Chapter XX. Jettison Takes a Hand

By breakfast time next morning the man from New Scotland Yard had accomplished a series of meditations on the confidences made to him and Mitchington the night before and had determined on at least one course of action. But before entering upon it he had one or two important letters to write, the composition of which required much thought and trouble, and by the time he had finished them, and deposited them by his own hand in the General Post Office, it was drawing near to noon--the great bell of the Cathedral, indeed, was proclaiming noontide to Wrychester as Jettison turned into the police-station and sought Mitchington in his office.

"I was just coming round to see if you'd overslept yourself," said Mitchington good-humouredly. "We were up pretty late last night, or, rather, this morning."

"I've had letters to write," said Jettison. He sat down and picked up a newspaper and cast a casual glance over it. "Got anything fresh?"

"Well, this much," answered Mitchington. "The two gentlemen who told us so much last night are both out of town. I made an excuse to call on them both early this morning--just on nine o'clock. Dr. Ransford went up to London by the eight-fifteen.

"Dr. Bryce, says his landlady, went out on his bicycle at half-past eight--where, she didn't know, but, she fancied, into the country. However, I ascertained that Ransford is expected back this evening, and Bryce gave orders for his usual dinner to be ready at seven o'clock, and so--"

Jettison flung away the newspaper and pulled out his pipe.

"Oh, I don't think they'll run away--either of 'em," he remarked indifferently. "They're both too cock-sure of their own ways of looking at things."

"You looked at 'em any more?" asked Mitchington.

"Done a bit of reflecting--yes," replied the detective. "Complicated affair, my lad! More in it than one would think at first sight. I'm certain of this quite apart from whatever mystery there is about the Braden affair and the Collishaw murder, there's a lot of scheming and contriving been going on--and is going on!--somewhere, by somebody. Underhand work, you understand? However, my particular job is the Collishaw business--and there's a bit of information I'd like to get hold of at once. Where's the office of that Friendly Society we heard about last night?"

"That'll be the Wrychester Second Friendly," answered Mitchington. "There are two such societies in the town--the first's patronized by small tradesmen and the like; the second by workingmen. The second does take deposits from its members. The office is in Fladgate--secretary's name outside --Mr. Stebbing. What are you after?"

"Tell you later," said Jettison. "Just an idea."

He went leisurely out and across the market square and into the narrow, old-world street called Fladgate, along which he strolled as if doing no more than looking about him until he came to an ancient shop which had been converted into an office, and had a wire blind over the lower half of its front window, wherein was woven in conspicuous gilt letters Wrychester Second Friendly Society--George Stebbing, Secretary. Nothing betokened romance or mystery in that essentially humble place, but it was in Jettison's mind that when he crossed its threshold he was on his way to discovering something that would possibly clear up the problem on which he was engaged.

The staff of the Second Friendly was inconsiderable in numbers--an outer office harboured a small boy and a tall young man; an inner one accommodated Mr. Stebbing, also a young man, sandy-haired and freckled, who, having inspected Detective-Sergeant Jettison's professional card, gave him the best chair in the room and stared at him with a mingling of awe and curiosity which plainly showed that he had never entertained a detective before. And as if to show his visitor that he realized the seriousness of the occasion, he nodded meaningly at his door.

"All safe, here, sir!" he whispered. "Well fitting doors in these old houses--knew how to make 'em in those days. No chance of being overheard here--what can I do for you, sir?"

"Thank you--much obliged to you," said Jettison. "No objection to my pipe, I suppose? Just so. Ah!--well, between you and me, Mr. Stebbing, I'm down here in connection with that Collishaw case--you know."

"I know, sir--poor fellow!" said the secretary. "Cruel thing, sir, if the man was put an end to. One of our members, was Collishaw, sir."

"So I understand," remarked Jettison. "That's what I've come about. Bit of information, on the quiet, eh? Strictly between our two selves--for the present."

Stebbing nodded and winked, as if he had been doing business with detectives all his life. "To be sure, sir, to be sure!" he responded with alacrity. "Just between you and me and the door post!-all right. Anything I can do, Mr. Jettison, shall be done. But it's more in the way of what I can tell, I suppose?"

"Something of that sort," replied Jettison in his slow, easy-going fashion. "I want to know a thing or two. Yours is a working-man's society, I think? Aye--and I understand you've a system whereby such a man can put his bits of savings by in your hands?"

"A capital system, too!" answered the secretary, seizing on a pamphlet and pushing it into his visitor's hand. "I don't believe there's better in England! If you read that--"

"I'll take a look at it some time," said Jettison, putting the pamphlet in his pocket. "Well, now, I also understand that Collishaw was in the habit of bringing you a bit of saved money now and then a sort of saving fellow, wasn't he?" Stebbing nodded assent and reached for a ledger which lay on the farther side of his desk.

