THE PARADISE MYSTERY
By J. S. Fletcher
CHAPTER I. ONLY THE GUARDIAN
American tourists, sure appreciators of all that is ancient and picturesque in England, invariably come to a halt, holding their breath in a sudden catch of wonder, as they pass through the half-ruinous gateway which admits to the Close of Wrychester. Nowhere else in England is there a fairer prospect of old-world peace. There before their eyes, set in the centre of a great green sward, fringed by tall elms and giant beeches, rises the vast fabric of the thirteenth-century Cathedral, its high spire piercing the skies in which rooks are for ever circling and calling. The time-worn stone, at a little distance delicate as lacework, is transformed at different hours of the day into shifting shades of colour, varying from grey to purple: the massiveness of the great nave and transepts contrasts impressively with the gradual tapering of the spire, rising so high above turret and clerestory that it at last becomes a mere line against the ether. In morning, as in afternoon, or in evening, here is a perpetual atmosphere of rest; and not around the great church alone, but in the quaint and ancient houses which fence in the Close. Little less old than the mighty mass of stone on which their ivy-framed windows look, these houses make the casual observer feel that here, if anywhere in the world, life must needs run smoothly. Under those high gables, behind those mullioned windows, in the beautiful old gardens lying between the stone porches and the elm-shadowed lawn, nothing, one would think, could possibly exist but leisured and pleasant existence: even the busy streets of the old city, outside the crumbling gateway, seem, for the moment, far off.
In one of the oldest of these houses, half hidden behind trees and shrubs in a corner of the Close, three people sat at breakfast one fine May morning. The room in which they sat was in keeping with the old house and its surroundings—a long, low-ceilinged room, with oak panelling around its walls, and oak beams across its roof—a room of old furniture, and, old pictures, and old books, its antique atmosphere relieved by great masses of flowers, set here and there in old china bowls: through its wide windows, the casements of which were thrown wide open, there was an inviting prospect of a high-edged flower garden, and, seen in vistas through the trees and shrubberies, of patches of the west front of the Cathedral, now sombre and grey in shadow. But on the garden and into this flower-scented room the sun was shining gaily through the trees, and making gleams of light on the silver and china on the table and on the faces of the three people who sat around it.
Of these three, two were young, and the third was one of those men whose age it is never easy to guess—a tall, clean-shaven, bright-eyed, alert-looking man, good-looking in a clever, professional sort of way, a man whom no one could have taken for anything but a member of one of the learned callings. In some lights he looked no more than forty: a strong light betrayed the fact that his dark hair had a streak of grey in it, and was showing a tendency to whiten about the temples. A strong, intellectually superior man, this, scrupulously groomed and well-dressed, as befitted what he really was—a medical practitioner with an excellent connection amongst the exclusive society of a cathedral town. Around him hung an undeniable air of content and prosperity—as he turned over a pile of letters which stood by his plate, or glanced at the morning newspaper which lay at his elbow, it was easy to see that he had no cares beyond those of the day, and that they—so far as he knew then—were not likely to affect him greatly. Seeing him in these pleasant domestic circumstances, at the head of his table, with abundant evidences of comfort and refinement and modest luxury about him, any one would have said, without hesitation, that Dr. Mark Ransford was undeniably one of the fortunate folk of this world.
The second person of the three was a boy of apparently seventeen—a well-built, handsome lad of the senior schoolboy type, who was devoting himself in business-like fashion to two widely-differing pursuits—one, the consumption of eggs and bacon and dry toast; the other, the study of a Latin textbook, which he had propped up in front of him against the old-fashioned silver cruet. His quick eyes wandered alternately between his book and his plate; now and then he muttered a line or two to himself. His companions took no notice of these combinations of eating and learning: they knew from experience that it was his way to make up at breakfast-time for the moments he had stolen from his studies the night before.
It was not difficult to see that the third member of the party, a girl of nineteen or twenty, was the boy's sister. Each had a wealth of brown hair, inclining, in the girl's case to a shade that had tints of gold in it; each had grey eyes, in which there was a mixture of blue; each had a bright, vivid colour; each was undeniably good-looking and eminently healthy. No one would have doubted that both had lived a good deal of an open-air existence: the boy was already muscular and sinewy: the girl looked as if she was well acquainted with the tennis racket and the golf-stick. Nor would any one have made the mistake of thinking that these two were blood relations of the man at the head of the table—between them and him there was not the least resemblance of feature, of colour, or of manner.
While the boy learnt the last lines of his Latin, and the doctor turned over the newspaper, the girl read a letter—evidently, from the large sprawling handwriting, the missive of some girlish correspondent. She was deep in it when, from one of the turrets of the Cathedral, a bell began to ring. At that, she glanced at her brother.
"There's Martin, Dick!" she said. "You'll have to hurry."
Many a long year before that, in one of the bygone centuries, a worthy citizen of Wrychester, Martin by name, had left a sum of money to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral on condition that as long as ever the Cathedral stood, they should cause to be rung a bell from its smaller bell-tower for three minutes before nine o'clock every morning, all the year round. What Martin's object had been no one now knew—but this bell served to remind young gentlemen going to offices, and boys going to school, that the hour of their servitude was near. And Dick Bewery, without a word, bolted half his coffee, snatched up his book, grabbed at a cap which lay with more books on a chair close by, and vanished through the open window. The doctor laughed, laid aside his newspaper, and handed his cup across the table.
"I don't think you need bother yourself about Dick's ever being late, Mary," he said. "You are not quite aware of the power of legs that are only seventeen years old. Dick could get to any given point in just about one-fourth of the time that I could, for instance—moreover, he has a cunning knowledge of every short cut in the city."
Mary Bewery took the empty cup and began to refill it.
"I don't like him to be late," she remarked. "It's the beginning of bad habits."
"Oh, well!" said Ransford indulgently. "He's pretty free from anything of that sort, you know. I haven't even suspected him of smoking, yet."
"That's because he thinks smoking would stop his growth and interfere with his cricket," answered Mary. "He would smoke if it weren't for that."
"That's giving him high praise, then," said Ransford. "You couldn't give him higher! Know how to repress his inclinations. An excellent thing—and most unusual, I fancy. Most people—don't!"
He took his refilled cup, rose from the table, and opened a box of cigarettes which stood on the mantelpiece. And the girl, instead of picking up her letter again, glanced at him a little doubtfully.
"That reminds me of—of something I wanted to say to you," she said. "You're quite right about people not repressing their inclinations. I—I wish some people would!"
Ransford turned quickly from the hearth and gave her a sharp look, beneath which her colour heightened. Her eyes shifted their gaze away to her letter, and she picked it up and began to fold it nervously. And at that Ransford rapped out a name, putting a quick suggestion of meaning inquiry into his voice.
"Bryce?" he asked.
The girl nodded her face showing distinct annoyance and dislike. Before saying more, Ransford lighted a cigarette.
"Been at it again?" he said at last. "Since last time?"
