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- The Paradise Mystery - 30/50 -
"Never mind! tell you later," said Harker. "At present, is there any chance of getting a look at them?"
"That's what I came for," retorted Bryce. "I've been watching them, with young Bewery. He put me up to it. Come on! I want to see if you know the man who's a stranger."
Harker crossed the room to a chest of drawers, and after some rummaging pulled something out.
"Here!" he said, handing some articles to Bryce. "Put those on over your boots. Thick felt overshoes--you could walk round your own mother's bedroom in those and she'd never hear you. I'll do the same. A stranger, you say? Well, this is a proof that somebody knows the secret of that scrap of paper besides us, doctor!"
"They don't know the exact spot," growled Bryce, who was chafing at having been done out of his discovery. "But, they'll find it, whatever may be there."
He led Harker back to Paradise and to the place where he had left Dick Bewery, whom they approached so quietly that Bryce was by the lad's side before Dick knew he was there. And Harker, after one glance at the ring of faces, drew Bryce back and put his lips close to his ear and breathed a name in an almost imperceptible yet clear whisper.
Bryce started for the third time. Glassdale!--the man whom Harker had seen in Wrychester within an hour or so of Braden's death: the ex-convict, the forger, who had forged the Duke of Saxonsteade's name! And there! standing, apparently quite at his ease, by the Duke's side. What did it all mean?
There was no explanation of what it meant to be had from the man whom Bryce and Harker and Dick Bewery secretly watched from behind the screen of cypress trees. Four of them watched in silence, or with no more than a whispered word now and then while the fifth worked. This man worked methodically, replacing each stone as he took it up and examined the soil beneath it. So far nothing had resulted, but he was by that time working at some distance from the tomb, and Bryce, who had an exceedingly accurate idea of where the spot might be, as indicated in the measurements on the scrap of paper, nudged Harker as the master-mason began to take up the last of the small flags. And suddenly there was a movement amongst the watchers, and the master-mason looked up from his job and motioned Mitchington to pass him a trowel which lay at a little distance.
"Something here!" he said, loudly enough to reach the ears of Bryce and his companions. "Not so deep down, neither, gentlemen!"
A few vigorous applications of the trowel, a few lumps of earth cast out of the cavity, and the master-mason put in his hand and drew forth a small parcel, which in the light of the lamp held close to it by Mitchington looked to be done up in coarse sacking, secured by great blotches of black sealing wax. And now it was Harker who nudged Bryce, drawing his attention to the fact that the parcel, handed by the master-mason to Mitchington was at once passed on by Mitchington to the Duke of Saxonsteade, who, it was very plain to see, appeared to be as much delighted as surprised at receiving it.
"Let us go to your office, inspector," he said. "We'll examine the contents there. Let us all go at once!"
The three figures behind the cypress trees remained immovable and silent until the five searchers had gone away with their lamps and tools and the sound of their retreating footsteps in Friary Lane had died out. Then Dick Bewery moved and began to slip off, and Bryce reached out a hand and took him by the shoulder.
"I say, Bewery!" he said. "Going to tell all that?"
Harker got in a word before Dick could answer.
"No matter if he does, doctor," he remarked quietly. "Whatever it is, the whole town'll know of it by tomorrow. They'll not keep it back."
Bryce let Dick go, and the boy immediately darted off in the direction of the close, while the two men went towards Harker's house. Neither spoke until they were safe in the old detective's little parlour, then Harker, turning up his lamp, looked at Bryce and shook his head.
"It's a good job I've retired!" he said, almost sadly. "I'm getting too old for my trade, doctor. Once upon a time I should have been fit to kick myself for not having twigged the meaning of this business sooner than I have done!"
"Have you twigged it?" demanded Bryce, almost scornfully. "You're a good deal cleverer than I am if you have. For hang me if I know what it means!"
"I do!" answered Harker. He opened a drawer in his desk and drew out a scrap-book, filled, as Bryce saw a moment later, with cuttings from newspapers, all duly arranged and indexed. The old man glanced at the index, turned to a certain page, and put his finger on an entry. "There you are!" he said. "And that's only one--there are several more. They'll tell you in detail what I can tell you in a few words and what I ought to have remembered. It's fifteen years since the famous robbery at Saxonsteade which has never been accounted for--robbery of the Duchess's diamonds--one of the cleverest burglaries ever known, doctor. They were got one night after a grand ball there; no arrest was ever made, they were never traced. And I'll lay all I'm worth to a penny-piece that the Duke and those men are gladding their eyes with the sight of them just now!--in Mitchington's office--and that the information that they were where they've just been found was given to the Duke by--Glassdale!"
"Glassdale! That man!" exclaimed Bryce, who was puzzling his brain over possible developments.
"That man, sir!" repeated Harker. "That's why Glassdale was in Wrychester the day of Braden's death. And that's why Braden, or Brake, came to Wrychester at all. He and Glassdale, of course, had somehow come into possession of the secret, and no doubt meant to tell the Duke together, and get the reward--there was 95,000 offered! And as Brake's dead, Glassdale's spoken, but"--here the old man paused and gave his companion a shrewd look--"the question still remains: How did Brake come to his end?"
TO BE SHADOWED
Dick Bewery burst in upon his sister and Ransford with a budget of news such as it rarely fell to the lot of romance-loving seventeen to tell. Secret and mysterious digging up of grave-yards by night--discovery of sealed packets, the contents of which might only be guessed at--the whole thing observed by hidden spectators--these were things he had read of in fiction, but had never expected to have the luck to see in real life. And being gifted with some powers of imagination and of narrative, he made the most of his story to a pair of highly attentive listeners, each of whom had his, and her, own reasons for particular attention.
"More mystery!" remarked Mary when Dick's story had come to an end. "What a pity they didn't open the parcel!" She looked at Ransford, who was evidently in deep thought. "I suppose it will all come out?" she suggested.
"Sure to!" he answered, and turned to Dick. "You say Bryce fetched old Harker--after you and Bryce had watched these operations a bit? Did he say why he fetched him?"
"Never said anything as to his reasons," answered Dick. "But, I rather guessed, at the end, that Bryce wanted me to keep quiet about it, only old Harker said there was no need."
Ransford made no comment on this, and Dick, having exhausted his stock of news, presently went off to bed.
"Master Bryce," observed Ransford, after a period of silence, "is playing a game! What it is, I don't know--but I'm certain of it. Well, we shall see! You've been much upset by all this," he went on, after another pause, "and the knowledge that you have has distressed me beyond measure! But just have a little--a very little--more patience, and things will be cleared--I can't tell all that's in my mind, even to you."
Mary, who had been sewing while Ransford, as was customary with him in an evening, read the Times to her, looked down at her work.
"I shouldn't care, if only these rumours in the town--about you--could be crushed!" she said. "It's so cruel, so vile, that such things--"
Ransford snapped his fingers.
"I don't care that about the rumours!" he answered, contemptuously. "They'll be crushed out just as suddenly as they arose--and then, perhaps, I'll let certain folk in Wrychester know what I think of them. And as regards the suspicion against me, I know already that the only people in the town for whose opinion I care fully accept what I said before the Coroner. As to the others, let them talk! If the thing comes to a head before its due time--"
"You make me think that you know more--much more!--than you've ever told me!" interrupted Mary.
"So I do!" he replied. "And you'll see in the end why I've kept silence. Of course, if people who don't know as much
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