Mary dropped her work and turned a pair of astonished eyes on Mrs. Folliot’s large countenance.
“You!” she exclaimed. “To establish—Dr. Ransford’s innocence? Why, Mrs. Folliot, what have you done?”
Mrs. Folliot toyed a little with the jewelled head of her sunshade. Her expression became almost coy.
“Oh, well!” she answered after a brief spell of indecision. “Perhaps it is as well that you should know, Miss Bewery. Of course, when all this sad trouble was made far worse by that second affair—the working-man’s death, you know, I said to my husband that really one must do something, seeing that Dr. Ransford was so very, very obdurate and wouldn’t speak. And as money is nothing—at least as things go—to me or to Mr. Folliot, I insisted that he should offer a thousand pounds reward to have the thing cleared up. He’s a generous and open-handed man, and he agreed with me entirely, and put the thing in hand through his solicitors. And nothing would please us more, my dear, than to have that thousand pounds claimed! For of course, if there is to be—as I suppose there is—a union between our families, it would be utterly impossible that any cloud could rest on Dr. Ransford, even if he is only your guardian. My son’s future wife cannot, of course—”
Mary laid down her work again and for a full minute stared Mrs. Folliot in the face.
“Mrs. Folliot!” she said at last. “Are you under the impression that I’m thinking of marrying your son?”
“I think I’ve every good reason for believing it!” replied Mrs. Folliot.
“You’ve none!” retorted Mary, gathering up her work and moving towards the door. “I’ve no more intention of marrying Mr. Sackville Bonham than of eloping with the Bishop! The idea’s too absurd to—even be thought of!”
Five minutes later Mrs. Folliot, heightened in colour, had gone. And presently Mary, glancing after her across the Close, saw Bryce approaching the gate of the garden.
Mary’s first instinct on seeing the approach of Pemberton Bryce, the one man she least desired to see, was to retreat to the back of the house and send the parlourmaid to the door to say her mistress was not at home. But she had lately become aware of Bryce’s curiously dogged persistence in following up whatever he had in view, and she reflected that if he were sent away then he would be sure to come back and come back until he had got whatever it was that he wanted. And after a moment’s further consideration, she walked out of the front door and confronted him resolutely in the garden.
“Dr. Ransford is away,” she said with almost unnecessary brusqueness. “He’s away until evening.”
“I don’t want him,” replied Bryce just as brusquely. “I came to see you.”
Mary hesitated. She continued to regard Bryce steadily, and Bryce did not like the way in which she was looking at him. He made haste to speak before she could either leave or dismiss him.