My effort at conversation with Mrs. Jervaise was a mere act of politeness.
“I’m afraid you were rather late this morning,” I said. It was not, perhaps, a tactful remark, but I could think of nothing else. All the church-party were stiff with the slightly peevish righteousness of those who have fulfilled a duty contrary to their real inclinations.
Mrs. Jervaise lifted her nose savagely. No doubt her head went with it, but only the nose was important.
“Very late, Mr. Melhuish,” she said, stared at me as if debating whether she would not instantly give me the coup de grace, and then dipped again to the threat of the imaginary doorway.
“Mr. Sturton give you a good sermon?” I continued, still suffering from the delusion that I was graciously overlooking their obvious inferiority to myself.
“He is a very able man; very able,” Mrs. Jervaise said, this time without looking up.
“You are lucky to have such a good man as vicar,” I said. “Sometimes there is—well, a lack of sympathy between the Vicarage and the Hall. I remember—the case isn’t quite parallel, of course, but the moral is much the same—I remember a curate my father had once...”
Now, my story of that curate is thoroughly sound. It is full of incident and humour and not at all derogatory to the prestige of the church. I have been asked for it, more than once, by hostesses. And though I am rather sick of it myself, I still fall back on it in cases of such urgency as I judged the present one to be. I thought that I had been lucky to get so easy an opening to produce the anecdote with relevance, and I counted on it for a good five minutes relief from the constraint of making polite conversation.
Mrs. Jervaise’s response began to open my eyes to the state of the new relations that now existed between myself and the rest of the party. She did not even allow me to begin. She ignored my opening entirely, and looking down the table towards her husband said, “Mr. Sturton preached from the tenth of Hebrews, ’Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.’ Quite a coincidence, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed? Yes, quite a coincidence,” Mr. Jervaise replied without enthusiasm. He did not look as cheerful as I had anticipated, but he wore the air of a man who has had at least a temporary reprieve.
“Olive and I were quite struck by it; weren’t we, dear?” Mrs. Jervaise continued, dragging in her daughter’s evidence.
“Yes, it was very odd,” Olive agreed tepidly.
I never knew what the coincidence was, but I judge from Mrs. Jervaise’s insistence that it was something perfectly futile.
I glanced across at Hughes, and guessed that he was not less bored than I was myself, but when I caught his eye he looked hastily away.
I was beginning to wonder what I had done, but I valiantly tried again.
“Don’t you think it possible that many cases of apparent coincidences are probably due to telepathy?” I said genially, addressing the dangerous-looking profile of my hostess.