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The Damnation of Theron Ware

by Harold Frederic

 

PART I

 

CHAPTER I

 

No such throng had ever before been seen in the building
during all its eight years of existence. People were
wedged together most uncomfortably upon the seats;
they stood packed in the aisles and overflowed the galleries;
at the back, in the shadows underneath these galleries,
they formed broad, dense masses about the doors,
through which it would be hopeless to attempt a passage.

The light, given out from numerous tin-lined circles
of flaring gas-jets arranged on the ceiling,
fell full upon a thousand uplifted faces--some framed
in bonnets or juvenile curls, others bearded or crowned
with shining baldness--but all alike under the spell
of a dominant emotion which held features in abstracted
suspense and focussed every eye upon a common objective point.

The excitement of expectancy reigned upon each row
of countenances, was visible in every attitude--
nay, seemed a part of the close, overheated atmosphere itself.

An observer, looking over these compact lines of faces
and noting the uniform concentration of eagerness
they exhibited, might have guessed that they were watching
for either the jury's verdict in some peculiarly absorbing
criminal trial, or the announcement of the lucky numbers
in a great lottery. These two expressions seemed
to alternate, and even to mingle vaguely, upon the
upturned lineaments of the waiting throng--the hope
of some unnamed stroke of fortune and the dread of some adverse decree.

But a glance forward at the object of this universal
gaze would have sufficed to shatter both hypotheses.
Here was neither a court of justice nor a tombola.
It was instead the closing session of the annual
Nedahma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church,
and the Bishop was about to read out the list
of ministerial appointments for the coming year.
This list was evidently written in a hand strange to him,
and the slow, near-sighted old gentleman, having at last
sufficiently rubbed the glasses of his spectacles, and then
adjusted them over his nose with annoying deliberation,
was now silently rehearsing his task to himself--
the while the clergymen round about ground their teeth
and restlessly shuffled their feet in impatience.

Upon a closer inspection of the assemblage, there were a
great many of these clergymen. A dozen or more dignified,
and for the most part elderly, brethren sat grouped
about the Bishop in the pulpit. As many others,
not quite so staid in mien, and indeed with here and there
almost a suggestion of frivolity in their postures,
were seated on the steps leading down from this platform.
A score of their fellows sat facing the audience, on chairs
tightly wedged into the space railed off round the pulpit;
and then came five or six rows of pews, stretching across
the whole breadth of the church, and almost solidly filled
with preachers of the Word.

There were very old men among these--bent and decrepit
veterans who had known Lorenzo Dow, and had been ordained
by elders who remembered Francis Asbury and even Whitefield.
They sat now in front places, leaning forward with trembling
and misshapen hands behind their hairy ears, waiting to
hear their names read out on the superannuated list,
it might be for the last time.

The sight of these venerable Fathers in Israel was good
to the eyes, conjuring up, as it did, pictures of a time
when a plain and homely people had been served by a fervent
and devoted clergy--by preachers who lacked in learning
and polish, no doubt, but who gave their lives without dream
of earthly reward to poverty and to the danger and wearing toil
of itinerant missions through the rude frontier settlements.
These pictures had for their primitive accessories log-huts,
rough household implements, coarse clothes, and patched
old saddles which told of weary years of journeying;
but to even the least sympathetic vision there shone
upon them the glorified light of the Cross and Crown.
Reverend survivors of the heroic times, their very
presence there--sitting meekly at the altar-rail to hear
again the published record of their uselessness and of their
dependence upon church charity--was in the nature of a benediction.

The large majority of those surrounding these patriarchs
were middle-aged men, generally of a robust type,
with burly shoulders, and bushing beards framing shaven
upper lips, and who looked for the most part like honest
and prosperous farmers attired in their Sunday clothes.
As exceptions to this rule, there were scattered stray
specimens of a more urban class, worthies with neatly
trimmed whiskers, white neckcloths, and even indications
of hair-oil--all eloquent of citified charges; and now and
again the eye singled out a striking and scholarly face,
at once strong and simple, and instinctively referred it
to the faculty of one of the several theological seminaries
belonging to the Conference.

The effect of these faces as a whole was toward goodness,
candor, and imperturbable self-complacency rather than
learning or mental astuteness; and curiously enough it wore
its pleasantest aspect on the countenances of the older men.
The impress of zeal and moral worth seemed to diminish
by regular gradations as one passed to younger faces;
and among the very beginners, who had been ordained only within
the past day or two, this decline was peculiarly marked.
It was almost a relief to note the relative smallness
of their number, so plainly was it to be seen that they
were not the men their forbears had been.

And if those aged, worn-out preachers facing the pulpit
had gazed instead backward over the congregation,
it may be that here too their old eyes would have detected
a difference--what at least they would have deemed a decline.

But nothing was further from the minds of the members of the
First M. E. Church of Tecumseh than the suggestion that they
were not an improvement on those who had gone before them.
They were undoubtedly the smartest and most important
congregation within the limits of the Nedahma Conference,
and this new church edifice of theirs represented alike
a scale of outlay and a standard of progressive taste
in devotional architecture unique in the Methodism of that
whole section of the State. They had a right to be proud
of themselves, too. They belonged to the substantial
order of the community, with perhaps not so many very rich
men as the Presbyterians had, but on the other hand
with far fewer extremely poor folk than the Baptists
were encumbered with. The pews in the first four rows
of their church rented for one hundred dollars apiece--
quite up to the Presbyterian highwater mark--and they
now had almost abolished free pews altogether. The oyster
suppers given by their Ladies' Aid Society in the basement
of the church during the winter had established rank
among the fashionable events in Tecumseh's social calendar.

A comprehensive and satisfied perception of these advantages
was uppermost in the minds of this local audience,
as they waited for the Bishop to begin his reading.
They had entertained this Bishop and his Presiding Elders,
and the rank and file of common preachers, in a style
which could not have been remotely approached by any
other congregation in the Conference. Where else,
one would like to know, could the Bishop have been domiciled
in a Methodist house where he might have a sitting-room
all to himself, with his bedroom leading out of it?
Every clergyman present had been provided for in a
private residence--even down to the Licensed Exhorters,
who were not really ministers at all when you came to think
of it, and who might well thank their stars that the
Conference had assembled among such open-handed people.
There existed a dim feeling that these Licensed Exhorters--
an uncouth crew, with country store-keepers and lumbermen
and even a horse-doctor among their number--had taken
rather too much for granted, and were not exhibiting quite
the proper degree of gratitude over their reception.

But a more important issue hung now imminent in the balance--
was Tecumseh to be fairly and honorably rewarded for her
hospitality by being given the pastor of her choice?

All were agreed--at least among those who paid pew-rents--
upon the great importance of a change in the pulpit
of the First M. E. Church. A change in persons must
of course take place, for their present pastor had
exhausted the three-year maximum of the itinerant system,
but there was needed much more than that. For a handsome
and expensive church building like this, and with such
a modern and go-ahead congregation, it was simply a vital
necessity to secure an attractive and fashionable preacher.
They had held their own against the Presbyterians
these past few years only by the most strenuous efforts,
and under the depressing disadvantage of a minister
who preached dreary out-of-date sermons, and who lacked
even the most rudimentary sense of social distinctions.
The Presbyterians had captured the new cashier of the
Adams County Bank, who had always gone to the Methodist
Church in the town he came from, but now was lost
solely because of this tiresome old fossil of theirs;
and there were numerous other instances of the same sort,
scarcely less grievous. That this state of things must
be altered was clear.

The unusually large local attendance upon the sessions
of the Conference had given some of the more guileless
of visiting brethren a high notion of Tecumseh's piety;
and perhaps even the most sophisticated stranger never
quite realized how strictly it was to be explained by the
anxiety to pick out a suitable champion for the fierce
Presbyterian competition. Big gatherings assembled evening
after evening to hear the sermons of those selected to preach,
and the church had been almost impossibly crowded at each of
the three Sunday services. Opinions had naturally differed
a good deal during the earlier stages of this scrutiny,
but after last night's sermon there could be but one feeling.
The man for Tecumseh was the Reverend Theron Ware.

The choice was an admirable one, from points of view much
more exalted than those of the local congregation.

You could see Mr. Ware sitting there at the end of the
row inside the altar-rail--the tall, slender young
man with the broad white brow, thoughtful eyes,
and features moulded into that regularity of strength
which used to characterize the American Senatorial type
in those far-away days of clean-shaven faces and moderate
incomes before the War. The bright-faced, comely,
and vivacious young woman in the second side pew was
his wife--and Tecumseh noted with approbation that she
knew how to dress. There were really no two better or
worthier people in the building than this young couple,
who sat waiting along with the rest to hear their fate.
But unhappily they had come to know of the effort being
made to bring them to Tecumseh; and their simple pride
in the triumph of the husband's fine sermon had become
swallowed up in a terribly anxious conflict of hope
and fear. Neither of them could maintain a satisfactory
show of composure as the decisive moment approached.
The vision of translation from poverty and obscurity
to such a splendid post as this--truly it was too dazzling
for tranquil nerves.

The tedious Bishop had at last begun to call his roll
of names, and the good people of Tecumseh mentally
ticked them off, one by one, as the list expanded.
They felt that it was like this Bishop--an unimportant
and commonplace figure in Methodism, not to be mentioned
in the same breath with Simpson and Janes and Kingsley--
that he should begin with the backwoods counties,
and thrust all these remote and pitifully rustic stations
ahead of their own metropolitan charge. To these they
listened but listlessly--indifferent alike to the joy
and to the dismay which he was scattering among the divines
before him.

The announcements were being doled out with stumbling hesitation.
After each one a little half-rustling movement through
the crowded rows of clergymen passed mute judgment upon
the cruel blow this brother had received, the reward justly
given to this other, the favoritism by which a third
had profited. The Presiding Elders, whose work all this was,
stared with gloomy and impersonal abstraction down upon
the rows of blackcoated humanity spread before them.
The ministers returned this fixed and perfunctory gaze
with pale, set faces, only feebly masking the emotions
which each new name stirred somewhere among them.
The Bishop droned on laboriously, mispronouncing words
and repeating himself as if he were reading a catalogue
of unfamiliar seeds.

"First church of Tecumseh--Brother Abram G. Tisdale!"

There was no doubt about it! These were actually the
words that had been uttered. After all this outlay,
all this lavish hospitality, all this sacrifice of time
and patience in sitting through those sermons, to draw
from the grab-bag nothing better than--a Tisdale!

A hum of outraged astonishment--half groan, half wrathful
snort bounded along from pew to pew throughout the body
of the church. An echo of it reached the Bishop, and so
confused him that he haltingly repeated the obnoxious line.
Every local eye turned as by intuition to where the
calamitous Tisdale sat, and fastened malignantly upon him.

Could anything be worse? This Brother Tisdale was past fifty--
a spindling, rickety, gaunt old man, with a long horse-like
head and vacantly solemn face, who kept one or the
other of his hands continually fumbling his bony jaw.
He had been withdrawn from routine service for a number
of years, doing a little insurance canvassing on his
own account, and also travelling for the Book Concern.
Now that he wished to return to parochial work, the richest
prize in the whole list, Tecumseh, was given to him--
to him who had never been asked to preach at a Conference,
and whose archaic nasal singing of "Greenland's Icy
Mountains " had made even the Licensed Exhorters grin!
It was too intolerably dreadful to think of!

An embittered whisper to the effect that Tisdale was
the Bishop's cousin ran round from pew to pew. This did
not happen to be true, but indignant Tecumseh gave it
entire credit. The throngs about the doors dwindled as
by magic, and the aisles cleared. Local interest was dead;
and even some of the pewholders rose and made their way out.
One of these murmured audibly to his neighbors as he
departed that HIS pew could be had now for sixty dollars.

So it happened that when, a little later on,
the appointment of Theron Ware to Octavius was read out,
none of the people of Tecumseh either noted or cared.
They had been deeply interested in him so long as it seemed
likely that he was to come to them--before their clearly
expressed desire for him had been so monstrously ignored.
But now what became of him was no earthly concern of theirs.

After the Doxology had been sung and the Conference
formally declared ended, the Wares would fain have escaped
from the flood of handshakings and boisterous farewells
which spread over the front part of the church. But the
clergymen were unusually insistent upon demonstrations of
cordiality among themselves--the more, perhaps, because it
was evident that the friendliness of their local hosts
had suddenly evaporated--and, of all men in the world,
the present incumbent of the Octavius pulpit now bore
down upon them with noisy effusiveness, and defied evasion.

"Brother Ware--we have never been interduced--but let
me clasp your hand! And--Sister Ware, I presume--
yours too!"

He was a portly man, who held his head back so that his
face seemed all jowl and mouth and sandy chin-whisker.
He smiled broadly upon them with half-closed eyes,
and shook hands again.

"I said to 'em," he went on with loud pretence of heartiness,
"the minute I heerd your name called out for our
dear Octavius, "I must go over an' interduce myself."
It will be a heavy cross to part with those dear people,
Brother Ware, but if anything could wean me to the notion,
so to speak, it would be the knowledge that you are to take
up my labors in their midst. Perhaps--ah--perhaps they
ARE jest a trifle close in money matters, but they come
out strong on revivals. They'll need a good deal o'
stirrin' up about parsonage expenses, but, oh! such
seasons of grace as we've experienced there together!"
He shook his head, and closed his eyes altogether,
as if transported by his memories.

Brother Ware smiled faintly in decorous response,
and bowed in silence; but his wife resented the unctuous
beaming of content on the other's wide countenance,
and could not restrain her tongue.

"You seem to bear up tolerably well under this heavy cross,
as you call it," she said sharply.

"The will o' the Lord, Sister Ware--the will o' the Lord!"
he responded, disposed for the instant to put on his
pompous manner with her, and then deciding to smile again
as he moved off. The circumstance that he was to get
an additional three hundred dollars yearly in his new
place was not mentioned between them.

By a mutual impulse the young couple, when they had at last
gained the cool open air, crossed the street to the side
where over-hanging trees shaded the infrequent lamps,
and they might be comparatively alone. The wife had
taken her husband's arm, and pressed closely upon it
as they walked. For a time no word passed, but finally
he said, in a grave voice,--

"It is hard upon you, poor girl."

Then she stopped short, buried her face against his shoulder,
and fell to sobbing.

He strove with gentle, whispered remonstrance to win
her from this mood, and after a few moments she lifted
her head and they resumed their walk, she wiping her eyes
as they went.

"I couldn't keep it in a minute longer!" she said,
catching her breath between phrases. "Oh, WHY do they
behave so badly to us, Theron?"

He smiled down momentarily upon her as they moved along,
and patted her hand.

"Somebody must have the poor places, Alice," he said consolingly.
"I am a young man yet, remember. We must take our turn,
and be patient. For 'we know that all things work together for good.'"

"And your sermon was so head-and-shoulders above all
the others!" she went on breathlessly. "Everybody said so!
And Mrs. Parshall heard it so DIRECT that you were to
be sent here, and I know she told everybody how much I
was lotting on it--I wish we could go right off tonight
without going to her house--I shall be ashamed to look
her in the face--and of course she knows we're poked
off to that miserable Octavius.--Why, Theron, they tell
me it's a worse place even than we've got now!"

"Oh, not at all," he put in reassuringly. "It has
grown to be a large town--oh, quite twice the size
of Tyre. It's a great Irish place, I've heard.
Our own church seems to be a good deal run down there.
We must build it up again; and the salary is better--
a little."

But he too was depressed, and they walked on toward their
temporary lodging in a silence full of mutual grief.
It was not until they had come within sight of this goal
that he prefaced by a little sigh of resignation these
further words,--

"Come--let us make the best of it, my girl! After all,
we are in the hands of the Lord."

"Oh, don't, Theron!" she said hastily. "Don't talk to me
about the Lord tonight; I can't bear it!"

 

 

CHAPTER II

 

"Theron! Come out here! This is the funniest thing we
have heard yet!"

Mrs. Ware stood on the platform of her new kitchen stoop.
The bright flood of May-morning sunshine completely enveloped
her girlish form, clad in a simple, fresh-starched calico gown,
and shone in golden patches upon her light-brown hair.
She had a smile on her face, as she looked down at the milk
boy standing on the bottom step--a smile of a doubtful sort,
stormily mirthful.

"Come out a minute, Theron!" she called again;
and in obedience to the summons the tall lank figure
of her husband appeared in the open doorway behind her.
A long loose, open dressing-gown dangled to his knees,
and his sallow, clean-shaven, thoughtful face wore a morning
undress expression of youthful good-nature. He leaned
against the door-sill, crossed his large carpet slippers,
and looked up into the sky, drawing a long satisfied breath.

"What a beautiful morning!" he exclaimed. "The elms
over there are full of robins. We must get up earlier
these mornings, and take some walks."

His wife indicated the boy with the milk-pail on his arm,
by a wave of her hand.

"Guess what he tells me!" she said. "It wasn't a mistake
at all, our getting no milk yesterday or the Sunday before.
It seems that that's the custom here, at least so far
as the parsonage is concerned."

"What's the matter, boy?" asked the young minister,
drawling his words a little, and putting a sense of placid
irony into them. "Don't the cows give milk on Sunday, then?"

The boy was not going to be chaffed. "Oh, I'll bring you
milk fast enough on Sundays, if you give me the word,"
he said with nonchalance. "Only it won't last long."

"How do you mean--'won't last long'?", asked Mrs. Ware, briskly.

The boy liked her--both for herself, and for the doughnuts
fried with her own hands, which she gave him on his
morning round. He dropped his half-defiant tone.

"The thing of it's this," he explained. "Every new
minister starts in saying we can deliver to this house
on Sundays, an' then gives us notice to stop before
the month's out. It's the trustees that does it."

The Rev. Theron Ware uncrossed his feet and moved out on
to the stoop beside his wife. "What's that you say?"
he interjected. "Don't THEY take milk on Sundays?"

"Nope!" answered the boy.

The young couple looked each other in the face
for a puzzled moment, then broke into a laugh.

"Well, we'll try it, anyway," said the preacher.
"You can go on bringing it Sundays till--till--"

"Till you cave in an' tell me to stop," put in the boy.
"All right!" and he was off on the instant, the dipper
jangling loud incredulity in his pail as he went.

The Wares exchanged another glance as he disappeared
round the corner of the house, and another mutual laugh
seemed imminent. Then the wife's face clouded over,
and she thrust her under-lip a trifle forward out of its
place in the straight and gently firm profile.

"It's just what Wendell Phillips said," she declared.
"'The Puritan's idea of hell is a place where everybody has
to mind his own business.'"

The young minister stroked his chin thoughtfully, and let
his gaze wander over the backyard in silence. The garden
parts had not been spaded up, but lay, a useless stretch
of muddy earth, broken only by last year's cabbage-stumps
and the general litter of dead roots and vegetation.
The door of the tenantless chicken-coop hung wide open.
Before it was a great heap of ashes and cinders, soaked into
grimy hardness by the recent spring rains, and nearer still
an ancient chopping-block, round which were scattered old
weather-beaten hardwood knots which had defied the axe,
parts of broken barrels and packing-boxes, and a nameless
debris of tin cans, clam-shells, and general rubbish.
It was pleasanter to lift the eyes, and look across
the neighbors' fences to the green, waving tops of the elms
on the street beyond. How lofty and beautiful they were
in the morning sunlight, and with what matchless charm
came the song of the robins, freshly installed in their
haunts among the new pale-green leaves! Above them,
in the fresh, scented air, glowed the great blue dome,
radiant with light and the purification of spring.

Theron lifted his thin, long-fingered hand, and passed it
in a slow arch of movement to comprehend this glorious
upper picture.

"What matter anyone's ideas of hell," he said, in soft,
grave tones, "when we have that to look at, and listen to,
and fill our lungs with? It seems to me that we never FEEL
quite so sure of God's goodness at other times as we do
in these wonderful new mornings of spring."

The wife followed his gesture, and her eyes rested for
a brief moment, with pleased interest, upon the trees
and the sky. Then they reverted, with a harsher scrutiny,
to the immediate foreground.

"Those Van Sizers ought to be downright ashamed of themselves,"
she said, "to leave everything in such a muss as this.
You MUST see about getting a man to clean up the yard,
Theron. It's no use your thinking of doing it yourself.
In the first place, it wouldn't look quite the thing,
and, second, you'd never get at it in all your born days.
Or if a man would cost too much, we might get a boy.
I daresay Harvey would come around, after he'd finished
with his milk-route in the forenoon. We could give him
his dinner, you know, and I'd bake him some cookies.
He's got the greatest sweet-tooth you ever heard of.
And then perhaps if we gave him a quarter, or say half a dollar,
he'd be quite satisfied. I'll speak to him in the morning.
We can save a dollar or so that way."

"I suppose every little does help," commented Mr. Ware,
with a doleful lack of conviction. Then his face brightened.
"I tell you what let's do!" he exclaimed. "Get on your
street dress, and we'll take a long walk, way out into
the country. You've never seen the basin, where they
float the log-rafts in, or the big sawmills. The hills
beyond give you almost mountain effects, they are so steep;
and they say there's a sulphur spring among the slate
on the hill-side, somewhere, with trees all about it;
and we could take some sandwiches with us--"

"You forget," put in Mrs. Ware,--"those trustees are
coming at eleven."

"So they are!" assented the young minister, with something
like a sigh. He cast another reluctant, lingering glance
at the sunlit elm boughs, and, turning, went indoors.

He loitered for an aimless minute in the kitchen,
where his wife, her sleeves rolled to the elbow,
now resumed the interrupted washing of the breakfast dishes--
perhaps with vague visions of that ever-receding time
to come when they might have a hired girl to do such work.
Then he wandered off into the room beyond, which served
them alike as living-room and study, and let his eye run
along the two rows of books that constituted his library.
He saw nothing which he wanted to read. Finally he did
take down "Paley's Evidences," and seated himself in the
big armchair--that costly and oversized anomaly among
his humble house-hold gods; but the book lay unopened on
his knee, and his eyelids half closed themselves in sign
of revery.

This was his third charge--this Octavius which they
both knew they were going to dislike so much.

The first had been in the pleasant dairy and hop country
many miles to the south, on another watershed and among
a different kind of people. Perhaps, in truth, the grinding
labor, the poverty of ideas, the systematic selfishness
of later rural experience, had not been lacking there;
but they played no part in the memories which now he
passed in tender review. He recalled instead the warm
sunshine on the fertile expanse of fields; the sleek,
well-fed herds of "milkers" coming lowing down the road
under the maples; the prosperous and hospitable farmhouses,
with their orchards in blossom and their spacious red barns;
the bountiful boiled dinners which cheery housewives
served up with their own skilled hands. Of course,
he admitted to himself, it would not be the same if he
were to go back there again. He was conscious of having
moved along--was it, after all, an advance?--to a point
where it was unpleasant to sit at table with the unfragrant
hired man, and still worse to encounter the bucolic
confusion between the functions of knives and forks.
But in those happy days--young, zealous, himself farm-bred--
these trifles had been invisible to him, and life there
among those kindly husbandmen had seemed, by contrast
with the gaunt surroundings and gloomy rule of the
theological seminary, luxuriously abundant and free.

It was there too that the crowning blessedness of
his youth--nay, should he not say of all his days?--
had come to him. There he had first seen Alice Hastings,--
the bright-eyed, frank-faced, serenely self-reliant girl,
who now, less than four years thereafter, could be heard
washing the dishes out in the parsonage kitchen.

How wonderful she had seemed to him then! How beautiful
and all-beneficent the miracle still appeared!
Though herself the daughter of a farmer, her presence
on a visit within the borders of his remote country
charge had seemed to make everything, there a hundred
times more countrified than it had ever been before.
She was fresh from the refinements of a town seminary:
she read books; it was known that she could play upon
the piano. Her clothes, her manners, her way of speaking,
the readiness of her thoughts and sprightly tongue--
not least, perhaps, the imposing current understanding
as to her father's wealth--placed her on a glorified
pinnacle far away from the girls of the neighborhood.
These honest and good-hearted creatures indeed called
ceaseless attention to her superiority by their deference
and open-mouthed admiration, and treated it as the most
natural thing in the world that their young minister should be
visibly "taken" with her.

Theron Ware, in truth, left this first pastorate of his
the following spring, in a transfiguring halo of romance.
His new appointment was to Tyre--a somewhat distant
village of traditional local pride and substance--and he
was to be married only a day or so before entering upon
his pastoral duties there. The good people among whom he
had begun his ministry took kindly credit to themselves
that he had met his bride while she was "visiting round"
their countryside. In part by jocose inquiries addressed
to the expectant groom, in part by the confidences of the
postmaster at the corners concerning the bulk and frequency
of the correspondence passing between Theron and the now
remote Alice--they had followed the progress of the courtship
through the autumn and winter with friendly zest.
When he returned from the Conference, to say good-bye
and confess the happiness that awaited him, they gave
him a "donation"--quite as if he were a married pastor
with a home of his own, instead of a shy young bachelor,
who received his guests and their contributions in the
house where he boarded.

He went away with tears of mingled regret and proud joy
in his eyes, thinking a good deal upon their predictions
of a distinguished career before him, feeling infinitely
strengthened and upborne by the hearty fervor of their
God-speed, and taking with him nearly two wagon-loads
of vegetables, apples, canned preserves, assorted furniture,
glass dishes, cheeses, pieced bedquilts, honey, feathers,
and kitchen utensils.

Of the three years' term in Tyre, it was pleasantest
to dwell upon the beginning.

The young couple--after being married out at Alice's home
in an adjoining county, under the depressing conditions
of a hopelessly bedridden mother, and a father and brothers
whose perceptions were obviously closed to the advantages
of a matrimonial connection with Methodism--came straight to
the house which their new congregation rented as a parsonage.
The impulse of reaction from the rather grim cheerlessness
of their wedding lent fresh gayety to their lighthearted,
whimsical start at housekeeping. They had never laughed
so much in all their lives as they did now in these
first months--over their weird ignorance of domestic details;
with its mishaps, mistakes, and entertaining discoveries;
over the comical super-abundances and shortcomings
of their "donation" outfit; over the thousand and one
quaint experiences of their novel relation to each other,
to the congregation, and to the world of Tyre at large.

Theron, indeed, might be said never to have laughed before.
Up to that time no friendly student of his character,
cataloguing his admirable qualities, would have thought
of including among them a sense of humor, much less a bent
toward levity. Neither his early strenuous battle to get
away from the farm and achieve such education as should
serve to open to him the gates of professional life,
nor the later wave of religious enthusiasm which caught
him up as he stood on the border-land of manhood,
and swept him off into a veritable new world of views
and aspirations, had been a likely school of merriment.
People had prized him for his innocent candor and
guileless mind, for his good heart, his pious zeal,
his modesty about gifts notably above the average,
but it had occurred to none to suspect in him a latent
funny side.

But who could be solemn where Alice was?--Alice in a
quandary over the complications of her cooking stove;
Alice boiling her potatoes all day, and her eggs for half
an hour; Alice ordering twenty pounds of steak and half
a pound of sugar, and striving to extract a breakfast
beverage from the unground coffee-bean? Clearly not
so tenderly fond and sympathetic a husband as Theron.
He began by laughing because she laughed, and grew
by swift stages to comprehend, then frankly to share,
her amusement. From this it seemed only a step to the
development of a humor of his own, doubling, as it were,
their sportive resources. He found himself discovering
a new droll aspect in men and things; his phraseology took
on a dryly playful form, fittingly to present conceits
which danced up, unabashed, quite into the presence
of lofty and majestic truths. He got from this nothing
but satisfaction; it obviously involved increased claims
to popularity among his parishioners, and consequently
magnified powers of usefulness, and it made life so much more
a joy and a thing to be thankful for. Often, in the midst
of the exchange of merry quip and whimsical suggestion,
bright blossoms on that tree of strength and knowledge
which he felt expanding now with a mighty outward pushing
in all directions, he would lapse into deep gravity,
and ponder with a swelling heart the vast unspeakable marvel
of his blessedness, in being thus enriched and humanized
by daily communion with the most worshipful of womankind.

This happy and good young couple took the affections of
Tyre by storm. The Methodist Church there had at no time
held its head very high among the denominations, and for
some years back had been in a deplorably sinking state,
owing first to the secession of the Free Methodists
and then to the incumbency of a pastor who scandalized
the community by marrying a black man to a white woman.
But the Wares changed all this. Within a month the report
of Theron's charm and force in the pulpit was crowding
the church building to its utmost capacity--and that,
too, with some of Tyre's best people. Equally winning
was the atmosphere of jollity and juvenile high spirits
which pervaded the parsonage under these new conditions,
and which Theron and Alice seemed to diffuse wherever
they went.

Thus swimmingly their first year sped, amid universal acclaim.
Mrs. Ware had a recognized social place, quite outside
the restricted limits of Methodism, and shone in it with
an unflagging brilliancy altogether beyond the traditions
of Tyre. Delightful as she was in other people's houses,
she was still more naively fascinating in her own quaint
and somewhat harum-scarum domicile; and the drab,
two-storied, tin-roofed little parsonage might well have
rattled its clapboards to see if it was not in dreamland--
so gay was the company, so light were the hearts,
which it sheltered in these new days. As for Theron,
the period was one of incredible fructification and output.
He scarcely recognized for his own the mind which now was
reaching out on all sides with the arms of an octopus,
exploring unsuspected mines of thought, bringing in
rich treasures of deduction, assimilating, building,
propounding as if by some force quite independent of him.
He could not look without blinking timidity at the radiance
of the path stretched out before him, leading upward
to dazzling heights of greatness.

At the end of this first year the Wares suddenly discovered
that they were eight hundred dollars in debt.

The second year was spent in arriving, by slow stages and
with a cruel wealth of pathetic detail, at a realization
of what being eight hundred dollars in debt meant.

It was not in their elastic and buoyant natures to grasp
the full significance of the thing at once, or easily.
Their position in the social structure, too, was all
against clear-sightedness in material matters.
A general, for example, uniformed and in the saddle,
advancing through the streets with his staff in the proud
wake of his division's massed walls of bayonets, cannot be
imagined as quailing at the glance thrown at him by his
tailor on the sidewalk. Similarly, a man invested with
sacerdotal authority, who baptizes, marries, and buries,
who delivers judgments from the pulpit which may not be
questioned in his hearing, and who receives from all his
fellow-men a special deference of manner and speech,
is in the nature of things prone to see the grocer's
book and the butcher's bill through the little end
of the telescope.

The Wares at the outset had thought it right to trade
as exclusively as possible with members of their own
church society. This loyalty became a principal element
of martyrdom. Theron had his creditors seated in serried
rows before him, Sunday after Sunday. Alice had her
critics consolidated among those whom it was her chief duty
to visit and profess friendship for. These situations
now began, by regular gradations, to unfold their terrors.
At the first intimation of discontent, the Wares made
what seemed to them a sweeping reduction in expenditure.
When they heard that Brother Potter had spoken of them
as "poor pay," they dismissed their hired girl.
A little later, Theron brought himself to drop a laboriously
casual suggestion as to a possible increase of salary,
and saw with sinking spirits the faces of the stewards
freeze with dumb disapprobation. Then Alice paid a visit
to her parents, only to find her brothers doggedly
hostile to the notion of her being helped, and her father
so much under their influence that the paltry sum he
dared offer barely covered the expenses of her journey.
With another turn of the screw, they sold the piano she
had brought with her from home, and cut themselves down
to the bare necessities of life, neither receiving company
nor going out. They never laughed now, and even smiles
grew rare.

By this time Theron's sermons, preached under that stony
glare of people to whom he owed money, had degenerated
to a pitiful level of commonplace. As a consequence,
the attendance became once more confined to the insufficient
membership of the church, and the trustees complained
of grievously diminished receipts. When the Wares,
grown desperate, ventured upon the experiment of trading
outside the bounds of the congregation, the trustees
complained again, this time peremptorily.

Thus the second year dragged itself miserably to an end.
Nor was relief possible, because the Presiding Elder knew
something of the circumstances, and felt it his duty
to send Theron back for a third year, to pay his debts,
and drain the cup of disciplinary medicine to its dregs.

The worst has been told. Beginning in utter blackness,
this third year, in the second month, brought a change as welcome
as it was unlooked for. An elderly and important citizen
of Tyre, by name Abram Beekman, whom Theron knew slightly,
and had on occasions seen sitting in one of the back
pews near the door, called one morning at the parsonage,
and electrified its inhabitants by expressing a desire
to wipe off all their old scores for them, and give them
a fresh start in life. As he put the suggestion, they could
find no excuse for rejecting it. He had watched them,
and heard a good deal about them, and took a fatherly sort
of interest in them. He did not deprecate their regarding
the aid he proffered them in the nature of a loan,
but they were to make themselves perfectly easy about it,
and never return it at all unless they could spare it
sometime with entire convenience, and felt that they wanted
to do so. As this amazing windfall finally took shape,
it enabled the Wares to live respectably through the year,
and to leave Tyre with something over one hundred dollars
in hand.

It enabled them, too, to revive in a chastened form their
old dream of ultimate success and distinction for Theron.
He had demonstrated clearly enough to himself, during that
brief season of unrestrained effulgence, that he had within
him the making of a great pulpit orator. He set to work now,
with resolute purpose, to puzzle out and master all the
principles which underlie this art, and all the tricks
that adorn its superstructure. He studied it, fastened his
thoughts upon it, talked daily with Alice about it.
In the pulpit, addressing those people who had so darkened
his life and crushed the first happiness out of his home,
he withheld himself from any oratorical display which
could afford them gratification. He put aside, as well;
the thought of attracting once more the non-Methodists
of Tyre, whose early enthusiasm had spread such pitfalls
for his unwary feet. He practised effects now by piecemeal,
with an alert ear, and calculation in every tone.
An ambition, at once embittered and tearfully solicitous,
possessed him.

He reflected now, this morning, with a certain incredulous
interest, upon that unworthy epoch in his life history,
which seemed so far behind him, and yet had come to a close
only a few weeks ago. The opportunity had been given him,
there at the Tecumseh Conference, to reveal his quality.
He had risen to its full limit of possibilities,
and preached a great sermon in a manner which he at least
knew was unapproachable. He had made his most powerful
bid for the prize place, had trebly deserved success--
and had been banished instead to Octavius!

The curious thing was that he did not resent his failure.
Alice had taken it hard, but he himself was conscious of a
sense of spiritual gain. The influence of the Conference,
with its songs and seasons of prayer and high pressure
of emotional excitement, was still strong upon him.
It seemed years and years since the religious side of him
had been so stirred into motion. He felt, as he lay
back in the chair, and folded his hands over the book
on his knee, that he had indeed come forth from the fire
purified and strengthened. The ministry to souls diseased
beckoned him with a new and urgent significance. He smiled
to remember that Mr. Beekman, speaking in his shrewd and
pointed way, had asked him whether, looking it all over,
he didn't think it would be better for him to study law,
with a view to sliding out of the ministry when a good
chance offered. It amazed him now to recall that he had
taken this hint seriously, and even gone to the length
of finding out what books law-students began upon.

Thank God! all that was past and gone now. The Call sounded,
resonant and imperative, in his ears, and there was no
impulse of his heart, no fibre of his being, which did
not stir in devout response. He closed his eyes, to be
the more wholly alone with the Spirit, that moved him.

The jangling of a bell in the hallway broke sharply upon
his meditations, and on the instant his wife thrust
in her head from the kitchen.

"You'll have to go to the door, Theron!" she warned him,
in a loud, swift whisper. "I'm not fit to be seen.
It is the trustees."

"All right," he said, and rose slowly from sprawling
recumbency to his feet. "I'll go."

"And don't forget," she added strenuously; "I believe
in Levi Gorringe! I've seen him go past here with his rod
and fish-basket twice in eight days, and that's a good sign.
He's got a soft side somewhere. And just keep a stiff
upper lip about the gas, and don't you let them jew you
down a solitary cent on that sidewalk."

"All right," said Theron, again, and moved reluctantly
toward the hall door.

 

 

CHAPTER III

 

When the three trustees had been shown in by the Rev. Mr. Ware,
and had taken seats, an awkward little pause ensued.
The young minister looked doubtingly from one face
to another, the while they glanced with inquiring interest
about the room, noting the pictures and appraising
the furniture in their minds.

The obvious leader of the party, Loren Pierce, a rich
quarryman, was an old man of medium size and mean attire,
with a square, beardless face as hard and impassive
in expression as one of his blocks of limestone.
The irregular, thin-lipped mouth, slightly sunken,
and shut with vice-like firmness, the short snub nose,
and the little eyes squinting from half-closed lids
beneath slightly marked brows, seemed scarcely to attain
to the dignity of features, but evaded attention instead,
as if feeling that they were only there at all from
plain necessity, and ought not to be taken into account.
Mr. Pierce's face did not know how to smile--what was the use
of smiles?--but its whole surface radiated secretiveness.
Portrayed on canvas by a master brush, with a ruff
or a red robe for masquerade, generations of imaginative
amateurs would have seen in it vast reaching plots,
the skeletons of a dozen dynastic cupboards, the guarded
mysteries of half a century's international diplomacy.
The amateurs would have been wrong again. There was
nothing behind Mr. Pierce's juiceless countenance more
weighty than a general determination to exact seven per
cent for his money, and some specific notions about
capturing certain brickyards which were interfering with
his quarry-sales. But Octavius watched him shamble along
its sidewalks quite as the Vienna of dead and forgotten
yesterday might have watched Metternich.

Erastus Winch was of a breezier sort--a florid, stout,
and sandy man, who spent most of his life driving over
evil country roads in a buggy, securing orders for dairy
furniture and certain allied lines of farm utensils.
This practice had given him a loud voice and a deceptively
hearty manner, to which the other avocation of cheese-buyer,
which he pursued at the Board of Trade meetings every
Monday afternoon, had added a considerable command of
persuasive yet non-committal language. To look at him,
still more to hear him, one would have sworn he was a
good fellow, a trifle rough and noisy, perhaps, but all
right at bottom. But the County Clerk of Dearborn County
could have told you of agriculturists who knew Erastus
from long and unhappy experience, and who held him to be
even a tighter man than Loren Pierce in the matter of a mortgage.

The third trustee, Levi Gorringe, set one wondering at the
very first glance what on earth he was doing in that company.
Those who had known him longest had the least notion;
but it may be added that no one knew him well.
He was a lawyer, and had lived in Octavius for upwards
of ten years; that is to say, since early manhood.
He had an office on the main street, just under the
principal photograph gallery. Doubtless he was sometimes
in this office; but his fellow-townsmen saw him more often
in the street doorway, with the stairs behind him, and the
flaring show-cases of the photographer on either side,
standing with his hands in his pockets and an unlighted
cigar in his mouth, looking at nothing in particular.
About every other day he went off after breakfast
into the country roundabout, sometimes with a rod,
sometimes with a gun, but always alone. He was a bachelor,
and slept in a room at the back of his office, cooking some
of his meals himself, getting others at a restaurant
close by. Though he had little visible practice,
he was understood to be well-to-do and even more,
and people tacitly inferred that he "shaved notes."
The Methodists of Octavius looked upon him as a queer fish,
and through nearly a dozen years had never quite outgrown
their hebdomadal tendency to surprise at seeing him enter
their church. He had never, it is true, professed religion,
but they had elected him as a trustee now for a number
of terms, all the same--partly because he was their
only lawyer, partly because he, like both his colleagues,
held a mortgage on the church edifice and lot.
In person, Mr. Gorringe was a slender man, with a skin
of a clear, uniform citron tint, black waving hair,
and dark gray eyes, and a thin, high-featured face.
He wore a mustache and pointed chin-tuft; and, though he
was of New England parentage and had never been further
south than Ocean Grove, he presented a general effect
of old Mississippian traditions and tastes startlingly at
variance with the standards of Dearborn County Methodism.
Nothing could convince some of the elder sisters that he was
not a drinking man.

The three visitors had completed their survey of the room now;
and Loren Pierce emitted a dry, harsh little cough, as a
signal that business was about to begin. At this sound,
Winch drew up his feet, and Gorringe untied a parcel
of account-books and papers that he held on his knee.
Theron felt that his countenance must be exhibiting to the
assembled brethren an unfortunate sense of helplessness
in their hands. He tried to look more resolute,
and forced his lips into a smile.

"Brother Gorringe allus acts as Seckertary,"
said Erastus Winch, beaming broadly upon the minister,
as if the mere mention of the fact promoted jollity.
"That's it, Brother Gorringe,--take your seat at Brother
Ware's desk. Mind the Dominie's pen don't play tricks
on you, an' start off writin' out sermons instid of figgers."
The humorist turned to Theron as the lawyer walked over
to the desk at the window. "I allus have to caution him
about that," he remarked with great joviality. "An' do YOU
look out afterwards, Brother Ware, or else you'll catch
that pen o' yours scribblin' lawyer's lingo in place o'
the Word."

Theron felt bound to exhibit a grin in acknowledgment
of this pleasantry. The lawyer's change of position had
involved some shifting of the others' chairs, and the young
minister found himself directly confronted by Brother
Pierce's hard and colorless old visage. Its little eyes
were watching him, as through a mask, and under their
influence the smile of politeness fled from his lips.
The lawyer on his right, the cheese-buyer to the left,
seemed to recede into distance as he for the moment returned
the gaze of the quarryman. He waited now for him to speak,
as if the others were of no importance.

"We are a plain sort o' folks up in these parts,"
said Brother Pierce, after a slight further pause.
His voice was as dry and rasping as his cough, and its
intonations were those of authority. "We walk here,"
he went on, eying the minister with a sour regard,
"in a meek an' humble spirit, in the straight an'
narrow way which leadeth unto life. We ain't gone traipsin'
after strange gods, like some people that call themselves
Methodists in other places. We stick by the Discipline an'
the ways of our fathers in Israel. No new-fangled notions
can go down here. Your wife'd better take them flowers
out of her bunnit afore next Sunday."

Silence possessed the room for a few moments,
the while Theron, pale-faced and with brows knit,
studied the pattern of the ingrain carpet. Then he lifted
his head, and nodded it in assent. "Yes," he said;
"we will do nothing by which our 'brother stumbleth,
or is offended, or is made weak.'"

Brother Pierce's parchment face showed no sign of surprise
or pleasure at this easy submission. "Another thing:
We don't want no book-learnin' or dictionary words in
our pulpit," he went on coldly. "Some folks may stomach
'em; we won't. Them two sermons o' yours, p'r'aps they'd
do down in some city place; but they're like your wife's
bunnit here, they're too flowery to suit us. What we
want to hear is the plain, old-fashioned Word of God,
without any palaver or 'hems and ha's." They tell me
there's some parts where hell's treated as played-out--
where our ministers don't like to talk much about it
because people don't want to hear about it. Such preachers
ought to be put out. They ain't Methodists at all.
What we want here, sir, is straight-out, flat-footed hell--
the burnin' lake o' fire an' brim-stone. Pour it into
'em, hot an' strong. We can't have too much of it.
Work in them awful deathbeds of Voltaire an' Tom Paine,
with the Devil right there in the room, reachin' for 'em, an'
they yellin' for fright; that's what fills the anxious seat an'
brings in souls hand over fist."

Theron's tongue dallied for an instant with the temptation
to comment upon these old-wife fables, which were so dear
to the rural religious heart when he and I were boys.
But it seemed wiser to only nod again, and let his mentor
go on.

"We ain't had no trouble with the Free Methodists here,"
continued Brother Pierce, "jest because we kept to the
old paths, an' seek for salvation in the good old way.
Everybody can shout "Amen!" as loud and as long as
the Spirit moves him, with us. Some one was sayin'
you thought we ought to have a choir and an organ.
No, sirree! No such tom-foolery for us! You'll only stir
up feelin' agin yourself by hintin' at such things.
And then, too, our folks don't take no stock in all
that pack o' nonsense about science, such as tellin'
the age of the earth by crackin' up stones. I've b'en
in the quarry line all my life, an' I know it's all humbug!
Why, they say some folks are goin' round now preachin'
that our grandfathers were all monkeys. That comes
from departin' from the ways of our forefathers, an puttin'
in organs an' choirs, an' deckin' our women-folks out
with gewgaws, an' apin' the fashions of the worldly.
I shouldn't wonder if them kind did have some monkey blood
in 'em. You'll find we're a different sort here."

The young minister preserved silence for a little, until it
became apparent that the old trustee had had his say out.
Even then he raised his head slowly, and at last made
answer in a hesitating and irresolute way

"You have been very frank," he said. "I am obliged to you.
A clergyman coming to a new charge cannot be better served
than by having laid before him a clear statement of the
views and--and spiritual tendencies--of his new flock,
quite at the outset. I feel it to be of especial value
in this case, because I am young in years and in my ministry,
and am conscious of a great weakness of the flesh.
I can see how daily contact with a people so attached
to the old, simple, primitive Methodism of Wesley
and Asbury may be a source of much strength to me.
I may take it," he added upon second thought, with an
inquiring glance at Mr. Winch, "that Brother Pierce's
description of our charge, and its tastes and needs,
meets with your approval?"

Erastus Winch nodded his head and smiled expansively.
"Whatever Brother Pierce says, goes!" he declared.
The lawyer, sitting behind at the desk by the window,
said nothing.

"The place is jest overrun with Irish," Brother Pierce
began again. "They've got two Catholic churches here
now to our one, and they do jest as they blamed please
at the Charter elections. It'd be a good idee to pitch
into Catholics in general whenever you can. You could
make a hit that way. I say the State ought to make 'em
pay taxes on their church property. They've no right
to be exempted, because they ain't Christians at all.
They're idolaters, that's what they are! I know 'em!
I've had 'em in my quarries for years, an' they ain't got
no idee of decency or fair dealin'. Every time the price
of stone went up, every man of 'em would jine to screw
more wages out o' me. Why, they used to keep account o'
the amount o' business I done, an' figger up my profits, an'
have the face to come an' talk to me about 'em, as if
that had anything to do with wages. It's my belief their
priests put 'em up to it. People don't begin to reelize--
that church of idolatry 'll be the ruin o' this country,
if it ain't checked in time. Jest you go at 'em hammer
'n' tongs! I've got Eyetalians in the quarries now.
They're sensible fellows: they know when they're well off--
a dollar a day, an' they're satisfied, an' everything goes
smooth."

"But they're Catholics, the same as the Irish," suddenly
interjected the lawyer, from his place by the window.
Theron pricked up his ears at the sound of his voice.
There was an anti-Pierce note in it, so to speak, which it
did him good to hear. The consciousness of sympathy
began on the instant to inspire him with courage.

"I know some people SAY they are," Brother Pierce
guardedly retorted "but I've summered an' wintered both
kinds, an' I hold to it they're different. I grant ye,
the Eyetalians ARE some given to jabbin' knives into
each other, but they never git up strikes, an' they don't
grumble about wages. Why, look at the way they live--
jest some weeds an' yarbs dug up on the roadside, an'
stewed in a kettle with a piece o' fat the size o'
your finger, an' a loaf o' bread, an' they're happy as a king.
There's some sense in THAT; but the Irish, they've got
to have meat an' potatoes an' butter jest as if--as if--"

"As if they'd b'en used to 'em at home," put in Mr. Winch,
to help his colleague out.

The lawyer ostentatiously drew up his chair to the desk,
and began turning over the leaves of his biggest book.
"It's getting on toward noon, gentlemen," he said, in an
impatient voice.

The business meeting which followed was for a considerable
time confined to hearing extracts from the books and papers
read in a swift and formal fashion by Mr. Gorringe.
If this was intended to inform the new pastor of the exact
financial situation in Octavius, it lamentably failed
of its purpose. Theron had little knowledge of figures;
and though he tried hard to listen, and to assume an air
of comprehension, he did not understand much of what he heard.
In a general way he gathered that the church property was
put down at $12,000, on which there was a debt of $4,800.
The annual expenses were $2,250, of which the principal
items were $800 for his salary, $170 for the rent
of the parsonage, and $319 for interest on the debt.
It seemed that last year the receipts had fallen just under
$2,000, and they now confronted the necessity of making
good this deficit during the coming year, as well as
increasing the regular revenues. Without much discussion,
it was agreed that they should endeavor to secure the
services of a celebrated "debt-raiser," early in the autumn,
and utilize him in the closing days of a revival.

Theron knew this "debt-raiser," and had seen him at work--
a burly, bustling, vulgar man who took possession
of the pulpit as if it were an auctioneer's block,
and pursued the task of exciting liberality in the bosoms
of the congregation by alternating prayer, anecdote, song,
and cheap buffoonery in a manner truly sickening.
Would it not be preferable, he feebly suggested,
to raise the money by a festival, or fair, or some
other form of entertainment which the ladies could manage?

Brother Pierce shook his head with contemptuous emphasis.
"Our women-folks ain't that kind," he said. "They did try
to hold a sociable once, but nobody came, and we didn't
raise more 'n three or four dollars. It ain't their line.
They lack the worldly arts. As the Discipline commands,
they avoid the evil of putting on gold and costly apparel,
and taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of
the Lord Jesus."

"Well--of course--if you prefer the 'debt-raiser'--"
Theron began, and took the itemized account from Gorringe's
knee as an excuse for not finishing the hateful sentence.

He looked down the foolscap sheet, line by line,
with no special sense of what it signified, until his
eye caught upon this little section of the report,
bracketed by itself in the Secretary's neat hand:

INTEREST CHARGE.

First mortgage (1873) .. $1,000 ... (E. Winch) @7.. $ 70
Second mortgage (1776).. 1,700 ... (L. Gorringe) @6.. 102
Third mortgage (1878)... 2,100 ... (L. Pierce) @7.. 147
------- -----
$4,800 $319

It was no news to him that the three mortgages on
the church property were held by the three trustees.
But as he looked once more, another feature of the thing
struck him as curious.

"I notice that the rates of interest vary," he remarked
without thinking, and then wished the words unsaid,
for the two trustees in view moved uneasily on their seats.

"Oh, that's nothing," exclaimed Erastus Winch, with a
boisterous display of jollity. "It's only Brother
Gorringe's pleasant little way of making a contribution
to our funds. You will notice that, at the date
of all these mortgages, the State rate of interest was
seven per cent. Since then it's b'en lowered to six.
Well, when that happened, you see, Brother Gorringe,
not being a professin' member, and so not bound by our rules,
he could just as well as not let his interest down a cent.
But Brother Pierce an' me, we talked it over, an' we made
up our minds we were tied hand an' foot by our contract.
You know how strong the Discipline lays it down that
we must be bound to the letter of our agreements.
That bein' so, we seen it in the light of duty not to change
what we'd set our hands to. That's how it is, Brother Ware."

"I understand," said Theron, with an effort at polite
calmness of tone. "And--is there anything else?"

"There's this," broke in Brother Pierce: "we're commanded
to be law-abiding people, an' seven per cent WAS the law an'
would be now if them ragamuffins in the Legislation--"

"Surely we needn't go further into that," interrupted
the minister, conscious of a growing stiffness
in his moral spine. "Have we any other business before us?"

Brother Pierce's little eyes snapped, and the wrinkles
in his forehead deepened angrily. "Business?" he demanded.
"Yes, plenty of it. We've got to reduce expenses.
We're nigh onto $300 behind-hand this minute. Besides your
house-rent, you get $800 free an' clear--that is $15.38
every week, an' only you an' your wife to keep out of it.
Why, when I was your age, young man, and after that too,
I was glad to get $4 a week."

"I don't think my salary is under discussion, Mr. Pierce--"

"BROTHER Pierce!" suggested Winch, in a half-shuckling undertone.

"Brother Pierce, then!" echoed Theron, impatiently.
"The Quarterly Conference and the Estimating Committee
deal with that. The trustees have no more to do with it
than the man in the moon."

"Come, come, Brother Ware," put in Erastus Winch,
"we mustn't have no hard feelin's. Brotherly love is
what we're all lookin' after. Brother Pierce's meanin'
wasn't agin your drawin' your full salary, every cent
of it, only--only there are certain little things connected
with the parsonage here that we feel you ought to bear.
F'r instance, there's the new sidewalk we had to lay
in front of the house here only a month ago. Of course,
if the treasury was flush we wouldn't say a word about it.
An' then there's the gas bill here. Seein' as you get
your rent for nothin', it don't seem much to ask that you
should see to lightin' the place yourself."

"No, I don't think that either is a proper charge upon me,"
interposed Theron. "I decline to pay them."

"We can have the gas shut off," remarked Brother Pierce, coldly.

"As soon as you like," responded the minister, sitting erect
and tapping the carpet nervously with his foot. Only you
must understand that I will take the whole matter to the
Quarterly Conference in July. I already see a good many
other interesting questions about the financial management
of this church which might be appropriately discussed there."

"Oh, come, Brother Ware!" broke in Trustee Winch, with a
somewhat agitated assumption of good-feeling. "Surely
these are matters we ought to settle amongst ourselves.
We never yet asked outsiders to meddle with our business here.
It's our motto, Brother Ware. I say, if you've got a motto,
stand by it."

"Well, my motto," said Theron, "is to be behaved decently
to by those with whom I have to deal; and I also propose
to stand by it."

Brother Pierce rose gingerly to his feet, with the
hesitation of an old man not sure about his knees.
When he had straightened himself, he put on his hat,
and eyed the minister sternly from beneath its brim.

"The Lord gives us crosses grievous to our natur',"
he said, "an' we're told to bear 'em cheerfully as long
as they're on our backs; but there ain't nothin' said agin
our unloadin' 'em in the ditch the minute we git the chance.
I guess you won't last here more 'n a twelvemonth."

He pulled his soft and discolored old hat down over his
brows with a significantly hostile nod, and, turning,
stumped toward the hall-door without offering to shake hands.

The other trustees had risen likewise, in tacit recognition
that the meeting was over. Winch clasped the minister's
hand in his own broad, hard palm, and squeezed it in an
exuberant grip. "Don't mind his little ways, Brother Ware,"
he urged in a loud, unctuous whisper, with a grinning
backward nod: "he's a trifle skittish sometimes when you
don't give him free rein; but he's all wool an' a yard
wide when it comes to right-down hard-pan religion.
My love to Sister Ware;" and he followed the senior
trustee into the hall.

Mr. Gorringe had been tying up his books and papers.
He came now with the bulky parcel under his arm, and his hat
and stick in the other hand. He could give little but his
thumb to Theron to shake. His face wore a grave expression,
and not a line relaxed as, catching the minister's look,
he slowly covered his left eye in a deliberate wink.

 

 

"Well?--and how did it go off?" asked Alice, from where
she knelt by the oven door, a few minutes later.

For answer, Theron threw himself wearily into the big
old farm rocking-chair on the other side of the stove,
and shook his head with a lengthened sigh.

"If it wasn't for that man Gorringe of yours,"
he said dejectedly, "I think I should feel like going off--
and learning a trade."

 

 

Chapter IV

 

On the following Sunday, young Mrs. Ware sat alone in the
preacher's pew through the morning service, and everybody
noted that the roses had been taken from her bonnet.
In the evening she was absent, and after the doxology
and benediction several people, under the pretence of
solicitude for her health, tried to pump her husband as to
the reason. He answered their inquiries civilly enough,
but with brevity: she had stayed at home because she
did not feel like coming out--this and nothing more.

The congregation dispersed under a gossip-laden cloud
of consciousness that there must be something queer
about Sister Ware. There was a tolerably general
agreement, however, that the two sermons of the day
had been excellent. Not even Loren Pierce's railing
commentary on the pastor's introduction of an outlandish
word like "epitome"--clearly forbidden by the Discipline's
injunction to plain language understood of the people--
availed to sap the satisfaction of the majority.

Theron himself comprehended that he had pleased the bulk
of his auditors; the knowledge left him curiously hot
and cold. On the one hand, there was joy in the apparent
prospect that the congregation would back him up in a
stand against the trustees, if worst came to worst.
But, on the other hand, the bonnet episode entered his soul.
It had been a source of bitter humiliation to him to see
his wife sitting there beneath the pulpit, shorn by despotic
order of the adornments natural to her pretty head.
But he had even greater pain in contemplating the effect
it had produced on Alice herself. She had said not
a word on the subject, but her every glance and gesture
seemed to him eloquent of deep feeling about it.
He made sure that she blamed him for having defended
his own gas and sidewalk rights with successful vigor,
but permitted the sacrifice of her poor little inoffensive
roses without a protest. In this view of the matter,
indeed, he blamed himself. Was it too late to make the
error good? He ventured a hint on this Sunday evening,
when he returned to the parsonage and found her reading
an old weekly newspaper by the light of the kitchen lamp,
to the effect that he fancied there would be no great
danger in putting those roses back into her bonnet.
Without lifting her eyes from the paper, she answered
that she had no earthly desire to wear roses in her bonnet,
and went on with her reading.

At breakfast the next morning Theron found himself
in command of an unusual fund of humorous good spirits,
and was at pains to make the most of it, passing whimsical
comments on subjects which the opening day suggested,
recalling quaint and comical memories of the past,
and striving his best to force Alice into a laugh.
Formerly her merry temper had always ignited at the merest
spark of gayety. Now she gave his jokes only a dutiful
half-smile, and uttered scarcely a word in response
to his running fire of talk. When the meal was finished,
she went silently to work to clear away the dishes.

Theron turned over in his mind the project of offering
to help her, as he had done so often in those dear
old days when they laughingly began life together.
Something decided this project in the negative for him,
and after lingering moments he put on his hat and went out
for a walk.

Not even the most doleful and trying hour of his bitter
experience in Tyre had depressed him like this.
Looking back upon these past troubles, he persuaded himself
that he had borne them all with a light and cheerful heart,
simply because Alice had been one with him in every
thought and emotion. How perfect, how ideally complete,
their sympathy had always been! With what absolute
unity of mind and soul they had trod that difficult
path together! And now--henceforth--was it to be different?
The mere suggestion of such a thing chilled his veins.
He said aloud to himself as he walked that life would
be an intolerable curse if Alice were to cease sharing it
with him in every conceivable phase.

He had made his way out of town, and tramped along the
country hill-road for a considerable distance, before a
merciful light began to lessen the shadows in the picture
of gloom with which his mind tortured itself. All at once
he stopped short, lifted his head, and looked about him.
The broad valley lay warm and tranquil in the May sunshine
at his feet. In the thicket up the side-hill above him
a gray squirrel was chattering shrilly, and the birds sang
in a tireless choral confusion. Theron smiled, and drew
a long breath. The gay clamor of the woodland songsters,
the placid radiance of the landscape, were suddenly
taken in and made a part of his new mood. He listened,
smiled once more, and then started in a leisurely way
back toward Octavius.

How could he have been so ridiculous as to fancy that Alice--
his Alice--had been changed into someone else? He marvelled
now at his own perverse folly. She was overworked--
tired out--that was all. The task of moving in, of setting
the new household to rights, had been too much for her.
She must have a rest. They must get in a hired girl.

Once this decision about a servant fixed itself in the young
minister's mind, it drove out the last vestage of discomfort.
He strode along now in great content, revolving idly
a dozen different plans for gilding and beautifying this
new life of leisure into which his sanguine thoughts
projected Alice. One of these particularly pleased him,
and waxed in definiteness as he turned it over and over.
He would get another piano for her, in place of that which had
been sacrificed in Tyre. That beneficient modern invention,
the instalment plan, made this quite feasible--so easy,
in fact, that it almost seemed as if he should find his
wife playing on the new instrument when he got home.
He would stop in at the music store and see about it that
very day.

Of course, now that these important resolutions had been taken,
it would be a good thing if he could do something to bring
in some extra money. This was by no means a new notion.
He had mused over the possibility in a formless way ever
since that memorable discovery of indebtedness in Tyre,
and had long ago recognized the hopelessness of endeavor
in every channel save that of literature. Latterly his fancy
had been stimulated by reading an account of the profits
which Canon Farrar had derived from his "Life of Christ."
If such a book could command such a bewildering multitude
of readers, Theron felt there ought to be a chance for him.
So clear did constant rumination render this assumption
that the young pastor in time had come to regard
this prospective book of his as a substantial asset,
which could be realized without trouble whenever he got
around to it.

He had not, it is true, gone to the length of seriously
considering what should be the subject of his book.
That had not seemed to him to matter much, so long as it
was scriptural. Familiarity with the process of extracting
a fixed amount of spiritual and intellectual meat from
any casual text, week after week, had given him an idea
that any one of many subjects would do, when the time came
for him to make a choice. He realized now that the time
for a selection had arrived, and almost simultaneously
found himself with a ready-made decision in his mind.
The book should be about Abraham!

Theron Ware was extremely interested in the mechanism
of his own brain, and followed its workings with a
lively curiosity. Nothing could be more remarkable,
he thought, than to thus discover that, on the instant
of his formulating a desire to know what he should
write upon, lo, and behold! there his mind, quite on
its own initiative, had the answer waiting for him!
When he had gone a little further, and the powerful
range of possibilities in the son's revolt against the
idolatry of his father, the image-maker, in the exodus
from the unholy city of Ur, and in the influence of the
new nomadic life upon the little deistic family group,
had begun to unfold itself before him, he felt that the hand
of Providence was plainly discernible in the matter.
The book was to be blessed from its very inception.

Walking homeward briskly now, with his eyes on the sidewalk
and his mind all aglow with crowding suggestions for the
new work, and impatience to be at it, he came abruptly
upon a group of men and boys who occupied the whole path,
and were moving forward so noiselessly that he had not
heard them coming. He almost ran into the leader of this
little procession, and began a stammering apology,
the final words of which were left unspoken, so solemnly
heedless of him and his talk were all the faces he saw.

In the centre of the group were four working-men,
bearing between them an extemporized litter of two poles
and a blanket hastily secured across them with spikes.
Most of what this litter held was covered by another blanket,
rounded in coarse folds over a shapeless bulk. From beneath
its farther end protruded a big broom-like black beard,
thrown upward at such an angle as to hide everything
beyond to those in front. The tall young minister,
stepping aside and standing tip-toe, could see
sloping downward behind this hedge of beard a pinched
and chalk-like face, with wide-open, staring eyes.
Its lips, of a dull lilac hue, were moving ceaselessly,
and made a dry, clicking sound.

Theron instinctively joined himself to those who followed
the litter--a motley dozen of street idlers, chiefly boys.
One of these in whispers explained to him that the man
was one of Jerry Madden's workmen in the wagon-shops,
who had been deployed to trim an elm-tree in front
of his employer's house, and, being unused to such work,
had fallen from the top and broken all his bones.
They would have cared for him at Madden's house, but he
had insisted upon being taken home. His name was MacEvoy,
and he was Joey MacEvoy's father, and likewise Jim's
and Hughey's and Martin's. After a pause the lad,
a bright-eyed, freckled, barefooted wee Irishman,
volunteered the further information that his big brother
had run to bring "Father Forbess," on the chance that he
might be in time to administer "extry munction."

The way of the silent little procession led through
back streets--where women hanging up clothes in the
yards hurried to the gates, their aprons full of
clothes-pins, to stare open-mouthed at the passers-by--
and came to a halt at last in an irregular and muddy lane,
before one of a half dozen shanties reared among
the ash-heaps and debris of the town's most bedraggled outskirts.

A stout, middle-aged, red-armed woman, already warned by some
messenger of calamity, stood waiting on the roadside bank.
There were whimpering children clinging to her skirts,
and a surrounding cluster of women of the neighborhood,
some of the more elderly of whom, shrivelled little
crones in tidy caps, and with their aprons to their eyes,
were beginning in a low-murmured minor the wail
which presently should rise into the keen of death.
Mrs. MacEvoy herself made no moan, and her broad ruddy
face was stern in expression rather than sorrowful.
When the litter stopped beside her, she laid a hand
for an instant on her husband's wet brow, and looked--
one could have sworn impassively--into his staring eyes.
Then, still without a word, she waved the bearers toward
the door, and led the way herself.

Theron, somewhat wonderingly, found himself, a minute later,
inside a dark and ill-smelling room, the air of which was
humid with the steam from a boiler of clothes on the stove,
and not in other ways improved by the presence of a jostling
score of women, all straining their gaze upon the open
door of the only other apartment--the bed-chamber. Through
this they could see the workmen laying MacEvoy on the bed,
and standing awkwardly about thereafter, getting in the
way of the wife and old Maggie Quirk as they strove
to remove the garments from his crushed limbs. As the
neighbors watched what could be seen of these proceedings,
they whispered among themselves eulogies of the injured
man's industry and good temper, his habit of bringing
his money home to his wife, and the way he kept his Father
Mathew pledge and attended to his religious duties.
They admitted freely that, by the light of his example,
their own husbands and sons left much to be desired,
and from this wandered easily off into domestic
digressions of their own. But all the while their eyes
were bent upon the bedroom door; and Theron made out,
after he had grown accustomed to the gloom and the smell,
that many of them were telling their beads even while they
kept the muttered conversation alive. None of them paid
any attention to him, or seemed to regard his presence
there as unusual.

Presently he saw enter through the sunlit street doorway
a person of a different class. The bright light shone
for a passing instant upon a fashionable, flowered hat,
and upon some remarkably brilliant shade of red hair
beneath it. In another moment there had edged along
through the throng, to almost within touch of him, a tall
young woman, the owner of this hat and wonderful hair.
She was clad in light and pleasing spring attire,
and carried a parasol with a long oxidized silver
handle of a quaint pattern. She looked at him,
and he saw that her face was of a lengthened oval,
with a luminous rose-tinted skin, full red lips,
and big brown, frank eyes with heavy auburn lashes.
She made a grave little inclination of her head toward him,
and he bowed in response. Since her arrival, he noted,
the chattering of the others had entirely ceased.

"I followed the others in, in the hope that I might be
of some assistance," he ventured to explain to her in a
low murmur, feeling that at last here was some one to whom
an explanation of his presence in this Romish house was due.
"I hope they won't feel that I have intruded."

She nodded her head as if she quite understood.
"They'll take the will for the deed," she whispered back.
"Father Forbes will be here in a minute. Do you know is it
too late?"

Even as she spoke, the outer doorway was darkened by the
commanding bulk of a newcomer's figure. The flash of a silk hat,
and the deferential way in which the assembled neighbors
fell back to clear a passage, made his identity clear.
Theron felt his blood tingle in an unaccustomed way as this
priest of a strange church advanced across the room--
a broad-shouldered, portly man of more than middle height,
with a shapely, strong-lined face of almost waxen pallor,
and a firm, commanding tread. He carried in his hands,
besides his hat, a small leather-bound case. To this
and to him the women courtesied and bowed their heads as
he passed.

"Come with me," whispered the tall girl with the parasol
to Theron; and he found himself pushing along in her
wake until they intercepted the priest just outside
the bedroom door. She touched Father Forbes on the arm.

"Just to tell you that I am here," she said. The priest
nodded with a grave face, and passed into the other room.
In a minute or two the workmen, Mrs. MacEvoy, and her helper
came out, and the door was shut behind them.

"He is making his confession," explained the young lady.
"Stay here for a minute."

She moved over to where the woman of the house stood,
glum-faced and tearless, and whispered something to her.
A confused movement among the crowd followed, and out
of it presently resulted a small table, covered with a
white cloth, and bearing on it two unlighted candles,
a basin of water, and a spoon, which was brought forward
and placed in readiness before the closed door.
Some of those nearest this cleared space were kneeling now,
and murmuring a low buzz of prayer to the click of beads on
their rosaries.

The door opened, and Theron saw the priest standing in the
doorway with an uplifted hand. He wore now a surplice,
with a purple band over his shoulders, and on his pale
face there shone a tranquil and tender light.

One of the workmen fetched from the stove a brand,
lighted the two candles, and bore the table with its
contents into the bedroom. The young woman plucked
Theron's sleeve, and he dumbly followed her into the
chamber of death, making one of the group of a dozen,
headed by Mrs. MacEvoy and her children, which filled the
little room, and overflowed now outward to the street door.
He found himself bowing with the others to receive the
sprinkled holy water from the priest's white fingers;
kneeling with the others for the prayers; following in
impressed silence with the others the strange ceremonial
by which the priest traced crosses of holy oil with his
thumb upon the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, and feet
of the dying man, wiping off the oil with a piece
of cotton-batting each time after he had repeated the
invocation to forgiveness for that particular sense.
But most of all he was moved by the rich, novel sound
of the Latin as the priest rolled it forth in the
ASPERGES ME, DOMINE, and MISEREATUR VESTRI OMNIPOTENS DEUS,
with its soft Continental vowels and liquid R's. It seemed
to him that he had never really heard Latin before.
Then the astonishing young woman with the red hair
declaimed the CONFITEOR, vigorously and with a resonant
distinctness of enunciation. It was a different Latin,
harsher and more sonorous; and while it still dominated
the murmured undertone of the other's prayers, the last moment came.

