“Don’t get the police on my account, please,” said the voice. “If you will be patient until I get this—I’m just as anxious to come out as you can be to have me. Of all the ridiculous—”
“Come out then!” snapped Keziah. “Come out! If you’re so everlastin’ anxious, then come out. Patience! Of all the cheek! Why don’t you come out now?”
The answer was brisk and to the point. Evidently, the unknown’s stock of the virtue which he demanded of others was diminishing.
“Well, to be frank, since you insist,” snapped the voice, “I’m not fully dressed.”
This was a staggerer. For once Keziah did not have a reply ready. She looked at Grace and the latter at her. Then, without words, they retreated to the sitting room.
“Shall—shall I go for help?” whispered the girl. “Hadn’t we better leave him here and—He doesn’t sound like a tramp, does he. What do you suppose—”
“I hope you won’t be alarmed,” continued the voice, broken by panting pauses, as if the speaker was struggling into a garment. “I know this must seem strange. You see, I came on the coach as far as Bayport and then we lost a wheel in a rut. There was a—oh, dear! where is that—this is supremely idiotic!—I was saying there happened to be a man coming this way with a buggy and he offered to help me along. He was on his way to Wellmouth. So I left my trunk to come later and took my valise. It rained on the way and I was wet through. I stopped at Captain Daniels’s house and the girl said he had gone with his daughter to the next town, but that they were to stop here at the parsonage on their way. So—there! that’s right, at last!—so I came, hoping to find them. The door was open and I came in. The captain and his daughter were not here, but, as I was pretty wet, I thought I would seize the opportunity to change my clothes. I had some dry—er—things in my valise and I—well, then you came, you see, and—I assure you I—well, it was the most embarrassing—I’m coming now.”
The door opened. The two in the sitting room huddled close together, Keziah holding the broom like a battle-ax, ready for whatsoever might develop. From the dimness of the tightly shuttered study stepped the owner of the voice, a stranger, a young man, his hair rumpled, his tie disarranged, and the buttons of his waistcoat filling the wrong buttonholes. Despite this evidence of a hasty toilet in semidarkness, he was not unprepossessing. Incidentally, he was blushing furiously.
“I’m—I’m sure I beg your pardon, ladies,” he stammered. “I scarcely know what to say to you. I—”
His eyes becoming accustomed to the light in the sitting room, he was now able to see his captors more clearly. He looked at Keziah, then at Miss Van Horne, and another wave of blushes passed from his collar up into the roots of his hair. Grace blushed, too, though, as she perfectly well knew, there was no reason why she should.