“Thank you,” said Mary. “But—supposing this man had been to our house—what difference would that make? He might have been for half a dozen reasons.”
Folliot looked at her out of his half-shut eyes.
“Some people would want to know why Ransford didn’t tell that —at the inquest,” he answered. “That’s all. When there’s a bit of mystery, you know—eh?”
He nodded—as if reassuringly—and went off to rejoin his gardener, and Mary walked home with her roses, more thoughtful than ever. Mystery?—a bit of mystery? There was a vast and heavy cloud of mystery, and she knew she could have no peace until it was lifted.
THE BACK ROOM
In the midst of all her perplexity at that moment, Mary Bewery was certain of one fact about which she had no perplexity nor any doubt—it would not be long before the rumours of which Bryce and Mr. Folliot had spoken. Although she had only lived in Wrychester a comparatively short time she had seen and learned enough of it to know that the place was a hotbed of gossip. Once gossip was started there, it spread, widening in circle after circle. And though Bryce was probably right when he said that the person chiefly concerned was usually the last person to hear what was being whispered, she knew well enough that sooner or later this talk about Ransford would come to Ransford’s own ears. But she had no idea that it was to come so soon, nor from her own brother.
Lunch in the Ransford menage was an informal meal. At a quarter past one every day, it was on the table—a cold lunch to which the three members of the household helped themselves as they liked, independent of the services of servants. Sometimes all three were there at the same moment; sometimes Ransford was half an hour late; the one member who was always there to the moment was Dick Bewery, who fortified himself sedulously after his morning’s school labours. On this particular day all three met in the dining-room at once, and sat down together. And before Dick had eaten many mouthfuls of a cold pie to which he had just liberally helped himself he bent confidentially across the table towards his guardian.
“There’s something I think you ought to be told about, sir,” he remarked with a side-glance at Mary. “Something I heard this morning at school. You know, we’ve a lot of fellows —town boys—who talk.”