The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XXII. Other People's Notions
The great towers of Wrychester Cathedral had come within Bryce's view before he had made up his mind as to the next step in this last stage of his campaign. He had ridden away from the Saxonsteade Arms feeling that he had got to do something at once, but he was not quite clear in his mind as to what that something exactly was. But now, as he topped a rise in the road, and saw Wrychester lying in its hollow beneath him, the summer sun shining on its red roofs and grey walls, he suddenly came to a decision, and instead of riding straight ahead into the old city he turned off at a by-road, made a line across the northern outskirts, and headed for the golf-links. He was almost certain to find Mary Bewery there at that hour, and he wanted to see her at once. The time for his great stroke had come.
But Mary Bewery was not there--had not been there that morning said the caddy-master. There were only a few players out. In one of them, coming towards the club-house, Bryce recognized Sackville Bonham. And at sight of Sackville, Bryce had an inspiration. Mary Bewery would not come up to the links now before afternoon; he, Bryce, would lunch there and then go towards Wrychester to meet her by the path across the fields on which he had waylaid her after his visit to Leicestershire. And meanwhile he would inveigle Sackville Bonham into conversation. Sackville fell readily into Bryce's trap. He was the sort of youth who loves to talk, especially in a hinting and mysterious fashion. And when Bryce, after treating him to an appetizer in the bar of the club-house, had suggested that they should lunch together and got him into a quiet corner of the diningroom, he launched forth at once on the pertinent matter of the day.
"Heard all about this discovery of those missing Saxonsteade diamonds?" he asked as he and Bryce picked up their knives and forks. "Queer business that, isn't it? Of course, it's got to do with those murders!"
"Think so?" asked Bryce.
"Can anybody think anything else?" said Sackville in his best dogmatic manner. "Why, the thing's plain. From what's been let out--not much, certainly, but enough--it's quite evident."
"What's your theory?" inquired Bryce.
"My stepfather--knowing old bird he is, too!--sums the whole thing up to a nicety," answered Sackville. "That old chap, Braden, you know, is in possession of that secret. He comes to Wrychester about it. But somebody else knows. That somebody gets rid of Braden. Why? So that the secret'll be known then only to one--the murderer! See! And why? Why?"
"Well, why?" repeated Bryce. "Don't see, so far."
"You must be dense, then," said Sackville with; the lofty superiority of youth. "Because of the reward, of course! Don't you know that there's been a standing offer--never withdrawn!--of five thousand pounds for news of those jewels?"
"No, I didn't," answered Bryce.
"Fact, sir--pure fact," continued Sackville. "Now, five thousand, divided in two, is two thousand five hundred each. But five thousand, undivided, is--what?"
"Five thousand--apparently," said Bryce.
"Just so! And," remarked Sackville knowingly, "a man'll do a lot for five thousand."
"Or-a-ccording to your argument--for half of it," said Bryce. "What you--or your stepfather's--aiming at comes to this, that suspicion rests on Braden's sharer in the secret. That it?"
"And why not?" asked Sackville. "Look at what we know--from the account in the paper this morning. This other chap, Glassdale, waits a bit until the first excitement about Braden is over, then he comes forward and tells the Duke where the Duchess's diamonds are planted. Why? So that he can get the five thousand pound reward! Plain as a pikestaff! Only, the police are such fools."
"And what about Collishaw?" asked Bryce, willing to absorb all his companion's ideas.
"Part of the game," declared Sackville. "Same man that got rid of Braden got rid of that chap! Probably Collishaw knew a bit and had to be silenced. But, whether that Glassdale did it all off his own bat or whether he's somebody in with him, that's where the guilt'll be fastened in the end, my stepfather says. And--it'll be so. Stands to reason!"
"Anybody come forward about that reward your stepfather offered?" asked Bryce.
"I'm not permitted to say," answered Sackville. "But," he added, leaning closer to his companion across the table, "I can tell you this--there's wheels within wheels! You understand! And things'll be coming out. Got to! We can't --as a family--let Ransford lie under that cloud, don't you know. We must clear him. That's precisely why Mr. Folliot offered his reward. Ransford, of course, you know, Bryce, is very much to blame--he ought to have done more himself. And, of course, as my mother and my stepfather say, if Ransford won't do things for himself, well, we must do 'em for him! We couldn't think of anything else."
"Very good of you all, I'm sure," assented Bryce. "Very thoughtful and kindly."
