The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
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 Dewery.
"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 wag. 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?"