The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XXV. The Old Well House
When Bryce came hurrying up to him, Folliot was standing at his garden door with his hands thrust under his coat-tails --the very picture of a benevolent, leisured gentleman who has nothing to do and is disposed to give his time to anybody. He glanced at Bryce as he had glanced at Glassdale--over the tops of his spectacles, and the glance had no more than mild inquiry in it. But if Bryce had been less excited, he would have seen that Folliot, as he beckoned him inside the garden, swept a sharp look over the Close and ascertained that there was no one about, that Bryce's entrance was unobserved. Save for a child or two, playing under the tall elms near one of the gates, and for a clerical figure that stalked a path in the far distance, the Close was empty of life. And there was no one about, either, in that part of Folliot's big garden.
"I want a bit of talk with you," said Bryce as Folliot closed the door and turned down a side-path to a still more retired region. "Private talk. Let's go where it's quiet."
Without replying in words to this suggestion, Folliot led the way through his rose-trees to a far corner of his grounds, where an old building of grey stone, covered with ivy, stood amongst high trees. He turned the key of a doorway and motioned Bryce to enter.
"Quiet enough in here, doctor," he observed. "You've never seen this place--bit of a fancy of mine."
Bryce, absorbed as he was in the thoughts of the moment, glanced cursorily at the place into which Folliot had led him. It was a square building of old stone, its walls unlined, unplastered; its floor paved with much worn flags of limestone, evidently set down in a long dead age and now polished to marble-like smoothness. In its midst, set flush with the floor, was what was evidently a trap-door, furnished with a heavy iron ring. To this Folliot pointed, with a glance of significant interest.
"Deepest well in all Wrychester under that," he remarked. "You'd never think it--it's a hundred feet deep--and more! Dry now--water gave out some years ago. Some people would have pulled this old well-house down--but not me! I did better--I turned it to good account." He raised a hand and pointed upward to an obviously modern ceiling of strong oak timbers. "Had that put in," he continued, "and turned the top of the building into a little snuggery. Come up!"
He led the way to a flight of steps in one corner of the lower room, pushed open a door at their head, and showed his companion into a small apartment arranged and furnished in something closely approaching to luxury. The walls were hung with thick fabrics; the carpeting was equally thick; there were pictures, books, and curiosities; the two or three chairs were deep and big enough to lie down in; the two windows commanded pleasant views of the Cathedral towers on one side and of the Close on the other.
"Nice little place to be alone in, d'ye see?" said Folliot. "Cool in summer--warm in winter--modern fire-grate, you notice. Come here when I want to do a bit of quiet thinking, what?"
"Good place for that--certainly," agreed Bryce.
Folliot pointed his visitor to one of the big chairs and turning to a cabinet brought out some glasses, a syphon of soda-water, and a heavy cut-glass decanter. He nodded at a box of cigars which lay open on a table at Bryce's elbow as he began to mix a couple of drinks.
"Help yourself," he said. "Good stuff, those."
Not until he had given Bryce a drink, and had carried his own glass to another easy chair did Folliot refer to any reason for Bryce's visit. But once settled down, he looked at him speculatively.
"What did you want to see me about?" he asked.
Bryce, who had lighted a cigar, looked across its smoke at the imperturbable face opposite.
"You've just had Glassdale here," he observed quietly. "I saw him leave you."
Folliot nodded--without any change of expression.
"Aye, doctor," he said. "And--what do you know about Glassdale, now?"
Bryce, who would have cheerfully hobnobbed with a man whom he was about to conduct to the scaffold, lifted his glass and drank.
"A good deal," he answered as he set the glass down. "The fact is--I came here to tell you so!--I know a good deal about everything."
"A wide term!" remarked Folliot. "You've got some limitation to it, I should think. What do you mean by--everything?"
"I mean about recent matters," replied Bryce. "I've interested myself in them--for reasons of my own. Ever since Braden was found at the foot of those stairs in Paradise, and I was fetched to him, I've interested myself. And--I've discovered a great deal--more, much more than's known to anybody."
Folliot threw one leg over the other and began to jog his foot.
