discoveries of Captain Cook.
  • Sorrow is a potent enchantress. Once she touches the heart, life can never be quite the same again. We never more surrender ourselves entirely to pleasure; and often we find so many of the things we have longed for are after all but dead sea fruit. Sorrow is the veiled Isis of the world, and once we penetrate her mystery and see her deeply-furrowed face and mournful eyes, the magic light of romance dies all away, and we realise the hard bitter fact of life in all its nakedness.
  • To a young and fervid youth, love's young dream is, no doubt, very charming, lovers, as a rule, having a small appetite; but to a man who has seen the world, and drunk deeply of the wine of life, there is nothing half so sweet in the whole of his existence as a good dinner.


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  • "That puts me in mind of what I heard Dr. Chinston say yesterday," she said. "This is the age of unrest, as electricity and steam have turned us all into Bohemians."
  • Well, I believe there are many people like that in the world, people whose lives are one long struggle against insanity, and yet who eat, drink, talk, and walk with the rest of their fellow-men, apparently as gay and light-hearted as they are."
  • In a short time they found themselves in Little Bourke Street, and after traversing a few dark and narrow lanes—by this time they were more or less familiar to Calton—they found themselves before Mother Guttersnipe's den.
  • In questions of morality, so many people live in glass houses, that there are few nowadays who can afford to throw stones.
  • If a man has any mental worry, his life becomes a positive agony to him. Mental tortures are quite as bad as physical ones, if not worse. The last thing before dropping off to sleep is the thought of trouble, and with the first faint light of dawn, it returns and hammers all day at the weary brain. But while a man can sleep, life is rendered at least endurable; and of all the blessings which Providence has bestowed, there is none so precious as that same sleep, which, as wise Sancho Panza says, "Wraps every man like a cloak."

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  • "No man can be stronger than Destiny," he said, dreamily. "I have lost and you have won; so life is a chess board, after all, and we are the puppets of Fate."
  • Standing with her husband on the deck of one of the P. and O. steamers, as it ploughed the blue waters of Hobson's Bay into foam, they both watched Melbourne gradually fade from their view, under the glow of the sunset. They could see the two great domes of the Exhibition, and the Law Courts, and also Government House, with its tall tower rising from the midst of the green trees.
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