Part 6 out of 8
free to accept and be saved, or reject and be damned.
There is something intelligible and fine about an attitude
like that. When people have grown tired of their absurd
and fruitless wrangling over texts and creeds which,
humanly speaking, are all barbaric nonsense, they will
come back to repose pleasantly under the Catholic roof,
in that restful house where things are taken for granted.
There the manners are charming, the service excellent,
the decoration and upholstery most acceptable to the eye,
and the music"--he made a little mock bow here to Celia--"the
music at least is divine. There you have nothing to do but
be agreeable, and avoid scandal, and observe the convenances.
You are no more expected to express doubts about the
Immaculate Conception than you are to ask the lady whom
you take down to dinner how old she is. Now that is, as I
have said, an intelligent and rational church for people
to have. As the Irish civilize themselves--you observe
them diligently engaged in the process down below there--
and the social roughness of their church becomes softened
and ameliorated, Americans will inevitably be attracted
toward it. In the end, it will embrace them all, and be
modified by them, and in turn influence their development,
till you will have a new nation and a new national church,
each representative of the other."
"And all this is to be done by lager beer!"
Theron ventured to comment, jokingly. He was conscious
of a novel perspiration around the bridge of his nose,
which was obviously another effect of the drink.
The priest passed the pleasantry by. "No," he said seriously;
"what you must see is that there must always be a church.
If one did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.
It is needed, first and foremost, as a police force.
It is needed, secondly, so to speak, as a fire insurance.
It provides the most even temperature and pure atmosphere
for the growth of young children. It furnishes the best
obtainable social machinery for marrying off one's daughters,
getting to know the right people, patching up quarrels,
and so on. The priesthood earn their salaries as
the agents for these valuable social arrangements.
Their theology is thrown in as a sort of intellectual
diversion, like the ritual of a benevolent organization.
There are some who get excited about this part of it,
just as one hears of Free-Masons who believe that the sun
rises and sets to exemplify their ceremonies. Others take
their duties more quietly, and, understanding just
what it all amounts to, make the best of it, like you
Theron assented to the philosophy and the compliment
by a grave bow. "Yes, that is the idea--to make the best
of it," he said, and fastened his regard boldly this
time upon the swings.
"We were both ordained by our bishops," continued the priest,
"at an age when those worthy old gentlemen would not have
trusted our combined wisdom to buy a horse for them."
"And I was married," broke in Theron, with an eagerness
almost vehement, "when I had only just been ordained!
At the worst, YOU had only the Church fastened upon your back,
before you were old enough to know what you wanted.
It is easy enough to make the best of THAT, but it is
different with me."
A marked silence followed this outburst. The Rev. Mr. Ware
had never spoken of his marriage to either of these
friends before; and something in their manner seemed
to suggest that they did not find the subject inviting,
now that it had been broached. He himself was filled
with a desire to say more about it. He had never clearly
realized before what a genuine grievance it was.
The moisture at the top of his nose merged itself into
tears in the corners of his eyes, as the cruel enormity
of the sacrifice he had made in his youth rose before him.
His whole life had been fettered and darkened by it.
He turned his gaze from the swings toward Celia, to claim
the sympathy he knew she would feel for him.
But Celia was otherwise engaged. A young man had
come up to her--a tall and extremely thin young man,
soberly dressed, and with a long, gaunt, hollow-eyed face,
the skin of which seemed at once florid and pale.
He had sandy hair and the rough hands of a workman;
but he was speaking to Miss Madden in the confidential
tones of an equal.
"I can do nothing at all with him," this newcomer said
to her. "He'll not be said by me. Perhaps he'd listen
"It's likely I'll go down there!" said Celia.
"He may do what he likes for all me! Take my advice,
Michael, and just go your way, and leave him to himself.
There was a time when I would have taken out my eyes
for him, but it was love wasted and thrown away.
After the warnings he's had, if he WILL bring trouble
on himself, let's make it no affair of ours."
Theron had found himself exchanging glances of inquiry
with this young man. "Mr. Ware," said Celia, here, "let me
introduce you to my brother Michael--my full brother."
Mr. Ware remembered him now, and began, in response to the
other's formal bow, to say something about their having
met in the dark, inside the church. But Celia held up
her hand. "I'm afraid, Mr. Ware," she said hurriedly,
"that you are in for a glimpse of the family skeleton.
I will apologize for the infliction in advance."
Wonderingly, Theron followed her look, and saw another
young man who had come up the path from the crowd below,
and was close upon them. The minister recognized in him
a figure which had seemed to be the centre of almost every
group about the bar that he had studied in detail. He was
a small, dapper, elegantly attired youth, with dark hair,
and the handsome, regularly carved face of an actor.
He advanced with a smiling countenance and unsteady step--
his silk hat thrust back upon his head, his frock-coat and
vest unbuttoned, and his neckwear disarranged--and saluted
the company with amiability.
"I saw you up here, Father Forbes," he said, with a
thickened and erratic utterance. "Whyn't you come
down and join us? I'm setting 'em up for everybody.
You got to take care of the boys, you know. I'll blow
in the last cent I've got in the world for the boys,
every time, and they know it. They're solider for me
than they ever were for anybody. That's how it is.
If you stand by the boys, the boys'll stand by you.
I'm going to the Assembly for this district, and they ain't
nobody can stop me. The boys are just red hot for me.
Wish you'd come down, Father Forbes, and address a few
words to the meeting--just mention that I'm a candidate,
and say I'm bound to win, hands down. That'll make you solid
with the boys, and we'll be all good fellows together.
Come on down!"
The priest affably disengaged his arm from the clutch
which the speaker had laid upon it, and shook his head
in gentle deprecation. "No, no; you must excuse me,
Theodore," he said. "We mustn't meddle in politics, you know."
"Politics be damned!" urged Theodore, grabbing the priest's
other arm, and tugging at it stoutly to pull him down
the path. "I say, boys" he shouted to those below,
"here's Father Forbes, and he's going to come down
and address the meeting. Come on, Father! Come down,
and have a drink with the boys!"
It was Celia who sharply pulled his hand away from the
priest's arm this time. "Go away with you!" she snapped
in low, angry tones at the intruder. "You should be
ashamed of yourself! If you can't keep sober yourself,
you can at least keep your hands off the priest. I should
think you'd have more decency, when you're in such a state
as this, than to come where I am. If you've no respect
for yourself, you might have that much respect for me!
And before strangers, too!
"Oh, I mustn't come where YOU are, eh?" remarked the peccant
Theodore, straightening himself with an elaborate effort.
"You've bought these woods, have you? I've got a hundred
friends here, all the same, for every one you'll ever
have in your life, Red-head, and don't you forget it."
"Go and spend your money with them, then, and don't come
insulting decent people," said Celia.
"Before strangers, too!" the young man called out,
with beery sarcasm. "Oh, we'll take care of the
strangers all right." He had not seemed to be aware of
Theron's presence, much less his identity, before; but he
turned to him now with a knowing grin. "I'm running
for the Assembly, Mr. Ware," he said, speaking loudly
and with deliberate effort to avoid the drunken elisions
and comminglings to which his speech tended, "and I want
you to fix up the Methodists solid for me. I'm going
to drive over to the camp-meeting tonight, me and some
of the boys in a barouche, and I'll put a twenty-dollar
bill on their plate. Here it is now, if you want to see it."
As the young man began fumbling in a vest-pocket, Theron
gathered his wits together.
"You'd better not go this evening," he said, as convincingly
as he knew how; "because the gates will be closed very early,
and the Saturday-evening services are of a particularly
special nature, quite reserved for those living on the grounds."
"Rats!" said Theodore, raising his head, and abandoning
the search for the bill. "Why don't you speak out
like a man, and say you think I'm too drunk?"
"I don't think that is a question which need arise
between us, Mr. Madden," murmured Theron, confusedly.
"Oh, don't you make any mistake! A hell of a lot of
questions arise between us, Mr. Ware," cried Theodore,
with a sudden accession of vigor in tone and mien.
"And one of 'em is--go away from me, Michael!--one of 'em is,
I say, why don't you leave our girls alone? They've got
their own priests to make fools of themselves over,
without any sneak of a Protestant parson coming meddling
round them. You're a married man into the bargain;
and you've got in your house this minute a piano that my
sister bought and paid for. Oh, I've seen the entry
in Thurston's books! You have the cheek to talk to me
about being drunk--why--"
These remarks were never concluded, for Father Forbes
here clapped a hand abruptly over the offending mouth,
and flung his free arm in a tight grip around the young
man's waist. "Come with me, Michael!" he said, and the two
men led the reluctant and resisting Theodore at a sharp
pace off into the woods.
Theron and Celia stood and watched them disappear among
the undergrowth. "It's the dirty Foley blood that's in him,"
he heard her say, as if between clenched teeth.
The girl's big brown eyes, when Theron looked into them again,
were still fixed upon the screen of foliage, and dilated
like those of a Medusa mask. The blood had gone away,
and left the fair face and neck as white, it seemed to him,
as marble. Even her lips, fiercely bitten together,
appeared colorless. The picture of consuming and powerless
rage which she presented, and the shuddering tremor
which ran over her form, as visible as the quivering track
of a gust of wind across a pond, awed and frightened him.
Tenderness toward her helpless state came too, and uppermost.
He drew her arm into his, and turned their backs upon
the picnic scene.
"Let us walk a little up the path into the woods," he said,
"and get away from all this."
"The further away the better," she answered bitterly,
and he felt the shiver run through her again as she spoke.