"Twice," she answered. "I didn't like to tell you—I've hated to bother you about it. But—what am I to do? I dislike him intensely—I can't tell why, but it's there, and nothing could ever alter the feeling. And though I told him—before—that it was useless—he mentioned it again—yesterday—at Mrs. Folliot's garden-party."
"Confound his impudence!" growled Ransford. "Oh, well!—I'll have to settle with him myself. It's useless trifling with anything like that. I gave him a quiet hint before. And since he won't take it—all right!"
"But—what shall you do?" she asked anxiously. "Not—send him away?"
"If he's any decency about him, he'll go—after what I say to him," answered Ransford. "Don't you trouble yourself about it—I'm not at all keen about him. He's a clever enough fellow, and a good assistant, but I don't like him, personally—never did."
"I don't want to think that anything that I say should lose him his situation—or whatever you call it," she remarked slowly. "That would seem—"
"No need to bother," interrupted Ransford. "He'll get another in two minutes—so to speak. Anyway, we can't have this going on. The fellow must be an ass! When I was young—"
He stopped short at that, and turning away, looked out across the garden as if some recollection had suddenly struck him.
"When you were young—which is, of course, such an awfully long time since!" said the girl, a little teasingly. "What?"
"Only that if a woman said No—unmistakably—once, a man took it as final," replied Ransford. "At least—so I was always given to believe. Nowadays—"
"You forget that Mr. Pemberton Bryce is what most people would call a very pushing young man," said Mary. "If he doesn't get what he wants in this world, it won't be for not asking for it. But—if you must speak to him—and I really think you must!—will you tell him that he is not going to get—me? Perhaps he'll take it finally from you—as my guardian."
"I don't know if parents and guardians count for much in these degenerate days," said Ransford. "But—I won't have him annoying you. And—I suppose it has come to annoyance?"
"It's very annoying to be asked three times by a man whom you've told flatly, once for all, that you don't want him, at any time, ever!" she answered. "It's—irritating!"
"All right," said Ransford quietly. "I'll speak to him. There's going to be no annoyance for you under this roof."
The girl gave him a quick glance, and Ransford turned away from her and picked up his letters.
"Thank you," she said. "But—there's no need to tell me that, because I know it already. Now I wonder if you'll tell me something more?"
Ransford turned back with a sudden apprehension.
"Well?" he asked brusquely. "What?"
"When are you going to tell me all about—Dick and myself?" she asked. "You promised that you would, you know, some day. And—a whole year's gone by since then. And—Dick's seventeen! He won't be satisfied always—just to know no more than that our father and mother died when we were very little, and that you've been guardian—and all that you have been!—to us. Will he, now?"
Ransford laid down his letters again, and thrusting his hands in his pockets, squared his shoulders against the mantelpiece. "Don't you think you might wait until you're twenty-one?" he asked.
"Why?" she said, with a laugh. "I'm just twenty—do you really think I shall be any wiser in twelve months? Of course I shan't!"
"You don't know that," he replied. "You may be—a great deal wiser."
"But what has that got to do with it?" she persisted. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't be told—everything?"
She was looking at him with a certain amount of demand—and Ransford, who had always known that some moment of this sort must inevitably come, felt that she was not going to be put off with ordinary excuses. He hesitated—and she went on speaking.
"You know," she continued, almost pleadingly. "We don't know anything—at all. I never have known, and until lately Dick has been too young to care—"
"Has he begun asking questions?" demanded Ransford hastily.
"Once or twice, lately—yes," replied Mary. "It's only natural." She laughed a little—a forced laugh. "They say," she went on, "that it doesn't matter, nowadays, if you can't tell who your grandfather was—but, just think, we don't know who our father was—except that his name was John Bewery. That doesn't convey much."
"You know more," said Ransford. "I told you—always have told you—that he was an early friend of mine, a man of business, who, with your mother, died young, and I, as their friend, became guardian to you and Dick. Is—is there anything much more that I could tell?"
"There's something I should very much like to know—personally," she answered, after a pause which lasted so long that Ransford began to feel uncomfortable under it. "Don't be angry—or hurt—if I tell you plainly what it is. I'm quite sure it's never even occurred to Dick—but I'm three years ahead of him. It's this—have we been dependent on you?"
Ransford's face flushed and he turned deliberately to the window, and for a moment stood staring out on his garden and the glimpses of the Cathedral. And just as deliberately as he had turned away, he turned back.
"No!" he said. "Since you ask me, I'll tell you that. You've both got money—due to you when you're of age. It—it's in my hands. Not a great lot—but sufficient to—to cover all your expenses. Education—everything. When you're twenty-one, I'll hand over yours—when Dick's twenty-one, his. Perhaps I ought to have told you all that before, but—I didn't think it necessary. I—I dare say I've a tendency to let things slide."
"You've never let things slide about us," she replied quickly, with a sudden glance which made him turn away again. "And I only wanted to know—because I'd got an idea that—well, that we were owing everything to you."
"Not from me!" he exclaimed.
"No—that would never be!" she said. "But—don't you understand? I—wanted to know—something. Thank you. I won't ask more now."
"I've always meant to tell you—a good deal," remarked Ransford, after another pause. "You see, I can scarcely—yet—realize that you're both growing up! You were at school a year ago. And Dick is still very young. Are—are you more satisfied now?" he went on anxiously. "If not—"
"I'm quite satisfied," she answered. "Perhaps—some day—you'll tell me more about our father and mother?—but never mind even that now. You're sure you haven't minded my asking—what I have asked?"
"Of course not—of course not!" he said hastily. "I ought to have remembered. And—but we'll talk again. I must get into the surgery—and have a word with Bryce, too."
"If you could only make him see reason and promise not to offend again," she said. "Wouldn't that solve the difficulty?"
Ransford shook his head and made no answer. He picked up his letters again and went out, and down a long stone-walled passage which led to his surgery at the side of the house. He was alone there when he had shut the door—and he relieved his feelings with a deep groan.
"Heaven help me if the lad ever insists on the real truth and on having proofs and facts given to him!" he muttered. "I shouldn't mind telling her, when she's a bit older—but he wouldn't understand as she would. Anyway, thank God I can keep up the pleasant fiction about the money without her ever knowing that I told her a deliberate lie just now. But—what's in the future? Here's one man to be dismissed already, and there'll be others, and one of them will be the favoured man. That man will have to be told! And—so will she, then. And—my God! she doesn't see, and mustn't see, that I'm madly in love with her myself! She's no idea of it—and she shan't have; I must—must continue to be—only the guardian!"
He laughed a little cynically as he laid his letters down on his desk and proceeded to open them—in which occupation he was presently interrupted by the opening of the side-door and the entrance of Mr. Pemberton Bryce.
