The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XVII. To Be Shadowed
Dick Bewery burst in upon his sister and Ransford with a budget of news such as it rarely fell to the lot of romance-loving seventeen to tell. Secret and mysterious digging up of grave-yards by night-discovery of sealed packets, the contents of which might only be guessed at--the whole thing observed by hidden spectators--these were things he had read of in fiction, but had never expected to have the luck to see in real life. And being gifted with some powers of imagination and of narrative, he made the most of his story to a pair of highly attentive listeners, each of whom had his, and her, own reasons for particular attention.
"More mystery!" remarked Mary when Dick's story had come to an end. "What a pity they didn't open the parcel!" She looked at Ransford, who was evidently in deep thought. "I suppose it will all come out?" she suggested.
"Sure to!" he answered, and turned to Dick. "You say Bryce fetched old Harker--after you and Bryce had watched these operations a bit? Did he say why he fetched him?"
"Never said anything as to his reasons," answered Dick. "But, I rather guessed, at the end, that Bryce wanted me to keep quiet about it, only old Harker said there was no need."
Ransford made no comment on this, and Dick, having exhausted his stock of news, presently went off to bed.
"Master Bryce," observed Ransford, after a period of silence, "is playing a game! What it is, I don't know--but I'm certain of it. Well, we shall see! You've been much upset by all this," he went on, after another pause, "and the knowledge that you have has distressed me beyond measure! But just have a little--a very little--more patience, and things will be cleared--I can't tell all that's in my mind, even to you."
Mary, who had been sewing while Ransford, as was customary with him in an evening, read the Times to her, looked down at her work.
"I shouldn't care, if only these rumours in the town--about you--could be crushed!" she said. "It's so cruel, so vile, that such things--"
Ransford snapped his fingers.
"I don't care that about the rumours!" he answered, contemptuously. "They'll be crushed out just as suddenly as they arose--and then, perhaps, I'll let certain folk in Wrychester know what I think of them. And as regards the suspicion against me, I know already that the only people in the town for whose opinion I care fully accept what I said before the Coroner. As to the others, let them talk! If the thing comes to a head before its due time--"
"You make me think that you know more--much more!--than you've ever told me!" interrupted Mary.
"So I do!" he replied. "And you'll see in the end why I've kept silence. Of course, if people who don't know as much will interfere--"
He was interrupted there by the ringing of the front door bell, at the sound of which he and Mary looked at each other.
"Who can that be?" said Mary. "It's past ten o'clock."
Ransford offered no suggestion. He sat silently waiting, until the parlourmaid entered.
"Inspector Mitchington would be much obliged if you could give him a few minutes, sir," she said.
Ransford got up from his chair.
"Take Inspector Mitchington into the study," he said. "Is he alone?"
"No, sir--there's a gentleman with him," replied the girl.
"All right--I'll be with them presently," answered Ransford. "Take them both in there and light the gas. Police!" he went on, when the parlourmaid had gone. "They get hold of the first idea that strikes them, and never even look round for another, You're not frightened?"
"Frightened--no! Uneasy--yes!" replied Mary. "What can they want, this time of night"
"Probably to tell me something about this romantic tale of Dick's," answered Ransford, as he left the room. "It'll be nothing more serious, I assure you."
But he was not so sure of that. He was very well aware that the Wrychester police authorities had a definite suspicion of his guilt in the Braden and Collishaw matters, and he knew from experience that police suspicion is a difficult matter to dissipate. And before he opened the door of the little room which he used as a study he warned himself to be careful--and silent.
The two visitors stood near the hearth--Ransford took a good look at them as he closed the door behind him. Mitchington he knew well enough; he was more interested in the other man, a stranger. A quiet-looking, very ordinary individual, who might have been half a dozen things--but Ransford instantly set him down as a detective. He turned from this man to the inspector.
"Well?" he said, a little brusquely. "What is it?"
"Sorry to intrude so late, Dr. Ransford," answered Mitchington, "but I should be much obliged if you would give us a bit of information--badly wanted, doctor, in view of recent events," he added, with a smile which was meant to be reassuring. "I'm sure you can--if you will."
