The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Twelve. The New Witness
The voice of the Coroner, bland, suave, deprecating, broke the silence. He was addressing the witness.
"I am sure, Mr. Aylmore," he said, "there is no wish to trouble you with unnecessary questions. But we are here to get at the truth of this matter of John Marbury's death, and as you are the only witness we have had who knew him personally--"
Aylmore turned impatiently to the Coroner.
"I have every wish to respect your authority, sir!" he exclaimed. "And I have told you all that I know of Marbury and of what happened when I met him the other evening. But I resent being questioned on my private affairs of twenty years ago--I very much resent it! Any question that is really pertinent I will answer, but I will not answer questions that seem to me wholly foreign to the scope of this enquiry."
The Treasury Counsel rose again. His manner had become of the quietest, and Spargo again became keenly attentive.
"Perhaps I can put a question or two to Mr. Aylmore which will not yield him offence," he remarked drily. He turned once more to the witness, regarding him as if with interest. "Can you tell us of any person now living who knew Marbury in London at the time under discussion--twenty to twenty-two or three years ago?" he asked.
Aylmore shook his head angrily.
"No, I can't,'' he replied.
"And yet you and he must have had several business acquaintances at that time who knew you both!"
"Possibly--at that time. But when I returned to England my business and my life lay in different directions to those of that time. I don't know of anybody who knew Marbury then--anybody."
The Counsel turned to a clerk who sat behind him, whispered to him; Spargo saw the clerk make a sidelong motion of his head towards the door of the court. The Counsel looked again at the witness.
"One more question. You told the court a little time since that you parted with Marbury on the evening preceding his death at the end of Waterloo Bridge--at, I think you said, a quarter to twelve."
"About that time."
"And at that place?"
"That is all I want to ask you, Mr. Aylmore--just now," said the Counsel. He turned to the Coroner. "I am going to ask you, sir, at this point to call a witness who has volunteered certain evidence to the police authorities this morning. That evidence is of a very important nature, and I think that this is the stage at which it ought to be given to you and the jury. If you would be pleased to direct that David Lyell be called--"
Spargo turned instinctively to the door, having seen the clerk who had sat behind the Treasury Counsel make his way there. There came into view, ushered by the clerk, a smart-looking, alert, self-confident young man, evidently a Scotsman, who, on the name of David Lyell being called, stepped jauntily and readily into the place which the member of Parliament just vacated. He took the oath--Scotch fashion--with the same readiness and turned easily to the Treasury Counsel. And Spargo, glancing quickly round, saw that the court was breathless with anticipation, and that its anticipation was that the new witness was going to tell something which related to the evidence just given by Aylmore.
"Your name is David Lyell?"
"That is my name, sir."
"And you reside at 23, Cumbrae Side, Kilmarnock, Scotland?"
"What are you, Mr. Lyell?"
"Traveller, sir, for the firm of Messrs. Stevenson, Robertson & Soutar, distillers, of Kilmarnock."
"Your duties take you, I think, over to Paris occasionally?"
"They do--once every six weeks I go to Paris."
"On the evening of June 21st last were you in London on your way to Paris?"
"I believe you stayed at De Keyser's Hotel, at the Blackfriars end of the Embankment?"
"I did--it's handy for the continental trains."
"About half-past eleven, or a little later, that evening, did you go along the Embankment, on the Temple Gardens side, for a walk?"
"I did, sir. I'm a bad sleeper, and it's a habit of mine to take a walk of half an hour or so last thing before I go to bed."
"How far did you walk?"
"As far as Waterloo Bridge."
"Always on the Temple side?"
"Just so, sir--straight along on that side."
"Very good. When you got close to Waterloo Bridge, did you meet anybody you knew?"
"Mr. Aylmore, the Member of Parliament."
Spargo could not avoid a glance at the two sisters. The elder's head was averted; the younger was staring at the witness steadily. And Breton was nervously tapping his fingers on the crown of his shining silk hat.
"Mr. Aylmore, the Member of Parliament," repeated the Counsel's suave, clear tones. "Oh! And how did you come to recognize Mr. Aylmore, Member of Parliament?"
"Well, sir, in this way. At home, I'm the secretary of our Liberal Ward Club, and last year we had a demonstration, and it fell to me to arrange with the principal speakers. I got Mr. Aylmore to come and speak, and naturally I met him several times, in London and in Scotland."
