Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Paradise Mystery
Author: Fletcher, J. S. (Joseph Smith)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Paradise Mystery" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE PARADISE MYSTERY


By J. S. Fletcher



CHAPTER I. ONLY THE GUARDIAN

American tourists, sure appreciators of all that is ancient and
picturesque in England, invariably come to a halt, holding their breath
in a sudden catch of wonder, as they pass through the half-ruinous
gateway which admits to the Close of Wrychester. Nowhere else in England
is there a fairer prospect of old-world peace. There before their eyes,
set in the centre of a great green sward, fringed by tall elms and giant
beeches, rises the vast fabric of the thirteenth-century Cathedral, its
high spire piercing the skies in which rooks are for ever circling and
calling. The time-worn stone, at a little distance delicate as lacework,
is transformed at different hours of the day into shifting shades of
colour, varying from grey to purple: the massiveness of the great nave
and transepts contrasts impressively with the gradual tapering of
the spire, rising so high above turret and clerestory that it at last
becomes a mere line against the ether. In morning, as in afternoon, or
in evening, here is a perpetual atmosphere of rest; and not around the
great church alone, but in the quaint and ancient houses which fence in
the Close. Little less old than the mighty mass of stone on which their
ivy-framed windows look, these houses make the casual observer feel
that here, if anywhere in the world, life must needs run smoothly. Under
those high gables, behind those mullioned windows, in the beautiful
old gardens lying between the stone porches and the elm-shadowed lawn,
nothing, one would think, could possibly exist but leisured and pleasant
existence: even the busy streets of the old city, outside the crumbling
gateway, seem, for the moment, far off.

In one of the oldest of these houses, half hidden behind trees and
shrubs in a corner of the Close, three people sat at breakfast one fine
May morning. The room in which they sat was in keeping with the old
house and its surroundings--a long, low-ceilinged room, with oak
panelling around its walls, and oak beams across its roof--a room of
old furniture, and, old pictures, and old books, its antique atmosphere
relieved by great masses of flowers, set here and there in old china
bowls: through its wide windows, the casements of which were thrown wide
open, there was an inviting prospect of a high-edged flower garden, and,
seen in vistas through the trees and shrubberies, of patches of the west
front of the Cathedral, now sombre and grey in shadow. But on the garden
and into this flower-scented room the sun was shining gaily through the
trees, and making gleams of light on the silver and china on the table
and on the faces of the three people who sat around it.

Of these three, two were young, and the third was one of those men
whose age it is never easy to guess--a tall, clean-shaven, bright-eyed,
alert-looking man, good-looking in a clever, professional sort of way, a
man whom no one could have taken for anything but a member of one of the
learned callings. In some lights he looked no more than forty: a strong
light betrayed the fact that his dark hair had a streak of grey in
it, and was showing a tendency to whiten about the temples. A
strong, intellectually superior man, this, scrupulously groomed and
well-dressed, as befitted what he really was--a medical practitioner
with an excellent connection amongst the exclusive society of a
cathedral town. Around him hung an undeniable air of content and
prosperity--as he turned over a pile of letters which stood by his
plate, or glanced at the morning newspaper which lay at his elbow, it
was easy to see that he had no cares beyond those of the day, and that
they--so far as he knew then--were not likely to affect him greatly.
Seeing him in these pleasant domestic circumstances, at the head of
his table, with abundant evidences of comfort and refinement and modest
luxury about him, any one would have said, without hesitation, that Dr.
Mark Ransford was undeniably one of the fortunate folk of this world.

The second person of the three was a boy of apparently seventeen--a
well-built, handsome lad of the senior schoolboy type, who was devoting
himself in business-like fashion to two widely-differing pursuits--one,
the consumption of eggs and bacon and dry toast; the other, the study
of a Latin textbook, which he had propped up in front of him against the
old-fashioned silver cruet. His quick eyes wandered alternately between
his book and his plate; now and then he muttered a line or two to
himself. His companions took no notice of these combinations of eating
and learning: they knew from experience that it was his way to make up
at breakfast-time for the moments he had stolen from his studies the
night before.

It was not difficult to see that the third member of the party, a girl
of nineteen or twenty, was the boy’s sister. Each had a wealth of brown
hair, inclining, in the girl’s case to a shade that had tints of gold in
it; each had grey eyes, in which there was a mixture of blue; each had
a bright, vivid colour; each was undeniably good-looking and eminently
healthy. No one would have doubted that both had lived a good deal of
an open-air existence: the boy was already muscular and sinewy: the
girl looked as if she was well acquainted with the tennis racket and
the golf-stick. Nor would any one have made the mistake of thinking
that these two were blood relations of the man at the head of the
table--between them and him there was not the least resemblance of
feature, of colour, or of manner.

While the boy learnt the last lines of his Latin, and the doctor turned
over the newspaper, the girl read a letter--evidently, from the large
sprawling handwriting, the missive of some girlish correspondent. She
was deep in it when, from one of the turrets of the Cathedral, a bell
began to ring. At that, she glanced at her brother.

“There’s Martin, Dick!” she said. “You’ll have to hurry.”

Many a long year before that, in one of the bygone centuries, a worthy
citizen of Wrychester, Martin by name, had left a sum of money to the
Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral on condition that as long as ever the
Cathedral stood, they should cause to be rung a bell from its smaller
bell-tower for three minutes before nine o’clock every morning, all the
year round. What Martin’s object had been no one now knew--but this bell
served to remind young gentlemen going to offices, and boys going to
school, that the hour of their servitude was near. And Dick Bewery,
without a word, bolted half his coffee, snatched up his book, grabbed
at a cap which lay with more books on a chair close by, and vanished
through the open window. The doctor laughed, laid aside his newspaper,
and handed his cup across the table.

“I don’t think you need bother yourself about Dick’s ever being late,
Mary,” he said. “You are not quite aware of the power of legs that are
only seventeen years old. Dick could get to any given point in just
about one-fourth of the time that I could, for instance--moreover, he
has a cunning knowledge of every short cut in the city.”

Mary Bewery took the empty cup and began to refill it.

“I don’t like him to be late,” she remarked. “It’s the beginning of bad
habits.”

“Oh, well!” said Ransford indulgently. “He’s pretty free from anything
of that sort, you know. I haven’t even suspected him of smoking, yet.”

“That’s because he thinks smoking would stop his growth and interfere
with his cricket,” answered Mary. “He would smoke if it weren’t for
that.”

“That’s giving him high praise, then,” said Ransford. “You couldn’t
give him higher! Know how to repress his inclinations. An excellent
thing--and most unusual, I fancy. Most people--don’t!”

He took his refilled cup, rose from the table, and opened a box of
cigarettes which stood on the mantelpiece. And the girl, instead of
picking up her letter again, glanced at him a little doubtfully.

“That reminds me of--of something I wanted to say to you,” she said.
“You’re quite right about people not repressing their inclinations. I--I
wish some people would!”

Ransford turned quickly from the hearth and gave her a sharp look,
beneath which her colour heightened. Her eyes shifted their gaze away to
her letter, and she picked it up and began to fold it nervously. And at
that Ransford rapped out a name, putting a quick suggestion of meaning
inquiry into his voice.

“Bryce?” he asked.

The girl nodded her face showing distinct annoyance and dislike. Before
saying more, Ransford lighted a cigarette.

“Been at it again?” he said at last. “Since last time?”

“Twice,” she answered. “I didn’t like to tell you--I’ve hated to bother
you about it. But--what am I to do? I dislike him intensely--I can’t
tell why, but it’s there, and nothing could ever alter the feeling.
And though I told him--before--that it was useless--he mentioned it
again--yesterday--at Mrs. Folliot’s garden-party.”

“Confound his impudence!” growled Ransford. “Oh, well!--I’ll have to
settle with him myself. It’s useless trifling with anything like that. I
gave him a quiet hint before. And since he won’t take it--all right!”

“But--what shall you do?” she asked anxiously. “Not--send him away?”

“If he’s any decency about him, he’ll go--after what I say to him,”
 answered Ransford. “Don’t you trouble yourself about it--I’m not at all
keen about him. He’s a clever enough fellow, and a good assistant, but I
don’t like him, personally--never did.”

“I don’t want to think that anything that I say should lose him his
situation--or whatever you call it,” she remarked slowly. “That would
seem--”

“No need to bother,” interrupted Ransford. “He’ll get another in two
minutes--so to speak. Anyway, we can’t have this going on. The fellow
must be an ass! When I was young--”

He stopped short at that, and turning away, looked out across the garden
as if some recollection had suddenly struck him.

“When you were young--which is, of course, such an awfully long time
since!” said the girl, a little teasingly. “What?”

“Only that if a woman said No--unmistakably--once, a man took it as
final,” replied Ransford. “At least--so I was always given to believe.
Nowadays--”

“You forget that Mr. Pemberton Bryce is what most people would call a
very pushing young man,” said Mary. “If he doesn’t get what he wants in
this world, it won’t be for not asking for it. But--if you must speak
to him--and I really think you must!--will you tell him that he is
not going to get--me? Perhaps he’ll take it finally from you--as my
guardian.”

“I don’t know if parents and guardians count for much in these
degenerate days,” said Ransford. “But--I won’t have him annoying you.
And--I suppose it has come to annoyance?”

“It’s very annoying to be asked three times by a man whom you’ve told
flatly, once for all, that you don’t want him, at any time, ever!” she
answered. “It’s--irritating!”

“All right,” said Ransford quietly. “I’ll speak to him. There’s going to
be no annoyance for you under this roof.”

The girl gave him a quick glance, and Ransford turned away from her and
picked up his letters.

“Thank you,” she said. “But--there’s no need to tell me that, because I
know it already. Now I wonder if you’ll tell me something more?”

Ransford turned back with a sudden apprehension.

“Well?” he asked brusquely. “What?”

“When are you going to tell me all about--Dick and myself?” she asked.
“You promised that you would, you know, some day. And--a whole year’s
gone by since then. And--Dick’s seventeen! He won’t be satisfied
always--just to know no more than that our father and mother died when
we were very little, and that you’ve been guardian--and all that you
have been!--to us. Will he, now?”

Ransford laid down his letters again, and thrusting his hands in his
pockets, squared his shoulders against the mantelpiece. “Don’t you think
you might wait until you’re twenty-one?” he asked.

“Why?” she said, with a laugh. “I’m just twenty--do you really think I
shall be any wiser in twelve months? Of course I shan’t!”

“You don’t know that,” he replied. “You may be--a great deal wiser.”

“But what has that got to do with it?” she persisted. “Is there any
reason why I shouldn’t be told--everything?”

She was looking at him with a certain amount of demand--and Ransford,
who had always known that some moment of this sort must inevitably come,
felt that she was not going to be put off with ordinary excuses. He
hesitated--and she went on speaking.

“You know,” she continued, almost pleadingly. “We don’t know
anything--at all. I never have known, and until lately Dick has been too
young to care--”

“Has he begun asking questions?” demanded Ransford hastily.

“Once or twice, lately--yes,” replied Mary. “It’s only natural.” She
laughed a little--a forced laugh. “They say,” she went on, “that
it doesn’t matter, nowadays, if you can’t tell who your grandfather
was--but, just think, we don’t know who our father was--except that his
name was John Bewery. That doesn’t convey much.”

“You know more,” said Ransford. “I told you--always have told you--that
he was an early friend of mine, a man of business, who, with your
mother, died young, and I, as their friend, became guardian to you and
Dick. Is--is there anything much more that I could tell?”

“There’s something I should very much like to know--personally,” she
answered, after a pause which lasted so long that Ransford began to feel
uncomfortable under it. “Don’t be angry--or hurt--if I tell you plainly
what it is. I’m quite sure it’s never even occurred to Dick--but I’m
three years ahead of him. It’s this--have we been dependent on you?”

Ransford’s face flushed and he turned deliberately to the window, and
for a moment stood staring out on his garden and the glimpses of the
Cathedral. And just as deliberately as he had turned away, he turned
back.

“No!” he said. “Since you ask me, I’ll tell you that. You’ve both got
money--due to you when you’re of age. It--it’s in my hands. Not a
great lot--but sufficient to--to cover all your expenses.
Education--everything. When you’re twenty-one, I’ll hand over
yours--when Dick’s twenty-one, his. Perhaps I ought to have told you
all that before, but--I didn’t think it necessary. I--I dare say I’ve a
tendency to let things slide.”

“You’ve never let things slide about us,” she replied quickly, with
a sudden glance which made him turn away again. “And I only wanted to
know--because I’d got an idea that--well, that we were owing everything
to you.”

“Not from me!” he exclaimed.

“No--that would never be!” she said. “But--don’t you understand?
I--wanted to know--something. Thank you. I won’t ask more now.”

“I’ve always meant to tell you--a good deal,” remarked Ransford, after
another pause. “You see, I can scarcely--yet--realize that you’re both
growing up! You were at school a year ago. And Dick is still very young.
Are--are you more satisfied now?” he went on anxiously. “If not--”

“I’m quite satisfied,” she answered. “Perhaps--some day--you’ll tell me
more about our father and mother?--but never mind even that now. You’re
sure you haven’t minded my asking--what I have asked?”

“Of course not--of course not!” he said hastily. “I ought to have
remembered. And--but we’ll talk again. I must get into the surgery--and
have a word with Bryce, too.”

“If you could only make him see reason and promise not to offend again,”
 she said. “Wouldn’t that solve the difficulty?”

Ransford shook his head and made no answer. He picked up his letters
again and went out, and down a long stone-walled passage which led to
his surgery at the side of the house. He was alone there when he had
shut the door--and he relieved his feelings with a deep groan.

“Heaven help me if the lad ever insists on the real truth and on having
proofs and facts given to him!” he muttered. “I shouldn’t mind telling
her, when she’s a bit older--but he wouldn’t understand as she would.
Anyway, thank God I can keep up the pleasant fiction about the money
without her ever knowing that I told her a deliberate lie just now.
But--what’s in the future? Here’s one man to be dismissed already, and
there’ll be others, and one of them will be the favoured man. That man
will have to be told! And--so will she, then. And--my God! she doesn’t
see, and mustn’t see, that I’m madly in love with her myself! She’s no
idea of it--and she shan’t have; I must--must continue to be--only the
guardian!”

He laughed a little cynically as he laid his letters down on his
desk and proceeded to open them--in which occupation he was presently
interrupted by the opening of the side-door and the entrance of Mr.
Pemberton Bryce.



CHAPTER II. MAKING AN ENEMY


It was characteristic of Pemberton Bryce that he always walked into a
room as if its occupant were asleep and he was afraid of waking him.
He had a gentle step which was soft without being stealthy, and quiet
movements which brought him suddenly to anybody’s side before his
presence was noticed. He was by Ransford’s desk ere Ransford knew he was
in the surgery--and Ransford’s sudden realization of his presence
roused a certain feeling of irritation in his mind, which he instantly
endeavoured to suppress--it was no use getting cross with a man of whom
you were about to rid yourself, he said to himself. And for the moment,
after replying to his assistant’s greeting--a greeting as quiet as his
entrance--he went on reading his letters, and Bryce turned off to that
part of the surgery in which the drugs were kept, and busied himself
in making up some prescription. Ten minutes went by in silence; then
Ransford pushed his correspondence aside, laid a paper-weight on it, and
twisting his chair round, looked at the man to whom he was going to say
some unpleasant things. Within himself he was revolving a question--how
would Bryce take it?

He had never liked this assistant of his, although he had then had him
in employment for nearly two years. There was something about Pemberton
Bryce which he did not understand and could not fathom. He had come to
him with excellent testimonials and good recommendations; he was well up
to his work, successful with patients, thoroughly capable as a
general practitioner--there was no fault to be found with him on
any professional grounds. But to Ransford his personality was
objectionable--why, he was not quite sure. Outwardly, Bryce was rather
more than presentable--a tall, good-looking man of twenty-eight or
thirty, whom some people--women especially--would call handsome; he was
the sort of young man who knows the value of good clothes and a smart
appearance, and his professional manner was all that could be desired.
But Ransford could not help distinguishing between Bryce the doctor
and Bryce the man--and Bryce the man he did not like. Outside the
professional part of him, Bryce seemed to him to be undoubtedly deep,
sly, cunning--he conveyed the impression of being one of those men whose
ears are always on the stretch, who take everything in and give little
out. There was a curious air of watchfulness and of secrecy about him
in private matters which was as repellent--to Ransford’s thinking--as
it was hard to explain. Anyway, in private affairs, he did not like his
assistant, and he liked him less than ever as he glanced at him on this
particular occasion.

“I want a word with you,” he said curtly. “I’d better say it now.”

Bryce, who was slowly pouring some liquid from one bottle into another,
looked quietly across the room and did not interrupt himself in his
work. Ransford knew that he must have recognized a certain significance
in the words just addressed to him--but he showed no outward sign of it,
and the liquid went on trickling from one bottle to the other with the
same uniform steadiness.

“Yes?” said Bryce inquiringly. “One moment.”

He finished his task calmly, put the corks in the bottles, labelled one,
restored the other to a shelf, and turned round. Not a man to be easily
startled--not easily turned from a purpose, this, thought Ransford as
he glanced at Bryce’s eyes, which had a trick of fastening their gaze on
people with an odd, disconcerting persistency.

“I’m sorry to say what I must say,” he began. “But--you’ve brought it on
yourself. I gave you a hint some time ago that your attentions were not
welcome to Miss Bewery.”

Bryce made no immediate response. Instead, leaning almost carelessly and
indifferently against the table at which he had been busy with drugs
and bottles, he took a small file from his waistcoat pocket and began to
polish his carefully cut nails.

“Yes?” he said, after a pause. “Well?”

“In spite of it,” continued Ransford, “you’ve since addressed her again
on the matter--not merely once, but twice.”

Bryce put his file away, and thrusting his hands in his pockets,
crossed his feet as he leaned back against the table--his whole attitude
suggesting, whether meaningly or not, that he was very much at his ease.

“There’s a great deal to be said on a point like this,” he observed. “If
a man wishes a certain young woman to become his wife, what right has
any other man--or the young woman herself, for that matter to say that
he mustn’t express his desires to her?”

“None,” said Ransford, “provided he only does it once--and takes the
answer he gets as final.”

“I disagree with you entirely,” retorted Bryce. “On the last particular,
at any rate. A man who considers any word of a woman’s as being final is
a fool. What a woman thinks on Monday she’s almost dead certain not to
think on Tuesday. The whole history of human relationship is on my side
there. It’s no opinion--it’s a fact.”

Ransford stared at this frank remark, and Bryce went on, coolly and
imperturbably, as if he had been discussing a medical problem.

“A man who takes a woman’s first answer as final,” he continued, “is, I
repeat, a fool. There are lots of reasons why a woman shouldn’t know
her own mind at the first time of asking. She may be too surprised. She
mayn’t be quite decided. She may say one thing when she really means
another. That often happens. She isn’t much better equipped at the
second time of asking. And there are women--young ones--who aren’t
really certain of themselves at the third time. All that’s common
sense.”

“I’ll tell you what it is!” suddenly exclaimed Ransford, after remaining
silent for a moment under this flow of philosophy. “I’m not going to
discuss theories and ideas. I know one young woman, at any rate, who
is certain of herself. Miss Bewery does not feel any inclination to
you--now, nor at any time to be! She’s told you so three times. And--you
should take her answer and behave yourself accordingly!”

Bryce favoured his senior with a searching look.

“How does Miss Bewery know that she mayn’t be inclined to--in the
future?” he asked. “She may come to regard me with favour.”

“No, she won’t!” declared Ransford. “Better hear the truth, and be done
with it. She doesn’t like you--and she doesn’t want to, either. Why
can’t you take your answer like a man?”

“What’s your conception of a man?” asked Bryce.

“That!--and a good one,” exclaimed Ransford.

“May satisfy you--but not me,” said Bryce. “Mine’s different. My
conception of a man is of a being who’s got some perseverance. You can
get anything in this world--anything!--by pegging away for it.”

“You’re not going to get my ward,” suddenly said Ransford. “That’s flat!
She doesn’t want you--and she’s now said so three times. And--I support
her.”

“What have you against me?” asked Bryce calmly. “If, as you say, you
support her in her resolution not to listen to my proposals, you must
have something against me. What is it?”

“That’s a question you’ve no right to put,” replied Ransford, “for it’s
utterly unnecessary. So I’m not going to answer it. I’ve nothing against
you as regards your work--nothing! I’m willing to give you an excellent
testimonial.”

“Oh!” remarked Bryce quietly. “That means--you wish me to go away?”

“I certainly think it would be best,” said Ransford.

“In that case,” continued Bryce, more coolly than ever, “I shall
certainly want to know what you have against me--or what Miss Bewery has
against me. Why am I objected to as a suitor? You, at any rate, know
who I am--you know that my father is of our own profession, and a man
of reputation and standing, and that I myself came to you on high
recommendation. Looked at from my standpoint, I’m a thoroughly eligible
young man. And there’s a point you forget--there’s no mystery about me!”

Ransford turned sharply in his chair as he noticed the emphasis which
Bryce put on his last word.

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

“What I’ve just said,” replied Bryce. “There’s no mystery attaching to
me. Any question about me can be answered. Now, you can’t say that as
regards your ward. That’s a fact, Dr. Ransford.”

Ransford, in years gone by, had practised himself in the art of
restraining his temper--naturally a somewhat quick one. And he made
a strong effort in that direction now, recognizing that there was
something behind his assistant’s last remark, and that Bryce meant him
to know it was there.

“I’ll repeat what I’ve just said,” he answered. “What do you mean by
that?”

“I hear things,” said Bryce. “People will talk--even a doctor can’t
refuse to hear what gossiping and garrulous patients say. Since she
came to you from school, a year ago, Wrychester people have been much
interested in Miss Bewery, and in her brother, too. And there are a good
many residents of the Close--you know their nice, inquisitive ways!--who
want to know who the sister and brother really are--and what your
relationship is to them!”

“Confound their impudence!” growled Ransford.

“By all means,” agreed Bryce. “And--for all I care--let them be
confounded, too. But if you imagine that the choice and select coteries
of a cathedral town, consisting mainly of the relicts of deceased
deans, canons, prebendaries and the like, and of maiden aunts, elderly
spinsters, and tea-table-haunting curates, are free from gossip--why,
you’re a singularly innocent person!”

“They’d better not begin gossiping about my affairs,” said Ransford.
“Otherwise--”

“You can’t stop them from gossiping about your affairs,” interrupted
Bryce cheerfully. “Of course they gossip about your affairs; have
gossiped about them; will continue to gossip about them. It’s human
nature!”

“You’ve heard them?” asked Ransford, who was too vexed to keep back his
curiosity. “You yourself?”

“As you are aware, I am often asked out to tea,” replied Bryce, “and
to garden-parties, and tennis-parties, and choice and cosy functions
patronized by curates and associated with crumpets. I have heard--with
these ears. I can even repeat the sort of thing I have heard.
‘That dear, delightful Miss Bewery--what a charming girl! And that
good-looking boy, her brother--quite a dear! Now I wonder who they
really are? Wards of Dr. Ransford, of course! Really, how very
romantic!--and just a little--eh?--unusual? Such a comparatively young
man to have such a really charming girl as his ward! Can’t be more than
forty-five himself, and she’s twenty--how very, very romantic! Really,
one would think there ought to be a chaperon!’”

“Damn!” said Ransford under his breath.

“Just so,” agreed Bryce. “But--that’s the sort of thing. Do you want
more? I can supply an unlimited quantity in the piece if you like. But
it’s all according to sample.”

“So--in addition to your other qualities,” remarked Ransford, “you’re a
gossiper?”

Bryce smiled slowly and shook his head.

“No,” he replied. “I’m a listener. A good one, too. But do you see my
point? I say--there’s no mystery about me. If Miss Bewery will honour
me with her hand, she’ll get a man whose antecedents will bear the
strictest investigation.”

“Are you inferring that hers won’t?” demanded Ransford.

“I’m not inferring anything,” said Bryce. “I am speaking for myself, of
myself. Pressing my own claim, if you like, on you, the guardian. You
might do much worse than support my claims, Dr. Ransford.”

“Claims, man!” retorted Ransford. “You’ve got no claims! What are you
talking about? Claims!”

“My pretensions, then,” answered Bryce. “If there is a mystery--as
Wrychester people say there is--about Miss Bewery, it would be safe with
me. Whatever you may think, I’m a thoroughly dependable man--when it’s
in my own interest.”

“And--when it isn’t?” asked Ransford. “What are you then?--as you’re so
candid.”

“I could be a very bad enemy,” replied Bryce.

There was a moment’s silence, during which the two men looked
attentively at each other.

“I’ve told you the truth,” said Ransford at last. “Miss Bewery flatly
refuses to entertain any idea whatever of ever marrying you. She
earnestly hopes that that eventuality may never be mentioned to her
again. Will you give me your word of honour to respect her wishes?”

“No!” answered Bryce. “I won’t!”

“Why not?” asked Ransford, with a faint show of anger. “A woman’s
wishes!”

“Because I may consider that I see signs of a changed mind in her,” said
Bryce. “That’s why.”

“You’ll never see any change of mind,” declared Ransford. “That’s
certain. Is that your fixed determination?”

“It is,” answered Bryce. “I’m not the sort of man who is easily
repelled.”

“Then, in that case,” said Ransford, “we had better part company.” He
rose from his desk, and going over to a safe which stood in a corner,
unlocked it and took some papers from an inside drawer. He consulted
one of these and turned to Bryce. “You remember our agreement?” he
continued. “Your engagement was to be determined by a three months’
notice on either side, or, at my will, at any time by payment of three
months’ salary?”

“Quite right,” agreed Bryce. “I remember, of course.”

“Then I’ll give you a cheque for three months’ salary--now,” said
Ransford, and sat down again at his desk. “That will settle matters
definitely--and, I hope, agreeably.”

Bryce made no reply. He remained leaning against the table, watching
Ransford write the cheque. And when Ransford laid the cheque down at the
edge of the desk he made no movement towards it.

“You must see,” remarked Ransford, half apologetically, “that it’s the
only thing I can do. I can’t have any man who’s not--not welcome to
her, to put it plainly--causing any annoyance to my ward. I repeat,
Bryce--you must see it!”

“I have nothing to do with what you see,” answered Bryce. “Your opinions
are not mine, and mine aren’t yours. You’re really turning me away--as
if I were a dishonest foreman!--because in my opinion it would be a very
excellent thing for her and for myself if Miss Bewery would consent to
marry me. That’s the plain truth.”

Ransford allowed himself to take a long and steady look at Bryce. The
thing was done now, and his dismissed assistant seemed to be taking it
quietly--and Ransford’s curiosity was aroused.

“I can’t make you out!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know whether you’re the
most cynical young man I ever met, or whether you’re the most obtuse--”

“Not the last, anyway,” interrupted Bryce. “I assure you of that!”

“Can’t you see for yourself, then, man, that the girl doesn’t want you!”
 said Ransford. “Hang it!--for anything you know to the contrary, she may
have--might have--other ideas!”

Bryce, who had been staring out of a side window for the last minute or
two, suddenly laughed, and, lifting a hand, pointed into the garden. And
Ransford turned--and saw Mary Bewery walking there with a tall lad, whom
he recognized as one Sackville Bonham, stepson of Mr. Folliot, a wealthy
resident of the Close. The two young people were laughing and chatting
together with evident great friendliness.

“Perhaps,” remarked Bryce quietly, “her ideas run in--that direction? In
which case, Dr. Ransford, you’ll have trouble. For Mrs. Folliot, mother
of yonder callow youth, who’s the apple of her eye, is one of the
inquisitive ladies of whom I’ve just told you, and if her son unites
himself with anybody, she’ll want to know exactly who that anybody is.
You’d far better have supported me as an aspirant! However--I suppose
there’s no more to say.”

“Nothing!” answered Ransford. “Except to say good-day--and good-bye to
you. You needn’t remain--I’ll see to everything. And I’m going out now.
I think you’d better not exchange any farewells with any one.”

Bryce nodded silently, and Ransford, picking up his hat and gloves, left
the surgery by the side door. A moment later, Bryce saw him crossing the
Close.



CHAPTER III. ST. WRYTHA’S STAIR


The summarily dismissed assistant, thus left alone, stood for a moment
in evident deep thought before he moved towards Ransford’s desk and
picked up the cheque. He looked at it carefully, folded it neatly, and
put it away in his pocket-book; after that he proceeded to collect a
few possessions of his own, instruments, books from various drawers and
shelves. He was placing these things in a small hand-bag when a gentle
tap sounded on the door by which patients approached the surgery.

“Come in!” he called.

There was no response, although the door was slightly ajar; instead,
the knock was repeated, and at that Bryce crossed the room and flung the
door open.

A man stood outside--an elderly, slight-figured, quiet-looking man, who
looked at Bryce with a half-deprecating, half-nervous air; the air of a
man who was shy in manner and evidently fearful of seeming to intrude.
Bryce’s quick, observant eyes took him in at a glance, noting a much
worn and lined face, thin grey hair and tired eyes; this was a man, he
said to himself, who had seen trouble. Nevertheless, not a poor man,
if his general appearance was anything to go by--he was well and even
expensively dressed, in the style generally affected by well-to-do
merchants and city men; his clothes were fashionably cut, his silk hat
was new, his linen and boots irreproachable; a fine diamond pin gleamed
in his carefully arranged cravat. Why, then, this unmistakably furtive
and half-frightened manner--which seemed to be somewhat relieved at the
sight of Bryce?

“Is this--is Dr. Ransford within?” asked the stranger. “I was told this
is his house.”

“Dr. Ransford is out,” replied Bryce. “Just gone out--not five minutes
ago. This is his surgery. Can I be of use?”

The man hesitated, looking beyond Bryce into the room.

“No, thank you,” he said at last. “I--no, I don’t want professional
services--I just called to see Dr. Ransford--I--the fact is, I once knew
some one of that name. It’s no matter--at present.”

Bryce stepped outside and pointed across the Close.

“Dr. Ransford,” he said, “went over there--I rather fancy he’s gone to
the Deanery--he has a case there. If you went through Paradise, you’d
very likely meet him coming back--the Deanery is the big house in the
far corner yonder.”

The stranger followed Bryce’s outstretched finger.

“Paradise?” he said, wonderingly. “What’s that?”

Bryce pointed to a long stretch of grey wall which projected from the
south wall of the Cathedral into the Close.

“It’s an enclosure--between the south porch and the transept,” he said.
“Full of old tombs and trees--a sort of wilderness--why called Paradise
I don’t know. There’s a short cut across it to the Deanery and that part
of the Close--through that archway you see over there. If you go across,
you’re almost sure to meet Dr. Ransford.”

“I’m much obliged to you,” said the stranger. “Thank you.”

He turned away in the direction which Bryce had indicated, and Bryce
went back--only to go out again and call after him.

“If you don’t meet him, shall I say you’ll call again?” he asked.
“And--what name?”

The stranger shook his head.

“It’s immaterial,” he answered. “I’ll see him--somewhere--or later. Many
thanks.”

He went on his way towards Paradise, and Bryce returned to the surgery
and completed his preparations for departure. And in the course of
things, he more than once looked through the window into the garden and
saw Mary Bewery still walking and talking with young Sackville Bonham.

“No,” he muttered to himself. “I won’t trouble to exchange any
farewells--not because of Ransford’s hint, but because there’s no need.
If Ransford thinks he’s going to drive me out of Wrychester before I
choose to go he’s badly mistaken--it’ll be time enough to say farewell
when I take my departure--and that won’t be just yet. Now I wonder
who that old chap was? Knew some one of Ransford’s name once, did he?
Probably Ransford himself--in which case he knows more of Ransford than
anybody in Wrychester knows--for nobody in Wrychester knows anything
beyond a few years back. No, Dr. Ransford!--no farewells--to anybody! A
mere departure--till I turn up again.”

But Bryce was not to get away from the old house without something in
the nature of a farewell. As he walked out of the surgery by the side
entrance, Mary Bewery, who had just parted from young Bonham in the
garden and was about to visit her dogs in the stable yard, came along:
she and Bryce met, face to face. The girl flushed, not so much from
embarrassment as from vexation; Bryce, cool as ever, showed no sign of
any embarrassment. Instead, he laughed, tapping the hand-bag which he
carried under one arm.

“Summarily turned out--as if I had been stealing the spoons,” he
remarked. “I go--with my small belongings. This is my first reward--for
devotion.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” answered Mary, sweeping by him with a
highly displeased glance. “Except that you have brought it on yourself.”

“A very feminine retort!” observed Bryce. “But--there is no malice in
it? Your anger won’t last more than--shall we say a day?”

“You may say what you like,” she replied. “As I just said, I have
nothing to say--now or at any time.”

“That remains to be proved,” remarked Bryce. “The phrase is one of much
elasticity. But for the present--I go!”

He walked out into the Close, and without as much as a backward look
struck off across the sward in the direction in which, ten minutes
before, he had sent the strange man. He had rooms in a quiet lane on the
farther side of the Cathedral precinct, and his present intention was to
go to them to leave his bag and make some further arrangements. He had
no idea of leaving Wrychester--he knew of another doctor in the city who
was badly in need of help: he would go to him--would tell him, if need
be, why he had left Ransford. He had a multiplicity of schemes and ideas
in his head, and he began to consider some of them as he stepped out of
the Close into the ancient enclosure which all Wrychester folk knew by
its time-honoured name of Paradise. This was really an outer court of
the old cloisters; its high walls, half-ruinous, almost wholly covered
with ivy, shut in an expanse of turf, liberally furnished with yew and
cypress and studded with tombs and gravestones. In one corner rose a
gigantic elm; in another a broken stairway of stone led to a doorway set
high in the walls of the nave; across the enclosure itself was a pathway
which led towards the houses in the south-east corner of the Close. It
was a curious, gloomy spot, little frequented save by people who went
across it rather than follow the gravelled paths outside, and it was
untenanted when Bryce stepped into it. But just as he walked through the
archway he saw Ransford. Ransford was emerging hastily from a postern
door in the west porch--so hastily that Bryce checked himself to look at
him. And though they were twenty yards apart, Bryce saw that Ransford’s
face was very pale, almost to whiteness, and that he was unmistakably
agitated. Instantly he connected that agitation with the man who had
come to the surgery door.

“They’ve met!” mused Bryce, and stopped, staring after Ransford’s
retreating figure. “Now what is it in that man’s mere presence that’s
upset Ransford? He looks like a man who’s had a nasty, unexpected
shock--a bad ‘un!”

He remained standing in the archway, gazing after the retreating figure,
until Ransford had disappeared within his own garden; still wondering
and speculating, but not about his own affairs, he turned across
Paradise at last and made his way towards the farther corner. There was
a little wicket-gate there, set in the ivied wall; as Bryce opened it,
a man in the working dress of a stone-mason, whom he recognized as being
one of the master-mason’s staff, came running out of the bushes.
His face, too, was white, and his eyes were big with excitement. And
recognizing Bryce, he halted, panting.

“What is it, Varner?” asked Bryce calmly. “Something happened?”

The man swept his hand across his forehead as if he were dazed, and then
jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“A man!” he gasped. “Foot of St. Wrytha’s Stair there, doctor. Dead--or
if not dead, near it. I saw it!”

Bryce seized Varner’s arm and gave it a shake.

“You saw--what?” he demanded.

“Saw him--fall. Or rather--flung!” panted Varner. “Somebody--couldn’t
see who, nohow--flung him right through yon doorway, up there. He fell
right over the steps--crash!” Bryce looked over the tops of the yews and
cypresses at the doorway in the clerestory to which Varner pointed--a
low, open archway gained by the half-ruinous stair. It was forty feet at
least from the ground.

“You saw him--thrown!” he exclaimed. “Thrown--down there? Impossible,
man!”

“Tell you I saw it!” asserted Varner doggedly. “I was looking at one
of those old tombs yonder--somebody wants some repairs doing--and the
jackdaws were making such a to-do up there by the roof I glanced up at
them. And I saw this man thrown through that door--fairly flung through
it! God!--do you think I could mistake my own eyes?”

“Did you see who flung him?” asked Bryce.

“No; I saw a hand--just for one second, as it might be--by the edge of
the doorway,” answered Varner. “I was more for watching him! He sort
of tottered for a second on the step outside the door, turned over and
screamed--I can hear it now!--and crashed down on the flags beneath.”

“How long since?” demanded Bryce.

“Five or six minutes,” said Varner. “I rushed to him--I’ve been doing
what I could. But I saw it was no good, so I was running for help--”

Bryce pushed him towards the bushes by which they were standing.

“Take me to him,” he said. “Come on!”

Varner turned back, making a way through the cypresses. He led Bryce to
the foot of the great wall of the nave. There in the corner formed by
the angle of nave and transept, on a broad pavement of flagstones, lay
the body of a man crumpled up in a curiously twisted position. And with
one glance, even before he reached it, Bryce knew what body it was--that
of the man who had come, shyly and furtively, to Ransford’s door.

“Look!” exclaimed Varner, suddenly pointing. “He’s stirring!”

Bryce, whose gaze was fastened on the twisted figure, saw a slight
movement which relaxed as suddenly as it had occurred. Then came
stillness. “That’s the end!” he muttered. “The man’s dead! I’ll
guarantee that before I put a hand on him. Dead enough!” he went on, as
he reached the body and dropped on one knee by it. “His neck’s broken.”

The mason bent down and looked, half-curiously, half-fearfully, at the
dead man. Then he glanced upward--at the open door high above them in
the walls.

“It’s a fearful drop, that, sir,” he said. “And he came down with such
violence. You’re sure it’s over with him?”

“He died just as we came up,” answered Bryce. “That movement we saw was
the last effort--involuntary, of course. Look here, Varner!--you’ll have
to get help. You’d better fetch some of the cathedral people--some of
the vergers. No!” he broke off suddenly, as the low strains of an organ
came from within the great building. “They’re just beginning the morning
service--of course, it’s ten o’clock. Never mind them--go straight to
the police. Bring them back--I’ll stay here.”

The mason turned off towards the gateway of the Close, and while
the strains of the organ grew louder, Bryce bent over the dead man,
wondering what had really happened. Thrown from an open doorway in the
clerestory over St. Wrytha’s Stair?--it seemed almost impossible! But a
sudden thought struck him: supposing two men, wishing to talk in privacy
unobserved, had gone up into the clerestory of the Cathedral--as
they easily could, by more than one door, by more than one stair--and
supposing they had quarrelled, and one of them had flung or pushed
the other through the door above--what then? And on the heels of that
thought hurried another--this man, now lying dead, had come to the
surgery, seeking Ransford, and had subsequently gone away, presumably
in search of him, and Bryce himself had just seen Ransford, obviously
agitated and pale of cheek, leaving the west porch; what did it all
mean? what was the apparently obvious inference to be drawn? Here was
the stranger dead--and Varner was ready to swear that he had seen
him thrown, flung violently, through the door forty feet above. That
was--murder! Then--who was the murderer?

Bryce looked carefully and narrowly around him. Now that Varner had gone
away, there was not a human being in sight, nor anywhere near, so far as
he knew. On one side of him and the dead man rose the grey walls of nave
and transept; on the other, the cypresses and yews rising amongst the
old tombs and monuments. Assuring himself that no one was near, no eye
watching, he slipped his hand into the inner breast pocket of the dead
man’s smart morning coat. Such a man must carry papers--papers would
reveal something. And Bryce wanted to know anything--anything that would
give information and let him into whatever secret there might be between
this unlucky stranger and Ransford.

But the breast pocket was empty; there was no pocket-book there; there
were no papers there. Nor were there any papers elsewhere in the other
pockets which he hastily searched: there was not even a card with a name
on it. But he found a purse, full of money--banknotes, gold, silver--and
in one of its compartments a scrap of paper folded curiously, after the
fashion of the cocked-hat missives of another age in which envelopes had
not been invented. Bryce hurriedly unfolded this, and after one glance
at its contents, made haste to secrete it in his own pocket. He had only
just done this and put back the purse when he heard Varner’s voice, and
a second later the voice of Inspector Mitchington, a well-known police
official. And at that Bryce sprang to his feet, and when the mason and
his companions emerged from the bushes was standing looking thoughtfully
at the dead man. He turned to Mitchington with a shake of the head.

“Dead!” he said in a hushed voice. “Died as we got to him. Broken--all
to pieces, I should say--neck and spine certainly. I suppose Varner’s
told you what he saw.”

Mitchington, a sharp-eyed, dark-complexioned man, quick of movement,
nodded, and after one glance at the body, looked up at the open doorway
high above them.

“That the door?” he asked, turning to Varner. “And--it was open?”

“It’s always open,” answered Varner. “Least-ways, it’s been open, like
that, all this spring, to my knowledge.”

“What is there behind it?” inquired Mitchington.

“Sort of gallery, that runs all round the nave,” replied Varner.
“Clerestory gallery--that’s what it is. People can go up there and walk
around--lots of ‘em do--tourists, you know. There’s two or three ways up
to it--staircases in the turrets.”

Mitchington turned to one of the two constables who had followed him.

“Let Varner show you the way up there,” he said. “Go quietly--don’t
make any fuss--the morning service is just beginning. Say nothing to
anybody--just take a quiet look around, along that gallery, especially
near the door there--and come back here.” He looked down at the dead man
again as the mason and the constable went away. “A stranger, I should
think, doctor--tourist, most likely. But--thrown down! That man Varner
is positive. That looks like foul play.”

“Oh, there’s no doubt of that!” asserted Bryce. “You’ll have to go
into that pretty deeply. But the inside of the Cathedral’s like a
rabbit-warren, and whoever threw the man through that doorway no doubt
knew how to slip away unobserved. Now, you’ll have to remove the body to
the mortuary, of course--but just let me fetch Dr. Ransford first.
I’d like some other medical man than myself to see him before he’s
moved--I’ll have him here in five minutes.”

He turned away through the bushes and emerging upon the Close ran across
the lawns in the direction of the house which he had left not twenty
minutes before. He had but one idea as he ran--he wanted to see Ransford
face to face with the dead man--wanted to watch him, to observe him,
to see how he looked, how he behaved. Then he, Bryce, would
know--something.

But he was to know something before that. He opened the door of the
surgery suddenly, but with his usual quietness of touch. And on the
threshold he paused. Ransford, the very picture of despair, stood just
within, his face convulsed, beating one hand upon the other.



CHAPTER IV. THE ROOM AT THE MITRE


In the few seconds which elapsed before Ransford recognized Bryce’s
presence, Bryce took a careful, if swift, observation of his late
employer. That Ransford was visibly upset by something was plain enough
to see; his face was still pale, he was muttering to himself, one
clenched fist was pounding the open palm of the other hand--altogether,
he looked like a man who is suddenly confronted with some fearful
difficulty. And when Bryce, having looked long enough to satisfy his
wishes, coughed gently, he started in such a fashion as to suggest that
his nerves had become unstrung.

“What is it?--what are you doing there?” he demanded almost fiercely.
“What do you mean by coming in like that?”

Bryce affected to have seen nothing.

“I came to fetch you,” he answered. “There’s been an accident in
Paradise--man fallen from that door at the head of St. Wrytha’s Stair. I
wish you’d come--but I may as well tell you that he’s past help--dead!”

“Dead! A man?” exclaimed Ransford. “What man? A workman?”

Bryce had already made up his mind about telling Ransford of the
stranger’s call at the surgery. He would say nothing--at that time at
any rate. It was improbable that any one but himself knew of the call;
the side entrance to the surgery was screened from the Close by a
shrubbery; it was very unlikely that any passer-by had seen the man call
or go away. No--he would keep his knowledge secret until it could be
made better use of.

“Not a workman--not a townsman--a stranger,” he answered. “Looks like a
well-to-do tourist. A slightly-built, elderly man--grey-haired.”

Ransford, who had turned to his desk to master himself, looked round
with a sudden sharp glance--and for the moment Bryce was taken aback.
For he had condemned Ransford--and yet that glance was one of apparently
genuine surprise, a glance which almost convinced him, against his
will, against only too evident facts, that Ransford was hearing of the
Paradise affair for the first time.

“An elderly man--grey-haired--slightly built?” said Ransford. “Dark
clothes--silk hat?”

“Precisely,” replied Bryce, who was now considerably astonished. “Do you
know him?”

“I saw such a man entering the Cathedral, a while ago,” answered
Ransford. “A stranger, certainly. Come along, then.”

He had fully recovered his self-possession by that time, and he led
the way from the surgery and across the Close as if he were going on
an ordinary professional visit. He kept silence as they walked rapidly
towards Paradise, and Bryce was silent, too. He had studied Ransford
a good deal during their two years’ acquaintanceship, and he knew
Ransford’s power of repressing and commanding his feelings and
concealing his thoughts. And now he decided that the look and start
which he had at first taken to be of the nature of genuine astonishment
were cunningly assumed, and he was not surprised when, having reached
the group of men gathered around the body, Ransford showed nothing but
professional interest.

“Have you done anything towards finding out who this unfortunate
man is?” asked Ransford, after a brief examination, as he turned to
Mitchington. “Evidently a stranger--but he probably has papers on him.”

“There’s nothing on him--except a purse, with plenty of money in it,”
 answered Mitchington. “I’ve been through his pockets myself: there isn’t
a scrap of paper--not even as much as an old letter. But he’s evidently
a tourist, or something of the sort, and so he’ll probably have stayed
in the city all night, and I’m going to inquire at the hotels.”

“There’ll be an inquest, of course,” remarked Ransford mechanically.
“Well--we can do nothing, Mitchington. You’d better have the body
removed to the mortuary.” He turned and looked up the broken stairway
at the foot of which they were standing. “You say he fell down that?” he
asked. “Whatever was he doing up there?”

Mitchington looked at Bryce.

“Haven’t you told Dr. Ransford how it was?” he asked.

“No,” answered Bryce. He glanced at Ransford, indicating Varner, who had
come back with the constable and was standing by. “He didn’t fall,” he
went on, watching Ransford narrowly. “He was violently flung out of that
doorway. Varner here saw it.”

Ransford’s cheek flushed, and he was unable to repress a slight start.
He looked at the mason.

“You actually saw it!” he exclaimed. “Why, what did you see?”

“Him!” answered Varner, nodding at the dead man. “Flung, head and heels,
clean through that doorway up there. Hadn’t a chance to save himself, he
hadn’t! Just grabbed at--nothing!--and came down. Give a year’s wages if
I hadn’t seen it--and heard him scream.”

Ransford was watching Varner with a set, concentrated look.

“Who--flung him?” he asked suddenly. “You say you saw!”

“Aye, sir, but not as much as all that!” replied the mason. “I just saw
a hand--and that was all. But,” he added, turning to the police with a
knowing look, “there’s one thing I can swear to--it was a gentleman’s
hand! I saw the white shirt cuff and a bit of a black sleeve!”

Ransford turned away. But he just as suddenly turned back to the
inspector.

