The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter VI. By Misadventure
Old Simpson Harker, who sat near the librarian's table, his hands folded on the crook of his stout walking stick, glanced out of a pair of unusually shrewd and bright eyes at Bryce as he crossed the room and approached the pair of gossipers.
"I think the doctor was there when that book you're speaking of was found," he remarked. "So I understood from Mitchington."
"Yes, I was there," said Bryce, who was not unwilling to join in the talk. He turned to Campany. "What makes you think there's a clue--in that?" he asked.
"Why this," answered the librarian. "Here's a man in possession of an old history of Barthorpe. Barthorpe is a small market-town in the Midlands--Leicestershire, I believe, of no particular importance that I know of, but doubtless with a story of its own. Why should any one but a Barthorpe man, past or present, be interested in that story so far as to carry an old account of it with him? Therefore, I conclude this stranger was a Barthorpe man. And it's at Barthorpe that I should make inquiries about him."
Simpson Harker made no remark, and Bryce remembered what Mr. Dellingham had said when the book was found.
"Oh, I don't know!" he replied carelessly. "I don't see that that follows. I saw the book--a curious old binding and queer old copper-plates. The man may have picked it up for that reason--I've bought old books myself for less."
"All the same," retorted Campany, "I should make inquiry at Barthorpe. You've got to go on probabilities. The probabilities in this case are that the man was interested in the book because it dealt with his own town."
Bryce turned away towards a wall on which hung a number of charts and plans of Wrychester Cathedral and its precincts --it' was to inspect one of these that he had come to the Library. But suddenly remembering that there was a question which he could ask without exciting any suspicion or surmise, he faced round again on the librarian.
"Isn't there a register of burials within the Cathedral?" he inquired. "Some book in which they're put down? I was looking in the Memorials of Wrychester the other day, and I saw some names I want to trace."
Campany lifted his quill pen and pointed to a case of big leather-bound volumes in a far corner of the room.
"Third shelf from the bottom, doctor," he replied. "You'll see two books there--one's the register of all burials within the Cathedral itself up to date: the other's the register of those in Paradise and the cloisters. What names are you wanting to trace?"
But Bryce affected not to hear the last question; he walked over to the place which Campany had indicated, and taking down the second book carried it to an adjacent table. Campany called across the room to him.
"You'll find useful indexes at the end," he said. "They're all brought up to the present time--from four hundred years ago, nearly."
Bryce turned to the index at the end of his book--an index written out in various styles of handwriting. And within a minute he found the name he wanted--there it was plainly before him--Richard Jenkins, died March 8th, 1715: buried, in Paradise, March 10th. He nearly laughed aloud at the ease with which he was tracing out what at first had seemed a difficult matter to investigate. But lest his task should seem too easy, he continued to turn over the leaves of the big folio, and in order to have an excuse if the librarian should ask him any further questions, he memorized some of the names which he saw. And after a while he took the book back to its shelf, and turned to the wall on which the charts and maps were hung. There was one there of Paradise, whereon was marked the site and names of all the tombs and graves in that ancient enclosure; from it he hoped to ascertain the exact position and whereabouts of Richard Jenkins's grave.
But here Bryce met his first check. Down each side of the old chart--dated 1850--there was a tabulated list of the tombs in Paradise. The names of families and persons were given in this list--against each name was a number corresponding with the same number, marked on the various divisions of the chart. And there was no Richard Jenkins on that list--he went over it carefully twice, thrice. It was not there. Obviously, if the tomb of Richard Jenkins, who was buried in Paradise in 1715, was still there, amongst the cypresses and yew trees, the name and inscription on it had vanished, worn away by time and weather, when that chart had been made, a hundred and thirty-five years later. And in that case, what did the memorandum mean which Bryce had found in the dead man's purse?
He turned away at last from the chart, at a loss--and Campany glanced at him.
"Found what you wanted?" he asked.
"Oh, yes!" replied Bryce, primed with a ready answer. "I just wanted to see where the Spelbanks were buried--quite a lot of them, I see."
"Southeast corner of Paradise," said Campany. "Several tombs. I could have spared you the trouble of looking."
"You're a regular encyclopaedia about the place," laughed Bryce. "I suppose you know every spout and gargoyle!"
"Ought to," answered the librarian. "I've been fed on it, man and boy, for five-and-forty years."
