The minister from the doorstep of the parsonage watched the stooped figure as it shambled down the street. The rain was still falling in torrents. The thought crossed his mind that the old man might not be able to compass the two miles or more of country road. Then he got into his raincoat and followed.
“My umbrella isn’t of the best,” he said, as he overtook the toiling figure; “but I should have offered it.”
Andrew Bolton muttered something unintelligible, as he glanced up at the poor shelter the young man held over him. As he did not offer to avail himself of it the minister continued to walk at his side, accommodating his long free stride to the curious shuffling gait of the man who had spent eighteen years in prison. And so they passed the windowed fronts of the village houses, peering out from the dripping autumnal foliage like so many watchful eyes, till the hoarse signal of a motor car halted them, as they were about to cross the street in front of the Brookville House.
From the open door of the car Lydia Orr’s pale face looked out.
“Oh, father,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
She did not appear to see the minister.
Bolton stepped into the car with a grunt.
“Glad to see the old black Maria, for once,” he chuckled. “Don’t you recognize the parson, my dear? Nice fellow—the parson; been having quite a visit with him at the manse. Old stamping-ground of mine, you know. Always friendly with the parson.”
Wesley Elliot had swept the hat from his head. Lydia’s eyes, blue and wide like those of a frightened child, met his with an anguished question.
He bowed gravely.
“I should have brought him home quite safe,” he told her. “I intended ordering a carriage.”
The girl’s lips shaped formal words of gratitude. Then the obedient humming of the motor deepened to a roar and the car glided swiftly away.
On the opposite corner, her bunched skirts held high, stood Miss Lois Daggett.
“Please wait a minute, Mr. Elliot,” she called. “I’ll walk right along under your umbrella, if you don’t mind.”
Wesley Elliot bowed and crossed the street. “Certainly,” he said.
“I don’t know why I didn’t bring my own umbrella this morning,” said Miss Daggett with a keen glance at Elliot. “That old man stopped in the library awhile ago, and he rather frightened me. He looked very odd and talked so queer. Did he come to the parsonage?”
“Yes,” said Wesley Elliot. “He came to the parsonage?”
“Did he tell you who he was?”
He had expected this question. But how should he answer it?
“He told me he had been ill for a long time,” said the minister evasively.
“Ill!” repeated Miss Daggett shrilly. Then she said one word: “Insane.”
“People who are insane are not likely to mention it,” said Elliot.