“N—–o. It may be; but I cannot, dare not face it, say it or not say it, think it or not think it—now. It is the great affirmation. When it comes it must come, no one may know how or why, in a great white flash, like a revelation, hiding nothing, revealing everything in dazzling, blinding truth. At least I so imagine.”
Jacob Welse nodded his head with the slow meditation of one who understands, yet stops to ponder and weigh again.
“But why have you asked, father? Why has Mr. St. Vincent been raised? I have been friends with other men.”
“But I have not felt about other men as I do of St. Vincent. We may be truthful, you and I, and forgive the pain we give each other. My opinion counts for no more than another’s. Fallibility is the commonest of curses. Nor can I explain why I feel as I do—I oppose much in the way you expect to when your great white flash sears your eyes. But, in a word, I do not like St. Vincent.”
“A very common judgment of him among the men,” Frona interposed, driven irresistibly to the defensive.
“Such consensus of opinion only makes my position stronger,” he returned, but not disputatively. “Yet I must remember that I look upon him as men look. His popularity with women must proceed from the fact that women look differently than men, just as women do differ physically and spiritually from men. It is deep, too deep for me to explain. I but follow my nature and try to be just.”
“But have you nothing more definite?” she asked, groping for better comprehension of his attitude. “Can you not put into some sort of coherence some one certain thing of the things you feel?”
“I hardly dare. Intuitions can rarely be expressed in terms of thought. But let me try. We Welses have never known a coward. And where cowardice is, nothing can endure. It is like building on sand, or like a vile disease which rots and rots and we know not when it may break forth.”
“But it seems to me that Mr. St. Vincent is the last man in the world with whom cowardice may be associated. I cannot conceive of him in that light.”
The distress in her face hurt him. “I know nothing against St. Vincent. There is no evidence to show that he is anything but what he appears. Still, I cannot help feeling it, in my fallible human way. Yet there is one thing I have heard, a sordid pot-house brawl in the Opera House. Mind you, Frona, I say nothing against the brawl or the place,—men are men, but it is said that he did not act as a man ought that night.”
“But as you say, father, men are men. We would like to have them other than they are, for the world surely would be better; but we must take them as they are. Lucile—”
“No, no; you misunderstand. I did not refer to her, but to the fight. He did not . . . he was cowardly.”
“But as you say, it is said. He told me about it, not long afterwards, and I do not think he would have dared had there been anything—”