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It had been apparent to Spargo, from the moment of his entering the cottage, that the two old men were suffering badly from shock and fright: Cardlestone still sat in his corner shivering and trembling; he looked incapable of explaining anything; Elphick was scarcely more fitted to speak. And when Breton issued his peremptory invitation to his guardian to tell the truth, Spargo intervened.
"Far better leave him alone, Breton," he said in a low voice. "Don't you see the old chap's done up? They're both done up. We don't know what they've gone through with this fellow before we came, and it's certain they've had no sleep. Leave it all till later--after all, we've found them and we've found him." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in Myerst's direction, and Breton involuntarily followed the movement. He caught the prisoner's eye, and Myerst laughed.
"I daresay you two young men think yourselves very clever," he said sneeringly. "Don't you, now?"
"We've been clever enough to catch you, anyway," retorted Breton. "And now we've got you we'll keep you till the police can relieve us of you."
"Oh!" said Myerst, with another sneering laugh. "And on what charge do you propose to hand me over to the police? It strikes me you'll have some difficulty in formulating one, Mr. Breton."
"Well see about that later," said Breton. "You've extorted money by menaces from these gentlemen, at any rate."
"Have I? How do you know they didn't entrust me with these cheques as their agent?" exclaimed Myerst. "Answer me that! Or, rather, let them answer if they dare. Here you, Cardlestone, you Elphick--didn't you give me these cheques as your agent? Speak up now, and quick!"
Spargo, watching the two old men, saw them both quiver at the sound of Myerst's voice; Cardlestone indeed, began to whimper softly.
"Look here, Breton," he said, whispering, "this scoundrel's got some hold on these two old chaps--they're frightened to death of him. Leave them alone: it would be best for them if they could get some rest. Hold your tongue, you!" he added aloud, turning to Myerst. "When we want you to speak we'll tell you."
But Myerst laughed again.
"All very high and mighty, Mr. Spargo of the Watchman!" he sneered. "You're another of the cock-sure lot. And you're very clever, but not clever enough. Now, look here! Supposing--"
Spargo turned his back on him. He went over to old Cardlestone and felt his hands. And he turned to Breton with a look of concern.
"I say!" he exclaimed. "He's more than frightened--he's ill! What's to be done?"
"I asked the police to bring a doctor along with them," answered Breton. "In the meantime, let's put him to bed--there are beds in that inner room. We'll get him to bed and give him something hot to drink--that's all I can think of for the present."
Between them they managed to get Cardlestone to his bed, and Spargo, with a happy thought, boiled water on the rusty stove and put hot bottles to his feet. When that was done they persuaded Elphick to lie down in the inner room. Presently both old men fell asleep, and then Breton and Spargo suddenly realized that they themselves were hungry and wet and weary.
"There ought to be food in the cupboard," said Breton, beginning to rummage. "They've generally had a good stock of tinned things. Here we are, Spargo--these are tongues and sardines. Make some hot coffee while I open one of these tins."
The prisoner watched the preparations for a rough and ready breakfast with eyes that eventually began to glisten.
"I may remind you that I'm hungry, too," he said as Spargo set the coffee on the table. "And you've no right to starve me, even if you've the physical ability to keep me tied up. Give me something to eat, if you please."
"You shan't starve," said Breton, carelessly. He cut an ample supply of bread and meat, filled a cup with coffee and placed cup and plate before Myerst. "Untie his right arm, Spargo," he continued. "I think we can give him that liberty. We've got his revolver, anyhow."
For a while the three men ate and drank in silence. At last Myerst pushed his plate away. He looked scrutinizingly at his two captors. "Look here!" he said. "You think you know a lot about all this affair, Spargo, but there's only one person who knows all about it. That's me!"
"We're taking that for granted," said Spargo. "We guessed as much when we found you here. You'll have ample opportunity for explanation, you know, later on."
"I'll explain now, if you care to hear," said Myerst with another of his cynical laughs. "And if I do, I'll tell you the truth. I know you've got an idea in your heads that isn't favourable to me, but you're utterly wrong, whatever you may think. Look here!--I'll make you a fair offer. There are some cigars in my case there--give me one, and mix me a drink of that whisky--a good 'un--and I'll tell you what I know about this matter. Come on!--anything's better than sitting here doing nothing."
The two young men looked at each other. Then Breton nodded. "Let him talk if he likes," he said. "We're not bound to believe him. And we may hear something that's true. Give him his cigar and his drink."
Myerst took a stiff pull at the contents of the tumbler which Spargo presently set before him. He laughed as he inhaled the first fumes of his cigar.
"As it happens, you'll hear nothing but the truth," he observed. "Now that things are as they are, there's no reason why I shouldn't tell the truth. The fact is, I've nothing to fear. You can't give me in charge, for it so happens that I've got a power of attorney from these two old chaps inside there to act for them in regard to the money they entrusted me with. It's in an inside pocket of that letter-case, and if you look at it, Breton, you'll see it's in order. I'm not even going to dare you to interfere with or destroy it--you're a barrister, and you'll respect the law. But that's a fact--and if anybody's got a case against anybody, I have against you two for assault and illegal detention. But I'm not a vindictive man, and----"
Breton took up Myerst's letter-case and examined its contents. And presently he turned to Spargo.
