The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Thirty-Six. The Final Telegram
Myerst paused, to take a pull at his glass, and to look at the two amazed listeners with a smile of conscious triumph.
"In the hands of Cardlestone," he repeated. "Now, what did I argue from that? Why, of course, that Maitland had been to Cardlestone's rooms that night. Wasn't he found lying dead at the foot of Cardlestone's stairs? Aye--but who found him? Not the porter--not the police--not you, Master Spargo, with all your cleverness. The man who found Maitland lying dead there that night was--I!"
In the silence that followed, Spargo, who had been making notes of what Myerst said, suddenly dropped his pencil and thrusting his hands in his pockets sat bolt upright with a look which Breton, who was watching him seriously, could not make out. It was the look of a man whose ideas and conceptions are being rudely upset. And Myerst, too, saw it and he laughed, more sneeringly than ever.
"That's one for you, Spargo!" he said. "That surprises you--that makes you think. Now what do you think?--if one may ask."
"I think," said Spargo, "that you are either a consummate liar, or that this mystery is bigger than before."
"I can lie when it's necessary," retorted Myerst. "Just now it isn't necessary. I'm telling you the plain truth: there's no reason why I shouldn't. As I've said before, although you two young bullies have tied me up in this fashion, you can't do anything against me. I've a power of attorney from those two old men in there, and that's enough to satisfy anybody as to my possession of their cheques and securities. I've the whip hand of you, my sons, in all ways. And that's why I'm telling you the truth--to amuse myself during this period of waiting. The plain truth, my sons!"
"In pursuance of which," observed Breton, drily, "I think you mentioned that you were the first person to find my father lying dead?"
"I was. That is--as far as I can gather. I'll tell you all about it. As I said, I live over Cardlestone. That night I came home very late--it was well past one o'clock. There was nobody about--as a matter of fact, no one has residential chambers in that building but Cardlestone and myself. I found the body of a man lying in the entry. I struck a match and immediately recognized my visitor of the afternoon--John Marbury. Now, although I was so late in going home, I was as sober as a man can be, and I think pretty quickly at all times. I thought at double extra speed just then. And the first thing I did was to strip the body of every article it had on it--money, papers, everything. All these things are safely locked up--they've never been tracked. Next day, using my facilities as secretary to the Safe Deposit Company, I secured the things in that box. Then I found out who the dead man really was. And then I deliberately set to work to throw dust in the eyes of the police and of the newspapers, and particularly in the eyes of young Master Spargo there. I had an object."
"What?" asked Breton.
"What! Knowing all I did, I firmly believed that Marbury, or, rather, Maitland, had been murdered by either Cardlestone or Elphick. I put it to myself in this way, and my opinion was strengthened as you, Spargo, inserted news in your paper--Maitland, finding himself in the vicinity of Cardlestone after leaving Aylmore's rooms that night, turned into our building, perhaps just to see where Cardlestone lived. He met Cardlestone accidentally, or he perhaps met Cardlestone and Elphick together--they recognized each other. Maitland probably threatened to expose Cardlestone, or, rather, Chamberlayne--nobody, of course, could know what happened, but my theory was that Chamberlayne killed him. There, at any rate, was the fact that Maitland was found murdered at Chamberlayne's very threshold. And, in the course of a few days, I proved, to my own positive satisfaction, by getting access to Chamberlayne's rooms in his absence that Maitland had been there, had been in those rooms. For I found there, in Chamberlayne's desk, the rare Australian stamps of which Criedir told at the inquest. That was proof positive."
Spargo looked at Breton. They knew what Myerst did not know--that the stamps of which he spoke were lying in Spargo's breast pocket, where they had lain since he had picked them up from the litter and confusion of Chamberlayne's floor.
"Why," asked Breton, after a pause, "why did you never accuse Cardlestone, or Chamberlayne, of the murder?"
"I did! I have accused him a score of times--and Elphick, too," replied Myerst with emphasis. "Not at first, mind you--I never let Chamberlayne know that I ever suspected him for some time. I had my own game to play. But at last--not so many days ago--I did. I accused them both. That's how I got the whip hand of them. They began to be afraid--by that time Elphick had got to know all about Cardlestone's past as Chamberlayne. And as I tell you, Elphick's fond of Cardlestone. It's queer, but he is. He--wants to shield him."
"What did they say when you accused them?" asked Breton. "Let's keep to that point--never mind their feelings for one another."
"Just so, but that feeling's a lot more to do with this mystery than you think, my young friend," said Myerst. "What did they say, you ask? Why, they strenuously denied it, Cardlestone swore solemnly to me that he had no part or lot in the murder of Maitland. So did Elphick. But--they know something about the murder. If those two old men can't tell you definitely who actually struck John Maitland down, I'm certain that they have a very clear idea in their minds as to who really did! They--"
A sudden sharp cry from the inner room interrupted Myerst. Breton and Spargo started to their feet and made for the door. But before they could reach it Elphick came out, white and shaking.
