Mary would have passed on with no more than a silent recognition—she had made up her mind to have no further speech with her guardian’s dismissed assistant. But she had to pass through a wicket gate at that point, and Bryce barred the way, with unmistakable purpose. It was plain to the girl that he had laid in wait for her. She was not without a temper of her own, and she suddenly let it out on the offender.
“Do you call this manly conduct, Dr. Bryce?” she demanded, turning an indignant and flushed face on him. “To waylay me here, when you know that I don’t want to have anything more to do with you. Let me through, please—and go away!”
But Bryce kept a hand on the little gate, and when he spoke there was that in his voice which made the girl listen in spite of herself.
“I’m not here on my own behalf,” he said quickly. “I give you my word I won’t say a thing that need offend you. It’s true I waited here for you—it’s the only place in which I thought I could meet you, alone. I want to speak to you. It’s this—do you know your guardian is in danger?”
Bryce had the gift of plausibility—he could convince people, against their instincts, even against their wills, that he was telling the truth. And Mary, after a swift glance, believed him.
“What danger?” she asked. “And if he is, and if you know he is—why don’t you go direct to him?”
“The most fatal thing in the world to do!” exclaimed Bryce. “You know him—he can be nasty. That would bring matters to a crisis. And that, in his interest, is just what mustn’t happen.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Mary.
Bryce leaned nearer to her—across the gate.
“You know what happened last week,” he said in a low voice. “The strange death of that man—Braden.”
“Well?” she asked, with a sudden look of uneasiness. “What of it?”
“It’s being rumoured—whispered—in the town that Dr. Ransford had something to do with that affair,” answered Bryce. “Unpleasant—unfortunate—but it’s a fact.”
“Impossible!” exclaimed Mary with a heightening colour. “What could he have to do with it? What could give rise to such foolish—wicked—rumours?”
“You know as well as I do how people talk, how they will talk,” said Bryce. “You can’t stop them, in a place like Wrychester, where everybody knows everybody. There’s a mystery around Braden’s death—it’s no use denying it. Nobody knows who he was, where he came from, why he came. And it’s being hinted—I’m only telling you what I’ve gathered—that Dr. Ransford knows more than he’s ever told. There are, I’m afraid, grounds.”
“What grounds?” demanded Mary. While Bryce had been speaking, in his usual slow, careful fashion, she had been reflecting —and remembering Ransford’s evident agitation at the time of the Paradise affair—and his relief when the inquest was over —and his sending her with flowers to the dead man’s grave and she began to experience a sense of uneasiness and even of fear. “What grounds can there be?” she added. “Dr. Ransford didn’t know that man—had never seen him!”