"He's right!" he whispered. "This is quite in order." He turned to Myerst. "All the same," he said, addressing him, "we shan't release you, because we believe you're concerned in the murder of John Marbury. We're justified in holding you on that account."
"All right, my young friend," said Myerst. "Have your own stupid way. But I said I'd tell you the plain truth. Well, the plain truth is that I know no more of the absolute murder of your father than I know of what is going on in Timbuctoo at this moment! I do not know who killed John Maitland. That's a fact! It may have been the old man in there who's already at his own last gasp, or it mayn't. I tell you I don't know--though, like you, Spargo, I've tried hard to find out. That's the truth--I do not know."
"You expect us to believe that?" exclaimed Breton incredulously.
"Believe it or not, as you like--it's the truth," answered Myerst. "Now, look here--I said nobody knew as much of this affair as I know, and that's true also. And here's the truth of what I know. The old man in that room, whom you know as Nicholas Cardlestone, is in reality Chamberlayne, the stockbroker, of Market Milcaster, whose name was so freely mentioned when your father was tried there. That's another fact!"
"How," asked Breton, sternly, "can you prove it? How do you know it?"
"Because," replied Myerst, with a cunning grin, "I helped to carry out his mock death and burial--I was a solicitor in those days, and my name was--something else. There were three of us at it: Chamberlayne's nephew; a doctor of no reputation; and myself. We carried it out very cleverly, and Chamberlayne gave us five thousand pounds apiece for our trouble. It was not the first time that I had helped him and been well paid for my help. The first time was in connection with the Cloudhampton Hearth and Home Mutual Benefit Society affair--Aylmore, or Ainsworth, was as innocent as a child in that!--Chamberlayne was the man at the back. But, unfortunately, Chamberlayne didn't profit--he lost all he got by it, pretty quick. That was why be transferred his abilities to Market Milcaster."
"You can prove all this, I suppose?" remarked Spargo.
"Every word--every letter! But about the Market Milcaster affair: Your father, Breton, was right in what he said about Chamberlayne having all the money that was got from the bank. He had--and he engineered that mock death and funeral so that he could disappear, and he paid us who helped him generously, as I've told you. The thing couldn't have been better done. When it was done, the nephew disappeared; the doctor disappeared; Chamberlayne disappeared. I had bad luck--to tell you the truth, I was struck off the rolls for a technical offence. So I changed my name and became Mr. Myerst, and eventually what I am now. And it was not until three years ago that I found Chamberlayne. I found him in this way: After I became secretary to the Safe Deposit Company, I took chambers in the Temple, above Cardlestone's. And I speedily found out who he was. Instead of going abroad, the old fox--though he was a comparatively young 'un, then!--had shaved off his beard, settled down in the Temple and given himself up to his two hobbies, collecting curiosities and stamps. There he'd lived quietly all these years, and nobody had ever recognized or suspected him. Indeed, I don't see how they could; he lived such a quiet, secluded life, with his collections, his old port, and his little whims and fads. But--I knew him!"
"And you doubtless profited by your recognition," suggested Breton.
"I certainly did. He was glad to pay me a nice sum every quarter to hold my tongue," replied Myerst, "and I was glad to take it and, naturally, I gained a considerable knowledge of him. He had only one friend--Mr. Elphick, in there. Now, I'll you about him."
"Only if you are going to speak respectfully of him," said Breton sternly.
"I've no reason to do otherwise. Elphick is the man who ought to have married your mother. When things turned out as they did, Elphick took you and brought you up as he has done, so that you should never know of your father's disgrace. Elphick never knew until last night that Cardlestone is Chamberlayne. Even the biggest scoundrels have friends--Elphick's very fond of Cardlestone. He----"
Spargo turned sharply on Myerst.
"You say Elphick didn't know until last night!" he exclaimed. "Why, then, this running away? What were they running from?"
"I have no more notion than you have, Spargo," replied Myerst. "I tell you one or other of them knows something that I don't. Elphick, I gather, took fright from you, and went to Cardlestone--then they both vanished. It may be that Cardlestone did kill Maitland--I don't know. But I'll tell you what I know about the actual murder--for I do know a good deal about it, though, as I say, I don't know who killed Maitland. Now, first, you know all that about Maitland's having papers and valuables and gold on him? Very well--I've got all that. The whole lot is locked up--safely--and I'm willing to hand it over to you, Breton, when we go back to town, and the necessary proof is given--as it will be--that you're Maitland's son."
Myerst paused to see the effect of this announcement, and laughed when he saw the blank astonishment which stole over his hearers' faces.
"And still more," he continued, "I've got all the contents of that leather box which Maitland deposited with me--that's safely locked up, too, and at your disposal. I took possession of that the day after the murder. Then, for purposes of my own, I went to Scotland Yard, as Spargo there is aware. You see, I was playing a game--and it required some ingenuity."
"A game!" exclaimed Breton. "Good heavens--what game?"
"I never knew until I had possession of all these things that Marbury was Maitland of Market Milcaster," answered Myerst. "When I did know then I began to put things together and to pursue my own line, independent of everybody. I tell you I had all Maitland's papers and possessions, by that time--except one thing. That packet of Australian stamps. And--I found out that those stamps were in the hands of--Cardlestone!"
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