He sank in a heap upon the couch, and, burying his face among its cushions, wept and groaned aloud. His collapse was absolute. He sobbed with the abandonment of one who, in the veritable presence of death, lets go all sense of relation to life.
Presently some one was touching him on the shoulder—an incisive, pointed touch—and he checked himself, and lifted his face.
“You will have to get up, and present some sort of an appearance, and go away at once,” Celia said to him in low, rapid tones. “Some gentlemen are at the door, whom I have been waiting for.”
As he stupidly sat up and tried to collect his faculties, Celia had opened the door and admitted two visitors. The foremost was Father Forbes; and he, with some whispered, smiling words, presented to her his companion, a tall, robust, florid man of middle-age, with a frock-coat and a gray mustache, sharply waxed. The three spoke for a moment together. Then the priest’s wandering eye suddenly lighted upon the figure on the sofa. He stared, knitted his brows, and then lifted them in inquiry as he turned to Celia.
“Poor man!” she said readily, in tones loud enough to reach Theron. “It is our neighbor, Father, the Rev. Mr. Ware. He hit upon my name in the register quite unexpectedly, and I had him come up. He is in sore distress—a great and sudden bereavement. He is going now. Won’t you speak to him in the hall—a few words, Father? It would please him. He is terribly depressed.”
The words had drawn Theron to his feet, as by some mechanical process. He took up his hat and moved dumbly to the door. It seemed to him that Celia intended offering to shake hands; but he went past her with only some confused exchange of glances and a murmured word or two. The tall stranger, who drew aside to let him pass, had acted as if he expected to be introduced. Theron, emerging into the hall, leaned against the wall and looked dreamily at the priest, who had stepped out with him.
“I am very sorry to learn that you are in trouble, Mr. Ware,” Father Forbes said, gently enough, but in hurried tones. “Miss Madden is also in trouble. I mentioned to you that her brother had got into a serious scrape. I have brought my old friend, General Brady, to consult with her about the matter. He knows all the parties concerned, and he can set things right if anybody can.”
“It’s a mistake about me—I ’m not in any trouble at all,” said Theron. “I just dropped in to make a friendly call.”
The priest glanced sharply at him, noting with a swift, informed scrutiny how he sprawled against the wall, and what vacuity his eyes and loosened lips expressed.
“Then you have a talent for the inopportune amounting to positive genius,” said Father Forbes, with a stormy smile.
“Tell me this, Father Forbes,” the other demanded, with impulsive suddenness, “is it true that you don’t want me in your house again? Is that the truth or not?”