Chapter XXI. The Saxonsteade Arms

Bryce had ridden away on his bicycle from Wrychester that morning intent on a new piece of diplomacy. He had sat up thinking for some time after the two police officials had left him at midnight, and it had occurred to him that there was a man from whom information could be had of whose services he had as yet made no use but who must be somewhere in the neighbourhood--the man Glassdale. Glassdale had been in Wrychester the previous evening; he could scarcely be far away now; there was certainly one person who would know where he could be found, and that person was the Duke of Saxonsteade. Bryce knew the Duke to be an extremely approachable man, a talkative, even a garrulous man, given to holding converse with anybody about anything, and he speedily made up his mind to ride over to Saxonsteade, invent a plausible excuse for his call, and get some news out of his Grace. Even if Glassdale had left the neighbourhood, there might be fragments of evidence to pick up from the Duke, for Glassdale, he knew, had given his former employer the information about the stolen jewels and would, no doubt, have added more about his acquaintance with Braden. And before Bryce came to his dreamed-of master-stroke in that matter, there were one or two thins he wanted to clear up, to complete his double net, and he had an idea that an hour's chat with Glassdale would yield all that he desired.

The active brain that had stood Bryce in good stead while he spun his meshes and devised his schemes was more active than ever that early summer morning. It was a ten-mile ride through woods and valleys to Saxonsteade, and there were sights and beauties of nature on either side of him which any other man would have lingered to admire and most men would have been influenced by. But Bryce had no eyes for the clouds over the copper-crowned hills or the mystic shadows in the deep valleys or the new buds in the hedgerows, and no thought for the rustic folk whose cottages he passed here and there in a sparsely populated country. All his thoughts were fixed on his schemes, almost as mechanically as his eyes followed the white road in front of his wheel. Ever since he had set out on his campaign he had regularly taken stock of his position; he was for ever reckoning it up. And now, in his opinion, everything looked very promising. He had--so far as he was aware--created a definite atmosphere of suspicion around and against Ransford--it needed only a little more suggestion, perhaps a little more evidence to bring about Ransford's arrest. And the only question which at all troubled Bryce was--should he let matters go to that length before putting his ultimatum before Mary Bewery, or should he show her his hand first? For Bryce had so worked matters that a word from him to the police would damn Ransford or save him--and now it all depended, so far as Bryce himself was concerned, on Mary Bewery as to which word should be said. Elaborate as the toils were which he had laid out for Ransford to the police, he could sweep them up and tear them away with a sentence of added knowledge--if Mary Bewery made it worth his while. But first--before coming to the critical point--there was yet certain information which he desired to get, and he felt sure of getting it if he could find Glassdale. For Glassdale, according to all accounts, had known Braden intimately of late years, and was most likely in possession of facts about him--and Bryce had full confidence in himself as an interviewer of other men and a supreme belief that he could wheedle a secret out of anybody with whom he could procure an hour's quiet conversation.

As luck would have it, Bryce had no need to make a call upon the approachable and friendly Duke. Outside the little village at Saxonsteade, on the edge of the deep woods which fringed the ducal park, stood an old wayside inn, a relic of the coaching days, which bore on its sign the ducal arms. Into its old stone hall marched Bryce to refresh himself after his ride, and as he stood at the bow-windowed bar, he glanced into the garden beyond and there saw, comfortably smoking his pipe and reading the newspaper, the very man he was looking for.

Bryce had no spice of bashfulness, no want of confidence anywhere in his nature; he determined to attack Glassdale there and then. But he took a good look at his man before going out into the garden to him. A plain and ordinary sort of fellow, he thought; rather over middle age, with a tinge of grey in his hair and moustache; prosperous looking and well-dressed, and at that moment of the appearance of what he was probably taken for by the inn people--a tourist. Whether he was the sort who would be communicative or not, Bryce could not tell from outward signs, but he was going to try, and he presently found his card-case, took out a card, and strolling down the garden to the shady spot in which Glassdale sat, assumed his politest and suavest manner and presented himself.

"Allow me, sir," he said, carefully abstaining from any mention of names. "May I have the pleasure of a few minutes' conversation with you?"

Glassdale cast a swift glance of surprise, not unmingled with suspicion, at the intruder--the sort of glance that a man used to watchfulness would throw at anybody, thought Bryce. But his face cleared as he read the card, though it was still doubtful as he lifted it again.

"You've the advantage of me, sir," he said. "Dr. Bryce, I see. But--"

Bryce smiled and dropped into a garden chair at Glassdale's side.

