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It seemed to Spargo as he sat listening to the proceedings at the adjourned inquest next day that the whole story of what was now world-famous as the Middle Temple Murder Case was being reiterated before him for the thousandth time. There was not a detail of the story with which he had not become familiar to fulness. The first proceeding before the coroner had been of a merely formal nature; these were thorough and exhaustive; the representative of the Crown and twelve good men and true of the City of London were there to hear and to find out and to arrive at a conclusion as to how the man known as John Marbury came by his death. And although he knew all about it, Spargo found himself tabulating the evidence in a professional manner, and noting how each successive witness contributed, as it were, a chapter to the story. The story itself ran quite easily, naturally, consecutively--you could make it in sections. And Spargo, sitting merely to listen, made them:
1. The Temple porter and Constable Driscoll proved the finding of the body.
2. The police surgeon testified as to the cause of death--the man had been struck down from behind by a blow, a terrible blow--from some heavy instrument, and had died immediately.
3. The police and the mortuary officials proved that when the body was examined nothing was found in the clothing but the now famous scrap of grey paper.
4. Rathbury proved that by means of the dead man's new fashionable cloth cap, bought at Fiskie's well-known shop in the West-End, he traced Marbury to the Anglo-Orient Hotel in the Waterloo District.
5. Mr. and Mrs. Walters gave evidence of the arrival of Marbury at the Anglo-Orient Hotel, and of his doings while he was in and about there.
6. The purser of the ss. Wambarino proved that Marbury sailed from Melbourne to Southampton on that ship, excited no remark, behaved himself like any other well-regulated passenger, and left the Wambarino at Southampton early in the morning of what was to be the last day of his life in just the ordinary manner.
7. Mr. Criedir gave evidence of his rencontre with Marbury in the matter of the stamps.
8. Mr. Myerst told of Marbury's visit to the Safe Deposit, and further proved that the box which he placed there proved, on official examination, to be empty.
9. William Webster re-told the story of his encounter with Marbury in one of the vestibules of the House of Commons, and of his witnessing the meeting between him and the gentleman whom he (Webster) now knew to be Mr. Aylmore, a Member of Parliament.
All this led up to the appearance of Mr. Aylmore, M.P., in the witness-box. And Spargo knew and felt that it was that appearance for which the crowded court was waiting. Thanks to his own vivid and realistic specials in the Watchman, everybody there had already become well and thoroughly acquainted with the mass of evidence represented by the nine witnesses who had been in the box before Mr. Aylmore entered it. They were familiar, too, with the facts which Mr. Aylmore had permitted Spargo to print after the interview at the club, which Ronald Breton arranged. Why, then, the extraordinary interest which the Member of Parliament's appearance aroused? For everybody was extraordinarily interested; from the Coroner downwards to the last man who had managed to squeeze himself into the last available inch of the public gallery, all who were there wanted to hear and see the man who met Marbury under such dramatic circumstances, and who went to his hotel with him, hobnobbed with him, gave him advice, walked out of the hotel with him for a stroll from which Marbury never returned. Spargo knew well why the interest was so keen--everybody knew that Aylmore was the only man who could tell the court anything really pertinent about Marbury; who he was, what he was after; what his life had been.
He looked round the court as the Member of Parliament entered the witness-box--a tall, handsome, perfectly-groomed man, whose beard was only slightly tinged with grey, whose figure was as erect as a well-drilled soldier's, who carried about him an air of conscious power. Aylmore's two daughters sat at a little distance away, opposite Spargo, with Ronald Breton in attendance upon them; Spargo had encountered their glance as they entered the court, and they had given him a friendly nod and smile. He had watched them from time to time; it was plain to him that they regarded the whole affair as a novel sort of entertainment; they might have been idlers in some Eastern bazaar, listening to the unfolding of many tales from the professional tale-tellers. Now, as their father entered the box, Spargo looked at them again; he saw nothing more than a little heightening of colour in their cheeks, a little brightening of their eyes.
"All that they feel," he thought, "is a bit of extra excitement at the idea that their father is mixed up in this delightful mystery. Um! Well--now how much is he mixed up?"
And he turned to the witness-box and from that moment never took his eyes off the man who now stood in it. For Spargo had ideas about the witness which he was anxious to develop.