"Collishaw," he answered, "had been a member of our society ever since it started--fourteen years ago. And he'd been putting in savings for some eight or nine years. Not much, you'll understand. Say, as an average, two to three pounds every half-year--never more. But, just before his death, or murder, or whatever you like to call it, he came in here one day with fifty pounds! Fairly astounded me, sir! Fifty pounds--all in a lump!"

"It's about that fifty pounds I want to know something," said Jettison. "He didn't tell you how he'd come by it? Wasn't a legacy, for instance?"

"He didn't say anything but that he'd had a bit of luck," answered Stebbing. "I asked no questions. Legacy, now?--no, he didn't mention that. Here it is," he continued, turning over the pages of the ledger. "There! 50 pounds. You see the date--that 'ud be two days before his death."

Jettison glanced at the ledger and resumed his seat.

"Now, then, Mr. Stebbing, I want you to tell me something very definite," he said. "It's not so long since this happened, so you'll not have to tag your memory to any great extent. In what form did Collishaw pay that fifty pounds to you?"

"That's easy answered, sir," said the secretary. "It was in gold. Fifty sovereigns--he had 'em in a bit of a bag." Jettison reflected on this information for a moment or two. Then he rose.

"Much obliged to you, Mr. Stebbing," he said. "That's something worth knowing. Now there's something else you can tell me as long as I'm here--though, to be sure, I could save you the trouble by using my own eyes. How many banks are there in this little city of yours?"

"Three," answered Stebbing promptly. "Old Bank, in Monday Market; Popham & Hargreaves, in the Square; Wrychester Bank, in Spurriergate. That's the lot."

"Much obliged," said Jettison. "And--for the present--not a word of what we've talked about. You'll be hearing more --later."

He went away, memorizing the names of the three banking establishments--ten minutes later he was in the private parlour of the first, in serious conversation with its manager. Here it was necessary to be more secret, and to insist on more secrecy than with the secretary of the Second Friendly, and to produce all his credentials and give all his reasons. But Jettison drew that covert blank, and the next, too, and it was not until he had been closeted for some time with the authorities of the third bank that he got, the information he wanted. And when he had got it, he impressed secrecy and silence on his informants in a fashion which showed them that however easy-going his manner might be, he knew his business as thoroughly as they knew theirs.

It was by that time past one o'clock, and Jettison turned into the small hotel at which he had lodged himself. He thought much and gravely while he ate his dinner; he thought still more while he smoked his after-dinner pipe. And his face was still heavy with thought when, at three o'clock, he walked into Mitchington's office and finding the inspector alone shut the door and drew a chair to Mitchington's desk.

"Now then," he said. "I've had a rare morning's work, and made a discovery, and you and me, my lad, have got to have about as serious a bit of talk as we've had since I came here."

Mitchington pushed his papers aside and showed his keen attention.

"You remember what that young fellow told us last night about that man Collishaw paying in fifty pounds to the Second Friendly two days before his death," said Jettison. "Well, I thought over that business a lot, early this morning, and I fancied I saw how I could find something out about it. So I have--on the strict quiet. That's why I went to the Friendly Society. The fact was--I wanted to know in what form Collishaw handed in that fifty pounds. I got to know. Gold!"

Mitchington, whose work hitherto had not led him into the mysteries of detective enterprise, nodded delightedly.

"Good!" he said. "Rare idea! I should never have thought of it! And--what do you make out of that, now?"

"Nothing," replied Jettison. "But--a good deal out of what I've learned since that bit of a discovery. Now, put it to yourself--whoever it was that paid Collishaw that fifty pounds in gold did it with a motive. More than one motive, to be exact--but we'll stick to one, to begin with. The motive for paying in gold was--avoidance of discovery. A cheque can be readily traced. So can bank-notes. But gold is not easily traced. Therefore the man who paid Collishaw fifty pounds took care to provide himself with gold. Now then--how many men are there in a small place like this who are likely to carry fifty pounds in gold in their pockets, or to have it at hand?"

"Not many, "'agreed Mitchington.

"Just so--and therefore I've been doing a bit of secret inquiry amongst the bankers, as to who supplied himself with gold about that date," continued Jettison. "I'd to convince 'em of the absolute necessity of information, too, before I got any! But I got some--at the third attempt. On the day previous to that on which Collishaw handed that fifty pounds to Stebbing, a certain Wrychester man drew fifty pounds in gold at his bank. Who do you think he was?"

"Who--who?" demanded Mitchington.

Jettison leaned half-across the desk.

"Bryce!" he said in a whisper. "Bryce!"

Mitchington sat up in his chair and opened his mouth in sheer astonishment.

