The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter V. The Scrap of Paper
When Bryce, in his locked room, drew that bit of paper from his pocket, it was with the conviction that in it he held a clue to the secret of the morning's adventure. He had only taken a mere glance at it as he withdrew it from the dead man's purse, but he had seen enough of what was written on it to make him certain that it was a document--if such a mere fragment could be called a document--of no ordinary importance. And now be unfolded and laid it flat on his table and looked at it carefully, asking himself what was the real meaning of what he saw.
There was not much to see. The scrap of paper itself was evidently a quarter of a leaf of old-fashioned, stoutish notepaper, somewhat yellow with age, and bearing evidence of having been folded and kept flat in the dead man's purse for some time--the creases were well-defined, the edges were worn and slightly stained by long rubbing against the leather. And in its centre were a few words, or, rather abbreviations of words, in Latin, and some figures:
In Para. Wrycestr. juxt. tumb. Ric. Jenk. ex cap. xxiii. xv.
Bryce at first sight took them to be a copy of some inscription but his knowledge of Latin told him, a moment later; that instead of being an inscription, it was a direction. And a very plain direction, too!--he read it easily. In Paradise, at Wrychester, next to, or near, the tomb of Richard Jenkins, or, possibly, Jenkinson, from, or behind, the head, twenty-three, fifteen--inches, most likely. There was no doubt that there was the meaning of the words. What, now, was it that lay behind the tomb of Richard Jenkins, or Jenkinson, in Wrychester Paradise?--in all probability twenty-three inches from the head-stone, and fifteen inches beneath the surface. That was a question which Bryce immediately resolved to find a satisfactory answer to; in the meantime there were other questions which he set down in order on his mental tablets. They were these:
There was plenty of time before him for the due solution of these mysteries, reflected Bryce--and for solving another problem which might possibly have some relationship to them --that of the exact connection between Ransford and his two wards. Bryce, in telling Ransford that morning of what was being said amongst the tea-table circles of the old cathedral city, had purposely only told him half a tale. He knew, and had known for months, that the society of the Close was greatly exercised over the position of the Ransford menage. Ransford, a bachelor, a well-preserved, active, alert man who was certainly of no more than middle age and did not look his years, had come to Wrychester only a few years previously, and had never shown any signs of forsaking his single state. No one had ever heard him mention his family or relations; then, suddenly, without warning, he had brought into his house Mary Bewery, a handsome young woman of nineteen, who was said to have only just left school, and her brother Richard, then a boy of sixteen, who had certainly been at a public school of repute and was entered at the famous Dean's School of Wrychester as soon as he came to his new home. Dr. Ransford spoke of these two as his wards, without further explanation; the society of the Close was beginning to want much more explanation. Who were they--these two young people? Was Dr. Ransford their uncle, their cousin--what was he to them? In any case, in the opinion of the elderly ladies who set the tone of society in Wrychester, Miss Bewery was much too young, and far too pretty, to be left without a chaperon. But, up to then, no one had dared to say as much to Dr. Ransford--instead, everybody said it freely behind his back.
Bryce had used eyes and ears in relation to the two young people. He had been with Ransford a year when they arrived; admitted freely to their company, he had soon discovered that whatever relationship existed between them and Ransford, they had none with anybody else--that they knew of. No letters came for them from uncles, aunts, cousins, grandfathers, grandmothers. They appeared to have no memories or reminiscences of relatives, nor of father or mother; there was a curious atmosphere of isolation about them. They had plenty of talk about what might be called their present--their recent schooldays, their youthful experiences, games, pursuits--but none of what, under any circumstances, could have been a very far-distant past. Bryce's quick and attentive ears discovered things--for instance that for many years past Ransford had been in the habit of spending his annual two months' holiday with these two. Year after year--at any rate since the boy's tenth year--he had taken them travelling; Bryce heard scraps of reminiscences of tours in France, and in Switzerland, and in Ireland, and in Scotland--even as far afield as the far north of Norway. It was easy to see that both boy and girl had a mighty veneration for Ransford; just as easy to see that Ransford took infinite pains to make life something more than happy and comfortable for both. And Bryce, who was one of those men who firmly believe that no man ever does anything for nothing and that self-interest is the mainspring of Life, asked himself over and over again the question which agitated the ladies of the Close: Who are these two, and what is the bond between them and this sort of fairy-godfather-guardian?
And now, as he put away the scrap of paper in a safely-locked desk, Bryce asked himself another question: Had the events of that morning anything to do with the mystery which hung around Dr. Ransford's wards? If it had, then all the more reason why he should solve it. For Bryce had made up his mind that, by hook or by crook, he would marry Mary Bewery, and he was only too eager to lay hands on anything that would help him to achieve that ambition. If he could only get Ransford into his power--if he could get Mary Bewery herself into his power--well and good. Once he had got her, he would be good enough to her--in his way.