Theron had stood face to face with death at many other bedsides;
no other final scene had stirred him like this.
It must have been the girl's Latin chant, with its clanging
reiteration of the great names--BEATUM MICHAELEM ARCHANGELUM,
BEATUM JOANNEM BAPTISTAM, SANCTOS APOSTOLOS PETRUM
ET PAULUM--invoked with such proud confidence in this
squalid little shanty, which so strangely affected him.

He came out with the others at last--the candles and the
folded hands over the crucifix left behind--and walked
as one in a dream. Even by the time that he had gained
the outer doorway, and stood blinking at the bright
light and filling his lungs with honest air once more,
it had begun to seem incredible to him that he had seen
and done all this.

 

 

CHAPTER V

 

While Mr. Ware stood thus on the doorstep, through a minute
of formless musing, the priest and the girl came out, and,
somewhat to his confusion, made him one of their party.
He felt himself flushing under the idea that they would think
he had waited for them--was thrusting himself upon them.
The notion prompted him to bow frigidly in response
to Father Forbes' pleasant "I am glad to meet you, sir,"
and his outstretched hand.

"I dropped in by the--the merest accident," Theron said.
"I met them bringing the poor man home, and--and quite
without thinking, I obeyed the impulse to follow them in,
and didn't realize--"

He stopped short, annoyed by the reflection that this
was his second apology. The girl smiled placidly at him,
the while she put up her parasol.

"It did me good to see you there," she said, quite as if
she had known him all her life. "And so it did the rest
of us."

Father Forbes permitted himself a soft little chuckle,
approving rather than mirthful, and patted her on the
shoulder with the air of being fifty years her senior
instead of fifteen. To the minister's relief, he changed
the subject as the three started together toward the road.

"Then, again, no doctor was sent for!" he exclaimed,
as if resuming a familiar subject with the girl. Then he
turned to Theron. "I dare-say you have no such trouble;
but with our poorer people it is very vexing.
They will not call in a physician, but hurry off first
for the clergyman. I don't know that it is altogether
to avoid doctor's bills, but it amounts to that in effect.
Of course in this case it made no difference; but I have
had to make it a rule not to go out at night unless they
bring me a physician's card with his assurance that it
is a genuine affair. Why, only last winter, I was routed
up after midnight, and brought off in the mud and pelting
rain up one of the new streets on the hillside there,
simply because a factory girl who was laced too tight
had fainted at a dance. I slipped and fell into a puddle
in the darkness, ruined a new overcoat, and got drenched
to the skin; and when I arrived the girl had recovered
and was dancing away again, thirteen to the dozen.
It was then that I made the rule. I hope, Mr. Ware,
that Octavius is producing a pleasant impression upon you
so far?"

"I scarcely know yet," answered Theron. The genial talk
of the priest, with its whimsical anecdote, had in truth
passed over his head. His mind still had room for nothing
but that novel death-bed scene, with the winged captain
of the angelic host, the Baptist, the glorified Fisherman.
and the Preacher, all being summoned down in the pomp
of liturgical Latin to help MacEvoy to die. "If you don't
mind my saying so," he added hesitatingly, "what I have
just seen in there DID make a very powerful impression
upon me."

"It is a very ancient ceremony," said the priest;
"probably Persian, like the baptismal form, although,
for that matter, we can never dig deep enough for the
roots of these things. They all turn up Turanian if we
probe far enough. Our ways separate here, I'm afraid.
I am delighted to have made your acquaintance, Mr. Ware.
Pray look in upon me, if you can as well as not. We are
near neighbors, you know."

Father Forbes had shaken hands, and moved off up another
street some distance, before the voice of the girl
recalled Theron to himself.

"Of course you knew HIM by name," she was saying, "and he
knew you by sight, and had talked of you; but MY poor
inferior sex has to be introduced. I am Celia Madden.
My father has the wagon-shops, and I--I play the organ at
the church."

"I--I am delighted to make your acquaintance," said Theron,
conscious as he spoke that he had slavishly echoed the
formula of the priest. He could think of nothing better
to add than, "Unfortunately, we have no organ in our church."

The girl laughed, as they resumed their walk down the street.
"I'm afraid I couldn't undertake two," she said,
and laughed again. Then she spoke more seriously.
"That ceremony must have interested you a good deal,
never having seen it before. I saw that it was all new
to you, and so I made bold to take you under my wing,
so to speak."

You were very kind," said the young minister. "It was
really a great experience for me. May--may I ask,
is it a part of your functions, in the church, I mean,
to attend these last rites?"

"Mercy, no!" replied the girl, spinning the parasol on her
shoulder and smiling at the thought. "No; it was only
because MacEvoy was one of our workmen, and really came
by his death through father sending him up to trim a tree.
Ann MacEvoy will never forgive us that, the longest day
she lives. Did you notice her? She wouldn't speak to me.
After you came out, I tried to tell her that we would
look out for her and the children; but all she would say
to me was: 'An' fwat would a wheelwright, an' him the
father of a family, be doin' up a tree?'"

They had come now upon the main street of the village,
with its flagstone sidewalk overhung by a lofty canopy of
elm-boughs. Here, for the space of a block, was concentrated
such fashionable elegance of mansions and ornamental lawns
as Octavius had to offer; and it was presented with the
irregularity so characteristic of our restless civilization.
Two or three of the houses survived untouched from the
earlier days--prim, decorous structures, each with its
gabled centre and lower wings, each with its row of fluted
columns supporting the classical roof of a piazza across
its whole front, each vying with the others in the whiteness
of those wooden walls enveloping its bright green blinds.
One had to look over picket fences to see these houses,
and in doing so caught the notion that they thus railed
themselves off in pride at being able to remember before
the railroad came to the village, or the wagon-works were thought of.

Before the neighboring properties the fences had been
swept away, so that one might stroll from the sidewalk
straight across the well-trimmed sward to any one of a dozen
elaborately modern doorways. Some of the residences,
thus frankly proffering friendship to the passer-by,
were of wood painted in drabs and dusky reds,
with bulging windows which marked the native yearning
for the mediaeval, and shingles that strove to be
accounted tiles. Others--a prouder, less pretentious sort--
were of brick or stone, with terra-cotta mouldings
set into the walls, and with real slates covering
the riot of turrets and peaks and dormer peepholes overhead.

Celia Madden stopped in front of the largest and most
important-looking of these new edifices, and said,
holding out her hand: "Here I am, once more.
Good-morning, Mr. Ware."

Theron hoped that his manner did not betray the flash
of surprise he felt in discovering that his new
acquaintance lived in the biggest house in Octavius.
He remembered now that some one had pointed it out
as the abode of the owner of the wagon factories;
but it had not occurred to him before to associate this
girl with that village magnate. It was stupid of him,
of course, because she had herself mentioned her father.
He looked at her again with an awkward smile,
as he formally shook the gloved hand she gave him,
and lifted his soft hat. The strong noon sunlight,
forcing its way down between the elms, and beating upon
her parasol of lace-edged, creamy silk, made a halo
about her hair and face at once brilliant and tender.
He had not seen before how beautiful she was. She nodded
in recognition of his salute, and moved up the lawn walk,
spinning the sunshade on her shoulder.

Though the parsonage was only three blocks away,
the young minister had time to think about a good many
things before he reached home.

First of all, he had to revise in part the arrangement
of his notions about the Irish. Save for an occasional
isolated and taciturn figure among the nomadic portion
of the hired help in the farm country, Theron had scarcely
ever spoken to a person of this curiously alien race before.
He remembered now that there had been some dozen or more
Irish families in Tyre, quartered in the outskirts among
the brickyards, but he had never come in contact with any
of them, or given to their existence even a passing thought.
So far as personal acquaintance went, the Irish had been
to him only a name.

But what a sinister and repellent name! His views on
this general subject were merely those common to his
communion and his environment. He took it for granted,
for example, that in the large cities most of the poverty
and all the drunkenness, crime, and political corruption
were due to the perverse qualities of this foreign people--
qualities accentuated and emphasized in every evil direction
by the baleful influence of a false and idolatrous religion.
It is hardly too much to say that he had never encountered
a dissenting opinion on this point. His boyhood had been
spent in those bitter days when social, political, and blood
prejudices were fused at white heat in the public
crucible together. When he went to the Church Seminary,
it was a matter of course that every member of the faculty
was a Republican, and that every one of his classmates
had come from a Republican household. When, later on,
he entered the ministry, the rule was still incredulous
of exceptions. One might as well have looked in the
Nedahma Conference for a divergence of opinion on the
Trinity as for a difference in political conviction.
Indeed, even among the laity, Theron could not feel sure
that he had ever known a Democrat; that is, at all closely.
He understood very little about politics, it is true.
If he had been driven into a corner, and forced to attempt
an explanation of this tremendous partisan unity in which he
had a share, he would probably have first mentioned the War--
the last shots of which were fired while he was still
in petticoats. Certainly his second reason, however,
would have been that the Irish were on the other side.

He had never before had occasion to formulate, even in his
own thoughts, this tacit race and religious aversion in which
he had been bred. It rose now suddenly in front of him,
as he sauntered from patch to patch of sunlight under
the elms, like some huge, shadowy, and symbolic monument.
He looked at it with wondering curiosity, as at something
he had heard of all his life, but never seen before--
an abhorrent spectacle, truly! The foundations upon
which its dark bulk reared itself were ignorance, squalor,
brutality and vice. Pigs wallowed in the mire before its base,
and burrowing into this base were a myriad of narrow doors,
each bearing the hateful sign of a saloon, and giving
forth from its recesses of night the sounds of screams
and curses. Above were sculptured rows of lowering,
ape-like faces from Nast's and Keppler's cartoons,
and out of these sprang into the vague upper gloom--on the
one side, lamp-posts from which negroes hung by the neck,
and on the other gibbets for dynamiters and Molly Maguires,
and between the two glowed a spectral picture of some
black-robed tonsured men, with leering satanic masks,
making a bonfire of the Bible in the public schools.

Theron stared this phantasm hard in the face, and recognized
it for a very tolerable embodiment of what he had heretofore
supposed he thought about the Irish. For an instant,
the sight of it made him shiver, as if the sunny May
had of a sudden lapsed back into bleak December.
Then he smiled, and the bad vision went off into space.
He saw instead Father Forbes, in the white and purple vestments,
standing by poor MacEvoy's bedside, with his pale,
chiselled, luminous, uplifted face, and he heard only
the proud, confident clanging of the girl's recital,--
BEATUM MICHAELEM ARCHANGELUM, BEATUM JOANNEM BAPTISTAM,
PETRUM ET PAULUM--EM!--AM!--UM!--like strokes on a great
resonant alarm-bell, attuned for the hearing of heaven.
He caught himself on the very verge of feeling that heaven
must have heard.

Then he smiled again, and laid the matter aside, with a
parting admission that it had been undoubtedly picturesque
and impressive, and that it had been a valuable experience
to him to see it. At least the Irish, with all their faults,
must have a poetic strain, or they would not have clung
so tenaciously to those curious and ancient forms.
He recalled having heard somewhere, or read, it might be,
that they were a people much given to songs and music.
And the young lady, that very handsome and friendly
Miss Madden, had told him that she was a musician!
He had a new pleasure in turning this over in his mind.
Of all the closed doors which his choice of a career had
left along his pathway, no other had for him such a magical
fascination as that on which was graven the lute of Orpheus.
He knew not even the alphabet of music, and his conceptions
of its possibilities ran but little beyond the best
of the hymn-singing he had heard at Conferences, yet none
the less the longing for it raised on occasion such mutiny
in his soul that more than once he had specifically prayed
against it as a temptation.

Dangerous though some of its tendencies might be, there was
no gainsaying the fact that a love for music was in the main
an uplifting influence--an attribute of cultivation.
The world was the sweeter and more gentle for it. And this
brought him to musing upon the odd chance that the two people
of Octavius who had given him the first notion of polish
and intellectual culture in the town should be Irish.
The Romish priest must have been vastly surprised at
his intrusion, yet had been at the greatest pains to act
as if it were quite the usual thing to have Methodist
ministers assist at Extreme Unction. And the young woman--
how gracefully, with what delicacy, had she comprehended his
position and robbed it of all its possible embarrassments!
It occurred to him that they must have passed, there in
front of her home, the very tree from which the luckless
wheelwright had fallen some hours before; and the fact
that she had forborne to point it out to him took form
in his mind as an added proof of her refinement of nature.

The midday dinner was a little more than ready when Theron
reached home, and let himself in by the front door.
On Mondays, owing to the moisture and "clutter" of the
weekly washing in the kitchen, the table was laid in the
sitting-room, and as he entered from the hall the partner
of his joys bustled in by the other door, bearing the steaming
platter of corned beef, dumplings, cabbages, and carrots,
with arms bared to the elbows, and a red face. It gave
him great comfort, however, to note that there were no
signs of the morning's displeasure remaining on this face;
and he immediately remembered again those interrupted
projects of his about the piano and the hired girl.

"Well! I'd just about begun to reckon that I was
a widow," said Alice, putting down her fragrant burden.
There was such an obvious suggestion of propitiation
in her tone that Theron went around and kissed her.
He thought of saying something about keeping out of the way
because it was "Blue Monday," but held it back lest it
should sound like a reproach.

"Well, what kind of a washerwoman does THIS one turn
out to be?" he asked, after they were seated, and he had
invoked a blessing and was cutting vigorously into the meat.

"Oh, so-so," replied Alice; "she seems to be particular,
but she's mortal slow. If I hadn't stood right over her,
we shouldn't have had the clothes out till goodness knows when.
And of course she's Irish!"

"Well, what of THAT?" asked the minister, with a fine unconcern.

Alice looked up from her plate, with knife and fork
suspended in air. "Why, you know we were talking
only the other day of what a pity it was that none
of our own people went out washing," she said.
"That Welsh woman we heard of couldn't come, after all;
and they say, too, that she presumes dreadfully upon
the acquaintance, being a church member, you know. So we
simply had to fall back on the Irish. And even if they do
go and tell their priest everything they see and hear, why,
there's one comfort, they can tell about US and welcome.
Of course I see to it she doesn't snoop around in here."

Theron smiled. "That's all nonsense about their telling
such things to their priests," he said with easy confidence.

"Why, you told me so yourself," replied Alice, briskly.
"And I've always understood so, too; they're bound to tell
EVERYTHING in confession. That's what gives the Catholic
Church such a tremendous hold. You've spoken of it often."

"It must have been by way of a figure of speech,"
remarked Theron, not with entire directness. "Women are great
hands to separate one's observations from their context,
and so give them meanings quite unintended. They are also
great hands," he added genially, "or at least one of them is,
at making the most delicious dumplings in the world.
I believe these are the best even you ever made."

Alice was not unmindful of the compliment, but her thoughts
were on other things. "I shouldn't like that woman's priest,
for example," she said, "to know that we had no piano."

"But if he comes and stands outside our house every
night and listens--as of course he will," said Theron,
with mock gravity, "it is only a question of time when he
must reach that conclusion for himself. Our only chance,
however, is that there are some sixteen hundred other
houses for him to watch, so that he may not get around
to us for quite a spell. Why, seriously, Alice, what on
earth do you suppose Father Forbes knows or cares about
our poor little affairs, or those of any other Protestant
household in this whole village? He has his work to do,
just as I have mine--only his is ten times as exacting
in everything except sermons--and you may be sure he is
only too glad when it is over each day, without bothering
about things that are none of his business."

"All the same I'm afraid of them," said Alice,
as if argument were exhausted.

 

 

CHAPTER VI

 

On the following morning young Mr. Ware anticipated events
by inscribing in his diary for the day, immediately
after breakfast, these remarks: "Arranged about piano.
Began work upon book."

The date indeed deserved to be distinguished from
its fellows. Theron was so conscious of its importance
that he not only prophesied in the little morocco-bound
diary which Alice had given him for Christmas,
but returned after he had got out upon the front
steps of the parsonage to have his hat brushed afresh by her.

"Wonders will never cease," she said jocosely. "With you
getting particular about your clothes, there isn't
anything in this wide world that can't happen now!"

"One doesn't go out to bring home a piano every day,"
he made answer. "Besides, I want to make such an impression
upon the man that he will deal gently with that first cash
payment down. Do you know," he added, watching her turn
the felt brim under the wisp-broom's strokes, "I'm thinking
some of getting me a regular silk stove-pipe hat."

"Why don't you, then?" she rejoined, but without any ring
of glad acquiescence in her tone. He fancied that her
face lengthened a little, and he instantly ascribed it
to recollections of the way in which the roses had been
bullied out of her own headgear.

"You are quite sure, now, pet," he made haste to change
the subject, "that the hired girl can wait just as well
as not until fall?"

"Oh, MY, yes!" Alice replied, putting the hat on his head,
and smoothing back his hair behind his ears. "She'd only
be in the way now. You see, with hot weather coming on,
there won't be much cooking. We'll take all our meals
out here, and that saves so much work that really what
remains is hardly more than taking care of a bird-cage. And,
besides, not having her will almost half pay for the piano."

"But when cold weather comes, you're sure you'll consent?"
he urged.

"Like a shot!" she assured him, and, after a happy
little caress, he started out again on his momentous mission.

"Thurston's" was a place concerning which opinions differed
in Octavius. That it typified progress, and helped more
than any other feature of the village to bring it up
to date, no one indeed disputed. One might move about
a great deal, in truth, and hear no other view expressed.
But then again one might stumble into conversation with
one small storekeeper after another, and learn that they
united in resenting the existence of "Thurston's," as
rival farmers might join to curse a protracted drought.
Each had his special flaming grievance. The little
dry-goods dealers asked mournfully how they could be
expected to compete with an establishment which could buy
bankrupt stocks at a hundred different points, and make
a profit if only one-third of the articles were sold
for more than they would cost from the jobber? The little
boot and shoe dealers, clothiers, hatters, and furriers,
the small merchants in carpets, crockery, and furniture,
the venders of hardware and household utensils, of leathern
goods and picture-frames, of wall-paper, musical instruments,
and even toys--all had the same pathetically unanswerable
question to propound. But mostly they put it to themselves,
because the others were at "Thurston's."

The Rev. Theron Ware had entertained rather strong views
on this subject, and that only a week or two ago.
One of his first acquaintances in Octavius had been
the owner of the principal book-store in the place--
a gentle and bald old man who produced the complete
impression of a bibliophile upon what the slightest
investigation showed to be only a meagre acquaintance
with publishers' circulars. But at least he had the air
of loving his business, and the young minister had enjoyed
a long talk with, or rather, at him. Out of this talk
had come the information that the store was losing money.
Not even the stationery department now showed a profit
worth mentioning. When Octavius had contained only five
thousand inhabitants, it boasted four book-stores, two of
them good ones. Now, with a population more than doubled,
only these latter two survived, and they must soon go
to the wall. The reason? It was in a nutshell. A book
which sold at retail for one dollar and a half cost the
bookseller ninety cents. If it was at all a popular book,
"Thurston's" advertised it at eighty-nine cents--
and in any case at a profit of only two or three cents.
Of course it was done to widen the establishment's patronage--
to bring people into the store. Equally of course,
it was destroying the book business and debauching the
reading tastes of the community. Without the profits from
the light and ephemeral popular literature of the season,
the book-store proper could not keep up its stock of more
solid works, and indeed could not long keep open at all.
On the other hand, "Thurston's" dealt with nothing save
the demand of the moment, and offered only the books
which were the talk of the week. Thus, in plain words,
the book trade was going to the dogs, and it was the same
with pretty nearly every other trade.

Theron was indignant at this, and on his return home
told Alice that he desired her to make no purchases
whatever at "Thurston's." He even resolved to preach
a sermon on the subject of the modern idea of admiring
the great for crushing the small, and sketched out some
notes for it which he thought solved the problem of
flaying the local abuse without mentioning it by name.
They had lain on his desk now for ten days or more,
and on only the previous Friday he had speculated upon
using them that coming Sunday.

On this bright and cheerful Tuesday morning he walked
with a blithe step unhesitatingly down the main street
to "Thurston's," and entered without any show of repugnance
the door next to the window wherein, flanked by dangling
banjos and key-bugles built in pyramids, was displayed
the sign, "Pianos on the Instalment Plan."

He was recognized by some responsible persons, and treated
with distinguished deference. They were charmed with
the intelligence that he desired a piano, and fascinated
by his wish to pay for it only a little at a time.
They had special terms for clergymen, and made him feel
as if these were being extended to him on a silver charger
by kneeling admirers.

It was so easy to buy things here that he was a trifle
disturbed to find his flowing course interrupted by his
own entire ignorance as to what kind of piano he wanted.
He looked at all they had in stock, and heard them played upon.
They differed greatly in price, and, so he fancied,
almost as much in tone. It discouraged him to note,
however, that several of those he thought the finest
in tone were among the very cheapest in the lot.
Pondering this, and staring in hopeless puzzlement
from one to another of the big black shiny monsters,
he suddenly thought of something.

"I would rather not decide for myself," he said, "I know
so little about it. If you don't mind, I will have a friend
of mine, a skilled musician, step in and make a selection.
I have so much confidence in--in her judgment."
He added hurriedly, "It will involve only a day or two's delay."

The next moment he was sorry he had spoken. What would they
think when they saw the organist of the Catholic church
come to pick out a piano for the Methodist parsonage?
And how could he decorously prefer the request to her to
undertake this task? He might not meet her again for ages,
and to his provincial notions writing would have seemed
out of the question. And would it not be disagreeable to
have her know that he was buying a piano by part payments?
Poor Alice's dread of the washerwoman's gossip occurred
to him, at this, and he smiled in spite of himself.
Then all at once the difficulty vanished. Of course it
would come all right somehow. Everything did.

He was on firmer ground, buying the materials for the new book,
over on the stationery side. His original intention had
been to bestow this patronage upon the old bookseller,
but these suavely smart people in "Thurston's" had had
the effect of putting him on his honor when they asked,
"Would there be anything else?" and he had followed
them unresistingly.

He indulged to the full his whim that everything entering into
the construction of "Abraham" should be spick-and-span. He
watched with his own eyes a whole ream of broad glazed white
paper being sliced down by the cutter into single sheets,
and thrilled with a novel ecstasy as he laid his hand
upon the spotless bulk, so wooingly did it invite him
to begin. He tried a score of pens before the right one
came to hand. When a box of these had been laid aside,
with ink and pen-holders and a little bronze inkstand,
he made a sign that the outfit was complete. Or no--
there must be some blotting-paper. He had always used
those blotting-pads given away by insurance companies--
his congregations never failed to contain one or more agents,
who had these to bestow by the armful--but the book
deserved a virgin blotter.

Theron stood by while all these things were being tied up
together in a parcel. The suggestion that they should
be sent almost hurt him. Oh, no, he would carry them
home himself. So strongly did they appeal to his sanguine
imagination that he could not forbear hinting to the man
who had shown him the pianos and was now accompanying him
to the door that this package under his arm represented
potentially the price of the piano he was going to have.
He did it in a roundabout way, with one of his droll,
hesitating smiles. The man did not understand at all,
and Theron had not the temerity to repeat the remark.
He strode home with the precious bundle as fast as
he could.

"I thought it best, after all, not to commit myself to
a selection," he explained about the piano at dinner-time. "In
such a matter as this, the opinion of an expert is everything.
I am going to have one of the principal musicians
of the town go and try them all, and tell me which we ought to have."

"And while he's about it," said Alice, "you might ask
him to make a little list of some of the new music.
I've got way behind the times, being without a piano
so long. Tell him not any VERY difficult pieces,
you know."

"Yes, I know," put in Theron, almost hastily,
and began talking of other things. His conversation
was of the most rambling and desultory sort, because all
the while the two lobes of his brain, as it were,
kept up a dispute as to whether Alice ought to have been
told that this "principal musician" was of her own sex.
It would certainly have been better, at the outset,
he decided; but to mention it now would be to invest the
fact with undue importance. Yes, that was quite clear;
only the clearer it became, from one point of view,
the shadier it waxed from the other. The problem really
disturbed the young minister's mind throughout the meal,
and his abstraction became so marked at last that his wife
commented upon it.

"A penny for your thoughts!" she said, with cheerful briskness.
This ancient formula of the farm-land had always rather
jarred on Theron. It presented itself now to his mind
as a peculiarly aggravating banality.

"I am going to begin my book this afternoon,"
he remarked impressively. "There is a great deal to think about."

It turned out that there was even more to think about than he
had imagined. After hours of solitary musing at his desk,
or of pacing up and down before his open book-shelves,
Theron found the first shadows of a May-day twilight
beginning to fall upon that beautiful pile of white paper,
still unstained by ink. He saw the book he wanted to write
before him, in his mental vision, much more distinctly
than ever, but the idea of beginning it impetuously,
and hurling it off hot and glowing week by week, had faded
away like a dream.

This long afternoon, spent face to face with a project
born of his own brain but yesterday, yet already so
much bigger than himself, was really a most fruitful
time for the young clergyman. The lessons which cut
most deeply into our consciousness are those we learn
from our children. Theron, in this first day's contact
with the offspring of his fancy, found revealed to him
an unsuspected and staggering truth. It was that he
was an extremely ignorant and rudely untrained young man,
whose pretensions to intellectual authority among any
educated people would be laughed at with deserved contempt.

Strangely enough, after he had weathered the first shock,
this discovery did not dismay Theron Ware. The very completeness
of the conviction it carried with it, saturated his mind
with a feeling as if the fact had really been known to him
all along. And there came, too, after a little, an almost
pleasurable sense of the importance of the revelation.
He had been merely drifting in fatuous and conceited blindness.
Now all at once his eyes were open; he knew what he
had to do. Ignorance was a thing to be remedied, and he
would forthwith bend all his energies to cultivating
his mind till it should blossom like a garden.
In this mood, Theron mentally measured himself against
the more conspicuous of his colleagues in the Conference.
They also were ignorant, clownishly ignorant: the difference
was that they were doomed by native incapacity to go
on all their lives without ever finding it out. It was
obvious to him that his case was better. There was bright
promise in the very fact that he had discovered his shortcomings.

He had begun the afternoon by taking down from their
places the various works in his meagre library which
bore more or less relation to the task in hand.
The threescore books which constituted his printed
possessions were almost wholly from the press of the
Book Concern; the few exceptions were volumes which,
though published elsewhere, had come to him through
that giant circulating agency of the General Conference,
and wore the stamp of its approval. Perhaps it was the
sight of these half-filled shelves which started this
day's great revolution in Theron's opinions of himself.
He had never thought much before about owning books.
He had been too poor to buy many, and the conditions of
canvassing about among one's parishioners which the thrifty
Book Concern imposes upon those who would have without buying,
had always repelled him. Now, suddenly, as he moved along
the two shelves, he felt ashamed at their beggarly showing.

"The Land and the Book," in three portly volumes,
was the most pretentious of the aids which he finally
culled from his collection. Beside it he laid
out "Bible Lands," "Rivers and Lakes of Scripture,"
"Bible Manners and Customs," the "Genesis and Exodus"
volume of Whedon's Commentary, some old numbers of the
"Methodist Quarterly Review," and a copy of "Josephus"
which had belonged to his grandmother, and had seen
him through many a weary Sunday afternoon in boyhood.
He glanced casually through these, one by one, as he took
them down, and began to fear that they were not going to be
of so much use as he had thought. Then, seating himself,
he read carefully through the thirteen chapters of Genesis
which chronicle the story of the founder of Israel.

Of course he had known this story from his earliest years.
In almost every chapter he came now upon a phrase or an
incident which had served him as the basis for a sermon.
He had preached about Hagar in the wilderness,
about Lot's wife, about the visit of the angels,
about the intended sacrifice of Isaac, about a dozen other
things suggested by the ancient narrative. Somehow this
time it all seemed different to him. The people he read
about were altered to his vision. Heretofore a poetic
light had shone about them, where indeed they had not
glowed in a halo of sanctification. Now, by some chance,
this light was gone, and he saw them instead as untutored and
unwashed barbarians, filled with animal lusts and ferocities,
struggling by violence and foul chicanery to secure
a foothold in a country which did not belong to them--
all rude tramps and robbers of the uncivilized plain.

The apparent fact that Abram was a Chaldean struck him
with peculiar force. How was it, he wondered, that this
had never occurred to him before? Examining himself,
he found that he had supposed vaguely that there had been
Jews from the beginning, or at least, say, from the flood.
But, no, Abram was introduced simply as a citizen
of the Chaldean town of Ur, and there was no hint of
any difference in race between him and his neighbors.
It was specially mentioned that his brother, Lot's father,
died in Ur, the city of his nativity. Evidently the family
belonged there, and were Chaldeans like the rest.

I do not cite this as at all a striking discovery, but it
did have a curious effect upon Theron Ware. Up to that
very afternoon, his notion of the kind of book he wanted
to write had been founded upon a popular book called "Ruth
the Moabitess," written by a clergyman he knew very well,
the Rev. E. Ray Mifflin. This model performance troubled
itself not at all with difficult points, but went swimmingly
along through scented summer seas of pretty rhetoric,
teaching nothing, it is true, but pleasing a good deal
and selling like hot cakes. Now, all at once Theron
felt that he hated that sort of book. HIS work should
be of a vastly different order. He might fairly assume,
he thought, that if the fact that Abram was a Chaldean
was new to him, it would fall upon the world in general
as a novelty. Very well, then, there was his chance.
He would write a learned book, showing who the Chaldeans
were, and how their manners and beliefs differed from,
and influenced--

It was at this psychological instant that the wave of
self-condemnation suddenly burst upon and submerged the
young clergyman. It passed again, leaving him staring fixedly
at the pile of books he had taken down from the shelves,
and gasping a little, as if for breath. Then the humorous
side of the thing, perversely enough, appealed to him,
and he grinned feebly to himself at the joke of his having
imagined that he could write learnedly about the Chaldeans,
or anything else. But, no, it shouldn't remain a joke!
His long mobile face grew serious under the new resolve.
He would learn what there was to be learned about the Chaldeans.
He rose and walked up and down the room, gathering fresh
strength of purpose as this inviting field of research
spread out its vistas before him. Perhaps--yes, he would
incidentally explore the mysteries of the Moabitic past
as well, and thus put the Rev. E. Ray Mifflin to confusion
on his own subject. That would in itself be a useful thing,
because Mifflin wore kid gloves at the Conference,
and affected an intolerable superiority of dress and demeanor,
and there would be general satisfaction among the plainer
and worthier brethren at seeing him taken down a peg.

Now for the first time there rose distinctly in Theron's
mind that casual allusion which Father Forbes had made
to the Turanians. He recalled, too, his momentary feeling
of mortification at not knowing who the Turanians were,
at the time. Possibly, if he had probed this matter more deeply,
now as he walked and pondered in the little living-room,
he might have traced the whole of the afternoon's mental
experiences to that chance remark of the Romish priest.
But this speculation did not detain him. He mused instead
upon the splendid library Father Forbes must have.

"Well, how does the book come on? Have you got to 'my
Lady Keturah' yet?'"

It was Alice who spoke, opening the door from the kitchen,
and putting in her head with a pretence of great and
solemn caution, but with a correcting twinkle in her eyes.

"I haven't got to anybody yet," answered Theron, absently.
"These big things must be approached slowly."

Come out to supper, then, while the beans are hot,"
said Alice.

The young minister sat through this other meal, again in
deep abstraction. His wife pursued her little pleasantry
about Keturah, the second wife, urging him with mock gravity
to scold her roundly for daring to usurp Sarah's place,
but Theron scarcely heard her, and said next to nothing.
He ate sparingly, and fidgeted in his seat, waiting with
obvious impatience for the finish of the meal.
At last he rose abruptly.

"I've got a call to make--something with reference
to the book," he said. "I'll run out now, I think,
before it gets dark."

He put on his hat, and strode out of the house as if his
errand was of the utmost urgency. Once upon the street,
however, his pace slackened. There was still a good deal
of daylight outside, and he loitered aimlessly about,
walking with bowed head and hands clasped behind him,
until dusk fell. Then he squared his shoulders,
and started straight as the crow flies toward the residence
of Father Forbes.

 

 

CHAPTER VII

 

The new Catholic church was the largest and most imposing
public building in Octavius. Even in its unfinished condition,
with a bald roofing of weather-beaten boards marking on
the stunted tower the place where a spire was to begin
later on, it dwarfed every other edifice of the sort in
the town, just as it put them all to shame in the matter
of the throngs it drew, rain or shine, to its services.

These facts had not heretofore been a source of satisfaction
to the Rev. Theron Ware. He had even alluded to the subject
in terms which gave his wife the impression that he
actively deplored the strength and size of the Catholic
denomination in this new home of theirs, and was troubled
in his mind about Rome generally. But this evening he
walked along the extended side of the big structure,
which occupied nearly half the block, and then,
turning the corner, passed in review its wide-doored,
looming front, without any hostile emotions whatever.
In the gathering dusk it seemed more massive than ever before,
but he found himself only passively considering the odd
statement he had heard that all Catholic Church property
was deeded absolutely in the name of the Bishop of the diocese.

Only a narrow passage-way separated the church from
the pastorate--a fine new brick residence standing
flush upon the street. Theron mounted the steps,
and looked about for a bell-pull. Search revealed instead
a little ivory button set in a ring of metal work.
He picked at this for a time with his finger-nail, before
he made out the injunction, printed across it, to push.
Of course! how stupid of him! This was one of those
electric bells he had heard so much of, but which had not
as yet made their way to the class of homes he knew.
For custodians of a mediaeval superstition and fanaticism,
the Catholic clergy seemed very much up to date. This bell
made him feel rather more a countryman than ever.

The door was opened by a tall gaunt woman, who stood
in black relief against the radiance of the hall-way
while Theron, choosing his words with some diffidence,
asked if the Rev. Mr. Forbes was in.

"He is" came the hush-voiced answer. "He's at dinner, though."

It took the young minister a second or two to bring
into association in his mind this evening hour and this
midday meal. Then he began to say that he would call again--
it was nothing special--but the woman suddenly cut him
short by throwing the door wide open.

"It's Mr. Ware, is it not?" she asked, in a greatly
altered tone. "Sure, he'd not have you go away.
Come inside--do, sir!--I'll tell him."

Theron, with a dumb show of reluctance, crossed the threshold.
He noted now that the woman, who had bustled down the hall
on her errand, was gray-haired and incredibly ugly, with a
dark sour face, glowering black eyes, and a twisted mouth.
Then he saw that he was not alone in the hall-way.
Three men and two women, all poorly clad and obviously
working people, were seated in meek silence on a bench
beyond the hat-rack. They glanced up at him for an instant,
then resumed their patient study of the linoleum pattern
on the floor at their feet.

"And will you kindly step in, sir?" the elderly Gorgon
had returned to ask. She led Mr. Ware along the hall-way
to a door near the end, and opened it for him to pass
before her.

He entered a room in which for the moment he could see
nothing but a central glare of dazzling light beating
down from a great shaded lamp upon a circular patch
of white table linen. Inside this ring of illumination
points of fire sparkled from silver and porcelain,
and two bars of burning crimson tracked across the cloth
in reflection from tall glasses filled with wine.
The rest of the room was vague darkness; but the gloom
seemed saturated with novel aromatic odors, the appetizing
scent of which bore clear relation to what Theron's
blinking eyes rested upon.

He was able now to discern two figures at the table,
outside the glowing circle of the lamp. They had
both risen, and one came toward him with cordial celerity,
holding out a white plump hand in greeting. He took
this proffered hand rather limply, not wholly sure
in the half-light that this really was Father Forbes,
and began once more that everlasting apology to which he
seemed doomed in the presence of the priest. It was
broken abruptly off by the other's protesting laughter.

"My dear Mr. Ware, I beg of you," the priest urged,
chuckling with hospitable mirth, "don't, don't apologize!
I give you my word, nothing in the world could have
pleased us better than your joining us here tonight.
It was quite dramatic, your coming in as you did.
We were speaking of you at that very moment. Oh, I forgot--
let me make you acquainted with my friend--my very
particular friend, Dr. Ledsmar. Let me take your hat;
pray draw up a chair. Maggie will have a place laid for you
in a minute."

"Oh, I assure you--I couldn't think of it--I've just
eaten my--my--dinner," expostulated Theron. He murmured
more inarticulate remonstrances a moment later, when the
grim old domestic appeared with plates, serviette,
and tableware for his use, but she went on spreading
them before him as if she heard nothing. Thus committed
against a decent show of resistance, the young minister did
eat a little here and there of what was set before him,
and was human enough to regret frankly that he could
not eat more. It seemed to him very remarkable cookery,
transfiguring so simple a thing as a steak, for example,
quite out of recognition, and investing the humble
potato with a charm he had never dreamed of.
He wondered from time to time if it would be polite
to ask how the potatoes were cooked, so that he might tell Alice.

The conversation at the table was not continuous,
or even enlivened. After the lapses into silence became marked,
Theron began to suspect that his refusal to drink wine had
annoyed them--the more so as he had drenched a large section
of table-cloth in his efforts to manipulate a siphon instead.
He was greatly relieved, therefore, when Father Forbes
explained in an incidental way that Dr. Ledsmar
and he customarily ate their meals almost without a word.

"It's a philosophic fad of his," the priest went on smilingly,
"and I have fallen in with it for the sake of a quiet life;
so that when we do have company--that is to say,
once in a blue moon--we display no manners to speak of"

"I had always supposed--that is, I've always heard--
that it was more healthful to talk at meals," said Theron.
"Of course--what I mean--I took it for granted all physicians
thought so."

Dr. Ledsmar laughed. "That depends so much upon the
quality of the meals!" he remarked, holding his glass
up to the light.

He seemed a man of middle age and an equable disposition.
Theron, stealing stray glances at him around the lampshade,
saw most distinctly of all a broad, impressive dome
of skull, which, though obviously the result of baldness,
gave the effect of quite belonging to the face.
There were gold-rimmed spectacles, through which shone
now and again the vivid sparkle of sharp, alert eyes,
and there was a nose of some sort not easy to classify,
at once long and thick. The rest was thin hair and short
round beard, mouse-colored where the light caught them,
but losing their outlines in the shadows of the background.
Theron had not heard of him among the physicians of Octavius.
He wondered if he might not be a doctor of something else
than medicine, and decided upon venturing the question.

"Oh, yes, it is medicine," replied Ledsmar. "I am a doctor
three or four times over, so far as parchments can make one.
In some other respects, though, I should think I am
probably less of a doctor than anybody else now living.
I haven't practised--that is, regularly--for many years,
and I take no interest whatever in keeping abreast
of what the profession regards as its progress. I know
nothing beyond what was being taught in the sixties,
and that I am glad to say I have mostly forgotten."

"Dear me!" said Theron. "I had always supposed that
Science was the most engrossing of pursuits--that once
a man took it up he never left it."

"But that would imply a connection between Science
and Medicine!" commented the doctor. "My dear sir,
they are not even on speaking terms."

"Shall we go upstairs?" put in the priest, rising from his chair.
"It will be more comfortable to have our coffee there--
unless indeed, Mr. Ware, tobacco is unpleasant to you?"

"Oh, my, no!" the young minister exclaimed, eager to
free himself from the suggestion of being a kill-joy.
"I don't smoke myself; but I am very fond of the odor,
I assure you."

Father Forbes led the way out. It could be seen now that he
wore a long house-gown of black silk, skilfully moulded
to his erect, shapely, and rounded form. Though he carried
this with the natural grace of a proud and beautiful belle,
there was no hint of the feminine in his bearing,
or in the contour of his pale, firm-set, handsome face.
As he moved through the hall-way, the five people
whom Theron had seen waiting rose from their bench,
and two of the women began in humble murmurs, "If you
please, Father," and "Good-evening to your Riverence;
"but the priest merely nodded and passed on up the staircase,
followed by his guests. The people sat down on their bench again.

A few minutes later, reclining at his ease in a huge low chair,
and feeling himself unaccountably at home in the most
luxuriously appointed and delightful little room he had
ever seen, the Rev. Theron Ware sipped his unaccustomed
coffee and embarked upon an explanation of his errand.
Somehow the very profusion of scholarly symbols about him--
the great dark rows of encased and crowded book-shelves
rising to the ceiling, the classical engravings upon
the wall, the revolving book-case, the reading-stand,
the mass of littered magazines, reviews, and papers
at either end of the costly and elaborate writing-desk--
seemed to make it the easier for him to explain without
reproach that he needed information about Abram. He told
them quite in detail the story of his book.

The two others sat watching him through a faint haze of
scented smoke, with polite encouragement on their faces.
Father Forbes took the added trouble to nod understandingly
at the various points of the narrative, and when it was
finished gave one of his little approving chuckles.

"This skirts very closely upon sorcery," he said smilingly.
"Do you know, there is perhaps not another man in the country
who knows Assyriology so thoroughly as our friend here,
Dr. Ledsmar."

"That's putting it too strong," remarked the Doctor.
"I only follow at a distance--a year or two behind.
But I daresay I can help you. You are quite welcome
to anything I have: my books cover the ground pretty
well up to last year. Delitzsch is very interesting;
but Baudissin's 'Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte'
would come closer to what you need. There are several
other important Germans--Schrader, Bunsen, Duncker, Hommel,
and so on."

"Unluckily I--I don't read German readily," Theron explained
with diffidence.

"That's a pity," said the doctor, "because they do the
best work--not only in this field, but in most others.
And they do so much that the mass defies translation.
Well, the best thing outside of German of course is Sayce.
I daresay you know him, though."

The Rev. Mr. Ware shook his head mournfully. I don't
seem to know any one," he murmured.

The others exchanged glances.

"But if I may ask, Mr. Ware," pursued the doctor,
regarding their guest with interest through his spectacles,
"why do you specially hit upon Abraham? He is full
of difficulties--enough, just now, at any rate, to warn
off the bravest scholar. Why not take something easier?"

Theron had recovered something of his confidence. "Oh, no,"
he said, "that is just what attracts me to Abraham.
I like the complexities and contradictions in his character.
Take for instance all that strange and picturesque episode
of Hagar: see the splendid contrast between the craft and
commercial guile of his dealings in Egypt and with Abimelech,
and the simple, straightforward godliness of his
later years. No, all those difficulties only attract me.
Do you happen to know--of course you would know--do those
German books, or the others, give anywhere any additional
details of the man himself and his sayings and doings--
little things which help, you know, to round out one's
conception of the individual?"

Again the priest and the doctor stole a furtive glance
across the young minister's head. It was Father Forbes
who replied.

"I fear that you are taking our friend Abraham too literally,
Mr. Ware," he said, in that gentle semblance of paternal
tones which seemed to go so well with his gown.
"Modern research, you know, quite wipes him out of existence
as an individual. The word 'Abram' is merely an eponym--
it means 'exalted father.' Practically all the names
in the Genesis chronologies are what we call eponymous.
Abram is not a person at all: he is a tribe, a sept,
a clan. In the same way, Shem is not intended for a man;
it is the name of a great division of the human race.
Heber is simply the throwing back into allegorical substance,
so to speak, of the Hebrews; Heth of the Hittites;
Asshur of Assyria."

"But this is something very new, this theory, isn't it?"
queried Theron.

The priest smiled and shook his head. "Bless you, no!
My dear sir, there is nothing new. Epicurus and Lucretius
outlined the whole Darwinian theory more than two thousand
years ago. As for this eponym thing, why Saint Augustine
called attention to it fifteen hundred years ago. In his 'De
Civitate Dei,' he expressly says of these genealogical names,
'GENTES NON HOMINES;' that is, 'peoples, not persons.'
It was as obvious to him--as much a commonplace of knowledge--
as it was to Ezekiel eight hundred years before him."

"It seems passing strange that we should not know
it now, then," commented Theron; "I mean, that everybody
shouldn't know it."

Father Forbes gave a little purring chuckle.
"Ah, there we get upon contentious ground," he remarked.
"Why should 'everybody' be supposed to know anything at all?
What business is it of 'everybody's' to know things?
The earth was just as round in the days when people
supposed it to be flat, as it is now. So the truth
remains always the truth, even though you give a charter
to ten hundred thousand separate numskulls to examine
it by the light of their private judgment, and report
that it is as many different varieties of something else.
But of course that whole question of private judgment
versus authority is No-Man's-Land for us. We were speaking
of eponyms."

"Yes," said Theron; "it is very interesting."

"There is a curious phase of the subject which hasn't been
worked out much," continued the priest. "Probably the Germans
will get at that too, sometime. They are doing the best Irish
work in other fields, as it is. I spoke of Heber and Heth,
in Genesis, as meaning the Hebrews and the Hittites.
Now my own people, the Irish, have far more ancient legends
and traditions than any other nation west of Athens;
and you find in their myth of the Milesian invasion
and conquest two principal leaders called Heber and Ith,
or Heth. That is supposed to be comparatively modern--
about the time of Solomon's Temple. But these independent
Irish myths go back to the fall of the Tower of Babel,
and they have there an ancestor, grandson of Japhet,
named Fenius Farsa, and they ascribe to him the invention
of the alphabet. They took their ancient name of Feine,
the modern Fenian, from him. Oddly enough, that is
the name which the Romans knew the Phoenicians by,
and to them also is ascribed the invention of the alphabet.
The Irish have a holy salmon of knowledge, just like the
Chaldean man-fish. The Druids' tree-worship is identical
with that of the Chaldeans--those pagan groves, you know,
which the Jews were always being punished for building.
You see, there is nothing new. Everything is built on
the ruins of something else. Just as the material earth
is made up of countless billions of dead men's bones,
so the mental world is all alive with the ghosts of dead
men's thoughts and beliefs, the wraiths of dead races'
faiths and imaginings."

Father Forbes paused, then added with a twinkle in his eye:
"That peroration is from an old sermon of mine, in the days
when I used to preach. I remember rather liking it,
at the time."

"But you still preach?" asked the Rev. Mr. Ware,
with lifted brows.

"No! no more! I only talk now and again," answered the priest,
with what seemed a suggestion of curtness. He made haste
to take the conversation back again. "The names of these
dead-and-gone things are singularly pertinacious, though.
They survive indefinitely. Take the modern name Marmaduke,
for example. It strikes one as peculiarly modern,
up-to-date, doesn't it? Well, it is the oldest name on earth--
thousands of years older than Adam. It is the ancient
Chaldean Meridug, or Merodach. He was the young god who
interceded continually between the angry, omnipotent Ea,
his father, and the humble and unhappy Damkina, or Earth,
who was his mother. This is interesting from another
point of view, because this Merodach or Marmaduke is,
so far as we can see now, the original prototype of our
'divine intermediary' idea. I daresay, though, that if we
could go back still other scores of centuries, we should
find whole receding series of types of this Christ-myth of ours."

Theron Ware sat upright at the fall of these words,
and flung a swift, startled look about the room--
the instinctive glance of a man unexpectedly confronted
with peril, and casting desperately about for means of defence
and escape. For the instant his mind was aflame with this
vivid impression--that he was among sinister enemies,
at the mercy of criminals. He half rose under the impelling
stress of this feeling, with the sweat standing on his brow,
and his jaw dropped in a scared and bewildered stare.

Then, quite as suddenly, the sense of shock was gone;
and it was as if nothing at all had happened.
He drew a long breath, took another sip of his coffee,
and found himself all at once reflecting almost pleasurably
upon the charm of contact with really educated people.
He leaned back in the big chair again, and smiled to show
these men of the world how much at his ease he was.
It required an effort, he discovered, but he made it bravely,
and hoped he was succeeding.

"It hasn't been in my power to at all lay hold of what
the world keeps on learning nowadays about its babyhood,"
he said. "All I have done is to try to preserve an
open mind, and to maintain my faith that the more we know,
the nearer we shall approach the Throne."

Dr. Ledsmar abruptly scuffled his feet on the floor,
and took out his watch. "I'm afraid--" he began.

"No, no! There's plenty of time," remarked the priest,
with his soft half-smile and purring tones. "You finish
your cigar here with Mr. Ware, and excuse me while I run
down and get rid of the people in the hall."

Father Forbes tossed his cigar-end into the fender.
Then he took from the mantel a strange three-cornered
black-velvet cap, with a dangling silk tassel at the side,
put it on his head, and went out.

Theron, being left alone with the doctor, hardly knew what
to do or say. He took up a paper from the floor beside him,
but realized that it would be impolite to go farther,
and laid it on his knee. Some trace of that earlier
momentary feeling that he was in hostile hands came back,
and worried him. He lifted himself upright in the chair,
and then became conscious that what really disturbed him
was the fact that Dr. Ledsmar had turned in his seat,
crossed his legs, and was contemplating him with a gravely
concentrated scrutiny through his spectacles.

This uncomfortable gaze kept itself up a long way
beyond the point of good manners; but the doctor seemed
not to mind that at all.

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

When Dr. Ledsmar finally spoke, it was in a kindlier tone
than the young minister had looked for. "I had half a notion
of going to hear you preach the other evening," he said;
"but at the last minute I backed out. I daresay I shall
pluck up the courage, sooner or later, and really go.
It must be fully twenty years since I last heard a sermon,
and I had supposed that that would suffice for the rest
of my life. But they tell me that you are worth while;
and, for some reason or other, I find myself curious on
the subject."

Involved and dubious though the compliment might be,
Theron felt himself flushing with satisfaction. He nodded
his acknowledgment, and changed the topic.

"I was surprised to hear Father Forbes say that he did
not preach," he remarked.

"Why should he?" asked the doctor, indifferently.
"I suppose he hasn't more than fifteen parishioners
in a thousand who would understand him if he did,
and of these probably twelve would join in a complaint
to his Bishop about the heterodox tone of his sermon.
There is no point in his going to all that pains,
merely to incur that risk. Nobody wants him to preach,
and he has reached an age where personal vanity no longer
tempts him to do so. What IS wanted of him is that he
should be the paternal, ceremonial, authoritative head
and centre of his flock, adviser, monitor, overseer,
elder brother, friend, patron, seigneur--whatever you like--
everything except a bore. They draw the line at that.
You see how diametrically opposed this Catholic point of
view is to the Protestant."

"The difference does seem extremely curious to me,"
said Theron. "Now, those people in the hall--"

"Go on," put in the doctor, as the other faltered hesitatingly.
"I know what you were going to say. It struck you
as odd that he should let them wait on the bench there,
while he came up here to smoke."

Theron smiled faintly. "I WAS thinking that my--
my parishioners wouldn't have taken it so quietly.
But of course--it is all so different!"

"As chalk from cheese!" said Dr. Ledsmar, lighting a
fresh cigar. "I daresay every one you saw there had come
either to take the pledge, or see to it that one of the
others took it. That is the chief industry in the hall,
so far as I have observed. Now discipline is an important
element in the machinery here. Coming to take the pledge
implies that you have been drunk and are now ashamed.
Both states have their values, but they are opposed.
Sitting on that bench tends to develop penitence to the
prejudice of alcoholism. But at no stage would it ever
occur to the occupant of the bench that he was the best
judge of how long he was to sit there, or that his priest
should interrupt his dinner or general personal routine,
in order to administer that pledge. Now, I daresay you
have no people at all coming to 'swear off.'"

The Rev. Mr. Ware shook his head. "No; if a man with us
got as bad as all that, he wouldn't come near the church
at all. He'd simply drop out, and there would be an end
to it."

"Quite so," interjected the doctor. "That is the
voluntary system. But these fellows can't drop out.
There's no bottom to the Catholic Church. Everything
that's in, stays in. If you don't mind my saying so--
of course I view you all impartially from the outside--
but it seems logical to me that a church should exist
for those who need its help, and not for those who by their
own profession are so good already that it is they who
help the church. Now, you turn a man out of your church
who behaves badly: that must be on the theory that his
remaining in would injure the church, and that in turn
involves the idea that it is the excellent character
of the parishioners which imparts virtue to the church.
The Catholics' conception, you see, is quite the converse.
Such virtue as they keep in stock is on tap, so to speak,
here in the church itself, and the parishioners come and
get some for themselves according to their need for it.
Some come every day, some only once a year, some perhaps
never between their baptism and their funeral. But they
all have a right here, the professional burglar every whit
as much as the speckless saint. The only stipulation
is that they oughtn't to come under false pretences:
the burglar is in honor bound not to pass himself off to his
priest as the saint. But that is merely a moral obligation,
established in the burglar's own interest. It does
him no good to come unless he feels that he is playing
the rules of the game, and one of these is confession.
If he cheats there, he knows that he is cheating
nobody but himself, and might much better have stopped
away altogether."

Theron nodded his head comprehendingly. He had a great
many views about the Romanish rite of confession which did
not at all square with this statement of the case, but this
did not seem a specially fit time for bringing them forth.
There was indeed a sense of languid repletion in his mind,
as if it had been overfed and wanted to lie down for awhile.
He contented himself with nodding again, and murmuring
reflectively, "Yes, it is all strangely different."

His tone was an invitation to silence; and the doctor turned
his attention to the cigar, studying its ash for a minute
with an air of deep meditation, and then solemnly blowing
out a slow series of smoke-rings. Theron watched him
with an indolent, placid eye, wondering lazily if it was,
after all, so very pleasant to smoke.

There fell upon this silence--with a softness so delicate
that it came almost like a progression in the hush--
the sound of sweet music. For a little, strain and source
were alike indefinite--an impalpable setting to harmony
of the mellowed light, the perfumed opalescence of the air,
the luxury and charm of the room. Then it rose as by a
sweeping curve of beauty, into a firm, calm, severe melody,
delicious to the ear, but as cold in the mind's vision
as moonlit sculpture. It went on upward with stately
collectedness of power, till the atmosphere seemed all
alive with the trembling consciousness of the presence
of lofty souls, sternly pure and pitilessly great.

Theron found himself moved as he had never been before.
He almost resented the discovery, when it was presented
to him by the prosaic, mechanical side of his brain,
that he was listening to organ-music, and that it came
through the open window from the church close by.
He would fain have reclined in his chair and closed
his eyes, and saturated himself with the uttermost fulness
of the sensation. Yet, in absurd despite of himself,
he rose and moved over to the window.

Only a narrow alley separated the pastorate from the church;
Mr. Ware could have touched with a walking-stick the
opposite wall. Indirectly facing him was the arched and
mullioned top of a great window. A dim light from within shone
through the more translucent portions of the glass below,
throwing out faint little bars of party-colored radiance
upon the blackness of the deep passage-way. He could
vaguely trace by these the outlines of some sort of picture
on the window. There were human figures in it, and--yes--
up here in the centre, nearest him, was a woman's head.
There was a halo about it, engirdling rich, flowing waves
of reddish hair, the lights in which glowed like flame.
The face itself was barely distinguishable, but its
half-suggested form raised a curious sense of resemblance
to some other face. He looked at it closely, blankly,
the noble music throbbing through his brain meanwhile.

"It's that Madden girl!" he suddenly heard a voice say
by his side. Dr. Ledsmar had followed him to the window,
and was close at his shoulder.

Theron's thoughts were upon the puzzling shadowed
lineaments on the stained glass. He saw now in a flash
the resemblance which had baffled him. "It IS like her,
of course," he said.

"Yes, unfortunately, it IS just like her," replied the doctor,
with a hostile note in his voice. "Whenever I am
dining here, she always goes in and kicks up that racket.
She knows I hate it."

"Oh, you mean that it is she who is playing," remarked Theron.
"I thought you referred to--at least--I was thinking of--"

His sentence died off in inconsequence. He had a
feeling that he did not want to talk with the doctor
about the stained-glass likeness. The music had sunk
away now into fragmentary and unconnected passages,
broken here and there by abrupt stops. Dr. Ledsmar
stretched an arm out past him and shut the window.
"Let's hear as little of the row as we can," he said,
and the two went back to their chairs.

"Pardon me for the question," the Rev. Mr. Ware said,
after a pause which began to affect him as constrained,
"but something you said about dining--you don't
live here, then? In the house, I mean?"

The doctor laughed--a characteristically abrupt,
dry little laugh, which struck Theron at once as bearing
a sort of black-sheep relationship to the priest's
habitual chuckle. "That must have been puzzling you no end,"
he said--"that notion that the pastorate kept a devil's
advocate on the premises. No, Mr. Ware, I don't live here.
I inhabit a house of my own--you may have seen it--
an old-fashioned place up beyond the race-course,
with a sort of tower at the back, and a big garden.
But I dine here three or four times a week. It is an old
arrangement of ours. Vincent and I have been friends
for many years now. We are quite alone in the world,
we two--much to our mutual satisfaction. You must come
up and see me some time; come up and have a look over
the books we were speaking of."

"I am much obliged," said Theron, without enthusiasm.
The thought of the doctor by himself did not attract
him greatly.

The reservation in his tone seemed to interest the doctor.
"I suppose you are the first man I have asked in a
dozen years," he remarked, frankly willing that the young
minister should appreciate the favor extended him.
"It must be fully that since anybody but Vincent Forbes
has been under my roof; that is, of my own species,
I mean."

"You live there quite alone," commented Theron.

"Quite--with my dogs and cats and lizards--and my Chinaman.
I mustn't forget him." The doctor noted the inquiry
in the other's lifted brows, and smilingly explained.
"He is my solitary servant. Possibly he might not appeal
to you much; but I can assure you he used to interest
Octavius a great deal when I first brought him here,
ten years ago or so. He afforded occupation for all the
idle boys in the village for a twelve-month at least.
They used to lie in wait for him all day long, with stones
or horse-chestnuts or snowballs, according to the season.
The Irishmen from the wagon-works nearly killed him
once or twice, but he patiently lived it all down.
The Chinaman has the patience to live everything down--
the Caucasian races included. He will see us all to bed,
will that gentleman with the pigtail!"

The music over in the church had lifted itself again into form
and sequence, and defied the closed window. If anything,
it was louder than before, and the sonorous roar of the
bass-pedals seemed to be shaking the very walls. It was
something with a big-lunged, exultant, triumphing swing in it--
something which ought to have been sung on the battlefield
at the close of day by the whole jubilant army of victors.
It was impossible to pretend not to be listening to it;
but the doctor submitted with an obvious scowl, and bit
off the tip of his third cigar with an annoyed air.

"You don't seem to care much for music," suggested Mr. Ware,
when a lull came.

Dr. Ledsmar looked up, lighted match in hand.
"Say musicians!" he growled. "Has it ever occurred to you,"
he went on, between puffs at the flame, "that the only
animals who make the noises we call music are of the
bird family--a debased offshoot of the reptilian creation--
the very lowest types of the vertebrata now in existence?
I insist upon the parallel among humans. I have in
my time, sir, had considerable opportunities for studying
close at hand the various orders of mammalia who devote
themselves to what they describe as the arts. It may sound
a harsh judgement, but I am convinced that musicians stand
on the very bottom rung of the ladder in the sub-cellar
of human intelligence, even lower than painters and actors."

This seemed such unqualified nonsense to the Rev. Mr. Ware
that he offered no comment whatever upon it.
He tried instead to divert his thoughts to the stormy
strains which rolled in through the vibrating brickwork,
and to picture to himself the large, capable figure of
Miss Madden seated in the half-light at the organ-board,
swaying to and fro in a splendid ecstasy of power
as she evoked at will this superb and ordered uproar.
But the doctor broke insistently in upon his musings.

"All art, so-called, is decay," he said, raising his voice.
"When a race begins to brood on the beautiful--so-called--
it is a sign of rot, of getting ready to fall from
the tree. Take the Jews--those marvellous old fellows--
who were never more than a handful, yet have imposed
the rule of their ideas and their gods upon us for fifteen
hundred years. Why? They were forbidden by their
most fundamental law to make sculptures or pictures.
That was at a time when the Egyptians, when the Assyrians,
and other Semites, were running to artistic riot.
Every great museum in the world now has whole floors
devoted to statues from the Nile, and marvellous carvings
from the palaces of Sargon and Assurbanipal. You can
get the artistic remains of the Jews during that whole
period into a child's wheelbarrow. They had the sense
and strength to penalize art; they alone survived.
They saw the Egyptians go, the Assyrians go, the Greeks go,
the late Romans go, the Moors in Spain go--all the artistic
peoples perish. They remained triumphing over all.
Now at last their long-belated apogee is here; their decline
is at hand. I am told that in this present generation
in Europe the Jews are producing a great lot of young
painters and sculptors and actors, just as for a century
they have been producing famous composers and musicians.
That means the end of the Jews!"

"What! have you only got as far as that?" came the welcome
interruption of a cheery voice. Father Forbes had entered
the room, and stood looking down with a whimsical twinkle
in his eye from one to the other of his guests.

"You must have been taken over the ground at a very slow pace,
Mr. Ware," he continued, chuckling softly, "to have
arrived merely at the collapse of the New Jerusalem.
I fancied I had given him time enough to bring you
straight up to the end of all of us, with that Chinaman
of his gently slapping our graves with his pigtail.
That's where the doctor always winds up, if he's allowed
to run his course."

"It has all been very interesting, extremely so, I assure you,"
faltered Theron. It had become suddenly apparent to him
that he desired nothing so much as to make his escape--
that he had indeed only been waiting for the host's return
to do so.

He rose at this, and explained that he must be going.
No special effort being put forth to restrain him,
he presently made his way out, Father Forbes hospitably
following him down to the door, and putting a very gracious
cordiality into his adieux.

The night was warm and black. Theron stood still in it
the moment the pastorate door had closed; the sudden
darkness was so thick that it was as if he had closed
his eyes. His dominant sensation was of a deep relief
and rest after some undue fatigue. It crossed his mind
that drunken men probably felt like that as they leaned
against things on their way home. He was affected himself,
he saw, by the weariness and half-nausea following
a mental intoxication. The conceit pleased him,
and he smiled to himself as he turned and took the first
homeward steps. It must be growing late, he thought.
Alice would be wondering as she waited.

There was a street lamp at the corner, and as he walked
toward it he noted all at once that his feet were keeping
step to the movement of the music proceeding from the
organ within the church--a vaguely processional air,
marked enough in measure, but still with a dreamy effect.
It became a pleasure to identify his progress with the quaint
rhythm of sound as he sauntered along. He discovered,
as he neared the light, that he was instinctively stepping
over the seams in the flagstone sidewalk as he had done
as a boy. He smiled again at this. There was something
exceptionally juvenile and buoyant about his mood,
now that he examined it. He set it down as a reaction from
that doctor's extravagant and incendiary talk. One thing
was certain--he would never be caught up at that house
beyond the race-course, with its reptiles and its Chinaman.
Should he ever even go to the pastorate again? He decided
not to quite definitely answer THAT in the negative,
but as he felt now, the chances were all against it.

Turning the corner, and walking off into the shadows
along the side of the huge church building, Theron noted,
almost at the end of the edifice, a small door--
the entrance to a porch coming out to the sidewalk--
which stood wide open. A thin, pale, vertical line
of light showed that the inner door, too, was ajar.

Through this wee aperture the organ-music, reduced
and mellowed by distance, came to him again with that
same curious, intimate, personal relation which had so moved
him at the start, before the doctor closed the window.
It was as if it was being played for him alone.

He paused for a doubting minute or two, with bowed head,
listening to the exquisite harmony which floated out to
caress and soothe and enfold him. There was no spiritual,
or at least pious, effect in it now. He fancied that
it must be secular music, or, if not, then something
adapted to marriage ceremonies--rich, vivid, passionate,
a celebration of beauty and the glory of possession,
with its ruling note of joy only heightened by soft,
wooing interludes, and here and there the tremor of a fond,
timid little sob.

Theron turned away irresolutely, half frightened at the
undreamt-of impression this music was making upon him.
Then, all at once, he wheeled and stepped boldly into
the porch, pushing the inner door open and hearing it
rustle against its leathern frame as it swung to behind him.

He had never been inside a Catholic church before.

 

 

CHAPTER IX

 

Jeremiah Madden was supposed to be probably the richest
man in Octavius. There was no doubt at all about his
being its least pretentious citizen.

The huge and ornate modern mansion which he had built,
putting to shame every other house in the place, gave an effect
of ostentation to the Maddens as a family; it seemed only
to accentuate the air of humility which enveloped Jeremiah
as with a garment. Everybody knew some version of the many
tales afloat which, in a kindly spirit, illustrated the
incongruity between him and his splendid habitation.
Some had it that he slept in the shed. Others told whimsical
stories of his sitting alone in the kitchen evenings,
smoking his old clay pipe, and sorrowing because the
second Mrs. Madden would not suffer the pigs and chickens
to come in and bear him company. But no matter how comic
the exaggeration, these legends were invariably amiable.
It lay in no man's mouth to speak harshly of Jeremiah Madden.

He had been born a Connemara peasant, and he would die one.
When he was ten years old he had seen some of his
own family, and most of his neighbors, starve to death.
He could remember looking at the stiffened figure of a woman
stretched on the stones by the roadside, with the green
stain of nettles on her white lips. A girl five years or
so older than himself, also a Madden and distantly related,
had started in despair off across the mountains to the town
where it was said the poor-law officers were dealing
out food. He could recall her coming back next day,
wild-eyed with hunger and the fever; the officers had
refused her relief because her bare legs were not wholly
shrunken to the bone. "While there's a calf on the shank,
there's no starvation," they had explained to her.
The girl died without profiting by this official apothegm.
The boy found it burned ineffaceably upon his brain.
Now, after a lapse of more than forty years, it seemed
the thing that he remembered best about Ireland.

He had drifted westward as an unconsidered, unresisting item
in that vast flight of the famine years. Others whom
he rubbed against in that melancholy exodus, and deemed
of much greater promise than himself, had done badly.
Somehow he did well. He learned the wheelwright's trade,
and really that seemed all there was to tell. The rest
had been calm and sequent progression--steady employment
as a journeyman first; then marriage and a house and lot;
the modest start as a master; the move to Octavius and
cheap lumber; the growth of his business, always marked
of late years stupendous--all following naturally,
easily, one thing out of another. Jeremiah encountered
the idea among his fellows, now and again, that he was
entitled to feel proud of all this. He smiled to himself
at the thought, and then sent a sigh after the smile.
What was it all but empty and transient vanity? The score
of other Connemara boys he had known--none very fortunate,
several broken tragically in prison or the gutter,
nearly all now gone the way of flesh--were as good as he.
He could not have it in his heart to take credit for
his success; it would have been like sneering over their
poor graves.

Jeremiah Madden was now fifty-three--a little man
of a reddened, weather-worn skin and a meditative,
almost saddened, aspect. He had blue eyes, but his
scanty iron-gray hair showed raven black in its shadows.
The width and prominence of his cheek-bones dominated all
one's recollections of his face. The long vertical upper-lip
and irregular teeth made, in repose, an unshapely mouth;
its smile, though, sweetened the whole countenance.
He wore a fringe of stiff, steel-colored beard, passing from
ear to ear under his chin. His week-day clothes were
as simple as his workaday manners, fitting his short
black pipe and his steadfast devotion to his business.
On Sundays he dressed with a certain rigor of respectability,
all in black, and laid aside tobacco, at least to the
public view. He never missed going to the early Low Mass,
quite alone. His family always came later, at the ten
o'clock High Mass.

There had been, at one time or another, a good many
members of this family. Two wives had borne Jeremiah
Madden a total of over a dozen children. Of these there
survived now only two of the first Mrs. Madden's offspring--
Michael and Celia--and a son of the present wife, who had
been baptized Terence, but called himself Theodore.
This minority of the family inhabited the great new house
on Main Street. Jeremiah went every Sunday afternoon
by himself to kneel in the presence of the majority,
there where they lay in Saint Agnes' consecrated ground.
If the weather was good, he generally extended his
walk through the fields to an old deserted Catholic
burial-field, which had been used only in the first years
after the famine invasion, and now was clean forgotten.
The old wagon-maker liked to look over the primitive,
neglected stones which marked the graves of these earlier exiles.
Fully half of the inscriptions mentioned his County Galway--
there were two naming the very parish adjoining his.
The latest date on any stone was of the remoter 'fifties.
They had all been stricken down, here in this strange
land with its bitter winters, while the memory of their
own soft, humid, gentle west-coast air was fresh within them.
Musing upon the clumsy sculpture, with its "R.I.P.," or
"Pray for the Soul of," half to be guessed under the stain
and moss of a generation, there would seem to him but a step
from this present to that heart-rending, awful past.
What had happened between was a meaningless vision--
as impersonal as the passing of the planets overhead.
He rarely had an impulse to tears in the new cemetery,
where his ten children were. He never left this weed-grown,
forsaken old God's-acre dry-eyed.

One must not construct from all this the image of a
melancholy man, as his fellows met and knew him. Mr. Madden
kept his griefs, racial and individual, for his own use.
To the men about him in the offices and the shops he
presented day after day, year after year, an imperturbable
cheeriness of demeanor. He had been always fortunate
in the selection of lieutenants and chief helpers.
Two of these had grown now into partners, and were almost
as much a part of the big enterprise as Jeremiah himself.
They spoke often of their inability to remember any unjust
or petulant word of his--much less any unworthy deed.
Once they had seen him in a great rage, all the more impressive
because he said next to nothing. A thoughtless fellow
told a dirty story in the presence of some apprentices;
and Madden, listening to this, drove the offender implacably
from his employ. It was years now since any one who knew
him had ventured upon lewd pleasantries in his hearing.
Jokes of the sort which women might hear he was very
fond of though he had not much humor of his own.
Of books he knew nothing whatever, and he made only
the most perfunctory pretence now and again of reading
the newspapers.

