Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic

Part 3 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

I am talking very frankly to you, you see. I want you
on my side, against that doctor and his heartless,
bloodless science."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is it?" asked her husband.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Heaven forbid!" groaned Mr. Ware.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book of the day: