The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Six. Witness to a Meeting
Ronald Breton walked into the Watchman office and into Spargo's room next morning holding a copy of the current issue in his hand. He waved it at Spargo with an enthusiasm which was almost boyish.
"I say!" he exclaimed. "That's the way to do it, Spargo! I congratulate you. Yes, that's the way--certain!"
Spargo, idly turning over a pile of exchanges, yawned.
"What way?" he asked indifferently.
"The way you've written this thing up," said Breton. "It's a hundred thousand times better than the usual cut-and-dried account of a murder. It's--it's like a--a romance!"
"Merely a new method of giving news," said Spargo. He picked up a copy of the Watchman, and glanced at his two columns, which had somehow managed to make themselves into three, viewing the displayed lettering, the photograph of the dead man, the line drawing of the entry in Middle Temple Lane, and the facsimile of the scrap of grey paper, with a critical eye. "Yes--merely a new method," he continued. "The question is--will it achieve its object?"
"What's the object?" asked Breton.
Spargo fished out a box of cigarettes from an untidy drawer, pushed it over to his visitor, helped himself, and tilting back his chair, put his feet on his desk.
"The object?" he said, drily. "Oh, well, the object is the ultimate detection of the murderer."
"You're after that?"
"I'm after that--just that."
"And not--not simply out to make effective news?"
"I'm out to find the murderer of John Marbury," said Spargo deliberately slow in his speech. "And I'll find him."
"Well, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of clues, so far," remarked Breton. "I see--nothing. Do you?"
Spargo sent a spiral of scented smoke into the air.
"I want to know an awful lot," he said. "I'm hungering for news. I want to know who John Marbury is. I want to know what he did with himself between the time when he walked out of the Anglo-Orient Hotel, alive and well, and the time when he was found in Middle Temple Lane, with his skull beaten in and dead. I want to know where he got that scrap of paper. Above everything, Breton, I want to know what he'd got to do with you!"
He gave the young barrister a keen look, and Breton nodded.
"Yes," he said. "I confess that's a corker. But I think----"
"Well?" said Spargo.
"I think he may have been a man who had some legal business in hand, or in prospect, and had been recommended to--me," said Breton.
Spargo smiled--a little sardonically.
"That's good!" he said. "You had your very first brief--yesterday. Come--your fame isn't blown abroad through all the heights yet, my friend! Besides--don't intending clients approach--isn't it strict etiquette for them to approach?--barristers through solicitors?"
"Quite right--in both your remarks," replied Breton, good-humouredly. "Of course, I'm not known a bit, but all the same I've known several cases where a barrister has been approached in the first instance and asked to recommend a solicitor. Somebody who wanted to do me a good turn may have given this man my address."
"Possible," said Spargo. "But he wouldn't have come to consult you at midnight. Breton!--the more I think of it, the more I'm certain there's a tremendous mystery in this affair! That's why I got the chief to let me write it up as I have done--here. I'm hoping that this photograph--though to be sure, it's of a dead face--and this facsimile of the scrap of paper will lead to somebody coming forward who can----"
Just then one of the uniformed youths who hang about the marble pillared vestibule of the Watchman office came into the room with the unmistakable look and air of one who carries news of moment.
"I dare lay a sovereign to a cent that I know what this is," muttered Spargo in an aside. "Well?" he said to the boy. "What is it?"
The messenger came up to the desk.
"Mr. Spargo," he said, "there's a man downstairs who says that he wants to see somebody about that murder case that's in the paper this morning, sir. Mr. Barrett said I was to come to you."
"Who is the man?" asked Spargo.
"Won't say, sir," replied the boy. "I gave him a form to fill up, but he said he wouldn't write anything--said all he wanted was to see the man who wrote the piece in the paper."
"Bring him here," commanded Spargo. He turned to Breton when the boy had gone, and he smiled. "I knew we should have somebody here sooner or later," he said. "That's why I hurried over my breakfast and came down at ten o'clock. Now then, what will you bet on the chances of this chap's information proving valuable?"
"Nothing," replied Breton. "He's probably some crank or faddist who's got some theory that he wants to ventilate."
The man who was presently ushered in by the messenger seemed from preliminary and outward appearance to justify Breton's prognostication. He was obviously a countryman, a tall, loosely-built, middle-aged man, yellow of hair, blue of eye, who was wearing his Sunday-best array of pearl-grey trousers and black coat, and sported a necktie in which were several distinct colours. Oppressed with the splendour and grandeur of the Watchman building, he had removed his hard billycock hat as he followed the boy, and he ducked his bared head at the two young men as he stepped on to the thick pile of the carpet which made luxurious footing in Spargo's room. His blue eyes, opened to their widest, looked round him in astonishment at the sumptuousness of modern newspaper-office accommodation.
"How do you do, sir?" said Spargo, pointing a finger to one of the easy-chairs for which the Watchman office is famous. "I understand that you wish to see me?"
The caller ducked his yellow head again, sat down on the edge of the chair, put his hat on the floor, picked it up again, and endeavoured to hang it on his knee, and looked at Spargo innocently and shyly.
"What I want to see, sir," he observed in a rustic accent, "is the gentleman as wrote that piece in your newspaper about this here murder in Middle Temple Lane."
"You see him," said Spargo. "I am that man."
The caller smiled--generously.
