“Then he is insane,” said Miss Daggett with conviction.
Wesley looked at her meditatively. Would the truth, the whole truth, openly proclaimed, be advisable at this juncture, he wondered. Lydia could not hope to keep her secret long. And there was danger in her attempt. He shuddered as he remembered the man’s terrible words, “Twice I have been tempted to knock her down when she stood between me and the door.” Would it not be better to abandon this pretense sooner, rather than later? If the village knew the truth, would not the people show at least a semblance of kindness to the man who had expiated so bitterly the wrong he had done them?
“If the man is insane,” Miss Daggett said, “it doesn’t seem right to me to have him at large.”
“I wish I knew what to do,” said Elliot.
“I think you ought to tell what you know if the man is insane.”
“Well, I will tell,” said Elliot, almost fiercely. “That man is Andrew Bolton. He has come home after eighteen years of imprisonment, which have left him terribly weak in mind and body. Don’t you think people will forgive him now?”
A swift vindictiveness flashed into the woman’s face. “I don’t know,” said she.
“Why in the world don’t you know, Miss Daggett?”
Then the true reason for the woman’s rancor was disclosed. It was a reason as old as the human race, a suspicion as old as the human race, which she voiced. “I have said from the first,” she declared, “that nobody would come here, as that girl did, and do so much unless she had a motive.”
Elliot stared at her. “Then you hate that poor child for trying to make up for the wrong her father did; and that, and not his wrongdoing, influences you?”
Miss Daggett stared at him. Her face slowly reddened. “I wouldn’t put it that way,” she said.
“What way would you put it?” demanded Elliot mercilessly. He was so furious that he forgot to hold the umbrella over Miss Daggett, and the rain drove in her hard, unhappy face. She did not seem to notice. She had led a poisoned life, in a narrow rut of existence, and toxic emotions had become as her native atmosphere of mind. Now she seemed to be about to breathe in a better air of humanity, and she choked under it.
“If—” she stammered, “that was—her reason, but—I always felt—that nobody ever did such things without—as they used to say—an ax to grind.”
“This seems to me a holy sort of ax,” said Elliot grimly, “and one for which a Christian woman should certainly not fling stones.”
They had reached the Daggett house. The woman stopped short. “You needn’t think I’m going around talking, any more than you would,” she said, and her voice snapped like a whip. She went up the steps, and Elliot went home, not knowing whether he had accomplished good or mischief.
Much to Mrs. Solomon Black’s astonishment, Wesley Elliot ate no dinner that day. It was his habit to come in from a morning’s work with a healthy young appetite keen-set for her beef and vegetables. He passed directly up to his room, although she called to him that dinner was ready. Finally she went upstairs and knocked smartly on his door.