The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter Nine. The Dealer in Rare Stamps
"Buried--and deep-down, too--for many and many a year," repeated Mr. Myerst, eyeing his companions with keen glances. "I consider that, gentlemen, a very remarkable remark--very remarkable!"
Rathbury stuck his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat again and began swaying backwards and forwards in his chair. He looked at Spargo. And with his knowledge of men, he knew that all Spargo's journalistic instincts had been aroused, and that he was keen as mustard to be off on a new scent.
"Remarkable--remarkable, Mr. Myerst!" he assented. "What do you say, Mr. Spargo?"
Spargo turned slowly, and for the first time since Myerst had entered made a careful inspection of him. The inspection lasted several seconds; then Spargo spoke.
"And what did you say to that?" he asked quietly.
Myerst looked from his questioner to Rathbury. And Rathbury thought it time to enlighten the caller.
"I may as well tell you, Mr. Myerst," he said smilingly, "that this is Mr. Spargo, of the Watchman. Mr. Spargo wrote the article about the Marbury case of which you spoke when you came in. Mr. Spargo, you'll gather, is deeply interested in this matter--and he and I, in our different capacities, are working together. So--you understand?" Myerst regarded Spargo in a new light. And while he was so looking at him. Spargo repeated the question he had just put.
"I said--What did you say to that?"
"Well--er--I don't think I said anything," he replied. "Nothing that one might call material, you know."
"Didn't ask him what he meant?" suggested Spargo.
"Oh, no--not at all," replied Myerst.
Spargo got up abruptly from his chair.
"Then you missed one of the finest opportunities I ever heard of!" he said, half-sneeringly. "You might have heard such a story--"
He paused, as if it were not worth while to continue, and turned to Rathbury, who was regarding him with amusement.
"Look here, Rathbury," he said. "Is it possible to get that box opened?"
"It'll have to be opened," answered Rathbury, rising. "It's got to be opened. It probably contains the clue we want. I'm going to ask Mr. Myerst here to go with me just now to take the first steps about having it opened. I shall have to get an order. We may get the matter through today, but at any rate we'll have it done tomorrow morning."
"Can you arrange for me to be present when that comes off?" asked Spargo. "You can--certain? That's all right, Rathbury. Now I'm off, and you'll ring me up or come round if you hear anything, and I'll do the same by you."
And without further word, Spargo went quickly away, and just as quickly returned to the Watchman office. There the assistant who had been told off to wait upon his orders during this new crusade met him with a business card.
"This gentleman came in to see you about an hour ago, Mr. Spargo," he said. "He thinks he can tell you something about the Marbury affair, and he said that as he couldn't wait, perhaps you'd step round to his place when you came in."
Spargo took the card and read:
MR. JAMES CRIEDIR, DEALER IN PHILATELIC RARITIES, 2,021, STRAND.
Spargo put the card in his waistcoat pocket and went out again, wondering why Mr. James Criedir could not, would not, or did not call himself a dealer in rare postage stamps, and so use plain English. He went up Fleet Street and soon found the shop indicated on the card, and his first glance at its exterior showed that whatever business might have been done by Mr. Criedir in the past at that establishment there was to be none done there in the future by him, for there were newly-printed bills in the window announcing that the place was to let. And inside he found a short, portly, elderly man who was superintending the packing-up and removal of the last of his stock. He turned a bright, enquiring eye on the journalist.
"Mr. Criedir?" said Spargo.
"The same, sir," answered the philatelist. "You are--?"
"Mr. Spargo, of the Watchman. You called on me."
Mr. Criedir opened the door of a tiny apartment at the rear of the very little shop and motioned his caller to enter. He followed him in and carefully closed the door.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Spargo," he said genially. "Take a seat, sir--I'm all in confusion here--giving up business, you see. Yes, I called on you. I think, having read the Watchman account of that Marbury affair, and having seen the murdered man's photograph in your columns, that I can give you a bit of information."
"Material?" asked Spargo, tersely.
Mr. Criedir cocked one of his bright eyes at his visitor. He coughed drily.
"That's for you to decide--when you've heard it," he said. "I should say, considering everything, that it was material. Well, it's this--I kept open until yesterday--everything as usual, you know--stock in the window and so on--so that anybody who was passing would naturally have thought that the business was going on, though as a matter of fact, I'm retiring--retired," added Mr. Criedir with a laugh, "last night. Now--but won't you take down what I've got to tell you?"
"I am taking it down," answered Spargo. "Every word. In my head."
Mr. Criedir laughed and rubbed his hands.
"Oh!" he said. "Ah, well, in my young days journalists used to pull out pencil and notebook at the first opportunity. But you modern young men--"
"Just so," agreed Spargo. "This information, now?"
"Well," said Mr. Criedir, "we'll go on then. Yesterday afternoon the man described as Marbury came into my shop. He--"
"What time--exact time?" asked Spargo.
"Two--to the very minute by St. Clement Danes clock," answered Mr. Criedir. "I'd swear twenty affidavits on that point. He was precisely as you've described him--dress, everything--I tell you I knew his photo as soon as I saw it. He was carrying a little box--"
"What sort of box?" said Spargo.
