The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Twenty-Two. The Blank Past
Jessie Aylmore came forward to meet Spargo with ready confidence; the elder girl hung back diffidently.
"May we speak to you?" said Jessie. "We have come on purpose to speak to you. Evelyn didn't want to come, but I made her come."
Spargo shook hands silently with Evelyn Aylmore and motioned them both to follow him. He took them straight upstairs to his room and bestowed them in his easiest chairs before he addressed them.
"I've only just got back to town," he said abruptly. "I was sorry to hear the news about your father. That's what's brought you here, of course. But--I'm afraid I can't do much."
"I told you that we had no right to trouble Mr. Spargo, Jessie," said Evelyn Aylmore. "What can he do to help us?"
Jessie shook her head impatiently.
"The Watchman's about the most powerful paper in London, isn't it?" she said. "And isn't Mr. Spargo writing all these articles about the Marbury case? Mr. Spargo, you must help us!"
Spargo sat down at his desk and began turning over the letters and papers which had accumulated during his absence.
"To be absolutely frank with you," he said, presently, "I don't see how anybody's going to help, so long as your father keeps up that mystery about the past."
"That," said Evelyn, quietly, "is exactly what Ronald says, Jessie. But we can't make our father speak, Mr. Spargo. That he is as innocent as we are of this terrible crime we are certain, and we don't know why he wouldn't answer the questions put to him at the inquest. And--we know no more than you know or anyone knows, and though I have begged my father to speak, he won't say a word. We saw his danger: Ronald--Mr. Breton--told us, and we implored him to tell everything he knew about Mr. Marbury. But so far he has simply laughed at the idea that he had anything to do with the murder, or could be arrested for it, and now----"
"And now he's locked up," said Spargo in his usual matter-of-fact fashion. "Well, there are people who have to be saved from themselves, you know. Perhaps you'll have to save your father from the consequences of his own--shall we say obstinacy? Now, look here, between ourselves, how much do you know about your father's--past?"
The two sisters looked at each other and then at Spargo.
"Nothing," said the elder.
"Absolutely nothing!" said the younger.
"Answer a few plain questions," said Spargo. "I'm not going to print your replies, nor make use of them in any way: I'm only asking the questions with a desire to help you. Have you any relations in England?"
"None that we know of," replied Evelyn.
"Nobody you could go to for information about the past?" asked Spargo.
Spargo drummed his fingers on his blotting-pad. He was thinking hard.
"How old is your father?" he asked suddenly.
"He was fifty-nine a few weeks ago," answered Evelyn.
"And how old are you, and how old is your sister?" demanded Spargo.
"I am twenty, and Jessie is nearly nineteen."
"Where were you born?"
"Both of us at San Gregorio, which is in the San Jose province of Argentina, north of Monte Video."
"Your father was in business there?"
"He was in business in the export trade, Mr. Spargo. There's no secret about that. He exported all sorts of things to England and to France--skins, hides, wools, dried salts, fruit. That's how he made his money."
"You don't know how long he'd been there when you were born?"
"Was he married when he went out there?"
"No, he wasn't. We do know that. He's told us the circumstances of his marriage, because they were romantic. When he sailed from England to Buenos Ayres, he met on the steamer a young lady who, he said, was like himself, relationless and nearly friendless. She was going out to Argentina as a governess. She and my father fell in love with each other, and they were married in Buenos Ayres soon after the steamer arrived."
"And your mother is dead?"
"My mother died before we came to England. I was eight years old, and Jessie six, then."
"And you came to England--how long after that?"
"So that you've been in England ten years. And you know nothing whatever of your father's past beyond what you've told me?"
"Never heard him talk of--you see, according to your account, your father was a man of getting on to forty when he went out to Argentina. He must have had a career of some sort in this country. Have you never heard him speak of his boyhood? Did he never talk of old times, or that sort of thing?"
"I never remember hearing my father speak of any period antecedent to his marriage," replied Evelyn.
"I once asked him a question about his childhood." said Jessie. "He answered that his early days had not been very happy ones, and that he had done his best to forget them. So I never asked him anything again."
"So that it really comes to this," remarked Spargo. "You know nothing whatever about your father, his family, his fortunes, his life, beyond what you yourselves have observed since you were able to observe? That's about it, isn't it?"
"I should say that that is exactly it," answered Evelyn.
"Just so," said Spargo. "And therefore, as I told your sister the other day, the public will say that your father has some dark secret behind him, and that Marbury had possession of it, and that your father killed him in order to silence him. That isn't my view. I not only believe your father to be absolutely innocent, but I believe that he knows no more than a child unborn of Marbury's murder, and I'm doing my best to find out who that murderer was. By the by, since you'll see all about it in tomorrow morning's Watchman, I may as well tell you that I've found out who Marbury really was. He----"
At this moment Spargo's door was opened and in walked Ronald Breton. He shook his head at sight of the two sisters.
