The Middle Temple Murder/Chapter 27
MR. ELPHICK'S CHAMBERS
Spargo went round again to the Temple that night at nine o'clock, asking himself over and over again two questions—the first, how much does Elphick know? the second, how much shall I tell him?
The old house in the Temple to which he repaired and in which many a generation of old fogies had lived since the days of Queen Anne, was full of stairs and passages, and as Spargo had forgotten to get the exact number of the set of chambers he wanted, he was obliged to wander about in what was a deserted building. So wandering, he suddenly heard steps, firm, decisive steps coming up a staircase which he himself had just climbed. He looked over the banisters down into the hollow beneath. And there, marching up resolutely, was the figure of a tall, veiled woman, and Spargo suddenly realized, with a sharp quickening of his pulses, that for the second time that day he was beneath one roof with Miss Baylis.
Spargo's mind acted quickly. Knowing what he now knew, from his extraordinary dealings with Mother Gutch, he had no doubt whatever that Miss Baylis had come to see Mr. Elphick—come, of course, to tell Mr. Elphick that he, Spargo, had visited her that morning, and that he was on the track of the Maitland secret history. He had never thought of it before, for he had been busily engaged since the departure of Mother Gutch; but, naturally, Miss Baylis and Mr. Elphick would keep in communication with each other. At any rate, here she was, and her destination was, surely, Elphick's chambers. And the question for him, Sparge, was—what to do?
What Spargo did was to remain in absolute silence, motionless, tense, where he was on the stair, and to trust to the chance that the woman did not look up. But Miss Baylis neither looked up nor down: she reached a landing, turned along a corridor with decision, and marched forward. A moment later Spargo heard a sharp double knock on a door: a moment after that he heard a door heavily shut; he knew then that Miss Baylis had sought and gained admittance—somewhere.
To find out precisely where that somewhere was drew Spargo down to the landing which Miss Baylis had just left. There was no one about—he had not, in fact, seen a soul since he entered the building. Accordingly he went along the corridor into which he had seen Miss Baylis turn. He knew that all the doors in that house were double ones, and that the outer oak in each was solid and substantial enough to be sound proof. Yet, as men will under such circumstances, he walked softly; he said to himself, smiling at the thought, that he would be sure to start if somebody suddenly opened a door on him. But no hand opened any door, and at last he came to the end of the corridor and found himself confronting a small board on which was painted in white letters on a black ground, Mr. Elphick's Chambers.
Having satisfied himself as to his exact whereabouts, Spargo drew back as quietly as he had come. There was a window half-way along the corridor from which, he had noticed as he came along, one could catch a glimpse of the Embankment and the Thames; to this he withdrew, and leaning on the sill looked out and considered matters. Should he go and—if he could gain admittance—beard these two conspirators? Should he wait until the woman came out and let her see that he was on the track? Should he hide again until she went, and then see Elphick alone?
In the end Spargo did none of these things immediately. He let things slide for the moment. He lighted a cigarette and stared at the river and the brown sails, and the buildings across on the Surrey side. Ten minutes went by—twenty minutes—nothing happened. Then, as half-past nine struck from all the neighbouring clocks, Spargo flung away a second cigarette, marched straight down the corridor and knocked boldly at Mr. Elphick's door.
Greatly to Spargo's surprise, the door was opened before there was any necessity to knock again. And there, calmly confronting him, a benevolent, yet somewhat deprecating expression on his spectacled and placid face, stood Mr. Elphick, a smoking cap on his head, a tasseled smoking jacket over his dress shirt, and a short pipe in his hand.
Spargo was taken aback: Mr. Elphick apparently was not. He held the door well open, and motioned the journalist to enter.
"Come in, Mr. Spargo," he said. "I was expecting you. Walk forward into my sitting-room."
Spargo, much astonished at this reception, passed through an ante-room into a handsomely furnished apartment full of books and pictures. In spite of the fact that it was still very little past midsummer there was a cheery fire in the grate, and on a table set near a roomy arm-chair was set such creature comforts as a spirit-case, a syphon, a tumbler, and a novel—from which things Spargo argued that Mr. Elphick had been taking his ease since his dinner. But in another armchair on the opposite side of the hearth was the forbidding figure of Miss Baylis, blacker, gloomier, more mysterious than ever. She neither spoke nor moved when Spargo entered: she did not even look at him. And Spargo stood staring at her until Mr. Elphick, having closed his doors, touched him on the elbow, and motioned him courteously to a seat.