The elder son Michael was very like his father--diligent,
unassuming, kindly, and simple--a plain, tall, thin red man
of nearly thirty, who toiled in paper cap and rolled-up
shirt-sleeves as the superintendent in the saw-mill,
and put on no airs whatever as the son of the master.
If there was surprise felt at his not being taken into
the firm as a partner, he gave no hint of sharing it.
He attended to his religious duties with great zeal,
and was President of the Sodality as a matter of course.
This was regarded as his blind side; and young employees
who cultivated it, and made broad their phylacteries
under his notice, certainly had an added chance of
getting on well in the works. To some few whom he knew
specially well, Michael would confess that if he had had
the brains for it, he should have wished to be a priest.
He displayed no inclination to marry.

The other son, Terence, was some eight years younger,
and seemed the product of a wholly different race.
The contrast between Michael's sandy skin and long gaunt
visage and this dark boy's handsome, rounded face,
with its prettily curling black hair, large, heavily
fringed brown eyes, and delicately modelled features,
was not more obvious than their temperamental separation.
This second lad had been away for years at school,--
indeed, at a good many schools, for no one seemed to
manage to keep him long. He had been with the Jesuits
at Georgetown, with the Christian Brothers at Manhattan;
the sectarian Mt. St. Mary's and the severely secular
Annapolis had both been tried, and proved misfits.
The young man was home again now, and save that his
name had become Theodore, he appeared in no wise
changed from the beautiful, wilful, bold, and showy boy
who had gone away in his teens. He was still rather
small for his years, but so gracefully moulded in form,
and so perfectly tailored, that the fact seemed rather
an advantage than otherwise. He never dreamed of going
near the wagon-works, but he did go a good deal--in fact,
most of the time--to the Nedahma Club. His mother spoke
often to her friends about her fears for his health.
He never spoke to his friends about his mother at all.

The second Mrs. Madden did not, indeed, appeal strongly
to the family pride. She had been a Miss Foley,
a dress-maker, and an old maid. Jeremiah had married
her after a brief widowerhood, principally because she
was the sister of his parish priest, and had a considerable
reputation for piety. It was at a time when the expansion
of his business was promising certain wealth, and suggesting
the removal to Octavius. He was conscious of a notion that
his obligations to social respectability were increasing;
it was certain that the embarrassments of a motherless
family were. Miss Foley had shown a good deal of attention
to his little children. She was not ill-looking;
she bore herself with modesty; she was the priest's sister--
the niece once removed of a vicar-general. And so it came about.

Although those most concerned did not say so, everybody
could see from the outset the pity of its ever having
come about at all. The pious and stiffly respectable
priest's sister had been harmless enough as a spinster.
It made the heart ache to contemplate her as a wife.
Incredibly narrow-minded, ignorant, suspicious, vain,
and sour-tempered, she must have driven a less equable and
well-rooted man than Jeremiah Madden to drink or flight.
He may have had his temptations, but they made no mark on
the even record of his life. He only worked the harder,
concentrating upon his business those extra hours which
another sort of home-life would have claimed instead.
The end of twenty years found him a rich man, but still
toiling pertinaciously day by day, as if he had his wage
to earn. In the great house which had been built to please,
or rather placate, his wife, he kept to himself as much
as possible. The popular story of his smoking alone
in the kitchen was more or less true; only Michael as a
rule sat with him, too weak-lunged for tobacco himself,
but reading stray scraps from the papers to the lonely
old man, and talking with him about the works,
the while Jeremiah meditatively sucked his clay pipe.
One or two evenings in the week the twain spent up in Celia's
part of the house, listening with the awe of simple,
honest mechanics to the music she played for them.

Celia was to them something indefinably less, indescribably more,
than a daughter and sister. They could not think there
had ever been anything like her before in the world;
the notion of criticising any deed or word of hers
would have appeared to them monstrous and unnatural.

She seemed to have come up to this radiant and wise and
marvellously talented womanhood of hers, to their minds,
quite spontaneously. There had been a little Celia--
a red-headed, sulky, mutinous slip of a girl, always at war
with her step-mother, and affording no special comfort
or hope to the rest of the family. Then there was a
long gap, during which the father, four times a year,
handed Michael a letter he had received from the superioress
of a distant convent, referring with cold formality
to the studies and discipline by which Miss Madden
might profit more if she had been better brought up,
and enclosing a large bill. Then all at once they beheld
a big Celia, whom they spoke of as being home again,
but who really seemed never to have been there before--
a tall, handsome, confident young woman, swift of tongue
and apprehension, appearing to know everything there was
to be known by the most learned, able to paint pictures,
carve wood, speak in divers languages, and make music for
the gods, yet with it all a very proud lady, one might say
a queen.

The miracle of such a Celia as this impressed itself
even upon the step-mother. Mrs. Madden had looked
forward with a certain grim tightening of her combative
jaws to the home-coming of the "red-head." She felt
herself much more the fine lady now than she had been
when the girl went away. She had her carriage now,
and the magnificent new house was nearly finished,
and she had a greater number of ailments, and spent
far more money on doctor's bills, than any other lady
in the whole section. The flush of pride in her greatest
achievement up to date--having the most celebrated of New
York physicians brought up to Octavius by special train--
still prickled in her blood. It was in all the papers,
and the admiration of the flatterers and "soft-sawdherers"--
wives of Irish merchants and smaller professional men
who formed her social circle--was raising visions in her
poor head of going next year with Theodore to Saratoga,
and fastening the attention of the whole fashionable
republic upon the variety and resources of her invalidism.
Mrs. Madden's fancy did not run to the length of seeing
her step-daughter also at Saratoga; it pictured her still
as the sullen and hated "red-head," moping defiantly
in corners, or courting by her insolence the punishments
which leaped against their leash in the step-mother's
mind to get at her.

The real Celia, when she came, fairly took Mrs. Madden's
breath away. The peevish little plans for annoyance and tyranny,
the resolutions born of ignorant and jealous egotism,
found themselves swept out of sight by the very first swirl
of Celia's dress-train, when she came down from her room
robed in peacock blue. The step-mother could only stare.

Now, after two years of it, Mrs. Madden still viewed her
step-daughter with round-eyed uncertainty, not unmixed
with wrathful fear. She still drove about behind two
magnificent horses; the new house had become almost
tiresome by familiarity; her pre-eminence in the interested
minds of the Dearborn County Medical Society was as
towering as ever, but somehow it was all different.
There was a note of unreality nowadays in Mrs. Donnelly's
professions of wonder at her bearing up under her
multiplied maladies; there was almost a leer of mockery
in the sympathetic smirk with which the Misses Mangan
listened to her symptoms. Even the doctors, though they
kept their faces turned toward her, obviously did not pay
much attention; the people in the street seemed no longer
to look at her and her equipage at all. Worst of all,
something of the meaning of this managed to penetrate
her own mind. She caught now and again a dim glimpse
of herself as others must have been seeing her for years--
as a stupid, ugly, boastful, and bad-tempered old nuisance.
And it was always as if she saw this in a mirror held
up by Celia.

Of open discord there had been next to none. Celia would
not permit it, and showed this so clearly from the
start that there was scarcely need for her saying it.
It seemed hardly necessary for her to put into words any
of her desires, for that matter. All existing arrangements
in the Madden household seemed to shrink automatically
and make room for her, whichever way she walked. A whole
quarter of the unfinished house set itself apart for her.
Partitions altered themselves; door-ways moved across
to opposite sides; a recess opened itself, tall and deep,
for it knew not what statue--simply because, it seemed,
the Lady Celia willed it so.

When the family moved into this mansion, it was with a
consciousness that the only one who really belonged there
was Celia. She alone could behave like one perfectly at home.
It seemed entirely natural to the others that she should
do just what she liked, shut them off from her portion
of the house, take her meals there if she felt disposed,
and keep such hours as pleased her instant whim. If she
awakened them at midnight by her piano, or deferred her
breakfast to the late afternoon, they felt that it must be
all right, since Celia did it. She had one room furnished
with only divans and huge, soft cushions, its walls covered
with large copies of statuary not too strictly clothed,
which she would suffer no one, not even the servants,
to enter. Michael fancied sometimes, when he passed the
draped entrance to this sacred chamber, that the portiere
smelt of tobacco, but he would not have spoken of it,
even had he been sure. Old Jeremiah, whose established habit
it was to audit minutely the expenses of his household,
covered over round sums to Celia's separate banking account,
upon the mere playful hint of her holding her check-book up,
without a dream of questioning her.

That the step-mother had joy, or indeed anything but gall
and wormwood, out of all this is not to be pretended.
There lingered along in the recollection of the family some
vague memories of her having tried to assert an authority
over Celia's comings and goings at the outset, but they
grouped themselves as only parts of the general disorder of
moving and settling, which a fort-night or so quite righted.
Mrs. Madden still permitted herself a certain license
of hostile comment when her step-daughter was not present,
and listened with gratification to what the women of her
acquaintance ventured upon saying in the same spirit;
but actual interference or remonstrance she never
offered nowadays. The two rarely met, for that matter,
and exchanged only the baldest and curtest forms of speech.

Celia Madden interested all Octavius deeply. This she
must have done in any case, if only because she was
the only daughter of its richest citizen. But the bold,
luxuriant quality of her beauty, the original and piquant
freedom of her manners, the stories told in gossip about
her lawlessness at home, her intellectual attainments,
and artistic vagaries--these were even more exciting.
The unlikelihood of her marrying any one--at least
any Octavian--was felt to add a certain romantic zest
to the image she made on the local perceptions.
There was no visible young Irishman at all approaching
the social and financial standard of the Maddens;
it was taken for granted that a mixed marriage was quite
out of the question in this case. She seemed to have
more business about the church than even the priest.
She was always playing the organ, or drilling the choir,
or decorating the altars with flowers, or looking over
the robes of the acolytes for rents and stains, or going
in or out of the pastorate. Clearly this was not the sort
of girl to take a Protestant husband.

The gossip of the town concerning her was, however,
exclusively Protestant. The Irish spoke of her,
even among themselves, but seldom. There was no occasion
for them to pretend to like her: they did not know her,
except in the most distant and formal fashion.
Even the members of the choir, of both sexes, had the sense
of being held away from her at haughty arm's length.
No single parishioner dreamed of calling her friend.
But when they referred to her, it was always with a cautious
and respectful reticence. For one thing, she was the daughter
of their chief man, the man they most esteemed and loved.
For another, reservations they may have had in their souls
about her touched close upon a delicately sore spot.
It could not escape their notice that their Protestant
neighbors were watching her with vigilant curiosity,
and with a certain tendency to wink when her name came
into conversation along with that of Father Forbes.
It had never yet got beyond a tendency--the barest
fluttering suggestion of a tempted eyelid--but the
whole Irish population of the place felt themselves
to be waiting, with clenched fists but sinking hearts,
for the wink itself.

The Rev. Theron Ware had not caught even the faintest
hint of these overtures to suspicion.

When he had entered the huge, dark, cool vault of the church,
he could see nothing at first but a faint light up over
the gallery, far at the other end. Then, little by little,
his surroundings shaped themselves out of the gloom.
To his right was a rail and some broad steps rising toward
a softly confused mass of little gray vertical bars
and the pale twinkle of tiny spots of gilded reflection,
which he made out in the dusk to be the candles and
trappings of the altar. Overhead the great arches faded
away from foundations of dimly discernible capitals into
utter blackness. There was a strange medicinal odor--
as of cubeb cigarettes--in the air.

After a little pause, he tiptoed noiselessly up the side
aisle toward the end of the church--toward the light above
the gallery. This radiance from a single gas-jet expanded
as he advanced, and spread itself upward over a burnished
row of monster metal pipes, which went towering into
the darkness like giants. They were roaring at him now--
a sonorous, deafening, angry bellow, which made everything
about him vibrate. The gallery balustrade hid the keyboard
and the organist from view. There were only these
jostling brazen tubes, as big round as trees and as tall,
trembling with their own furious thunder. It was for all
the world as if he had wandered into some vast tragical,
enchanted cave, and was being drawn against his will--
like fascinated bird and python--toward fate at the savage
hands of these swollen and enraged genii.

He stumbled in the obscure light over a kneeling-bench,
making a considerable racket. On the instant the noise
from the organ ceased, and he saw the black figure
of a woman rise above the gallery-rail and look down.

"Who is it?" the indubitable voice of Miss Madden
demanded sharply.

Theron had a sudden sheepish notion of turning and running.
With the best grace he could summon, he called out an
explanation instead.

"Wait a minute. I'm through now. I'm coming down,"
she returned. He thought there was a note of amusement
in her tone.

She came to him a moment later, accompanied by a thin,
tall man, whom Theron could barely see in the dark,
now that the organ-light too was gone. This man lighted
a match or two to enable them to make their way out.

When they were on the sidewalk, Celia spoke: "Walk on ahead,
Michael!" she said. "I have some matters to speak of with Mr. Ware."

 

 

CHAPTER X

 

"Well, what did you think of Dr. Ledsmar?"

The girl's abrupt question came as a relief to Theron.
They were walking along in a darkness so nearly complete
that he could see next to nothing of his companion.
For some reason, this seemed to suggest a sort of impropriety.
He had listened to the footsteps of the man ahead--
whom he guessed to be a servant--and pictured him
as intent upon getting up early next morning to tell
everybody that the Methodist minister had stolen into the
Catholic church at night to walk home with Miss Madden.
That was going to be very awkward--yes, worse than awkward!
It might mean ruin itself. She had mentioned
aloud that she had matters to talk over with him:
that of course implied confidences, and the man might
put heaven only knew what construction on that.
It was notorious that servants did ascribe the very worst
motives to those they worked for. The bare thought of
the delight an Irish servant would have in also dragging
a Protestant clergyman into the thing was sickening.
And what could she want to talk to him about, anyway?
The minute of silence stretched itself out upon his nerves
into an interminable period of anxious unhappiness.
Her mention of the doctor at last somehow, seemed to lighten
the situation.

"Oh, I thought he was very smart." he made haste to answer.
"Wouldn't it be better--to--keep close to your man?
He--may--think we've gone some other way."

"It wouldn't matter if he did," remarked Celia.
She appeared to comprehend his nervousness and take pity
on it, for she added, "It is my brother Michael, as good
a soul as ever lived. He is quite used to my ways."

The Rev. Mr. Ware drew a long comforting breath.
"Oh, I see! He went with you to--bring you home."

"To blow the organ," said the girl in the dark, correctingly.
"But about that doctor; did you like him?"

"Well," Theron began, "'like' is rather a strong word
for so short an acquaintance. He talked very well;
that is, fluently. But he is so different from any other
man I have come into contact with that--"

"What I wanted you to say was that you hated him,"
put in Celia, firmly.

"I don't make a practice of saying that of anybody,"
returned Theron, so much at his ease again that he put
an effect of gentle, smiling reproof into the words.
"And why specially should I make an exception for him?"

"Because he's a beast!"

Theron fancied that he understood. "I noticed that he
seemed not to have much of an ear for music," he commented,
with a little laugh. "He shut down the window when you
began to play. His doing so annoyed me, because I--
I wanted very much to hear it all. I never heard such
music before. I--I came into the church to hear more of it;
but then you stopped!"

"I will play for you some other time," Celia said,
answering the reproach in his tone. "But tonight I wanted
to talk with you instead."

She kept silent, in spite of this, so long now
that Theron was on the point of jestingly asking
when the talk was to begin. Then she put a question abruptly--

"It is a conventional way of putting it, but are you fond
of poetry, Mr. Ware?"

"Well, yes, I suppose I am," replied Theron, much mystified.
"I can't say that I am any great judge; but I like the
things that I like--and--"

"Meredith," interposed Celia, "makes one of his women,
Emilia in England, say that poetry is like talking on tiptoe;
like animals in cages, always going to one end and back again.
Does it impress you that way?"

"I don't know that it does," said he, dubiously.
It seemed, however, to be her whim to talk literature,
and he went on: "I've hardly read Meredith at all.
I once borrowed his 'Lucile,' but somehow I never got
interested in it. I heard a recitation of his once, though--
a piece about a dead wife, and the husband and another
man quarrelling as to whose portrait was in the locket
on her neck, and of their going up to settle the dispute,
and finding that it was the likeness of a third man,
a young priest--and though it was very striking,
it didn't give me a thirst to know his other poems.
I fancied I shouldn't like them. But I daresay I was wrong.
As I get older, I find that I take less narrow views
of literature--that is, of course, of light literature--
and that--that--"

Celia mercifully stopped him. "The reason I asked
you was--" she began, and then herself paused. "Or no,--
never mind that--tell me something else. Are you fond
of pictures, statuary, the beautiful things of the world?
Do great works of art, the big achievements of the big artists,
appeal to you, stir you up?"

"Alas! that is something I can only guess at myself,"
answered Theron, humbly. "I have always lived in
little places. I suppose, from your point of view,
I have never seen a good painting in my life. I can only
say this, though--that it has always weighed on my mind
as a great and sore deprivation, this being shut out from
knowing what others mean when they talk and write about art.
Perhaps that may help you to get at what you are after.
If I ever went to New York, I feel that one of the first
things I should do would be to see all the picture galleries;
is that what you meant? And--would you mind telling me--
why you--?"

"Why I asked you?" Celia supplied his halting question.
"No, I DON'T mind. I have a reason for wanting to know--
to satisfy myself whether I had guessed rightly or not--
about the kind of man you are. I mean in the matter of
temperament and bent of mind and tastes."

The girl seemed to be speaking seriously, and without
intent to offend. Theron did not find any comment ready,
but walked along by her side, wondering much what it was
all about.

"I daresay you think me 'too familiar on short acquaintance,'"
she continued, after a little.

"My dear Miss Madden!" he protested perfunctorily.

"No; it is a matter of a good deal of importance,"
she went on. "I can see that you are going to be thrown
into friendship, close contact, with Father Forbes.
He likes you, and you can't help liking him. There is nobody
else in this raw, overgrown, empty-headed place for you
and him TO like, nobody except that man, that Dr. Ledsmar.
And if you like HIM, I shall hate you! He has done
mischief enough already. I am counting on you to help
undo it, and to choke him off from doing more. It would
be different if you were an ordinary Orthodox minister,
all encased like a terrapin in prejudices and nonsense.
Of course, if you had been THAT kind, we should never have
got to know you at all. But when I saw you in MacEvoy's
cottage there, it was plain that you were one of US--
I mean a MAN, and not a marionette or a mummy.
I am talking very frankly to you, you see. I want you
on my side, against that doctor and his heartless,
bloodless science."

"I feel myself very heartily on your side," replied Theron.
She had set their progress at a slower pace, now that the
lights of the main street were drawing near, as if to prolong
their talk. All his earlier reservations had fled.
It was almost as if she were a parishioner of his own.
"I need hardly tell you that the doctor's whole attitude
toward--toward revelation--was deeply repugnant to me.
It doesn't make it any the less hateful to call it science.
I am afraid, though," he went on hesitatingly, "that there
are difficulties in the way of my helping, as you call it.
You see, the very fact of my being a Methodist minister,
and his being a Catholic priest, rather puts my interference
out of the question."

"No; that doesn't matter a button," said Celia, lightly.
"None of us think of that at all."

"There is the other embarrassment, then," pursued Theron,
diffidently, "that Father Forbes is a vastly broader and
deeper scholar--in all these matters--than I am. How could
I possibly hope to influence him by my poor arguments?
I don't know even the alphabet of the language he thinks in--
on these subjects, I mean."

"Of course you don't!" interposed the girl, with a
confidence which the other, for all his meekness,
rather winced under. "That wasn't what I meant
at all. We don't want arguments from our friends:
we want sympathies, sensibilities, emotional bonds.
The right person's silence is worth more for companionship
than the wisest talk in the world from anybody else.
It isn't your mind that is needed here, or what you know;
it is your heart, and what you feel. You are full
of poetry, of ideals, of generous, unselfish impulses.
You see the human, the warm-blooded side of things.
THAT is what is really valuable. THAT is how you
can help!"

"You overestimate me sadly," protested Theron, though with
considerable tolerance for her error in his tone.
"But you ought to tell me something about this Dr. Ledsmar.
He spoke of being an old friend of the pr--of Father Forbes."

"Oh, yes, they've always known each other; that is,
for many years. They were professors together in a college once,
heaven only knows how long ago. Then they separated,
"I fancy they quarrelled, too, before they parted.
The doctor came here, where some relative had left him
the place he lives in. Then in time the Bishop chanced
to send Father Forbes here--that was about three years ago,--
and the two men after a while renewed their old relations.
They dine together; that is the doctor's stronghold.
He knows more about eating than any other man alive,
I believe. He studies it as you would study a language.
He has taught old Maggie, at the pastorate there,
to cook like the mother of all the Delmonicos.
And while they sit and stuff themselves, or loll about
afterward like gorged snakes, they think it is smart
to laugh at all the sweet and beautiful things in life,
and to sneer at people who believe in ideals, and to
talk about mankind being merely a fortuitous product
of fermentation, and twaddle of that sort. It makes
me sick!"

"I can readily see," said Theron, with sympathy, "how such
a cold, material, and infidel influence as that must shock
and revolt an essentially religious temperament like yours."

Miss Madden looked up at him. They had turned into the
main street, and there was light enough for him to detect
something startlingly like a grin on her beautiful face.

"But I'm not religious at all, you know," he heard her say.
"I'm as Pagan as--anything! Of course there are forms to
be observed, and so on; I rather like them than otherwise.
I can make them serve very well for my own system; for I
am myself, you know, an out-an-out Greek."

"Why, I had supposed that you were full blooded Irish,"
the Rev. Mr. Ware found himself remarking, and then
on the instant was overwhelmed by the consciousness
that he had said a foolish thing. Precisely where
the folly lay he did not know, but it was impossible
to mistake the gesture of annoyance which his companion
had instinctively made at his words. She had widened
the distance between them now, and quickened her step.
They went on in silence till they were within a block
of her house. Several people had passed them who Theron
felt sure must have recognized them both.

"What I meant was," the girl all at once began, drawing
nearer again, and speaking with patient slowness, "that I
find myself much more in sympathy with the Greek thought,
the Greek theology of the beautiful and the strong,
the Greek philosophy of life, and all that, than what is
taught nowadays. Personally, I take much more stock
in Plato than I do in Peter. But of course it is a wholly
personal affair; I had no business to bother you with it.
And for that matter, I oughtn't to have troubled you
with any of our--"

"I assure you, Miss Madden!" the young minister began,
with fervor.

"No," she broke in, in a resigned and even downcast tone;
"let it all be as if I hadn't spoken. Don't mind anything
I have said. If it is to be, it will be. You can't say
more than that, can you?"

She looked into his face again, and her large eyes
produced an impression of deep melancholy, which Theron
found himself somehow impelled to share. Things seemed
all at once to have become very sad indeed.

"It is one of my unhappy nights," she explained,
in gloomy confidence. "I get them every once in a while--
as if some vicious planet or other was crossing in front
of my good star--and then I'm a caution to snakes.
I shut myself up--that's the only thing to do--and have it
out with myself I didn't know but the organ-music would
calm me down, but it hasn't. I shan't sleep a wink tonight,
but just rage around from one room to another,
piling all the cushions from the divans on to the floor,
and then kicking them away again. Do YOU ever have fits
like that?"

Theron was able to reply with a good conscience in
the negative. It occurred to him to add, with jocose intent:
"I am curious to know, do these fits, as you call them,
occupy a prominent part in Grecian philosophy as a general rule?"

Celia gave a little snort, which might have signified
amusement, but did not speak until they were upon her
own sidewalk. "There is my brother, waiting at the gate,"
she said then, briefly.

"Well, then, I will bid you good-night here, I think,"
Theron remarked, coming to a halt, and offering his hand.
"It must be getting very late, and my--that is--I have
to be up particularly early tomorrow. So good-night;
I hope you will be feeling ever so much better in spirits in
the morning."

"Oh, that doesn't matter," replied the girl, listlessly.
"It's a very paltry little affair, this life of ours,
at the best of it. Luckily it's soon done with--
like a bad dream."

"Tut! Tut! I won't have you talk like that!"
interrupted Theron, with a swift and smart assumption
of authority. "Such talk isn't sensible, and it isn't good.
I have no patience with it!"

"Well, try and have a little patience with ME, anyway,
just for tonight," said Celia, taking the reproof with
gentlest humility, rather to her censor's surprise.
"I really am unhappy tonight, Mr. Ware, very unhappy.
It seems as if all at once the world had swelled out in
size a thousandfold, and that poor me had dwindled down
to the merest wee little red-headed atom--the most helpless
and forlorn and lonesome of atoms at that." She seemed
to force a sorrowful smile on her face as she added:
"But all the same it has done me good to be with you--
I am sure it has--and I daresay that by tomorrow I shall
be quite out of the blues. Good-night, Mr. Ware.
Forgive my making such an exhibition of myself I WAS
going to be such a fine early Greek, you know, and I have
turned out only a late Milesian--quite of the decadence.
I shall do better next time. And good-night again,
and ever so many thanks."

She was walking briskly away toward the gate now,
where the shadowy Michael still patiently stood.
Theron strode off in the opposite direction, taking long,
deliberate steps, and bowing his head in thought.
He had his hands behind his back, as was his wont,
and the sense of their recent contact with her firm,
ungloved hands was, curiously enough, the thing which pushed
itself uppermost in his mind. There had been a frank,
almost manly vigor in her grasp; he said to himself
that of course that came from her playing so much on
the keyboard; the exercise naturally would give her large,
robust hands.

Suddenly he remembered about the piano; he had quite
forgotten to solicit her aid in selecting it. He turned,
upon the impulse, to go back. She had not entered the gate
as yet, but stood, shiningly visible under the street lamp,
on the sidewalk, and she was looking in his direction.
He turned again like a shot, and started homeward.

The front door of the parsonage was unlocked, and he
made his way on tiptoe through the unlighted hall to the
living-room. The stuffy air here was almost suffocating
with the evil smell of a kerosene lamp turned down too low.
Alice sat asleep in her old farmhouse rocking-chair, with
an inelegant darning-basket on the table by her side.
The whole effect of the room was as bare and squalid
to Theron's newly informed eye as the atmosphere was
offensive to his nostrils. He coughed sharply, and his
wife sat up and looked at the clock. It was after eleven.

"Where on earth have you been?" she asked, with a yawn,
turning up the wick of her sewing-lamp again.

"You ought never to turn down a light like that,"
said Theron, with a complaining note in his voice.
"It smells up the whole place. I never dreamed of your
sitting up for me like this. You ought to have gone
to bed."

"But how could I guess that you were going to be so late?,"
she retorted. "And you haven't told me where you were.
Is this book of yours going to keep you up like this
right along?"

The episode of the book was buried in the young minister's
mind beneath such a mass of subsequent experiences
that it required an effort for him to grasp what she
was talking about. It seemed as if months had elapsed
since he was in earnest about that book; and yet he
had left the house full of it only a few hours before.
He shook his wits together, and made answer--

"Oh, bless you, no! Only there arose a very curious question.
You have no idea, literally no conception, of the
interesting and important problems which are raised
by the mere fact of Abraham leaving the city of Ur.
It's amazing, I assure you. I hadn't realized it myself."

"Well," remarked Alice, rising--and with good-humor
and petulance struggling sleepily ill her tone--"all I've
got to say is, that if Abraham hasn't anything better
to do than to keep young ministers of the gospel out,
goodness knows where, till all hours of the night,
I wish to gracious he'd stayed in the city of Ur right
straight along."

"You have no idea what a scholarly man Dr. Ledsmar is,"
Theron suddenly found himself inspired to volunteer.
"He has the most marvellous collection of books--a whole
library devoted to this very subject--and he has put them
all quite freely at my disposal. Extremely kind of him,
isn't it?"

"Ledsmar? Ledsmar?" queried Alice. "I don't seem
to remember the name. He isn't the little man with
the birthmark, who sits in the pew behind the Lovejoys,
is he? I think some one said he was a doctor."

"Yes, a horse doctor!" said Theron, with a sniff.
"No; you haven't seen this Dr. Ledsmar at all. I--I don't
know that he attends any church regularly. I scraped his
acquaintance quite by accident. He is really a character.
He lives in the big house, just beyond the race-course,
you know--the one with the tower at the back--"

"No, I don't know. How should I? I've hardly poked
my nose outside of the yard since I have been here."

"Well, you shall go," said the husband, consolingly.
"You HAVE been cooped up here too much, poor girl. I must
take you out more, really. I don't know that I could take
you to the doctor's place--without an invitation, I mean.
He is very queer about some things. He lives there all alone,
for instance, with only a Chinaman for a servant. He told
me I was almost the only man he had asked under his roof
for years. He isn't a practising physician at all, you know.
He is a scientist; he makes experiments with lizards--
and things."

"Theron," the wife said, pausing lamp in hand on her way
to the bedroom, "do you be careful, now! For all you know
this doctor may be a loose man, or pretty near an infidel.
You've got to be mighty particular in such matters, you know,
or you'll have the trustees down on you like a 'thousand
of bricks.'"

"I will thank the trustees to mind their own business,"
said Theron, stiffly, and the subject dropped.

The bedroom window upstairs was open, and upon the fresh
night air was borne in the shrill, jangling sound of a piano,
being played off somewhere in the distance, but so
vehemently that the noise imposed itself upon the silence
far and wide. Theron listened to this as he undressed.
It proceeded from the direction of the main street,
and he knew, as by instinct, that it was the Madden girl
who was playing. The incongruity of the hour escaped
his notice. He mused instead upon the wild and tropical
tangle of moods, emotions, passions, which had grown up in
that strange temperament. He found something very pathetic
in that picture she had drawn of herself in forecast,
roaming disconsolate through her rooms the livelong night,
unable to sleep. The woful moan of insomnia seemed
to make itself heard in every strain from her piano.

Alice heard it also, but being unillumined, she missed
the romantic pathos. "I call it disgraceful," she muttered
from her pillow, "for folks to be banging away on a piano
at this time of night. There ought to be a law to prevent it."

"It may be some distressed soul," said Theron, gently,
"seeking relief from the curse of sleeplessness."

The wife laughed, almost contemptuously.
"Distressed fiddlesticks!" was her only other comment.

The music went on for a long time--rising now to strident
heights, now sinking off to the merest tinkling murmur,
and broken ever and again by intervals of utter hush.
It did not prevent Alice from at once falling sound asleep;
but Theron lay awake, it seemed to him, for hours,
listening tranquilly, and letting his mind wander at will
through the pleasant antechambers of Sleep, where are more
unreal fantasies than Dreamland itself affords.

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI

 

For some weeks the Rev. Theron Ware saw nothing of either
the priest or the doctor, or the interesting Miss Madden.

There were, indeed, more urgent matters to think about.
June had come; and every succeeding day brought closer to hand
the ordeal of his first Quarterly Conference in Octavius.
The waters grew distinctly rougher as his pastoral bark
neared this difficult passage.

He would have approached the great event with an easier
mind if he could have made out just how he stood
with his congregation. Unfortunately nothing in his
previous experiences helped him in the least to measure
or guess at the feelings of these curious Octavians.
Their Methodism seemed to be sound enough, and to stick
quite to the letter of the Discipline, so long as it was
expressed in formulae. It was its spirit which he felt
to be complicated by all sorts of conditions wholly novel to him.

The existence of a line of street-cars in the town,
for example, would not impress the casual thinker as
likely to prove a rock in the path of peaceful religion.
Theron, in his simplicity, had even thought, when he
first saw these bobtailed cars bumping along the rails
in the middle of the main street, that they must be
a great convenience to people living in the outskirts,
who wished to get in to church of a Sunday morning.
He was imprudent enough to mention this in conversation
with one of his new parishioners. Then he learned,
to his considerable chagrin, that when this line was built,
some years before, a bitter war of words had been fought
upon the question of its being worked on the Sabbath day.
The then occupant of the Methodist pulpit had so distinguished
himself above the rest by the solemnity and fervor of his
protests against this insolent desecration of God's day
that the Methodists of Octavius still felt themselves
peculiarly bound to hold this horse-car line, its management,
and everything connected with it, in unbending aversion.
At least once a year they were accustomed to expect a
sermon denouncing it and all its impious Sunday patrons.
Theron made a mental resolve that this year they should
be disappointed.

Another burning problem, which he had not been called
upon before to confront, he found now entangled with the
mysterious line which divided a circus from a menagerie.
Those itinerant tent-shows had never come his way heretofore,
and he knew nothing of that fine balancing proportion between
ladies in tights on horseback and cages full of deeply
educational animals, which, even as the impartial rain,
was designed to embrace alike the just and the unjust.
There had arisen inside the Methodist society of Octavius
some painful episodes, connected with members who took
their children "just to see the animals," and were convicted
of having also watched the Rose-Queen of the Arena,
in her unequalled flying leap through eight hoops,
with an ardent and unashamed eye. One of these cases
still remained on the censorial docket of the church;
and Theron understood that he was expected to name a
committee of five to examine and try it. This he neglected
to do.

He was no longer at all certain that the congregation
as a whole liked his sermons. The truth was, no doubt,
that he had learned enough to cease regarding the
congregation as a whole. He could still rely upon
carrying along with him in his discourses from the pulpit
a large majority of interested and approving faces.
But here, unhappily, was a case where the majority did
not rule. The minority, relatively small in numbers,
was prodigious in virile force.

More than twenty years had now elapsed since that minor schism
in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the result of which was
the independent body known as Free Methodists, had relieved
the parent flock of its principal disturbing element.
The rupture came fittingly at that time when all
the "isms" of the argumentative fifties were hurled
violently together into the melting-pot of civil war.
The great Methodist Church, South, had broken bodily off
on the question of State Rights. The smaller and domestic
fraction of Free Methodism separated itself upon an issue
which may be most readily described as one of civilization.
The seceders resented growth in material prosperity;
they repudiated the introduction of written sermons
and organ-music; they deplored the increasing laxity
in meddlesome piety, the introduction of polite manners
in the pulpit and classroom, and the development of even
a rudimentary desire among the younger people of the
church to be like others outside in dress and speech
and deportment. They did battle as long as they could,
inside the fold, to restore it to the severely
straight and narrow path of primitive Methodism.
When the adverse odds became too strong for them,
they quitted the church and set up a Bethel for themselves.

Octavius chanced to be one of the places where they were
able to hold their own within the church organization.
The Methodism of the town had gone along without any
local secession. It still held in full fellowship
the radicals who elsewhere had followed their unbridled
bent into the strongest emotional vagaries--where excited
brethren worked themselves up into epileptic fits, and women
whirled themselves about in weird religious ecstasies,
like dervishes of the Orient, till they fell headlong
in a state of trance. Octavian Methodism was spared
extravagances of this sort, it is true, but it paid
a price for the immunity. The people whom an open split
would have taken away remained to leaven and dominate
the whole lump. This small advanced section, with its men
of a type all the more aggressive from its narrowness,
and women who went about solemnly in plain gray garments,
with tight-fitting, unadorned, mouse-colored sunbonnets,
had not been able wholly to enforce its views upon the
social life of the church members, but of its controlling
influence upon their official and public actions there
could be no doubt.

The situation had begun to unfold itself to Theron
from the outset. He had recognized the episodes of
the forbidden Sunday milk and of the flowers in poor
Alice's bonnet as typical of much more that was to come.
No week followed without bringing some new fulfilment
of this foreboding. Now, at the end of two months,
he knew well enough that the hitherto dominant minority
was hostile to him and his ministry, and would do whatever
it could against him.

Though Theron at once decided to show fight, and did
not at all waver in that resolve, his courage was in the
main of a despondent sort. Sometimes it would flutter
up to the point of confidence, or at least hopefulness,
when he met with substantial men of the church who
obviously liked him, and whom he found himself mentally
ranging on his side, in the struggle which was to come.
But more often it was blankly apparent to him that,
the moment flags were flying and drums on the roll,
these amiable fair-weather friends would probably take
to their heels.

Still, such as they were, his sole hope lay in their support.
He must make the best of them. He set himself doggedly
to the task of gathering together all those who were
not his enemies into what, when the proper time came,
should be known as the pastor's party. There was plenty
of apostolic warrant for this. If there had not been,
Theron felt that the mere elementary demands of self-defence
would have justified his use of strategy.

The institution of pastoral calling, particularly that
inquisitorial form of it laid down in the Discipline,
had never attracted Theron. He and Alice had gone about
among their previous flocks in quite a haphazard fashion,
without thought of system, much less of deliberate purpose.
Theron made lists now, and devoted thought and examination
to the personal tastes and characteristics of the people
to be cultivated. There were some, for example, who would
expect him to talk pretty much as the Discipline ordained--
that is, to ask if they had family prayer, to inquire
after their souls, and generally to minister grace
to his hearers--and these in turn subdivided themselves
into classes, ranging from those who would wish nothing
else to those who needed only a mild spiritual flavor.
There were others whom he would please much better by not
talking shop at all. Although he could ill afford it,
he subscribed now for a daily paper that he might have
a perpetually renewed source of good conversational
topics for these more worldly calls. He also bought
several pounds of candy, pleasing in color, but warranted
to be entirely harmless, and he made a large mysterious
mark on the inside of his new silk hat to remind him
not to go out calling without some of this in his pocket
for the children.

Alice, he felt, was not helping him in this matter
as effectively as he could have wished. Her attitude
toward the church in Octavius might best be described
by the word "sulky." Great allowance was to be made,
he realized, for her humiliation over the flowers
in her bonnet. That might justify her, fairly enough,
in being kept away from meeting now and again by headaches,
or undefined megrims. But it ought not to prevent her
from going about and making friends among the kindlier
parishioners who would welcome such a thing, and whom he from
time to time indicated to her. She did go to some extent,
it is true, but she produced, in doing so, an effect
of performing a duty. He did not find traces anywhere
of her having created a brilliant social impression.
When they went out together, he was peculiarly conscious
of having to do the work unaided.

This was not at all like the Alice of former years,
of other charges. Why, she had been, beyond comparison,
the most popular young woman in Tyre. What possessed her
to mope like this in Octavius?

Theron looked at her attentively nowadays, when she was
unaware of his gaze, to try if her face offered any answer
to the riddle. It could not be suggested that she was ill.
Never in her life had she been looking so well. She had
thrown herself, all at once, and with what was to him
an unaccountable energy, into the creation and management
of a flower-garden. She was out the better part of
every day, rain or shine, digging, transplanting, pruning,
pottering generally about among her plants and shrubs.
This work in the open air had given her an aspect of physical
well-being which it was impossible to be mistaken about.

Her husband was glad, of course, that she had found some
occupation which at once pleased her and so obviously
conduced to health. This was so much a matter of course,
in fact, that he said to himself over and over again
that he was glad. Only--only, sometimes the thought WOULD
force itself upon his attention that if she did not spend
so much of her time in her own garden, she would have more
time to devote to winning friends for them in the Garden
of the Lord--friends whom they were going to need badly.

The young minister, in taking anxious stock of the chances
for and against him, turned over often in his mind the
fact that he had already won rank as a pulpit orator.
His sermons had attracted almost universal attention
at Tyre, and his achievement before the Conference
at Tecumseh, if it did fail to receive practical reward,
had admittedly distanced all the other preaching there.
It was a part of the evil luck pursuing him that here
in this perversely enigmatic Octavius his special gift
seemed to be of no use whatever. There were times,
indeed, when he was tempted to think that bad preaching
was what Octavius wanted.

Somewhere he had heard of a Presbyterian minister, in charge
of a big city church, who managed to keep well in with a
watchfully Orthodox congregation, and at the same time
establish himself in the affections of the community at large,
by simply preaching two kinds of sermons. In the morning,
when almost all who attended were his own communicants,
he gave them very cautious and edifying doctrinal discourses,
treading loyally in the path of the Westminster Confession.
To the evening assemblages, made up for the larger part
of outsiders, he addressed broadly liberal sermons,
literary in form, and full of respectful allusions
to modern science and the philosophy of the day.
Thus he filled the church at both services, and put money
in its treasury and his own fame before the world.
There was of course the obvious danger that the pious
elders who in the forenoon heard infant damnation
vigorously proclaimed, would revolt when they heard
after supper that there was some doubt about even adults
being damned at all. But either because the same people
did not attend both services, or because the minister's
perfect regularity in the morning was each week regarded
as a retraction of his latest vagaries of an evening,
no trouble ever came.

Theron had somewhat tentatively tried this on in Octavius.
It was no good. His parishioners were of the sort who
would have come to church eight times a day on Sunday,
instead of two, if occasion offered. The hope that even
a portion of them would stop away, and that their places
would be taken in the evening by less prejudiced strangers
who wished for intellectual rather than theological food,
fell by the wayside. The yearned-for strangers did
not come; the familiar faces of the morning service
all turned up in their accustomed places every evening.
They were faces which confused and disheartened Theron
in the daytime. Under the gaslight they seemed even harder
and more unsympathetic. He timorously experimented with
them for an evening or two, then abandoned the effort.

Once there had seemed the beginning of a chance. The richest
banker in Octavius--a fat, sensual, hog-faced old bachelor--
surprised everybody one evening by entering the church
and taking a seat. Theron happened to know who he was;
even if he had not known, the suppressed excitement
visible in the congregation, the way the sisters turned
round to look, the way the more important brethren put
their heads together and exchanged furtive whispers--
would have warned him that big game was in view.
He recalled afterward with something like self-disgust
the eager, almost tremulous pains he himself took
to please this banker. There was a part of the sermon,
as it had been written out, which might easily give
offence to a single man of wealth and free notions
of life. With the alertness of a mental gymnast,
Theron ran ahead, excised this portion, and had ready
when the gap was reached some very pretty general remarks,
all the more effective and eloquent, he felt, for having
been extemporized. People said it was a good sermon;
and after the benediction and dispersion some of the
officials and principal pew-holders remained to talk
over the likelihood of a capture having been effected.
Theron did not get away without having this mentioned
to him, and he was conscious of sharing deeply the hope
of the brethren--with the added reflection that it would
be a personal triumph for himself into the bargain.
He was ashamed of this feeling a little later, and of his
trick with the sermon. But this chastening product of
introspection was all the fruit which the incident bore.
The banker never came again.

Theron returned one afternoon, a little earlier than usual,
from a group of pastoral calls. Alice, who was plucking weeds
in a border at the shady side of the house, heard his step,
and rose from her labors. He was walking slowly,
and seemed weary. He took off his high hat, as he saw her,
and wiped his brow. The broiling June sun was still
high overhead. Doubtless it was its insufferable heat
which was accountable for the worn lines in his face
and the spiritless air which the wife's eye detected.
She went to the gate, and kissed him as he entered.

"I believe if I were you," she said, "I'd carry an umbrella
such scorching days as this. Nobody'd think anything of it.
I don't see why a minister shouldn't carry one as much
as a woman carries a parasol."

Theron gave her a rueful, meditative sort of smile.
"I suppose people really do think of us as a kind
of hybrid female," he remarked. Then, holding his hat
in his hand, he drew a long breath of relief at finding
himself in the shade, and looked about him.

"Why, you've got more posies here, on this one side
of the house alone, than mother had in her whole yard,"
he said, after a little. "Let's see--I know that one:
that's columbine, isn't it? And that's London pride,
and that's ragged robin. I don't know any of the others."

Alice recited various unfamiliar names, as she pointed
out the several plants which bore them, and he listened
with a kindly semblance of interest.

They strolled thus to the rear of the house, where thick
clumps of fragrant pinks lined both sides of the path.
She picked some of these for him, and gave him more names
with which to label the considerable number of other plants
he saw about him.

"I had no idea we were so well provided as all this,"
he commented at last. "Those Van Sizers must have been
tremendous hands for flowers. You were lucky in following
such people."

"Van Sizers!" echoed Alice, with contempt. "All they
left was old tomato cans and clamshells. Why, I've put
in every blessed one of these myself, all except
those peonies, there, and one brier on the side wall."

"Good for you!" exclaimed Theron, approvingly. Then it
occurred to him to ask, "But where did you get them all?
Around among our friends?"

"Some few," responded Alice, with a note of hesitation
in her voice. "Sister Bult gave me the verbenas, there,
and the white pinks were a present from Miss Stevens.
But most of them Levi Gorringe was good enough to send me--
from his garden."

"I didn't know that Gorringe had a garden," said Theron.
"I thought he lived over his law-office, in the brick
block, there."

"Well, I don't know that it's exactly HIS," explained Alice;
"but it's a big garden somewhere outside, where he can
have anything he likes." She went on with a little laugh:
"I didn't like to question him too closely, for fear he'd
think I was looking a gift horse in the mouth--or else
hinting for more. It was quite his own offer, you know.
He picked them all out for me, and brought them here,
and lent me a book telling me just what to do with each one.
And in a few days, now, I am to have another big batch
of plants--dahlias and zinnias and asters and so on;
I'm almost ashamed to take them. But it's such a change
to find some one in this Octavius who isn't all self!"

"Yes, Gorringe is a good fellow," said Theron. "I wish he
was a professing member." Then some new thought struck him.
"Alice," he exclaimed, "I believe I'll go and see him
this very afternoon. I don't know why it hasn't occurred
to me before: he's just the man whose advice I need most.
He knows these people here; he can tell me what to do."

"Aren't you too tired now?" suggested Alice, as Theron
put on his hat.

"No, the sooner the better," he replied, moving now toward
the gate.

"Well," she began, "if I were you, I wouldn't say too
much about--that is, I--but never mind."

"What is it?" asked her husband.

"Nothing whatever," replied Alice, positively. "It was
only some nonsense of mine;" and Theron, placidly accepting
the feminine whim, went off down the street again.

 

 

CHAPTER XII

 

The Rev. Mr. Ware found Levi Gorringe's law-office
readily enough, but its owner was not in. He probably
would be back again, though, in a quarter of an hour or so,
the boy said, and the minister at once decided to wait.

Theron was interested in finding that this office-boy was no
other than Harvey--the lad who brought milk to the parsonage
every morning. He remembered now that he had heard good
things of this urchin, as to the hard work he did to help
his mother, the Widow Semple, in her struggle to keep
a roof over her head; and also bad things, in that he did
not come regularly either to church or Sunday-school. The
clergyman recalled, too, that Harvey had impressed him as a character.

"Well, sonny, are you going to be a lawyer?" he asked,
as he seated himself by the window, and looked about him,
first at the dusty litter of old papers, pamphlets,
and tape-bound documents in bundles which crowded
the stuffy chamber, and then at the boy himself.

Harvey was busy at a big box--a rough pine dry-goods
box which bore the flaring label of an express company,
and also of a well-known seed firm in a Western city,
and which the boy had apparently just opened. He was
lifting from it, and placing on the table after he had
shaken off the sawdust and moss in which they were packed,
small parcels of what looked in the fading light to be
half-dried plants.

"Well, I don't know--I rather guess not," he made answer,
as he pursued his task. "So far as I can make out,
this wouldn't be the place to start in at, if I WAS going
to be a lawyer. A boy can learn here first-rate how to
load cartridges and clean a gun, and braid trout-flies on
to leaders, but I don't see much law laying around loose.
Anyway," he went on, "I couldn't afford to read law,
and not be getting any wages. I have to earn money,
you know."

Theron felt that he liked the boy. "Yes," he said,
with a kindly tone; "I've heard that you are a good,
industrious youngster. I daresay Mr. Gorringe will
see to it that you get a chance to read law, and get
wages too."

"Oh, I can read all there is here and welcome,"
the boy explained, stepping toward the window to decipher
the label on a bundle of roots in his hand, "but that's no
good unless there's regular practice coming into the office
all the while. THAT'S how you learn to be a lawyer.
But Gorringe don't have what I call a practice at all.
He just sees men in the other room there, with the door shut,
and whatever there is to do he does it all himself."

The minister remembered a stray hint somewhere that
Mr. Gorringe was a money-lender--what was colloquially
called a "note-shaver." To his rustic sense, there was
something not quite nice about that occupation.
It would be indecorous, he felt, to encourage further
talk about it from the boy.

"What are you doing there?" he inquired, to change
the subject.

"Sorting out some plants," replied Harvey. "I don't know
what's got into Gorringe lately. This is the third big
box he's had since I've been here--that is, in six weeks--
besides two baskets full of rose-bushes. I don't know what he
does with them. He carries them off himself somewhere.
I've had kind of half a notion that he's figurin'
on getting married. I can't think of anything else that
would make a man spend money like water--just for flowers
and bushes. They do get foolish, you know, when they've
got marriage on the brain."

Theron found himself only imperfectly following
the theories of the young philosopher.
It was his fact that monopolized the minister's attention.

"But as I understand it," he remarked hesitatingly,
"Brother Gorringe--or rather Mr. Gorringe--gets all the
plants he wants, everything he likes, from a big garden
somewhere outside. I don't know that it is exactly his;
but I remember hearing something to that effect."

The boy slapped the last litter off his hands, and, as he
came to the window, shook his head. "These don't come
from no garden outside," he declared. "They come from
the dealers', and he pays solid cash for 'em. The invoice
for this lot alone was thirty-one dollars and sixty cents.
There it is on the table. You can see it for yourself"

Mr. Ware did not offer to look. "Very likely these
are for the garden I was speaking of," he said.
"Of course you can't go on taking plants out of a garden
indefinitely without putting others in."

"I don't know anything about any garden that he takes
plants out of," answered Harvey, and looked meditatively
for a minute or two out upon the street below. Then he
turned to the minister. "Your wife's doing a good deal
of gardening this spring, I notice," he said casually.
"You'd hardly think it was the same place, she's fixed it
up so. If she wants any extra hoeing done, I can always
get off Saturday afternoons."

"I will remember," said Theron. He also looked
out of the window; and nothing more was said until,
a few moments later, Mr. Gorringe himself came in.

The lawyer seemed both surprised and pleased at discovering
the identity of his visitor, with whom he shook hands
in almost an excess of cordiality. He spread a large
newspaper over the pile of seedling plants on the table,
pushed the packing-box under the table with his foot,
and said almost peremptorily to the boy, "You can go now!"
Then he turned again to Theron.

"Well, Mr. Ware, I'm glad to see you," he repeated,
and drew up a chair by the window. Things are going all
right with you, I hope."

Theron noted again the waving black hair, the dark skin,
and the carefully trimmed mustache and chin-tuft which
gave the lawyer's face a combined effect of romance
and smartness. No; it was the eyes, cool, shrewd,
dark-gray eyes, which suggested this latter quality.
The recollection of having seen one of them wink,
in deliberate hostility of sarcasm, when those other
trustees had their backs turned, came mercifully
at the moment to recall the young minister to his errand.

"I thought I would drop in and have a chat with you,"
he said, getting better under way as he went on.
"Quarterly Conference is only a fortnight off, and I am a
good deal at sea about what is going to happen."

"I'm not a church member, you know," interposed Gorringe.
"That shuts me out of the Quarterly Conference."

"Alas, yes!" said Theron. "I wish it didn't. I'm afraid
I'm not going to have any friends to spare there."

"What are you afraid of?" asked the lawyer, seeming now
to be wholly at his ease again "They can't eat you."

"No, they keep me too lean for that," responded Theron,
with a pensive smile. "I WAS going to ask, you know,
for an increase of salary, or an extra allowance.
I don't see how I can go on as it is. The sum fixed by
the last Quarterly Conference of the old year, and which I
am getting now, is one hundred dollars less than my
predecessor had. That isn't fair, and it isn't right.
But so far from its looking as if I could get an increase,
the prospect seems rather that they will make me pay
for the gas and that sidewalk. I never recovered more
than about half of my moving expenses, as you know,
and--and, frankly, I don't know which way to turn.
It keeps me miserable all the while."

"That's where you're wrong," said Mr. Gorringe. "If you
let things like that worry you, you'll keep a sore skin
all your life. You take my advice and just go ahead
your own gait, and let other folks do the worrying.
They ARE pretty close-fisted here, for a fact, but you
can manage to rub along somehow. If you should get
into any real difficulties, why, I guess--" the lawyer
paused to smile in a hesitating, significant way--"I
guess some road out can be found all right. The main
thing is, don't fret, and don't allow your wife to--
to fret either."

He stopped abruptly. Theron nodded in recognition of his
amiable tone, and the found the nod lengthening itself
out into almost a bow as the thought spread through his
mind that this had been nothing more nor less than a
promise to help him with money if worst came to worst.
He looked at Levi Gorringe, and said to himself that the
intuition of women was wonderful. Alice had picked him
out as a friend of theirs merely by seeing him pass the house.

"Yes," he said; "I am specially anxious to keep my wife
from worrying. She was surrounded in her girlhood by a
good deal of what, relatively, we should call luxury,
and that makes it all the harder for her to be a poor
minister's wife. I had quite decided to get her a
hired girl, come what might, but she thinks she'd rather
get on without one. Her health is better, I must admit,
than it was when we came here. She works out in her
garden a great deal, and that seems to agree with her."

"Octavius is a healthy place--that's generally admitted,"
replied the lawyer, with indifference. He seemed
not to be interested in Mrs. Ware's health, but looked
intently out through the window at the buildings opposite,
and drummed with his fingers on the arms of his chair.

Theron made haste to revert to his errand. "Of course,
your not being in the Quarterly Conference," he said,
"renders certain things impossible. But I didn't know
but you might have some knowledge of how matters are going,
what plans the officials of the church had; they seem to
have agreed to tell me nothing."

"Well, I HAVE heard this much," responded Gorringe.
"They're figuring on getting the Soulsbys here to raise
the debt and kind o' shake things up generally.
I guess that's about as good as settled. Hadn't you heard
of it?"

"Not a breath!" exclaimed Theron, mournfully. "Well," he
added upon reflection, "I'm sorry, downright sorry.
The debt-raiser seems to me about the lowest-down thing
we produce. I've heard of those Soulsbys; I think I saw HIM
indeed once at Conference, but I believe SHE is the head
of the firm."

"Yes; she wears the breeches, I understand,"
said Gorringe sententiously.

"I HAD hoped," the young minister began with a rueful sigh,
"in fact, I felt quite confident at the outset that I
could pay off this debt, and put the church generally on
a new footing, by giving extra attention to my pulpit work.
It is hardly for me to say it, but in other places where I
have been, my preaching has been rather--rather a feature
in the town itself I have always been accustomed to attract
to our services a good many non-members, and that,
as you know, helps tremendously from a money point of view.
But somehow that has failed here. I doubt if the average
congregations are a whit larger now than they were when I
came in April. I know the collections are not."

"No," commented the lawyer, slowly; "you'll never do
anything in that line in Octavius. You might, of course,
if you were to stay here and work hard at it for five
or six years--"

"Heaven forbid!" groaned Mr. Ware.

"Quite so," put in the other. "The point is that
the Methodists here are a little set by themselves.
I don't know that they like one another specially,
but I do know that they are not what you might call
popular with people outside. Now, a new preacher
at the Presbyterian church, or even the Baptist--
he might have a chance to create talk, and make a stir.
But Methodist--no! People who don't belong won't come near
the Methodist church here so long as there's any other
place with a roof on it to go to. Give a dog a bad name,
you know. Well, the Methodists here have got a bad name;
and if you could preach like Henry Ward Beecher himself you
wouldn't change it, or get folks to come and hear you."

"I see what you mean," Theron responded. "I'm not
particularly surprised myself that Octavius doesn't
love us, or look to us for intellectual stimulation.
I myself leave that pulpit more often than otherwise
feeling like a wet rag--utterly limp and discouraged.
But, if you don't mind my speaking of it, YOU don't belong,
and yet YOU come."

It was evident that the lawyer did not mind. He spoke
freely in reply. "Oh, yes, I've got into the habit of it.
I began going when I first came here, and--and so it grew
to be natural for me to go. Then, of course, being the
only lawyer you have, a considerable amount of my business
is mixed up in one way or another with your membership;
you see those are really the things which settle a man
in a rut, and keep him there."

"I suppose your people were Methodists," said Theron,
to fill in the pause, "and that is how you originally
started with us."

Levi Gorringe shook his head. He leaned back, half closed
his eyes, put his finger-tips together, and almost smiled
as if something in retrospect pleased and moved him.

"No," he said; "I went to the church first to see a girl
who used to go there. It was long before your time.
All her family moved away years ago. You wouldn't know any
of them. I was younger then, and I didn't know as much as I
do now. I worshipped the very ground that girl walked on,
and like a fool I never gave her so much as a hint of it.
Looking back now, I can see that I might have had her if I'd
asked her. But I went instead and sat around and looked
at her at church and Sunday-school and prayer-meetings
Thursday nights, and class-meetings after the sermon.
She was devoted to religion and church work; and, thinking it
would please her, I joined the church on probation.
Men can fool themselves easier than they can other people.
I actually believed at the time that I had experienced religion.
I felt myself full of all sorts of awakenings of the soul
and so forth. But it was really that girl. You see I'm
telling you the thing just as it was. I was very happy.
I think it was the happiest time of my life. I remember
there was a love-feast while I was on probation; and I sat
down in front, right beside her, and we ate the little
square chunks of bread and drank the water together, and I
held one corner of her hymn-book when we stood up and sang.
That was the nearest I ever got to her, or to full membership
in the church. That very next week, I think it was,
we learned that she had got engaged to the minister's son--
a young man who had just become a minister himself.
They got married, and went away--and I--somehow I never took
up my membership when the six months' probation was over.
That's how it was."

"It is very interesting," remarked Theron, softly, after a
little silence--"and very full of human nature."

"Well, now you see," said the lawyer, "what I mean when I
say that there hasn't been another minister here since,
that I should have felt like telling this story to.
They wouldn't have understood it at all. They would
have thought it was blasphemy for me to say straight
out that what I took for experiencing religion was really
a girl. But you are different. I felt that at once,
the first time I saw you. In a pulpit or out of it,
what I like in a human being is that he SHOULD be human."

"It pleases me beyond measure that you should like me, then"
returned the young minister, with frank gratification
shining on his face. "The world is made all the sweeter
and more lovable by these--these elements of romance.
I am not one of those who would wish to see them banished
or frowned upon. I don't mind admitting to you that
there is a good deal in Methodism--I mean the strict
practice of its letter which you find here in Octavius--
that is personally distasteful to me. I read the other day
of an English bishop who said boldly, publicly, that no
modern nation could practise the principles laid down
in the Sermon on the Mount and survive for twenty-four hours."

"Ha, ha! That's good!" laughed the lawyer.

"I felt that it was good, too," pursued Theron. "I am getting
to see a great many things differently, here in Octavius.
Our Methodist Discipline is like the Beatitudes--very helpful
and beautiful, if treated as spiritual suggestion, but more
or less of a stumbling-block if insisted upon literally.
I declare!" he added, sitting up in his chair, "I never
talked like this to a living soul before in all my life.
Your confidences were contagious."

The Rev. Mr. Ware rose as he spoke, and took up his hat.

"Must you be going?" asked the lawyer, also rising.
"Well, I'm glad I haven't shocked you. Come in oftener
when you are passing. And if you see anything I can help
you in, always tell me."

The two men shook hands, with an emphatic and lingering clasp.

"I am glad," said Theron, "that you didn't stop coming
to church just because you lost the girl."

Levi Gorringe answered the minister's pleasantry
with a smile which curled his mustache upward,
and expanded in little wrinkles at the ends of his eyes.
"No," he said jestingly. "I'm death on collecting debts;
and I reckon that the church still owes me a girl.
I'll have one yet."

So, with merriment the echoes of which pleasantly
accompanied Theron down the stairway, the two men parted.

 

 

CHAPTER XIII

 

Though time lagged in passing with a slowness which seemed
born of studied insolence, there did arrive at last a day
which had something definitive about it to Theron's
disturbed and restless mind. It was a Thursday, and the
prayer-meeting to be held that evening would be the last
before the Quarterly Conference, now only four days off.

For some reason, the young minister found himself dwelling
upon this fact, and investing it with importance.
But yesterday the Quarterly Conference had seemed a long
way ahead. Today brought it alarmingly close to hand.
He had not heretofore regarded the weekly assemblage
for prayer and song as a thing calling for preparation,
or for any preliminary thought. Now on this Thursday
morning he went to his desk after breakfast, which was
a sign that he wanted the room to himself, quite as
if he had the task of a weighty sermon before him.
He sat at the desk all the forenoon, doing no writing,
it is true, but remembering every once in a while,
when his mind turned aside from the book in his hands,
that there was that prayer-meeting in the evening.

Sometimes he reached the point of vaguely wondering why
this strictly commonplace affair should be forcing itself
thus upon his attention. Then, with a kind of mental
shiver at the recollection that this was Thursday,
and that the great struggle came on Monday, he would go
back to his book.

There were a half-dozen volumes on the open desk before him.
He had taken them out from beneath a pile of old
"Sunday-School Advocates" and church magazines, where they
had lain hidden from Alice's view most of the week.
If there had been a locked drawer in the house, he would
have used it instead to hold these books, which had come
to him in a neat parcel, which also contained an amiable
note from Dr. Ledsmar, recalling a pleasant evening in May,
and expressing the hope that the accompanying works would
be of some service. Theron had glanced at the backs of the
uppermost two, and discovered that their author was Renan.
Then he had hastily put the lot in the best place he
could think of to escape his wife's observation.

He realized now that there had been no need for this secrecy.
Of the other four books, by Sayce, Budge, Smith, and Lenormant,
three indeed revealed themselves to be published under
religious auspices. As for Renan, he might have known
that the name would be meaningless to Alice. The feeling
that he himself was not much wiser in this matter than his
wife may have led him to pass over the learned text-books
on Chaldean antiquity, and even the volume of Renan
which appeared to be devoted to Oriental inscriptions,
and take up his other book, entitled in the translation,
"Recollections of my Youth." This he rather glanced through,
at the outset, following with a certain inattention
the introductory sketches and essays, which dealt with
an unfamiliar, and, to his notion, somewhat preposterous
Breton racial type. Then, little by little, it dawned
upon him that there was a connected story in all this;
and suddenly he came upon it, out in the open, as it were.
It was the story of how a deeply devout young man,
trained from his earliest boyhood for the sacred office,
and desiring passionately nothing but to be worthy of it,
came to a point where, at infinite cost of pain to himself
and of anguish to those dearest to him, he had to declare
that he could no longer believe at all in revealed religion.

Theron Ware read this all with an excited interest
which no book had ever stirred in him before. Much of
it he read over and over again, to make sure that he
penetrated everywhere the husk of French habits of thought
and Catholic methods in which the kernel was wrapped.
He broke off midway in this part of the book to go out
to the kitchen to dinner, and began the meal in silence.
To Alice's questions he replied briefly that he was preparing
himself for the evening's prayer-meeting. She lifted
her brows in such frank surprise at this that he made
a further and somewhat rambling explanation about having
again taken up the work on his book--the book about Abraham.

"I thought you said you'd given that up altogether,"
she remarked.

"Well," he said, "I WAS discouraged about it for a while.
But a man never does anything big without getting
discouraged over and over again while he's doing it.
I don't say now that I shall write precisely THAT book--
I'm merely reading scientific works about the period,
just now--but if not that, I shall write some other book.
Else how will you get that piano?" he added, with an attempt at
a smile.

"I thought you had given that up, too!" she replied ruefully.
Then before he could speak, she went on: "Never mind
the piano; that can wait. What I've got on my mind
just now isn't piano; it's potatoes. Do you know,
I saw some the other day at Rasbach's, splendid potatoes--
these are some of them--and fifteen cents a bushel cheaper
than those dried-up old things Brother Barnum keeps,
and so I bought two bushels. And Sister Barnum met me
on the street this morning, and threw it in my face that
the Discipline commands us to trade with each other.
Is there any such command?"

"Yes," said the husband. "It's Section 33.
Don't you remember? I looked it up in Tyre. We are
to 'evidence our desire of salvation by doing good,
especially to them that are of the household of faith,
or groaning so to be; by employing them preferably to others;
buying one of another; helping each other in business'--
and so on. Yes, it's all there."

"Well, I told her I didn't believe it was," put in Alice,
"and I said that even if it was, there ought to be
another section about selling potatoes to their minister
for more than they're worth--potatoes that turn all green
when you boil them, too. I believe I'll read up that old
Discipline myself, and see if it hasn't got some things
that I can talk back with."

"The very section before that, Number 32, enjoins members
against 'uncharitable or unprofitable conversation--
particularly speaking evil of magistrates or ministers.'
You'd have 'em there, I think." Theron had begun
cheerfully enough, but the careworn, preoccupied look
returned now to his face. "I'm sorry if we've fallen out
with the Barnums," he said. "His brother-in-law, Davis,
the Sunday-school superintendent, is a member of the
Quarterly Conference, you know, and I've been hoping
that he was on my side. I've been taking a good deal
of pains to make up to him."

He ended with a sigh, the pathos of which impressed Alice.
"If you think it will do any good," she volunteered,
"I'll go and call on the Davises this very afternoon.
I'm sure to find her at home,--she's tied hand and foot
with that brood of hers--and you'd better give me some of
that candy for them."

Theron nodded his approval and thanks, and relapsed
into silence. When the meal was over, he brought
out the confectionery to his wife, and without a word
went back to that remarkable book.

When Alice returned toward the close of day, to prepare
the simple tea which was always laid a half-hour earlier
on Thursdays and Sundays, she found her husband where she
had left him, still busy with those new scientific works.
She recounted to him some incidents of her call upon
Mrs. Davis, as she took off her hat and put on the big
kitchen apron--how pleased Mrs. Davis seemed to be;
how her affection for her sister-in-law, the grocer's wife,
disclosed itself to be not even skin-deep; how the children
leaped upon the candy as if they had never seen any before;
and how, in her belief, Mr. Davis would be heart and soul on
Theron's side at the Conference.

To her surprise, the young minister seemed not at
all interested. He hardly looked at her during
her narrative, but reclined in the easy-chair with his
head thrown back, and an abstracted gaze wandering
aimlessly about the ceiling. When she avowed her faith
in the Sunday-school superintendent's loyal partisanship,
which she did with a pardonable pride in having helped
to make it secure, her husband even closed his eyes,
and moved his head with a gesture which plainly bespoke indifference.

"I expected you'd be tickled to death," she remarked,
with evident disappointment.

"I've a bad headache," he explained, after a minute's pause.

"No wonder!" Alice rejoined, sympathetically enough,
but with a note of reproof as well. "What can you expect,
staying cooped up in here all day long, poring over
those books? People are all the while remarking
that you study too much. I tell them, of course,
that you're a great hand for reading, and always were;
but I think myself it would be better if you got out more,
and took more exercise, and saw people. You know lots
and slathers more than THEY do now, or ever will, if you
never opened another book."

Theron regarded her with an expression which she had never
seen on his face before. "You don't realize what you
are saying," he replied slowly. He sighed as he added,
with increased gravity, "I am the most ignorant man alive!"

Alice began a little laugh of wifely incredulity, and then
let it die away as she recognized that he was really
troubled and sad in his mind. She bent over to kiss him
lightly on the brow, and tiptoed her way out into the kitchen.

"I believe I will let you make my excuses at the prayer-meeting
this evening," he said all at once, as the supper came
to an end. He had eaten next to nothing during the meal,
and had sat in a sort of brown-study from which Alice
kindly forbore to arouse him. "I don't know--I hardly
feel equal to it. They won't take it amiss--for once--
if you explain to them that I--I am not at all well."

"Oh, I do hope you're not coming down with anything!"
Alice had risen too, and was gazing at him with a solicitude
the tenderness of which at once comforted, and in some
obscure way jarred on his nerves. "Is there anything I
can do--or shall I go for a doctor? We've got mustard
in the house, and senna--I think there's some senna left--
and Jamaica ginger."

Theron shook his head wearily at her. "Oh, no,--no!"
he expostulated. "It isn't anything that needs drugs,
or doctors either. It's just mental worry and fatigue,
that's all. An evening's quiet rest in the big chair,
and early to bed--that will fix me up all right."

"But you'll read; and that will make your head worse,"
said Alice.

"No, I won't read any more," he promised her, walking slowly
into the sitting-room, and settling himself in the big chair,
the while she brought out a pillow from the adjoining
best bedroom, and adjusted it behind his head. "That's nice!
I'll just lie quiet here, and perhaps doze a little
till you come back. I feel in the mood for the rest;
it will do me all sorts of good."

He closed his eyes; and Alice, regarding his upturned
face anxiously, decided that already it looked more at
peace than awhile ago.

