“And have taken the name of their mother!” remarked the old man.
“Had it given to them,” said Bryce. “They don’t know that it isn’t their real name. Of course, Ransford has given it to them! But now—the mother?”
“Ah, yes, the mother!” said Mr. Gilwaters. “Our old governess! Dear me!”
“I’m going to put a question to you,” continued Bryce, leaning nearer and speaking in a low, confidential tone. “You must have seen much of the world, Mr. Gilwaters—men of your profession know the world, and human nature, too. Call to mind all the mysterious circumstances, the veiled hints, of that trial. Do you think—have you ever thought—that the false friend whom the counsel referred to was—Ransford? Come, now!”
The old clergyman lifted his hands and let them fall on his knees.
“I do not know what to say!” he exclaimed. “To tell you the truth, I have often wondered if—if that was what really did happen. There is the fact that Brake’s wife disappeared mysteriously—that Ransford made a similar mysterious disappearance about the same time—that Brake was obviously suffering from intense and bitter hatred when I saw him after the trial—hatred of some person on whom he meant to be revenged—and that his counsel hinted that he had been deceived and betrayed by a friend. Now, to my knowledge, he and Ransford were the closest of friends—in the old days, before Brake married our governess. And I suppose the friendship continued—certainly Ransford acted as best man at the wedding! But how account for that strange double disappearance?”
Bryce had already accounted for that, in his own secret mind. And now, having got all that he wanted out of the old clergyman, he rose to take his leave.
“You will regard this interview as having been of a strictly private nature, Mr. Gilwaters?” he said.
“Certainly!” responded the old man. “But—you mentioned that you wished to marry the daughter? Now that you know about her father’s past—for I am sure she must be John Brake’s child —you won’t allow that to—eh?”
“Not for a moment!” answered Bryce, with a fair show of magnanimity. “I am not a man of that complexion, sir. No!—I only wished to clear up certain things, you understand.”
“And—since she is apparently—from what you say—in ignorance of her real father’s past—what then?” asked Mr. Gilwaters anxiously. “Shall you—”
“I shall do nothing whatever in any haste,” replied Bryce. “Rely upon me to consider her feelings in everything. As you have been so kind, I will let you know, later, how matters go.”
This was one of Pemberton Bryce’s ready inventions. He had not the least intention of ever seeing or communicating with the late vicar of Braden Medworth again; Mr. Gilwaters had served his purpose for the time being. He went away from Bayswater, and, an hour later, from London, highly satisfied. In his opinion, Mark Ransford, seventeen years before, had taken advantage of his friend’s misfortunes to run away with his wife, and when Brake, alias Braden, had unexpectedly turned up at Wrychester, he had added to his former wrong by the commission of a far greater one.