"A queer, old-fashioned, much-worn leather box--a very miniature trunk, in fact," replied Mr. Criedir. "About a foot square; the sort of thing you never see nowadays. It was very much worn; it attracted me for that very reason. He set it on the counter and looked at me. 'You're a dealer in stamps--rare stamps?' he said. 'I am,' I replied. 'I've something here I'd like to show you,' he said, unlocking the box. 'It's--'"
"Stop a bit," said Spargo. "Where did he take the key from with which he unlocked the box?"
"It was one of several which he carried on a split ring, and he took the bunch out of his left-hand trousers pocket," replied Mr. Criedir. "Oh, I keep my eyes open, young gentleman! Well--he opened his box. It seemed to me to be full of papers--at any rate there were a lot of legal-looking documents on the top, tied up with red tape. To show you how I notice things I saw that the papers were stained with age, and that the red tape was faded to a mere washed-out pink."
"Good--good!" murmured Spargo. "Excellent! Proceed, sir,''
"He put his hand under the topmost papers and drew out an envelope," continued Mr. Criedir. "From the envelope he produced an exceedingly rare, exceedingly valuable set of Colonial stamps--the very-first ever issued. 'I've just come from Australia,' he said. 'I promised a young friend of mine out there to sell these stamps for him in London, and as I was passing this way I caught sight of your shop. Will you buy 'em, and how much will you give for 'em?'"
"Prompt," muttered Spargo.
"He seemed to me the sort of man who doesn't waste words," agreed Mr. Criedir. "Well, there was no doubt about the stamps, nor about their great value. But I had to explain to him that I was retiring from business that very day, and did not wish to enter into even a single deal, and that, therefore, I couldn't do anything. 'No matter,' he says, 'I daresay there are lots of men in your line of trade--perhaps you can recommend me to a good firm?' 'I could recommend you to a dozen extra-good firms,' I answered. 'But I can do better for you. I'll give you the name and address of a private buyer who, I haven't the least doubt, will be very glad to buy that set from you and will give you a big price.' 'Write it down,' he says, 'and thank you for your trouble.' So I gave him a bit of advice as to the price he ought to get, and I wrote the name and address of the man I referred to on the back of one of my cards."
"Whose name and address?" asked Spargo.
"Mr. Nicholas Cardlestone, 2, Pilcox Buildings, Middle Temple Lane," replied Mr. Criedir. "Mr. Cardlestone is one of the most enthusiastic and accomplished philatelists in Europe. And I knew he didn't possess that set of stamps."
"I know Mr. Cardlestone," remarked Spargo. "It was at the foot of his stairs that Marbury was found murdered."
"Just so," said Mr. Criedir. "Which makes me think that he was going to see Mr. Cardlestone when he was set upon, murdered, and robbed."
Spargo looked fixedly at the retired stamp-dealer.
"What, going to see an elderly gentleman in his rooms in the Temple, to offer to sell him philatelic rarities at--past midnight?" he said. "I think--not much!"
"All right," replied Mr. Criedir. "You think and argue on modern lines--which are, of course, highly superior. But--how do you account for my having given Marbury Mr. Cardlestone's address and for his having been found dead--murdered--at the foot of Cardlestone's stairs a few hours later?"
"I don't account for it," said Spargo. "I'm trying to."
Mr. Criedir made no comment on this. He looked his visitor up and down for a moment; gathered some idea of his capabilities, and suddenly offered him a cigarette. Spargo accepted it with a laconic word of thanks, and smoked half-way through it before he spoke again.
"Yes," he said. "I'm trying to account. And I shall account. And I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Criedir, for what you've told me. Now. then, may I ask you a question or two?"
"A thousand!" responded Mr. Criedir with great geniality.
"Very well. Did Marbury say he'd call on Cardlestone?"
"He did. Said he'd call as soon as he could--that day."
"Have you told Cardlestone what you've just told me?"
"I have. But not until an hour ago--on my way back from your office, in fact. I met him in Fleet Street and told him."
"Had he received a call from Marbury?"
"No! Never heard of or seen the man. At least, never heard of him until he heard of the murder. He told me he and his friend, Mr. Elphick, another philatelist, went to see the body, wondering if they could recognize it as any man they'd ever known, but they couldn't."
"I know they did," said Spargo. "I saw 'em at the mortuary. Um! Well--one more question. When Marbury left you, did he put those stamps in his box again, as before?"
"No," replied Mr. Criedir. "He put them in his right-hand breast pocket, and he locked up his old box, and went off swinging it in his left hand."
Spargo went away down Fleet Street, seeing nobody. He muttered to himself, and he was still muttering when he got into his room at the office. And what he muttered was the same thing, repeated over and over again:
"Six hours--six hours--six hours! Those six hours!"
Next morning the Watchman came out with four leaded columns of up-to-date news about the Marbury Case, and right across the top of the four ran a heavy double line of great capitals, black and staring:--
WHO SAW JOHN MARBURY BETWEEN 3.15 P.M. AND 9.15 P.M. ON THE DAY PRECEDING HIS MURDER?