Part 2 out of 8
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.
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?"
"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
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
"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,
"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,
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,"
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.
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
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
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,
"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
"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
"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?"
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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
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,
"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.
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
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 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
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
Theron had a sudden sheepish notion of turning and running.
With the best grace he could summon, he called out an
"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."
"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
"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--
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 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
"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.