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Spargo dropped his pen on the desk before him with a sharp clatter that made Mrs. Gutch jump. A steady devotion to the bottle had made her nerves to be none of the strongest, and she looked at the startler of them with angry malevolence.
"Don't do that again, young man!" she exclaimed sharply. "I can't a-bear to be jumped out of my skin, and it's bad manners. I observed that the gentleman's name was Elphick."
Spargo contrived to get in a glance at his proprietor and his editor--a glance which came near to being a wink.
"Just so--Elphick," he said. "A law gentleman I think you said, Mrs. Gutch?"
"I said," answered Mrs. Gutch, "as how he looked like a lawyer gentleman. And since you're so particular, young man, though I wasn't addressing you but your principals, he was a lawyer gentleman. One of the sort that wears wigs and gowns--ain't I seen his picture in Jane Baylis's room at the boarding-house where you saw her this morning?"
"Elderly man?" asked Spargo.
"Elderly he will be now," replied the informant; "but when he took the boy away he was a middle-aged man. About his age," she added, pointing to the editor in a fashion which made that worthy man wince and the proprietor desire to laugh unconsumedly; "and not so very unlike him neither, being one as had no hair on his face."
"Ah!" said Spargo. "And where did this Mr. Elphick take the boy, Mrs. Gutch?"
But Mrs. Gutch shook her head.
"Ain't no idea," she said. "He took him. Then, as I told you, Maitland came, and Jane Baylis told him that the boy was dead. And after that she never even told me anything about the boy. She kept a tight tongue. Once or twice I asked her, and she says, 'Never you mind,' she says; 'he's all right for life, if he lives to be as old as Methusalem.' And she never said more, and I never said more. But," continued Mrs. Gutch, whose pocket-flask was empty, and who began to wipe tears away, "she's treated me hard has Jane Baylis, never allowing me a little comfort such as a lady of my age should have, and when I hears the two of you a-talking this morning the other side of that privet hedge, thinks I, 'Now's the time to have my knife into you, my fine madam!' And I hope I done it."
Spargo looked at the editor and the proprietor, nodding his head slightly. He meant them to understand that he had got all he wanted from Mother Gutch.
"What are you going to do, Mrs. Gutch, when you leave here?" he asked. "You shall be driven straight back to Bayswater, if you like."
"Which I shall be obliged for, young man," said Mrs. Gutch, "and likewise for the first week of the annuity, and will call every Saturday for the same at eleven punctual, or can be posted to me on a Friday, whichever is agreeable to you gentlemen. And having my first week in my purse, and being driven to Bayswater, I shall take my boxes and go to a friend of mine where I shall be hearty welcome, shaking the dust of my feet off against Jane Baylis and where I've been living with her."
"Yes, but, Mrs. Gutch," said Spargo, with some anxiety, "if you go back there tonight, you'll be very careful not to tell Miss Baylis that you've been here and told us all this?"
Mrs. Gutch rose, dignified and composed.
"Young man," she said, "you mean well, but you ain't used to dealing with ladies. I can keep my tongue as still as anybody when I like. I wouldn't tell Jane Baylis my affairs--my new affairs, gentlemen, thanks to you--not for two annuities, paid twice a week!"
"Take Mrs. Gutch downstairs, Spargo, and see her all right, and then come to my room," said the editor. "And don't you forget, Mrs. Gutch--keep a quiet tongue in your head--no more talk--or there'll be no annuities on Saturday mornings."
So Spargo took Mother Gutch to the cashier's department and paid her her first week's money, and he got her a taxi-cab, and paid for it, and saw her depart, and then he went to the editor's room, strangely thoughtful. The editor and the proprietor were talking, but they stopped when Spargo entered and looked at him eagerly. "I think we've done it," said Spargo quietly.
"What, precisely, have we found out?" asked the editor.
"A great deal more than I'd anticipated," answered Spargo, "and I don't know what fields it doesn't open out. If you look back, you'll remember that the only thing found on Marbury's body was a scrap of grey paper on which was a name and address--Ronald Breton, King's Bench Walk."
"Breton is a young barrister. Also he writes a bit--I have accepted two or three articles of his for our literary page."
"Further, he is engaged to Miss Aylmore, the eldest daughter of Aylmore, the Member of Parliament who has been charged at Bow Street today with the murder of Marbury."
"I know. Well, what then, Spargo?"
"But the most important matter," continued Spargo, speaking very deliberately, "is this--that is, taking that old woman's statement to be true, as I personally believe it is--that Breton, as he has told me himself (I have seen a good deal of him) was brought up by a guardian. That guardian is Mr. Septimus Elphick, the barrister."