"Good heavens!" he muttered after a moment's silence. "You don't mean it?"

"Fact!" answered Jettison. "Plain, incontestable fact, my lad. Dr. Bryce keeps an account at the Wrychester bank. On the day I'm speaking of he cashed a cheque to self for fifty pounds and took it all in gold."

The two men looked at each other as if each were asking his companion a question.

"Well?" said Mitchington at last. "You're a cut above me, Jettison. What do you make of it?"

"I said last night that the young man was playing a deep game," replied Jettison. "But--what game? What's he building up? For mark you, Mitchington, if--I say if, mind!--if that fifty pounds which he drew in gold is the identical fifty paid to Collishaw, Bryce didn't pay it as hush-money!"

"Think not?" said Mitchington, evidently surprised. "Now, that was my first impression. If it wasn't hush-money--"

"It wasn't hush-money, for this reason," interrupted Jettison. "We know that whatever else he knew, Bryce didn't know of the accident to Braden until Varner fetched him to Braden. That's established--on what you've put before me. Therefore, whatever Collishaw saw, before or at the time that accident happened, it wasn't Bryce who was mixed up in it. Therefore, why should Bryce pay Collishaw hush-money?"

Mitchington, who had evidently been thinking, suddenly pulled out a drawer in his desk and took some papers from it which he began to turn over.

"Wait a minute," he said. "I've an abstract here--of what the foreman at the Cathedral mason's yard told me of what he knew as to where Collishaw was working that morning when the accident happened--I made a note of it when I questioned him after Collishaw's death. Here you are:

'Foreman says that on morning of Braden's accident, Collishaw was at work in the north gallery of the clerestory, clearing away some timber which the carpenters had left there. Collishaw was certainly thus engaged from nine o'clock until past eleven that morning. Mem. Have investigated this myself. From the exact spot where C. was clearing the timber, there is an uninterrupted view of the gallery on the south side of the nave, and of the arched doorway at the head of St. Wrytha's Stair.'"

"'Well," observed Jettison, "that proves what I'm saying. It wasn't hush-money. For whoever it was that Collishaw saw lay hands on Braden, it wasn't Bryce--Bryce, we know, was at that time coming across the Close or crossing that path through the part you call Paradise: Varner's evidence proves that. So--if the fifty pounds wasn't paid for hush-money, what was it paid for?"

"Do you suggest anything?" asked Mitchington.

"I've thought of two or three things," answered the detective. "One's this--was the fifty pounds paid for information? If so, and Bryce has that information, why doesn't he show his hand more plainly? If he bribed Collishaw with fifty pounds: to tell him who Braden's assailant was, he now knows!--so why doesn't he let it out, and have done with it?"

"Part of his game--if that theory's right," murmured Mitchington.

"It mayn't be right," said Jettison. "But it's one. And there's another--supposing he paid Collishaw that money on behalf of somebody else? I've thought this business out right and left, top-side and bottom-side, and hang me if I don't feel certain there is somebody else! What did Ransford tell us about Bryce and this old Harker--think of that! And yet, according to Bryce, Harker is one of our old Yard men!--and therefore ought to be above suspicion."

Mitchington suddenly started as if an idea had occurred to him.

"I say, you know!" he exclaimed. "We've only Bryce's word for it that Harker is an ex-detective. I never heard that he was --if he is, he's kept it strangely quiet. You'd have thought that he'd have let us know, here, of his previous calling--I never heard of a policeman of any rank who didn't like to have a bit of talk with his own sort about professional matters."

"Nor me," assented Jettison. "And as you say, we've only Bryce's word. And, the more I think of it, the more I'm convinced there's somebody--some man of whom you don't seem to have the least idea--who's in this. And it may be that Bryce is in with him. However--here's one thing I'm going to do at once. Bryce gave us that information about the fifty pounds. Now I'm going to tell Bryce straight out that I've gone into that matter in my own fashion--a fashion he evidently never thought of--and ask him to explain why he drew a similar amount in gold. Come on round to his rooms."

But Bryce was not to be found at his rooms--had not been back to his rooms, said his landlady, since he had ridden away early in the morning: all she knew was that he had ordered his dinner to be ready at his usual time that evening. With that the two men had to be content, and they went back to the police-station still discussing the situation. And they were still discussing it an hour later when a telegram was handed to Mitchington, who tore it open, glanced over its contents and passed it to his companion who read it aloud.

"Meet me with Jettison Wrychester Station on arrival of five-twenty express from London mystery cleared up guilty men known--Ransford."

Jettison handed the telegram back.

"A man of his word!" he said. "He mentioned two days--he's done it in one! And now, my lad--do you notice?--he says men, not man! It's as I said--there's been more than one of 'em in this affair. Now then--who are they?"