Once there had seemed the beginning of a chance. The richest banker in Octavius—a fat, sensual, hog-faced old bachelor—surprised everybody one evening by entering the church and taking a seat. Theron happened to know who he was; even if he had not known, the suppressed excitement visible in the congregation, the way the sisters turned round to look, the way the more important brethren put their heads together and exchanged furtive whispers—would have warned him that big game was in view. He recalled afterward with something like self-disgust the eager, almost tremulous pains he himself took to please this banker. There was a part of the sermon, as it had been written out, which might easily give offence to a single man of wealth and free notions of life. With the alertness of a mental gymnast, Theron ran ahead, excised this portion, and had ready when the gap was reached some very pretty general remarks, all the more effective and eloquent, he felt, for having been extemporized. People said it was a good sermon; and after the benediction and dispersion some of the officials and principal pew-holders remained to talk over the likelihood of a capture having been effected. Theron did not get away without having this mentioned to him, and he was conscious of sharing deeply the hope of the brethren—with the added reflection that it would be a personal triumph for himself into the bargain. He was ashamed of this feeling a little later, and of his trick with the sermon. But this chastening product of introspection was all the fruit which the incident bore. The banker never came again.
Theron returned one afternoon, a little earlier than usual, from a group of pastoral calls. Alice, who was plucking weeds in a border at the shady side of the house, heard his step, and rose from her labors. He was walking slowly, and seemed weary. He took off his high hat, as he saw her, and wiped his brow. The broiling June sun was still high overhead. Doubtless it was its insufferable heat which was accountable for the worn lines in his face and the spiritless air which the wife’s eye detected. She went to the gate, and kissed him as he entered.
“I believe if I were you,” she said, “I’d carry an umbrella such scorching days as this. Nobody’d think anything of it. I don’t see why a minister shouldn’t carry one as much as a woman carries a parasol.”
Theron gave her a rueful, meditative sort of smile. “I suppose people really do think of us as a kind of hybrid female,” he remarked. Then, holding his hat in his hand, he drew a long breath of relief at finding himself in the shade, and looked about him.
“Why, you’ve got more posies here, on this one side of the house alone, than mother had in her whole yard,” he said, after a little. “Let’s see—I know that one: that’s columbine, isn’t it? And that’s London pride, and that’s ragged robin. I don’t know any of the others.”
Alice recited various unfamiliar names, as she pointed out the several plants which bore them, and he listened with a kindly semblance of interest.