"Well, I hope you'll be better when I get back," she said,
as she began preparations for the evening service.
These consisted in combing stiffly back the strands of
light-brown hair which, during the day, had exuberantly
loosened themselves over her temples into something
almost like curls; in fastening down upon this rebellious
hair a plain brown-straw bonnet, guiltless of all
ornament save a binding ribbon of dull umber hue;
and in putting on a thin dark-gray shawl and a pair
of equally subdued lisle-thread gloves. Thus attired,
she made a mischievous little grimace of dislike at her
puritanical image in the looking-glass over the mantel,
and then turned to announce her departure.

"Well, I'm off," she said. Theron opened his eyes to take
in this figure of his wife dressed for prayer-meeting,
and then closed them again abruptly. "All right,"
he murmured, and then he heard the door shut behind her.

Although he had been alone all day, there seemed to be
quite a unique value and quality in this present solitude.
He stretched out his legs on the opposite chair,
and looked lazily about him, with the feeling that at
last he had secured some leisure, and could think
undisturbed to his heart's content. There were nearly
two hours of unbroken quiet before him; and the mere
fact of his having stepped aside from the routine of
his duty to procure it; marked it in his thoughts as a
special occasion, which ought in the nature of things
to yield more than the ordinary harvest of mental profit.

Theron's musings were broken in upon from time to time
by rumbling outbursts of hymn-singing from the church
next door. Surely, he said to himself, there could be no
other congregation in the Conference, or in all Methodism,
which sang so badly as these Octavians did. The noise,
as it came to him now and again, divided itself familiarly
into a main strain of hard, high, sharp, and tinny
female voices, with three or four concurrent and clashing
branch strains of part-singing by men who did not know how.
How well he already knew these voices! Through two wooden
walls he could detect the conceited and pushing note of
Brother Lovejoy, who tried always to drown the rest out,
and the lifeless, unmeasured weight of shrill clamor
which Sister Barnum hurled into every chorus, half closing
her eyes and sticking out her chin as she did so.
They drawled their hymns too, these people, till Theron
thought he understood that injunction in the Discipline
against singing too slowly. It had puzzled him heretofore;
now he felt that it must have been meant in prophecy
for Octavius.

It was impossible not to recall in contrast that other
church music he had heard, a month before, and the
whole atmosphere of that other pastoral sitting room,
from which he had listened to it. The startled and crowded
impressions of that strange evening had been lying hidden
in his mind all this while, driven into a corner by the
pressure of more ordinary, everyday matters. They came
forth now, and passed across his brain--no longer confusing
and distorted, but in orderly and intelligible sequence.
Their earlier effect had been one of frightened fascination.
Now he looked them over calmly as they lifted themselves,
one by one, and found himself not shrinking at all,
or evading anything, but dwelling upon each in turn
as a natural and welcome part of the most important
experience of his life.

The young minister had arrived, all at once, at this conclusion.
He did not question at all the means by which he had
reached it. Nothing was clearer to his mind than the
conclusion itself--that his meeting, with the priest
and the doctor was the turning-point in his career.
They had lifted him bodily out of the slough of ignorance,
of contact with low minds and sordid, narrow things,
and put him on solid ground. This book he had been reading--
this gentle, tender, lovable book, which had as much true
piety in it as any devotional book he had ever read,
and yet, unlike all devotional books, put its foot firmly
upon everything which could not be proved in human reason
to be true--must be merely one of a thousand which men
like Father Forbes and Dr. Ledsmar knew by heart.
The very thought that he was on the way now to know them,
too, made Theron tremble. The prospect wooed him,
and he thrilled in response, with the wistful and delicate
eagerness of a young lover.

Somehow, the fact that the priest and the doctor were not
religious men, and that this book which had so impressed
and stirred him was nothing more than Renan's recital
of how he, too, ceased to be a religious man, did not
take a form which Theron could look square in the face.
It wore the shape, instead, of a vague premise that there
were a great many different kinds of religions--the past
and dead races had multiplied these in their time literally
into thousands--and that each no doubt had its central
support of truth somewhere for the good men who were in it,
and that to call one of these divine and condemn all
the others was a part fit only for untutored bigots.
Renan had formally repudiated Catholicism, yet could write
in his old age with the deepest filial affection of the
Mother Church he had quitted. Father Forbes could talk
coolly about the "Christ-myth" without even ceasing to be
a priest, and apparently a very active and devoted priest.
Evidently there was an intellectual world, a world of culture
and grace, of lofty thoughts and the inspiring communion
of real knowledge, where creeds were not of importance,
and where men asked one another, not "Is your soul saved?"
but "Is your mind well furnished?" Theron had the sensation
of having been invited to become a citizen of this world.
The thought so dazzled him that his impulses were
dragging him forward to take the new oath of allegiance
before he had had time to reflect upon what it was he
was abandoning.

The droning of the Doxology from the church outside stirred
Theron suddenly out of his revery. It had grown quite dark,
and he rose and lit the gas. "Blest be the Tie that Binds,"
they were singing. He paused, with hand still in air,
to listen. That well-worn phrase arrested his attention,
and gave itself a new meaning. He was bound to those people,
it was true, but he could never again harbor the delusion
that the tie between them was blessed. There was vaguely
present in his mind the consciousness that other ties
were loosening as well. Be that as it might, one thing
was certain. He had passed definitely beyond pretending
to himself that there was anything spiritually in common
between him and the Methodist Church of Octavius.
The necessity of his keeping up the pretence with others
rose on the instant like a looming shadow before his
mental vision. He turned away from it, and bent his brain
to think of something else.

The noise of Alice opening the front door came as a
pleasant digression. A second later it became clear
from the sound of voices that she had brought some one
back with her, and Theron hastily stretched himself out
again in the armchair, with his head back in the pillow,
and his feet on the other chair. He had come mighty
near forgetting that he was an invalid, and he protected
himself the further now by assuming an air of lassitude
verging upon prostration.

"Yes; there's a light burning. It's all right," he heard
Alice say. She entered the room, and Theron's head was too
bad to permit him to turn it, and see who her companion was.

"Theron dear," Alice began, "I knew you'd be glad to see HER,
even if you were out of sorts; and I persuaded her just to run
in for a minute. Let me introduce you to Sister Soulsby.
Sister Soulsby--my husband."

The Rev. Mr. Ware sat upright with an energetic start,
and fastened upon the stranger a look which conveyed anything
but the satisfaction his wife had been so sure about.
It was at the first blush an undisguised scowl, and only
some fleeting memory of that reflection about needing
now to dissemble, prevented him from still frowning as he
rose to his feet, and perfunctorily held out his hand.

"Delighted, I'm sure," he mumbled. Then, looking up,
he discovered that Sister Soulsby knew he was not delighted,
and that she seemed not to mind in the least.

"As your good lady said, I just ran in for a moment,"
she remarked, shaking his limp hand with a brisk,
business-like grasp, and dropping it. "I hate bothering
sick people, but as we're to be thrown together a good
deal this next week or so, I thought I'd like to lose
no time in saying 'howdy.' I won't keep you up now.
Your wife has been sweet enough to ask me to move my trunk
over here in the morning, so that you'll see enough of me
and to spare."

Theron looked falteringly into her face, as he strove
for words which should sufficiently mask the disgust
this intelligence stirred within him. A debt-raiser
in the town was bad enough! A debt-raiser quartered
in the very parsonage!--he ground his teeth to think of it.

Alice read his hesitation aright. "Sister Soulsby
went to the hotel," she hastily put in; "and Loren
Pierce was after her to come and stay at his house,
and I ventured to tell her that I thought we could
make her more comfortable here." She accompanied this
by so daring a grimace and nod that her husband woke
up to the fact that a point in Conference politics was involved.

He squeezed a doubtful smile upon his features. "We shall
both do our best," he said. It was not easy, but he
forced increasing amiability into his glance and tone.
"Is Brother Soulsby here, too?" he asked.

The debt-raiser shook her head--again the prompt,
decisive movement, so like a busy man of affairs.
"No," she answered. "He's doing supply down on the Hudson
this week, but he'll be here in time for the Sunday
morning love-feast. I always like to come on ahead,
and see how the land lies. Well, good-night! Your head
will be all right in the morning."

Precisely what she meant by this assurance, Theron did
not attempt to guess. He received her adieu, noted the
masterful manner in which she kissed his wife, and watched
her pass out into the hall, with the feeling uppermost
that this was a person who decidedly knew her way about.
Much as he was prepared to dislike her, and much as he
detested the vulgar methods her profession typified,
he could not deny that she seemed a very capable sort
of woman.

This mental concession did not prevent his fixing upon Alice,
when she returned to the room, a glance of obvious disapproval.

"Theron," she broke forth, to anticipate his reproach,
"I did it for the best. The Pierces would have got
her if I hadn't cut in. I thought it would help
to have her on our side. And, besides, I like her.
She's the first sister I've seen since we've been in this
hole that's had a kind word for me--or--or sympathized
with me! And--and--if you're going to be offended--
I shall cry!"

There were real tears on her lashes, ready to make good
the threat. "Oh, I guess I wouldn't," said Theron,
with an approach to his old, half-playful manner.
"If you like her, that's the chief thing."

Alice shook her tear-drops away. "No," she replied,
with a wistful smile; "the chief thing is to have her
like you. She's as smart as a steel trap--that woman is--
and if she took the notion, I believe she could help get us
a better place."

 

 

CHAPTER XIV

 

The ensuing week went by with a buzz and whirl,
circling about Theron Ware's dizzy consciousness like
some huge, impalpable teetotum sent spinning under Sister
Soulsby's resolute hands. Whenever his vagrant memory
recurred to it, in after months, he began by marvelling,
and ended with a shudder of repulsion.

It was a week crowded with events, which seemed to him
to shoot past so swiftly that in effect they came all
of a heap. He never essayed the task, in retrospect,
of arranging them in their order of sequence.
They had, however, a definite and interdependent
chronology which it is worth the while to trace.

Mrs. Soulsby brought her trunk round to the parsonage bright
and early on Friday morning, and took up her lodgement
in the best bedroom, and her headquarters in the house
at large, with a cheerful and business-like manner.
She desired nothing so much, she said, as that people
should not put themselves out on her account, or allow
her to get in their way. She appeared to mean this, too,
and to have very good ideas about securing its realization.

During both Friday and the following day, indeed, Theron saw
her only at the family meals. There she displayed a hearty
relish for all that was set before her which quite won
Mrs. Ware's heart, and though she talked rather more than
Theron found himself expecting from a woman, he could not deny
that her conversation was both seemly and entertaining.
She had evidently been a great traveller, and referred
to things she had seen in Savannah or Montreal or Los
Angeles in as matter-of-fact fashion as he could have spoken
of a visit to Tecumseh. Theron asked her many questions
about these and other far-off cities, and her answers
were all so pat and showed so keen and clear an eye that
he began in spite of himself to think of her with a
certain admiration.

She in turn plied him with inquiries about the principal
pew-holders and members of his congregation--their means,
their disposition, and the measure of their devotion.
She put these queries with such intelligence, and seemed
to assimilate his replies with such an alert understanding,
that the young minister was spurred to put dashes of character
in his descriptions, and set forth the idiosyncrasies
and distinguishing earmarks of his flock with what he
felt afterward might have been too free a tongue. But at
the time her fine air of appreciation led him captive.
He gossiped about his parishioners as if he enjoyed it.
He made a specially happy thumb-nail sketch for her of
one of his trustees, Erastus Winch, the loud-mouthed,
ostentatiously jovial, and really cold-hearted cheese-buyer.
She was particularly interested in hearing about this man.
The personality of Winch seemed to have impressed her,
and she brought the talk back to him more than once,
and prompted Theron to the very threshold of indiscretion
in his confidences on the subject.

Save at meal-times, Sister Soulsby spent the two days out
around among the Methodists of Octavius. She had little
or nothing to say about what she thus saw and heard,
but used it as the basis for still further inquiries.
She told more than once, however, of how she had been
pressed here or there to stay to dinner or supper, and how
she had excused herself. "I've knocked about too much,"
she would explain to the Wares, "not to fight shy of random
country cooking. When I find such a born cook as you are--
well I know when I'm well off." Alice flushed with pleased
pride at this, and Theron himself felt that their visitor
showed great good sense. By Saturday noon, the two
women were calling each other by their first names.
Theron learned with a certain interest that Sister Soulsby's
Christian name was Candace.

It was only natural that he should give even more
thought to her than to her quaint and unfamiliar old
Ethiopian name. She was undoubtedly a very smart woman.
To his surprise she had never introduced in her talk any
of the stock religious and devotional phrases which official
Methodists so universally employed in mutual converse.
She might have been an insurance agent, or a school-teacher,
visiting in a purely secular household, so little parade
of cant was there about her.

He caught himself wondering how old she was.
She seemed to have been pretty well over the whole
American continent, and that must take years of time.
Perhaps, however, the exertion of so much travel would tend
to age one in appearance. Her eyes were still youthful--
decidedly wise eyes, but still juvenile. They had sparkled
with almost girlish merriment at some of his jokes.
She turned them about a good deal when she spoke,
making their glances fit and illustrate the things she said.
He had never met any one whose eyes played so constant
and prominent a part in their owner's conversation.
Theron had never seen a play; but he had encountered
the portraits of famous queens of the drama several times
in illustrated papers or shop windows, and it occurred
to him that some of the more marked contortions of Sister
Soulsby's eyes--notably a trick she had of rolling
them swiftly round and plunging them, so to speak,
into an intent, yearning, one might almost say devouring,
gaze at the speaker--were probably employed by eminent
actresses like Ristori and Fanny Davenport.

The rest of Sister Soulsby was undoubtedly subordinated
in interest to those eyes of hers. Sometimes her face
seemed to be reviving temporarily a comeliness which
had been constant in former days; then again it would
look decidedly, organically, plain. It was the worn
and loose-skinned face of a nervous, middle-aged woman,
who had had more than her share of trouble, and drank too
much tea. She wore the collar of her dress rather low;
and Theron found himself wondering at this, because,
though long and expansive, her neck certainly showed
more cords and cavities than consorted with his vague
ideal of statuesque beauty. Then he wondered at himself
for thinking about it, and abruptly reined up his fancy,
only to find that it was playing with speculations
as to whether her yellowish complexion was due to that
tea-drinking or came to her as a legacy of Southern blood.

He knew that she was born in the South because she said so.
From the same source he learned that her father had been
a wealthy planter, who was ruined by the war, and sank into
a premature grave under the weight of his accumulated losses.
The large dark rings around her eyes grew deeper still in
their shadows when she told about this, and her ordinarily
sharp voice took on a mellow cadence, with a soft,
drawling accent, turning U's into O's, and having no R's
to speak of. Theron had imbibed somewhere in early days
the conviction that the South was the land of romance,
of cavaliers and gallants and black eyes flashing behind
mantillas and outspread fans, and somehow when Sister
Soulsby used this intonation she suggested all these things.

But almost all her talk was in another key--a brisk,
direct, idiomatic manner of speech, with an intonation
hinting at no section in particular. It was merely that
of the city-dweller as distinguished from the rustic.
She was of about Alice's height, perhaps a shade taller.
It did not escape the attention of the Wares that she wore
clothes of a more stylish cut and a livelier arrangement of hues
than any Alice had ever dared own, even in lax-minded Tyre.
The two talked of this in their room on Friday night;
and Theron explained that congregations would tolerate
things of this sort with a stranger which would be sharply
resented in the case of local folk whom they controlled.
It was on this occasion that Alice in turn told Theron
she was sure Mrs. Soulsby had false teeth--a confidence
which she immediately regretted as an act of treachery
to her sex.

On Saturday afternoon, toward evening, Brother Soulsby
arrived, and was guided to the parsonage by his wife,
who had gone to the depot to meet him. They must have
talked over the situation pretty thoroughly on the way,
for by the time the new-comer had washed his face
and hands and put on a clean collar, Sister Soulsby
was ready to announce her plan of campaign in detail.

Her husband was a man of small stature and, like herself,
of uncertain age. He had a gentle, if rather dry,
clean-shaven face, and wore his dust-colored hair
long behind. His little figure was clad in black
clothes of a distinctively clerical fashion, and he
had a white neck-cloth neatly tied under his collar.
The Wares noted that he looked clean and amiable
rather than intellectually or spiritually powerful,
as he took the vacant seat between theirs, and joined
them in concentrating attention upon Mrs. Soulsby.

This lady, holding herself erect and alert on the edge
of the low, big easy-chair had the air of presiding
over a meeting.

"My idea is," she began, with an easy implication that no
one else's idea was needed, "that your Quarterly Conference,
when it meets on Monday, must be adjourned to Tuesday.
We will have the people all out tomorrow morning
to love-feast, and announcement can be made there,
and at the morning service afterward, that a series
of revival meetings are to be begun that same evening.
Mr. Soulsby and I can take charge in the evening, and we'll
see to it that THAT packs the house--fills the church
to overflowing Monday evening. Then we'll quietly turn
the meeting into a debt-raising convention, before they
know where they are, and we'll wipe off the best part
of the load. Now, don't you see," she turned her eyes
full upon Theron as she spoke, "you want to hold your
Quarterly Conference AFTER this money's been raised,
not before."

"I see what you mean," Mr. Ware responded gravely.
"But--"

"But what!" Sister Soulsby interjected, with vivacity.

"Well," said Theron, picking his words, "in the first place,
it rests with the Presiding Elder to say whether
an adjournment can be made until Tuesday, not with me."

"That's all right. Leave that to me," said the lady.

"In the second place," Theron went on, still more hesitatingly,
"there seems a certain--what shall I say?--indirection in--in--"

"In getting them together for a revival, and springing
a debt-raising on them?" Sister Soulsby put in.
"Why, man alive, that's the best part of it. You ought
to be getting some notion by this time what these Octavius
folks of yours are like. I've only been here two days,
but I've got their measure down to an allspice.
Supposing you were to announce tomorrow that the debt
was to be raised Monday. How many men with bank-accounts
would turn up, do you think? You could put them all in
your eye, sir--all in your eye!"

"Very possibly you're right," faltered the young minister.

"Right? Why, of course I'm right," she said,
with placid confidence. "You've got to take folks as you
find them; and you've got to find them the best way
you can. One place can be worked, managed, in one way,
and another needs quite a different way, and both ways
would be dead frosts--complete failures--in a third."

Brother Soulsby coughed softly here, and shuffled his feet
for an instant on the carpet. His wife resumed her remarks
with slightly abated animation, and at a slower pace.

"My experience," she said, "has shown me that the Apostle
was right. To properly serve the cause, one must be
all things to all men. I have known very queer things
indeed turn out to be means of grace. You simply CAN'T
get along without some of the wisdom of the serpent.
We are commanded to have it, for that matter. And now,
speaking of that, do you know when the Presiding Elder
arrives in town today, and where he is going to eat supper
and sleep?"

Theron shook his head. "All I know is he isn't likely
to come here," he said, and added sadly, "I'm afraid he's
not an admirer of mine."

"Perhaps that's not all his fault," commented Sister Soulsby.
"I'll tell you something. He came in on the same train
as my husband, and that old trustee Pierce of yours was
waiting for him with his buggy, and I saw like a flash
what was in the wind, and the minute the train stopped I
caught the Presiding Elder, and invited him in your name
to come right here and stay; told him you and Alice were
just set on his coming--wouldn't take no for an answer.
Of course he couldn't come--I knew well enough he had
promised old Pierce--but we got in our invitation anyway,
and it won't do you any harm. Now, that's what I call
having some gumption--wisdom of the serpent, and so on."

"I'm sure," remarked Alice, "I should have been mortified
to death if he had come. We lost the extension-leaf
to our table in moving, and four is all it'll seat decently."

Sister Soulsby smiled winningly into the wife's honest face.
"Don't you see, dear," she explained patiently, "I only
asked him because I knew he couldn't come. A little butter
spreads a long way, if it's only intelligently warmed."

"It was certainly very ingenious of you," Theron began
almost stiffly. Then he yielded to the humanities,
and with a kindling smile added, "And it was as kind
as kind could be. I'm afraid you're wrong about it's
doing me any good, but I can see how well you meant it,
and I'm grateful."

"We COULD have sneaked in the kitchen table, perhaps,
while he was out in the garden, and put on the extra
long tablecloth," interjected Alice, musingly.

Sister Soulsby smiled again at Sister Ware, but without
any words this time; and Alice on the instant rose,
with the remark that she must be going out to see
about supper.

"I'm going to insist on coming out to help you,"
Mrs. Soulsby declared, "as soon as I've talked over one
little matter with your husband. Oh, yes, you must
let me this time. I insist!"

As the kitchen door closed behind Mrs. Ware, a swift
and apparently significant glance shot its way across
from Sister Soulsby's roving, eloquent eyes to the calmer
and smaller gray orbs of her husband. He rose to his feet,
made some little explanation about being a gardener himself,
and desiring to inspect more closely some rhododendrons
he had noticed in the garden, and forthwith moved
decorously out by the other door into the front hall.
They heard his footsteps on the gravel beneath the window
before Mrs. Soulsby spoke again.

"You're right about the Presiding Elder, and you're wrong,"
she said. "He isn't what one might call precisely in love
with you. Oh, I know the story--how you got into debt
at Tyre, and he stepped in and insisted on your being
denied Tecumseh and sent here instead."

"HE was responsible for that, then, was he?" broke in Theron,
with contracted brows.

"Why, don't you make any effort to find out anything at ALL
she asked pertly enough, but with such obvious good-nature
that he could not but have pleasure in her speech.
"Why, of course he did it! Who else did you suppose?"

"Well," said the young minister, despondently, "if he's
as much against me as all that, I might as well hang up
my fiddle and go home."

Sister Soulsby gave a little involuntary groan of impatience.
She bent forward, and, lifting her eyes, rolled them at him
in a curve of downward motion which suggested to his fancy
the image of two eagles in a concerted pounce upon a lamb.

"My friend," she began, with a new note of impressiveness
in her voice, "if you'll pardon my saying it, you haven't
got the spunk of a mouse. If you're going to lay down,
and let everybody trample over you just as they please,
you're right! You MIGHT as well go home. But now here,
this is what I wanted to say to you: Do you just keep your hands
off these next few days, and leave this whole thing to me.
I'll pull it into shipshape for you. No--wait a minute--
don't interrupt now. I have taken a liking to you.
You've got brains, and you've got human nature in you,
and heart. What you lack is SABE--common-sense. You'll
get that, too, in time, and meanwhile I'm not going to stand
by and see you cut up and fed to the dogs for want of it.
I'll get you through this scrape, and put you on your
feet again, right-side-up-with care, because, as I said,
I like you. I like your wife, too, mind. She's a good,
honest little soul, and she worships the very ground you
tread on. Of course, as long as people WILL marry in
their teens, the wrong people will get yoked up together.
But that's neither here nor there. She's a kind sweet
little body, and she's devoted to you, and it isn't every
intellectual man that gets even that much. But now
it's a go, is it? You promise to keep quiet, do you,
and leave the whole show absolutely to me? Shake hands
on it."

Sister Soulsby had risen, and stood now holding out her hand
in a frank, manly fashion. Theron looked at the hand,
and made mental notes that there were a good many veins
discernible on the small wrist, and that the forearm
seemed to swell out more than would have been expected
in a woman producing such a general effect of leanness.
He caught the shine of a thin bracelet-band of gold under
the sleeve. A delicate, significant odor just hinted
its presence in the air about this outstretched arm--
something which was not a perfume, yet deserved as gracious
a name.

He rose to his feet, and took the proffered hand with a
deliberate gesture, as if he had been cautiously weighing
all the possible arguments for and against this momentous compact.

"I promise," he said gravely, and the two palms squeezed
themselves together in an earnest clasp.

"Right you are," exclaimed the lady, once more with
cheery vivacity. "Mind, when it's all over, I'm going
to give you a good, serious, downright talking to--
a regular hoeing-over. I'm not sure I shan't give
you a sound shaking into the bargain. You need it.
And now I'm going out to help Alice."

The Reverend Mr. Ware remained standing after his new friend
had left the room, and his meditative face wore an even
unusual air of abstraction. He strolled aimlessly over,
after a time, to the desk by the window, and stood there
looking out at the slight figure of Brother Soulsby,
who was bending over and attentively regarding some pink
blossoms on a shrub through what seemed to be a pocket
magnifying-glass.

What remained uppermost in his mind was not this interesting
woman's confident pledge of championship in his material
difficulties. He found himself dwelling instead upon her
remark about the incongruous results of early marriages.
He wondered idly if the little man in the white tie,
fussing out there over that rhododendron-bush, had figured
in her thoughts as an example of these evils. Then he reflected
that they had been mentioned in clear relation to talk about Alice.

Now that he faced this question, it was as if he had been
consciously ignoring and putting it aside for a long time.
How was it, he asked himself now, that Alice, who had
once seemed so bright and keen-witted, who had in truth
started out immeasurably his superior in swiftness of
apprehension and readiness in humorous quips and conceits,
should have grown so dull? For she was undoubtedly slow
to understand things nowadays. Her absurd lugging in of
the extension-table problem, when the great strategic
point of that invitation foisted upon the Presiding Elder
came up, was only the latest sample of a score of these
heavy-minded exhibitions that recalled themselves to him.
And outsiders were apparently beginning to notice it.
He knew by intuition what those phrases, "good, honest
little soul" and "kind, sweet little body" signified,
when another woman used them to a husband about his wife.
The very employment of that word "little" was enough,
considering that there was scarcely more than a hair's
difference between Mrs. Soulsby and Alice, and that they
were both rather tall than otherwise, as the stature of
women went.

What she had said about the chronic misfortunes of
intellectual men in such matters gave added point to those
meaning phrases. Nobody could deny that geniuses and men
of conspicuous talent had as a rule, all through history,
contracted unfortunate marriages. In almost every
case where their wives were remembered at all, it was
on account of their abnormal stupidity, or bad temper,
or something of that sort. Take Xantippe, for example,
and Shakespeare's wife, and--and--well, there was Byron,
and Bulwer-Lytton, and ever so many others.

Of course there was nothing to be done about it.
These things happened, and one could only put the best
possible face on them, and live one's appointed life
as patiently and contentedly as might be. And Alice
undoubtedly merited all the praise which had been so
generously bestowed upon her. She was good and honest
and kindly, and there could be no doubt whatever
as to her utter devotion to him. These were tangible,
solid qualities, which must always secure respect for her.
It was true that she no longer seemed to be very popular
among people. He questioned whether men, for instance,
like Father Forbes and Dr. Ledsmar would care much
about her. Visions of the wifeless and academic calm
in which these men spent their lives--an existence
consecrated to literature and knowledge and familiarity
with all the loftiest and noblest thoughts of the past--
rose and enveloped him in a cloud of depression. No such
lot would be his! He must labor along among ignorant
and spiteful narrow-minded people to the end of his days,
pocketing their insults and fawning upon the harsh hands of
jealous nonentities who happened to be his official masters,
just to keep a roof over his head--or rather Alice's.
He must sacrifice everything to this, his ambitions,
his passionate desires to do real good in the world on
a large scale, his mental freedom, yes, even his chance
of having truly elevating, intellectual friendships.
For it was plain enough that the men whose friendship
would be of genuine and stimulating profit to him would
not like her. Now that he thought of it, she seemed
latterly to make no friends at all.

Suddenly, as he watched in a blank sort of way Brother
Soulsby take out a penknife, and lop an offending twig
from a rose-bush against the fence, something occurred
to him. There was a curious exception to that rule
of Alice's isolation. She had made at least one friend.
Levi Gorringe seemed to like her extremely.

As if his mind had been a camera, Theron snapped a
shutter down upon this odd, unbidden idea, and turned
away from the window.

The sounds of an active, almost strenuous conversation
in female voices came from the kitchen. Theron opened
the door noiselessly, and put in his head, conscious of
something furtive in his intention.

"You must dreen every drop of water off the spinach,
mind, before you put it over, or else--"

It was Sister Soulsby's sharp and penetrating tones
which came to him. Theron closed the door again,
and surrendered himself once more to the circling whirl
of his thoughts.

 

 

CHAPTER XV

 

A love-feast at nine in the morning opened the public
services of a Sunday still memorable in the annals
of Octavius Methodism.

This ceremony, which four times a year preceded the sessions
of the Quarterly Conference, was not necessarily an event
of importance. It was an occasion upon which the brethren
and sisters who clung to the old-fashioned, primitive
ways of the itinerant circuit-riders, let themselves go
with emphasized independence, putting up more vehement
prayers than usual, and adding a special fervor of noise
to their "Amens!" and other interjections--and that was all.

It was Theron's first love-feast in Octavius, and as the
big class-room in the church basement began to fill up,
and he noted how the men with ultra radical views and the
women clad in the most ostentatious drabs and grays were
crowding into the front seats, he felt his spirits sinking.
He had literally to force himself from sentence to sentence,
when the time came for him to rise and open the proceedings
with an exhortation. He had eagerly offered this function
to the Presiding Elder, the Rev. Aziel P. Larrabee,
who sat in severe silence on the little platform behind him,
but had been informed that the dignitary would lead off
in giving testimony later on. So Theron, feeling all
the while the hostile eyes of the Elder burning holes
in his back, dragged himself somehow through the task.
He had never known any such difficulty of speech before.
The relief was almost overwhelming when he came to the
customary part where all are adjured to be as brief
as possible in witnessing for the Lord, because the time
belongs to all the people, and the Discipline forbids
the feast to last more than ninety minutes. He delivered
this injunction to brevity with marked earnestness,
and then sat down abruptly.

There was some rather boisterous singing, during which
the stewards, beginning with the platform, passed plates
of bread cut in small cubes, and water in big plated
pitchers and tumblers, about among the congregation,
threading their way between the long wooden benches
ordinarily occupied at this hour by the children of
the Sunday-school, and helping each brother and sister
in turn. They held by the old custom, here in Octavius,
and all along the seats the sexes alternated, as they
do at a polite dinner-table.

Theron impassively watched the familiar scene. The early
nervousness had passed away. He felt now that he was not
in the least afraid of these people, even with the Presiding
Elder thrown in. Folks who sang with such unintelligence,
and who threw themselves with such undignified fervor
into this childish business of the bread and water,
could not be formidable antagonists for a man of intellect.
He had never realized before what a spectacle the
Methodist love-feast probably presented to outsiders.
What must they think of it!

He had noticed that the Soulsbys sat together, in the centre
and toward the front. Next to Brother Soulsby sat Alice.
He thought she looked pale and preoccupied, and set it
down in passing to her innate distaste for the somber
garments she was wearing, and for the company she perforce
found herself in. Another head was in the way, and for a
time Theron did not observe who sat beside Alice on the
other side. When at last he saw that it was Levi Gorringe,
his instinct was to wonder what the lawyer must be saying
to himself about these noisy and shallow enthusiasts.
A recurring emotion of loyalty to the simple people
among whom, after all, he had lived his whole life,
prompted him to feel that it wasn't wholly nice of Gorringe
to come and enjoy this revelation of their foolish side,
as if it were a circus. There was some vague memory in his
mind which associated Gorringe with other love-feasts,
and with a cynical attitude toward them. Oh, yes! he
had told how he went to one just for the sake of sitting
beside the girl he admired--and was pursuing.

The stewards had completed their round, and the loud,
discordant singing came to an end. There ensued a
little pause, during which Theron turned to the Presiding
Elder with a gesture of invitation to take charge of the
further proceedings. The Elder responded with another gesture,
calling his attention to something going on in front.

Brother and Sister Soulsby, to the considerable surprise
of everybody, had risen to their feet, and were standing
in their places, quite motionless, and with an air of
professional self-assurance dimly discernible under a large
show of humility. They stood thus until complete silence
had been secured. Then the woman, lifting her head,
began to sing. The words were "Rock of Ages," but no one
present had heard the tune to which she wedded them.
Her voice was full and very sweet, and had in it
tender cadences which all her hearers found touching.
She knew how to sing, and she put forth the words
so that each was distinctly intelligible. There came
a part where Brother Soulsby, lifting his head in turn,
took up a tuneful second to her air. Although the
two did not, as one could hear by listening closely,
sing the same words at the same time, they produced none
the less most moving and delightful harmonies of sound.

The experience was so novel and charming that listeners
ran ahead in their minds to fix the number of verses there
were in the hymn, and to hope that none would be left out.
Toward the end, when some of the intolerably self-conceited
local singers, fancying they had caught the tune,
started to join in, they were stopped by an indignant
"sh-h!" which rose from all parts of the class-room;
and the Soulsbys, with a patient and pensive kindliness
written on their uplifted faces, gave that verse over again.

What followed seemed obviously restrained and modified by the
effect of this unlooked-for and tranquillizing overture.
The Presiding Elder was known to enjoy visits to old-fashioned
congregations like that of Octavius, where he could
indulge to the full his inner passion for high-pitched
passionate invocations and violent spiritual demeanor,
but this time he spoke temperately, almost soothingly.
The most tempestuous of the local witnesses for the Lord
gave in their testimony in relatively pacific tones,
under the influence of the spell which good music had
laid upon the gathering. There was the deepest interest
as to what the two visitors would do in this way.
Brother Soulsby spoke first, very briefly and in well rounded
and well-chosen, if conventional, phrases. His wife,
following him, delivered in a melodious monotone some
equally hackneyed remarks. The assemblage, listening in
rapt attention, felt the suggestion of reserved power in
every sentence she uttered, and burst forth, as she dropped
into her seat, in a loud chorus of approving ejaculations.
The Soulsbys had captured Octavius with their first outer
skirmish line.

Everything seemed to move forward now with a new zest
and spontaneity. Theron had picked out for the occasion
the best of those sermons which he had prepared in Tyre,
at the time when he was justifying his ambition to be
accounted a pulpit orator. It was orthodox enough,
but had been planned as the framework for picturesque
and emotional rhetoric rather than doctrinal edification.
He had never dreamed of trying it on Octavius before,
and only on the yesterday had quavered at his own daring
in choosing it now. Nothing but the desire to show Sister
Soulsby what was in him had held him to the selection.

Something of this same desire no doubt swayed and steadied
him now in the pulpit. The labored slowness of his beginning
seemed to him to be due to nervous timidity, until suddenly,
looking down into those big eyes of Sister Soulsby's,
which were bent gravely upon him from where she sat beside
Alice in the minister's pew, he remembered that it was
instead the studied deliberation which art had taught him.
He went on, feeling more and more that the skill and
histrionic power of his best days were returning to him,
were as marked as ever--nay, had never triumphed before
as they were triumphing now. The congregation watched
and listened with open, steadfast eyes and parted lips.
For the first time in all that weary quarter, their
faces shone. The sustaining sparkle of their gaze lifted
him to a peroration unrivalled in his own recollection of himself.

He sat down, and bent his head forward upon the open Bible,
breathing hard, but suffused with a glow of satisfaction.
His ears caught the music of that sighing rustle through
the audience which bespeaks a profound impression.
He could scarcely keep the fingers of his hands,
covering his bowed face in a devotional posture as they were,
from drumming a jubilant tattoo. His pulses did this
in every vein, throbbing with excited exultation.
The insistent whim seized him, as he still bent thus
before his people, to whisper to his own heart, "At last!--
The dogs!"

The announcement that in the evening a series of revival
meetings was to be inaugurated, had been made at the
love-feast, and it was repeated now from the pulpit,
with the added statement that for the once the class-meetings
usually following this morning service would be suspended.
Then Theron came down the steps, conscious after a fashion
that the Presiding Elder had laid a propitiatory hand on his
shoulder and spoken amiably about the sermon, and that several
groups of more or less important parishioners were waiting
in the aisle and the vestibule to shake hands and tell him
how much they had enjoyed the sermon. His mind perversely
kept hold of the thought that all this came too late.
He politely smiled his way along out, and, overtaking the
Soulsbys and his wife near the parsonage gate, went in with them.

At the cold, picked-up noonday meal which was the Sunday
rule of the house, Theron rather expected that his guests
would talk about the sermon, or at any rate about the events
of the morning. A Sabbath chill seemed to have settled
upon both their tongues. They ate almost in silence,
and their sparse remarks touched upon topics far removed
from church affairs. Alice too, seemed strangely
disinclined to conversation. The husband knew her face
and its varying moods so well that he could see she
was laboring under some very powerful and deep emotion.
No doubt it was the sermon, the oratorical swing of which
still tingled in his own blood, that had so affected her.
If she had said so, it would have pleased him, but she
said nothing.

After dinner, Brother Soulsby disappeared in his bedroom,
with the remark that he guessed he would lie down awhile.
Sister Soulsby put on her bonnet, and, explaining that she
always prepared herself for an evening's work by a long
solitary walk, quitted the house. Alice, after she had put
the dinner things away, went upstairs, and stayed there.
Left to himself, Theron spent the afternoon in the
easy-chair, and, in the intervals of confused introspection,
read "Recollections of my Youth" through again from cover
to cover.

He went through the remarkable experiences attending
the opening of the revival, when evening came, as one in
a dream. Long before the hour for the service arrived,
the sexton came in to tell him that the church was already
nearly full, and that it was going to be impossible
to present any distinction in the matter of pews.
When the party from the parsonage went over--after another
cold and mostly silent meal--it was to find the interior
of the church densely packed, and people being turned
away from the doors.

Theron was supposed to preside over what followed, and he
did sit on the central chair in the pulpit, between the
Presiding Elder and Brother Soulsby, and on the several
needful occasions did rise and perfunctorily make the formal
remarks required of him. The Elder preached a short,
but vigorously phrased sermon. The Soulsbys sang three or
four times--on each occasion with familiar hymnal words set
to novel, concerted music--and then separately exhorted
the assemblage. The husband's part seemed well done.
If his speech lacked some of the fire of the divine girdings
which older Methodists recalled, it still led straight,
and with kindling fervency, up to a season of power.
The wife took up the word as he sat down. She had risen
from one of the side-seats; and, speaking as she walked,
she moved forward till she stood within the altar-rail,
immediately under the pulpit, and from this place,
facing the listening throng, she delivered her harangue.
Those who watched her words most intently got the least
sense of meaning from them. The phrases were all familiar
enough--"Jesus a very present help," "Sprinkled by the Blood,"
"Comforted by the Word," "Sanctified by the Spirit,"
"Born into the Kingdom," and a hundred others--but it
was as in the case of her singing: the words were old;
the music was new.

What Sister Soulsby said did not matter. The way she
said it--the splendid, searching sweep of her great eyes;
the vibrating roll of her voice, now full of tears, now scornful,
now boldly, jubilantly triumphant; the sympathetic swaying
of her willowy figure under the stress of her eloquence--
was all wonderful. When she had finished, and stood,
flushed and panting, beneath the shadow of the pulpit,
she held up a hand deprecatingly as the resounding "Amens!"
and "Bless the Lords!" began to well up about her.

"You have heard us sing," she said, smiling to apologize
for her shortness of breath. "Now we want to hear you sing!"

Her husband had risen as she spoke, and on the instant,
with a far greater volume of voice than they had hitherto
disclosed, the two began "From Greenland's Icy Mountains,"
in the old, familiar tune. It did not need Sister Soulsby's
urgent and dramatic gesture to lift people to their feet.
The whole assemblage sprang up, and, under the guidance
of these two powerful leading voices, thundered the hymn
out as Octavius had never heard it before.

While its echoes were still alive, the woman began
speaking again. "Don't sit down!" she cried.
"You would stand up if the President of the United
States was going by, even if he was only going fishing.
How much more should you stand up in honor of living
souls passing forward to find their Saviour!"

The psychological moment was upon them. Groans and
cries arose, and a palpable ferment stirred the throng.
The exhortation to sinners to declare themselves, to come
to the altar, was not only on the revivalist's lips:
it seemed to quiver in the very air, to be borne on every
inarticulate exclamation in the clamor of the brethren.
A young woman, with a dazed and startled look in her eyes,
rose in the body of the church tremblingly hesitated for
a moment, and then, with bowed head and blushing cheeks,
pressed her way out from the end of a crowded pew and down
the aisle to the rail. A triumphant outburst of welcoming
ejaculations swelled to the roof as she knelt there,
and under its impetus others followed her example.
With interspersed snatches of song and shouted encouragements
the excitement reached its height only when twoscore people,
mostly young, were tightly clustered upon their knees
about the rail, and in the space opening upon the aisle.
Above the confusion of penitential sobs and moans, and the
hysterical murmurings of members whose conviction of entire
sanctity kept them in their seats, could be heard the voices
of the Presiding Elder, the Soulsbys, and the elderly
deacons of the church, who moved about among the kneeling
mourners, bending over them and patting their shoulders,
and calling out to them: "Fasten your thoughts on Jesus!"
"Oh, the Precious Blood!" "Blessed be His Name!"
"Seek Him, and you shall find Him!" "Cling to Jesus,
and Him Crucified!"

The Rev. Theron Ware did not, with the others, descend from
the pulpit. Seated where he could not see Sister Soulsby,
he had failed utterly to be moved by the wave of enthusiasm
she had evoked. What he heard her say disappointed him.
He had expected from her more originality, more spice of
her own idiomatic, individual sort. He viewed with a cold
sense of aloofness the evidences of her success when they
began to come forward and abase themselves at the altar.
The instant resolve that, come what might, he would not go
down there among them, sprang up ready-made in his mind.
He saw his two companions pass him and descend the pulpit
stairs, and their action only hardened his resolution.
If an excuse were needed, he was presiding, and the place
to preside in was the pulpit. But he waived in his mind
the whole question of an excuse.

After a little, he put his hand over his face, leaning the
elbow forward on the reading-desk. The scene below would have
thrilled him to the marrow six months--yes, three months ago.
He put a finger across his eyes now, to half shut it out.
The spectacle of these silly young "mourners"--kneeling
they knew not why, trembling at they could not tell what,
pledging themselves frantically to dogmas and mysteries
they knew nothing of, under the influence of a hubbub
of outcries as meaningless in their way, and inspiring
in much the same way, as the racket of a fife and
drum corps--the spectacle saddened and humiliated
him now. He was conscious of a dawning sense of shame
at being even tacitly responsible for such a thing.
His fancy conjured up the idea of Dr. Ledsmar coming
in and beholding this maudlin and unseemly scene,
and he felt his face grow hot at the bare thought.

Looking through his fingers, Theron all at once saw
something which caught at his breath with a sharp clutch.
Alice had risen from the minister's pew--the most conspicuous
one in the church--and was moving down the aisle toward
the rail, her uplifted face chalk-like in its whiteness,
and her eyes wide-open, looking straight ahead.

The young pastor could scarcely credit his sight.
He thrust aside his hand, and bent forward, only to see
his wife sink upon her knees among the rest, and to hear
this notable accession to the "mourners" hailed by a
tumult of approving shouts. Then, remembering himself,
he drew back and put up his hand, shutting out the strange
scene altogether. To see nothing at all was a relief,
and under cover he closed his eyes, and bit his teeth together.

A fresh outburst of thanksgivings, spreading noisily
through the congregation, prompted him to peer through
his fingers again. Levi Gorringe was making his way
down the aisle--was at the moment quite in front.
Theron found himself watching this man with the stern
composure of a fatalist. The clamant brethren down below
were stirred to new excitement by the thought that the
sceptical lawyer, so long with them, yet not of them,
had been humbled and won by the outpourings of the Spirit.
Theron's perceptions were keener. He knew that Gorringe
was coming forward to kneel beside Alice; The knowledge
left him curiously undisturbed. He saw the lawyer advance,
gently insinuate himself past the form of some kneeling
mourner who was in his way, and drop on his knees close
beside the bowed figure of Alice. The two touched
shoulders as they bent forward beneath Sister Soulsby's
outstretched hands, held over them as in a blessing.
Theron looked fixedly at them, and professed to himself
that he was barely interested.

A little afterward, he was standing up in his place,
and reading aloud a list of names which one of the stewards
had given him. They were the names of those who had
asked that evening to be taken into the church as members
on probation. The sounds of the recent excitement
were all hushed now, save as two or three enthusiasts
in a corner raised their voices in abrupt greeting of
each name in its turn, but Theron felt somehow that this
noise had been transferred to the inside of his head.
A continuous buzzing went on there, so that the sound
of his voice was far-off and unfamiliar in his ears.

He read through the list--comprising some fifteen items--
and pronounced the names with great distinctness.
It was necessary to take pains with this, because the
only name his blurred eyes seemed to see anywhere on the
foolscap sheet was that of Levi Gorringe. When he had
finished and was taking his seat, some one began speaking
to him from the body of the church. He saw that this
was the steward, who was explaining to him that the most
important name of the lot--that of Brother Gorringe--
had not been read out.

Theron smiled and shook his head. Then, when the Presiding
Elder touched him on the arm, and assured him that he had
not mentioned the name in question, he replied quite simply,
and with another smile, "I thought it was the only name
I did read out."

Then he sat down abruptly, and let his head fall to one side.
There were hurried movements inside the pulpit, and people
in the audience had begun to stand up wonderingly,
when the Presiding Elder, with uplifted hands, confronted them.

"We will omit the Doxology, and depart quietly after
the benediction," he said. "Brother Ware seems to have
been overcome by the heat."

 

 

CHAPTER XVI

 

When Theron woke next morning, Alice seemed to have dressed
and left the room--a thing which had never happened before.

This fact connected itself at once in his brain with the
recollection of her having made an exhibition of herself
the previous evening--going forward before all eyes to join
the unconverted and penitent sinners, as if she were
some tramp or shady female, instead of an educated lady,
a professing member from her girlhood, and a minister's wife.
It crossed his mind that probably she had risen and got
away noiselessly, for very shame at looking him in the face,
after such absurd behavior.

Then he remembered more, and grasped the situation.
He had fainted in church, and had been brought home and helped
to bed. Dim memories of unaccustomed faces in the bedroom,
of nauseous drugs and hushed voices, came to him out of the
night-time. Now that he thought of it, he was a sick man.
Having settled this, he went off to sleep again,
a feverish and broken sleep, and remained in this state
most of the time for the following twenty-four hours.
In the brief though numerous intervals of waking, he found
certain things clear in his mind. One was that he was
annoyed with Alice, but would dissemble his feelings.
Another was that it was much pleasanter to be ill than to be
forced to attend and take part in those revival meetings.
These two ideas came and went in a lazy, drowsy fashion,
mixing themselves up with other vagrant fancies, yet always
remaining on top.

In the evening the singing from the church next door
filled his room. The Soulsbys' part of it was worth
keeping awake for. He turned over and deliberately
dozed when the congregation sang.

Alice came up a number of times during the day to ask
how he felt, and to bring him broth or toast-water. On
several occasions, when he heard her step, the perverse
inclination mastered him to shut his eyes, and pretend
to be asleep, so that she might tip-toe out again.
She had a depressed and thoughtful air, and spoke to him
like one whose mind was on something else. Neither of
them alluded to what had happened the previous evening.
Toward the close of the long day, she came to ask him
whether he would prefer her to remain in the house,
instead of attending the meeting.

"Go, by all means," he said almost curtly.

The Presiding Elder and the Sunday-school superintendent
called early Tuesday morning at the parsonage to make
brotherly inquiries, and Theron was feeling so much better
that he himself suggested their coming upstairs to see him.
The Elder was in good spirits; he smiled approvingly,
and even put in a jocose word or two while the superintendent
sketched for the invalid in a cheerful way the leading
incidents of the previous evening.

There had been an enormous crowd, even greater than that of
Sunday night, and everybody had been looking forward to another
notable and exciting season of grace. These expectations
were especially heightened when Sister Soulsby ascended
the pulpit stairs and took charge of the proceedings.
She deferred to Paul's views about women preachers
on Sundays, she said; but on weekdays she had just as much
right to snatch brands from the burning as Paul, or Peter,
or any other man. She went on like that, in a breezy,
off-hand fashion which tickled the audience immensely,
and led to the liveliest anticipations of what would
happen when she began upon the evening's harvest of souls.

But it was something else that happened. At a signal from
Sister Soulsby the steward got up, and, in an unconcerned sort
of way, went through the throng to the rear of the church,
locked the doors, and put the keys in their pockets.
The sister dryly explained now to the surprised congregation
that there was a season for all things, and that on the
present occasion they would suspend the glorious work
of redeeming fallen human nature, and take up instead
the equally noble task of raising some fifteen hundred
dollars which the church needed in its business. The doors
would only be opened again when this had been accomplished.

The brethren were much taken aback by this trick, and they
permitted themselves to exchange a good many scowling and
indignant glances, the while their professional visitors
sang another of their delightfully novel sacred duets.
Its charm of harmony for once fell upon unsympathetic ears.
But then Sister Soulsby began another monologue, defending
this way of collecting money, chaffing the assemblage
with bright-eyed impudence on their having been trapped,
and scoring, one after another, neat and jocose little
personal points on local characteristics, at which everybody
but the individual touched grinned broadly. She was
so droll and cheeky, and withal effective in her talk,
that she quite won the crowd over. She told a story
about a woodchuck which fairly brought down the house.

"A man," she began, with a quizzical twinkle in her eye,
"told me once about hunting a woodchuck with a pack
of dogs, and they chased it so hard that it finally
escaped only by climbing a butternut-tree. 'But,
my friend,' I said to him, 'woodchucks can't climb trees--
butternut-trees or any other kind--and you know it!'
All he said in reply to me was: 'This woodchuck had to
climb a tree!' And that's the way with this congregation.
You think you can't raise $1,500, but you've GOT to."

So it went on. She set them all laughing; and then,
with a twist of the eyes and a change of voice, lo,
and behold, she had them nearly crying in the same breath.
Under the pressure of these jumbled emotions, brethren began
to rise up in their pews and say what they would give.
The wonderful woman had something smart and apt to say about
each fresh contribution, and used it to screw up the general
interest a notch further toward benevolent hysteria.
With songs and jokes and impromptu exhortations and
prayers she kept the thing whirling, until a sort of duel
of generosity began between two of the most unlikely men--
Erastus Winch and Levi Gorringe. Everybody had been surprised
when Winch gave his first $50; but when he rose again,
half an hour afterward, and said that, owing to the high
public position of some of the new members on probation,
he foresaw a great future for the church, and so felt
moved to give another $25, there was general amazement.
Moved by a common instinct, all eyes were turned upon
Levi Gorringe, and he, without the slightest hesitation,
stood up and said he would give $100. There was something
in his tone which must have annoyed Brother Winch, for he shot
up like a dart, and called out, "Put me down for fifty more;
"and that brought Gorringe to his feet with an added $50,
and then the two went on raising each other till the
assemblage was agape with admiring stupefaction.

This gladiatorial combat might have been going on till now,
the Sunday-school superintendent concluded, if Winch
hadn't subsided. The amount of the contributions hadn't
been figured up yet, for Sister Soulsby kept the list;
but there had been a tremendous lot of money raised.
Of that there could be no doubt.

The Presiding Elder now told Theron that the Quarterly
Conference had been adjourned yesterday till today.
He and Brother Davis were even now on their way to attend
the session in the church next door. The Elder added,
with an obvious kindly significance, that though Theron was
too ill to attend it, he guessed his absence would do him
no harm. Then the two men left the room, and Theron went
to sleep again.

Another almost blank period ensued, this time lasting
for forty-eight hours. The young minister was enfolded
in the coils of a fever of some sort, which Brother Soulsby,
who had dabbled considerably in medicine, admitted that
he was puzzled about. Sometimes he thought that it
was typhoid, and then again there were symptoms which
looked suspiciously like brain fever. The Methodists
of Octavius counted no physician among their numbers,
and when, on the second day, Alice grew scared, and decided,
with Brother Soulsby's assent, to call in professional
advice, the only doctor's name she could recall was that
of Ledsmar. She was conscious of an instinctive dislike
for the vague image of him her fancy had conjured up,
but the reflection that he was Theron's friend, and so
probably would be more moderate in his charges, decided her.

Brother Soulsby showed a most comforting tact and swiftness
of apprehension when Alice, in mentioning Dr. Ledsmar's
name, disclosed by her manner a fear that his being
sent for would create talk among the church people.
He volunteered at once to act as messenger himself, and,
with no better guide than her dim hints at direction,
found the doctor and brought him back to the parsonage.

Dr. Ledsmar expressly disclaimed to Soulsby all pretence
of professional skill, and made him understand that he
went along solely because he liked Mr. Ware, and was
interested in him, and in any case would probably be of
as much use as the wisest of strange physicians--a view
which the little revivalist received with comprehending
nods of tacit acquiescence. Ledsmar came, and was taken
up to the sick-room. He sat on the bedside and talked
with Theron awhile, and then went downstairs again.
To Alice's anxious inquiries, he replied that it seemed
to him merely a case of over-work and over-worry, about
which there was not the slightest occasion for alarm.

"But he says the strangest things," the wife put in.
"He has been quite delirious at times."

"That means only that his brain is taking a rest as well
as his body," remarked Ledsmar. "That is Nature's way
of securing an equilibrium of repose--of recuperation.
He will come out of it with his mind all the fresher
and clearer."

"I don't believe he knows shucks!" was Alice's comment
when she closed the street door upon Dr. Ledsmar.
"Anybody could have come in and looked at a sick man
and said, 'Leave him alone.' You expect something more
from a doctor. It's his business to say what to do.
And I suppose he'll charge two dollars for just telling me
that my husband was resting!"

"No," said Brother Soulsby, "he said he never practised,
and that he would come only as a friend."

"Well, it isn't my idea of a friend--not to prescribe
a single thing," protested Alice.

Yet it seemed that no prescription was needed, after all.
The next morning Theron woke to find himself feeling
quite restored in spirits and nerves. He sat up in bed,
and after an instant of weakly giddiness, recognized that
he was all right again. Greatly pleased, he got up,
and proceeded to dress himself. There were little recurring
hints of faintness and vertigo, while he was shaving,
but he had the sense to refer these to the fact that he
was very, very hungry. He went downstairs, and smiled
with the pleased pride of a child at the surprise which his
appearance at the door created. Alice and the Soulsbys
were at breakfast. He joined them, and ate voraciously,
declaring that it was worth a month's illness to have things
taste so good once more.

"You still look white as a sheet," said Alice, warningly.
"If I were you, I'd be careful in my diet for a spell yet."

For answer, Theron let Sister Soulsby help him again
to ham and eggs. He talked exclusively to Sister Soulsby,
or rather invited her by his manner to talk to him,
and listened and watched her with indolent content.
There was a sort of happy and purified languor in his physical
and mental being, which needed and appreciated just this--
to sit next a bright and attractive woman at a good breakfast,
and be ministered to by her sprightly conversation,
by the flash of her informing and inspiring eyes,
and the nameless sense of support and repose which her
near proximity exhaled. He felt himself figuratively
leaning against Sister Soulsby's buoyant personality,
and resting.

Brother Soulsby, like the intelligent creature he was,
ate his breakfast in peace; but Alice would interpose
remarks from time to time. Theron was conscious of a
certain annoyance at this, and knew that he was showing
it by an exaggerated display of interest in everything
Sister Soulsby said, and persisted in it. There trembled
in the background of his thoughts ever and again the
recollection of a grievance against his wife--an offence
which she had committed--but he put it aside as something
to be grappled and dealt with when he felt again like
taking up the serious and disagreeable things of life.
For the moment, he desired only to be amused by Sister Soulsby.
Her casual mention of the fact that she and her husband
were taking their departure that very day, appealed to him
as an added reason for devoting his entire attention to her.

"You mustn't forget that famous talking-to you threatened me with--
that 'regular hoeing-over,' you know," he reminded her,
when he found himself alone with her after breakfast.
He smiled as he spoke, in frank enjoyment of the prospect.

Sister Soulsby nodded, and aided with a roll of her eyes
the effect of mock-menace in her uplifted forefinger.
"Oh, never fear," she cried. "You'll catch it hot and strong.
But that'll keep till afternoon. Tell me, do you feel
strong enough to go in next door and attend the trustees'
meeting this forenoon? It's rather important that you
should be there, if you can spur yourself up to it.
By the way, you haven't asked what happened at the Quarterly
Conference yesterday."

Theron sighed, and made a little grimace of repugnance.
"If you knew how little I cared!" he said. "I did hope
you'd forget all about mentioning that--and everything
else connected with--the next door. You talk so much more
interestingly about other things."

"Here's gratitude for you!" exclaimed Sister Soulsby,
with a gay simulation of despair. "Why, man alive,
do you know what I've done for you? I got around on
the Presiding Elder's blind side, I captured old Pierce,
I wound Winch right around my little finger, I worked
two or three of the class-leaders--all on your account.
The result was you went through as if you'd had your ears
pinned back, and been greased all over. You've got an
extra hundred dollars added to your salary; do you hear?
On the sixth question of the order of business the Elder ruled
that the recommendation of the last conference's estimating
committee could be revised (between ourselves he was wrong,
but that doesn't matter) , and so you're in clover.
And very friendly things were said about you, too."

"It was very kind of you," said Theron. "I am really
extremely grateful to you." He shook her by the hand
to make up for what he realized to be a lack of fervor
in his tones.

"Well, then," Sister Soulsby replied, "you pull
yourself together, and take your place as chairman
of the trustees' meeting, and see to it that,
whatever comes up, you side with old Pierce and Winch."

"Oh, THEY'RE my friends now, are they?" asked Theron,
with a faint play of irony about his lips.

"Yes, that's your ticket this election," she answered briskly,
"and mind you vote it straight. Don't bother about
reasons now. Just take it from me, as the song says,
'that things have changed since Willie died.' That's all.
And then come back here, and this afternoon we'll have
a good old-fashioned jaw."

The Rev. Mr. Ware, walking with ostentatious feebleness,
and forcing a conventional smile upon his wan face,
duly made his unexpected appearance at the trustees'
meeting in one of the smaller classrooms. He received their
congratulations gravely, and shook hands with all three.
It required an effort to do this impartially, because,
upon sight of Levi Gorringe, there rose up suddenly
within him an emotion of fierce dislike and enmity.
In some enigmatic way his thoughts had kept themselves
away from Gorringe ever since Sunday evening. Now they
concentrated with furious energy and swiftness upon him.
Theron seemed able in a flash of time to coordinate
many recollections of Gorringe--the early liking Alice
had professed for him, the mystery of those purchased
plants in her garden, the story of the girl he had
lost in church, his offer to lend him money, the way
in which he had sat beside Alice at the love-feast
and followed her to the altar-rail in the evening.
These raced abreast through the young minister's brain,
yet with each its own image, and its relation to the others
clearly defined.

He found the nerve, all the same, to take this third trustee
by the hand, and to thank him for his congratulations,
and even to say, with a surface smile of welcome,
"It is BROTHER Gorringe, now, I remember."

The work before the meeting was chiefly of a routine kind.
In most places this would have been transacted by the stewards;
but in Octavius these minor officials had degenerated
into mere ceremonial abstractions, who humbly ratified,
or by arrangement anticipated, the will of the powerful,
mortgage-owning trustees. Theron sat languidly at
the head of the table while these common-place matters
passed in their course, noting the intonations of
Gorringe's voice as he read from his secretary's book,
and finding his ear displeased by them. No issue arose
upon any of these trivial affairs, and the minister,
feeling faint and weary in the heat, wondered why Sister
Soulsby had insisted on his coming.

All at once he sat up straight, with an instinctive warning
in his mind that here was the thing. Gorringe had taken up
the subject of the "debt-raising" evening, and read out its
essentials as they had been embodied in a report of the stewards.
The gross sum obtained, in cash and promises, was $1,860.
The stewards had collected of this a trifle less than half,
but hoped to get it all in during the ensuing quarter.
There were, also, the bill of Mr. and Mrs. Soulsby for
$150, and the increases of $100 in the pastor's salary
and $25 in the apportioned contribution of the charge
toward the Presiding Elder's maintenance, the two latter
items of which the Quarterly Conference had sanctioned.

"I want to hear the names of the subscribers and their
amounts read out," put in Brother Pierce.

When this was done, it became apparent that much more than
half of the entire amount had been offered by two men.
Levi Gorringe's $450 and Erastus Winch's $425 left only
$985 to be divided up among some seventy or eighty other
members of the congregation.

Brother Pierce speedily stopped the reading of these
subordinate names. "They're of no concern whatever,"
he said, despite the fact that his own might have been
reached in time. "Those first names are what I was
getting at. Have those two first amounts, the big ones,
be'n paid?"

"One has--the other not," replied Gorringe.

"PRE-cisely," remarked the senior trustee. "And I'm goin'
to move that it needn't be paid, either. When Brother Winch,
here, began hollerin' out those extra twenty-fives and fifties,
that evening, it was under a complete misapprehension.
He'd be'n on the Cheese Board that same Monday afternoon,
and he'd done what he thought was a mighty big stroke
of business, and he felt liberal according. I know
just what that feelin' is myself. If I'd be'n makin'
a mint o' money, instead o' losin' all the while, as I do,
I'd 'a' done just the same. But the next day, lo, and behold,
Brother Winch found that it was all a mistake--he hadn't
made a single penny."

"Fact is, I lost by the whole transaction," put in
Erastus Winch, defiantly.

"Just so," Brother Pierce went on. "He lost money.
You have his own word for it. Well, then, I say it would
be a burning shame for us to consent to touch one penny
of what he offered to give, in the fullness of his heart,
while he was laborin' under that delusion. And I move he
be not asked for it. We've got quite as much as we need,
without it. I put my motion."

"That is, YOU don't put it," suggested Winch, correctingly.
"You move it, and Brother Ware, whom we're all so glad
to see able to come and preside--he'll put it."

There was a moment's silence. "You've heard the motion,"
said Theron, tentatively, and then paused for possible remarks.
He was not going to meddle in this thing himself, and Gorringe
was the only other who might have an opinion to offer.
The necessities of the situation forced him to glance at
the lawyer inquiringly. He did so, and turned his eyes
away again like a shot. Gorringe was looking him squarely
in the face, and the look was freighted with satirical contempt.

The young minister spoke between clinched teeth.
"All those in favor will say aye."

Brothers Pierce and Winch put up a simultaneous
and confident "Aye."

"No, you don't!" interposed the lawyer, with deliberate,
sneering emphasis. "I decidedly protest against Winch's
voting. He's directly interested, and he mustn't vote.
Your chairman knows that perfectly well."

"Yes, I think Brother Winch ought not to vote," decided Theron,
with great calmness. He saw now what was coming,
and underneath his surface composure there were sharp flutterings.

"Very well, then," said Gorringe. "I vote no, and it's a tie.
It rests with the chairman now to cast the deciding vote,
and say whether this interesting arrangement shall go
through or not."

"Me?" said Theron, eying the lawyer with a cool self-control
which had come all at once to him. "Me? Oh, I vote Aye."

 

 

CHAPTER XVII

 

"Well, I did what you told me to do," Theron Ware remarked
to Sister Soulsby, when at last they found themselves
alone in the sitting-room after the midday meal.

It had taken not a little strategic skirmishing to
secure the room to themselves for the hospitable Alice,
much touched by the thought of her new friend's departure
that very evening had gladly proposed to let all the work
stand over until night, and devote herself entirely
to Sister Soulsby. When, finally, Brother Soulsby
conceived and deftly executed the coup of interesting
her in the budding of roses, and then leading her off
into the garden to see with her own eyes how it was done,
Theron had a sense of being left alone with a conspirator.
The notion impelled him to plunge at once into the heart
of their mystery.

"I did what you told me to do," he repeated, looking up
from his low easy-chair to where she sat by the desk;
"and I dare say you won't be surprised when I add that I
have no respect for myself for doing it."

"And yet you would go and do it right over again, eh?"
the woman said, in bright, pert tones, nodding her head,
and smiling at him with roguish, comprehending eyes.
"Yes, that's the way we're built. We spend our lives doing
that sort of thing."

"I don't know that you would precisely grasp my meaning,"
said the young minister, with a polite effort in his
words to mask the untoward side of the suggestion.
"It is a matter of conscience with me; and I am pained
and shocked at myself."

Sister Soulsby drummed for an absent moment with her thin,
nervous fingers on the desk-top. "I guess maybe you'd
better go and lie down again," she said gently.
"You're a sick man, still, and it's no good your worrying
your head just now with things of this sort. You'll see
them differently when you're quite yourself again."

"No, no," pleaded Theron. "Do let us have our talk out!
I'm all right. My mind is clear as a bell. Truly, I've
really counted on this talk with you."

"But there's something else to talk about, isn't there,
besides--besides your conscience?" she asked.
Her eyes bent upon him a kindly pressure as she spoke,
which took all possible harshness from her meaning.

Theron answered the glance rather than her words.
"I know that you are my friend," he said simply.

Sister Soulsby straightened herself, and looked down upon
him with a new intentness. "Well, then," she began,
"let's thrash this thing out right now, and be done with it.
You say it's hurt your conscience to do just one little
hundredth part of what there was to be done here.
Ask yourself what you mean by that. Mind, I'm not quarrelling,
and I'm not thinking about anything except just your own
state of mind. You think you soiled your hands by doing
what you did. That is to say, you wanted ALL the dirty
work done by other people. That's it, isn't it?"

"The Rev. Mr. Ware sat up, in turn, and looked doubtingly
into his companion's face.

"Oh, we were going to be frank, you know," she added,
with a pleasant play of mingled mirth and honest liking
in her eyes.

"No," he said, picking his words, "my point would
rather be that--that there ought not to have been any
of what you yourself call this--this 'dirty work.'
THAT is my feeling."

"Now we're getting at it," said Sister Soulsby, briskly.
"My dear friend, you might just as well say that potatoes
are unclean and unfit to eat because manure is put
into the ground they grow in. Just look at the case.
Your church here was running behind every year.
Your people had got into a habit of putting in nickels
instead of dimes, and letting you sweat for the difference.
That's a habit, like tobacco, or biting your fingernails,
or anything else. Either you were all to come to smash here,
or the people had to be shaken up, stood on their heads,
broken of their habit. It's my business--mine and Soulsby's--
to do that sort of thing. We came here and we did it--
did it up brown, too. We not only raised all the money
the church needs, and to spare, but I took a personal shine
to you, and went out of my way to fix up things for you.
It isn't only the extra hundred dollars, but the whole
tone of the congregation is changed toward you now.
You'll see that they'll be asking to have you back here,
next spring. And you're solid with your Presiding Elder,
too. Well, now, tell me straight--is that worth while,
or not?"

"I've told you that I am very grateful," answered the
minister, "and I say it again, and I shall never be tired
of repeating it. But--but it was the means I had in mind."

"Quite so," rejoined the sister, patiently. "If you saw
the way a hotel dinner was cooked, you wouldn't be able
to stomach it. Did you ever see a play? In a theatre,
I mean. I supposed not. But you'll understand when I say
that the performance looks one way from where the audience sit,
and quite a different way when you are behind the scenes.
THERE you see that the trees and houses are cloth,
and the moon is tissue paper, and the flying fairy is a
middle-aged woman strung up on a rope. That doesn't prove
that the play, out in front, isn't beautiful and affecting,
and all that. It only shows that everything in this
world is produced by machinery--by organization.
The trouble is that you've been let in on the stage,
behind the scenes, so to speak, and you're so green--
if you'll pardon me--that you want to sit down and cry
because the trees ARE cloth, and the moon IS a lantern.
And I say, don't be such a goose!"

"I see what you mean," Theron said, with an answering smile.
He added, more gravely, "All the same, the Winch business
seems to me--"

"Now the Winch business is my own affair," Sister Soulsby
broke in abruptly. I take all the responsibility for that.
You need know nothing about it. You simply voted as you
did on the merits of the case as he presented them--
that's all."

"But--" Theron began, and then paused. Something had occurred
to him, and he knitted his brows to follow its course
of expansion in his mind. Suddenly he raised his head.
"Then you arranged with Winch to make those bogus offers--
just to lead others on?" he demanded.

Sister Soulsby's large eyes beamed down upon him in reply,
at first in open merriment, then more soberly, till their
regard was almost pensive.

"Let us talk of something else," she said. "All that is
past and gone. It has nothing to do with you, anyway.
I've got some advice to give you about keeping up this
grip you've got on your people."

The young minister had risen to his feet while she spoke.
He put his hands in his pockets, and with rounded shoulders
began slowly pacing the room. After a turn or two he came
to the desk, and leaned against it.

"I doubt if it's worth while going into that," he said,
in the solemn tone of one who feels that an irrevocable thing
is being uttered. She waited to hear more, apparently.
"I think I shall go away--give up the ministry," he added.

Sister Soulsby's eyes revealed no such shock of consternation
as he, unconsciously, had looked for. They remained quite calm;
and when she spoke, they deepened, to fit her speech,
with what he read to be a gaze of affectionate melancholy--
one might say pity. She shook her head slowly.

"No--don't let any one else hear you say that," she replied.
"My poor young friend, it's no good to even think it.
The real wisdom is to school yourself to move along smoothly,
and not fret, and get the best of what's going. I've known
others who felt as you do--of course there are times
when every young man of brains and high notions feels
that way--but there's no help for it. Those who tried
to get out only broke themselves. Those who stayed in,
and made the best of it--well, one of them will be a bishop
in another ten years."