"Yes, I was expecting you, Mr. Spargo," he said, as he resumed his own chair. "I have been expecting you at any time, ever since you took up your investigation of the Marbury affair, in some of the earlier stages of which you saw me, you will remember, at the mortuary. But since Miss Baylis told me, twenty minutes ago, that you had been to her this morning I felt sure that it would not be more than a few hours before you would come to me."
"Why, Mr. Elphick, should you suppose that I should come to you at all?" asked Sparge, now in full possession of his wits.
"Because I felt sure that you would leave no stone unturned, no corner unexplored," replied Mr. Elphick. "The curiosity of the modern pressman is insatiable."
"I have no curiosity, Mr. Elphick," he said. "I am charged by my paper to investigate the circumstances of the death of the man who was found in Middle Temple Lane, and, if possible, to track his murderer, and——"
Mr. Elphick laughed slightly and waved his hand.
"My good young gentleman!" he said. "You exaggerate your own importance. I don't approve of modern journalism nor of its methods. In your own case you have got hold of some absurd notion that the man John Marbury was in reality one John Maitland, once of Market Milcaster, and you have been trying to frighten Miss Baylis here into——"
Spargo suddenly rose from his chair. There was a certain temper in him which, when once roused, led him to straight hitting, and it was roused now. He looked the old barrister full in the face.
"Mr. Elphick," he said, "you are evidently unaware of all that I know. So I will tell you what I will do. I will go back to my office, and I will write down what I do know, and give the true and absolute proofs of what I know, and, if you will trouble yourself to read the Watchman tomorrow morning, then you, too, will know."
"Dear me—dear me!" said Mr. Elphick, banteringly. "We are so used to ultra-sensational stories from the Watchman that—but I am a curious and inquisitive old man, my good young sir, so perhaps you will tell me in a word what it is you do know, eh?"
Spargo reflected for a second. Then he bent forward across the table and looked the old barrister straight in the face.
"Yes," he said quietly. "I will tell you what I know beyond doubt. I know that the man murdered under the name of John Marbury was, without doubt, John Maitland, of Market Milcaster, and that Ronald Breton is his son, whom you took from that woman!"
If Spargo had desired a complete revenge for the cavalier fashion in which Mr. Elphick had treated it he could not have been afforded a more ample one than that offered to him by the old barrister's reception of this news. Mr. Elphick's face not only fell, but changed; his expression of almost sneering contempt was transformed to one clearly resembling abject terror; he dropped his pipe, fell back in his chair, recovered himself, gripped the chair's arms, and stared at Spargo as if the young man had suddenly announced to him that in another minute he must be led to instant execution. And Spargo, quick to see his advantage, followed it up.
"That is what I know, Mr. Elphick, and if I choose, all the world shall know it tomorrow morning!" he said firmly. "Ronald Breton is the son of the murdered man, and Ronald Breton is engaged to be married to the daughter of the man charged with the murder. Do you hear that? It is not matter of suspicion, or of idea, or of conjecture, it is fact—fact!"
Mr. Elphick slowly turned his face to Miss Baylis. He gasped out a few words.
Then Spargo, turning to the woman, saw that she, too, was white to the lips and as frightened as the man.
"I—didn't know!" she muttered. "He didn't tell me. He only told me this morning what—what I've told you."
Spargo picked up his hat.
"Good-night, Mr. Elphick," he said.
But before he could reach the door the old barrister had leapt from his chair and seized him with trembling hands. Spargo turned and looked at him. He knew then that for some reason or other he had given Mr. Septimus Elphick a thoroughly bad fright.
"Well?" he growled.
"My dear young gentleman!" implored Mr. Elphick. "Don't go! I'll—I'll do anything for you if you won't go away to print that. I'll—I'll give you a thousand pounds!"
Spargo shook him off.
"That's enough!" he snarled. "Now, I am off! What, you'd try to bribe me?"
Mr. Elphick wrung his hands.
"I didn't mean that—indeed I didn't!" he almost wailed. "I—I don't know what I meant. Stay, young gentleman, stay a little, and let us—let us talk. Let me have a word with you—as many words as you please. I implore you!"
Spargo made a fine pretence of hesitation.
"If I stay," he said, at last, "it will only be on the strict condition that you answer—and answer truly—whatever questions I like to ask you. Otherwise——"
He made another move to the door, and again Mr. Elphick laid beseeching hands on him.
"Stay!" he said. "I'll answer anything you like!"