The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Twenty-Eight. Of Proved Identity
Spargo sat down again in the chair which he had just left, and looked at the two people upon whom his startling announcement had produced such a curious effect. And he recognized as he looked at them that, while they were both frightened, they were frightened in different ways. Miss Baylis had already recovered her composure; she now sat sombre and stern as ever, returning Spargo's look with something of indifferent defiance; he thought he could see that in her mind a certain fear was battling with a certain amount of wonder that he had discovered the secret. It seemed to him that so far as she was concerned the secret had come to an end; it was as if she said in so many words that now the secret was out he might do his worst.
But upon Mr. Septimus Elphick the effect was very different. He was still trembling from excitement; he groaned as he sank into his chair and the hand with which he poured out a glass of spirits shook; the glass rattled against his teeth when he raised it to his lips. The half-contemptuous fashion of his reception of Spargo had now wholly disappeared; he was a man who had received a shock, and a bad one. And Spargo, watching him keenly, said to himself: This man knows a great deal more than, a great deal beyond, the mere fact that Marbury was Maitland, and that Ronald Breton is in reality Maitland's son; he knows something which he never wanted anybody to know, which he firmly believed it impossible anybody ever could know. It was as if he had buried something deep, deep down in the lowest depths, and was as astounded as he was frightened to find that it had been at last flung up to the broad light of day.
"I shall wait," suddenly said Spargo, "until you are composed, Mr. Elphick. I have no wish to distress you. But I see, of course, that the truths which I have told you are of a sort that cause you considerable--shall we say fear?"
Elphick took another stiff pull at his liquor. His hand had grown steadier, and the colour was coming back to his face.
"If you will let me explain," he said. "If you will hear what was done for the boy's sake--eh?"
"That," answered Spargo, "is precisely what I wish. I can tell you this--I am the last man in the world to wish harm of any sort to Mr. Breton."
Miss Baylis relieved her feelings with a scornful sniff. "He says that!" she exclaimed, addressing the ceiling. "He says that, knowing that he means to tell the world in his rag of a paper that Ronald Breton, on whom every care has been lavished, is the son of a scoundrel, an ex-convict, a----"
Elphick lifted his hand.
"Hush--hush!" he said imploringly. "Mr. Spargo means well, I am sure--I am convinced. If Mr. Spargo will hear me----"
But before Spargo could reply, a loud insistent knocking came at the outer door. Elphick started nervously, but presently he moved across the room, walking as if he had received a blow, and opened the door. A boy's voice penetrated into the sitting-room.
"If you please, sir, is Mr. Spargo, of the Watchman, here? He left this address in case he was wanted."
Spargo recognized the voice as that of one of the office messenger boys, and jumping up, went to the door.
"What is it, Rawlins?" he asked.
"Will you please come back to the office, sir, at once? There's Mr. Rathbury there and says he must see you instantly."
"All right," answered Spargo. "I'm coming just now."
He motioned the lad away, and turned to Elphick.
"I shall have to go," he said. "I may be kept. Now, Mr. Elphick, can I come to see you tomorrow morning?"
"Yes, yes, tomorrow morning!" replied Elphick eagerly. "Tomorrow morning, certainly. At eleven--eleven o'clock. That will do?"
"I shall be here at eleven," said Spargo. "Eleven sharp."
He was moving away when Elphick caught him by the sleeve.
"A word--just a word!" he said. "You--you have not told the--the boy--Ronald--of what you know? You haven't?"
"I haven't," replied Spargo.
Elphick tightened his grip on Spargo's sleeve. He looked into his face beseechingly.
"Promise me--promise me, Mr. Spargo, that you won't tell him until you have seen me in the morning!" he implored. "I beg you to promise me this."
Spargo hesitated, considering matters.
"Very well--I promise," he said.
"And you won't print it?" continued Elphick, still clinging to him. "Say you won't print it tonight?"
"I shall not print it tonight," answered Spargo. "That's certain."
Elphick released his grip on the young man's arm.
"Come--at eleven tomorrow morning," he said, and drew back and closed the door.
Spargo ran quickly to the office and hurried up to his own room. And there, calmly seated in an easy-chair, smoking a cigar, and reading an evening newspaper, was Rathbury, unconcerned and outwardly as imperturbable as ever. He greeted Spargo with a careless nod and a smile.
"Well," he said, "how's things?"
Spargo, half-breathless, dropped into his desk-chair.
"You didn't come here to tell me that," he said.
"No," he said, throwing the newspaper aside, "I didn't. I came to tell you my latest. You're at full liberty to stick it into your paper tonight: it may just as well be known."
"Well?" said Spargo.
Rathbury took his cigar out of his lips and yawned.
"Aylmore's identified," he said lazily.
Spargo sat up, sharply.
"Identified, my son. Beyond doubt."
"But as whom--as what?" exclaimed Spargo.
"He's an old lag--an ex-convict. Served his time partly at Dartmoor. That, of course, is where he met Maitland or Marbury. D'ye see? Clear as noontide now, Spargo."
