Dorcas looked at him and said nothing because words failed her, so he went on hurriedly.
“By the way, love, I have taken a slight liberty with your name. It appears that the church at Sisa, which I understand was quite a nice one built with subscriptions obtained in England by one of my predecessors who chanced to have influence or connections at home, has been recently burnt down together with the mission-house. Now the house can wait, since, of course, we can make shift for a year or two in some native huts, but obviously we must have a church, and as the Society is overdrawn it cannot help in the matter. Under these circumstances I ventured to promise a gift of 1,000 pounds, which it is estimated will cover the re-erection of both church and house.”
He paused awaiting a reply, but as Dorcas still said nothing, continued.
“You will remember that you told me quite recently that you found you had 1,500 pounds to your credit, therefore I felt quite sure that you would not grudge 1,000 pounds of it to enable me to fulfil this duty–this semi-divine duty.”
“Oh!” said Dorcas. “As a matter of fact I intended to spend that 1,000 pounds, or much of it, otherwise. There are some people here whom I wanted to help, but fortunately I had not mentioned this to them, so they will have to do without the money and their holiday; also the children cannot be sent to school. And, by the way, how is Tabbie to be educated in this far-away place?”
“I am sorry, dear, but after all private luxuries, including that of benevolence, must give way to sacred needs, so I will write to the Dean that the money will be forthcoming when it is needed. As for Tabitha’s education, of course we will undertake it between us, at any rate for the next few years.”
“Yes, Thomas, since you have passed your word, or rather my word, the money will be forthcoming. But meanwhile, if you can spare me the odd 500 pounds, I suggest that I should stay here with Tabbie, who could continue to attend the college as a day-scholar, while you get us some place ready to live in among these savages, the Sneezers, or whatever they are called.”
“My dear,” answered Thomas, “consider what you ask. You are in perfect health and so is our child. Would it not, then, be a downright scandal that you should stop here in luxury while your husband went out to confront grave difficulties among the Sisas–not the Sneezers–for I may tell you at once that the difficulties are very grave? There is a noted witch-doctor amongst this people named Menzi, who, I understand, is suspected of having burned down the mission-house, and probably the church also, because he said that it was ridiculous that an unmarried man like the late priest should have so large a dwelling to live alone. This, of course, was but a cunning excuse for his savage malevolence, but if another apparent celibate arrives, he might repeat the argument and its application. Also often these barbarians consider that a man who is not married _must_ be insane! Therefore it is absolutely necessary that you and the child should be present with me from the first.”
“Oh! is it?” said Dorcas, turning very pink. “Well, I am sorry to say that just now it is absolutely necessary that I should be absent from you, since I have a tennis party this afternoon–the officers of the garrison are coming and about half a dozen girls–and I must go to arrange about the tea.”
“A tennis party! A tennis party to those godless officers and probably equally godless girls,” exclaimed her husband. “I am ashamed of you, Dorcas, you should be occupied with higher things.”
Then at last the worm turned.
“Do you know, Thomas,” she answered, springing up, “that I am inclined to be ashamed of you too, who I think should be occupied in keeping your temper. You have accepted some strange mission without consulting me, you have promised 1,000 pounds of my money without consulting me, and now you scold me because I have a few young people to play tennis and stop to supper. It is unchristian, it is uncharitable, it is–too bad!” and sitting down again she burst into tears.
The Rev. Thomas who by now was in a really regal rage, not knowing what to say or do, glared about him. By ill-luck his eye fell upon a box of cigarettes that stood upon the mantelpiece.
“What are those things doing here?” he asked. “I do not smoke, so they cannot be for me. Is our money–I beg pardon–your money which is so much needed in other directions to be wasted in providing such unnecessaries–for officers and–idle girls? Oh–bless it all,” and seizing the offending cigarettes he hurled them through the open window, a scattered shower of white tubes which some Kaffirs outside instantly proceeded to collect.
Then he rushed from the house, and Dorcas went to get ready for her party. But first she sent a servant to buy another box of cigarettes. It was her first act of rebellion against the iron rule of the Rev. Thomas Bull.