“You’ll have to let the Cathedral authorities know, Mitchington,” he
said. “Better get the body removed, though, first--do it now before the
morning service is over. And--let me hear what you find out about his
identity, if you can discover anything in the city.”

He went away then, without another word or a further glance at the dead
man. But Bryce had already assured himself of what he was certain was
a fact--that a look of unmistakable relief had swept across Ransford’s
face for the fraction of a second when he knew that there were no papers
on the dead man. He himself waited after Ransford had gone; waited until
the police had fetched a stretcher, when he personally superintended
the removal of the body to the mortuary outside the Close. And there a
constable who had come over from the police-station gave a faint hint as
to further investigation.

“I saw that poor gentleman last night, sir,” he said to the inspector.
“He was standing at the door of the Mitre, talking to another
gentleman--a tallish man.”

“Then I’ll go across there,” said Mitchington. “Come with me, if you
like, Dr. Bryce.”

This was precisely what Bryce desired--he was already anxious to acquire
all the information he could get. And he walked over the way with the
inspector, to the quaint old-world inn which filled almost one side
of the little square known as Monday Market, and in at the courtyard,
where, looking out of the bow window which had served as an outer bar
in the coaching days, they found the landlady of the Mitre, Mrs.
Partingley. Bryce saw at once that she had heard the news.

“What’s this, Mr. Mitchington?” she demanded as they drew near across
the cobble-paved yard. “Somebody’s been in to say there’s been an
accident to a gentleman, a stranger--I hope it isn’t one of the two
we’ve got in the house?”

“I should say it is, ma’am,” answered the inspector. “He was seen
outside here last night by one of our men, anyway.”

The landlady uttered an expression of distress, and opening a side-door,
motioned them to step into her parlour.

“Which of them is it?” she asked anxiously. “There’s two--came together
last night, they did--a tall one and a short one. Dear, dear me!--is it
a bad accident, now, inspector?”

“The man’s dead, ma’am,” replied Mitchington grimly. “And we want to
know who he is. Have you got his name--and the other gentleman’s?”

Mrs. Partingley uttered another exclamation of distress and
astonishment, lifting her plump hands in horror. But her business
faculties remained alive, and she made haste to produce a big visitors’
book and to spread it open before her callers.

“There it is!” she said, pointing to the two last entries. “That’s the
short gentleman’s name--Mr. John Braden, London. And that’s the
tall one’s--Mr. Christopher Dellingham--also London. Tourists, of
course--we’ve never seen either of them before.”

“Came together, you say, Mrs. Partingley?” asked Mitchington. “When was
that, now?”

“Just before dinner, last night,” answered the landlady. “They’d
evidently come in by the London train--that gets in at six-forty, as you
know. They came here together, and they’d dinner together, and spent the
evening together. Of course, we took them for friends. But they didn’t
go out together this morning, though they’d breakfast together. After
breakfast, Mr. Dellingham asked me the way to the old Manor Mill, and
he went off there, so I concluded. Mr. Braden, he hung about a bit,
studying a local directory I’d lent him, and after a while he asked me
if he could hire a trap to take him out to Saxonsteade this afternoon.
Of course, I said he could, and he arranged for it to be ready at
two-thirty. Then he went out, and across the market towards the
Cathedral. And that,” concluded Mrs. Partingley, “is about all I know,
gentlemen.”

“Saxonsteade, eh?” remarked Mitchington. “Did he say anything about his
reasons for going there?”

“Well, yes, he did,” replied the landlady. “For he asked me if I thought
he’d be likely to find the Duke at home at that time of day. I said I
knew his Grace was at Saxonsteade just now, and that I should think the
middle of the afternoon would be a good time.”

“He didn’t tell you his business with the Duke?” asked Mitchington.

“Not a word!” said the landlady. “Oh, no!--just that, and no more.
But--here’s Mr. Dellingham.”

Bryce turned to see a tall, broad-shouldered, bearded man pass the
window--the door opened and he walked in, to glance inquisitively at the
inspector. He turned at once to Mrs. Partingley.

“I hear there’s been an accident to that gentleman I came in with last
night?” he said. “Is it anything serious? Your ostler says--”

“These gentlemen have just come about it, sir,” answered the landlady.
She glanced at Mitchington. “Perhaps you’ll tell--” she began.

“Was he a friend of yours, sir?” asked Mitchington. “A personal friend?”

“Never saw him in my life before last night!” replied the tall man. “We
just chanced to meet in the train coming down from London, got talking,
and discovered we were both coming to the same place--Wrychester.
So--we came to this house together. No--no friend of mine--not even an
acquaintance--previous, of course, to last night. Is--is it anything
serious?”

“He’s dead, sir,” replied Mitchington. “And now we want to know who he
is.”

“God bless my soul! Dead? You don’t say so!” exclaimed Mr. Dellingham.
“Dear, dear! Well, I can’t help you--don’t know him from Adam. Pleasant,
well-informed man--seemed to have travelled a great deal in foreign
countries. I can tell you this much, though,” he went on, as if a sudden
recollection had come to him; “I gathered that he’d only just arrived in
England--in fact, now I come to think of it, he said as much. Made some
remark in the train about the pleasantness of the English landscape,
don’t you know?--I got an idea that he’d recently come from some country
where trees and hedges and green fields aren’t much in evidence. But--if
you want to know who he is, officer, why don’t you search him? He’s sure
to have papers, cards, and so on about him.”

“We have searched him,” answered Mitchington. “There isn’t a paper, a
letter, or even a visiting card on him.”

Mr. Dellingham looked at the landlady.

“Bless me!” he said. “Remarkable! But he’d a suit-case, or something of
the sort--something light--which he carried up from the railway station
himself. Perhaps in that--”

“I should like to see whatever he had,” said Mitchington. “We’d better
examine his room, Mrs. Partingley.”

Bryce presently followed the landlady and the inspector upstairs--Mr.
Dellingham followed him. All four went into a bedroom which looked
out on Monday Market. And there, on a side-table, lay a small leather
suit-case, one which could easily be carried, with its upper half thrown
open and back against the wall behind.

The landlady, Mr. Dellingham and Bryce stood silently by while the
inspector examined the contents of this the only piece of luggage in
the room. There was very little to see--what toilet articles the visitor
brought were spread out on the dressing-table--brushes, combs, a case
of razors, and the like. And Mitchington nodded side-wise at them as he
began to take the articles out of the suit-case.

“There’s one thing strikes me at once,” he said. “I dare say you
gentlemen notice it. All these things are new! This suit-case hasn’t
been in use very long--see, the leather’s almost unworn--and those
things on the dressing-table are new. And what there is here
looks new, too. There’s not much, you see--he evidently had
no intention of a long stop. An extra pair of trousers--some
shirts--socks--collars--neckties--slippers--handkerchiefs--that’s about
all. And the first thing to do is to see if the linen’s marked with name
or initials.”

He deftly examined the various articles as he took them out, and in the
end shook his head.

“No name--no initials,” he said. “But look here--do you see, gentlemen,
where these collars were bought? Half a dozen of them, in a box. Paris!
There you are--the seller’s name, inside the collar, just as in England.
Aristide Pujol, 82, Rue des Capucines. And--judging by the look
of ‘em--I should say these shirts were bought there, too--and the
handkerchiefs--and the neckwear--they all have a foreign look. There may
be a clue in that--we might trace him in France if we can’t in England.
Perhaps he is a Frenchman.”

“I’ll take my oath he isn’t!” exclaimed Mr. Dellingham. “However long
he’d been out of England he hadn’t lost a North-Country accent! He was
some sort of a North-Countryman--Yorkshire or Lancashire, I’ll go bail.
No Frenchman, officer--not he!”

“Well, there’s no papers here, anyway,” said Mitchington, who had now
emptied the suit-case. “Nothing to show who he was. Nothing here, you
see, in the way of paper but this old book--what is it--History of
Barthorpe.”

“He showed me that in the train,” remarked Mr. Dellingham. “I’m
interested in antiquities and archaeology, and anybody who’s long in my
society finds it out. We got talking of such things, and he pulled out
that book, and told me with great pride, that he’d picked it up from
a book-barrow in the street, somewhere in London, for one-and-six. I
think,” he added musingly, “that what attracted him in it was the
old calf binding and the steel frontispiece--I’m sure he’d no great
knowledge of antiquities.”

Mitchington laid the book down, and Bryce picked it up, examined the
title-page, and made a mental note of the fact that Barthorpe was a
market-town in the Midlands. And it was on the tip of his tongue to
say that if the dead man had no particular interest in antiquities and
archaeology, it was somewhat strange that he should have bought a book
which was mainly antiquarian, and that it might be that he had so
bought it because of a connection between Barthorpe and himself. But he
remembered that it was his own policy to keep pertinent facts for his
own private consideration, so he said nothing. And Mitchington presently
remarking that there was no more to be done there, and ascertaining from
Mr. Dellingham that it was his intention to remain in Wrychester for
at any rate a few days, they went downstairs again, and Bryce and the
inspector crossed over to the police-station.

The news had spread through the heart of the city, and at the
police-station doors a crowd had gathered. Just inside two or three
principal citizens were talking to the Superintendent--amongst them was
Mr. Stephen Folliot, the stepfather of young Bonham--a big, heavy-faced
man who had been a resident in the Close for some years, was known to be
of great wealth, and had a reputation as a grower of rare roses. He was
telling the Superintendent something--and the Superintendent beckoned to
Mitchington.

“Mr. Folliot says he saw this gentleman in the Cathedral,” he said.
“Can’t have been so very long before the accident happened, Mr. Folliot,
from what you say.”

“As near as I can reckon, it would be five minutes to ten,” answered Mr.
Folliot. “I put it at that because I’d gone in for the morning service,
which is at ten. I saw him go up the inside stair to the clerestory
gallery--he was looking about him. Five minutes to ten--and it must have
happened immediately afterwards.”

Bryce heard this and turned away, making a calculation for himself. It
had been on the stroke of ten when he saw Ransford hurrying out of the
west porch. There was a stairway from the gallery down to that west
porch. What, then, was the inference? But for the moment he drew
none--instead, he went home to his rooms in Friary Lane, and shutting
himself up, drew from his pocket the scrap of paper he had taken from
the dead man.



CHAPTER V. THE SCRAP OF PAPER


When Bryce, in his locked room, drew that bit of paper from his pocket,
it was with the conviction that in it he held a clue to the secret of
the morning’s adventure. He had only taken a mere glance at it as he
withdrew it from the dead man’s purse, but he had seen enough of what
was written on it to make him certain that it was a document--if such a
mere fragment could be called a document--of no ordinary importance.
And now he unfolded and laid it flat on his table and looked at it
carefully, asking himself what was the real meaning of what he saw.

There was not much to see. The scrap of paper itself was evidently a
quarter of a leaf of old-fashioned, stoutish notepaper, somewhat yellow
with age, and bearing evidence of having been folded and kept flat in
the dead man’s purse for some time--the creases were well-defined,
the edges were worn and slightly stained by long rubbing against the
leather. And in its centre were a few words, or, rather abbreviations of
words, in Latin, and some figures:

          In Para.  Wrycestr.  juxt.  tumb.
          Ric. Jenk. ex cap.  xxiii. xv.

Bryce at first sight took them to be a copy of some inscription but his
knowledge of Latin told him, a moment later, that instead of being an
inscription, it was a direction. And a very plain direction, too!--he
read it easily. In Paradise, at Wrychester, next to, or near, the tomb
of Richard Jenkins, or, possibly, Jenkinson, from, or behind, the head,
twenty-three, fifteen--inches, most likely. There was no doubt that
there was the meaning of the words. What, now, was it that lay behind
the tomb of Richard Jenkins, or Jenkinson, in Wrychester Paradise?--in
all probability twenty-three inches from the head-stone, and fifteen
inches beneath the surface. That was a question which Bryce immediately
resolved to find a satisfactory answer to; in the meantime there were
other questions which he set down in order on his mental tablets. They
were these:

 1.  Who, really, was the man who had registered at the
     Mitre under the name of John Braden?

 2.  Why did he wish to make a personal call on the
     Duke of Saxonsteade?

 3.  Was he some man who had known Ransford in time
     past--and whom Ransford had no desire to meet again?

 4.  Did Ransford meet him--in the Cathedral?

 5.  Was it Ransford who flung him to his death down
     St. Wrytha’s Stair?

 6.  Was that the real reason of the agitation in which
     he, Bryce, had found Ransford a few moments after
     the discovery of the body?

There was plenty of time before him for the due solution of these
mysteries, reflected Bryce--and for solving another problem which might
possibly have some relationship to them--that of the exact connection
between Ransford and his two wards. Bryce, in telling Ransford that
morning of what was being said amongst the tea-table circles of the old
cathedral city, had purposely only told him half a tale. He knew,
and had known for months, that the society of the Close was greatly
exercised over the position of the Ransford menage. Ransford, a
bachelor, a well-preserved, active, alert man who was certainly of no
more than middle age and did not look his years, had come to Wrychester
only a few years previously, and had never shown any signs of forsaking
his single state. No one had ever heard him mention his family or
relations; then, suddenly, without warning, he had brought into his
house Mary Bewery, a handsome young woman of nineteen, who was said
to have only just left school, and her brother Richard, then a boy of
sixteen, who had certainly been at a public school of repute and was
entered at the famous Dean’s School of Wrychester as soon as he came
to his new home. Dr. Ransford spoke of these two as his wards, without
further explanation; the society of the Close was beginning to want
much more explanation. Who were they--these two young people? Was Dr.
Ransford their uncle, their cousin--what was he to them? In any case,
in the opinion of the elderly ladies who set the tone of society in
Wrychester, Miss Bewery was much too young, and far too pretty, to be
left without a chaperon. But, up to then, no one had dared to say as
much to Dr. Ransford--instead, everybody said it freely behind his back.

Bryce had used eyes and ears in relation to the two young people. He had
been with Ransford a year when they arrived; admitted freely to their
company, he had soon discovered that whatever relationship existed
between them and Ransford, they had none with anybody else--that
they knew of. No letters came for them from uncles, aunts, cousins,
grandfathers, grandmothers. They appeared to have no memories or
reminiscences of relatives, nor of father or mother; there was a curious
atmosphere of isolation about them. They had plenty of talk about what
might be called their present--their recent schooldays, their youthful
experiences, games, pursuits--but none of what, under any circumstances,
could have been a very far-distant past. Bryce’s quick and attentive
ears discovered things--for instance that for many years past Ransford
had been in the habit of spending his annual two months’ holiday with
these two. Year after year--at any rate since the boy’s tenth year--he
had taken them travelling; Bryce heard scraps of reminiscences of tours
in France, and in Switzerland, and in Ireland, and in Scotland--even as
far afield as the far north of Norway. It was easy to see that both boy
and girl had a mighty veneration for Ransford; just as easy to see that
Ransford took infinite pains to make life something more than happy and
comfortable for both. And Bryce, who was one of those men who
firmly believe that no man ever does anything for nothing and that
self-interest is the mainspring of Life, asked himself over and over
again the question which agitated the ladies of the Close: Who are
these two, and what is the bond between them and this sort of
fairy-godfather-guardian?

And now, as he put away the scrap of paper in a safely-locked desk,
Bryce asked himself another question: Had the events of that morning
anything to do with the mystery which hung around Dr. Ransford’s wards?
If it had, then all the more reason why he should solve it. For Bryce
had made up his mind that, by hook or by crook, he would marry Mary
Bewery, and he was only too eager to lay hands on anything that would
help him to achieve that ambition. If he could only get Ransford into
his power--if he could get Mary Bewery herself into his power--well and
good. Once he had got her, he would be good enough to her--in his way.

Having nothing to do, Bryce went out after a while and strolled round to
the Wrychester Club--an exclusive institution, the members of which
were drawn from the leisured, the professional, the clerical, and the
military circles of the old city. And there, as he expected, he found
small groups discussing the morning’s tragedy, and he joined one of
them, in which was Sackville Bonham, his presumptive rival, who was
busily telling three or four other young men what his stepfather, Mr.
Folliot, had to say about the event.

“My stepfather says--and I tell you he saw the man,” said Sackville, who
was noted in Wrychester circles as a loquacious and forward youth; “he
says that whatever happened must have happened as soon as ever the old
chap got up into that clerestory gallery. Look here!--it’s like this.
My stepfather had gone in there for the morning service--strict old
church-goer he is, you know--and he saw this stranger going up the
stairway. He’s positive, Mr. Folliot, that it was then five minutes to
ten. Now, then, I ask you--isn’t he right, my stepfather, when he says
that it must have happened at once--immediately?

“Because that man, Varner, the mason, says he saw the man fall before
ten. What?”

One of the group nodded at Bryce.

“I should think Bryce knows what time it happened as well as anybody,”
 he said. “You were first on the spot, Bryce, weren’t you?”

“After Varner,” answered Bryce laconically. “As to the time--I could fix
it in this way--the organist was just beginning a voluntary or something
of the sort.”

“That means ten o’clock--to the minute--when he was found!” exclaimed
Sackville triumphantly. “Of course, he’d fallen a minute or two before
that--which proves Mr. Folliot to be right. Now what does that prove?
Why, that the old chap’s assailant, whoever he was, dogged him along
that gallery as soon as he entered, seized him when he got to the open
doorway, and flung him through! Clear as--as noonday!”

One of the group, a rather older man than the rest, who was leaning
back in a tilted chair, hands in pockets, watching Sackville Bonham
smilingly, shook his head and laughed a little.

“You’re taking something for granted, Sackie, my son!” he said. “You’re
adopting the mason’s tale as true. But I don’t believe the poor man was
thrown through that doorway at all--not I!”

Bryce turned sharply on this speaker--young Archdale, a member of a
well-known firm of architects.

“You don’t?” he exclaimed. “But Varner says he saw him thrown!”

“Very likely,” answered Archdale. “But it would all happen so quickly
that Varner might easily be mistaken. I’m speaking of something I know.
I know every inch of the Cathedral fabric--ought to, as we’re always
going over it, professionally. Just at that doorway, at the head of St.
Wrytha’s Stair, the flooring of the clerestory gallery is worn so smooth
that it’s like a piece of glass--and it slopes! Slopes at a very steep
angle, too, to the doorway itself. A stranger walking along there might
easily slip, and if the door was open, as it was, he’d be shot out and
into space before he knew what was happening.”

This theory produced a moment’s silence--broken at last by Sackville
Bonham.

“Varner says he saw--saw!--a man’s hand, a gentleman’s hand,” insisted
Sackville. “He saw a white shirt cuff, a bit of the sleeve of a coat.
You’re not going to get over that, you know. He’s certain of it!”

“Varner may be as certain of it as he likes,” answered Archdale, almost
indifferently, “and still he may be mistaken. The probability is that
Varner was confused by what he saw. He may have had a white shirt cuff
and the sleeve of a black coat impressed upon him, as in a flash--and
they were probably those of the man who was killed. If, as I suggest,
the man slipped, and was shot out of that open doorway, he would execute
some violent and curious movements in the effort to save himself in
which his arms would play an important part. For one thing, he would
certainly throw out an arm--to clutch at anything. That’s what Varner
most probably saw. There’s no evidence whatever that the man was flung
down.”

Bryce turned away from the group of talkers to think over Archdale’s
suggestion. If that suggestion had a basis of fact, it destroyed his own
theory that Ransford was responsible for the stranger’s death. In
that case, what was the reason of Ransford’s unmistakable agitation
on leaving the west porch, and of his attack--equally unmistakable--of
nerves in the surgery? But what Archdale had said made him inquisitive,
and after he had treated himself--in celebration of his freedom--to an
unusually good lunch at the Club, he went round to the Cathedral to make
a personal inspection of the gallery in the clerestory.

There was a stairway to that gallery in the corner of the south
transept, and Bryce made straight for it--only to find a policeman
there, who pointed to a placard on the turret door. “Closed, doctor--by
order of the Dean and Chapter,” he announced. “Till further orders. The
fact was, sir,” he went on confidentially, “after the news got out, so
many people came crowding in here and up to that gallery that the Dean
ordered all the entrances to be shut up at once--nobody’s been allowed
up since noon.”

“I suppose you haven’t heard anything of any strange person being seen
lurking about up there this morning?” asked Bryce.

“No, sir. But I’ve had a bit of a talk with some of the vergers,”
 replied the policeman, “and they say it’s a most extraordinary thing
that none of them ever saw this strange gentleman go up there, nor even
heard any scuffle. They say--the vergers--that they were all about at
the time, getting ready for the morning service, and they neither saw
nor heard. Odd, sir, ain’t it?”

“The whole thing’s odd,” agreed Bryce, and left the Cathedral. He walked
round to the wicket gate which admitted to that side of Paradise--to
find another policeman posted there. “What!--is this closed, too?” he
asked.

“And time, sir,” said the man. “They’d ha’ broken down all the shrubs
in the place if orders hadn’t been given! They were mad to see where the
gentleman fell--came in crowds at dinnertime.”

Bryce nodded, and was turning away, when Dick Bewery came round a corner
from the Deanery Walk, evidently keenly excited. With him was a girl of
about his own age--a certain characterful young lady whom Bryce knew
as Betty Campany, daughter of the librarian to the Dean and Chapter and
therefore custodian of one of the most famous cathedral libraries in
the country. She, too, was apparently brimming with excitement, and her
pretty and vivacious face puckered itself into a frown as the policeman
smiled and shook his head.

“Oh, I say, what’s that for?” exclaimed Dick Bewery. “Shut up?--what a
lot of rot! I say!--can’t you let us go in--just for a minute?”

“Not for a pension, sir!” answered the policeman good-naturedly. “Don’t
you see the notice? The Dean ‘ud have me out of the force by tomorrow if
I disobeyed orders. No admittance, nowhere, nohow! But lor’ bless
yer!” he added, glancing at the two young people. “There’s nothing to
see--nothing!--as Dr. Bryce there can tell you.”

Dick, who knew nothing of the recent passages between his guardian and
the dismissed assistant, glanced at Bryce with interest.

“You were on the spot first, weren’t you?” he asked: “Do you think it
really was murder?”

“I don’t know what it was,” answered Bryce. “And I wasn’t first on the
spot. That was Varner, the mason--he called me.” He turned from the lad
to glance at the girl, who was peeping curiously over the gate into
the yews and cypresses. “Do you think your father’s at the Library just
now?” he asked. “Shall I find him there?”

“I should think he is,” answered Betty Campany. “He generally goes down
about this time.” She turned and pulled Dick Bewery’s sleeve. “Let’s go
up in the clerestory,” she said. “We can see that, anyway.”

“Also closed, miss,” said the policeman, shaking his head. “No
admittance there, neither. The public firmly warned off--so to speak. ‘I
won’t have the Cathedral turned into a peepshow!’ that’s precisely what
I heard the Dean say with my own ears. So--closed!”

The boy and the girl turned away and went off across the Close, and the
policeman looked after them and laughed.

“Lively young couple, that, sir!” he said. “What they call healthy
curiosity, I suppose? Plenty o’ that knocking around in the city today.”

Bryce, who had half-turned in the direction of the Library, at the other
side of the Close, turned round again.

“Do you know if your people are doing anything about identifying the
dead man?” he asked. “Did you hear anything at noon?”

“Nothing but that there’ll be inquiries through the newspapers, sir,”
 replied the policeman. “That’s the surest way of finding something out.
And I did hear Inspector Mitchington say that they’d have to ask the
Duke if he knew anything about the poor man--I suppose he’d let fall
something about wanting to go over to Saxonsteade.”

Bryce went off in the direction of the Library thinking. The
newspapers?--yes, no better channel for spreading the news. If Mr. John
Braden had relations and friends, they would learn of his sad death
through the newspapers, and would come forward. And in that case--

“But it wouldn’t surprise me,” mused Bryce, “if the name given at the
Mitre is an assumed name. I wonder if that theory of Archdale’s is a
correct one?--however, there’ll be more of that at the inquest tomorrow.
And in the meantime--let me find out something about the tomb of Richard
Jenkins, or Jenkinson--whoever he was.”

The famous Library of the Dean and Chapter of Wrychester was housed in
an ancient picturesque building in one corner of the Close, wherein, day
in and day out, amidst priceless volumes and manuscripts, huge folios
and weighty quartos, old prints, and relics of the mediaeval ages,
Ambrose Campany, the librarian, was pretty nearly always to be found,
ready to show his treasures to the visitors and tourists who came from
all parts of the world to see a collection well known to bibliophiles.
And Ambrose Campany, a cheery-faced, middle-aged man, with booklover and
antiquary written all over him, shockheaded, blue-spectacled, was there
now, talking to an old man whom Bryce knew as a neighbour of his
in Friary Lane--one Simpson Barker, a quiet, meditative old fellow,
believed to be a retired tradesman who spent his time in gentle
pottering about the city. Bryce, as he entered, caught what Campany was
just then saying.

“The most important thing I’ve heard about it,” said Campany, “is--that
book they found in the man’s suit-case at the Mitre. I’m not a
detective--but there’s a clue!”



CHAPTER VI. BY MISADVENTURE


Old Simpson Harker, who sat near the librarian’s table, his hands
folded on the crook of his stout walking stick, glanced out of a pair
of unusually shrewd and bright eyes at Bryce as he crossed the room and
approached the pair of gossipers.

“I think the doctor was there when that book you’re speaking of was
found,” he remarked. “So I understood from Mitchington.”

“Yes, I was there,” said Bryce, who was not unwilling to join in the
talk. He turned to Campany. “What makes you think there’s a clue--in
that?” he asked.

“Why this,” answered the librarian. “Here’s a man in possession of
an old history of Barthorpe. Barthorpe is a small market-town in the
Midlands--Leicestershire, I believe, of no particular importance that I
know of, but doubtless with a story of its own. Why should any one but a
Barthorpe man, past or present, be interested in that story so far as to
carry an old account of it with him? Therefore, I conclude this stranger
was a Barthorpe man. And it’s at Barthorpe that I should make inquiries
about him.”

Simpson Harker made no remark, and Bryce remembered what Mr. Dellingham
had said when the book was found.

“Oh, I don’t know!” he replied carelessly. “I don’t see that
that follows. I saw the book--a curious old binding and queer old
copper-plates. The man may have picked it up for that reason--I’ve
bought old books myself for less.”

“All the same,” retorted Campany, “I should make inquiry at Barthorpe.
You’ve got to go on probabilities. The probabilities in this case are
that the man was interested in the book because it dealt with his own
town.”

Bryce turned away towards a wall on which hung a number of charts and
plans of Wrychester Cathedral and its precincts--it was to inspect one
of these that he had come to the Library. But suddenly remembering that
there was a question which he could ask without exciting any suspicion
or surmise, he faced round again on the librarian.

“Isn’t there a register of burials within the Cathedral?” he inquired.
“Some book in which they’re put down? I was looking in the Memorials of
Wrychester the other day, and I saw some names I want to trace.”

Campany lifted his quill pen and pointed to a case of big leather-bound
volumes in a far corner of the room.

“Third shelf from the bottom, doctor,” he replied. “You’ll see two books
there--one’s the register of all burials within the Cathedral itself
up to date: the other’s the register of those in Paradise and the
cloisters. What names are you wanting to trace?”

But Bryce affected not to hear the last question; he walked over to
the place which Campany had indicated, and taking down the second book
carried it to an adjacent table. Campany called across the room to him.

“You’ll find useful indexes at the end,” he said. “They’re all brought
up to the present time--from four hundred years ago, nearly.”

Bryce turned to the index at the end of his book--an index written out
in various styles of handwriting. And within a minute he found the name
he wanted--there it was plainly before him--Richard Jenkins, died March
8th, 1715: buried, in Paradise, March 10th. He nearly laughed aloud
at the ease with which he was tracing out what at first had seemed a
difficult matter to investigate. But lest his task should seem too easy,
he continued to turn over the leaves of the big folio, and in order to
have an excuse if the librarian should ask him any further questions, he
memorized some of the names which he saw. And after a while he took the
book back to its shelf, and turned to the wall on which the charts and
maps were hung. There was one there of Paradise, whereon was marked the
site and names of all the tombs and graves in that ancient enclosure;
from it he hoped to ascertain the exact position and whereabouts of
Richard Jenkins’s grave.

But here Bryce met his first check. Down each side of the old
chart--dated 1850--there was a tabulated list of the tombs in Paradise.
The names of families and persons were given in this list--against each
name was a number corresponding with the same number, marked on the
various divisions of the chart. And there was no Richard Jenkins on
that list--he went over it carefully twice, thrice. It was not there.
Obviously, if the tomb of Richard Jenkins, who was buried in Paradise in
1715, was still there, amongst the cypresses and yew trees, the name and
inscription on it had vanished, worn away by time and weather, when that
chart had been made, a hundred and thirty-five years later. And in that
case, what did the memorandum mean which Bryce had found in the dead
man’s purse?

He turned away at last from the chart, at a loss--and Campany glanced at
him.

“Found what you wanted?” he asked.

“Oh, yes!” replied Bryce, primed with a ready answer. “I just wanted to
see where the Spelbanks were buried--quite a lot of them, I see.”

“Southeast corner of Paradise,” said Campany. “Several tombs. I could
have spared you the trouble of looking.”

“You’re a regular encyclopaedia about the place,” laughed Bryce. “I
suppose you know every spout and gargoyle!”

“Ought to,” answered the librarian. “I’ve been fed on it, man and boy,
for five-and-forty years.”

Bryce made some fitting remark and went out and home to his rooms--there
to spend most of the ensuing evening in trying to puzzle out the various
mysteries of the day. He got no more light on them then, and he was
still exercising his brains on them when he went to the inquest next
morning--to find the Coroner’s court packed to the doors with an
assemblage of townsfolk just as curious as he was. And as he sat
there, listening to the preliminaries, and to the evidence of the first
witnesses, his active and scheming mind figured to itself, not without
much cynical amusement, how a word or two from his lips would go far
to solve matters. He thought of what he might tell--if he told all the
truth. He thought of what he might get out of Ransford if he, Bryce,
were Coroner, or solicitor, and had Ransford in that witness-box.
He would ask him on his oath if he knew that dead man--if he had had
dealings with him in times past--if he had met and spoken to him on that
eventful morning--he would ask him, point-blank, if it was not his hand
that had thrown him to his death. But Bryce had no intention of making
any revelations just then--as for himself he was going to tell just as
much as he pleased and no more. And so he sat and heard--and knew from
what he heard that everybody there was in a hopeless fog, and that in
all that crowd there was but one man who had any real suspicion of the
truth, and that that man was himself.

The evidence given in the first stages of the inquiry was all known to
Bryce, and to most people in the court, already. Mr. Dellingham told
how he had met the dead man in the train, journeying from London to
Wrychester. Mrs. Partingley told how he had arrived at the Mitre,
registered in her book as Mr. John Braden, and had next morning asked if
he could get a conveyance for Saxonsteade in the afternoon, as he
wished to see the Duke. Mr. Folliot testified to having seen him in the
Cathedral, going towards one of the stairways leading to the gallery.
Varner--most important witness of all up to that point--told of what he
had seen. Bryce himself, followed by Ransford, gave medical evidence;
Mitchington told of his examination of the dead man’s clothing and
effects in his room at the Mitre. And Mitchington added the first
information which was new to Bryce.

“In consequence of finding the book about Barthorpe in the suit-case,”
 said Mitchington, “we sent a long telegram yesterday to the police
there, telling them what had happened, and asking them to make the most
careful inquiries at once about any townsman of theirs of the name of
John Braden, and to wire us the result of such inquiries this morning.
This is their reply, received by us an hour ago. Nothing whatever is
known at Barthorpe--which is a very small town--of any person of that
name.”

So much for that, thought Bryce. He turned with more interest to the
next witness--the Duke of Saxonsteade, the great local magnate, a big,
bluff man who had been present in court since the beginning of the
proceedings, in which he was manifestly highly interested. It was
possible that he might be able to tell something of moment--he might,
after all, know something of this apparently mysterious stranger, who,
for anything that Mrs. Partingley or anybody else could say to the
contrary, might have had an appointment and business with him.

But his Grace knew nothing. He had never heard the name of John Braden
in his life--so far as he remembered. He had just seen the body of the
unfortunate man and had looked carefully at the features. He was not a
man of whom he had any knowledge whatever--he could not recollect ever
having seen him anywhere at any time. He knew literally nothing of
him--could not think of any reason at all why this Mr. John Braden
should wish to see him.

“Your Grace has, no doubt, had business dealings with a good many people
at one time or another,” suggested the Coroner. “Some of them, perhaps,
with men whom your Grace only saw for a brief space of time--a few
minutes, possibly. You don’t remember ever seeing this man in that way?”

“I’m credited with having an unusually good memory for faces,” answered
the Duke. “And--if I may say so--rightly. But I don’t remember this
man at all--in fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’m positive I’ve
never--knowingly--set eyes on him in my life.”

“Can your Grace suggest any reason at all why he should wish to call on
you?” asked the Coroner.

“None! But then,” replied the Duke, “there might be many
reasons--unknown to me, but at which I can make a guess. If he was an
antiquary, there are lots of old things at Saxonsteade which he might
wish to see. Or he might be a lover of pictures--our collection is a bit
famous, you know. Perhaps he was a bookman--we have some rare editions.
I could go on multiplying reasons--but to what purpose?”

“The fact is, your Grace doesn’t know him and knows nothing about him,”
 observed the Coroner.

“Just so--nothing!” agreed the Duke and stepped down again.

It was at this stage that the Coroner sent the jurymen away in charge of
his officer to make a careful personal inspection of the gallery in the
clerestory. And while they were gone there was some commotion caused
in the court by the entrance of a police official who conducted to the
Coroner a middle-aged, well-dressed man whom Bryce at once set down as
a London commercial magnate of some quality. Between the new arrival
and the Coroner an interchange of remarks was at once made, shared in
presently by some of the officials at the table. And when the jury came
back the stranger was at once ushered into the witness-box, and the
Coroner turned to the jury and the court.

“We are unexpectedly able to get some evidence of identity, gentlemen,”
 he observed. “The gentleman who has just stepped into the witness-box
is Mr. Alexander Chilstone, manager of the London & Colonies Bank, in
Threadneedle Street. Mr. Chilstone saw particulars of this matter in the
newspapers this morning, and he at once set off to Wrychester to tell
us what he knows of the dead man. We are very much obliged to Mr.
Chilstone--and when he has been sworn he will perhaps kindly tell us
what he can.”

In the midst of the murmur of sensation which ran round the court, Bryce
indulged himself with a covert look at Ransford who was sitting opposite
to him, beyond the table in the centre of the room. He saw at once that
Ransford, however strenuously he might be fighting to keep his
face under control, was most certainly agitated by the Coroner’s
announcement. His cheeks had paled, his eyes were a little dilated, his
lips parted as he stared at the bank-manager--altogether, it was more
than mere curiosity that was indicated on his features. And Bryce,
satisfied and secretly elated, turned to hear what Mr. Alexander
Chilstone had to tell.

That was not much--but it was of considerable importance. Only two
days before, said Mr. Chilstone--that was, on the day previous to his
death--Mr. John Braden had called at the London & Colonies Bank, of
which he, Mr. Chilstone, was manager, and introducing himself as having
just arrived in England from Australia, where, he said, he had been
living for some years, had asked to be allowed to open an account. He
produced some references from agents of the London & Colonies Bank, in
Melbourne, which were highly satisfactory; the account being opened, he
paid into it a sum of ten thousand pounds in a draft at sight drawn by
one of those agents. He drew nothing against this, remarking casually
that he had plenty of money in his pocket for the present: he did not
even take the cheque-book which was offered him, saying that he would
call for it later.

“He did not give us any address in London, nor in England,” continued
the witness. “He told me that he had only arrived at Charing Cross that
very morning, having travelled from Paris during the night. He said that
he should settle down for a time at some residential hotel in London,
and in the meantime he had one or two calls, or visits, to make in the
country: when he returned from them, he said, he would call on me again.
He gave me very little information about himself: it was not necessary,
for his references from our agents in Australia were quite satisfactory.
But he did mention that he had been out there for some years, and had
speculated in landed property--he also said that he was now going to
settle in England for good. That,” concluded Mr. Chilstone, “is all I
can tell of my own knowledge. But,” he added, drawing a newspaper from
his pocket, “here is an advertisement which I noticed in this morning’s
Times as I came down. You will observe,” he said, as he passed it to
the Coroner, “that it has certainly been inserted by our unfortunate
customer.”

The Coroner glanced at a marked passage in the personal column of the
Times, and read it aloud:

“The advertisement is as follows,” he announced. “‘If this meets the eye
of old friend Marco, he will learn that Sticker wishes to see him
again. Write J. Braden, c/o London & Colonies Bank, Threadneedle Street,
London.’”

Bryce was keeping a quiet eye on Ransford. Was he mistaken in believing
that he saw him start; that he saw his cheek flush as he heard the
advertisement read out? He believed he was not mistaken--but if he was
right, Ransford the next instant regained full control of himself and
made no sign. And Bryce turned again to Coroner and witness.

But the witness had no more to say--except to suggest that the bank’s
Melbourne agents should be cabled to for information, since it was
unlikely that much more could be got in England. And with that the
middle stage of the proceedings ended--and the last one came, watched
by Bryce with increasing anxiety. For it was soon evident, from certain
remarks made by the Coroner, that the theory which Archdale had put
forward at the club in Bryce’s hearing the previous day had gained
favour with the authorities, and that the visit of the jurymen to the
scene of the disaster had been intended by the Coroner to predispose
them in behalf of it. And now Archdale himself, as representing the
architects who held a retaining fee in connection with the Cathedral,
was called to give his opinion--and he gave it in almost the same words
which Bryce had heard him use twenty-four hours previously. After him
came the master-mason, expressing the same decided conviction--that the
real truth was that the pavement of the gallery had at that particular
place become so smooth, and was inclined towards the open doorway at
such a sharp angle, that the unfortunate man had lost his footing on it,
and before he could recover it had been shot out of the arch and over
the broken head of St. Wrytha’s Stair. And though, at a juryman’s wish,
Varner was recalled, and stuck stoutly to his original story of having
seen a hand which, he protested, was certainly not that of the dead
man, it soon became plain that the jury shared the Coroner’s belief that
Varner in his fright and excitement had been mistaken, and no one was
surprised when the foreman, after a very brief consultation with his
fellows, announced a verdict of death by misadventure.

“So the city’s cleared of the stain of murder!” said a man who sat next
to Bryce. “That’s a good job, anyway! Nasty thing, doctor, to think of
a murder being committed in a cathedral. There’d be a question of
sacrilege, of course--and all sorts of complications.”

Bryce made no answer. He was watching Ransford, who was talking to the
Coroner. And he was not mistaken now--Ransford’s face bore all the
signs of infinite relief. From--what? Bryce turned, to leave the stuffy,
rapidly-emptying court. And as he passed the centre table he saw old
Simpson Harker, who, after sitting in attentive silence for three hours
had come up to it, picked up the “History of Barthorpe” which had
been found in Braden’s suit-case and was inquisitively peering at its
title-page.



CHAPTER VII. THE DOUBLE TRAIL


Pemberton Bryce was not the only person in Wrychester who was watching
Ransford with keen attention during these events. Mary Bewery, a young
woman of more than usual powers of observation and penetration, had been
quick to see that her guardian’s distress over the affair in Paradise
was something out of the common. She knew Ransford for an exceedingly
tender-hearted man, with a considerable spice of sentiment in his
composition: he was noted for his more than professional interest in the
poorer sort of his patients and had gained a deserved reputation in the
town for his care of them. But it was somewhat surprising, even to Mary,
that he should be so much upset by the death of a total stranger as to
lose his appetite, and, for at any rate a couple of days, be so restless
that his conduct could not fail to be noticed by herself and her
brother. His remarks on the tragedy were conventional enough--a most
distressing affair--a sad fate for the poor fellow--most unexplainable
and mysterious, and so on--but his concern obviously went beyond that.
He was ill at ease when she questioned him about the facts; almost
irritable when Dick Bewery, schoolboy-like, asked him concerning
professional details; she was sure, from the lines about his eyes and a
worn look on his face, that he had passed a restless night when he came
down to breakfast on the morning of the inquest. But when he returned
from the inquest she noticed a change--it was evident, to her ready
wits, that Ransford had experienced a great relief. He spoke of relief,
indeed, that night at dinner, observing that the verdict which the jury
had returned had cleared the air of a foul suspicion; it would have
been no pleasant matter, he said, if Wrychester Cathedral had gained an
unenviable notoriety as the scene of a murder.

“All the same,” remarked Dick, who knew all the talk of the town,
“Varner persists in sticking to what he’s said all along. Varner
says--said this afternoon, after the inquest was over--that he’s
absolutely certain of what he saw, and that he not only saw a hand in
a white cuff and black coat sleeve, but that he saw the sun gleam for
a second on the links in the cuff, as if they were gold or diamonds.
Pretty stiff evidence that, sir, isn’t it?”

“In the state of mind in which Varner was at that moment,” replied
Ransford, “he wouldn’t be very well able to decide definitely on what he
really did see. His vision would retain confused images. Probably he saw
the dead man’s hand--he was wearing a black coat and white linen. The
verdict was a most sensible one.”

No more was said after that, and that evening Ransford was almost
himself again. But not quite himself. Mary caught him looking very
grave, in evident abstraction, more than once; more than once she heard
him sigh heavily. But he said no more of the matter until two days
later, when, at breakfast, he announced his intention of attending John
Braden’s funeral, which was to take place that morning.

“I’ve ordered the brougham for eleven,” he said, “and I’ve arranged with
Dr. Nicholson to attend to any urgent call that comes in between that
and noon--so, if there is any such call, you can telephone to him. A few
of us are going to attend this poor man’s funeral--it would be too bad
to allow a stranger to go to his grave unattended, especially after
such a fate. There’ll be somebody representing the Dean and Chapter,
and three or four principal townsmen, so he’ll not be quite neglected.
And”--here he hesitated and looked a little nervously at Mary, to whom
he was telling all this, Dick having departed for school--“there’s a
little matter I wish you’d attend to--you’ll do it better than I should.
The man seems to have been friendless; here, at any rate--no relations
have come forward, in spite of the publicity--so--don’t you think it
would be rather--considerate, eh?--to put a wreath, or a cross, or
something of that sort on his grave--just to show--you know?”

“Very kind of you to think of it,” said Mary. “What do you wish me to
do?”

“If you’d go to Gardales’, the florists, and order--something fitting,
you know,” replied Ransford, “and afterwards--later in the day--take it
to St. Wigbert’s Churchyard--he’s to be buried there--take it--if you
don’t mind--yourself, you know.”

“Certainly,” answered Mary. “I’ll see that it’s done.”

She would do anything that seemed good to Ransford--but all the same she
wondered at this somewhat unusual show of interest in a total stranger.
She put it down at last to Ransford’s undoubted sentimentality--the
man’s sad fate had impressed him. And that afternoon the sexton at St.
Wigbert’s pointed out the new grave to Miss Bewery and Mr. Sackville
Bonham, one carrying a wreath and the other a large bunch of lilies.
Sackville, chancing to encounter Mary at the florist’s, whither he had
repaired to execute a commission for his mother, had heard her business,
and had been so struck by the notion--or by a desire to ingratiate
himself with Miss Bewery--that he had immediately bought flowers
himself--to be put down to her account--and insisted on accompanying
Mary to the churchyard.

Bryce heard of this tribute to John Braden next day--from Mrs. Folliot,
Sackville Bonham’s mother, a large lady who dominated certain circles
of Wrychester society in several senses. Mrs. Folliot was one of those
women who have been gifted by nature with capacity--she was conspicuous
in many ways. Her voice was masculine; she stood nearly six feet in her
stoutly-soled shoes; her breadth corresponded to her height; her eyes
were piercing, her nose Roman; there was not a curate in Wrychester
who was not under her thumb, and if the Dean himself saw her coming, he
turned hastily into the nearest shop, sweating with fear lest she should
follow him. Endued with riches and fortified by assurance, Mrs. Folliot
was the presiding spirit in many movements of charity and benevolence;
there were people in Wrychester who were unkind enough to say--behind
her back--that she was as meddlesome as she was most undoubtedly
autocratic, but, as one of her staunchest clerical defenders once
pointed out, these grumblers were what might be contemptuously dismissed
as five-shilling subscribers. Mrs. Folliot, in her way, was undoubtedly
a power--and for reasons of his own Pemberton Bryce, whenever he met
her--which was fairly often--was invariably suave and polite.

“Most mysterious thing, this, Dr. Bryce,” remarked Mrs. Folliot in her
deepest tones, encountering Bryce, the day after the funeral, at the
corner of a back street down which she was about to sail on one of her
charitable missions, to the terror of any of the women who happened to
be caught gossiping. “What, now, should make Dr. Ransford cause flowers
to be laid on the grave of a total stranger? A sentimental feeling?
Fiddle-de-dee! There must be some reason.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mrs. Folliot,”
 answered Bryce, whose ears had already lengthened. “Has Dr. Ransford
been laying flowers on a grave?--I didn’t know of it. My engagement with
Dr. Ransford terminated two days ago--so I’ve seen nothing of him.”

“My son, Mr. Sackville Bonham,” said Mrs. Folliot, “tells me
that yesterday Miss Bewery came into Gardales’ and spent a
sovereign--actually a sovereign!--on a wreath, which, she told
Sackville, she was about to carry, at her guardian’s desire, to
this strange man’s grave. Sackville, who is a warm-hearted boy, was
touched--he, too, bought flowers and accompanied Miss Bewery. Most
extraordinary! A perfect stranger! Dear me--why, nobody knows who the
man was!”

“Except his bank-manager,” remarked Bryce, “who says he’s holding ten
thousand pounds of his.”

“That,” admitted Mrs. Folliot gravely, “is certainly a consideration.
But then, who knows?--the money may have been stolen. Now, really, did
you ever hear of a quite respectable man who hadn’t even a visiting-card
or a letter upon him? And from Australia, too!--where all the people
that are wanted run away to! I have actually been tempted to wonder, Dr.
Bryce, if Dr. Ransford knew this man--in years gone by? He might have,
you know, he might have--certainly! And that, of course, would explain
the flowers.”

“There is a great deal in the matter that requires explanation, Mrs.
Folliot,” said Bryce. He was wondering if it would be wise to instil
some minute drop of poison into the lady’s mind, there to increase in
potency and in due course to spread. “I--of course, I may have been
mistaken--I certainly thought Dr. Ransford seemed unusually agitated by
this affair--it appeared to upset him greatly.”

“So I have heard--from others who were at the inquest,” responded Mrs.
Folliot. “In my opinion our Coroner--a worthy man otherwise--is not
sufficiently particular. I said to Mr. Folliot this morning, on reading
the newspaper, that in my view that inquest should have been adjourned
for further particulars. Now I know of one particular that was never
mentioned at the inquest!”

“Oh?” said Bryce. “And what?”

