“Seems to consist of little else but criminal cases and legal handbooks,” he remarked quietly. “I begin to suspect you, Mr. Harker. They say here in Wrychester that you’re a retired tradesman. I think you’re a retired policeman—of the detective branch.”
Harker laughed again.
“No Wrychester man has ever crossed my threshold since I came to settle down here,” he said. “You’re the first person I’ve ever asked in—with one notable exception. I’ve never even had Campany, the librarian, here. I’m a hermit.”
“But—you were a detective?” suggested Bryce.
“Aye, for a good five-and-twenty years!” replied Harker. “And pretty well known, too, sir. But—my question, doctor. All between ourselves!”
“I’ll ask you one, then,” said Bryce. “How do you know I took a scrap of paper from Braden’s purse?”
“Because I know that he had such a paper in his purse the night he came to the Mitre,” answered Harker, “and was certain to have it there next morning, and because I also know that you were left alone with the body for some minutes after Varner fetched you to it, and that when Braden’s clothing and effects were searched by Mitchington, the paper wasn’t there. So, of course, you took it! Doesn’t matter to me that ye did —except that I know, from knowing that, that you’re on a similar game to my own—which is why you went down to Leicestershire.”
“You knew Braden?” asked Bryce.
“I knew him!” answered Harker.
“You saw him—spoke with him—here in Wrychester?” suggested Bryce.
“He was here—in this room—in that chair—from five minutes past nine to close on ten o’clock the night before his death,” replied Harker.
Bryce, who was quietly appreciating the Havana cigar which the old man had given him, picked up his glass, took a drink, and settled himself in his easy chair as if he meant to stay there awhile.
“I think we’d better talk confidentially, Mr. Harker,” he said.
“Precisely what we are doing, Dr. Bryce,” replied Harker.
“All right, my friend,” said Bryce, laconically. “Now we understand each other. So—do you know who John Braden really was?”
“Yes!” replied Harker, promptly. “He was in reality John Brake, ex-bank manager, ex-convict.”
“Do you know if he’s any relatives here in Wrychester?” inquired Bryce.
“Yes,” said Harker. “The boy and girl who live with Ransford —they’re Brake’s son and daughter.”
“Did Brake know that—when he came here?” continued Bryce.
“No, he didn’t—he hadn’t the least idea of it,” responded Harker.
“Had you—then?” asked Bryce.
“No—not until later—a little later,” replied Harker.
“You found it out at Barthorpe?” suggested Bryce.
“Not a bit of it; I worked it out here—after Brake was dead,” said Harker. “I went to Barthorpe on quite different business—Brake’s business.”