“I daresay,” responded Ransford dryly. “Following the example of their mothers, no doubt. Well—what is it?”
He, too, glanced at Mary—and the girl had her work set to look unconscious.
“It’s this,” replied Dick, lowering his voice in spite of the fact that all three were alone. “They’re saying in the town that you know something which you won’t tell about that affair last week. It’s being talked of.”
Ransford laughed—a little cynically.
“Are you quite sure, my boy, that they aren’t saying that I daren’t tell?” he asked. “Daren’t is a much more likely word than won’t, I think.”
“Well—about that, sir,” acknowledged Dick. “Comes to that, anyhow.”
“And what are their grounds?” inquired Ransford. “You’ve heard them, I’ll be bound!”
“They say that man—Braden—had been here—here, to the house!—that morning, not long before he was found dead,” answered Dick. “Of course, I said that was all bosh!—I said that if he’d been here and seen you, I’d have heard of it, dead certain.”
“That’s not quite so dead certain, Dick, as that I have no knowledge of his ever having been here,” said Ransford. “But who says he came here?”
“Mrs. Deramore,” replied Dick promptly. “She says she saw him go away from the house and across the Close, a little before ten. So Jim Deramore says, anyway—and he says his mother’s eyes are as good as another’s.”
“Doubtless!” assented Ransford. He looked at Mary again, and saw that she was keeping hers fixed on her plate. “Well,” he continued, “if it will give you any satisfaction, Dick, you can tell the gossips that Dr. Ransford never saw any man, Braden or anybody else, at his house that morning, and that he never exchanged a word with Braden. So much for that! But,” he added, “you needn’t expect them to believe you. I know these people—if they’ve got an idea into their heads they’ll ride it to death. Nevertheless, what I say is a fact.”
Dick presently went off—and once more Ransford looked at Mary. And this time, Mary had to meet her guardian’s inquiring glance.
“Have you heard anything of this?” he asked.
“That there was a rumour—yes,” she replied without hesitation. “But—not until just now—this morning.”
“Who told you of it?” inquired Ransford.
Mary hesitated. Then she remembered that Mr. Folliot, at any rate, had not bound her to secrecy.
“Mr. Folliot,” she replied. “He called me into his garden, to give me those roses, and he mentioned that Mrs. Deramore had said these things to Mrs. Folliot, and as he seemed to think it highly probable that Mrs. Folliot would repeat them, he told me because he didn’t want you to think that the rumour had originally arisen at his house.”
“Very good of him, I’m sure,” remarked Ransford dryly. “They all like to shift the blame from one to another! But,” he added, looking searchingly at her, “you don’t know anything about—Braden’s having come here?”