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- The Paradise Mystery - 6/50 -
"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.
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
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