Chapter XXIV. Finesse
 

Glassdale, journeying into Wrychester half an hour after Bryce had left him at the Saxonsteade Arms, occupied himself during his ride across country in considering the merits of the two handbills which Bryce had given him. One announced an offer of five hundred pounds reward for information in the Braden-Collishaw matter; the other, of a thousand pounds. It struck him as a curious thing that two offers should be made --it suggested, at once, that more than one person was deeply interested in this affair. But who were they?--no answer to that question appeared on the handbills, which were, in each case, signed by Wrychester solicitors. To one of these Glassdale, on arriving in the old city, promptly proceeded --selecting the offerer of the larger reward. He presently found himself in the presence of an astute-looking man who, having had his visitor's name sent in to him, regarded Glassdale with very obvious curiosity.

"Mr. Glassdale?" he said inquiringly, as the caller took an offered chair. "Are you, by any chance, the Mr. Glassdale whose name is mentioned in connection with last night's remarkable affair?"

He pointed to a copy of the weekly newspaper, lying on his desk, and to a formal account of the discovery of the Saxonsteade jewels which had been furnished to the press, at the Duke's request, by Mitchington. Glassdale glanced at it --unconcernedly.

"The same," he answered. "But I didn't call here on that matter--though what I did call about is certainly relative to it. You've offered a reward for any information that would lead to the solution of that mystery about Braden--and the other man, Collishaw."

"Of a thousand pounds--yes!" replied the solicitor, looking at his visitor with still more curiosity, mingled with expectancy. "Can you give any?"

Glassdale pulled out the two handbills which he had obtained from Bryce.

"There are two rewards offered," he remarked. "Are they entirely independent of each other?"

"We know nothing of the other," answered the solicitor. "Except, of course, that it exists. They're quite independent."

"Who's offering the five hundred pound one?" asked Glassdale.

The solicitor paused, looking his man over. He saw at once that Glassdale had, or believed he had, something to tell--and was disposed to be unusually cautious about telling it.

"Well," he replied, after a pause. "I believe--in fact, it's an open secret--that the offer of five hundred pounds is made by Dr. Ransford."

"And--yours?" inquired Glassdale. "Who's at the back of yours-a thousand?"

The solicitor smiled.

"You haven't answered my question, Mr. Glassdale," he observed. "Can you give any information?"

Glassdale threw his questioner a significant glance.

"Whatever information I might give," he said, "I'd only give to a principal--the principal. From what I've seen and known of all this, there's more in it than is on the surface. I can tell something. I knew John Braden--who, of course, was John Brake--very well, for some years. Naturally, I was in his confidence."

"About more than the Saxonsteade jewels, you mean?" asked the solicitor.

"About more than that," assented Glassdale. "Private matters. I've no doubt I can throw some light some!--on this Wrychester Paradise affair. But, as I said just now, I'll only deal with the principal. I wouldn't tell you, for instance--as your principal's solicitor."

The solicitor smiled again.

"Your ideas, Mr. Glassdale, appear to fit in with our principal's," he remarked. "His instructions--strict instructions--to us are that if anybody turns up who can give any information, it's not to be given to us, but to--himself!"

"Wise man!" observed Glassdale. "That's just what I feel about it. It's a mistake to share secrets with more than one person."

"There is a secret, then!" asked the solicitor, half slyly.

"Might be," replied Glassdale. "Who's your client?"

The solicitor pulled a scrap of paper towards him and wrote a few words on it. He pushed it towards his caller, and Glassdale picked it up and read what had been written--Mr. Stephen Folliot, The Close.

"You'd better go and see him," said the solicitor, suggestively. "You'll find him reserved enough."

Glassdale read and re-read the name--as if he were endeavouring to recollect it, or connect it with something.

"What particular reason has this man for wishing to find this out?" he inquired.

"Can't say, my good sir!" replied the solicitor, with a smile. "Perhaps he'll tell you. He hasn't told me."

