Chapter Five. The Two Letters

Once outside the shop, Lauriston turned sharply on the detective.

"Look here!" he said. "I wish you'd just tell me the truth. Am I suspected? Am I--in some way or other--in custody?"

Ayscough laughed quietly, wagging his head.

"Certainly not in custody," he answered. "And as to the other--well, you know, Mr. Lauriston, supposing we put it in this way?--suppose you'd been me, and I'd been you, half-an-hour ago? What would you have thought if you'd found me in the situation and under the circumstances in which I found you? Come, now!"

"Yes," replied Lauriston, after a moment's reflection. "I suppose it's natural that you should suspect me--finding me there, alone with the old man. But--"

"It's not so much suspicion in a case of this sort, as a wish to satisfy one's self," interrupted the detective. "You seem a gentleman-like young fellow, and you may be all right. I want to know that you are--I'd like to know that you are! It would be no satisfaction to me to fasten this business on you, I can assure you. And if you like to tell me about yourself, and how you came to go to Multenius's--why, it would be as well."

"There's not much to tell," answered Lauriston. "I came from Scotland to London, two years ago or thereabouts, to earn my living by writing. I'd a bit of money when I came--I've lived on it till now. I've just begun to earn something. I've been expecting a cheque for some work for these last ten or twelve days, but I was running short last week--so I went to that place to pawn my watch--I saw the young lady there. As my cheque hadn't arrived today, I went there again to pawn those rings I told you about and showed you. And--that's all. Except this--I was advised to go to Multenius's by a relation of theirs, Mr. Rubinstein, who lodges where I do. He knows me."

"Oh, Melky Rubinstein!" said Ayscough. "I know Melky--sharp chap he is. He sold me this pin I'm wearing. Well, that seems quite a straightforward tale, Mr. Lauriston. I've no doubt all will be satisfactory. You've friends in London, of course?"

"No--none," replied Lauriston. "And scarcely an acquaintance. I've kept to myself--working hard: I've had no time--nor inclination, either--to make friends. Here's the house where I lodge--it's not much of a place, but come in."

They had reached Mrs. Flitwick's house by that time, and Mrs. Flitwick herself was in the narrow, shabby passage as they entered. She immediately produced two letters.

"Here's two letters for you, Mr. Lauriston," she said, with a sharp glance at Ayscough. "One of 'em's a registered--I did sign for it. So I kept 'em myself, instead of sending 'em up to your room."

"Thank you, Mrs. Flitwick," said Lauriston. He took the letters, saw that the writing on the registered envelope was his old friend John Purdie's, and that the other letter was from the magazine to which he had sold his stories, and turned to Ayscough. "Come up to my room," he continued. "We'll talk up there."

Ayscough followed him up to his room--once inside, and the door shut, Lauriston tore open the letter from the magazine, and extracted a printed form and a cheque for twenty guineas. He took one look at them and thrust them into the detective's hands.

"There!" he said, with a sigh of mingled relief and triumph. "There's a proof of the truth of one statement I made to you! That's the expected cheque I told you of. Excuse me while I look at the other letter."

Out of the registered letter came a bank-note--for twenty pounds--and a hastily scribbled note which Lauriston eagerly read. "Dear old Andie," it ran, "I've only just got your letter, for I've been from home for a fortnight, and had no letters sent on to me. Of course you'll make me your banker until your book's finished--and afterwards, too, if need be. Here's something to be going on with--but I'm coming to London in a day or two, as it happens, and will go into the matter--I'll call on you as soon as I arrive. Excuse this scrawl--post time. Always yours, John Purdie."

Lauriston thrust that letter, too, into Ayscough's hands.

"If I've no friends in London, there's proof of having one in my own country!" he exclaimed. "Ah!--if those letters had only come before I went off to Praed Street!"

"Just so!" agreed the detective, glancing the letters and their accompaniments over. "Well, I'm glad you're able to show me these, Mr. Lauriston, anyway. But now, about those rings--between you and me, I wish they hadn't been so much like those that were lying in that tray on the old man's table. It's an unfortunate coincidence!--because some folks might think, you know, that you'd just grabbed a couple of those as you left the place. Eh?"

"My rings have been in that trunk for two or three years," asserted Lauriston. "They were my mother's, and I believe she'd had them for many a year before she died. They may resemble those that we saw in that tray, but--"

"Well, I suppose you can bring somebody--if necessary, that is--to prove that they were your mother's, can't you?" asked Ayscough. "That'll make matters all right--on that point. And as for the rest--it's very lucky you know Melky Rubinstein, and that the girl knew you as a customer. But, my faith!--I wish you'd caught a glimpse of somebody leaving that shop! For there's no doubt the old man met his death by violence."

"I know nothing of it," said Lauriston, "I saw no one."

Just then Melky came in. He glanced at the cheque and the bank-notes lying on the table, and nodded to Lauriston as if he understood their presence. Then he turned to Ayscough, almost anxiously.