CHAPTER II. MAKING AN ENEMY
It was characteristic of Pemberton Bryce that he always walked into a room as if its occupant were asleep and he was afraid of waking him. He had a gentle step which was soft without being stealthy, and quiet movements which brought him suddenly to anybody's side before his presence was noticed. He was by Ransford's desk ere Ransford knew he was in the surgery—and Ransford's sudden realization of his presence roused a certain feeling of irritation in his mind, which he instantly endeavoured to suppress—it was no use getting cross with a man of whom you were about to rid yourself, he said to himself. And for the moment, after replying to his assistant's greeting—a greeting as quiet as his entrance—he went on reading his letters, and Bryce turned off to that part of the surgery in which the drugs were kept, and busied himself in making up some prescription. Ten minutes went by in silence; then Ransford pushed his correspondence aside, laid a paper-weight on it, and twisting his chair round, looked at the man to whom he was going to say some unpleasant things. Within himself he was revolving a question—how would Bryce take it?
He had never liked this assistant of his, although he had then had him in employment for nearly two years. There was something about Pemberton Bryce which he did not understand and could not fathom. He had come to him with excellent testimonials and good recommendations; he was well up to his work, successful with patients, thoroughly capable as a general practitioner—there was no fault to be found with him on any professional grounds. But to Ransford his personality was objectionable—why, he was not quite sure. Outwardly, Bryce was rather more than presentable—a tall, good-looking man of twenty-eight or thirty, whom some people—women especially—would call handsome; he was the sort of young man who knows the value of good clothes and a smart appearance, and his professional manner was all that could be desired. But Ransford could not help distinguishing between Bryce the doctor and Bryce the man—and Bryce the man he did not like. Outside the professional part of him, Bryce seemed to him to be undoubtedly deep, sly, cunning—he conveyed the impression of being one of those men whose ears are always on the stretch, who take everything in and give little out. There was a curious air of watchfulness and of secrecy about him in private matters which was as repellent—to Ransford's thinking—as it was hard to explain. Anyway, in private affairs, he did not like his assistant, and he liked him less than ever as he glanced at him on this particular occasion.
"I want a word with you," he said curtly. "I'd better say it now."
Bryce, who was slowly pouring some liquid from one bottle into another, looked quietly across the room and did not interrupt himself in his work. Ransford knew that he must have recognized a certain significance in the words just addressed to him—but he showed no outward sign of it, and the liquid went on trickling from one bottle to the other with the same uniform steadiness.
"Yes?" said Bryce inquiringly. "One moment."
He finished his task calmly, put the corks in the bottles, labelled one, restored the other to a shelf, and turned round. Not a man to be easily startled—not easily turned from a purpose, this, thought Ransford as he glanced at Bryce's eyes, which had a trick of fastening their gaze on people with an odd, disconcerting persistency.
"I'm sorry to say what I must say," he began. "But—you've brought it on yourself. I gave you a hint some time ago that your attentions were not welcome to Miss Bewery."
Bryce made no immediate response. Instead, leaning almost carelessly and indifferently against the table at which he had been busy with drugs and bottles, he took a small file from his waistcoat pocket and began to polish his carefully cut nails.
"Yes?" he said, after a pause. "Well?"
"In spite of it," continued Ransford, "you've since addressed her again on the matter—not merely once, but twice."
Bryce put his file away, and thrusting his hands in his pockets, crossed his feet as he leaned back against the table—his whole attitude suggesting, whether meaningly or not, that he was very much at his ease.
"There's a great deal to be said on a point like this," he observed. "If a man wishes a certain young woman to become his wife, what right has any other man—or the young woman herself, for that matter to say that he mustn't express his desires to her?"
"None," said Ransford, "provided he only does it once—and takes the answer he gets as final."
"I disagree with you entirely," retorted Bryce. "On the last particular, at any rate. A man who considers any word of a woman's as being final is a fool. What a woman thinks on Monday she's almost dead certain not to think on Tuesday. The whole history of human relationship is on my side there. It's no opinion—it's a fact."
Ransford stared at this frank remark, and Bryce went on, coolly and imperturbably, as if he had been discussing a medical problem.
"A man who takes a woman's first answer as final," he continued, "is, I repeat, a fool. There are lots of reasons why a woman shouldn't know her own mind at the first time of asking. She may be too surprised. She mayn't be quite decided. She may say one thing when she really means another. That often happens. She isn't much better equipped at the second time of asking. And there are women—young ones—who aren't really certain of themselves at the third time. All that's common sense."
"I'll tell you what it is!" suddenly exclaimed Ransford, after remaining silent for a moment under this flow of philosophy. "I'm not going to discuss theories and ideas. I know one young woman, at any rate, who is certain of herself. Miss Bewery does not feel any inclination to you—now, nor at any time to be! She's told you so three times. And—you should take her answer and behave yourself accordingly!"
Bryce favoured his senior with a searching look.
"How does Miss Bewery know that she mayn't be inclined to—in the future?" he asked. "She may come to regard me with favour."
"No, she won't!" declared Ransford. "Better hear the truth, and be done with it. She doesn't like you—and she doesn't want to, either. Why can't you take your answer like a man?"
"What's your conception of a man?" asked Bryce.
"That!—and a good one," exclaimed Ransford.
"May satisfy you—but not me," said Bryce. "Mine's different. My conception of a man is of a being who's got some perseverance. You can get anything in this world—anything!—by pegging away for it."
"You're not going to get my ward," suddenly said Ransford. "That's flat! She doesn't want you—and she's now said so three times. And—I support her."
"What have you against me?" asked Bryce calmly. "If, as you say, you support her in her resolution not to listen to my proposals, you must have something against me. What is it?"
"That's a question you've no right to put," replied Ransford, "for it's utterly unnecessary. So I'm not going to answer it. I've nothing against you as regards your work—nothing! I'm willing to give you an excellent testimonial."
"Oh!" remarked Bryce quietly. "That means—you wish me to go away?"
"I certainly think it would be best," said Ransford.
"In that case," continued Bryce, more coolly than ever, "I shall certainly want to know what you have against me—or what Miss Bewery has against me. Why am I objected to as a suitor? You, at any rate, know who I am—you know that my father is of our own profession, and a man of reputation and standing, and that I myself came to you on high recommendation. Looked at from my standpoint, I'm a thoroughly eligible young man. And there's a point you forget—there's no mystery about me!"
Ransford turned sharply in his chair as he noticed the emphasis which Bryce put on his last word.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"What I've just said," replied Bryce. "There's no mystery attaching to me. Any question about me can be answered. Now, you can't say that as regards your ward. That's a fact, Dr. Ransford."
Ransford, in years gone by, had practised himself in the art of restraining his temper—naturally a somewhat quick one. And he made a strong effort in that direction now, recognizing that there was something behind his assistant's last remark, and that Bryce meant him to know it was there.
"I'll repeat what I've just said," he answered. "What do you mean by that?"
"I hear things," said Bryce. "People will talk—even a doctor can't refuse to hear what gossiping and garrulous patients say. Since she came to you from school, a year ago, Wrychester people have been much interested in Miss Bewery, and in her brother, too. And there are a good many residents of the Close—you know their nice, inquisitive ways!—who want to know who the sister and brother really are—and what your relationship is to them!"
