The Reverend Wesley Elliot, looking young, eager and pleasingly worldly in a blue serge suit of unclerical cut, rose to greet her as she entered.
“I haven’t been here in two or three days,” he began, as he took the hand she offered, “and I’m really astonished at the progress you’ve been making.”
He still retained her hand, as he smiled down into her grave, preoccupied face.
“What’s the trouble with our little lady of Bolton House?” he inquired. “Any of the workmen on strike, or—”
She withdrew her hand with a faint smile.
“Everything is going very well, I think,” she told him.
He was still scrutinizing her with that air of intimate concern, which inspired most of the women of his flock to unburden themselves of their manifold anxieties at his slightest word of encouragement.
“It’s a pretty heavy burden for you,” he said gravely. “You need some one to help you. I wonder if I couldn’t shoulder a few of the grosser details?”
“You’ve already been most kind,” Lydia said evasively. “But now— Oh, I think everything has been thought of. You know Mr. Whittle is looking after the work.”
He smiled, a glimmer of humorous understanding in his fine dark eyes. “Yes, I know,” he said.
A silence fell between them. Lydia was one of those rare women who do not object to silence. It seemed to her that she had always lived alone with her ambitions, which could not be shared, and her bitter knowledge, which was never to be spoken of. But now she stirred uneasily in her chair, aware of the intent expression in his eyes. Her troubled thoughts reverted to the little picture which had fluttered to the floor from somebody’s keeping only an hour before.
“I’ve had visitors this morning,” she told him, with purpose.
“Ah! people are sure to be curious and interested,” he commented.
“They were Mrs. Dodge and her daughter and Mrs. Dix and Ellen,” she explained.
“That must have been pleasant,” he murmured perfunctorily. “Are you—do you find yourself becoming at all interested in the people about here? Of course it is easy to see you come to us from quite another world.”
She shook her head.
“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “—If you mean that I am superior in any way to the people of Brookville; I’m not, at all. I am really a very ordinary sort of a person. I’ve not been to college and—I’ve always worked, harder than most, so that I’ve had little opportunity for—culture.”
His smile broadened into a laugh of genuine amusement.
“My dear Miss Orr,” he protested, “I had no idea of intimating—”
Her look of passionate sincerity halted his words of apology.
“I am very much interested in the people here,” she declared. “I want—oh, so much—to be friends with them! I want it more than anything else in the world! If they would only like me. But—they don’t.”