"Sit down," said Ransford, pointing to chairs. He took one himself and again glanced at the stranger. "To whom am I speaking, in addition to yourself, Inspector?" he asked. "I'm not going to talk to strangers."
"Oh, well!" said Mitchington, a little awkwardly. "Of course, doctor, we've had to get a bit of professional help in these unpleasant matters. This gentleman's Detective-Sergeant Jettison, from the Yard."
"What information do you want?" asked Ransford.
Mitchington glanced at the door and lowered his voice. "I may as well tell you, doctor," he said confidentially, "there's been a most extraordinary discovery made tonight, which has a bearing on the Braden case. I dare say you've heard of the great jewel robbery which took place at the Duke of Saxonsteade's some years ago, which has been a mystery to this very day?"
"I have heard of it," answered Ransford.
"Very well--tonight those jewels--the whole lot!--have been discovered in Paradise yonder, where they'd been buried, at the time of the robbery, by the thief," continued Mitchington. "They've just been examined, and they're now in the Duke's own hands again--after all these years! And--I may as well tell you--we now know that the object of Braden's visit to Wrychester was to tell the Duke where those jewels were hidden. Braden--and another man--had learned the secret, from the real thief, who's dead in Australia. All that I may tell you, doctor--for it'll be public property tomorrow."
"Well?" said Ransford.
Mitchington hesitated a moment, as if searching for his next words. He glanced at the detective; the detective remained immobile; he glanced at Ransford; Ransford gave him no encouragement.
"Now look here, doctor!" he exclaimed, suddenly. "Why not tell us something? We know now who Braden really was! That's settled. Do you understand?"
"Who was he, then?" asked Ransford, quietly.
"He was one John Brake, some time manager of a branch of a London bank, who, seventeen years ago, got ten years' penal servitude for embezzlement," answered Mitchington, watching Ransford steadily. "That's dead certain--we know it! The man who shared this secret with him about the Saxonsteade jewels has told us that much, today. John Brake!"
"What have you come here for?" asked Ransford.
"To ask you--between ourselves--if you can tell us anything about Brake's earlier days--antecedents--that'll help us," replied Mitchington. "It may be--Jettison here--a man of experience--thinks it'll be found to be--that Brake, or Braden as we call him--was murdered because of his possession of that secret about the jewels. Our informant tells us that Braden certainly had on him, when he came to Wrychester, a sort of diagram showing the exact location of the spot where the jewels were hidden--that diagram was most assuredly not found on Braden when we examined his clothing and effects. It may be that it was wrested from him in the gallery of the clerestory that morning, and that his assailant, or assailants--for there may have been two men at the job --afterwards pitched him through that open doorway, after half-stifling him. And if that theory's correct--and I, personally, am now quite inclined to it--it'll help a lot if you'll tell us what you know of Braden's--Brake's --antecedents. Come now, doctor!--you know very well that Braden, or Brake, did come to your surgery that morning and said to your assistant that he'd known a Dr. Ransford in times past! Why not speak?"
Ransford, instead of answering Mitchington's evidently genuine appeal, looked at the New Scotland Yard man.
"Is that your theory?" he asked.
Jettison nodded his head, with a movement indicative of conviction.
"Yes, sir!" he replied. "Having regard to all the circumstances of the case, as they've been put before me since I came here, and with special regard to the revelations which have resulted in the discovery of these jewels, it is! Of course, today's events have altered everything. If it hadn't been for our informant--"
"Who is your informant?" inquired Ransford.
The two callers looked at each other--the detective nodded at the inspector.
"Oh, well!" said Mitchington. "No harm in telling you, doctor. A man named Glassdale--once a fellow-convict with Brake. It seems they left England together after their time was up, emigrated together, prospered, even went so far--both of 'em!--as to make good the money they'd appropriated, and eventually came back together--in possession of this secret. Brake came specially to Wrychester to tell the Duke--Glassdale was to join him on the very morning Brake met his death. Glassdale did come to the town that morning--and as soon as he got here, heard of Brake's strange death. That upset him--and he went away--only to come back today, go to Saxonsteade, and tell everything to the Duke--with the result we've told you of."
