A hundred obscure hints, doubts, stray little suspicions, crowded upward together in his thoughts. It became apparent to him now that from the outset he had been conscious of something queer—yes, from that very first day when he saw the priest and Celia together, and noted their glance of recognition inside the house of death. He realized now, upon reflection, that the tone of other people, his own parishioners and his casual acquaintances in Octavius alike, had always had a certain note of reservation in it when it touched upon Miss Madden. Her running in and out of the pastorate at all hours, the way the priest patted her on the shoulder before others, the obvious dislike the priest’s ugly old housekeeper bore her, the astonishing freedom of their talk with each other—these dark memories loomed forth out of a mass of sinister conjecture.
He could bear the uncertainty no longer. Was it indeed not entirely his own fault that it had existed thus long? No man with the spirit of a mouse would have shilly-shallied in this preposterous fashion, week after week, with the fever of a beautiful woman’s kiss in his blood, and the woman herself living only round the corner. The whole world had been as good as offered to him—a bewildering world of wealth and beauty and spiritual exaltation and love—and he, like a weak fool, had waited for it to be brought to him on a salver, as it were, and actually forced upon his acceptance! “That is my failing,” he reflected; “these miserable ecclesiastical bandages of mine have dwarfed my manly side. The meanest of Thurston’s clerks would have shown a more adventurous spirit and a bolder nerve. If I do not act at once, with courage and resolution, everything will be lost. Already she must think me unworthy of the honor it was in her sweet will to bestow.” Then he remembered that she was now always at home. “Not another hour of foolish indecision!” he whispered to himself. “I will put my destiny to the test. I will see her today!”
A middle-aged, plain-faced servant answered his ring at the door-bell of the Madden mansion. She was palpably Irish, and looked at him with a saddened preoccupation in her gray eyes, holding the door only a little ajar.
Theron had got out one of his cards. “I wish to make inquiry about young Mr. Madden—Mr. Michael Madden,” he said, holding the card forth tentatively. “I have only just heard of his illness, and it has been a great grief to me.”
“He is no better,” answered the woman, briefly.
“I am the Rev. Mr. Ware,” he went on, “and you may say that, if he is well enough, I should be glad to see him.”
The servant peered out at him with a suddenly altered expression, then shook her head. “I don’t think he would be wishing to see you,” she replied. It was evident from her tone that she suspected the visitor’s intentions.
Theron smiled in spite of himself. “I have not come as a clergyman,” he explained, “but as a friend of the family. If you will tell Miss Madden that I am here, it will do just as well. Yes, we won’t bother him. If you will kindly hand my card to his sister.”