“Mrs. Deramore, who lives, as you know, next to Dr. Ransford,” replied
Mrs. Folliot, “told me this morning that on the morning of the accident,
happening to look out of one of her upper windows, she saw a man whom,
from the description given in the newspapers, was, Mrs. Deramore feels
assured, was the mysterious stranger, crossing the Close towards the
Cathedral in, Mrs. Deramore is positive, a dead straight line from
Dr. Ransford’s garden--as if he had been there. Dr. Bryce!--a direct
question should have been asked of Dr. Ransford--had he ever seen that
man before?”

“Ah, but you see, Mrs. Folliot, the Coroner didn’t know what Mrs.
Deramore saw, so he couldn’t ask such a question, nor could any one
else,” remarked Bryce, who was wondering how long Mrs. Deramore remained
at her upper window and if she saw him follow Braden. “But there are
circumstances, no doubt, which ought to be inquired into. And it’s
certainly very curious that Dr. Ransford should send a wreath to the
grave of--a stranger.”

He went away convinced that Mrs. Folliot’s inquisitiveness had been
aroused, and that her tongue would not be idle: Mrs. Folliot, left to
herself, had the gift of creating an atmosphere, and if she once got
it into her head that there was some mysterious connection between Dr.
Ransford and the dead man, she would never rest until she had spread her
suspicions. But as for Bryce himself, he wanted more than suspicions--he
wanted facts, particulars, data. And once more he began to go over the
sum of evidence which had accrued.

The question of the scrap of paper found in Braden’s purse, and of the
exact whereabouts of Richard Jenkins’s grave in Paradise, he left
for the time being. What was now interesting him chiefly was the
advertisement in the Times to which the bank-manager from London had
drawn attention. He had made haste to buy a copy of the Times and to
cut out the advertisement. There it was--old friend Marco was wanted by
(presumably old friend) Sticker, and whoever Sticker might be he could
certainly be found under care of J. Braden. It had never been in doubt
a moment, in Bryce’s mind, that Sticker was J. Braden himself. Who, now,
was Marco? Who--a million to one on it!--but Ransford, whose Christian
name was Mark?

He reckoned up his chances of getting at the truth of the affair anew
that night. As things were, it seemed unlikely that any relations of
Braden would now turn up. The Wrychester Paradise case, as the reporters
had aptly named it, had figured largely in the newspapers, London and
provincial; it could scarcely have had more publicity--yet no one, save
this bank-manager, had come forward. If there had been any one to
come forward the bank-manager’s evidence would surely have proved an
incentive to speed--for there was a sum of ten thousand pounds awaiting
John Braden’s next-of-kin. In Bryce’s opinion the chance of putting in
a claim to ten thousand pounds is not left waiting forty-eight
hours--whoever saw such a chance would make instant use of telegraph or
telephone. But no message from anybody professing relationship with the
dead man had so far reached the Wrychester police.

When everything had been taken into account, Bryce saw no better clue
for the moment than that suggested by Ambrose Campany--Barthorpe.
Ambrose Campany, bookworm though he was, was a shrewd, sharp fellow,
said Bryce--a man of ideas. There was certainly much in his suggestion
that a man wasn’t likely to buy an old book about a little insignificant
town like Barthorpe unless he had some interest in it--Barthorpe, if
Campany’s theory were true, was probably the place of John Braden’s
origin.

Therefore, information about Braden, leading to knowledge of his
association or connection with Ransford, might be found at Barthorpe.
True, the Barthorpe police had already reported that they could tell
nothing about any Braden, but that, in Bryce’s opinion, was neither
here nor there--he had already come to the conclusion that Braden was an
assumed name. And if he went to Barthorpe, he was not going to trouble
the police--he knew better methods than that of finding things out. Was
he going?--was it worth his while? A moment’s reflection decided that
matter--anything was worth his while which would help him to get a
strong hold on Mark Ransford. And always practical in his doings, he
walked round to the Free Library, obtained a gazeteer, and looked up
particulars of Barthorpe. There he learnt that Barthorpe was an ancient
market-town of two thousand inhabitants in the north of Leicestershire,
famous for nothing except that it had been the scene of a battle at
the time of the Wars of the Roses, and that its trade was mainly in
agriculture and stocking-making--evidently a slow, sleepy old place.

That night Bryce packed a hand-bag with small necessaries for a few
days’ excursion, and next morning he took an early train to London; the
end of that afternoon found him in a Midland northern-bound express,
looking out on the undulating, green acres of Leicestershire. And while
his train was making a three minutes’ stop at Leicester itself, the
purpose of his journey was suddenly recalled to him by hearing the
strident voices of the porters on the platform.

“Barthorpe next stop!--next stop Barthorpe!”

One of two other men who shared a smoking compartment with Bryce turned
to his companion as the train moved off again.

“Barthorpe?” he remarked. “That’s the place that was mentioned in
connection with that very queer affair at Wrychester, that’s been
reported in the papers so much these last few days. The mysterious
stranger who kept ten thousand in a London bank, and of whom nobody
seems to know anything, had nothing on him but a history of Barthorpe.
Odd! And yet, though you’d think he’d some connection with the place, or
had known it, they say nobody at Barthorpe knows anything about anybody
of his name.”

“Well, I don’t know that there is anything so very odd about it, after
all,” replied the other man. “He may have picked up that old book for
one of many reasons that could be suggested. No--I read all that case
in the papers, and I wasn’t so much impressed by the old book feature
of it. But I’ll tell you what--there was a thing struck me. I know this
Barthorpe district--we shall be in it in a few minutes--I’ve been a good
deal over it. This strange man’s name was given in the papers as John
Braden. Now close to Barthorpe--a mile or two outside it, there’s a
village of that name--Braden Medworth. That’s a curious coincidence--and
taken in conjunction with the man’s possession of an old book about
Barthorpe--why, perhaps there’s something in it--possibly more than I
thought for at first.”

“Well--it’s an odd case--a very odd case,” said the first speaker.
“And--as there’s ten thousand pounds in question, more will be heard of
it. Somebody’ll be after that, you may be sure!”

Bryce left the train at Barthorpe thanking his good luck--the man in
the far corner had unwittingly given him a hint. He would pay a visit to
Braden Medworth--the coincidence was too striking to be neglected. But
first Barthorpe itself--a quaint old-world little market-town, in
which some of even the principal houses still wore roofs of thatch, and
wherein the old custom of ringing the curfew bell was kept up. He found
an old-fashioned hotel in the marketplace, under the shadow of the
parish church, and in its oak-panelled dining-room, hung about with
portraits of masters of foxhounds and queer old prints of sporting and
coaching days, he dined comfortably and well.

It was too late to attempt any investigations that evening, and
when Bryce had finished his leisurely dinner he strolled into the
smoking-room--an even older and quainter apartment than that which
he had just left. It was one of those rooms only found in very old
houses--a room of nooks and corners, with a great open fireplace, and
old furniture and old pictures and curiosities--the sort of place to
which the old-fashioned tradesmen of the small provincial towns still
resort of an evening rather than patronize the modern political clubs.
There were several men of this sort in the room when Bryce entered,
talking local politics amongst themselves, and he found a quiet corner
and sat down in it to smoke, promising himself some amusement from the
conversation around him; it was his way to find interest and amusement
in anything that offered. But he had scarcely settled down in a
comfortably cushioned elbow chair when the door opened again and into
the room walked old Simpson Harker.



CHAPTER VIII. THE BEST MAN


Old Harker’s shrewd eyes, travelling round the room as if to inspect the
company in which he found himself, fell almost immediately on Bryce--but
not before Bryce had had time to assume an air and look of innocent
and genuine surprise. Harker affected no surprise at all--he looked the
astonishment he felt as the younger man rose and motioned him to the
comfortable easy-chair which he himself had just previously taken.

“Dear me!” he exclaimed, nodding his thanks. “I’d no idea that I should
meet you in these far-off parts, Dr. Bryce! This is a long way from
Wrychester, sir, for Wrychester folk to meet in.”

“I’d no idea of meeting you, Mr. Harker,” responded Bryce. “But it’s
a small world, you know, and there are a good many coincidences in it.
There’s nothing very wonderful in my presence here, though--I ran down
to see after a country practice--I’ve left Dr. Ransford.”

He had the lie ready as soon as he set eyes on Harker, and whether
the old man believed it or not, he showed no sign of either belief or
disbelief. He took the chair which Bryce drew forward and pulled out an
old-fashioned cigar-case, offering it to his companion.

“Will you try one, doctor?” he asked. “Genuine stuff that, sir--I’ve a
friend in Cuba who remembers me now and then. No,” he went on, as Bryce
thanked him and took a cigar, “I didn’t know you’d finished with the
doctor. Quietish place this to practise in, I should think--much quieter
even than our sleepy old city.”

“You know it?” inquired Bryce.

“I’ve a friend lives here--old friend of mine,” answered Harker. “I come
down to see him now and then--I’ve been here since yesterday. He does a
bit of business for me. Stopping long, doctor?”

“Only just to look round,” answered Bryce.

“I’m off tomorrow morning--eleven o’clock,” said Harker. “It’s a longish
journey to Wrychester--for old bones like mine.”

“Oh, you’re all right!--worth half a dozen younger men,” responded
Bryce. “You’ll see a lot of your contemporaries out, Mr. Harker.
Well--as you’ve treated me to a very fine cigar, now you’ll let me treat
you to a drop of whisky?--they generally have something of pretty good
quality in these old-fashioned establishments, I believe.”

The two travellers sat talking until bedtime--but neither made any
mention of the affair which had recently set all Wrychester agog with
excitement. But Bryce was wondering all the time if his companion’s
story of having a friend at Barthorpe was no more than an excuse, and
when he was alone in his own bedroom and reflecting more seriously he
came to the conclusion that old Harker was up to some game of his own in
connection with the Paradise mystery.

“The old chap was in the Library when Ambrose Campany said that there
was a clue in that Barthorpe history,” he mused. “I saw him myself
examining the book after the inquest. No, no, Mr. Harker!--the facts
are too plain--the evidences too obvious. And yet--what interest has a
retired old tradesman of Wrychester got in this affair? I’d give a good
deal to know what Harker really is doing here--and who his Barthorpe
friend is.”

If Bryce had risen earlier next morning, and had taken the trouble to
track old Harker’s movements, he would have learnt something that would
have made him still more suspicious. But Bryce, seeing no reason for
hurry, lay in bed till well past nine o’clock, and did not present
himself in the coffee-room until nearly half-past ten. And at that
hour Simpson Harker, who had breakfasted before nine, was in close
consultation with his friend--that friend being none other than the
local superintendent of police, who was confidentially closeted with the
old man in his private house, whither Harker, by previous arrangement,
had repaired as soon as his breakfast was over. Had Bryce been able to
see through walls or hear through windows, he would have been surprised
to find that the Harker of this consultation was not the quiet,
easy-going, gossipy old gentleman of Wrychester, but an eminently
practical and business-like man of affairs.

“And now as regards this young fellow who’s staying across there at the
Peacock,” he was saying in conclusion, at the very time that Bryce was
leisurely munching his second mutton chop in the Peacock coffee-room,
“he’s after something or other--his talk about coming here to see after
a practice is all lies!--and you’ll keep an eye on him while he’s
in your neighbourhood. Put your best plainclothes man on to him at
once--he’ll easily know him from the description I gave you--and let him
shadow him wherever he goes. And then let me know of his movement--he’s
certainly on the track of something, and what he does may be useful
to me--I can link it up with my own work. And as regards the other
matter--keep me informed if you come on anything further. Now I’ll go
out by your garden and down the back of the town to the station. Let me
know, by the by, when this young man at the Peacock leaves here, and, if
possible--and you can find out--for where.”

Bryce was all unconscious that any one was interested in his movements
when he strolled out into Barthorpe market-place just after eleven.
He had asked a casual question of the waiter and found that the old
gentleman had departed--he accordingly believed himself free from
observation. And forthwith he set about his work of inquiry in his own
fashion. He was not going to draw any attention to himself by asking
questions of present-day inhabitants, whose curiosity might then be
aroused; he knew better methods than that. Every town, said Bryce to
himself, possesses public records--parish registers, burgess rolls,
lists of voters; even small towns have directories which are more
or less complete--he could search these for any mention or record of
anybody or any family of the name of Braden. And he spent all that day
in that search, inspecting numerous documents and registers and books,
and when evening came he had a very complete acquaintance with the
family nomenclature of Barthorpe, and he was prepared to bet odds
against any one of the name of Braden having lived there during the past
half-century. In all his searching he had not once come across the name.

The man who had spent a very lazy day in keeping an eye on Bryce, as he
visited the various public places whereat he made his researches, was
also keeping an eye upon him next morning, when Bryce, breakfasting
earlier than usual, prepared for a second day’s labours. He followed
his quarry away from the little town: Bryce was walking out to Braden
Medworth. In Bryce’s opinion, it was something of a wild-goose chase to
go there, but the similarity in the name of the village and of the dead
man at Wrychester might have its significance, and it was but a two
miles’ stroll from Barthorpe. He found Braden Medworth a very small,
quiet, and picturesque place, with an old church on the banks of a river
which promised good sport to anglers. And there he pursued his tactics
of the day before and went straight to the vicarage and its vicar, with
a request to be allowed to inspect the parish registers. The vicar,
having no objection to earning the resultant fees, hastened to comply
with Bryce’s request, and inquired how far back he wanted to search and
for what particular entry.

“No particular entry,” answered Bryce, “and as to period--fairly recent.
The fact is, I am interested in names. I am thinking”--here he used
one more of his easily found inventions--“of writing a book on English
surnames, and am just now inspecting parish registers in the Midlands
for that purpose.”

“Then I can considerably simplify your labours,” said the vicar, taking
down a book from one of his shelves. “Our parish registers have been
copied and printed, and here is the volume--everything is in there from
1570 to ten years ago, and there is a very full index. Are you staying
in the neighbourhood--or the village?”

“In the neighbourhood, yes; in the village, no longer than the time I
shall spend in getting some lunch at the inn yonder,” answered Bryce,
nodding through an open window at an ancient tavern which stood in the
valley beneath, close to an old stone bridge. “Perhaps you will kindly
lend me this book for an hour?--then, if I see anything very noteworthy
in the index, I can look at the actual registers when I bring it back.”

The vicar replied that that was precisely what he had been about to
suggest, and Bryce carried the book away. And while he sat in the inn
parlour awaiting his lunch, he turned to the carefully-compiled index,
glancing it through rapidly. On the third page he saw the name Bewery.

If the man who had followed Bryce from Barthorpe to Braden Medworth had
been with him in the quiet inn parlour he would have seen his quarry
start, and heard him let a stifled exclamation escape his lips. But the
follower, knowing his man was safe for an hour, was in the bar outside
eating bread and cheese and drinking ale, and Bryce’s surprise was
witnessed by no one. Yet he had been so much surprised that if all
Wrychester had been there he could not, despite his self-training in
watchfulness, have kept back either start or exclamation.

Bewery! A name so uncommon that here--here, in this out-of-the-way
Midland village!--there must be some connection with the object of his
search. There the name stood out before him, to the exclusion of all
others--Bewery--with just one entry of figures against it. He turned to
page 387 with a sense of sure discovery.

And there an entry caught his eye at once--and he knew that he had
discovered more than he had ever hoped for. He read it again and again,
gloating over his wonderful luck.

June 19th, 1891. John Brake, bachelor, of the parish of St. Pancras,
London, to Mary Bewery, spinster, of this parish, by the Vicar.
Witnesses, Charles Claybourne, Selina Womersley, Mark Ransford.

Twenty-two years ago! The Mary Bewery whom Bryce knew in Wrychester was
just about twenty--this Mary Bewery, spinster, of Braden Medworth, was,
then, in all probability, her mother. But John Brake who married that
Mary Bewery--who was he? Who indeed, laughed Bryce, but John Braden,
who had just come by his death in Wrychester Paradise? And there was the
name of Mark Ransford as witness. What was the further probability? That
Mark Ransford had been John Brake’s best man; that he was the Marco
of the recent Times advertisement; that John Braden, or Brake, was the
Sticker of the same advertisement. Clear!--clear as noonday! And--what
did it all mean, and imply, and what bearing had it on Braden or Brake’s
death?

Before he ate his cold beef, Bryce had copied the entry from the
reprinted register, and had satisfied himself that Ransford was not a
name known to that village--Mark Ransford was the only person of the
name mentioned in the register. And his lunch done, he set off for the
vicarage again, intent on getting further information, and before he
reached the vicarage gates noticed, by accident, a place whereat he was
more likely to get it than from the vicar--who was a youngish man. At
the end of the few houses between the inn and the bridge he saw a little
shop with the name Charles Claybourne painted roughly above its open
window. In that open window sat an old, cheery-faced man, mending shoes,
who blinked at the stranger through his big spectacles.

Bryce saw his chance and turned in--to open the book and point out the
marriage entry.

“Are you the Charles Claybourne mentioned there?” he asked, without
ceremony.

“That’s me, sir!” replied the old shoemaker briskly, after a glance.
“Yes--right enough!”

“How came you to witness that marriage?” inquired Bryce.

The old man nodded at the church across the way.

“I’ve been sexton and parish clerk two-and-thirty years, sir,” he said.
“And I took it on from my father--and he had the job from his father.”

“Do you remember this marriage?” asked Bryce, perching himself on the
bench at which the shoemaker was working. “Twenty-two years since, I
see.”

“Aye, as if it was yesterday!” answered the old man with a smile. “Miss
Bewery’s marriage?--why, of course!”

“Who was she?” demanded Bryce.

“Governess at the vicarage,” replied Claybourne. “Nice, sweet young
lady.”

“And the man she married?--Mr. Brake,” continued Bryce. “Who was he?”

“A young gentleman that used to come here for the fishing, now and
then,” answered Claybourne, pointing at the river. “Famous for our trout
we are here, you know, sir. And Brake had come here for three years
before they were married--him and his friend Mr. Ransford.”

“You remember him, too?” asked Bryce.

“Remember both of ‘em very well indeed,” said Claybourne, “though I
never set eyes on either after Miss Mary was wed to Mr. Brake. But I
saw plenty of ‘em both before that. They used to put up at the inn
there--that I saw you come out of just now. They came two or three times
a year--and they were a bit thick with our parson of that time--not this
one: his predecessor--and they used to go up to the vicarage and smoke
their pipes and cigars with him--and of course, Mr. Brake and the
governess fixed it up. Though, you know, at one time it was considered
it was going to be her and the other young gentleman, Mr. Ransford--yes!
But, in the end, it was Brake--and Ransford stood best man for him.”

Bruce assimilated all this information greedily--and asked for more.

“I’m interested in that entry,” he said, tapping the open book. “I know
some people of the name of Bewery--they may be relatives.”

The shoemaker shook his head as if doubtful.

“I remember hearing it said,” he remarked, “that Miss Mary had no
relations. She’d been with the old vicar some time, and I don’t remember
any relations ever coming to see her, nor her going away to see any.”

“Do you know what Brake was?” asked Bryce. “As you say he came here for
a good many times before the marriage, I suppose you’d hear something
about his profession, or trade, or whatever it was?”

“He was a banker, that one,” replied Claybourne. “A banker--that was
his trade, sir. T’other gentleman, Mr. Ransford, he was a doctor--I mind
that well enough, because once when him and Mr. Brake were fishing here,
Thomas Joynt’s wife fell downstairs and broke her leg, and they fetched
him to her--he’d got it set before they’d got the reg’lar doctor out
from Barthorpe yonder.”

Bryce had now got all the information he wanted, and he made the old
parish clerk a small present and turned to go. But another question
presented itself to his mind and he reentered the little shop.

“Your late vicar?” he said. “The one in whose family Miss Bewery was
governess--where is he now? Dead?”

“Can’t say whether he’s dead or alive, sir,” replied Claybourne.
“He left this parish for another--a living in a different part of
England--some years since, and I haven’t heard much of him from that
time to this--he never came back here once, not even to pay us a
friendly visit--he was a queerish sort. But I’ll tell you what, sir,”
 he added, evidently anxious to give his visitor good value for his
half-crown, “our present vicar has one of those books with the names
of all the clergymen in ‘em, and he’d tell you where his predecessor is
now, if he’s alive--name of Reverend Thomas Gilwaters, M.A.--an Oxford
college man he was, and very high learned.”

Bryce went back to the vicarage, returned the borrowed book, and asked
to look at the registers for the year 1891. He verified his copy and
turned to the vicar.

“I accidentally came across the record of a marriage there in which I’m
interested,” he said as he paid the search fees. “Celebrated by your
predecessor, Mr. Gilwaters. I should be glad to know where Mr. Gilwaters
is to be found. Do you happen to possess a clerical directory?”

The vicar produced a “Crockford”, and Bryce turned over its pages. Mr.
Gilwaters, who from the account there given appeared to be an elderly
man who had now retired, lived in London, in Bayswater, and Bryce made a
note of his address and prepared to depart.

“Find any names that interested you?” asked the vicar as his caller
left. “Anything noteworthy?”

“I found two or three names which interested me immensely,” answered
Bryce from the foot of the vicarage steps. “They were well worth
searching for.”

And without further explanation he marched off to Barthorpe duly
followed by his shadow, who saw him safely into the Peacock an hour
later--and, an hour after that, went to the police superintendent with
his report.

“Gone, sir,” he said. “Left by the five-thirty express for London.”



CHAPTER IX. THE HOUSE OF HIS FRIEND


Bryce found himself at eleven o’clock next morning in a small book-lined
parlour in a little house which stood in a quiet street in the
neighbourhood of Westbourne Grove. Over the mantelpiece, amongst other
odds and ends of pictures and photographs, hung a water-colour drawing
of Braden Medworth--and to him presently entered an old, silver-haired
clergyman whom he at once took to be Braden Medworth’s former vicar,
and who glanced inquisitively at his visitor and then at the card which
Bryce had sent in with a request for an interview.

“Dr. Bryce?” he said inquiringly. “Dr. Pemberton Bryce?”

Bryce made his best bow and assumed his suavest and most ingratiating
manner.

“I hope I am not intruding on your time, Mr. Gilwaters?” he said. “The
fact is, I was referred to you, yesterday, by the present vicar of
Braden Medworth--both he, and the sexton there, Claybourne, whom you, of
course, remember, thought you would be able to give me some information
on a subject which is of great importance--to me.”

“I don’t know the present vicar,” remarked Mr. Gilwaters, motioning
Bryce to a chair, and taking another close by. “Clayborne, of course,
I remember very well indeed--he must be getting an old man now--like
myself! What is it you want to know, now?”

“I shall have to take you into my confidence,” replied Bryce, who had
carefully laid his plans and prepared his story, “and you, I am sure,
Mr. Gilwaters, will respect mine. I have for two years been in practice
at Wrychester, and have there made the acquaintance of a young lady whom
I earnestly desire to marry. She is the ward of the man to whom I have
been assistant. And I think you will begin to see why I have come to you
when I say that this young lady’s name is--Mary Bewery.”

The old clergyman started, and looked at his visitor with unusual
interest. He grasped the arm of his elbow chair and leaned forward.

“Mary Bewery!” he said in a low whisper. “What--what is the name of the
man who is her--guardian?”

“Dr. Mark Ransford,” answered Bryce promptly.

The old man sat upright again, with a little toss of his head.

“Bless my soul!” he exclaimed. “Mark Ransford! Then--it must have been
as I feared--and suspected!”

Bryce made no remark. He knew at once that he had struck on something,
and it was his method to let people take their own time. Mr. Gilwaters
had already fallen into something closely resembling a reverie: Bryce
sat silently waiting and expectant. And at last the old man leaned
forward again, almost eagerly.

“What is it you want to know?” he asked, repeating his first question.
“Is--is there some--some mystery?”

“Yes!” replied Bryce. “A mystery that I want to solve, sir. And I dare
say that you can help me, if you’ll be so good. I am convinced--in fact,
I know!--that this young lady is in ignorance of her parentage, that
Ransford is keeping some fact, some truth back from her--and I want to
find things out. By the merest chance--accident, in fact--I discovered
yesterday at Braden Medworth that some twenty-two years ago you married
one Mary Bewery, who, I learnt there, was your governess, to a John
Brake, and that Mark Ransford was John Brake’s best man and a witness
of the marriage. Now, Mr. Gilwaters, the similarity in names is too
striking to be devoid of significance. So--it’s of the utmost importance
to me!--can or will you tell me--who was the Mary Bewery you married to
John Brake? Who was John Brake? And what was Mark Ransford to either, or
to both?”

He was wondering, all the time during which he reeled off these
questions, if Mr. Gilwaters was wholly ignorant of the recent affair
at Wrychester. He might be--a glance round his book-filled room had
suggested to Bryce that he was much more likely to be a bookworm than a
newspaper reader, and it was quite possible that the events of the day
had small interest for him. And his first words in reply to Bryce’s
questions convinced Bryce that his surmise was correct and that the
old man had read nothing of the Wrychester Paradise mystery, in which
Ransford’s name had, of course, figured as a witness at the inquest.

“It is nearly twenty years since I heard any of their names,” remarked
Mr. Gilwaters. “Nearly twenty years--a long time! But, of course, I can
answer you. Mary Bewery was our governess at Braden Medworth. She came
to us when she was nineteen--she was married four years later. She was a
girl who had no friends or relatives--she had been educated at a school
in the North--I engaged her from that school, where, I understood, she
had lived since infancy. Now then, as to Brake and Ransford. They were
two young men from London, who used to come fishing in Leicestershire.
Ransford was a few years the younger--he was either a medical student in
his last year, or he was an assistant somewhere in London. Brake--was a
bank manager in London--of a branch of one of the big banks. They
were pleasant young fellows, and I used to ask them to the vicarage.
Eventually, Mary Bewery and John Brake became engaged to be married. My
wife and I were a good deal surprised--we had believed, somehow, that
the favoured man would be Ransford. However, it was Brake--and Brake she
married, and, as you say, Ransford was best man. Of course, Brake took
his wife off to London--and from the day of her wedding, I never saw her
again.”

“Did you ever see Brake again?” asked Bryce. The old clergyman shook his
head.

“Yes!” he said sadly. “I did see Brake again--under grievous, grievous
circumstances!”

“You won’t mind telling me what circumstances?” suggested Bryce. “I will
keep your confidence, Mr. Gilwaters.”

“There is really no secret in it--if it comes to that,” answered the old
man. “I saw John Brake again just once. In a prison cell!”

“A prison cell!” exclaimed Bryce. “And he--a prisoner?”

“He had just been sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude,” replied Mr.
Gilwaters. “I had heard the sentence--I was present. I got leave to see
him. Ten years’ penal servitude!--a terrible punishment. He must have
been released long ago--but I never heard more.”

Bryce reflected in silence for a moment--reckoning and calculating.

“When was this--the trial?” he asked.

“It was five years after the marriage--seventeen years ago,” replied Mr.
Gilwaters.

“And--what had he been doing?” inquired Bryce.

“Stealing the bank’s money,” answered the old man. “I forget what the
technical offence was--embezzlement, or something of that sort. There
was not much evidence came out, for it was impossible to offer any
defence, and he pleaded guilty. But I gathered from what I heard that
something of this sort occurred. Brake was a branch manager. He was, as
it were, pounced upon one morning by an inspector, who found that his
cash was short by two or three thousand pounds. The bank people seemed
to have been unusually strict and even severe--Brake, it was said, had
some explanation, but it was swept aside and he was given in charge. And
the sentence was as I said just now--a very savage one, I thought.
But there had recently been some bad cases of that sort in the banking
world, and I suppose the judge felt that he must make an example. Yes--a
most trying affair!--I have a report of the case somewhere, which I cut
out of a London newspaper at the time.”

Mr. Gilwaters rose and turned to an old desk in the corner of his
room, and after some rummaging of papers in a drawer, produced a
newspaper-cutting book and traced an insertion in its pages. He handed
the book to his visitor.

“There is the account,” he said. “You can read it for yourself. You will
notice that in what Brake’s counsel said on his behalf there are one or
two curious and mysterious hints as to what might have been said if it
had been of any use or advantage to say it. A strange case!”

Bryce turned eagerly to the faded scrap of newspaper.


              BANK MANAGER’S DEFALCATION.

  At the Central Criminal Court yesterday, John Brake,
  thirty-three, formerly manager of the Upper Tooting
  branch of the London & Home Counties Bank, Ltd.,
  pleaded guilty to embezzling certain sums, the
  property of his employers.

  Mr. Walkinshaw, Q.C., addressing the court on behalf
  of the prisoner, said that while it was impossible
  for his client to offer any defence, there were
  circumstances in the case which, if it had been worth
  while to put them in evidence, would have shown that
  the prisoner was a wronged and deceived man.  To use
  a Scriptural phrase, Brake had been wounded in the
  house of his friend.  The man who was really guilty
  in this affair had cleverly escaped all consequences,
  nor would it be of the least use to enter into any
  details respecting him.  Not one penny of the money
  in question had been used by the prisoner for his own
  purposes.  It was doubtless a wrong and improper thing
  that his client had done, and he had pleaded guilty and
  would submit to the consequences.  But if everything in
  connection with the case could have been told, if it
  would have served any useful purpose to tell it, it
  would have been seen that what the prisoner really was
  guilty of was a foolish and serious error of judgment.
  He himself, concluded the learned counsel, would go so
  far as to say that, knowing what he did, knowing what
  had been told him by his client in strict confidence,
  the prisoner, though technically guilty, was morally
  innocent.

  His Lordship, merely remarking that no excuse of any
  sort could be offered in a case of this sort, sentenced
  the prisoner to ten years’ penal servitude.

Bryce read this over twice before handing back the book.

“Very strange and mysterious, Mr. Gilwaters,” he remarked. “You say that
you saw Brake after the case was over. Did you learn anything?”

“Nothing whatever!” answered the old clergyman. “I got permission to see
him before he was taken away. He did not seem particularly pleased or
disposed to see me. I begged him to tell me what the real truth was. He
was, I think, somewhat dazed by the sentence--but he was also sullen
and morose. I asked him where his wife and two children--one, a mere
infant--were. For I had already been to his private address and
had found that Mrs. Brake had sold all the furniture and
disappeared--completely. No one--thereabouts, at any rate--knew where
she was, or would tell me anything. On my asking this, he refused to
answer. I pressed him--he said finally that he was only speaking the
truth when he replied that he did not know where his wife was. I said I
must find her. He forbade me to make any attempt. Then I begged him
to tell me if she was with friends. I remember very well what he
replied.--‘I’m not going to say one word more to any man living,
Mr. Gilwaters,’ he answered determinedly. ‘I shall be dead to the
world--only because I’ve been a trusting fool!--for ten years or
thereabouts, but, when I come back to it, I’ll let the world see what
revenge means! Go away!’ he concluded. ‘I won’t say one word more.’
And--I left him.”

“And--you made no more inquiries?--about the wife?” asked Bryce.

“I did what I could,” replied Mr. Gilwaters. “I made some inquiry in
the neighbourhood in which they had lived. All I could discover was
that Mrs. Brake had disappeared under extraordinarily mysterious
circumstances. There was no trace whatever of her. And I speedily found
that things were being said--the usual cruel suspicions, you know.”

“Such as--what?” asked Bryce.

“That the amount of the defalcations was much larger than had been
allowed to appear,” replied Mr. Gilwaters. “That Brake was a very clever
rogue who had got the money safely planted somewhere abroad, and that
his wife had gone off somewhere--Australia, or Canada, or some other
far-off region--to await his release. Of course, I didn’t believe
one word of all that. But there was the fact--she had vanished! And
eventually, I thought of Ransford, as having been Brake’s great friend,
so I tried to find him. And then I found that he, too, who up to
that time had been practising in a London suburb--Streatham--had also
disappeared. Just after Brake’s arrest, Ransford had suddenly sold his
practice and gone--no one knew where, but it was believed--abroad. I
couldn’t trace him, anyway. And soon after that I had a long illness,
and for two or three years was an invalid, and--well, the thing was over
and done with, and, as I said just now, I have never heard anything of
any of them for all these years. And now!--now you tell me that there
is a Mary Bewery who is a ward of a Dr. Mark Ransford at--where did you
say?”

“At Wrychester,” answered Bryce. “She is a young woman of twenty, and
she has a brother, Richard, who is between seventeen and eighteen.”

“Without a doubt those are Brake’s children!” exclaimed the old man.
“The infant I spoke of was a boy. Bless me!--how extraordinary. How long
have they been at Wrychester?”

“Ransford has been in practice there some years--a few years,” replied
Bryce. “These two young people joined him there definitely two years
ago. But from what I have learnt, he has acted as their guardian ever
since they were mere children.”

“And--their mother?” asked Mr. Gilwaters.

“Said to be dead--long since,” answered Bryce. “And their father,
too. They know nothing. Ransford won’t tell them anything. But, as you
say--I’ve no doubt of it myself now--they must be the children of John
Brake.”

“And have taken the name of their mother!” remarked the old man.

“Had it given to them,” said Bryce. “They don’t know that it isn’t
their real name. Of course, Ransford has given it to them! But now--the
mother?”

“Ah, yes, the mother!” said Mr. Gilwaters. “Our old governess! Dear me!”

“I’m going to put a question to you,” continued Bryce, leaning nearer
and speaking in a low, confidential tone. “You must have seen much of
the world, Mr. Gilwaters--men of your profession know the world, and
human nature, too. Call to mind all the mysterious circumstances, the
veiled hints, of that trial. Do you think--have you ever thought--that
the false friend whom the counsel referred to was--Ransford? Come, now!”

The old clergyman lifted his hands and let them fall on his knees.

“I do not know what to say!” he exclaimed. “To tell you the truth, I
have often wondered if--if that was what really did happen. There is the
fact that Brake’s wife disappeared mysteriously--that Ransford made a
similar mysterious disappearance about the same time--that Brake was
obviously suffering from intense and bitter hatred when I saw him after
the trial--hatred of some person on whom he meant to be revenged--and
that his counsel hinted that he had been deceived and betrayed by
a friend. Now, to my knowledge, he and Ransford were the closest of
friends--in the old days, before Brake married our governess. And I
suppose the friendship continued--certainly Ransford acted as best man
at the wedding! But how account for that strange double disappearance?”

Bryce had already accounted for that, in his own secret mind. And now,
having got all that he wanted out of the old clergyman, he rose to take
his leave.

“You will regard this interview as having been of a strictly private
nature, Mr. Gilwaters?” he said.

“Certainly!” responded the old man. “But--you mentioned that you wished
to marry the daughter? Now that you know about her father’s past--for I
am sure she must be John Brake’s child--you won’t allow that to--eh?”

“Not for a moment!” answered Bryce, with a fair show of magnanimity.
“I am not a man of that complexion, sir. No!--I only wished to clear up
certain things, you understand.”

“And--since she is apparently--from what you say--in ignorance of her
real father’s past--what then?” asked Mr. Gilwaters anxiously. “Shall
you--”

“I shall do nothing whatever in any haste,” replied Bryce. “Rely upon me
to consider her feelings in everything. As you have been so kind, I will
let you know, later, how matters go.”

This was one of Pemberton Bryce’s ready inventions. He had not the least
intention of ever seeing or communicating with the late vicar of Braden
Medworth again; Mr. Gilwaters had served his purpose for the time being.
He went away from Bayswater, and, an hour later, from London, highly
satisfied. In his opinion, Mark Ransford, seventeen years before, had
taken advantage of his friend’s misfortunes to run away with his wife,
and when Brake, alias Braden, had unexpectedly turned up at Wrychester,
he had added to his former wrong by the commission of a far greater one.



CHAPTER X. DIPLOMACY


Bryce went back to Wrychester firmly convinced that Mark Ransford had
killed John Braden. He reckoned things up in his own fashion. Some
years must have elapsed since Braden, or rather Brake’s release. He had
probably heard, on his release, that Ransford and his, Brake’s, wife had
gone abroad--in that case he would certainly follow them. He might have
lost all trace of them; he might have lost his original interest in his
first schemes of revenge; he might have begun a new life for himself in
Australia, whence he had undoubtedly come to England recently. But
he had come, at last, and he had evidently tracked Ransford to
Wrychester--why, otherwise, had he presented himself at Ransford’s door
on that eventful morning which was to witness his death? Nothing, in
Bryce’s opinion, could be clearer. Brake had turned up. He and Ransford
had met--most likely in the precincts of the Cathedral. Ransford, who
knew all the quiet corners of the old place, had in all probability
induced Brake to walk up into the gallery with him, had noticed the
open doorway, had thrown Brake through it. All the facts pointed to
that conclusion--it was a theory which, so far as Bryce could see, was
perfect. It ought to be enough--proved--to put Ransford in a criminal
dock. Bryce resolved it in his own mind over and over again as he sped
home to Wrychester--he pictured the police listening greedily to all
that he could tell them if he liked. There was only one factor in the
whole sum of the affair which seemed against him--the advertisement in
the Times. If Brake desired to find Ransford in order to be revenged on
him, why did he insert that advertisement, as if he were longing to meet
a cherished friend again? But Bryce gaily surmounted that obstacle--full
of shifts and subtleties himself, he was ever ready to credit others
with trading in them, and he put the advertisement down as a clever ruse
to attract, not Ransford, but some person who could give information
about Ransford. Whatever its exact meaning might have been, its
existence made no difference to Bryce’s firm opinion that it was Mark
Ransford who flung John Brake down St. Wrytha’s Stair and killed him. He
was as sure of that as he was certain that Braden was Brake. And he was
not going to tell the police of his discoveries--he was not going to
tell anybody. The one thing that concerned him was--how best to make
use of his knowledge with a view to bringing about a marriage between
himself and Mark Ransford’s ward. He had set his mind on that for twelve
months past, and he was not a man to be baulked of his purpose. By
fair means, or foul--he himself ignored the last word and would have
substituted the term skilful for it--Pemberton Bryce meant to have Mary
Bewery.

Mary Bewery herself had no thought of Bryce in her head when, the
morning after that worthy’s return to Wrychester, she set out, alone,
for the Wrychester Golf Club. It was her habit to go there almost every
day, and Bryce was well acquainted with her movements and knew precisely
where to waylay her. And empty of Bryce though her mind was, she was not
surprised when, at a lonely place on Wrychester Common, Bryce turned the
corner of a spinny and met her face to face.

Mary would have passed on with no more than a silent recognition--she
had made up her mind to have no further speech with her guardian’s
dismissed assistant. But she had to pass through a wicket gate at that
point, and Bryce barred the way, with unmistakable purpose. It was plain
to the girl that he had laid in wait for her. She was not without a
temper of her own, and she suddenly let it out on the offender.

“Do you call this manly conduct, Dr. Bryce?” she demanded, turning an
indignant and flushed face on him. “To waylay me here, when you know
that I don’t want to have anything more to do with you. Let me through,
please--and go away!”

But Bryce kept a hand on the little gate, and when he spoke there was
that in his voice which made the girl listen in spite of herself.

“I’m not here on my own behalf,” he said quickly. “I give you my word
I won’t say a thing that need offend you. It’s true I waited here for
you--it’s the only place in which I thought I could meet you, alone.
I want to speak to you. It’s this--do you know your guardian is in
danger?”

Bryce had the gift of plausibility--he could convince people, against
their instincts, even against their wills, that he was telling the
truth. And Mary, after a swift glance, believed him.

“What danger?” she asked. “And if he is, and if you know he is--why
don’t you go direct to him?”

“The most fatal thing in the world to do!” exclaimed Bryce. “You know
him--he can be nasty. That would bring matters to a crisis. And that, in
his interest, is just what mustn’t happen.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Mary.

Bryce leaned nearer to her--across the gate.

“You know what happened last week,” he said in a low voice. “The strange
death of that man--Braden.”

“Well?” she asked, with a sudden look of uneasiness. “What of it?”

“It’s being rumoured--whispered--in the town that Dr. Ransford
had something to do with that affair,” answered Bryce.
“Unpleasant--unfortunate--but it’s a fact.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Mary with a heightening colour. “What could
he have to do with it? What could give rise to such
foolish--wicked--rumours?”

“You know as well as I do how people talk, how they will talk,” said
Bryce. “You can’t stop them, in a place like Wrychester, where everybody
knows everybody. There’s a mystery around Braden’s death--it’s no use
denying it. Nobody knows who he was, where he came from, why he came.
And it’s being hinted--I’m only telling you what I’ve gathered--that
Dr. Ransford knows more than he’s ever told. There are, I’m afraid,
grounds.”

“What grounds?” demanded Mary. While Bryce had been speaking, in his
usual slow, careful fashion, she had been reflecting--and remembering
Ransford’s evident agitation at the time of the Paradise affair--and his
relief when the inquest was over--and his sending her with flowers to
the dead man’s grave and she began to experience a sense of uneasiness
and even of fear. “What grounds can there be?” she added. “Dr. Ransford
didn’t know that man--had never seen him!”

“That’s not certain,” replied Bryce. “It’s said--remember, I’m only
repeating things--it’s said that just before the body was discovered,
Dr. Ransford was seen--seen, mind you!--leaving the west porch of the
Cathedral, looking as if he had just been very much upset. Two persons
saw this.”

“Who are they?” asked Mary.

“That I’m not allowed to tell you,” said Bryce, who had no intention of
informing her that one person was himself and the other imaginary. “But
I can assure you that I am certain--absolutely certain!--that their
story is true. The fact is--I can corroborate it.”

“You!” she exclaimed.

“I!” replied Bryce. “I will tell you something that I have never told
anybody--up to now. I shan’t ask you to respect my confidence--I’ve
sufficient trust in you to know that you will, without any asking.
Listen!--on that morning, Dr. Ransford went out of the surgery in the
direction of the Deanery, leaving me alone there. A few minutes later, a
tap came at the door. I opened it--and found--a man standing outside!”

“Not--that man?” asked Mary fearfully.

“That man--Braden,” replied Bryce. “He asked for Dr. Ransford. I said
he was out--would the caller leave his name? He said no--he had called
because he had once known a Dr. Ransford, years before. He added
something about calling again, and he went away--across the Close
towards the Cathedral. I saw him again--not very long afterwards--lying
in the corner of Paradise--dead!”

Mary Bewery was by this time pale and trembling--and Bryce continued to
watch her steadily. She stole a furtive look at him.

“Why didn’t you tell all this at the inquest?” she asked in a whisper.

“Because I knew how damning it would be to--Ransford,” replied Bryce
promptly. “It would have excited suspicion. I was certain that no one
but myself knew that Braden had been to the surgery door--therefore, I
thought that if I kept silence, his calling there would never be known.
But--I have since found that I was mistaken. Braden was seen--going away
from Dr. Ransford’s.”

“By--whom?” asked Mary.

“Mrs. Deramore--at the next house,” answered Bryce. “She happened to
be looking out of an upstairs window. She saw him go away and cross the
Close.”

“Did she tell you that?” demanded Mary, who knew Mrs. Deramore for a
gossip.

“Between ourselves,” said Bryce, “she did not! She told Mrs.
Folliot--Mrs. Folliot told me.”

“So--it is talked about!” exclaimed Mary.

“I said so,” assented Bryce. “You know what Mrs. Folliot’s tongue is.”

“Then Dr. Ransford will get to hear of it,” said Mary.

“He will be the last person to get to hear of it,” affirmed Bryce.
“These things are talked of, hole-and-corner fashion, a long time before
they reach the ears of the person chiefly concerned.”

Mary hesitated a moment before she asked her next question.

“Why have you told me all this?” she demanded at last.

“Because I didn’t want you to be suddenly surprised,” answered Bryce.
“This--whatever it is--may come to a sudden head--of an unpleasant sort.
These rumours spread--and the police are still keen about finding out
things concerning this dead man. If they once get it into their heads
that Dr. Ransford knew him--”

Mary laid her hand on the gate between them--and Bryce, who had done
all he wished to do at that time, instantly opened it, and she passed
through.

“I am much obliged to you,” she said. “I don’t know what it all
means--but it is Dr. Ransford’s affair--if there is any affair, which I
doubt. Will you let me go now, please?”

Bryce stood aside and lifted his hat, and Mary, with no more than a nod,
walked on towards the golf club-house across the Common, while Bryce
turned off to the town, highly elated with his morning’s work. He had
sown the seeds of uneasiness and suspicion broadcast--some of them, he
knew, would mature.

Mary Bewery played no golf that morning. In fact, she only went on to
the club-house to rid herself of Bryce, and presently she returned home,
thinking. And indeed, she said to herself, she had abundant food for
thought. Naturally candid and honest, she did not at that moment doubt
Bryce’s good faith; much as she disliked him in most ways she knew that
he had certain commendable qualities, and she was inclined to believe
him when he said that he had kept silence in order to ward off
consequences which might indirectly be unpleasant for her. But of him
and his news she thought little--what occupied her mind was the possible
connection between the stranger who had come so suddenly and disappeared
so suddenly--and for ever!--and Mark Ransford. Was it possible--really
possible--that there had been some meeting between them in or about the
Cathedral precincts that morning? She knew, after a moment’s reflection,
that it was very possible--why not? And from that her thoughts followed
a natural trend--was the mystery surrounding this man connected in any
way with the mystery about herself and her brother?--that mystery
of which (as it seemed to her) Ransford was so shy of speaking. And
again--and for the hundredth time--she asked herself why he was so
reticent, so evidently full of dislike of the subject, why he could not
tell her and Dick whatever there was to tell, once for all?

She had to pass the Folliots’ house in the far corner of the Close on
her way home--a fine old mansion set in well-wooded grounds, enclosed by
a high wall of old red brick. A door in that wall stood open, and inside
it, talking to one of his gardeners, was Mr. Folliot--the vistas behind
him were gay with flowers and rich with the roses which he passed all
his days in cultivating. He caught sight of Mary as she passed the open
doorway and called her back.

“Come in and have a look at some new roses I’ve got,” he said.
“Beauties! I’ll give you a handful to carry home.”

Mary rather liked Mr. Folliot. He was a big, half-asleep sort of man,
who had few words and could talk about little else than his hobby. But
he was a passionate lover of flowers and plants, and had a positive
genius for rose-culture, and was at all times highly delighted to take
flower-lovers round his garden. She turned at once and walked in, and
Folliot led her away down the scented paths.

“It’s an experiment I’ve been trying,” he said, leading her up to a
cluster of blooms of a colour and size which she had never seen before.
“What do you think of the results?”

“Magnificent!” exclaimed Mary. “I never saw anything so fine!”

“No!” agreed Folliot, with a quiet chuckle. “Nor anybody else--because
there’s no such rose in England. I shall have to go to some of these
learned parsons in the Close to invent me a Latin name for this--it’s
the result of careful experiments in grafting--took me three years to
get at it. And see how it blooms,--scores on one standard.”

He pulled out a knife and began to select a handful of the finest
blooms, which he presently pressed into Mary’s hand.

