The Coroner glanced at a marked passage in the personal column of the Times, and read it aloud:
“The advertisement is as follows,” he announced. “’If this meets the eye of old friend Marco, he will learn that Sticker wishes to see him again. Write J. Braden, a/o London & Colonies Bank, Threadneedle Street, London.’”
Bryce was keeping a quiet eye on Ransford. Was he mistaken in believing that he saw him start; that he saw his cheek flush as he heard the advertisement read out? He believed he was not mistaken—but if he was right, Ransford the next instant regained full control of himself and made no sign. And Bryce turned again to Coroner and witness.
But the witness had no more to say—except to suggest that the bank’s Melbourne agents should be cabled to for information, since it was unlikely that much more could be got in England. And with that the middle stage of the proceedings ended—and the last one came, watched by Bryce with increasing anxiety. For it was soon evident, from certain remarks made by the Coroner, that the theory which Archdale had put forward at the club in Bryce’s hearing the previous day had gained favour with the authorities, and that the visit of the jurymen to the scene of the disaster had been intended by the Coroner to predispose them in behalf of it. And now Archdale himself, as representing the architects who held a retaining fee in connection with the Cathedral, was called to give his opinion —and he gave it in almost the same words which Bryce had heard him use twenty-four hours previously. After him came the master-mason, expressing the same decided conviction—that the real truth was that the pavement of the gallery had at that particular place become so smooth, and was inclined towards the open doorway at such a sharp angle, that the unfortunate man had lost his footing on it, and before he could recover it had been shot out of the arch and over the broken head of St. Wrytha’s Stair. And though, at a juryman’s wish, Varner was recalled, and stuck stoutly to his original story of having seen a hand which, he protested, was certainly not that of the dead man, it soon became plain that the jury shared the Coroner’s belief that Varner in his fright and excitement had been mistaken, and no one was surprised when the foreman, after a very brief consultation with his fellows, announced a verdict of death by misadventure.
“So the city’s cleared of the stain of murder!” said a man who sat next to Bryce. “That’s a good job, anyway! Nasty thing, doctor, to think of a murder being committed in a cathedral. There’d be a question of sacrilege, of course—and all sorts of complications.”
Bryce made no answer. He was watching Ransford, who was talking to the Coroner. And he was not mistaken now —Ransford’s face bore all the signs of infinite relief. From—what? Bryce turned, to leave the stuffy, rapidly-emptying court. And as he passed the centre table he saw old Simpson Harker, who, after sitting in attentive silence for three hours had come up to it, picked up the “History of Barthorpe” which had been found in Braden’s suit-case and was inquisitively peering at its title-page.