Theron had started walking again. "But the moral degradation
of it!" he snapped out at her over his shoulder.
"I'd rather earn the meanest living, at an honest trade,
and be free from it."

"That may all be," responded Sister Soulsby. "But it isn't
a question of what you'd rather do. It's what you can do.
How could you earn a living? What trade or business do you
suppose you could take up now, and get a living out of?
Not one, my man, not one."

Theron stopped and stared at her. This view of his
capabilities came upon him with the force and effect
of a blow.

"I don't discover, myself," he began stumblingly,
"that I'm so conspicuously inferior to the men I see
about me who do make livings, and very good ones, too."

"Of course you're not," she replied with easy promptness;
"you're greatly the other way, or I shouldn't be taking this
trouble with you. But you're what you are because you're
where you are. The moment you try on being somewhere else,
you're done for. In all this world nobody else comes to
such unmerciful and universal grief as the unfrocked priest."

The phrase sent Theron's fancy roving. "I know a
Catholic priest," he said irrelevantly, "who doesn't
believe an atom in--in things."

"Very likely," said Sister Soulsby. "Most of us do.
But you don't hear him talking about going and earning
his living, I'll bet! Or if he does, he takes powerful
good care not to go, all the same. They've got horse-sense,
those priests. They're artists, too. They know how to
allow for the machinery behind the scenes."

"But it's all so different," urged the young minister;
"the same things are not expected of them. Now I sat
the other night and watched those people you got up
around the altar-rail, groaning and shouting and crying,
and the others jumping up and down with excitement,
and Sister Lovejoy--did you see her?--coming out of her pew
and regularly waltzing in the aisle, with her eyes shut,
like a whirling dervish--I positively believe it was
all that made me ill. I couldn't stand it. I can't
stand it now. I won't go back to it! Nothing shall
make me!"

"Oh-h, yes, you will," she rejoined soothingly.
"There's nothing else to do. Just put a good face on it,
and make up your mind to get through by treading on as few
corns as possible, and keeping your own toes well in,
and you'll be surprised how easy it'll all come to be.
You were speaking of the revival business. Now that exemplifies
just what I was saying--it's a part of our machinery.
Now a church is like everything else,--it's got to have a boss,
a head, an authority of some sort, that people will listen
to and mind. The Catholics are different, as you say.
Their church is chuck-full of authority--all the way
from the Pope down to the priest--and accordingly they
do as they're told. But the Protestants--your Methodists
most of all--they say 'No, we won't have any authority,
we won't obey any boss.' Very well, what happens?
We who are responsible for running the thing, and raising
the money and so on--we have to put on a spurt every once
in a while, and work up a general state of excitement;
and while it's going, don't you see that THAT is the authority,
the motive power, whatever you like to call it, by which
things are done? Other denominations don't need it.
We do, and that's why we've got it."

"But the mean dishonesty of it all!" Theron broke forth.
He moved about again, his bowed face drawn as with
bodily suffering. "The low-born tricks, the hypocrisies!
I feel as if I could never so much as look at these people
here again without disgust."

"Oh, now that's where you make your mistake,"
Sister Soulsby put in placidly. "These people
of yours are not a whit worse than other people.
They've got their good streaks and their bad streaks,
just like the rest of us. Take them by and large,
they're quite on a par with other folks the whole country through."

"I don't believe there's another congregation in the
Conference where--where this sort of thing would have
been needed, or, I might say, tolerated," insisted Theron.

"Perhaps you're right," the other assented; "but that only
shows that your people here are different from the others--
not that they're worse. You don't seem to realize:
Octavius, so far as the Methodists are concerned,
is twenty or thirty years behind the times. Now that has
its advantages and its disadvantages. The church here is
tough and coarse, and full of grit, like a grindstone;
and it does ministers from other more niminy-piminy places
all sorts of good to come here once in a while and rub
themselves up against it. It scours the rust and mildew off
from their piety, and they go back singing and shouting.
But of course it's had a different effect with you.
You're razor-steel instead of scythe-steel, and the
grinding's been too rough and violent for you. But you
see what I mean. These people here really take their
primitive Methodism seriously. To them the profession
of entire sanctification is truly a genuine thing. Well,
don't you see, when people just know that they're saved,
it doesn't seem to them to matter so much what they do.
They feel that ordinary rules may well be bent and twisted
in the interest of people so supernaturally good as they are.
That's pure human nature. It's always been like that."

Theron paused in his walk to look absently at her.
"That thought," he said, in a vague, slow way, "seems to
be springing up in my path, whichever way I turn.
It oppresses me, and yet it fascinates me--this idea
that the dead men have known more than we know, done more
than we do; that there is nothing new anywhere; that--"

"Never mind the dead men," interposed Sister Soulsby.
"Just you come and sit down here. I hate to have you
straddling about the room when I'm trying to talk to you."

Theron obeyed, and as he sank into the low seat, Sister Soulsby
drew up her chair, and put her hand on his shoulder.
Her gaze rested upon his with impressive steadiness.

"And now I want to talk seriously to you, as a friend,"
she began. "You mustn't breathe to any living soul the shadow
of a hint of this nonsense about leaving the ministry.
I could see how you were feeling--I saw the book you were
reading the first time I entered this room--and that made me
like you; only I expected to find you mixing up more worldly
gumption with your Renan. Well, perhaps I like you all the
better for not having it--for being so delightfully fresh.
At any rate, that made me sail in and straighten your affairs
for you. And now, for God's sake, keep them straight.
Just put all notions of anything else out of your head.
Watch your chief men and women, and be friends with them.
Keep your eye open for what they think you ought to do,
and do it. Have your own ideas as much as you like,
read what you like, say 'Damn' under your breath as much
as you like, but don't let go of your job. I've knocked
about too much, and I've seen too many promising young
fellows cut their own throats for pure moonshine,
not to have a right to say that."

Theron could not be insensible to the friendly hand on
his shoulder, or to the strenuous sincerity of the voice
which thus adjured him.

"Well," he said vaguely, smiling up into her earnest eyes,
"if we agree that it IS moonshine."

"See here!" she exclaimed, with renewed animation,
patting his shoulder in a brisk, automatic way, to point
the beginnings of her confidences: "I'll tell you something.
It's about myself. I've got a religion of my own,
and it's got just one plank in it, and that is that the time
to separate the sheep from the goats is on Judgment Day,
and that it can't be done a minute before."

The young minister took in the thought, and turned it
about in his mind, and smiled upon it.

"And that brings me to what I'm going to tell you,"
Sister Soulsby continued. She leaned back in her chair,
and crossed her knees so that one well-shaped and
artistically shod foot poised itself close to Theron's hand.
Her eyes dwelt upon his face with an engaging candor.

"I began life," she said, "as a girl by running
away from a stupid home with a man that I knew was
married already. After that, I supported myself for a
good many years--generally, at first, on the stage.
I've been a front-ranker in Amazon ballets, and I've
been leading lady in comic opera companies out West.
I've told fortunes in one room of a mining-camp hotel
where the biggest game of faro in the Territory went
on in another. I've been a professional clairvoyant,
and I've been a professional medium, and I've been within
one vote of being indicted by a grand jury, and the money
that bought that vote was put up by the smartest and most
famous train-gambler between Omaha and 'Frisco, a gentleman
who died in his boots and took three sheriff's deputies
along with him to Kingdom-Come. Now, that's MY record."

Theron looked earnestly at her, and said nothing.

"And now take Soulsby," she went on. "Of course I take
it for granted there's a good deal that he has never felt
called upon to mention. He hasn't what you may call
a talkative temperament. But there is also a good deal
that I do know. He's been an actor, too, and to this
day I'd back him against Edwin Booth himself to recite
'Clarence's Dream.' And he's been a medium, and then he
was a travelling phrenologist, and for a long time he
was advance agent for a British Blondes show, and when I
first saw him he was lecturing on female diseases--
and he had HIS little turn with a grand jury too. In fact,
he was what you may call a regular bad old rooster."

Again Theron suffered the pause to lapse without comment--
save for an amorphous sort of conversation which he felt
to be going on between his eyes and those of Sister Soulsby.

"Well, then," she resumed, "so much for us apart.
Now about us together. We liked each other from the start.
We compared notes, and we found that we had both soured
on living by fakes, and that we were tired of the road,
and wanted to settle down and be respectable in our old age.
We had a little money--enough to see us through a year or two.
Soulsby had always hungered and longed to own a garden
and raise flowers, and had never been able to stay long
enough in one place to see so much as a bean-pod ripen.
So we took a little place in a quiet country village
down on the Southern Tier, and he planted everything
three deep all over the place, and I bought a roomful
of cheap good books, and we started in. We took to it
like ducks to water for a while, and I don't say that we
couldn't have stood it out, just doing nothing, to this
very day; but as luck would have it, during the first
winter there was a revival at the local Methodist church,
and we went every evening--at first just to kill time,
and then because we found we liked the noise and excitement
and general racket of the thing. After it was all
over each of us found that the other had been mighty
near going up to the rail and joining the mourners.
And another thing had occurred to each of us, too--that is,
what tremendous improvements there were possible in the
way that amateur revivalist worked up his business.
This stuck in our crops, and we figured on it all through
the winter.--Well, to make a long story short, we finally went
into the thing ourselves."

"Tell me one thing," interposed Theron. "I'm anxious
to understand it all as we go along. Were you and he
at any time sincerely converted?--that is, I mean,
genuinely convicted of sin and conscious of--you know
what I mean!"

"Oh, bless you, yes," responded Sister Soulsby.
"Not only once--dozens of times--I may say every time.
We couldn't do good work if we weren't. But that's a matter
of temperament--of emotions."

"Precisely. That was what I was getting at," explained Theron.

"Well, then, hear what I was getting at," she went on.
"You were talking very loudly here about frauds and
hypocrisies and so on, a few minutes ago. Now I say
that Soulsby and I do good, and that we're good fellows.
Now take him, for example. There isn't a better citizen
in all Chemung County than he is, or a kindlier neighbor,
or a better or more charitable man. I've known him to stay
up a whole winter's night in a poor Irishman's stinking
and freezing stable, trying to save his cart-horse for him,
that had been seized with some sort of fit. The man's
whole livelihood, and his family's, was in that horse;
and when it died, Soulsby bought him another, and never
told even ME about it. Now that I call real piety,
if you like."

"So do I," put in Theron, cordially.

"And this question of fraud," pursued his companion,--
"look at it in this light. You heard us sing. Well, now,
I was a singer, of course, but Soulsby hardly knew one
note from another. I taught him to sing, and he went
at it patiently and diligently, like a little man.
And I invented that scheme of finding tunes which the crowd
didn't know, and so couldn't break in on and smother.
I simply took Chopin--he is full of sixths, you know--
and I got all sorts of melodies out of his waltzes and
mazurkas and nocturnes and so on, and I trained Soulsby
just to sing those sixths so as to make the harmony,
and there you are. He couldn't sing by himself any more than
a crow, but he's got those sixths of his down to a hair.
Now that's machinery, management, organization. We take
these tunes, written by a devil-may-care Pole who was living
with George Sand openly at the time, and pass 'em off
on the brethren for hymns. It's a fraud, yes; but it's
a good fraud. So they are all good frauds. I say frankly
that I'm glad that the change and the chance came to help
Soulsby and me to be good frauds."

"And the point is that I'm to be a good fraud, too,"
commented the young minister.

She had risen, and he got to his feet as well.
He instinctively sought for her hand, and pressed it warmly,
and held it in both his, with an exuberance of gratitude
and liking in his manner.

Sister Soulsby danced her eyes at him with a saucy little
shake of the head. "I'm afraid you'll never make a really
GOOD fraud," she said. "You haven't got it in you.
Your intentions are all right, but your execution is
hopelessly clumsy. I came up to your bedroom there twice
while you were sick, just to say 'howdy,' and you kept
your eyes shut, and all the while a blind horse could
have told that you were wide awake."

"I must have thought it was my wife," said Theron.

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

CHAPTER XVIII

 

When the lingering dusk finally settled down upon this
long summer evening, the train bearing the Soulsbys
homeward was already some score of miles on its way,
and the Methodists of Octavius had nearly finished their
weekly prayer-meeting.

After the stirring events of the revival, it was only
to be expected that this routine, home-made affair
should suffer from a reaction. The attendance was larger
than usual, perhaps, but the proceedings were spiritless
and tame. Neither the pastor nor his wife was present
at the beginning, and the class-leader upon whom control
devolved made but feeble headway against the spell of
inertia which the hot night-air laid upon the gathering.
Long pauses intervened between the perfunctory
praise-offerings and supplications, and the hymns weariedly
raised from time to time fell again in languor by the wayside.

Alice came in just as people were beginning to hope
that some one would start the Doxology, and bring matters
to a close. Her appearance apparently suggested this
to the class-leader, for in a few moments the meeting
had been dismissed, and some of the members, on their
way out, were shaking hands with their minister's wife,
and expressing the polite hope that he was better.
The worried look in her face, and the obvious stains
of recent tears upon her cheeks imparted an added point
and fervor to these inquiries, but she replied to all in
tones of studied tranquillity that, although not feeling
well enough to attend prayer-meeting, Brother Ware was
steadily recovering strength, and confidently expected
to be in complete health by Sunday. They left her,
and could hardly wait to get into the vestibule to ask
one another in whispers what on earth she could have been
crying about.

Meanwhile Brother Ware improved his convalescent state
by pacing slowly up and down under the elms on the side
of the street opposite the Catholic church. There were
no houses here for a block and more; the sidewalk was
broken in many places, so that passers-by avoided it;
the overhanging boughs shrouded it all in obscurity;
it was preeminently a place to be alone in.

Theron had driven to the depot with his guests an hour before,
and after a period of pleasant waiting on the platform,
had said good-bye to them as the train moved away.
Then he turned to Alice, who had also accompanied them
in the carriage, and was conscious of a certain annoyance
at her having come. That long familiar talk of the
afternoon had given him the feeling that he was entitled
to bid farewell to Sister Soulsby--to both the Soulsbys--
by himself.

"I am afraid folks will think it strange--neither of us
attending the prayer-meeting," he said, with a suggestion
of reproof in his tone, as they left the station-yard.

"If we get back in time, I'll run in for a minute,"
answered Alice, with docility.

"No--no," he broke in. "I'm not equal to walking so fast.
You run on ahead, and explain matters, and I will come
along slowly."

"The hack we came in is still there in the yard,"
the wife suggested. "We could drive home in that.
I don't believe it would cost more than a quarter--
and if you're feeling badly--"

"But I am NOT feeling badly," Theron replied,
with frank impatience. "Only I feel--I feel
that being alone with my thoughts would be good for me."

"Oh, certainly--by all means!" Alice had said, and turned
sharply on her heel.

Being alone with these thoughts, Theron strolled aimlessly about,
and did not think at all. The shadows gathered, and fireflies
began to disclose their tiny gleams among the shrubbery
in the gardens. A lamp-lighter came along, and passed him,
leaving in his wake a straggling double line of lights,
glowing radiantly against the black-green of the trees.
This recalled to Theron that he had heard that the town
council lit the street lamps by the almanac, and economized
gas when moonshine was due. The idea struck him as droll,
and he dwelt upon it in various aspects, smiling at some
of its comic possibilities. Looking up in the middle
of one of these whimsical conceits, the sportive impulse
died suddenly within him. He realized that it was dark,
and that the massive black bulk reared against the sky
on the other side of the road was the Catholic church.
The other fact, that he had been there walking to and
fro for some time, was borne in upon him more slowly.
He turned, and resumed the pacing up and down with a
still more leisurely step, musing upon the curious way
in which people's minds all unconsciously follow about
where instincts and intuitions lead.

No doubt it was what Sister Soulsby had said about
Catholics which had insensibly guided his purposeless
stroll in this direction. What a woman that was!
Somehow the purport of her talk--striking, and even
astonishing as he had found it--did not stand out so clearly
in his memory as did the image of the woman herself.
She must have been extremely pretty once. For that
matter she still was a most attractive-looking woman.
It had been a genuine pleasure to have her in the house--
to see her intelligent responsive face at the table--
to have it in one's power to make drafts at will upon
the fund of sympathy and appreciation, of facile mirth
and ready tenderness in those big eyes of hers. He liked
that phrase she had used about herself--"a good fellow."
It seemed to fit her to a "t." And Soulsby was a good
fellow too. All at once it occurred to him to wonder whether
they were married or not.

But really that was no affair of his, he reflected.
A citizen of the intellectual world should be above
soiling his thoughts with mean curiosities of that sort,
and he drove the impertinent query down again under the
surface of his mind. He refused to tolerate, as well,
sundry vagrant imaginings which rose to cluster about and
literalize the romance of her youth which Sister Soulsby
had so frankly outlined. He would think upon nothing
but her as he knew her,--the kindly, quick-witted, capable
and charming woman who had made such a brilliant break
in the monotony of life at that dull parsonage of his.
The only genuine happiness in life must consist in having
bright, smart, attractive women like that always about.

The lights were visible now in the upper rooms of Father Forbes'
pastorate across the way. Theron paused for a second to
consider whether he wanted to go over and call on the priest.
He decided that mentally he was too fagged and flat for such
an undertaking. He needed another sort of companionship--
some restful, soothing human contact, which should exact
nothing from him in return, but just take charge of him,
with soft, wise words and pleasant plays of fancy,
and jokes and--and--something of the general effect created
by Sister Soulsby's eyes. The thought expanded itself,
and he saw that he had never realized before--nay,
never dreamt before--what a mighty part the comradeship
of talented, sweet-natured and beautiful women must
play in the development of genius, the achievement
of lofty aims, out in the great world of great men.
To know such women--ah, that would never fall to his hapless lot.

The priest's lamps blinked at him through the trees.
He remembered that priests were supposed to be even further
removed from the possibilities of such contact than he
was himself. His memory reverted to that horribly ugly old
woman whom Father Forbes had spoken of as his housekeeper.
Life under the same roof with such a hag must be even
worse than--worse than--

The young minister did not finish the comparison, even in the
privacy of his inner soul. He stood instead staring over
at the pastorate, in a kind of stupor of arrested thought.
The figure of a woman passed in view at the nearest window--
a tall figure with pale summer clothes of some sort,
and a broad summer hat--a flitting effect of diaphanous
shadow between him and the light which streamed from
the casement.

Theron felt a little shiver run over him, as if the delicate
coolness of the changing night-air had got into his blood.
The window was open, and his strained hearing thought
it caught the sound of faint laughter. He continued
to gaze at the place where the vision had appeared,
the while a novel and strange perception unfolded itself
upon his mind.

He had come there in the hope of encountering Celia Madden.

Now that he looked this fact in the face, there was nothing
remarkable about it. In truth, it was simplicity itself.
He was still a sick man, weak in body and dejected in spirits.
The thought of how unhappy and unstrung he was came to him
now with an insistent pathos that brought tears to his eyes.
He was only obeying the universal law of nature--the law
which prompts the pallid spindling sprout of the potato
in the cellar to strive feebly toward the light.

From where he stood in the darkness he stretched
out his hands in the direction of that open window.
The gesture was his confession to the overhanging boughs,
to the soft night-breeze, to the stars above--and it
bore back to him something of the confessional's vague
and wistful solace. He seemed already to have drawn
down into his soul a taste of the refreshment it craved.
He sighed deeply, and the hot moisture smarted again upon
his eyelids, but this time not all in grief. With his
tender compassion for himself there mingled now a flutter
of buoyant prescience, of exquisite expectancy.

Fate walked abroad this summer night. The street door
of the pastorate opened, and in the flood of illumination
which spread suddenly forth over the steps and sidewalk,
Theron saw again the tall form, with the indefinitely
light-hued flowing garments and the wide straw hat.
He heard a tuneful woman's voice call out "Good-night, Maggie,"
and caught no response save the abrupt closing of the door,
which turned everything black again with a bang.
He listened acutely for another instant, and then with long,
noiseless strides made his way down his deserted side
of the street. He moderated his pace as he turned
to cross the road at the corner, and then, still masked
by the trees, halted altogether, in a momentary tumult
of apprehension. No--yes--it was all right. The girl
sauntered out from the total darkness into the dim starlight
of the open corner.

"Why, bless me, is that you, Miss Madden?"

Celia seemed to discern readily enough, through the
accents of surprise, the identity of the tall, slim man
who addressed her from the shadows.

"Good-evening, Mr. Ware," she said, with prompt affability.
"I'm so glad to find you out again. We heard you were ill."

"I have been very ill," responded Theron, as they
shook hands and walked on together. He added, with a
quaver in his voice, "I am still far from strong.
I really ought not to be out at all. But--but the
longing for--for--well, I COULDN'T stay in any longer.
Even if it kills me, I shall be glad I came out tonight."

"Oh, we won't talk of killing," said Celia. "I don't
believe in illnesses myself"

"But you believe in collapses of the nerves," put in Theron,
with gentle sadness, "in moral and spiritual and mental
breakdowns. I remember how I was touched by the way you
told me YOU suffered from them. I had to take what you said
then for granted. I had had no experience of it myself.
But now I know what it is." He drew a long, pathetic sigh.
"Oh, DON'T I know what it is!" he repeated gloomily.

"Come, my friend, cheer up," Celia purred at him,
in soothing tones. He felt that there was a deliciously
feminine and sisterly intuition in her speech,
and in the helpful, nurse-like way in which she drew
his arm through hers. He leaned upon this support,
and was glad of it in every fibre of his being.

"Do you remember? You promised--that last time I saw you--
to play for me," he reminded her. They were passing
the little covered postern door at the side and rear of
the church as he spoke, and he made a half halt to point
the coincidence.

"Oh, there's no one to blow the organ," she said,
divining his suggestion. "And I haven't the key--
and, besides, the organ is too heavy and severe
for an invalid. It would overwhelm you tonight."

"Not as you would know how to play it for me,"
urged Theron, pensively. "I feel as if good music to-night
would make me well again. I am really very ill and weak--
and unhappy!"

The girl seemed moved by the despairing note in his voice.
She invited him by a sympathetic gesture to lean even more
directly on her arm.

"Come home with me, and I'll play Chopin to you," she said,
in compassionate friendliness. "He is the real medicine
for bruised and wounded nerves. You shall have as much
of him as you like."

The idea thus unexpectedly thrown forth spread itself
like some vast and inexpressibly alluring vista before
Theron's imagination. The spice of adventure in it
fascinated his mind as well, but for a shrinking moment
the flesh was weak.

"I'm afraid your people would--would think it strange,"
he faltered--and began also to recall that he had some
people of his own who would be even more amazed.

"Nonsense," said Celia, in fine, bold confidence, and with
a reassuring pressure on his arm. "I allow none of my
people to question what I do. They never dream of such
a preposterous thing. Besides, you will see none of them.
Mrs. Madden is at the seaside, and my father and brother
have their own part of the house. I shan't listen for
a minute to your not coming. Come, I'm your doctor.
I'm to make you well again."

There was further conversation, and Theron more or less
knew that he was bearing a part in it, but his whole
mind seemed concentrated, in a sort of delicious terror,
upon the wonderful experience to which every footstep
brought him nearer. His magnetized fancy pictured a great
spacious parlor, such as a mansion like the Maddens'
would of course contain, and there would be a grand piano,
and lace curtains, and paintings in gold frames,
and a chandelier, and velvet easy-chairs, and he would sit
in one of these, surrounded by all the luxury of the rich,
while Celia played to him. There would be servants about,
he presumed, and very likely they would recognize him,
and of course they would talk about it to Tom, Dick and
Harry afterward. But he said to himself defiantly that he
didn't care.

He withdrew his arm from hers as they came upon the
well-lighted main street. He passed no one who seemed
to know him. Presently they came to the Madden place,
and Celia, without waiting for the gravelled walk,
struck obliquely across the lawn. Theron, who had been
lagging behind with a certain circumspection, stepped
briskly to her side now. Their progress over the soft,
close-cropped turf in the dark together, with the scent
of lilies and perfumed shrubs heavy on the night air,
and the majestic bulk of the big silent house rising
among the trees before them, gave him a thrilling sense
of the glory of individual freedom.

"I feel a new man already," he declared, as they swung
along on the grass. He breathed a long sigh of content,
and drew nearer, so that their shoulders touched now
and again as they walked. In a minute more they were
standing on the doorstep, and Theron heard the significant
jingle of a bunch of keys which his companion was groping
for in her elusive pocket. He was conscious of trembling
a little at the sound.

It seemed that, unlike other people, the Maddens did
not have their parlor on the ground-floor, opening off
the front hall. Theron stood in the complete darkness
of this hall, till Celia had lit one of several candles
which were in their hand-sticks on a sort of sideboard
next the hat-rack. She beckoned him with a gesture
of her head, and he followed her up a broad staircase,
magnificent in its structural appointments of inlaid woods,
and carpeted with what to his feet felt like down.
The tiny light which his guide bore before her half revealed,
as they passed in their ascent, tall lengths of tapestry,
and the dull glint of armor and brazen discs in shadowed
niches on the nearer wall. Over the stair-rail lay an open
space of such stately dimensions, bounded by terminal lines
of decoration so distant in the faint candle-flicker,
that the young country minister could think of no word
but "palatial" to fit it all.

At the head of the flight, Celia led the way along a wide
corridor to where it ended. Here, stretched from side to side,
and suspended from broad hoops of a copper-like metal,
was a thick curtain, of a uniform color which Theron at
first thought was green, and then decided must be blue.
She pushed its heavy folds aside, and unlocked another door.
He passed under the curtain behind her, and closed
the door.

The room into which he had made his way was not at all
after the fashion of any parlor he had ever seen. In the
obscure light it was difficult to tell what it resembled.
He made out what he took to be a painter's easel,
standing forth independently in the centre of things.
There were rows of books on rude, low shelves.
Against one of the two windows was a big, flat writing-table--
or was it a drawing-table?--littered with papers.
Under the other window was a carpenter's bench, with a large
mound of something at one end covered with a white cloth.
On a table behind the easel rose a tall mechanical contrivance,
the chief feature of which was a thick upright spiral screw.
The floor was of bare wood stained brown. The walls of this
queer room had photographs and pictures, taken apparently
from illustrated papers, pinned up at random for their
only ornament.

Celia had lighted three or four other candles on the mantel.
She caught the dumfounded expression with which her
guest was surveying his surroundings, and gave a merry
little laugh.

"This is my workshop," she explained. "I keep this
for the things I do badly--things I fool with. If I want
to paint, or model in clay, or bind books, or write,
or draw, or turn on the lathe, or do some carpentering,
here's where I do it. All the things that make a mess
which has to be cleaned up--they are kept out here--
because this is as far as the servants are allowed
to come."

She unlocked still another door as she spoke--a door
which was also concealed behind a curtain.

"Now," she said, holding up the candle so that its reddish
flare rounded with warmth the creamy fulness of her chin
and throat, and glowed upon her hair in a flame of orange
light--"now I will show you what is my very own."

 

 

CHAPTER XIX

 

Theron Ware looked about him with frankly undisguised astonishment.

The room in which he found himself was so dark at first
that it yielded little to the eye, and that little seemed
altogether beyond his comprehension. His gaze helplessly
followed Celia and her candle about as she busied herself
in the work of illumination. When she had finished,
and pinched out the taper, there were seven lights in
the apartment--lights beaming softly through half-opaque
alternating rectangles of blue and yellow glass. They must
be set in some sort of lanterns around against the wall,
he thought, but the shape of these he could hardly make out.

Gradually his sight adapted itself to this subdued light,
and he began to see other things. These queer lamps
were placed, apparently, so as to shed a special radiance
upon some statues which stood in the corners of the chamber,
and upon some pictures which were embedded in the walls.
Theron noted that the statues, the marble of which lost
its aggressive whiteness under the tinted lights,
were mostly of naked men and women; the pictures, four or
five in number, were all variations of a single theme--
the Virgin Mary and the Child.

A less untutored vision than his would have caught
more swiftly the scheme of color and line in which
these works of art bore their share. The walls of
the room were in part of flat upright wooden columns,
terminating high above in simple capitals, and they were
all painted in pale amber and straw and primrose hues,
irregularly wavering here and there toward suggestions
of white. Between these pilasters were broader panels of
stamped leather, in gently varying shades of peacock blue.
These contrasted colors vaguely interwove and mingled
in what he could see of the shadowed ceiling far above.
They were repeated in the draperies and huge cushions
and pillows of the low, wide divan which ran about
three sides of the room. Even the floor, where it
revealed itself among the scattered rugs, was laid in a
mosaic pattern of matched woods, which, like the rugs,
gave back these same shifting blues and uncertain yellows.

The fourth side of the apartment was broken in outline
at one end by the door through which they had entered,
and at the other by a broad, square opening,
hung with looped-back curtains of a thin silken stuff.
Between the two apertures rose against the wall what
Theron took at first glance to be an altar. There were
pyramidal rows of tall candles here on either side,
each masked with a little silken hood; below, in the centre,
a shelf-like projection supported what seemed a massive,
carved casket, and in the beautiful intricacies of this,
and the receding canopy of delicate ornamentation
which depended above it, the dominant color was white,
deepening away in its shadows, by tenderly minute gradations,
to the tints which ruled the rest of the room.

Celia lighted some of the high, thick tapers in these candelabra,
and opened the top of the casket. Theron saw with
surprise that she had uncovered the keyboard of a piano.
He viewed with much greater amazement her next proceeding--
which was to put a cigarette between her lips, and,
bending over one of the candles with it for an instant,
turn to him with a filmy, opalescent veil of smoke above her head.

"Make yourself comfortable anywhere," she said, with a
gesture which comprehended all the divans and pillows
in the place. "Will you smoke?"

"I have never tried since I was a little boy," said Theron,
"but I think I could. If you don't mind, I should like
to see."

Lounging at his ease on the oriental couch, Theron
experimented cautiously upon the unaccustomed tobacco,
and looked at Celia with what he felt to be the confident
quiet of a man of the world. She had thrown aside
her hat, and in doing so had half released some of the
heavy strands of hair coiled at the back of her head.
His glance instinctively rested upon this wonderful hair
of hers. There was no mistaking the sudden fascination
its disorder had for his eye.

She stood before him with the cigarette poised daintily
between thumb and finger of a shapely hand, and smiled
comprehendingly down on her guest.

"I suffered the horrors of the damned with this hair
of mine when I was a child," she said. "I daresay
all children have a taste for persecuting red-heads;
but it's a specialty with Irish children. They get hold
somehow of an ancient national superstition, or legend,
that red hair was brought into Ireland by the Danes.
It's been a term of reproach with us since Brian Boru's time
to call a child a Dane. I used to be pursued and baited
with it every day of my life, until the one dream of my
ambition was to get old enough to be a Sister of Charity,
so that I might hide my hair under one of their big
beastly white linen caps. I've got rather away from that
ideal since, I'm afraid," she added, with a droll downward
curl of her lip.

"Your hair is very beautiful," said Theron, in the calm
tone of a connoisseur.

"I like it myself," Celia admitted, and blew a little
smoke-ring toward him. "I've made this whole room
to match it. The colors, I mean," she explained,
in deference to his uplifted brows. "Between us, we make
up what Whistler would call a symphony. That reminds me--
I was going to play for you. Let me finish the cigarette first."

Theron felt grateful for her reticence about the fact
that he had laid his own aside. "I have never seen
a room at all like this," he remarked. You are right;
it does fit you perfectly."

She nodded her sense of his appreciation. "It is what
I like," she said. "It expresses ME. I will not have
anything about me--or anybody either--that I don't like.
I suppose if an old Greek could see it, it would make
him sick, but it represents what I mean by being a Greek.
It is as near as an Irishman can get to it."

"I remember your puzzling me by saying that you were
a Greek."

Celia laughed, and tossed the cigarette-end away.
"I'd puzzle you more, I'm afraid, if I tried to explain
to you what I really meant by it. I divide people
up into two classes, you know--Greeks and Jews.
Once you get hold of that principle, all other divisions
and classifications, such as by race or language
or nationality, seem pure foolishness. It is the only
true division there is. It is just as true among negroes
or wild Indians who never heard of Greece or Jerusalem,
as it is among white folks. That is the beauty of it.
It works everywhere, always."

"Try it on me," urged Theron, with a twinkling eye.
"Which am I?"

"Both," said the girl, with a merry nod of the head.
"But now I'll play. I told you you were to hear Chopin.
I prescribe him for you. He is the Greekiest of the Greeks.
THERE was a nation where all the people were artists,
where everybody was an intellectual aristocrat, where the
Philistine was as unknown, as extinct, as the dodo.
Chopin might have written his music for them."

"I am interested in Shopang," put in Theron, suddenly recalling
Sister Soulsby's confidences as to the source of her tunes.
"He lived with--what's his name--George something.
We were speaking about him only this afternoon."

Celia looked down into her visitor's face at first
inquiringly, then with a latent grin about her lips.
"Yes--George something," she said, in a tone which mystified him.

The Rev. Mr. Ware was sitting up, a minute afterward,
in a ferment of awakened consciousness that he had
never heard the piano played before. After a little,
he noiselessly rearranged the cushions, and settled himself
again in a recumbent posture. It was beyond his strength
to follow that first impulse, and keep his mind abreast
with what his ears took in. He sighed and lay back,
and surrendered his senses to the mere unthinking charm
of it all.

It was the Fourth Prelude that was singing in the air
about him--a simple, plaintive strain wandering at will
over a surface of steady rhythmic movement underneath,
always creeping upward through mysteries of sweetness,
always sinking again in cadences of semi-tones. With
only a moment's pause, there came the Seventh Waltz--
a rich, bold confusion which yet was not confused.
Theron's ears dwelt with eager delight upon the chasing
medley of swift, tinkling sounds, but it left his
thoughts free.

From where he reclined, he turned his head to scrutinize,
one by one, the statues in the corners. No doubt they
were beautiful--for this was a department in which he
was all humility--and one of them, the figure of a
broad-browed, stately, though thick-waisted woman,
bending slightly forward and with both arms broken off,
was decently robed from the hips downward. The others were
not robed at all. Theron stared at them with the erratic,
rippling jangle of the waltz in his ears, and felt that he
possessed a new and disturbing conception of what female
emancipation meant in these later days. Roving along
the wall, his glance rested again upon the largest of the
Virgin pictures--a full-length figure in sweeping draperies,
its radiant, aureoled head upturned in rapt adoration,
its feet resting on a crescent moon which shone forth
in bluish silver through festooned clouds of cherubs.
The incongruity between the unashamed statues and this
serene incarnation of holy womanhood jarred upon him for
the instant. Then his mind went to the piano.

Without a break the waltz had slowed and expanded into
a passage of what might be church music, an exquisitely
modulated and gently solemn chant, through which a soft,
lingering song roved capriciously, forcing the listener
to wonder where it was coming out, even while it caressed
and soothed to repose.

He looked from the Madonna to Celia. Beyond the carelessly
drooping braids and coils of hair which blazed between
the candles, he could see the outline of her brow
and cheek, the noble contour of her lifted chin and full,
modelled throat, all pink as the most delicate rose leaf
is pink, against the cool lights of the altar-like wall.
The sight convicted him in the court of his own soul
as a prurient and mean-minded rustic. In the presence
of such a face, of such music, there ceased to be any such
thing as nudity, and statues no more needed clothes than
did those slow, deep, magnificent chords which came now,
gravely accumulating their spell upon him.

"It is all singing!" the player called out to him over
her shoulder, in a minute of rest. "That is what Chopin does--
he sings!"

She began, with an effect of thinking of something else,
the Sixth Nocturne, and Theron at first thought she was not
playing anything in particular, so deliberately, haltingly,
did the chain of charm unwind itself into sequence.
Then it came closer to him than the others had done.
The dreamy, wistful, meditative beauty of it all at once
oppressed and inspired him. He saw Celia's shoulders sway
under the impulse of the RUBATO license--the privilege
to invest each measure with the stress of the whole,
to loiter, to weep, to run and laugh at will--and the
music she made spoke to him as with a human voice.
There was the wooing sense of roses and moonlight,
of perfumes, white skins, alluring languorous eyes,
and then--

"You know this part, of course," he heard her say.

On the instant they had stepped from the dark, scented,
starlit garden, where the nightingale sang, into a great cathedral.
A sombre and lofty anthem arose, and filled the place
with the splendor of such dignified pomp of harmony and
such suggestions of measureless choral power and authority
that Theron sat abruptly up, then was drawn resistlessly
to his feet. He stood motionless in the strange room,
feeling most of all that one should kneel to hear such music.

"This you'll know too--the funeral march from the Second
Sonata," she was saying, before he realized that the end
of the other had come. He sank upon the divan again,
bending forward and clasping his hands tight around his knees.
His heart beat furiously as he listened to the weird,
mediaeval processional, with its wild, clashing chords
held down in the bondage of an orderly sadness.
There was a propelling motion in the thing--a sense of being
borne bodily along--which affected him like dizziness.
He breathed hard through the robust portions of stern,
vigorous noise, and rocked himself to and fro when, as rosy
morn breaks upon a storm-swept night, the drums are silenced
for the sweet, comforting strain of solitary melody.
The clanging minor harmonies into which the march relapses
came to their abrupt end. Theron rose once more,
and moved with a hesitating step to the piano.

"I want to rest a little," he said, with his hand
on her shoulder.

"Whew! so do I," exclaimed Celia, letting her hands fall
with an exaggerated gesture of weariness. "The sonatas take
it out of one! They are hideously difficult, you know.
They are rarely played."

"I didn't know," remarked Theron. She seemed not to mind
his hand upon her shoulder, and he kept it there.
"I didn't know anything about music at all. What I do know
now is that--that this evening is an event in my life."

She looked up at him and smiled. He read unsuspected
tendernesses and tolerances of friendship in the depths
of her eyes, which emboldened him to stir the fingers
of that audacious hand in a lingering, caressing trill
upon her shoulder. The movement was of the faintest,
but having ventured it, he drew his hand abruptly away.

"You are getting on," she said to him. There was an
enigmatic twinkle in the smile with which she continued
to regard him. "We are Hellenizing you at a great rate."

A sudden thought seemed to strike her. She shifted
her eyes toward vacancy with a swift, abstracted glance,
reflected for a moment, then let a sparkling half-wink
and the dimpling beginnings of an almost roguish smile
mark her assent to the conceit, whatever it might be.

"I will be with you in a moment," he heard her say;
and while the words were still in his ears she had risen
and passed out of sight through the broad, open doorway
to the right. The looped curtains fell together behind her.
Presently a mellow light spread over their delicately
translucent surface--a creamy, undulating radiance which
gave the effect of moving about among the myriad folds
of the silk.

Theron gazed at these curtains for a little, then straightened
his shoulders with a gesture of decision, and, turning on his heel,
went over and examined the statues in the further corners minutely.

"If you would like some more, I will play you the Berceuse now."

Her voice came to him with a delicious shock.
He wheeled round and beheld her standing at the piano,
with one hand resting, palm upward, on the keys. She was
facing him. Her tall form was robed now in some shapeless,
clinging drapery, lustrous and creamy and exquisitely soft,
like the curtains. The wonderful hair hung free and luxuriant
about her neck and shoulders, and glowed with an intensity
of fiery color which made all the other hues of the room
pale and vague. A fillet of faint, sky-like blue drew
a gracious span through the flame of red above her temples,
and from this there rose the gleam of jewels. Her head
inclined gently, gravely, toward him--with the posture
of that armless woman in marble he had been studying--
and her brown eyes, regarding him from the shadows,
emitted light.

"It is a lullaby--the only one he wrote," she said, as Theron,
pale-faced and with tightened lips, approached her.
"No--you mustn't stand there," she added, sinking into
the seat before the instrument; "go back and sit where
you were."

The most perfect of lullabies, with its swaying
abandonment to cooing rhythm, ever and again rising
in ripples to the point of insisting on something,
one knows not what, and then rocking, melting away
once more, passed, so to speak, over Theron's head.
He leaned back upon the cushions, and watched the white,
rounded forearm which the falling folds of this strange,
statue-like drapery made bare.

There was more that appealed to his mood in the Third Ballade.
It seemed to him that there were words going along with it--
incoherent and impulsive yet very earnest words,
appealing to him in strenuous argument and persuasion.
Each time he almost knew what they said, and strained after
their meaning with a passionate desire, and then there
would come a kind of cuckoo call, and everything would
swing dancing off again into a mockery of inconsequence.

Upon the silence there fell the pure, liquid, mellifluous
melody of a soft-throated woman singing to her lover.

"It is like Heine--simply a love-poem," said the girl,
over her shoulder.

Theron followed now with all his senses, as she carried
the Ninth Nocturne onward. The stormy passage, which she
banged finely forth, was in truth a lover's quarrel;
and then the mild, placid flow of sweet harmonies into
which the furore sank, dying languorously away upon
a silence all alive with tender memories of sound--
was that not also a part of love?

They sat motionless through a minute--the man on the divan,
the girl at the piano--and Theron listened for what he
felt must be the audible thumping of his heart.

Then, throwing back her head, with upturned face, Celia began
what she had withheld for the last--the Sixteenth Mazurka.
This strange foreign thing she played with her eyes closed,
her head tilted obliquely so that Theron could see the
rose-tinted, beautiful countenance, framed as if asleep
in the billowing luxuriance of unloosed auburn hair.
He fancied her beholding visions as she wrought the music--
visions full of barbaric color and romantic forms.
As his mind swam along with the gliding, tricksy phantom
of a tune, it seemed as if he too could see these visions--
as if he gazed at them through her eyes.

It could not be helped. He lifted himself noiselessly to
his feet, and stole with caution toward her. He would hear
the rest of this weird, voluptuous fantasy standing thus,
so close behind her that he could look down upon her full,
uplifted lace--so close that, if she moved, that glowing
nimbus of hair would touch him.

There had been some curious and awkward pauses in this
last piece, which Theron, by some side cerebration,
had put down to her not watching what her fingers did.
There came another of these pauses now--an odd,
unaccountable halt in what seemed the middle of everything.
He stared intently down upon her statuesque, dreaming face
during the hush, and caught his breath as he waited.
There fell at last a few faltering ascending notes,
making a half-finished strain, and then again there
was silence.

Celia opened her eyes, and poured a direct, deep gaze
into the face above hers. Its pale lips were parted
in suspense, and the color had faded from its cheeks.

"That is the end," she said, and, with a turn of her lithe body,
stood swiftly up, even while the echoes of the broken
melody seemed panting in the air about her for completion.

Theron put his hands to his face, and pressed them tightly
against eyes and brow for an instant. Then, throwing them
aside with an expansive downward sweep of the arms,
and holding them clenched, he returned Celia's glance.
It was as if he had never looked into a woman's eyes before.

"It CAN'T be the end!" he heard himself saying,
in a low voice charged with deep significance. He held
her gaze in the grasp of his with implacable tenacity.
There was a trouble about breathing, and the mosaic
floor seemed to stir under his feet. He clung defiantly
to the one idea of not releasing her eyes.

"How COULD it be the end?" he demanded, lifting an uncertain
hand to his breast as he spoke, and spreading it there
as if to control the tumultuous fluttering of his heart.
"Things don't end that way!"

A sharp, blinding spasm of giddiness closed upon and
shook him, while the brave words were on his lips.
He blinked and tottered under it, as it passed, and then
backed humbly to his divan and sat down, gasping a little,
and patting his hand on his heart. There was fright
written all over his whitened face.

"We--we forgot that I am a sick man," he said feebly,
answering Celia's look of surprised inquiry with a forced,
wan smile. "I was afraid my heart had gone wrong."

She scrutinized him for a further moment, with growing
reassurance in her air. Then, piling up the pillows
and cushions behind him for support, for all the world
like a big sister again, she stepped into the inner room,
and returned with a flagon of quaint shape and a tiny glass.
She poured this latter full to the brim of a thick yellowish,
aromatic liquid, and gave it him to drink.

"This Benedictine is all I happen to have," she said.
"Swallow it down. It will do you good."

Theron obeyed her. It brought tears to his eyes; but,
upon reflection, it was grateful and warming. He did feel
better almost immediately. A great wave of comfort seemed
to enfold him as he settled himself back on the divan.
For that one flashing instant he had thought that he
was dying. He drew a long grateful breath of relief,
and smiled his content.

Celia had seated herself beside him, a little away.
She sat with her head against the wall, and one foot curled
under her, and almost faced him.

"I dare say we forced the pace a little," she remarked,
after a pause, looking down at the floor, with the puckers
of a ruminating amusement playing in the corners of her mouth.
"It doesn't do for a man to get to be a Greek all of a sudden.
He must work along up to it gradually."

He remembered the music. "Oh, if I only knew how to tell you,"
he murmured ecstatically, "what a revelation your playing
has been to me! I had never imagined anything like it.
I shall think of it to my dying day."

He began to remember as well the spirit that was in the air
when the music ended. The details of what he had felt
and said rose vaguely in his mind. Pondering them,
his eye roved past Celia's white-robed figure to the broad,
open doorway beyond. The curtains behind which she
had disappeared were again parted and fastened back.
A dim light was burning within, out of sight, and its faint
illumination disclosed a room filled with white marbles,
white silks, white draperies of varying sorts, which shaped
themselves, as he looked, into the canopy and trappings
of an extravagantly over-sized and sumptuous bed.
He looked away again.

"I wish you would tell me what you really mean by that Greek
idea of yours," he said with the abruptness of confusion.

Celia did not display much enthusiasm in the tone
of her answer. "Oh," she said almost indifferently,
"lots of things. Absolute freedom from moral bugbears,
for one thing. The recognition that beauty is the only
thing in life that is worth while. The courage to kick
out of one's life everything that isn't worth while;
and so on."

"But," said Theron, watching the mingled delicacy and power
of the bared arm and the shapely grace of the hand which she
had lifted to her face, "I am going to get you to teach it
ALL to me." The memories began crowding in upon him now,
and the baffling note upon which the mazurka had stopped
short chimed like a tuning-fork in his ears. "I want to
be a Greek myself, if you're one. I want to get as close
to you--to your ideal, that is, as I can. You open up
to me a whole world that I had not even dreamed existed.
We swore our friendship long ago, you know: and now,
after tonight--you and the music have decided me.
I am going to put the things out of MY life that are
not worthwhile. Only you must help me; you must tell me
how to begin."

He looked up as he spoke, to enforce the almost tender
entreaty of his words. The spectacle of a yawn,
only fractionally concealed behind those talented fingers,
chilled his soft speech, and sent a flush over his face.
He rose on the instant.

Celia was nothing abashed at his discovery. She laughed
gayly in confession of her fault, and held her hand out to
let him help her disentangle her foot from her draperies,
and get off the divan. It seemed to be her meaning that he
should continue holding her hand after she was also standing.

"You forgive me, don't you?" she urged smilingly.
"Chopin always first excites me, then sends me to sleep.
You see how YOU sleep tonight!"

The brown, velvety eyes rested upon him, from under their
heavy lids, with a languorous kindliness. Her warm,
large palm clasped his in frank liking.

"I don't want to sleep at all," Mr. Ware was impelled to say.
"I want to lie awake and think about--about everything
all over again."

She smiled drowsily. "And you're sure you feel strong
enough to walk home?"

"Yes," he replied, with a lingering dilatory note,
which deepened upon reflection into a sigh. "Oh, yes."

He followed her and her candle down the magnificent
stairway again. She blew the light out in the hall,
and, opening the front door, stood with him for a silent
moment on the threshold. Then they shook hands once more,
and with a whispered good-night, parted.

Celia, returning to the blue and yellow room, lighted a cigarette
and helped herself to some Benedictine in the glass which
Theron had used. She looked meditatively at this little glass
for a moment, turning it about in her fingers with a smile.
The smile warmed itself suddenly into a joyous laugh.
She tossed the glass aside, and, holding out her flowing
skirts with both hands, executed a swinging pirouette
in front of the gravely beautiful statue of the armless woman.

 

 

CHAPTER XX

 

It was apparent to the Rev. Theron Ware, from the very
first moment of waking next morning, that both he and
the world had changed over night. The metamorphosis,
in the harsh toils of which he had been laboring blindly
so long, was accomplished. He stood forth, so to speak,
in a new skin, and looked about him, with perceptions
of quite an altered kind, upon what seemed in every way
a fresh existence. He lacked even the impulse to turn
round and inspect the cocoon from which he had emerged.
Let the past bury the past. He had no vestige of interest
in it.

The change was not premature. He found himself not in
the least confused by it, or frightened. Before he had
finished shaving, he knew himself to be easily and comfortably
at home in his new state, and master of all its requirements.

It seemed as if Alice, too, recognized that he had become
another man, when he went down and took his chair at the
breakfast table. They had exchanged no words since their
parting in the depot-yard the previous evening--an event
now faded off into remote vagueness in Theron's mind.
He smiled brilliantly in answer to the furtive,
half-sullen, half-curious glance she stole at him,
as she brought the dishes in.

"Ah! potatoes warmed up in cream!" he said, with hearty
pleasure in his tone. "What a mind-reader you are,
to be sure!"

"I'm glad you're feeling so much better," she said briefly,
taking her seat.

"Better?" he returned. "I'm a new being!"

She ventured to look him over more freely, upon this assurance.
He perceived and catalogued, one by one, the emotions
which the small brain was expressing through those shallow
blue eyes of hers. She was turning over this, that,
and the other hostile thought and childish grievance--
most of all she was dallying with the idea of asking him
where he had been till after midnight. He smiled affably
in the face of this scattering fire of peevish glances,
and did not dream of resenting any phase of them all.

"I am going down to Thurston's this morning, and order
that piano sent up today," he announced presently,
in a casual way.

"Why, Theron, can we afford it?" the wife asked,
regarding him with surprise.

"Oh, easily enough," he replied light-heartedly. "You
know they've increased my salary."

She shook her head. "No, I didn't. How should I?
You don't realize it," she went on, dolefully, "but you're
getting so you don't tell me the least thing about your
affairs nowadays."

Theron laughed aloud. "You ought to be grateful--
such melancholy affairs as mine have been till now,"
he declared--"that is, if it weren't absurd to think
such a thing." Then, more soberly, he explained:
"No, my girl, it is you who don't realize. I am carrying
big projects in my mind--big, ambitious thoughts and
plans upon which great things depend. They no doubt
make me seem preoccupied and absent-minded; but it
is a wife's part to understand, and make allowances,
and not intrude trifles which may throw everything out
of gear. Don't think I'm scolding, my girl. I only
speak to reassure you and--and help you to comprehend.
Of course I know that you wouldn't willingly embarrass my--
my career."

"Of course not," responded Alice, dubiously; "but--but--
"

"But what? Theron felt compelled by civility to say,
though on the instant he reproached himself for the weakness
of it.

"Well--I hardly know how to say it," she faltered, "but it
was nicer in the old days, before you bothered your head
about big projects, and your career, as you call it,
and were just a good, earnest, simple young servant
of the Lord. Oh, Theron!" she broke forth suddenly,
with tearful zeal, "I get sometimes lately almost scared
lest you should turn out to be a--a BACKSLIDER!"

The husband sat upright, and hardened his countenance.
But yesterday the word would have had in it all sorts
of inherited terrors for him. This morning's dawn
of a new existence revealed it as merely an empty and
stupid epithet.

"These are things not to be said," he admonished her,
after a moment's pause, and speaking with carefully
measured austerity. "Least of all are they to be said
to a clergyman--by his wife."

It was on the tip of Alice's tongue to retort, "Better by
his wife than by outsiders!" but she bit her lips,
and kept the gibe back. A rebuke of this form and gravity
was a novelty in their relations. The fear that it had
been merited troubled, even while it did not convince,
her mind, and the puzzled apprehension was to be read
plainly enough on her face.

Theron, noting it, saw a good deal more behind. Really,
it was amazing how much wiser he had grown all at once.
He had been married for years, and it was only this morning
that he suddenly discovered how a wife ought to be handled.
He continued to look sternly away into space for a little.
Then his brows relaxed slowly and under the visible
influence of melting considerations. He nodded his head,
turned toward her abruptly, and broke the silence with
labored amiability.

"Come, come--the day began so pleasantly--it was so good
to feel well again--let us talk about the piano instead.
That is," he added, with an obvious overture to playfulness,
"if the thought of having a piano is not too distasteful
to you."

Alice yielded almost effusively to his altered mood.
They went together into the sitting-room, to measure
and decide between the two available spaces which were at
their disposal, and he insisted with resolute magnanimity
on her settling this question entirely by herself.
When at last he mentioned the fact that it was Friday,
and he would look over some sermon memoranda before
he went out, Alice retired to the kitchen in openly
cheerful spirits.

Theron spread some old manuscript sermons before him
on his desk, and took down his scribbling-book as well.
But there his application flagged, and he surrendered
himself instead, chin on hand, to staring out at
the rhododendron in the yard. He recalled how he had
seen Soulsby patiently studying this identical bush.
The notion of Soulsby, not knowing at all how to sing,
yet diligently learning those sixths, brought a smile
to his mind; and then he seemed to hear Celia calling out
over her shoulder, "That's what Chopin does--he sings!"
The spirit of that wonderful music came back to him,
enfolded him in its wings. It seemed to raise itself up--
a palpable barrier between him and all that he had known
and felt and done before. That was his new birth--
that marvellous night with the piano. The conceit pleased him--
not the less because there flashed along with it the thought
that it was a poet that had been born. Yes; the former
country lout, the narrow zealot, the untutored slave
groping about in the dark after silly superstitions,
cringing at the scowl of mean Pierces and Winches,
was dead. There was an end of him, and good riddance.
In his place there had been born a Poet--he spelled the word
out now unabashed--a child of light, a lover of beauty and
sweet sounds, a recognizable brother to Renan and Chopin--
and Celia!

Out of the soothing, tenderly grateful revery, a practical
suggestion suddenly took shape. He acted upon it
without a moment's delay, getting out his letter-pad,
and writing hurriedly--

"Dear Miss Madden,--Life will be more tolerable to me
if before nightfall I can know that there is a piano
under my roof. Even if it remains dumb, it will be some
comfort to have it here and look at it, and imagine
how a great master might make it speak.

"Would it be too much to beg you to look in at Thurston's,
say at eleven this forenoon, and give me the inestimable
benefit of your judgment in selecting an instrument?

"Do not trouble to answer this, for I am leaving home now,
but shall call at Thurston's at eleven, and wait.

"Thanking you in anticipation,

"I am--"

Here Theron's fluency came to a sharp halt. There were adverbs
enough and to spare on the point of his pen, but the right
one was not easy to come at. "Gratefully," "faithfully,"
"sincerely," "truly"--each in turn struck a false note.
He felt himself not quite any of these things.
At last he decided to write just the simple word "yours,"
and then wavered between satisfaction at his boldness,
dread lest he had been over-bold, and, worst of the lot,
fear that she would not notice it one way or the other--
all the while he sealed and addressed the letter, put it
carefully in an inner pocket, and got his hat.

There was a moment's hesitation as to notifying the kitchen
of his departure. The interests of domestic discipline seemed
to point the other way. He walked softly through the hall,
and let himself out by the front door without a sound.

Down by the canal bridge he picked out an idle boy to his mind--
a lad whose aspect appeared to promise intelligence
as a messenger, combined with large impartiality in
sectarian matters. He was to have ten cents on his return;
and he might report himself to his patron at the bookstore yonder.

Theron was grateful to the old bookseller for remaining
at his desk in the rear. There was a tacit compliment
in the suggestion that he was not a mere customer,
demanding instant attention. Besides, there was no keeping
"Thurston's" out of conversations in this place.

Loitering along the shelves, the young minister's eye
suddenly found itself arrested by a name on a cover.
There were a dozen narrow volumes in uniform binding,
huddled together under a cardboard label of "Eminent
Women Series." Oddly enough, one of these bore the title
"George Sand." Theron saw there must be some mistake,
as he took the book down, and opened it. His glance
hit by accident upon the name of Chopin. Then he read
attentively until almost the stroke of eleven.

"We have to make ourselves acquainted with all sorts
of queer phases of life," he explained in self-defence
to the old bookseller, then counting out the money for
the book from his lean purse. He smiled as he added,
"There seems something almost wrong about taking advantage
of the clergyman's discount for a life of George Sand."

"I don't know," answered the other, pleasantly. "Guess she
wasn't so much different from the rest of 'em--except
that she didn't mind appearances. We know about her.
We don't know about the others."

"I must hurry," said Theron, turning on his heel.
The haste with which he strode out of the store,
crossed the street, and made his way toward Thurston's,
did not prevent his thinking much upon the astonishing
things he had encountered in this book. Their relation
to Celia forced itself more and more upon his mind.
He could recall the twinkle in her eye, the sub-mockery
in her tone, as she commented with that half-contemptuous
"Yes--George something!" upon his blundering ignorance.
His mortification at having thus exposed his dull
rusticity was swallowed up in conjectures as to just
what her tolerant familiarity with such things involved.
He had never before met a young unmarried woman who would
have confessed to him any such knowledge. But then,
of course, he had never known a girl who resembled Celia
in any other way. He recognized vaguely that he must
provide himself with an entire new set of standards by which
to measure and comprehend her. But it was for the moment
more interesting to wonder what her standards were.
Did she object to George Sand's behavior? Or did she
sympathize with that sort of thing? Did those statues,
and the loose-flowing diaphonous toga and unbound hair,
the cigarettes, the fiery liqueur, the deliberately
sensuous music--was he to believe that they signified--?

"Good-morning, Mr. Ware. You have managed by a miracle
to hit on one of my punctual days," said Celia.

She was standing on the doorstep, at the entrance to the
musical department of Thurston's. He had not noticed
before the fact that the sun was shining. The full glare
of its strong light, enveloping her figure as she stood,
and drawing the dazzled eye for relief to the bower
of softened color, close beneath her parasol of creamy
silk and lace, was what struck him now first of all.
It was as if Celia had brought the sun with her.

Theron shook hands with her, and found joy in the perception,
that his own hand trembled. He put boldly into words
the thought that came to him.

"It was generous of you," he said, "to wait for me out here,
where all might delight in the sight of you, instead of
squandering the privilege on a handful of clerks inside."

Miss Madden beamed upon him, and nodded approval.

"Alcibiades never turned a prettier compliment,"
she remarked. They went in together at this, and Theron
made a note of the name.

During the ensuing half-hour, the young minister followed
about even more humbly than the clerks in Celia's
commanding wake. There were a good many pianos in the big
show-room overhead, and Theron found himself almost awed
by their size and brilliancy of polish, and the thought
of the tremendous sum of money they represented altogether.
Not so with the organist. She ordered them rolled around
this way or that, as if they had been so many checkers on
a draught-board. She threw back their covers with the scant
ceremony of a dispensary dentist opening paupers' mouths.
She exploited their several capacities with masterful hands,
not deigning to seat herself, but just slightly
bending forward, and sweeping her fingers up and down
their keyboards--able, domineering fingers which pounded,
tinkled, meditated, assented, condemned, all in a flash, and
amid what affected the layman's ears as a hopelessly discordant hubbub.

Theron moved about in the group, nursing her parasol
in his arms, and watching her. The exaggerated deference
which the clerks and salesmen showed to her as the rich
Miss Madden, seemed to him to be mixed with a certain
assertion of the claims of good-fellowship on the score
of her being a musician. There undoubtedly was a sense
of freemasonry between them. They alluded continually
in technical terms to matters of which he knew nothing,
and were amused at remarks of hers which to him carried
no meaning whatever. It was evident that the young
men liked her, and that their liking pleased her.
It thrilled him to think that she knew he liked her,
too, and to recall what abundant proofs she had given
that here, also, she had pleasure in the fact. He clung
insistently to the memory of these evidences. They helped
him to resist a disagreeable tendency to feel himself
an intruder, an outsider, among these pianoforte experts.

When it was all over, Celia waved the others aside,
and talked with Theron. "I suppose you want me to tell you
the truth," she said. "There's nothing here really good.
It is always much better to buy of the makers direct."

"Do they sell on the instalment plan?" he asked.
There was a wistful effect in his voice which caught
her attention.

She looked away--out through the window on the street below--
for a moment. Then her eyes returned to his, and regarded
him with a comforting, friendly, half-motherly glance,
recalling for all the world the way Sister Soulsby had
looked at him at odd times.

"Oh, you want it at once--I see," she remarked softly.
"Well, this Adelberger is the best value for the money."

Mr. Ware followed her finger, and beheld with dismay
that it pointed toward the largest instrument in the room--
a veritable leviathan among pianos. The price of this
had been mentioned as $600. He turned over the fact
that this was two-thirds his yearly salary, and found
the courage to shake his head.

"It would be too large--much too large--for the room,"
he explained. "And, besides, it is more than I like to pay--
or CAN pay, for that matter." It was pitiful to be
explaining such details, but there was no help for it.

They picked out a smaller one, which Celia said was at
least of fair quality. "Now leave all the bargaining
to me," she adjured him. "These prices that they talk
about in the piano trade are all in the air. There are
tremendous discounts, if one knows how to insist upon them.
All you have to do is to tell them to send it to your house--
you wanted it today, you said?"

"Yes--in memory of yesterday," he murmured.

She herself gave the directions, and Thurston's people,
now all salesmen again, bowed grateful acquiescence.
Then she sailed regally across the room and down the stairs,
drawing Theron in her train. The hirelings made salaams
to him as well; it would have been impossible to interpose
anything so trivial and squalid as talk about terms and dates
of payment.

"I am ever so much obliged to you," he said fervently,
in the comparative solitude of the lower floor. She had
paused to look at something in the book-department.

"Of course I was entirely at your service; don't mention it,"
she replied, reaching forth her hand in an absent way
for her parasol.

He held up instead the volume he had purchased. "Guess what
that is! You never would guess in this wide world!"
His manner was surcharged with a sense of the surreptitious.

"Well, then, there's no good trying, IS there?"
commented Celia, her glance roving again toward the shelves.

"It is a life of George Sand," whispered Theron.
"I've been reading it this morning--all the Chopin part--
while I was waiting for you."

To his surprise, there was an apparently displeased
contraction of her brows as he made this revelation.
For the instant, a dreadful fear of having offended her
seized upon and sickened him. But then her face cleared,
as by magic. She smiled, and let her eyes twinkle
in laughter at him, and lifted a forefinger in the most
winning mockery of admonition.

"Naughty! naughty!" she murmured back, with a roguishly
solemn wink.

He had no response ready for this, but mutely handed
her the parasol. The situation had suddenly grown
too confused for words, or even sequent thoughts.
Uppermost across the hurly-burly of his mind there
scudded the singular reflection that he should never hear
her play on that new piano of his. Even as it flashed
by out of sight, he recognized it for one of the griefs
of his life; and the darkness which followed seemed
nothing but a revolt against the idea of having a piano
at all. He would countermand the order. He would--
but she was speaking again.

They had strolled toward the door, and her voice was as
placidly conventional as if the talk had never strayed
from the subject of pianos. Theron with an effort
pulled himself together, and laid hold of her words.

"I suppose you will be going the other way," she was saying.
"I shall have to be at the church all day. We have just
got a new Mass over from Vienna, and I'm head over heels
in work at it. I can have Father Forbes to myself today,
too. That bear of a doctor has got the rheumatism,
and can't come out of his cave, thank Heaven!"

And then she was receding from view, up the sunlit,
busy sidewalk, and Theron, standing on the doorstep,
ruefully rubbed his chin. She had said he was going
the other way, and, after a little pause, he made her
words good, though each step he took seemed all in despite
of his personal inclinations. Some of the passers-by
bowed to him, and one or two paused as if to shake hands
and exchange greetings. He nodded responses mechanically,
but did not stop. It was as if he feared to interrupt
the process of lifting his reluctant feet and propelling
them forward, lest they should wheel and scuttle off
in the opposite direction.

 

 

CHAPTER XXI

 

Deliberate as his progress was, the diminishing number of
store-fronts along the sidewalk, and the increasing proportion
of picket-fences enclosing domestic lawns, forced upon
Theron's attention the fact that he was nearing home.
It was a trifle past the hour for his midday meal.
He was not in the least hungry; still less did he feel any
desire just now to sit about in that library living-room
of his. Why should he go home at all? There was no
reason whatever--save that Alice would be expecting him.
Upon reflection, that hardly amounted to a reason.
Wives, with their limited grasp of the realities of life,
were always expecting their husbands to do things
which it turned out not to be feasible for them to do.
The customary male animal spent a considerable part of his
life in explaining to his mate why it had been necessary
to disappoint or upset her little plans for his comings
and goings. It was in the very nature of things that it
should be so.

Sustained by these considerations, Mr. Ware slackened his steps,
then halted irresolutely, and after a minute's hesitation,
entered the small temperance restaurant before which,
as by intuition, he had paused. The elderly woman who
placed on the tiny table before him the tea and rolls
he ordered, was entirely unknown to him, he felt sure,
yet none the less she smiled at him, and spoke almost
familiarly--"I suppose Mrs. Ware is at the seaside,
and you are keeping bachelor's hall?"

"Not quite that," he responded stiffly, and hurried
through the meagre and distasteful repast, to avoid
any further conversation.

There was an idea underlying her remark, however, which
recurred to him when he had paid his ten cents and got
out on the street again. There was something interesting
in the thought of Alice at the seaside. Neither of them
had ever laid eyes on salt water, but Theron took for granted
the most extravagant landsman's conception of its curative
and invigorating powers. It was apparent to him that he
was going to pay much greater attention to Alice's happiness
and well-being in the future than he had latterly done.
He had bought her, this very day, a superb new piano.
He was going to simply insist on her having a hired girl.
And this seaside notion--why, that was best of all.

His fancy built up pleasant visions of her feasting her
delighted eyes upon the marvel of a great ocean storm,
or roaming along a beach strewn with wonderful marine shells,
exhibiting an innocent joy in their beauty. The fresh
sea-breeze blew through her hair, as he saw her in mind's eye,
and brought the hardy flush of health back upon her rather
pallid cheeks. He was prepared already hardly to know her,
so robust and revivified would she have become, by the
time he went down to the depot to meet her on her return.

For his imagination stopped short of seeing himself
at the seaside. It sketched instead pictures of whole
weeks of solitary academic calm, alone with his books
and his thoughts. The facts that he had no books,
and that nobody dreamed of interfering with his thoughts,
subordinated themselves humbly to his mood. The prospect,
as he mused fondly upon it, expanded to embrace the
priest's and the doctor's libraries; the thoughts which
he longed to be alone with involved close communion
with their thoughts. It could not but prove a season
of immense mental stimulation and ethical broadening.
It would have its lofty poetic and artistic side as well;
the languorous melodies of Chopin stole over his revery,
as he dwelt upon these things, and soft azure and golden
lights modelled forth the exquisite outlines of tall
marble forms.

He opened the gate leading to Dr. Ledsmar's house. His walk
had brought him quite out of the town, and up, by a broad
main highway which yet took on all sorts of sylvan charms,
to a commanding site on the hillside. Below, in the valley,
lay Octavius, at one end half-hidden in factory smoke,
at the other, where narrow bands of water gleamed
upon the surface of a broad plain piled symmetrically
with lumber, presenting an oddly incongruous suggestion
of forest odors and the simplicity of the wilderness.
In the middle distance, on gradually rising ground,
stretched a wide belt of dense, artificial foliage,
peeping through which tiled turrets and ornamented
chimneys marked the polite residences of those who,
though they neither stoked the furnace fires to the west,
nor sawed the lumber on the east, lived in purple and fine
linen from the profits of this toil. Nearer at hand,
pastures with grazing cows on the one side of the road,
and the nigh, weather-stained board fence of the race-course
on the other, completed the jumble of primitive rusticity
and urban complications characterizing the whole picture.

Dr. Ledsmar's house, toward which Theron's impulses had been
secretly leading him ever since Celia's parting remark
about the rheumatism, was of that spacious and satisfying
order of old-fashioned houses which men of leisure and
means built for themselves while the early traditions
of a sparse and contented homogeneous population were
still strong in the Republic. There was a hospitable look
about its wide veranda, its broad, low bulk, and its big,
double front door, which did not fit at all with the sketch
of a man-hating recluse that the doctor had drawn of himself.

Theron had prepared his mind for the effect of being
admitted by a Chinaman, and was taken somewhat aback
when the door was opened by the doctor himself.
His reception was pleasant enough, almost cordial,
but the sense of awkwardness followed him into his host's
inner room and rested heavily upon his opening speech.

"I heard, quite by accident, that you were ill," he said,
laying aside his hat.

"It's nothing at all," replied Ledsmar. "Merely a stiff
shoulder that I wear from time to time in memory of my father.
It ought to be quite gone by nightfall. It was good of you
to come, all the same. Sit down if you can find a chair.
As usual, we are littered up to our eyes here. That's it--
throw those things on the floor."

