But Micky refused to be interested, beyond a derisive wiggling of his fingers at his nose, and West, having abstracted all the information possible, made no further effort. The knowledge thus obtained as to the present occupants of the cottage did not exactly coincide with the story Coolidge had told. He had spoken of a widow with three children in destitute circumstances following the father’s death. The boy asserted there were no children in the family. And they had just moved in, within a very few days, during which time the neighbourhood had only glimpsed a “middling old” woman. It was strange at least, adding distinctly to the puzzle of the whole affair. West grew nervous, wondering why the two should remain so long within, out of sight and hearing. If this was merely a charitable visit, it surely did not need require such a length of time. He had been waiting now for three-quarters of an hour. He opened the door of the car, and stepped out upon the curb, almost tempted to investigate the cause of delay. As he stood there undecided, the two emerged from the cottage, and descended the steps together. Through the opened door he caught no glimpse of any one within, yet some unseen hand closed it quickly behind them.
A NEW MISS COOLIDGE
They came down the narrow board walk together, Percival carefully holding the lady’s arm to prevent her tripping over the loosened planks, but neither exchanging a word. The man was smiling, the fingers of one hand toying with the curl of his moustache, but Natalie appeared somewhat sobered by her visit, and West noticed that she had tied a light veil over her face, which slightly shadowed her features. It was only as they reached the curb that she spoke, her voice rather low and listless.
“Would you mind driving the car back?” she asked Coolidge. “Really I feel quite unnerved.”
“No wonder,” he returned sympathetically, “I have never witnessed a sadder case; the conditions were even worse than I imagined. I should never have brought you with me, my dear.”
“Oh, I am not sorry I came; but it has been a lesson to me. I do not think before I ever realized what such poverty meant.”
The words trembled from her lips, and were spoken slowly as though chosen with care. “The sad plight of the children particularly appealed to me.”
“There are children then?” West questioned, as Coolidge assisted her into the car. The latter cast a swift glance of inquiry into the younger man’s face.
“Children!” he exclaimed, “Of course; we spoke of them on the way down.”
“I know; that was what made me wonder when one of the lads playing out here in the street said there were no kids in the cottage.”
“Oh, I see,” a bit sarcastically. “So you have been amusing yourself questioning the neighbours, have you?”
“To a very small extent,” West confessed, keeping his temper. “One of the players chased a stray ball under the automobile, and I asked him a question or two. The cottage appeared so deserted, and you were absent for such a length of time, I became somewhat curious.”