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!”