“What! have you only got as far as that?” came the welcome interruption of a cheery voice. Father Forbes had entered the room, and stood looking down with a whimsical twinkle in his eye from one to the other of his guests.
“You must have been taken over the ground at a very slow pace, Mr. Ware,” he continued, chuckling softly, “to have arrived merely at the collapse of the New Jerusalem. I fancied I had given him time enough to bring you straight up to the end of all of us, with that Chinaman of his gently slapping our graves with his pigtail. That’s where the doctor always winds up, if he’s allowed to run his course.”
“It has all been very interesting, extremely so, I assure you,” faltered Theron. It had become suddenly apparent to him that he desired nothing so much as to make his escape—that he had indeed only been waiting for the host’s return to do so.
He rose at this, and explained that he must be going. No special effort being put forth to restrain him, he presently made his way out, Father Forbes hospitably following him down to the door, and putting a very gracious cordiality into his adieux.
The night was warm and black. Theron stood still in it the moment the pastorate door had closed; the sudden darkness was so thick that it was as if he had closed his eyes. His dominant sensation was of a deep relief and rest after some undue fatigue. It crossed his mind that drunken men probably felt like that as they leaned against things on their way home. He was affected himself, he saw, by the weariness and half-nausea following a mental intoxication. The conceit pleased him, and he smiled to himself as he turned and took the first homeward steps. It must be growing late, he thought. Alice would be wondering as she waited.
There was a street lamp at the corner, and as he walked toward it he noted all at once that his feet were keeping step to the movement of the music proceeding from the organ within the church—a vaguely processional air, marked enough in measure, but still with a dreamy effect. It became a pleasure to identify his progress with the quaint rhythm of sound as he sauntered along. He discovered, as he neared the light, that he was instinctively stepping over the seams in the flagstone sidewalk as he had done as a boy. He smiled again at this. There was something exceptionally juvenile and buoyant about his mood, now that he examined it. He set it down as a reaction from that doctor’s extravagant and incendiary talk. One thing was certain—he would never be caught up at that house beyond the race-course, with its reptiles and its Chinaman. Should he ever even go to the pastorate again? He decided not to quite definitely answer that in the negative, but as he felt now, the chances were all against it.
Turning the corner, and walking off into the shadows along the side of the huge church building, Theron noted, almost at the end of the edifice, a small door—the entrance to a porch coming out to the sidewalk—which stood wide open. A thin, pale, vertical line of light showed that the inner door, too, was ajar.