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Chapter XVII

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A few weeks subsequent to the occurrences mentioned in the last chapter, Leonard Jasper received a call from Mr. Melleville, in whose service Claire still remained. The greeting of the two men was distant, yet courteous. A few words on current topics passed between them, after which Mr. Melleville said--

"I have called to ask you a question or two in regard to a child of the late Mr. Elder, to whom you are guardian."

The blood came instantly to the face of Jasper, who was not prepared for this; and in spite of his struggle to seem self-possessed, his eyes sank under those of his visitor. In a few moments, he recovered himself, and replied--

"The child, you mean, who is boarding with Edward Claire?"

"The same." The eyes of Melleville were fixed on those of Jasper so steadily, that the latter wavered, and, finally, again dropped to the floor.

"Well, I am ready to hear any thing that you have to say." Jasper had thrown off, once more, the vague sense of coming evil that made him cower under the steady gaze of Melleville.

"I learn," said the latter, "from Mr. Claire, that you refuse to pay any further sums for her maintenance. Is the property left by her father, to which common report has affixed considerable value, exhausted, or"--

"I have refused to pay him any further sums," said Jasper, in a quick, excited voice, interrupting Mr. Melleville. "Our contract, regularly entered into, has expired by limitation. He was to have the care of her only until she reached her twelfth year. Of this fact he is clearly advised, and I wonder at his pertinacity in endeavouring to retain the child, when he knows that I, her guardian, wish to have her in my own possession."

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"He has had her ever since she was a little child; and both he and his wife are now strongly attached to her. In fact, she regards them as her parents; and their affection for her is not exceeded by their affection for their own children. To separate them would be exceedingly painful to all parties. As for the child, it would make her very unhappy."

"I can't help that, Mr. Melleville." Jasper spoke coldly.

"Under all the circumstances," said Mr. Melleville, after a pause, speaking slowly, and with considerable emphasis in his words, "it is my opinion that you had better let the child remain where she is."

"Why do you say so?" Jasper spoke with ill-concealed surprise; and the uneasy, suspicious manner, at first exhibited, returned.

"Claire regards the child as his own; and must so continue to regard her, even though taken out of his hands."

"Well, what of that?"

"It is for you, Mr. Jasper," was returned, "to determine for yourself, whether the surveillance of a man like Claire, who cannot now cease to feel a parent's interest in your ward, will be altogether agreeable."

"Surveillance! What do you mean? I don't understand this language. It looks like an effort to force me into measures. Pray, what have I to fear from Edward Claire?"

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