Father Forbes reached behind him and took from a chair his black three-cornered cap with the tassel. “Unfortunately I have a sick call waiting me,” he said, gathering up his gown and slowly rising.
“Yes, I saw the man sitting in the hall,” remarked Theron, getting to his feet.
“I would ask you to go upstairs and wait,” the priest went on, “but my return, unhappily, is quite uncertain. Another evening I may be more fortunate. I am leaving town tomorrow for some days, but when I get back—”
The polite sentence did not complete itself. Father Forbes had come out into the hall, giving a cool nod to the working-man, who rose from the bench as they passed, and shook hands with his guest on the doorstep.
When the door had closed upon Mr. Ware, the priest turned to the man. “You have come about those frames,” he said. “If you will come upstairs, I will show you the prints, and you can give me a notion of what can be done with them. I rather fancy the idea of a triptych in carved old English, if you can manage it.”
After the workman had gone away, Father Forbes put on slippers and an old loose soutane, lighted a cigar, and, pushing an easy-chair over to the reading lamp, sat down with a book. Then something occurred to him, and he touched the house-bell at his elbow.
“Maggie,” he said gently, when the housekeeper appeared at the door, “I will have the coffee and fine Champagne up here, if it is no trouble. And—oh, Maggie—I was compelled this evening to turn the blameless visit of the framemaker into a venial sin, and that involves a needless wear and tear of conscience. I think that—hereafter—you understand?—I am not invariably at home when the Rev. Mr. Ware does me the honor to call.”
That night brought the first frost of the season worth counting. In the morning, when Theron came downstairs, his casual glance through the window caught a desolate picture of blackened dahlia stalks and shrivelled blooms. The gayety and color of the garden were gone, and in their place was shabby and dishevelled ruin. He flung the sash up and leaned out. The nipping autumn air was good to breathe. He looked about him, surveying the havoc the frost had wrought among the flowers, and smiled.
At breakfast he smiled again—a mirthless and calculated smile. “I see that Brother Gorringe’s flowers have come to grief over night,” he remarked.
Alice looked at him before she spoke, and saw on his face a confirmation of the hostile hint in his voice. She nodded in a constrained way, and said nothing.
“Or rather, I should say,” Theron went on, with deliberate words, “the late Brother Gorringe’s flowers.”
“How do you mean—late” asked his wife, swiftly.
“Oh, calm yourself!” replied the husband. “He is not dead. He has only intimated to me his desire to sever his connection. I may add that he did so in a highly offensive manner.”