"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."
"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.
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!"