Glassdale rose to take his leave. But with his hand on the door he turned.

"Is this gentleman a resident in the place?" he asked.

"A well-known townsman," replied the solicitor. "You'll easily find his house in the Close--everybody knows it."

Glassdale went away then--and walked slowly towards the Cathedral precincts. On his way he passed two places at which he was half inclined to call--one was the police-station; the other, the office of the solicitors who were acting on behalf of the offerer of five hundred pounds. He half glanced at. the solicitor's door--but on reflection went forward. A man who was walking across the Close pointed out the Folliot residence--Glassdale entered by the garden door, and in another minute came face to face with Folliot himself, busied, as usual, amongst his rose-trees.

Glassdale saw Folliot and took stock of him before Folliot knew that a stranger was within his gates. Folliot, in an old jacket which he kept for his horticultural labours, was taking slips from a standard; he looked as harmless and peaceful as his occupation. A quiet, inoffensive, somewhat benevolent elderly man, engaged in work, which suggested leisure and peace.

But Glassdale, after a first quick, searching glance, took another and longer one--and went nearer with a discreet laugh.

"Folliot turned quietly, and seeing the stranger, showed no surprise. He had a habit of looking over the top rims of his spectacles at people, and he looked in this way at Glassdale, glancing him up and down calmly. Glassdale lifted his slouch hat and advanced.

"Mr. Folliot, I believe, sir?" he said. "Mr. Stephen Folliot?"

"Aye, just so!" responded Folliot. "But I don't know you. Who may you be, now?"

"My name, sir, is Glassdale," answered the other. "I've just come from your solicitor's. I called to see him this afternoon--and he told me that the business I called about could only be dealt with--or discussed--with you. So--I came here."

Folliot, who had been cutting slips off a rose-tree, closed his knife and put it away in his old jacket. He turned and quietly inspected his visitor once more.

"Aye!" he said quietly. "So you're after that thousand pound reward, eh?"

"I should have no objection to it, Mr. Folliot," replied Glassdale.

"I dare say not," remarked Folliot, dryly. "I dare say not! And which are you, now?--one of those who think they can tell something, or one that really can tell? Eh?"

"You'll know that better when we've had a bit of talk, Mr. Folliot," answered Glassdale, accompanying his reply with a direct glance.

"Oh, well, now then, I've no objection to a bit of talk--none whatever!" said Folliot. "Here!--we'll sit down on that bench, amongst the roses. Quite private here--nobody about. And now," he continued, as Glassdale accompanied him to a rustic bench set beneath a pergola of rambler roses, "who are you, like? I read a queer account in this morning's local paper of what happened in the Cathedral grounds yonder last night, and there was a person of your name mentioned. Are you that Glassdale?"

"The same, Mr. Folliot," answered the visitor, promptly.

"Then you knew Braden--the man who lost his life here?" asked Folliot.

"Very well indeed," replied Glassdale.

"For how long?" demanded Folliot.

"Some years--as a mere acquaintance, seen now and then," said Glassdale. "A few years, recently, as what you might call a close friend."

"Tell you any of his secrets?" asked Folliot.

"Yes, he did!" answered Glassdale.

"Anything that seems to relate to his death--and the mystery about it?" inquired Folliot.

"I think so," said Glassdale. "Upon consideration, I think so!"

"Ah--and what might it be, now?" continued Folliot. He gave Glassdale a look which seemed to denote and imply several things. "It might be to your advantage to explain a bit, you know," he added. "One has to be a little--vague, eh?"

"There was a certain man that Braden was very anxious to find," said Glassdale. "He'd been looking for him for a good many years."

"A man?" asked Folliot. "One?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, there were two," admitted Glassdale, "but there was one in particular. The other--the second--so Braden said, didn't matter; he was or had been, only a sort of cat's-paw of the man he especially wanted."

