Chapter Nineteen. The Chamberlayne Story
 

"I perceive, sir," said Mr. Quarterpage, as Spargo entered the library, "that you have read the account of the Maitland trial."

"Twice," replied Spargo.

"And you have come to the conclusion that--but what conclusion have you come to?" asked Mr. Quarterpage.

"That the silver ticket in my purse was Maitland's property," said Spargo, who was not going to give all his conclusions at once.

"Just so," agreed the old gentleman. "I think so--I can't think anything else. But I was under the impression that I could have accounted for that ticket, just as I am sure I can account for the other forty-nine."

"Yes--and how?" asked Spargo.

Mr. Quarterpage turned to a corner cupboard and in silence produced a decanter and two curiously-shaped old wine-glasses. He carefully polished the glasses with a cloth which he took from a drawer, and set glasses and decanter on a table in the window, motioning Spargo to take a chair in proximity thereto. He himself pulled up his own elbow-chair.

"We'll take a glass of my old brown sherry," he said. "Though I say it as shouldn't, as the saying goes, I don't think you could find better brown sherry than that from Land's End to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Mr. Spargo--no, nor further north either, where they used to have good taste in liquor in my young days! Well, here's your good health, sir, and I'll tell you about Maitland."

"I'm curious," said Spargo. "And about more than Maitland. I want to know about a lot of things arising out of that newspaper report. I want to know something about the man referred to so much--the stockbroker, Chamberlayne."

"Just so," observed Mr. Quarterpage, smiling. "I thought that would touch your sense of the inquisitive. But Maitland first. Now, when Maitland went to prison, he left behind him a child, a boy, just then about two years old. The child's mother was dead. Her sister, a Miss Baylis, appeared on the scene--Maitland had married his wife from a distance--and took possession of the child and of Maitland's personal effects. He had been made bankrupt while he was awaiting his trial, and all his household goods were sold. But this Miss Baylis took some small personal things, and I always believed that she took the silver ticket. And she may have done, for anything I know to the contrary. Anyway, she took the child away, and there was an end of the Maitland family in Market Milcaster. Maitland, of course, was in due procedure of things removed to Dartmoor, and there he served his term. There were people who were very anxious to get hold of him when he came out--the bank people, for they believed that he knew more about the disposition of that money than he'd ever told, and they wanted to induce him to tell what they hoped he knew--between ourselves, Mr. Spargo, they were going to make it worth his while to tell."

Spargo tapped the newspaper, which he had retained while the old gentleman talked.

"Then they didn't believe what his counsel said--that Chamberlayne got all the money?" he asked.

Mr. Quarterpage laughed.

"No--nor anybody else!" he answered. "There was a strong idea in the town--you'll see why afterwards--that it was all a put-up job, and that Maitland cheerfully underwent his punishment knowing that there was a nice fortune waiting for him when he came out. And as I say, the bank people meant to get hold of him. But though they sent a special agent to meet him on his release, they never did get hold of him. Some mistake arose--when Maitland was released, he got clear away. Nobody's ever heard a word of him from that day to this. Unless Miss Baylis has."

"Where does this Miss Baylis live?" asked Spargo.

"Well, I don't know," replied Mr. Quarterpage. "She did live in Brighton when she took the child away, and her address was known, and I have it somewhere. But when the bank people sought her out after Maitland's release, she, too, had clean disappeared, and all efforts to trace her failed. In fact, according to the folks who lived near her in Brighton, she'd completely disappeared, with the child, five years before. So there wasn't a clue to Maitland. He served his time--made a model prisoner--they did find that much out!--earned the maximum remission, was released, and vanished. And for that very reason there's a theory about him in this very town to this very day!"

"What?" asked Spargo.

"This. That he's now living comfortably, luxuriously abroad on what he got from the bank," replied Mr. Quarterpage. "They say that the sister-in-law was in at the game; that when she disappeared with the child, she went abroad somewhere and made a home ready for Maitland, and that he went off to them as soon as he came out. Do you see?"

"I suppose that was possible," said Spargo.

"Quite possible, sir. But now," continued the old gentleman, replenishing the glasses, "now we come on to the Chamberlayne story. It's a good deal more to do with the Maitland story than appears at first sight, I'll tell it to you and you can form your own conclusions. Chamberlayne was a man who came to Market Milcaster--I don't know from where--in 1886--five years before the Maitland smash-up. He was then about Maitland's age--a man of thirty-seven or eight. He came as clerk to old Mr. Vallas, the rope and twine manufacturer: Vallas's place is still there, at the bottom of the High Street, near the river, though old Vallas is dead. He was a smart, cute, pushing chap, this Chamberlayne; he made himself indispensable to old Vallas, and old Vallas paid him a rare good salary. He settled down in the town, and he married a town girl, one of the Corkindales, the saddlers, when he'd been here three years. Unfortunately she died in childbirth within a year of their marriage. It was very soon after that that Chamberlayne threw up his post at Vallas's, and started business as a stock-and- share broker. He'd been a saving man; he'd got a nice bit of money with his wife; he always let it be known that he had money of his own, and he started in a good way. He was a man of the most plausible manners: he'd have coaxed butter out of a dog's throat if he'd wanted to. The moneyed men of the town believed in him--I believed in him myself, Mr. Spargo--I'd many a transaction with him, and I never lost aught by him--on the contrary, he did very well for me. He did well for most of his clients--there were, of course, ups and downs, but on the whole he satisfied his clients uncommonly well. But, naturally, nobody ever knew what was going on between him and Maitland."