Mr. Ware carefully deposited an armful of pamphlets on the
rug at his feet, and sat down. Litter was indeed the word
for what he saw about him. Bookcases, chairs, tables,
the corners of the floor, were all buried deep under
disorderly strata of papers, diagrams, and opened books.
One could hardly walk about without treading on them.
The dust which danced up into the bar of sunshine streaming in
from the window, as the doctor stepped across to another chair,
gave Theron new ideas about the value of Chinese servants.

"I must thank you, first of all, doctor," he began,
"for your kindness in coming when I was ill. 'I was sick,
and ye visited me.'"

"You mustn't think of it that way," said Ledsmar; "your friend
came for me, and of course I went; and gladly too.
There was nothing that I could do, or that anybody
could do. Very interesting man, that friend of yours.
And his wife, too--both quite out of the common.
I don't know when I've seen two such really genuine people.
I should like to have known more of them. Are they
still here?"

"They went yesterday," Theron replied. His earlier shyness
had worn off, and he felt comfortably at his ease.
"I don't know," he went on, "that the word 'genuine'
is just what would have occurred to me to describe
the Soulsbys. The, are very interesting people, as you say--
MOST interesting--and there was a time, l dare say,
when I should have believed in their sincerity. But of
course I saw them and their performance from the inside--
like one on the stage of a theatre, you know, instead of
in the audience, and--well, I understand things better
than I used to."

The doctor looked over his spectacles at him with a
suggestion of inquiry in his glance, and Theron continued:
"I had several long talks with her; she told me very
frankly the whole story of her life--and and it was
decidedly queer, I can assure you! I may say to you--
you will understand what I mean--that since my talk
with you, and the books you lent me, I see many
things differently. Indeed, when I think upon it sometimes
my old state of mind seems quite incredible to me.
I can use no word for my new state short of illumination."

Dr. Ledsmar continued to regard his guest with that calm,
interrogatory scrutiny of his. He did not seem disposed
to take up the great issue of illumination. "I suppose,"
he said after a little, "no woman can come in contact
with a priest for any length of time WITHOUT telling him
the 'story of her life,' as you call it. They all do it.
The thing amounts to a law."

The young minister's veins responded with a pleasurable
thrill to the use of the word "priest" in obvious allusion
to himself. "Perhaps in fairness I ought to explain,"
he said, "that in her case it was only done in the course
of a long talk about myself. I might say that it
was by way of kindly warning to me. She saw how I
had become unsettled in many--many of my former views--
and she was nervous lest this should lead me to--to--"

"To throw up the priesthood," the doctor interposed upon
his hesitation. "Yes, I know the tribe. Why, my dear sir,
your entire profession would have perished from the memory
of mankind, if it hadn't been for women. It is a very
curious subject. Lots of thinkers have dipped into it,
but no one has gone resolutely in with a search-light
and exploited the whole thing. Our boys, for instance,
traverse in their younger years all the stages of the
childhood of the race. They have terrifying dreams
of awful monsters and giant animals of which they have
never so much as heard in their waking hours; they pass
through the lust for digging caves, building fires,
sleeping out in the woods, hunting with bows and arrows--
all remote ancestral impulses; they play games with stones,
marbles, and so on at regular stated periods of the year
which they instinctively know, just as they were played
in the Bronze Age, and heaven only knows how much earlier.
But the boy goes through all this, and leaves it behind him--
so completely that the grown man feels himself more
a stranger among boys of his own place who are thinking
and doing precisely the things he thought and did a few
years before, than he would among Kurds or Esquimaux.
But the woman is totally different. She is infinitely
more precocious as a girl. At an age when her slow brother
is still stubbing along somewhere in the neolithic period,
she has flown way ahead to a kind of mediaeval stage,
or dawn of mediaevalism, which is peculiarly her own.
Having got there, she stays there; she dies there.
The boy passes her, as the tortoise did the hare.
He goes on, if he is a philosopher, and lets her remain
in the dark ages, where she belongs. If he happens to be
a fool, which is customary, he stops and hangs around in
her vicinity."

Theron smiled. "We priests," he said, and paused again
to enjoy the words--"I suppose I oughtn't to inquire
too closely just where we belong in the procession."

"We are considering the question impersonally,"
said the doctor. "First of all, what you regard as
religion is especially calculated to attract women.
They remain as superstitious today, down in the marrow
of their bones, as they were ten thousand years ago.
Even the cleverest of them are secretly afraid of omens,
and respect auguries. Think of the broadest women
you know. One of them will throw salt over her shoulder
if she spills it. Another drinks money from her cup
by skimming the bubbles in a spoon. Another forecasts
her future by the arrangement of tea-grounds. They
make the constituency to which an institution based
on mysteries, miracles, and the supernatural generally,
would naturally appeal. Secondly, there is the personality
of the priest."

"Yes," assented Ware. There rose up before him,
on the instant, the graceful, portly figure and strong,
comely face of Father Forbes.

"Women are not a metaphysical people. They do not
easily follow abstractions. They want their dogmas
and religious sentiments embodied in a man, just as they
do their romantic fancies. Of course you Protestants,
with your married clergy, see less of the effects of this
than celibates do, but even with you there is a great deal
in it. Why, the very institution of celibacy itself
was forced upon the early Christian Church by the scandal
of rich Roman ladies loading bishops and handsome priests
with fabulous gifts until the passion for currying favor
with women of wealth, and marrying them or wheedling
their fortunes from them, debauched the whole priesthood.
You should read your Jerome."

"I will--certainly," said the listener, resolving to
remember the name and refer it to the old bookseller.

"Well, whatever laws one sect or another makes, the woman's
attitude toward the priest survives. She desires to see
him surrounded by flower-pots and candles, to have him
smelling of musk. She would like to curl his hair,
and weave garlands in it. Although she is not learned
enough to have ever heard of such things, she intuitively
feels in his presence a sort of backwash of the old pagan
sensuality and lascivious mysticism which enveloped
the priesthood in Greek and Roman days. Ugh! It makes
one sick!"

Dr. Ledsmar rose, as he spoke, and dismissed the topic with
a dry little laugh. "Come, let me show you round a bit,"
he said. "My shoulder is easier walking than sitting."

"Have you never written a book yourself?" asked Theron,
getting to his feet.

"I have a thing on serpent-worship," the scientist
replied--"written years ago."

"I can't tell you how I should enjoy reading it,"
urged the other.

The doctor laughed again. "You'll have to learn German,
then, I 'm afraid. It is still in circulation in Germany,
I believe, on its merits as a serious book. I haven't
a copy of the edition in English. THAT was all exhausted
by collectors who bought it for its supposed obscenity,
like Burton's 'Arabian Nights.' Come this way, and I
will show you my laboratory."

They moved out of the room, and through a passage,
Ledsmar talking as he led the way. "I took up that subject,
when I was at college, by a curious chance. I kept a young
monkey in my rooms, which had been born in captivity.
I brought home from a beer hall--it was in Germany--
some pretzels one night, and tossed one toward the monkey.
He jumped toward it, then screamed and ran back shuddering
with fright. I couldn't understand it at first. Then I
saw that the curled pretzel, lying there on the floor,
was very like a little coiled-up snake. The monkey had
never seen a snake, but it was in his blood to be afraid
of one. That incident changed my whole life for me.
Up to that evening, I had intended to be a lawyer."

Theron did not feel sure that he had understood the point
of the anecdote. He looked now, without much interest,
at some dark little tanks containing thick water, a row of small
glass cases with adders and other lesser reptiles inside,
and a general collection of boxes, jars, and similar
receptacles connected with the doctor's pursuits.
Further on was a smaller chamber, with a big empty furnace,
and shelves bearing bottles and apparatus like a drugstore.

It was pleasanter in the conservatory--a low,
spacious structure with broad pathways between the plants,
and an awning over the sunny side of the roof. The plants
were mostly orchids, he learned. He had read of them,
but never seen any before. No doubt they were curious;
but he discovered nothing to justify the great fuss
made about them. The heat grew oppressive inside,
and he was glad to emerge into the garden. He paused
under the grateful shade of a vine-clad trellis, took off
his hat, and looked about him with a sigh of relief.
Everything seemed old-fashioned and natural and delightfully
free from pretence in the big, overgrown field of flowers
and shrubs.

Theron recalled with some surprise Celia's indictment
of the doctor as a man with no poetry in his soul.
"You must be extremely fond of flowers," he remarked.

Dr. Ledsmar shrugged his well shoulder. "They have their points,"
he said briefly. "These are all dioecious here. Over beyond
are monoecious species. My work is to test the probabilities
for or against Darwin's theory that hermaphroditism
in plants is a late by-product of these earlier forms."

"And is his theory right?" asked Mr. Ware, with a polite
show of interest.

"We may know in the course of three or four hundred years,"
replied Ledsmar. He looked up into his guest's face
with a quizzical half-smile. "That is a very brief period
for observation when such a complicated question as sex
is involved," he added. "We have been studying the female
of our own species for some hundreds of thousands of years,
and we haven't arrived at the most elementary rules
governing her actions."

They had moved along to a bed of tall plants, the more
forward of which were beginning to show bloom. "Here another
task will begin next month," the doctor observed.
"These are salvias, pentstemons, and antirrhinums,
or snapdragons, planted very thick for the purpose.
Humble-bees bore holes through their base, to save
the labor of climbing in and out of the flowers,
and we don't quite know yet why some hive-bees discover
and utilize these holes at once, while others never do.
It may be merely the old-fogy conservatism of the individual,
or there may be a law in it."

These seemed very paltry things for a man of such wisdom
to bother his head about. Theron looked, as he was bidden,
at the rows of hives shining in the hot sun on a bench
along the wall, but offered no comment beyond a casual,
"My mother was always going to keep bees, but somehow she
never got around to it. They say it pays very well, though."

"The discovery of the reason why no bee will touch the
nectar of the EPIPACTIS LATIFOLIA, though it is sweet
to our taste, and wasps are greedy for it, WOULD pay,"
commented the doctor. "Not like a blue rhododendron,
in mere money, but in recognition. Lots of men have
achieved a half-column in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica'
on a smaller basis than that."

They stood now at the end of the garden, before a small,
dilapidated summer-house. On the bench inside, facing him,
Theron saw a strange recumbent figure stretched at
full length, apparently sound asleep, or it might be dead.
Looking closer, with a startled surprise, he made out
the shaven skull and outlandish garb of a Chinaman.
He turned toward his guide in the expectation of a scene.

The doctor had already taken out a note-book and pencil,
and was drawing his watch from his pocket. He stepped into
the summer-house, and, lifting the Oriental's limp arm,
took account of his pulse. Then, with head bowed low,
side-wise, he listened for the heart-action. Finally,
he somewhat brusquely pushed back one of the Chinaman's eyelids,
and made a minute inspection of what the operation disclosed.
Returning to the light, he inscribed some notes in
his book, put it back in his pocket, and came out.
In answer to Theron's marvelling stare, he pointed toward
a pipe of odd construction lying on the floor beneath
the sleeper.

"This is one of my regular afternoon duties," he explained,
again with the whimsical half-smile. "I am increasing his
dose monthly by regular stages, and the results promise
to be rather remarkable. Heretofore, observations have been
made mostly on diseased or morbidly deteriorated subjects.
This fellow of mine is strong as an ox, perfectly nourished,
and watched over intelligently. He can assimilate opium
enough to kill you and me and every other vertebrate
creature on the premises, without turning a hair, and he
hasn't got even fairly under way yet."

The thing was unpleasant, and the young minister turned away.
They walked together up the path toward the house.
His mind was full now of the hostile things which Celia
had said about the doctor. He had vaguely sympathized
with her then, upon no special knowledge of his own.
Now he felt that his sentiments were vehemently in accord
with hers. The doctor WAS a beast.

And yet--as they moved slowly along through the garden
the thought took sudden shape in his mind--it would be
only justice for him to get also the doctor's opinion
of Celia. Even while they offended and repelled him,
he could not close his eyes to the fact that the doctor's
experiments and occupations were those of a patient
and exact man of science--a philosopher. And what he
had said about women--there was certainly a great deal
of acumen and shrewd observation in that. If he would
only say what he really thought about Celia, and about
her relations with the priest! Yes, Theron recognized
now there was nothing else that he so much needed light
upon as those puzzling ties between Celia and Father Forbes.

He paused, with a simulated curiosity, about one of
the flower-beds. "Speaking of women and religion"--
he began, in as casual a tone as he could command--
"I notice curiously enough in my own case, that as I develop
in what you may call the--the other direction, my wife,
who formerly was not especially devote, is being strongly
attracted by the most unthinking and hysterical side of--
of our church system."

The doctor looked at him, nodded, and stooped to nip
some buds from a stalk in the bed.

"And another case," Theron went on--"of course it was all
so new and strange to me--but the position which Miss
Madden seems to occupy about the Catholic Church here--
I suppose you had her in mind when you spoke."

Ledsmar stood up. "My mind has better things to busy
itself with than mad asses of that description,"
he replied. "She is not worth talking about--a mere
bundle of egotism, ignorance, and red-headed lewdness.
If she were even a type, she might be worth considering;
but she is simply an abnormal sport, with a little brain
addled by notions that she is like Hypatia, and a large
impudence rendered intolerable by the fact that she
has money. Her father is a decent man. He ought to have
her whipped."

Mr. Ware drew himself erect, as he listened to these
outrageous words. It would be unmanly, he felt, to allow
such comments upon an absent friend to pass unrebuked.
Yet there was the courtesy due to a host to be considered.
His mind, fluttering between these two extremes,
alighted abruptly upon a compromise. He would speak
so as to show his disapproval, yet not so as to prevent
his finding out what he wanted to know. The desire
to hear Ledsmar talk about Celia and the priest seemed
now to have possessed him for a long time, to have
dictated his unpremeditated visit out here, to have been
growing in intensity all the while he pretended to be
interested in orchids and bees and the drugged Chinaman.
It tugged passionately at his self-control as he spoke.

"I cannot in the least assent to your characterization
of the lady," he began with rhetorical dignity.

"Bless me!" interposed the doctor, with deceptive
cheerfulness, "that is not required of you at all.
It is a strictly personal opinion, offered merely
as a contribution to the general sum of hypotheses."

"But," Theron went on, feeling his way, "of course,
I gathered that evening that you had prejudices in the matter;
but these are rather apart from the point I had in view.
We were speaking, you will remember, of the traditional
attitude of women toward priests--wanting to curl their
hair and put flowers in it, you know, and that suggested
to me some individual illustrations, and it occurred
to me to wonder just what were the relations between Miss
Madden and--and Father Forbes. She said this morning,
for instance--I happened to meet her, quite by accident--
that she was going to the church to practise a new piece,
and that she could have Father Forbes to herself all day.
Now that would be quite an impossible remark in our--that is,
in any Protestant circles--and purely as a matter of comparison,
I was curious to ask you just how much there was in it.
I ask you, because going there so much you have had exceptional
opportunities for--"

A sharp exclamation from his companion interrupted
the clergyman's hesitating monologue. It began like a
high-pitched, violent word, but dwindled suddenly into a groan
of pain. The doctor's face, too, which had on the flash
of Theron's turning seemed given over to unmixed anger,
took on an expression of bodily suffering instead.

"My shoulder has grown all at once excessively painful,"
he said hastily. "I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me,
Mr. Ware."

Carrying the afflicted side with ostentatious caution,
he led the way without ado round the house to the front
gate on the road. He had put his left hand under his coat
to press it against his aching shoulder, and his right hung
palpably helpless. This rendered it impossible for him
to shake hands with his guest in parting.

"You're sure there's nothing I can do," said Theron,
lingering on the outer side of the gate. "I used to rub
my father's shoulders and back; I'd gladly--"

"Oh, not for worlds!" groaned the doctor. His anguish
was so impressive that Theron, as he walked down the road,
quite missed the fact that there had been no invitation
to come again.

Dr. Ledsmar stood for a minute or two, his gaze meditatively
following the retreating figure. Then he went in, opening the
front door with his right hand, and carrying himself once more
as if there were no such thing as rheumatism in the world.
He wandered on through the hall into the laboratory,
and stopped in front of the row of little tanks full of water.

Some deliberation was involved in whatever his purpose might be,
for he looked from one tank to another with a pondering,
dilatory gaze. At last he plunged his hand into the opaque
fluid and drew forth a long, slim, yellowish-green lizard,
with a coiling, sinuous tail and a pointed, evil head.
The reptile squirmed and doubled itself backward around
his wrist, darting out and in with dizzy swiftness its tiny
forked tongue.

The doctor held the thing up to the light, and, scrutinizing it
through his spectacles, nodded his head in sedate approval.
A grim smile curled in his beard.

"Yes, you are the type," he murmured to it, with evident
enjoyment in the conceit. "Your name isn't Johnny any more.
It's the Rev. Theron Ware."

 

 

CHAPTER XXII

 

The annual camp-meeting of the combined Methodist
districts of Octavius and Thessaly was held this year in
the second half of September, a little later than usual.
Of the nine days devoted to this curious survival of
primitive Wesleyanism, the fifth fell upon a Saturday.
On the noon of that day the Rev. Theron Ware escaped
for some hours from the burden of work and incessant
observation which he shared with twenty other preachers,
and walked alone in the woods.

The scene upon which he turned his back was one worth
looking at. A spacious, irregularly defined clearing
in the forest lay level as a tennis-court, under the soft
haze of autumn sunlight. In the centre was a large,
roughly constructed frame building, untouched by paint,
but stained and weather-beaten with time. Behind it were some
lines of horse-sheds, and still further on in that direction,
where the trees began, the eye caught fragmentary
glimpses of low roofs and the fronts of tiny cottages,
withdrawn from full view among the saplings and underbrush.
At the other side of the clearing, fully fourscore tents
were pitched, some gray and mended, others dazzlingly
white in their newness. The more remote of these tents
fell into an orderly arrangement of semi-circular form,
facing that part of the engirdling woods where the trees
were largest, and their canopy of overhanging foliage
was lifted highest from the ground. Inside this half-ring
of tents were many rounded rows of benches, which followed
in narrowing lines the idea of an amphitheatre cut in two.
In the centre, just under the edge of the roof of boughs,
rose a wooden pagoda, in form not unlike an open-air stand
for musicians. In front of this, and leading from it
on the level of its floor, there projected a platform,
railed round with aggressively rustic woodwork.
The nearest benches came close about this platform.

At the hour when Theron started away, there were few enough
signs of life about this encampment. The four or five
hundred people who were in constant residence were eating
their dinners in the big boarding-house, or the cottages
or the tents. It was not the time of day for strangers.
Even when services were in progress by daylight,
the regular attendants did not make much of a show,
huddled in a gray-black mass at the front of the auditorium,
by comparison with the great green and blue expanses
of nature about them.

The real spectacle was in the evening when, as the
shadows gathered, big clusters of kerosene torches,
hung on the trees facing the audience were lighted.
The falling darkness magnified the glow of the lights,
and the size and importance of what they illumined.
The preacher, bending forward over the rails of the platform,
and fastening his eyes upon the abashed faces of those
on the "anxious seat" beneath him, borrowed an effect
of druidical mystery from the wall of blackness about him,
from the flickering reflections on the branches far above,
from the cool night air which stirred across the clearing.
The change was in the blood of those who saw and heard
him, too. The decorum and half-heartedness of their
devotions by day deepened under the glare of the torches
into a fervent enthusiasm, even before the services began.
And if there was in the rustic pulpit a man whose prayers
or exhortations could stir their pulses, they sang and
groaned and bellowed out their praises with an almost
barbarous license, such as befitted the wilderness.

But in the evening not all were worshippers. For a dozen
miles round on the country-side, young farm-workers and
their girls regarded the camp-meeting as perhaps the chief
event of the year--no more to be missed than the country
fair or the circus, and offering, from many points of view,
more opportunities for genuine enjoyment than either.
Their behavior when they came was pretty bad--not the less
so because all the rules established by the Presiding
Elders for the regulation of strangers took it for granted
that they would act as viciously as they knew how.
These sight-seers sometimes ventured to occupy the back benches
where the light was dim. More often they stood outside,
in the circular space between the tents and the benches,
and mingled cat-calls, drovers' yelps, and all sorts
of mocking cries and noises with the "Amens" of the
earnest congregation. Their rough horse-play on the
fringe of the sanctified gathering was grievous enough;
everybody knew that much worse things went on further
out in the surrounding darkness. Indeed, popular report
gave to these external phases of the camp-meeting an even
more evil fame than attached to the later moonlight
husking-bees, or the least reputable of the midwinter
dances at Dave Randall's low halfway house.

Cynics said that the Methodists found consolation
for this scandal in the large income they derived from
their unruly visitors' gate-money. This was unfair.
No doubt the money played its part, but there was something
else far more important. The pious dwellers in the camp,
intent upon reviving in their poor modern way the character
and environment of the heroic early days, felt the need
of just this hostile and scoffing mob about them to bring
out the spirit they sought. Theirs was pre-eminently
a fighting religion, which languished in peaceful
fair weather, but flamed high in the storm. The throng
of loafers and light-minded worldlings of both sexes,
with their jeering interruptions and lewd levity of conduct,
brought upon the scene a kind of visible personal devil,
with whom the chosen could do battle face to face.
The daylight services became more and more perfunctory,
as the sojourn in the woods ran its course, and interest
concentrated itself upon the night meetings, for the reason
that THEN came the fierce wrestle with a Beelzebub of flesh
and blood. And it was not so one-sided a contest, either!

No evening passed without its victories for the pulpit.
Careless or mischievous young people who were pushed into
the foremost ranks of the mockers, and stood grinning
and grimacing under the lights, would of a sudden feel
a spell clamped upon them. They would hear a strange,
quavering note in the preacher's voice, catch the sense
of a piercing, soul-commanding gleam in his eye--
not at all to be resisted. These occult forces would
take control of them, drag them forward as in a dream
to the benches under the pulpit, and abase them there like
worms in the dust. And then the preacher would descend,
and the elders advance, and the torch-fires would sway
and dip before the wind of the mighty roar that went up
in triumph from the brethren.

These combats with Satan at close quarters, if they
made the week-day evenings exciting, reacted with an
effect of crushing dulness upon the Sunday services.
The rule was to admit no strangers to the grounds from
Saturday night to Monday morning. Every year attempts
were made to rescind or modify this rule, and this season
at least three-fourths of the laymen in attendance had
signed a petition in favor of opening the gates. The two
Presiding Elders, supported by a dozen of the older preachers,
resisted the change, and they had the backing of the more
bigoted section of the congregation from Octavius.
The controversy reached a point where Theron's Presiding
Elder threatened to quit the grounds, and the leaders
of the open-Sunday movement spoke freely of the ridiculous
figure which its cranks and fanatics made poor Methodism
cut in the eyes of modern go-ahead American civilization.
Then Theron Ware saw his opportunity, and preached
an impromptu sermon upon the sanctity of the Sabbath,
which ended all discussion. Sometimes its arguments seemed
to be on one side, sometimes on the other, but always
they were clothed with so serene a beauty of imagery,
and moved in such a lofty and rarefied atmosphere
of spiritual exaltation, that it was impossible to link
them to so sordid a thing as this question of gate-money.
When he had finished, nobody wanted the gates opened.
The two factions found that the difference between them had
melted out of existence. They sat entranced by the charm
of the sermon; then, glancing around at the empty benches,
glaringly numerous in the afternoon sunlight, they whispered
regrets that ten thousand people had not been there
to hear that marvellous discourse. Theron's conquest was
of exceptional dimensions. The majority, whose project
he had defeated, were strangers who appreciated and
admired his effort most. The little minority of his
own flock, though less susceptible to the influence
of graceful diction and delicately balanced rhetoric,
were proud of the distinction he had reflected upon them,
and delighted with him for having won their fight.
The Presiding Elders wrung his hand with a significant grip.
The extremists of his own charge beamed friendship upon
him for the first time. He was the veritable hero of the week.

The prestige of this achievement made it the easier
for Theron to get away by himself next day, and walk in
the woods. A man of such power had a right to solitude.
Those who noted his departure from the camp remembered
with pleasure that he was to preach again on the morrow.
He was going to commune with God in the depths of the forest,
that the Message next day might be clearer and more
luminous still.

Theron strolled for a little, with an air of aimlessness,
until he was well outside the more or less frequented
neighborhood of the camp. Then he looked at the sun
and the lay of the land with that informing scrutiny
of which the farm-bred boy never loses the trick, turned,
and strode at a rattling pace down the hillside.
He knew nothing personally of this piece of woodland--
a spur of the great Adirondack wilderness thrust southward
into the region of homesteads and dairies and hop-fields--
but he had prepared himself by a study of the map, and he
knew where he wanted to go. Very Soon he hit upon the path
he had counted upon finding, and at this he quickened
his gait.

Three months of the new life had wrought changes
in Theron. He bore himself more erectly, for one thing;
his shoulders were thrown back, and seemed thicker.
The alteration was even more obvious in his face.
The effect of lank, wistful, sallow juvenility had vanished.
It was the countenance of a mature, well-fed, and confident man,
firmer and more rounded in its outlines, and with a glow
of health on its whole surface. Under the chin were
the suggestions of fulness which bespeak an easy mind.
His clothes were new; the frock-coat fitted him, and the thin,
dark-colored autumn overcoat, with its silk lining exposed
at the breast, gave a masculine bulk and shape to his figure.
He wore a shining tall hat, and, in haste though he was,
took pains not to knock it against low-hanging branches.

All had gone well--more than well--with him. The second
Quarterly Conference had passed without a ripple.
Both the attendance and the collections at his church were
larger than ever before, and the tone of the congregation
toward him was altered distinctly for the better.
As for himself, he viewed with astonished delight the progress
he had made in his own estimation. He had taken Sister
Soulsby's advice, and the results were already wonderful.
He had put aside, once and for all, the thousand foolish
trifles and childish perplexities which formerly had racked
his brain, and worried him out of sleep and strength.
He borrowed all sorts of books boldly now from the Octavius
public library, and could swim with a calm mastery
and enjoyment upon the deep waters into which Draper
and Lecky and Laing and the rest had hurled him.
He dallied pleasurably, a little languorously, with a dozen
aspects of the case against revealed religion, ranging from
the mild heterodoxy of Andover's qualms to the rude
Ingersoll's rollicking negation of God himself, as a woman
of coquetry might play with as many would-be lovers.
They amused him; they were all before him to choose;
and he was free to postpone indefinitely the act
of selection. There was a sense of the luxurious in this
position which softened bodily as well as mental fibres.
He ceased to grow indignant at things below or outside
his standards, and he bought a small book which treated
of the care of the hand and finger nails.

Alice had accepted with deference his explanation that
shapely hands played so important a part in pulpit oratory.
For that matter, she now accepted whatever he said or did
with admirable docility. It was months since he could
remember her venturing upon a critical attitude toward him.

She had not wished to leave home, for the seaside or any
other resort, during the summer, but had worked outside
in her garden more than usual. This was inexpensive, and it
seemed to do her as much good as a holiday could have done.
Her new devotional zeal was now quite an odd thing;
it had not slackened at all from the revival pitch.
At the outset she had tried several times to talk with her
husband upon this subject. He had discouraged conversation
about her soul and its welfare, at first obliquely, then,
under compulsion, with some directness. His thoughts
were absorbed, he said, by the contemplation of vast,
abstract schemes of creation and the government of the universe,
and it only diverted and embarrassed his mind to try
to fasten it upon the details of personal salvation.
Thereafter the topic was not broached between them.

She bestowed a good deal of attention, too, upon her piano.
The knack of a girlish nimbleness of touch had returned
to her after a few weeks, and she made music which Theron
supposed was very good--for her. It pleased him,
at all events, when he sat and listened to it; but he had
a far greater pleasure, as he listened, in dwelling upon
the memories of the yellow and blue room which the sounds
always brought up. Although three months had passed,
Thurston's had never asked for the first payment on the piano,
or even sent in a bill. This impressed him as being
peculiarly graceful behavior on his part, and he recognized
its delicacy by not going near Thurston's at all.

An hour's sharp walk, occasionally broken by short
cuts across open pastures, but for the most part on
forest paths, brought Theron to the brow of a small knoll,
free from underbrush, and covered sparsely with
beech-trees. The ground was soft with moss and the
powdered remains of last year's foliage; the leaves above
him were showing the first yellow stains of autumn.
A sweet smell of ripening nuts was thick upon the air,
and busy rustlings and chirpings through the stillness told
how the chipmunks and squirrels were attending to their harvest.

Theron had no ears for these noises of the woodland.
He had halted, and was searching through the little
vistas offered between the stout gray trunks of the
beeches for some sign of a more sophisticated sort.
Yes! there were certainly voices to be heard, down in
the hollow. And now, beyond all possibility of mistake,
there came up to him the low, rhythmic throb of music.
It was the merest faint murmur of music, made up almost
wholly of groaning bass notes, but it was enough.
He moved down the slope, swiftly at first, then with
increasing caution. The sounds grew louder as he advanced,
until he could hear the harmony of the other strings
in its place beside the uproar of the big fiddles,
and distinguish from both the measured noise of many feet
moving as one.

He reached a place from which, himself unobserved,
he could overlook much of what he had come to see.

The bottom of the glade below him lay out in the full sunshine,
as flat and as velvety in its fresh greenness as a garden lawn.
Its open expanse was big enough to accommodate several
distinct crowds, and here the crowds were--one massed about
an enclosure in which young men were playing at football,
another gathered further off in a horse-shoe curve at
the end of a baseball diamond, and a third thronging
at a point where the shade of overhanging woods began,
focussed upon a centre of interest which Theron could
not make out. Closer at hand, where a shallow stream
rippled along over its black-slate bed, some little boys,
with legs bared to the thighs, were paddling about,
under the charge of two men clad in long black gowns.
There were others of these frocked monitors scattered
here and there upon the scene--pallid, close-shaven,
monkish figures, who none the less wore modern hats,
and superintended with knowledge the games of the period.
Theron remembered that these were the Christian Brothers,
the semi-monastic teachers of the Catholic school.

And this was the picnic of the Catholics of Octavius.
He gazed in mingled amazement and exhilaration upon
the spectacle. There seemed to be literally thousands
of people on the open fields before him, and apparently
there were still other thousands in the fringes of the woods
round about. The noises which arose from this multitude--
the shouts of the lads in the water, the playful
squeals of the girls in the swings, the fused uproar
of the more distant crowds, and above all the diligent,
ordered strains of the dance-music proceeding from
some invisible distance in the greenwood--charmed his
ears with their suggestion of universal merriment.
He drew a long breath--half pleasure, half wistful regret--
as he remembered that other gathering in the forest
which he had left behind.

At any rate, it should be well behind him today, whatever the
morrow might bring! Evidently he was on the wrong side
of the circle for the headquarters of the festivities.
He turned and walked to the right through the beeches,
making a detour, under cover, of the crowds at play.
At last he rounded the long oval of the clearing,
and found himself at the very edge of that largest throng
of all, which had been too far away for comprehension
at the beginning. There was no mystery now. A rough,
narrow shed, fully fifty feet in length, imposed itself
in an arbitrary line across the face of this crowd,
dividing it into two compact halves. Inside this shed,
protected all round by a waist-high barrier of boards,
on top of which ran a flat, table-like covering, were twenty
men in their shirt-sleeves, toiling ceaselessly to keep
abreast of the crowd's thirst for beer. The actions
of these bartenders greatly impressed Theron. They moved
like so many machines, using one hand, apparently, to take
money and give change, and with the other incessantly
sweeping off rows of empty glasses, and tossing forward
in their place fresh, foaming glasses five at a time.
Hundreds of arms and hands were continually stretched out,
on both sides of the shed, toward this streaming bar,
and through the babel of eager cries rose without pause the
racket of mallets tapping new kegs.

Theron had never seen any considerable number of his
fellow-citizens engaged in drinking lager beer before.
His surprise at the facility of those behind the bar
began to yield, upon observation, to a profound amazement
at the thirst of those before it. The same people
seemed to be always in front, emptying the glasses
faster than the busy men inside could replenish them,
and clamoring tirelessly for more. Newcomers had to
force their way to the bar by violent efforts, and once
there they stayed until pushed bodily aside. There were
actually women to be seen here and there in the throng,
elbowing and shoving like the rest for a place at the front.
Some of the more gallant young men fought their way outward,
from time to time, carrying for safety above their heads
glasses of beer which they gave to young and pretty girls
standing on the fringe of the crowd, among the trees.

Everywhere a remarkable good-humor prevailed.
Once a sharp fight broke out, just at the end of the bar
nearest Theron, and one young man was knocked down.
A rush of the onlookers confused everything before the
minister's eyes for a minute, and then he saw the aggrieved
combatant up on his legs again, consenting under the kindly
pressure of the crowd to shake hands with his antagonist,
and join him in more beer. The incident caught his fancy.
There was something very pleasingly human, he thought,
in this primitive readiness to resort to fisticuffs,
and this frank and genial reconciliation.

Perhaps there was something contagious in this wholesale
display of thirst, for the Rev. Mr. Ware became conscious
of a notion that he should like to try a glass of beer.
He recalled having heard that lager was really a most
harmless beverage. Of course it was out of the question
that he should show himself at the bar. Perhaps some one
would bring him out a glass, as if he were a pretty girl.
He looked about for a possible messenger. Turning, he found
himself face to face with two smiling people, into whose
eyes he stared for an instant in dumfounded blankness.
Then his countenance flashed with joy, and he held out both
hands in greeting. It was Father Forbes and Celia.

"We stole down upon you unawares," said the priest,
in his cheeriest manner. He wore a brown straw hat,
and loose clothes hardly at all clerical in form,
and had Miss Madden's arm drawn lightly within his own.
"We could barely believe our eyes--that it could be you
whom we saw, here among the sinners!"

"I am in love with your sinners," responded Theron,
as he shook hands with Celia, and trusted himself to look
fully into her eyes. "I've had five days of the saints,
over in another part of the woods, and they've bored the
head off me."

 

 

CHAPTER XXIII

 

At the command of Father Forbes, a lad who was loitering
near them went down through the throng to the bar,
and returned with three glasses of beer. It pleased
the Rev. Mr. Ware that the priest should have taken it
for granted that he would do as the others did. He knocked
his glass against theirs in compliance with a custom strange
to him, but which they seemed to understand very well.
The beer itself was not so agreeable to the taste as he
had expected, but it was cold and refreshing.

When the boy had returned with the glasses, the three
stood for a moment in silence, meditatively watching
the curious scene spread below them. Beyond the bar,
Theron could catch now through the trees regularly
recurring glimpses of four or five swings in motion.
These were nearest him, and clearest to the vision
as well, at the instant when they reached their highest
forward point. The seats were filled with girls,
some of them quite grown young women, and their curving
upward sweep through the air was disclosing at its climax
a remarkable profusion of white skirts and black stockings.
The sight struck him as indecorous in the extreme, and he
turned his eyes away. They met Celia's; and there was
something latent in their brown depths which prompted him,
after a brief dalliance of interchanging glances, to look
again at the swings.

"That old maid Curran is really too ridiculous,
with those white stockings of hers," remarked Celia;
"some friend ought to tell her to dye them."

"Or pad them," suggested Father Forbes, with a gay
little chuckle. "I daresay the question of swings and ladies'
stockings hardly arises with you, over at the camp-meeting, Mr. Ware?"

Theron laughed aloud at the conceit. "I should say not!"
he replied.

"I'm just dying to see a camp-meeting!" said Celia.
"You hear such racy accounts of what goes on at them."

"Don't go, I beg of you!" urged Theron, with doleful emphasis.
"Don't let's even talk about them. I should like to feel
this afternoon as if there was no such thing within
a thousand miles of me as a camp-meeting. Do you know,
all this interests me enormously. It is a revelation to me
to see these thousands of good, decent, ordinary people,
just frankly enjoying themselves like human beings.
I suppose that in this whole huge crowd there isn't
a single person who will mention the subject of his soul
to any other person all day long."

"I should think the assumption was a safe one," said the
priest, smilingly, "unless," he added on afterthought,
"it be by way of a genial profanity. There used to be
some old Clare men who said 'Hell to my soul!' when they
missed at quoits, but I haven't heard it for a long time.
I daresay they're all dead."

"I shall never forget that death-bed--where I saw you first,"
remarked Theron, musingly. "I date from that experience
a whole new life. I have been greatly struck lately,
in reading our 'Northern Christian Advocate' to see
in the obituary notices of prominent Methodists how over
and over again it is recorded that they got religion
in their youth through being frightened by some illness
of their own, or some epidemic about them. The cholera
year of 1832 seems to have made Methodists hand over fist.
Even to this day our most successful revivalists,
those who work conversions wholesale wherever they go,
do it more by frightful pictures of hell-fire surrounding
the sinner's death-bed than anything else. You could
hear the same thing at our camp-meeting tonight, if you
were there."

"There isn't so much difference as you think,"
said Father Forbes, dispassionately. "Your people keep
examining their souls, just as children keep pulling up
the bulbs they have planted to see are there any roots yet.
Our people are more satisfied to leave their souls alone,
once they have been planted, so to speak, by baptism.
But fear of hell governs them both, pretty much alike.
As I remember saying to you once before, there is really
nothing new under the sun. Even the saying isn't new.
Though there seem to have been the most tremendous changes
in races and civilizations and religions, stretching over
many thousands of years, yet nothing is in fact altered
very much. Where religions are concerned, the human race
are still very like savages in a dangerous wood in the dark,
telling one another ghost stories around a camp-fire. They
have always been like that."

"What nonsense!" cried Celia. "I have no patience with
such gloomy rubbish. The Greeks had a religion full
of beauty and happiness and light-heartedness, and they
weren't frightened of death at all. They made the image
of death a beautiful boy, with a torch turned down.
Their greatest philosophers openly preached and practised
the doctrine of suicide when one was tired of life.
Our own early Church was full of these broad and beautiful
Greek ideas. You know that yourself! And it was only
when your miserable Jeromes and Augustines and Cyrils
brought in the abominable meannesses and cruelties
of the Jewish Old Testament, and stamped out the sane
and lovely Greek elements in the Church, that Christians
became the poor, whining, cowardly egotists they are,
troubling about their little tin-pot souls, and scaring
themselves in their churches by skulls and crossbones."

"My dear Celia," interposed the priest, patting her
shoulder gently, "we will have no Greek debate today.
Mr. Ware has been permitted to taboo camp-meetings,
and I claim the privilege to cry off on Greeks. Look at
those fellows down there, trampling over one another
to get more beer. What have they to do with Athens,
or Athens with them? I take it, Mr. Ware," he went on,
with a grave face but a twinkling eye, "that what we are
observing here in front of us is symbolical of a great
ethical and theological revolution, which in time will modify
and control the destiny of the entire American people.
You see those young Irishmen there, struggling like pigs at
a trough to get their fill of German beer. That signifies
a conquest of Teuton over Kelt more important and far-reaching
in its results than the landing of Hengist and Horsa.
The Kelt has come to grief heretofore--or at least been
forced to play second fiddle to other races--because he
lacked the right sort of a drink. He has in his blood an
excess of impulsive, imaginative, even fantastic qualities.
It is much easier for him to make a fool of himself,
to begin with, than it is for people of slower wits and
more sluggish temperaments. When you add whiskey to that,
or that essence of melancholia which in Ireland they call
'porther,' you get the Kelt at his very weakest and worst.
These young men down there are changing all that.
They have discovered lager. Already many of them
can outdrink the Germans at their own beverage.
The lager-drinking Irishman in a few generations will
be a new type of humanity--the Kelt at his best.
He will dominate America. He will be THE American.
And his church--with the Italian element thrown clean out
of it, and its Pope living, say, in Baltimore or Georgetown--
will be the Church of America."

"Let us have some more lager at once," put in Celia.
"This revolution can't be hurried forward too rapidly."

Theron could not feel sure how much of the priest's discourse
was in jest, how much in earnest. "It seems to me,"
he said, "that as things are going, it doesn't look much
as if the America of the future will trouble itself about
any kind of a church. The march of science must very soon
produce a universal scepticism. It is in the nature of
human progress. What all intelligent men recognize today,
the masses must surely come to see in time."

Father Forbes laughed outright this time. "My dear
Mr. Ware," he said, as they touched glasses again,
and sipped the fresh beer that had been brought them,
"of all our fictions there is none so utterly baseless
and empty as this idea that humanity progresses.
The savage's natural impression is that the world he
sees about him was made for him, and that the rest
of the universe is subordinated to him and his world,
and that all the spirits and demons and gods occupy
themselves exclusively with him and his affairs.
That idea was the basis of every pagan religion, and it
is the basis of the Christian religion, simply because it
is the foundation of human nature. That foundation is just
as firm and unshaken today as it was in the Stone Age.
It will always remain, and upon it will always be built
some kind of a religious superstructure. 'Intelligent men,'
as you call them, really have very little influence,
even when they all pull one way. The people as a whole
soon get tired of them. They give too much trouble.
The most powerful forces in human nature are self-protection
and inertia. The middle-aged man has found out that the
chief wisdom in life is to bend to the pressures about him,
to shut up and do as others do. Even when he thinks he
has rid his own mind of superstitions, he sees that he
will best enjoy a peaceful life by leaving other peoples'
superstitions alone. That is always the ultimate view of
the crowd."

"But I don't see," observed Theron, "granting that all
this is true, how you think the Catholic Church will come
out on top. I could understand it of Unitarianism,
or Universalism, or the Episcopal Church, where nobody
seems to have to believe particularly in anything except
the beauty of its burial service, but I should think the very
rigidity of the Catholic creed would make it impossible.
There everything is hard and fast; nothing is elastic;
there is no room for compromise."

"The Church is always compromising," explained the priest,
"only it does it so slowly that no one man lives long
enough to quite catch it at the trick. No; the great
secret of the Catholic Church is that it doesn't debate
with sceptics. No matter what points you make against it,
it is never betrayed into answering back. It simply says
these things are sacred mysteries, which you are quite
free to accept and be saved, or reject and be damned.
There is something intelligible and fine about an attitude
like that. When people have grown tired of their absurd
and fruitless wrangling over texts and creeds which,
humanly speaking, are all barbaric nonsense, they will
come back to repose pleasantly under the Catholic roof,
in that restful house where things are taken for granted.
There the manners are charming, the service excellent,
the decoration and upholstery most acceptable to the eye,
and the music"--he made a little mock bow here to Celia--"the
music at least is divine. There you have nothing to do but
be agreeable, and avoid scandal, and observe the convenances.
You are no more expected to express doubts about the
Immaculate Conception than you are to ask the lady whom
you take down to dinner how old she is. Now that is, as I
have said, an intelligent and rational church for people
to have. As the Irish civilize themselves--you observe
them diligently engaged in the process down below there--
and the social roughness of their church becomes softened
and ameliorated, Americans will inevitably be attracted
toward it. In the end, it will embrace them all, and be
modified by them, and in turn influence their development,
till you will have a new nation and a new national church,
each representative of the other."

"And all this is to be done by lager beer!"
Theron ventured to comment, jokingly. He was conscious
of a novel perspiration around the bridge of his nose,
which was obviously another effect of the drink.

The priest passed the pleasantry by. "No," he said seriously;
"what you must see is that there must always be a church.
If one did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.
It is needed, first and foremost, as a police force.
It is needed, secondly, so to speak, as a fire insurance.
It provides the most even temperature and pure atmosphere
for the growth of young children. It furnishes the best
obtainable social machinery for marrying off one's daughters,
getting to know the right people, patching up quarrels,
and so on. The priesthood earn their salaries as
the agents for these valuable social arrangements.
Their theology is thrown in as a sort of intellectual
diversion, like the ritual of a benevolent organization.
There are some who get excited about this part of it,
just as one hears of Free-Masons who believe that the sun
rises and sets to exemplify their ceremonies. Others take
their duties more quietly, and, understanding just
what it all amounts to, make the best of it, like you
and me."

Theron assented to the philosophy and the compliment
by a grave bow. "Yes, that is the idea--to make the best
of it," he said, and fastened his regard boldly this
time upon the swings.

"We were both ordained by our bishops," continued the priest,
"at an age when those worthy old gentlemen would not have
trusted our combined wisdom to buy a horse for them."

"And I was married," broke in Theron, with an eagerness
almost vehement, "when I had only just been ordained!
At the worst, YOU had only the Church fastened upon your back,
before you were old enough to know what you wanted.
It is easy enough to make the best of THAT, but it is
different with me."

A marked silence followed this outburst. The Rev. Mr. Ware
had never spoken of his marriage to either of these
friends before; and something in their manner seemed
to suggest that they did not find the subject inviting,
now that it had been broached. He himself was filled
with a desire to say more about it. He had never clearly
realized before what a genuine grievance it was.
The moisture at the top of his nose merged itself into
tears in the corners of his eyes, as the cruel enormity
of the sacrifice he had made in his youth rose before him.
His whole life had been fettered and darkened by it.
He turned his gaze from the swings toward Celia, to claim
the sympathy he knew she would feel for him.

But Celia was otherwise engaged. A young man had
come up to her--a tall and extremely thin young man,
soberly dressed, and with a long, gaunt, hollow-eyed face,
the skin of which seemed at once florid and pale.
He had sandy hair and the rough hands of a workman;
but he was speaking to Miss Madden in the confidential
tones of an equal.

"I can do nothing at all with him," this newcomer said
to her. "He'll not be said by me. Perhaps he'd listen
to you!"

"It's likely I'll go down there!" said Celia.
"He may do what he likes for all me! Take my advice,
Michael, and just go your way, and leave him to himself.
There was a time when I would have taken out my eyes
for him, but it was love wasted and thrown away.
After the warnings he's had, if he WILL bring trouble
on himself, let's make it no affair of ours."

Theron had found himself exchanging glances of inquiry
with this young man. "Mr. Ware," said Celia, here, "let me
introduce you to my brother Michael--my full brother."

Mr. Ware remembered him now, and began, in response to the
other's formal bow, to say something about their having
met in the dark, inside the church. But Celia held up
her hand. "I'm afraid, Mr. Ware," she said hurriedly,
"that you are in for a glimpse of the family skeleton.
I will apologize for the infliction in advance."

Wonderingly, Theron followed her look, and saw another
young man who had come up the path from the crowd below,
and was close upon them. The minister recognized in him
a figure which had seemed to be the centre of almost every
group about the bar that he had studied in detail. He was
a small, dapper, elegantly attired youth, with dark hair,
and the handsome, regularly carved face of an actor.
He advanced with a smiling countenance and unsteady step--
his silk hat thrust back upon his head, his frock-coat and
vest unbuttoned, and his neckwear disarranged--and saluted
the company with amiability.

"I saw you up here, Father Forbes," he said, with a
thickened and erratic utterance. "Whyn't you come
down and join us? I'm setting 'em up for everybody.
You got to take care of the boys, you know. I'll blow
in the last cent I've got in the world for the boys,
every time, and they know it. They're solider for me
than they ever were for anybody. That's how it is.
If you stand by the boys, the boys'll stand by you.
I'm going to the Assembly for this district, and they ain't
nobody can stop me. The boys are just red hot for me.
Wish you'd come down, Father Forbes, and address a few
words to the meeting--just mention that I'm a candidate,
and say I'm bound to win, hands down. That'll make you solid
with the boys, and we'll be all good fellows together.
Come on down!"

The priest affably disengaged his arm from the clutch
which the speaker had laid upon it, and shook his head
in gentle deprecation. "No, no; you must excuse me,
Theodore," he said. "We mustn't meddle in politics, you know."

"Politics be damned!" urged Theodore, grabbing the priest's
other arm, and tugging at it stoutly to pull him down
the path. "I say, boys" he shouted to those below,
"here's Father Forbes, and he's going to come down
and address the meeting. Come on, Father! Come down,
and have a drink with the boys!"

It was Celia who sharply pulled his hand away from the
priest's arm this time. "Go away with you!" she snapped
in low, angry tones at the intruder. "You should be
ashamed of yourself! If you can't keep sober yourself,
you can at least keep your hands off the priest. I should
think you'd have more decency, when you're in such a state
as this, than to come where I am. If you've no respect
for yourself, you might have that much respect for me!
And before strangers, too!

"Oh, I mustn't come where YOU are, eh?" remarked the peccant
Theodore, straightening himself with an elaborate effort.
"You've bought these woods, have you? I've got a hundred
friends here, all the same, for every one you'll ever
have in your life, Red-head, and don't you forget it."

"Go and spend your money with them, then, and don't come
insulting decent people," said Celia.

"Before strangers, too!" the young man called out,
with beery sarcasm. "Oh, we'll take care of the
strangers all right." He had not seemed to be aware of
Theron's presence, much less his identity, before; but he
turned to him now with a knowing grin. "I'm running
for the Assembly, Mr. Ware," he said, speaking loudly
and with deliberate effort to avoid the drunken elisions
and comminglings to which his speech tended, "and I want
you to fix up the Methodists solid for me. I'm going
to drive over to the camp-meeting tonight, me and some
of the boys in a barouche, and I'll put a twenty-dollar
bill on their plate. Here it is now, if you want to see it."

As the young man began fumbling in a vest-pocket, Theron
gathered his wits together.

"You'd better not go this evening," he said, as convincingly
as he knew how; "because the gates will be closed very early,
and the Saturday-evening services are of a particularly
special nature, quite reserved for those living on the grounds."

"Rats!" said Theodore, raising his head, and abandoning
the search for the bill. "Why don't you speak out
like a man, and say you think I'm too drunk?"

"I don't think that is a question which need arise
between us, Mr. Madden," murmured Theron, confusedly.

"Oh, don't you make any mistake! A hell of a lot of
questions arise between us, Mr. Ware," cried Theodore,
with a sudden accession of vigor in tone and mien.
"And one of 'em is--go away from me, Michael!--one of 'em is,
I say, why don't you leave our girls alone? They've got
their own priests to make fools of themselves over,
without any sneak of a Protestant parson coming meddling
round them. You're a married man into the bargain;
and you've got in your house this minute a piano that my
sister bought and paid for. Oh, I've seen the entry
in Thurston's books! You have the cheek to talk to me
about being drunk--why--"

These remarks were never concluded, for Father Forbes
here clapped a hand abruptly over the offending mouth,
and flung his free arm in a tight grip around the young
man's waist. "Come with me, Michael!" he said, and the two
men led the reluctant and resisting Theodore at a sharp
pace off into the woods.

Theron and Celia stood and watched them disappear among
the undergrowth. "It's the dirty Foley blood that's in him,"
he heard her say, as if between clenched teeth.

The girl's big brown eyes, when Theron looked into them again,
were still fixed upon the screen of foliage, and dilated
like those of a Medusa mask. The blood had gone away,
and left the fair face and neck as white, it seemed to him,
as marble. Even her lips, fiercely bitten together,
appeared colorless. The picture of consuming and powerless
rage which she presented, and the shuddering tremor
which ran over her form, as visible as the quivering track
of a gust of wind across a pond, awed and frightened him.

Tenderness toward her helpless state came too, and uppermost.
He drew her arm into his, and turned their backs upon
the picnic scene.

"Let us walk a little up the path into the woods," he said,
"and get away from all this."

"The further away the better," she answered bitterly,
and he felt the shiver run through her again as she spoke.

The methodical waltz-music from that unseen dancing
platform rose again above all other sounds. They moved
up the woodland path, their steps insensibly falling
into the rhythm of its strains, and vanished from sight
among the trees.

 

 

CHAPTER XXIV

 

Theron and Celia walked in silence for some minutes,
until the noises of the throng they had left behind were lost.
The path they followed had grown indefinite among the
grass and creepers of the forest carpet; now it seemed
to end altogether in a little copse of young birches,
the delicately graceful stems of which were clustered
about a parent stump, long since decayed and overgrown
with lichens and layers of thick moss.

As the two paused, the girl suddenly sank upon her knees,
then threw herself face forward upon the soft green bark
which had formed itself above the roots of the ancient
mother-tree. Her companion looked down in pained amazement
at what he saw. Her body shook with the violence of
recurring sobs, or rather gasps of wrath and grief Her hands,
with stiffened, claw-like fingers, dug into the moss
and tangle of tiny vines, and tore them by the roots.
The half-stifled sounds of weeping that arose from where her
face grovelled in the leaves were terrible to his ears.
He knew not what to say or do, but gazed in resourceless
suspense at the strange figure she made. It seemed a
cruelly long time that she lay there, almost at his feet,
struggling fiercely with the fury that was in her.

All at once the paroxysms passed away, the sounds of wild
weeping ceased. Celia sat up, and with her handkerchief
wiped the tears and leafy fragments from her face.
She rearranged her hat and the braids of her hair with swift,
instinctive touches, brushed the woodland debris from
her front, and sprang to her feet.

"I'm all right now," she said briskly. There was palpable
effort in her light tone, and in the stormy sort of smile
which she forced upon her blotched and perturbed countenance,
but they were only too welcome to Theron's anxious mood.

"Thank God!" he blurted out, all radiant with relief.
"I feared you were going to have a fit--or something."

Celia laughed, a little artificially at first, then with a
genuine surrender to the comic side of his visible fright.
The mirth came back into the brown depths of her eyes again,
and her face cleared itself of tear-stains and the marks
of agitation. "I AM a nice quiet party for a Methodist
minister to go walking in the woods with, am I not?"
she cried, shaking her skirts and smiling at him.

"I am not a Methodist minister--please!" answered Theron--"at
least not today--and here--with you! I am just a man--
nothing more--a man who has escaped from lifelong imprisonment,
and feels for the first time what it is to be free!"

"Ah, my friend," Celia said, shaking her head slowly,
"I'm afraid you deceive yourself. You are not by any
means free. You are only looking out of the window
of your prison, as you call it. The doors are locked,
just the same."

"I will smash them!" he declared, with confidence.
"Or for that matter, I HAVE smashed them--battered them
to pieces. You don't realize what progress I have made,
what changes there have been in me since that night,
you remember that wonderful night! I am quite another being,
I assure you! And really it dates from way beyond that--
why, from the very first evening, when I came to you in
the church. The window in Father Forbes' room was open,
and I stood by it listening to the music next door,
and I could just faintly see on the dark window across
the alley-way a stained-glass picture of a woman.
I suppose it was the Virgin Mary. She had hair like yours,
and your face, too; and that is why I went into the church
and found you. Yes, that is why."

Celia regarded him with gravity. "You will get yourself
into great trouble, my friend," she said.

"That's where you're wrong," put in Theron. "Not that I'd
mind any trouble in this wide world, so long as you called
me 'my friend,' but I'm not going to get into any at all.
I know a trick worth two of that. I've learned to be a showman.
I can preach now far better than I used to, and I can get
through my work in half the time, and keep on the right
side of my people, and get along with perfect smoothness.
I was too green before. I took the thing seriously,
and I let every mean-fisted curmudgeon and crazy fanatic
worry me, and keep me on pins and needles. I don't
do that any more. I've taken a new measure of life.
I see now what life is really worth, and I'm going
to have my share of it. Why should I deliberately deny
myself all possible happiness for the rest of my days,
simply because I made a fool of myself when I was in
my teens? Other men are not eternally punished like that,
for what they did as boys, and I won't submit to it either.
I will be as free to enjoy myself as--as Father Forbes."

Celia smiled softly, and shook her head again. "Poor man,
to call HIM free!" she said: "why, he is bound hand and foot.
You don't in the least realize how he is hedged about,
the work he has to do, the thousand suspicious eyes
that watch his every movement, eager to bring the Bishop
down upon him. And then think of his sacrifice--
the great sacrifice of all--to never know what love means,
to forswear his manhood, to live a forlorn, celibate life--
you have no idea how sadly that appeals to a woman."

"Let us sit down here for a little," said Theron;
"we seem at the end of the path." She seated herself
on the root-based mound, and he reclined at her side,
with an arm carelessly extended behind her on the moss.

"I can see what you mean," he went on, after a pause.
"But to me, do you know, there is an enormous fascination
in celibacy. You forget that I know the reverse of the medal.
I know how the mind can be cramped, the nerves harassed,
the ambitions spoiled and rotted, the whole existence
darkened and belittled, by--by the other thing. I have
never talked to you before about my marriage."

"I don't think we'd better talk about it now," observed Celia.
"There must be many more amusing topics."

He missed the spirit of her remark. "You are right,"
he said slowly. "It is too sad a thing to talk about.
But there! it is my load, and I bear it, and there's nothing
more to be said."

Theron drew a heavy sigh, and let his fingers toy
abstractedly with a ribbon on the outer edge of Celia's
penumbra of apparel.

"No," she said. "We mustn't snivel, and we mustn't sulk.
When I get into a rage it makes me ill, and I storm my way
through it and tear things, but it doesn't last long,
and I come out of it feeling all the better. I don't know
that I've ever seen your wife. I suppose she hasn't got
red hair?"

"I think it's a kind of light brown," answered Theron,
with an effect of exerting his memory.

"It seems that you only take notice of hair
in stained-glass windows," was Celia's comment.

"Oh-h!" he murmured reproachfully, "as if--as if--
but I won't say what I was going to."

"That's not fair!" she said. The little touch of whimsical
mockery which she gave to the serious declaration was
delicious to him. "You have me at such a disadvantage!
Here am I rattling out whatever comes into my head,
exposing all my lightest emotions, and laying bare my
very heart in candor, and you meditate, you turn things
over cautiously in your mind, like a second Machiavelli.
I grow afraid of you; you are so subtle and mysterious in
your reserves."

Theron gave a tug at the ribbon, to show the joy he had
in her delicate chaff. "No, it is you who are secretive,"
he said. "You never told me about--about the piano."

The word was out! A minute before it had seemed incredible
to him that he should ever have the courage to utter it--
but here it was. He laid firm hold upon the ribbon,
which it appeared hung from her waist, and drew himself
a trifle nearer to her. "I could never have consented
to take it, I'm afraid," he went on in a low voice,
if I had known. And even as it is, I fear it won't
be possible."

"What are you afraid of?" asked Celia. "Why shouldn't you
take it? People in your profession never do get anything
unless it's given to them, do they? I've always understood
it was like that. I've often read of donation parties--
that's what they're called, isn't it?--where everybody
is supposed to bring some gift to the minister.
Very well, then, I've simply had a donation party of my own,
that's all. Unless you mean that my being a Catholic
makes a difference. I had supposed you were quite free
from that kind of prejudice."

"So I am! Believe me, I am!" urged Theron. "When I'm
with you, it seems impossible to realize that there are
people so narrow and contracted in their natures as to take
account of such things. It is another atmosphere that I
breathe near you. How could you imagine that such a thought--
about our difference of creed--would enter my head?
In fact," he concluded with a nervous half-laugh, "there
isn't any such difference. Whatever your religion is,
it's mine too. You remember--you adopted me as a Greek."

"Did I?" she rejoined. "Well, if that's the case,
it leaves you without a leg to stand on. I challenge you
to find any instance where a Greek made any difficulties
about accepting a piano from a friend. But seriously--
while we are talking about it--you introduced the subject:
I didn't--I might as well explain to you that I had
no such intention, when I picked the instrument out.
It was later, when I was talking to Thurston's people
about the price, that the whim seized me. Now it
is the one fixed rule of my life to obey my whims.
Whatever occurs to me as a possibly pleasant thing to do,
straight like a hash, I go and do it. It is the only
way that a person with means, with plenty of money,
can preserve any freshness of character. If they stop
to think what it would be prudent to do, they get crusted
over immediately. That is the curse of rich people--
they teach themselves to distrust and restrain every
impulse toward unusual actions. They get to feel that it
is more necessary for them to be cautious and conventional
than it is for others. I would rather work at a wash-tub
than occupy that attitude toward my bank account. I fight
against any sign of it that I detect rising in my mind.
The instant a wish occurs to me, I rush to gratify it.
That is my theory of life. That accounts for the piano;
and I don't see that you've anything to say about it at
all."

It seemed very convincing, this theory of life.
Somehow, the thought of Miss Madden's riches had never
before assumed prominence in Theron's mind. Of course
her father was very wealthy, but it had not occurred to him
that the daughter's emancipation might run to the length
of a personal fortune. He knew so little of rich people and their ways!

He lifted his head, and looked up at Celia with an awakened
humility and awe in his glance. The glamour of a separate
banking-account shone upon her. Where the soft woodland
light played in among the strands of her disordered hair,
he saw the veritable gleam of gold. A mysterious new
suggestion of power blended itself with the beauty of
her face, was exhaled in the faint perfume of her garments.
He maintained a timorous hold upon the ribbon, wondering at
his hardihood in touching it, or being near her at all.

What surprises me," he heard himself saying, "is that
you are contented to stay in Octavius. I should think
that you would travel--go abroad--see the beautiful
things of the world, surround yourself with the luxuries
of big cities--and that sort of thing."

Celia regarded the forest prospect straight in front of her
with a pensive gaze. "Sometime--no doubt I will sometime,"
she said abstractedly.

"One reads so much nowadays," he went on, "of American
heiresses going to Europe and marrying dukes and noblemen.
I suppose you will do that too. Princes would fight one
another for you."

The least touch of a smile softened for an instant
the impassivity of her countenance. Then she stared
harder than ever at the vague, leafy distance. "That is
the old-fashioned idea," she said, in a musing tone,
"that women must belong to somebody, as if they were curios,
or statues, or race-horses. You don't understand,
my friend, that I have a different view. I am myself,
and I belong to myself, exactly as much as any man.
The notion that any other human being could conceivably obtain
the slightest property rights in me is as preposterous,
as ridiculous, as--what shall I say?--as the notion
of your being taken out with a chain on your neck and
sold by auction as a slave, down on the canal bridge.
I should be ashamed to be alive for another day, if any
other thought were possible to me."

"That is not the generally accepted view, I should think,"
faltered Theron.

"No more is it the accepted view that young married
Methodist ministers should sit out alone in the
woods with red-headed Irish girls. No, my friend,
let us find what the generally accepted views are,
and as fast as we find them set our heels on them.
There is no other way to live like real human beings.
What on earth is it to me that other women crawl about on
all-fours, and fawn like dogs on any hand that will buckle
a collar onto them, and toss them the leavings of the table?
I am not related to them. I have nothing to do with them.
They cannot make any rules for me. If pride and dignity
and independence are dead in them, why, so much the worse
for them! It is no affair of mine. Certainly it is no
reason why I should get down and grovel also. No; I at
least stand erect on my legs."

Mr. Ware sat up, and stared confusedly, with round eyes
and parted lips, at his companion. Instinctively his brain
dragged forth to the surface those epithets which the doctor
had hurled in bitter contempt at her--"mad ass, a mere
bundle of egotism, ignorance, and red-headed lewdness."
The words rose in their order on his memory, hard and
sharp-edged, like arrow-heads. But to sit there, quite at
her side; to breathe the same air, and behold the calm
loveliness of her profile; to touch the ribbon of her dress--
and all the while to hold these poisoned darts of abuse
levelled in thought at her breast--it was monstrous.
He could have killed the doctor at that moment.
With an effort, he drove the foul things from his mind--
scattered them back into the darkness. He felt that he
had grown pale, and wondered if she had heard the groan
that seemed to have been forced from him in the struggle.
Or was the groan imaginary?

Celia continued to sit unmoved, composedly looking
upon vacancy. Theron's eyes searched her face in vain
for any sign of consciousness that she had astounded and
bewildered him. She did not seem to be thinking of him
at all. The proud calm of her thoughtful countenance
suggested instead occupation with lofty and remote
abstractions and noble ideals. Contemplating her,
he suddenly perceived that what she had been saying
was great, wonderful, magnificent. An involuntary thrill
ran through his veins at recollection of her words.
His fancy likened it to the sensation he used to feel
as a youth, when the Fourth of July reader bawled forth
that opening clause: "When, in the course of human events,
it becomes necessary," etc. It was nothing less than
another Declaration of Independence he had been listening to.

He sank again recumbent at her side, and stretched the
arm behind her, nearer than before. "Apparently, then,
you will never marry." His voice trembled a little.

"Most certainly not!" said Celia.

"You spoke so feelingly a little while ago," he ventured along,
with hesitation, "about how sadly the notion of a priest's
sacrificing himself--never knowing what love meant--
appealed to a woman. I should think that the idea
of sacrificing herself would seem to her even sadder still."

"I don't remember that we mentioned THAT," she replied.
"How do you mean--sacrificing herself?"

Theron gathered some of the outlying folds of her dress
in his hand, and boldly patted and caressed them.
"You, so beautiful and so free, with such fine talents
and abilities," he murmured; "you, who could have the whole
world at your feet--are you, too, never going to know
what love means? Do you call that no sacrifice? To me it
is the most terrible that my imagination can conceive."

Celia laughed--a gentle, amused little laugh, in which
Theron's ears traced elements of tenderness. "You must
regulate that imagination of yours," she said playfully.
"It conceives the thing that is not. Pray, when"--and here,
turning her head, she bent down upon his face a gaze of
arch mock-seriousness--"pray, when did I describe myself
in these terms? When did I say that I should never know
what love meant?"

For answer Theron laid his head down upon his arm,
and closed his eyes, and held his face against the draperies
encircling her. "I cannot think!" he groaned.

The thing that came uppermost in his mind, as it swayed
and rocked in the tempest of emotion, was the strange
reminiscence of early childhood in it all. It was
like being a little boy again, nestling in an innocent,
unthinking transport of affection against his mother's skirts.
The tears he felt scalding his eyes were the spontaneous,
unashamed tears of a child; the tremulous and exquisite
joy which spread, wave-like, over him, at once reposeful
and yearning, was full of infantile purity and sweetness.
He had not comprehended at all before what wellsprings
of spiritual beauty, what limpid depths of idealism,
his nature contained.

"We were speaking of our respective religions,"
he heard Celia say, as imperturbably as if there
had been no digression worth mentioning.

"Yes," he assented, and moved his head so that he
looked up at her back hair, and the leaves high above,
mottled against the sky. The wish to lie there, where now
he could just catch the rose-leaf line of her under-chin
as well, was very strong upon him. "Yes?" he repeated.

"I cannot talk to you like that," she said; and he sat
up again shamefacedly.

"Yes--I think we were speaking of religions--some time ago,"
he faltered, to relieve the situation. The dreadful
thought that she might be annoyed began to oppress him.

"Well, you said whatever my religion was, it was yours too.
That entitles you at least to be told what the religion is.
Now, I am a Catholic."

Theron, much mystified, nodded his head. Could it
be possible--was there coming a deliberate suggestion
that he should become a convert? "Yes--I know," he murmured.

"But I should explain that I am only a Catholic in the sense
that its symbolism is pleasant to me. You remember what
Schopenhauer said--you cannot have the water by itself:
you must also have the jug that it is in. Very well;
the Catholic religion is my jug. I put into it the things
I like. They were all there long ago, thousands of years ago.
The Jews threw them out; we will put them back again.
We will restore art and poetry and the love of beauty,
and the gentle, spiritual, soulful life. The Greeks
had it; and Christianity would have had it too, if it
hadn't been for those brutes they call the Fathers.
They loved ugliness and dirt and the thought of hell-fire.
They hated women. In all the earlier stages of the Church,
women were very prominent in it. Jesus himself
appreciated women, and delighted to have them about him,
and talk with them and listen to them. That was
the very essence of the Greek spirit; and it breathed
into Christianity at its birth a sweetness and a grace
which twenty generations of cranks and savages like Paul
and Jerome and Tertullian weren't able to extinguish.
But the very man, Cyril, who killed Hypatia, and thus began
the dark ages, unwittingly did another thing which makes
one almost forgive him. To please the Egyptians, he secured
the Church's acceptance of the adoration of the Virgin.
It is that idea which has kept the Greek spirit alive,
and grown and grown, till at last it will rule the world.
It was only epileptic Jews who could imagine a religion without
sex in it."

"I remember the pictures of the Virgin in your room,"
said Theron, feeling more himself again. "I wondered
if they quite went with the statues."

The remark won a smile from Celia's lips.

"They get along together better than you suppose,"
she answered. "Besides, they are not all pictures of Mary.
One of them, standing on the moon, is of Isis with the infant
Horus in her arms. Another might as well be Mahamie,
bearing the miraculously born Buddha, or Olympias
with her child Alexander, or even Perictione holding
her babe Plato--all these were similar cases, you know.
Almost every religion had its Immaculate Conception.
What does it all come to, except to show us that man
turns naturally toward the worship of the maternal idea?
That is the deepest of all our instincts--love of woman,
who is at once daughter and wife and mother. It is that that
makes the world go round."

Brave thoughts shaped themselves in Theron's mind,
and shone forth in a confident yet wistful smile on his face.

"lt is a pity you cannot change estates with me for one minute,"
he said, in steady, low tone. "Then you would realize
the tremendous truth of what you have been saying.
It is only your intellect that has reached out and grasped
the idea. If you were in my place, you would discover
that your heart was bursting with it as well."

