“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.”