“By the by,” he remarked as she thanked him and they turned away along
the path, “I wanted to have a word with you--or with Ransford. Do you
know--does he know--that that confounded silly woman who lives near
to your house--Mrs. Deramore--has been saying some things--or a
thing--which--to put it plainly--might make some unpleasantness for
him?”

Mary kept a firm hand on her wits--and gave him an answer which was true
enough, so far as she was aware.

“I’m sure he knows nothing,” she said. “What is it, Mr. Folliot?”

“Why, you know what happened last week,” continued Folliot, glancing
knowingly at her. “The accident to that stranger. This Mrs. Deramore,
who’s nothing but an old chatterer, has been saying, here and there,
that it’s a very queer thing Dr. Ransford doesn’t know anything about
him, and can’t say anything, for she herself, she says, saw the very man
going away from Dr. Ransford’s house not so long before the accident.”

“I am not aware that he ever called at Dr. Ransford’s,” said Mary. “I
never saw him--and I was in the garden, about that very time, with your
stepson, Mr. Folliot.”

“So Sackville told me,” remarked Folliot. “He was present--and so was
I--when Mrs. Deramore was tattling about it in our house yesterday. He
said, then, that he’d never seen the man go to your house. You never
heard your servants make any remark about it?”

“Never!” answered Mary.

“I told Mrs. Deramore she’d far better hold her tongue,” continued
Folliot. “Tittle-tattle of that sort is apt to lead to unpleasantness.
And when it came to it, it turned out that all she had seen was this
stranger strolling across the Close as if he’d just left your house.
If--there’s always some if! But I’ll tell you why I mentioned it to
you,” he continued, nudging Mary’s elbow and glancing covertly first at
her and then at his house on the far side of the garden. “Ladies that
are--getting on a bit in years, you know--like my wife, are apt to let
their tongues wag, and between you and me, I shouldn’t wonder if Mrs.
Folliot has repeated what Mrs. Deramore said--eh? And I don’t want the
doctor to think that--if he hears anything, you know, which he may, and,
again, he might--to think that it originated here. So, if he should ever
mention it to you, you can say it sprang from his next-door neighbour.
Bah!--they’re a lot of old gossips, these Close ladies!”

“Thank you,” said Mary. “But--supposing this man had been to our
house--what difference would that make? He might have been for half a
dozen reasons.”

Folliot looked at her out of his half-shut eyes.

“Some people would want to know why Ransford didn’t tell that--at the
inquest,” he answered. “That’s all. When there’s a bit of mystery, you
know--eh?”

He nodded--as if reassuringly--and went off to rejoin his gardener, and
Mary walked home with her roses, more thoughtful than ever. Mystery?--a
bit of mystery? There was a vast and heavy cloud of mystery, and she
knew she could have no peace until it was lifted.



CHAPTER XI. THE BACK ROOM


In the midst of all her perplexity at that moment, Mary Bewery was
certain of one fact about which she had no perplexity nor any doubt--it
would not be long before the rumours of which Bryce and Mr. Folliot had
spoken. Although she had only lived in Wrychester a comparatively short
time she had seen and learned enough of it to know that the place was a
hotbed of gossip. Once gossip was started there, it spread, widening in
circle after circle. And though Bryce was probably right when he said
that the person chiefly concerned was usually the last person to hear
what was being whispered, she knew well enough that sooner or later this
talk about Ransford would come to Ransford’s own ears. But she had no
idea that it was to come so soon, nor from her own brother.

Lunch in the Ransford menage was an informal meal. At a quarter past one
every day, it was on the table--a cold lunch to which the three members
of the household helped themselves as they liked, independent of the
services of servants. Sometimes all three were there at the same moment;
sometimes Ransford was half an hour late; the one member who was always
there to the moment was Dick Bewery, who fortified himself sedulously
after his morning’s school labours. On this particular day all three met
in the dining-room at once, and sat down together. And before Dick had
eaten many mouthfuls of a cold pie to which he had just liberally helped
himself he bent confidentially across the table towards his guardian.

“There’s something I think you ought to be told about, sir,” he remarked
with a side-glance at Mary. “Something I heard this morning at school.
You know, we’ve a lot of fellows--town boys--who talk.”

“I daresay,” responded Ransford dryly. “Following the example of their
mothers, no doubt. Well--what is it?”

He, too, glanced at Mary--and the girl had her work set to look
unconscious.

“It’s this,” replied Dick, lowering his voice in spite of the fact
that all three were alone. “They’re saying in the town that you know
something which you won’t tell about that affair last week. It’s being
talked of.”

Ransford laughed--a little cynically.

“Are you quite sure, my boy, that they aren’t saying that I daren’t
tell?” he asked. “Daren’t is a much more likely word than won’t, I
think.”

“Well--about that, sir,” acknowledged Dick. “Comes to that, anyhow.”

“And what are their grounds?” inquired Ransford. “You’ve heard them,
I’ll be bound!”

“They say that man--Braden--had been here--here, to the house!--that
morning, not long before he was found dead,” answered Dick. “Of course,
I said that was all bosh!--I said that if he’d been here and seen you,
I’d have heard of it, dead certain.”

“That’s not quite so dead certain, Dick, as that I have no knowledge of
his ever having been here,” said Ransford. “But who says he came here?”

“Mrs. Deramore,” replied Dick promptly. “She says she saw him go
away from the house and across the Close, a little before ten. So Jim
Deramore says, anyway--and he says his mother’s eyes are as good as
another’s.”

“Doubtless!” assented Ransford. He looked at Mary again, and saw that
she was keeping hers fixed on her plate. “Well,” he continued, “if it
will give you any satisfaction, Dick, you can tell the gossips that Dr.
Ransford never saw any man, Braden or anybody else, at his house that
morning, and that he never exchanged a word with Braden. So much for
that! But,” he added, “you needn’t expect them to believe you. I know
these people--if they’ve got an idea into their heads they’ll ride it to
death. Nevertheless, what I say is a fact.”

Dick presently went off--and once more Ransford looked at Mary. And this
time, Mary had to meet her guardian’s inquiring glance.

“Have you heard anything of this?” he asked.

“That there was a rumour--yes,” she replied without hesitation.
“But--not until just now--this morning.”

“Who told you of it?” inquired Ransford.

Mary hesitated. Then she remembered that Mr. Folliot, at any rate, had
not bound her to secrecy.

“Mr. Folliot,” she replied. “He called me into his garden, to give me
those roses, and he mentioned that Mrs. Deramore had said these things
to Mrs. Folliot, and as he seemed to think it highly probable that Mrs.
Folliot would repeat them, he told me because he didn’t want you to
think that the rumour had originally arisen at his house.”

“Very good of him, I’m sure,” remarked Ransford dryly. “They all like to
shift the blame from one to another! But,” he added, looking searchingly
at her, “you don’t know anything about--Braden’s having come here?”

He saw at once that she did, and Mary saw a slight shade of anxiety come
over his face.

“Yes, I do!” she replied. “That morning. But--it was told to me, only
today, in strict confidence.”

“In strict confidence!” he repeated. “May I know--by whom?”

“Dr. Bryce,” she answered. “I met him this morning. And I think you
ought to know. Only--it was in confidence.” She paused for a moment,
looking at him, and her face grew troubled. “I hate to suggest it,”
 she continued, “but--will you come with me to see him, and I’ll
ask him--things being as they are--to tell you what he told me. I
can’t--without his permission.”

Ransford shook his head and frowned.

“I dislike it!” he said. “It’s--it’s putting ourselves in his power,
as it were. But--I’m not going to be left in the dark. Put on your hat,
then.”

Bryce, ever since his coming to Wrychester, had occupied rooms in an
old house in Friary Lane, at the back of the Close. He was comfortably
lodged. Downstairs he had a double sitting-room, extending from the
front to the back of the house; his front window looked out on one
garden, his back window on another. He had just finished lunch in the
front part of his room, and was looking out of his window, wondering
what to do with himself that afternoon, when he saw Ransford and Mary
Bewery approaching. He guessed the reason of their visit at once,
and went straight to the front door to meet them, and without a word
motioned them to follow him into his own quarters. It was characteristic
of him that he took the first word--before either of his visitors could
speak.

“I know why you’ve come,” he said, as he closed the door and glanced at
Mary. “You either want my permission that you should tell Dr. Ransford
what I told you this morning, or, you want me to tell him myself. Am I
right?”

“I should be glad if you would tell him,” replied Mary. “The rumour you
spoke of has reached him--he ought to know what you can tell. I have
respected your confidence, so far.”

The two men looked at each other. And this time it was Ransford who
spoke first.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that there is no great reason for privacy.
If rumours are flying about in Wrychester, there is an end of privacy.
Dick tells me they are saying at the school that it is known that
Braden called on me at my house shortly before he was found dead. I know
nothing whatever of any such call! But--I left you in my surgery that
morning. Do you know if he came there?”

“Yes!” answered Bryce. “He did come. Soon after you’d gone out.”

“Why did you keep that secret?” demanded Ransford. “You could have told
it to the police--or to the Coroner--or to me. Why didn’t you?”

Before Bryce could answer, all three heard a sharp click of the front
garden gate, and looking round, saw Mitchington coming up the walk.

“Here’s one of the police, now,” said Bryce calmly. “Probably come to
extract information. I would much rather he didn’t see you here--but I’d
also like you to hear what I shall say to him. Step inside there,” he
continued, drawing aside the curtains which shut off the back room.
“Don’t stick at trifles!--you don’t know what may be afoot.”

He almost forced them away, drew the curtains again, and hurrying to the
front door, returned almost immediately with Mitchington.

“Hope I’m not disturbing you, doctor,” said the inspector, as Bryce
brought him in and again closed the door. “Not? All right, then--I came
round to ask you a question. There’s a queer rumour getting out in the
town, about that affair last week. Seems to have sprung from some of
those old dowagers in the Close.”

“Of course!” said Bryce. He was mixing a whisky-and-soda for his caller,
and his laugh mingled with the splash of the siphon. “Of course! I’ve
heard it.”

“You’ve heard?” remarked Mitchington. “Um! Good health, sir!--heard, of
course, that--”

“That Braden called on Dr. Ransford not long before the accident, or
murder, or whatever it was, happened,” said Bryce. “That’s it--eh?”

“Something of that sort,” agreed Mitchington. “It’s being said, anyway,
that Braden was at Ransford’s house, and presumably saw him, and that
Ransford, accordingly, knows something about him which he hasn’t told.
Now--what do you know? Do you know if Ransford and Braden did meet that
morning?”

“Not at Ransford’s house, anyway,” answered Bryce promptly. “I can prove
that. But since this rumour has got out, I’ll tell you what I do know,
and what the truth is. Braden did come to Ransford’s--not to the house,
but to the surgery. He didn’t see Ransford--Ransford had gone out,
across the Close. Braden saw--me!”

“Bless me!--I didn’t know that,” remarked Mitchington. “You never
mentioned it.”

“You’ll not wonder that I didn’t,” said Bryce, laughing lightly, “when I
tell you what the man wanted.”

“What did he want, then?” asked Mitchington.

“Merely to be told where the Cathedral Library was,” answered Bryce.

Ransford, watching Mary Bewery, saw her cheeks flush, and knew that
Bryce was cheerfully telling lies. But Mitchington evidently had no
suspicion.

“That all?” he asked. “Just a question?”

“Just a question--that question,” replied Bryce. “I pointed out the
Library--and he walked away. I never saw him again until I was fetched
to him--dead. And I thought so little of the matter that--well, it never
even occurred to me to mention it.”

“Then--though he did call--he never saw Ransford?” asked the inspector.

“I tell you Ransford was already gone out,” answered Bryce. “He saw no
one but myself. Where Mrs. Deramore made her mistake--I happen to know,
Mitchington, that she started this rumour--was in trying to make two
and two into five. She saw this man crossing the Close, as if from
Ransford’s house and she at once imagined he’d seen and been talking
with Ransford.”

“Old fool!” said Mitchington. “Of course, that’s how these tales get
about. However, there’s more than that in the air.”

The two listeners behind the curtains glanced at each other. Ransford’s
glance showed that he was already chafing at the unpleasantness of his
position--but Mary’s only betokened apprehension. And suddenly, as if
she feared that Ransford would throw the curtains aside and walk into
the front room, she laid a hand on his arm and motioned him to be
patient--and silent.

“Oh?” said Bryce. “More in the air? About that business?”

“Just so,” assented Mitchington. “To start with, that man Varner, the
mason, has never ceased talking. They say he’s always at it--to the
effect that the verdict of the jury at the inquest was all wrong, and
that his evidence was put clean aside. He persists that he did see--what
he swore he saw.”

“He’ll persist in that to his dying day,” said Bryce carelessly. “If
that’s all there is--”

“It isn’t,” interrupted the inspector. “Not by a long chalk! But
Varner’s is a direct affirmation--the other matter’s a sort of ugly
hint. There’s a man named Collishaw, a townsman, who’s been employed
as a mason’s labourer about the Cathedral of late. This Collishaw,
it seems, was at work somewhere up in the galleries, ambulatories,
or whatever they call those upper regions, on the very morning of the
affair. And the other night, being somewhat under the influence of
drink, and talking the matter over with his mates at a tavern, he let
out some dark hints that he could tell something if he liked. Of course,
he was pressed to tell them--and wouldn’t. Then--so my informant tells
me--he was dared to tell, and became surlily silent. That, of course,
spread, and got to my ears. I’ve seen Collishaw.”

“Well?” asked Bryce.

“I believe the man does know something,” answered Mitchington. “That’s
the impression I carried away, anyhow. But--he won’t speak. I charged
him straight out with knowing something--but it was no good. I told him
of what I’d heard. All he would say was that whatever he might have said
when he’d got a glass of beer or so too much, he wasn’t going to say
anything now neither for me nor for anybody!”

“Just so!” remarked Bryce. “But--he’ll be getting a glass too much
again, some day, and then--then, perhaps he’ll add to what he said
before. And--you’ll be sure to hear of it.”

“I’m not certain of that,” answered Mitchington. “I made some inquiry
and I find that Collishaw is usually a very sober and retiring sort of
chap--he’d been lured on to drink when he let out what he did. Besides,
whether I’m right or wrong, I got the idea into my head that he’d
already been--squared!”

“Squared!” exclaimed Bryce. “Why, then, if that affair was really
murder, he’d be liable to being charged as an accessory after the fact!”

“I warned him of that,” replied Mitchington. “Yes, I warned him
solemnly.”

“With no effect?” asked Bryce.

“He’s a surly sort of man,” said Mitchington. “The sort that takes
refuge in silence. He made no answer beyond a growl.”

“You really think he knows something?” suggested Bryce. “Well--if there
is anything, it’ll come out--in time.”

“Oh, it’ll come out!” assented Mitchington. “I’m by no means satisfied
with that verdict of the coroner’s inquiry. I believe there was foul
play--of some sort. I’m still following things up--quietly. And--I’ll
tell you something--between ourselves--I’ve made an important discovery.
It’s this. On the evening of Braden’s arrival at the Mitre he was out,
somewhere, for a whole two hours--by himself.”

“I thought we learned from Mrs. Partingley that he and the other man,
Dellingham, spent the evening together?” said Bryce.

“So we did--but that was not quite so,” replied Mitchington. “Braden
went out of the Mitre just before nine o’clock and he didn’t return
until a few minutes after eleven. Now, then, where did he go?”

“I suppose you’re trying to find that out?” asked Bryce, after a pause,
during which the listeners heard the caller rise and make for the door.

“Of course!” replied Mitchington, with a confident laugh. “And--I shall!
Keep it to yourself, doctor.”

When Bryce had let the inspector out and returned to his sitting-room,
Ransford and Mary had come from behind the curtains. He looked at them
and shook his head.

“You heard--a good deal, you see,” he observed.

“Look here!” said Ransford peremptorily. “You put that man off about the
call at my surgery. You didn’t tell him the truth.”

“Quite right,” assented Bryce. “I didn’t. Why should I?”

“What did Braden ask you?” demanded Ransford. “Come, now?”

“Merely if Dr. Ransford was in,” answered Bryce, “remarking that he had
once known a Dr. Ransford. That was--literally--all. I replied that you
were not in.”

Ransford stood silently thinking for a moment or two. Then he moved
towards the door.

“I don’t see that any good will come of more talk about this,” he said.
“We three, at any rate, know this--I never saw Braden when he came to my
house.”

Then he motioned Mary to follow him, and they went away, and Bryce,
having watched them out of sight, smiled at himself in his mirror--with
full satisfaction.



CHAPTER XII. MURDER OF THE MASON’S LABOURER


It was towards noon of the very next day that Bryce made a forward step
in the matter of solving the problem of Richard Jenkins and his tomb
in Paradise. Ever since his return from Barthorpe he had been making
attempts to get at the true meaning of this mystery. He had paid so
many visits to the Cathedral Library that Ambrose Campany had asked him
jestingly if he was going in for archaeology; Bryce had replied that
having nothing to do just then he saw no reason why he shouldn’t improve
his knowledge of the antiquities of Wrychester. But he was scrupulously
careful not to let the librarian know the real object of his prying and
peeping into the old books and documents. Campany, as Bryce was very
well aware, was a walking encyclopaedia of information about Wrychester
Cathedral: he was, in fact, at that time, engaged in completing a
history of it. And it was through that history that Bryce accidentally
got his precious information. For on the day following the interview
with Mary Bewery and Ransford, Bryce being in the library was treated
by Campany to an inspection of certain drawings which the librarian had
made for illustrating his work-drawings, most of them, of old brasses,
coats of arms, and the like,--And at the foot of one of these, a drawing
of a shield on which was sculptured three crows, Bryce saw the name
Richard Jenkins, armiger. It was all he could do to repress a start and
to check his tongue. But Campany, knowing nothing, quickly gave him the
information he wanted.

“All these drawings,” he said, “are of old things in and about the
Cathedral. Some of them, like that, for instance, that Jenkins shield,
are of ornamentations on tombs which are so old that the inscriptions
have completely disappeared--tombs in the Cloisters, and in Paradise.
Some of those tombs can only be identified by these sculptures and
ornaments.”

“How do you know, for instance, that any particular tomb or monument is,
we’ll say, Jenkins’s?” asked Bryce, feeling that he was on safe ground.
“Must be a matter of doubt if there’s no inscription left, isn’t it?”

“No!” replied Campany. “No doubt at all. In that particular case,
there’s no doubt that a certain tomb out there in the corner of
Paradise, near the east wall of the south porch, is that of one Richard
Jenkins, because it bears his coat-of-arms, which, as you see, bore
these birds--intended either as crows or ravens. The inscription’s clean
gone from that tomb--which is why it isn’t particularized in that chart
of burials in Paradise--the man who prepared that chart didn’t know
how to trace things as we do nowadays. Richard Jenkins was, as you may
guess, a Welshman, who settled here in Wrychester in the seventeenth
century: he left some money to St. Hedwige’s Church, outside the
walls, but he was buried here. There are more instances--look at this,
now--this coat-of-arms--that’s the only means there is of identifying
another tomb in Paradise--that of Gervase Tyrrwhit. You see his armorial
bearings in this drawing? Now those--”

Bryce let the librarian go on talking and explaining, and heard all he
had to say as a man hears things in a dream--what was really active in
his own mind was joy at this unexpected stroke of luck: he himself might
have searched for many a year and never found the last resting-place of
Richard Jenkins. And when, soon after the great clock of the Cathedral
had struck the hour of noon, he left Campany and quitted the Library, he
walked over to Paradise and plunged in amongst its yews and cypresses,
intent on seeing the Jenkins tomb for himself. No one could suspect
anything from merely seeing him there, and all he wanted was one glance
at the ancient monument.

But Bryce was not to give even one look at Richard Jenkins’s tomb that
day, nor the next, nor for many days--death met him in another form
before he had taken many steps in the quiet enclosure where so much of
Wrychester mortality lay sleeping.

From over the topmost branches of the old yew trees a great shaft
of noontide sunlight fell full on a patch of the grey walls of the
high-roofed nave. At the foot of it, his back comfortably planted
against the angle of a projecting buttress, sat a man, evidently fast
asleep in the warmth of those powerful rays. His head leaned down and
forward over his chest, his hands were folded across his waist, his
whole attitude was that of a man who, having eaten and drunken in the
open air, has dropped off to sleep. That he had so dropped off while
in the very act of smoking was evident from the presence of a short,
well-blackened clay pipe which had fallen from his lips and lay in the
grass beside him. Near the pipe, spread on a coloured handkerchief, were
the remains of his dinner--Bryce’s quick eye noticed fragments of bread,
cheese, onions. And close by stood one of those tin bottles in which
labouring men carry their drink; its cork, tied to the neck by a piece
of string, dangled against the side. A few yards away, a mass of fallen
rubbish and a shovel and wheelbarrow showed at what the sleeper had been
working when his dinner-hour and time for rest had arrived.

Something unusual, something curiously noticeable--yet he could not
exactly tell what--made Bryce go closer to the sleeping man. There was
a strange stillness about him--a rigidity which seemed to suggest
something more than sleep. And suddenly, with a stifled exclamation,
he bent forward and lifted one of the folded hands. It dropped like a
leaden weight when Bryce released it, and he pushed back the man’s face
and looked searchingly into it. And in that instant he knew that for
the second time within a fortnight he had found a dead man in Wrychester
Paradise.

There was no doubt whatever that the man was dead. His hands and body
were warm enough--but there was not a flicker of breath; he was as dead
as any of the folk who lay six feet beneath the old gravestones around
him. And Bryce’s practised touch and eye knew that he was only just
dead--and that he had died in his sleep. Everything there pointed
unmistakably to what had happened. The man had eaten his frugal dinner,
washed it down from his tin bottle, lighted his pipe, leaned back in the
warm sunlight, dropped asleep--and died as quietly as a child taken from
its play to its slumbers.

After one more careful look, Bryce turned and made through the trees
to the path which crossed the old graveyard. And there, going leisurely
home to lunch, was Dick Bewery, who glanced at the young doctor
inquisitively.

“Hullo!” he exclaimed with the freedom of youth towards something not
much older. “You there? Anything on?”

Then he looked more clearly, seeing Bryce to be pale and excited. Bryce
laid a hand on the lad’s arm.

“Look here!” he said. “There’s something wrong--again!--in here. Run
down to the police-station--get hold of Mitchington--quietly, you
understand!--bring him here at once. If he’s not there, bring somebody
else--any of the police. But--say nothing to anybody but them.”

Dick gave him another swift look, turned, and ran. And Bryce went back
to the dead man--and picked up the tin bottle, and making a cup of his
left hand poured out a trickle of the contents. Cold tea!--and, as far
as he could judge, nothing else. He put the tip of his little finger
into the weak-looking stuff, and tasted--it tasted of nothing but a
super-abundance of sugar.

He stood there, watching the dead man until the sound of footsteps
behind him gave warning of the return of Dick Bewery, who, in another
minute, hurried through the bushes, followed by Mitchington. The boy
stared in silence at the still figure, but the inspector, after a hasty
glance, turned a horrified face on Bryce.

“Good Lord!” he gasped. “It’s Collishaw!”

Bryce for the moment failed to comprehend this, and Mitchington shook
his head.

“Collishaw!” he repeated. “Collishaw, you know! The man I told you about
yesterday afternoon. The man that said--”

Mitchington suddenly checked himself, with a glance at Dick Bewery.

“I remember--now,” said Bryce. “The mason’s labourer! So--this is the
man, eh? Well, Mitchington, he’s dead!--I found him dead, just now. I
should say he’d been dead five to ten minutes--not more. You’d better
get help--and I’d like another medical man to see him before he’s
removed.”

Mitchington looked again at Dick.

“Perhaps you’d fetch Dr. Ransford, Mr--Richard?” he asked. “He’s
nearest.”

“Dr. Ransford’s not at home,” said Dick. “He went to Highminster--some
County Council business or other--at ten this morning, and he won’t be
back until four--I happen to know that. Shall I run for Dr. Coates?”

“If you wouldn’t mind,” said Mitchington, “and as it’s close by, drop in
at the station again and tell the sergeant to come here with a couple of
men. I say!” he went on, when the boy had hurried off, “this is a queer
business, Dr. Bryce! What do you think?”

“I think this,” answered Bryce. “That man!--look at him!--a strong,
healthy-looking fellow, in the very prime of life--that man has met his
death by foul means. You take particular care of those dinner things
of his--the remains of his dinner, every scrap--and of that tin bottle.
That, especially. Take all these things yourself, Mitchington, and lock
them up--they’ll be wanted for examination.”

Mitchington glanced at the simple matters which Bryce indicated. And
suddenly he turned a half-frightened glance on his companion.

“You don’t mean to say that--that you suspect he’s been poisoned?” he
asked. “Good Lord, if that is so--”

“I don’t think you’ll find that there’s much doubt about it,” answered
Bryce. “But that’s a point that will soon be settled. You’d better tell
the Coroner at once, Mitchington, and he’ll issue a formal order to Dr.
Coates to make a post-mortem. And,” he added significantly, “I shall be
surprised if it isn’t as I say--poison!”

“If that’s so,” observed Mitchington, with a grim shake of his head, “if
that really is so, then I know what I shall think! This!” he went
on, pointing to the dead man, “this is--a sort of sequel to the other
affair. There’s been something in what the poor chap said--he did know
something against somebody, and that somebody’s got to hear of it--and
silenced him. But, Lord, doctor, how can it have been done?”

“I can see how it can have been done, easy enough,” said Bryce. “This
man has evidently been at work here, by himself, all the morning. He of
course brought his dinner with him. He no doubt put his basket and his
bottle down somewhere, while he did his work. What easier than for some
one to approach through these trees and shrubs while the man’s back was
turned, or he was busy round one of these corners, and put some deadly
poison into that bottle? Nothing!”

“Well,” remarked Mitchington, “if that’s so, it proves something
else--to my mind.”

“What!” asked Bryce.

“Why, that whoever it was who did it was somebody who had a knowledge
of poison!” answered Mitchington. “And I should say there aren’t many
people in Wrychester who have such knowledge outside yourselves and the
chemists. It’s a black business, this!”

Bryce nodded silently. He waited until Dr. Coates, an elderly man who
was the leading practitioner in the town, arrived, and to him he gave
a careful account of his discovery. And after the police had taken the
body away, and he had accompanied Mitchington to the police-station and
seen the tin bottle and the remains of Collishaw’s dinner safely locked
up, he went home to lunch, and to wonder at this strange development.
The inspector was doubtless right in saying that Collishaw had been
done to death by somebody who wanted to silence him--but who could
that somebody be? Bryce’s thoughts immediately turned to the fact that
Ransford had overheard all that Mitchington had said, in that very room
in which he, Bryce, was then lunching--Ransford! Was it possible that
Ransford had realized a danger in Collishaw’s knowledge, and had--

He was interrupted at this stage by Mitchington, who came hurriedly in
with a scared face.

“I say, I say!” he whispered as soon as Bryce’s landlady had shut the
door on them. “Here’s a fine business! I’ve heard something--something
I can hardly credit--but it’s true. I’ve been to tell Collishaw’s family
what’s happened. And--I’m fairly dazed by it--yet it’s there--it is so!”

“What’s so?” demanded Bryce. “What is it that’s true?”

Mitchington bent closer over the table.

“Dr. Ransford was fetched to Collishaw’s cottage at six o’clock this
morning!” he said. “It seems that Collishaw’s wife has been in a poor
way about her health of late, and Dr. Ransford has attended her, off and
on. She had some sort of a seizure this morning--early--and Ransford
was sent for. He was there some little time--and I’ve heard some queer
things.”

“What sort of queer things?” demanded Bryce. “Don’t be afraid of
speaking out, man!--there’s no one to hear but myself.”

“Well, things that look suspicious, on the face of it,” continued
Mitchington, who was obviously much upset. “As you’ll acknowledge when
you hear them. I got my information from the next-door neighbour, Mrs.
Batts. Mrs. Batts says that when Ransford--who’d been fetched by Mrs.
Batts’s eldest lad--came to Collishaw’s house, Collishaw was putting up
his dinner to take to his work--”

“What on earth made Mrs. Batts tell you that?” interrupted Bryce.

“Oh, well, to tell you the truth, I put a few questions to her as to
what went on while Ransford was in the house,” answered Mitchington.
“When I’d once found that he had been there, you know, I naturally
wanted to know all I could.”

“Well?” asked Bryce.

“Collishaw, I say, was putting up his dinner to take to his work,”
 continued Mitchington. “Mrs. Batts was doing a thing or two about the
house. Ransford went upstairs to see Mrs. Collishaw. After a while he
came down and said he would have to remain a little. Collishaw went
up to speak to his wife before going out. And then Ransford asked
Mrs. Batts for something--I forget what--some small matter which the
Collishaw’s hadn’t got and she had, and she went next door to fetch it.
Therefore--do you see?--Ransford was left alone with--Collishaw’s tin
bottle!”

Bryce, who had been listening attentively, looked steadily at the
inspector.

“You’re suspecting Ransford already!” he said.

Mitchington shook his head.

“What’s it look like?” he answered, almost appealingly. “I put it to
you, now!--what does it look like? Here’s this man been poisoned without
a doubt--I’m certain of it. And--there were those rumours--it’s idle to
deny that they centred in Ransford. And--this morning Ransford had the
chance!”

“That’s arguing that Ransford purposely carried a dose of poison to
put into Collishaw’s tin bottle!” said Bryce half-sneeringly. “Not very
probable, you know, Mitchington.”

Mitchington spread out his hands.

“Well, there it is!” he said. “As I say, there’s no denying the
suspicious look of it. If I were only certain that those rumours about
what Collishaw hinted he could say had got to Ransford’s ears!--why,
then--”

“What’s being done about that post-mortem?” asked Bryce.

“Dr. Coates and Dr. Everest are going to do it this afternoon,” replied
Mitchington. “The Coroner went to them at once, as soon as I told him.”

“They’ll probably have to call in an expert from London,” said Bryce.
“However, you can’t do anything definite, you know, until the result’s
known. Don’t say anything of this to anybody. I’ll drop in at your place
later and hear if Coates can say anything really certain.”

Mitchington went away, and Bryce spent the rest of the afternoon
wondering, speculating and scheming. If Ransford had really got rid of
this man who knew something--why, then, it was certainly Ransford who
killed Braden.

He went round to the police-station at five o’clock. Mitchington drew
him aside.

“Coates says there’s no doubt about it!” he whispered. “Poisoned!
Hydrocyanic acid!”



CHAPTER XIII. BRYCE IS ASKED A QUESTION


Mitchington stepped aside into a private room, motioning Bryce to follow
him. He carefully closed the door, and looking significantly at his
companion, repeated his last words, with a shake of the head.

“Poisoned!--without the very least doubt,” he whispered. “Hydrocyanic
acid--which, I understand, is the same thing as what’s commonly called
prussic acid. They say then hadn’t the least difficulty in finding that
out! so there you are.”

“That’s what Coates has told you, of course?” asked Bryce. “After the
autopsy?”

“Both of ‘em told me--Coates, and Everest, who helped him,” replied
Mitchington. “They said it was obvious from the very start. And--I say!”

“Well?” said Bryce.

“It wasn’t in that tin bottle, anyway,” remarked Mitchington, who was
evidently greatly weighted with mystery.

“No!--of course it wasn’t!” affirmed Bryce. “Good Heavens, man--I know
that!”

“How do you know?” asked Mitchington.

“Because I poured a few drops from that bottle into my hand when I first
found Collishaw and tasted the stuff,” answered Bryce readily. “Cold
tea! with too much sugar in it. There was no H.C.N. in that besides,
wherever it is, there’s always a smell stronger or fainter--of bitter
almonds. There was none about that bottle.”

“Yet you were very anxious that we should take care of the bottle?”
 observed Mitchington.

“Of course!--because I suspected the use of some much rarer poison
than that,” retorted Bryce. “Pooh!--it’s a clumsy way of poisoning
anybody!--quick though it is.”

“Well, there’s where it is!” said Mitchington. “That’ll be the medical
evidence at the inquest, anyway. That’s how it was done. And the
question now is--”

“Who did it?” interrupted Bryce. “Precisely! Well--I’ll say this much
at once, Mitchington. Whoever did it was either a big bungler--or damned
clever! That’s what I say!”

“I don’t understand you,” said Mitchington.

“Plain enough--my meaning,” replied Bryce, smiling. “To finish anybody
with that stuff is easy enough--but no poison is more easily detected.
It’s an amateurish way of poisoning anybody--unless you can do it in
such a fashion that no suspicion can attach you to. And in this case
it’s here--whoever administered that poison to Collishaw must have been
certain--absolutely certain, mind you!--that it was impossible for any
one to find out that he’d done so. Therefore, I say what I said--the man
must be damned clever. Otherwise, he’d be found out pretty quick. And
all that puzzles me is--how was it administered?”

“How much would kill anybody--pretty quick?” asked Mitchington.

“How much? One drop would cause instantaneous death!” answered Bryce.
“Cause paralysis of the heart, there and then, instantly!”

Mitchington remained silent awhile, looking meditatively at Bryce. Then
he turned to a locked drawer, produced a key, and took something out of
the drawer--a small object, wrapped in paper.

“I’m telling you a good deal, doctor,” he said. “But as you know so much
already, I’ll tell you a bit more. Look at this!”

He opened his hand and showed Bryce a small cardboard pill-box, across
the face of which a few words were written--One after meals--Mr.
Collishaw.

“Whose handwriting’s that?” demanded Mitchington.

Bryce looked closer, and started.

“Ransford’s!” he muttered. “Ransford--of course!”

“That box was in Collishaw’s waistcoat pocket,” said Mitchington. “There
are pills inside it, now. See!” He took off the lid of the box and
revealed four sugar-coated pills. “It wouldn’t hold more than six,
this,” he observed.

Bryce extracted a pill and put his nose to it, after scratching a little
of the sugar coating away.

“Mere digestive pills,” he announced.

“Could--it!--have been given in one of these?” asked Mitchington.

“Possible,” replied Bryce. He stood thinking for a moment. “Have you
shown those things to Coates and Everest?” he asked at last.

“Not yet,” replied Mitchington. “I wanted to find out, first, if
Ransford gave this box to Collishaw, and when. I’m going to Collishaw’s
house presently--I’ve certain inquiries to make. His widow’ll know about
these pills.”

“You’re suspecting Ransford,” said Bryce. “That’s certain!”

Mitchington carefully put away the pill-box and relocked the drawer.

“I’ve got some decidedly uncomfortable ideas--which I’d much rather not
have--about Dr. Ransford,” he said. “When one thing seems to fit into
another, what is one to think. If I were certain that that rumour which
spread, about Collishaw’s knowledge of something--you know, had got to
Ransford’s ears--why, I should say it looked very much as if Ransford
wanted to stop Collishaw’s tongue for good before it could say more--and
next time, perhaps, something definite. If men once begin to hint that
they know something, they don’t stop at hinting. Collishaw might have
spoken plainly before long--to us!”

Bryce asked a question about the holding of the inquest and went away.
And after thinking things over, he turned in the direction of the
Cathedral, and made his way through the Cloisters to the Close. He
was going to make another move in his own game, while there was a good
chance. Everything at this juncture was throwing excellent cards
into his hand--he would be foolish, he thought, not to play them to
advantage. And so he made straight for Ransford’s house, and before he
reached it, met Ransford and Mary Bewery, who were crossing the Close
from another point, on their way from the railway station, whither
Mary had gone especially to meet her guardian. They were in such deep
conversation that Bryce was close upon them before they observed
his presence. When Ransford saw his late assistant, he scowled
unconsciously--Bryce, and the interview of the previous afternoon, had
been much in his thoughts all day, and he had an uneasy feeling that
Bryce was playing some game. Bryce was quick to see that scowl--and to
observe the sudden start which Mary could not repress--and he was just
as quick to speak.

“I was going to your house, Dr. Ransford,” he remarked quietly. “I don’t
want to force my presence on you, now or at any time--but I think you’d
better give me a few minutes.”

They were at Ransford’s garden gate by that time, and Ransford flung it
open and motioned Bryce to follow. He led the way into the dining-room,
closed the door on the three, and looked at Bryce. Bryce took the glance
as a question, and put another, in words.

“You’ve heard of what’s happened during the day?” he said.

“About Collishaw--yes,” answered Ransford. “Miss Bewery has just told
me--what her brother told her. What of it?”

“I have just come from the police-station,” said Bryce. “Coates and
Everest have carried out an autopsy this afternoon. Mitchington told me
the result.”

“Well?” demanded Ransford, with no attempt to conceal his impatience.
“And what then?”

“Collishaw was poisoned,” replied Bryce, watching Ransford with a
closeness which Mary did not fail to observe. “H.C.N. No doubt at all
about it.”

“Well--and what then?” asked Ransford, still more impatiently. “To be
explicit--what’s all this to do with me?”

“I came here to do you a service,” answered Bryce. “Whether you like
to take it or not is your look-out. You may as well know it you’re in
danger. Collishaw is the man who hinted--as you heard yesterday in my
rooms--that he could say something definite about the Braden affair--if
he liked.”

“Well?” said Ransford.

“It’s known--to the police--that you were at Collishaw’s house early
this morning,” said Bryce. “Mitchington knows it.”

Ransford laughed.

“Does Mitchington know that I overheard what he said to you, yesterday
afternoon?” he inquired.

“No, he doesn’t,” answered Bryce. “He couldn’t possibly know unless
I told him. I haven’t told him--I’m not going to tell him. But--he’s
suspicious already.”

“Of me, of course,” suggested Ransford, with another laugh. He took a
turn across the room and suddenly faced round on Bryce, who had remained
standing near the door. “Do you really mean to tell me that Mitchington
is such a fool as to believe that I would poison a poor working man--and
in that clumsy fashion?” he burst out. “Of course you don’t.”

“I never said I did,” answered Bryce. “I’m only telling you what
Mitchington thinks his grounds for suspecting. He confided in me
because--well, it was I who found Collishaw. Mitchington is in
possession of a box of digestive pills which you evidently gave
Collishaw.”

“Bah!” exclaimed Ransford. “The man’s a fool! Let him come and talk to
me.”

“He won’t do that--yet,” said Bryce. “But--I’m afraid he’ll bring all
this out at the inquest. The fact is--he’s suspicious--what with one
thing or another--about the former affair. He thinks you concealed the
truth--whatever it may be--as regards any knowledge of Braden which you
may or mayn’t have.”

“I’ll tell you what it is!” said Ransford suddenly. “It just comes to
this--I’m suspected of having had a hand--the hand, if you like!--in
Braden’s death, and now of getting rid of Collishaw because Collishaw
could prove that I had that hand. That’s about it!”

“A clear way of putting it, certainly,” assented Bryce. “But--there’s a
very clear way, too, of dissipating any such ideas.”

“What way?” demanded Ransford.

“If you do know anything about the Braden affair--why not reveal it,
and be done with the whole thing,” suggested Bryce. “That would finish
matters.”

Ransford took a long, silent look at his questioner. And Bryce looked
steadily back--and Mary Bewery anxiously watched both men.

“That’s my business,” said Ransford at last. “I’m neither to be
coerced, bullied, or cajoled. I’m obliged to you for giving me a hint of
my--danger, I suppose! And--I don’t propose to say any more.”

“Neither do I,” said Bryce. “I only came to tell you.”

And therewith, having successfully done all that he wanted to do, he
walked out of the room and the house, and Ransford, standing in the
window, his hands thrust in his pockets, watched him go away across the
Close.

“Guardian!” said Mary softly.

Ransford turned sharply.

“Wouldn’t it be best,” she continued, speaking nervously, “if--if you do
know anything about that unfortunate man--if you told it? Why have this
suspicion fastening itself on you? You!”

Ransford made an effort to calm himself. He was furiously angry--angry
with Bryce, angry with Mitchington, angry with the cloud of foolishness
and stupidity that seemed to be gathering.

“Why should I--supposing that I do know something, which I don’t
admit--why should I allow myself to be coerced and frightened by these
fools?” he asked. “No man can prevent suspicion falling on him--it’s my
bad luck in this instance. Why should I rush to the police-station and
say, ‘Here--I’ll blurt out all I know--everything!’ Why?”

“Wouldn’t that be better than knowing that people are saying things?”
 she asked.

“As to that,” replied Ransford, “you can’t prevent people saying
things--especially in a town like this. If it hadn’t been for the
unfortunate fact that Braden came to the surgery door, nothing would
have been said. But what of that?--I have known hundreds of men in my
time--aye, and forgotten them! No!--I am not going to fall a victim
to this device--it all springs out of curiosity. As to this last
affair--it’s all nonsense!”

“But--if the man was really poisoned?” suggested Mary.

“Let the police find the poisoner!” said Ransford, with a grim smile.
“That’s their job.”

Mary said nothing for a moment, and Ransford moved restlessly about the
room.

“I don’t trust that fellow Bryce,” he said suddenly. “He’s up to
something. I don’t forget what he said when I bundled him out that
morning.”

“What?” she asked.

“That he would be a bad enemy,” answered Ransford. “He’s posing now as a
friend--but a man’s never to be so much suspected as when he comes
doing what you may call unnecessary acts of friendship. I’d rather that
anybody was mixed up in my affairs--your affairs--than Pemberton Bryce!”

“So would I!” she said. “But--”

She paused there a moment and then looked appealingly at Ransford.

“I do wish you’d tell me--what you promised to tell me,” she said. “You
know what I mean--about me and Dick. Somehow--I don’t quite know how or
why--I’ve an uneasy feeling that Bryce knows something, and that he’s
mixing it all up with--this! Why not tell me--please!”

Ransford, who was still marching about the room, came to a halt, and
leaning his hands on the table between them, looked earnestly at her.

“Don’t ask that--now!” he said. “I can’t--yet. The fact is, I’m waiting
for something--some particulars. As soon as I get them, I’ll speak to
you--and to Dick. In the meantime--don’t ask me again--and don’t be
afraid. And as to this affair, leave it to me--and if you meet Bryce
again, refuse to discuss any thing with him. Look here!--there’s
only one reason why he professes friendliness and a desire to save me
annoyance. He thinks he can ingratiate himself with--you!”

“Mistaken!” murmured Mary, shaking her head. “I don’t trust him.
And--less than ever because of yesterday. Would an honest man have done
what he did? Let that police inspector talk freely, as he did, with
people concealed behind a curtain? And--he laughed about it! I hated
myself for being there--yet could we help it?”

“I’m not going to hate myself on Pemberton Bryce’s account,” said
Ransford. “Let him play his game--that he has one, I’m certain.”

Bryce had gone away to continue his game--or another line of it. The
Collishaw matter had not made him forget the Richard Jenkins tomb, and
now, after leaving Ransford’s house, he crossed the Close to Paradise
with the object of doing a little more investigation. But at the archway
of the ancient enclosure he met old Simpson Harker, pottering about in
his usual apparently aimless fashion. Harker smiled at sight of Bryce.

“Ah, I was wanting to have a word with you, doctor!” he said. “Something
important. Have you got a minute or two to spare, sir? Come round to my
little place, then--we shall be quiet there.”

Bryce had any amount of time to spare for an interesting person like
Harker, and he followed the old man to his house--a tiny place set in
a nest of similar old-world buildings behind the Close. Harker led
him into a little parlour, comfortable and snug, wherein were several
shelves of books of a curiously legal and professional-looking aspect,
some old pictures, and a cabinet of odds and ends, stowed away in of
dark corner. The old man motioned him to an easy chair, and going over
to a cupboard, produced a decanter of whisky and a box of cigars.

“We can have a peaceful and comfortable talk here, doctor,” he remarked,
as he sat down near Bryce, after fetching glasses and soda-water. “I
live all alone, like a hermit--my bit of work’s done by a woman who
only looks in of a morning. So we’re all by ourselves. Light your
cigar!--same as that I gave you at Barthorpe. Um--well, now,” he
continued, as Bryce settled down to listen. “There’s a question I want
to put to you--strictly between ourselves--strictest of confidence, you
know. It was you who was called to Braden by Varner, and you were left
alone with Braden’s body?”

“Well?” admitted Bryce, suddenly growing suspicious. “What of it?”

Harker edged his chair a little closer to his guest’s, and leaned
towards him.

“What,” he asked in a whisper, “what have you done with that scrap of
paper that you took out of Braden’s purse?”



CHAPTER XIV. FROM THE PAST


If any remarkably keen and able observer of the odd characteristics of
humanity had been present in Harker’s little parlour at that moment,
watching him and his visitor, he would have been struck by what happened
when the old man put this sudden and point-blank question to the young
one. For Harker put the question, though in a whisper, in no more than
a casual, almost friendlily-confidential way, and Bryce never showed by
the start of a finger or the flicker of an eyelash that he felt it to be
what he really knew it to be--the most surprising and startling question
he had ever had put to him. Instead, he looked his questioner calmly in
the eyes, and put a question in his turn.

“Who are you, Mr. Harker?” asked Bryce quietly.

Harker laughed--almost gleefully.

“Yes, you’ve a right to ask that!” he said. “Of course!--glad you take
it that way. You’ll do!”

“I’ll qualify it, then,” added Bryce. “It’s not who--it’s what are you!”

Harker waved his cigar at the book-shelves in front of which his visitor
sat.

“Take a look at my collection of literature, doctor,” he said. “What
d’ye think of it?”

Bryce turned and leisurely inspected one shelf after another.

“Seems to consist of little else but criminal cases and legal
handbooks,” he remarked quietly. “I begin to suspect you, Mr. Harker.
They say here in Wrychester that you’re a retired tradesman. I think
you’re a retired policeman--of the detective branch.”

Harker laughed again.

“No Wrychester man has ever crossed my threshold since I came to settle
down here,” he said. “You’re the first person I’ve ever asked in--with
one notable exception. I’ve never even had Campany, the librarian, here.
I’m a hermit.”

“But--you were a detective?” suggested Bryce.

“Aye, for a good five-and-twenty years!” replied Harker. “And pretty
well known, too, sir. But--my question, doctor. All between ourselves!”

“I’ll ask you one, then,” said Bryce. “How do you know I took a scrap of
paper from Braden’s purse?”

“Because I know that he had such a paper in his purse the night he came
to the Mitre,” answered Harker, “and was certain to have it there next
morning, and because I also know that you were left alone with the body
for some minutes after Varner fetched you to it, and that when Braden’s
clothing and effects were searched by Mitchington, the paper wasn’t
there. So, of course, you took it! Doesn’t matter to me that ye
did--except that I know, from knowing that, that you’re on a similar
game to my own--which is why you went down to Leicestershire.”

“You knew Braden?” asked Bryce.

“I knew him!” answered Harker.

“You saw him--spoke with him--here in Wrychester?” suggested Bryce.

“He was here--in this room--in that chair--from five minutes past nine
to close on ten o’clock the night before his death,” replied Harker.

Bryce, who was quietly appreciating the Havana cigar which the old man
had given him, picked up his glass, took a drink, and settled himself in
his easy chair as if he meant to stay there awhile.