The methodical waltz-music from that unseen dancing
platform rose again above all other sounds. They moved
up the woodland path, their steps insensibly falling
into the rhythm of its strains, and vanished from sight
among the trees.
Theron and Celia walked in silence for some minutes,
until the noises of the throng they had left behind were lost.
The path they followed had grown indefinite among the
grass and creepers of the forest carpet; now it seemed
to end altogether in a little copse of young birches,
the delicately graceful stems of which were clustered
about a parent stump, long since decayed and overgrown
with lichens and layers of thick moss.
As the two paused, the girl suddenly sank upon her knees,
then threw herself face forward upon the soft green bark
which had formed itself above the roots of the ancient
mother-tree. Her companion looked down in pained amazement
at what he saw. Her body shook with the violence of
recurring sobs, or rather gasps of wrath and grief Her hands,
with stiffened, claw-like fingers, dug into the moss
and tangle of tiny vines, and tore them by the roots.
The half-stifled sounds of weeping that arose from where her
face grovelled in the leaves were terrible to his ears.
He knew not what to say or do, but gazed in resourceless
suspense at the strange figure she made. It seemed a
cruelly long time that she lay there, almost at his feet,
struggling fiercely with the fury that was in her.
All at once the paroxysms passed away, the sounds of wild
weeping ceased. Celia sat up, and with her handkerchief
wiped the tears and leafy fragments from her face.
She rearranged her hat and the braids of her hair with swift,
instinctive touches, brushed the woodland debris from
her front, and sprang to her feet.
"I'm all right now," she said briskly. There was palpable
effort in her light tone, and in the stormy sort of smile
which she forced upon her blotched and perturbed countenance,
but they were only too welcome to Theron's anxious mood.
"Thank God!" he blurted out, all radiant with relief.
"I feared you were going to have a fit--or something."
Celia laughed, a little artificially at first, then with a
genuine surrender to the comic side of his visible fright.
The mirth came back into the brown depths of her eyes again,
and her face cleared itself of tear-stains and the marks
of agitation. "I AM a nice quiet party for a Methodist
minister to go walking in the woods with, am I not?"
she cried, shaking her skirts and smiling at him.
"I am not a Methodist minister--please!" answered Theron--"at
least not today--and here--with you! I am just a man--
nothing more--a man who has escaped from lifelong imprisonment,
and feels for the first time what it is to be free!"
"Ah, my friend," Celia said, shaking her head slowly,
"I'm afraid you deceive yourself. You are not by any
means free. You are only looking out of the window
of your prison, as you call it. The doors are locked,
just the same."
"I will smash them!" he declared, with confidence.
"Or for that matter, I HAVE smashed them--battered them
to pieces. You don't realize what progress I have made,
what changes there have been in me since that night,
you remember that wonderful night! I am quite another being,
I assure you! And really it dates from way beyond that--
why, from the very first evening, when I came to you in
the church. The window in Father Forbes' room was open,
and I stood by it listening to the music next door,
and I could just faintly see on the dark window across
the alley-way a stained-glass picture of a woman.
I suppose it was the Virgin Mary. She had hair like yours,
and your face, too; and that is why I went into the church
and found you. Yes, that is why."
Celia regarded him with gravity. "You will get yourself
into great trouble, my friend," she said.
"That's where you're wrong," put in Theron. "Not that I'd
mind any trouble in this wide world, so long as you called
me 'my friend,' but I'm not going to get into any at all.
I know a trick worth two of that. I've learned to be a showman.
I can preach now far better than I used to, and I can get
through my work in half the time, and keep on the right
side of my people, and get along with perfect smoothness.
I was too green before. I took the thing seriously,
and I let every mean-fisted curmudgeon and crazy fanatic
worry me, and keep me on pins and needles. I don't
do that any more. I've taken a new measure of life.
I see now what life is really worth, and I'm going
to have my share of it. Why should I deliberately deny
myself all possible happiness for the rest of my days,
simply because I made a fool of myself when I was in
my teens? Other men are not eternally punished like that,
for what they did as boys, and I won't submit to it either.
I will be as free to enjoy myself as--as Father Forbes."
Celia smiled softly, and shook her head again. "Poor man,
to call HIM free!" she said: "why, he is bound hand and foot.
You don't in the least realize how he is hedged about,
the work he has to do, the thousand suspicious eyes
that watch his every movement, eager to bring the Bishop
down upon him. And then think of his sacrifice--
the great sacrifice of all--to never know what love means,
to forswear his manhood, to live a forlorn, celibate life--
you have no idea how sadly that appeals to a woman."
"Let us sit down here for a little," said Theron;
"we seem at the end of the path." She seated herself
on the root-based mound, and he reclined at her side,
with an arm carelessly extended behind her on the moss.
"I can see what you mean," he went on, after a pause.
"But to me, do you know, there is an enormous fascination
in celibacy. You forget that I know the reverse of the medal.
I know how the mind can be cramped, the nerves harassed,
the ambitions spoiled and rotted, the whole existence
darkened and belittled, by--by the other thing. I have
never talked to you before about my marriage."
"I don't think we'd better talk about it now," observed Celia.
"There must be many more amusing topics."
He missed the spirit of her remark. "You are right,"
he said slowly. "It is too sad a thing to talk about.
But there! it is my load, and I bear it, and there's nothing
more to be said."
Theron drew a heavy sigh, and let his fingers toy
abstractedly with a ribbon on the outer edge of Celia's
penumbra of apparel.
"No," she said. "We mustn't snivel, and we mustn't sulk.
When I get into a rage it makes me ill, and I storm my way
through it and tear things, but it doesn't last long,
and I come out of it feeling all the better. I don't know
that I've ever seen your wife. I suppose she hasn't got
"I think it's a kind of light brown," answered Theron,
with an effect of exerting his memory.
"It seems that you only take notice of hair
in stained-glass windows," was Celia's comment.
"Oh-h!" he murmured reproachfully, "as if--as if--
but I won't say what I was going to."
"That's not fair!" she said. The little touch of whimsical
mockery which she gave to the serious declaration was
delicious to him. "You have me at such a disadvantage!
Here am I rattling out whatever comes into my head,
exposing all my lightest emotions, and laying bare my
very heart in candor, and you meditate, you turn things
over cautiously in your mind, like a second Machiavelli.
I grow afraid of you; you are so subtle and mysterious in
Theron gave a tug at the ribbon, to show the joy he had
in her delicate chaff. "No, it is you who are secretive,"
he said. "You never told me about--about the piano."
The word was out! A minute before it had seemed incredible
to him that he should ever have the courage to utter it--
but here it was. He laid firm hold upon the ribbon,
which it appeared hung from her waist, and drew himself
a trifle nearer to her. "I could never have consented
to take it, I'm afraid," he went on in a low voice,
if I had known. And even as it is, I fear it won't
"What are you afraid of?" asked Celia. "Why shouldn't you
take it? People in your profession never do get anything
unless it's given to them, do they? I've always understood
it was like that. I've often read of donation parties--
that's what they're called, isn't it?--where everybody
is supposed to bring some gift to the minister.
Very well, then, I've simply had a donation party of my own,
that's all. Unless you mean that my being a Catholic
makes a difference. I had supposed you were quite free
from that kind of prejudice."
"So I am! Believe me, I am!" urged Theron. "When I'm
with you, it seems impossible to realize that there are
people so narrow and contracted in their natures as to take
account of such things. It is another atmosphere that I
breathe near you. How could you imagine that such a thought--
about our difference of creed--would enter my head?
In fact," he concluded with a nervous half-laugh, "there
isn't any such difference. Whatever your religion is,
it's mine too. You remember--you adopted me as a Greek."
"Did I?" she rejoined. "Well, if that's the case,
it leaves you without a leg to stand on. I challenge you
to find any instance where a Greek made any difficulties
about accepting a piano from a friend. But seriously--
while we are talking about it--you introduced the subject:
I didn't--I might as well explain to you that I had
no such intention, when I picked the instrument out.
It was later, when I was talking to Thurston's people
about the price, that the whim seized me. Now it
is the one fixed rule of my life to obey my whims.
Whatever occurs to me as a possibly pleasant thing to do,
straight like a hash, I go and do it. It is the only
way that a person with means, with plenty of money,
can preserve any freshness of character. If they stop
to think what it would be prudent to do, they get crusted
over immediately. That is the curse of rich people--
they teach themselves to distrust and restrain every
impulse toward unusual actions. They get to feel that it
is more necessary for them to be cautious and conventional
than it is for others. I would rather work at a wash-tub
than occupy that attitude toward my bank account. I fight
against any sign of it that I detect rising in my mind.
The instant a wish occurs to me, I rush to gratify it.
That is my theory of life. That accounts for the piano;
and I don't see that you've anything to say about it at
It seemed very convincing, this theory of life.
Somehow, the thought of Miss Madden's riches had never
before assumed prominence in Theron's mind. Of course
her father was very wealthy, but it had not occurred to him
that the daughter's emancipation might run to the length
of a personal fortune. He knew so little of rich people and their ways!
He lifted his head, and looked up at Celia with an awakened
humility and awe in his glance. The glamour of a separate
banking-account shone upon her. Where the soft woodland
light played in among the strands of her disordered hair,
he saw the veritable gleam of gold. A mysterious new
suggestion of power blended itself with the beauty of
her face, was exhaled in the faint perfume of her garments.
He maintained a timorous hold upon the ribbon, wondering at
his hardihood in touching it, or being near her at all.