Spargo sat drumming his fingers on the desk before him. His eyes were fixed on a map of London that hung on the opposite wall; his ears heard the throbbing of the printing-machines far below. But what he really saw was the faces of the two girls; what he really heard was the voices of two girls ...
"Clear as noontide--as noontide," repeated Rathbury with great cheerfulness.
Spargo came back to the earth of plain and brutal fact.
"What's clear as noontide?" he asked sharply.
"What? Why, the whole thing! Motive--everything," answered Rathbury. "Don't you see, Maitland and Aylmore (his real name is Ainsworth, by the by) meet at Dartmoor, probably, or, rather, certainly, just before Aylmore's release. Aylmore goes abroad, makes money, in time comes back, starts new career, gets into Parliament, becomes big man. In time, Maitland, who, after his time, has also gone abroad, also comes back. The two meet. Maitland probably tries to blackmail Aylmore or threatens to let folk know that the flourishing Mr. Aylmore, M.P., is an ex-convict. Result--Aylmore lures him to the Temple and quiets him. Pooh!--the whole thing's clear as noontide, as I say. As--noontide!"
Spargo drummed his fingers again.
"How?" he asked quietly. "How came Aylmore to be identified?"
"My work," said Rathbury proudly. "My work, my son. You see, I thought a lot. And especially after we'd found out that Marbury was Maitland."
"You mean after I'd found out," remarked Spargo.
Rathbury waved his cigar.
"Well, well, it's all the same," he said. "You help me, and I help you, eh? Well, as I say, I thought a considerable lot. I thought--now, where did Maitland, or Marbury, know or meet Aylmore twenty or twenty-two years ago? Not in London, because we knew Maitland never was in London--at any rate, before his trial, and we haven't the least proof that he was in London after. And why won't Aylmore tell? Clearly because it must have been in some undesirable place. And then, all of a sudden, it flashed on me in a moment of--what do you writing fellows call those moments, Spargo?"
"Inspiration, I should think," said Spargo. "Direct inspiration."
"That's it. In a moment of direct inspiration, it flashed on me--why, twenty years ago, Maitland was in Dartmoor--they must have met there! And so, we got some old warders who'd been there at that time to come to town, and we gave 'em opportunities to see Aylmore and to study him. Of course, he's twenty years older, and he's grown a beard, but they began to recall him, and then one man remembered that if he was the man they thought he'd a certain birth-mark. And--he has!"
"Does Aylmore know that he's been identified?" asked Spargo.
Rathbury pitched his cigar into the fireplace and laughed.
"Know!" he said scornfully. "Know? He's admitted it. What was the use of standing out against proof like that. He admitted it tonight in my presence. Oh, he knows all right!"
"And what did he say?"
Rathbury laughed contemptuously.
"Say? Oh, not much. Pretty much what he said about this affair--that when he was convicted the time before he was an innocent man. He's certainly a good hand at playing the innocent game."
"And of what was he convicted?"
"Oh, of course, we know all about it--now. As soon as we found out who he really was, we had all the particulars turned up. Aylmore, or Ainsworth (Stephen Ainsworth his name really is) was a man who ran a sort of what they call a Mutual Benefit Society in a town right away up in the North--Cloudhampton--some thirty years ago. He was nominally secretary, but it was really his own affair. It was patronized by the working classes--Cloudhampton's a purely artisan population--and they stuck a lot of their brass, as they call it, in it. Then suddenly it came to smash, and there was nothing. He--Ainsworth, or Aylmore-- pleaded that he was robbed and duped by another man, but the court didn't believe him, and he got seven years. Plain story you see, Spargo, when it all comes out, eh?"
"All stories are quite plain--when they come out," observed Spargo. "And he kept silence now, I suppose, because he didn't want his daughters to know about his past?"
"Just so," agreed Rathbury. "And I don't know that I blame him. He thought, of course, that he'd go scot-free over this Marbury affair. But he made his mistake in the initial stages, my boy--oh, yes!"
Spargo got up from his desk and walked around his room for a few minutes, Rathbury meanwhile finding and lighting another cigar. At last Spargo came back and clapped a hand on the detective's shoulder.
"Look here, Rathbury!" he said. "It's very evident that you're now going on the lines that Aylmore did murder Marbury. Eh?"
Rathbury looked up. His face showed astonishment.
"After evidence like that!" he exclaimed. "Why, of course. There's the motive, my son, the motive!"
"Rathbury!" he said. "Aylmore no more murdered Marbury than you did!"
The detective got up and put on his hat.
"Oh!" he said. "Perhaps you know who did, then?"
"I shall know in a few days," answered Spargo.
Rathbury stared wonderingly at him. Then he suddenly walked to the door. "Good-night!" he said gruffly.
"Good-night, Rathbury," replied Spargo and sat down at his desk.
But that night Spargo wrote nothing for the Watchman. All he wrote was a short telegram addressed to Aylmore's daughters. There were only three words on it--Have no fear.