One item of this description of himself the badgered Herbert could not bear in silence, although he had just declared that since the truth was so ill-respected among his persecutors he would open his mouth no more until the day of his death. He passed over “bad,” but furiously stated his height in feet, inches, and fractions of inches.
Aunt Fanny shook her head in mourning. “That may be, Herbert,” she said gently. “But you must try to realize it can’t bring poor young Mr. Dill back to his family.”
Again Herbert just looked at her. He had no indifference more profound than that upon which her strained conception of the relation between cause and effect seemed to touch;—from his point of view, to be missing should be the lightest of calamities. It is true that he was concerned with the restoration of Noble Dill to the rest of the Dills so far as such an event might affect his own incomparable misfortunes, but not otherwise. He regarded Noble and Noble’s disappearance merely as unfair damage to himself, and he continued to look at this sorrowing great-aunt of his until his thoughts made his strange gaze appear to her so hardened that she shook her head and looked away.
“Poor young Mr. Dill!” she said. “If someone could only have been with him and kept talking to him until he got used to the idea a little!”
Cousin Virginia nodded comprehendingly. “Yes, it might have tided him over,” she said. “He wasn’t handsome, nor impressive, of course, nor anything like that, but he always spoke so nicely to people on the street. I’m sure he never harmed even a kitten, poor soul!”
“I’m sure he never did,” Herbert’s mother agreed gently. “Not even a kitten. I do wonder where he is now.”
But Aunt Fanny uttered a little cry of protest. “I’m afraid we may hear!” she said. “Any moment!”
These sympathetic women had unanimously set their expectation in so romantically pessimistic a groove that the most tragic news of Noble would have surprised them little. But if the truth of his whereabouts could have been made known to them, as they sat thus together at what was developing virtually into his wake, with Herbert as a compulsory participant, they would have turned the session into a riot of amazement. Noble was in the very last place (they would have said, when calmer) where anybody in the world could have even madly dreamed of looking for him! They would have been right about it. No one could have expected to find Noble to-night inside the old, four-square brick house of H. I. Atwater, Senior, chief of the Atwaters and father of too gentle Julia. Moreover, Mr. Atwater himself was not at present in the house; he had closed and locked it the day before, giving the servants a week’s vacation and telling them not to return till he sent for them; and he had then gone out of town to look over a hominy-mill he thought of buying. And yet, as the wake went on, there was a light in the house, and under that light sat Noble Dill.