Chapter Twenty. Maitland Alias Marbury
 

This remarkable declaration awoke such a new conception of matters in Spargo's mind, aroused such infinitely new possibilities in his imagination, that for a full moment he sat silently staring at his informant, who chuckled with quiet enjoyment at his visitor's surprise.

"Do you mean to tell me," said Spargo at last, "that there are people in this town who still believe that the coffin in your cemetery which is said to contain Chamberlayne's body contains--lead?"

"Lots of 'em, my dear sir!" replied Mr. Quarterpage. "Lots of 'em! Go out in the street and asked the first six men you meet, and I'll go bail that four out of the six believe it."

"Then why, in the sacred name of common sense did no one ever take steps to make certain?" asked Spargo. "Why didn't they get an order for exhumation?"

"Because it was nobody's particular business to do so," answered Mr. Quarterpage. "You don't know country-town life, my dear sir. In towns like Market Milcaster folks talk and gossip a great deal, but they're always slow to do anything. It's a case of who'll start first--of initiative. And if they see it's going to cost anything--then they'll have nothing to do with it."

"But--the bank people?" suggested Spargo.

Mr. Quarterpage shook his head.

"They're amongst the lot who believe that Chamberlayne did die," he said. "They're very old-fashioned, conservative-minded people, the Gutchbys and the Hostables, and they accepted the version of the nephew, and the doctor, and the solicitor. But now I'll tell you something about those three. There was a man here in the town, a gentleman of your own profession, who came to edit that paper you've got on your knee. He got interested in this Chamberlayne case, and he began to make enquiries with the idea of getting hold of some good--what do you call it?"

"I suppose he'd call it 'copy,'" said Spargo.

"'Copy'--that was his term," agreed Mr. Quarterpage. "Well, he took the trouble to go to London to ask some quiet questions of the nephew, Stephen. That was just twelve months after Chamberlayne had been buried. But he found that Stephen Chamberlayne had left England--months before. Gone, they said, to one of the colonies, but they didn't know which. And the solicitor had also gone. And the doctor--couldn't be traced, no, sir, not even through the Medical Register. What do you think of all that, Mr. Spargo?"

"I think," answered Spargo, "that Market Milcaster folk are considerably slow. I should have had that death and burial enquired into. The whole thing looks to me like a conspiracy."

"Well, sir, it was, as I say, nobody's business," said Mr. Quarterpage. "The newspaper gentleman tried to stir up interest in it, but it was no good, and very soon afterwards he left. And there it is."

"Mr. Quarterpage," said Spargo, "what's your own honest opinion?"

The old gentleman smiled.

"Ah!" he said. "I've often wondered, Mr. Spargo, if I really have an opinion on that point. I think that what I probably feel about the whole affair is that there was a good deal of mystery attaching to it. But we seem, sir, to have gone a long way from the question of that old silver ticket which you've got in your purse. Now----"

"No!" said Spargo, interrupting his host with an accompanying wag of his forefinger. "No! I think we're coming nearer to it. Now you've given me a great deal of your time, Mr. Quarterpage, and told me a lot, and, first of all, before I tell you a lot, I'm going to show you something."

And Spargo took out of his pocket-book a carefully-mounted photograph of John Marbury--the original of the process-picture which he had had made for the Watchman. He handed it over.

"Do you recognize that photograph as that of anybody you know?" he asked. "Look at it well and closely."

Mr. Quarterpage put on a special pair of spectacles and studied the photograph from several points of view.

"No, sir," he said at last with a shake of the head. "I don't recognize it at all."

"Can't see in it any resemblance to any man you've ever known?" asked Spargo.

"No, sir, none!" replied Mr. Quarterpage. "None whatever."

"Very well," said Spargo, laying the photograph on the table between them. "Now, then, I want you to tell me what John Maitland was like when you knew him. Also, I want you to describe Chamberlayne as he was when he died, or was supposed to die. You remember them, of course, quite well?"

Mr. Quarterpage got up and moved to the door.

"I can do better than that," he said. "I can show you photographs of both men as they were just before Maitland's trial. I have a photograph of a small group of Market Milcaster notabilities which was taken at a municipal garden-party; Maitland and Chamberlayne are both in it. It's been put away in a cabinet in my drawing-room for many a long year, and I've no doubt it's as fresh as when it was taken."

He left the room and presently returned with a large mounted photograph which he laid on the table before his visitor.

"There you are, sir," he said. "Quite fresh, you see--it must be getting on to twenty years since that was taken out of the drawer that it's been kept in. Now, that's Maitland. And that's Chamberlayne."

Spargo found himself looking at a group of men who stood against an ivy-covered wall in the stiff attitudes in which photographers arrange masses of sitters. He fixed his attention on the two figures indicated by Mr. Quarterpage, and saw two medium-heighted, rather sturdily-built men about whom there was nothing very specially noticeable.

"Um!" he said, musingly. "Both bearded."

"Yes, they both wore beards--full beards," assented Mr. Quarterpage. "And you see, they weren't so much alike. But Maitland was a much darker man than Chamberlayne, and he had brown eyes, while Chamberlayne's were rather a bright blue."

