“And the young girl,” asked Lynde hesitatingly, “is she”—
“A very sad case,” interrupted Dr. Pendegrast, with a tenderer expression settling upon his countenance. “The saddest thing in the world.”
“Hopelessly so, I fear.”
A nameless heaviness fell upon Lynde’s heart. He longed to ask other questions, but he did not know how to shape them. He regretted that subsequently.
“And now, Mr. Lynde,” said the doctor, “in your general pardon I wish you to include my unavoidable delay in coming or sending to you. When you were brought here I was still in durance vile, and Higgins was in his strait-jacket. On being released, my hands were full, as you can suppose. Moreover, I did not learn at once of your detention. The saddle and the valise caused me to suspect that a blunder had been committed. I cannot adequately express my regrets. In ten minutes,” continued Dr. Pendegrast, turning a fat gold watch over on its back in the palm of his hand, where it looked like a little yellow turtle, “in ten minutes dinner will be served. Unless you do me the honor to dine with me, I shall not believe in the sincerity of your forgiveness.”
“Thanks,” said Lynde dejectedly. “I fully appreciate your thoughtfulness; I am nearly famished, but I do not think I could eat a mouthful here. Excuse me for saying it, but I should have to remain here permanently if I were to stay another hour. I quite forgive Mr. Morton and the others,” Lynde went on, rising and giving the doctor his hand; “and I forgive you also, since you insist upon being forgiven, though I do not know for what. If my horse, and my traps, and my hat—really, I don’t see how they could have helped taking me for a lunatic—can be brought together, I will go and dine at the tavern.”
Half an hour afterward Edward Lynde dismounted at the steps of the rustic hotel. The wooden shutters were down now, and the front door stood hospitably open. A change had come over the entire village. There were knots of persons at the street corners and at garden gates, discussing the event of the day. There was also a knot of gossips in the hotel barroom to whom the landlord, Mr. Zeno Dodge, was giving a thrilling account of an attack made on the tavern by a maniac who had fancied himself a horse!
“The critter,” cried Mr. Dodge dramatically, “was on the p’int of springin’ up the piazzy, when Martha handed me the shot-gun.”
Mr. Dodge was still in a heroic attitude, with one arm stretched out to receive the weapon and his eye following every movement of a maniac obligingly personated by the cuspidor between the windows, when Lynde entered. Mr. Dodge’s arm slowly descended to his side, his jaw fell, and the narrative broke off short.
Lynde requested dinner in a private room, and Mr. Dodge deposed the maid in order to bring in the dishes himself and scrutinize his enigmatical guest. In serving the meal the landlord invented countless pretexts to remain in the room. After a while Lynde began to feel it uncomfortable to have those sharp green eyes continually boring into the back of his head.