"Confound their impudence!" growled Ransford.
"By all means," agreed Bryce. "And—for all I care—let them be confounded, too. But if you imagine that the choice and select coteries of a cathedral town, consisting mainly of the relicts of deceased deans, canons, prebendaries and the like, and of maiden aunts, elderly spinsters, and tea-table-haunting curates, are free from gossip—why, you're a singularly innocent person!"
"They'd better not begin gossiping about my affairs," said Ransford. "Otherwise—"
"You can't stop them from gossiping about your affairs," interrupted Bryce cheerfully. "Of course they gossip about your affairs; have gossiped about them; will continue to gossip about them. It's human nature!"
"You've heard them?" asked Ransford, who was too vexed to keep back his curiosity. "You yourself?"
"As you are aware, I am often asked out to tea," replied Bryce, "and to garden-parties, and tennis-parties, and choice and cosy functions patronized by curates and associated with crumpets. I have heard—with these ears. I can even repeat the sort of thing I have heard. 'That dear, delightful Miss Bewery—what a charming girl! And that good-looking boy, her brother—quite a dear! Now I wonder who they really are? Wards of Dr. Ransford, of course! Really, how very romantic!—and just a little—eh?—unusual? Such a comparatively young man to have such a really charming girl as his ward! Can't be more than forty-five himself, and she's twenty—how very, very romantic! Really, one would think there ought to be a chaperon!'"
"Damn!" said Ransford under his breath.
"Just so," agreed Bryce. "But—that's the sort of thing. Do you want more? I can supply an unlimited quantity in the piece if you like. But it's all according to sample."
"So—in addition to your other qualities," remarked Ransford, "you're a gossiper?"
Bryce smiled slowly and shook his head.
"No," he replied. "I'm a listener. A good one, too. But do you see my point? I say—there's no mystery about me. If Miss Bewery will honour me with her hand, she'll get a man whose antecedents will bear the strictest investigation."
"Are you inferring that hers won't?" demanded Ransford.
"I'm not inferring anything," said Bryce. "I am speaking for myself, of myself. Pressing my own claim, if you like, on you, the guardian. You might do much worse than support my claims, Dr. Ransford."
"Claims, man!" retorted Ransford. "You've got no claims! What are you talking about? Claims!"
"My pretensions, then," answered Bryce. "If there is a mystery—as Wrychester people say there is—about Miss Bewery, it would be safe with me. Whatever you may think, I'm a thoroughly dependable man—when it's in my own interest."
"And—when it isn't?" asked Ransford. "What are you then?—as you're so candid."
"I could be a very bad enemy," replied Bryce.
There was a moment's silence, during which the two men looked attentively at each other.
"I've told you the truth," said Ransford at last. "Miss Bewery flatly refuses to entertain any idea whatever of ever marrying you. She earnestly hopes that that eventuality may never be mentioned to her again. Will you give me your word of honour to respect her wishes?"
"No!" answered Bryce. "I won't!"
"Why not?" asked Ransford, with a faint show of anger. "A woman's wishes!"
"Because I may consider that I see signs of a changed mind in her," said Bryce. "That's why."
"You'll never see any change of mind," declared Ransford. "That's certain. Is that your fixed determination?"
"It is," answered Bryce. "I'm not the sort of man who is easily repelled."
"Then, in that case," said Ransford, "we had better part company." He rose from his desk, and going over to a safe which stood in a corner, unlocked it and took some papers from an inside drawer. He consulted one of these and turned to Bryce. "You remember our agreement?" he continued. "Your engagement was to be determined by a three months' notice on either side, or, at my will, at any time by payment of three months' salary?"
"Quite right," agreed Bryce. "I remember, of course."
"Then I'll give you a cheque for three months' salary—now," said Ransford, and sat down again at his desk. "That will settle matters definitely—and, I hope, agreeably."
Bryce made no reply. He remained leaning against the table, watching Ransford write the cheque. And when Ransford laid the cheque down at the edge of the desk he made no movement towards it.
"You must see," remarked Ransford, half apologetically, "that it's the only thing I can do. I can't have any man who's not—not welcome to her, to put it plainly—causing any annoyance to my ward. I repeat, Bryce—you must see it!"
"I have nothing to do with what you see," answered Bryce. "Your opinions are not mine, and mine aren't yours. You're really turning me away—as if I were a dishonest foreman!—because in my opinion it would be a very excellent thing for her and for myself if Miss Bewery would consent to marry me. That's the plain truth."
Ransford allowed himself to take a long and steady look at Bryce. The thing was done now, and his dismissed assistant seemed to be taking it quietly—and Ransford's curiosity was aroused.
"I can't make you out!" he exclaimed. "I don't know whether you're the most cynical young man I ever met, or whether you're the most obtuse—"
"Not the last, anyway," interrupted Bryce. "I assure you of that!"
"Can't you see for yourself, then, man, that the girl doesn't want you!" said Ransford. "Hang it!—for anything you know to the contrary, she may have—might have—other ideas!"
Bryce, who had been staring out of a side window for the last minute or two, suddenly laughed, and, lifting a hand, pointed into the garden. And Ransford turned—and saw Mary Bewery walking there with a tall lad, whom he recognized as one Sackville Bonham, stepson of Mr. Folliot, a wealthy resident of the Close. The two young people were laughing and chatting together with evident great friendliness.
"Perhaps," remarked Bryce quietly, "her ideas run in—that direction? In which case, Dr. Ransford, you'll have trouble. For Mrs. Folliot, mother of yonder callow youth, who's the apple of her eye, is one of the inquisitive ladies of whom I've just told you, and if her son unites himself with anybody, she'll want to know exactly who that anybody is. You'd far better have supported me as an aspirant! However—I suppose there's no more to say."
"Nothing!" answered Ransford. "Except to say good-day—and good-bye to you. You needn't remain—I'll see to everything. And I'm going out now. I think you'd better not exchange any farewells with any one."
Bryce nodded silently, and Ransford, picking up his hat and gloves, left the surgery by the side door. A moment later, Bryce saw him crossing the Close.
CHAPTER III. ST. WRYTHA'S STAIR
The summarily dismissed assistant, thus left alone, stood for a moment in evident deep thought before he moved towards Ransford's desk and picked up the cheque. He looked at it carefully, folded it neatly, and put it away in his pocket-book; after that he proceeded to collect a few possessions of his own, instruments, books from various drawers and shelves. He was placing these things in a small hand-bag when a gentle tap sounded on the door by which patients approached the surgery.
"Come in!" he called.
There was no response, although the door was slightly ajar; instead, the knock was repeated, and at that Bryce crossed the room and flung the door open.
