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.