"I say, Mr. Ayscough!" he said, deprecatingly. "You ain't going to be so unkind as to mix up this here young fellow in what's happened. S'elp me, Mr. Ayscough, I couldn't believe anything o' that sort about him, nohow-- nor would my cousin, Zillah, what you know well enough, neither; he's as quiet as a lamb, Mr. Ayscough, is Mr. Lauriston--ain't I known him, lodging here as he does, this many a month? I'll give my word for him, anyway, Mr. Ayscough! And you police gentlemen know me. Don't you now, Mr. Ayscough?"

"Very well indeed, my boy!" agreed the detective, heartily. "And I'll tell you what--I shall have to trouble Mr. Lauriston to go round with me to the station, just to give a formal account of what happened, and a bit of explanation, you know--I'm satisfied myself about him, and so, no doubt, will our people be, but you come with us, Melky, and say a word or two-- say you've known him for some time, d'ye see--it'll help."

"Anything to oblige a friend, Mr. Ayscough," said Melky. He motioned to Lauriston to put his money in his pocket. "Glad to see your letters turned up," he whispered as they went downstairs. "I say!--a word in your ear-- don't you tell these here police chaps any more than you need--I'll stand up for you."

The detective's report, a little questioning of Lauriston, and Melky's fervent protestations on Lauriston's behalf, served to satisfy the authorities at the police-station, and Lauriston was allowed to go-- admonished by the inspector that he'd be wanted at the inquest, as the most important witness. He went out into the street with Melky.

"Come and have a bit o' supper at Mrs. Goldmark's," suggested Melky. "I shall have my hands full tonight at the poor old man's, but I ain't had nothing since dinner."

Lauriston, however, excused himself. He wanted to go home and write letters--at once. But he promised to look round at the pawnshop later in the evening, to see if he could be of any use, and to give Melky a full account of his finding of the old pawnbroker.

"Ah!" remarked Melky, as they pushed at the door of the eating-house. "And ain't it going to be a nice job to find the man that scragged him?--I don't think! But I'm going to take a hand at that game, mister!--let alone the police."

Mrs. Goldmark was out. She had heard the news, said the waitress who was left in charge, and had gone round to do what she could for Miss Zillah. So Melky, deprived of the immediate opportunity of talk with Mrs. Goldmark, ordered his supper, and while he ate and drank, cogitated and reflected. And his thoughts ran chiefly on the platinum solitaire stud which he had carefully bestowed in his vest pocket.

It was Melky's firm belief--already--that the stud had been dropped in Daniel Multenius's back parlour by some person who had no business there-- in other words by the old man's assailant. And ever since he had found the stud, Melky had been wondering and speculating on his chances of finding its owner. Of one thing he was already certain: that the owner, whoever he was, was no ordinary person. Ordinary, everyday persons do not wear studs or tie-pins on chains made of platinum--the most valuable of all the metals. How came a solitaire stud, made of a metal far more valuable than gold, and designed and ornamented in a peculiar fashion, to be lying on the hearthrug of old Daniel Multenius's room? It was not to be believed that the old man had dropped it there--no, affirmed Melky to himself, with conviction, that bit of personal property had been dropped there, out of a loose shirt-cuff by some man who had called on Daniel not long before Andie Lauriston had gone in, and who for some mysterious reason had scragged the old fellow. And now the question was--who was that man?

"Got to find that out, somehow!" mused Melky. "Else that poor chap'll be in a nice fix--s'elp me, he will! And that 'ud never do!"

Melky, in spite of his keenness as a business man, and the fact that from boyhood he had had to fight the world by himself, had a peculiarly soft heart--he tended altogether to verge on the sentimental. He had watched Lauriston narrowly, and had developed a decided feeling for him--moreover, he now knew that his cousin Zillah, hitherto adamant to many admirers, had fallen in love with Lauriston: clearly, Lauriston must be saved. Melky knew police ways and methods, and he felt sure that whatever Ayscough, a good-natured man, might think, the superior authorities would view Lauriston's presence in the pawnshop with strong suspicion. Therefore--the real culprit must be found. And he, Melky Rubinstein--he must have a go at that game.

He finished his supper, thinking hard all the time he ate and drank; finally he approached the desk to pay his bill. The young woman whom Mrs. Goldmark had left in charge lifted the lid of the desk to get some change --and Melky's astonished eyes immediately fell on an object which lay on top of a little pile of papers. That object was the duplicate of the platinum solitaire which Melky had in his pocket. Without ceremony--being well known there--he at once picked it up.

"What's this bit of jewellery?" he demanded.

"That?" said the waitress, indifferently. "Oh, one of the girls picked it up the other day off a table where a stranger had been sitting--we think he'd dropped it. Mrs. Goldmark says it's valuable, so she put it away, in case he comes again. But we haven't seen him since."

Melky took a good look at the second stud. Then he put it back in the desk, picked up his change, and went away--in significant silence.