Bryce made some fitting remark and went out and home to his rooms--there to spend most of the ensuing evening in trying to puzzle out the various mysteries of the day. He got no more light on them then, and he was still exercising his brains on them when he went to the inquest next morning--to find the Coroner's court packed to the doors with an assemblage of townsfolk just as curious as he was. And as he sat there, listening to the preliminaries, and to the evidence of the first witnesses, his active and scheming mind figured to itself, not without much cynical amusement, how a word or two from his lips would go far to solve matters. He thought of what he might tell--if he told all the truth. He thought of what he might get out of Ransford if he, Bryce, were Coroner, or solicitor, and had Ransford in that witness-box. He would ask him on his oath if he knew that dead man--if he had had dealings with him in times past--if he had met and spoken to him on that eventful morning he would ask him, point-blank, if it was not his hand that had thrown him to his death. But Bryce had no intention of making any revelations just then--as for himself he was going to tell just as much as he pleased and no more. And so he sat and heard--and knew from what he heard that. everybody there was in a hopeless fog, and that in all that crowd there was but one man who had any real suspicion of the truth, and that that man was himself.
The evidence given in the first stages of the inquiry was all known to Bryce, and to most people in the court, already. Mr. Dellingham told how he had met the dead man in the train, journeying from London to Wrychester. Mrs. Partingley told how he had arrived at the Mitre, registered in her book as Mr. John Braden, and had next morning asked if he could get a conveyance for Saxonsteade in the afternoon, as he wished to see the Duke. Mr. Folliot testified to having seen him in the Cathedral, going towards one of the stairways leading to the gallery. Varner--most important witness of all up to that point--told of what he had seen. Bryce himself, followed by Ransford, gave medical evidence; Mitchington told of his examination of the dead man's clothing and effects in his room at the Mitre. And Mitchington added the first information which was new to Bryce.
"In consequence of finding the book about Barthorpe in the suit-case," said Mitchington, "we sent a long telegram yesterday to the police there, telling them what had happened, and asking them to make the most careful inquiries at once about any townsman of theirs of the name of John Braden, and to wire us the result of such inquiries this morning. This is their reply, received by us an hour ago. Nothing whatever is known at Barthorpe--which is a very small town--of any person of that name."
So much for that, thought Bryce. He turned with more interest to the next witness--the Duke of Saxonsteade, the great local magnate, a big, bluff man who had been present in court since the beginning of the proceedings, in which he was manifestly highly interested. It was possible that he might be able to tell something of moment--he might, after all, know something of this apparently mysterious stranger, who, for anything that Mrs. Partingley or anybody else could say to the contrary, might have had an appointment and business with him.
But his Grace knew nothing. He had never heard the name of John Braden in his life--so far as he remembered. He had just seen the body of the unfortunate man and had looked carefully at the features. He was not a man of whom he had any knowledge whatever--he could not recollect ever having seen him anywhere at any time. He knew literally nothing of him --could not think of any reason at all why this Mr. John Braden should wish to see him.
"Your Grace has, no doubt, had business dealings with a good many people at one time or another," suggested the Coroner. "Some of them, perhaps, with men whom your Grace only saw for a brief space of time--a few minutes, possibly. You don't remember ever seeing this man in that way?"
"I'm credited with having an unusually good memory for faces," answered the Duke. "And--if I may say so--rightly. But I don't remember this man at all--in fact, I'd go as far as to say that I'm positive I've never--knowingly--set eyes on him in my life."
"Can your Grace suggest any reason at all why he should wish to call on you?" asked the Coroner.
"None! But then," replied the Duke, "there might be many reasons--unknown to me, but at which I can make a guess. If he was an antiquary, there are lots of old things at Saxonsteade which he might wish to see. Or he might be a lover of pictures--our collection is a bit famous, you know. Perhaps he was a bookman--we have some rare editions. I could go on multiplying reasons--but to what purpose"
"The fact is, your Grace doesn't know him and knows nothing about him," observed the Coroner.
"Just no--nothing!" agreed the Duke and stepped down again.
It was at this stage that the Coroner sent the jurymen away in charge of his officer to make a careful personal inspection of the gallery in the clerestory. And while they were gone there was some commotion caused in the court by the entrance of a police official who conducted to the Coroner a middle-aged, well-dressed man whom Bryce at once set down as a London commercial magnate of some quality. Between the new arrival and the Coroner an interchange of remarks was at once made, shared in presently by some of the officials at the table. And when the jury came back the stranger was at once ushered into the witness-box, and the Coroner turned to the jury and the court.
"We are unexpectedly able to get some evidence of identity, gentlemen," he observed. "The gentleman who has just stepped into the witness-box is Mr. Alexander Chilstone, manager of the London & Colonies Bank, in Threadneedle Street. Mr. Chilstone saw particulars of this matter in the newspapers this morning, and he at once set off to Wrychester to tell us what he knows of the dead man. We are very much obliged to Mr. Chilstone--and when he has been sworn he will perhaps kindly tell us what he can."