The proprietor and the editor looked at each other. Their faces wore the expression of men thinking on the same lines and arriving at the same conclusion. And the proprietor suddenly turned on Spargo with a sharp interrogation: "You think then----"
"I think that Mr. Septimus Elphick is the Elphick, and that Breton is the young Maitland of whom Mrs. Gutch has been talking," he answered.
The editor got up, thrust his hands in his pockets, and began to pace the room.
"If that's so," he said, "if that's so, the mystery deepens. What do you propose to do, Spargo?"
"I think," said Spargo, slowly, "I think that without telling him anything of what we have learnt, I should like to see young Breton and get an introduction from him to Mr. Elphick. I can make a good excuse for wanting an interview with him. If you will leave it in my hands--"
"Yes, yes!" said the proprietor, waving a hand. "Leave it entirely in Spargo's hands."
"Keep me informed," said the editor. "Do what you think. It strikes me you're on the track."
Spargo left their presence, and going back to his own room, still faintly redolent of the personality of Mrs. Gutch, got hold of the reporter who had been present at Bow Street when Aylmore was brought up that morning. There was nothing new; the authorities had merely asked for another remand. So far as the reporter knew, Aylmore had said nothing fresh to anybody.
Spargo went round to the Temple and up to Ronald Breton's chambers. He found the young barrister just preparing to leave, and looking unusually grave and thoughtful. At sight of Spargo he turned back from his outer door, beckoned the journalist to follow him, and led him into an inner room.
"I say, Spargo!" he said, as he motioned his visitor to take a chair. "This is becoming something more than serious. You know what you told me to do yesterday as regards Aylmore?"
"To get him to tell all?--Yes," said Spargo.
Breton shook his head.
"Stratton--his solicitor, you know--and I saw him this morning before the police-court proceedings," he continued. "I told him of my talk with you; I even went as far as to tell him that his daughters had been to the Watchman office. Stratton and I both begged him to take your advice and tell all, everything, no matter at what cost to his private feelings. We pointed out to him the serious nature of the evidence against him; how he had damaged himself by not telling the whole truth at once; how he had certainly done a great deal to excite suspicion against himself; how, as the evidence stands at present, any jury could scarcely do less than convict him. And it was all no good, Spargo!"
"He won't say anything?"
"He'll say no more. He was adamant. 'I told the entire truth in respect to my dealings with Marbury on the night he met his death at the inquest,' he said, over and over again, 'and I shall say nothing further on any consideration. If the law likes to hang an innocent man on such evidence as that, let it!' And he persisted in that until we left him. Spargo, I don't know what's to be done."
"And nothing happened at the police-court?"
"Nothing--another remand. Stratton and I saw Aylmore again before he was removed. He left us with a sort of sardonic remark--'If you all want to prove me innocent,' he said, 'find the guilty man.'"
"Well, there was a tremendous lot of common sense in that," said Spargo.
"Yes, of course, but how, how, how is it going to be done?" exclaimed Breton. "Are you any nearer--is Rathbury any nearer? Is there the slightest clue that will fasten the guilt on anybody else?"
Spargo gave no answer to these questions. He remained silent a while, apparently thinking.
"Was Rathbury in court?" he suddenly asked.
"He was," replied Breton. "He was there with two or three other men who I suppose were detectives, and seemed to be greatly interested in Aylmore."
"If I don't see Rathbury tonight I'll see him in the morning," said Spargo. He rose as if to go, but after lingering a moment, sat down again. "Look here," he continued, "I don't know how this thing stands in law, but would it be a very weak case against Aylmore if the prosecution couldn't show some motive for his killing Marbury?"
"There's no necessity to prove motive in murder," he said. "But I'll tell you what, Spargo--if the prosecution can show that Aylmore had a motive for getting rid of Marbury, if they could prove that it was to Aylmore's advantage to silence him--why, then, I don't think he's a chance."
"I see. But so far no motive, no reason for his killing Marbury has been shown."
"I know of none."
Spargo rose and moved to the door.
"Well, I'm off," he said. Then, as if he suddenly recollected something, he turned back. "Oh, by the by," he said, "isn't your guardian, Mr. Elphick, a big authority on philately?"
"One of the biggest. Awful enthusiast."
"Do you think he'd tell me a bit about those Australian stamps which Marbury showed to Criedir, the dealer?"
"Certain, he would--delighted. Here"--and Breton scribbled a few words on a card--"there's his address and a word from me. I'll tell you when you can always find him in, five nights out of seven--at nine o'clock, after he's dined. I'd go with you tonight, but I must go to Aylmore's. The two girls are in terrible trouble." "Give them a message from me," said Spargo as they went out together. "Tell them to keep up their hearts and their courage."
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