The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Thirteen. Under Suspicion
A distinct, uncontrollable murmur of surprise ran round the packed court as this man in the witness-box gave this answer. It signified many things--that there were people present who had expected some such dramatic development; that there were others present who had not; that the answer itself was only a prelude to further developments. And Spargo, looking narrowly about him, saw that the answer had aroused different feelings in Aylmore's two daughters. The elder one had dropped her face until it was quite hidden; the younger was sitting bolt upright, staring at her father in utter and genuine bewilderment. And for the first time, Aylmore made no response to her.
But the course of things was going steadily forward. There was no stopping the Treasury Counsel now; he was going to get at some truth in his own merciless fashion. He had exchanged one glance with the Coroner, had whispered a word to the solicitor who sat close by him, and now he turned again to the witness.
"So you know that gentleman--make sure now--as Mr. Anderson, an inmate of the Temple?"
"You don't know him by any other name?"
"No, sir, I don't."
"How long have you known him by that name?"
"I should say two or three years, sir."
"See him go in and out regularly?"
"No, sir--not regularly."
"How often, then?"
"Now and then, sir--perhaps once a week."
"Tell us what you know of Mr. Anderson's goings-in-and-out."
"Well, sir, I might see him two nights running; then I mightn't see him again for perhaps a week or two. Irregular, as you might say, sir."
"You say 'nights.' Do I understand that you never see Mr. Anderson except at night?"
"Yes, sir. I've never seen him except at night. Always about the same time, sir."
"Just about midnight, sir."
"Very well. Do you remember the midnight of June 21st-22nd?"
"I do, sir."
"Did you see Mr. Anderson enter then?"
"Yes, sir, just after twelve."
"Was he alone?"
"No, sir; there was another gentleman with him."
"Remember anything about that other gentleman?"
"Nothing, sir, except that I noticed as they walked through, that the other gentleman had grey clothes on."
"Had grey clothes on. You didn't see his face?"
"Not to remember it, sir. I don't remember anything but what I've told you, sir."
"That is that the other gentleman wore a grey suit. Where did Mr. Anderson and this gentleman in the grey suit go when they'd passed through?"
"Straight up the Lane, sir."
"Do you know where Mr. Anderson's rooms in the Temple are?"
"Not exactly, sir, but I understood in Fountain Court."
"Now, on that night in question, did Mr. Anderson leave again by your lodge?"
"You heard of the discovery of the body of a dead man in Middle Temple Lane next morning?"
"I did, sir."
"Did you connect that man with the gentleman in the grey suit?"
"No, sir, I didn't. It never occurred to me. A lot of the gentlemen who live in the Temple bring friends in late of nights; I never gave the matter any particular thought."
"Never mentioned it to anybody until now, when you were sent for to come here?"
"No, sir, never, to anybody."
"And you have never known the gentleman standing there as anybody but Mr. Anderson?"
"No, sir, never heard any other name but Anderson."
The Coroner glanced at the Counsel.
"I think this may be a convenient opportunity for Mr. Aylmore to give the explanation he offered a few minutes ago," he said. "Do you suggest anything?"
"I suggest, sir, that if Mr. Aylmore desires to give any explanation he should return to the witness-box and submit himself to examination again on his oath," replied the Counsel. "The matter is in your hands."
The Coroner turned to Aylmore.
"Do you object to that?" he asked.
Aylmore stepped boldly forward and into the box.
"I object to nothing," he said in clear tones, "except to being asked to reply to questions about matters of the past which have not and cannot have anything to do with this case. Ask me what questions you like, arising out of the evidence of the last two witnesses, and I will answer them so far as I see myself justified in doing so. Ask me questions about matters of twenty years ago, and I shall answer them or not as I see fit. And I may as well say that I will take all the consequences of my silence or my speech."
The Treasury Counsel rose again.
"Very well, Mr. Aylmore," he said. "I will put certain questions to you. You heard the evidence of David Lyell?"
"Was that quite true as regards yourself?"
"Quite true--absolutely true."
"And you heard that of the last witness. Was that also true!"
"Then you admit that the evidence you gave this morning, before these witnesses came on the scene, was not true?"