“I think we’d better talk confidentially, Mr. Harker,” he said.

“Precisely what we are doing, Dr. Bryce,” replied Harker.

“All right, my friend,” said Bryce, laconically. “Now we understand each
other. So--do you know who John Braden really was?”

“Yes!” replied Harker, promptly. “He was in reality John Brake, ex-bank
manager, ex-convict.”

“Do you know if he’s any relatives here in Wrychester?” inquired Bryce.

“Yes,” said Harker. “The boy and girl who live with Ransford--they’re
Brake’s son and daughter.”

“Did Brake know that--when he came here?” continued Bryce.

“No, he didn’t--he hadn’t the least idea of it,” responded Harker.

“Had you--then?” asked Bryce.

“No--not until later--a little later,” replied Harker.

“You found it out at Barthorpe?” suggested Bryce.

“Not a bit of it; I worked it out here--after Brake was dead,” said
Harker. “I went to Barthorpe on quite different business--Brake’s
business.”

“Ah!” said Bryce. He looked the old detective quietly in the eyes.
“You’d better tell me all about it,” he added.

“If we’re both going to tell each other--all about it,” stipulated
Harker.

“That’s settled,” assented Bryce.

Harker smoked thoughtfully for a moment and seemed to be thinking.

“I’d better go back to the beginning,” he said. “But, first--what do you
know about Brake? I know you went down to Barthorpe to find out what you
could--how far did your searches take you?”

“I know that Brake married a girl from Braden Medworth, that he took
her to London, where he was manager of a branch bank, that he got into
trouble, and was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude,” answered
Bryce, “together with some small details into which we needn’t go at
present.”

“Well, as long as you know all that, there’s a common basis and a common
starting-point,” remarked Harker, “so I’ll begin at Brake’s trial. It
was I who arrested Brake. There was no trouble, no bother. He’d been
taken unawares, by an inspector of the bank. He’d a considerable
deficiency--couldn’t make it good--couldn’t or wouldn’t explain except
by half-sullen hints that he’d been cruelly deceived. There was no
defence--couldn’t be. His counsel said that he could--”

“I’ve read the account of the trial,” interrupted Bryce.

“All right--then you know as much as I can tell you on that point,” said
Harker. “He got, as you say, ten years. I saw him just before he was
removed and asked him if there was anything I could do for him about his
wife and children. I’d never seen them--I arrested him at the bank,
and, of course, he was never out of custody after that. He answered in
a queer, curt way that his wife and children were being looked after.
I heard, incidentally, that his wife had left home, or was from
home--there was something mysterious about it--either as soon as he
was arrested or before. Anyway, he said nothing, and from that moment
I never set eyes on him again until I met him in the street here in
Wrychester, the other night, when he came to the Mitre. I knew him at
once--and he knew me. We met under one of those big standard lamps in
the Market Place--I was following my usual practice of having an evening
walk, last thing before going to bed. And we stopped and stared at each
other. Then he came forward with his hand out, and we shook hands. ‘This
is an odd thing!’ he said. ‘You’re the very man I wanted to find! Come
somewhere, where it’s quiet, and let me have a word with you.’ So--I
brought him here.”

Bryce was all attention now--for once he was devoting all his faculties
to tense and absorbed concentration on what another man could tell,
leaving reflections and conclusions on what he heard until all had been
told.

“I brought him here,” repeated Harker. “I told him I’d been retired
and was living here, as he saw, alone. I asked him no questions about
himself--I could see he was a well-dressed, apparently well-to-do man.
And presently he began to tell me about himself. He said that after he’d
finished his term he left England and for some time travelled in
Canada and the United States, and had gone then--on to New Zealand and
afterwards to Australia, where he’d settled down and begun speculating
in wool. I said I hoped he’d done well. Yes, he said, he’d done very
nicely--and then he gave me a quiet dig in the ribs. ‘I’ll tell you one
thing I’ve done, Harker,’ he said. ‘You were very polite and considerate
to me when I’d my trouble, so I don’t mind telling you. I paid the
bank every penny of that money they lost through my foolishness at that
time--every penny, four years ago, with interest, and I’ve got their
receipt.’ ‘Delighted to hear it, Mr.--Is it the same name still?’ I
said. ‘My name ever since I left England,’ he said, giving me a look,
‘is Braden--John Braden.’ ‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘I paid ‘em--though I
never had one penny of the money I was fool enough to take for the
time being--not one halfpenny!’ ‘Who had it, Mr. Braden?’ I asked him,
thinking that he’d perhaps tell after all that time. ‘Never mind, my
lad!’ he answered. ‘It’ll come out--yet. Never mind that, now. I’ll tell
you why I wanted to see you. The fact is, I’ve only been a few hours in
England, so to speak, but I’d thought of you, and wondered where I could
get hold of you--you’re the only man of your profession I ever met, you
see,’ he added, with a laugh. ‘And I want a bit of help in that way.’
‘Well, Mr. Braden,’ I said, ‘I’ve retired, but if it’s an easy job--’
‘It’s one you can do, easy enough,’ he said. ‘It’s just this--I met a
man in Australia who’s extremely anxious to get some news of another
man, named Falkiner Wraye, who hails from Barthorpe, in Leicestershire.
I promised to make inquiries for him. Now, I have strong reasons why I
don’t want to go near Barthorpe--Barthorpe has unpleasant memories and
associations for me, and I don’t want to be seen there. But this thing’s
got to be personal investigation--will you go here, for me? I’ll make
it worth your while. All you’ve got to do,’ he went on, ‘is to go
there--see the police authorities, town officials, anybody that knows
the place, and ask them if they can tell you anything of one Falkiner
Wraye, who was at one time a small estate agent in Barthorpe, left the
place about seventeen years ago--maybe eighteen--and is believed to
have recently gone back to the neighbourhood. That’s all. Get what
information you can, and write it to me, care of my bankers in London.
Give me a sheet of paper and I’ll put down particulars for you.’”

Harker paused at this point and nodded his head at an old bureau which
stood in a corner of his room.

“The sheet of paper’s there,” he said. “It’s got on it, in his writing,
a brief memorandum of what he wanted and the address of his bankers.
When he’d given it to me, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a
purse in which I could see he was carrying plenty of money. He took out
some notes. ‘Here’s five-and-twenty pounds on account, Harker,’ he said.
‘You might have to spend a bit. Don’t be afraid--plenty more where that
comes from. You’ll do it soon?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I’ll do it, Mr. Braden,’
I answered. ‘It’ll be a bit of a holiday for me.’ ‘That’s all right,’
he said. ‘I’m delighted I came across you.’ ‘Well, you couldn’t be more
delighted than I was surprised,’ I said. ‘I never thought to see you
in Wrychester. What brought you here, if one may ask--sight-seeing?’
He laughed at that, and he pulled out his purse again. ‘I’ll show you
something--a secret,’ he said, and he took a bit of folded paper out of
his purse. ‘What do you make of that?’ he asked. ‘Can you read Latin?’
‘No--except a word or two,’ I said, ‘but I know a man who can.’ ‘Ah,
never mind,’ said he. ‘I know enough Latin for this--and it’s a secret.
However, it won’t be a secret long, and you’ll hear all about it.’
And with that he put the bit of paper in his purse again, and we began
talking about other matters, and before long he said he’d promised to
have a chat with a gentleman at the Mitre whom he’d come along with
in the train, and away he went, saying he’d see me before be left the
town.”

“Did he say how long he was going to stop here?” asked Bryce.

“Two or three days,” replied Harker.

“Did he mention Ransford?” inquired Bryce.

“Never!” said Harker.

“Did he make any reference to his wife and children?”

“Not the slightest!”

“Nor to the hint that his counsel threw out at the trial?”

“Never referred to that time except in the way I told you--that he
hadn’t a penny of the money, himself and that he’d himself refunded it.”

Bryce meditated awhile. He was somewhat puzzled by certain points in the
old detective’s story, and he saw now that there was much more mystery
in the Braden affair than he had at first believed.

“Well,” he asked, after a while, “did you see him again?”

“Not alive!” replied Harker. “I saw him dead--and I held my tongue, and
have held it. But--something happened that day. After I heard of the
accident, I went into the Crown and Cushion tavern--the fact was, I went
to get a taste of whisky, for the news had upset me. And in that long
bar of theirs, I saw a man whom I knew--a man whom I knew, for a fact,
to have been a fellow convict of Brake’s. Name of Glassdale--forgery.
He got the same sentence that Brake got, about the same time, was in the
same convict prison with Brake, and he and Brake would be released about
the same date. There was no doubt about his identity--I never forget a
face, even after thirty years I’d tell one. I saw him in that bar before
he saw me, and I took a careful look at him. He, too, like Brake, was
very well dressed, and very prosperous looking. He turned as he set down
his glass, and caught sight of me--and he knew me. Mind you, he’d been
through my hands in times past! And he instantly moved to a side-door
and--vanished. I went out and looked up and down--he’d gone. I found out
afterwards, by a little quiet inquiry, that he’d gone straight to the
station, boarded the first train--there was one just giving out, to the
junction--and left the city. But I can lay hands on him!”

“You’ve kept this quiet, too?” asked Bryce.

“Just so--I’ve my own game to play,” replied Harker. “This talk with
you is part of it--you come in, now--I’ll tell you why, presently. But
first, as you know, I went to Barthorpe. For, though Brake was dead,
I felt I must go--for this reason. I was certain that he wanted that
information for himself--the man in Australia was a fiction. I went,
then--and learned nothing. Except that this Falkiner Wraye had been,
as Brake said, a Barthorpe man, years ago. He’d left the town eighteen
years since, and nobody knew anything about him. So I came home. And now
then, doctor--your turn! What were you after, down there at Barthorpe?”

Bryce meditated his answer for a good five minutes. He had always
intended to play the game off his own bat, but he had heard and seen
enough since entering Harker’s little room to know that he was in
company with an intellect which was keener and more subtle than his, and
that it would be all to his advantage to go in with the man who had vast
and deep experience. And so he made a clean breast of all he had done in
the way of investigation, leaving his motive completely aside.

“You’ve got a theory, of course?” observed Harker, after listening
quietly to all that Bryce could tell. “Naturally, you have! You couldn’t
accumulate all that without getting one.”

“Well,” admitted Bryce, “honestly, I can’t say that I have. But I can
see what theory there might be. This--that Ransford was the man who
deceived Brake, that he ran away with Brake’s wife, that she’s dead,
and that he’s brought up the children in ignorance of all that--and
therefore--”

“And therefore,” interrupted Harker with a smile, “that when he and
Brake met--as you seem to think they did--Ransford flung Brake through
that open doorway; that Collishaw witnessed it, that Ransford’s found
out about Collishaw, and that Collishaw has been poisoned by Ransford.
Eh?”

“That’s a theory that seems to be supported by facts,” said Bryce.

“It’s a theory that would doubtless suit men like Mitchington,” said the
old detective, with another smile. “But--not me, sir! Mind you, I don’t
say there isn’t something in it--there’s doubtless a lot. But--the
mystery’s a lot thicker than just that. And Brake didn’t come here to
find Ransford. He came because of the secret in that scrap of paper. And
as you’ve got it, doctor--out with it!”

Bryce saw no reason for concealment and producing the scrap of paper
laid it on the table between himself and his host. Harker peered
inquisitively at it.

“Latin!” he said. “You can read it, of course. What does it say?”

Bryce repeated a literal translation.

“I’ve found the place,” he added. “I found it this morning. Now, what do
you suppose this means?”

Harker was looking hard at the two lines of writing.

“That’s a big question, doctor,” he answered. “But I’ll go so far as to
say this--when we’ve found out what it does mean, we shall know a lot
more than we know now!”



CHAPTER XV. THE DOUBLE OFFER


Bryce, who was deriving a considerable and peculiar pleasure from his
secret interview with the old detective, smiled at Harker’s last remark.

“That’s a bit of a platitude, isn’t it?” he suggested. “Of course we
shall know a lot more--when we do know a lot more!”

“I set store by platitudes, sir,” retorted Harker. “You can’t repeat an
established platitude too often--it’s got the hallmark of good use on
it. But now, till we do know more--you’ve no doubt been thinking a lot
about this matter, Dr. Bryce--hasn’t it struck you that there’s one
feature in connection with Brake, or Braden’s visit to Wrychester to
which nobody’s given any particular attention up to now--so far as we
know, at any rate?”

“What?” demanded Bryce.

“This,” replied Harker. “Why did he wish to see the Duke of Saxonsteade?
He certainly did want to see him--and as soon as possible. You’ll
remember that his Grace was questioned about that at the inquest and
could give no explanation--he knew nothing of Brake, and couldn’t
suggest any reason why Brake should wish to have an interview with him.
But--I can!”

“You?” exclaimed Bryce.

“I,” answered Harker. “And it’s this--I spoke just now of that man
Glassdale. Now you, of course; have no knowledge of him, and as you
don’t keep yourself posted in criminal history, you don’t know what his
offence was?”

“You said--forgery?” replied Bryce.

“Just so--forgery,” assented Harker. “And the signature that he forged
was--the Duke of Saxonsteade’s! As a matter of fact, he was the Duke’s
London estate agent. He got wrong, somehow, and he forged the Duke’s
name to a cheque. Now, then, considering who Glassdale is, and that he
was certainly a fellow-convict of Brake’s, and that I myself saw him
here in Wrychester on the day of Brake’s death--what’s the conclusion
to be drawn? That Brake wanted to see the Duke on some business of
Glassdale’s! Without a doubt! It may have been that he and Glassdale
wanted to visit the Duke, together.”

Bryce silently considered this suggestion for awhile.

“You said, just now, that Glassdale could be traced?” he remarked at
last.

“Traced--yes,” replied Harker. “So long as he’s in England.”

“Why not set about it?” suggested Bryce.

“Not yet,” said Harker. “There’s things to do before that. And the first
thing is--let’s get to know what the mystery of that scrap of paper is.
You say you’ve found Richard Jenkins’s tomb? Very well--then the thing
to do is to find out if anything is hidden there. Try it tomorrow night.
Better go by yourself--after dark. If you find anything, let me know.
And then--then we can decide on a next step. But between now and then,
there’ll be the inquest on this man Collishaw. And, about that--a word
in your ear! Say as little as ever you can!--after all, you know nothing
beyond what you saw. And--we mustn’t meet and talk in public--after
you’ve done that bit of exploring in Paradise tomorrow night, come round
here and we’ll consider matters.”

There was little that Bryce could say or could be asked to say at
the inquest on the mason’s labourer next morning. Public interest and
excitement was as keen about Collishaw’s mysterious death as about
Braden’s, for it was already rumoured through the town that if Braden
had not met with his death when he came to Wrychester, Collishaw would
still be alive. The Coroner’s court was once more packed; once more
there was the same atmosphere of mystery. But the proceedings were of a
very different nature to those which had attended the inquest on
Braden. The foreman under whose orders Collishaw had been working gave
particulars of the dead man’s work on the morning of his death. He
had been instructed to clear away an accumulation of rubbish which had
gathered at the foot of the south wall of the nave in consequence of
some recent repairs to the masonry--there was a full day’s work before
him. All day he would be in and out of Paradise with his barrow,
wheeling away the rubbish he gathered up. The foreman had looked in on
him once or twice; he had seen him just before noon, when he appeared to
be in his usual health--he had made no complaint, at any rate. Asked if
he had happened to notice where Collishaw had set down his dinner basket
and his tin bottle while he worked, he replied that it so happened that
he had--he remembered seeing both bottle and basket and the man’s jacket
deposited on one of the box-tombs under a certain yew-tree--which he
could point out, if necessary.

Bryce’s account of his finding of Collishaw amounted to no more than a
bare recital of facts. Nor was much time spent in questioning the two
doctors who had conducted the post-mortem examination. Their evidence,
terse and particular, referred solely to the cause of death. The man had
been poisoned by a dose of hydrocyanic acid, which, in their opinion,
had been taken only a few minutes before his body was discovered by
Dr. Bryce. It had probably been a dose which would cause instantaneous
death. There were no traces of the poison in the remains of his dinner,
nor in the liquid in his tin bottle, which was old tea. But of the
cause of his sudden death there was no more doubt than of the effects.
Ransford had been in the court from the outset of the proceedings, and
when the medical evidence had been given he was called. Bryce, watching
him narrowly, saw that he was suffering from repressed excitement--and
that that excitement was as much due to anger as to anything else. His
face was set and stern, and he looked at the Coroner with an expression
which portended something not precisely clear at that moment. Bryce,
trying to analyse it, said to himself that he shouldn’t be surprised
if a scene followed--Ransford looked like a man who is bursting to
say something in no unmistakable fashion. But at first he answered the
questions put to him calmly and decisively.

“When this man’s clothing was searched,” observed the Coroner, “a box
of pills was found, Dr. Ransford, on which your writing appears. Had you
been attending him--professionally?”

“Yes,” replied Ransford. “Both Collishaw and his wife. Or, rather, to
be exact, I had been in attendance on the wife, for some weeks. A day
or two before his death, Collishaw complained to me of indigestion,
following on his meals. I gave him some digestive pills--the pills you
speak of, no doubt.”

“These?” asked the Coroner, passing over the box which Mitchington had
found.

“Precisely!” agreed Ransford. “That, at any rate, is the box, and I
suppose those to be the pills.”

“You made them up yourself?” inquired the Coroner.

“I did--I dispense all my own medicines.”

“Is it possible that the poison we have beard of, just now, could get
into one of those pills--by accident?”

“Utterly impossible!--under my hands, at any rate,” answered Ransford.

“Still, I suppose, it could have been administered in a pill?” suggested
the Coroner.

“It might,” agreed Ransford. “But,” he added, with a significant
glance at the medical men who had just given evidence. “It was not so
administered in this case, as the previous witnesses very well know!”

The Coroner looked round him, and waited a moment.

“You are at liberty to explain--that last remark,” he said at last.
“That is--if you wish to do so.” “Certainly!” answered Ransford, with
alacrity. “Those pills are, as you will observe, coated, and the man
would swallow them whole--immediately after his food. Now, it would
take some little time for a pill to dissolve, to disintegrate, to be
digested. If Collishaw took one of my pills as soon as he had eaten his
dinner, according to instructions, and if poison had been in that
pill, he would not have died at once--as he evidently did. Death
would probably have been delayed some little time until the pill had
dissolved. But, according to the evidence you have had before you, he
died quite suddenly while eating his dinner--or immediately after it.
I am not legally represented here--I don’t consider it at all
necessary--but I ask you to recall Dr. Coates and to put this question
to him: Did he find one of those digestive pills in this man’s stomach?”

The Coroner turned, somewhat dubiously, to the two doctors who had
performed the autopsy. But before he could speak, the superintendent
of police rose and began to whisper to him, and after a conversation
between them, he looked round at the jury, every member of which had
evidently been much struck by Ransford’s suggestion.

“At this stage,” he said, “it will be necessary to adjourn. I shall
adjourn the inquiry for a week, gentlemen. You will--” Ransford, still
standing in the witness-box, suddenly lost control of himself. He
uttered a sharp exclamation and smote the ledge before him smartly with
his open hand.

“I protest against that!” he said vehemently. “Emphatically, I protest!
You first of all make a suggestion which tells against me--then, when I
demand that a question shall be put which is of immense importance to my
interests, you close down the inquiry--even if only for the moment. That
is grossly unfair and unjust!”

“You are mistaken,” said the Coroner. “At the adjourned inquiry, the two
medical men can be recalled, and you will have the opportunity--or your
solicitor will have--of asking any questions you like for the present--”

“For the present you have me under suspicion!” interrupted Ransford
hotly. “You know it--I say this with due respect to your office--as
well as I do. Suspicion is rife in the city against me. Rumour is being
spread--secretly--and, I am certain--from the police, who ought to know
better. And--I will not be silenced, Mr. Coroner!--I take this public
opportunity, as I am on oath, of saying that I know nothing whatever
of the causes of the deaths of either Collishaw or of Braden--upon my
solemn oath!”

“The inquest is adjourned to this day week,” said the Coroner quietly.

Ransford suddenly stepped down from the witness-box and without word or
glance at any one there, walked with set face and determined look out
of the court, and the excited spectators, gathering into groups,
immediately began to discuss his vigorous outburst and to take sides for
and against him.

Bryce, judging it advisable to keep away from Mitchington just then,
and, for similar reasons, keeping away from Harker also, went out of the
crowded building alone--to be joined in the street outside by Sackville
Bonham, whom he had noticed in court, in company with his stepfather,
Mr. Folliot.

Folliot, Bryce had observed, had stopped behind, exchanging some
conversation with the Coroner. Sackville came up to Bryce with a knowing
shake of the hand. He was one of those very young men who have a habit
of suggesting that their fund of knowledge is extensive and peculiar,
and Bryce waited for a manifestation.

“Queer business, all that, Bryce!” observed Sackville confidentially.
“Of course, Ransford is a perfect ass!”

“Think so?” remarked Bryce, with an inflection which suggested
that Sackville’s opinion on anything was as valuable as the
Attorney-General’s. “That’s how it strikes you, is it?”

“Impossible that it could strike one in any other way, you know,”
 answered Sackville with fine and lofty superiority. “Ransford should
have taken immediate steps to clear himself of any suspicion. It’s
ridiculous, considering his position--guardian to--to Miss Bewery, for
instance--that he should allow such rumours to circulate. By God, sir,
if it had been me, I’d have stopped ‘em!--before they left the parish
pump!”

“Ah?” said Bryce. “And--how?”

“Made an example of somebody,” replied Sackville, with emphasis. “I
believe there’s law in this country, isn’t there?--law against libel and
slander, and that sort of thing, eh? Oh, yes!”

“Not been much time for that--yet,” remarked Bryce.

“Piles of time,” retorted Sackville, swinging his stick vigorously. “No,
sir, Ransford is an ass! However, if a man won’t do things for himself,
well, his friends must do something for him. Ransford, of course,
must be pulled--dragged!--out of this infernal hole. Of course he’s
suspected! But my stepfather--he’s going to take a hand. And my
stepfather, Bryce, is a devilish cute old hand at a game of this sort!”

“Nobody doubts Mr. Folliot’s abilities, I’m sure,” said Bryce. “But--you
don’t mind saying--how is he going to take a hand?”

“Stir things towards a clearing-up,” announced Sackville promptly. “Have
the whole thing gone into--thoroughly. There are matters that haven’t
been touched on, yet. You’ll see, my boy!”

“Glad to hear it,” said Bryce. “But--why should Mr. Folliot be so
particular about clearing Ransford?”

Sackville swung his stick, and pulled up his collar, and jerked his nose
a trifle higher.

“Oh, well,” he said. “Of course, it’s--it’s a pretty well understood
thing, don’t you know--between myself and Miss Bewery, you know--and of
course, we couldn’t have any suspicions attaching to her guardian, could
we, now? Family interest, don’t you know--Caesar’s wife, and all that
sort of thing, eh?”

“I see,” answered Bryce, quietly,--“sort of family arrangement. With
Ransford’s consent and knowledge, of course?”

“Ransford won’t even be consulted,” said Sackville, airily. “My
stepfather--sharp man, that, Bryce!--he’ll do things in his own fashion.
You look out for sudden revelations!”

“I will,” replied Bryce. “By-bye!”

He turned off to his rooms, wondering how much of truth there was in the
fatuous Sackville’s remarks. And--was there some mystery still undreamt
of by himself and Harker? There might be--he was still under the
influence of Ransford’s indignant and dramatic assertion of his
innocence. Would Ransford have allowed himself an outburst of that sort
if he had not been, as he said, utterly ignorant of the immediate cause
of Braden’s death? Now Bryce, all through, was calculating, for his
own purposes, on Ransford’s share, full or partial, in that death--if
Ransford really knew nothing whatever about it, where did his, Bryce’s
theory, come in--and how would his present machinations result? And,
more--if Ransford’s assertion were true, and if Varner’s story of the
hand, seen for an instant in the archway, were also true--and Varner was
persisting in it--then, who was the man who flung Braden to his death
that morning? He realized that, instead of straightening out, things
were becoming more and more complicated.

But he realized something else. On the surface, there was a strong case
of suspicion against Ransford. It had been suggested that very morning
before a coroner and his jury; it would grow; the police were already
permeated with suspicion and distrust. Would it not pay him, Bryce, to
encourage, to help it? He had his own score to pay off against Ransford;
he had his own schemes as regards Mary Bewery. Anyway, he was not going
to share in any attempts to clear the man who had bundled him out of his
house unceremoniously--he would bide his time. And in the meantime there
were other things to be done--one of them that very night.

But before Bryce could engage in his secret task of excavating a small
portion of Paradise in the rear of Richard Jenkins’s tomb, another
strange development came. As the dark fell over the old city that night
and he was thinking of setting out on his mission, Mitchington came
in, carrying two sheets of paper, obviously damp from the press, in his
hand. He looked at Bryce with an expression of wonder.

“Here’s a queer go!” he said. “I can’t make this out at all! Look at
these big handbills--but perhaps you’ve seen ‘em? They’re being posted
all over the city--we’ve had a bundle of ‘em thrown in on us.”

“I haven’t been out since lunch,” remarked Bryce. “What are they?”

Mitchington spread out the two papers on the table, pointing from one to
the other.

“You see?” he said. “Five Hundred Pounds Reward!--One Thousand Pounds
Reward! And--both out at the same time, from different sources!”

“What sources?” asked Bryce, bending over the bills. “Ah--I see. One
signed by Phipps & Maynard, the other by Beachcroft. Odd, certainly!”

“Odd?” exclaimed Mitchington. “I should think so! But, do you see,
doctor? that one--five hundred reward--is offered for information of any
nature relative to the deaths of John Braden and James Collishaw, both
or either. That amount will be paid for satisfactory information by
Phipps & Maynard. And Phipps & Maynard are Ransford’s solicitors! That
bill, sir, comes from him! And now the other, the thousand pound one,
that offers the reward to any one who can give definite information as
to the circumstances attending the death of John Braden--to be paid by
Mr. Beachcroft. And he’s Mr. Folliot’s solicitor! So--that comes from
Mr. Folliot. What has he to do with it? And are these two putting their
heads together--or are these bills quite independent of each other? Hang
me if I understand it!”

Bryce read and re-read the contents of the two bills. And then he
thought for awhile before speaking.

“Well,” he said at last, “there’s probably this in it--the Folliots are
very wealthy people. Mrs. Folliot, it’s pretty well known, wants her son
to marry Miss Bewery--Dr. Ransford’s ward. Probably she doesn’t wish
any suspicion to hang over the family. That’s all I can suggest. In
the other case, Ransford wants to clear himself. For don’t forget this,
Mitchington!--somewhere, somebody may know something! Only something.
But that something might clear Ransford of the suspicion that’s
undoubtedly been cast upon him. If you’re thinking to get a strong case
against Ransford, you’ve got your work set. He gave your theory a nasty
knock this morning by his few words about that pill. Did Coates and
Everest find a pill, now?”

“Not at liberty to say, sir,” answered Mitchington. “At present, anyway.
Um! I dislike these private offers of reward--it means that those who
make ‘em get hold of information which is kept back from us, d’you see!
They’re inconvenient.”

Then he went away, and Bryce, after waiting awhile, until night had
settled down, slipped quietly out of the house and set off for the gloom
of Paradise.



CHAPTER XVI. BEFOREHAND


In accordance with his undeniable capacity for contriving and scheming,
Bryce had made due and careful preparations for his visit to the tomb
of Richard Jenkins. Even in the momentary confusion following upon his
discovery of Collishaw’s dead body, he had been sufficiently alive to
his own immediate purposes to notice that the tomb--a very ancient and
dilapidated structure--stood in the midst of a small expanse of stone
pavement between the yew-trees and the wall of the nave; he had noticed
also that the pavement consisted of small squares of stone, some
of which bore initials and dates. A sharp glance at the presumed
whereabouts of the particular spot which he wanted, as indicated in the
scrap of paper taken from Braden’s purse, showed him that he would have
to raise one of those small squares--possibly two or three of them.
And so he had furnished himself with a short crowbar of tempered steel,
specially purchased at the iron-monger’s, and with a small bull’s-eye
lantern. Had he been arrested and searched as he made his way towards
the cathedral precincts he might reasonably have been suspected of a
design to break into the treasury and appropriate the various ornaments
for which Wrychester was famous. But Bryce feared neither arrest nor
observation. During his residence in Wrychester he had done a good deal
of prowling about the old city at night, and he knew that Paradise, at
any time after dark, was a deserted place. Folk might cross from the
close archway to the wicket-gate by the outer path, but no one would
penetrate within the thick screen of yew and cypress when night had
fallen. And now, in early summer, the screen of trees and bushes was so
thick in leaf, that once within it, foliage on one side, the great walls
of the nave on the other, there was little likelihood of any person
overlooking his doings while he made his investigation. He anticipated a
swift and quiet job, to be done in a few minutes.

But there was another individual in Wrychester who knew just as much of
the geography of Paradise as Pemberton Bryce knew. Dick Bewery and
Betty Campany had of late progressed out of the schoolboy and schoolgirl
hail-fellow-well-met stage to the first dawnings of love, and in spite
of their frequent meetings had begun a romantic correspondence between
each other, the joy and mystery of which was increased a hundredfold
by a secret method of exchange of these missives. Just within the
wicket-gate entrance of Paradise there was an old monument wherein was a
convenient cavity--Dick Bewery’s ready wits transformed this into love’s
post-office. In it he regularly placed letters for Betty: Betty stuffed
into it letters for him. And on this particular evening Dick had gone
to Paradise to collect a possible mail, and as Bryce walked leisurely up
the narrow path, enclosed by trees and old masonry which led from Friary
Lane to the ancient enclosure, Dick turned a corner and ran full into
him. In the light of the single lamp which illumined the path, the two
recovered themselves and looked at each other.

“Hullo!” said Bryce. “What’s your hurry, young Bewery?”

Dick, who was panting for breath, more from excitement than haste, drew
back and looked at Bryce. Up to then he knew nothing much against Bryce,
whom he had rather liked in the fashion in which boys sometimes like
their seniors, and he was not indisposed to confide in him.

“Hullo!” he replied. “I say! Where are you off to?”

“Nowhere!--strolling round,” answered Bryce. “No particular purpose,
why?”

“You weren’t going in--there?” asked Dick, jerking a thumb towards
Paradise.

“In--there!” exclaimed Bryce. “Good Lord, no!--dreary enough in the
daytime! What should I be going in there for?”

Dick seized Bryce’s coat-sleeve and dragged him aside.

“I say!” he whispered. “There’s something up in there--a search of some
sort!”

Bryce started in spite of an effort to keep unconcerned.

“A search? In there?” he said. “What do you mean?”

Dick pointed amongst the trees, and Bryce saw the faint glimmer of a
light.

“I was in there--just now,” said Dick. “And some men--three or
four--came along. They’re in there, close up by the nave, just where you
found that chap Collishaw. They’re--digging--or something of that sort!”

“Digging!” muttered Bryce. “Digging?”’

“Something like it, anyhow,” replied Dick. “Listen.”

Bryce heard the ring of metal on stone. And an unpleasant conviction
stole over him that he was being forestalled, that somebody was
beforehand with him, and he cursed himself for not having done the
previous night what he had left undone till this night.

“Who are they?” he asked. “Did you see them--their faces?”

“Not their faces,” answered Dick. “Only their figures in the gloom. But
I heard Mitchington’s voice.”

“Police, then!” said Bryce. “What on earth are they after?”

“Look here!” whispered Dick, pulling at Bryce’s arm again. “Come on! I
know how to get in there without their seeing us. You follow me.”

Bryce followed readily, and Dick stepping through the wicket-gate,
seized his companion’s wrist and led him amongst the bushes in the
direction of the spot from whence came the metallic sounds. He walked
with the step of a cat, and Bryce took pains to follow his example.
And presently from behind a screen of cypresses they looked out on the
expanse of flagging in the midst of which stood the tomb of Richard
Jenkins.

Round about that tomb were five men whose faces were visible enough in
the light thrown by a couple of strong lamps, one of which stood on the
tomb itself, while the other was set on the ground. Four out of the five
the two watchers recognized at once. One, kneeling on the flags, and
busy with a small crowbar similar to that which Bryce carried inside his
overcoat, was the master-mason of the cathedral. Another, standing
near him, was Mitchington. A third was a clergyman--one of the lesser
dignitaries of the Chapter. A fourth--whose presence made Bryce start
for the second time that evening--was the Duke of Saxonsteade. But the
fifth was a stranger--a tall man who stood between Mitchington and
the Duke, evidently paying anxious attention to the master-mason’s
proceedings. He was no Wrychester man--Bryce was convinced of that.

And a moment later he was convinced of another equally certain fact.
Whatever these five men were searching for, they had no clear or
accurate idea of its exact whereabouts. The master-mason was taking up
the small squares of flagstone with his crowbar one by one, from the
outer edge of the foot of the old box-tomb; as he removed each, he
probed the earth beneath it. And Bryce, who had instinctively realized
what was happening, and knew that somebody else than himself was in
possession of the secret of the scrap of paper, saw that it would be
some time before they arrived at the precise spot indicated in the Latin
directions. He quietly drew back and tugged at Dick Bewery.

“Stop here, and keep quiet!” he whispered when they had retreated out
of all danger of being overheard. “Watch ‘em! I want to fetch
somebody--want to know who that stranger is. You don’t know him?”

“Never seen him before,” replied Dick. “I say!--come quietly back--don’t
give it away. I want to know what it’s all about.”

Bryce squeezed the lad’s arm by way of assurance and made his way back
through the bushes. He wanted to get hold of Harker, and at once, and
he hurried round to the old man’s house and without ceremony walked
into his parlour. Harker, evidently expecting him, and meanwhile amusing
himself with his pipe and book, rose from his chair as the younger man
entered.

“Found anything?” he asked.

“We’re done!” answered Bryce. “I was a fool not to go last night! We’re
forestalled, my friend!--that’s about it!”

“By--whom?” inquired Harker.

“There are five of them at it, now,” replied Bryce. “Mitchington,
a mason, one of the cathedral clergy, a stranger, and the Duke of
Saxonsteade! What do you think of that?”

Harker suddenly started as if a new light had dawned on him.

“The Duke!” he exclaimed. “You don’t say so! My conscience!--now, I
wonder if that can really be? Upon my word, I’d never thought of it!”

“Thought of what?” demanded Bryce.

“Never mind! tell you later,” said Harker. “At present, is there any
chance of getting a look at them?”

“That’s what I came for,” retorted Bryce. “I’ve been watching them, with
young Bewery. He put me up to it. Come on! I want to see if you know the
man who’s a stranger.”

Harker crossed the room to a chest of drawers, and after some rummaging
pulled something out.

“Here!” he said, handing some articles to Bryce. “Put those on over
your boots. Thick felt overshoes--you could walk round your own mother’s
bedroom in those and she’d never hear you. I’ll do the same. A stranger,
you say? Well, this is a proof that somebody knows the secret of that
scrap of paper besides us, doctor!”

“They don’t know the exact spot,” growled Bryce, who was chafing at
having been done out of his discovery. “But, they’ll find it, whatever
may be there.”

He led Harker back to Paradise and to the place where he had left Dick
Bewery, whom they approached so quietly that Bryce was by the lad’s side
before Dick knew he was there. And Harker, after one glance at the ring
of faces, drew Bryce back and put his lips close to his ear and breathed
a name in an almost imperceptible yet clear whisper.

“Glassdale!”

Bryce started for the third time. Glassdale!--the man whom Harker
had seen in Wrychester within an hour or so of Braden’s death: the
ex-convict, the forger, who had forged the Duke of Saxonsteade’s name!
And there! standing, apparently quite at his ease, by the Duke’s side.
What did it all mean?

There was no explanation of what it meant to be had from the man whom
Bryce and Harker and Dick Bewery secretly watched from behind the screen
of cypress trees. Four of them watched in silence, or with no more than
a whispered word now and then while the fifth worked. This man worked
methodically, replacing each stone as he took it up and examined the
soil beneath it. So far nothing had resulted, but he was by that
time working at some distance from the tomb, and Bryce, who had an
exceedingly accurate idea of where the spot might be, as indicated
in the measurements on the scrap of paper, nudged Harker as the
master-mason began to take up the last of the small flags. And suddenly
there was a movement amongst the watchers, and the master-mason looked
up from his job and motioned Mitchington to pass him a trowel which lay
at a little distance.

“Something here!” he said, loudly enough to reach the ears of Bryce and
his companions. “Not so deep down, neither, gentlemen!”

A few vigorous applications of the trowel, a few lumps of earth cast
out of the cavity, and the master-mason put in his hand and drew forth
a small parcel, which in the light of the lamp held close to it by
Mitchington looked to be done up in coarse sacking, secured by great
blotches of black sealing wax. And now it was Harker who nudged Bryce,
drawing his attention to the fact that the parcel, handed by the
master-mason to Mitchington was at once passed on by Mitchington to the
Duke of Saxonsteade, who, it was very plain to see, appeared to be as
much delighted as surprised at receiving it.

“Let us go to your office, inspector,” he said. “We’ll examine the
contents there. Let us all go at once!”

The three figures behind the cypress trees remained immovable and silent
until the five searchers had gone away with their lamps and tools and
the sound of their retreating footsteps in Friary Lane had died out.
Then Dick Bewery moved and began to slip off, and Bryce reached out a
hand and took him by the shoulder.

“I say, Bewery!” he said. “Going to tell all that?”

Harker got in a word before Dick could answer.

“No matter if he does, doctor,” he remarked quietly. “Whatever it is,
the whole town’ll know of it by tomorrow. They’ll not keep it back.”

Bryce let Dick go, and the boy immediately darted off in the direction
of the close, while the two men went towards Harker’s house. Neither
spoke until they were safe in the old detective’s little parlour, then
Harker, turning up his lamp, looked at Bryce and shook his head.

“It’s a good job I’ve retired!” he said, almost sadly. “I’m getting too
old for my trade, doctor. Once upon a time I should have been fit to
kick myself for not having twigged the meaning of this business sooner
than I have done!”

“Have you twigged it?” demanded Bryce, almost scornfully. “You’re a
good deal cleverer than I am if you have. For hang me if I know what it
means!”

“I do!” answered Harker. He opened a drawer in his desk and drew out
a scrap-book, filled, as Bryce saw a moment later, with cuttings from
newspapers, all duly arranged and indexed. The old man glanced at the
index, turned to a certain page, and put his finger on an entry. “There
you are!” he said. “And that’s only one--there are several more. They’ll
tell you in detail what I can tell you in a few words and what I ought
to have remembered. It’s fifteen years since the famous robbery at
Saxonsteade which has never been accounted for--robbery of the Duchess’s
diamonds--one of the cleverest burglaries ever known, doctor. They were
got one night after a grand ball there; no arrest was ever made, they
were never traced. And I’ll lay all I’m worth to a penny-piece that the
Duke and those men are gladding their eyes with the sight of them just
now!--in Mitchington’s office--and that the information that they were
where they’ve just been found was given to the Duke by--Glassdale!”

“Glassdale! That man!” exclaimed Bryce, who was puzzling his brain over
possible developments.

“That man, sir!” repeated Harker. “That’s why Glassdale was in
Wrychester the day of Braden’s death. And that’s why Braden, or Brake,
came to Wrychester at all. He and Glassdale, of course, had somehow
come into possession of the secret, and no doubt meant to tell the Duke
together, and get the reward--there was 95,000 offered! And as Brake’s
dead, Glassdale’s spoken, but”--here the old man paused and gave his
companion a shrewd look--“the question still remains: How did Brake come
to his end?”



CHAPTER XVII. TO BE SHADOWED


Dick Bewery burst in upon his sister and Ransford with a budget of news
such as it rarely fell to the lot of romance-loving seventeen to tell.
Secret and mysterious digging up of grave-yards by night--discovery
of sealed packets, the contents of which might only be guessed at--the
whole thing observed by hidden spectators--these were things he had read
of in fiction, but had never expected to have the luck to see in real
life. And being gifted with some powers of imagination and of narrative,
he made the most of his story to a pair of highly attentive listeners,
each of whom had his, and her, own reasons for particular attention.

“More mystery!” remarked Mary when Dick’s story had come to an end.
“What a pity they didn’t open the parcel!” She looked at Ransford, who
was evidently in deep thought. “I suppose it will all come out?” she
suggested.

“Sure to!” he answered, and turned to Dick. “You say Bryce fetched old
Harker--after you and Bryce had watched these operations a bit? Did he
say why he fetched him?”

“Never said anything as to his reasons,” answered Dick. “But, I rather
guessed, at the end, that Bryce wanted me to keep quiet about it, only
old Harker said there was no need.”

Ransford made no comment on this, and Dick, having exhausted his stock
of news, presently went off to bed.

“Master Bryce,” observed Ransford, after a period of silence, “is
playing a game! What it is, I don’t know--but I’m certain of it. Well,
we shall see! You’ve been much upset by all this,” he went on, after
another pause, “and the knowledge that you have has distressed me beyond
measure! But just have a little--a very little--more patience, and
things will be cleared--I can’t tell all that’s in my mind, even to
you.”

Mary, who had been sewing while Ransford, as was customary with him in
an evening, read the Times to her, looked down at her work.

“I shouldn’t care, if only these rumours in the town--about you--could
be crushed!” she said. “It’s so cruel, so vile, that such things--”

Ransford snapped his fingers.

“I don’t care that about the rumours!” he answered, contemptuously.
“They’ll be crushed out just as suddenly as they arose--and then,
perhaps, I’ll let certain folk in Wrychester know what I think of them.
And as regards the suspicion against me, I know already that the only
people in the town for whose opinion I care fully accept what I said
before the Coroner. As to the others, let them talk! If the thing comes
to a head before its due time--”

“You make me think that you know more--much more!--than you’ve ever told
me!” interrupted Mary.

“So I do!” he replied. “And you’ll see in the end why I’ve kept silence.
Of course, if people who don’t know as much will interfere--”

He was interrupted there by the ringing of the front door bell, at the
sound of which he and Mary looked at each other.

“Who can that be?” said Mary. “It’s past ten o’clock.”

Ransford offered no suggestion. He sat silently waiting, until the
parlourmaid entered.

“Inspector Mitchington would be much obliged if you could give him a few
minutes, sir,” she said.

Ransford got up from his chair.

“Take Inspector Mitchington into the study,” he said. “Is he alone?”

“No, sir--there’s a gentleman with him,” replied the girl.

“All right--I’ll be with them presently,” answered Ransford. “Take
them both in there and light the gas. Police!” he went on, when the
parlourmaid had gone. “They get hold of the first idea that strikes
them, and never even look round for another, You’re not frightened?”

“Frightened--no! Uneasy--yes!” replied Mary. “What can they want, this
time of night?”

“Probably to tell me something about this romantic tale of Dick’s,”
 answered Ransford, as he left the room. “It’ll be nothing more serious,
I assure you.”

But he was not so sure of that. He was very well aware that the
Wrychester police authorities had a definite suspicion of his guilt
in the Braden and Collishaw matters, and he knew from experience that
police suspicion is a difficult matter to dissipate. And before he
opened the door of the little room which he used as a study he warned
himself to be careful--and silent.

The two visitors stood near the hearth--Ransford took a good look at
them as he closed the door behind him. Mitchington he knew well enough;
he was more interested in the other man, a stranger. A quiet-looking,
very ordinary individual, who might have been half a dozen things--but
Ransford instantly set him down as a detective. He turned from this man
to the inspector.

“Well?” he said, a little brusquely. “What is it?”

“Sorry to intrude so late, Dr. Ransford,” answered Mitchington, “but I
should be much obliged if you would give us a bit of information--badly
wanted, doctor, in view of recent events,” he added, with a smile which
was meant to be reassuring. “I’m sure you can--if you will.”

“Sit down,” said Ransford, pointing to chairs. He took one himself and
again glanced at the stranger. “To whom am I speaking, in addition to
yourself, Inspector?” he asked. “I’m not going to talk to strangers.”

“Oh, well!” said Mitchington, a little awkwardly. “Of course, doctor,
we’ve had to get a bit of professional help in these unpleasant matters.
This gentleman’s Detective-Sergeant Jettison, from the Yard.”

“What information do you want?” asked Ransford.

Mitchington glanced at the door and lowered his voice. “I may as
well tell you, doctor,” he said confidentially, “there’s been a most
extraordinary discovery made tonight, which has a bearing on the Braden
case. I dare say you’ve heard of the great jewel robbery which took
place at the Duke of Saxonsteade’s some years ago, which has been a
mystery to this very day?”

“I have heard of it,” answered Ransford.

“Very well--tonight those jewels--the whole lot!--have been discovered
in Paradise yonder, where they’d been buried, at the time of the
robbery, by the thief,” continued Mitchington. “They’ve just been
examined, and they’re now in the Duke’s own hands again--after all
these years! And--I may as well tell you--we now know that the object
of Braden’s visit to Wrychester was to tell the Duke where those jewels
were hidden. Braden--and another man--had learned the secret, from
the real thief, who’s dead in Australia. All that I may tell you,
doctor--for it’ll be public property tomorrow.”

“Well?” said Ransford.

Mitchington hesitated a moment, as if searching for his next words. He
glanced at the detective; the detective remained immobile; he glanced at
Ransford; Ransford gave him no encouragement.

“Now look here, doctor!” he exclaimed, suddenly. “Why not tell us
something? We know now who Braden really was! That’s settled. Do you
understand?”

“Who was he, then?” asked Ransford, quietly.

“He was one John Brake, some time manager of a branch of a London
bank, who, seventeen years ago, got ten years’ penal servitude for
embezzlement,” answered Mitchington, watching Ransford steadily. “That’s
dead certain--we know it! The man who shared this secret with him about
the Saxonsteade jewels has told us that much, today. John Brake!”

“What have you come here for?” asked Ransford.

“To ask you--between ourselves--if you can tell us anything about
Brake’s earlier days--antecedents--that’ll help us,” replied
Mitchington. “It may be--Jettison here--a man of experience--thinks
it’ll be found to be--that Brake, or Braden as we call him--was murdered
because of his possession of that secret about the jewels. Our informant
tells us that Braden certainly had on him, when he came to Wrychester, a
sort of diagram showing the exact location of the spot where the jewels
were hidden--that diagram was most assuredly not found on Braden when
we examined his clothing and effects. It may be that it was wrested
from him in the gallery of the clerestory that morning, and that
his assailant, or assailants--for there may have been two men at
the job--afterwards pitched him through that open doorway, after
half-stifling him. And if that theory’s correct--and I, personally, am
now quite inclined to it--it’ll help a lot if you’ll tell us what you
know of Braden’s--Brake’s--antecedents. Come now, doctor!--you know very
well that Braden, or Brake, did come to your surgery that morning and
said to your assistant that he’d known a Dr. Ransford in times past! Why
not speak?”

Ransford, instead of answering Mitchington’s evidently genuine appeal,
looked at the New Scotland Yard man.

