On the following Sunday, young Mrs. Ware sat alone in the preacher’s pew through the morning service, and everybody noted that the roses had been taken from her bonnet. In the evening she was absent, and after the doxology and benediction several people, under the pretence of solicitude for her health, tried to pump her husband as to the reason. He answered their inquiries civilly enough, but with brevity: she had stayed at home because she did not feel like coming out—this and nothing more.
The congregation dispersed under a gossip-laden cloud of consciousness that there must be something queer about Sister Ware. There was a tolerably general agreement, however, that the two sermons of the day had been excellent. Not even Loren Pierce’s railing commentary on the pastor’s introduction of an outlandish word like “epitome”—clearly forbidden by the Discipline’s injunction to plain language understood of the people—availed to sap the satisfaction of the majority.
Theron himself comprehended that he had pleased the bulk of his auditors; the knowledge left him curiously hot and cold. On the one hand, there was joy in the apparent prospect that the congregation would back him up in a stand against the trustees, if worst came to worst. But, on the other hand, the bonnet episode entered his soul. It had been a source of bitter humiliation to him to see his wife sitting there beneath the pulpit, shorn by despotic order of the adornments natural to her pretty head. But he had even greater pain in contemplating the effect it had produced on Alice herself. She had said not a word on the subject, but her every glance and gesture seemed to him eloquent of deep feeling about it. He made sure that she blamed him for having defended his own gas and sidewalk rights with successful vigor, but permitted the sacrifice of her poor little inoffensive roses without a protest. In this view of the matter, indeed, he blamed himself. Was it too late to make the error good? He ventured a hint on this Sunday evening, when he returned to the parsonage and found her reading an old weekly newspaper by the light of the kitchen lamp, to the effect that he fancied there would be no great danger in putting those roses back into her bonnet. Without lifting her eyes from the paper, she answered that she had no earthly desire to wear roses in her bonnet, and went on with her reading.
At breakfast the next morning Theron found himself in command of an unusual fund of humorous good spirits, and was at pains to make the most of it, passing whimsical comments on subjects which the opening day suggested, recalling quaint and comical memories of the past, and striving his best to force Alice into a laugh. Formerly her merry temper had always ignited at the merest spark of gayety. Now she gave his jokes only a dutiful half-smile, and uttered scarcely a word in response to his running fire of talk. When the meal was finished, she went silently to work to clear away the dishes.