For his imagination stopped short of seeing himself at the seaside. It sketched instead pictures of whole weeks of solitary academic calm, alone with his books and his thoughts. The facts that he had no books, and that nobody dreamed of interfering with his thoughts, subordinated themselves humbly to his mood. The prospect, as he mused fondly upon it, expanded to embrace the priest’s and the doctor’s libraries; the thoughts which he longed to be alone with involved close communion with their thoughts. It could not but prove a season of immense mental stimulation and ethical broadening. It would have its lofty poetic and artistic side as well; the languorous melodies of Chopin stole over his revery, as he dwelt upon these things, and soft azure and golden lights modelled forth the exquisite outlines of tall marble forms.
He opened the gate leading to Dr. Ledsmar’s house. His walk had brought him quite out of the town, and up, by a broad main highway which yet took on all sorts of sylvan charms, to a commanding site on the hillside. Below, in the valley, lay Octavius, at one end half-hidden in factory smoke, at the other, where narrow bands of water gleamed upon the surface of a broad plain piled symmetrically with lumber, presenting an oddly incongruous suggestion of forest odors and the simplicity of the wilderness. In the middle distance, on gradually rising ground, stretched a wide belt of dense, artificial foliage, peeping through which tiled turrets and ornamented chimneys marked the polite residences of those who, though they neither stoked the furnace fires to the west, nor sawed the lumber on the east, lived in purple and fine linen from the profits of this toil. Nearer at hand, pastures with grazing cows on the one side of the road, and the nigh, weather-stained board fence of the race-course on the other, completed the jumble of primitive rusticity and urban complications characterizing the whole picture.
Dr. Ledsmar’s house, toward which Theron’s impulses had been secretly leading him ever since Celia’s parting remark about the rheumatism, was of that spacious and satisfying order of old-fashioned houses which men of leisure and means built for themselves while the early traditions of a sparse and contented homogeneous population were still strong in the Republic. There was a hospitable look about its wide veranda, its broad, low bulk, and its big, double front door, which did not fit at all with the sketch of a man-hating recluse that the doctor had drawn of himself.
Theron had prepared his mind for the effect of being admitted by a Chinaman, and was taken somewhat aback when the door was opened by the doctor himself. His reception was pleasant enough, almost cordial, but the sense of awkwardness followed him into his host’s inner room and rested heavily upon his opening speech.
“I heard, quite by accident, that you were ill,” he said, laying aside his hat.
“It’s nothing at all,” replied Ledsmar. “Merely a stiff shoulder that I wear from time to time in memory of my father. It ought to be quite gone by nightfall. It was good of you to come, all the same. Sit down if you can find a chair. As usual, we are littered up to our eyes here. That’s it—throw those things on the floor.”