"Oh, well!" said Sackville, who was incapable of perceiving a sneer or of knowing when older men were laughing at him. "It's one of those things that one's got to do--under the circumstances. Of course, Miss Bewery isn't Dr. Ransford's daughter, but she's his ward, and we can't allow suspicion to rest on her guardian. You leave it to me, my boy, and you'll see how things will be cleared!"
"Doing a bit underground, eh?" asked Bryce.
"Wait a bit!" answered Sackville with a knowing wink. "It's the least expected that happens--what?"
Bryce replied that Sackville was no doubt right, and began to talk of other matters. He hung about the club-house until past three o'clock, and then, being well acquainted with Mary Bewery's movements from long observation of them, set out to walk down towards Wrychester, leaving his bicycle behind him. If he did not meet Mary on the way, he meant to go to the house. Ransford would be out on his afternoon round of calls; Dick Bewery would be at school; he would find Mary alone. And it was necessary that he should see her alone, and at once, for since morning an entirely new view of affairs had come to him, based on added knowledge, and he now saw a chance which he had never seen before. True, he said to himself, as he walked across the links and over the country which lay between their edge and Wrychester, he had not, even now, the accurate knowledge as to the actual murderer of either Braden or Collishaw that he would have liked, but he knew something that would enable him to ask Mary Bewery point-blank whether he was to be friend or enemy. And he was still considering the best way of putting his case to her when, having failed to meet her on the way, he at last turned into the Close, and as he approached Ransford's house, saw Mrs. Folliot leaving it.
Mary Bewery, like Bryce, had been having a day of events. To begin with, Ransford had received a wire from London, first thing in the morning, which had made him run, breakfastless, to catch the next express. He had left Mary to make arrangements about his day's work, for he had not yet replaced Bryce, and she had been obliged to seek out another practitioner who could find time from his own duties to attend to Ransford's urgent patients. Then she had had to see callers who came to the surgery expecting to find Ransford there; and in the middle of a busy morning, Mr. Folliot had dropped in, to bring her a bunch of roses, and, once admitted, had shown unmistakable signs of a desire to gossip.
"Ransford out?" he asked as he sat down in the dining-room. "Suppose he is, this time of day."
"He's away," replied Mary. "He went to town by the first express, and I have had a lot of bother arranging about his patients."
"Did he hear about this discovery of the Saxonsteade jewels before he went?" asked Folliot. "Suppose he wouldn't though --wasn't known until the weekly paper came out this morning. Queer business! You've heard, of course?"
"Dr. Short told me," answered Mary. "I don't know any details."
Folliot looked meditatively at her a moment.
"Got something to do with those other matters, you know," he remarked. "I say! What's Ransford doing about all that?"
"About all what, Mr. Folliot?" asked Mary, at once on her guard. "I don't understand you."
"You know--all that suspicion--and so on," said Folliot. "Bad position for a professional man, you know--ought to clear himself. Anybody been applying for that reward Ransford offered?"
"I don't know anything about it," replied Mary. "Dr. Ransford is very well able to take care of himself, I think. Has anybody applied for yours?"
Folliot rose from his chair again, as if he had changed his mind about lingering, and shook his head.
"Can't say what my solicitors may or may not have heard--or done," he answered. "But--queer business, you know--and ought to be settled. Bad for Ransford to have any sort of a cloud over him. Sorry to see it."
"Is that why you came forward with a reward?" asked Mary.
But to this direct question Folliot made no answer. Ile muttered something about the advisability of somebody doing something and went away, to Mary's relief. She had no desire to discuss the Paradise mysteries with anybody, especially after Ransford's assurance of the previous evening. But in the middle of the afternoon in walked Mrs. Folliot, a rare caller, and before she had been closeted with Mary five minutes brought up the subject again.
"I want to speak to you on a very serious matter, my dear Miss Bewery," she said. "You must allow me to speak plainly on account of--of several things. My--my superiority in--in age, you know, and all that!"
"What's the matter, Mrs. Folliot?" asked Mary, steeling herself against what she felt sure was coming. "Is it--very serious? And--pardon me--is it about what Mr. Folliot mentioned to me this morning? Because if it is, I'm not going to discuss that with you or with anybody!"
"I had no idea that my husband had been here this morning," answered Mrs. Folliot in genuine surprise. "What did he want to talk about?"
"In that case, what do you want to talk about?" asked Mary. "Though that doesn't mean that I'm going to talk about it with you."
Mrs. Folliot made an effort to understand this remark, and after inspecting her hostess critically for a moment, proceeded in her most judicial manner.
