Chapter XVIII. Surprise

Mitchington and the man from New Scotland Yard walked away in silence from Ransford's house and kept the silence up until they were in the middle of the Close and accordingly in solitude. Then Mitchington turned to his companion.

"What d'ye think of that?" he asked, with a half laugh. "Different complexion it puts on things, eh?"

"I think just what I said before--in there," replied the detective. "That man knows more than he's told, even now!"

"Why hasn't he spoken sooner, then?" demanded Mitchington. "He's had two good chance--at the inquests."

"From what I saw of him, just now," said Jettison, "I should say he's the sort of man who can keep his own counsel till he considers the right time has come for speaking. Not the sort of man who'll care twopence whatever's said about him, you understand? I should say he's known a good lot all along, and is just keeping it back till he can put a finishing touch to it. Two days, didn't he say? Aye, well, a lot can happen in two days!"

"But about your theory?" questioned Mitchington. "What do you think of it now--in relation to what we've just heard?"

"I'll tell you what I can see," answered Jettison. "I can see how one bit of this puzzle fits into another--in view of what Ransford has just told us. Of course, one's got to do a good deal of supposing it's unavoidable in these cases. Now supposing Braden let this man Harker into the secret of the hidden jewels that night, and supposing that Harker and Bryce are in collusion--as they evidently are, from what that boy told us--and supposing they between them, together or separately, had to do with Braden's death, and supposing that man Collishaw saw some thing that would incriminate one or both--eh?"

"Well?" asked Mitchington.

"Bryce is a medical man," observed Jettison. "It would be an easy thing for a medical man to get rid of Collishaw as he undoubtedly was got rid of. Do you see my point?"

"Aye--and I can see that Bryce is a clever hand at throwing dust in anybody's eyes!" muttered Mitchington. "I've had some dealings with him over this affair and I'm beginning to think --only now!--that he's been having me for the mug! He's evidently a deep 'un--and so's the other man."

"I wanted to ask you that," said Jettison. "Now, exactly who are these two?--tell me about them--both."

"Not so much to tell," answered Mitchington. "Harker's a quiet old chap who lives in a little house over there--just off that far corner of this Close. Said to be a retired tradesman, from London. Came here a few years ago, to settle down. Inoffensive, pleasant old chap. Potters about the town--puts in his time as such old chaps do--bit of reading at the libraries--bit of gossip here and--there you know the sort. Last man in the world I should have thought would have been mixed up in an affair of this sort!"

"And therefore all the more likely to be!" said Jettison. "Well--the other?"

"Bryce was until the very day of Braden's appearance, Ransford's assistant," continued Mitchington. "Been with Ransford about two years. Clever chap, undoubtedly, but certainly deep and, in a way, reserved, though he can talk plenty if he's so minded and it's to his own advantage. He left Ransford suddenly--that very morning. I don't know why. Since then he's remained in the town. I've heard that he's pretty keen on Ransford's ward--sister of that lad we saw tonight. I don't know myself, if it's true--but I've wondered if that had anything to do with his leaving Ransford so suddenly."

"Very likely," said Jettison. They had crossed the Close by that time and come to a gas-lamp which stood at the entrance, and the detective pulled out his watch and glanced at it. "Ten past eleven," he said. "You say you know this Bryce pretty well? Now, would it be too late--if he's up still--to take a look at him! If you and he are on good terms, you could make an excuse. After what I've heard, I'd like to get at close quarters with this gentleman."

"Easy enough," assented Mitchington. "I've been there as late as this--he's one of the sort that never goes to bed before midnight. Come on!--it's close by. But--not a word of where we've been. I'll say I've dropped in to give him a bit of news. We'll tell him about the jewel business--and see how he takes it. And while we're there--size him up!"

Mitchington was right in his description of Bryce's habits --Bryce rarely went to bed before one o'clock in the morning. He liked to sit up, reading. His. favourite mental food was found in the lives of statesmen and diplomatists, most of them of the sort famous for trickery and chicanery--he not only made a close study of the ways of these gentry but wrote down notes and abstracts of passages which particularly appealed to him. His lamp was burning when Mitchington and Jettison came in view of his windows--but that night Bryce was doing no thinking about statecraft: his mind was fixed on his own affairs. He had lighted his fire on going home and for an hour had sat with his legs stretched out on the fender, carefully weighing things up. The event of the night had convinced him that he was at a critical phase of his present adventure, and it behoved him, as a good general, to review his forces.

The forestalling of his plans about the hiding-place in Paradise had upset Bryce's schemes--he had figured on being able to turn that secret, whatever it was, to his own advantage. It struck him now, as he meditated, that he had never known exactly what he expected to get out of that secret--but he had hoped that it would have been something which would make a few more considerable and tightly--strung meshes in the net which he was endeavouring to weave around Ransford. Now he was faced by the fact that it was not going to yield anything in the way of help--it was a secret no longer, and it had yielded nothing beyond the mere knowledge that John Braden, who was in reality John Brake, had carried the secret to Warchester--to reveal it in the proper quarter. That helped Bryce in no way--so far as he could see. And therefore it was necessary to re-state his case to himself; to take stock; to see where he stood--and more than all, to put plainly before his own mind exactly what he wanted.

