“Dear me!” he exclaimed, nodding his thanks. “I’d no idea that I should meet you in these far-off parts, Dr. Bryce! This is a long way from Wrychester, sir, for Wrychester folk to meet in.”
“I’d no idea of meeting you, Mr. Harker,” responded Bryce. “But it’s a small world, you know, and there are a good many coincidences in it. There’s nothing very wonderful in my presence here, though—I ran down to see after a country practice—I’ve left Dr. Ransford.”
He had the lie ready as soon as he set eyes on Harker, and whether the old man believed it or not, he showed no sign of either belief or disbelief. He took the chair which Bryce drew forward and pulled out an old-fashioned cigar-case, offering it to his companion.
“Will you try one, doctor?” he asked. “Genuine stuff that, sir—I’ve a friend in Cuba who remembers me now and then. No,” he went on, as Bryce thanked him and took a cigar, “I didn’t know you’d finished with the doctor. Quietish place this to practise in, I should think—much quieter even than our sleepy old city.”
“You know it?” inquired Bryce.
“I’ve a friend lives here—old friend of mine,” answered Harker. “I come down to see him now and then—I’ve been here since yesterday. He does a bit of business for me. Stopping long, doctor?”
“Only just to look round,” answered Bryce.
“I’m off tomorrow morning—eleven o’clock,” said Harker. “It’s a longish journey to Wrychester—for old bones like mine.”
“Oh, you’re all right!—worth half a dozen younger men,” responded Bryce. “You’ll see a lot of your contemporaries out, Mr. Harker. Well—as you’ve treated me to a very fine cigar, now you’ll let me treat you to a drop of whisky?—they generally have something of pretty good quality in these old-fashioned establishments, I believe.”
The two travellers sat talking until bedtime—but neither made any mention of the affair which had recently set all Wrychester agog with excitement. But Bryce was wondering all the time if his companion’s story of having a friend at Barthorpe was no more than an excuse, and when he was alone in his own bedroom and reflecting more seriously he came to the conclusion that old Harker was up to some game of his own in connection with the Paradise mystery.
“The old chap was in the Library when Ambrose Campany said that there was a clue in that Barthorpe history,” he mused. “I saw him myself examining the book after the inquest. No, no, Mr. Harker!—the facts are too plain—the evidences too obvious. And yet—what interest has a retired old tradesman of Wrychester got in this affair? I’d give a good deal to know what Harker really is doing here—and who his Barthorpe friend is.”