The day after the sewing society Ellen Dix went up to her room, after hurriedly washing the dinner dishes. It was still hot, but a vague haze had crept across the brazen sky since morning. Ellen’s room looked out into cool green depths of trees, so that on a cloudy day it was almost too dark to examine the contents of the closet opposite its two east windows.
It was a pretty room, freshly papered and painted, as were many rooms in Brookville since the sale of the old Bolton properties. Nearly every one had scrimped and saved and gone without so long that the sudden influx of money into empty pockets had acted like wine in a hungry stomach. Henry Daggett had thrice replenished his stock of wall papers; window shades and curtaining by the yard had been in constant demand for weeks; bright colored chintzes and gay flowered cretonnes were apparently a prime necessity in many households. As for paper hangers and painters, few awaited their unhurried movements. It was easy for anybody with energy and common sense to wield a paintbrush; and old paper could be scraped off and fresh strips applied by a simple application of flour paste and the fundamental laws of physics. One improvement clamors loudly for another, and money was still coming in from the most unexpected sources, so new furniture was bought to take the place of unprized chairs and tables long ago salvaged from the Bolton wreck. And since Mrs. Deacon Whittle’s dream parlor, with its marble-tops and plush-upholstered furniture, had become a solid reality, other parlors burgeoned forth in multi-colored magnificence. Scraggy old shrubs were trimmed; grass was cut in unkempt dooryards; flowers were planted—and all because of the lavish display of such improvements at Bolton House, as “that queer Orr girl” persisted in calling it; thereby flying in the face of public opinion and local prejudice in a way which soured the milk of human kindness before the cream of gratitude could rise.
Everybody agreed that there was something mysterious, if not entirely unnatural in the conduct of the young woman. Nobody likes unsolved riddles for long. The moment or century of suspense may prove interesting—even exciting; but human intelligence resents the Sphynx.
Ellen Dix was intensely human. She was, moreover, jealous—or supposed she was, which often amounts to the same thing. And because of this she was looking over the dresses, hanging on pegs along her closet wall, with a demurely puckered brow. The pink muslin was becoming, but old-fashioned; the pale yellow trimmed with black velvet might get soiled with the dust, and she wasn’t sure it would wash. She finally selected a white dress of a new and becoming style, attired in which she presently stood before her mirror adjusting a plain Panama hat, trimmed simply with a black ribbon. Not for nothing had Ellen used her handsome dark eyes. She set the hat over her black hair at exactly the right angle, skewering it securely in place with two silver pins, also severely simple in their style and quite unlike the glittering rhinestone variety offered for sale in Henry Daggett’s general store.