“It hasn’t been in my power to at all lay hold of what the world keeps on learning nowadays about its babyhood,” he said. “All I have done is to try to preserve an open mind, and to maintain my faith that the more we know, the nearer we shall approach the Throne.”
Dr. Ledsmar abruptly scuffled his feet on the floor, and took out his watch. “I’m afraid—” he began.
“No, no! There’s plenty of time,” remarked the priest, with his soft half-smile and purring tones. “You finish your cigar here with Mr. Ware, and excuse me while I run down and get rid of the people in the hall.”
Father Forbes tossed his cigar-end into the fender. Then he took from the mantel a strange three-cornered black-velvet cap, with a dangling silk tassel at the side, put it on his head, and went out.
Theron, being left alone with the doctor, hardly knew what to do or say. He took up a paper from the floor beside him, but realized that it would be impolite to go farther, and laid it on his knee. Some trace of that earlier momentary feeling that he was in hostile hands came back, and worried him. He lifted himself upright in the chair, and then became conscious that what really disturbed him was the fact that Dr. Ledsmar had turned in his seat, crossed his legs, and was contemplating him with a gravely concentrated scrutiny through his spectacles.
This uncomfortable gaze kept itself up a long way beyond the point of good manners; but the doctor seemed not to mind that at all.
When Dr. Ledsmar finally spoke, it was in a kindlier tone than the young minister had looked for. “I had half a notion of going to hear you preach the other evening,” he said; “but at the last minute I backed out. I daresay I shall pluck up the courage, sooner or later, and really go. It must be fully twenty years since I last heard a sermon, and I had supposed that that would suffice for the rest of my life. But they tell me that you are worth while; and, for some reason or other, I find myself curious on the subject.”
Involved and dubious though the compliment might be, Theron felt himself flushing with satisfaction. He nodded his acknowledgment, and changed the topic.
“I was surprised to hear Father Forbes say that he did not preach,” he remarked.
“Why should he?” asked the doctor, indifferently. “I suppose he hasn’t more than fifteen parishioners in a thousand who would understand him if he did, and of these probably twelve would join in a complaint to his Bishop about the heterodox tone of his sermon. There is no point in his going to all that pains, merely to incur that risk. Nobody wants him to preach, and he has reached an age where personal vanity no longer tempts him to do so. What is wanted of him is that he should be the paternal, ceremonial, authoritative head and centre of his flock, adviser, monitor, overseer, elder brother, friend, patron, seigneur—whatever you like—everything except a bore. They draw the line at that. You see how diametrically opposed this Catholic point of view is to the Protestant.”