What surprises me," he heard himself saying, "is that
you are contented to stay in Octavius. I should think
that you would travel--go abroad--see the beautiful
things of the world, surround yourself with the luxuries
of big cities--and that sort of thing."
Celia regarded the forest prospect straight in front of her
with a pensive gaze. "Sometime--no doubt I will sometime,"
she said abstractedly.
"One reads so much nowadays," he went on, "of American
heiresses going to Europe and marrying dukes and noblemen.
I suppose you will do that too. Princes would fight one
another for you."
The least touch of a smile softened for an instant
the impassivity of her countenance. Then she stared
harder than ever at the vague, leafy distance. "That is
the old-fashioned idea," she said, in a musing tone,
"that women must belong to somebody, as if they were curios,
or statues, or race-horses. You don't understand,
my friend, that I have a different view. I am myself,
and I belong to myself, exactly as much as any man.
The notion that any other human being could conceivably obtain
the slightest property rights in me is as preposterous,
as ridiculous, as--what shall I say?--as the notion
of your being taken out with a chain on your neck and
sold by auction as a slave, down on the canal bridge.
I should be ashamed to be alive for another day, if any
other thought were possible to me."
"That is not the generally accepted view, I should think,"
"No more is it the accepted view that young married
Methodist ministers should sit out alone in the
woods with red-headed Irish girls. No, my friend,
let us find what the generally accepted views are,
and as fast as we find them set our heels on them.
There is no other way to live like real human beings.
What on earth is it to me that other women crawl about on
all-fours, and fawn like dogs on any hand that will buckle
a collar onto them, and toss them the leavings of the table?
I am not related to them. I have nothing to do with them.
They cannot make any rules for me. If pride and dignity
and independence are dead in them, why, so much the worse
for them! It is no affair of mine. Certainly it is no
reason why I should get down and grovel also. No; I at
least stand erect on my legs."
Mr. Ware sat up, and stared confusedly, with round eyes
and parted lips, at his companion. Instinctively his brain
dragged forth to the surface those epithets which the doctor
had hurled in bitter contempt at her--"mad ass, a mere
bundle of egotism, ignorance, and red-headed lewdness."
The words rose in their order on his memory, hard and
sharp-edged, like arrow-heads. But to sit there, quite at
her side; to breathe the same air, and behold the calm
loveliness of her profile; to touch the ribbon of her dress--
and all the while to hold these poisoned darts of abuse
levelled in thought at her breast--it was monstrous.
He could have killed the doctor at that moment.
With an effort, he drove the foul things from his mind--
scattered them back into the darkness. He felt that he
had grown pale, and wondered if she had heard the groan
that seemed to have been forced from him in the struggle.
Or was the groan imaginary?
Celia continued to sit unmoved, composedly looking
upon vacancy. Theron's eyes searched her face in vain
for any sign of consciousness that she had astounded and
bewildered him. She did not seem to be thinking of him
at all. The proud calm of her thoughtful countenance
suggested instead occupation with lofty and remote
abstractions and noble ideals. Contemplating her,
he suddenly perceived that what she had been saying
was great, wonderful, magnificent. An involuntary thrill
ran through his veins at recollection of her words.
His fancy likened it to the sensation he used to feel
as a youth, when the Fourth of July reader bawled forth
that opening clause: "When, in the course of human events,
it becomes necessary," etc. It was nothing less than
another Declaration of Independence he had been listening to.
He sank again recumbent at her side, and stretched the
arm behind her, nearer than before. "Apparently, then,
you will never marry." His voice trembled a little.
"Most certainly not!" said Celia.
"You spoke so feelingly a little while ago," he ventured along,
with hesitation, "about how sadly the notion of a priest's
sacrificing himself--never knowing what love meant--
appealed to a woman. I should think that the idea
of sacrificing herself would seem to her even sadder still."
"I don't remember that we mentioned THAT," she replied.
"How do you mean--sacrificing herself?"
Theron gathered some of the outlying folds of her dress
in his hand, and boldly patted and caressed them.
"You, so beautiful and so free, with such fine talents
and abilities," he murmured; "you, who could have the whole
world at your feet--are you, too, never going to know
what love means? Do you call that no sacrifice? To me it
is the most terrible that my imagination can conceive."
Celia laughed--a gentle, amused little laugh, in which
Theron's ears traced elements of tenderness. "You must
regulate that imagination of yours," she said playfully.
"It conceives the thing that is not. Pray, when"--and here,
turning her head, she bent down upon his face a gaze of
arch mock-seriousness--"pray, when did I describe myself
in these terms? When did I say that I should never know
what love meant?"
For answer Theron laid his head down upon his arm,
and closed his eyes, and held his face against the draperies
encircling her. "I cannot think!" he groaned.
The thing that came uppermost in his mind, as it swayed
and rocked in the tempest of emotion, was the strange
reminiscence of early childhood in it all. It was
like being a little boy again, nestling in an innocent,
unthinking transport of affection against his mother's skirts.
The tears he felt scalding his eyes were the spontaneous,
unashamed tears of a child; the tremulous and exquisite
joy which spread, wave-like, over him, at once reposeful
and yearning, was full of infantile purity and sweetness.
He had not comprehended at all before what wellsprings
of spiritual beauty, what limpid depths of idealism,
his nature contained.
"We were speaking of our respective religions,"
he heard Celia say, as imperturbably as if there
had been no digression worth mentioning.
"Yes," he assented, and moved his head so that he
looked up at her back hair, and the leaves high above,
mottled against the sky. The wish to lie there, where now
he could just catch the rose-leaf line of her under-chin
as well, was very strong upon him. "Yes?" he repeated.
"I cannot talk to you like that," she said; and he sat
up again shamefacedly.
"Yes--I think we were speaking of religions--some time ago,"
he faltered, to relieve the situation. The dreadful
thought that she might be annoyed began to oppress him.
"Well, you said whatever my religion was, it was yours too.
That entitles you at least to be told what the religion is.
Now, I am a Catholic."
Theron, much mystified, nodded his head. Could it
be possible--was there coming a deliberate suggestion
that he should become a convert? "Yes--I know," he murmured.
"But I should explain that I am only a Catholic in the sense
that its symbolism is pleasant to me. You remember what
Schopenhauer said--you cannot have the water by itself:
you must also have the jug that it is in. Very well;
the Catholic religion is my jug. I put into it the things
I like. They were all there long ago, thousands of years ago.
The Jews threw them out; we will put them back again.
We will restore art and poetry and the love of beauty,
and the gentle, spiritual, soulful life. The Greeks
had it; and Christianity would have had it too, if it
hadn't been for those brutes they call the Fathers.
They loved ugliness and dirt and the thought of hell-fire.
They hated women. In all the earlier stages of the Church,
women were very prominent in it. Jesus himself
appreciated women, and delighted to have them about him,
and talk with them and listen to them. That was
the very essence of the Greek spirit; and it breathed
into Christianity at its birth a sweetness and a grace
which twenty generations of cranks and savages like Paul
and Jerome and Tertullian weren't able to extinguish.
But the very man, Cyril, who killed Hypatia, and thus began
the dark ages, unwittingly did another thing which makes
one almost forgive him. To please the Egyptians, he secured
the Church's acceptance of the adoration of the Virgin.
It is that idea which has kept the Greek spirit alive,
and grown and grown, till at last it will rule the world.
It was only epileptic Jews who could imagine a religion without
sex in it."
"I remember the pictures of the Virgin in your room,"
said Theron, feeling more himself again. "I wondered
if they quite went with the statues."
The remark won a smile from Celia's lips.
"They get along together better than you suppose,"
she answered. "Besides, they are not all pictures of Mary.
One of them, standing on the moon, is of Isis with the infant
Horus in her arms. Another might as well be Mahamie,
bearing the miraculously born Buddha, or Olympias
with her child Alexander, or even Perictione holding
her babe Plato--all these were similar cases, you know.
Almost every religion had its Immaculate Conception.
What does it all come to, except to show us that man
turns naturally toward the worship of the maternal idea?
That is the deepest of all our instincts--love of woman,
who is at once daughter and wife and mother. It is that that
makes the world go round."
Brave thoughts shaped themselves in Theron's mind,
and shone forth in a confident yet wistful smile on his face.
"lt is a pity you cannot change estates with me for one minute,"
he said, in steady, low tone. "Then you would realize
the tremendous truth of what you have been saying.
It is only your intellect that has reached out and grasped
the idea. If you were in my place, you would discover
that your heart was bursting with it as well."
Celia turned and looked at him.
"I myself," he went on, "would not have known, half an hour ago,
what you meant by the worship of the maternal idea.
I am much older than you. I am a strong, mature man.
But when I lay down there, and shut my eyes--because the
charm and marvel of this whole experience had for the moment
overcome me--the strangest sensation seized upon me.
It was absolutely as if I were a boy again, a good,
pure-minded, fond little child, and you were the mother
that I idolized."
Celia had not taken her eyes from his face. "I find myself
liking you better at this moment," she said, with gravity,
"than I have ever liked you before."
Then, as by a sudden impulse, she sprang to her feet.
"Come!" she cried, her voice and manner all vivacity
once more, "we have been here long enough."
Upon the instant, as Theron was more laboriously getting up,
it became apparent to them both that perhaps they had been
there too long.
A boy with a gun under his arm, and two gray squirrels
tied by the tails slung across his shoulder, stood at
the entrance to the glade, some dozen paces away,
regarding them with undisguised interest. Upon the discovery
that he was in turn observed, he resumed his interrupted
progress through the woods, whistling softly as he went,
and vanished among the trees.