"He's gone!" he exclaimed in quavering accents. "My old friend's gone--he's dead! I was--asleep. I woke suddenly and looked at him. He----"
Spargo forced the old man into a chair and gave him some whisky; Breton passed quickly into the inner room; only to come back shaking his head.
"He's dead," he said. "He evidently died in his sleep."
"Then his secret's gone with him," remarked Myerst, calmly. "And now we shall never know if he did kill John Maitland or if he didn't. So that's done with!"
Old Elphick suddenly sat up in his chair, pushing Spargo fiercely away from his side.
"He didn't kill John Maitland!" he cried angrily, attempting to shake his fist at Myerst. "Whoever says he killed Maitland lies. He was as innocent as I am. You've tortured and tormented him to his death with that charge, as you're torturing me--among you. I tell you he'd nothing to do with John Maitland's death--nothing!"
"Who had, then?" he said.
"Hold your tongue!" commanded Breton, turning angrily on him. He sat down by Elphick's side and laid his hand soothingly on the old man's arm.
"Guardian," he said, "why don't you tell what you know? Don't be afraid of that fellow there--he's safe enough. Tell Spargo and me what you know of the matter. Remember, nothing can hurt Cardlestone, or Chamberlayne, or whoever he is or was, now."
Elphick sat for a moment shaking his head. He allowed Spargo to give him another drink; he lifted his head and looked at the two young men with something of an appeal.
"I'm badly shaken," he said. "I've suffered much lately--I've learnt things that I didn't know. Perhaps I ought to have spoken before, but I was afraid for--for him. He was a good friend, Cardlestone, whatever else he may have been--a good friend. And--I don't know any more than what happened that night."
"Tell us what happened that night," said Breton.
"Well, that night I went round, as I often did, to play piquet with Cardlestone. That was about ten o'clock. About eleven Jane Baylis came to Cardlestone's--she'd been to my rooms to find me--wanted to see me particularly--and she'd come on there, knowing where I should be. Cardlestone would make her have a glass of wine and a biscuit; she sat down and we all talked. Then, about, I should think, a quarter to twelve, a knock came at Cardlestone's door--his outer door was open, and of course anybody outside could see lights within. Cardlestone went to the door: we heard a man's voice enquire for him by name; then the voice added that Criedir, the stamp dealer, had advised him to call on Mr. Cardlestone to show him some rare Australian stamps, and that seeing a light under his door he had knocked. Cardlestone asked him in--he came in. That was the man we saw next day at the mortuary. Upon my honour, we didn't know him, either that night or next day!"
"What happened when he came in?" asked Breton.
"Cardlestone asked him to sit down: he offered and gave him a drink. The man said Criedir had given him Cardlestone's address, and that he'd been with a friend at some rooms in Fountain Court, and as he was passing our building he'd just looked to make sure where Cardlestone lived, and as he'd noticed a light he'd made bold to knock. He and Cardlestone began to examine the stamps. Jane Baylis said good-night, and she and I left Cardlestone and the man together."
"No one had recognized him?" said Breton.
"No one! Remember, I only once or twice saw Maitland in all my life. The others certainly did not recognize him. At least, I never knew that they did--if they did."
"Tell us," said Spargo, joining in for the first time, "tell us what you and Miss Baylis did?"
"At the foot of the stairs Jane Baylis suddenly said she'd forgotten something in Cardlestone's lobby. As she was going out in to Fleet Street, and I was going down Middle Temple Lane to turn off to my own rooms we said good-night. She went back upstairs. And I went home. And upon my soul and honour that's all I know!"
Spargo suddenly leapt to his feet. He snatched at his cap--a sodden and bedraggled headgear which he had thrown down when they entered the cottage.
"That's enough!" he almost shouted. "I've got it--at last! Breton--where's the nearest telegraph office? Hawes? Straight down this valley? Then, here's for it! Look after things till I'm back, or, when the police come, join me there. I shall catch the first train to town, anyhow, after wiring."
"But--what are you after, Spargo?" exclaimed Breton. "Stop! What on earth----"
But Spargo had closed the door and was running for all he was worth down the valley. Three quarters of an hour later he startled a quiet and peaceful telegraphist by darting, breathless and dirty, into a sleepy country post office, snatching a telegraph form and scribbling down a message in shaky handwriting:--
Then Spargo dropped on the office bench, and while the wondering operator set the wires ticking, strove to get his breath, utterly spent in his mad race across the heather. And when it was got he set out again--to find the station.
Some days later, Spargo, having seen Stephen Aylmore walk out of the Bow Street dock, cleared of the charge against him, and in a fair way of being cleared of the affair of twenty years before, found himself in a very quiet corner of the Court holding the hand of Jessie Aylmore, who, he discovered, was saying things to him which he scarcely comprehended. There was nobody near them and the girl spoke freely and warmly.
"But you will come--you will come today--and be properly thanked," she said. "You will--won't you?"
Spargo allowed himself to retain possession of the hand. Also he took a straight look into Jessie Aylmore's eyes.
"I don't want thanks," he said. "It was all a lot of luck. And if I come--today--it will be to see--just you!"
Jessie Aylmore looked down at the two hands.
"I think," she whispered, "I think that is what I really meant!"