"Indeed, sir?" he said. "A very nice bit of reading, I'm sure. And what might your name be, now, sir? I can always talk free-er to a man when I know what his name is."
"So can I," answered Spargo. "My name is Spargo--Frank Spargo. What's yours?"
"Name of Webster, sir--William Webster. I farm at One Ash Farm, at Gosberton, in Oakshire. Me and my wife," continued Mr. Webster, again smiling and distributing his smile between both his hearers, "is at present in London on a holiday. And very pleasant we find it--weather and all."
"That's right," said Spargo. "And--you wanted to see me about this murder, Mr. Webster?"
"I did, sir. Me, I believe, knowing, as I think, something that'll do for you to put in your paper. You see, Mr. Spargo, it come about in this fashion--happen you'll be for me to tell it in my own way."
"That," answered Spargo, "is precisely what I desire."
"Well, to be sure, I couldn't tell it in no other," declared Mr. Webster. "You see, sir, I read your paper this morning while I was waiting for my breakfast--they take their breakfasts so late in them hotels--and when I'd read it, and looked at the pictures, I says to my wife 'As soon as I've had my breakfast,' I says, 'I'm going to where they print this newspaper to tell 'em something.' 'Aye?' she says, 'Why, what have you to tell, I should like to know?' just like that, Mr. Spargo."
"Mrs. Webster," said Spargo, "is a lady of businesslike principles. And what have you to tell?"
Mr. Webster looked into the crown of his hat, looked out of it, and smiled knowingly.
"Well, sir," he continued, "Last night, my wife, she went out to a part they call Clapham, to take her tea and supper with an old friend of hers as lives there, and as they wanted to have a bit of woman-talk, like, I didn't go. So thinks I to myself, I'll go and see this here House of Commons. There was a neighbour of mine as had told me that all you'd got to do was to tell the policeman at the door that you wanted to see your own Member of Parliament. So when I got there I told 'em that I wanted to see our M.P., Mr. Stonewood--you'll have heard tell of him, no doubt; he knows me very well--and they passed me, and I wrote out a ticket for him, and they told me to sit down while they found him. So I sat down in a grand sort of hall where there were a rare lot of people going and coming, and some fine pictures and images to look at, and for a time I looked at them, and then I began to take a bit of notice of the folk near at hand, waiting, you know, like myself. And as sure as I'm a christened man, sir, the gentleman whose picture you've got in your paper--him as was murdered--was sitting next to me! I knew that picture as soon as I saw it this morning."
Spargo, who had been making unmeaning scribbles on a block of paper, suddenly looked at his visitor.
"What time was that?" he asked.
"It was between a quarter and half-past nine, sir," answered Mr. Webster. "It might ha' been twenty past--it might ha' been twenty-five past."
"Go on, if you please," said Spargo.
"Well, sir, me and this here dead gentleman talked a bit. About what a long time it took to get a member to attend to you, and such-like. I made mention of the fact that I hadn't been in there before. 'Neither have I!' he says, 'I came in out of curiosity,' he says, and then he laughed, sir--queer-like. And it was just after that that what I'm going to tell you about happened."
"Tell," commanded Spargo.
"Well, sir, there was a gentleman came along, down this grand hall that we were sitting in--a tall, handsome gentleman, with a grey beard. He'd no hat on, and he was carrying a lot of paper and documents in his hand, so I thought he was happen one of the members. And all of a sudden this here man at my side, he jumps up with a sort of start and an exclamation, and----"
Spargo lifted his hand. He looked keenly at his visitor.
"Now, you're absolutely sure about what you heard him exclaim?" he asked. "Quite sure about it? Because I see you are going to tell us what he did exclaim."
"I'll tell you naught but what I'm certain of, sir," replied Webster. "What he said as he jumped up was 'Good God!' he says, sharp-like--and then he said a name, and I didn't right catch it, but it sounded like Danesworth, or Painesworth, or something of that sort--one of them there, or very like 'em, at any rate. And then he rushed up to this here gentleman, and laid his hand on his arm--sudden-like."
"And--the gentleman?" asked Spargo, quietly.
"Well, he seemed taken aback, sir. He jumped. Then he stared at the man. Then they shook hands. And then, after they'd spoken a few words together-like, they walked off, talking. And, of course, I never saw no more of 'em. But when I saw your paper this morning, sir, and that picture in it, I said to myself 'That's the man I sat next to in that there hall at the House of Commons!' Oh, there's no doubt of it, sir!"
"And supposing you saw a photograph of the tall gentleman with the grey beard?" suggested Spargo. "Could you recognize him from that?"
"Make no doubt of it, sir," answered Mr. Webster. "I observed him particular."
Spargo rose, and going over to a cabinet, took from it a thick volume, the leaves of which he turned over for several minutes.
"Come here, if you please, Mr. Webster," he said.
The farmer went across the room.
"There is a full set of photographs of members of the present House of Commons here," said Spargo. "Now, pick out the one you saw. Take your time--and be sure."
He left his caller turning over the album and went back to Breton.
"There!" he whispered. "Getting nearer--a bit nearer--eh?"
"To what?" asked Breton. "I don't see--"
A sudden exclamation from the farmer interrupted Breton's remark.
"This is him, sir!" answered Mr. Webster. "That's the gentleman--know him anywhere!"
The two young men crossed the room. The farmer was pointing a stubby finger to a photograph, beneath which was written Stephen Aylmore, Esq., M.P. for Brookminster.