"You must see, my dear Miss Bewery, that it is highly necessary that some one should use the utmost persuasion on Dr. Ransford," she said. "He is placing all of you--himself, yourself, your young brother--in most invidious positions by his silence! In society such as--well, such as you get in a cathedral town, you know, no man of reputation can afford to keep silence when his--his character is affected."
Mary picked up some needlework and began to be much occupied with it.
"Is Dr. Ransford's character affected?" she asked. "I wasn't aware of it, Mrs. Folliot."
"Oh, my dear, you can't be quite so very--so very, shall we say ingenuous?--as all that!" exclaimed Mrs. Folliot. "These rumours!--of course, they are very wicked and cruel ones, but you know they have spread. Dear me!--why, they have been common talk!"
"I don't think my guardian cares twopence for common talk, Mrs. Folliot," answered Mary. "And I am quite sure I don't."
"None of us--especially people in our position--can afford to ignore rumours and common talk," said Mrs. Folliot in her loftiest manner. "If we are, unfortunately, talked about, then it is our solemn, bounden duty to put ourselves right in the eyes of our friends--and of society. If I for instance, my dear, heard anything affecting my--let me say, moral-character, I should take steps, the most stringent, drastic, and forceful steps, to put matters to the test. I would not remain under a stigma--no, not for one minute!"
"I hope you will never have occasion to rehabilitate your moral character, Mrs. Folliot," remarked Mary, bending closely over her work. "Such a necessity would indeed be dreadful."
"And yet you do not insist--yes, insist!--on Dr. Ransford's taking strong steps to clear himself!" exclaimed Mrs. Folliot. "Now that, indeed, is a dreadful necessity!"
"Dr. Ransford," answered Mary, "is quite able to defend and to take care of himself. It is not for me to tell him what to do, or even to advise him what to do. And--since you will talk of this matter, I tell you frankly, Mrs. Folliot, that I don't believe any decent person in Wrychester has the least suspicion or doubt of Dr. Ransford. His denial of any share or complicity in those sad affairs--the mere idea of it as ridiculous as it's wicked--was quite sufficient. You know very well that at that second inquest he said--on oath, too --that he knew nothing of these affairs. I repeat, there isn't a decent soul in the city doubts that!"
"Oh, but you're quite wrong!" said Mrs. Folliot, hurriedly. "Quite wrong, I assure you, my dear. Of course, everybody knows what Dr. Ransford said--very excitedly, poor man, I'm given to understand on the occasion you refer to, but then, what else could he have said in his own interest? What people want is the proof of his innocence. I could--but I won't --tell you of many of the very best people who are--well, very much exercised over the matter--I could indeed!"
"Do you count yourself among them?" asked Mary in a cold fashion which would have been a warning to any one but her visitor. "Am I to understand that, Mrs. Folliot?"
"Certainly not, my dear," answered Mrs. Folliot promptly. "Otherwise I should not have done what I have done towards establishing the foolish man's innocence!"
Mary dropped her work and turned a pair of astonished eyes on Mrs. Folliot's large countenance.
"You!" she exclaimed. "To establish--Dr. Ransford's innocence? Why, Mrs. Folliot, what have you done?"
Mrs. Folliot toyed a little with the jewelled head of her sunshade. Her expression became almost coy.
"Oh, well!" she answered after a brief spell of indecision. "Perhaps it is as well that you should know, Miss Bewery. Of course, when all this sad trouble was made far worse by that second affair--the working-man's death, you know, I said to my husband that really one must do something, seeing that Dr. Ransford was so very, very obdurate and wouldn't speak. And as money is nothing--at least as things go--to me or to Mr. Folliot, I insisted that he should offer a thousand pounds reward to have the thing cleared up. He's a generous and open-handed man, and he agreed with me entirely, and put the thing in hand through his solicitors. And nothing would please us more, my dear, than to have that thousand pounds claimed! For of course, if there is to be--as I suppose there is--a union between our families, it would be utterly impossible that any cloud could rest on Dr. Ransford, even if he is only your guardian. My son's future wife cannot, of course--"
Mary laid down her work again and for a full minute stared Mrs. Folliot in the face.
"Mrs. Folliot!" she said at last. "Are you under the impression that I'm thinking of marrying your son?"
"I think I've every good reason for believing it!" replied Mrs. Folliot.
"You've none!" retorted Mary, gathering up her work and moving towards the door. "I've no more intention of marrying Mr. Sackville Bonham than of eloping with the Bishop! The idea's too absurd to--even be thought of!"
Five minutes later Mrs. Folliot, heightened in colour, had gone. And presently Mary, glancing after her across the Close, saw Bryce approaching the gate of the garden.