“Is that your theory?” he asked.

Jettison nodded his head, with a movement indicative of conviction.

“Yes, sir!” he replied. “Having regard to all the circumstances of the
case, as they’ve been put before me since I came here, and with special
regard to the revelations which have resulted in the discovery of these
jewels, it is! Of course, today’s events have altered everything. If it
hadn’t been for our informant--”

“Who is your informant?” inquired Ransford.

The two callers looked at each other--the detective nodded at the
inspector.

“Oh, well!” said Mitchington. “No harm in telling you, doctor. A man
named Glassdale--once a fellow-convict with Brake. It seems they left
England together after their time was up, emigrated together, prospered,
even went so far--both of ‘em!--as to make good the money they’d
appropriated, and eventually came back together--in possession of this
secret. Brake came specially to Wrychester to tell the Duke--Glassdale
was to join him on the very morning Brake met his death. Glassdale did
come to the town that morning--and as soon as he got here, heard of
Brake’s strange death. That upset him--and he went away--only to come
back today, go to Saxonsteade, and tell everything to the Duke--with the
result we’ve told you of.”

“Which result,” remarked Ransford, steadily regarding Mitchington, “has
apparently altered all your ideas about--me!”

Mitchington laughed a little awkwardly.

“Oh, well, come, now, doctor!” he said. “Why, yes--frankly, I’m inclined
to Jettison’s theory--in fact, I’m certain that’s the truth.”

“And your theory,” inquired Ransford, turning to the detective, “is--put
it in a few words.”

“My theory--and I’ll lay anything it’s the correct one!--is this,”
 replied Jettison. “Brake came to Wrychester with his secret. That secret
wasn’t confined to him and Glassdale--either he let it out to somebody,
or it was known to somebody. I understand from Inspector Mitchington
here that on the evening of his arrival Brake was away from the Mitre
Hotel for two hours. During that time, he was somewhere--with whom?
Probably with somebody who got the secret out of him, or to whom he
communicated it. For, think!--according to Glassdale, who, we are quite
sure, has told the exact truth about everything, Brake had on him a
scrap of paper, on which were instructions, in Latin, for finding the
exact spot whereat the missing Saxonsteade jewels had been hidden, years
before, by the actual thief--who, I may tell you, sir, never had the
opportunity of returning to re-possess himself of them. Now, after
Brake’s death, the police examined his clothes and effects--they never
found that scrap of paper! And I work things out this way. Brake was
followed into that gallery--a lonely, quiet place--by the man or men who
had got possession of the secret; he was, I’m told, a slightly-built,
not over-strong man--he was seized and robbed of that paper and flung
to his death. And all that fits in with the second mystery of
Collishaw--who probably knew, if not everything, then something, of the
exact circumstances of Brake’s death, and let his knowledge get to the
ears of--Brake’s assailant!--who cleverly got rid of him. That’s my
notion,” concluded the detective. “And--I shall be surprised if it isn’t
a correct one!”

“And, as I’ve said, doctor,” chimed in Mitchington, “can’t you give us a
bit of information, now? You see the line we’re on? Now, as it’s evident
you once knew Braden, or Brake--”

“I have never said so!” interrupted Ransford sharply.

“Well--we infer it, from the undoubted fact that he called here,”
 remarked Mitchington. “And if--”

“Wait!” said Ransford. He had been listening with absorbed attention to
Jettison’s theory, and he now rose from his chair and began to pace the
room, hands in pockets, as if in deep thought. Suddenly he paused and
looked at Mitchington. “This needs some reflection,” he said. “Are you
pressed for time?”

“Not in the least,” answered Mitchington, readily. “Our time’s yours,
sir. Take as long as you like.”

Ransford touched a bell and summoning the parlourmaid told her to
fetch whisky, soda, and cigars. He pressed these things on the two men,
lighted a cigar himself, and for a long time continued to walk up and
down his end of the room, smoking and evidently in very deep thought.
The visitors left him alone, watching him curiously now and then--until,
when quite ten minutes had gone by, he suddenly drew a chair close to
them and sat down again.

“Now, listen to me!” he said. “If I give my confidence to you, as police
officials, will you give me your word that you won’t make use of my
information until I give you leave--or until you have consulted me
further? I shall rely on your word, mind!”

“I say yes to that, doctor,” answered Mitchington.

“The same here, sir,” said the detective.

“Very well,” continued Ransford. “Then--this is between ourselves, until
such time as I say something more about it. First of all, I am not going
to tell you anything whatever about Braden’s antecedents--at present!
Secondly--I am not sure that your theory, Mr. Jettison, is entirely
correct, though I think it is by way of coming very near to the
right one--which is sure to be worked out before long. But--on the
understanding of secrecy for the present I can tell you something which
I should not have been able to tell you but for the events of tonight,
which have made me put together certain facts. Now attention! To begin
with, I know where Braden was for at any rate some time on the evening
of the day on which he came to Wrychester. He was with the old man whom
we all know as Simpson Harker.”

Mitchington whistled; the detective, who knew nothing of Simpson
Harker, glanced at him as if for information. But Mitchington nodded at
Ransford, and Ransford went on.

“I know this for this reason,” he continued. “You know where Harker
lives. I was in attendance for nearly two hours that evening on a
patient in a house opposite--I spent a good deal of time in looking out
of the window. I saw Harker take a man into his house: I saw the man
leave the house nearly an hour later: I recognized that man next day as
the man who met his death at the Cathedral. So much for that.”

“Good!” muttered Mitchington. “Good! Explains a lot.”

“But,” continued Ransford, “what I have to tell you now is of a much
more serious--and confidential--nature. Now, do you know--but, of
course, you don’t!--that your proceedings tonight were watched?”

“Watched!” exclaimed Mitchington. “Who watched us?”

“Harker, for one,” answered Ransford. “And--for another--my late
assistant, Mr. Pemberton Bryce.”

Mitchington’s jaw dropped.

“God bless my soul!” he said. “You don’t mean it, doctor! Why, how did
you--”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Ransford. He left the room, and the two
callers looked at each other.

“This chap knows more than you think,” observed Jettison in a whisper.
“More than he’s telling now!”

“Let’s get all we can, then,” said Mitchington, who was obviously much
surprised by Ransford’s last information. “Get it while he’s in the
mood.”

“Let him take his own time,” advised Jettison. “But--you mark me!--he
knows a lot! This is only an instalment.”

Ransford came back--with Dick Bewery, clad in a loud patterned and gaily
coloured suit of pyjamas.

“Now, Dick,” said Ransford. “Tell Inspector Mitchington precisely what
happened this evening, within your own knowledge.”

Dick was nothing loth to tell his story for the second time--especially
to a couple of professional listeners. And he told it in full detail,
from the moment of his sudden encounter with Bryce to that in which he
parted with Bryce and Harker. Ransford, watching the official faces, saw
what it was in the story that caught the official attention and excited
the official mind.

“Dr. Bryce went off at once to fetch Harker, did he?” asked Mitchington,
when Dick had made a end.

“At once,” answered Dick. “And was jolly quick back with him!”

“And Harker said it didn’t matter about your telling as it would be
public news soon enough?” continued Mitchington.

“Just that,” said Dick.

Mitchington looked at Ransford, and Ransford nodded to his ward.

“All right, Dick,” he said. “That’ll do.”

The boy went off again, and Mitchington shook his head.

“Queer!” he said. “Now what have those two been up to?--something,
that’s certain. Can you tell us more, doctor?”

“Under the same conditions--yes,” answered Ransford, taking his seat
again. “The fact is, affairs have got to a stage where I consider it
my duty to tell you more. Some of what I shall tell you is hearsay--but
it’s hearsay that you can easily verify for yourselves when the right
moment comes. Mr. Campany, the librarian, lately remarked to me that my
old assistant, Mr. Bryce, seemed to be taking an extraordinary interest
in archaeological matters since he left me--he was now, said Campany,
always examining documents about the old tombs and monuments of the
Cathedral and its precincts.”

“Ah--just so!” exclaimed Mitchington. “To be sure!--I’m beginning to
see!”

“And,” continued Ransford, “Campany further remarked, as a matter for
humorous comment, that Bryce was also spending much time looking
round our old tombs. Now you made this discovery near an old tomb, I
understand?”

“Close by one--yes,” assented the inspector.

“Then let me draw your attention to one or two strange facts--which are
undoubted facts,” continued Ransford. “Bryce was left alone with the
dead body of Braden for some minutes, while Varner went to fetch the
police. That’s one.”

“That’s true,” muttered Mitchington. “He was--several minutes!”

“Bryce it was who discovered Collishaw--in Paradise,” said Ransford.
“That’s fact two. And fact three--Bryce evidently had a motive in
fetching Harker tonight--to overlook your operations. What was his
motive? And taking things altogether; what are, or have been, these
secret affairs which Bryce and Harker have evidently been engaged in?”

Jettison suddenly rose, buttoning his light overcoat. The action seemed
to indicate a newly-formed idea, a definite conclusion. He turned
sharply to Mitchington.

“There’s one thing certain, inspector,” he said. “You’ll keep an eye on
those two from this out! From--just now!”

“I shall!” assented Mitchington. “I’ll have both of ‘em shadowed
wherever they go or are, day or night. Harker, now, has always been a
bit of a mystery, but Bryce--hang me if I don’t believe he’s been having
me! Double game!--but, never mind. There’s no more, doctor?”

“Not yet,” replied Ransford. “And I don’t know the real meaning or value
of what I have told you. But--in two days from now, I can tell you more.
In the meantime--remember your promise!”

He let his visitors out then, and went back to Mary.

“You’ll not have to wait long for things to clear,” he said. “The
mystery’s nearly over!”



CHAPTER XVIII. SURPRISE


Mitchington and the man from New Scotland Yard walked away in silence
from Ransford’s house and kept the silence up until they were in the
middle of the Close and accordingly in solitude. Then Mitchington turned
to his companion.

“What d’ye think of that?” he asked, with a half laugh. “Different
complexion it puts on things, eh?”

“I think just what I said before--in there,” replied the detective.
“That man knows more than he’s told, even now!”

“Why hasn’t he spoken sooner, then?” demanded Mitchington. “He’s had two
good chances--at the inquests.”

“From what I saw of him, just now,” said Jettison, “I should say he’s
the sort of man who can keep his own counsel till he considers the right
time has come for speaking. Not the sort of man who’ll care twopence
whatever’s said about him, you understand? I should say he’s known
a good lot all along, and is just keeping it back till he can put a
finishing touch to it. Two days, didn’t he say? Aye, well, a lot can
happen in two days!”

“But about your theory?” questioned Mitchington. “What do you think of
it now--in relation to what we’ve just heard?”

“I’ll tell you what I can see,” answered Jettison. “I can see how one
bit of this puzzle fits into another--in view of what Ransford has
just told us. Of course, one’s got to do a good deal of supposing it’s
unavoidable in these cases. Now supposing Braden let this man Harker
into the secret of the hidden jewels that night, and supposing that
Harker and Bryce are in collusion--as they evidently are, from what that
boy told us--and supposing they between them, together or separately,
had to do with Braden’s death, and supposing that man Collishaw saw some
thing that would incriminate one or both--eh?”

“Well?” asked Mitchington.

“Bryce is a medical man,” observed Jettison. “It would be an easy thing
for a medical man to get rid of Collishaw as he undoubtedly was got rid
of. Do you see my point?”

“Aye--and I can see that Bryce is a clever hand at throwing dust in
anybody’s eyes!” muttered Mitchington. “I’ve had some dealings with him
over this affair and I’m beginning to think--only now!--that he’s been
having me for the mug! He’s evidently a deep ‘un--and so’s the other
man.”

“I wanted to ask you that,” said Jettison. “Now, exactly who are these
two?--tell me about them--both.”

“Not so much to tell,” answered Mitchington. “Harker’s a quiet old chap
who lives in a little house over there--just off that far corner of
this Close. Said to be a retired tradesman, from London. Came here a few
years ago, to settle down. Inoffensive, pleasant old chap. Potters about
the town--puts in his time as such old chaps do--bit of reading at the
libraries--bit of gossip here and--there you know the sort. Last man in
the world I should have thought would have been mixed up in an affair of
this sort!”

“And therefore all the more likely to be!” said Jettison. “Well--the
other?”

“Bryce was until the very day of Braden’s appearance, Ransford’s
assistant,” continued Mitchington. “Been with Ransford about two years.
Clever chap, undoubtedly, but certainly deep and, in a way, reserved,
though he can talk plenty if he’s so minded and it’s to his own
advantage. He left Ransford suddenly--that very morning. I don’t know
why. Since then he’s remained in the town. I’ve heard that he’s pretty
keen on Ransford’s ward--sister of that lad we saw tonight. I don’t know
myself, if it’s true--but I’ve wondered if that had anything to do with
his leaving Ransford so suddenly.”

“Very likely,” said Jettison. They had crossed the Close by that time
and come to a gas-lamp which stood at the entrance, and the detective
pulled out his watch and glanced at it. “Ten past eleven,” he said. “You
say you know this Bryce pretty well? Now, would it be too late--if he’s
up still--to take a look at him! If you and he are on good terms, you
could make an excuse. After what I’ve heard, I’d like to get at close
quarters with this gentleman.”

“Easy enough,” assented Mitchington. “I’ve been there as late as
this--he’s one of the sort that never goes to bed before midnight. Come
on!--it’s close by. But--not a word of where we’ve been. I’ll say I’ve
dropped in to give him a bit of news. We’ll tell him about the jewel
business--and see how he takes it. And while we’re there--size him up!”

Mitchington was right in his description of Bryce’s habits--Bryce rarely
went to bed before one o’clock in the morning. He liked to sit up,
reading. His favourite mental food was found in the lives of statesmen
and diplomatists, most of them of the sort famous for trickery and
chicanery--he not only made a close study of the ways of these gentry
but wrote down notes and abstracts of passages which particularly
appealed to him. His lamp was burning when Mitchington and Jettison came
in view of his windows--but that night Bryce was doing no thinking about
statecraft: his mind was fixed on his own affairs. He had lighted his
fire on going home and for an hour had sat with his legs stretched out
on the fender, carefully weighing things up. The event of the night had
convinced him that he was at a critical phase of his present adventure,
and it behoved him, as a good general, to review his forces.

The forestalling of his plans about the hiding-place in Paradise had
upset Bryce’s schemes--he had figured on being able to turn that
secret, whatever it was, to his own advantage. It struck him now, as he
meditated, that he had never known exactly what he expected to get out
of that secret--but he had hoped that it would have been something which
would make a few more considerable and tightly-strung meshes in the net
which he was endeavouring to weave around Ransford. Now he was faced by
the fact that it was not going to yield anything in the way of help--it
was a secret no longer, and it had yielded nothing beyond the mere
knowledge that John Braden, who was in reality John Brake, had carried
the secret to Wrychester--to reveal it in the proper quarter. That
helped Bryce in no way--so far as he could see. And therefore it was
necessary to re-state his case to himself; to take stock; to see where
he stood--and more than all, to put plainly before his own mind exactly
what he wanted.

And just before Mitchington and the detective came up the path to his
door, Bryce had put his notions into clear phraseology. His aim was
definite--he wanted to get Ransford completely into his power, through
suspicion of Ransford’s guilt in the affairs of Braden and Collishaw. He
wanted, at the same time, to have the means of exonerating him--whether
by fact or by craft--so that, as an ultimate method of success for his
own projects he would be able to go to Mary Bewery and say “Ransford’s
very life is at my mercy: if I keep silence, he’s lost: if I speak,
he’s saved: it’s now for you to say whether I’m to speak or hold my
tongue--and you’re the price I want for my speaking to save him!” It
was in accordance with his views of human nature that Mary Bewery would
accede to his terms: he had not known her and Ransford for nothing, and
he was aware that she had a profound gratitude for her guardian, which
might even be akin to a yet unawakened warmer feeling. The probability
was that she would willingly sacrifice herself to save Ransford--and
Bryce cared little by what means he won her, fair or foul, so long as
he was successful. So now, he said to himself, he must make a still
more definite move against Ransford. He must strengthen and deepen the
suspicions which the police already had: he must give them chapter
and verse and supply them with information, and get Ransford into the
tightest of corners, solely that, in order to win Mary Bewery, he might
have the credit of pulling him out again. That, he felt certain, he
could do--if he could make a net in which to enclose Ransford he could
also invent a two-edged sword which would cut every mesh of that net
into fragments. That would be--child’s play--mere statecraft--elementary
diplomacy. But first--to get Ransford fairly bottled up--that was
the thing! He determined to lose no more time--and he was thinking
of visiting Mitchington immediately after breakfast next morning when
Mitchington knocked at his door.

Bryce was rarely taken back, and on seeing Mitchington and a companion,
he forthwith invited them into his parlour, put out his whisky and
cigars, and pressed both on them as if their late call were a matter of
usual occurrence. And when he had helped both to a drink, he took one
himself, and tumbler in hand, dropped into his easy chair again.

“We saw your light, doctor--so I took the liberty of dropping into tell
you a bit of news,” observed the inspector. “But I haven’t introduced my
friend--this is Detective-Sergeant Jettison, of the Yard--we’ve got him
down about this business--must have help, you know.”

Bryce gave the detective a half-sharp, half-careless look and nodded.

“Mr. Jettison will have abundant opportunities for the exercise of his
talents!” he observed in his best cynical manner. “I dare say he’s found
that out already.”

“Not an easy affair, sir, to be sure,” assented Jettison. “Complicated!”

“Highly so!” agreed Bryce. He yawned, and glanced at the inspector.
“What’s your news, Mitchington?” he asked, almost indifferently.

“Oh, well!” answered Mitchington. “As the Herald’s published tomorrow
you’ll see it in there, doctor--I’ve supplied an account for this week’s
issue; just a short one--but I thought you’d like to know. You’ve heard
of the famous jewel robbery at the Duke’s, some years ago? Yes?--well,
we’ve found all the whole bundle tonight--buried in Paradise! And how do
you think the secret came out?”

“No good at guessing,” said Bryce.

“It came out,” continued Mitchington, “through a man who, with
Braden--Braden, mark you!--got in possession of it--it’s a long
story--and, with Braden, was going to reveal it to the Duke that very
day Braden was killed. This man waited until this very morning and
then told his Grace--his Grace came with him to us this afternoon,
and tonight we made a search and found--everything! Buried--there in
Paradise! Dug ‘em up, doctor!”

Bryce showed no great interest. He took a leisurely sip at his liquor
and set down the glass and pulled out his cigarette case. The two men,
watching him narrowly, saw that his fingers were steady as rocks as he
struck the match.

“Yes,” he said as he threw the match away. “I saw you busy.”

In spite of himself Mitchington could not repress a start nor a glance
at Jettison. But Jettison was as imperturbable as Bryce himself, and
Mitchington raised a forced laugh.

“You did!” he said, incredulously. “And we thought we had it all to
ourselves! How did you come to know, doctor?”

“Young Bewery told me what was going on,” replied Bryce, “so I took
a look at you. And I fetched old Harker to take a look, too. We all
watched you--the boy, Harker, and I--out of sheer curiosity, of course.
We saw you get up the parcel. But, naturally, I didn’t know what was in
it--till now.”

Mitchington, thoroughly taken aback by this candid statement, was at a
loss for words, and again he glanced at Jettison. But Jettison gave no
help, and Mitchington fell back on himself.

“So you fetched old Harker?” he said. “What--what for, doctor? If one
may ask, you know.”

Bryce made a careless gesture with his cigarette.

“Oh--old Harker’s deeply interested in what’s going on,” he answered.
“And as young Bewery drew my attention to your proceedings, why, I
thought I’d draw Harker’s. And Harker was--interested.”

Mitchington hesitated before saying more. But eventually he risked a
leading question.

“Any special reason why he should be, doctor?” he asked.

Bryce put his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat and looked
half-lazily at his questioner.

“Do you know who old Harker really is?” he inquired.

“No!” answered Mitchington. “I know nothing about him--except that he’s
said to be a retired tradesman, from London, who settled down here some
time ago.”

Bryce suddenly turned on Jettison.

“Do you?” he asked.

“I, sir!” exclaimed Jettison. “I don’t know this gentleman--at all!”

Bryce laughed--with his usual touch of cynical sneering.

“I’ll tell you--now--who old Harker is, Mitchington,” he said. “You may
as well know. I thought Mr. Jettison might recognize the name. Harker is
no retired London tradesman--he’s a retired member of your profession,
Mr. Jettison. He was in his day one of the smartest men in the service
of your department. Only he’s transposed his name--ask them at the Yard
if they remember Harker Simpson? That seems to startle you, Mitchington!
Well, as you’re here, perhaps I’d better startle you a bit more.”



CHAPTER XIX. THE SUBTLETY OF THE DEVIL


There was a sudden determination and alertness in Bryce’s last words
which contrasted strongly, and even strangely, with the almost cynical
indifference that had characterized him since his visitors came in, and
the two men recognized it and glanced questioningly at each other. There
was an alteration, too, in his manner; instead of lounging lazily in his
chair, as if he had no other thought than of personal ease, he was now
sitting erect, looking sharply from one man to the other; his whole
attitude, bearing, speech seemed to indicate that he had suddenly made
up his mind to adopt some definite course of action.

“I’ll tell you more!” he repeated. “And, since you’re here--now!”

Mitchington, who felt a curious uneasiness, gave Jettison another
glance. And this time it was Jettison who spoke.

“I should say,” he remarked quietly, “knowing what I’ve gathered of the
matter, that we ought to be glad of any information Dr. Bryce can give
us.”

“Oh, to be sure!” assented Mitchington. “You know more, then, doctor?”

Bryce motioned his visitors to draw their chairs nearer to his, and
when he spoke it was in the low, concentrated tones of a man who means
business--and confidential business.

“Now look here, Mitchington,” he said, “and you, too, Mr. Jettison, as
you’re on this job--I’m going to talk straight to both of you. And to
begin with, I’ll make a bold assertion--I know more of this Wrychester
Paradise mystery--involving the deaths of both Braden and Collishaw,
than any man living--because, though you don’t know it, Mitchington,
I’ve gone right into it. And I’ll tell you in confidence why I went into
it--I want to marry Dr. Ransford’s ward, Miss Bewery!”

Bryce accompanied this candid admission with a look which seemed to
say: Here we are, three men of the world, who know what things are--we
understand each other! And while Jettison merely nodded comprehendingly,
Mitchington put his thoughts into words.

“To be sure, doctor, to be sure!” he said. “And accordingly--what’s
their affair, is yours! Of course!”

“Something like that,” assented Bryce. “Naturally no man wishes to marry
unless he knows as much as he can get to know about the woman he wants,
her family, her antecedents--and all that. Now, pretty nearly everybody
in Wrychester who knows them, knows that there’s a mystery about Dr.
Ransford and his two wards--it’s been talked of, no end, amongst the old
dowagers and gossips of the Close, particularly--you know what they are!
Miss Bewery herself, and her brother, young Dick, in a lesser degree,
know there’s a mystery. And if there’s one man in the world who knows
the secret, it’s Ransford. And, up to now, Ransford won’t tell--he
won’t even tell Miss Bewery. I know that she’s asked him--he keeps up an
obstinate silence. And so--I determined to find things out for myself.”

“Aye--and when did you start on that little game, now, doctor?” asked
Mitchington. “Was it before, or since, this affair developed?”

“In a really serious way--since,” replied Bryce. “What happened on the
day of Braden’s death made me go thoroughly into the whole matter. Now,
what did happen? I’ll tell you frankly, now, Mitchington, that when we
talked once before about this affair, I didn’t tell you all I might
have told. I’d my reasons for reticence. But now I’ll give you full
particulars of what happened that morning within my knowledge--pay
attention, both of you, and you’ll see how one thing fits into another.
That morning, about half-past nine, Ransford left his surgery and went
across the Close. Not long after he’d gone, this man Braden came to the
door, and asked me if Dr. Ransford was in? I said he wasn’t--he’d just
gone out, and I showed the man in which direction. He said he’d once
known a Dr. Ransford, and went away. A little later, I followed. Near
the entrance of Paradise, I saw Ransford leaving the west porch of the
Cathedral. He was undeniably in a state of agitation--pale, nervous. He
didn’t see me. I went on and met Varner, who told me of the accident.
I went with him to the foot of St. Wrytha’s Stair and found the man who
had recently called at the surgery. He died just as I reached him.
I sent for you. When you came, I went back to the surgery--I found
Ransford there in a state of most unusual agitation--he looked like a
man who has had a terrible shock. So much for these events. Put them
together.”

Bryce paused awhile, as if marshalling his facts.

“Now, after that,” he continued presently, “I began to investigate
matters myself--for my own satisfaction. And very soon I found out
certain things--which I’ll summarize, briefly, because some of my facts
are doubtless known to you already. First of all--the man who came
here as John Braden was, in reality, one John Brake. He was at one
time manager of a branch of a well-known London banking company. He
appropriated money from them under apparently mysterious circumstances
of which I, as yet, knew nothing; he was prosecuted, convicted,
and sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude. And those two wards
of Ransford’s, Mary and Richard Bewery, as they are called, are, in
reality, Mary and Richard Brake--his children.”

“You’ve established that as a fact?” asked Jettison, who was listening
with close attention. “It’s not a surmise on your part?”

Bryce hesitated before replying to this question. After all, he
reflected, it was a surmise. He could not positively prove his
assertion.

“Well,” he answered after a moment’s thought, “I’ll qualify that by
saying that from the evidence I have, and from what I know, I believe it
to be an indisputable fact. What I do know of fact, hard, positive
fact, is this:--John Brake married a Mary Bewery at the parish church of
Braden Medworth, near Barthorpe, in Leicestershire: I’ve seen the entry
in the register with my own eyes. His best man, who signed the register
as a witness, was Mark Ransford. Brake and Ransford, as young men, had
been in the habit of going to Braden Medworth to fish; Mary Bewery was
governess at the vicarage there. It was always supposed she would marry
Ransford; instead, she married Brake, who, of course, took her off to
London. Of their married life, I know nothing. But within a few
years, Brake was in trouble, for the reason I have told you. He was
arrested--and Harker was the man who arrested him.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed Mitchington. “Now, if I’d only known--”

“You’ll know a lot before I’m through,” said Bryce. “Now, Harker, of
course, can tell a lot--yet it’s unsatisfying. Brake could make no
defence--but his counsel threw out strange hints and suggestions--all to
the effect that Brake had been cruelly and wickedly deceived--in fact,
as it were, trapped into doing what he did. And--by a man whom he’d
trusted as a close friend. So much came to Harker’s ears--but no more,
and on that particular point I’ve no light. Go on from that to Brake’s
private affairs. At the time of his arrest he had a wife and two very
young children. Either just before, or at, or immediately after his
arrest they completely disappeared--and Brake himself utterly refused
to say one single word about them. Harker asked if he could do
anything--Brake’s answer was that no one was to concern himself. He
preserved an obstinate silence on that point. The clergyman in
whose family Mrs. Brake had been governess saw Brake, after his
conviction--Brake would say nothing to him. Of Mrs. Brake, nothing more
is known--to me at any rate. What was known at the time is this--Brake
communicated to all who came in contact with him, just then, the idea
of a man who has been cruelly wronged and deceived, who takes refuge in
sullen silence, and who is already planning and cherishing--revenge!”

“Aye, aye!” muttered Mitchington. “Revenge?--just So!”

“Brake, then,” continued Bryce, “goes off to his term of penal
servitude, and so disappears--until he reappears here in Wrychester.
Leave him for a moment, and go back. And--it’s a going back, no doubt,
to supposition and to theory--but there’s reason in what I shall
advance. We know--beyond doubt--that Brake had been tricked and
deceived, in some money matter, by some man--some mysterious man--whom
he referred to as having been his closest friend. We know, too, that
there was extraordinary mystery in the disappearance of his wife and
children. Now, from all that has been found out, who was Brake’s closest
friend? Ransford! And of Ransford, at that time, there’s no trace. He,
too, disappeared--that’s a fact which I’ve established. Years later, he
reappears--here at Wrychester, where he’s bought a practice. Eventually
he has two young people, who are represented as his wards, come to live
with him. Their name is Bewery. The name of the young woman whom John
Brake married was Bewery. What’s the inference? That their mother’s
dead--that they’re known under her maiden name: that they, without a
shadow of doubt, are John Brake’s children. And that leads up to my
theory--which I’ll now tell you in confidence--if you wish for it.”

“It’s what I particularly wish for,” observed Jettison quietly. “The
very thing!”

“Then, it’s this,” said Bryce. “Ransford was the close friend who
tricked and deceived Brake:

“He probably tricked him in some money affair, and deceived him in his
domestic affairs. I take it that Ransford ran away with Brake’s wife,
and that Brake, sooner than air all his grievance to the world, took
it silently and began to concoct his ideas of revenge. I put the
whole thing this way. Ransford ran away with Mrs. Brake and the two
children--mere infants--and disappeared. Brake, when he came out of
prison, went abroad--possibly with the idea of tracking them. Meanwhile,
as is quite evident, he engaged in business and did well. He came back
to England as John Braden, and, for the reason of which you’re aware,
he paid a visit to Wrychester, utterly unaware that any one known to him
lived here. Now, try to reconstruct what happened. He looks round the
Close that morning. He sees the name of Dr. Mark Ransford on the brass
plate of a surgery door. He goes to the surgery, asks a question, makes
a remark, goes away. What is the probable sequence of events? He
meets Ransford near the Cathedral--where Ransford certainly was. They
recognize each other--most likely they turn aside, go up to that gallery
as a quiet place, to talk--there is an altercation--blows--somehow
or other, probably from accident, Braden is thrown through that open
doorway, to his death. And--Collishaw saw what happened!”

Bryce was watching his listeners, turning alternately from one to the
other. But it needed little attention on his part to see that theirs
was already closely strained; each man was eagerly taking in all that
he said and suggested. And he went on emphasizing every point as he made
it.

“Collishaw saw what happened?” he repeated. “That, of course, is
theory--supposition. But now we pass from theory back to actual fact.
I’ll tell you something now, Mitchington, which you’ve never heard of,
I’m certain. I made it in my way, after Collishaw’s death, to get
some information, secretly, from his widow, who’s a fairly shrewd,
intelligent woman for her class. Now, the widow, in looking over her
husband’s effects, in a certain drawer in which he kept various personal
matters, came across the deposit book of a Friendly Society of which
Collishaw had been a member for some years. It appears that he,
Collishaw, was something of a saving man, and every year he managed to
put by a bit of money out of his wages, and twice or thrice in the year
he took these savings--never very much; merely a pound or two--to this
Friendly Society, which, it seems, takes deposits in that way from its
members. Now, in this book is an entry--I saw it--which shows that only
two days before his death, Collishaw paid fifty pounds--fifty pounds,
mark you!--into the Friendly Society. Where should Collishaw get fifty
pounds, all of a sudden! He was a mason’s labourer, earning at the very
outside twenty-six or eight shillings a week. According to his wife,
there was no one to leave him a legacy. She never heard of his receipt
of this money from any source. But--there’s the fact! What explains it?
My theory--that the rumour that Collishaw, with a pint too much ale in
him, had hinted that he could say something about Braden’s death if he
chose, had reached Braden’s assailant; that he had made it his business
to see Collishaw and had paid him that fifty pounds as hush-money--and,
later, had decided to rid himself of Collishaw altogether, as he
undoubtedly did, by poison.”

Once more Bryce paused--and once more the two listeners showed their
attention by complete silence.

“Now we come to the question--how was Collishaw poisoned?” continued
Bryce. “For poisoned he was, without doubt. Here we go back to
theory and supposition once more. I haven’t the least doubt that the
hydrocyanic acid which caused his death was taken by him in a pill--a
pill that was in that box which they found on him, Mitchington, and
showed me. But that particular pill, though precisely similar in
appearance, could not be made up of the same ingredients which were in
the other pills. It was probably a thickly coated pill which contained
the poison;--in solution of course. The coating would melt almost
as soon as the man had swallowed it--and death would result
instantaneously. Collishaw, you may say, was condemned to death when he
put that box of pills in his waistcoat pocket. It was mere chance, mere
luck, as to when the exact moment of death came to him. There had been
six pills in that box--there were five left. So Collishaw picked out the
poisoned pill--first! It might have been delayed till the sixth dose,
you see--but he was doomed.”

Mitchington showed a desire to speak, and Bryce paused.

“What about what Ransford said before the Coroner?” asked Mitchington.
“He demanded certain information about the post-mortem, you know, which,
he said, ought to have shown that there was nothing poisonous in those
pills.”

“Pooh!” exclaimed Bryce contemptuously. “Mere bluff! Of such a pill as
that I’ve described there’d be no trace but the sugar coating--and the
poison. I tell you, I haven’t the least doubt that that was how the
poison was administered. It was easy. And--who is there that would know
how easily it could be administered but--a medical man?”

Mitchington and Jettison exchanged glances. Then Jettison leaned nearer
to Bryce.

“So your theory is that Ransford got rid of both Braden and
Collishaw--murdered both of them, in fact?” he suggested. “Do I
understand that’s what it really comes to--in plain words?”

“Not quite,” replied Bryce. “I don’t say that Ransford meant to kill
Braden--my notion is that they met, had an altercation, probably
a struggle, and that Braden lost his life in it. But as regards
Collishaw--”

“Don’t forget!” interrupted Mitchington. “Varner swore that he saw
Braden flung through that doorway! Flung out! He saw a hand.”

“For everything that Varner could prove to the contrary,” answered
Bryce, “the hand might have been stretched out to pull Braden back.
No--I think there may have been accident in that affair. But, as regards
Collishaw--murder, without doubt--deliberate!”

He lighted another cigarette, with the air of a man who had spoken his
mind, and Mitchington, realizing that he had said all he had to say, got
up from his seat.

“Well--it’s all very interesting and very clever, doctor,” he said,
glancing at Jettison. “And we shall keep it all in mind. Of course,
you’ve talked all this over with Harker? I should like to know what he
has to say. Now that you’ve told us who he is, I suppose we can talk to
him?”

“You’ll have to wait a few days, then,” said Bryce. “He’s gone to
town--by the last train tonight--on this business. I’ve sent him. I had
some information today about Ransford’s whereabouts during the time of
disappearance, and I’ve commissioned Harker to examine into it. When I
hear what he’s found out, I’ll let you know.”

“You’re taking some trouble,” remarked Mitchington.

“I’ve told you the reason,” answered Bryce.

Mitchington hesitated a little; then, with a motion of his head towards
the door, beckoned Jettison to follow him.

“All right,” he said. “There’s plenty for us to see into, I’m thinking!”

Bryce laughed and pointed to a shelf of books near the fireplace.

“Do you know what Napoleon Bonaparte once gave as sound advice to
police?” he asked. “No! Then I’ll tell you. ‘The art of the police,’
he said, ‘is not to see that which it is useless for it to see.’ Good
counsel, Mitchington!”

The two men went away through the midnight streets, and kept silence
until they were near the door of Jettison’s hotel. Then Mitchington
spoke.

“Well!” he said. “We’ve had a couple of tales, anyhow! What do you think
of things, now?”

Jettison threw back his head with a dry laugh.

“Never been better puzzled in all my time!” he said. “Never! But--if
that young doctor’s playing a game--then, by the Lord Harry, inspector,
it’s a damned deep ‘un! And my advice is--watch the lot!”



CHAPTER XX. JETTISON TAKES A HAND


By breakfast time next morning the man from New Scotland Yard had
accomplished a series of meditations on the confidences made to him and
Mitchington the night before and had determined on at least one course
of action. But before entering upon it he had one or two important
letters to write, the composition of which required much thought and
trouble, and by the time he had finished them, and deposited them by his
own hand in the General Post Office, it was drawing near to noon--the
great bell of the Cathedral, indeed, was proclaiming noontide to
Wrychester as Jettison turned into the police-station and sought
Mitchington in his office.

“I was just coming round to see if you’d overslept yourself,” said
Mitchington good-humouredly. “We were up pretty late last night, or,
rather, this morning.”

“I’ve had letters to write,” said Jettison. He sat down and picked up a
newspaper and cast a casual glance over it. “Got anything fresh?”

“Well, this much,” answered Mitchington. “The two gentlemen who told
us so much last night are both out of town. I made an excuse to call on
them both early this morning--just on nine o’clock. Dr. Ransford went up
to London by the eight-fifteen.

“Dr. Bryce, says his landlady, went out on his bicycle at half-past
eight--where, she didn’t know, but, she fancied, into the country.
However, I ascertained that Ransford is expected back this evening, and
Bryce gave orders for his usual dinner to be ready at seven o’clock, and
so--”

Jettison flung away the newspaper and pulled out his pipe.

“Oh, I don’t think they’ll run away--either of ‘em,” he remarked
indifferently. “They’re both too cock-sure of their own ways of looking
at things.”

“You looked at ‘em any more?” asked Mitchington.

“Done a bit of reflecting--yes,” replied the detective. “Complicated
affair, my lad! More in it than one would think at first sight. I’m
certain of this quite apart from whatever mystery there is about the
Braden affair and the Collishaw murder, there’s a lot of scheming and
contriving been going on--and is going on!--somewhere, by somebody.
Underhand work, you understand? However, my particular job is the
Collishaw business--and there’s a bit of information I’d like to get
hold of at once. Where’s the office of that Friendly Society we heard
about last night?”

“That’ll be the Wrychester Second Friendly,” answered Mitchington.
“There are two such societies in the town--the first’s patronized by
small tradesmen and the like; the second by workingmen. The second does
take deposits from its members. The office is in Fladgate--secretary’s
name outside--Mr. Stebbing. What are you after?”

“Tell you later,” said Jettison. “Just an idea.”

He went leisurely out and across the market square and into the narrow,
old-world street called Fladgate, along which he strolled as if doing no
more than looking about him until he came to an ancient shop which had
been converted into an office, and had a wire blind over the lower
half of its front window, wherein was woven in conspicuous gilt letters
Wrychester Second Friendly Society--George Stebbing, Secretary. Nothing
betokened romance or mystery in that essentially humble place, but it
was in Jettison’s mind that when he crossed its threshold he was on his
way to discovering something that would possibly clear up the problem on
which he was engaged.

The staff of the Second Friendly was inconsiderable in numbers--an
outer office harboured a small boy and a tall young man; an inner one
accommodated Mr. Stebbing, also a young man, sandy-haired and freckled,
who, having inspected Detective-Sergeant Jettison’s professional card,
gave him the best chair in the room and stared at him with a mingling of
awe and curiosity which plainly showed that he had never entertained
a detective before. And as if to show his visitor that he realized the
seriousness of the occasion, he nodded meaningly at his door.

“All safe, here, sir!” he whispered. “Well fitting doors in these old
houses--knew how to make ‘em in those days. No chance of being overheard
here--what can I do for you, sir?”

“Thank you--much obliged to you,” said Jettison. “No objection to my
pipe, I suppose? Just so. Ah!--well, between you and me, Mr. Stebbing,
I’m down here in connection with that Collishaw case--you know.”

“I know, sir--poor fellow!” said the secretary. “Cruel thing, sir, if
the man was put an end to. One of our members, was Collishaw, sir.”

“So I understand,” remarked Jettison. “That’s what I’ve come about. Bit
of information, on the quiet, eh? Strictly between our two selves--for
the present.”

Stebbing nodded and winked, as if he had been doing business with
detectives all his life. “To be sure, sir, to be sure!” he responded
with alacrity. “Just between you and me and the door post!--all right.
Anything I can do, Mr. Jettison, shall be done. But it’s more in the way
of what I can tell, I suppose?”

“Something of that sort,” replied Jettison in his slow, easy-going
fashion. “I want to know a thing or two. Yours is a working-man’s
society, I think? Aye--and I understand you’ve a system whereby such a
man can put his bits of savings by in your hands?”

“A capital system, too!” answered the secretary, seizing on a pamphlet
and pushing it into his visitor’s hand. “I don’t believe there’s better
in England! If you read that--”

“I’ll take a look at it some time,” said Jettison, putting the pamphlet
in his pocket. “Well, now, I also understand that Collishaw was in the
habit of bringing you a bit of saved money now and then a sort of saving
fellow, wasn’t he?” Stebbing nodded assent and reached for a ledger
which lay on the farther side of his desk.

“Collishaw,” he answered, “had been a member  of our society
ever since it started--fourteen years ago. And he’d been putting in
savings for some eight or nine years. Not much, you’ll understand. Say,
as an average, two to three pounds every half-year--never more. But,
just before his death, or murder, or whatever you like to call it, he
came in here one day with fifty pounds! Fairly astounded me, sir! Fifty
pounds--all in a lump!”

“It’s about that fifty pounds I want to know something,” said Jettison.
“He didn’t tell you how he’d come by it? Wasn’t a legacy, for instance?”

“He didn’t say anything but that he’d had a bit of luck,” answered
Stebbing. “I asked no questions. Legacy, now?--no, he didn’t mention
that. Here it is,” he continued, turning over the pages of the ledger.
“There! 50 pounds. You see the date--that ‘ud be two days before his
death.”

Jettison glanced at the ledger and resumed his seat.

“Now, then, Mr. Stebbing, I want you to tell me something very
definite,” he said. “It’s not so long since this happened, so you’ll not
have to tag your memory to any great extent. In what form did Collishaw
pay that fifty pounds to you?”

“That’s easy answered, sir,” said the secretary. “It was in gold. Fifty
sovereigns--he had ‘em in a bit of a bag.” Jettison reflected on this
information for a moment or two. Then he rose.

“Much obliged to you, Mr. Stebbing,” he said. “That’s something worth
knowing. Now there’s something else you can tell me as long as I’m
here--though, to be sure, I could save you the trouble by using my own
eyes. How many banks are there in this little city of yours?”

“Three,” answered Stebbing promptly. “Old Bank, in Monday Market; Popham
& Hargreaves, in the Square; Wrychester Bank, in Spurriergate. That’s
the lot.”

“Much obliged,” said Jettison. “And--for the present--not a word of what
we’ve talked about. You’ll be hearing more--later.”

He went away, memorizing the names of the three banking
establishments--ten minutes later he was in the private parlour of the
first, in serious conversation with its manager. Here it was necessary
to be more secret, and to insist on more secrecy than with the secretary
of the Second Friendly, and to produce all his credentials and give all
his reasons. But Jettison drew that covert blank, and the next, too, and
it was not until he had been closeted for some time with the authorities
of the third bank that he got the information he wanted. And when he
had got it, he impressed secrecy and silence on his informants in a
fashion which showed them that however easy-going his manner might be,
he knew his business as thoroughly as they knew theirs.

It was by that time past one o’clock, and Jettison turned into the small
hotel at which he had lodged himself. He thought much and gravely
while he ate his dinner; he thought still more while he smoked his
after-dinner pipe. And his face was still heavy with thought when,
at three o’clock, he walked into Mitchington’s office and finding the
inspector alone shut the door and drew a chair to Mitchington’s desk.

“Now then,” he said. “I’ve had a rare morning’s work, and made a
discovery, and you and me, my lad, have got to have about as serious a
bit of talk as we’ve had since I came here.”

Mitchington pushed his papers aside and showed his keen attention.

“You remember what that young fellow told us last night about that man
Collishaw paying in fifty pounds to the Second Friendly two days before
his death,” said Jettison. “Well, I thought over that business a lot,
early this morning, and I fancied I saw how I could find something
out about it. So I have--on the strict quiet. That’s why I went to the
Friendly Society. The fact was--I wanted to know in what form Collishaw
handed in that fifty pounds. I got to know. Gold!”

Mitchington, whose work hitherto had not led him into the mysteries of
detective enterprise, nodded delightedly.

“Good!” he said. “Rare idea! I should never have thought of it!
And--what do you make out of that, now?”

“Nothing,” replied Jettison. “But--a good deal out of what I’ve learned
since that bit of a discovery. Now, put it to yourself--whoever it was
that paid Collishaw that fifty pounds in gold did it with a motive. More
than one motive, to be exact--but we’ll stick to one, to begin with. The
motive for paying in gold was--avoidance of discovery. A cheque can
be readily traced. So can banknotes. But gold is not easily traced.
Therefore the man who paid Collishaw fifty pounds took care to provide
himself with gold. Now then--how many men are there in a small place
like this who are likely to carry fifty pounds in gold in their pockets,
or to have it at hand?”

“Not many,” agreed Mitchington.

“Just so--and therefore I’ve been doing a bit of secret inquiry amongst
the bankers, as to who supplied himself with gold about that date,”
 continued Jettison. “I’d to convince ‘em of the absolute necessity
of information, too, before I got any! But I got some--at the third
attempt. On the day previous to that on which Collishaw handed that
fifty pounds to Stebbing, a certain Wrychester man drew fifty pounds in
gold at his bank. Who do you think he was?”

“Who--who?” demanded Mitchington.

Jettison leaned half-across the desk.

“Bryce!” he said in a whisper. “Bryce!”

Mitchington sat up in his chair and opened his mouth in sheer
astonishment.

“Good heavens!” he muttered after a moment’s silence. “You don’t mean
it?”

“Fact!” answered Jettison. “Plain, incontestable fact, my lad. Dr. Bryce
keeps an account at the Wrychester bank. On the day I’m speaking of he
cashed a cheque to self for fifty pounds and took it all in gold.”

The two men looked at each other as if each were asking his companion a
question.

“Well?” said Mitchington at last. “You’re a cut above me, Jettison. What
do you make of it?”

“I said last night that the young man was playing a deep game,”
 replied Jettison. “But--what game? What’s he building up? For mark you,
Mitchington, if--I say if, mind!--if that fifty pounds which he drew in
gold is the identical fifty paid to Collishaw, Bryce didn’t pay it as
hush-money!”

“Think not?” said Mitchington, evidently surprised. “Now, that was my
first impression. If it wasn’t hush-money--”

“It wasn’t hush-money, for this reason,” interrupted Jettison. “We know
that whatever else he knew, Bryce didn’t know of the accident to Braden
until Varner fetched him to Braden. That’s established--on what you’ve
put before me. Therefore, whatever Collishaw saw, before or at the
time that accident happened, it wasn’t Bryce who was mixed up in it.
Therefore, why should Bryce pay Collishaw hush-money?”

Mitchington, who had evidently been thinking, suddenly pulled out a
drawer in his desk and took some papers from it which he began to turn
over.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’ve an abstract here--of what the foreman at
the Cathedral mason’s yard told me of what he knew as to where Collishaw
was working that morning when the accident happened--I made a note of it
when I questioned him after Collishaw’s death. Here you are:

  ‘Foreman says that on morning of Braden’s accident,
   Collishaw was at work in the north gallery of the
   clerestory, clearing away some timber which the
   carpenters had left there.  Collishaw was certainly
   thus engaged from nine o’clock until past eleven
   that morning.  Mem.  Have investigated this myself.
   From the exact spot where C. was clearing the timber,
   there is an uninterrupted view of the gallery on the
   south side of the nave, and of the arched doorway at
   the head of St.  Wrytha’s Stair.’”