Celia turned and looked at him.

"I myself," he went on, "would not have known, half an hour ago,
what you meant by the worship of the maternal idea.
I am much older than you. I am a strong, mature man.
But when I lay down there, and shut my eyes--because the
charm and marvel of this whole experience had for the moment
overcome me--the strangest sensation seized upon me.
It was absolutely as if I were a boy again, a good,
pure-minded, fond little child, and you were the mother
that I idolized."

Celia had not taken her eyes from his face. "I find myself
liking you better at this moment," she said, with gravity,
"than I have ever liked you before."

Then, as by a sudden impulse, she sprang to her feet.
"Come!" she cried, her voice and manner all vivacity
once more, "we have been here long enough."

Upon the instant, as Theron was more laboriously getting up,
it became apparent to them both that perhaps they had been
there too long.

A boy with a gun under his arm, and two gray squirrels
tied by the tails slung across his shoulder, stood at
the entrance to the glade, some dozen paces away,
regarding them with undisguised interest. Upon the discovery
that he was in turn observed, he resumed his interrupted
progress through the woods, whistling softly as he went,
and vanished among the trees.

"Heavens above!" groaned Theron, shudderingly.

"Know him?" he went on, in answer to the glance of inquiry on
his companion's face. "I should think I did! He spades my--
my wife's garden for her. He used to bring our milk.
He works in the law office of one of my trustees--
the one who isn't friendly to me, but is very friendly
indeed with my--with Mrs. Ware. Oh, what shall I do?
It may easily mean my ruin!"

Celia looked at him attentively. The color had gone out of
his face, and with it the effect of earnestness and mental
elevation which, a minute before, had caught her fancy.
"Somehow, I fear that I do not like you quite so much
just now, my friend," she remarked.

"In God's name, don't say that!" urged Theron.
He raised his voice in agitated entreaty. "You don't
know what these people are--how they would leap at the
barest hint of a scandal about me. In my position I
am a thousand times more defenceless than any woman.
Just a single whisper, and I am done for!"

"Let me point out to you, Mr. Ware," said Celia, slowly,
"that to be seen sitting and talking with me, whatever doubts
it may raise as to a gentleman's intellectual condition,
need not necessarily blast his social reputation beyond
all hope whatever."

Theron stared at her, as if he had not grasped her meaning.
Then he winced visibly under it, and put out his hands
to implore her. "Forgive me! Forgive me!" he pleaded.
"I was beside myself for the moment with the fright
of the thing. Oh, say you do forgive me, Celia!"
He made haste to support this daring use of her name.
"I have been so happy today--so deeply, so vastly happy--
like the little child I spoke of--and that is so new in my
lonely life--that--the suddenness of the thing--it just for
the instant unstrung me. Don't be too hard on me for it!
And I had hoped, too--I had had such genuine heartfelt
pleasure in the thought--that, an hour or two ago, when you
were unhappy, perhaps it had been some sort of consolation
to you that I was with you."

Celia was looking away. When he took her hand she did not
withdraw it, but turned and nodded in musing general assent
to what he had said. "Yes, we have both been unstrung,
as you call it, today," she said, decidedly out of pitch.
"Let each forgive the other, and say no more about it."

She took his arm, and they retraced their steps
along the path, again in silence. The labored noise
of the orchestra, as it were, returned to meet them.
They halted at an intersecting footpath.

"I go back to my slavery--my double bondage," said Theron,
letting his voice sink to a sigh. "But even if I am put
on the rack for it, I shall have had one day of glory."

"I think you may kiss me, in memory of that one day--
or of a few minutes in that day," said Celia.

Their lips brushed each other in a swift, almost perfunctory caress.

Theron went his way at a hurried pace, the sobered tones
of her "good-bye" beating upon his brain with every
measure of the droning waltz-music.

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

CHAPTER XXV

 

The memory of the kiss abode with Theron. Like Aaron's rod,
it swallowed up one by one all competing thoughts
and recollections, and made his brain its slave.

Even as he strode back through the woods to the
camp-meeting, it was the kiss that kept his feet in motion,
and guided their automatic course. All along the watches
of the restless night, it was the kiss that bore him
sweet company, and wandered with him from one broken
dream of bliss to another. Next day, it was the kiss
that made of life for him a sort of sunlit wonderland.
He preached his sermon in the morning, and took his
appointed part in the other services of afternoon
and evening, apparently to everybody's satisfaction:
to him it was all a vision.

When the beautiful full moon rose, this Sunday evening,
and glorified the clearing and the forest with its mellow
harvest radiance, he could have groaned with the burden
of his joy. He went out alone into the light, and bared
his head to it, and stood motionless for a long time.
In all his life, he had never been impelled as powerfully
toward earnest and soulful thanksgiving. The impulse
to kneel, there in the pure, tender moonlight, and lift up
offerings of praise to God, kept uppermost in his mind.
Some formless resignation restrained him from the
act itself, but the spirit of it hallowed his mood.
He gazed up at the broad luminous face of the satellite.
"You are our God," he murmured. "Hers and mine!
You are the most beautiful of heavenly creatures, as she is
of the angels on earth. I am speechless with reverence for
you both."

It was not until the camp-meeting broke up, four days later,
and Theron with the rest returned to town, that the material
aspects of what had happened, and might be expected
to happen, forced themselves upon his mind. The kiss
was a child of the forest. So long as Theron remained
in the camp, the image of the kiss, which was enshrined
in his heart and ministered to by all his thoughts,
continued enveloped in a haze of sylvan mystery,
like a dryad. Suggestions of its beauty and holiness
came to him in the odors of the woodland, at the sight
of wild flowers and water-lilies. When he walked alone
in unfamiliar parts of the forest, he carried about with him
the half-conscious idea of somewhere coming upon a strange,
hidden pool which mortal eye had not seen before--a deep,
sequestered mere of spring-fed waters, walled in by rich,
tangled growths of verdure, and bearing upon its virgin
bosom only the shadows of the primeval wilderness,
and the light of the eternal skies. His fancy dwelt
upon some such nook as the enchanted home of the fairy
that possessed his soul. The place, though he never
found it, became real to him. As he pictured it,
there rose sometimes from among the lily-pads, stirring
the translucent depths and fluttering over the water's
surface drops like gems, the wonderful form of a woman,
with pale leaves wreathed in her luxuriant red hair,
and a skin which gave forth light.

With the homecoming to Octavius, his dreams began to take
more account of realities. In a day or two he was wide awake,
and thinking hard. The kiss was as much as ever the
ceaseless companion of his hours, but it no longer insisted
upon shrouding itself in vines and woodland creepers,
or outlining itself in phosphorescent vagueness against mystic
backgrounds of nymph-haunted glades. It advanced out into
the noonday, and assumed tangible dimensions and substance.
He saw that it was related to the facts of his daily life,
and had, in turn, altered his own relations to all these facts.

What ought he to do? What COULD he do? Apparently, nothing
but wait. He waited for a week--then for another week.
The conclusion that the initiative had been left to him
began to take shape in his mind. From this it seemed
but a step to the passionate resolve to act at once.

Turning the situation over and over in his anxious
thoughts, two things stood out in special prominence.
One was that Celia loved him. The other was that the
boy in Gorringe's law office, and possibly Gorringe,
and heaven only knew how many others besides, had reasons
for suspecting this to be true.

And what about Celia? Side by side with the moving
rapture of thinking about her as a woman, there rose
the substantial satisfaction of contemplating her as
Miss Madden. She had kissed him, and she was very rich.
The things gradually linked themselves before his eyes.
He tried a thousand varying guesses at what she proposed
to do, and each time reined up his imagination by the
reminder that she was confessedly a creature of whims,
who proposed to do nothing, but was capable of all things.

And as to the boy. If he had blabbed what he saw, it was
incredible that somebody should not take the subject up,
and impart a scandalous twist to it, and send it rolling
like a snowball to gather up exaggeration and foul
innuendo till it was big enough to overwhelm him.
What would happen to him if a formal charge were preferred
against him? He looked it up in the Discipline.
Of course, if his accusers magnified their mean
suspicions and calumnious imaginings to the point of
formulating a charge, it would be one of immorality.
They could prove nothing; there was nothing to prove.
At the worst, it was an indiscretion, which would
involve his being admonished by his Presiding Elder.
Or if these narrow bigots confused slanders with proofs,
and showed that they intended to convict him, then it would
be open to him to withdraw from the ministry, in advance
of his condemnation. His relation to the church would
be the same as if he had been expelled, but to the outer
world it would be different. And supposing he did withdraw
from the ministry?

Yes; this was the important point. What if he did
abandon this mistaken profession of his? On its mental
side the relief would be prodigious, unthinkable.
But on the practical side, the bread-and-butter side?
For some days Theron paused with a shudder when he reached
this question. The thought of the plunge into unknown
material responsibilities gave him a sinking heart.
He tried to imagine himself lecturing, canvassing for
books or insurance policies, writing for newspapers--
and remained frightened. But suddenly one day it occurred
to him that these qualms and forebodings were sheer folly.
Was not Celia rich? Would she not with lightning swiftness draw
forth that check-book, like the flashing sword of a champion
from its scabbard, and run to his relief? Why, of course.
It was absurd not to have thought of that before.

He recalled her momentary anger with him, that afternoon
in the woods, when he had cried out that discovery would
mean ruin to him. He saw clearly enough now that she
had been grieved at his want of faith in her protection.
In his flurry of fright, he had lost sight of the fact that,
if exposure and trouble came to him, she would naturally
feel that she had been the cause of his martyrdom.
It was plain enough now. If he got into hot water,
it would be solely on account of his having been seen
with her. He had walked into the woods with her--"the
further the better" had been her own words--out of
pure kindliness, and the desire to lead her away from
the scene of her brother's and her own humiliation.
But why amplify arguments? Her own warm heart would
tell her, on the instant, how he had been sacrificed
for her sake, and would bring her, eager and devoted,
to his succor.

That was all right, then. Slowly, from this point,
suggestions expanded themselves. The future could be,
if he willed it, one long serene triumph of love,
and lofty intellectual companionship, and existence
softened and enriched at every point by all that wealth
could command, and the most exquisite tastes suggest.
Should he will it! Ah! the question answered itself.
But he could not enter upon this beckoning heaven of
a future until he had freed himself. When Celia said
to him, "Come!" he must not be in the position to reply,
"I should like to, but unfortunately I am tied by the leg."
He should have to leave Octavius, leave the ministry,
leave everything. He could not begin too soon to face
these contingencies.

Very likely Celia had not thought it out as far as this.
With her, it was a mere vague "sometime I may."
But the harder masculine sense, Theron felt,
existed for the very purpose of correcting and giving
point to these loose feminine notions of time and space.
It was for him to clear away the obstacles, and map
the plans out with definite decision.

One warm afternoon, as he lolled in his easy-chair under
the open window of his study, musing upon the ever-shifting
phases of this vast, complicated, urgent problem,
some chance words from the sidewalk in front came
to his ears, and, coming, remained to clarify his thoughts.

Two ladies whose voices were strange to him had stopped--
as so many people almost daily stopped--to admire the garden
of the parsonage. One of them expressed her pleasure
in general terms. Said the other--

"My husband declares those dahlias alone couldn't
be matched for thirty dollars, and that some of those
gladiolus must have cost three or four dollars apiece.
I know we've spent simply oceans of money on our garden,
and it doesn't begin to compare with this."

"It seems like a sinful waste to me," said her companion.

"No-o," the other hesitated. "No, I don't think quite that--
if you can afford it just as well as not. But it does
seem to me that I'd rather live in a little better house,
and not spend it ALL on flowers. Just LOOK at that cactus!"

The voices died away. Theron sat up, with a look of arrested
thought upon his face, then sprang to his feet and moved
hurriedly through the parlor to an open front window.
Peering out with caution he saw that the two women receding
from view were fashionably dressed and evidently came
from homes of means. He stared after them in a blank
way until they turned a corner.

He went into the hall then, put on his frock-coat and hat,
and stepped out into the garden. He was conscious
of having rather avoided it heretofore--not altogether
without reasons of his own, lying unexamined somewhere
in the recesses of his mind. Now he walked slowly about,
and examined the flowers with great attentiveness.
The season was advancing, and he saw that many plants
had gone out of bloom. But what a magnificent plenitude
of blossoms still remained!

Thirty dollars' worth of dahlias--that was what the stranger
had said. Theron hardly brought himself to credit the statement;
but all the same it was apparent to even his uninformed
eye that these huge, imbricated, flowering masses,
with their extraordinary half-colors, must be unusual.
He remembered that the boy in Gorringe's office had spoken
of just one lot of plants costing thirty-one dollars and
sixty cents, and there had been two other lots as well.
The figures remained surprisingly distinct in his memory.
It was no good deceiving himself any longer: of course
these were the plants that Gorringe had spent his money upon,
here all about him.

As he surveyed them with a sour regard, a cool breeze stirred
across the garden. The tall, over-laden flower-spikes
of gladioli bent and nodded at him; the hollyhocks and
flaming alvias, the clustered blossoms on the standard roses,
the delicately painted lilies on their stilt-like stems,
fluttered in the wind, and seemed all bowing satirically
to him. "Yes, Levi Gorringe paid for us!" He almost
heard their mocking declaration.

Out in the back-yard, where a longer day of sunshine dwelt,
there were many other flowers, and notably a bed of geraniums
which literally made the eye ache. Standing at this
rear corner of the house, he caught the droning sound of
Alice's voice, humming a hymn to herself as she went about
her kitchen work. He saw her through the open window.
She was sweeping, and had a sort of cap on her head
which did not add to the graces of her appearance.
He looked at her with a hard glance, recalling as a fresh
grievance the ten days of intolerable boredom he had
spent cooped up in a ridiculous little tent with her,
at the camp-meeting. She must have realized at the time
how odious the enforced companionship was to him.
Yes, beyond doubt she did. It came back to him now
that they had spoken but rarely to each other. She had
not even praised his sermon upon the Sabbath-question,
which every one else had been in raptures over. For that
matter she no longer praised anything he did, and took
obvious pains to preserve toward him a distant demeanor.
So much the better, he felt himself thinking. If she
chose to behave in that offish and unwifely fashion,
she could blame no one but herself for its results.

She had seen him, and came now to the window,
watering-pot and broom in hand. She put her head out,
to breathe a breath of dustless air, and began as if she
would smile on him. Then her face chilled and stiffened,
as she caught his look.

"Shall you be home for supper?" she asked, in her iciest tone.

He had not thought of going out before. The question,
and the manner of it, gave immediate urgency to the idea
of going somewhere. "I may or I may not," he replied.
"It is quite impossible for me to say." He turned on his
heel with this, and walked briskly out of the yard and down
the street.

It was the most natural thing that presently he should
be strolling past the Madden house, and letting a covert
glance stray over its front and the grounds about it,
as he loitered along. Every day since his return
from the woods he had given the fates this chance of
bringing Celia to meet him, without avail. He had hung
about in the vicinity of the Catholic church on several
evenings as well, but to no purpose. The organ inside
was dumb, and he could detect no signs of Celia's
presence on the curtains of the pastorate next door.
This day, too, there was no one visible at the home
of the Maddens, and he walked on, a little sadly.
It was weary work waiting for the signal that never came.

But there were compensations. His mind reverted doggedly to
the flowers in his garden, and to Alice's behavior toward him.
They insisted upon connecting themselves in his thoughts.
Why should Levi Gorringe, a money-lender, and therefore
the last man in the world to incur reckless expenditure,
go and buy perhaps a hundred dollars, worth of flowers
for his wife's garden? It was time--high time--to face
this question. And his experiencing religion afterward,
just when Alice did, and marching down to the rail to kneel
beside her--that was a thing to be thought of, too.

Meditation, it is true, hardly threw fresh light upon
the matter. It was incredible, of course, that there
should be anything wrong. To even shape a thought of Alice
in connection with gallantry would be wholly impossible.
Nor could it be said that Gorringe, in his new capacity
as a professing church-member, had disclosed any sign
of ulterior motives, or of insincerity. Yet there the
facts were. While Theron pondered them, their mystery,
if they involved a mystery, baffled him altogether.
But when he had finished, he found himself all the same
convinced that neither Alice nor Gorringe would be free
to blame him for anything he might do. He had grounds
for complaint against them. If he did not himself know
just what these grounds were, it was certain enough
that THEY knew. Very well, then, let them take the
responsibility for what happened.

It was indeed awkward that at the moment, as Theron
chanced to emerge temporarily from his brown-study, his
eyes fell full upon the spare, well-knit form of Levi
Gorringe himself, standing only a few feet away, in the
staircase entrance to his law office. His lean face,
browned by the summer's exposure, had a more Arabian
aspect than ever. His hands were in his pockets, and he
held an unlighted cigar between his teeth. He looked
the Rev. Mr. Ware over calmly, and nodded recognition.

Theron had halted instinctively. On the instant he would
have given a great deal not to have stopped at all.
It was stupid of him to have paused, but it would not do
now to go on without words of some sort. He moved over to
the door-way, and made a half-hearted pretence of looking
at the photographs in one of the show-cases at its side.
As Mr. Gorringe did not take his hands from his pockets,
there was no occasion for any formal greeting.

"I had no idea that they took such good pictures in Octavius,"
Theron remarked after a minute's silence, still bending
in examination of the photographs.

"They ought to; they charge New York prices,"
observed the lawyer, sententiously.

Theron found in the words confirmation of his feeling that
Gorringe was not naturally a lavish or extravagant man.
Rather was he a careful and calculating man, who spent money
only for a purpose. Though the minister continued gazing
at the stiff presentments of local beauties and swains,
his eyes seemed to see salmon-hued hollyhocks and spotted
lilies instead. Suddenly a resolve came to him.
He stood erect, and faced his trustee.

"Speaking of the price of things," he said, with an effort
of arrogance in his measured tone, "I have never had
an opportunity before of mentioning the subject of the
flowers you have so kindly furnished for my--for MY garden."

"Why mention it now?" queried Gorringe, with nonchalance.
He turned his cigar about with a movement of his lips,
and worked it into the corner of his mouth. He did not find
it necessary to look at Theron at all.

"Because--" began Mr. Ware, and then hesitated--"because--well,
it raises a question of my being under obligation,
which I--"

"Oh, no, sir," said the lawyer; "put that out of your mind.
You are no more under obligation to me than I am to you.
Oh, no, make yourself easy about that. Neither of us
owes the other anything."

"Not even good-will--I take that to be your meaning,"
retorted Theron, with some heat.

"The words are yours, sir," responded Gorringe, coolly.
"I do not object to them."

"As you like," put in the other. "If it be so, why,
then all the more reason why I should, under the circumstances--"

"Under what circumstances?" interposed the lawyer.
"Let us be clear about this thing as we go along.
To what circumstances do you refer?"

He had turned his eyes now, and looked Theron in the face.
A slight protrusion of his lower jaw had given the cigar
an upward tilt under the black mustache.

"The circumstances are that you have brought or sent
to my garden a great many very expensive flower-plants
and bushes and so on."

"And you object? I had not supposed that clergymen
in general--and you in particular--were so sensitive.
Have donation parties, then, gone out of date?"

"I understand your sneer well enough," retorted Theron,
"but that can pass. The main point is, that you did me
the honor to send these plants--or to smuggle them in--
but never once deigned to hint to me that you had done so.
No one told me. Except by mere accident, I should not have
known to this day where they came from."

Mr. Gorringe twisted the cigar at another angle,
with lines of grim amusement about the corner of his mouth.
"I should have thought," he said with dry deliberation,
"that possibly this fact might have raised in your mind
the conceivable hypothesis that the plants might not be
intended for you at all."

"That is precisely it, sir," said Theron. There were
people passing, and he was forced to keep his voice down.
It would have been a relief, he felt, to shout. "That is it--
they were not intended for me."

"Well, then, what are you talking about?" The lawyer's
speech had become abrupt almost to incivility.

"I think my remarks have been perfectly clear,"
said the minister, with dignity. It was a new experience
to be addressed in that fashion. It occurred to him
to add, "Please remember that I am not in the witness-box,
to be bullied or insulted by a professional."

Gorringe studied Theron's face attentively with a cold,
searching scrutiny. "You may thank your stars you're not!"
he said, with significance.

What on earth could he mean? The words and the menacing
tone greatly impressed Theron. Indeed, upon reflection,
he found that they frightened him. The disposition to
adopt a high tone with the lawyer was melting away.

"I do not see," he began, and then deliberately allowed
his voice to take on an injured and plaintive inflection--"I
do not see why you should adopt this tone toward me--
Brother Gorringe."

The lawyer scowled, and bit sharply into the cigar,
but said nothing.

"If I have unconsciously offended you in any way," Theron went on,
"I beg you to tell me how. I liked you from the beginning
of my pastorate here, and the thought that latterly we
seemed to be drifting apart has given me much pain.
But now it is still more distressing to find you actually
disposed to quarrel with me. Surely, Brother Gorringe,
between a pastor and a probationer who--"

"No," Gorringe broke in; "quarrel isn't the word for it.
There isn't any quarrel, Mr. Ware." He stepped down from
the door-stone to the sidewalk as he spoke, and stood face
to face with Theron. Working-men with dinner-pails, and
factory girls, were passing close to them, and he lowered
his voice to a sharp, incisive half-whisper as he added,
"It wouldn't be worth any grown man's while to quarrel
with so poor a creature as you are."

Theron stood confounded, with an empty stare of bewilderment
on his face. It rose in his mind that the right thing
to feel was rage, righteous indignation, fury; but for
the life of him, he could not muster any manly anger.
The character of the insult stupefied him.

"I do not know that I have anything to say to you in reply,"
he remarked, after what seemed to him a silence of minutes.
His lips framed the words automatically, but they
expressed well enough the blank vacancy of his mind.
The suggestion that anybody deemed him a "poor creature"
grew more astounding, incomprehensible, as it swelled in
his brain.

"No, I suppose not," snapped Gorringe. "You're not the
sort to stand up to men; your form is to go round the
corner and take it out of somebody weaker than yourself--
a defenceless woman, for instance."

"Oh--ho!" said Theron. The exclamation had uttered itself.
The sound of it seemed to clarify his muddled thoughts;
and as they ranged themselves in order, he began to understand.
"Oh--ho!" he said again, and nodded his head in token
of comprehension.

The lawyer, chewing his cigar with increased activity,
glared at him. "What do you mean?" he demanded peremptorily.

"Mean?" said the minister. "Oh, nothing that I feel
called upon to explain to you."

It was passing strange, but his self-possession had all at once
returned to him. As it became more apparent that the lawyer
was losing his temper, Theron found the courage to turn up
the corners of his lips in show of a bitter little smile
of confidence. He looked into the other's dusky face,
and flaunted this smile at it in contemptuous defiance.
"It is not a subject that I can discuss with propriety--
at this stage," he added.

"Damn you! Are you talking about those flowers?"

"Oh, I am not talking about anything in particular,"
returned Theron, "not even the curious choice of language
which my latest probationer seems to prefer."

"Go and strike my name off the list!" said Gorringe,
with rising passion. "I was a fool to ever have it there.
To think of being a probationer of yours--my God!"

"That will be a pity--from one point of view," remarked Theron,
still with the ironical smile on his lips. "You seemed
to enter upon the new life with such deliberation and fixity
of purpose, too! I can imagine the regrets your withdrawal
will cause, in certain quarters. I only hope that it will
not discourage those who accompanied you to the altar,
and shared your enthusiasm at the time." He had spoken
throughout with studied slowness and an insolent nicety of utterance.

"You had better go away!" broke forth Gorringe.
"If you don't, I shall forget myself."

"For the first time?" asked Theron. Then, warned by the flash
in the lawyer's eye, he turned on his heel and sauntered,
with a painstaking assumption of a mind quite at ease,
up the street.

Gorringe's own face twitched and his veins tingled
as he looked after him. He spat the shapeless cigar
out of his mouth into the gutter, and, drawing forth
another from his pocket, clenched it between his teeth,
his gaze following the tall form of the Methodist minister
till it was merged in the crowd.

"Well, I'm damned!" he said aloud to himself.

The photographer had come down to take in his showcases for
the night. He looked up from his task at the exclamation,
and grinned inquiringly.

"I've just been talking to a man," said the lawyer,
"who's so much meaner than any other man I ever heard
of that it takes my breath away. He's got a wife that's
as pure and good as gold, and he knows it, and she
worships the ground he walks on, and he knows that too.
And yet the scoundrel is around trying to sniff out some
shadow of a pretext for misusing her worse than he's
already done. Yes, sir; he'd be actually tickled to death
if he could nose up some hint of a scandal about her--
something that he could pretend to believe, and work for
his own advantage to levy blackmail, or get rid of her,
or whatever suited his book. I didn't think there was such
an out-and-out cur on this whole footstool. I almost wish,
by God, I'd thrown him into the canal!"

"Yes, you lawyers must run against some pretty snide specimens,"
remarked the photographer, lifting one of the cases from its sockets.

 

 

CHAPTER XXVI

 

Theron spent half an hour in aimless strolling about
the streets. From earliest boyhood his mind had always
worked most clearly when he walked alone. Every mental
process which had left a mark upon his memory and his career--
the daydreams of future academic greatness and fame
which had fashioned themselves in his brain as a farm lad;
the meditations, raptures, and high resolves of his
student period at the seminary; the more notable sermons
and powerful discourse by which he had revealed the genius
that was in him to astonished and delighted assemblages--
all were associated in his retrospective thoughts
with solitary rambles.

He had a very direct and vivid consciousness now that it was
good to be on his legs, and alone. He had never in his life
been more sensible of the charm of his own companionship.
The encounter with Gorringe seemed to have cleared all
the clouds out of his brain, and restored lightness to
his heart. After such an object lesson, the impossibility
of his continuing to sacrifice himself to a notion
of duty to these low-minded and coarse-natured villagers
was beyond all argument. There could no longer be any
doubt about his moral right to turn his back upon them,
to wash his hands of the miserable combination of hypocrisy
and hysterics which they called their spiritual life.

And the question of Gorringe and Alice, that too
stood precisely where he wanted it. Even in his
own thoughts, he preferred to pursue it no further.
Between them somewhere an offence of concealment,
it might be of conspiracy, had been committed against him.
It was no business of his to say more, or to think more.
He rested his case simply on the fact, which could not
be denied, and which he was not in the least interested
to have explained, one way or the other. The recollection
of Gorringe's obvious disturbance of mind was especially
pleasant to him. He himself had been magnanimous almost
to the point of weakness. He had gone out of his way
to call the man "brother," and to give him an opportunity
of behaving like a gentleman; but his kindly forbearance
had been wasted. Gorringe was not the man to understand
generous feelings, much less rise to their level.
He had merely shown that he would be vicious if he knew how.
It was more important and satisfactory to recall that he
had also shown a complete comprehension of the injured
husband's grievance. The fact that he had recognized it
was enough--was, in fact, everything.

In the background of his thoughts Theron had carried
along a notion of going and dining with Father Forbes
when the time for the evening meal should arrive.
The idea in itself attracted him, as a fitting capstone
to his resolve not to go home to supper. It gave just
the right kind of character to his domestic revolt.
But when at last he stood on the doorstep of the pastorate,
waiting for an answer to the tinkle of the electric bell he
had heard ring inside, his mind contained only the single
thought that now he should hear something about Celia.
Perhaps he might even find her there; but he put that
suggestion aside as slightly unpleasant.

The hag-faced housekeeper led him, as before,
into the dining-room. It was still daylight, and he saw
on the glance that the priest was alone at the table,
with a book beside him to read from as he ate.

Father Forbes rose and came forward, greeting his visitor
with profuse urbanity and smiles. If there was a perfunctory
note in the invitation to sit down and share the meal,
Theron did not catch it. He frankly displayed his pleasure
as he laid aside his hat, and took the chair opposite his host.

"It is really only a few months since I was here,
in this room, before," he remarked, as the priest closed
his book and tossed it to one side, and the housekeeper came
in to lay another place. "Yet it might have been years,
many long years, so tremendous is the difference
that the lapse of time has wrought in me."

"I am afraid we have nothing to tempt you very much,
Mr. Ware," remarked Father Forbes, with a gesture of his
plump white hand which embraced the dishes in the centre
of the table. "May I send you a bit of this boiled mutton?
I have very homely tastes when I am by myself."

"I was saying," Theron observed, after some moments had
passed in silence, "that I date such a tremendous revolution
in my thoughts, my beliefs, my whole mind and character,
from my first meeting with you, my first coming here.
I don't know how to describe to you the enormous change
that has come over me; and I owe it all to you."

"I can only hope, then, that it is entirely
of a satisfactory nature," said the priest, politely smiling.

"Oh, it is so splendidly satisfactory!" said Theron,
with fervor. "I look back at myself now with wonder and pity.
It seems incredible that, such a little while ago,
I should have been such an ignorant and unimaginative clod
of earth, content with such petty ambitions and actually
proud of my limitations."

"And you have larger ambitions now?" asked the other.
"Pray let me help you to some potatoes. I am afraid
that ambitions only get in our way and trip us up.
We clergymen are like street-car horses. The more
steadily we jog along between the rails, the better it is
for us."

"Oh, I don't intend to remain in the ministry,"
declared Theron. The statement seemed to him a little bald,
now that he had made it; and as his companion lifted
his brows in surprise, he added stumblingly: "That is,
as I feel now, it seems to me impossible that I should
remain much longer. With you, of course, it is different.
You have a thousand things to interest and pleasantly
occupy you in your work and its ceremonies, so that mere
belief or non-belief in the dogma hardly matters.
But in our church dogma is everything. If you take
that away, or cease to have its support, the rest
is intolerable, hideous."

Father Forbes cut another slice of mutton for himself.
"It is a pretty serious business to make such a change at
your time of life. I take it for granted you will think
it all over very carefully before you commit yourself."
He said this with an almost indifferent air, which rather
chilled his listener's enthusiasm.

"Oh, yes,", Theron made answer; "I shall do nothing rash.
But I have a good many plans for the future."

Father Forbes did not ask what these were, and a brief
further period of silence fell upon the table.

"I hope everything went off smoothly at the picnic,"
Theron ventured, at last. "I have not seen any of you
since then."

The priest shook his head and sighed. "No," he said.
"It is a bad business. I have had a great deal of
unhappiness out of it this past fortnight. That young
man who was rude to you--of course it was mere drunken,
irresponsible nonsense on his part--has got himself into
a serious scrape, I'm afraid. It is being kept quite
within the family, and we hope to manage so that it will
remain there, but it has terribly upset his father and
his sister. But that, after all, is not so hard to bear
as the other affliction that has come upon the Maddens.
You remember Michael, the other brother? He seems to have
taken cold that evening, or perhaps over-exerted himself.
He has been seized with quick consumption. He will hardly
last till snow flies."

"Oh, I am GRIEVED to hear that!" Theron spoke with
tremulous earnestness. It seemed to him as if Michael
were in some way related to him.

"It is very hard upon them all," the priest went on.
"Michael is as sweet and holy a character as it is possible
for any one to think of. He is the apple of his father's eye.
They were inseparable, those two. Do you know the father,
Mr. Madden?"

Theron shook his head. "I think I have seen him," he said.
"A small man, with gray whiskers."

"A peasant," said Father Forbes, "but with a heart of gold.
Poor man! he has had little enough out of his riches.
Ah, the West Coast people, what tragedies I have seen among
them over here! They have rudimentary lung organizations,
like a frog's, to fit the mild, wet soft air they
live in. The sharp air here kills them off like flies
in a frost. Whole families go. I should think there
are a dozen of old Jeremiah's children in the cemetery.
If Michael could have passed his twenty-eighth year,
there would have been hope for him, at least till his
thirty-fifth. These pulmonary things seem to go by sevens,
you know."

"I didn't know," said Theron. "It is very strange--
and very sad." His startled mind was busy, all at once,
with conjectures as to Celia's age.

"The sister--Miss Madden--seems extremely strong,"
he remarked tentatively.

"Celia may escape the general doom," said the priest.
His guest noted that he clenched his shapely white
hand on the table as he spoke, and that his gentle,
carefully modulated voice had a gritty hardness in its tone.
"THAT would be too dreadful to think of," he added.

Theron shuddered in silence, and strove to shut his mind
against the thought.

"She has taken Michael's illness so deeply to heart,"
the priest proceeded, "and devoted herself to him
so untiringly that I get a little nervous about her.
I have been urging her to go away and get a change of air
and scene, if only for a few days. She does not sleep well,
and that is always a bad thing."

"I think I remember her telling me once that sometimes
she had sleepless spells," said Theron. "She said that
then she banged on her piano at all hours, or dragged
the cushions about from room to room, like a wild woman.
A very interesting young lady, don't you find her so?"

Father Forbes let a wan smile play on his lips.
"What, our Celia?" he said. "Interesting! Why, Mr. Ware,
there is no one like her in the world. She is as unique as--
what shall I say?--as the Irish are among races.
Her father and mother were both born in mud-cabins, and she--
she might be the daughter of a hundred kings, except that
they seem mostly rather under-witted than otherwise.
She always impresses me as a sort of atavistic idealization
of the old Kelt at his finest and best. There in Ireland
you got a strange mixture of elementary early peoples,
walled off from the outer world by the four seas, and free
to work out their own racial amalgam on their own lines.
They brought with them at the outset a great inheritance
of Eastern mysticism. Others lost it, but the Irish,
all alone on their island, kept it alive and brooded
on it, and rooted their whole spiritual side in it.
Their religion is full of it; their blood is full of it;
our Celia is fuller of it than anybody else. The Ireland
of two thousand years ago is incarnated in her. They are
the merriest people and the saddest, the most turbulent and
the most docile, the most talented and the most unproductive,
the most practical and the most visionary, the most devout
and the most pagan. These impossible contradictions war
ceaselessly in their blood. When I look at Celia, I seem
to see in my mind's eye the fair young-ancestral mother of
them all."

Theron gazed at the speaker with open admiration.
"I love to hear you talk," he said simply.

An unbidden memory flitted upward in his mind.
Those were the very words that Alice had so often on her
lips in their old courtship days. How curious it was!
He looked at the priest, and had a quaint sensation
of feeling as a romantic woman must feel in the presence
of a specially impressive masculine personality.
It was indeed strange that this soft-voiced, portly
creature in a gown, with his white, fat hands and his
feline suavity of manner, should produce such a commanding
and unique effect of virility. No doubt this was a part
of the great sex mystery which historically surrounded
the figure of the celibate priest as with an atmosphere.
Women had always been prostrating themselves before it.
Theron, watching his companion's full, pallid face in the
lamp-light, tried to fancy himself in the priest's place,
looking down upon these worshipping female forms.
He wondered what the celibate's attitude really was.
The enigma fascinated him.

Father Forbes, after his rhetorical outburst, and been eating.
He pushed aside his cheese-plate. "I grow enthusiastic
on the subject of my race sometimes," he remarked,
with the suggestion of an apology. "But I make up
for it other times--most of the time--by scolding them.
If it were not such a noble thing to be an Irishman,
it would be ridiculous."

"Ah," said Theron, deprecatingly, "who would not be
enthusiastic in talking of Miss Madden? What you said
about her was perfect. As you spoke, I was thinking
how proud and thankful we ought to be for the privilege
of knowing her--we who do know her well--although of course
your friendship with her is vastly more intimate than mine--
than mine could ever hope to be."

The priest offered no comment, and Theron went on:
"I hardly know how to describe the remarkable impression she
makes upon me. I can't imagine to myself any other young
woman so brilliant or broad in her views, or so courageous.
Of course, her being so rich makes it easier for her to do
just what she wants to do, but her bravery is astonishing
all the same. We had a long and very sympathetic talk
in the woods, that day of the picnic, after we left you.
I don't know whether she spoke to you about it?"

Father Forbes made a movement of the head and eyes
which seemed to negative the suggestion.

"Her talk," continued Theron, "gave me quite new
ideas of the range and capacity of the female mind.
I wonder that everybody in Octavius isn't full of praise
and admiration for her talents and exceptional character.
In such a small town as this, you would think she would
be the centre of attention--the pride of the place."

"I think she has as much praise as is good for her,"
remarked the priest, quietly.

"And here's a thing that puzzles me," pursued Mr. Ware.
"I was immensely surprised to find that Dr. Ledsmar
doesn't even think she is smart--or at least he professes
the utmost intellectual contempt for her, and says
he dislikes her into the bargain. But of course she
dislikes him, too, so that's only natural. But I can't
understand his denying her great ability."

The priest smiled in a dubious way. "Don't borrow
unnecessary alarm about that, Mr. Ware," he said,
with studied smoothness of modulated tones. "These two
good friends of mine have much enjoyment out of the idea
that they are fighting for the mastery over my poor
unstable character. It has grown to be a habit with them,
and a hobby as well, and they pursue it with tireless zest.
There are not many intellectual diversions open to us here,
and they make the most of this one. It amuses them,
and it is not without its charms for me, in my capacity as
an interested observer. It is a part of the game that they
should pretend to themselves that they detest each other.
In reality I fancy that they like each other very much.
At any rate, there is nothing to be disturbed about."

His mellifluous tones had somehow the effect of suggesting
to Theron that he was an outsider and would better mind
his own business. Ah, if this purring pussy-cat of a
priest only knew how little of an outsider he really was!
The thought gave him an easy self-control.

"Of course," he said, "our warm mutual friendship makes
the observation of these little individual vagaries
merely a part of a delightful whole. I should not
dream of discussing Miss Madden's confidences to me,
or the doctor's either, outside our own little group."

Father Forbes reached behind him and took from a
chair his black three-cornered cap with the tassel.
"Unfortunately I have a sick call waiting me," he said,
gathering up his gown and slowly rising.

"Yes, I saw the man sitting in the hall," remarked Theron,
getting to his feet.

"I would ask you to go upstairs and wait," the priest
went on, "but my return, unhappily, is quite uncertain.
Another evening I may be more fortunate. I am leaving town
tomorrow for some days, but when I get back--"

The polite sentence did not complete itself. Father Forbes
had come out into the hall, giving a cool nod to the
working-man, who rose from the bench as they passed,
and shook hands with his guest on the doorstep.

When the door had closed upon Mr. Ware, the priest turned
to the man. "You have come about those frames," he said.
"If you will come upstairs, I will show you the prints,
and you can give me a notion of what can be done with them.
I rather fancy the idea of a triptych in carved old English,
if you can manage it."

After the workman had gone away, Father Forbes put
on slippers and an old loose soutane, lighted a cigar,
and, pushing an easy-chair over to the reading lamp,
sat down with a book. Then something occurred to him,
and he touched the house-bell at his elbow.

"Maggie," he said gently, when the housekeeper appeared at
the door, "I will have the coffee and FINE CHAMPAGNE up here,
if it is no trouble. And--oh, Maggie--I was compelled this
evening to turn the blameless visit of the framemaker into
a venial sin, and that involves a needless wear and tear
of conscience. I think that--hereafter--you understand?--
I am not invariably at home when the Rev. Mr. Ware does
me the honor to call."

 

 

CHAPTER XXVII

 

That night brought the first frost of the season
worth counting. In the morning, when Theron came downstairs,
his casual glance through the window caught a desolate
picture of blackened dahlia stalks and shrivelled blooms.
The gayety and color of the garden were gone,
and in their place was shabby and dishevelled ruin.
He flung the sash up and leaned out. The nipping autumn
air was good to breathe. He looked about him, surveying
the havoc the frost had wrought among the flowers, and smiled.

At breakfast he smiled again--a mirthless and
calculated smile. "I see that Brother Gorringe's
flowers have come to grief over night," he remarked.

Alice looked at him before she spoke, and saw on his
face a confirmation of the hostile hint in his voice.
She nodded in a constrained way, and said nothing.

"Or rather, I should say, "Theron went on, with deliberate
words, "the late Brother Gorringe's flowers."

"How do you mean--LATE" asked his wife, swiftly.

"Oh, calm yourself!" replied the husband. He is not dead.
He has only intimated to me his desire to sever his connection.
I may add that he did so in a highly offensive manner."

"I am very sorry," said Alice, in a low tone, and with
her eyes on her plate.

"I took it for granted you would be grieved at his backsliding,"
remarked Theron, making his phrases as pointed as he could.
"He was such a promising probationer, and you took
such a keen interest in his spiritual awakening.
But the frost has nipped his zeal--along with the hundred
or more dollars' worth of flowers by which he testified
his faith. I find something interesting in their having
been blasted simultaneously."

Alice dropped all pretence of interest in her breakfast.
With a flushed face and lips tightly compressed,
she made a movement as if to rise from her chair.
Then, changing her mind, she sat bolt upright and faced
her husband.

"I think we had better have this out right now," she said,
in a voice which Theron hardly recognized. "You have
been hinting round the subject long enough--too long.
There are some things nobody is obliged to put up with,
and this is one of them. You will oblige me by saying out
in so many words what it is you are driving at."

The outburst astounded Theron. He laid down his knife
and fork, and gazed at his wife in frank surprise.
She had so accustomed him, of late, to a demeanor almost
abject in its depressed docility that he had quite
forgotten the Alice of the old days, when she had spirit
and courage enough for two, and a notable tongue of her own.
The flash in her eyes and the lines of resolution
about her mouth and chin for a moment daunted him.
Then he observed by a flutter of the frill at her wrist
that she was trembling.

"I am sure I have nothing to 'say out in so many words,'
as you put it," he replied, forcing his voice into cool,
impassive tones. "I merely commented upon a coincidence,
that was all. If, for any reason under the sun, the subject
chances to be unpleasant to you, I have no earthly desire
to pursue it."

"But I insist upon having it pursued!" returned Alice.
"I've had just all I can stand of your insinuations
and innuendoes, and it's high time we had some plain talk.
Ever since the revival, you have been dropping sly,
underhand hints about Mr. Gorringe and--and me. Now I ask
you what you mean by it."

Yes, there was a shake in her voice, and he could see
how her bosom heaved in a tremor of nervousness.
It was easy for him to be very calm.

"It is you who introduce these astonishing suggestions,
not I," he replied coldly. "It is you who couple
your name with his--somewhat to my surprise, I admit--
but let me suggest that we drop the subject. You are
excited just now, and you might say things that you
would prefer to leave unsaid. It would surely be better
for all concerned to say no more about it."

Alice, staring across the table at him with knitted brows,
emitted a sharp little snort of indignation.
"Well, I never! Theron, I wouldn't have thought it of you!"

"There are so many things you wouldn't have thought,
on such a variety of subjects," he observed, with a
show of resuming his breakfast. "But why continue?
We are only angering each other."

"Never mind that," she replied, with more control
over her speech. "I guess things have come to a pass
where a little anger won't do any harm. I have a right
to insist on knowing what you mean by your insinuations."

Theron sighed. "Why will you keep harping on the thing?"
he asked wearily. "I have displayed no curiosity.
I don't ask for any explanations. I think I mentioned
that the man had behaved insultingly to me--but that
doesn't matter. I don't bring it up as a grievance.
I am very well able to take care of myself I have no
wish to recur to the incident in any way. So far as I
am concerned, the topic is dismissed."

"Listen to me!" broke in Alice, with eager gravity.
She hesitated, as he looked up with a nod of attention,
and reflected as well as she was able among her thoughts
for a minute or two. "This is what I want to say
to you. Ever since we came to this hateful Octavius,
you and I have been drifting apart--or no, that doesn't
express it--simply rushing away from each other.
It only began last spring, and now the space between us
is so wide that we are worse than complete strangers.
For strangers at least don't hate each other, and I've had
a good many occasions lately to see that you positively do
hate me--"

"What grotesque absurdity" interposed Theron, impatiently.

"No, it isn't absurdity; it's gospel truth," retorted Alice.
"And--don't interrupt me--there have been times, too,
when I have had to ask myself if I wasn't getting almost
to hate you in return. I tell you this frankly."

"Yes, you are undoubtedly frank," commented the husband,
toying with his teaspoon. "A hypercritical person
might consider, almost too frank."

Alice scanned his face closely while he spoke, and held her
breath as if in expectant suspense. Her countenance clouded
once more. "You don't realize, Theron," she said gravely;
"your voice when you speak to me, your look, your manner,
they have all changed. You are like another man--
some man who never loved me, and doesn't even know me,
much less like me. I want to know what the end of it
is to be. Up to the time of your sickness last summer,
until after the Soulsbys went away, I didn't let myself
get downright discouraged. It seemed too monstrous for
belief that you should go away out of my life like that.
It didn't seem possible that God could allow such a thing.
It came to me that I had been lax in my Christian life,
especially in my position as a minister's wife,
and that this was my punishment. I went to the altar,
to intercede with Him, and to try to loose my burden
at His feet. But nothing has come of it. I got no help
from you."

"Really, Alice," broke in Theron, "I explained over and
over again to you how preoccupied I was--with the book--
and affairs generally."

"I got no assistance from Heaven either," she went on,
declining the diversion he offered. "I don't want to
talk impiously, but if there is a God, he has forgotten me,
his poor heart-broken hand-maiden."

"You are talking impiously, Alice," observed her husband.
"And you are doing me cruel injustice, into the bargain."

"I only wish I were!" she replied; "I only wish to God
I were!"

"Well, then, accept my complete assurance that you ARE--
that your whole conception of me, and of what you are pleased
to describe as my change toward you, is an entire and
utter mistake. Of course, the married state is no more exempt
from the universal law of growth, development, alteration,
than any other human institution. On its spiritual side,
of course, viewed either as a sacrament, or as--"

"Don't let us go into that," interposed Alice, abruptly.
"In fact, there is no good in talking any more at all.
It is as if we didn't speak the same language.
You don't understand what I say; it makes no impression
upon your mind."

"Quite to the contrary," he assured her; "I have been
deeply interested and concerned in all you have said.
I think you are laboring under a great delusion,
and I have tried my best to convince you of it;
but I have never heard you speak more intelligibly or,
I might say, effectively."

A little gleam of softness stole over Alice's face.
"If you only gave me a little more credit for intelligence,"
she said, "you would find that I am not such a blockhead
as you think I am."

"Come, come!" he said, with a smiling show of impatience.
"You really mustn't impute things to me wholesale,
like that."

She was glad to answer the smile in kind. "No; but truly,"
she pleaded, "you don't realize it, but you have grown
into a way of treating me as if I had absolutely no mind
at all."

"You have a very admirable mind," he responded,
and took up his teaspoon again. She reached for his cup,
and poured out hot coffee for him. An almost cheerful
spirit had suddenly descended upon the breakfast table.

"And now let me say the thing I have been aching to say
for months," she began in less burdened voice.

He lifted his brows. "Haven't things been discussed
pretty fully already?" he asked.

The doubtful, harassed expression clouded upon her face
at his words, and she paused. "No," she said resolutely,
after an instant's reflection; "it is my duty to
discuss this, too. It is a misunderstanding all round.
You remember that I told you Mr. Gorringe had given me
some plants, which he got from some garden or other?"

"If you really wish to go on with the subject--yes I
have a recollection of that particular falsehood of his."

"He did it with the kindest and friendliest motives in
the world!" protested Alice. "He saw how down-in-the-mouth
and moping I was here, among these strangers--
and I really was getting quite peaked and run-down--
and he said I stayed indoors too much and it would do me
all sorts of good to work in the garden, and he would
send me some plants. The next I knew, here they were,
with a book about mixing soils and planting, and so on.
When I saw him next, and thanked him, I suppose I showed
some apprehension about his having laid out money on them,
and he, just to ease my mind, invented the story about his
getting them for nothing. When I found out the truth--
I got it out of that boy, Harvey Semple--he admitted it
quite frankly--said he was wrong to deceive me."

"This was in the fine first fervor of his term of probation,
I suppose," put in Theron. He made no effort to dissemble
the sneer in his voice.

"Well," answered Alice, with a touch of acerbity,
"I have told you now, and it is off my mind. There never
would have been the slightest concealment about it,
if you hadn't begun by keeping me at arm's length,
and making it next door to impossible to speak to you
at all, and if--"

"And if he hadn't lied." Theron, as he finished her
sentence for her, rose from the table. Dallying for a
brief moment by his chair, there seemed the magnetic
premonition in the air of some further and kindlier word.
Then he turned and walked sedately into the next room,
and closed the door behind him. The talk was finished;
and Alice, left alone, passed the knuckle of her thumb
over one swimming eye and then the other, and bit her lips
and swallowed down the sob that rose in her throat.

 

 

CHAPTER XXVIII

 

It was early afternoon when Theron walked out of his yard,
bestowing no glance upon the withered and tarnished
show of the garden, and started with a definite step
down the street. The tendency to ruminative loitering,
which those who saw him abroad always associated
with his tall, spare figure, was not suggested today.
He moved forward like a man with a purpose.

All the forenoon in the seclusion of the sitting-room,
with a book opened before him, he had been thinking hard.
It was not the talk with Alice that occupied his thoughts.
That rose in his mind from time to time, only as a
disagreeable blur, and he refused to dwell upon it.
It was nothing to him, he said to himself, what Gorringe's
motives in lying had been. As for Alice, he hardened
his heart against her. Just now it was her mood to try
and make up to him. But it had been something different
yesterday, and who could say what it would be tomorrow?
He really had passed the limit of patience with her shifting
emotional vagaries, now lurching in this direction,
now in that. She had had her chance to maintain a hold
upon his interest and imagination, and had let it slip.
These were the accidents of life, the inevitable harsh
happenings in the great tragedy of Nature. They could not
be helped, and there was nothing more to be said.

He had bestowed much more attention upon what the priest
had said the previous evening. He passed in review all
the glowing tributes Father Forbes had paid to Celia.
They warmed his senses as he recalled them, but they also,
in a curious, indefinite way, caused him uneasiness.
There had been a personal fervor about them which was
something more than priestly. He remembered how the
priest had turned pale and faltered when the question
whether Celia would escape the general doom of her family
came up. It was not a merely pastoral agitation that,
he felt sure.

A hundred obscure hints, doubts, stray little suspicions,
crowded upward together in his thoughts. It became apparent
to him now that from the outset he had been conscious
of something queer--yes, from that very first day when he
saw the priest and Celia together, and noted their glance
of recognition inside the house of death. He realized now,
upon reflection, that the tone of other people, his own
parishioners and his casual acquaintances in Octavius alike,
had always had a certain note of reservation in it when
it touched upon Miss Madden. Her running in and out
of the pastorate at all hours, the way the priest patted
her on the shoulder before others, the obvious dislike
the priest's ugly old housekeeper bore her, the astonishing
freedom of their talk with each other--these dark
memories loomed forth out of a mass of sinister conjecture.

He could bear the uncertainty no longer. Was it indeed
not entirely his own fault that it had existed thus long?
No man with the spirit of a mouse would have shilly-shallied
in this preposterous fashion, week after week, with the fever
of a beautiful woman's kiss in his blood, and the woman
herself living only round the corner. The whole world
had been as good as offered to him--a bewildering world
of wealth and beauty and spiritual exaltation and love--
and he, like a weak fool, had waited for it to be brought
to him on a salver, as it were, and actually forced upon
his acceptance! "That is my failing," he reflected;
"these miserable ecclesiastical bandages of mine have dwarfed
my manly side. The meanest of Thurston's clerks would
have shown a more adventurous spirit and a bolder nerve.
If I do not act at once, with courage and resolution,
everything will be lost. Already she must think me
unworthy of the honor it was in her sweet will to bestow."
Then he remembered that she was now always at home.
"Not another hour of foolish indecision!" he whispered
to himself. "I will put my destiny to the test. I will see
her today!

A middle-aged, plain-faced servant answered his ring at the
door-bell of the Madden mansion. She was palpably Irish,
and looked at him with a saddened preoccupation in her
gray eyes, holding the door only a little ajar.

Theron had got out one of his cards. "I wish to make
inquiry about young Mr. Madden--Mr. Michael Madden,"
he said, holding the card forth tentatively. "I have only
just heard of his illness, and it has been a great grief
to me."

"He is no better," answered the woman, briefly.

"I am the Rev. Mr. Ware," he went on, "and you may say that,
if he is well enough, I should be glad to see him."

The servant peered out at him with a suddenly altered
expression, then shook her head. "I don't think he would
be wishing to see YOU," she replied. It was evident
from her tone that she suspected the visitor's intentions.

Theron smiled in spite of himself. "I have not come
as a clergyman," he explained, "but as a friend of
the family. If you will tell Miss Madden that I am here,
it will do just as well. Yes, we won't bother him.
If you will kindly hand my card to his sister."

When the domestic turned at this and went in, Theron felt
like throwing his hat in the air, there where he stood.
The woman's churlish sectarian prejudices had played
ideally into his hands. In no other imaginable
way could he have asked for Celia so naturally.
He wondered a little that a servant at such a grand house
as this should leave callers standing on the doorstep.
Still more he wondered what he should say to the lady
of his dream when he came into her presence.

"Will you please to walk this way?" The woman had returned.
She closed the door noiselessly behind him, and led the way,
not up the sumptuous staircase, as Theron had expected,
but along through the broad hall, past several large doors,
to a small curtained archway at the end. She pushed
aside this curtain, and Theron found himself in a sort
of conservatory, full of the hot, vague light of sunshine
falling through ground-glass. The air was moist and close,
and heavy with the smell of verdure and wet earth.
A tall bank of palms, with ferns sprawling at their base,
reared itself directly in front of him. The floor was of mosaic,
and he saw now that there were rugs upon it, and that there
were chairs and sofas, and other signs of habitation.
It was, indeed, only half a greenhouse, for the lower part
of it was in rosewood panels, with floral paintings on them,
like a room.

Moving to one side of the barrier of palms, he discovered,
to his great surprise, the figure of Michael, sitting propped
up with pillows in a huge easy-chair. The sick man was
looking at him with big, gravely intent eyes. His face did
not show as much change as Theron had in fancy pictured.
It had seemed almost as bony and cadaverous on the day
of the picnic. The hands spread out on the chair-arms
were very white and thin, though, and the gaze in the blue
eyes had a spectral quality which disturbed him.

Michael raised his right hand, and Theron, stepping forward,
took it limply in his for an instant. Then he laid it
down again. The touch of people about to die had always
been repugnant to him. He could feel on his own warm
palm the very damp of the grave.

"I only heard from Father Forbes last evening of your--
your ill-health," he said, somewhat hesitatingly. He seated
himself on a bench beneath the palms, facing the invalid,
but still holding his hat. "I hope very sincerely that you
will soon be all right again."

"My sister is lying down in her room," answered Michael.
He had not once taken his sombre and embarrassing gaze
from the other's face. The voice in which he uttered this
uncalled-for remark was thin in fibre, cold and impassive.
It fell upon Theron's ears with a suggestion of hidden meaning.
He looked uneasily into Michael's eyes, and then away again.
They seemed to be looking straight through him, and there
was no shirking the sensation that they saw and comprehended
things with an unnatural prescience.

"I hope she is feeling better," Theron found himself saying.
"Father Forbes mentioned that she was a little under
the weather. I dined with him last night."

"I am glad that you came," said Michael, after a little pause.
His earnest, unblinking eyes seemed to supplement his
tongue with speech of their own. "I do be thinking a
great deal about you. I have matters to speak of to you,
now that you are here."

Theron bowed his head gently, in token of grateful attention.
He tried the experiment of looking away from Michael,
but his glance went back again irresistibly, and fastened
itself upon the sick man's gaze, and clung there.

"I am next door to a dead man," he went on, paying no heed
to the other's deprecatory gesture. "It is not years
or months with me, but weeks. Then I go away to stand up
for judgment on my sins, and if it is His merciful will,
I shall see God. So I say my good-byes now, and so you
will let me speak plainly, and not think ill of what I say.
You are much changed, Mr. Ware, since you came to Octavius,
and it is not a change for the good."

Theron lifted his brows in unaffected surprise, and put
inquiry into his glance.

"I don't know if Protestants will be saved, in God's
good time, or not," continued Michael. "I find there
are different opinions among the clergy about that,
and of course it is not for me, only a plain mechanic,
to be sure where learned and pious scholars are in doubt.
But I am sure about one thing. Those Protestants,
and others too, mind you, who profess and preach good deeds,
and themselves do bad deeds--they will never be saved.
They will have no chance at all to escape hell-fire."

"I think we are all agreed upon that, Mr. Madden,"
said Theron, with surface suavity.

"Then I say to you, Mr. Ware, you are yourself in a bad path.
Take the warning of a dying man, sir, and turn from it!"

The impulse to smile tugged at Theron's facial muscles.
This was really too droll. He looked up at the ceiling,
the while he forced his countenance into a polite composure,
then turned again to Michael, with some conciliatory
commonplace ready for utterance. But he said nothing,
and all suggestion of levity left his mind, under the searching
inspection bent upon him by the young man's hollow eyes.
What did Michael suspect? What did he know? What was he
hinting at, in this strange talk of his?

"I saw you often on the street when first you came here,"
continued Michael. "I knew the man who was here before you--
that is, by sight--and he was not a good man. But your face,
when you came, pleased me. I liked to look at you.
I was tormented just then, do you see, that so many decent,
kindly people, old school-mates and friends and neighbors
of mine--and, for that matter, others all over the country
must lose their souls because they were Protestants.
At my boyhood and young manhood, that thought took the joy
out of me. Sometimes I usen't to sleep a whole night long,
for thinking that some lad I had been playing with,
perhaps in his own house, that very day, would be taken
when he died, and his mother too, when she died, and thrown
into the flames of hell for all eternity. It made me
so unhappy that finally I wouldn't go to any Protestant
boy's house, and have his mother be nice to me, and give me
cake and apples--and me thinking all the while that they
were bound to be damned, no matter how good they were
to me."

The primitive humanity of this touched Theron, and he
nodded approbation with a tender smile in his eyes,
forgetting for the moment that a personal application
of the monologue had been hinted at.

"But then later, as I grew up," the sick man went on,
"I learned that it was not altogether certain. Some of
the authorities, I found, maintained that it was doubtful,
and some said openly that there must be salvation possible
for good people who lived in ignorance of the truth
through no fault of their own. Then I had hope one day,
and no hope the next, and as I did my work I thought
it over, and in the evenings my father and I talked
it over, and we settled nothing of it at all. Of course,
how could we?"

"Did you ever discuss the question with your sister?"
it occurred suddenly to Theron to interpose. He was
conscious of some daring in doing so, and he fancied
that Michael's drawn face clouded a little at his words.

"My sister is no theologian," he answered briefly.
"Women have no call to meddle with such matters.
But I was saying--it was in the middle of these doubtings
of mine that you came here to Octavius, and I noticed
you on the streets, and once in the evening--I made
no secret of it to my people--I sat in the back of your
church and heard you preach. As I say, I liked you.
It was your face, and what I thought it showed of the man
underneath it, that helped settle my mind more than
anything else. I said to myself: "Here is a young man,
only about my own age, and he has education and talents,
and he does not seek to make money for himself,
or a great name, but he is content to live humbly on
the salary of a book-keeper, and devote all his time to
prayer and the meditation of his religion, and preaching,
and visiting the sick and the poor, and comforting them.
His very face is a pleasure and a help for those in suffering
and trouble to look at. The very sight of it makes one
believe in pure thoughts and merciful deeds. I will not
credit it that God intends damning such a man as that,
or any like him!"

Theron bowed, with a slow, hesitating gravity of manner,
and deep, not wholly complacent, attention on his face.
Evidently all this was by way of preparation for
something unpleasant.

"That was only last spring," said Michael. His tired
voice sank for a sentence or two into a meditative
half-whisper. "And it was MY last spring of all. I shall
not be growing weak any more, or drawing hard breaths,
when the first warm weather comes. It will be one season
to me hereafter, always the same." He lifted his voice
with perceptible effort. "I am talking too much.
The rest I can say in a word. Only half a year has
gone by, and you have another face on you entirely.
I had noticed the small changes before, one by one. I saw
the great change, all of a sudden, the day of the picnic.
I see it a hundred times more now, as you sit there.
If it seemed to me like the face of a saint before,
it is more like the face of a bar-keeper now!"

This was quite too much. Theron rose, flushed to the temples,
and scowled down at the helpless man in the chair.
He swallowed the sharp words which came uppermost,
and bit and moistened his lips as he forced himself to
remember that this was a dying man, and Celia's brother,
to whom she was devoted, and whom he himself felt he
wanted to be very fond of. He got the shadow of a smile
on to his countenance.

"I fear you HAVE tired yourself unduly," he said,
in as non-contentious a tone as he could manage.
He even contrived a little deprecatory laugh. I am
afraid your real quarrel is with the air of Octavius.
It agrees with me so wonderfully--I am getting as fat
as a seal. But I do hope I am not paying for it by such
a wholesale deterioration inside. If my own opinion could
be of any value, I should assure you that I feel myself
an infinitely better and broader and stronger man than I
was when I came here."

Michael shook his head dogmatically. "That is the greatest
pity of all," he said, with renewed earnestness. "You are
entirely deceived about yourself. You do not at all realize
how you have altered your direction, or where you are going.
It was a great misfortune for you, sir, that you did not keep
among your own people. That poor half-brother of mine,
though the drink was in him when he said that same to you,
never spoke a truer word. Keep among your own people,
Mr. Ware! When you go among others--you know what I mean--
you have no proper understanding of what their sayings
and doings really mean. You do not realize that they are
held up by the power of the true Church, as a little child
learning to walk is held up with a belt by its nurse.
They can say and do things, and no harm at all come to them,
which would mean destruction to you, because they have help,
and you are walking alone. And so be said by me, Mr. Ware!
Go back to the way you were brought up in, and leave
alone the people whose ways are different from yours.
You are a married man, and you are the preacher of
a religion, such as it is. There can be nothing better
for you than to go and strive to be a good husband,
and to set a good example to the people of your Church,
who look up to you--and mix yourself up no more with outside
people and outside notions that only do you mischief.
And that is what I wanted to say to you."

Theron took up his hat. "I take in all kindness what you
have felt it your duty to say to me, Mr. Madden," he said.
"I am not sure that I have altogether followed you, but I
am very sure you mean it well."

"I mean well by you," replied Michael, wearily moving
his head on the pillow, and speaking in an undertone
of languor and pain, "and I mean well by others, that are
nearer to me, and that I have a right to care more about.
When a man lies by the site of his open grave, he does
not be meaning ill to any human soul."

"Yes--thanks--quite so!" faltered Theron. He dallied
for an instant with the temptation to seek some further
explanation, but the sight of Michael's half-closed
eyes and worn-out expression decided him against it.
It did not seem to be expected, either, that he should
shake hands, and with a few perfunctory words of hope
for the invalid's recovery, which fell with a jarring note
of falsehood upon his own ears, he turned and left the room.
As he did so, Michael touched a bell on the table beside him.

Theron drew a long breath in the hall, as the curtain
fell behind him. It was an immense relief to escape
from the oppressive humidity and heat of the flower-room,
and from that ridiculous bore of a Michael as well.

The middle-aged, grave-faced servant, warned by the bell,
stood waiting to conduct him to the door.

"I am sorry to have missed Miss Madden," he said to her.
"She must be quite worn out. Perhaps later in the day--"

"She will not be seeing anybody today," returned the woman.
"She is going to New York this evening, and she is taking
some rest against the journey."

"Will she be away long?" he asked mechanically.
The servant's answer, "I have no idea," hardly penetrated
his consciousness at all.

He moved down the steps, and along the gravel to the street,
in a maze of mental confusion. When he reached the sidewalk,
under the familiar elms, he paused, and made a definite
effort to pull his thoughts together, and take stock
of what had happened, of what was going to happen;
but the thing baffled him. It was as if some drug had
stupefied his faculties.

He began to walk, and gradually saw that what he was
thinking about was the fact of Celia's departure for New
York that evening. He stared at this fact, at first in
its nakedness, then clothed with reassuring suggestions
that this was no doubt a trip she very often made.
There was a blind sense of comfort in this idea, and he
rested himself upon it. Yes, of course, she travelled
a great deal. New York must be as familiar to her
as Octavius was to him. Her going there now was quite
a matter of course--the most natural thing in the world.

Then there burst suddenly uppermost in his mind the
other fact--that Father Forbes was also going to New
York that evening. The two things spindled upward,
side by side, yet separately, in his mental vision;
then they twisted and twined themselves together.
He followed their convolutions miserably, walking as if
his eyes were shut.

In slow fashion matters defined and arranged themselves
before him. The process of tracing their sequence was
all torture, but there was no possibility, no notion,
of shirking any detail of the pain. The priest had spoken
of his efforts to persuade Celia to go away for a few days,
for rest and change of air and scene. He must have known
only too well that she was going, but of that he had been
careful to drop no hint. The possibility of accident
was too slight to be worth considering. People on such
intimate terms as Celia and the priest--people with such
facilities for seeing each other whenever they desired--
did not find themselves on the same train of cars,
with the same long journey in view, by mere chance.

Theron walked until dusk began to close in upon the
autumn day. It grew colder, as he turned his face homeward.
He wondered if it would freeze again over-night, and then
remembered the shrivelled flowers in his wife's garden.
For a moment they shaped themselves in a picture before his
mind's eye; he saw their blackened foliage, their sicklied,
drooping stalks, and wilted blooms, and as he looked,
they restored themselves to the vigor and grace and richness
of color of summer-time, as vividly as if they had been
painted on a canvas. Or no, the picture he stared at
was not on canvas, but on the glossy, varnished panel
of a luxurious sleeping-car. He shook his head angrily and
blinked his eyes again and again, to prevent their seeing,
seated together in the open window above this panel,
the two people he knew were there, gloved and habited
for the night's journey, waiting for the train to start.

 

 

"Very much to my surprise," he found himself saying to Alice,
watching her nervously as she laid the supper-table, "I
find I must go to Albany tonight. That is, it isn't
absolutely necessary, for that matter, but I think it
may easily turn out to be greatly to my advantage to go.
Something has arisen--I can't speak about it as yet--
but the sooner I see the Bishop about it the better.
Things like that occur in a man's life, where boldly
striking out a line of action, and following it up without
an instant's delay, may make all the difference in the world
to him. Tomorrow it might be too late; and, besides, I can
be home the sooner again."

Alice's face showed surprise, but no trace of suspicion.
She spoke with studied amiability during the meal,
and deferred with such unexpected tact to his implied
desire not to be questioned as to the mysterious motives
of the journey, that his mood instinctively softened and
warmed toward her, as they finished supper.

He smiled a little. "I do hope I shan't have to go
on tomorrow to New York; but these Bishops of ours are
such gad-abouts one never knows where to catch them.
As like as not Sanderson may be down in New York,
on Book-Concern business or something; and if he is,
I shall have to chase him up. But, after all, perhaps the
trip will do me good--the change of air and scene,
you know."

"I'm sure I hope so," said Alice, honestly enough.
"If you do go on to New York, I suppose you'll go by the
river-boat. Everybody talks so much of that beautiful
sail down the Hudson."

"That's an idea!" exclaimed Theron, welcoming it
with enthusiasm. "It hadn't occurred to me. If I
do have to go, and it is as lovely as they make out,
the next time I promise I won't go without you, my girl.
I HAVE been rather out of sorts lately," he continued.
"When I come back, I daresay I shall be feeling better,
more like my old self. Then I'm going to try, Alice, to be
nicer to you than I have been of late. I'm afraid there
was only too much truth in what you said this morning."

"Never mind what I said this morning--or any other time,"
broke in Alice, softly. "Don't ever remember it again,
Theron, if only--only--"

He rose as she spoke, moved round the table to where
she sat, and, bending over her, stopped the faltering
sentence with a kiss. When was it, he wondered,
that he had last kissed her? It seemed years, ages, ago.

An hour later, with hat and overcoat on, and his valise
in his hand, he stood on the doorstep of the parsonage,
and kissed her once more before he turned and descended
into the darkness. He felt like whistling as his feet
sounded firmly on the plank sidewalk beyond the gate.
It seemed as if he had never been in such capital good
spirits before in his life.

 

 

CHAPTER XXIX

 

The train was at a standstill somewhere, and the dull,
ashen beginnings of daylight had made a first feeble start
toward effacing the lamps in the car-roof, when the new day
opened for Theron. A man who had just come in stopped
at the seat upon which he had been stretched through
the night, and, tapping him brusquely on the knee, said,
"I'm afraid I must trouble you, sir." After a moment
of sleep-burdened confusion, he sat up, and the man
took the other half of the seat and opened a newspaper,
still damp from the press. It was morning, then.

Theron rubbed a clear space upon the clouded window
with his thumb, and looked out. There was nothing to
be seen but a broad stretch of tracks, and beyond this
the shadowed outlines of wagons and machinery in a yard,
with a background of factory buildings.

