There were a half-dozen volumes on the open desk before him. He had taken them out from beneath a pile of old “Sunday-School Advocates” and church magazines, where they had lain hidden from Alice’s view most of the week. If there had been a locked drawer in the house, he would have used it instead to hold these books, which had come to him in a neat parcel, which also contained an amiable note from Dr. Ledsmar, recalling a pleasant evening in May, and expressing the hope that the accompanying works would be of some service. Theron had glanced at the backs of the uppermost two, and discovered that their author was Renan. Then he had hastily put the lot in the best place he could think of to escape his wife’s observation.
He realized now that there had been no need for this secrecy. Of the other four books, by Sayce, Budge, Smith, and Lenormant, three indeed revealed themselves to be published under religious auspices. As for Renan, he might have known that the name would be meaningless to Alice. The feeling that he himself was not much wiser in this matter than his wife may have led him to pass over the learned text-books on Chaldean antiquity, and even the volume of Renan which appeared to be devoted to Oriental inscriptions, and take up his other book, entitled in the translation, “Recollections of my Youth.” This he rather glanced through, at the outset, following with a certain inattention the introductory sketches and essays, which dealt with an unfamiliar, and, to his notion, somewhat preposterous Breton racial type. Then, little by little, it dawned upon him that there was a connected story in all this; and suddenly he came upon it, out in the open, as it were. It was the story of how a deeply devout young man, trained from his earliest boyhood for the sacred office, and desiring passionately nothing but to be worthy of it, came to a point where, at infinite cost of pain to himself and of anguish to those dearest to him, he had to declare that he could no longer believe at all in revealed religion.
Theron Ware read this all with an excited interest which no book had ever stirred in him before. Much of it he read over and over again, to make sure that he penetrated everywhere the husk of French habits of thought and Catholic methods in which the kernel was wrapped. He broke off midway in this part of the book to go out to the kitchen to dinner, and began the meal in silence. To Alice’s questions he replied briefly that he was preparing himself for the evening’s prayer-meeting. She lifted her brows in such frank surprise at this that he made a further and somewhat rambling explanation about having again taken up the work on his book—the book about Abraham.
“I thought you said you’d given that up altogether,” she remarked.
“Well,” he said, “I was discouraged about it for a while. But a man never does anything big without getting discouraged over and over again while he’s doing it. I don’t say now that I shall write precisely that book—I’m merely reading scientific works about the period, just now—but if not that, I shall write some other book. Else how will you get that piano?” he added, with an attempt at a smile.