Having nothing to do, Bryce went out after a while and strolled round to the Wrychester Club--an exclusive institution, the members of which were drawn from the leisured, the professional, the clerical, and the military circles of the old city. And there, as he expected, he found small groups discussing the morning's tragedy, and he joined one of them, in which was Sackville Bonham, his presumptive rival, who was busily telling three or four other young men what his stepfather, Mr. Folliot, had to say about the event.
"My stepfather says--and I tell you he saw the man," said Sackville, who was noted in Wrychester circles as a loquacious and forward youth; "he says that whatever happened must have happened as soon as ever the old chap got up into that clerestory gallery. Look here!--it's like this. My stepfather had gone in there for the morning service--strict old church-goer he is, you know--and he saw this stranger going up the stairway. He's positive, Mr. Folliot, that it was then five minutes to ten. Now, then, I ask you--isn't he right, my stepfather, when he says that it must have happened at once--immediately?
"Because that man, Varner, the mason, says he saw the man fall before ten. What?"
One of the group nodded at Bryce.
"I should think Bryce knows what time it happened as well as anybody," he said. "You were first on the spot, Bryce, weren't you?"
"After Varner," answered Bryce laconically. "As to the time --I could fix it in this way--the organist was just beginning a voluntary or something of the sort."
"That means ten o'clock--to the minute--when he was found!" exclaimed Sackville triumphantly. "Of course, he'd fallen a minute or two before that--which proves Mr. Folliot to be right. Now what does that prove? Why, that the old chap's assailant, whoever he was, dogged him along that gallery as soon as he entered, seized him when he got to the open doorway, and flung him through! Clear as--as noonday!"
One of the group, a rather older man than the rest, who was leaning back in a tilted chair, hands in pockets, watching Sackville Bonham smilingly, shook his head and laughed a little.
"You're taking something for granted, Sackie, my son!" he said. "You're adopting the mason's tale as true. But I don't believe the poor man was thrown through that doorway at all --not I!"
Bryce turned sharply on this speaker--young Archdale, a member of a well-known firm of architects.
"You don't?" he exclaimed. "But Varner says he saw him thrown!"
"Very likely," answered Archdale. "But it would all happen so quickly that Varner might easily be mistaken. I'm speaking of something I know. I know every inch of the Cathedral fabric--ought to, as we're always going over it, professionally. Just at that doorway, at the head of St. Wrytha's Stair, the flooring of the clerestory gallery is worn so smooth that it's like a piece of glass--and it slopes! Slopes at a very steep angle, too, to the doorway itself. A stranger walking along there might easily slip, and if the door was open, as it was, he'd be shot out and into space before he knew what was happening."
This theory produced a moment's silence--broken at last by Sackville Bonham.
"Varner says he saw--saw!--a man's hand, a gentleman's hand," insisted Sackville. "He saw a white shirt cuff, a bit of the sleeve of a coat. You're not going to get over that, you know. He's certain of it!"
"Varner may be as certain of it as he likes," answered Archdale, almost indifferently, "and still he may be mistaken. The probability is that Varner was confused by what he saw. He may have had a white shirt cuff and the sleeve of a black coat impressed upon him, as in a flash--and they were probably those of the man who was killed. If, as I suggest, the man slipped, and was shot out of that open doorway, he would execute some violent and curious movements in the effort to save himself in which his arms would play an important part. For one thing, he would certainly throw out an arm--to clutch at anything. That's what Varner most probably saw. There's no evidence whatever that the man was flung down."
Bryce turned away from the group of talkers to think over Archdale's suggestion. If that suggestion had a basis of fact, it destroyed his own theory that Ransford was responsible for the stranger's death. In that case, what was the reason of Ransford's unmistakable agitation on leaving the west porch, and of his attack--equally unmistakable--of nerves in the surgery? But what Archdale had said made him inquisitive, and after he had treated himself--in celebration of his freedom--to an unusually good lunch at the Club, he went round to the Cathedral to make a personal inspection of the gallery in the clerestory.
There was a stairway to that gallery in the corner of the south transept, and Bryce made straight for it--only to find a policeman there, who pointed to a placard on the turret door. "Closed, doctor--by order of the Dean and Chapter," he announced. "Till further orders. The fact was, sir," he went on confidentially, "after the news got out, so many people came crowding in here and; up to that gallery that the Dean ordered all the entrances to be shut up at once--nobody's been allowed up since noon."
"I suppose you haven't heard anything of any strange person being seen lurking about up there this morning?" asked Bryce.