A man stood outside—an elderly, slight-figured, quiet-looking man, who looked at Bryce with a half-deprecating, half-nervous air; the air of a man who was shy in manner and evidently fearful of seeming to intrude. Bryce's quick, observant eyes took him in at a glance, noting a much worn and lined face, thin grey hair and tired eyes; this was a man, he said to himself, who had seen trouble. Nevertheless, not a poor man, if his general appearance was anything to go by—he was well and even expensively dressed, in the style generally affected by well-to-do merchants and city men; his clothes were fashionably cut, his silk hat was new, his linen and boots irreproachable; a fine diamond pin gleamed in his carefully arranged cravat. Why, then, this unmistakably furtive and half-frightened manner—which seemed to be somewhat relieved at the sight of Bryce?
"Is this—is Dr. Ransford within?" asked the stranger. "I was told this is his house."
"Dr. Ransford is out," replied Bryce. "Just gone out—not five minutes ago. This is his surgery. Can I be of use?"
The man hesitated, looking beyond Bryce into the room.
"No, thank you," he said at last. "I—no, I don't want professional services—I just called to see Dr. Ransford—I—the fact is, I once knew some one of that name. It's no matter—at present."
Bryce stepped outside and pointed across the Close.
"Dr. Ransford," he said, "went over there—I rather fancy he's gone to the Deanery—he has a case there. If you went through Paradise, you'd very likely meet him coming back—the Deanery is the big house in the far corner yonder."
The stranger followed Bryce's outstretched finger.
"Paradise?" he said, wonderingly. "What's that?"
Bryce pointed to a long stretch of grey wall which projected from the south wall of the Cathedral into the Close.
"It's an enclosure—between the south porch and the transept," he said. "Full of old tombs and trees—a sort of wilderness—why called Paradise I don't know. There's a short cut across it to the Deanery and that part of the Close—through that archway you see over there. If you go across, you're almost sure to meet Dr. Ransford."
"I'm much obliged to you," said the stranger. "Thank you."
He turned away in the direction which Bryce had indicated, and Bryce went back—only to go out again and call after him.
"If you don't meet him, shall I say you'll call again?" he asked. "And—what name?"
The stranger shook his head.
"It's immaterial," he answered. "I'll see him—somewhere—or later. Many thanks."
He went on his way towards Paradise, and Bryce returned to the surgery and completed his preparations for departure. And in the course of things, he more than once looked through the window into the garden and saw Mary Bewery still walking and talking with young Sackville Bonham.
"No," he muttered to himself. "I won't trouble to exchange any farewells—not because of Ransford's hint, but because there's no need. If Ransford thinks he's going to drive me out of Wrychester before I choose to go he's badly mistaken—it'll be time enough to say farewell when I take my departure—and that won't be just yet. Now I wonder who that old chap was? Knew some one of Ransford's name once, did he? Probably Ransford himself—in which case he knows more of Ransford than anybody in Wrychester knows—for nobody in Wrychester knows anything beyond a few years back. No, Dr. Ransford!—no farewells—to anybody! A mere departure—till I turn up again."
But Bryce was not to get away from the old house without something in the nature of a farewell. As he walked out of the surgery by the side entrance, Mary Bewery, who had just parted from young Bonham in the garden and was about to visit her dogs in the stable yard, came along: she and Bryce met, face to face. The girl flushed, not so much from embarrassment as from vexation; Bryce, cool as ever, showed no sign of any embarrassment. Instead, he laughed, tapping the hand-bag which he carried under one arm.
"Summarily turned out—as if I had been stealing the spoons," he remarked. "I go—with my small belongings. This is my first reward—for devotion."
"I have nothing to say to you," answered Mary, sweeping by him with a highly displeased glance. "Except that you have brought it on yourself."
"A very feminine retort!" observed Bryce. "But—there is no malice in it? Your anger won't last more than—shall we say a day?"
"You may say what you like," she replied. "As I just said, I have nothing to say—now or at any time."
"That remains to be proved," remarked Bryce. "The phrase is one of much elasticity. But for the present—I go!"
He walked out into the Close, and without as much as a backward look struck off across the sward in the direction in which, ten minutes before, he had sent the strange man. He had rooms in a quiet lane on the farther side of the Cathedral precinct, and his present intention was to go to them to leave his bag and make some further arrangements. He had no idea of leaving Wrychester—he knew of another doctor in the city who was badly in need of help: he would go to him—would tell him, if need be, why he had left Ransford. He had a multiplicity of schemes and ideas in his head, and he began to consider some of them as he stepped out of the Close into the ancient enclosure which all Wrychester folk knew by its time-honoured name of Paradise. This was really an outer court of the old cloisters; its high walls, half-ruinous, almost wholly covered with ivy, shut in an expanse of turf, liberally furnished with yew and cypress and studded with tombs and gravestones. In one corner rose a gigantic elm; in another a broken stairway of stone led to a doorway set high in the walls of the nave; across the enclosure itself was a pathway which led towards the houses in the south-east corner of the Close. It was a curious, gloomy spot, little frequented save by people who went across it rather than follow the gravelled paths outside, and it was untenanted when Bryce stepped into it. But just as he walked through the archway he saw Ransford. Ransford was emerging hastily from a postern door in the west porch—so hastily that Bryce checked himself to look at him. And though they were twenty yards apart, Bryce saw that Ransford's face was very pale, almost to whiteness, and that he was unmistakably agitated. Instantly he connected that agitation with the man who had come to the surgery door.
"They've met!" mused Bryce, and stopped, staring after Ransford's retreating figure. "Now what is it in that man's mere presence that's upset Ransford? He looks like a man who's had a nasty, unexpected shock—a bad 'un!"
He remained standing in the archway, gazing after the retreating figure, until Ransford had disappeared within his own garden; still wondering and speculating, but not about his own affairs, he turned across Paradise at last and made his way towards the farther corner. There was a little wicket-gate there, set in the ivied wall; as Bryce opened it, a man in the working dress of a stone-mason, whom he recognized as being one of the master-mason's staff, came running out of the bushes. His face, too, was white, and his eyes were big with excitement. And recognizing Bryce, he halted, panting.
"What is it, Varner?" asked Bryce calmly. "Something happened?"
The man swept his hand across his forehead as if he were dazed, and then jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"A man!" he gasped. "Foot of St. Wrytha's Stair there, doctor. Dead—or if not dead, near it. I saw it!"
Bryce seized Varner's arm and gave it a shake.
"You saw—what?" he demanded.
"Saw him—fall. Or rather—flung!" panted Varner. "Somebody—couldn't see who, nohow—flung him right through yon doorway, up there. He fell right over the steps—crash!" Bryce looked over the tops of the yews and cypresses at the doorway in the clerestory to which Varner pointed—a low, open archway gained by the half-ruinous stair. It was forty feet at least from the ground.
"You saw him—thrown!" he exclaimed. "Thrown—down there? Impossible, man!"
"Tell you I saw it!" asserted Varner doggedly. "I was looking at one of those old tombs yonder—somebody wants some repairs doing—and the jackdaws were making such a to-do up there by the roof I glanced up at them. And I saw this man thrown through that door—fairly flung through it! God!—do you think I could mistake my own eyes?"
"Did you see who flung him?" asked Bryce.
