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- The Paradise Mystery - 2/50 -


have to settle with him myself. It's useless trifling with anything like that. I gave him a quiet hint before. And since he won't take it--all right!"

"But--what shall you do?" she asked anxiously. "Not--send him away?"

"If he's any decency about him, he'll go--after what I say to him," answered Ransford. "Don't you trouble yourself about it--I'm not at all keen about him. He's a clever enough fellow, and a good assistant, but I don't like him, personally--never did."

"I don't want to think that anything that I say should lose him his situation--or whatever you call it," she remarked slowly. "That would seem--"

"No need to bother," interrupted Ransford. "He'll get another in two minutes--so to speak. Anyway, we can't have this going on. The fellow must be an ass! When I was young--"

He stopped short at that, and turning away, looked out across the garden as if some recollection had suddenly struck him.

"When you were young--which is, of course, such an awfully long time since!" said the girl, a little teasingly. "What?"

"Only that if a woman said No--unmistakably--once, a man took it as final," replied Ransford. "At least--so I was always given to believe. Nowadays--"

"You forget that Mr. Pemberton Bryce is what most people would call a very pushing young man," said Mary. "If he doesn't get what he wants in this world, it won't be for not asking for it. But--if you must speak to him--and I really think you must!--will you tell him that he is not going to get--me? Perhaps he'll take it finally from you--as my guardian."

"I don't know if parents and guardians count for much in these degenerate days," said Ransford. "But--I won't have him annoying you. And--I suppose it has come to annoyance?"

"It's very annoying to be asked three times by a man whom you've told flatly, once for all, that you don't want him, at any time, ever!" she answered. "It's--irritating!"

"All right," said Ransford quietly. "I'll speak to him. There's going to be no annoyance for you under this roof."

The girl gave him a quick glance, and Ransford turned away from her and picked up his letters.

"Thank you," she said. "But--there's no need to tell me that, because I know it already. Now I wonder if you'll tell me something more?"

Ransford turned back with a sudden apprehension.

"Well?" he asked brusquely. "What?"

"When are you going to tell me all about--Dick and myself?" she asked. "You promised that you would, you know, some day. And--a whole year's gone by since then. And--Dick's seventeen! He won't be satisfied always--just to know no more than that our father and mother died when we were very little, and that you've been guardian--and all that you have been!--to us. Will he, now?"

Ransford laid down his letters again, and thrusting his hands in his pockets, squared his shoulders against the mantelpiece. "Don't you think you might wait until you're twenty-one?" he asked.

"Why?" she said, with a laugh. "I'm just twenty--do you really think I shall be any wiser in twelve months? Of course I shan't!"

"You don't know that," he replied. "You may be--a great deal wiser."

"But what has that got to do with it?" she persisted. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't be told--everything?"

She was looking at him with a certain amount of demand--and Ransford, who had always known that some moment of this sort must inevitably come, felt that she was not going to be put off with ordinary excuses. He hesitated--and she went on speaking.

"You know," she continued, almost pleadingly. "We don't know anything--at all. I never have known, and until lately Dick has been too young to care--"

"Has he begun asking questions?" demanded Ransford hastily.

"Once or twice, lately--yes," replied Mary. "It's only natural." She laughed a little--a forced laugh. "They say," she went on, "that it doesn't matter, nowadays, if you can't tell who your grandfather was--but, just think, we don't know who our father was--except that his name was John Bewery. That doesn't convey much."

"You know more," said Ransford. "I told you--always have told you--that he was an early friend of mine, a man of business, who, with your mother, died young, and I, as their friend, became guardian to you and Dick. Is--is there anything much more that I could tell?"

"There's something I should very much like to know --personally," she answered, after a pause which lasted so long that Ransford began to feel uncomfortable under it. "Don't be angry--or hurt--if I tell you plainly what it is. I'm quite sure it's never even occurred to Dick--but I'm three years ahead of him. It's this--have we been dependent on you?"

Ransford's face flushed and he turned deliberately to the window, and for a moment stood staring out on his garden and the glimpses of the Cathedral. And just as deliberately as he had turned away, he turned back.

"No!" he said. "Since you ask me, I'll tell you that. You've both got money--due to you when you're of age. It--it's in my hands. Not a great lot--but sufficient to--to cover all your expenses. Education--everything. When you're twenty-one, I'll hand over yours--when Dick's twenty-one, his. Perhaps I ought to have told you all that before, but--I didn't think it necessary. I--I dare say I've a tendency to let things slide."

"You've never let things slide about us," she replied quickly, with a sudden glance which made him turn away again. "And I only wanted to know--because I'd got an idea that--well, that we were owing everything to you."

"Not from me!" he exclaimed.

"No--that would never be!" she said. "But--don't you understand? I--wanted to know--something. Thank you. I won't ask more now."

"I've always meant to tell you--a good deal," remarked Ransford, after another pause. "You see, I can scarcely--yet --realize that you're both growing up! You were at school a year ago. And Dick is still very young. Are--are you more satisfied now?" he went on anxiously. "If not--"

"I'm quite satisfied," she answered. "Perhaps--some day --you'll tell me more about our father and mother?--but never mind even that now. You're sure you haven't minded my asking --what I have asked?"

"Of course not--of course not!" he said hastily. "I ought to have remembered. And--but we'll talk again. I must get into the surgery--and have a word with Bryce, too."

"If you could only make him see reason and promise not to offend again," she said. "Wouldn't that solve the difficulty?"

Ransford shook his head and made no answer. He picked up his letters again and went out, and down a long stone-walled passage which led to his surgery at the side of the house. He was alone there when he had shut the door--and he relieved his feelings with a deep groan.

"Heaven help me if the lad ever insists on the real truth and on having proofs and facts given to him!" he muttered. "I shouldn't mind telling her, when she's a bit older--but he wouldn't understand as she would. Anyway, thank God I can keep up the pleasant fiction about the money without her ever knowing that I told her a deliberate lie just now. But --what's in the future? Here's one man to be dismissed already, and there'll be others, and one of them will be the favoured man. That man will have to be told! And--so will she, then. And--my God! she doesn't see, and mustn't see, that I'm madly in love with her myself! She's no idea of it --and she shan't have; I must--must continue to be--only the guardian!"

He laughed a little cynically as he laid his letters down on his desk and proceeded to open them--in which occupation he was presently interrupted by the opening of the side-door and the entrance of Mr. Pemberton Bryce.

CHAPTER II

MAKING AN ENEMY

It was characteristic of Pemberton Bryce that he always walked into a room as if its occupant were asleep and he was afraid of waking him. He had a gentle step which was soft without being stealthy, and quiet movements which brought him suddenly to anybody's side before his presence was noticed. He was by Ransford's desk ere Ransford knew he was in the surgery--and Ransford's sudden realization of his presence roused a certain


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