The atmosphere in the car was vile beyond belief.
He thought of opening the window, but feared that the
peremptory-looking man with the paper, who had wakened him
and made him sit up, might object. They were the only people
in the car who were sitting up. Backwards and forwards,
on either side of the narrow aisle, the dim light disclosed
recumbent forms, curled uncomfortably into corners,
or sprawling at difficult angles which involved the least
interference with one another. Here and there an upturned
face gave a livid patch of surface for the mingled play
of the gray dawn and the yellow lamp-light. A ceaseless
noise of snoring was in the air.

He got up and walked to the tank of ice-water at the end
of the aisle, and took a drink from the most inaccessible
portion of the common tin-cup's rim. The happy idea of going
out on the platform struck him, and he acted upon it.
The morning air was deliciously cool and fresh by contrast,
and he filled his lungs with it again and again.
Standing here, he could discern beyond the buildings to the
right the faint purplish outlines of great rounded hills.
Some workmen, one of them bearing a torch, were crouching
along under the side of the train, pounding upon
the resonant wheels with small hammers. He recalled
having heard the same sound in the watches of the night,
during a prolonged halt. Some one had said it was Albany.
He smiled in spite of himself at the thought that Bishop
Sanderson would never know about the visit he had missed.

Swinging himself to the ground, he bent sidewise and looked
forward down the long train. There were five, six,
perhaps more, sleeping-cars on in front. Which one of them,
he wondered--and then there came the sharp "All aboard!"
from the other side, and he bundled up the steps again,
and entered the car as the train slowly resumed its progress.

He was wide-awake now, and quite at his ease. He took
his seat, and diverted himself by winking gravely at
a little child facing him on the next seat but one.
There were four other children in the family party,
encamped about the tired and still sleeping mother whose back
was turned to Theron. He recalled now having noticed this
poor woman last night, in the first stage of his journey--
how she fed her brood from one of the numerous baskets
piled under their feet, and brought water in a tin dish
of her own from the tank to use in washing their faces
with a rag, and loosened their clothes to dispose
them for the night's sleep. The face of the woman,
her manner and slatternly aspect, and the general effect
of her belongings, bespoke squalid ignorance and poverty.
Watching her, Theron had felt curiously interested
in the performance. In one sense, it was scarcely more
human than the spectacle of a cat licking her kittens,
or a cow giving suck to her calf. Yet, in another,
was there anything more human?

The child who had wakened before the rest regarded him
with placidity, declining to be amused by his winkings,
but exhibiting no other emotion. She had been playing by
herself with a couple of buttons tied on a string, and after
giving a civil amount of attention to Theron's grimaces,
she turned again to the superior attractions of this toy.
Her self-possession, her capacity for self-entertainment,
the care she took not to arouse the others, all impressed
him very much. He felt in his pocket for a small coin,
and, reaching forward, offered it to her. She took
it calmly, bestowed a tranquil gaze upon him for a moment,
and went back to the buttons. Her indifference produced
an unpleasant sensation upon him somehow, and he rubbed
the steaming window clear again, and stared out of it.

The wide river lay before him, flanked by a precipitous wall
of cliffs which he knew instantly must be the Palisades.
There was an advertisement painted on them which he
tried in vain to read. He was surprised to find they
interested him so slightly. He had heard all his life
of the Hudson, and especially of it just at this point.
The reality seemed to him almost commonplace. His failure
to be thrilled depressed him for the moment.

"I suppose those ARE the Palisades?" he asked his neighbor.

The man glanced up from his paper, nodded, and made
as if to resume his reading. But his eye had caught
something in the prospect through the window which
arrested his attention. "By George!" he exclaimed,
and lifted himself to get a clearer view.

"What is it?" asked Theron, peering forth as well.

"Nothing; only Barclay Wendover's yacht is still there.
There's been a hitch of some sort. They were to have
left yesterday."

"Is that it--that long black thing?" queried Theron.
"That can't be a yacht, can it?"

"What do you think it is?" answered the other.
They were looking at a slim, narrow hull, lying at anchor,
silent and motionless on the drab expanse of water.
"If that ain't a yacht, they haven't begun building any yet.
They're taking her over to the Mediterranean for a cruise,
you know--around India and Japan for the winter, and home
by the South Sea islands. Friend o' mine's in the party.
Wouldn't mind the trip myself."

"But do you mean to say," asked Theron, "that that little
shell of a thing can sail across the ocean? Why, how many
people would she hold?"

The man laughed. "Well," he said, "there's room for two
sets of quadrilles in the chief saloon, if the rest keep
their legs well up on the sofas. But there's only ten
or a dozen in the party this time. More than that rather
get in one another's way, especially with so many ladies
on board."

Theron asked no more questions, but bent his head to see
the last of this wonderful craft. The sight of it,
and what he had heard about it, suddenly gave point
and focus to his thoughts. He knew at last what it was
that had lurked, formless and undesignated, these many
days in the background of his dreams. The picture rose
in his mind now of Celia as the mistress of a yacht.
He could see her reclining in a low easy-chair upon
the polished deck, with the big white sails billowing
behind her, and the sun shining upon the deep blue waves,
and glistening through the splash of spray in the air,
and weaving a halo of glowing gold about her fair head.
Ah, how the tender visions crowded now upon him!
Eternal summer basked round this enchanted yacht of his fancy--
summer sought now in Scottish firths or Norwegian fiords,
now in quaint old Southern harbors, ablaze with the hues
of strange costumes and half-tropical flowers and fruits,
now in far-away Oriental bays and lagoons, or among
the coral reefs and palm-trees of the luxurious Pacific.
He dwelt upon these new imaginings with the fervent longing
of an inland-born boy. Every vague yearning he had ever felt
toward salt-water stirred again in his blood at the thought
of the sea--with Celia.

Why not? She had never visited any foreign land.
"Sometime," she had said, "sometime, no doubt I will."
He could hear again the wistful, musing tone of her voice.
The thought had fascinations for her, it was clear.
How irresistibly would it not appeal to her, presented with
the added charm of a roving, vagrant independence on
the high seas, free to speed in her snow-winged chariot
wherever she willed over the deep, loitering in this place,
or up-helm-and-away to another, with no more care or weight
of responsibility than the gulls tossing through the air in
her wake!

Theron felt, rather than phrased to himself, that there
would not be "ten or a dozen in the party" on that yacht.
Without defining anything in his mind, he breathed in
fancy the same bold ocean breeze which filled the sails,
and toyed with Celia's hair; he looked with her as she
sat by the rail, and saw the same waves racing past,
the same vast dome of cloud and ether that were mirrored
in her brown eyes, and there was no one else anywhere
near them. Even the men in sailors' clothes, who would
be pulling at ropes, or climbing up tarred ladders,
kept themselves considerately outside the picture.
Only Celia sat there, and at her feet, gazing up again
into her face as in the forest, the man whose whole
being had been consecrated to her service, her worship,
by the kiss.

"You've passed it now. I was trying to point out the
Jumel house to you--where Aaron Burr lived, you know."

Theron roused himself from his day-dream, and nodded with
a confused smile at his neighbor. "Thanks," he faltered;
"I didn't hear you. The train makes such a noise, and I
must have been dozing."

He looked about him. The night aspect, as of a tramps'
lodging-house, had quite disappeared from the car.
Everybody was sitting up; and the more impatient
were beginning to collect their bundles and hand-bags
from the racks and floor. An expressman came through,
jangling a huge bunch of brass checks on leathern thongs
over his arm, and held parley with passengers along
the aisle. Outside, citified streets, with stores
and factories, were alternating in the moving panorama
with open fields; and, even as he looked, these vacant
spaces ceased altogether, and successive regular lines
of pavement, between two tall rows of houses all alike,
began to stretch out, wheel to the right, and swing
off out of view, for all the world like the avenues of
hop-poles he remembered as a boy. Then was a long tunnel,
its darkness broken at stated intervals by brief bursts
of daylight from overhead, and out of this all at
once the train drew up its full length in some vast,
vaguely lighted enclosure, and stopped.

"Yes, this is New York," said the man, folding up his paper,
and springing to his feet. The narrow aisle was filled with
many others who had been prompter still; and Theron stood,
bag in hand, waiting till this energetic throng should
have pushed itself bodily past him forth from the car.
Then he himself made his way out, drifting with a sense
of helplessness in their resolute wake. There rose in his
mind the sudden conviction that he would be too late.
All the passengers in the forward sleepers would be gone
before he could get there. Yet even this terror gave him
no new power to get ahead of anybody else in the tightly
packed throng.

Once on the broad platform, the others started off briskly;
they all seemed to know just where they wanted to go,
and to feel that no instant of time was to be lost
in getting there. Theron himself caught some of this
urgent spirit, and hurled himself along in the throng
with reckless haste, knocking his bag against peoples'
legs, but never pausing for apology or comment until
he found himself abreast of the locomotive at the head
of the train. He drew aside from the main current here,
and began searching the platform, far and near, for those
he had travelled so far to find.

The platform emptied itself. Theron lingered on in
puzzled hesitation, and looked about him. In the whole
immense station, with its acres of tracks and footways,
and its incessantly shifting processions of people,
there was visible nobody else who seemed also in doubt,
or who appeared capable of sympathizing with indecision
in any form. Another train came in, some way over to
the right, and before it had fairly stopped, swarms of
eager men began boiling out of each end of each car,
literally precipitating themselves over one another,
it seemed to Theron, in their excited dash down the steps.
As they caught their footing below, they started racing
pell-mell down the platform to its end; there he saw them,
looking more than ever like clustered bees in the distance,
struggling vehemently in a dense mass up a staircase in the
remote corner of the building.

"What are those folks running for? Is there a fire?"
he asked an amiable-faced young mulatto, in the uniform
of the sleeping-car service, who passed him with some light
hand-bags.

"No; they's Harlem people, I guess--jes' catchin' the Elevated--
that's all, sir," he answered obligingly.

At the moment some passengers emerged slowly from one
of the sleeping-cars, and came loitering toward him.

"Why, are there people still in these cars?" he asked eagerly.
"Haven't they all gone?"

"Some has; some ain't," the porter replied. "They most
generally take their time about it. They ain't no hurry,
so long's they get out 'fore we're drawn round to the drill-yard."

There was still hope, then. Theron took up his bag
and walked forward, intent upon finding some place from
which he could watch unobserved the belated stragglers
issuing from the sleeping-cars. He started back all at once,
confronted by a semi-circle of violent men with whips
and badges, who stunned his hearing by a sudden vociferous
outburst of shouts and yells. They made furious gestures
at him with their whips and fists, to enforce the
incoherent babel of their voices; and in these gestures,
as in their faces and cries, there seemed a great deal
of menace and very little invitation. There was a big
policeman sauntering near by, and Theron got the idea
that it was his presence alone which protected him from
open violence at the hands of these savage hackmen.
He tightened his clutch on his valise, and, turning his back
on them and their uproar, tried to brave it out and stand
where he was. But the policeman came lounging slowly
toward him, with such authority in his swaying gait,
and such urban omniscience written all over his broad,
sandy face, that he lost heart, and beat an abrupt retreat
off to the right, where there were a number of doorways,
near which other people had ventured to put down baggage
on the floor.

Here, somewhat screened from observation, he stood
for a long time, watching at odd moments the ceaselessly
varying phases of the strange scene about him, but always
keeping an eye on the train he had himself arrived in.
It was slow and dispiriting work. A dozen times his heart
failed him, and he said to himself mournfully that he
had had his journey for nothing. Then some new figure
would appear, alighting from the steps of a sleeper,
and hope revived in his breast.

At last, when over half an hour of expectancy had been
marked off by the big clock overhead, his suspense came
to an end. He saw Father Forbes' erect and substantial
form, standing on the car platform nearest of all,
balancing himself with his white hands on the rails,
waiting for something. Then after a little he came down,
followed by a black porter, whose arms were burdened
by numerous bags and parcels. The two stood a minute
or so more in hesitation at the side of the steps.
Then Celia descended, and the three advanced.

The importance of not being discovered was uppermost
in Theron's mind, now that he saw them actually coming
toward him. He had avoided this the previous evening,
in the Octavius depot, with some skill, he flattered himself.
It gave him a pleasurable sense of being a man of affairs,
almost a detective, to be confronted by the necessity
now of baffling observation once again. He was still
rather without plans for keeping them in view, once they
left the station. He had supposed that he would be able
to hear what hotel they directed their driver to take
them to, and, failing that, he had fostered a notion,
based upon a story he had read when a boy, of throwing
himself into another carriage, and bidding his driver
to pursue them in hot haste, and on his life not fail
to track them down. These devices seemed somewhat empty,
now that the urgent moment was at hand; and as he drew
back behind some other loiterers, out of view, he sharply
racked his wits for some way of coping with this most
pressing problem.

It turned out, however, that there was no difficulty
at all. Father Forbes and Celia seemed to have no use for
the hackmen, but moved straight forward toward the street,
through the doorway next to that in which Theron cowered.
He stole round, and followed them at a safe distance,
making Celia's hat, and the portmanteau perched on
the shoulder of the porter behind her, his guides.
To his surprise, they still kept on their course when they
had reached the sidewalk, and went over the pavement
across an open square which spread itself directly in
front of the station. Hanging as far behind as he dared,
he saw them pass to the other sidewalk diagonally opposite,
proceed for a block or so along this, and then separate at
a corner. Celia and the negro lad went down a side street,
and entered the door of a vast, tall red-brick building
which occupied the whole block. The priest, turning on
his heel, came back again and went boldly up the broad
steps of the front entrance to this same structure,
which Theron now discovered to be the Murray Hill Hotel.

Fortune had indeed favored him. He not only knew where
they were, but he had been himself a witness to the furtive
way in which they entered the house by different doors.
Nothing in his own limited experience of hotels helped him
to comprehend the notion of a separate entrance for ladies
and their luggage. He did not feel quite sure about the
significance of what he had observed, in his own mind.
But it was apparent to him that there was something
underhanded about it.

After lingering awhile on the steps of the hotel,
and satisfying himself by peeps through the glass
doors that the coast was clear, he ventured inside.
The great corridor contained many people, coming, going,
or standing about, but none of them paid any attention to him.
At last he made up his mind, and beckoned a colored boy
to him from a group gathered in the shadows of the big
central staircase. Explaining that he did not at that moment
wish a room, but desired to leave his bag, the boy took
him to a cloak-room, and got him a check for the thing.
With this in his pocket he felt himself more at his ease,
and turned to walk away. Then suddenly he wheeled, and,
bending his body over the counter of the cloak-room,
astonished the attendant inside by the eagerness with
which he scrutinized the piled rows of portmanteaus,
trunks, overcoats, and bundles in the little enclosure.

"What is it you want? Here's your bag, if you're looking
for that," this man said to him.

"No, thanks; it's nothing," replied Theron,
straightening himself again. He had had a narrow escape.
Father Forbes and Celia, walking side by side, had come
down the small passage in which he stood, and had passed him
so closely that he had felt her dress brush against him.
Fortunately he had seen them in time, and by throwing himself
half into the cloak-room, had rendered recognition impossible.

He walked now in the direction they had taken, till he came
to the polite colored man at an open door on the left,
who was bowing people into the breakfast room.
Standing in the doorway, he looked about him till his eye
lighted upon his two friends, seated at a small table
by a distant window, with a black waiter, card in hand,
bending over in consultation with them.

Returning to the corridor, he made bold now to march
up to the desk and examine the register. The priest's
name was not there. He found only the brief entry,
"Miss Madden, Octavius," written, not by her, but by
Father Forbes. On the line were two numbers in pencil,
with an "and" between them. An indirect question to one
of the clerks helped him to an explanation of this.
When there were two numbers, it meant that the guest in
question had a parlor as well as a bedroom.

Here he drew a long, satisfied breath, and turned away.
The first half of his quest stood completed--and that
much more fully and easily than he had dared to hope.
He could not but feel a certain new respect for himself
as a man of resource and energy. He had demonstrated
that people could not fool with him with impunity.

It remained to decide what he would do with his discovery,
now that it had been so satisfactorily made.
As yet, he had given this hardly a thought. Even now,
it did not thrust itself forward as a thing demanding
instant attention. It was much more important, first of all,
to get a good breakfast. He had learned that there was
another and less formal eating-place, downstairs in the
basement by the bar, with an entrance from the street.
He walked down by the inner stairway instead,
feeling himself already at home in the big hotel.
He ordered an ample breakfast, and came out while it
was being served to wash and have his boots blacked,
and he gave the man a quarter of a dollar. His pockets
were filled with silver quarters, half-dollars, and dollars
almost to a burdensome point, and in his valise was a bag
full of smaller change, including many rolls of copper
cents which Alice always counted and packed up on Mondays.
In the hurry of leaving he had brought with him the church
collections for the past two weeks. It occurred to him
that he must keep a strict account of his expenditure.
Meanwhile he gave ten cents to another man in a silk-sleeved
cardigan jacket, who had merely stood by and looked at him
while his boots were being polished. There was a sense
of metropolitan affluence in the very atmosphere.

The little table in the adjoining room, on which Theron
found his meal in waiting for him, seemed a vision of
delicate napery and refined appointments in his eyes.
He was wolfishly hungry, and the dishes he looked upon
gave him back assurances by sight and smell that he
was very happy as well. The servant in attendance
had an extremely white apron and a kindly black face.
He bowed when Theron looked at him, with the air of a
lifelong admirer and humble friend.

"I suppose you'll have claret with your breakfast, sir?"
he remarked, as if it were a matter of course.

"Why, certainly," answered Theron, stretching his legs
contentedly under the table, and tucking the corner
of his napkin in his neckband.--"Certainly, my good man."

 

 

CHAPTER XXX

 

At ten o'clock Theron, loitering near the bookstall
in the corridor, saw Father Forbes come downstairs,
pass out through the big front doors, get into a carriage,
and drive away.

This relieved him of a certain sense of responsibility,
and he retired to a corner sofa and sat down.
The detective side of him being off duty, so to speak,
there was leisure at last for reflection upon the other
aspects of his mission. Yes; it was high time for him
to consider what he should do next.

It was easier to recognize this fact, however, than to act
upon it. His mind was full of tricksy devices for eluding
this task of serious thought which he sought to impose
upon it. It seemed so much pleasanter not to think at all--
but just to drift. He found himself watching with envy
the men who, as they came out from their breakfast,
walked over to the bookstall, and bought cigars from the
row of boxes nestling there among the newspaper piles.
They had such evident delight in the work of selection;
they took off the ends of the cigars so carefully,
and lighted them with such meditative attention,--
he could see that he was wofully handicapped by not
knowing how to smoke. He had had the most wonderful
breakfast of his life, but even in the consciousness
of comfortable repletion which pervaded his being,
there was an obstinate sense of something lacking.
No doubt a good cigar was the thing needed to round out
the perfection of such a breakfast. He half rose once,
fired by a sudden resolution to go over and get one.
But of course that was nonsense; it would only make
him sick. He sat down, and determinedly set himself
to thinking.

The effort finally brought fruit--and of a kind which
gave him a very unhappy quarter of an hour. The lover
part of him was uppermost now, insistently exposing all
its raw surfaces to the stings and scalds of jealousy.
Up to this moment, his brain had always evaded the direct
question of how he and the priest relatively stood in
Celia's estimation. It forced itself remorselessly upon
him now; and his thoughts, so far from shirking the subject,
seemed to rise up to meet it. It was extremely unpleasant,
all this.

But then a calmer view asserted itself. Why go out of
his way to invent anguish for himself? The relations
between Celia and the priest, whatever they might be,
were certainly of old standing. They had begun before
his time. His own romance was a more recent affair, and must
take its place, of course, subject to existing conditions.

It was all right for him to come to New York, and satisfy
his legitimate curiosity as to the exact character and scope
of these conditions. But it was foolish to pretend to be
amazed or dismayed at the discovery of their existence.
They were a part of the situation which he, with his
eyes wide open, had accepted. It was his function
to triumph over them, to supplant them, to rear the
edifice of his own victorious passion upon their ruins.
It was to this that Celia's kiss had invited him.
It was for this that he had come to New York. To let
his purpose be hampered or thwarted now by childish
doubts and jealousies would be ridiculous.

He rose, and holding himself very erect, walked with measured
deliberation across the corridor and up the broad staircase.
There was an elevator near at hand, he had noticed,
but he preferred the stairs. One or two of the colored
boys clustered about the foot of the stairs looked at him,
and he had a moment of dreadful apprehension lest they
should stop his progress. Nothing was said, and he went on.
The numbers on the first floor were not what he wanted,
and after some wandering about he ascended to the next,
and then to the third. Every now and then he encountered
attendants, but intuitively he bore himself with an air of
knowing what he was about which protected him from inquiry.

Finally he came upon the hall-way he sought. Passing along,
he found the doors bearing the numbers he had memorized
so well. They were quite close together, and there was
nothing to help him guess which belonged to the parlor.
He hesitated, gazing wistfully from one to the other.
In the instant of indecision, even while his alert ear
caught the sound of feet coming along toward the passage
in which he stood, a thought came to quicken his resolve.
It became apparent to him that his discovery gave him
a certain new measure of freedom with Celia, a sort of
right to take things more for granted than heretofore.
He chose a door at random, and rapped distinctly on
the panel.

"Come!"

The voice he knew for Celia's. The single word, however,
recalled the usage of Father Forbes, which he had noted
more than once at the pastorate, when Maggie had knocked.

He straightened his shoulders, took his hat off, and pushed
open the door. It WAS the parlor--a room of sofas,
pianos, big easy-chairs, and luxurious bric-a-brac. A tall
woman was walking up and down in it, with bowed head.
Her back was at the moment toward him; and he looked at her,
saying to himself that this was the lady of his dreams,
the enchantress of the kiss, the woman who loved him--
but somehow it did not seem to his senses to be Celia.

She turned, and moved a step or two in his direction before
she mechanically lifted her eyes and saw who was standing
in her doorway. She stopped short, and regarded him.
Her face was in the shadow, and he could make out nothing
of its expression, save that there was a general effect
of gravity about it.

"I cannot receive you," she said. "You must go away.
You have no business to come like this without sending up
your card."

Theron smiled at her. The notion of taking in earnest
her inhospitable words did not at all occur to him.
He could see now that her face had vexed and saddened lines
upon it, and the sharpness of her tone remained in his ears.
But he smiled again gently, to reassure her.

"I ought to have sent up my name, I know," he said,
"but I couldn't bear to wait. I just saw your name
on the register and--you WILL forgive me, won't you?--
I ran to you at once. I know you won't have the heart
to send me away!"

She stood where she had halted, her arms behind her,
looking him fixedly in the face. He had made a movement
to advance, and offer his hand in greeting, but her
posture checked the impulse. His courage began to falter
under her inspection.

"Must I really go down again?" he pleaded. "It's a
crushing penalty to suffer for such little indiscretion.
I was so excited to find you were here--I never stopped
to think. Don't send me away; please don't!"

Celia raised her head. "Well, shut the door, then,"
she said, "since you are so anxious to stay. You would
have done much better, though, very much better indeed,
to have taken the hint and gone away."

"Will you shake hands with me, Celia?" he asked softly,
as he came near her.

"Sit there, please!" she made answer, indicating a
chair in the middle of the room. He obeyed her,
but to his surprise, instead of seating herself as well,
she began walking up and down the length of the floor again.
After a turn or two she stopped in front of him, and looked
him full in the eye. The light from the windows was on her
countenance now, and its revelations vaguely troubled him.
It was a Celia he had never seen before who confronted him.

"I am much occupied by other matters," she said,
speaking with cold impassivity, "but still I find myself
curious to know just what limits you set to your dishonesty."

Theron stared up at her. His lips quivered, but no speech
came to them. If this was all merely fond playfulness,
it was being carried to a heart-aching point.

"I saw you hiding about in the depot at home last evening,"
she went on. "You come up here, pretending to have
discovered me by accident, but I saw you following me
from the Grand Central this morning."

"Yes, I did both these things," said Theron, boldly.
A fine bravery tingled in his veins all at once.
He looked into her face and found the spirit to
disregard its frowning aspect. "Yes, I did them,"
he repeated defiantly. "That is not the hundredth part,
or the thousandth part, of what I would do for your sake.
I have got way beyond caring for any consequences.
Position, reputation, the good opinion of fools--
what are they? Life itself--what does it amount to?
Nothing at all--with you in the balance!"

"Yes--but I am not in the balance," observed Celia,
quietly. "That is where you have made your mistake."

Theron laid aside his hat. Women were curious creatures,
he reflected. Some were susceptible to one line of treatment,
some to another. His own reading of Celia had always
been that she liked opposition, of a smart, rattling,
almost cheeky, sort. One got on best with her by saying
bright things. He searched his brain now for some clever
quip that would strike sparks from the adamantine mood
which for the moment it was her whim to assume. To cover
the process, he smiled a little. Then her beauty, as she
stood before him, her queenly form clad in a more stiffly
fashionable dress than he had seen her wearing before,
appealed afresh and overwhelmingly to him. He rose to his feet.

"Have you forgotten our talk in the woods?" he murmured
with a wooing note. "Have you forgotten the kiss?"

She shook her head calmly. "I have forgotten nothing."

"Then why play with me so cruelly now?" he went on,
in a voice of tender deprecation. "I know you don't
mean it, but all the same it bruises my heart a little.
I build myself so wholly upon you, I have made existence
itself depend so completely upon your smile, upon a soft
glance in your eyes, that when they are not there, why,
I suffer, I don't know how to live at all. So be kinder
to me, Celia!"

"I was kinder, as you call it, when you came in,"
she replied. "I told you to go away. That was pure kindness--
more kindness than you deserved."

Theron looked at his hat, where it stood on the carpet
by his feet. He felt tears coming into his eyes.
"You tell me that you remember," he said, in depressed tones,
"and yet you treat me like this! Perhaps I am wrong.
No doubt it is my own fault. I suppose I ought not to have
come down here at all."

Celia nodded her head in assent to this view.

"But I swear that I was helpless in the matter,"
he burst forth. "I HAD to come! It would have been
literally impossible for me to have stayed at home,
knowing that you were here, and knowing also that--that--"

"Go on!" said Celia, thrusting forth her under-lip a trifle,
and hardening still further the gleam in her eye,
as he stumbled over his sentence and left it unfinished.
"What was the other thing that you were 'knowing'?"

"Knowing--" he took up the word hesitatingly--"knowing that
life would be insupportable to me if I could not be near you."

She curled her lip at him. "You skated over the thin
spot very well," she commented. "It was on the tip
of your tongue to mention the fact that Father Forbes
came with me. Oh, I can read you through and through,
Mr. Ware."

In a misty way Theron felt things slipping from his grasp.
The rising moisture blurred his eyes as their gaze clung
to Celia.

"Then if you do read me," he protested, "you must know
how utterly my heart and brain are filled with you.
No other man in all the world can yield himself so absolutely
to the woman he worships as I can. You have taken
possession of me so wholly, I am not in the least master
of myself any more. I don't know what I say or what I do.
I am not worthy of you, I know. No man alive could be that.
But no one else will idolize and reverence you as I do.
Believe me when I say that, Celia! And how can you blame me,
in your heart, for following you? 'Whither thou goest,
I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people
shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest,
will I die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do
so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee
and me!'"

Celia shrugged her shoulders, and moved a few steps away
from him. Something like despair seized upon him.

"Surely," he urged with passion, "surely I have a right
to remind you of the kiss!"

She turned. "The kiss," she said meditatively. "Yes, you
have a right to remind me of it. Oh, yes, an undoubted right.
You have another right too--the right to have the kiss
explained to you. It was of the good-bye order. It signified
that we weren't to meet again, and that just for one little
moment I permitted myself to be sorry for you. That was all."

He held himself erect under the incredible words, and gazed
blankly at her. The magnitude of what he confronted
bewildered him; his mind was incapable of taking it in.
"You mean--" he started to say, and then stopped,
helplessly staring into her face, with a dropped jaw.
It was too much to try to think what she meant.

A little side-thought sprouted in the confusion
of his brain. It grew until it spread a bitter smile
over his pale face. "I know so little about kisses,"
he said; "I am such a greenhorn at that sort of thing.
You should have had pity on my inexperience, and told
me just what brand of kiss it was I was getting.
Probably I ought to have been able to distinguish,
but you see I was brought up in the country--on a farm.
They don't have kisses in assorted varieties there."

She bowed her head slightly. "Yes, you are entitled
to say that," she assented. "I was to blame, and it
is quite fair that you should tell me so. You spoke
of your inexperience, your innocence. That was why
I kissed you in saying good-bye. It was in memory
of that innocence of yours, to which you yourself had
been busy saying good-bye ever since I first saw you.
The idea seemed to me to mean something at the moment.
I see now that it was too subtle. I do not usually err
on that side."

Theron kept his hold upon her gaze, as if it afforded
him bodily support. He felt that he ought to stoop and
take up his hat, but he dared not look away from her.
"Do you not err now, on the side of cruelty?" he asked
her piteously.

It seemed for the instant as if she were wavering,
and he swiftly thrust forth other pleas. "I admit that I
did wrong to follow you to New York. I see that now.
But it was an offence committed in entire good faith.
Think of it, Celia! I have never seen you since that day--
that day in the woods. I have waited--and waited--
with no sign from you, no chance of seeing you at all.
Think what that meant to me! Everything in the world had been
altered for me, torn up by the roots. I was a new being,
plunged into a new existence. The kiss had done that.
But until saw you again, I could not tell whether this
vast change in me and my life was for good or for bad--
whether the kiss had come to me as a blessing or a curse.
The suspense was killing me, Celia! That is why,
when I learned that you were coming here, I threw
everything to the winds and followed you. You blame
me for it, and I bow my head and accept the blame.
But are you justified in punishing me so terribly--
in going on after I have confessed my error, and cutting
my heart into little strips, putting me to death by
torture?"

"Sit down," said Celia, with a softened weariness
in her voice. She seated herself in front of him as he
sank into his chair again. "I don't want to give you
unnecessary pain, but you have insisted on forcing yourself
into a position where there isn't anything else but pain.
I warned you to go away, but you wouldn't. No matter how
gently I may try to explain things to you, you are bound
to get nothing but suffering out of the explanation.
Now shall I still go on?"

He inclined his head in token of assent, and did not
lift it again, but raised toward her a disconsolate
gaze from a pallid, drooping face.

"It is all in a single word, Mr. Ware," she proceeded,
in low tones. "I speak for others as well as myself,
mind you--we find that you are a bore."

Theron's stiffened countenance remained immovable.
He continued to stare unblinkingly up into her eyes.

"We were disposed to like you very much when we first
knew you," Celia went on. "You impressed us as an innocent,
simple, genuine young character, full of mother's milk.
It was like the smell of early spring in the country to come
in contact with you. Your honesty of nature, your sincerity
in that absurd religion of yours, your general NAIVETE of
mental and spiritual get-up, all pleased us a great deal.
We thought you were going to be a real acquisition."

"Just a moment--whom do you mean by 'we'?" He asked
the question calmly enough, but in a voice with an effect
of distance in it.

"It may not be necessary to enter into that," she replied.
"Let me go on. But then it became apparent, little by little,
that we had misjudged you. We liked you, as I have said,
because you were unsophisticated and delightfully fresh
and natural. Somehow we took it for granted you would
stay so. Rut that is just what you didn't do--just what
you hadn't the sense to try to do. Instead, we found you
inflating yourself with all sorts of egotisms and vanities.
We found you presuming upon the friendships which had been
mistakenly extended to you. Do you want instances?
You went to Dr. Ledsmar's house that very day after I
had been with you to get a piano at Thurston's, and
tried to inveigle him into talking scandal about me.
You came to me with tales about him. You went to
Father Forbes, and sought to get him to gossip about
us both. Neither of those men will ever ask you inside
his house again. But that is only one part of it.
Your whole mind became an unpleasant thing to contemplate.
You thought it would amuse and impress us to hear you
ridiculing and reviling the people of your church,
whose money supports you, and making a mock of the things
they believe in, and which you for your life wouldn't dare
let them know you didn't believe in. You talked to us
slightingly about your wife. What were you thinking of,
not to comprehend that that would disgust us? You showed
me once--do you remember?--a life of George Sand that you
had just bought,--bought because you had just discovered
that she had an unclean side to her life. You chuckled
as you spoke to me about it, and you were for all the
world like a little nasty boy, giggling over something
dirty that older people had learned not to notice.
These are merely random incidents. They are just samples,
picked hap-hazard, of the things in you which have been
opening our eyes, little by little, to our mistake.
I can understand that all the while you really fancied
that you were expanding, growing, in all directions.
What you took to be improvement was degeneration.
When you thought that you were impressing us most by your
smart sayings and doings, you were reminding us most
of the fable about the donkey trying to play lap-dog.
And it wasn't even an honest, straightforward donkey
at that!"

She uttered these last words sorrowfully, her hands
clasped in her lap, and her eyes sinking to the floor.
A silence ensued. Then Theron reached a groping hand
out for his hat, and, rising, walked with a lifeless,
automatic step to the door.

He had it half open, when the impossibility of leaving in
this way towered suddenly in his path and overwhelmed him.
He slammed the door to, and turned as if he had been
whirled round by some mighty wind. He came toward her,
with something almost menacing in the vigor of his movements,
and in the wild look upon his white, set face.
Halting before her, he covered the tailor-clad figure,
the coiled red hair, the upturned face with its simulated calm,
the big brown eyes, the rings upon the clasped fingers,
with a sweeping, comprehensive glare of passion.

"This is what you have done to me, then!"

His voice was unrecognizable in his own ears--
hoarse and broken, but with a fright-compelling something
in it which stimulated his rage. The horrible notion
of killing her, there where she sat, spread over the
chaos of his mind with an effect of unearthly light--
red and abnormally evil. It was like that first devilish
radiance ushering in Creation, of which the first-fruit
was Cain. Why should he not kill her? In all ages,
women had been slain for less. Yes--and men had
been hanged. Something rose and stuck in his dry throat;
and as he swallowed it down, the sinister flare of
murderous fascination died suddenly away into darkness.
The world was all black again--plunged in the Egyptian
night which lay upon the face of the deep while the earth
was yet without form and void. He was alone on it--
alone among awful, planetary solitudes which crushed him.

The sight of Celia, sitting motionless only a pace in front
of him, was plain enough to his eyes. It was an illusion.
She was really a star, many millions of miles away.
These things were hard to understand; but they were true,
none the less. People seemed to be about him, but in fact
he was alone. He recalled that even the little child
in the car, playing with those two buttons on a string,
would have nothing to do with him. Take his money, yes;
take all he would give her--but not smile at him, not come
within reach of him! Men closed the doors of their houses
against him. The universe held him at arm's length as
a nuisance.

He was standing with one knee upon a sofa. Unconsciously he
had moved round to the side of Celia; and as he caught
the effect of her face now in profile, memory-pictures began
at once building themselves in his brain--pictures of her
standing in the darkened room of the cottage of death,
declaiming the CONFITEOR; of her seated at the piano,
under the pure, mellowed candle-light; of her leaning her
chin on her hands, and gazing meditatively at the leafy
background of the woods they were in; of her lying back,
indolently content, in the deck-chair on the yacht
of his fancy--that yacht which a few hours before had
seemed so brilliantly and bewitchingly real to him,
and now--now--!

He sank in a heap upon the couch, and, burying his face
among its cushions, wept and groaned aloud. His collapse
was absolute. He sobbed with the abandonment of one who,
in the veritable presence of death, lets go all sense
of relation to life.

Presently some one was touching him on the shoulder--
an incisive, pointed touch--and he checked himself,
and lifted his face.

"You will have to get up, and present some sort of
an appearance, and go away at once," Celia said to him
in low, rapid tones. "Some gentlemen are at the door,
whom I have been waiting for."

As he stupidly sat up and tried to collect his faculties,
Celia had opened the door and admitted two visitors.
The foremost was Father Forbes; and he, with some whispered,
smiling words, presented to her his companion, a tall,
robust, florid man of middle-age, with a frock-coat
and a gray mustache, sharply waxed. The three spoke
for a moment together. Then the priest's wandering eye
suddenly lighted upon the figure on the sofa. He stared,
knitted his brows, and then lifted them in inquiry as he
turned to Celia.

"Poor man!" she said readily, in tones loud enough to
reach Theron. "It is our neighbor, Father, the Rev. Mr. Ware.
He hit upon my name in the register quite unexpectedly,
and I had him come up. He is in sore distress--
a great and sudden bereavement. He is going now.
Won't you speak to him in the hall--a few words, Father?
It would please him. He is terribly depressed."

The words had drawn Theron to his feet, as by some
mechanical process. He took up his hat and moved dumbly
to the door. It seemed to him that Celia intended offering
to shake hands; but he went past her with only some
confused exchange of glances and a murmured word or two.
The tall stranger, who drew aside to let him pass,
had acted as if he expected to be introduced.
Theron, emerging into the hall, leaned against the wall
and looked dreamily at the priest, who had stepped out with him.

"I am very sorry to learn that you are in trouble, Mr. Ware,"
Father Forbes said, gently enough, but in hurried tones.
"Miss Madden is also in trouble. I mentioned to you
that her brother had got into a serious scrape. I have
brought my old friend, General Brady, to consult with her
about the matter. He knows all the parties concerned,
and he can set things right if anybody can."

"It's a mistake about me--I 'm not in any trouble at all,"
said Theron. "I just dropped in to make a friendly call."

The priest glanced sharply at him, noting with a swift,
informed scrutiny how he sprawled against the wall,
and what vacuity his eyes and loosened lips expressed.

"Then you have a talent for the inopportune amounting
to positive genius," said Father Forbes, with a stormy smile.

"Tell me this, Father Forbes," the other demanded,
with impulsive suddenness, "is it true that you don't
want me in your house again? Is that the truth or not?"

"The truth is always relative, Mr. Ware," replied the priest,
turning away, and closing the door of the parlor behind
him with a decisive sound.

Left alone, Theron started to make his way downstairs.
He found his legs wavering under him and making zigzag
movements of their own in a bewildering fashion.
He referred this at first, in an outburst of fresh despair,
to the effects of his great grief. Then, as he held tight
to the banister and governed his descent step by step,
it occurred to him that it must be the wine he had had
for breakfast. Upon examination, he was not so unhappy,
after all.

 

 

CHAPTER XXXI

 

At the second peal of the door-bell, Brother Soulsby
sat up in bed. It was still pitch-dark, and the memory
of the first ringing fluttered musically in his awakening
consciousness as a part of some dream he had been having.

"Who the deuce can that be?" he mused aloud, in querulous
resentment at the interruption.

"Put your head out of the window, and ask,"
suggested his wife, drowsily.

The bell-pull scraped violently in its socket,
and a third outburst of shrill reverberations clamored
through the silent house.

"Whatever you do, I'd do it before he yanked the whole
thing to pieces," added the wife, with more decision.

Brother Soulsby was wide awake now. He sprang to the floor,
and, groping about in the obscurity, began drawing on some
of his clothes. He rapped on the window during the process,
to show that the house was astir, and a minute afterward
made his way out of the room and down the stairs,
the boards creaking under his stockinged feet as he went.

Nearly a quarter of an hour passed before he returned.
Sister Soulsby, lying in sleepy quiescence, heard vague
sounds of voices at the front door, and did not feel
interested enough to lift her head and listen. A noise
of footsteps on the sidewalk followed, first receding
from the door, then turning toward it, this second
time marking the presence of more than one person.
There seemed in this the implication of a guest, and she
shook off the dozing impulses which enveloped her faculties,
and waited to hear more. There came up, after further
muttering of male voices, the undeniable chink of coins
striking against one another. Then more footsteps,
the resonant slam of a carriage door out in the street,
the grinding of wheels turning on the frosty road,
and the racket of a vehicle and horses going off at
a smart pace into the night. Somebody had come, then.
She yawned at the thought, but remained well awake,
tracing idly in her mind, as various slight sounds rose
from the lower floor, the different things Soulsby
was probably doing. Their spare room was down there,
directly underneath, but curiously enough no one seemed
to enter it. The faint murmur of conversation which from
time to time reached her came from the parlor instead.
At last she heard her husband's soft tread coming
up the staircase, and still there had been no hint
of employing the guest-chamber. What could he be about?
she wondered.

Brother Soulsby came in, bearing a small lamp in
his hand, the reddish light of which, flaring upward,
revealed an unlooked-for display of amusement on his thin,
beardless face. He advanced to the bedside, shading the
glare from her blinking eyes with his palm, and grinned.

"A thousand guesses, old lady," he said, with a dry
chuckle, "and you wouldn't have a ghost of a chance.
You might guess till Hades froze over seven feet thick,
and still you wouldn't hit it."

She sat up in turn. "Good gracious, man," she began,
"you don't mean--" Here the cheerful gleam in his small eyes
reassured her, and she sighed relief, then smiled confusedly.
"I half thought, just for the minute," she explained,
"it might be some bounder who'd come East to try and
blackmail me. But no, who is it--and what on earth
have you done with him?"

Brother Soulsby cackled in merriment. "It's Brother
Ware of Octavius, out on a little bat, all by himself.
He says he's been on the loose only two days; but it looks
more like a fortnight."

"OUR Brother Ware?" she regarded him with open-eyed surprise.

"Well, yes, I suppose he's OUR Brother Ware--some,"
returned Soulsby, genially. "He seems to think so, anyway."

"But tell me about it!" she urged eagerly. "What's the
matter with him? How does he explain it?"

"Well, he explains it pretty badly, if you ask me,"
said Soulsby, with a droll, joking eye and a mock-serious voice.
He seated himself on the side of the bed, facing her,
and still considerately shielding her from the light
of the lamp he held. "But don't think I suggested
any explanations. I've been a mother myself.
He's merely filled himself up to the neck with rum,
in the simple, ordinary, good old-fashioned way.
That's all. What is there to explain about that?"

She looked meditatively at him for a time, shaking her head.
"No, Soulsby," she said gravely, at last. "This isn't
any laughing matter. You may be sure something bad
has happened, to set him off like that. I'm going to get
up and dress right now. What time is it?"

"Now don't you do anything of the sort," he urged persuasively.
"It isn't five o'clock; it'll be dark for nearly an hour yet.
Just you turn over, and have another nap. He's all right.
I put him on the sofa, with the buffalo robe round him.
You'll find him there, safe and sound, when it's time
for white folks to get up. You know how it breaks you up
all day, not to get your full sleep."

"I don't care if it makes me look as old as the everlasting hills,"
she said. "Can't you understand, Soulsby? The thing
worries me--gets on my nerves. I couldn't close an eye,
if I tried. I took a great fancy to that young man.
I told you so at the time."

Soulsby nodded, and turned down the wick of his lamp
a trifle. "Yes, I know you did," he remarked in placidly
non-contentious tones. "I can't say I saw much in him myself,
but I daresay you're right." There followed a moment's silence,
during which he experimented in turning the wick up again.
"But, anyway," he went on, "there isn't anything you
can do. He'll sleep it off, and the longer he's left
alone the better. It isn't as if we had a hired girl,
who'd come down and find him there, and give the whole
thing away. He's fixed up there perfectly comfortable;
and when he's had his sleep out, and wakes up on his
own account, he'll be feeling a heap better."

The argument might have carried conviction, but on the instant
the sound of footsteps came to them from the room below.
The subdued noise rose regularly, as of one pacing to and fro.

"No, Soulsby, YOU come back to bed, and get YOUR sleep out.
I'm going downstairs. It's no good talking; I'm going."

Brother Soulsby offered no further opposition, either by
talk or demeanor, but returned contentedly to bed,
pulling the comforter over his ears, and falling into
the slow, measured respiration of tranquil slumber
before his wife was ready to leave the room.

The dim, cold gray of twilight was sifting furtively through
the lace curtains of the front windows when Mrs. Soulsby,
lamp in hand, entered the parlor. She confronted a figure
she would have hardly recognized. The man seemed to have
been submerged in a bath of disgrace. From the crown
of his head to the soles of his feet, everything about him
was altered, distorted, smeared with an intangible effect
of shame. In the vague gloom of the middle distance,
between lamp and window, she noticed that his shoulders
were crouched, like those of some shambling tramp.
The frowsy shadows of a stubble beard lay on his jaw
and throat. His clothes were crumpled and hung awry;
his boots were stained with mud. The silk hat on the piano
told its battered story with dumb eloquence.

Lifting the lamp, she moved forward a step, and threw its
light upon his face. A little groan sounded involuntarily
upon her lips. Out of a mask of unpleasant features,
swollen with drink and weighted by the physical craving
for rest and sleep, there stared at her two bloodshot eyes,
shining with the wild light of hysteria. The effect
of dishevelled hair, relaxed muscles, and rough,
half-bearded lower face lent to these eyes, as she caught
their first glance, an unnatural glare. The lamp shook
in her hand for an instant. Then, ashamed of herself,
she held out her other hand fearlessly to him.

"Tell me all about it, Theron," she said calmly,
and with a soothing, motherly intonation in her voice.

He did not take the hand she offered, but suddenly,
with a wailing moan, cast himself on his knees at her feet.
He was so tall a man that the movement could have no grace.
He abased his head awkwardly, to bury it among the folds
of the skirts at her ankles. She stood still for a moment,
looking down upon him. Then, blowing out the light,
she reached over and set the smoking lamp on the piano
near by. The daylight made things distinguishable in a wan,
uncertain way, throughout the room.

"I have come out of hell, for the sake of hearing some
human being speak to me like that!"

The thick utterance proceeded in a muffled fashion from
where his face grovelled against her dress. Its despairing
accents appealed to her, but even more was she touched
by the ungainly figure he made, sprawling on the carpet.

"Well, since you are out, stay out," she answered,
as reassuringly as she could. "But get up and take
a seat here beside me, like a sensible man, and tell
me all about it. Come! I insist!"

In obedience to her tone, and the sharp tug at his shoulder
with which she emphasized it, he got slowly to his feet,
and listlessly seated himself on the sofa to which
she pointed. He hung his head, and began catching
his breath with a periodical gasp, half hiccough, half sob.

"First of all," she said, in her brisk, matter-of-fact manner,
"don't you want to lie down there again, and have me tuck
you up snug with the buffalo robe, and go to sleep?
That would be the best thing you could do."

He shook his head disconsolately, from side to side.
"I can't!" he groaned, with a swifter recurrence of the
sob-like convulsions. "I'm dying for sleep, but I'm too--
too frightened!"

"Come, I'll sit beside you till you drop off," she said,
with masterful decision. He suffered himself to be pushed
into recumbency on the couch, and put his head with
docility on the pillow she brought from the spare room.
When she had spread the fur over him, and pushed her
chair close to the sofa, she stood by it for a little,
looking down in meditation at his demoralized face.
Under the painful surface-blur of wretchedness and
fatigued debauchery, she traced reflectively the lineaments
of the younger and cleanlier countenance she had seen a few
months before. Nothing essential had been taken away.
There was only this pestiferous overlaying of shame and
cowardice to be removed. The face underneath was still
all right.

With a soft, maternal touch, she smoothed the hair from
his forehead into order. Then she seated herself, and,
when he got his hand out from under the robe and thrust
it forth timidly, she took it in hers and held it in
a warm, sympathetic grasp. He closed his eyes at this,
and gradually the paroxysmal catch in his breathing lapsed.
The daylight strengthened, until at last tiny flecks
of sunshine twinkled in the meshes of the further
curtains at the window. She fancied him asleep,
and gently sought to disengage her hand, but his fingers
clutched at it with vehemence, and his eyes were wide open.

"I can't sleep at all," he murmured. "I want to talk."

"There 's nothing in the world to hinder you,"
she commented smilingly.

"I tell you the solemn truth," he said, lifting his
voice in dogged assertion: "the best sermon I ever
preached in my life, I preached only three weeks ago,
at the camp-meeting. It was admitted by everybody to be far
and away my finest effort! They will tell you the same!"

"It's quite likely," assented Sister Soulsby. "I quite
believe it."

"Then how can anybody say that I've degenerated, that I've
become a fool?" he demanded.

"I haven't heard anybody hint at such a thing,"
she answered quietly.

"No, of course, YOU haven't heard them!" he cried.
"I heard them, though!" Then, forcing himself to a
sitting posture, against the restraint of her hand,
he flung back the covering. "I'm burning hot already!
Yes, those were the identical words: I haven't improved;
I've degenerated. People hate me; they won't have me
in their houses. They say I'm a nuisance and a bore.
I'm like a little nasty boy. That's what they say.
Even a young man who was dying--lying right on the edge
of his open grave--told me solemnly that I reminded him
of a saint once, but I was only fit for a barkeeper now.
They say I really don't know anything at all. And I'm
not only a fool, they say, I'm a dishonest fool into
the bargain!"

"But who says such twaddle as that?" she returned consolingly.
The violence of his emotion disturbed her. "You mustn't
imagine such things. You are among friends here.
Other people are your friends, too. They have the very
highest opinion of you."

"I haven't a friend on earth but you!" he declared solemnly.
His eyes glowed fiercely, and his voice sank into a grave
intensity of tone. "I was going to kill myself. I went
on to the big bridge to throw myself off, and a policeman
saw me trying to climb over the railing, and he grabbed me
and marched me away. Then he threw me out at the entrance,
and said he would club my head off if I came there again.
And then I went and stood and let the cable-cars pass close
by me, and twenty times I thought I had the nerve to throw
myself under the next one, and then I waited for the next--
and I was afraid! And then I was in a crowd somewhere,
and the warning came to me that I was going to die.
The fool needn't go kill himself: God would take care
of that. It was my heart, you know. I've had that terrible
fluttering once before. It seized me this time, and I
fell down in the crowd, and some people walked over me,
but some one else helped me up, and let me sit down
in a big lighted hallway, the entrance to some theatre,
and some one brought me some brandy, but somebody else said
I was drunk, and they took it away again, and put me out.
They could see I was a fool, that I hadn't a friend
on earth. And when I went out, there was a big picture
of a woman in tights, and the word 'Amazons' overhead--
and then I remembered you. I knew you were my friend--
the only one I have on earth."

"It is very flattering--to be remembered like that,"
said Sister Soulsby, gently. The disposition to laugh
was smothered by a pained perception of the suffering he
was undergoing. His face had grown drawn and haggard
under the burden of his memories as he rambled on.

"So I came straight to you," he began again.
"I had just money enough left to pay my fare. The rest
is in my valise at the hotel--the Murray Hill Hotel.
It belongs to the church. I stole it from the church.
When I am dead they can get it back again!"

Sister Soulsby forced a smile to her lips. "What nonsense
you talk--about dying!" she exclaimed. "Why, man alive,
you'll sleep this all off like a top, if you'll only lie
down and give yourself a chance. Come, now, you must do
as you're told."

With a resolute hand, she made him lie down again,
and once more covered him with the fur. He submitted,
and did not even offer to put out his arm this time,
but looked in piteous dumbness at her for a long time.
While she sat thus in silence, the sound of Brother Soulsby
moving about upstairs became audible.

Theron heard it, and the importance of hurrying on
some further disclosure seemed to suggest itself.
"I can see you think I'm just drunk," he said, in low,
sombre tones. "Of course that's what HE thought.
The hackman thought so, and so did the conductor,
and everybody. But I hoped you would know better. I was
sure you would see that it was something worse than that.
See here, I'll tell you. Then you'll understand.
I've been drinking for two days and one whole night,
on my feet all the while, wandering alone in that big
strange New York, going through places where they murdered
men for ten cents, mixing myself up with the worst
people in low bar-rooms and dance-houses, and they saw I
had money in my pocket, too, and yet nobody touched me,
or offered to lay a finger on me. Do you know why?
They understood that I wanted to get drunk, and couldn't.
The Indians won't harm an idiot, or lunatic, you know.
Well, it was the same with these vilest of the vile.
They saw that I was a fool whom God had taken hold of,
to break his heart first, and then to craze his brain,
and then to fling him on a dunghill to die like a dog.
They believe in God, those people. They're the only ones
who do, it seems to me. And they wouldn't interfere
when they saw what He was doing to me. But I tell you I
wasn't drunk. I haven't been drunk. I'm only heart-broken,
and crushed out of shape and life--that's all. And I've
crawled here just to have a friend by me when--when I come
to the end."

"You're not talking very sensibly, or very bravely either,
Theron Ware," remarked his companion. "It's cowardly
to give way to notions like that."

"Oh, I 'm not afraid to die; don't think that,"
he remonstrated wearily. "If there is a Judgment,
it has hit me as hard as it can already. There can't
be any hell worse than that I've gone through.
Here I am talking about hell," he continued, with a
pained contraction of the muscles about his mouth--
a stillborn, malformed smile--as if I believed in one!
I've got way through all my beliefs, you know. I tell
you that frankly."

"It's none of my business," she reassured him. "I'm not
your Bishop, or your confessor. I'm just your friend,
your pal, that's all."

"Look here!" he broke in, with some animation and a new
intensity of glance and voice. "If I was going to live,
I'd have some funny things to tell. Six months ago I was
a good man. I not only seemed to be good, to others and
to myself, but I was good. I had a soul; I had a conscience.
I was going along doing my duty, and I was happy in it.
We were poor, Alice and I, and people behaved rather hard
toward us, and sometimes we were a little down in the
mouth about it; but that was all. We really were happy;
and I--I really was a good man. Here's the kind
of joke God plays! You see me here six months after.
Look at me! I haven't got an honest hair in my head.
I'm a bad man through and through, that's what I am.
I look all around at myself, and there isn't an atom left
anywhere of the good man I used to be. And, mind you,
I never lifted a finger to prevent the change. I didn't
resist once; I didn't make any fight. I just walked
deliberately down-hill, with my eyes wide open. I told
myself all the while that I was climbing uphill instead,
but I knew in my heart that it was a lie. Everything about
me was a lie. I wouldn't be telling the truth,
even now, if--if I hadn't come to the end of my rope.
Now, how do you explain that? How can it be explained?
Was I really rotten to the core all the time, years ago,
when I seemed to everybody, myself and the rest, to be good
and straight and sincere? Was it all a sham, or does God
take a good man and turn him into an out-and-out bad one,
in just a few months--in the time that it takes an ear
of corn to form and ripen and go off with the mildew?
Or isn't there any God at all--but only men who live
and die like animals? And that would explain my case,
wouldn't it? I got bitten and went vicious and crazy,
and they've had to chase me out and hunt me to my death
like a mad dog! Yes, that makes it all very simple.
It isn't worth while to discuss me at all as if I
had a soul, is it? I'm just one more mongrel cur
that's gone mad, and must be put out of the way.
That's all."

"See here," said Sister Soulsby, alertly, "I half believe
that a good cuffing is what you really stand in need of.
Now you stop all this nonsense, and lie quiet and keep still!
Do you hear me?"

The jocose sternness which she assumed, in words
and manner, seemed to soothe him. He almost smiled
up at her in a melancholy way, and sighed profoundly.

"I've told you MY religion before," she went on with gentleness.
"The sheep and the goats are to be separated on Judgment Day,
but not a minute sooner. In other words, as long as human
life lasts, good, bad, and indifferent are all braided up
together in every man's nature, and every woman's too.
You weren't altogether good a year ago, any more than
you're altogether bad now. You were some of both then;
you're some of both now. If you've been making an extra
sort of fool of yourself lately, why, now that you
recognize it, the only thing to do is to slow steam,
pull up, and back engine in the other direction.
In that way you'll find things will even themselves up.
It's a see-saw with all of us, Theron Ware--sometimes up;
sometimes down. But nobody is rotten clear to the core."

He closed his eyes, and lay in silence for a time.

"This is what day of the week?" he asked, at last.

"Friday, the nineteenth."

"Wednesday--that would be the seventeenth. That was
the day ordained for my slaughter. On that morning,
I was the happiest man in the world. No king could
have been so proud and confident as I was. A wonderful
romance had come to me. The most beautiful young woman
in the world, the most talented too, was waiting for me.
An express train was carrying me to her, and it
couldn't go fast enough to keep up with my eagerness.
She was very rich, and she loved me, and we were to
live in eternal summer, wherever we liked, on a big,
beautiful yacht. No one else had such a life before
him as that. It seemed almost too good for me, but I
thought I had grown and developed so much that perhaps
I would be worthy of it. Oh, how happy I was! I tell
you this because--because YOU are not like the others.
You will understand."

"Yes, I understand," she said patiently. "Well--you
were being so happy."

"That was in the morning--Wednesday the seventeenth--
early in the morning. There was a little girl
in the car, playing with some buttons, and when I
tried to make friends with her, she looked at me,
and she saw, right at a glance, that I was a fool.
"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings," you know.
She was the first to find it out. It began like that,
early in the morning. But then after that everybody
knew it. They had only to look at me and they said:
'Why, this is a fool--like a little nasty boy; we won't
let him into our houses; we find him a bore.' That is
what they said."

"Did SHE say it?" Sister Soulsby permitted herself to ask.

For answer Theron bit his lips, and drew his chin under
the fur, and pushed his scowling face into the pillow.
The spasmodic, sob-like gasps began to shake him again.
She laid a compassionate hand upon his hot brow.

"That is why I made my way here to you," he groaned piteously.
"I knew you would sympathize; I could tell it all to you.
And it was so awful, to die there alone in the strange city--
I couldn't do it--with nobody near me who liked me,
or thought well of me. Alice would hate me.
There was no one but you. I wanted to be with you--
at the last."

His quavering voice broke off in a gust of weeping,
and his face frankly surrendered itself to the distortions
of a crying child's countenance, wide-mouthed and tragically
grotesque in its abandonment of control.

Sister Soulsby, as her husband's boots were heard
descending the stairs, rose, and drew the robe up to half
cover his agonized visage. She patted the sufferer
softly on the head, and then went to the stair-door.

"I think he'll go to sleep now," she said, lifting her voice
to the new-comer, and with a backward nod toward the couch.
"Come out into the kitchen while I get breakfast, or into
the sitting-room, or somewhere, so as not to disturb him.
He's promised me to lie perfectly quiet, and try to sleep."

When they had passed together out of the room, she turned.
"Soulsby," she said with half-playful asperity,
"I'm disappointed in you. For a man who's knocked
about as much as you have, I must say you've picked
up an astonishingly small outfit of gumption.
That poor creature in there is no more drunk than I am.
He's been drinking--yes, drinking like a fish; but it
wasn't able to make him drunk. He's past being drunk;
he's grief-crazy. It's a case of 'woman.' Some girl has
made a fool of him, and decoyed him up in a balloon,
and let him drop. He's been hurt bad, too."

"We have all been hurt in our day and generation,"
responded Brother Soulsby, genially. "Don't you worry;
he'll sleep that off too. It takes longer than drink,
and it doesn't begin to be so pleasant, but it can be
slept off. Take my word for it, he'll be a different man
by noon."

When noon came, however, Brother Soulsby was on his way
to summon one of the village doctors. Toward nightfall,
he went out again to telegraph for Alice.

 

 

CHAPTER XXXII

 

Spring fell early upon the pleasant southern slopes of
the Susquehanna country. The snow went off as by magic.
The trees budded and leaved before their time. The birds
came and set up their chorus in the elms, while winter
seemed still a thing of yesterday.

Alice, clad gravely in black, stood again upon a kitchen-stoop,
and looked across an intervening space of back-yards and
fences to where the tall boughs, fresh in their new verdure,
were silhouetted against the pure blue sky. The prospect
recalled to her irresistibly another sunlit morning,
a year ago, when she had stood in the doorway of her
own kitchen, and surveyed a scene not unlike this;
it might have been with the same carolling robins,
the same trees, the same azure segment of the tranquil,
speckless dome. Then she was looking out upon surroundings
novel and strange to her, among which she must make herself
at home as best she could. But at least the ground
was secure under her feet; at least she had a home,
and a word from her lips could summon her husband out,
to stand beside her with his arm about her, and share
her buoyant, hopeful joy in the promises of spring.

To think that that was only one little year ago--the mere
revolution of four brief seasons! And now--!

Sister Soulsby, wiping her hands on her apron, came briskly
out upon the stoop. Some cheerful commonplace was on
her tongue, but a glance at Alice's wistful face kept
it back. She passed an arm around her waist instead,
and stood in silence, looking at the elms.

"It brings back memories to me--all this," said Alice,
nodding her head, and not seeking to dissemble the tears
which sprang to her eyes.

"The men will be down in a minute, dear," the other
reminded her. "They'd nearly finished packing before I
put the biscuits in the oven. "We mustn't wear long
faces before folks, you know."

"Yes, I know," murmured Alice. Then, with a sudden
impulse, she turned to her companion. "Candace," she
said fervently, "we're alone here for the moment;
I must tell you that if I don't talk gratitude to you,
it's simply and solely because I don't know where to begin,
or what to say. I'm just dumfounded at your goodness.
It takes my speech away. I only know this, Candace:
God will be very good to you."

"Tut! tut!" replied Sister Soulsby, "that's all right,
you dear thing. I know just how you feel. Don't dream
of being under obligation to explain it to me, or to thank
us at all. We've had all sorts of comfort out of the thing--
Soulsby and I. We used to get downright lonesome, here all
by ourselves, and we've simply had a winter of pleasant
company instead, that s all. Besides, there's solid
satisfaction in knowing that at last, for once in our lives
we've had a chance to be of some real use to somebody
who truly needed it. You can't imagine how stuck up
that makes us in our own conceit. We feel as if we were
George Peabody and Lady Burdett-Coutts, and several other
philanthropists thrown in. No, seriously, don't think
of it again. We're glad to have been able to do it all;
and if you only go ahead now, and prosper and be happy,
why, that will be the only reward we want."

"I hope we shall do well," said Alice. "Only tell
me this, Candace. You do think I was right, don't you,
in insisting on Theron's leaving the ministry altogether?
He seems convinced enough now that it was the right thing
to do; but I grow nervous sometimes lest he should find
it harder than he thought to get along in business,
and regret the change--and blame me."

"I think you may rest easy in your mind about that,"
the other responded. "Whatever else he does, he will
never want to come within gunshot of a pulpit again.
It came too near murdering him for that."

Alice looked at her doubtfully. "Something came near
murdering him, I know. But it doesn't seem to me
that I would say it was the ministry. And I guess you
know pretty well yourself what it was. Of course,
I've never asked any questions, and I've hushed up
everybody at Octavius who tried to quiz me about it--
his disappearance and my packing up and leaving, and all that--
and I've never discussed the question with you--but--"

"No, and there's no good going into it now," put in
Sister Soulsby, with amiable decisiveness. "It's all
past and gone. In fact, I hardly remember much about it
now myself. He simply got into deep water, poor soul,
and we've floated him out again, safe and sound.
That's all. But all the same, I was right in what I said.
He was a mistake in the ministry."

"But if you'd known him in previous years," urged Alice,
plaintively, "before we were sent to that awful Octavius.
He was the very ideal of all a young minister should be.
People used to simply worship him, he was such a perfect preacher,
and so pure-minded and friendly with everybody, and threw
himself into his work so. It was all that miserable,
contemptible Octavius that did the mischief."

Sister Soulsby slowly shook her head. "If there
hadn't been a screw loose somewhere," she said gently,
"Octavius wouldn't have hurt him. No, take my word
for it, he never was the right man for the place.
He seemed to be, no doubt, but he wasn't. When pressure
was put on him, it found out his weak spot like a shot,
and pushed on it, and--well, it came near smashing him,
that's all."

"And do you think he'll always be a--a back-slider,"
mourned Alice.

"For mercy's sake, don't ever try to have him pretend
to be anything else!" exclaimed the other. "The last
state of that man would be worse than the first.
You must make up your mind to that. And you mustn't show
that you're nervous about it. You mustn't get nervous!
You mustn't be afraid of things. Just you keep a stiff
upper lip, and say you WILL get along, you WILL be happy.
That's your only chance, Alice. He isn't going to be
an angel of light, or a saint, or anything of that sort,
and it's no good expecting it. But he'll be just an
average kind of man--a little sore about some things,
a little wiser than he was about some others. You can get
along perfectly with him, if you only keep your courage up,
and don't show the white feather."

"Yes, I know; but I've had it pretty well taken out of me,"
commented Alice. "It used to come easy to me to be cheerful
and resolute and all that; but it's different now."

Sister Soulsby stole a swift glance at the unsuspecting
face of her companion which was not all admiration,
but her voice remained patiently affectionate.
"Oh, that'll all come back to you, right enough.
You'll have your hands full, you know, finding a house,
and unpacking all your old furniture, and buying new things,
and getting your home settled. It'll keep you so busy you
won't have time to feel strange or lonesome, one bit.
You'll see how it'll tone you up. In a year's time you won't
know yourself in the looking-glass."

"Oh, my health is good enough," said Alice; "but I can't
help thinking, suppose Theron should be taken sick again,
away out there among strangers. You know he's never
appeared to me to have quite got his strength back.
These long illnesses, you know, they always leave a mark
on a man."

"Nonsense! He's strong as an ox," insisted Sister Soulsby.
"You mark my word, he'll thrive in Seattle like a green bay-tree."

"Seattle!" echoed Alice, meditatively. "It sounds
like the other end of the world, doesn't it?"

The noise of feet in the house broke upon the colloquy,
and the women went indoors, to join the breakfast party.
During the meal, it was Brother Soulsby who bore the
burden of the conversation. He was full of the future
of Seattle and the magnificent impending development
of that Pacific section. He had been out there,
years ago, when it was next door to uninhabited.
He had visited the district twice since, and the changes
discoverable each new time were more wonderful than
anything Aladdin's lamp ever wrought. He had secured
for Theron, through some of his friends in Portland,
the superintendency of a land and real estate company,
which had its headquarters in Seattle, but ambitiously linked
its affairs with the future of all Washington Territory.
In an hour's time the hack would come to take the Wares
and their baggage to the depot, the first stage in their
long journey across the continent to their new home.
Brother Soulsby amiably filled the interval with reminiscences
of the Oregon of twenty years back, with instructive
dissertations upon the soil, climate, and seasons of Puget
Sound and the Columbia valley, and, above all, with helpful
characterizations of the social life which had begun to take
form in this remotest West. He had nothing but confidence,
to all appearances, in the success of his young friend,
now embarking on this new career. He seemed so sanguine
about it that the whole atmosphere of the breakfast room
lightened up, and the parting meal, surrounded by so many
temptations to distraught broodings and silences as it was,
became almost jovial in its spirit.

At last, it was time to look for the carriage. The trunks
and hand-bags were ready in the hall, and Sister Soulsby
was tying up a package of sandwiches for Alice to keep
by her in the train.

Theron, with hat in hand, and overcoat on arm, loitered restlessly
into the kitchen, and watched this proceeding for a moment.
Then he sauntered out upon the stoop, and, lifting his head
and drawing as long a breath as he could, looked over at the elms.

Perhaps the face was older and graver; it was hard to tell.
The long winter's illness, with its recurring crises and
sustained confinement, had bleached his skin and reduced
his figure to gauntness, but there was none the less
an air of restored and secure good health about him.
Only in the eyes themselves, as they rested briefly upon
the prospect, did a substantial change suggest itself.
They did not dwell fondly upon the picture of the lofty,
spreading boughs, with their waves of sap-green leafage
stirring against the blue. They did not soften and glow
this time, at the thought of how wholly one felt sure
of God's goodness in these wonderful new mornings
of spring.

They looked instead straight through the fairest
and most moving spectacle in nature's processional,
and saw afar off, in conjectural vision, a formless
sort of place which was Seattle. They surveyed
its impalpable outlines, its undefined dimensions,
with a certain cool glitter of hard-and-fast resolve.
There rose before his fancy, out of the chaos of these
shapeless imaginings, some faces of men, then more behind
them, then a great concourse of uplifted countenances,
crowded close together as far as the eye could reach.
They were attentive faces all, rapt, eager, credulous to
a degree. Their eyes were admiringly bent upon a common
object of excited interest. They were looking at HIM;
they strained their ears to miss no cadence of his voice.
Involuntarily he straightened himself, stretched forth
his hand with the pale, thin fingers gracefully disposed,
and passed it slowly before him from side to side,
in a comprehensive, stately gesture. The audience rose at him,
as he dropped his hand, and filled his day-dream with a
mighty roar of applause, in volume like an ocean tempest,
yet pitched for his hearing alone.

He smiled, shook himself with a little delighted tremor,
and turned on the stoop to the open door.

"What Soulsby said about politics out there interested
me enormously," he remarked to the two women. "I shouldn't
be surprised if I found myself doing something in that line.
I can speak, you know, if I can't do anything else.
Talk is what tells, these days. Who knows? I may turn
up in Washington a full-blown senator before I'm forty.
Stranger things have happened than that, out West!"

"We'll come down and visit you then, Soulsby and I,"
said Sister Soulsby, cheerfully. "You shall take us to
the White House, Alice, and introduce us."

"Oh, it isn't likely I would come East," said Alice, pensively.
"Most probably I'd be left to amuse myself in Seattle.
But there--I think that's the carriage driving up to the door."

 

End of The Damnation of Theron Ware

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