The Middle Temple Murder/Chapter 34
THE WHIP HAND
Spargo, almost irritable from desire to get at close grips with the objects of his long journey, shook off Breton's hand with a growl of resentment.
"And how on earth can I waste time guessing?" he exclaimed. "Who is he?"
Breton laughed softly.
"Steady, Spargo, steady!" he said. "It's Myerst—the Safe Deposit man. Myerst!"
Spargo started as if something had bitten him.
"Myerst!" he almost shouted. "Myerst! Good Lord!—why did I never think of him? Myerst! Then——"
"I don't know why you should have thought of him," said Breton. "But—he's there."
Spargo took a step towards the cottage; Breton pulled him back.
"Wait!" he said. "We've got to discuss this. I'd better tell you what they're doing."
"What are they doing, then?" demanded Spargo impatiently.
"Well," answered Breton. "They're going through a quantity of papers. The two old gentlemen look very ill and very miserable. Myerst is evidently laying down the law to them in some fashion or other. I've formed a notion, Spargo."
"Myerst is in possession of whatever secret they have, and he's followed them down here to blackmail them. That's my notion."
Spargo thought awhile, pacing up and down the river bank.
"I daresay you're right," he said. "Now, what's to be done?"
Breton, too, considered matters.
"I wish," he said at last, "I wish we could get in there and overhear what's going on. But that's impossible—I know that cottage. The only thing we can do is this—we must catch Myerst unawares. He's here for no good. Look here!"
And reaching round to his hip-pocket Breton drew out a Browning revolver and wagged it in his hand with a smile.
"That's a useful thing to have, Spargo, " he remarked. "I slipped it into my pocket the other day, wondering why on earth I did it. Now it'll come in handy. For anything we know Myerst may be armed."
"Well?" said Spargo.
"Come up to the cottage. If things turn out as I think they will, Myerst, when he's got what he wants, will be off. Now, you shall get where I did just now, behind that bush, and I'll station myself in the doorway. You can report to me, and when Myerst comes out I'll cover him. Come on, Spargo; it's beginning to get light already."
Breton cautiously led the way along the river bank, making use of such cover as the willows and alders afforded. Together, he and Spargo made their way to the front of the cottage. Arrived at the door, Breton posted himself in the porch, motioning to Spargo to creep in behind the bushes and to look through the window. And Spargo noiselessly followed his directions and slightly parting the branches which concealed him looked in through the uncurtained glass.
The interior into which he looked was rough and comfortless in the extreme. There were the bare accessories of a moorland cottage; rough chairs and tables, plastered walls, a fishing rod or two piled in a corner; some food set out on a side table. At the table in the middle of the floor the three men sat. Cardlestone's face was in the shadow; Myerst had his back to the window; old Elphick bending over the table was laboriously writing with shaking fingers. And Spargo twisted his head round to his companion.
"Elphick," he said, "is writing a cheque. Myerst has another cheque in his hand. Be ready!—when he gets that second cheque I guess he'll be off."
Breton smiled grimly and nodded. A moment later Spargo whispered again.
"Look out, Breton! He's coming."
Breton drew back into the angle of the porch; Spargo quitted his protecting bush and took the other angle. The door opened. And they heard Myerst's voice, threatening, commanding in tone.
"Now, remember all I've said! And don't you forget—I've the whip hand of both of you—the whip hand!"
Then Myerst turned and stepped out into the grey light—to find himself confronted by an athletic young man who held the muzzle of an ugly revolver within two inches of the bridge of his nose and in a remarkably firm and steady grip. Another glance showed him the figure of a second business-like looking young man at his side, whose attitude showed a desire to grapple with him.
"Good-morning, Mr. Myerst," said Breton with cold and ironic politeness. "We are glad to meet you so unexpectedly. And—I must trouble you to put up your hands. Quick!"
Myerst made one hurried movement of his right hand towards his hip, but a sudden growl from Breton made him shift it just as quickly above his head, whither the left followed it. Breton laughed softly.
"That's wise, Mr. Myerst," he said, keeping his revolver steadily pointed at his prisoner's nose. "Discretion will certainly be the better part of your valour on this occasion. Spargo—may I trouble you to see what Mr. Myerst carries in his pockets? Go through them carefully. Not for papers or documents—just now. We can leave that matter—we've plenty of time. See if he's got a weapon of any sort on him, Spargo—that's the important thing.
Considering that Spargo had never gone through the experience of searching a man before, he made sharp and creditable work of seeing what the prisoner carried.
And he forthwith drew out and exhibited a revolver, while Myerst, finding his tongue, cursed them both, heartily and with profusion.