"So that you knew him quite well?"
"Oh yes, sir."
"Do you see him now, Mr. Lyell?"
Lyell smiled and half turned in the box.
"Why, of course!" he answered. "There is Mr. Aylmore."
"There is Mr. Aylmore. Very good. Now we go on. You met Mr. Aylmore close to Waterloo Bridge? How close?"
"Well, sir, to be exact, Mr. Aylmore came down the steps from the bridge on to the Embankment."
"Who was with him?"
"A man, sir."
"Did you know the man?"
"No. But seeing who he was with. I took a good look at him. I haven't forgotten his face."
"You haven't forgotten his face. Mr. Lyell--has anything recalled that face to you within this last day or two?"
"Yes, sir, indeed!"
"The picture of the man they say was murdered--John Marbury."
"You're sure of that?"
"I'm as certain, sir, as that my name's what it is."
"It is your belief that Mr. Aylmore, when you met him, was accompanied by the man who, according to the photographs, was John Marbury?"
"It is, sir!"
"Very well. Now, having seen Mr. Aylmore and his companion, what did you do?"
"Oh, I just turned and walked after them."
"You walked after them? They were going eastward, then?"
"They were walking by the way I'd come."
"You followed them eastward?"
"I did--I was going back to the hotel, you see."
"What were they doing?"
"Talking uncommonly earnestly, sir."
"How far did you follow them?"
"I followed them until they came to the Embankment lodge of Middle Temple Lane, sir."
"Why, sir, they turned in there, and I went straight on to De Keyser's, and to my bed."
There was a deeper silence in court at that moment than at any other period of the long day, and it grew still deeper when the quiet, keen voice put the next question.
"You swear on your oath that you saw Mr. Aylmore take his companion into the Temple by the Embankment entrance of Middle Temple Lane on the occasion in question?"
"I do! I could swear no other, sir."
"Can you tell us, as near as possible, what time that would be?"
"Yes. It was, to a minute or so, about five minutes past twelve."
The Treasury Counsel nodded to the Coroner, and the Coroner, after a whispered conference with the foreman of the jury, looked at the witness.
"You have only just given this information to the police, I understand?" he said.
"Yes, sir. I have been in Paris, and in Amiens, and I only returned by this morning's boat. As soon as I had read all the news in the papers--the English papers--and seen the dead man's photographs I determined to tell the police what I knew, and I went to New Scotland Yard as soon as I got to London this morning."
Nobody else wanted to ask Mr. David Lyell any questions, and he stepped down. And Mr. Aylmore suddenly came forward again, seeking the Coroner's attention.
"May I be allowed to make an explanation, sir?" he began. "I--"
But the Treasury Counsel was on his feet, this time stern and implacable. "I would point out, sir, that you have had Mr. Aylmore in the box, and that he was not then at all ready to give explanations, or even to answer questions," he said. "And before you allow him to make any explanation now, I ask you to hear another witness whom I wish to interpose at this stage. That witness is----"
Mr. Aylmore turned almost angrily to the Coroner.
"After the evidence of the last witness, I think I have a right to be heard at once!" he said with emphasis. "As matters stand at present, it looks as if I had trifled, sir, with you and the jury, whereas if I am allowed to make an explanation--"
"I must respectfully ask that before Mr. Aylmore is allowed to make any explanation, the witness I have referred to is heard," said the Treasury Counsel sternly. "There are weighty reasons."
"I am afraid you must wait a little, Mr. Aylmore, if you wish to give an explanation," said the Coroner. He turned to the Counsel. "Who is this other witness?" he asked.
Aylmore stepped back. And Spargo noticed that the younger of his two daughters was staring at him with an anxious expression. There was no distrust of her father in her face; she was anxious. She, too, slowly turned to the next witness. This man was the porter of the Embankment lodge of Middle Temple Lane. The Treasury Counsel put a straight question to him at once.
"You see that gentleman," he said, pointing to Aylmore. "Do you know him as an inmate of the Temple?"
The man stared at Aylmore, evidently confused.
"Why, certainly, sir!" he answered. "Quite well, sir."
"Very good. And now--what name do you know him by?"
The man grew evidently more bewildered.
"Name, sir. Why, Mr. Anderson, sir!" he replied. "Mr. Anderson!"