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 for us.”
“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.