"Heavens above!" groaned Theron, shudderingly.
"Know him?" he went on, in answer to the glance of inquiry on
his companion's face. "I should think I did! He spades my--
my wife's garden for her. He used to bring our milk.
He works in the law office of one of my trustees--
the one who isn't friendly to me, but is very friendly
indeed with my--with Mrs. Ware. Oh, what shall I do?
It may easily mean my ruin!"
Celia looked at him attentively. The color had gone out of
his face, and with it the effect of earnestness and mental
elevation which, a minute before, had caught her fancy.
"Somehow, I fear that I do not like you quite so much
just now, my friend," she remarked.
"In God's name, don't say that!" urged Theron.
He raised his voice in agitated entreaty. "You don't
know what these people are--how they would leap at the
barest hint of a scandal about me. In my position I
am a thousand times more defenceless than any woman.
Just a single whisper, and I am done for!"
"Let me point out to you, Mr. Ware," said Celia, slowly,
"that to be seen sitting and talking with me, whatever doubts
it may raise as to a gentleman's intellectual condition,
need not necessarily blast his social reputation beyond
all hope whatever."
Theron stared at her, as if he had not grasped her meaning.
Then he winced visibly under it, and put out his hands
to implore her. "Forgive me! Forgive me!" he pleaded.
"I was beside myself for the moment with the fright
of the thing. Oh, say you do forgive me, Celia!"
He made haste to support this daring use of her name.
"I have been so happy today--so deeply, so vastly happy--
like the little child I spoke of--and that is so new in my
lonely life--that--the suddenness of the thing--it just for
the instant unstrung me. Don't be too hard on me for it!
And I had hoped, too--I had had such genuine heartfelt
pleasure in the thought--that, an hour or two ago, when you
were unhappy, perhaps it had been some sort of consolation
to you that I was with you."
Celia was looking away. When he took her hand she did not
withdraw it, but turned and nodded in musing general assent
to what he had said. "Yes, we have both been unstrung,
as you call it, today," she said, decidedly out of pitch.
"Let each forgive the other, and say no more about it."
She took his arm, and they retraced their steps
along the path, again in silence. The labored noise
of the orchestra, as it were, returned to meet them.
They halted at an intersecting footpath.
"I go back to my slavery--my double bondage," said Theron,
letting his voice sink to a sigh. "But even if I am put
on the rack for it, I shall have had one day of glory."
"I think you may kiss me, in memory of that one day--
or of a few minutes in that day," said Celia.
Their lips brushed each other in a swift, almost perfunctory caress.
Theron went his way at a hurried pace, the sobered tones
of her "good-bye" beating upon his brain with every
measure of the droning waltz-music.
The memory of the kiss abode with Theron. Like Aaron's rod,
it swallowed up one by one all competing thoughts
and recollections, and made his brain its slave.
Even as he strode back through the woods to the
camp-meeting, it was the kiss that kept his feet in motion,
and guided their automatic course. All along the watches
of the restless night, it was the kiss that bore him
sweet company, and wandered with him from one broken
dream of bliss to another. Next day, it was the kiss
that made of life for him a sort of sunlit wonderland.
He preached his sermon in the morning, and took his
appointed part in the other services of afternoon
and evening, apparently to everybody's satisfaction:
to him it was all a vision.
When the beautiful full moon rose, this Sunday evening,
and glorified the clearing and the forest with its mellow
harvest radiance, he could have groaned with the burden
of his joy. He went out alone into the light, and bared
his head to it, and stood motionless for a long time.
In all his life, he had never been impelled as powerfully
toward earnest and soulful thanksgiving. The impulse
to kneel, there in the pure, tender moonlight, and lift up
offerings of praise to God, kept uppermost in his mind.
Some formless resignation restrained him from the
act itself, but the spirit of it hallowed his mood.
He gazed up at the broad luminous face of the satellite.
"You are our God," he murmured. "Hers and mine!
You are the most beautiful of heavenly creatures, as she is
of the angels on earth. I am speechless with reverence for
It was not until the camp-meeting broke up, four days later,
and Theron with the rest returned to town, that the material
aspects of what had happened, and might be expected
to happen, forced themselves upon his mind. The kiss
was a child of the forest. So long as Theron remained
in the camp, the image of the kiss, which was enshrined
in his heart and ministered to by all his thoughts,
continued enveloped in a haze of sylvan mystery,
like a dryad. Suggestions of its beauty and holiness
came to him in the odors of the woodland, at the sight
of wild flowers and water-lilies. When he walked alone
in unfamiliar parts of the forest, he carried about with him
the half-conscious idea of somewhere coming upon a strange,
hidden pool which mortal eye had not seen before--a deep,
sequestered mere of spring-fed waters, walled in by rich,
tangled growths of verdure, and bearing upon its virgin
bosom only the shadows of the primeval wilderness,
and the light of the eternal skies. His fancy dwelt
upon some such nook as the enchanted home of the fairy
that possessed his soul. The place, though he never
found it, became real to him. As he pictured it,
there rose sometimes from among the lily-pads, stirring
the translucent depths and fluttering over the water's
surface drops like gems, the wonderful form of a woman,
with pale leaves wreathed in her luxuriant red hair,
and a skin which gave forth light.
With the homecoming to Octavius, his dreams began to take
more account of realities. In a day or two he was wide awake,
and thinking hard. The kiss was as much as ever the
ceaseless companion of his hours, but it no longer insisted
upon shrouding itself in vines and woodland creepers,
or outlining itself in phosphorescent vagueness against mystic
backgrounds of nymph-haunted glades. It advanced out into
the noonday, and assumed tangible dimensions and substance.
He saw that it was related to the facts of his daily life,
and had, in turn, altered his own relations to all these facts.
What ought he to do? What COULD he do? Apparently, nothing
but wait. He waited for a week--then for another week.
The conclusion that the initiative had been left to him
began to take shape in his mind. From this it seemed
but a step to the passionate resolve to act at once.
Turning the situation over and over in his anxious
thoughts, two things stood out in special prominence.
One was that Celia loved him. The other was that the
boy in Gorringe's law office, and possibly Gorringe,
and heaven only knew how many others besides, had reasons
for suspecting this to be true.
And what about Celia? Side by side with the moving
rapture of thinking about her as a woman, there rose
the substantial satisfaction of contemplating her as
Miss Madden. She had kissed him, and she was very rich.
The things gradually linked themselves before his eyes.
He tried a thousand varying guesses at what she proposed
to do, and each time reined up his imagination by the
reminder that she was confessedly a creature of whims,
who proposed to do nothing, but was capable of all things.
And as to the boy. If he had blabbed what he saw, it was
incredible that somebody should not take the subject up,
and impart a scandalous twist to it, and send it rolling
like a snowball to gather up exaggeration and foul
innuendo till it was big enough to overwhelm him.
What would happen to him if a formal charge were preferred
against him? He looked it up in the Discipline.
Of course, if his accusers magnified their mean
suspicions and calumnious imaginings to the point of
formulating a charge, it would be one of immorality.
They could prove nothing; there was nothing to prove.
At the worst, it was an indiscretion, which would
involve his being admonished by his Presiding Elder.
Or if these narrow bigots confused slanders with proofs,
and showed that they intended to convict him, then it would
be open to him to withdraw from the ministry, in advance
of his condemnation. His relation to the church would
be the same as if he had been expelled, but to the outer
world it would be different. And supposing he did withdraw
from the ministry?
Yes; this was the important point. What if he did
abandon this mistaken profession of his? On its mental
side the relief would be prodigious, unthinkable.
But on the practical side, the bread-and-butter side?
For some days Theron paused with a shudder when he reached
this question. The thought of the plunge into unknown
material responsibilities gave him a sinking heart.
He tried to imagine himself lecturing, canvassing for
books or insurance policies, writing for newspapers--
and remained frightened. But suddenly one day it occurred
to him that these qualms and forebodings were sheer folly.
Was not Celia rich? Would she not with lightning swiftness draw
forth that check-book, like the flashing sword of a champion
from its scabbard, and run to his relief? Why, of course.
It was absurd not to have thought of that before.
He recalled her momentary anger with him, that afternoon
in the woods, when he had cried out that discovery would
mean ruin to him. He saw clearly enough now that she
had been grieved at his want of faith in her protection.
In his flurry of fright, he had lost sight of the fact that,
if exposure and trouble came to him, she would naturally
feel that she had been the cause of his martyrdom.
It was plain enough now. If he got into hot water,
it would be solely on account of his having been seen
with her. He had walked into the woods with her--"the
further the better" had been her own words--out of
pure kindliness, and the desire to lead her away from
the scene of her brother's and her own humiliation.
But why amplify arguments? Her own warm heart would
tell her, on the instant, how he had been sacrificed
for her sake, and would bring her, eager and devoted,
to his succor.
That was all right, then. Slowly, from this point,
suggestions expanded themselves. The future could be,
if he willed it, one long serene triumph of love,
and lofty intellectual companionship, and existence
softened and enriched at every point by all that wealth
could command, and the most exquisite tastes suggest.
Should he will it! Ah! the question answered itself.
But he could not enter upon this beckoning heaven of
a future until he had freed himself. When Celia said
to him, "Come!" he must not be in the position to reply,
"I should like to, but unfortunately I am tied by the leg."
He should have to leave Octavius, leave the ministry,
leave everything. He could not begin too soon to face
Very likely Celia had not thought it out as far as this.
With her, it was a mere vague "sometime I may."
But the harder masculine sense, Theron felt,
existed for the very purpose of correcting and giving
point to these loose feminine notions of time and space.
It was for him to clear away the obstacles, and map
the plans out with definite decision.
One warm afternoon, as he lolled in his easy-chair under
the open window of his study, musing upon the ever-shifting
phases of this vast, complicated, urgent problem,
some chance words from the sidewalk in front came
to his ears, and, coming, remained to clarify his thoughts.
Two ladies whose voices were strange to him had stopped--
as so many people almost daily stopped--to admire the garden
of the parsonage. One of them expressed her pleasure
in general terms. Said the other--
"My husband declares those dahlias alone couldn't
be matched for thirty dollars, and that some of those
gladiolus must have cost three or four dollars apiece.
I know we've spent simply oceans of money on our garden,
and it doesn't begin to compare with this."
"It seems like a sinful waste to me," said her companion.
"No-o," the other hesitated. "No, I don't think quite that--
if you can afford it just as well as not. But it does
seem to me that I'd rather live in a little better house,
and not spend it ALL on flowers. Just LOOK at that cactus!"
The voices died away. Theron sat up, with a look of arrested
thought upon his face, then sprang to his feet and moved
hurriedly through the parlor to an open front window.
Peering out with caution he saw that the two women receding
from view were fashionably dressed and evidently came
from homes of means. He stared after them in a blank
way until they turned a corner.
He went into the hall then, put on his frock-coat and hat,
and stepped out into the garden. He was conscious
of having rather avoided it heretofore--not altogether
without reasons of his own, lying unexamined somewhere
in the recesses of his mind. Now he walked slowly about,
and examined the flowers with great attentiveness.
The season was advancing, and he saw that many plants
had gone out of bloom. But what a magnificent plenitude
of blossoms still remained!
Thirty dollars' worth of dahlias--that was what the stranger
had said. Theron hardly brought himself to credit the statement;
but all the same it was apparent to even his uninformed
eye that these huge, imbricated, flowering masses,
with their extraordinary half-colors, must be unusual.
He remembered that the boy in Gorringe's office had spoken
of just one lot of plants costing thirty-one dollars and
sixty cents, and there had been two other lots as well.
The figures remained surprisingly distinct in his memory.
It was no good deceiving himself any longer: of course
these were the plants that Gorringe had spent his money upon,
here all about him.
As he surveyed them with a sour regard, a cool breeze stirred
across the garden. The tall, over-laden flower-spikes
of gladioli bent and nodded at him; the hollyhocks and
flaming alvias, the clustered blossoms on the standard roses,
the delicately painted lilies on their stilt-like stems,
fluttered in the wind, and seemed all bowing satirically
to him. "Yes, Levi Gorringe paid for us!" He almost
heard their mocking declaration.
Out in the back-yard, where a longer day of sunshine dwelt,
there were many other flowers, and notably a bed of geraniums
which literally made the eye ache. Standing at this
rear corner of the house, he caught the droning sound of
Alice's voice, humming a hymn to herself as she went about
her kitchen work. He saw her through the open window.
She was sweeping, and had a sort of cap on her head
which did not add to the graces of her appearance.
He looked at her with a hard glance, recalling as a fresh
grievance the ten days of intolerable boredom he had
spent cooped up in a ridiculous little tent with her,
at the camp-meeting. She must have realized at the time
how odious the enforced companionship was to him.
Yes, beyond doubt she did. It came back to him now
that they had spoken but rarely to each other. She had
not even praised his sermon upon the Sabbath-question,
which every one else had been in raptures over. For that
matter she no longer praised anything he did, and took
obvious pains to preserve toward him a distant demeanor.
So much the better, he felt himself thinking. If she
chose to behave in that offish and unwifely fashion,
she could blame no one but herself for its results.
She had seen him, and came now to the window,
watering-pot and broom in hand. She put her head out,
to breathe a breath of dustless air, and began as if she
would smile on him. Then her face chilled and stiffened,
as she caught his look.
"Shall you be home for supper?" she asked, in her iciest tone.
He had not thought of going out before. The question,
and the manner of it, gave immediate urgency to the idea
of going somewhere. "I may or I may not," he replied.
"It is quite impossible for me to say." He turned on his
heel with this, and walked briskly out of the yard and down
It was the most natural thing that presently he should
be strolling past the Madden house, and letting a covert
glance stray over its front and the grounds about it,
as he loitered along. Every day since his return
from the woods he had given the fates this chance of
bringing Celia to meet him, without avail. He had hung
about in the vicinity of the Catholic church on several
evenings as well, but to no purpose. The organ inside
was dumb, and he could detect no signs of Celia's
presence on the curtains of the pastorate next door.
This day, too, there was no one visible at the home
of the Maddens, and he walked on, a little sadly.
It was weary work waiting for the signal that never came.
But there were compensations. His mind reverted doggedly to
the flowers in his garden, and to Alice's behavior toward him.
They insisted upon connecting themselves in his thoughts.
Why should Levi Gorringe, a money-lender, and therefore
the last man in the world to incur reckless expenditure,
go and buy perhaps a hundred dollars, worth of flowers
for his wife's garden? It was time--high time--to face
this question. And his experiencing religion afterward,
just when Alice did, and marching down to the rail to kneel
beside her--that was a thing to be thought of, too.
Meditation, it is true, hardly threw fresh light upon
the matter. It was incredible, of course, that there
should be anything wrong. To even shape a thought of Alice
in connection with gallantry would be wholly impossible.
Nor could it be said that Gorringe, in his new capacity
as a professing church-member, had disclosed any sign
of ulterior motives, or of insincerity. Yet there the
facts were. While Theron pondered them, their mystery,
if they involved a mystery, baffled him altogether.
But when he had finished, he found himself all the same
convinced that neither Alice nor Gorringe would be free
to blame him for anything he might do. He had grounds
for complaint against them. If he did not himself know
just what these grounds were, it was certain enough
that THEY knew. Very well, then, let them take the
responsibility for what happened.
It was indeed awkward that at the moment, as Theron
chanced to emerge temporarily from his brown-study, his
eyes fell full upon the spare, well-knit form of Levi
Gorringe himself, standing only a few feet away, in the
staircase entrance to his law office. His lean face,
browned by the summer's exposure, had a more Arabian
aspect than ever. His hands were in his pockets, and he
held an unlighted cigar between his teeth. He looked
the Rev. Mr. Ware over calmly, and nodded recognition.
Theron had halted instinctively. On the instant he would
have given a great deal not to have stopped at all.
It was stupid of him to have paused, but it would not do
now to go on without words of some sort. He moved over to
the door-way, and made a half-hearted pretence of looking
at the photographs in one of the show-cases at its side.
As Mr. Gorringe did not take his hands from his pockets,
there was no occasion for any formal greeting.
"I had no idea that they took such good pictures in Octavius,"
Theron remarked after a minute's silence, still bending
in examination of the photographs.
"They ought to; they charge New York prices,"
observed the lawyer, sententiously.
Theron found in the words confirmation of his feeling that
Gorringe was not naturally a lavish or extravagant man.
Rather was he a careful and calculating man, who spent money
only for a purpose. Though the minister continued gazing
at the stiff presentments of local beauties and swains,
his eyes seemed to see salmon-hued hollyhocks and spotted
lilies instead. Suddenly a resolve came to him.
He stood erect, and faced his trustee.
"Speaking of the price of things," he said, with an effort
of arrogance in his measured tone, "I have never had
an opportunity before of mentioning the subject of the
flowers you have so kindly furnished for my--for MY garden."
"Why mention it now?" queried Gorringe, with nonchalance.
He turned his cigar about with a movement of his lips,
and worked it into the corner of his mouth. He did not find
it necessary to look at Theron at all.
"Because--" began Mr. Ware, and then hesitated--"because--well,
it raises a question of my being under obligation,
"Oh, no, sir," said the lawyer; "put that out of your mind.
You are no more under obligation to me than I am to you.
Oh, no, make yourself easy about that. Neither of us
owes the other anything."
"Not even good-will--I take that to be your meaning,"
retorted Theron, with some heat.
"The words are yours, sir," responded Gorringe, coolly.
"I do not object to them."
"As you like," put in the other. "If it be so, why,
then all the more reason why I should, under the circumstances--"
"Under what circumstances?" interposed the lawyer.
"Let us be clear about this thing as we go along.
To what circumstances do you refer?"
He had turned his eyes now, and looked Theron in the face.
A slight protrusion of his lower jaw had given the cigar
an upward tilt under the black mustache.
"The circumstances are that you have brought or sent
to my garden a great many very expensive flower-plants
and bushes and so on."
"And you object? I had not supposed that clergymen
in general--and you in particular--were so sensitive.
Have donation parties, then, gone out of date?"
"I understand your sneer well enough," retorted Theron,
"but that can pass. The main point is, that you did me
the honor to send these plants--or to smuggle them in--
but never once deigned to hint to me that you had done so.
No one told me. Except by mere accident, I should not have
known to this day where they came from."
Mr. Gorringe twisted the cigar at another angle,
with lines of grim amusement about the corner of his mouth.
"I should have thought," he said with dry deliberation,
"that possibly this fact might have raised in your mind
the conceivable hypothesis that the plants might not be
intended for you at all."
"That is precisely it, sir," said Theron. There were
people passing, and he was forced to keep his voice down.
It would have been a relief, he felt, to shout. "That is it--
they were not intended for me."
"Well, then, what are you talking about?" The lawyer's
speech had become abrupt almost to incivility.