"You needn't be afraid of talking to me," he answered. "I'm well known in Wrychester. The Duke," he went on, nodding his head in the direction of the great house which lay behind the woods at the foot of the garden, "knows me well enough--in fact, I was on my way to see his Grace now, to ask him if he could tell me where you could be found. The fact is, I'm aware of what happened last night--the jewel affair, you know --Mitchington told me--and of your friendship with Braden, and I want to ask you a question or two about Braden."

Glassdale, who had looked somewhat mystified at the beginning of this address, seemed to understand matters better by the end of it.

"Oh, well, of course, doctor," he said, "if that's it--but, of course--a word first!--these folk here at the inn don't know who I am or that I've any connection with the Duke on that affair. I'm Mr. Gordon here--just staying for a bit."

"That's all right," answered Bryce with a smile of understanding. "All this is between ourselves. I saw you with the Duke and the rest of them last night, and I recognized you just now. And all I want is a bit of talk about Braden. You knew him pretty well of late years?"

"Knew him for a good many years," replied Glassdale. He looked narrowly at his visitor. "I suppose you know his story--and mine?" he asked. "Bygone affairs, eh?"

"Yes, yes!" answered Bryce reassuringly. "No need to go into that--that's all done with."

"Aye--well, we both put things right," said Glassdale. "Made restitution--both of us, you understand. So that is done with? And you know, then, of course, who Braden really was?"

"John Brake, ex bank-manager," answered Bryce promptly. "I know all about it. I've been deeply interested and concerned in his death. And I'll tell you why. I want to marry his daughter."

Glassdale turned and stared at his companion.

"His daughter!" he exclaimed. "Brake's daughter! God bless my soul! I never knew he had a daughter!"

It was Bryce's turn to stare now. He looked at Glassdale incredulously.

"Do you mean to tell me that you knew Brake all those years and that he never mentioned his children?" he exclaimed.

"Never a word of 'em!" replied Glassdale. "Never knew he had any!"

"Did he never speak of his past?" asked Bryce.

"Not in that respect," answered Glassdale. "I'd no idea that he was--or had been--a married man. He certainly never mentioned wife nor children to me, sir, and yet I knew Brake about as intimately as two men can know each other for some years before we came back to England."

Bryce fell into one of his fits of musing. What could be the meaning of this extraordinary silence on Brake's part? Was there still some hidden secret, some other mystery at which he had not yet guessed?

"Odd!" he remarked at last after a long pause during which Glassdale had watched him curiously. "But, did he ever speak to you of an old friend of his named Ransford--a doctor?"

"Never!" said Glassdale. "Never mentioned such a man!"

Bryce reflected again, and suddenly determined to be explicit.

"John Brake, the bank manager," he said, "was married at a place called Braden Medworth, in Leicestershire, to a girl named Mary Bewery. He had two children, who would be, respectively, about four and one years of age when his--we'll call it misfortune--happened. That's a fact!"

"First I ever heard of it, then," said Glassdale. "And that's a fact, too!"

"He'd also a very close friend named Ransford--Mark Ransford," continued Bryce. "This Ransford was best man at Brake's wedding."

"Never heard him speak of Ransford, nor of any wedding!" affirmed Glassdale. "All news to me, doctor."

"This Ransford is now in practice in Wrychester," said Bryce. "And he has two young people living with him as his wards--a girl of twenty, a boy of seventeen--who are, without doubt, John Brake's children. It is the daughter that I want to marry."

Glassdale shook his head as if in sheer perplexity.

"Well, all I can say is, you surprise me!" he remarked. "I'd no idea of any such thing."

"Do you think Brake came to Wrychester because of that?" asked Bryce.

"How can I answer that, sir, when I tell you that I never heard him breathe one word of any children?" exclaimed 'Glassdale. "No! I know his reason for coming to Wrychester. It was wholly and solely--as far as I know--to tell the Duke here about that jewel business, the secret of which had been entrusted to Brake and me by a man on his death-bed in Australia. Brake came to Wrychester by himself--I was to join him next morning: we were then to go to see the Duke together. When I got to Wrychester, I heard of Brake's accident, and being upset by it, I went away again and waited some days until yesterday, when I made up my mind to tell the Duke myself, as I did, with very fortunate results. No, that's the only reason I know of why Brake came this way. I tell you I knew nothing at all of his family affairs! He was a very close man, Brake, and apart from his business matters, he'd only one idea in his head, and that was lodged there pretty firmly, I can assure you!"

"What was it?" asked Bryce.