"No; I saw a hand—just for one second, as it might be—by the edge of the doorway," answered Varner. "I was more for watching him! He sort of tottered for a second on the step outside the door, turned over and screamed—I can hear it now!—and crashed down on the flags beneath."
"How long since?" demanded Bryce.
"Five or six minutes," said Varner. "I rushed to him—I've been doing what I could. But I saw it was no good, so I was running for help—"
Bryce pushed him towards the bushes by which they were standing.
"Take me to him," he said. "Come on!"
Varner turned back, making a way through the cypresses. He led Bryce to the foot of the great wall of the nave. There in the corner formed by the angle of nave and transept, on a broad pavement of flagstones, lay the body of a man crumpled up in a curiously twisted position. And with one glance, even before he reached it, Bryce knew what body it was—that of the man who had come, shyly and furtively, to Ransford's door.
"Look!" exclaimed Varner, suddenly pointing. "He's stirring!"
Bryce, whose gaze was fastened on the twisted figure, saw a slight movement which relaxed as suddenly as it had occurred. Then came stillness. "That's the end!" he muttered. "The man's dead! I'll guarantee that before I put a hand on him. Dead enough!" he went on, as he reached the body and dropped on one knee by it. "His neck's broken."
The mason bent down and looked, half-curiously, half-fearfully, at the dead man. Then he glanced upward—at the open door high above them in the walls.
"It's a fearful drop, that, sir," he said. "And he came down with such violence. You're sure it's over with him?"
"He died just as we came up," answered Bryce. "That movement we saw was the last effort—involuntary, of course. Look here, Varner!—you'll have to get help. You'd better fetch some of the cathedral people—some of the vergers. No!" he broke off suddenly, as the low strains of an organ came from within the great building. "They're just beginning the morning service—of course, it's ten o'clock. Never mind them—go straight to the police. Bring them back—I'll stay here."
The mason turned off towards the gateway of the Close, and while the strains of the organ grew louder, Bryce bent over the dead man, wondering what had really happened. Thrown from an open doorway in the clerestory over St. Wrytha's Stair?—it seemed almost impossible! But a sudden thought struck him: supposing two men, wishing to talk in privacy unobserved, had gone up into the clerestory of the Cathedral—as they easily could, by more than one door, by more than one stair—and supposing they had quarrelled, and one of them had flung or pushed the other through the door above—what then? And on the heels of that thought hurried another—this man, now lying dead, had come to the surgery, seeking Ransford, and had subsequently gone away, presumably in search of him, and Bryce himself had just seen Ransford, obviously agitated and pale of cheek, leaving the west porch; what did it all mean? what was the apparently obvious inference to be drawn? Here was the stranger dead—and Varner was ready to swear that he had seen him thrown, flung violently, through the door forty feet above. That was—murder! Then—who was the murderer?
Bryce looked carefully and narrowly around him. Now that Varner had gone away, there was not a human being in sight, nor anywhere near, so far as he knew. On one side of him and the dead man rose the grey walls of nave and transept; on the other, the cypresses and yews rising amongst the old tombs and monuments. Assuring himself that no one was near, no eye watching, he slipped his hand into the inner breast pocket of the dead man's smart morning coat. Such a man must carry papers—papers would reveal something. And Bryce wanted to know anything—anything that would give information and let him into whatever secret there might be between this unlucky stranger and Ransford.
But the breast pocket was empty; there was no pocket-book there; there were no papers there. Nor were there any papers elsewhere in the other pockets which he hastily searched: there was not even a card with a name on it. But he found a purse, full of money—banknotes, gold, silver—and in one of its compartments a scrap of paper folded curiously, after the fashion of the cocked-hat missives of another age in which envelopes had not been invented. Bryce hurriedly unfolded this, and after one glance at its contents, made haste to secrete it in his own pocket. He had only just done this and put back the purse when he heard Varner's voice, and a second later the voice of Inspector Mitchington, a well-known police official. And at that Bryce sprang to his feet, and when the mason and his companions emerged from the bushes was standing looking thoughtfully at the dead man. He turned to Mitchington with a shake of the head.
"Dead!" he said in a hushed voice. "Died as we got to him. Broken—all to pieces, I should say—neck and spine certainly. I suppose Varner's told you what he saw."
Mitchington, a sharp-eyed, dark-complexioned man, quick of movement, nodded, and after one glance at the body, looked up at the open doorway high above them.
"That the door?" he asked, turning to Varner. "And—it was open?"
"It's always open," answered Varner. "Least-ways, it's been open, like that, all this spring, to my knowledge."
"What is there behind it?" inquired Mitchington.
"Sort of gallery, that runs all round the nave," replied Varner. "Clerestory gallery—that's what it is. People can go up there and walk around—lots of 'em do—tourists, you know. There's two or three ways up to it—staircases in the turrets."
Mitchington turned to one of the two constables who had followed him.
"Let Varner show you the way up there," he said. "Go quietly—don't make any fuss—the morning service is just beginning. Say nothing to anybody—just take a quiet look around, along that gallery, especially near the door there—and come back here." He looked down at the dead man again as the mason and the constable went away. "A stranger, I should think, doctor—tourist, most likely. But—thrown down! That man Varner is positive. That looks like foul play."
"Oh, there's no doubt of that!" asserted Bryce. "You'll have to go into that pretty deeply. But the inside of the Cathedral's like a rabbit-warren, and whoever threw the man through that doorway no doubt knew how to slip away unobserved. Now, you'll have to remove the body to the mortuary, of course—but just let me fetch Dr. Ransford first. I'd like some other medical man than myself to see him before he's moved—I'll have him here in five minutes."
He turned away through the bushes and emerging upon the Close ran across the lawns in the direction of the house which he had left not twenty minutes before. He had but one idea as he ran—he wanted to see Ransford face to face with the dead man—wanted to watch him, to observe him, to see how he looked, how he behaved. Then he, Bryce, would know—something.
But he was to know something before that. He opened the door of the surgery suddenly, but with his usual quietness of touch. And on the threshold he paused. Ransford, the very picture of despair, stood just within, his face convulsed, beating one hand upon the other.
CHAPTER IV. THE ROOM AT THE MITRE
In the few seconds which elapsed before Ransford recognized Bryce's presence, Bryce took a careful, if swift, observation of his late employer. That Ransford was visibly upset by something was plain enough to see; his face was still pale, he was muttering to himself, one clenched fist was pounding the open palm of the other hand—altogether, he looked like a man who is suddenly confronted with some fearful difficulty. And when Bryce, having looked long enough to satisfy his wishes, coughed gently, he started in such a fashion as to suggest that his nerves had become unstrung.
"What is it?—what are you doing there?" he demanded almost fiercely. "What do you mean by coming in like that?"
Bryce affected to have seen nothing.
"I came to fetch you," he answered. "There's been an accident in Paradise—man fallen from that door at the head of St. Wrytha's Stair. I wish you'd come—but I may as well tell you that he's past help—dead!"