"I gather from this report," said Spargo, "that everything came out suddenly--unexpectedly?"

"That was so, sir," replied Mr. Quarterpage. "Sudden? Unexpected? Aye, as a crack of thunder on a fine winter's day. Nobody had the ghost of a notion that anything was wrong. John Maitland was much respected in the town; much thought of by everybody; well known to everybody. I can assure you, Mr. Spargo, that it was no pleasant thing to have to sit on that grand jury as I did--I was its foreman, sir,--and hear a man sentenced that you'd regarded as a bosom friend. But there it was!"

"How was the thing discovered?" asked Spargo, anxious to get at facts.

"In this way," replied Mr. Quarterpage. "The Market Milcaster Bank is in reality almost entirely the property of two old families in the town, the Gutchbys and the Hostables. Owing to the death of his father, a young Hostable, fresh from college, came into the business. He was a shrewd, keen young fellow; he got some suspicion, somehow, about Maitland, and he insisted on the other partners consenting to a special investigation, and on their making it suddenly. And Maitland was caught before he had a chance. But we're talking about Chamberlayne."

"Yes, about Chamberlayne," agreed Spargo.

"Well, now, Maitland was arrested one evening," continued Mr. Quarterpage. "Of course, the news of his arrest ran through the town like wild-fire. Everybody was astonished; he was at that time--aye, and had been for years--a churchwarden at the Parish Church, and I don't think there could have been more surprise if we'd heard that the Vicar had been arrested for bigamy. In a little town like this, news is all over the place in a few minutes. Of course, Chamberlayne would hear that news like everybody else. But it was remembered, and often remarked upon afterwards, that from the moment of Maitland's arrest nobody in Market Milcaster ever had speech with Chamberlayne again. After his wife's death he'd taken to spending an hour or so of an evening across there at the 'Dragon,' where you saw me and my friends last night, but on that night he didn't go to the 'Dragon.' And next morning he caught the eight o'clock train to London. He happened to remark to the stationmaster as he got into the train that he expected to be back late that night, and that he should have a tiring day of it. But Chamberlayne didn't come back that night, Mr. Spargo. He didn't come back to Market Milcaster for four days, and when he did come back it was in a coffin!"

"Dead?" exclaimed Spargo. "That was sudden!"

"Very sudden," agreed Mr. Quarterpage. "Yes, sir, he came back in his coffin, did Chamberlayne. On the very evening on which he'd spoken of being back, there came a telegram here to say that he'd died very suddenly at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. That telegram came to his brother-in-law, Corkindale, the saddler--you'll find him down the street, opposite the Town Hall. It was sent to Corkindale by a nephew of Chamberlayne's, another Chamberlayne, Stephen, who lived in London, and was understood to be on the Stock Exchange there. I saw that telegram, Mr. Spargo, and it was a long one. It said that Chamberlayne had had a sudden seizure, and though a doctor had been got to him he'd died shortly afterwards. Now, as Chamberlayne had his nephew and friends in London, his brother-in-law, Tom Corkindale, didn't feel that there was any necessity for him to go up to town, so he just sent off a wire to Stephen Chamberlayne asking if there was aught he could do. And next morning came another wire from Stephen saying that no inquest would be necessary, as the doctor had been present and able to certify the cause of death, and would Corkindale make all arrangements for the funeral two days later. You see, Chamberlayne had bought a vault in our cemetery when he buried his wife, so naturally they wished to bury him in it, with her."

Spargo nodded. He was beginning to imagine all sorts of things and theories; he was taking everything in.

"Well," continued Mr. Quarterpage, "on the second day after that, they brought Chamberlayne's body down. Three of 'em came with it--Stephen Chamberlayne, the doctor who'd been called in, and a solicitor. Everything was done according to proper form and usage. As Chamberlayne had been well known in the town, a good number of townsfolk met the body at the station and followed it to the cemetery. Of course, many of us who had been clients of Chamberlayne's were anxious to know how he had come to such a sudden end. According to Stephen Chamberlayne's account, our Chamberlayne had wired to him and to his solicitor to meet him at the Cosmopolitan to do some business. They were awaiting him there when he arrived, and they had lunch together. After that, they got to their business in a private room. Towards the end of the afternoon, Chamberlayne was taken suddenly ill, and though they got a doctor to him at once, he died before evening. The doctor said he'd a diseased heart. Anyhow, he was able to certify the cause of his death, so there was no inquest and they buried him, as I have told you."

The old gentleman paused and, taking a sip at his sherry, smiled at some reminiscence which occurred to him.

"Well," he said, presently going on, "of course, on that came all the Maitland revelations, and Maitland vowed and declared that Chamberlayne had not only had nearly all the money, but that he was absolutely certain that most of it was in his hands in hard cash. But Chamberlayne, Mr. Spargo, had left practically nothing. All that could be traced was about three or four thousand pounds. He'd left everything to his nephew, Stephen. There wasn't a trace, a clue to the vast sums with which Maitland had entrusted him. And then people began to talk, and they said what some of them say to this very day!"

"What's that?" asked Spargo.

Mr. Quarterpage leaned forward and tapped his guest on the arm.

"That Chamberlayne never did die, and that that coffin was weighted with lead!" he answered.