"No, I do not! Most emphatically I do not. It was true."
"True? You told me, on oath, that you parted from John Marbury on Waterloo Bridge!"
"Pardon me, I said nothing of the sort. I said that from the Anglo-Orient Hotel we strolled across Waterloo Bridge, and that shortly afterwards we parted--I did not say where we parted. I see there is a shorthand writer here who is taking everything down--ask him if that is not exactly what I said?"
A reference to the stenographer proved Aylmore to be right, and the Treasury Counsel showed plain annoyance.
"Well, at any rate, you so phrased your answer that nine persons out of ten would have understood that you parted from Marbury in the open streets after crossing Waterloo Bridge," he said. "Now--?"
"I am not responsible for the understanding of nine people out of ten any more than I am for your understanding," he said, with a sneer. "I said what I now repeat--Marbury and I walked across Waterloo Bridge, and shortly afterwards we parted. I told you the truth."
"Indeed! Perhaps you will continue to tell us the truth. Since you have admitted that the evidence of the last two witnesses is absolutely correct, perhaps you will tell us exactly where you and Marbury did part?"
"I will--willingly. We parted at the door of my chambers in Fountain Court."
"Then--to reiterate--it was you who took Marbury into the Temple that night?"
"It was certainly I who took Marbury into the Temple that night."
There was another murmur amongst the crowded benches. Here at any rate was fact--solid, substantial fact. And Spargo began to see a possible course of events which he had not anticipated.
"That is a candid admission, Mr. Aylmore. I suppose you see a certain danger to yourself in making it."
"I need not say whether I do or I do not. I have made it."
"Very good. Why did you not make it before?"
"For my own reasons. I told you as much as I considered necessary for the purpose of this enquiry. I have virtually altered nothing now. I asked to be allowed to make a statement, to give an explanation, as soon as Mr. Lyell had left this box: I was not allowed to do so. I am willing to make it now."
"Make it then."
"It is simply this," said Aylmore, turning to the Coroner. "I have found it convenient, during the past three years, to rent a simple set of chambers in the Temple, where I could occasionally--very occasionally, as a rule--go late at night. I also found it convenient, for my own reasons--with which, I think, no one has anything to do--to rent those chambers under the name of Mr. Anderson. It was to my chambers that Marbury accompanied me for a few moments on the midnight with which we are dealing. He was not in them more than five minutes at the very outside: I parted from him at my outer door, and I understood that he would leave the Temple by the way we had entered and would drive or walk straight back to his hotel. That is the whole truth. I wish to add that I ought perhaps to have told all this at first. I had reasons for not doing so. I told what I considered necessary, that I parted from Marbury, leaving him well and alive, soon after midnight."
"What reasons were or are they which prevented you from telling all this at first?" asked the Treasury Counsel.
"Reasons which are private to me."
"Will you tell them to the court?"
"Then will you tell us why Marbury went with you to the chambers in Fountain Court which you tenant under the name of Anderson?"
"Yes. To fetch a document which I had in my keeping, and had kept for him for twenty years or more."
"A document of importance?"
"Of very great importance."
"He would have it on him when he was--as we believe he was--murdered and robbed?"
"He had it on him when he left me."
"Will you tell us what it was?"
"In fact, you won't tell us any more than you choose to tell?"
"I have told you all I can tell of the events of that night."
"Then I am going to ask you a very pertinent question. Is it not a fact that you know a great deal more about John Marbury than you have told this court?"
"That I shall not answer."
"Is it not a fact that you could, if you would, tell this court more about John Marbury and your acquaintanceship with him twenty years ago?"
"I also decline to answer that."
The Treasury Counsel made a little movement of his shoulders and turned to the Coroner.
"I should suggest, sir, that you adjourn this enquiry," he said quietly.
"For a week," assented the Coroner, turning to the jury.
The crowd surged out of the court, chattering, murmuring, exclaiming-- spectators, witnesses, jurymen, reporters, legal folk, police folk, all mixed up together. And Spargo, elbowing his own way out, and busily reckoning up the value of the new complexions put on everything by the day's work, suddenly felt a hand laid on his arm. Turning he found himself gazing at Jessie Aylmore.