"Dead! A man?" exclaimed Ransford. "What man? A workman?"
Bryce had already made up his mind about telling Ransford of the stranger's call at the surgery. He would say nothing—at that time at any rate. It was improbable that any one but himself knew of the call; the side entrance to the surgery was screened from the Close by a shrubbery; it was very unlikely that any passer-by had seen the man call or go away. No—he would keep his knowledge secret until it could be made better use of.
"Not a workman—not a townsman—a stranger," he answered. "Looks like a well-to-do tourist. A slightly-built, elderly man—grey-haired."
Ransford, who had turned to his desk to master himself, looked round with a sudden sharp glance—and for the moment Bryce was taken aback. For he had condemned Ransford—and yet that glance was one of apparently genuine surprise, a glance which almost convinced him, against his will, against only too evident facts, that Ransford was hearing of the Paradise affair for the first time.
"An elderly man—grey-haired—slightly built?" said Ransford. "Dark clothes—silk hat?"
"Precisely," replied Bryce, who was now considerably astonished. "Do you know him?"
"I saw such a man entering the Cathedral, a while ago," answered Ransford. "A stranger, certainly. Come along, then."
He had fully recovered his self-possession by that time, and he led the way from the surgery and across the Close as if he were going on an ordinary professional visit. He kept silence as they walked rapidly towards Paradise, and Bryce was silent, too. He had studied Ransford a good deal during their two years' acquaintanceship, and he knew Ransford's power of repressing and commanding his feelings and concealing his thoughts. And now he decided that the look and start which he had at first taken to be of the nature of genuine astonishment were cunningly assumed, and he was not surprised when, having reached the group of men gathered around the body, Ransford showed nothing but professional interest.
"Have you done anything towards finding out who this unfortunate man is?" asked Ransford, after a brief examination, as he turned to Mitchington. "Evidently a stranger—but he probably has papers on him."
"There's nothing on him—except a purse, with plenty of money in it," answered Mitchington. "I've been through his pockets myself: there isn't a scrap of paper—not even as much as an old letter. But he's evidently a tourist, or something of the sort, and so he'll probably have stayed in the city all night, and I'm going to inquire at the hotels."
"There'll be an inquest, of course," remarked Ransford mechanically. "Well—we can do nothing, Mitchington. You'd better have the body removed to the mortuary." He turned and looked up the broken stairway at the foot of which they were standing. "You say he fell down that?" he asked. "Whatever was he doing up there?"
Mitchington looked at Bryce.
"Haven't you told Dr. Ransford how it was?" he asked.
"No," answered Bryce. He glanced at Ransford, indicating Varner, who had come back with the constable and was standing by. "He didn't fall," he went on, watching Ransford narrowly. "He was violently flung out of that doorway. Varner here saw it."
Ransford's cheek flushed, and he was unable to repress a slight start. He looked at the mason.
"You actually saw it!" he exclaimed. "Why, what did you see?"
"Him!" answered Varner, nodding at the dead man. "Flung, head and heels, clean through that doorway up there. Hadn't a chance to save himself, he hadn't! Just grabbed at—nothing!—and came down. Give a year's wages if I hadn't seen it—and heard him scream."
Ransford was watching Varner with a set, concentrated look.
"Who—flung him?" he asked suddenly. "You say you saw!"
"Aye, sir, but not as much as all that!" replied the mason. "I just saw a hand—and that was all. But," he added, turning to the police with a knowing look, "there's one thing I can swear to—it was a gentleman's hand! I saw the white shirt cuff and a bit of a black sleeve!"
Ransford turned away. But he just as suddenly turned back to the inspector.
"You'll have to let the Cathedral authorities know, Mitchington," he said. "Better get the body removed, though, first—do it now before the morning service is over. And—let me hear what you find out about his identity, if you can discover anything in the city."
He went away then, without another word or a further glance at the dead man. But Bryce had already assured himself of what he was certain was a fact—that a look of unmistakable relief had swept across Ransford's face for the fraction of a second when he knew that there were no papers on the dead man. He himself waited after Ransford had gone; waited until the police had fetched a stretcher, when he personally superintended the removal of the body to the mortuary outside the Close. And there a constable who had come over from the police-station gave a faint hint as to further investigation.
"I saw that poor gentleman last night, sir," he said to the inspector. "He was standing at the door of the Mitre, talking to another gentleman—a tallish man."
"Then I'll go across there," said Mitchington. "Come with me, if you like, Dr. Bryce."
This was precisely what Bryce desired—he was already anxious to acquire all the information he could get. And he walked over the way with the inspector, to the quaint old-world inn which filled almost one side of the little square known as Monday Market, and in at the courtyard, where, looking out of the bow window which had served as an outer bar in the coaching days, they found the landlady of the Mitre, Mrs. Partingley. Bryce saw at once that she had heard the news.
"What's this, Mr. Mitchington?" she demanded as they drew near across the cobble-paved yard. "Somebody's been in to say there's been an accident to a gentleman, a stranger—I hope it isn't one of the two we've got in the house?"
"I should say it is, ma'am," answered the inspector. "He was seen outside here last night by one of our men, anyway."
The landlady uttered an expression of distress, and opening a side-door, motioned them to step into her parlour.
"Which of them is it?" she asked anxiously. "There's two—came together last night, they did—a tall one and a short one. Dear, dear me!—is it a bad accident, now, inspector?"
"The man's dead, ma'am," replied Mitchington grimly. "And we want to know who he is. Have you got his name—and the other gentleman's?"
Mrs. Partingley uttered another exclamation of distress and astonishment, lifting her plump hands in horror. But her business faculties remained alive, and she made haste to produce a big visitors' book and to spread it open before her callers.
"There it is!" she said, pointing to the two last entries. "That's the short gentleman's name—Mr. John Braden, London. And that's the tall one's—Mr. Christopher Dellingham—also London. Tourists, of course—we've never seen either of them before."
"Came together, you say, Mrs. Partingley?" asked Mitchington. "When was that, now?"
"Just before dinner, last night," answered the landlady. "They'd evidently come in by the London train—that gets in at six-forty, as you know. They came here together, and they'd dinner together, and spent the evening together. Of course, we took them for friends. But they didn't go out together this morning, though they'd breakfast together. After breakfast, Mr. Dellingham asked me the way to the old Manor Mill, and he went off there, so I concluded. Mr. Braden, he hung about a bit, studying a local directory I'd lent him, and after a while he asked me if he could hire a trap to take him out to Saxonsteade this afternoon. Of course, I said he could, and he arranged for it to be ready at two-thirty. Then he went out, and across the market towards the Cathedral. And that," concluded Mrs. Partingley, "is about all I know, gentlemen."
"Saxonsteade, eh?" remarked Mitchington. "Did he say anything about his reasons for going there?"
"Well, yes, he did," replied the landlady. "For he asked me if I thought he'd be likely to find the Duke at home at that time of day. I said I knew his Grace was at Saxonsteade just now, and that I should think the middle of the afternoon would be a good time."
