The droning of the Doxology from the church outside stirred Theron suddenly out of his revery. It had grown quite dark, and he rose and lit the gas. “Blest be the Tie that Binds,” they were singing. He paused, with hand still in air, to listen. That well-worn phrase arrested his attention, and gave itself a new meaning. He was bound to those people, it was true, but he could never again harbor the delusion that the tie between them was blessed. There was vaguely present in his mind the consciousness that other ties were loosening as well. Be that as it might, one thing was certain. He had passed definitely beyond pretending to himself that there was anything spiritually in common between him and the Methodist Church of Octavius. The necessity of his keeping up the pretence with others rose on the instant like a looming shadow before his mental vision. He turned away from it, and bent his brain to think of something else.
The noise of Alice opening the front door came as a pleasant digression. A second later it became clear from the sound of voices that she had brought some one back with her, and Theron hastily stretched himself out again in the armchair, with his head back in the pillow, and his feet on the other chair. He had come mighty near forgetting that he was an invalid, and he protected himself the further now by assuming an air of lassitude verging upon prostration.
“Yes; there’s a light burning. It’s all right,” he heard Alice say. She entered the room, and Theron’s head was too bad to permit him to turn it, and see who her companion was.
“Theron dear,” Alice began, “I knew you’d be glad to see her, even if you were out of sorts; and I persuaded her just to run in for a minute. Let me introduce you to Sister Soulsby. Sister Soulsby—my husband.”
The Rev. Mr. Ware sat upright with an energetic start, and fastened upon the stranger a look which conveyed anything but the satisfaction his wife had been so sure about. It was at the first blush an undisguised scowl, and only some fleeting memory of that reflection about needing now to dissemble, prevented him from still frowning as he rose to his feet, and perfunctorily held out his hand.
“Delighted, I’m sure,” he mumbled. Then, looking up, he discovered that Sister Soulsby knew he was not delighted, and that she seemed not to mind in the least.
“As your good lady said, I just ran in for a moment,” she remarked, shaking his limp hand with a brisk, business-like grasp, and dropping it. “I hate bothering sick people, but as we’re to be thrown together a good deal this next week or so, I thought I’d like to lose no time in saying ‘howdy.’ I won’t keep you up now. Your wife has been sweet enough to ask me to move my trunk over here in the morning, so that you’ll see enough of me and to spare.”
Theron looked falteringly into her face, as he strove for words which should sufficiently mask the disgust this intelligence stirred within him. A debt-raiser in the town was bad enough! A debt-raiser quartered in the very parsonage!—he ground his teeth to think of it.