Theron impassively watched the familiar scene. The early nervousness had passed away. He felt now that he was not in the least afraid of these people, even with the Presiding Elder thrown in. Folks who sang with such unintelligence, and who threw themselves with such undignified fervor into this childish business of the bread and water, could not be formidable antagonists for a man of intellect. He had never realized before what a spectacle the Methodist love-feast probably presented to outsiders. What must they think of it!
He had noticed that the Soulsbys sat together, in the centre and toward the front. Next to Brother Soulsby sat Alice. He thought she looked pale and preoccupied, and set it down in passing to her innate distaste for the somber garments she was wearing, and for the company she perforce found herself in. Another head was in the way, and for a time Theron did not observe who sat beside Alice on the other side. When at last he saw that it was Levi Gorringe, his instinct was to wonder what the lawyer must be saying to himself about these noisy and shallow enthusiasts. A recurring emotion of loyalty to the simple people among whom, after all, he had lived his whole life, prompted him to feel that it wasn’t wholly nice of Gorringe to come and enjoy this revelation of their foolish side, as if it were a circus. There was some vague memory in his mind which associated Gorringe with other love-feasts, and with a cynical attitude toward them. Oh, yes! he had told how he went to one just for the sake of sitting beside the girl he admired—and was pursuing.
The stewards had completed their round, and the loud, discordant singing came to an end. There ensued a little pause, during which Theron turned to the Presiding Elder with a gesture of invitation to take charge of the further proceedings. The Elder responded with another gesture, calling his attention to something going on in front.
Brother and Sister Soulsby, to the considerable surprise of everybody, had risen to their feet, and were standing in their places, quite motionless, and with an air of professional self-assurance dimly discernible under a large show of humility. They stood thus until complete silence had been secured. Then the woman, lifting her head, began to sing. The words were “Rock of Ages,” but no one present had heard the tune to which she wedded them. Her voice was full and very sweet, and had in it tender cadences which all her hearers found touching. She knew how to sing, and she put forth the words so that each was distinctly intelligible. There came a part where Brother Soulsby, lifting his head in turn, took up a tuneful second to her air. Although the two did not, as one could hear by listening closely, sing the same words at the same time, they produced none the less most moving and delightful harmonies of sound.
The experience was so novel and charming that listeners ran ahead in their minds to fix the number of verses there were in the hymn, and to hope that none would be left out. Toward the end, when some of the intolerably self-conceited local singers, fancying they had caught the tune, started to join in, they were stopped by an indignant “sh-h!” which rose from all parts of the class-room; and the Soulsbys, with a patient and pensive kindliness written on their uplifted faces, gave that verse over again.