"I think my remarks have been perfectly clear,"
said the minister, with dignity. It was a new experience
to be addressed in that fashion. It occurred to him
to add, "Please remember that I am not in the witness-box,
to be bullied or insulted by a professional."
Gorringe studied Theron's face attentively with a cold,
searching scrutiny. "You may thank your stars you're not!"
he said, with significance.
What on earth could he mean? The words and the menacing
tone greatly impressed Theron. Indeed, upon reflection,
he found that they frightened him. The disposition to
adopt a high tone with the lawyer was melting away.
"I do not see," he began, and then deliberately allowed
his voice to take on an injured and plaintive inflection--"I
do not see why you should adopt this tone toward me--
The lawyer scowled, and bit sharply into the cigar,
but said nothing.
"If I have unconsciously offended you in any way," Theron went on,
"I beg you to tell me how. I liked you from the beginning
of my pastorate here, and the thought that latterly we
seemed to be drifting apart has given me much pain.
But now it is still more distressing to find you actually
disposed to quarrel with me. Surely, Brother Gorringe,
between a pastor and a probationer who--"
"No," Gorringe broke in; "quarrel isn't the word for it.
There isn't any quarrel, Mr. Ware." He stepped down from
the door-stone to the sidewalk as he spoke, and stood face
to face with Theron. Working-men with dinner-pails, and
factory girls, were passing close to them, and he lowered
his voice to a sharp, incisive half-whisper as he added,
"It wouldn't be worth any grown man's while to quarrel
with so poor a creature as you are."
Theron stood confounded, with an empty stare of bewilderment
on his face. It rose in his mind that the right thing
to feel was rage, righteous indignation, fury; but for
the life of him, he could not muster any manly anger.
The character of the insult stupefied him.
"I do not know that I have anything to say to you in reply,"
he remarked, after what seemed to him a silence of minutes.
His lips framed the words automatically, but they
expressed well enough the blank vacancy of his mind.
The suggestion that anybody deemed him a "poor creature"
grew more astounding, incomprehensible, as it swelled in
"No, I suppose not," snapped Gorringe. "You're not the
sort to stand up to men; your form is to go round the
corner and take it out of somebody weaker than yourself--
a defenceless woman, for instance."
"Oh--ho!" said Theron. The exclamation had uttered itself.
The sound of it seemed to clarify his muddled thoughts;
and as they ranged themselves in order, he began to understand.
"Oh--ho!" he said again, and nodded his head in token
The lawyer, chewing his cigar with increased activity,
glared at him. "What do you mean?" he demanded peremptorily.
"Mean?" said the minister. "Oh, nothing that I feel
called upon to explain to you."
It was passing strange, but his self-possession had all at once
returned to him. As it became more apparent that the lawyer
was losing his temper, Theron found the courage to turn up
the corners of his lips in show of a bitter little smile
of confidence. He looked into the other's dusky face,
and flaunted this smile at it in contemptuous defiance.
"It is not a subject that I can discuss with propriety--
at this stage," he added.
"Damn you! Are you talking about those flowers?"
"Oh, I am not talking about anything in particular,"
returned Theron, "not even the curious choice of language
which my latest probationer seems to prefer."
"Go and strike my name off the list!" said Gorringe,
with rising passion. "I was a fool to ever have it there.
To think of being a probationer of yours--my God!"
"That will be a pity--from one point of view," remarked Theron,
still with the ironical smile on his lips. "You seemed
to enter upon the new life with such deliberation and fixity
of purpose, too! I can imagine the regrets your withdrawal
will cause, in certain quarters. I only hope that it will
not discourage those who accompanied you to the altar,
and shared your enthusiasm at the time." He had spoken
throughout with studied slowness and an insolent nicety of utterance.
"You had better go away!" broke forth Gorringe.
"If you don't, I shall forget myself."
"For the first time?" asked Theron. Then, warned by the flash
in the lawyer's eye, he turned on his heel and sauntered,
with a painstaking assumption of a mind quite at ease,
up the street.
Gorringe's own face twitched and his veins tingled
as he looked after him. He spat the shapeless cigar
out of his mouth into the gutter, and, drawing forth
another from his pocket, clenched it between his teeth,
his gaze following the tall form of the Methodist minister
till it was merged in the crowd.
"Well, I'm damned!" he said aloud to himself.
The photographer had come down to take in his showcases for
the night. He looked up from his task at the exclamation,
and grinned inquiringly.
"I've just been talking to a man," said the lawyer,
"who's so much meaner than any other man I ever heard
of that it takes my breath away. He's got a wife that's
as pure and good as gold, and he knows it, and she
worships the ground he walks on, and he knows that too.
And yet the scoundrel is around trying to sniff out some
shadow of a pretext for misusing her worse than he's
already done. Yes, sir; he'd be actually tickled to death
if he could nose up some hint of a scandal about her--
something that he could pretend to believe, and work for
his own advantage to levy blackmail, or get rid of her,
or whatever suited his book. I didn't think there was such
an out-and-out cur on this whole footstool. I almost wish,
by God, I'd thrown him into the canal!"
"Yes, you lawyers must run against some pretty snide specimens,"
remarked the photographer, lifting one of the cases from its sockets.
Theron spent half an hour in aimless strolling about
the streets. From earliest boyhood his mind had always
worked most clearly when he walked alone. Every mental
process which had left a mark upon his memory and his career--
the daydreams of future academic greatness and fame
which had fashioned themselves in his brain as a farm lad;
the meditations, raptures, and high resolves of his
student period at the seminary; the more notable sermons
and powerful discourse by which he had revealed the genius
that was in him to astonished and delighted assemblages--
all were associated in his retrospective thoughts
with solitary rambles.
He had a very direct and vivid consciousness now that it was
good to be on his legs, and alone. He had never in his life
been more sensible of the charm of his own companionship.
The encounter with Gorringe seemed to have cleared all
the clouds out of his brain, and restored lightness to
his heart. After such an object lesson, the impossibility
of his continuing to sacrifice himself to a notion
of duty to these low-minded and coarse-natured villagers
was beyond all argument. There could no longer be any
doubt about his moral right to turn his back upon them,
to wash his hands of the miserable combination of hypocrisy
and hysterics which they called their spiritual life.
And the question of Gorringe and Alice, that too
stood precisely where he wanted it. Even in his
own thoughts, he preferred to pursue it no further.
Between them somewhere an offence of concealment,
it might be of conspiracy, had been committed against him.
It was no business of his to say more, or to think more.
He rested his case simply on the fact, which could not
be denied, and which he was not in the least interested
to have explained, one way or the other. The recollection
of Gorringe's obvious disturbance of mind was especially
pleasant to him. He himself had been magnanimous almost
to the point of weakness. He had gone out of his way
to call the man "brother," and to give him an opportunity
of behaving like a gentleman; but his kindly forbearance
had been wasted. Gorringe was not the man to understand
generous feelings, much less rise to their level.
He had merely shown that he would be vicious if he knew how.
It was more important and satisfactory to recall that he
had also shown a complete comprehension of the injured
husband's grievance. The fact that he had recognized it
was enough--was, in fact, everything.
In the background of his thoughts Theron had carried
along a notion of going and dining with Father Forbes
when the time for the evening meal should arrive.
The idea in itself attracted him, as a fitting capstone
to his resolve not to go home to supper. It gave just
the right kind of character to his domestic revolt.
But when at last he stood on the doorstep of the pastorate,
waiting for an answer to the tinkle of the electric bell he
had heard ring inside, his mind contained only the single
thought that now he should hear something about Celia.
Perhaps he might even find her there; but he put that
suggestion aside as slightly unpleasant.
The hag-faced housekeeper led him, as before,
into the dining-room. It was still daylight, and he saw
on the glance that the priest was alone at the table,
with a book beside him to read from as he ate.
Father Forbes rose and came forward, greeting his visitor
with profuse urbanity and smiles. If there was a perfunctory
note in the invitation to sit down and share the meal,
Theron did not catch it. He frankly displayed his pleasure
as he laid aside his hat, and took the chair opposite his host.
"It is really only a few months since I was here,
in this room, before," he remarked, as the priest closed
his book and tossed it to one side, and the housekeeper came
in to lay another place. "Yet it might have been years,
many long years, so tremendous is the difference
that the lapse of time has wrought in me."
"I am afraid we have nothing to tempt you very much,
Mr. Ware," remarked Father Forbes, with a gesture of his
plump white hand which embraced the dishes in the centre
of the table. "May I send you a bit of this boiled mutton?
I have very homely tastes when I am by myself."
"I was saying," Theron observed, after some moments had
passed in silence, "that I date such a tremendous revolution
in my thoughts, my beliefs, my whole mind and character,
from my first meeting with you, my first coming here.
I don't know how to describe to you the enormous change
that has come over me; and I owe it all to you."
"I can only hope, then, that it is entirely
of a satisfactory nature," said the priest, politely smiling.
"Oh, it is so splendidly satisfactory!" said Theron,
with fervor. "I look back at myself now with wonder and pity.
It seems incredible that, such a little while ago,
I should have been such an ignorant and unimaginative clod
of earth, content with such petty ambitions and actually
proud of my limitations."
"And you have larger ambitions now?" asked the other.
"Pray let me help you to some potatoes. I am afraid
that ambitions only get in our way and trip us up.