"Excellent!" said Breton, laughing again. "Sure he's got nothing else on him that's dangerous, Spargo? All right. Now, Mr. Myerst, right about face! Walk into the cottage, hands up, and remember there are two revolvers behind your back. March!"
Myerst obeyed this peremptory order with more curses. The three walked into the cottage. Breton kept his eye on his captive; Spargo gave a glance at the two old men. Cardlestone, white and shaking, was lying back in his chair; Elphick, scarcely less alarmed, had risen, and was coming forward with trembling limbs.
""Wait a moment," said Breton, soothingly. "Don't alarm yourself; We'll deal with Mr. Myerst here first. Now, Myerst, my man, sit down in that chair—it's the heaviest the place affords. Into it, now! Spargo, you see that coil of rope there. Tie Myerst up—hand and foot—to that chair. And tie him well. All the knots to be double, Spargo, and behind him."
Myerst suddenly laughed.
"You damned young bully!" he exclaimed. "If you put a rope round me, you're only putting ropes round the necks of these two old villains. Mark that, my fine fellows!"
"We'll see about that later," answered Breton. He kept Myerst covered while Spargo made play with the rope. "Don't be afraid of hurting him, Spargo," he said. "Tie him well and strong. He won't shift that chair in a hurry."
Spargo spliced his man to the chair in a fashion that would have done credit to a sailor. He left Myerst literally unable to move either hand or foot, and Myerst cursed him from crown to heel for his pains. "That'll do," said Breton at last. He dropped his revolver into his pocket and turned to the two old men. Elphick averted his eyes and sank into a chair in the darkest corner of the room: old Cardlestone shook as with palsy and muttered words which the two young men could not catch. "Guardian," continued Breton, "don't be frightened! And don't you be frightened, either, Mr. Cardlestone. There's nothing to be afraid of, just yet, whatever there may be later on. It seems to me that Mr. Spargo and I came just in time. Now, guardian, what was this fellow after?"
Old Elphick lifted his head and shook it; he was plainly on the verge of tears; as for Cardlestone, it was evident that his nerve was completely gone. And Breton pointed Spargo to an old corner cupboard.
"Spargo," he said, "I'm pretty sure you'll find whisky in there. Give them both a stiff dose: they've broken up. Now, guardian," he continued, when Spargo had carried out this order, "what was he after? Shall I suggest it? Was it—blackmail?"
Cardlestone began to whimper; Elphick nodded his head. "Yes, yes!" he muttered. "Blackmail! That was it—blackmail. He—he got money—papers—from us. They're on him."
Breton turned on the captive with a look of contempt.
"I thought as much, Mr. Myerst," he said. "Spargo, let's see what he has on him."
Spargo began to search the prisoner's pockets. He laid out everything on the table as he found it. It was plain that Myerst had contemplated some sort of flight or a long, long journey. There was a quantity of loose gold; a number of bank-notes of the more easily negotiated denominations; various foreign securities, realizable in Paris. And there was an open cheque, signed by Cardlestone for ten thousand pounds, and another, with Elphick's name at the foot, also open, for half that amount. Breton examined all these matters as Spargo handed them out. He turned to old Elphick.
"Guardian," he said, "why have you or Mr. Cardlestone given this man these cheques and securities? What hold has he on you?"
Old Cardlestone began to whimper afresh; Elphick turned a troubled face on his ward.
"He—he threatened to accuse us of the murder of Marbury!" he faltered. "We—we didn't see that we had a chance."
"What does he know of the murder of Marbury and of you in connection with it?" demanded Breton. "Come—tell me the truth now."
"He's been investigating—so he says," answered Elphick. "He lives in that house in Middle Temple Lane, you know, in the top-floor rooms above Cardlestone's. And—and he says he's the fullest evidence against Cardlestone—and against me as an accessory after the fact."
"And—it's a lie?" asked Breton.
"A lie!" answered Elphick. "Of course, it's a lie. But—he's so clever that—that——
"That you don't know how you could prove it otherwise," said Breton. "Ah! And so this fellow lives over Mr. Cardlestone there, does he? That may account for a good many things. Now we must have the police here." He sat down at the table and drew the writing materials to him. "Look here, Spargo," he continued. "I'm going to write a note to the superintendent of police at Hawes—there's a farm half a mile from here where I can get a man to ride down to Hawes with the note. Now, if you want to send a wire to the Watchman, draft it out, and he'll take it with him."
Elphick began to move in his corner.
"Must the police come?" he said. "Must——"
"The police must come," answered Breton firmly. "Go ahead with your wire, Spargo, while I write this note."
Three quarters of an hour later, when Breton came back from the farm, he sat down at Elphick's side and laid his hand on the old man's.
"Now, guardian," he said, quietly, "you've got to tell us the truth."