"The removal of a beard makes a great difference," remarked Spargo. He looked at the photograph of Maitland in the group, comparing it with that of Marbury which he had taken from his pocket. "And twenty years makes a difference, too," he added musingly.

"To some people twenty years makes a vast difference, sir," said the old gentleman. "To others it makes none--I haven't changed much, they tell me, during the past twenty years. But I've known men change--age, almost beyond recognition!--in five years. It depends, sir, on what they go through."

Spargo suddenly laid aside the photographs, put his hands in his pockets, and looked steadfastly at Mr. Quarterpage.

"Look here!" he said. "I'm going to tell you what I'm after, Mr. Quarterpage. I'm sure you've heard all about what's known as the Middle Temple Murder--the Marbury case?"

"Yes, I've read of it," replied Mr. Quarterpage.

"Have you read the accounts of it in my paper, the Watchman?" asked Spargo.

Mr. Quarterpage shook his head.

"I've only read one newspaper, sir, since I was a young man," he replied. "I take the Times, sir--we always took it, aye, even in the days when newspapers were taxed."

"Very good," said Spargo. "But perhaps I can tell you a little more than you've read, for I've been working up that case ever since the body of the man known as John Marbury was found. Now, if you'll just give me your attention, I'll tell you the whole story from that moment until--now."

And Spargo, briefly, succinctly, re-told the story of the Marbury case from the first instant of his own connection with it until the discovery of the silver ticket, and Mr. Quarterpage listened in rapt attention, nodding his head from time to time as the younger man made his points.

"And now, Mr. Quarterpage," concluded Spargo, "this is the point I've come to. I believe that the man who came to the Anglo-Orient Hotel as John Marbury and who was undoubtedly murdered in Middle Temple Lane that night, was John Maitland--I haven't a doubt about it after learning what you tell me about the silver ticket. I've found out a great deal that's valuable here, and I think I'm getting nearer to a solution of the mystery. That is, of course, to find out who murdered John Maitland, or Marbury. What you have told me about the Chamberlayne affair has led me to think this--there may have been people, or a person, in London, who was anxious to get Marbury, as we'll call him, out of the way, and who somehow encountered him that night--anxious to silence him, I mean, because of the Chamberlayne affair. And I wondered, as there is so much mystery about him, and as he won't give any account of himself, if this man Aylmore was really Chamberlayne. Yes, I wondered that! But Aylmore's a tall, finely-built man, quite six feet in height, and his beard, though it's now getting grizzled, has been very dark, and Chamberlayne, you say, was a medium-sized, fair man, with blue eyes."

"That's so, sir," assented Mr. Quarterpage. "Yes, a middling-sized man, and fair--very fair. Deary me, Mr. Spargo!--this is a revelation. And you really think, sir, that John Maitland and John Marbury are one and the same person?"

"I'm sure of it, now," said Spargo. "I see it in this way. Maitland, on his release, went out to Australia, and there he stopped. At last he comes back, evidently well-to-do. He's murdered the very day of his arrival. Aylmore is the only man who knows anything of him--Aylmore won't tell all he knows; that's flat. But Aylmore's admitted that he knew him at some vague date, say from twenty-one to twenty-two or three years ago. Now, where did Aylmore know him? He says in London. That's a vague term. He won't say where--he won't say anything definite--he won't even say what he, Aylmore, himself was in those days. Do you recollect anything of anybody like Aylmore coming here to see Maitland, Mr. Quarterpage?"

"I don't," answered Mr. Quarterpage. "Maitland was a very quiet, retiring fellow, sir: he was about the quietest man in the town. I never remember that he had visitors; certainly I've no recollection of such a friend of his as this Aylmore, from your description of him, would be at that time."

"Did Maitland go up to London much in those days?" asked Spargo.

Mr. Quarterpage laughed.

"Well, now, to show you what a good memory I have," he said, "I'll tell you of something that occurred across there at the 'Dragon' only a few months before the Maitland affair came out. There were some of us in there one evening, and, for a rare thing, Maitland came in with Chamberlayne. Chamberlayne happened to remark that he was going up to town next day--he was always to and fro--and we got talking about London. And Maitland said in course of conversation, that he believed he was about the only man of his age in England--and, of course, he meant of his class and means--who'd never even seen London! And I don't think he ever went there between that time and his trial: in fact, I'm sure he didn't, for if he had, I should have heard of it."

"Well, that's queer," remarked Spargo. "It's very queer. For I'm certain Maitland and Marbury are one and the same person. My theory about that old leather box is that Maitland had that carefully planted before his arrest; that he dug it up when he came put of Dartmoor; that he took it off to Australia with him; that he brought it back with him; and that, of course, the silver ticket and the photograph had been in it all these years. Now----"

At that moment the door of the library was opened, and a parlourmaid looked in at her master.

"There's the boots from the 'Dragon' at the front door, sir," she said. "He's brought two telegrams across from there for Mr. Spargo, thinking he might like to have them at once."