They were in the middle of the street, and Ken chose to focus his attention on the traffic.
“Let’s get to the lunch place,” he said. “It’s quieter there, to talk.”
“Still wearing that old suit, dear?” Mrs. Sturgis said, touching Ken’s sleeve as he hung up his overcoat in the restaurant.
“Er—this is my good suit,” Ken murmured. “That is, it’s the only suit I have—that is—”
“See here,” said Mrs. Sturgis, whose perceptions were beginning to quicken as she faced a member of her family again with the barrier of cautious letters thrown aside; “there’s been enough money, hasn’t there?”
“Lots,” Ken said hastily. “We’ve been living royally—wait till you see. Oh, it’s really a duck of a place—and Phil’s a perfect wonder.”
“What’s a duck of a place?”
“Applegate Farm. Oh law! Mother dear, I’ll have to tell you. It’s only that we decided the old house was too expensive for us to run just for ourselves, so we got a nice old place in the country and fixed it up.”
“You decided—you got a place in the country? Do you mean to say that you poor, innocent children have had to manage things like that?”
“We didn’t want you to bother. Please don’t worry, now.” Ken looked anxiously across the table at his mother, as though he rather expected her to go off in a collapse again.
“Nonsense, Ken, I’m perfectly all right! But—but—oh, please begin at the beginning and unravel all this.”
“Wait till we get on the train,” Ken said. “I want to arrange my topics. I didn’t mean to spring it on you this way, at all, Mother. I wish Phil had been doing this job.”
But Ken’s topics didn’t stay arranged. As the train rumbled on toward Bayside, the tale was drawn from him piecemeal; what he tried to conceal, his mother soon enough discovered by a little questioning. Her son dissimulated very poorly, she found to her amusement. And, after all, she must know the whole, sooner or later. It was only his wish to spare her any sudden shock which made him hold back now.
“And you mean to tell me that you poor dears have been scraping along on next to nothing, while selfish Mother has been spending the remnant of the fortune at Hilltop?”
“Oh, pshaw, Mother!” Ken muttered, “there was plenty. And look at you, all nice and well for us. It would have been a pretty sight to see us flourishing around with the money while you perished forlorn, wouldn’t it?”
“Think of all the wealth we’ll have now,” Mrs. Sturgis suggested, “all the hundreds and hundreds that Hilltop has been gobbling.”
“I’d forgotten that,” whistled Ken. “Hi-ya! We’ll be bloated aristocrats, we will! We’ll have a steak for dinner!”