And just before Mitchington and the detective came up the path to his door, Bryce had put his notions into clear phraseology. His aim was definite--he wanted to get Ransford completely into his power, through suspicion of Ransford's guilt in the affairs of Braden and Collishaw. He wanted, at the same time, to have the means of exonerating him--whether by fact or by craft--so that, as an ultimate method of success for his own projects he would be able to go to Mary Bewery and say "Ransford's very life is at my mercy: if I keep silence, he's lost: if I speak, he's saved: it's now for you to say whether I'm to speak or hold my tongue--and you're the price I want for my speaking to save him!" It was in accordance with his views of human nature that Mary Bewery would accede to his terms: he had not known her and Ransford for nothing, and he was aware that she had a profound gratitude for her guardian, which might even be akin to a yet unawakened warmer feeling. The probability was that she would willingly sacrifice herself to save Ransford--and Bryce cared little by what means he won her, fair or foul, so long as he was successful. So now, he said to himself, he must make a still more definite move against Ransford. He must strengthen and deepen the suspicions which the police already had: he must give them chapter and verse and supply them with information, and get Ransford into the tightest of corners, solely that, in order to win Mary Bewery, he might have the credit of pulling him out again. That, he felt certain, he could do--if he could make a net in which to enclose Ransford he could also invent a two-edged sword which would cut every mesh of that net into fragments. That would be--child's play--mere statecraft --elementary diplomacy. But first--to get Ransford fairly bottled up--that was the thing! He determined to lose no more time--and he was thinking of visiting Mitchington immediately after breakfast neat morning when Mitchington knocked at his door.

Bryce was rarely taken back, and on seeing Mitchington and a companion, he forthwith invited them into his parlour, put out his whisky and cigars, and pressed both on them as if their late call were a matter of usual occurrence. And when he had helped both to a drink, he took one himself, and tumbler in hand, dropped into his easy chair again.

"We saw your light, doctor--so I took the liberty of dropping into tell you a bit of news," observed the inspector. "But I haven't introduced my friend--this is Detective-Sergeant Jettison, of the Yard--we've got him down about this business --must have help, you know."

Bryce gave the detective a half-sharp, half-careless look and nodded.

"Mr. Jettison will have abundant opportunities for the exercise of his talents!" he observed in his best cynical manner. "I dare say he's found that out already."

"Not an easy affair, sir, to be sure," assented Jettison. "Complicated!"

"Highly so!" agreed Bryce. He yawned, ands glanced at the inspector. "What's your news, Mitchington?" he asked, almost indifferently.

"Oh, well!" answered Mitchington. "As the Herald's published tomorrow you'll see it in there, doctor--I've supplied an account for this week's issue; just a short one--but I thought you'd like to know. You've heard of the famous jewel robbery at the Duke's, some years ago? Yes?--well, we've found all the whole bundle tonight--buried in Paradise! And how do you think the secret came out?"

"No good at guessing," said Bryce.

"It came out," continued Mitchington, "through a man who, with Braden--Braden, mark you!--got in possession of it--it's a long story--and, with Braden, was going to reveal it to the Duke that very day Braden was killed. This man waited until this very morning and then told his Grace--his Grace came with him to us this afternoon, and tonight we made a search and found--everything! Buried--there in Paradise! Dug 'em up, doctor!"

Bryce showed no great interest. He took a leisurely sip at his liquor and set down the glass and pulled out his cigarette case. The two men, watching him narrowly, saw that his fingers were steady as rocks as he struck the match.

"Yes," he said as he threw the match away. "I saw you busy."

In spite of himself Mitchington could not repress a start nor a glance at Jettison. But Jettison was as imperturbable as Bryce himself, and Mitchington raised a forced laugh.

"You did!" he said, incredulously. "And we thought we had it all to ourselves! How did you come to know, doctor?"

"Young Bewery told me what was going on," replied Bryce, "so I took a look at you. And I fetched old Harker to take a look, too. We all watched you--the boy, Harker, and I--out of sheer curiosity, of course. We saw you get up the parcel. But, naturally, I didn't know what was in it--till now."

Mitchington, thoroughly taken aback by this candid statement, was at a loss for words, and again he glanced at Jettison. But Jettison gave no help, and Mitchington fell back on himself.

"So you fetched old Harker?" he said. "What--what for, doctor? If one may ask, you know."

Bryce made a careless gesture with his cigarette.

"Oh--old Harker's deeply interested in what's going on," he answered. "And as young Bewery drew my attention to your proceedings, why, I thought I'd draw Harker's. And Harker was--interested."

Mitchington hesitated before saying more. But eventually he risked a leading question.

"Any special reason why he should be, doctor?" he asked.

Bryce put his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat and looked half-lazily at his questioner.

"Do you know who old Harker really is?" he inquired.

"No!" answered Mitchington. "I know nothing about him--except that he's said to be a retired tradesman, from London, who settled down here some time ago."

Bryce suddenly turned on Jettison.

"Do you?" he asked.

"I, sir!" exclaimed Jettison. "I don't know this gentleman --at all!"

Bryce laughed--with his usual touch of cynical sneering.

"I'll tell you--now--who old Harker is, Mitchington," he said. "You may as well know. I thought Mr. Jettison might recognize the name. Harker is no retired London tradesman--he's a retired member of your profession, Mr. Jettison. He was in his day one of the smartest men in the service of your department. Only he's transposed his name--ask them at the Yard if they remember Harker Simpson? That seems to startle you, Mitchington! Well, as you're here, perhaps I'd better startle you a bit more."