Mary rather liked Mr. Folliot. He was a big, half-asleep sort of man, who had few words and could talk about little else than his hobby. But he was a passionate lover of flowers and plants, and had a positive genius for rose-culture, and was at all times highly delighted to take flower-lovers round his garden. She turned at once and walked in, and Folliot led her away down the scented paths.
“It’s an experiment I’ve been trying,” he said, leading her up to a cluster of blooms of a colour and size which she had never seen before. “What do you think of the results?”
“Magnificent!” exclaimed Mary. “I never saw anything so fine!”
“No!” agreed Folliot, with a quiet chuckle. “Nor anybody else—because there’s no such rose in England. I shall have to go to some of these learned parsons in the Close to invent me a Latin name for this—it’s the result of careful experiments in grafting—took me three years to get at it. And see how it blooms,—scores on one standard.”
He pulled out a knife and began to select a handful of the finest blooms, which he presently pressed into Mary’s hand.
“By the by,” he remarked as she thanked him and they turned away along the path, “I wanted to have a word with you—or with Ransford. Do you know—does he know—that that confounded silly woman who lives near to your house—Mrs. Deramore—has been saying some things—or a thing—which—to put it plainly—might make some unpleasantness for him?”
Mary kept a firm hand on her wits—and gave him an answer which was true enough, so far as she was aware.
“I’m sure he knows nothing,” she said. “What is it, Mr. Folliot?”
“Why, you know what happened last week,” continued Folliot, glancing knowingly at her. “The accident to that stranger. This Mrs. Deramore, who’s nothing but an old chatterer, has been saying, here and there, that it’s a very queer thing Dr. Ransford doesn’t know anything about him, and can’t say anything, for she herself, she says, saw the very man going away from Dr. Ransford’s house not so long before the accident.”
“I am not aware that he ever called at Dr. Ransford’s,” said Mary. “I never saw him—and I was in the garden, about that very time, with your stepson, Mr. Folliot.”
“So Sackville told me,” remarked Folliot. “He was present —and so was I—when Mrs. Deramore was tattling about it in our house yesterday. He said, then, that he’d never seen the man go to your house. You never heard your servants make any remark about it?”
“Never!” answered Mary.
“I told Mrs. Deramore she’d far better hold her tongue,” continued Folliot. “Tittle-tattle of that sort is apt to lead to unpleasantness. And when it came to it, it turned out that all she had seen was this stranger strolling across the Close as if he’d just left your house. If—there’s always some if! But I’ll tell you why I mentioned it to you,” he continued, nudging