“You’ve kept this quiet, too?” asked Bryce.
“Just so—I’ve my own game to play,” replied Harker. “This talk with you is part of it—you come in, now—I’ll tell you why, presently. But first, as you know, I went to Barthorpe. For, though Brake was dead, I felt I must go—for this reason. I was certain that he wanted that information for himself—the man in Australia was a fiction. I went, then—and learned nothing. Except that this Falkiner Wraye had been, as Brake said, a Barthorpe man, years ago. He’d left the town eighteen years since, and nobody knew anything about him. So I came home. And now then, doctor—your turn! What were you after, down there at Barthorpe?”
Bryce meditated his answer for a good five minutes. He had always intended to play the game off his own bat, but he had heard and seen enough since entering Harker’s little room to know that he was in company with an intellect which was keener and more subtle than his, and that it would be all to his advantage to go in with the man who had vast and deep experience. And so he made a clean breast of all he had done in the way of investigation, leaving his motive completely aside.
“You’ve got a theory, of course?” observed Harker, after listening quietly to all that Bryce could tell. “Naturally, you have! You couldn’t accumulate all that without getting one.”
“Well,” admitted Bryce, “honestly, I can’t say that I have. But I can see what theory there might be. This—that Ransford was the man who deceived Brake, that he ran away with Brake’s wife, that she’s dead, and that he’s brought up the children in ignorance of all that—and therefore—”
“And therefore,” interrupted Harker with a smile, “that when he and Brake met—as you seem to think they did—Ransford flung Brake through that open doorway; that Collishaw witnessed it, that Ransford’s found out about Collishaw, and that Collishaw has been poisoned by Ransford. Eh?”
“That’s a theory that seems to be supported by facts,” said Bryce.
“It’s a theory that would doubtless suit men like Mitchington,” said the old detective, with another smile. “But—not me, sir! Mind you, I don’t say there isn’t something in it—there’s doubtless a lot. But—the mystery’s a lot thicker than just that. And Brake didn’t come here to find Ransford. He came because of the secret in that scrap of paper. And as you’ve got it, doctor—out with it!”