The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XII. Murder of the Mason's Labourer
It was towards noon of the very neat 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, Jerkins'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 Collishawl"
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!"