We clergymen are like street-car horses. The more
steadily we jog along between the rails, the better it is
"Oh, I don't intend to remain in the ministry,"
declared Theron. The statement seemed to him a little bald,
now that he had made it; and as his companion lifted
his brows in surprise, he added stumblingly: "That is,
as I feel now, it seems to me impossible that I should
remain much longer. With you, of course, it is different.
You have a thousand things to interest and pleasantly
occupy you in your work and its ceremonies, so that mere
belief or non-belief in the dogma hardly matters.
But in our church dogma is everything. If you take
that away, or cease to have its support, the rest
is intolerable, hideous."
Father Forbes cut another slice of mutton for himself.
"It is a pretty serious business to make such a change at
your time of life. I take it for granted you will think
it all over very carefully before you commit yourself."
He said this with an almost indifferent air, which rather
chilled his listener's enthusiasm.
"Oh, yes,", Theron made answer; "I shall do nothing rash.
But I have a good many plans for the future."
Father Forbes did not ask what these were, and a brief
further period of silence fell upon the table.
"I hope everything went off smoothly at the picnic,"
Theron ventured, at last. "I have not seen any of you
The priest shook his head and sighed. "No," he said.
"It is a bad business. I have had a great deal of
unhappiness out of it this past fortnight. That young
man who was rude to you--of course it was mere drunken,
irresponsible nonsense on his part--has got himself into
a serious scrape, I'm afraid. It is being kept quite
within the family, and we hope to manage so that it will
remain there, but it has terribly upset his father and
his sister. But that, after all, is not so hard to bear
as the other affliction that has come upon the Maddens.
You remember Michael, the other brother? He seems to have
taken cold that evening, or perhaps over-exerted himself.
He has been seized with quick consumption. He will hardly
last till snow flies."
"Oh, I am GRIEVED to hear that!" Theron spoke with
tremulous earnestness. It seemed to him as if Michael
were in some way related to him.
"It is very hard upon them all," the priest went on.
"Michael is as sweet and holy a character as it is possible
for any one to think of. He is the apple of his father's eye.
They were inseparable, those two. Do you know the father,
Theron shook his head. "I think I have seen him," he said.
"A small man, with gray whiskers."
"A peasant," said Father Forbes, "but with a heart of gold.
Poor man! he has had little enough out of his riches.
Ah, the West Coast people, what tragedies I have seen among
them over here! They have rudimentary lung organizations,
like a frog's, to fit the mild, wet soft air they
live in. The sharp air here kills them off like flies
in a frost. Whole families go. I should think there
are a dozen of old Jeremiah's children in the cemetery.
If Michael could have passed his twenty-eighth year,
there would have been hope for him, at least till his
thirty-fifth. These pulmonary things seem to go by sevens,
"I didn't know," said Theron. "It is very strange--
and very sad." His startled mind was busy, all at once,
with conjectures as to Celia's age.
"The sister--Miss Madden--seems extremely strong,"
he remarked tentatively.
"Celia may escape the general doom," said the priest.
His guest noted that he clenched his shapely white
hand on the table as he spoke, and that his gentle,
carefully modulated voice had a gritty hardness in its tone.
"THAT would be too dreadful to think of," he added.
Theron shuddered in silence, and strove to shut his mind
against the thought.
"She has taken Michael's illness so deeply to heart,"
the priest proceeded, "and devoted herself to him
so untiringly that I get a little nervous about her.
I have been urging her to go away and get a change of air
and scene, if only for a few days. She does not sleep well,
and that is always a bad thing."
"I think I remember her telling me once that sometimes
she had sleepless spells," said Theron. "She said that
then she banged on her piano at all hours, or dragged
the cushions about from room to room, like a wild woman.
A very interesting young lady, don't you find her so?"
Father Forbes let a wan smile play on his lips.
"What, our Celia?" he said. "Interesting! Why, Mr. Ware,
there is no one like her in the world. She is as unique as--
what shall I say?--as the Irish are among races.
Her father and mother were both born in mud-cabins, and she--
she might be the daughter of a hundred kings, except that
they seem mostly rather under-witted than otherwise.
She always impresses me as a sort of atavistic idealization
of the old Kelt at his finest and best. There in Ireland
you got a strange mixture of elementary early peoples,
walled off from the outer world by the four seas, and free
to work out their own racial amalgam on their own lines.
They brought with them at the outset a great inheritance
of Eastern mysticism. Others lost it, but the Irish,
all alone on their island, kept it alive and brooded
on it, and rooted their whole spiritual side in it.
Their religion is full of it; their blood is full of it;
our Celia is fuller of it than anybody else. The Ireland
of two thousand years ago is incarnated in her. They are
the merriest people and the saddest, the most turbulent and
the most docile, the most talented and the most unproductive,
the most practical and the most visionary, the most devout
and the most pagan. These impossible contradictions war
ceaselessly in their blood. When I look at Celia, I seem
to see in my mind's eye the fair young-ancestral mother of
Theron gazed at the speaker with open admiration.
"I love to hear you talk," he said simply.
An unbidden memory flitted upward in his mind.
Those were the very words that Alice had so often on her
lips in their old courtship days. How curious it was!
He looked at the priest, and had a quaint sensation
of feeling as a romantic woman must feel in the presence
of a specially impressive masculine personality.
It was indeed strange that this soft-voiced, portly
creature in a gown, with his white, fat hands and his
feline suavity of manner, should produce such a commanding
and unique effect of virility. No doubt this was a part
of the great sex mystery which historically surrounded
the figure of the celibate priest as with an atmosphere.
Women had always been prostrating themselves before it.
Theron, watching his companion's full, pallid face in the
lamp-light, tried to fancy himself in the priest's place,
looking down upon these worshipping female forms.
He wondered what the celibate's attitude really was.
The enigma fascinated him.
Father Forbes, after his rhetorical outburst, and been eating.
He pushed aside his cheese-plate. "I grow enthusiastic
on the subject of my race sometimes," he remarked,
with the suggestion of an apology. "But I make up
for it other times--most of the time--by scolding them.
If it were not such a noble thing to be an Irishman,
it would be ridiculous."
"Ah," said Theron, deprecatingly, "who would not be
enthusiastic in talking of Miss Madden? What you said
about her was perfect. As you spoke, I was thinking
how proud and thankful we ought to be for the privilege
of knowing her--we who do know her well--although of course
your friendship with her is vastly more intimate than mine--
than mine could ever hope to be."
The priest offered no comment, and Theron went on:
"I hardly know how to describe the remarkable impression she
makes upon me. I can't imagine to myself any other young
woman so brilliant or broad in her views, or so courageous.
Of course, her being so rich makes it easier for her to do
just what she wants to do, but her bravery is astonishing
all the same. We had a long and very sympathetic talk
in the woods, that day of the picnic, after we left you.
I don't know whether she spoke to you about it?"
Father Forbes made a movement of the head and eyes
which seemed to negative the suggestion.
"Her talk," continued Theron, "gave me quite new
ideas of the range and capacity of the female mind.
I wonder that everybody in Octavius isn't full of praise
and admiration for her talents and exceptional character.
In such a small town as this, you would think she would
be the centre of attention--the pride of the place."
"I think she has as much praise as is good for her,"
remarked the priest, quietly.
"And here's a thing that puzzles me," pursued Mr. Ware.
"I was immensely surprised to find that Dr. Ledsmar
doesn't even think she is smart--or at least he professes
the utmost intellectual contempt for her, and says
he dislikes her into the bargain. But of course she
dislikes him, too, so that's only natural. But I can't
understand his denying her great ability."
The priest smiled in a dubious way. "Don't borrow
unnecessary alarm about that, Mr. Ware," he said,
with studied smoothness of modulated tones. "These two
good friends of mine have much enjoyment out of the idea
that they are fighting for the mastery over my poor
unstable character. It has grown to be a habit with them,
and a hobby as well, and they pursue it with tireless zest.
There are not many intellectual diversions open to us here,
and they make the most of this one. It amuses them,
and it is not without its charms for me, in my capacity as
an interested observer. It is a part of the game that they
should pretend to themselves that they detest each other.
In reality I fancy that they like each other very much.
At any rate, there is nothing to be disturbed about."
His mellifluous tones had somehow the effect of suggesting
to Theron that he was an outsider and would better mind
his own business. Ah, if this purring pussy-cat of a
priest only knew how little of an outsider he really was!
The thought gave him an easy self-control.
"Of course," he said, "our warm mutual friendship makes
the observation of these little individual vagaries
merely a part of a delightful whole. I should not
dream of discussing Miss Madden's confidences to me,
or the doctor's either, outside our own little group."
Father Forbes reached behind him and took from a
chair his black three-cornered cap with the tassel.
"Unfortunately I have a sick call waiting me," he said,
gathering up his gown and slowly rising.
"Yes, I saw the man sitting in the hall," remarked Theron,
getting to his feet.
"I would ask you to go upstairs and wait," the priest
went on, "but my return, unhappily, is quite uncertain.
Another evening I may be more fortunate. I am leaving town
tomorrow for some days, but when I get back--"
The polite sentence did not complete itself. Father Forbes
had come out into the hall, giving a cool nod to the
working-man, who rose from the bench as they passed,
and shook hands with his guest on the doorstep.
When the door had closed upon Mr. Ware, the priest turned
to the man. "You have come about those frames," he said.
"If you will come upstairs, I will show you the prints,
and you can give me a notion of what can be done with them.
I rather fancy the idea of a triptych in carved old English,
if you can manage it."
After the workman had gone away, Father Forbes put
on slippers and an old loose soutane, lighted a cigar,
and, pushing an easy-chair over to the reading lamp,
sat down with a book. Then something occurred to him,
and he touched the house-bell at his elbow.