The folk who expected something immediately sensational in Mr. Aylmore's evidence were disappointed. Aylmore, having been sworn, and asked a question or two by the Coroner, requested permission to tell, in his own way, what he knew of the dead man and of this sad affair; and having received that permission, he went on in a calm, unimpassioned manner to repeat precisely what he had told Spargo. It sounded a very plain, ordinary story. He had known Marbury many years ago. He had lost sight of him for--oh, quite twenty years. He had met him accidentally in one of the vestibules of the House of Commons on the evening preceding the murder. Marbury had asked his advice. Having no particular duty, and willing to do an old acquaintance a good turn, he had gone back to the Anglo-Orient Hotel with Marbury, had remained awhile with him in his room, examining his Australian diamonds, and had afterwards gone out with him. He had given him the advice he wanted; they had strolled across Waterloo Bridge; shortly afterwards they had parted. That was all he knew.
The court, the public, Spargo, everybody there, knew all this already. It had been in print, under a big headline, in the Watchman. Aylmore had now told it again; having told it, he seemed to consider that his next step was to leave the box and the court, and after a perfunctory question or two from the Coroner and the foreman of the jury he made a motion as if to step down. But Spargo, who had been aware since the beginning of the enquiry of the presence of a certain eminent counsel who represented the Treasury, cocked his eye in that gentleman's direction, and was not surprised to see him rise in his well-known, apparently indifferent fashion, fix his monocle in his right eye, and glance at the tall figure in the witness-box.
"The fun is going to begin," muttered Spargo.
The Treasury representative looked from Aylmore to the Coroner and made a jerky bow; from the Coroner to Aylmore and straightened himself. He looked like a man who is going to ask indifferent questions about the state of the weather, or how Smith's wife was last time you heard of her, or if stocks are likely to rise or fall. But Spargo had heard this man before, and he knew many signs of his in voice and manner and glance.
"I want to ask you a few questions, Mr. Aylmore, about your acquaintanceship with the dead man. It was an acquaintanceship of some time ago?" began the suave, seemingly careless voice.
"A considerable time ago," answered Aylmore.
"How long--roughly speaking?"
"I should say from twenty to twenty-two or three years."
"Never saw him during that time until you met accidentally in the way you have described to us?"
"Ever heard from him?"
"Ever heard of him?"
"But when you met, you knew each other at once?"
"Well--almost at once."
"Almost at once. Then, I take it, you were very well known to each other twenty or twenty-two years ago?"
"We were--yes, well known to each other."
"I said we were acquaintances."
"Acquaintances. What was his name when you knew him at that time?"
"His name? It was--Marbury."
"Marbury--the same name. Where did you know him?"
"I--oh, here in London."
"What was he?"
"Do you mean--what was his occupation?"
"What was his occupation?"
"I believe he was concerned in financial matters."
"Concerned in financial matters. Had you dealings with him?"
"Well, yes--on occasions."
"What was his business address in London?"
"I can't remember that."
"What was his private address?"
"That I never knew."
"Where did you transact your business with him?"
"Well, we met, now and then."
"Where? What place, office, resort?"
"I can't remember particular places. Sometimes--in the City."
"In the City. Where in the City? Mansion House, or Lombard Street, or St. Paul's Churchyard, or the Old Bailey, or where?"
"I have recollections of meeting him outside the Stock Exchange."
"Oh! Was he a member of that institution?"
"Not that I know of."
"What were the dealings that you had with him?"
"Financial dealings--small ones."
"How long did your acquaintanceship with him last--what period did it extend over?"
"I should say about six months to nine months."
"Certainly no more."
"It was quite a slight acquaintanceship, then?"
"And yet, after losing sight of this merely slight acquaintance for over twenty years, you, on meeting him, take great interest in him?"
"Well, I was willing to do him a good turn, I was interested in what he told me the other evening."
"I see. Now you will not object to my asking you a personal question or two. You are a public man, and the facts about the lives of public men are more or less public property. You are represented in this work of popular reference as coming to this country in 1902, from Argentina, where you made a considerable fortune. You have told us, however, that you were in London, acquainted with Marbury, about the years, say 1890 to 1892. Did you then leave England soon after knowing Marbury?"
"I did. I left England in 1891 or 1892--I am not sure which."
"We are wanting to be very sure about this matter, Mr. Aylmore. We want to solve the important question--who is, who was John Marbury, and how did he come by his death? You seem to be the only available person who knows anything about him. What was your business before you left England?"
"I was interested in financial affairs."
"Like Marbury. Where did you carry on your business?"
"In London, of course."
"At what address?"
For some moments Aylmore had been growing more and more restive. His brow had flushed; his moustache had begun to twitch. And now he squared his shoulders and faced his questioner defiantly.
"I resent these questions about my private affairs!" he snapped out.
"Possibly. But I must put them. I repeat my last question."
"And I refuse to answer it."
"Then I ask you another. Where did you live in London at the time you are telling us of, when you knew John Marbury?"
"I refuse to answer that question also!"
The Treasury Counsel sat down and looked at the Coroner.
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