“Dinner’s ready, Mr. Elliot,” she called out.
“I don’t want any today, thank you, Mrs. Black,” was his reply.
“You ain’t sick?”
“Oh, no, only not hungry.”
Mrs. Black was alarmed when, later in the afternoon, she heard the front door slam, and beheld from a front window Elliot striding down the street. The rain had ceased falling, and there were ragged holes in the low-hanging clouds which revealed glimpses of dazzling blue.
“I do hope he ain’t coming down with a fever or something,” Mrs. Black said aloud. Then she saw Mrs. Deacon Whittle, Lois Daggett, Mrs. Fulsom, and the wife of the postmaster approaching her house in the opposite direction. All appeared flushed and agitated, and Mrs. Black hastened to open her door, as she saw them hurrying up her wet gravel path.
“Is the minister home?” demanded Lois Daggett breathlessly. “I want he should come right down here and tell you what he told me this noon. Abby Daggett seems to think I made it up out of whole cloth. Don’t deny it, Abby. You know very well you said.... I s’pose of course he’s told you, Mrs. Black.”
“Mr. Elliot has gone out,” said Mrs. Black rather coldly.
“Where’s he gone?” demanded Lois.
Mrs. Black was being devoured with curiosity; still she felt vaguely repelled.
“Ladies,” she said, her air of reserve deepening. “I don’t know what you are talking about, but Mr. Elliot didn’t eat any dinner, and he is either sick or troubled in his mind.”
“There! Now you c’n all see from that!” triumphed Lois Daggett.
Mrs. Deacon Whittle and Mrs. Judge Fulsom gazed incredulously at Mrs. Solomon Black, then at one another.
Abby Daggett, the soft round of her beautiful, kind face flushed and tremulous, murmured: “Poor man—poor man!”
Mrs. Solomon Black with a masterly gesture headed the women toward her parlor, where a fire was burning in a splendidly nickeled stove full five feet high.
“Now,” said she; “we’ll talk this over, whatever it is.”
A mile from town, where the angry wind could be seen at work tearing the purple rainclouds into rags and tatters, through which the hidden sun shot long rays of pale splendor, Wesley Elliot was walking rapidly, his head bent, his eyes fixed and absent.
He had just emerged from one of those crucial experiences of life, which, more than the turning of the earth upon its axis, serve to age a human being. For perhaps the first time in the brief span of his remembrance, he had scrutinized himself in the pitiless light of an intelligence higher than his own everyday consciousness; and the sight of that meaner self, striving to run to cover, had not been pleasant. Just why his late interview with Andrew Bolton should have precipitated this event, he could not possibly have explained to