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The Paradise Mystery By J. S. Fletcher Characters: 16758

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

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 the

y'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.

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