"Oh!" he said after a pause. "Dear me! And--what might you know, now, doctor? Aught you can tell me eh?"
"Lots!" answered Bryce. "I came to tell you--on seeing that Glassdale had been with you. Because--I was with Glassdale this morning."
Folliot made no answer. But Bryce saw that his cool, almost indifferent manner was changing--he was beginning, under the surface, to get anxious.
"When I left Glassdale--at noon," continued Bryce, "I'd no idea--and I don't think he had--that he was coming to see you. But I know what put the notion into his head. I gave him copies of those two reward bills. He no doubt thought he might make a bit--and so he came in to town, and--to you."
"Well?" asked Folliot.
"I shouldn't wonder," remarked Bryce, reflectively, and almost as if speaking to himself, "I shouldn't at all wonder if Glassdale's the sort of man who can be bought. He, no doubt, has his price. But all that Glassdale knows is nothing--to what I know."
Folliot had allowed his cigar to go out. He threw it away, took a fresh one from the box, and slowly struck a match and lighted it.
"What might you know, now?" he asked after another pause.
"I've a bit of a faculty for finding things out," answered Bryce boldly. "And I've developed it. I wanted to know all about Braden--and about who killed him--and why. There's only one way of doing all that sort of thing, you know. You've got to go back--a long way back--to the very beginnings. I went back--to the time when Braden was married. Not as Braden, of course--but as who he really was--John Brake. That was at a place called Braden Medworth, near Barthorpe, in Liecestershire."
He paused there, watching Folliot. But Folliot showed no more than close attention, and Bryce went on.
"Not much in that--for the really important part of the story," he continued. "But Brake had other associations with Barthorpe--a bit later. He got to know--got into close touch with a Barthorpe man who, about the time of Brake's marriage, left Barthorpe end settled in London. Brake and this man began to have some secret dealings together. There was another man in with them, too--a man who was a sort of partner of the Barthorpe man's. Brake had evidently a belief in these men, and he trusted them--unfortunately for himself he sometimes trusted the bank's money to them. I know what happened--he used to let them have money for short financial transactions--to be refunded within a very brief space. But --he went to the fire too often, and got his fingers burned in the end. The two men did him--one of them in particular--and cleared out. He had to stand the racket. He stood it--to the tune of ten years' penal servitude. And, naturally, when he'd finished his time, he wanted to find those two men--and began a long search for them. Like to know the names of the men, Mr. Folliot?"
"You might mention 'em--if you know 'em," answered Folliot.
"The name of the particular one was Wraye--Falkiner Wraye," replied Bryce promptly. "Of the other--the man of lesser importance--Flood."
The two men looked quietly at each other for a full moment's silence. And it was Bryce who first spoke with a ring of confidence in his tone which showed that he knew he had the whip hand.
"Shall I tell you something about Falkiner Wraye?" he asked. "I will!--it's deeply interesting. Mr. Falkiner Wraye, after cheating and deceiving Brake, and leaving him to pay the penalty of his over-trustfulness, cleared out of England and carried his money-making talents to foreign parts. He succeeded in doing well--he would!--and eventually he came back and married a rich widow and settled himself down in an out-of-the-world English town to grow roses. You're Falkiner Wraye, you know, Mr. Folliot!"
Bryce laughed as he made this direct accusation, and sitting forward in his chair, pointed first to Folliot's face and then to his left hand.
"Falkiner Wraye," he said, "had an unfortunate gun accident in his youth which marked him for life. He lost the middle finger of his left hand, and he got a bad scar on his left jaw. There they are, those marks! Fortunate for you, Mr. Folliot, that the police don't know all that I know, for if they did, those marks would have done for you days ago!" For a minute or two Folliot sat joggling his leg--a bad sign in him of rising temper if Bryce had but known it. While he remained silent he watched Bryce narrowly, and when he spoke, his voice was calm as ever.
"And what use do you intend to put your knowledge to, if one may ask?" he inquired, half sneeringly. "You said just now that you'd no doubt that man Glassdale could be bought, and I'm inclining to think that you're one of those men that have their price. What is it?"
