But at luncheon his troubles began afresh; or rather, a new and more agonizing set of them took the field. The fourth seat at the small table was occupied by the lady with the stick eye-glasses, and Tom was made aware that she was a Dabney cousin once removed. Thereupon, what little dexterity was left in him fled away, and the table-trial, under the smiling eyes of a Miss Euphrasia, became a chapter of horrors.
From absently picking and choosing among the forks, and trying to drink his bouillon out of the cup in which it was served, to upsetting his glass of iced tea, he stumbled on in a dream of awkwardness; and when, to cover the tea mishap, Ardea, emulating the lady hostess who broke one of her priceless tea-cups at a similar crisis, promptly overturned her own glass, he was unreasonable enough to be angry.
Taking it all in all, anger was coming to be the one constant quantity in the procession of varying emotions. By what right did this hollow, insincere, mocking world, of whose very existence he had been in utter ignorance, make him a butt for its well-bred sneers? Its fashions and fripperies and meaningless forms were not beyond learning; and, by Heaven! he would learn them, too, and put them all to shame. They should see!
And Ardea: was she laughing at him, too, in the depths of her big, beautiful eyes? No, that was too much; he would never believe that. But she was insincere, like the rest of them. It was acting a lie for her to make-believe clumsiness just to keep the others from laughing at him. She must stand with her kind.
From that station to the top of the high, bare crag of righteous condemnation was but a short stage in the wrathful journey; and while he was choking over the meal of strange dishes the zealous under-thought was reaching out into the future.
Some day, when his tongue should be loosed, he would stand before this mocking, smiling, heathenish world with the open Bible in his hand; then it should be taught what it needed to know—that while it was saying it was rich, and increased with goods, and had need of nothing, it was wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
So it came about that it was the convert of Little Zoar, and not the self-pitying youth searching for his lost boyhood, who escaped finally from the entanglements of Major Dabney’s hospitality.
On the way down the cliff path the fire burned and the revival zeal was kindled anew. There had been times, in the last year, especially, when he had thought coldly of the disciple’s calling and was minded to break away and be a skilled craftsman, like his father. Now he was aghast to think that he had ever been so near the brink of apostasy. With the river of the Water of Life springing crystal clear at his feet, should he turn away and drink from the bitter pools in the wilderness of this world? With prophetic eye he saw himself as another Boanerges, lifting, with all the inspiring eloquence of the son of thunder, the Baptist’s soul-shaking cry, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!