"Which result," remarked Ransford, steadily regarding Mitchington, "has apparently altered all your ideas about --me!"
Mitchington laughed a little awkwardly.
"Oh, well, come, now, doctor!" he said. "Why, yes--frankly, I'm inclined to Jettison's theory--in fact, I'm certain that's the truth."
"And your theory," inquired Ransford, turning to the detective, "is--put it in a few words."
"My theory-and I'll lay anything it's the correct one!--is this," replied Jettison. "Brake came to Wrychester with his secret. That secret wasn't confined to him and Glassdale --either he let it out to somebody, or it was known to somebody. I understand from Inspector Mitchington here that on the evening of his arrival Brake was away from the Mitre Hotel for two hours. During that time, he was somewhere--with whom? Probably with somebody who got the secret out of him, or to whom he communicated it. For, think!--according to Glassdale, who, we are quite sure, has told the exact truth about everything, Brake had on him a scrap of paper, on which were instructions, in Latin, for finding the exact spot whereat the missing Saxonsteade jewels had been hidden, years before, by the actual thief--who, I may tell you, sir, never had the opportunity of returning to re-possess himself of them. Now, after Brake's death, the police examined his clothes and effects--they never found that scrap of paper! And I work things out this way. Brake was followed into that gallery--a lonely, quiet place--by the man or men who had got possession of the secret; he was, I'm told, a slightly-built, not over-strong man--he was seized and robbed of that paper and flung to his death. And all that fits in with the second mystery of Collishaw--who probably knew, if not everything, then something, of the exact circumstances of Brake's death, and let his knowledge get to the ears of--Brake's assailant! --who cleverly got rid of him. That's my notion," concluded the detective. "And--I shall be surprised if it isn't a correct one!"
"And, as I've said, doctor," chimed in Mitchington, "can't you give us a bit of information, now? You see the line we're on? Now, as it's evident you once knew Braden, or Brake--"
"I have never said so!" interrupted Ransford sharply.
"Well--we infer it, from the undoubted fact that he called here," remarked Mitchington. "And if--"
"Wait!" said Ransford. He had been listening with absorbed attention to Jettison's theory, and he now rose from his chair and began to pace the room, hands in pockets, as if in deep thought. Suddenly he paused and looked at Mitchington. "This needs some reflection," he said. "Are you pressed for time?"
"Not in the least," answered Mitchington, readily. "Our time's yours, sir. Take as long as you like."
Ransford touched a bell and summoning the parlourmaid told her to fetch whisky, soda, and cigars. He pressed these things on the two men, lighted a cigar himself, and for a long time continued to walk up and down his end of the room, smoking and evidently in very deep thought. The visitors left him alone, watching him curiously now and then--until, when quite ten minutes had gone by, he suddenly drew a chair close to them and sat down again.
"Now, listen to me!" he said. "If I give my confidence to you, as police officials, will you give me your word that you won't make use of my information until I give you leave--or until you have consulted me further? I shall rely on your word, mind!"
"I say yes to that, doctor," answered Mitchington.
"The same here, sir," said the detective.
"Very well," continued Ransford. "Then--this is between ourselves, until such time as I say something more about it. First of all, I am not going to tell you anything whatever about Braden's antecedents--at present! Secondly--I am not sure that your theory, Mr. Jettison, is entirely correct, though I think it is by way of coming very near to the right one--which is sure to be worked out before long. But--on the understanding of secrecy for the present I can tell you something which I should not have been able to tell you but for the events of tonight, which have made me put together certain facts. Now attention! To begin with, I know where Braden was for at any rate some time on the evening of the day on which he came to Wrychester. He was with the old man whom we all know as Simpson Harker."
Mitchington whistled; the detective, who knew nothing of Simpson Harker, glanced at him as if for information. But Mitchington nodded at Ransford, and Ransford went on.
"I know this for this reason," he continued. "You know where Harker lives. I was in attendance for nearly two hours that evening on a patient in a house opposite--I spent a good deal of time in looking out of the window. I saw Harker take a man into his house: I saw the man leave the house nearly an hour later: I recognized that man next day as the man who met his death at the Cathedral. So much for that."