"We've not come to that," retorted Bryce. "You're a bit mistaken. If I have my price, it's not in the same commodity that Glassdale would want. But before we do any talking about that sort of thing, I want to add to my stock of knowledge. Look here! We'll be candid. I don't care a snap of my fingers that Brake, or Braden's dead, or that Collishaw's dead, nor if one had his neck broken and the other was poisoned, but--whose hand was that which the mason, Varner, saw that morning, when Brake was flung out of that doorway? Come, now!--whose?"
"Not mine, my lad!" answered Folliot, confidently. "That's a fact?"
Bryce hesitated, giving Folliot a searching look. And Folliot nodded solemnly. "I tell you, not mine!" he repeated. "I'd naught to do with it!"
"Then who had?" demanded Bryce. "Was it the other man--Flood? And if so, who is Flood?"
Folliot got up from his chair and, cigar between his lips and hands under the tails of his old coat, walked silently about the quiet room for awhile. He was evidently thinking deeply, and Bryce made no attempt to disturb him. Some minutes went by before Folliot took the cigar from his lips and leaning against the chimneypiece looked fixedly at his visitor.
"Look here, my lad!" he said, earnestly. "You're no doubt, as you say, a good hand at finding things out, and you've doubtless done a good bit of ferreting, and done it well enough in your own opinion. But there's one thing you can't find out, and the police can't find out either, and that's the precise truth about Braden's death. I'd no hand in it--it couldn't be fastened on to me, anyhow."
Bryce looked up and interjected one word.
"Nor that, neither," answered Folliot, hastily. "Maybe I know something about both, but neither you nor the police nor anybody could fasten me to either matter! Granting all you say to be true, where's the positive truth?"
"What about circumstantial evidence," asked Bryce.
"You'd have a job to get it," retorted Folliot. "Supposing that all you say is true about--about past matters? Nothing can prove--nothing!--that I ever met Braden that morning. On the other hand, I can prove, easily, that I never did meet him; I can account for every minute of my time that day. As to the other affair--not an ounce of direct evidence!"
"Then--it was the other man!" exclaimed Bryce. "Now then, who is he?"
Folliot replied with a shrewd glance.
"A man who by giving away another man gave himself away would be a damned fool!" he answered. "If there is another man--"
"As if there must be!" interrupted Bryce.
"Then he's safe!" concluded Folliot. "You'll get nothing from me about him!"
"And nobody can get at you except through him?" asked Bryce.
"That's about it," assented Folliot laconically.
Bryce laughed cynically.
"A pretty coil!" he said 4th a sneer. "Here! You talked about my price. I'm quite content to hold my tongue if you'd tell me something, about what happened seventeen years ago."
"What?" asked Folliot.
"You knew Brake, you must have known his family affairs," said Bryce. "What became of Brake's wife and children when he went to prison?"
Folliot shook his head, and it was plain to Bryce that his gesture of dissent was genuine.
"You're wrong," he answered. "I never at any time knew anything of Brake's family affairs. So little indeed, that I never even knew he was married."
Bryce rose to his feet and stood staring.
"What!" he exclaimed. "You mean to tell me that, even now, you don't know that Brake had two children, and that--that --oh, it's incredible!"
"What's incredible?" asked Folliot. "What are you talking about?"
Bryce in his eagerness and surprise grasped Folliot's arm and shook it.
"Good heavens, man!" he said. "Those two wards of Ransford's are Brake's girl and boy! Didn't you know that, didn't you?"
"Never!" answered Folliot. "Never! And who's Ransford, then? I never heard Brake speak of any Ransford! What game is all this? What--"
Before Bryce could reply, Folliot suddenly started, thrust his companion aside and went to one of the windows. A sharp exclamation from him took Bryce to his side. Folliot lifted a shaking hand and pointed into the garden.
"There!" he whispered. "Hell and--What's this mean?"
Bryce looked in the direction pointed out. Behind the pergola of rambler roses the figures of men were coming towards the old well-house led by one of Folliot's gardeners. Suddenly they emerged into full view, and in front of the rest was Mitchington and close behind him the detective, and behind him--Glassdale!