In the midst of the murmur of sensation which ran round the court, Bryce indulged himself with a covert look at Ransford who was sitting opposite to him, beyond the table in the centre of the room. He saw at once that Ransford, however strenuously he might be fighting to keep his face under control, was most certainly agitated by the Coroner's announcement. His cheeks had paled, his eyes were a little dilated, his lips parted as he stared at the bank-manager --altogether, it was more than mere curiosity that was indicated on his features. And Bryce, satisfied and secretly elated, turned to hear what Mr. Alexander Chilstone had to tell.
That was not much--but it was of considerable importance. Only two days before, said Mr. Chilstone--that was, on the day previous to his death--Mr. John Braden had called at the London & Colonies Bank, of which he, Mr. Chilstone, was manager, and introducing himself as having just arrived in England from Australia, where, he said, he had been living for some years, had asked to be allowed to open an account. He produced some references from agents of the London & Colonies Bank, in Melbourne, which were highly satisfactory; the account being opened, he paid into it a sum of ten thousand pounds in a draft at sight drawn by one of those agents. He drew nothing against this, remarking casually that he had plenty of money in his pocket for the present: he did not even take the cheque-book which was offered him, saying that he would call for it later.
"He did not give us any address in London, nor in England," continued the witness. "He told me that he had only arrived at Charing Cross that very morning, having travelled from Paris during the night. He said that he should settle down for a time at some residential hotel in London, and in the meantime he had one or two calls, or visits, to make in the country: when he returned from them, he said, he would call on me again. He gave me very little information about himself: it was not necessary, for his references from our agents in Australia were quite satisfactory. But he did mention that he had been out there for some years, and had speculated in landed property--he also said that he was now going to settle in England for good. That," concluded Mr. Chilstone, "is all I can tell of my own knowledge. But," he added, drawing a newspaper from his pocket, "here is an advertisement which I noticed in this morning's Times as I came down. You will observe," he said, as he passed it to the Coroner, "that it has certainly been inserted by our unfortunate customer."
The Coroner glanced at a marked passage in the personal column of the Times, and read it aloud:
"The advertisement is as follows," he announced. "'If this meets the eye of old friend Marco, he will learn that Sticker wishes to see him again. Write J. Braden, a/o London & Colonies Bank, Threadneedle Street, London.'"
Bryce was keeping a quiet eye on Ransford. Was he mistaken in believing that he saw him start; that he saw his cheek flush as he heard the advertisement read out? He believed he was not mistaken--but if he was right, Ransford the next instant regained full control of himself and made no sign. And Bryce turned again to Coroner and witness.
But the witness had no more to say--except to suggest that the bank's Melbourne agents should be cabled to for information, since it was unlikely that much more could be got in England. And with that the middle stage of the proceedings ended--and the last one came, watched by Bryce with increasing anxiety. For it was soon evident, from certain remarks made by the Coroner, that the theory which Archdale had put forward at the club in Bryce's hearing the previous day had gained favour with the authorities, and that the visit of the jurymen to the scene of the disaster had been intended by the Coroner to predispose them in behalf of it. And now Archdale himself, as representing the architects who held a retaining fee in connection with the Cathedral, was called to give his opinion --and he gave it in almost the same words which Bryce had heard him use twenty-four hours previously. After him came the master-mason, expressing the same decided conviction--that the real truth was that the pavement of the gallery had at that particular place become so smooth, and was inclined towards the open doorway at such a sharp angle, that the unfortunate man had lost his footing on it, and before he could recover it had been shot out of the arch and over the broken head of St. Wrytha's Stair. And though, at a juryman's wish, Varner was recalled, and stuck stoutly to his original story of having seen a hand which, he protested, was certainly not that of the dead man, it soon became plain that the jury shared the Coroner's belief that Varner in his fright and excitement had been mistaken, and no one was surprised when the foreman, after a very brief consultation with his fellows, announced a verdict of death by misadventure.
"So the city's cleared of the stain of murder!" said a man who sat next to Bryce. "That's a good job, anyway! Nasty thing, doctor, to think of a murder being committed in a cathedral. There'd be a question of sacrilege, of course--and all sorts of complications."
Bryce made no answer. He was watching Ransford, who was talking to the Coroner. And he was not mistaken now --Ransford's face bore all the signs of infinite relief. From--what? Bryce turned, to leave the stuffy, rapidly-emptying court. And as he passed the centre table he saw old Simpson Harker, who, after sitting in attentive silence for three hours had come up to it, picked up the "History of Barthorpe" which had been found in Braden's suit-case and was inquisitively peering at its title-page.