"Maggie," he said gently, when the housekeeper appeared at
the door, "I will have the coffee and FINE CHAMPAGNE up here,
if it is no trouble. And--oh, Maggie--I was compelled this
evening to turn the blameless visit of the framemaker into
a venial sin, and that involves a needless wear and tear
of conscience. I think that--hereafter--you understand?--
I am not invariably at home when the Rev. Mr. Ware does
me the honor to call."
That night brought the first frost of the season
worth counting. In the morning, when Theron came downstairs,
his casual glance through the window caught a desolate
picture of blackened dahlia stalks and shrivelled blooms.
The gayety and color of the garden were gone,
and in their place was shabby and dishevelled ruin.
He flung the sash up and leaned out. The nipping autumn
air was good to breathe. He looked about him, surveying
the havoc the frost had wrought among the flowers, and smiled.
At breakfast he smiled again--a mirthless and
calculated smile. "I see that Brother Gorringe's
flowers have come to grief over night," he remarked.
Alice looked at him before she spoke, and saw on his
face a confirmation of the hostile hint in his voice.
She nodded in a constrained way, and said nothing.
"Or rather, I should say, "Theron went on, with deliberate
words, "the late Brother Gorringe's flowers."
"How do you mean--LATE" asked his wife, swiftly.
"Oh, calm yourself!" replied the husband. He is not dead.
He has only intimated to me his desire to sever his connection.
I may add that he did so in a highly offensive manner."
"I am very sorry," said Alice, in a low tone, and with
her eyes on her plate.
"I took it for granted you would be grieved at his backsliding,"
remarked Theron, making his phrases as pointed as he could.
"He was such a promising probationer, and you took
such a keen interest in his spiritual awakening.
But the frost has nipped his zeal--along with the hundred
or more dollars' worth of flowers by which he testified
his faith. I find something interesting in their having
been blasted simultaneously."
Alice dropped all pretence of interest in her breakfast.
With a flushed face and lips tightly compressed,
she made a movement as if to rise from her chair.
Then, changing her mind, she sat bolt upright and faced
"I think we had better have this out right now," she said,
in a voice which Theron hardly recognized. "You have
been hinting round the subject long enough--too long.
There are some things nobody is obliged to put up with,
and this is one of them. You will oblige me by saying out
in so many words what it is you are driving at."
The outburst astounded Theron. He laid down his knife
and fork, and gazed at his wife in frank surprise.
She had so accustomed him, of late, to a demeanor almost
abject in its depressed docility that he had quite
forgotten the Alice of the old days, when she had spirit
and courage enough for two, and a notable tongue of her own.
The flash in her eyes and the lines of resolution
about her mouth and chin for a moment daunted him.
Then he observed by a flutter of the frill at her wrist
that she was trembling.
"I am sure I have nothing to 'say out in so many words,'
as you put it," he replied, forcing his voice into cool,
impassive tones. "I merely commented upon a coincidence,
that was all. If, for any reason under the sun, the subject
chances to be unpleasant to you, I have no earthly desire
to pursue it."
"But I insist upon having it pursued!" returned Alice.
"I've had just all I can stand of your insinuations
and innuendoes, and it's high time we had some plain talk.
Ever since the revival, you have been dropping sly,
underhand hints about Mr. Gorringe and--and me. Now I ask
you what you mean by it."
Yes, there was a shake in her voice, and he could see
how her bosom heaved in a tremor of nervousness.
It was easy for him to be very calm.
"It is you who introduce these astonishing suggestions,
not I," he replied coldly. "It is you who couple
your name with his--somewhat to my surprise, I admit--
but let me suggest that we drop the subject. You are
excited just now, and you might say things that you
would prefer to leave unsaid. It would surely be better
for all concerned to say no more about it."
Alice, staring across the table at him with knitted brows,
emitted a sharp little snort of indignation.
"Well, I never! Theron, I wouldn't have thought it of you!"
"There are so many things you wouldn't have thought,
on such a variety of subjects," he observed, with a
show of resuming his breakfast. "But why continue?
We are only angering each other."
"Never mind that," she replied, with more control
over her speech. "I guess things have come to a pass
where a little anger won't do any harm. I have a right
to insist on knowing what you mean by your insinuations."
Theron sighed. "Why will you keep harping on the thing?"
he asked wearily. "I have displayed no curiosity.
I don't ask for any explanations. I think I mentioned
that the man had behaved insultingly to me--but that
doesn't matter. I don't bring it up as a grievance.
I am very well able to take care of myself I have no
wish to recur to the incident in any way. So far as I
am concerned, the topic is dismissed."
"Listen to me!" broke in Alice, with eager gravity.
She hesitated, as he looked up with a nod of attention,
and reflected as well as she was able among her thoughts
for a minute or two. "This is what I want to say
to you. Ever since we came to this hateful Octavius,
you and I have been drifting apart--or no, that doesn't
express it--simply rushing away from each other.
It only began last spring, and now the space between us
is so wide that we are worse than complete strangers.
For strangers at least don't hate each other, and I've had
a good many occasions lately to see that you positively do
"What grotesque absurdity" interposed Theron, impatiently.
"No, it isn't absurdity; it's gospel truth," retorted Alice.
"And--don't interrupt me--there have been times, too,
when I have had to ask myself if I wasn't getting almost
to hate you in return. I tell you this frankly."
"Yes, you are undoubtedly frank," commented the husband,
toying with his teaspoon. "A hypercritical person
might consider, almost too frank."
Alice scanned his face closely while he spoke, and held her
breath as if in expectant suspense. Her countenance clouded
once more. "You don't realize, Theron," she said gravely;
"your voice when you speak to me, your look, your manner,
they have all changed. You are like another man--
some man who never loved me, and doesn't even know me,
much less like me. I want to know what the end of it
is to be. Up to the time of your sickness last summer,
until after the Soulsbys went away, I didn't let myself
get downright discouraged. It seemed too monstrous for
belief that you should go away out of my life like that.
It didn't seem possible that God could allow such a thing.
It came to me that I had been lax in my Christian life,
especially in my position as a minister's wife,
and that this was my punishment. I went to the altar,
to intercede with Him, and to try to loose my burden
at His feet. But nothing has come of it. I got no help
"Really, Alice," broke in Theron, "I explained over and
over again to you how preoccupied I was--with the book--
and affairs generally."
"I got no assistance from Heaven either," she went on,
declining the diversion he offered. "I don't want to
talk impiously, but if there is a God, he has forgotten me,
his poor heart-broken hand-maiden."
"You are talking impiously, Alice," observed her husband.
"And you are doing me cruel injustice, into the bargain."
"I only wish I were!" she replied; "I only wish to God
"Well, then, accept my complete assurance that you ARE--
that your whole conception of me, and of what you are pleased
to describe as my change toward you, is an entire and
utter mistake. Of course, the married state is no more exempt
from the universal law of growth, development, alteration,
than any other human institution. On its spiritual side,
of course, viewed either as a sacrament, or as--"
"Don't let us go into that," interposed Alice, abruptly.
"In fact, there is no good in talking any more at all.
It is as if we didn't speak the same language.
You don't understand what I say; it makes no impression
upon your mind."
"Quite to the contrary," he assured her; "I have been
deeply interested and concerned in all you have said.
I think you are laboring under a great delusion,
and I have tried my best to convince you of it;
but I have never heard you speak more intelligibly or,
I might say, effectively."
A little gleam of softness stole over Alice's face.
"If you only gave me a little more credit for intelligence,"
she said, "you would find that I am not such a blockhead
as you think I am."
"Come, come!" he said, with a smiling show of impatience.
"You really mustn't impute things to me wholesale,
She was glad to answer the smile in kind. "No; but truly,"
she pleaded, "you don't realize it, but you have grown
into a way of treating me as if I had absolutely no mind
"You have a very admirable mind," he responded,
and took up his teaspoon again. She reached for his cup,
and poured out hot coffee for him. An almost cheerful
spirit had suddenly descended upon the breakfast table.
"And now let me say the thing I have been aching to say
for months," she began in less burdened voice.
He lifted his brows. "Haven't things been discussed
pretty fully already?" he asked.
The doubtful, harassed expression clouded upon her face
at his words, and she paused. "No," she said resolutely,
after an instant's reflection; "it is my duty to
discuss this, too. It is a misunderstanding all round.
You remember that I told you Mr. Gorringe had given me
some plants, which he got from some garden or other?"
"If you really wish to go on with the subject--yes I
have a recollection of that particular falsehood of his."
"He did it with the kindest and friendliest motives in
the world!" protested Alice. "He saw how down-in-the-mouth
and moping I was here, among these strangers--
and I really was getting quite peaked and run-down--
and he said I stayed indoors too much and it would do me
all sorts of good to work in the garden, and he would
send me some plants. The next I knew, here they were,
with a book about mixing soils and planting, and so on.
When I saw him next, and thanked him, I suppose I showed
some apprehension about his having laid out money on them,
and he, just to ease my mind, invented the story about his
getting them for nothing. When I found out the truth--
I got it out of that boy, Harvey Semple--he admitted it
quite frankly--said he was wrong to deceive me."
"This was in the fine first fervor of his term of probation,
I suppose," put in Theron. He made no effort to dissemble
the sneer in his voice.
"Well," answered Alice, with a touch of acerbity,
"I have told you now, and it is off my mind. There never
would have been the slightest concealment about it,
if you hadn't begun by keeping me at arm's length,