"I thought I should find you here," he said. "Jessie said she was coming to see you, Spargo. I don't know what good you can do--I don't see what good the most powerful newspaper in the world can do. My God!--everything's about as black as ever it can be. Mr. Aylmore--I've just come away from him; his solicitor, Stratton, and I have been with him for an hour--is obstinate as ever--he will not tell more than he has told. Whatever good can you do, Spargo, when he won't speak about that knowledge of Marbury which he must have?"
"Oh, well!" said Spargo. "Perhaps we can give him some information about Marbury. Mr. Aylmore has forgotten that it's not such a difficult thing to rake up the past as he seems to think it is. For example, as I was just telling these young ladies, I myself have discovered who Marbury really was."
"You have? Without doubt?" he exclaimed.
"Without reasonable doubt. Marbury was an ex-convict."
Spargo watched the effect of this sudden announcement. The two girls showed no sign of astonishment or of unusual curiosity; they received the news with as much unconcern as if Spargo had told them that Marbury was a famous musician. But Ronald Breton started, and it seemed to Spargo that he saw a sense of suspicion dawn in his eyes.
"Marbury--an ex-convict!" he exclaimed. "You mean that?"
"Read your Watchman in the morning," said Spargo. "You'll find the whole story there--I'm going to write it tonight when you people have gone. It'll make good reading."
Evelyn and Jessie Aylmore took Spargo's hint and went away, Spargo seeing them to the door with another assurance of his belief in their father's innocence and his determination to hunt down the real criminal. Ronald Breton went down with them to the street and saw them into a cab, but in another minute he was back in Spargo's room as Spargo had expected. He shut the door carefully behind him and turned to Spargo with an eager face.
"I say, Spargo, is that really so?" he asked. "About Marbury being an ex-convict?"
"That's so, Breton. I've no more doubt about it than I have that I see you. Marbury was in reality one John Maitland, a bank manager, of Market Milcaster, who got ten years' penal servitude in 1891 for embezzlement."
"In 1891? Why--that's just about the time that Aylmore says he knew him!"
"Exactly. And--it just strikes me," said Spargo, sitting down at his desk and making a hurried note, "it just strikes me--didn't Aylmore say he knew Marbury in London?"
"Certainly," replied Breton. "In London."
"Um!" mused Spargo. "That's queer, because Maitland had never been in London up to the time of his going to Dartmoor, whatever he may have done when he came out of Dartmoor, and, of course, Aylmore had gone to South America long before that. Look here, Breton," he continued, aloud, "have you access to Aylmore? Will you, can you, see him before he's brought up at Bow Street tomorrow?"
"Yes," answered Breton. "I can see him with his solicitor."
"Then listen," said Spargo. "Tomorrow morning you'll find the whole story of how I proved Marbury's identity with Maitland in the Watchman. Read it as early as you can; get an interview with Aylmore as early as you can; make him read it, every word, before he's brought up. Beg him if he values his own safety and his daughters' peace of mind to throw away all that foolish reserve, and to tell all he knows about Maitland twenty years ago. He should have done that at first. Why, I was asking his daughters some questions before you came in--they know absolutely nothing of their father's history previous to the time when they began to understand things! Don't you see that Aylmore's career, previous to his return to England, is a blank past!"
"I know--I know!" said Breton. "Yes--although I've gone there a great deal, I never heard Aylmore speak of anything earlier than his Argentine experiences. And yet, he must have been getting on when he went out there."
"Thirty-seven or eight, at least," remarked Spargo. "Well, Aylmore's more or less of a public man, and no public man can keep his life hidden nowadays. By the by, how did you get to know the Aylmores?"
"My guardian, Mr. Elphick, and I met them in Switzerland," answered Breton. "We kept up the acquaintance after our return."
"Mr. Elphick still interesting himself in the Marbury case?" asked Spargo.
"Very much so. And so is old Cardlestone, at the foot of whose stairs the thing came off. I dined with them last night and they talked of little else," said Breton.
"And their theory--"
"Oh, still the murder for the sake of robbery!" replied Breton. "Old Cardlestone is furious that such a thing could have happened at his very door. He says that there ought to be a thorough enquiry into every tenant of the Temple."
"Longish business that," observed Spargo. "Well, run away now, Breton--I must write."
"Shall you be at Bow Street tomorrow morning?" asked Breton as he moved to the door. "It's to be at ten-thirty."
"No, I shan't!" replied Spargo. "It'll only be a remand, and I know already just as much as I should hear there. I've got something much more important to do. But you'll remember what I asked of you--get Aylmore to read my story in the Watchman, and beg him to speak out and tell all he knows--all!"
And when Breton had gone, Spargo again murmured those last words: "All he knows--all!"