"He wanted to find a certain man--or, rather, two men--who'd cruelly deceived and wronged him, but one of 'em in particular," answered Glassdale. "The particular one he believed to be in Australia, until near the end, when he got an idea that he'd left for England; as for the other, he didn't bother much about him. But the man that he did want! --ah, he wanted him badly!"

"Who was that man?" asked Bryce.

"A man of the name of Falkiner Wraye, answered Glassdale promptly. "A man he'd known in London. This Wraye, together with his partner, a man called Flood, tricked Brake into lending 'em several thousands pounds--bank's money, of course --for a couple of days--no more--and then clean disappeared, leaving him to pay the piper! He was a fool, no doubt, but he'd been mixed up with them; he'd done it before, and they'd always kept their promises, and he did it once too often. He let 'em have some thousands; they disappeared, and the bank inspector happened to call at Brake's bank and ask for his balances. And--there he was. And--that's why he'd Falkiner Wraye on his mind--as his one big idea. T'other man was a lesser consideration, Wraye was the chief offender."

"I wish you'd tell me all you know about Brake," said Bryce after a pause during which he had done some thinking. "Between ourselves, of course."

"Oh--I don't know that there's so much secrecy!" replied Glassdale almost indifferently. "Of course, I knew him first when we were both inmates of--you understand where; no need for particulars. But after we left that place, I never saw him again until we met in Australia a few years ago. We were both in the same trade--speculating in wool. We got pretty thick and used to see each other a great deal, and of course, grew confidential. He told me in time about his affair, and how he'd traced this Wraye to the United States, and then, I think, to New Zealand, and afterwards to Australia, and as I was knocking about the country a great deal buying up wool, he asked me to help him, and gave me a description of Wraye, of whom, he said, he'd certainly heard something when he first landed at Sydney, but had never been able to trace afterwards. But it was no good--I never either saw or heard of Wraye--and Brake came to the conclusion he'd left Australia. And I know he hoped to get news of him, somehow, when we returned to England."

"That description, now?--what was it?" asked Bryce.

"Oh!" said Glassdale. "I can't remember it all, now--big man, clean shaven, nothing very particular except one thing. Wraye, according to Brake, had a bad scar on his left jaw and had lost the middle finger of his left hand--all from a gun accident. He--what's the matter, sir?"

Bryce had suddenly let his pipe fall from his lips. He took some time in picking it up. When he raised himself again his face was calm if a little flushed from stooping.

"Bit my pipe on a bad tooth!" he muttered. "I must have that tooth seen to. So you never heard or saw anything of this man?"

"Never!" answered Glassdale. "But I've wondered since this Wrychester affair if Brake accidentally came across one or other of those men, and if his death arose out of it. Now, look here, doctor! I read the accounts of the inquest on Brake--I'd have gone to it if I'd dared, but just then I hadn't made up my mind about seeing the Duke; I didn't know what to do, so I kept away, and there's a thing has struck me that I don't believe the police have ever taken the slightest, notice of."

"What's that?" demanded Bryce.

"Why, this!" answered Glassdale. "That man who called himself Dellingham--who came with Brake to the Mitre Hotel at Wrychester--who is he? Where did Brake meet him? Where did he go? Seems to me the police have been strangely negligent about that! According to the accounts I've read, everybody just accepted this Dellingham's first statement, took his word, and let him--vanish! No one, as far as I know, ever verified his account of himself. A stranger!"

Bryce, who was already in one of his deep moods of reflection, got up from his chair as if to go.

"Yes," he said. "There maybe something in your suggestion. They certainly did take his word without inquiry. It's true --he mightn't be what he said he was."

"Aye, and from what I read, they never followed his movements that morning!" observed Glassdale. "Queer business altogether! Isn't there some reward offered, doctor? I heard of some placards or something, but I've never seen them; of course, I've only been here since yesterday morning."

Bryce silently drew some papers from his pocket. From them he extracted the two handbills which: Mitchington had given him and handed them over.

"Well, I must go," he said. "I shall no doubt see you again in Wrychester, over this affair. For the present, all this is between ourselves, of course?"

"Oh, of course, doctor!" answered Glassdale. "Quite so!" Bryce went off and got his bicycle and rode away in the direction of Wrychester. Had he remained in that garden he would have seen Glassdale, after reading both the handbills, go into the house and have heard him ask the landlady at the bar to get him a trap and a good horse in it as soon as possible; he, too, now wanted to go to Wrychester and at once. But Bryce was riding down the road, muttering certain words to himself over and over again.

"The left jaw--and the left hand!" he repeated. "Left hand --left jaw! Unmistakable!"