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- The Paradise Mystery - 20/50 -
"Mr. Folliot," she replied. "He called me into his garden, to give me those roses, and he mentioned that Mrs. Deramore had said these things to Mrs. Folliot, and as he seemed to think it highly probable that Mrs. Folliot would repeat them, he told me because he didn't want you to think that the rumour had originally arisen at his house."
"Very good of him, I'm sure," remarked Ransford dryly. "They all like to shift the blame from one to another! But," he added, looking searchingly at her, "you don't know anything about--Braden's having come here?"
He saw at once that she did, and Mary saw a slight shade of anxiety come over his face.
"Yes, I do!" she replied. "That morning. But--it was told to me, only today, in strict confidence."
"In strict confidence!" he repeated. "May I know--by whom?"
"Dr. Bryce," she answered. "I met him this morning. And I think you ought to know. Only--it was in confidence." She paused for a moment, looking at him, and her face grew troubled. "I hate to suggest it," she continued, "but--will you come with me to see him, and I'll ask him--things being as they are--to tell you what he told me. I can't--without his permission."
Ransford shook his head and frowned.
"I dislike it!" he said. "It's--it's putting ourselves in his power, as it were. But--I'm not going to be left in the dark. Put on your hat, then."
Bryce, ever since his coming to Wrychester, had occupied rooms in an old house in Friary Lane, at the back of the Close. He was comfortably lodged. Downstairs he had a double sitting-room, extending from the front to the back of the house; his front window looked out on one garden, his back window on another. He had just finished lunch in the front part of his room, and was looking out of his window, wondering what to do with himself that afternoon, when he saw Ransford and Mary Bewery approaching. He guessed the reason of their visit at once, and went straight to the front door to meet them, and without a word motioned them to follow him into his own quarters. It was characteristic of him that he took the first word--before either of his visitors could speak.
"I know why you've come," he said, as he closed the door and glanced at Mary. "You either want my permission that you should tell Dr. Ransford what I told you this morning, or, you want me to tell him myself. Am I right?"
"I should be glad if you would tell him," replied Mary. "The rumour you spoke of has reached him--he ought to know what you can tell. I have respected your confidence, so far."
The two men looked at each other. And this time it was Ransford who spoke first.
"It seems to me," he said, "that there is no great reason for privacy. If rumours are flying about in Wrychester, there is an end of privacy. Dick tells me they are saying at the school that it is known that Braden called on me at my house shortly before he was found dead. I know nothing whatever of any such call! But--I left you in my surgery that morning. Do you know if he came there?"
"Yes!" answered Bryce. "He did come. Soon after you'd gone out."
"Why did you keep that secret?" demanded Ransford. "You could have told it to the police--or to the Coroner--or to me. Why didn't you?"
Before Bryce could answer, all three heard a sharp click of the front garden gate, and looking round, saw Mitchington coming up the walk.
"Here's one of the police, now," said Bryce calmly. "Probably come to extract information. I would much rather he didn't see you here--but I'd also like you to hear what I shall say to him. Step inside there," he continued, drawing aside the curtains which shut off the back room. "Don't stick at trifles!--you don't know what may be afoot."
He almost forced them away, drew the curtains again, and hurrying to the front door, returned almost immediately with Mitchington.
"Hope I'm not disturbing you, doctor," said the inspector, as Bryce brought him in and again closed the door. "Not? All right, then--I came round to ask you a question. There's a queer rumour getting out in the town, about that affair last week. Seems to have sprung from some of those old dowagers in the Close."
"Of course!" said Bryce. He was mixing a whisky-and-soda for his caller, and his laugh mingled with the splash of the siphon. "Of course! I've heard it."
"You've heard?" remarked Mitchington. "Um! Good health, sir!--heard, of course, that--"
"That Braden called on Dr. Ransford not long before the accident, or murder, or whatever it was, happened," said Bryce. "That's it--eh?"
"Something of that sort," agreed Mitchington. "It's being said, anyway, that Braden was at Ransford's house, and presumably saw him, and that Ransford, accordingly, knows something about him which he hasn't told. Now--what do you know? Do you know if Ransford and Braden did meet that morning?"
"Not at Ransford's house, anyway," answered Bryce promptly. "I can prove that. But since this rumour has got out, I'll tell you what I do know, and what the truth is. Braden did come to Ransford's--not to the house, but to the surgery. He didn't see Ransford--Ransford had gone out, across the Close. Braden saw--me!"
"Bless me!--I didn't know that," remarked Mitchington. "You never mentioned it."
"You'll not wonder that I didn't," said Bryce, laughing lightly, "when I tell you what the man wanted."
"What did he want, then?" asked Mitchington.
"Merely to be told where the Cathedral Library was," answered Bryce.
Ransford, watching Mary Bewery, saw her cheeks flush, and knew that Bryce was cheerfully telling lies. But Mitchington evidently had no suspicion.
"That all?" he asked. "Just a question?"
"Just a question--that question," replied Bryce. "I pointed out the Library--and he walked away. I never saw him again until I was fetched to him--dead. And I thought so little of the matter that--well, it never even occurred to me to mention it."
"Then--though he did call--he never saw Ransford?" asked the inspector.
"I tell you Ransford was already gone out," answered Bryce. "He saw no one but myself. Where Mrs. Deramore made her mistake--I happen to know, Mitchington, that she started this rumour--was in trying to make two and two into five. She saw this man crossing the Close, as if from Ransford's house and she at once imagined he'd seen and been talking with Ransford."
"Old fool!" said Mitchington. "Of course, that's how these tales get about. However, there's more than that in the air."
The two listeners behind the curtains glanced at each other. Ransford's glance showed that he was already chafing at the unpleasantness of his position--but Mary's only betokened apprehension. And suddenly, as if she feared that Ransford would throw the curtains aside and walk into the front room, she laid a hand on his arm and motioned him to be patient--and silent.
"Oh?" said Bryce. "More in the air? About that business?"
"Just so," assented Mitchington. "To start with, that man Varner, the mason, has never ceased talking. They say he's always at it--to the effect that the verdict of the jury at the inquest was all wrong, and that his evidence was put clean aside. He persists that he did see--what he swore he saw."
"He'll persist in that to his dying day," said Bryce carelessly. "If that's all there is--"
"It isn't," interrupted the inspector. "Not by a long chalk! But Varner's is a direct affirmation--the other matter's a sort of ugly hint. There's a man named Collishaw, a townsman, who's been employed as a mason's labourer about the Cathedral of late. This Collishaw, it seems, was at work somewhere up in the galleries, ambulatories, or whatever they call those upper regions, on the very morning of the affair. And the other night, being somewhat under the influence of drink, and talking the matter over with his mates at a tavern, he let out some dark hints that he could tell something if he liked. Of course, he was pressed to tell them--and wouldn't. Then--so my informant tells me--he was dared to tell, and became surlily silent. That, of course, spread, and got to my ears. I've seen Collishaw."
"Well?" asked Bryce.
"I believe the man does know something," answered Mitchington. "That's the impression I carried away, anyhow. But--he won't speak. I charged him straight out with knowing something--but it was no good. I told him of what I'd heard. All he would
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