“‘Well,” observed Jettison, “that proves what I’m saying. It wasn’t
hush-money. For whoever it was that Collishaw saw lay hands on Braden,
it wasn’t Bryce--Bryce, we know, was at that time coming across the
Close or crossing that path through the part you call Paradise:
Varner’s evidence proves that. So--if the fifty pounds wasn’t paid for
hush-money, what was it paid for?”

“Do you suggest anything?” asked Mitchington.

“I’ve thought of two or three things,” answered the detective. “One’s
this--was the fifty pounds paid for information? If so, and Bryce has
that information, why doesn’t he show his hand more plainly? If he
bribed Collishaw with fifty pounds: to tell him who Braden’s assailant
was, he now knows!--so why doesn’t he let it out, and have done with
it?”

“Part of his game--if that theory’s right,” murmured Mitchington.

“It mayn’t be right,” said Jettison. “But it’s one. And there’s
another--supposing he paid Collishaw that money on behalf of somebody
else? I’ve thought this business out right and left, top-side and
bottom-side, and hang me if I don’t feel certain there is somebody else!
What did Ransford tell us about Bryce and this old Harker--think
of that! And yet, according to Bryce, Harker is one of our old Yard
men!--and therefore ought to be above suspicion.”

Mitchington suddenly started as if an idea had occurred to him.

“I say, you know!” he exclaimed. “We’ve only Bryce’s word for it that
Harker is an ex-detective. I never heard that he was--if he is, he’s
kept it strangely quiet. You’d have thought that he’d have let us know,
here, of his previous calling--I never heard of a policeman of any
rank who didn’t like to have a bit of talk with his own sort about
professional matters.”

“Nor me,” assented Jettison. “And as you say, we’ve only Bryce’s
word. And, the more I think of it, the more I’m convinced there’s
somebody--some man of whom you don’t seem to have the least idea--who’s
in this. And it may be that Bryce is in with him. However--here’s one
thing I’m going to do at once. Bryce gave us that information about the
fifty pounds. Now I’m going to tell Bryce straight out that I’ve gone
into that matter in my own fashion--a fashion he evidently never thought
of--and ask him to explain why he drew a similar amount in gold. Come on
round to his rooms.”

But Bryce was not to be found at his rooms--had not been back to his
rooms, said his landlady, since he had ridden away early in the morning:
all she knew was that he had ordered his dinner to be ready at his usual
time that evening. With that the two men had to be content, and they
went back to the police-station still discussing the situation. And they
were still discussing it an hour later when a telegram was handed to
Mitchington, who tore it open, glanced over its contents and passed it
to his companion who read it aloud.

“Meet me with Jettison Wrychester Station on arrival of five-twenty
express from London mystery cleared up guilty men known--Ransford.”

Jettison handed the telegram back.

“A man of his word!” he said. “He mentioned two days--he’s done it in
one! And now, my lad--do you notice?--he says men, not man! It’s as I
said--there’s been more than one of ‘em in this affair. Now then--who
are they?”



CHAPTER XXI. THE SAXONSTEADE ARMS


Bryce had ridden away on his bicycle from Wrychester that morning intent
on a new piece of diplomacy. He had sat up thinking for some time after
the two police officials had left him at midnight, and it had occurred
to him that there was a man from whom information could be had of whose
services he had as yet made no use but who must be somewhere in the
neighbourhood--the man Glassdale. Glassdale had been in Wrychester the
previous evening; he could scarcely be far away now; there was certainly
one person who would know where he could be found, and that person
was the Duke of Saxonsteade. Bryce knew the Duke to be an extremely
approachable man, a talkative, even a garrulous man, given to holding
converse with anybody about anything, and he speedily made up his mind
to ride over to Saxonsteade, invent a plausible excuse for his call,
and get some news out of his Grace. Even if Glassdale had left the
neighbourhood, there might be fragments of evidence to pick up from
the Duke, for Glassdale, he knew, had given his former employer the
information about the stolen jewels and would, no doubt, have added
more about his acquaintance with Braden. And before Bryce came to his
dreamed-of master-stroke in that matter, there were one or two things he
wanted to clear up, to complete his double net, and he had an idea that
an hour’s chat with Glassdale would yield all that he desired.

The active brain that had stood Bryce in good stead while he spun his
meshes and devised his schemes was more active than ever that early
summer morning. It was a ten-mile ride through woods and valleys to
Saxonsteade, and there were sights and beauties of nature on either side
of him which any other man would have lingered to admire and most men
would have been influenced by. But Bryce had no eyes for the clouds over
the copper-crowned hills or the mystic shadows in the deep valleys or
the new buds in the hedgerows, and no thought for the rustic folk whose
cottages he passed here and there in a sparsely populated country. All
his thoughts were fixed on his schemes, almost as mechanically as his
eyes followed the white road in front of his wheel. Ever since he had
set out on his campaign he had regularly taken stock of his position; he
was for ever reckoning it up. And now, in his opinion, everything looked
very promising. He had--so far as he was aware--created a definite
atmosphere of suspicion around and against Ransford--it needed only a
little more suggestion, perhaps a little more evidence to bring about
Ransford’s arrest. And the only question which at all troubled Bryce
was--should he let matters go to that length before putting his
ultimatum before Mary Bewery, or should he show her his hand first? For
Bryce had so worked matters that a word from him to the police would
damn Ransford or save him--and now it all depended, so far as Bryce
himself was concerned, on Mary Bewery as to which word should be said.
Elaborate as the toils were which he had laid out for Ransford to the
police, he could sweep them up and tear them away with a sentence
of added knowledge--if Mary Bewery made it worth his while. But
first--before coming to the critical point--there was yet certain
information which he desired to get, and he felt sure of getting it if
he could find Glassdale. For Glassdale, according to all accounts, had
known Braden intimately of late years, and was most likely in possession
of facts about him--and Bryce had full confidence in himself as an
interviewer of other men and a supreme belief that he could wheedle
a secret out of anybody with whom he could procure an hour’s quiet
conversation.

As luck would have it, Bryce had no need to make a call upon the
approachable and friendly Duke. Outside the little village at
Saxonsteade, on the edge of the deep woods which fringed the ducal park,
stood an old wayside inn, a relic of the coaching days, which bore
on its sign the ducal arms. Into its old stone hall marched Bryce to
refresh himself after his ride, and as he stood at the bow-windowed bar,
he glanced into the garden beyond and there saw, comfortably smoking his
pipe and reading the newspaper, the very man he was looking for.

Bryce had no spice of bashfulness, no want of confidence anywhere in his
nature; he determined to attack Glassdale there and then. But he took
a good look at his man before going out into the garden to him. A plain
and ordinary sort of fellow, he thought; rather over middle age, with
a tinge of grey in his hair and moustache; prosperous looking and
well-dressed, and at that moment of the appearance of what he was
probably taken for by the inn people--a tourist. Whether he was the sort
who would be communicative or not, Bryce could not tell from outward
signs, but he was going to try, and he presently found his card-case,
took out a card, and strolling down the garden to the shady spot
in which Glassdale sat, assumed his politest and suavest manner and
presented himself.

“Allow me, sir,” he said, carefully abstaining from any mention of
names. “May I have the pleasure of a few minutes’ conversation with
you?”

Glassdale cast a swift glance of surprise, not unmingled with suspicion,
at the intruder--the sort of glance that a man used to watchfulness
would throw at anybody, thought Bryce. But his face cleared as he read
the card, though it was still doubtful as he lifted it again.

“You’ve the advantage of me, sir,” he said. “Dr. Bryce, I see. But--”

Bryce smiled and dropped into a garden chair at Glassdale’s side.

“You needn’t be afraid of talking to me,” he answered. “I’m well known
in Wrychester. The Duke,” he went on, nodding his head in the direction
of the great house which lay behind the woods at the foot of the garden,
“knows me well enough--in fact, I was on my way to see his Grace now, to
ask him if he could tell me where you could be found. The fact is,
I’m aware of what happened last night--the jewel affair, you
know--Mitchington told me--and of your friendship with Braden, and I
want to ask you a question or two about Braden.”

Glassdale, who had looked somewhat mystified at the beginning of this
address, seemed to understand matters better by the end of it.

“Oh, well, of course, doctor,” he said, “if that’s it--but, of course--a
word first!--these folk here at the inn don’t know who I am or that I’ve
any connection with the Duke on that affair. I’m Mr. Gordon here--just
staying for a bit.”

“That’s all right,” answered Bryce with a smile of understanding. “All
this is between ourselves. I saw you with the Duke and the rest of them
last night, and I recognized you just now. And all I want is a bit of
talk about Braden. You knew him pretty well of late years?”

“Knew him for a good many years,” replied Glassdale. He looked narrowly
at his visitor. “I suppose you know his story--and mine?” he asked.
“Bygone affairs, eh?”

“Yes, yes!” answered Bryce reassuringly. “No need to go into
that--that’s all done with.”

“Aye--well, we both put things right,” said Glassdale. “Made
restitution--both of us, you understand. So that is done with? And you
know, then, of course, who Braden really was?”

“John Brake, ex bank-manager,” answered Bryce promptly. “I know all
about it. I’ve been deeply interested and concerned in his death. And
I’ll tell you why. I want to marry his daughter.”

Glassdale turned and stared at his companion.

“His daughter!” he exclaimed. “Brake’s daughter! God bless my soul! I
never knew he had a daughter!”

It was Bryce’s turn to stare now. He looked at Glassdale incredulously.

“Do you mean to tell me that you knew Brake all those years and that he
never mentioned his children?” he exclaimed.

“Never a word of ‘em!” replied Glassdale. “Never knew he had any!”

“Did he never speak of his past?” asked Bryce.

“Not in that respect,” answered Glassdale. “I’d no idea that he was--or
had been--a married man. He certainly never mentioned wife nor children
to me, sir, and yet I knew Brake about as intimately as two men can know
each other for some years before we came back to England.”

Bryce fell into one of his fits of musing. What could be the meaning of
this extraordinary silence on Brake’s part? Was there still some hidden
secret, some other mystery at which he had not yet guessed?

“Odd!” he remarked at last after a long pause during which Glassdale had
watched him curiously. “But, did he ever speak to you of an old friend
of his named Ransford--a doctor?”

“Never!” said Glassdale. “Never mentioned such a man!”

Bryce reflected again, and suddenly determined to be explicit.

“John Brake, the bank manager,” he said, “was married at a place called
Braden Medworth, in Leicestershire, to a girl named Mary Bewery. He had
two children, who would be, respectively, about four and one years of
age when his--we’ll call it misfortune--happened. That’s a fact!”

“First I ever heard of it, then,” said Glassdale. “And that’s a fact,
too!”

“He’d also a very close friend named Ransford--Mark Ransford,” continued
Bryce. “This Ransford was best man at Brake’s wedding.”

“Never heard him speak of Ransford, nor of any wedding!” affirmed
Glassdale. “All news to me, doctor.”

“This Ransford is now in practice in Wrychester,” said Bryce. “And he
has two young people living with him as his wards--a girl of twenty, a
boy of seventeen--who are, without doubt, John Brake’s children. It is
the daughter that I want to marry.”

Glassdale shook his head as if in sheer perplexity.

“Well, all I can say is, you surprise me!” he remarked. “I’d no idea of
any such thing.”

“Do you think Brake came to Wrychester because of that?” asked Bryce.

“How can I answer that, sir, when I tell you that I never heard him
breathe one word of any children?” exclaimed Glassdale. “No! I know his
reason for coming to Wrychester. It was wholly and solely--as far as
I know--to tell the Duke here about that jewel business, the secret of
which had been entrusted to Brake and me by a man on his death-bed in
Australia. Brake came to Wrychester by himself--I was to join him next
morning: we were then to go to see the Duke together. When I got to
Wrychester, I heard of Brake’s accident, and being upset by it, I went
away again and waited some days until yesterday, when I made up my mind
to tell the Duke myself, as I did, with very fortunate results. No,
that’s the only reason I know of why Brake came this way. I tell you
I knew nothing at all of his family affairs! He was a very close man,
Brake, and apart from his business matters, he’d only one idea in his
head, and that was lodged there pretty firmly, I can assure you!”

“What was it?” asked Bryce.

“He wanted to find a certain man--or, rather, two men--who’d cruelly
deceived and wronged him, but one of ‘em in particular,” answered
Glassdale. “The particular one he believed to be in Australia, until
near the end, when he got an idea that he’d left for England; as for
the other, he didn’t bother much about him. But the man that he did
want!--ah, he wanted him badly!”

“Who was that man?” asked Bryce.

“A man of the name of Falkiner Wraye,” answered Glassdale promptly. “A
man he’d known in London. This Wraye, together with his partner, a
man called Flood, tricked Brake into lending ‘em several thousands
pounds--bank’s money, of course--for a couple of days--no more--and
then clean disappeared, leaving him to pay the piper! He was a fool, no
doubt, but he’d been mixed up with them; he’d done it before, and they’d
always kept their promises, and he did it once too often. He let ‘em
have some thousands; they disappeared, and the bank inspector happened
to call at Brake’s bank and ask for his balances. And--there he was.
And--that’s why he’d Falkiner Wraye on his mind--as his one big idea.
T’other man was a lesser consideration, Wraye was the chief offender.”

“I wish you’d tell me all you know about Brake,” said Bryce after a
pause during which he had done some thinking. “Between ourselves, of
course.”

“Oh--I don’t know that there’s so much secrecy!” replied Glassdale
almost indifferently. “Of course, I knew him first when we were both
inmates of--you understand where; no need for particulars. But after we
left that place, I never saw him again until we met in Australia a few
years ago. We were both in the same trade--speculating in wool. We got
pretty thick and used to see each other a great deal, and of course,
grew confidential. He told me in time about his affair, and how he’d
traced this Wraye to the United States, and then, I think, to New
Zealand, and afterwards to Australia, and as I was knocking about the
country a great deal buying up wool, he asked me to help him, and
gave me a description of Wraye, of whom, he said, he’d certainly heard
something when he first landed at Sydney, but had never been able to
trace afterwards. But it was no good--I never either saw or heard of
Wraye--and Brake came to the conclusion he’d left Australia. And I know
he hoped to get news of him, somehow, when we returned to England.”

“That description, now?--what was it?” asked Bryce.

“Oh!” said Glassdale. “I can’t remember it all, now--big man, clean
shaven, nothing very particular except one thing. Wraye, according to
Brake, had a bad scar on his left jaw and had lost the middle finger of
his left hand--all from a gun accident. He--what’s the matter, sir?”

Bryce had suddenly let his pipe fall from his lips. He took some time
in picking it up. When he raised himself again his face was calm if a
little flushed from stooping.

“Bit my pipe on a bad tooth!” he muttered. “I must have that tooth seen
to. So you never heard or saw anything of this man?”

“Never!” answered Glassdale. “But I’ve wondered since this Wrychester
affair if Brake accidentally came across one or other of those men,
and if his death arose out of it. Now, look here, doctor! I read the
accounts of the inquest on Brake--I’d have gone to it if I’d dared, but
just then I hadn’t made up my mind about seeing the Duke; I didn’t know
what to do, so I kept away, and there’s a thing has struck me that I
don’t believe the police have ever taken the slightest, notice of.”

“What’s that?” demanded Bryce.

“Why, this!” answered Glassdale. “That man who called himself
Dellingham--who came with Brake to the Mitre Hotel at Wrychester--who
is he? Where did Brake meet him? Where did he go? Seems to me the police
have been strangely negligent about that! According to the accounts I’ve
read, everybody just accepted this Dellingham’s first statement, took
his word, and let him--vanish! No one, as far as I know, ever verified
his account of himself. A stranger!”

Bryce, who was already in one of his deep moods of reflection, got up
from his chair as if to go.

“Yes,” he said. “There maybe something in your suggestion. They
certainly did take his word without inquiry. It’s true--he mightn’t be
what he said he was.”

“Aye, and from what I read, they never followed his movements that
morning!” observed Glassdale. “Queer business altogether! Isn’t there
some reward offered, doctor? I heard of some placards or something, but
I’ve never seen them; of course, I’ve only been here since yesterday
morning.”

Bryce silently drew some papers from his pocket. From them he extracted
the two handbills which Mitchington had given him and handed them over.

“Well, I must go,” he said. “I shall no doubt see you again in
Wrychester, over this affair. For the present, all this is between
ourselves, of course?”

“Oh, of course, doctor!” answered Glassdale. “Quite so!” Bryce went off
and got his bicycle and rode away in the direction of Wrychester. Had he
remained in that garden he would have seen Glassdale, after reading both
the handbills, go into the house and have heard him ask the landlady at
the bar to get him a trap and a good horse in it as soon as possible;
he, too, now wanted to go to Wrychester and at once. But Bryce was
riding down the road, muttering certain words to himself over and over
again.

“The left jaw--and the left hand!” he repeated. “Left hand--left jaw!
Unmistakable!”



CHAPTER XXII. OTHER PEOPLE’S NOTIONS


The great towers of Wrychester Cathedral had come within Bryce’s view
before he had made up his mind as to the next step in this last stage of
his campaign. He had ridden away from the Saxonsteade Arms feeling that
he had got to do something at once, but he was not quite clear in his
mind as to what that something exactly was. But now, as he topped a rise
in the road, and saw Wrychester lying in its hollow beneath him, the
summer sun shining on its red roofs and grey walls, he suddenly came to
a decision, and instead of riding straight ahead into the old city he
turned off at a by-road, made a line across the northern outskirts, and
headed for the golf-links. He was almost certain to find Mary Bewery
there at that hour, and he wanted to see her at once. The time for his
great stroke had come.

But Mary Bewery was not there--had not been there that morning said the
caddy-master. There were only a few players out. In one of them, coming
towards the club-house, Bryce recognized Sackville Bonham. And at sight
of Sackville, Bryce had an inspiration. Mary Bewery would not come up to
the links now before afternoon; he, Bryce, would lunch there and then go
towards Wrychester to meet her by the path across the fields on which
he had waylaid her after his visit to Leicestershire. And meanwhile
he would inveigle Sackville Bonham into conversation. Sackville fell
readily into Bryce’s trap. He was the sort of youth who loves to talk,
especially in a hinting and mysterious fashion. And when Bryce, after
treating him to an appetizer in the bar of the club-house, had suggested
that they should lunch together and got him into a quiet corner of the
dining-room, he launched forth at once on the pertinent matter of the
day.

“Heard all about this discovery of those missing Saxonsteade diamonds?”
 he asked as he and Bryce picked up their knives and forks. “Queer
business that, isn’t it? Of course, it’s got to do with those murders!”

“Think so?” asked Bryce.

“Can anybody think anything else?” said Sackville in his best dogmatic
manner. “Why, the thing’s plain. From what’s been let out--not much,
certainly, but enough--it’s quite evident.”

“What’s your theory?” inquired Bryce.

“My stepfather--knowing old bird he is, too!--sums the whole thing up to
a nicety,” answered Sackville. “That old chap, Braden, you know, is in
possession of that secret. He comes to Wrychester about it. But somebody
else knows. That somebody gets rid of Braden. Why? So that the secret’ll
be known then only to one--the murderer! See! And why? Why?”

“Well, why?” repeated Bryce. “Don’t see, so far.”

“You must be dense, then,” said Sackville with the lofty superiority of
youth. “Because of the reward, of course! Don’t you know that there’s
been a standing offer--never withdrawn!--of five thousand pounds for
news of those jewels?”

“No, I didn’t,” answered Bryce.

“Fact, sir--pure fact,” continued Sackville. “Now, five thousand,
divided in two, is two thousand five hundred each. But five thousand,
undivided, is--what?”

“Five thousand--apparently,” said Bryce.

“Just so! And,” remarked Sackville knowingly, “a man’ll do a lot for
five thousand.”

“Or--according to your argument--for half of it,” said Bryce. “What
you--or your stepfather’s--aiming at comes to this, that suspicion rests
on Braden’s sharer in the secret. That it?”

“And why not?” asked Sackville. “Look at what we know--from the account
in the paper this morning. This other chap, Glassdale, waits a bit until
the first excitement about Braden is over, then he comes forward and
tells the Duke where the Duchess’s diamonds are planted. Why? So that he
can get the five thousand pound reward! Plain as a pikestaff! Only, the
police are such fools.”

“And what about Collishaw?” asked Bryce, willing to absorb all his
companion’s ideas.

“Part of the game,” declared Sackville. “Same man that got rid of
Braden got rid of that chap! Probably Collishaw knew a bit and had to
be silenced. But, whether that Glassdale did it all off his own bat or
whether he’s somebody in with him, that’s where the guilt’ll be fastened
in the end, my stepfather says. And--it’ll be so. Stands to reason!”

“Anybody come forward about that reward your stepfather offered?” asked
Bryce.

“I’m not permitted to say,” answered Sackville. “But,” he added, leaning
closer to his companion across the table, “I can tell you this--there’s
wheels within wheels! You understand! And things’ll be coming out. Got
to! We can’t--as a family--let Ransford lie under that cloud, don’t you
know. We must clear him. That’s precisely why Mr. Folliot offered his
reward. Ransford, of course, you know, Bryce, is very much to blame--he
ought to have done more himself. And, of course, as my mother and my
stepfather say, if Ransford won’t do things for himself, well, we must
do ‘em for him! We couldn’t think of anything else.”

“Very good of you all, I’m sure,” assented Bryce. “Very thoughtful and
kindly.”

“Oh, well!” said Sackville, who was incapable of perceiving a sneer
or of knowing when older men were laughing at him. “It’s one of those
things that one’s got to do--under the circumstances. Of course, Miss
Bewery isn’t Dr. Ransford’s daughter, but she’s his ward, and we can’t
allow suspicion to rest on her guardian. You leave it to me, my boy, and
you’ll see how things will be cleared!”

“Doing a bit underground, eh?” asked Bryce.

“Wait a bit!” answered Sackville with a knowing wink. “It’s the least
expected that happens--what?”

Bryce replied that Sackville was no doubt right, and began to talk of
other matters. He hung about the club-house until past three o’clock,
and then, being well acquainted with Mary Bewery’s movements from long
observation of them, set out to walk down towards Wrychester, leaving
his bicycle behind him. If he did not meet Mary on the way, he meant to
go to the house. Ransford would be out on his afternoon round of calls;
Dick Bewery would be at school; he would find Mary alone. And it was
necessary that he should see her alone, and at once, for since morning
an entirely new view of affairs had come to him, based on added
knowledge, and he now saw a chance which he had never seen before. True,
he said to himself, as he walked across the links and over the country
which lay between their edge and Wrychester, he had not, even now,
the accurate knowledge as to the actual murderer of either Braden or
Collishaw that he would have liked, but he knew something that would
enable him to ask Mary Bewery point-blank whether he was to be friend or
enemy. And he was still considering the best way of putting his case to
her when, having failed to meet her on the way, he at last turned into
the Close, and as he approached Ransford’s house, saw Mrs. Folliot
leaving it.

Mary Bewery, like Bryce, had been having a day of events. To begin with,
Ransford had received a wire from London, first thing in the morning,
which had made him run, breakfastless, to catch the next express. He had
left Mary to make arrangements about his day’s work, for he had not
yet replaced Bryce, and she had been obliged to seek out another
practitioner who could find time from his own duties to attend to
Ransford’s urgent patients. Then she had had to see callers who came
to the surgery expecting to find Ransford there; and in the middle of a
busy morning, Mr. Folliot had dropped in, to bring her a bunch of roses,
and, once admitted, had shown unmistakable signs of a desire to gossip.

“Ransford out?” he asked as he sat down in the dining-room. “Suppose he
is, this time of day.”

“He’s away,” replied Mary. “He went to town by the first express, and I
have had a lot of bother arranging about his patients.”

“Did he hear about this discovery of the Saxonsteade jewels before he
went?” asked Folliot. “Suppose he wouldn’t though--wasn’t known until
the weekly paper came out this morning. Queer business! You’ve heard, of
course?”

“Dr. Short told me,” answered Mary. “I don’t know any details.”

Folliot looked meditatively at her a moment.

“Got something to do with those other matters, you know,” he remarked.
“I say! What’s Ransford doing about all that?”

“About all what, Mr. Folliot?” asked Mary, at once on her guard. “I
don’t understand you.”

“You know--all that suspicion--and so on,” said Folliot. “Bad position
for a professional man, you know--ought to clear himself. Anybody been
applying for that reward Ransford offered?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” replied Mary. “Dr. Ransford is very
well able to take care of himself, I think. Has anybody applied for
yours?”

Folliot rose from his chair again, as if he had changed his mind about
lingering, and shook his head.

“Can’t say what my solicitors may or may not have heard--or done,” he
answered. “But--queer business, you know--and ought to be settled. Bad
for Ransford to have any sort of a cloud over him. Sorry to see it.”

“Is that why you came forward with a reward?” asked Mary.

But to this direct question Folliot made no answer. He muttered
something about the advisability of somebody doing something and went
away, to Mary’s relief. She had no desire to discuss the Paradise
mysteries with anybody, especially after Ransford’s assurance of the
previous evening. But in the middle of the afternoon in walked Mrs.
Folliot, a rare caller, and before she had been closeted with Mary five
minutes brought up the subject again.

“I want to speak to you on a very serious matter, my dear Miss Bewery,”
 she said. “You must allow me to speak plainly on account of--of several
things. My--my superiority in--in age, you know, and all that!”

“What’s the matter, Mrs. Folliot?” asked Mary, steeling herself against
what she felt sure was coming. “Is it--very serious? And--pardon me--is
it about what Mr. Folliot mentioned to me this morning? Because if it
is, I’m not going to discuss that with you or with anybody!”

“I had no idea that my husband had been here this morning,” answered
Mrs. Folliot in genuine surprise. “What did he want to talk about?”

“In that case, what do you want to talk about?” asked Mary. “Though that
doesn’t mean that I’m going to talk about it with you.”

Mrs. Folliot made an effort to understand this remark, and after
inspecting her hostess critically for a moment, proceeded in her most
judicial manner.

“You must see, my dear Miss Bewery, that it is highly necessary that
some one should use the utmost persuasion on Dr. Ransford,” she said.
“He is placing all of you--himself, yourself, your young brother--in
most invidious positions by his silence! In society such as--well,
such as you get in a cathedral town, you know, no man of reputation can
afford to keep silence when his--his character is affected.”

Mary picked up some needlework and began to be much occupied with it.

“Is Dr. Ransford’s character affected?” she asked. “I wasn’t aware of
it, Mrs. Folliot.”

“Oh, my dear, you can’t be quite so very--so very, shall we say
ingenuous?--as all that!” exclaimed Mrs. Folliot. “These rumours!--of
course, they are very wicked and cruel ones, but you know they have
spread. Dear me!--why, they have been common talk!”

“I don’t think my guardian cares twopence for common talk, Mrs.
Folliot,” answered Mary. “And I am quite sure I don’t.”

“None of us--especially people in our position--can afford to ignore
rumours and common talk,” said Mrs. Folliot in her loftiest manner. “If
we are, unfortunately, talked about, then it is our solemn, bounden duty
to put ourselves right in the eyes of our friends--and of society. If
I for instance, my dear, heard anything affecting my--let me say,
moral-character, I should take steps, the most stringent, drastic, and
forceful steps, to put matters to the test. I would not remain under a
stigma--no, not for one minute!”

“I hope you will never have occasion to rehabilitate your moral
character, Mrs. Folliot,” remarked Mary, bending closely over her work.
“Such a necessity would indeed be dreadful.”

“And yet you do not insist--yes, insist!--on Dr. Ransford’s taking
strong steps to clear himself!” exclaimed Mrs. Folliot. “Now that,
indeed, is a dreadful necessity!”

“Dr. Ransford,” answered Mary, “is quite able to defend and to take care
of himself. It is not for me to tell him what to do, or even to advise
him what to do. And--since you will talk of this matter, I tell you
frankly, Mrs. Folliot, that I don’t believe any decent person in
Wrychester has the least suspicion or doubt of Dr. Ransford. His denial
of any share or complicity in those sad affairs--the mere idea of it as
ridiculous as it’s wicked--was quite sufficient. You know very well that
at that second inquest he said--on oath, too--that he knew nothing of
these affairs. I repeat, there isn’t a decent soul in the city doubts
that!”

“Oh, but you’re quite wrong!” said Mrs. Folliot, hurriedly. “Quite
wrong, I assure you, my dear. Of course, everybody knows what Dr.
Ransford said--very excitedly, poor man, I’m given to understand on the
occasion you refer to, but then, what else could he have said in his own
interest? What people want is the proof of his innocence. I could--but I
won’t--tell you of many of the very best people who are--well, very much
exercised over the matter--I could indeed!”

“Do you count yourself among them?” asked Mary in a cold fashion
which would have been a warning to any one but her visitor. “Am I to
understand that, Mrs. Folliot?”

“Certainly not, my dear,” answered Mrs. Folliot promptly. “Otherwise I
should not have done what I have done towards establishing the foolish
man’s innocence!”

Mary dropped her work and turned a pair of astonished eyes on Mrs.
Folliot’s large countenance.

“You!” she exclaimed. “To establish--Dr. Ransford’s innocence? Why, Mrs.
Folliot, what have you done?”

Mrs. Folliot toyed a little with the jewelled head of her sunshade. Her
expression became almost coy.

“Oh, well!” she answered after a brief spell of indecision. “Perhaps it
is as well that you should know, Miss Bewery. Of course, when all this
sad trouble was made far worse by that second affair--the working-man’s
death, you know, I said to my husband that really one must do something,
seeing that Dr. Ransford was so very, very obdurate and wouldn’t speak.
And as money is nothing--at least as things go--to me or to Mr. Folliot,
I insisted that he should offer a thousand pounds reward to have the
thing cleared up. He’s a generous and open-handed man, and he agreed
with me entirely, and put the thing in hand through his solicitors. And
nothing would please us more, my dear, than to have that thousand pounds
claimed! For of course, if there is to be--as I suppose there is--a
union between our families, it would be utterly impossible that any
cloud could rest on Dr. Ransford, even if he is only your guardian. My
son’s future wife cannot, of course--”

Mary laid down her work again and for a full minute stared Mrs. Folliot
in the face.

“Mrs. Folliot!” she said at last. “Are you under the impression that I’m
thinking of marrying your son?”

“I think I’ve every good reason for believing it!” replied Mrs. Folliot.

“You’ve none!” retorted Mary, gathering up her work and moving towards
the door. “I’ve no more intention of marrying Mr. Sackville Bonham than
of eloping with the Bishop! The idea’s too absurd to--even be thought
of!”

Five minutes later Mrs. Folliot, heightened in colour, had gone.
And presently Mary, glancing after her across the Close, saw Bryce
approaching the gate of the garden.



CHAPTER XXIII. THE UNEXPECTED


Mary’s first instinct on seeing the approach of Pemberton Bryce, the one
man she least desired to see, was to retreat to the back of the house
and send the parlourmaid to the door to say her mistress was not at
home. But she had lately become aware of Bryce’s curiously dogged
persistence in following up whatever he had in view, and she reflected
that if he were sent away then he would be sure to come back and come
back until he had got whatever it was that he wanted. And after a
moment’s further consideration, she walked out of the front door and
confronted him resolutely in the garden.

“Dr. Ransford is away,” she said with almost unnecessary brusqueness.
“He’s away until evening.”

“I don’t want him,” replied Bryce just as brusquely. “I came to see
you.”

Mary hesitated. She continued to regard Bryce steadily, and Bryce did
not like the way in which she was looking at him. He made haste to speak
before she could either leave or dismiss him.

“You’d better give me a few minutes,” he said, with a note of warning.
“I’m here in your interests--or in Ransford’s. I may as well tell you,
straight out, Ransford’s in serious and imminent danger! That’s a fact.”

“Danger of what?” she demanded.

“Arrest--instant arrest!” replied Bryce. “I’m telling you the
truth. He’ll probably be arrested tonight, on his return. There’s no
imagination in all this--I’m speaking of what I know. I’ve--curiously
enough--got mixed up with these affairs, through no seeking of my own,
and I know what’s behind the scenes. If it were known that I’m letting
out secrets to you, I should get into trouble. But, I want to warn you!”

Mary stood before him on the path, hesitating. She knew enough to know
that Bryce was telling some sort of truth: it was plain that he had been
mixed up in the recent mysteries, and there was a ring of conviction
in his voice which impressed her. And suddenly she had visions of
Ransford’s arrest, of his being dragged off to prison to meet a cruel
accusation, of the shame and disgrace, and she hesitated further.

“But if that’s so,” she said at last, “what’s the good of coming to me?
I can’t do anything!”

“I can!” said Bryce significantly. “I know more--much more--than the
police know--more than anybody knows. I can save Ransford. Understand
that!”

“What do you want now?” she asked.

“To talk to you--to tell you how things are,” answered Bryce. “What harm
is there in that? To make you see how matters stand, and then to show
you what I can do to put things right.”

Mary glanced at an open summer-house which stood beneath the beech trees
on one side of the garden. She moved towards it and sat down there, and
Bryce followed her and seated himself.

“Well--” she said.

Bryce realized that his moment had arrived. He paused, endeavouring
to remember the careful preparations he had made for putting his case.
Somehow, he was not so clear as to his line of attack as he had been ten
minutes previously--he realized that he had to deal with a young woman
who was not likely to be taken in nor easily deceived. And suddenly he
plunged into what he felt to be the thick of things.

“Whether you, or whether Ransford--whether both or either of you, know
it or not,” he said, “the police have been on to Ransford ever since
that Collishaw affair! Underground work, you know. Mitchington has
been digging into things ever since then, and lately he’s had a London
detective helping him.”

Mary, who had carried her work into the garden, had now resumed it, and
as Bryce began to talk she bent over it steadily stitching.

“Well?” she said.

“Look here!” continued Bryce. “Has it never struck you--it must have
done!--that there’s considerable mystery about Ransford? But whether it
has struck you or not, it’s there, and it’s struck the police forcibly.
Mystery connected with him before--long before--he ever came here. And
associated, in some way, with that man Braden. Not of late--in years
past. And, naturally, the police have tried to find out what that was.”

“What have they found out?” asked Mary quietly.

“That I’m not at liberty to tell,” replied Bryce. “But I can tell
you this--they know, Mitchington and the London man, that there were
passages between Ransford and Braden years ago.”

“How many years ago?” interrupted Mary.

Bryce hesitated a moment. He had a suspicion that this self-possessed
young woman who was taking everything more quietly than he had
anticipated, might possibly know more than he gave her credit for
knowing. He had been watching her fingers since they sat down in the
summer-house, and his sharp eyes saw that they were as steady as the
spire of the cathedral above the trees--he knew from that that she was
neither frightened nor anxious.

“Oh, well--seventeen to twenty years ago,” he answered. “About that
time. There were passages, I say, and they were of a nature which
suggests that the re-appearance of Braden on Ransford’s present stage of
life would be, extremely unpleasant and unwelcome to Ransford.”

“Vague!” murmured Mary. “Extremely vague!”

“But quite enough,” retorted Bryce, “to give the police the suggestion
of motive. I tell you the police know quite enough to know that Braden
was, of all men in the world, the last man Ransford desired to see
cross his path again. And--on that morning on which the Paradise affair
occurred--Braden did cross his path. Therefore, in the conventional
police way of thinking and looking at things, there’s motive.”

“Motive for what?” asked Mary.

Bryce arrived here at one of his critical stages, and he paused a moment
in order to choose his words.

“Don’t get any false ideas or impressions,” he said at last. “I’m not
accusing Ransford of anything. I’m only telling you what I know the
police think and are on the very edge of accusing him of. To put it
plainly--of murder. They say he’d a motive for murdering Braden--and
with them motive is everything. It’s the first thing they seem to think
of; they first question they ask themselves. ‘Why should this man have
murdered that man?’--do you see! ‘What motive had he?--that’s the point.
And they think--these chaps like Mitchington and the London man--that
Ransford certainly had a motive for getting rid of Braden when they
met.”

“What was the motive?” asked Mary.

“They’ve found out something--perhaps a good deal--about what happened
between Braden and Ransford some years ago,” replied Bryce. “And their
theory is--if you want to know the truth--that Ransford ran away with
Braden’s wife, and that Braden had been looking for him ever since.”

Bryce had kept his eyes on Mary’s hands, and now at last he saw the
girl’s fingers tremble. But her voice was steady enough when she spoke.

“Is that mere conjecture on their part, or is it based on any fact?” she
asked.

“I’m not in full knowledge of all their secrets,” answered Bryce, “but
I’ve heard enough to know that there’s a basis of undeniable fact on
which they’re going. I know for instance, beyond doubt, that Braden and
Ransford were bosom friends, years ago, that Braden was married to a
girl whom Ransford had wanted to marry, that Braden’s wife suddenly
left him, mysteriously, a few years later, and that, at the same time,
Ransford made an equally mysterious disappearance. The police know
all that. What is the inference to be drawn? What inference would any
one--you yourself, for example--draw?”

“None, till I’ve heard what Dr. Ransford had to say,” replied Mary.

Bryce disliked that ready retort. He was beginning to feel that he was
being met by some force stronger than his own.

“That’s all very well,” he remarked. “I don’t say that I wouldn’t do the
same. But I’m only explaining the police position, and showing you the
danger likely to arise from it. The police theory is this, as far as
I can make it out: Ransford, years ago, did Braden a wrong, and Braden
certainly swore revenge when he could find him. Circumstances prevented
Braden from seeking him closely for some time; at last they met here, by
accident. Here the police aren’t decided. One theory is that there was
an altercation, blows, a struggle, in the course of which Braden met his
death; the other is that Ransford deliberately took Braden up into the
gallery and flung him through that open doorway--”

“That,” observed Mary, with something very like a sneer, “seems so
likely that I should think it would never occur to anybody but the sort
of people you’re telling me of! No man of any real sense would believe
it for a minute!”

“Some people of plain common sense do believe it for all that!” retorted
Bryce. “For it’s quite possible. But as I say, I’m only repeating. And
of course, the rest of it follows on that. The police theory is that
Collishaw witnessed Braden’s death at Ransford’s hands, that Ransford
got to know that Collishaw knew of that, and that he therefore quietly
removed Collishaw. And it is on all that that they’re going, and will
go. Don’t ask me if I think they’re right or wrong! I’m only telling you
what I know so as to show you what danger Ransford is in.”

Mary made no immediate answer, and Bryce sat watching her. Somehow--he
was at a loss to explain it to himself--things were not going as he had
expected. He had confidently believed that the girl would be frightened,
scared, upset, ready to do anything that he asked or suggested. But she
was plainly not frightened. And the fingers which busied themselves with
the fancy-work had become steady again, and her voice had been steady
all along.

“Pray,” she asked suddenly, and with a little satirical inflection of
voice which Brice was quick to notice, “pray, how is it that you--not
a policeman, not a detective!--come to know so much of all this?
Since when were you taken into the confidence of Mitchington and the
mysterious person from London?”

“You know as well as I do that I have been dragged into the case against
my wishes,” answered Bryce almost sullenly. “I was fetched to Braden--I
saw him die. It was I who found Collishaw--dead. Of course, I’ve been
mixed up, whether I would or not, and I’ve had to see a good deal of the
police, and naturally I’ve learnt things.”

Mary suddenly turned on him with a flash of the eye which might have
warned Bryce that he had signally failed in the main feature of his
adventure.

“And what have you learnt that makes you come here and tell me all
this?” she exclaimed. “Do you think I’m a simpleton, Dr. Bryce? You set
out by saying that Dr. Ransford is in danger from the police, and that
you know more--much more than the police! what does that mean? Shall I
tell you? It means that you--you!--know that the police are wrong, and
that if you like you can prove to them that they are wrong! Now, then
isn’t that so?”

“I am in possession of certain facts,” began Bryce. “I--”

Mary stopped him with a look.

“My turn!” she said. “You’re in possession of certain facts. Now isn’t
it the truth that the facts you are in possession of are proof enough to
you that Dr. Ransford is as innocent as I am? It’s no use your trying to
deceive me! Isn’t that so?”

“I could certainly turn the police off his track,” admitted Bryce, who
was growing highly uncomfortable. “I could divert--”

Mary gave him another look and dropping her needlework continued to
watch him steadily.

“Do you call yourself a gentleman?” she asked quietly. “Or we’ll leave
the term out. Do you call yourself even decently honest? For, if you do,
how can you have the sheer impudence--more, insolence!--to come here and
tell me all this when you know that the police are wrong and that you
could--to use your own term, which is your way of putting it--turn them
off the wrong track? Whatever sort of man are you? Do you want to know
my opinion of you in plain words?”

“You seem very anxious to give it, anyway,” retorted Bryce.

“I will give it, and it will perhaps put an end to this,” answered Mary.
“If you are in possession of anything in the way of evidence which would
prove Dr. Ransford’s innocence and you are wilfully suppressing it,
you are bad, wicked, base, cruel, unfit for any decent being’s society!
And,” she added, as she picked up her work and rose, “you’re not going
to have any more of mine!”

“A moment!” said Bryce. He was conscious that he had somehow played all
his cards badly, and he wanted another opening. “You’re misunderstanding
me altogether! I never said--never inferred--that I wouldn’t save
Ransford.”

“Then, if there’s need, which I don’t admit, you acknowledge that you
could save him?” she exclaimed sharply. “Just as I thought. Then, if
you’re an honest man, a man with any pretensions to honour, why don’t
you at once! Any man who had such feelings as those I’ve just mentioned
wouldn’t hesitate one second. But you--you!--you come and--talk about
it! As if it were a game! Dr. Bryce, you make me feel sick, mentally,
morally sick.”

Bryce had risen to his feet when Mary rose, and he now stood staring at
her. Ever since his boyhood he had laughed and sneered at the mere idea
of the finer feelings--he believed that every man has his price--and
that honesty and honour are things useful as terms but of no real
existence. And now he was wondering--really wondering--if this girl
meant the things she said: if she really felt a mental loathing of such
minds and purposes as he knew his own were, or if it were merely acting
on her part. Before he could speak she turned on him again more fiercely
than before.

“Shall I tell you something else in plain language?” she asked. “You
evidently possess a very small and limited knowledge--if you have any at
all!--of women, and you apparently don’t rate their mental qualities at
any high standard. Let me tell you that I am not quite such a fool as
you seem to think me! You came here this afternoon to bargain with me!
You happen to know how much I respect my guardian and what I owe him
for the care he has taken of me and my brother. You thought to trade on
that! You thought you could make a bargain with me; you were to save Dr.
Ransford, and for reward you were to have me! You daren’t deny it. Dr.
Bryce--I can see through you!”

“I never said it, at any rate,” answered Bryce.

“Once more, I say, I’m not a fool!” exclaimed Mary. “I saw through you
all along. And you’ve failed! I’m not in the least frightened by what
you’ve said. If the police arrest Dr. Ransford, Dr. Ransford knows how
to defend himself. And you’re not afraid for him! You know you aren’t.
It wouldn’t matter twopence to you if he were hanged tomorrow, for you
hate him. But look to yourself! Men who cheat, and scheme, and plot, and
plan as you do come to bad ends. Mind yours! Mind the wheel doesn’t come
full circle. And now, if you please, go away and don’t dare to come near
me again!”

Bryce made no answer. He had listened, with an attempt at a smile, to
all this fiery indignation, but as Mary spoke the last words he was
suddenly aware of something that drew his attention from her and them.
Through an opening in Ransford’s garden hedge he could see the garden
door of the Folliots’ house across the Close. And at that moment out of
it emerge Folliot himself in conversation with Glassdale!

Without a word, Bryce snatched up his hat from the table of the
summer-house, and went swiftly away--a new scheme, a new idea in his
mind.



CHAPTER XXIV. FINESSE


Glassdale, journeying into Wrychester half an hour after Bryce had left
him at the Saxonsteade Arms, occupied himself during his ride across
country in considering the merits of the two handbills which Bryce had
given him. One announced an offer of five hundred pounds reward for
information in the Braden-Collishaw matter; the other, of a thousand
pounds. It struck him as a curious thing that two offers should be
made--it suggested, at once, that more than one person was deeply
interested in this affair. But who were they?--no answer to that
question appeared on the handbills, which were, in each case, signed by
Wrychester solicitors. To one of these Glassdale, on arriving in the old
city, promptly proceeded--selecting the offerer of the larger reward.
He presently found himself in the presence of an astute-looking man who,
having had his visitor’s name sent in to him, regarded Glassdale with
very obvious curiosity.

“Mr. Glassdale?” he said inquiringly, as the caller took an offered
chair. “Are you, by any chance, the Mr. Glassdale whose name is
mentioned in connection with last night’s remarkable affair?”

He pointed to a copy of the weekly newspaper, lying on his desk, and to
a formal account of the discovery of the Saxonsteade jewels which had
been furnished to the press, at the Duke’s request, by Mitchington.
Glassdale glanced at it--unconcernedly.

“The same,” he answered. “But I didn’t call here on that matter--though
what I did call about is certainly relative to it. You’ve offered a
reward for any information that would lead to the solution of that
mystery about Braden--and the other man, Collishaw.”

“Of a thousand pounds--yes!” replied the solicitor, looking at his
visitor with still more curiosity, mingled with expectancy. “Can you
give any?”

Glassdale pulled out the two handbills which he had obtained from Bryce.

“There are two rewards offered,” he remarked. “Are they entirely
independent of each other?”

“We know nothing of the other,” answered the solicitor. “Except, of
course, that it exists. They’re quite independent.”

“Who’s offering the five hundred pound one?” asked Glassdale.

The solicitor paused, looking his man over. He saw at once that
Glassdale had, or believed he had, something to tell--and was disposed
to be unusually cautious about telling it.

“Well,” he replied, after a pause. “I believe--in fact, it’s an open
secret--that the offer of five hundred pounds is made by Dr. Ransford.”

“And--yours?” inquired Glassdale. “Who’s at the back of yours--a
thousand?”

The solicitor smiled.

“You haven’t answered my question, Mr. Glassdale,” he observed. “Can you
give any information?”

Glassdale threw his questioner a significant glance.

“Whatever information I might give,” he said, “I’d only give to a
principal--the principal. From what I’ve seen and known of all this,
there’s more in it than is on the surface. I can tell something. I knew
John Braden--who, of course, was John Brake--very well, for some years.
Naturally, I was in his confidence.”

“About more than the Saxonsteade jewels, you mean?” asked the solicitor.

“About more than that,” assented Glassdale. “Private matters. I’ve no
doubt I can throw some light--some!--on this Wrychester Paradise affair.
But, as I said just now, I’ll only deal with the principal. I wouldn’t
tell you, for instance--as your principal’s solicitor.”

The solicitor smiled again.

“Your ideas, Mr. Glassdale, appear to fit in with our principal’s,”
 he remarked. “His instructions--strict instructions--to us are that if
anybody turns up who can give any information, it’s not to be given to
us, but to--himself!”

