Lydia interrupted him with a sharp exclamation. She had caught sight of Ellen Dix standing under the deep portico, the scared face of the maid looking over her shoulder.
Ellen’s face crimsoned slowly. All at once she felt unaccountably sorry and ashamed. She wished she had not come. She felt that she wanted nothing so much as to hurry swiftly away.
But Lydia Orr, still holding the strange old man by the arm, was already coming up the steps.
“I’ll not go in the automobile, child,” he repeated, with an obstinate flourish of his stick. “I don’t like to ride so fast. I want to see things. I want—”
He stopped short, his mouth gaping, his eyes staring at Ellen.
“That girl!” he almost shouted. “She told me—I don’t want her here.... Go away, girl, you make my head hurt!”
Lydia flashed a beseeching look at Ellen, as she led the old man past.
“Please come in,” she said; “I shall be at liberty in just a moment.... Come, father!”
“Perhaps I’d better not, today,” she murmured, and slowly descended the steps.
The discreet maid closed the door behind her.
Ellen did not at once return home. She walked on reflecting. So the old man was Lydia Orr’s father! And she was the first to know it!
The girl had never spoken of her father, Ellen was sure. Had she done so, Mrs. Solomon Black would certainly have told Mrs. Whittle, and Mrs. Whittle would have informed Mrs. Daggett, and thence, by way of Mrs. Dodge and Fanny, the news would long ago have reached Ellen and her mother.
Before she had covered a quarter of a mile of the dusty road, Ellen heard the muffled roar of an over-taking motor car. She glanced up, startled and half choked with the enveloping cloud of dust. Jim Dodge was driving the car. He slowed down and stopped.
“Hello, Ellen. Going down to the village? Get in and I’ll take you along,” he called out.
“All right,” said Ellen, jumping in.
“I haven’t seen you for an age, Jim,” said Ellen after awhile.
The young man laughed. “Does it seem that long to you, Ellen?”
“No, why should it?” she returned.
“I say, Ellen,” said Jim, “I saw you when you came out of Bolton House just now.”
“Yes.” He looked sharply at Ellen, who smiled evasively.
“I was going to call,” she said with an innocent air, “but Miss Orr had—a visitor.”
“Look here, Ellen; don’t let’s beat about the bush. Nobody knows he’s there, yet, except myself and—you. You met him on the road; didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Ellen, “I met him on the road.”
“Did he talk to you?”
“He asked me what my name was. He’s crazy, isn’t he, Jim?”
The young man frowned thoughtfully at his steering wheel.