“Ah, I was wanting to have a word with you, doctor!” he said. “Something important. Have you got a minute or two to spare, sir? Come round to my little place, then—we shall be quiet there.”
Bryce had any amount of time to spare for an interesting person like Harker, and he followed the old man to his house —a tiny place set in a nest of similar old-world buildings behind the Close. Harker led him into a little parlour, comfortable and snug, wherein were several shelves of books of a curiously legal and professional-looking aspect, some old pictures, and a cabinet of odds and ends, stowed away in of dark corner. The old man motioned him to an easy chair, and going over to a cupboard, produced a decanter of whisky and a box of cigars.
“We can have a peaceful and comfortable talk here, doctor,” he remarked, as he sat down near Bryce, after fetching glasses and soda-water. “I live all alone, like a hermit—my bit of work’s done by a woman who only looks in of a morning. So we’re all by ourselves. Light your cigar!—same as that I gave you at Barthorpe. Um—well, now,” he continued, as Bryce settled down to listen. “There’s a question I want to put to you—strictly between ourselves—strictest of confidence, you know. It was you who was called to Braden by Varner, and you were left alone with Braden’s body?”
“Well?” admitted Bryce, suddenly growing suspicious. “What of it?”
Harker edged his chair a little closer to his guest’s, and leaned towards him.
“What,” he asked in a whisper, “what have you done with that scrap of paper that you took out of Braden’s purse?”
FROM THE PAST
If any remarkably keen and able observer of the odd characteristics of humanity had been present in Harker’s little parlour at that moment, watching him and his visitor, he would have been struck by what happened when the old man put this sudden and point-blank question to the young one. For Harker put the question, though in a whisper, in no more than a casual, almost friendlily-confidential way, and Bryce never showed by the start of a finger or the flicker of an eyelash that he felt it to be what he really knew it to be —the most surprising and startling question he had ever had put to him. Instead, he looked his questioner calmly in the eyes, and put a question in his turn.
“Who are you, Mr. Harker?” asked Bryce quietly.
Harker laughed—almost gleefully.
“Yes, you’ve a right to ask that!” he said. “Of course!—glad you take it that way. You’ll do!”
“I’ll qualify it, then,” added Bryce. “It’s not who—it’s what are you!”
Harker waved his cigar at the book-shelves in front of which his visitor sat.
“Take a look at my collection of literature, doctor,” he said. “What d’ye think of it?”
Bryce turned and leisurely inspected one shelf after another.