"I see," said Folliot. He pulled out a cigar case and offered a cigar to his visitor, afterwards lighting one himself. "And what did Braden want that man for?" he asked.

Glassdale waited until his cigar was in full going order before he answered this question. Then he replied in one word.

"Revenge!"

Folliot put his thumbs in the armholes of his buff waistcoat and leaning back, seemed to be admiring his roses.

"Ah!" he said at last. "Revenge, now? A sort of vindictive man, was he? Wanted to get his knife into somebody, eh?"

"He wanted to get something of his own back from a man who'd done him," answered Glassdale, with a short laugh. "That's about it!"

For a minute or two both men smoked in silence. Then Folliot --still regarding his roses--put a leading question.

"Give you any details?" he asked.

"Enough," said Glassdale. "Braden had been done--over a money transaction--by these men--one especially, as head and front of the affair--and it had cost him--more than anybody would think! Naturally, he wanted--if he ever got the chance--his revenge. Who wouldn't?"

"And he'd tracked 'em down, eh?" asked Folliot.

"There are questions I can answer, and there are questions I can't answer," responded Glassdale. "That's one of the questions I've no reply to. For--I don't know! But--I can say this. He hadn't tracked 'em down the day before he came to Wrychester!"

"You're sure of that?" asked Folliot. "He--didn't come here on that account?"

"No, I'm sure he didn't!" answered Glassdale, readily. "If he had, I should have known. I was with him till noon the day he came here--in London--and when he took his ticket at Victoria for Wrychester, he'd no more idea than the man in the moon as to where those men had got to. He mentioned it as we were having a bit of lunch together before he got into the train. No--he didn't come to Wrychester for any such purpose as that! But--"

He paused and gave Folliot a meaning glance out of the corner of his eyes.

"Aye--what?" asked Folliot.

"I think he met at least one of 'em here," said Glassdale, quietly. "And--perhaps both."

"Leading to--misfortune for him?" suggested Folliot.

"If you like to put it that way--yes," assented Glassdale.

Folliot smoked a while in more reflective silence.

"Aye, well!" he said at last. "I suppose you haven't put these ideas of yours before anybody, now?"

"Present ideas?" asked Glassdale, sharply. "Not to a soul! I've not had 'em--very long."

"You're the sort of man that another man can do a deal with, I suppose?" suggested Folliot. "That is, if it's made worth your while, of course?"

"I shouldn't wonder," replied Glassdale. "And--if it is made worth my while."

Folliot mused a little. Then he tapped Glassdale's elbow.

"You see," he said, confidentially, "it might be, you know, that I had a little purpose of my own in, offering that reward. It might be that it was a very particular friend of mine that had the misfortune to have incurred this man Braden's hatred. And I might want to save him, d'ye see, from--well, from the consequence of what's happened, and to hear about it first if anybody came forward, eh?"

"As I've done," said Glassdale.

"As--you've done," assented Folliot. "Now, perhaps it would be in the interest of this particular friend of mine if he made it worth your while to--say no more to anybody, eh?"

"Very much worth his while, Mr. Folliot," declared Glassdale.

"Aye, well," continued Folliot. "This very particular friend would just want to know, you know, how much you really, truly know! Now, for instance, about these two men--and one in particular--that Braden was after? Did--did he name 'em?"

Glassdale leaned a little nearer to his companion on the rose-screened bench.

"He named them--to me!" he said in a whisper. "One was a man called Falkiner Wraye, and the other man was a man named Flood. Is that enough?"

"I think you'd better come and see me this evening," answered Folliot. "Come just about dusk to that door--I'll meet you there. Fine roses these of mine, aren't they?" he continued, as they rose. "I occupy myself entirely with 'em."

He walked with Glassdale to the garden door, and stood there watching his visitor go away up the side of the high wall until he turned into the path across Paradise. And then, as Folliot was retreating to his roses, he saw Bryce coming over the Close--and Bryce beckoned to him.