“Wise man!” observed Glassdale. “That’s just what I feel about it. It’s
a mistake to share secrets with more than one person.”

“There is a secret, then!” asked the solicitor, half slyly.

“Might be,” replied Glassdale. “Who’s your client?”

The solicitor pulled a scrap of paper towards him and wrote a few words
on it. He pushed it towards his caller, and Glassdale picked it up and
read what had been written--Mr. Stephen Folliot, The Close.

“You’d better go and see him,” said the solicitor, suggestively. “You’ll
find him reserved enough.”

Glassdale read and re-read the name--as if he were endeavouring to
recollect it, or connect it with something.

“What particular reason has this man for wishing to find this out?” he
inquired.

“Can’t say, my good sir!” replied the solicitor, with a smile. “Perhaps
he’ll tell you. He hasn’t told me.”

Glassdale rose to take his leave. But with his hand on the door he
turned.

“Is this gentleman a resident in the place?” he asked.

“A well-known townsman,” replied the solicitor. “You’ll easily find his
house in the Close--everybody knows it.”

Glassdale went away then--and walked slowly towards the Cathedral
precincts. On his way he passed two places at which he was half inclined
to call--one was the police-station; the other, the office of the
solicitors who were acting on behalf of the offerer of five hundred
pounds. He half glanced at the solicitor’s door--but on reflection went
forward. A man who was walking across the Close pointed out the Folliot
residence--Glassdale entered by the garden door, and in another minute
came face to face with Folliot himself, busied, as usual, amongst his
rose-trees.

Glassdale saw Folliot and took stock of him before Folliot knew that a
stranger was within his gates. Folliot, in an old jacket which he kept
for his horticultural labours, was taking slips from a standard; he
looked as harmless and peaceful as his occupation. A quiet, inoffensive,
somewhat benevolent elderly man, engaged in work, which suggested
leisure and peace.

But Glassdale, after a first quick, searching glance, took another and
longer one--and went nearer with a discreet laugh.

Folliot turned quietly, and seeing the stranger, showed no surprise. He
had a habit of looking over the top rims of his spectacles at people,
and he looked in this way at Glassdale, glancing him up and down calmly.
Glassdale lifted his slouch hat and advanced.

“Mr. Folliot, I believe, sir?” he said. “Mr. Stephen Folliot?”

“Aye, just so!” responded Folliot. “But I don’t know you. Who may you
be, now?”

“My name, sir, is Glassdale,” answered the other. “I’ve just come from
your solicitor’s. I called to see him this afternoon--and he told
me that the business I called about could only be dealt with--or
discussed--with you. So--I came here.”

Folliot, who had been cutting slips off a rose-tree, closed his knife
and put it away in his old jacket. He turned and quietly inspected his
visitor once more.

“Aye!” he said quietly. “So you’re after that thousand pound reward,
eh?”

“I should have no objection to it, Mr. Folliot,” replied Glassdale.

“I dare say not,” remarked Folliot, dryly. “I dare say not! And which
are you, now?--one of those who think they can tell something, or one
that really can tell? Eh?”

“You’ll know that better when we’ve had a bit of talk, Mr. Folliot,”
 answered Glassdale, accompanying his reply with a direct glance.

“Oh, well, now then, I’ve no objection to a bit of talk--none whatever!”
 said Folliot. “Here!--we’ll sit down on that bench, amongst the roses.
Quite private here--nobody about. And now,” he continued, as Glassdale
accompanied him to a rustic bench set beneath a pergola of rambler
roses, “who are you, like? I read a queer account in this morning’s
local paper of what happened in the Cathedral grounds yonder last night,
and there was a person of your name mentioned. Are you that Glassdale?”

“The same, Mr. Folliot,” answered the visitor, promptly.

“Then you knew Braden--the man who lost his life here?” asked Folliot.

“Very well indeed,” replied Glassdale.

“For how long?” demanded Folliot.

“Some years--as a mere acquaintance, seen now and then,” said Glassdale.
“A few years, recently, as what you might call a close friend.”

“Tell you any of his secrets?” asked Folliot.

“Yes, he did!” answered Glassdale.

“Anything that seems to relate to his death--and the mystery about it?”
 inquired Folliot.

“I think so,” said Glassdale. “Upon consideration, I think so!”

“Ah--and what might it be, now?” continued Folliot. He gave Glassdale
a look which seemed to denote and imply several things. “It might be to
your advantage to explain a bit, you know,” he added. “One has to be a
little--vague, eh?”

“There was a certain man that Braden was very anxious to find,” said
Glassdale. “He’d been looking for him for a good many years.”

“A man?” asked Folliot. “One?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, there were two,” admitted Glassdale, “but
there was one in particular. The other--the second--so Braden said,
didn’t matter; he was or had been, only a sort of cat’s-paw of the man
he especially wanted.”

“I see,” said Folliot. He pulled out a cigar case and offered a cigar to
his visitor, afterwards lighting one himself. “And what did Braden want
that man for?” he asked.

Glassdale waited until his cigar was in full going order before he
answered this question. Then he replied in one word.

“Revenge!”

Folliot put his thumbs in the armholes of his buff waistcoat and leaning
back, seemed to be admiring his roses.

“Ah!” he said at last. “Revenge, now? A sort of vindictive man, was he?
Wanted to get his knife into somebody, eh?”

“He wanted to get something of his own back from a man who’d done him,”
 answered Glassdale, with a short laugh. “That’s about it!”

For a minute or two both men smoked in silence. Then Folliot--still
regarding his roses--put a leading question.

“Give you any details?” he asked.

“Enough,” said Glassdale. “Braden had been done--over a money
transaction--by these men--one especially, as head and front of the
affair--and it had cost him--more than anybody would think! Naturally,
he wanted--if he ever got the chance--his revenge. Who wouldn’t?”

“And he’d tracked ‘em down, eh?” asked Folliot.

“There are questions I can answer, and there are questions I can’t
answer,” responded Glassdale. “That’s one of the questions I’ve no reply
to. For--I don’t know! But--I can say this. He hadn’t tracked ‘em down
the day before he came to Wrychester!”

“You’re sure of that?” asked Folliot. “He--didn’t come here on that
account?”

“No, I’m sure he didn’t!” answered Glassdale, readily. “If he had, I
should have known. I was with him till noon the day he came here--in
London--and when he took his ticket at Victoria for Wrychester, he’d no
more idea than the man in the moon as to where those men had got to.
He mentioned it as we were having a bit of lunch together before he got
into the train. No--he didn’t come to Wrychester for any such purpose as
that! But--”

He paused and gave Folliot a meaning glance out of the corner of his
eyes.

“Aye--what?” asked Folliot.

“I think he met at least one of ‘em here,” said Glassdale, quietly.
“And--perhaps both.”

“Leading to--misfortune for him?” suggested Folliot.

“If you like to put it that way--yes,” assented Glassdale.

Folliot smoked a while in more reflective silence.

“Aye, well!” he said at last. “I suppose you haven’t put these ideas of
yours before anybody, now?”

“Present ideas?” asked Glassdale, sharply. “Not to a soul! I’ve not had
‘em--very long.”

“You’re the sort of man that another man can do a deal with, I suppose?”
 suggested Folliot. “That is, if it’s made worth your while, of course?”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” replied Glassdale. “And--if it is made worth my
while.”

Folliot mused a little. Then he tapped Glassdale’s elbow.

“You see,” he said, confidentially, “it might be, you know, that I had
a little purpose of my own in offering that reward. It might be that
it was a very particular friend of mine that had the misfortune to have
incurred this man Braden’s hatred. And I might want to save him, d’ye
see, from--well, from the consequence of what’s happened, and to hear
about it first if anybody came forward, eh?”

“As I’ve done,” said Glassdale.

“As--you’ve done,” assented Folliot. “Now, perhaps it would be in the
interest of this particular friend of mine if he made it worth your
while to--say no more to anybody, eh?”

“Very much worth his while, Mr. Folliot,” declared Glassdale.

“Aye, well,” continued Folliot. “This very particular friend would
just want to know, you know, how much you really, truly know! Now, for
instance, about these two men--and one in particular--that Braden was
after? Did--did he name ‘em?”

Glassdale leaned a little nearer to his companion on the rose-screened
bench.

“He named them--to me!” he said in a whisper. “One was a man called
Falkiner Wraye, and the other man was a man named Flood. Is that
enough?”

“I think you’d better come and see me this evening,” answered Folliot.
“Come just about dusk to that door--I’ll meet you there. Fine roses
these of mine, aren’t they?” he continued, as they rose. “I occupy
myself entirely with ‘em.”

He walked with Glassdale to the garden door, and stood there watching
his visitor go away up the side of the high wall until he turned into
the path across Paradise. And then, as Folliot was retreating to his
roses, he saw Bryce coming over the Close--and Bryce beckoned to him.



CHAPTER XXV. THE OLD WELL HOUSE


When Bryce came hurrying up to him, Folliot was standing at his garden
door with his hands thrust under his coat-tails--the very picture of a
benevolent, leisured gentleman who has nothing to do and is disposed
to give his time to anybody. He glanced at Bryce as he had glanced at
Glassdale--over the tops of his spectacles, and the glance had no more
than mild inquiry in it. But if Bryce had been less excited, he would
have seen that Folliot, as he beckoned him inside the garden, swept a
sharp look over the Close and ascertained that there was no one about,
that Bryce’s entrance was unobserved. Save for a child or two, playing
under the tall elms near one of the gates, and for a clerical figure
that stalked a path in the far distance, the Close was empty of life.
And there was no one about, either, in that part of Folliot’s big
garden.

“I want a bit of talk with you,” said Bryce as Folliot closed the door
and turned down a side-path to a still more retired region. “Private
talk. Let’s go where it’s quiet.”

Without replying in words to this suggestion, Folliot led the way
through his rose-trees to a far corner of his grounds, where an old
building of grey stone, covered with ivy, stood amongst high trees. He
turned the key of a doorway and motioned Bryce to enter.

“Quiet enough in here, doctor,” he observed. “You’ve never seen this
place--bit of a fancy of mine.”

Bryce, absorbed as he was in the thoughts of the moment, glanced
cursorily at the place into which Folliot had led him. It was a square
building of old stone, its walls unlined, unplastered; its floor paved
with much worn flags of limestone, evidently set down in a long dead age
and now polished to marble-like smoothness. In its midst, set flush with
the floor, was what was evidently a trap-door, furnished with a heavy
iron ring. To this Folliot pointed, with a glance of significant
interest.

“Deepest well in all Wrychester under that,” he remarked. “You’d never
think it--it’s a hundred feet deep--and more! Dry now--water gave
out some years ago. Some people would have pulled this old well-house
down--but not me! I did better--I turned it to good account.” He raised
a hand and pointed upward to an obviously modern ceiling of strong oak
timbers. “Had that put in,” he continued, “and turned the top of the
building into a little snuggery. Come up!”

He led the way to a flight of steps in one corner of the lower room,
pushed open a door at their head, and showed his companion into a small
apartment arranged and furnished in something closely approaching
to luxury. The walls were hung with thick fabrics; the carpeting was
equally thick; there were pictures, books, and curiosities; the two or
three chairs were deep and big enough to lie down in; the two windows
commanded pleasant views of the Cathedral towers on one side and of the
Close on the other.

“Nice little place to be alone in, d’ye see?” said Folliot. “Cool in
summer--warm in winter--modern fire-grate, you notice. Come here when I
want to do a bit of quiet thinking, what?”

“Good place for that--certainly,” agreed Bryce.

Folliot pointed his visitor to one of the big chairs and turning to a
cabinet brought out some glasses, a syphon of soda-water, and a heavy
cut-glass decanter. He nodded at a box of cigars which lay open on a
table at Bryce’s elbow as he began to mix a couple of drinks.

“Help yourself,” he said. “Good stuff, those.”

Not until he had given Bryce a drink, and had carried his own glass to
another easy chair did Folliot refer to any reason for Bryce’s visit.
But once settled down, he looked at him speculatively.

“What did you want to see me about?” he asked.

Bryce, who had lighted a cigar, looked across its smoke at the
imperturbable face opposite.

“You’ve just had Glassdale here,” he observed quietly. “I saw him leave
you.”

Folliot nodded--without any change of expression.

“Aye, doctor,” he said. “And--what do you know about Glassdale, now?”

Bryce, who would have cheerfully hobnobbed with a man whom he was about
to conduct to the scaffold, lifted his glass and drank.

“A good deal,” he answered as he set the glass down. “The fact is--I
came here to tell you so!--I know a good deal about everything.”

“A wide term!” remarked Folliot. “You’ve got some limitation to it, I
should think. What do you mean by--everything?”

“I mean about recent matters,” replied Bryce. “I’ve interested myself in
them--for reasons of my own. Ever since Braden was found at the foot
of those stairs in Paradise, and I was fetched to him, I’ve interested
myself. And--I’ve discovered a great deal--more, much more than’s known
to anybody.”

Folliot threw one leg over the other and began to jog his foot.

“Oh!” he said after a pause. “Dear me! And--what might you know, now,
doctor? Aught you can tell me eh?”

“Lots!” answered Bryce. “I came to tell you--on seeing that Glassdale
had been with you. Because--I was with Glassdale this morning.”

Folliot made no answer. But Bryce saw that his cool, almost indifferent
manner was changing--he was beginning, under the surface, to get
anxious.

“When I left Glassdale--at noon,” continued Bryce, “I’d no idea--and I
don’t think he had--that he was coming to see you. But I know what put
the notion into his head. I gave him copies of those two reward bills.
He no doubt thought he might make a bit--and so he came in to town,
and--to you.”

“Well?” asked Folliot.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” remarked Bryce, reflectively, and almost as if
speaking to himself, “I shouldn’t at all wonder if Glassdale’s the sort
of man who can be bought. He, no doubt, has his price. But all that
Glassdale knows is nothing--to what I know.”

Folliot had allowed his cigar to go out. He threw it away, took a fresh
one from the box, and slowly struck a match and lighted it.

“What might you know, now?” he asked after another pause.

“I’ve a bit of a faculty for finding things out,” answered Bryce boldly.
“And I’ve developed it. I wanted to know all about Braden--and about
who killed him--and why. There’s only one way of doing all that sort
of thing, you know. You’ve got to go back--a long way back--to the very
beginnings. I went back--to the time when Braden was married. Not as
Braden, of course--but as who he really was--John Brake. That was at a
place called Braden Medworth, near Barthorpe, in Leicestershire.”

He paused there, watching Folliot. But Folliot showed no more than close
attention, and Bryce went on.

“Not much in that--for the really important part of the story,” he
continued. “But Brake had other associations with Barthorpe--a bit
later. He got to know--got into close touch with a Barthorpe man who,
about the time of Brake’s marriage, left Barthorpe and settled in
London. Brake and this man began to have some secret dealings together.
There was another man in with them, too--a man who was a sort of partner
of the Barthorpe man’s. Brake had evidently a belief in these men, and
he trusted them--unfortunately for himself he sometimes trusted the
bank’s money to them. I know what happened--he used to let them have
money for short financial transactions--to be refunded within a very
brief space. But--he went to the fire too often, and got his fingers
burned in the end. The two men did him--one of them in particular--and
cleared out. He had to stand the racket. He stood it--to the tune of ten
years’ penal servitude. And, naturally, when he’d finished his time, he
wanted to find those two men--and began a long search for them. Like to
know the names of the men, Mr. Folliot?”

“You might mention ‘em--if you know ‘em,” answered Folliot.

“The name of the particular one was Wraye--Falkiner Wraye,” replied
Bryce promptly. “Of the other--the man of lesser importance--Flood.”

The two men looked quietly at each other for a full moment’s silence.
And it was Bryce who first spoke with a ring of confidence in his tone
which showed that he knew he had the whip hand.

“Shall I tell you something about Falkiner Wraye?” he asked. “I
will!--it’s deeply interesting. Mr. Falkiner Wraye, after cheating
and deceiving Brake, and leaving him to pay the penalty of his
over-trustfulness, cleared out of England and carried his money-making
talents to foreign parts. He succeeded in doing well--he would!--and
eventually he came back and married a rich widow and settled himself
down in an out-of-the-world English town to grow roses. You’re Falkiner
Wraye, you know, Mr. Folliot!”

Bryce laughed as he made this direct accusation, and sitting forward in
his chair, pointed first to Folliot’s face and then to his left hand.

“Falkiner Wraye,” he said, “had an unfortunate gun accident in his youth
which marked him for life. He lost the middle finger of his left hand,
and he got a bad scar on his left jaw. There they are, those marks!
Fortunate for you, Mr. Folliot, that the police don’t know all that I
know, for if they did, those marks would have done for you days ago!”
 For a minute or two Folliot sat joggling his leg--a bad sign in him of
rising temper if Bryce had but known it. While he remained silent he
watched Bryce narrowly, and when he spoke, his voice was calm as ever.

“And what use do you intend to put your knowledge to, if one may ask?”
 he inquired, half sneeringly. “You said just now that you’d no doubt
that man Glassdale could be bought, and I’m inclining to think that
you’re one of those men that have their price. What is it?”

“We’ve not come to that,” retorted Bryce. “You’re a bit mistaken. If I
have my price, it’s not in the same commodity that Glassdale would want.
But before we do any talking about that sort of thing, I want to add to
my stock of knowledge. Look here! We’ll be candid. I don’t care a snap
of my fingers that Brake, or Braden’s dead, or that Collishaw’s dead,
nor if one had his neck broken and the other was poisoned, but--whose
hand was that which the mason, Varner, saw that morning, when Brake was
flung out of that doorway? Come, now!--whose?”

“Not mine, my lad!” answered Folliot, confidently. “That’s a fact?”

Bryce hesitated, giving Folliot a searching look. And Folliot nodded
solemnly. “I tell you, not mine!” he repeated. “I’d naught to do with
it!”

“Then who had?” demanded Bryce. “Was it the other man--Flood? And if so,
who is Flood?”

Folliot got up from his chair and, cigar between his lips and hands
under the tails of his old coat, walked silently about the quiet room
for awhile. He was evidently thinking deeply, and Bryce made no attempt
to disturb him. Some minutes went by before Folliot took the cigar from
his lips and leaning against the chimneypiece looked fixedly at his
visitor.

“Look here, my lad!” he said, earnestly. “You’re no doubt, as you say, a
good hand at finding things out, and you’ve doubtless done a good bit of
ferreting, and done it well enough in your own opinion. But there’s
one thing you can’t find out, and the police can’t find out either, and
that’s the precise truth about Braden’s death. I’d no hand in it--it
couldn’t be fastened on to me, anyhow.”

Bryce looked up and interjected one word.

“Collishaw?”

“Nor that, neither,” answered Folliot, hastily. “Maybe I know something
about both, but neither you nor the police nor anybody could fasten me
to either matter! Granting all you say to be true, where’s the positive
truth?”

“What about circumstantial evidence,” asked Bryce.

“You’d have a job to get it,” retorted Folliot. “Supposing that all you
say is true about--about past matters? Nothing can prove--nothing!--that
I ever met Braden that morning. On the other hand, I can prove, easily,
that I never did meet him; I can account for every minute of my time
that day. As to the other affair--not an ounce of direct evidence!”

“Then--it was the other man!” exclaimed Bryce. “Now then, who is he?”

Folliot replied with a shrewd glance.

“A man who by giving away another man gave himself away would be a
damned fool!” he answered. “If there is another man--”

“As if there must be!” interrupted Bryce.

“Then he’s safe!” concluded Folliot. “You’ll get nothing from me about
him!”

“And nobody can get at you except through him?” asked Bryce.

“That’s about it,” assented Folliot laconically.

Bryce laughed cynically.

“A pretty coil!” he said with a sneer. “Here! You talked about my price.
I’m quite content to hold my tongue if you’d tell me something about
what happened seventeen years ago.”

“What?” asked Folliot.

“You knew Brake, you must have known his family affairs,” said Bryce.
“What became of Brake’s wife and children when he went to prison?”

Folliot shook his head, and it was plain to Bryce that his gesture of
dissent was genuine.

“You’re wrong,” he answered. “I never at any time knew anything of
Brake’s family affairs. So little indeed, that I never even knew he was
married.”

Bryce rose to his feet and stood staring.

“What!” he exclaimed. “You mean to tell me that, even now, you don’t
know that Brake had two children, and that--that--oh, it’s incredible!”

“What’s incredible?” asked Folliot. “What are you talking about?”

Bryce in his eagerness and surprise grasped Folliot’s arm and shook it.

“Good heavens, man!” he said. “Those two wards of Ransford’s are Brake’s
girl and boy! Didn’t you know that, didn’t you?”

“Never!” answered Folliot. “Never! And who’s Ransford, then? I never
heard Brake speak of any Ransford! What game is all this? What--”

Before Bryce could reply, Folliot suddenly started, thrust his companion
aside and went to one of the windows. A sharp exclamation from him took
Bryce to his side. Folliot lifted a shaking hand and pointed into the
garden.

“There!” he whispered. “Hell and--What’s this mean?”

Bryce looked in the direction pointed out. Behind the pergola of rambler
roses the figures of men were coming towards the old well-house led by
one of Folliot’s gardeners. Suddenly they emerged into full view, and
in front of the rest was Mitchington and close behind him the detective,
and behind him--Glassdale!



CHAPTER XXVI. THE OTHER MAN


It was close on five o’clock when Glassdale, leaving Folliot at his
garden door, turned the corner into the quietness of the Precincts. He
walked about there a while, staring at the queer old houses with eyes
which saw neither fantastic gables nor twisted chimneys. Glassdale
was thinking. And the result of his reflections was that he suddenly
exchanged his idle sauntering for brisker steps and walked sharply round
to the police-station, where he asked to see Mitchington.

Mitchington and the detective were just about to walk down to the
railway-station to meet Ransford, in accordance with his telegram. At
sight of Glassdale they went back into the inspector’s office. Glassdale
closed the door and favoured them with a knowing smile.

“Something else for you, inspector!” he said. “Mixed up a bit with last
night’s affair, too. About these mysteries--Braden and Collishaw--I can
tell you one man who’s in them.”

“Who, then?” demanded Mitchington.

Glassdale went a step nearer to the two officials and lowered his voice.

“The man who’s known here as Stephen Folliot,” he answered. “That’s a
fact!”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Mitchington. Then he laughed incredulously. “Can’t
believe it!” he continued. “Mr. Folliot! Must be some mistake!”

“No mistake,” replied Glassdale. “Besides, Folliot’s only an assumed
name. That man is really one Falkiner Wraye, the man Braden, or Brake,
was seeking for many a year, the man who cheated Brake and got him into
trouble. I tell you it’s a fact! He’s admitted it, or as good as done
so, to me just now.”

“To you? And--let you come away and spread it?” exclaimed Mitchington.
“That’s incredible! more astonishing than the other!”

Glassdale laughed.

“Ah, but I let him think I could be squared, do you see?” he said.
“Hush-money, you know. He’s under the impression that I’m to go back to
him this evening to settle matters. I knew so much--identified him, as
a matter of fact--that he’d no option. I tell you he’s been in at both
these affairs--certain! But--there’s another man.”

“Who’s he?” demanded Mitchington.

“Can’t say, for I don’t know, though I’ve an idea he’ll be a fellow that
Brake was also wanting to find,” replied Glassdale. “But anyhow, I
know what I’m talking about when I tell you of Folliot. You’d better do
something before he suspects me.”

Mitchington glanced at the clock.

“Come with us down to the station,” he said. “Dr. Ransford’s coming in
on this express from town; he’s got news for us. We’d better hear that
first. Folliot!--good Lord!--who’d have believed or even dreamed it!”

“You’ll see,” said Glassdale as they went out.

“Maybe Dr. Ransford’s got the same information.” Ransford was out of
the train as soon as it ran in, and hurried to where Mitchington and
his companions were standing. And behind him, to Mitchington’s surprise,
came old Simpson Harker, who had evidently travelled with him. With
a silent gesture Mitchington beckoned the whole party into an empty
waiting-room and closed its door on them.

“Now then, inspector,” said Ransford without preface or ceremony,
“you’ve got to act quickly! You got my wire--a few words will explain
it. I went up to town this morning in answer to a message from the bank
where Braden lodged his money when he returned to England. To tell you
the truth, the managers there and myself have, since Braden’s death,
been carrying to a conclusion an investigation which I began on Braden’s
behalf--though he never knew of it--years ago. At the bank I met Mr.
Harker here, who had called to find something out for himself. Now
I’ll sum things up in a nutshell: for years Braden, or Brake, had been
wanting to find two men who cheated him. The name of one is Wraye, of
the other, Flood. I’ve been trying to trace them, too. At last we’ve got
them. They’re in this town, and without doubt the deaths of both Braden
and Collishaw are at their door! You know both well enough. Wraye is-”

“Mr. Folliot!” interrupted Mitchington, pointing to Glassdale. “So he’s
just told us; he’s identified him as Wraye. But the other--who’s he,
doctor?”

Ransford glanced at Glassdale as if he wished to question him, but
instead he answered Mitchington’s question.

“The other man,” he said, “the man Flood, is also a well-known man to
you. Fladgate!”

Mitchington started, evidently more astonished than by the first news.

“What!” he exclaimed. “The verger! You don’t say!”

“Do you remember,” continued Ransford, “that Folliot got Fladgate his
appointment as verger not so very long after he himself came here? He
did, anyway, and Fladgate is Flood. We’ve traced everything through
Flood. Wraye has been a difficult man to trace, because of his residence
abroad for a long time and his change of name, and so on, and it was
only recently that my agents struck on a line through Flood. But
there’s the fact. And the probability is that when Braden came here he
recognized and was recognized by these two, and that one or other
of them is responsible for his death and for Collishaw’s too.
Circumstantial evidence, all of it, no doubt, but irresistible! Now,
what do you propose to do?”

Mitchington considered matters for a moment.

“Fladgate first, certainly,” he said. “He lives close by here; we’ll go
round to his cottage. If he sees he’s in a tight place he may let things
out. Let’s go there at once.”

He led the whole party out of the station and down the High Street until
they came to a narrow lane of little houses which ran towards the Close.
At its entrance a policeman was walking his beat. Mitchington stopped to
exchange a few words with him.

“This man Fladgate,” he said, rejoining the others, “lives alone--fifth
cottage down here. He’ll be about having his tea; we shall take him by
surprise.” Presently the group stood around a door at which Mitchington
knocked gently, and it was on their grave and watchful faces that a
tall, clean-shaven, very solemn-looking man gazed in astonishment as
he opened the door, and started back. He went white to the lips and his
hand fell trembling from the latch as Mitchington strode in and the rest
crowded behind.

“Now then, Fladgate!” said Mitchington, going straight to the point and
watching his man narrowly, while the detective approached him closely on
the other side. “I want you and a word with you at once. Your real name
is Flood! What have you to say to that? And--it’s no use beating about
the bush--what have you to say about this Braden affair, and your share
with Folliot in it, whose real name is Wraye. It’s all come out about
the two of you. If you’ve anything to say, you’d better say it.”

The verger, whose black gown lay thrown across the back of a chair,
looked from one face to another with frightened eyes. It was very
evident that the suddenness of the descent had completely unnerved him.
Ransford’s practised eyes saw that he was on the verge of a collapse.

“Give him time, Mitchington,” he said. “Pull yourself together,”
 he added, turning to the man. “Don’t be frightened; answer these
questions!”

“For God’s sake, gentlemen!” grasped the verger. “What--what is it? What
am I to answer? Before God, I’m as innocent as--as any of you--about Mr.
Brake’s death! Upon my soul and honour I am!”

“You know all about it;” insisted Mitchington.

“Come, now, isn’t it true that you’re Flood, and that Folliot’s Wraye,
the two men whose trick on him got Brake convicted years ago? Answer
that!”

Flood looked from one side to the other. He was leaning against his
tea-table, set in the middle of his tidy living room. From the hearth
his kettle sent out a pleasant singing that sounded strangely in
contrast with the grim situation.

“Yes, that’s true,” he said at last. “But in that affair I--I wasn’t
the principal. I was only--only Wraye’s agent, as it were: I wasn’t
responsible. And when Mr. Brake came here, when I met him that
morning--”

He paused, still looking from one to another of his audience as if
entreating their belief.

“As sure as I’m a living man, gentlemen!” he suddenly burst out, “I’d no
willing hand in Mr. Brake’s death! I’ll tell you the exact truth; I’ll
take my oath of it whenever you like. I’d have been thankful to tell,
many a time, but for--for Wraye. He wouldn’t let me at first, and
afterwards it got complicated. It was this way. That morning--when Mr.
Brake was found dead--I had occasion to go up into that gallery under
the clerestory. I suddenly came on him face to face. He recognized me.
And--I’m telling you the solemn, absolute truth, gentlemen!--he’d no
sooner recognized me than he attacked me, seizing me by the arm. I
hadn’t recognized him at first, I did when he laid hold of me. I tried
to shake him off, tried to quiet him; he struggled--I don’t know what
he wanted to do--he began to cry out--it was a wonder he wasn’t heard in
the church below, and he would have been only the organ was being played
rather loudly. And in the struggle he slipped--it was just by that open
doorway--and before I could do more than grasp at him, he shot through
the opening and fell! It was sheer, pure accident, gentlemen! Upon my
soul, I hadn’t the least intention of harming him.”

“And after that?” asked Mitchington, at the end of a brief silence.

“I saw Mr. Folliot--Wraye,” continued Flood. “Just afterwards, that was.
I told him; he bade me keep silence until we saw how things went. Later
he forced me to be silent. What could I do? As things were, Wraye could
have disclaimed me--I shouldn’t have had a chance. So I held my tongue.”

“Now, then, Collishaw?” demanded Mitchington. “Give us the truth about
that. Whatever the other was, that was murder!”

Flood lifted his hand and wiped away the perspiration that had gathered
on his face.

“Before God, gentlemen!” he answered. “I know no more--at least, little
more--about that than you do! I’ll tell you all I do know. Wraye and I,
of course, met now and then and talked about this. It got to our ears
at last that Collishaw knew something. My own impression is that he
saw what occurred between me and Mr. Brake--he was working somewhere up
there. I wanted to speak to Collishaw. Wraye wouldn’t let me, he bade
me leave it to him. A bit later, he told me he’d squared Collishaw with
fifty pounds--”

Mitchington and the detective exchanged looks.

“Wraye--that’s Folliot--paid Collishaw fifty pounds, did he?” asked the
detective.

“He told me so,” replied Flood. “To hold his tongue. But I’d scarcely
heard that when I heard of Collishaw’s sudden death. And as to how that
happened, or who--who brought it about--upon my soul, gentlemen, I
know nothing! Whatever I may have thought, I never mentioned it to
Wraye--never! I--I daren’t! You don’t know what a man Wraye is! I’ve
been under his thumb most of my life and--and what are you going to do
with me, gentlemen?”

Mitchington exchanged a word or two with the detective, and then,
putting his head out of the door beckoned to the policeman to whom he
had spoken at the end of the lane and who now appeared in company with a
fellow-constable. He brought both into the cottage.

“Get your tea,” he said sharply to the verger. “These men will stop with
you--you’re not to leave this room.” He gave some instructions to the
two policemen in an undertone and motioned Ransford and the others to
follow him. “It strikes me,” he said, when they were outside in the
narrow lane, “that what we’ve just heard is somewhere about the truth.
And now we’ll go on to Folliot’s--there’s a way to his house round
here.”

Mrs. Folliot was out, Sackville Bonham was still where Bryce had
left him, at the golf-links, when the pursuers reached Folliot’s. A
parlourmaid directed them to the garden; a gardener volunteered the
suggestion that his master might be in the old well-house and showed the
way. And Folliot and Bryce saw them coming and looked at each other.

“Glassdale!” exclaimed Bryce. “By heaven, man!--he’s told on you!”

Folliot was still staring through the window. He saw Ransford and Harker
following the leading figures. And suddenly he turned to Bryce.

“You’ve no hand in this?” he demanded.

“I?” exclaimed Bryce. “I never knew till just now!”

Folliot pointed to the door.

“Go down!” he said. “Let ‘em in, bid ‘em come up! I’ll--I’ll settle with
‘em. Go!”

Bryce hurried down to the lower apartment. He was filled with
excitement--an unusual thing for him--but in the midst of it, as he made
for the outer door, it suddenly struck him that all his schemings and
plottings were going for nothing. The truth was at hand, and it was not
going to benefit him in the slightest degree. He was beaten.

But that was no time for philosophic reflection; already those outside
were beating at the door. He flung it open, and the foremost men
started in surprise at the sight of him. But Bryce bent forward to
Mitchington--anxious to play a part to the last.

“He’s upstairs!” he whispered. “Up there! He’ll bluff it out if he can,
but he’s just admitted to me--”

Mitchington thrust Bryce aside, almost roughly.

“We know all about that!” he said. “I shall have a word or two for you
later! Come on, now--”

The men crowded up the stairway into Folliot’s snuggery, Bryce,
wondering at the inspector’s words and manner, following closely behind
him and the detective and Glassdale, who led the way. Folliot was
standing in the middle of the room, one hand behind his back, the other
in his pocket. And as the leading three entered the place he brought
his concealed hand sharply round and presenting a revolver at Glassdale
fired point-blank at him.

But it was not Glassdale who fell. He, wary and watching, started aside
as he saw Folliot’s movement, and the bullet, passing between his arm
and body, found its billet in Bryce, who fell, with little more than a
groan, shot through the heart. And as he fell, Folliot, scarcely looking
at what he had done, drew his other hand from his pocket, slipped
something into his mouth and sat down in the big chair behind him
... and within a moment the other men in the room were looking with
horrified faces from one dead face to another.



CHAPTER XXVII. THE GUARDED SECRET


When Bryce had left her, Mary Bewery had gone into the house to await
Ransford’s return from town. She meant to tell him of all that Bryce had
said and to beg him to take immediate steps to set matters right, not
only that he himself might be cleared of suspicion but that Bryce’s
intrigues might be brought to an end. She had some hope that Ransford
would bring back satisfactory news; she knew that his hurried visit to
London had some connection with these affairs; and she also remembered
what he had said on the previous night. And so, controlling her anger at
Bryce and her impatience of the whole situation she waited as patiently
as she could until the time drew near when Ransford might be expected to
be seen coming across the Close. She knew from which direction he would
come, and she remained near the dining-room window looking out for him.
But six o’clock came and she had seen no sign of him; then, as she was
beginning to think that he had missed the afternoon train she saw
him, at the opposite side of the Close, talking earnestly to Dick,
who presently came towards the house while Ransford turned back into
Folliot’s garden.

Dick Bewery came hurriedly in. His sister saw at once that he had just
heard news which had had a sobering effect on his usually effervescent
spirits. He looked at her as if he wondered exactly how to give her his
message.

“I saw you with the doctor just now,” she said, using the term by which
she and her brother always spoke of their guardian. “Why hasn’t he come
home?”

Dick came close to her, touching her arm.

“I say!” he said, almost whispering. “Don’t be frightened--the doctor’s
all right--but there’s something awful just happened. At Folliot’s.”

“What” she demanded. “Speak out, Dick! I’m not frightened. What is it?”

Dick shook his head as if he still scarcely realized the full
significance of his news.

“It’s all a licker to me yet!” he answered. “I don’t understand it--I
only know what the doctor told me--to come and tell you. Look here, it’s
pretty bad. Folliot and Bryce are both dead!”

In spite of herself Mary started back as from a great shock and clutched
at the table by which they were standing.

“Dead!” she exclaimed. “Why--Bryce was here, speaking to me, not an hour
ago!”

“Maybe,” said Dick. “But he’s dead now. The fact is, Folliot shot him
with a revolver--killed him on the spot. And then Folliot poisoned
himself--took the same stuff, the doctor said, that finished that chap
Collishaw, and died instantly. It was in Folliot’s old well-house. The
doctor was there and the police.”

“What does it all mean?” asked Mary.

“Don’t know. Except this,” added Dick; “they’ve found out about those
other affairs--the Braden and the Collishaw affairs. Folliot was
concerned in them; and who do you think the other was? You’d never
guess! That man Fladgate, the verger. Only that isn’t his proper name
at all. He and Folliot finished Braden and Collishaw, anyway. The police
have got Fladgate, and Folliot shot Bryce and killed himself just when
they were going to take him.”

“The doctor told you all this?” asked Mary.

“Yes,” replied Dick. “Just that and no more. He called me in as I was
passing Folliot’s door. He’s coming over as soon as he can. Whew! I say,
won’t there be some fine talk in the town! Anyway, things’ll be cleared
up now. What did Bryce want here?”

“Never mind; I can’t talk of it, now,” answered Mary. She was already
thinking of how Bryce had stood before her, active and alive, only an
hour earlier; she was thinking, too, of her warning to him. “It’s all
too dreadful! too awful to understand!”

“Here’s the doctor coming now,” said Dick, turning to the window. “He’ll
tell more.”

Mary looked anxiously at Ransford as he came hastening in. He looked
like a man who has just gone through a crisis and yet she was somehow
conscious that there was a certain atmosphere of relief about him, as
though some great weight had suddenly been lifted. He closed the door
and looked straight at her.

“Dick has told you?” he asked.

“All that you told me,” said Dick.

Ransford pulled off his gloves and flung them on the table with
something of a gesture of weariness. And at that Mary hastened to speak.

“Don’t tell any more--don’t say anything--until you feel able,” she
said. “You’re tired.”

“No!” answered Ransford. “I’d rather say what I have to say now--just
now! I’ve wanted to tell both of you what all this was, what it meant,
everything about it, and until today, until within the last few hours,
it was impossible, because I didn’t know everything. Now I do! I even
know more than I did an hour ago. Let me tell you now and have done with
it. Sit down there, both of you, and listen.”

He pointed to a sofa near the hearth, and the brother and sister sat
down, looking at him wonderingly. Instead of sitting down himself he
leaned against the edge of the table, looking down at them.

“I shall have to tell you some sad things,” he said diffidently. “The
only consolation is that it’s all over now, and certain matters are, or
can be, cleared and you’ll have no more secrets. Nor shall I! I’ve had
to keep this one jealously guarded for seventeen years! And I never
thought it could be released as it has been, in this miserable and
terrible fashion! But that’s done now, and nothing can help it. And
now, to make everything plain, just prepare yourselves to hear something
that, at first, sounds very trying. The man whom you’ve heard of as
John Braden, who came to his death--by accident, as I now firmly
believe--there in Paradise, was, in reality, John Brake--your father!”

Ransford looked at his two listeners anxiously as he told this. But he
met no sign of undue surprise or emotion. Dick looked down at his toes
with a little frown, as if he were trying to puzzle something out; Mary
continued to watch Ransford with steady eyes.

“Your father--John Brake,” repeated Ransford, breathing more freely now
that he had got the worst news out. “I must go back to the beginning
to make things clear to you about him and your mother. He was a close
friend of mine when we were young men in London; he a bank manager;
I, just beginning my work. We used to spend our holidays together in
Leicestershire. There we met your mother, whose name was Mary Bewery. He
married her; I was his best man. They went to live in London, and from
that time I did not see so much of them, only now and then. During those
first years of his married life Brake made the acquaintance of a man who
came from the same part of Leicestershire that we had met your mother
in--a man named Falkiner Wraye. I may as well tell you that Falkiner
Wraye and Stephen Folliot were one and the same person.”

Ransford paused, observing that Mary wished to ask a question.

“How long have you known that?” she asked.

“Not until today,” replied Ransford promptly. “Never had the ghost of
a notion of it! If I only had known--but, I hadn’t! However, to go
back--this man Wraye, who appears always to have been a perfect master
of plausibility, able to twist people round his little finger, somehow
got into close touch with your father about financial matters. Wraye was
at that time a sort of financial agent in London, engaging in various
doings which, I should imagine, were in the nature of gambles. He was
assisted in these by a man who was either a partner with him or a very
confidential clerk or agent, one Flood, who is identical with the man
you have known lately as Fladgate, the verger. Between them, these two
appear to have cajoled or persuaded your father at times to do very
foolish and injudicious things which were, to put it briefly and
plainly, the lendings of various sums of money as short loans for their
transactions. For some time they invariably kept their word to him, and
the advances were always repaid promptly. But eventually, when they had
borrowed from him a considerable sum--some thousands of pounds--for
a deal which was to be carried through within a couple of days, they
decamped with the money, and completely disappeared, leaving your father
to bear the consequences. You may easily understand what followed.
The money which Brake had lent them was the bank’s money. The bank
unexpectedly came down on him for his balance, the whole thing was
found out, and he was prosecuted. He had no defence--he was, of course,
technically guilty--and he was sent to penal servitude.”

Ransford had dreaded the telling of this but Mary made no sign, and Dick
only rapped out a sharp question.

“He hadn’t meant to rob the bank for himself, anyway, had he?” he asked.

“No, no! not at all!” replied Ransford hastily. “It was a bad error
of judgment on his part, Dick, but he--he’d relied on these men, more
particularly on Wraye, who’d been the leading spirit. Well, that was
your father’s sad fate. Now we come to what happened to your mother and
yourselves. Just before your father’s arrest, when he knew that all was
lost, and that he was helpless, he sent hurriedly for me and told me
everything in your mother’s presence. He begged me to get her and you
two children right away at once. She was against it; he insisted. I took
you all to a quiet place in the country, where your mother assumed her
maiden name. There, within a year, she died. She wasn’t a strong woman
at any time. After that--well, you both know pretty well what has been
the run of things since you began to know anything. We’ll leave that,
it’s nothing to do with the story. I want to go back to your father. I
saw him after his conviction. When I had satisfied him that you and your
mother were safe, he begged me to do my best to find the two men who had
ruined him. I began that search at once. But there was not a trace of
them--they had disappeared as completely as if they were dead. I used
all sorts of means to trace them--without effect. And when at last your
father’s term of imprisonment was over and I went to see him on his
release, I had to tell him that up to that point all my efforts had been
useless. I urged him to let the thing drop, and to start life afresh.
But he was determined. Find both men, but particularly Wraye, he would!
He refused point-blank to even see his children until he had found these
men and had forced them to acknowledge their misdeeds as regards him,
for that, of course, would have cleared him to a certain extent. And in
spite of everything I could say, he there and then went off abroad in
search of them--he had got some clue, faint and indefinite, but still
there, as to Wraye’s presence in America, and he went after him. From
that time until the morning of his death here in Wrychester I never saw
him again!”

“You did see him that morning?” asked Mary.

“I saw him, of course, unexpectedly,” answered Ransford. “I had been
across the Close--I came back through the south aisle of the Cathedral.
Just before I left the west porch I saw Brake going up the stairs to
the galleries. I knew him at once. He did not see me, and I hurried home
much upset. Unfortunately, I think, Bryce came in upon me in that state
of agitation. I have reason to believe that he began to suspect and to
plot from that moment. And immediately on hearing of Brake’s death, and
its circumstances, I was placed in a terrible dilemma. For I had made up
my mind never to tell you two of your father’s history until I had been
able to trace these two men and wring out of them a confession which
would have cleared him of all but the technical commission of the crime
of which he was convicted. Now I had not the least idea that the two men
were close at hand, nor that they had had any hand in his death, and so
I kept silence, and let him be buried under the name he had taken--John
Braden.”

Ransford paused and looked at his two listeners as if inviting question
or comment. But neither spoke, and he went on.

“You know what happened after that,” he continued. “It soon became
evident to me that sinister and secret things were going on. There was
the death of the labourer--Collishaw. There were other matters. But even
then I had no suspicion of the real truth--the fact is, I began to have
some strange suspicions about Bryce and that old man Harker--based upon
certain evidence which I got by chance. But, all this time, I had
never ceased my investigations about Wraye and Flood, and when the
bank-manager on whom Brake had called in London was here at the inquest,
I privately told him the whole story and invited his co-operation in
a certain line which I was then following. That line suddenly ran up
against the man Flood--otherwise Fladgate. It was not until this very
week, however, that my agents definitely discovered Fladgate to be
Flood, and that--through the investigations about Flood--Folliot was
found to be Wraye. Today, in London, where I met old Harker at the bank
at which Brake had lodged the money he had brought from Australia, the
whole thing was made clear by the last agent of mine who has had the
searching in hand. And it shows how men may easily disappear from a
certain round of life, and turn up in another years after! When those
two men cheated your father out of that money, they disappeared and
separated--each, no doubt, with his share. Flood went off to some
obscure place in the North of England; Wraye went over to America. He
evidently made a fortune there; knocked about the world for awhile;
changed his name to Folliot, and under that name married a wealthy
widow, and settled down here in Wrychester to grow roses! How and where
he came across Flood again is not exactly clear, but we knew that a
few years ago Flood was in London, in very poor circumstances, and the
probability is that it was then when the two men met again. What we do
know is that Folliot, as an influential man here, got Flood the post
which he has held, and that things have resulted as they have. And
that’s all!--all that I need tell you at present. There are details, but
they’re of no importance.”

Mary remained silent, but Dick got up with his hands in his pockets.

“There’s one thing I want to know,” he said. “Which of those two chaps
killed my father? You said it was accident--but was it? I want to know
about that! Are you saying it was accident just to let things down a
bit? Don’t! I want to know the truth.”

“I believe it was accident,” answered Ransford. “I listened most
carefully just now to Fladgate’s account of what happened. I firmly
believe the man was telling the truth. But I haven’t the least doubt
that Folliot poisoned Collishaw--not the least. Folliot knew that if
the least thing came out about Fladgate, everything would come out about
himself.”

Dick turned away to leave the room.

“Well, Folliot’s done for!” he remarked. “I don’t care about him, but I
wanted to know for certain about the other.”

        *       *       *       *       *

When Dick had gone, and Ransford and Mary were left alone, a deep
silence fell on the room. Mary was apparently deep in thought, and
Ransford, after a glance at her, turned away and looked out of the
window at the sunlit Close, thinking of the tragedy he had just
witnessed. And he had become so absorbed in his thoughts of it that
he started at feeling a touch on his arm and looking round saw Mary
standing at his side.

“I don’t want to say anything now,” she said, “about what you have just
told us. Some of it I had half-guessed, some of it I had conjectured.
But why didn’t you tell me! Before! It wasn’t that you hadn’t
confidence?”

“Confidence!” he exclaimed. “There was only one reason--I wanted to get
your father’s memory cleared--as far as possible--before ever telling
you anything. I’ve been wanting to tell you! Hadn’t you seen that I
hated to keep silent?”

“Hadn’t you seen that I wanted to share all your trouble about it?” she
asked. “That was what hurt me--because I couldn’t!”

Ransford drew a long breath and looked at her. Then he put his hands on
her shoulders.

“Mary!” he said. “You--you don’t mean to say--be plain!--you don’t mean
that you can care for an old fellow like me?”

He was holding her away from him, but she suddenly smiled and came
closer to him.

“You must have been very blind not to have seen that for a long time!”
 she answered.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Paradise Mystery" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home