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´╗┐Title: The Damnation of Theron Ware
Author: Frederic, Harold, 1856-1898
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Damnation of Theron Ware" ***

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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. They are very interesting people, as you say--MOST
interesting--and there was a time, I 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.

"It 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."





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