The doctor looked at him, nodded, and stooped to nip some buds from a stalk in the bed.
“And another case,” Theron went on—“of course it was all so new and strange to me—but the position which Miss Madden seems to occupy about the Catholic Church here—I suppose you had her in mind when you spoke.”
Ledsmar stood up. “My mind has better things to busy itself with than mad asses of that description,” he replied. “She is not worth talking about—a mere bundle of egotism, ignorance, and red-headed lewdness. If she were even a type, she might be worth considering; but she is simply an abnormal sport, with a little brain addled by notions that she is like Hypatia, and a large impudence rendered intolerable by the fact that she has money. Her father is a decent man. He ought to have her whipped.”
Mr. Ware drew himself erect, as he listened to these outrageous words. It would be unmanly, he felt, to allow such comments upon an absent friend to pass unrebuked. Yet there was the courtesy due to a host to be considered. His mind, fluttering between these two extremes, alighted abruptly upon a compromise. He would speak so as to show his disapproval, yet not so as to prevent his finding out what he wanted to know. The desire to hear Ledsmar talk about Celia and the priest seemed now to have possessed him for a long time, to have dictated his unpremeditated visit out here, to have been growing in intensity all the while he pretended to be interested in orchids and bees and the drugged Chinaman. It tugged passionately at his self-control as he spoke.
“I cannot in the least assent to your characterization of the lady,” he began with rhetorical dignity.
“Bless me!” interposed the doctor, with deceptive cheerfulness, “that is not required of you at all. It is a strictly personal opinion, offered merely as a contribution to the general sum of hypotheses.”
“But,” Theron went on, feeling his way, “of course, I gathered that evening that you had prejudices in the matter; but these are rather apart from the point I had in view. We were speaking, you will remember, of the traditional attitude of women toward priests—wanting to curl their hair and put flowers in it, you know, and that suggested to me some individual illustrations, and it occurred to me to wonder just what were the relations between Miss Madden and—and Father Forbes. She said this morning, for instance—I happened to meet her, quite by accident—that she was going to the church to practise a new piece, and that she could have Father Forbes to herself all day. Now that would be quite an impossible remark in our—that is, in any Protestant circles—and purely as a matter of comparison, I was curious to ask you just how much there was in it. I ask you, because going there so much you have had exceptional opportunities for—”
A sharp exclamation from his companion interrupted the clergyman’s hesitating monologue. It began like a high-pitched, violent word, but dwindled suddenly into a groan of pain. The doctor’s face, too, which had on the flash of Theron’s turning seemed given over to unmixed anger, took on an expression of bodily suffering instead.