“I am very sorry,” said Alice, in a low tone, and with her eyes on her plate.
“I took it for granted you would be grieved at his backsliding,” remarked Theron, making his phrases as pointed as he could. “He was such a promising probationer, and you took such a keen interest in his spiritual awakening. But the frost has nipped his zeal—along with the hundred or more dollars’ worth of flowers by which he testified his faith. I find something interesting in their having been blasted simultaneously.”
Alice dropped all pretence of interest in her breakfast. With a flushed face and lips tightly compressed, she made a movement as if to rise from her chair. Then, changing her mind, she sat bolt upright and faced her husband.
“I think we had better have this out right now,” she said, in a voice which Theron hardly recognized. “You have been hinting round the subject long enough—too long. There are some things nobody is obliged to put up with, and this is one of them. You will oblige me by saying out in so many words what it is you are driving at.”
The outburst astounded Theron. He laid down his knife and fork, and gazed at his wife in frank surprise. She had so accustomed him, of late, to a demeanor almost abject in its depressed docility that he had quite forgotten the Alice of the old days, when she had spirit and courage enough for two, and a notable tongue of her own. The flash in her eyes and the lines of resolution about her mouth and chin for a moment daunted him. Then he observed by a flutter of the frill at her wrist that she was trembling.
“I am sure I have nothing to ‘say out in so many words,’ as you put it,” he replied, forcing his voice into cool, impassive tones. “I merely commented upon a coincidence, that was all. If, for any reason under the sun, the subject chances to be unpleasant to you, I have no earthly desire to pursue it.”
“But I insist upon having it pursued!” returned Alice. “I’ve had just all I can stand of your insinuations and innuendoes, and it’s high time we had some plain talk. Ever since the revival, you have been dropping sly, underhand hints about Mr. Gorringe and—and me. Now I ask you what you mean by it.”
Yes, there was a shake in her voice, and he could see how her bosom heaved in a tremor of nervousness. It was easy for him to be very calm.
“It is you who introduce these astonishing suggestions, not I,” he replied coldly. “It is you who couple your name with his—somewhat to my surprise, I admit—but let me suggest that we drop the subject. You are excited just now, and you might say things that you would prefer to leave unsaid. It would surely be better for all concerned to say no more about it.”
Alice, staring across the table at him with knitted brows, emitted a sharp little snort of indignation. “Well, I never! Theron, I wouldn’t have thought it of you!”
“There are so many things you wouldn’t have thought, on such a variety of subjects,” he observed, with a show of resuming his breakfast. “But why continue? We are only angering each other.”