"He didn't tell you his business with the Duke?" asked Mitchington.
"Not a word!" said the landlady. "Oh, no!—just that, and no more. But—here's Mr. Dellingham."
Bryce turned to see a tall, broad-shouldered, bearded man pass the window—the door opened and he walked in, to glance inquisitively at the inspector. He turned at once to Mrs. Partingley.
"I hear there's been an accident to that gentleman I came in with last night?" he said. "Is it anything serious? Your ostler says—"
"These gentlemen have just come about it, sir," answered the landlady. She glanced at Mitchington. "Perhaps you'll tell—" she began.
"Was he a friend of yours, sir?" asked Mitchington. "A personal friend?"
"Never saw him in my life before last night!" replied the tall man. "We just chanced to meet in the train coming down from London, got talking, and discovered we were both coming to the same place—Wrychester. So—we came to this house together. No—no friend of mine—not even an acquaintance—previous, of course, to last night. Is—is it anything serious?"
"He's dead, sir," replied Mitchington. "And now we want to know who he is."
"God bless my soul! Dead? You don't say so!" exclaimed Mr. Dellingham. "Dear, dear! Well, I can't help you—don't know him from Adam. Pleasant, well-informed man—seemed to have travelled a great deal in foreign countries. I can tell you this much, though," he went on, as if a sudden recollection had come to him; "I gathered that he'd only just arrived in England—in fact, now I come to think of it, he said as much. Made some remark in the train about the pleasantness of the English landscape, don't you know?—I got an idea that he'd recently come from some country where trees and hedges and green fields aren't much in evidence. But—if you want to know who he is, officer, why don't you search him? He's sure to have papers, cards, and so on about him."
"We have searched him," answered Mitchington. "There isn't a paper, a letter, or even a visiting card on him."
Mr. Dellingham looked at the landlady.
"Bless me!" he said. "Remarkable! But he'd a suit-case, or something of the sort—something light—which he carried up from the railway station himself. Perhaps in that—"
"I should like to see whatever he had," said Mitchington. "We'd better examine his room, Mrs. Partingley."
Bryce presently followed the landlady and the inspector upstairs—Mr. Dellingham followed him. All four went into a bedroom which looked out on Monday Market. And there, on a side-table, lay a small leather suit-case, one which could easily be carried, with its upper half thrown open and back against the wall behind.
The landlady, Mr. Dellingham and Bryce stood silently by while the inspector examined the contents of this the only piece of luggage in the room. There was very little to see—what toilet articles the visitor brought were spread out on the dressing-table—brushes, combs, a case of razors, and the like. And Mitchington nodded side-wise at them as he began to take the articles out of the suit-case.
"There's one thing strikes me at once," he said. "I dare say you gentlemen notice it. All these things are new! This suit-case hasn't been in use very long—see, the leather's almost unworn—and those things on the dressing-table are new. And what there is here looks new, too. There's not much, you see—he evidently had no intention of a long stop. An extra pair of trousers—some shirts—socks—collars—neckties—slippers—handkerchiefs—that's about all. And the first thing to do is to see if the linen's marked with name or initials."
He deftly examined the various articles as he took them out, and in the end shook his head.
"No name—no initials," he said. "But look here—do you see, gentlemen, where these collars were bought? Half a dozen of them, in a box. Paris! There you are—the seller's name, inside the collar, just as in England. Aristide Pujol, 82, Rue des Capucines. And—judging by the look of 'em—I should say these shirts were bought there, too—and the handkerchiefs—and the neckwear—they all have a foreign look. There may be a clue in that—we might trace him in France if we can't in England. Perhaps he is a Frenchman."
"I'll take my oath he isn't!" exclaimed Mr. Dellingham. "However long he'd been out of England he hadn't lost a North-Country accent! He was some sort of a North-Countryman—Yorkshire or Lancashire, I'll go bail. No Frenchman, officer—not he!"
"Well, there's no papers here, anyway," said Mitchington, who had now emptied the suit-case. "Nothing to show who he was. Nothing here, you see, in the way of paper but this old book—what is it—History of Barthorpe."
"He showed me that in the train," remarked Mr. Dellingham. "I'm interested in antiquities and archaeology, and anybody who's long in my society finds it out. We got talking of such things, and he pulled out that book, and told me with great pride, that he'd picked it up from a book-barrow in the street, somewhere in London, for one-and-six. I think," he added musingly, "that what attracted him in it was the old calf binding and the steel frontispiece—I'm sure he'd no great knowledge of antiquities."
Mitchington laid the book down, and Bryce picked it up, examined the title-page, and made a mental note of the fact that Barthorpe was a market-town in the Midlands. And it was on the tip of his tongue to say that if the dead man had no particular interest in antiquities and archaeology, it was somewhat strange that he should have bought a book which was mainly antiquarian, and that it might be that he had so bought it because of a connection between Barthorpe and himself. But he remembered that it was his own policy to keep pertinent facts for his own private consideration, so he said nothing. And Mitchington presently remarking that there was no more to be done there, and ascertaining from Mr. Dellingham that it was his intention to remain in Wrychester for at any rate a few days, they went downstairs again, and Bryce and the inspector crossed over to the police-station.
The news had spread through the heart of the city, and at the police-station doors a crowd had gathered. Just inside two or three principal citizens were talking to the Superintendent—amongst them was Mr. Stephen Folliot, the stepfather of young Bonham—a big, heavy-faced man who had been a resident in the Close for some years, was known to be of great wealth, and had a reputation as a grower of rare roses. He was telling the Superintendent something—and the Superintendent beckoned to Mitchington.
"Mr. Folliot says he saw this gentleman in the Cathedral," he said. "Can't have been so very long before the accident happened, Mr. Folliot, from what you say."
"As near as I can reckon, it would be five minutes to ten," answered Mr. Folliot. "I put it at that because I'd gone in for the morning service, which is at ten. I saw him go up the inside stair to the clerestory gallery—he was looking about him. Five minutes to ten—and it must have happened immediately afterwards."
Bryce heard this and turned away, making a calculation for himself. It had been on the stroke of ten when he saw Ransford hurrying out of the west porch. There was a stairway from the gallery down to that west porch. What, then, was the inference? But for the moment he drew none—instead, he went home to his rooms in Friary Lane, and shutting himself up, drew from his pocket the scrap of paper he had taken from the dead man.
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 he 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:
1. Who, really, was the man who had registered at the Mitre under the name of John Braden?
2. Why did he wish to make a personal call on the Duke of Saxonsteade?
3. Was he some man who had known Ransford in time past—and whom Ransford had no desire to meet again?
4. Did Ransford meet him—in the Cathedral?
5. Was it Ransford who flung him to his death down St. Wrytha's Stair?
6. Was that the real reason of the agitation in which he, Bryce, had found Ransford a few moments after the discovery of the body?
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, sir, 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 suit-case at the Mitre. I'm not a detective—but there's a clue!"
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."