"Good!" muttered Mitchington. "Good! Explains a lot."
"But," continued Ransford, "what I have to tell you now is of a much more serious--and confidential--nature. Now, do you know--but, of course, you don't!--that your proceedings tonight were watched?"
"Watched" exclaimed Mitchington. "Who watched us?"
"Harker, for one," answered Ransford. "And--for another--my late assistant, Mr. Pemberton Bryce."
Mitchington's jaw dropped.
"God bless my soul!" he said. "You don't mean it, doctor! Why, how did you--"
"Wait a minute," interrupted Ransford. He left the room, and the two callers looked at each other.
"This chap knows more than you think," observed Jettison in a whisper. "More than he's telling now!"
"Let's get all we can, then," said Mitchington, who was obviously much surprised by Ransford's last information. "Get it while he's in the mood."
"Let him take his own time," advised Jettison. "But--you mark me!--he knows a lot! This is only an instalment."
Ransford came back--with Dick Bewery, clad in a loud patterned and gaily coloured suit of pyjamas.
"Now, Dick," said Ransford. "Tell Inspector Mitchington precisely what happened this evening, within your own knowledge."
Dick was nothing loth to tell his story for the second time --especially to a couple of professional listeners. And he told it in full detail, from the moment of his sudden encounter with Bryce to that in which he parted with Bryce and Harker. Ransford, watching the official faces, saw what it was in the story that caught the official attention and excited the official mind.
"Dr: Bryce went off at once to fetch Harker, did he?" asked Mitchington, when Dick had made a end.
"At once," answered Dick. "And was jolly quick back with him!"
"And Harker said it didn't matter about your telling as it would be public news soon enough?" continued Mitchington.
"Just that," said Dick.
Mitchington looked at Ransford, and Ransford nodded to his ward.
"All right, Dick," he said. "That'll do."
The boy went off again, and Mitchington shook his head.
"Queer!" he said. "Now what have those two been up to? --something, that's certain. Can you tell us more, doctor?"
"Under the same conditions--yes," answered Ransford, taking his seat again. "The fact is, affairs have got to a stage where I consider it my duty to tell you more. Some of what I shall tell you is hearsay--but it's hearsay that you can easily verify for yourselves when the right moment comes. Mr. Campany, the librarian, lately remarked to me that my old assistant, Mr. Bryce, seemed to be taking an extraordinary interest in archaeological matters since he left me--he was now, said Campany, always examining documents about the old tombs and monuments of the Cathedral and its precincts."
"Ah--just so!" exclaimed Mitchington. "To be sure!--I'm beginning to see!"
"And," continued Ransford, "Campany further remarked, as a matter for humorous comment, that Bryce was also spending much time looking round our old tombs. Now you made this discovery near an old tomb, I understand?"
"Close by one--yes," assented the inspector.
"Then let me draw your attention to one or two strange facts --which are undoubted facts," continued Ransford. "Bryce was left alone with the dead body of Braden for some minutes, while Varner went to fetch the police. That's one."
"That's true," muttered Mitchington. "He was--several minutes!"
"Bryce it was who discovered Collishaw--in Paradise," said Ransford. "That's fact two. And fact three--Bryce evidently had a motive in fetching Harker tonight--to overlook your operations. What was his motive? And taking things altogether; what are, or have been, these secret affairs which Bryce and Harker have evidently been engaged in?"
Jettison suddenly rose, buttoning his light overcoat. The action seemed to indicate a newly-formed idea, a definite conclusion. He turned sharply to Mitchington.
"There's one thing certain, inspector," he said. "You'll keep an eye on those two from this out! From--just now!"
"I shall!" assented Mitchington. "I'll have both of 'em shadowed wherever they go or are, day or night. Harker, now, has always been a bit of a mystery, but Bryce--hang me if I don't believe he's been having me! Double game!--but, never mind. There's no more, doctor?"
"Not yet," replied Ransford. "And I don't know the real meaning or value of what I have told you. But--in two days from now, I can tell you more. In the meantime--remember your promise!"
He let his visitors out then, and went back to Mary.
"You'll not have to wait long for things to clear," he said. "The mystery's nearly over!"