"No, sir. But I've had a bit of a talk with some of the vergers," replied the policeman, "and they say it's a most extraordinary thing that none of them ever saw this strange gentleman go up there, nor even heard any scuffle. They say--the vergers--that they were all about at the time, getting ready for the morning service, and they neither saw nor heard. Odd, air, ain't it?"
"The whole thing's odd," agreed Bryce, and left the Cathedral. He walked round to the wicket gate which admitted to that side of Paradise--to find another policeman posted there. "What! --is this closed, too?" he asked.
"And time, sir," said the man. "They'd ha' broken down all the shrubs in the place if orders hadn't been given! They were mad to see where the gentleman fell--came in crowds at dinnertime."
Bryce nodded, and was turning away, when Dick Bewery came round a corner from the Deanery Walk, evidently keenly excited. With him was a girl of about his own age--a certain characterful young lady whom Bryce knew as Betty Campany, daughter of the librarian to the Dean and Chapter and therefore custodian of one of the most famous cathedral libraries in the country. She, too, was apparently brimming with excitement, and her pretty and vivacious face puckered itself into a frown as the policeman smiled and shook his head.
"Oh, I say, what's that for?" exclaimed Dick Bewery. "Shut up?--what a lot of rot! I say!--can't you let us go in--just for a minute?"
"Not for a pension, sir!" answered the policeman good-naturedly. "Don't you see the notice? The Dean 'ud have me out of the force by tomorrow if I disobeyed orders. No admittance, nowhere, nohow! But lor' bless yer!" he added, glancing at the two young people. "There's nothing to see--nothing!--as Dr. Bryce there can tell you."
Dick, who knew nothing of the recent passages between his guardian and the dismissed assistant, glanced at Bryce with interest.
"You were on the spot first, weren't you?" he asked: "Do you think it really was murder?"
"I don't know what it was," answered Bryce. "And I wasn't first on the spot. That was Varner, the mason--he called me." He turned from the lad to glance at the girl, who was peeping curiously over the gate into the yews and cypresses. "Do you think your father's at the Library just now?" he asked. "Shall I find him there?"
"I should think he is," answered Betty Campany. "He generally goes down about this time." She turned and pulled Dick Bewery's sleeve. "Let's go up in the clerestory," she said. "We can see that, anyway."
"Also closed, miss," said the policeman, shaking his head. "No admittance there, neither. The public firmly warned off--so to speak. 'I won't have the Cathedral turned into a peepshow!' that's precisely what I heard the Dean say with my own ears. So--closed!"
The boy and the girl turned away and went off across the Close, and the policeman looked after them and laughed.
"Lively young couple, that, sir!" he said. "What they call healthy curiosity, I suppose? Plenty o' that knocking around in the city today."
Bryce, who had half-turned in the direction of the Library, at the other side of the Close, turned round again.
"Do you know if your people are doing anything about identifying the dead man?" he asked. "Did you hear anything at noon?"
"Nothing but that there'll be inquiries through the newspapers, sir," replied the policeman. "That's the surest way of finding something out. And I did hear Inspector Mitchington say that they'd have to ask the Duke if he knew anything about the poor man--I suppose he'd let fall something about wanting to go over to Saxonsteade."
Bryce went off in the direction of the Library thinking. The newspapers?--yes, no better channel for spreading the news. If Mr. John Braden had relations and friends, they would learn of his sad death through the newspapers, and would come forward. And in that case--"
"But it wouldn't surprise me," mused Bryce, "if the name given at the Mitre is an assumed name. I wonder if that theory of Archdale's is a correct one?--however, there'll be more of that at the inquest tomorrow. And in the meantime--let me find out something about the tomb of Richard Jenkins, or Jenkinson--whoever he was."
The famous Library of the Dean and Chapter of Wrychester was housed in an ancient picturesque building in one corner of the Close, wherein, day in and day out, amidst priceless volumes and manuscripts, huge folios and weighty quartos, old prints, and relics of the mediaeval ages, Ambrose Campany, the librarian, was pretty nearly always to be found, ready to show his treasures to the visitors and tourists who came from all parts of the world to see a collection well known to bibliophiles. And Ambrose Campany, a cheery-faced, middle-aged man, with booklover and antiquary written all over him, shockheaded, blue-spectacled, was there now, talking to an old man whom Bryce knew as a neighbour of his in Friary Lane--one Simpson Barker, a quiet, meditative old fellow, believed to be a retired tradesman who spent his time in gentle pottering about the city. Bryce, as he entered, caught what Campany was just then saying.
"The most important thing I've heard about it," said Campany, "is--that book they found in the man's suitcase at the Mitre. I'm not a detective--but there's a clue!"