Let them have faith then. Not credulity in a vague God they could not imagine, but faith in the Spirit of the Universe, humanity, in Jesus Christ who had been the complete human revelation of that Spirit, who had suffered and died that man might not live in ignorance of it. To doubt humanity,—such was the Great Refusal, the sin against the Holy Ghost, the repudiation of the only true God!
After a pause, he spoke simply of his hope for St. John's. If he remained here his ambition was that it would be the free temple of humanity, of Jesus Christ, supported not by a few, but by all,—each in accordance with his means. Of those who could afford nothing, nothing would be required. Perhaps this did not sound practical, nor would it be so if the transforming inspiration failed. He could only trust and try, hold up to them the vision of the Church as a community of willing workers for the Kingdom . . .
After the service was over the people lingered in the church, standing in the pews and aisles, as though loath to leave. The woman with the perfume and the elaborate hat was heard to utter a succinct remark.
"Say, Charlie, I guess he's all right. I never had it put like that."
The thick-necked man's reply was inaudible.
Eleanor Goodrich was silent and a little pale as she pressed close to Alison. Her imagination had been stretched, as it were, and she was still held in awe by the vastness of what she had heard and seen. Vaster even than ever,—so it appeared now,—demanding greater sacrifices than she had dreamed of. She looked back upon the old as at receding shores.
Alison, with absorbed fascination, watched the people; encountered, here and there, recognitions from men and women with whom she had once danced and dined in what now seemed a previous existence. Why had they come? and how had they received the message? She ran into a little man, a dealer in artists' supplies who once had sold her paints and brushes, who stared and bowed uncertainly. She surprised him by taking his hand.
"Did you like it?" she asked, impulsively.
"It's what I've been thinking for years, Miss Parr," he responded, "thinking and feeling. But I never knew it was Christianity. And I never thought—" he stopped and looked at her, alarmed.
"Oh," she said, "I believe in it, too—or try to."
She left him, mentally gasping . . . . Without, on the sidewalk, Eleanor Goodrich was engaged in conversation with a stockily built man, inclined to stoutness; he had a brown face and a clipped, bristly mustache. Alison paused involuntarily, and saw him start and hesitate as his clear, direct gaze met her own.
Bedloe Hubbell was one of those who had once sought to marry her. She recalled him as an amiable and aimless boy; and after she had gone East she had received with incredulity and then with amusement the news of his venture into altruistic politics. It was his efficiency she had doubted, not his sincerity. Later tidings, contemptuous and eventually irritable utterances of her own father, together with accounts in the New York newspapers of his campaign, had convinced her in spite of herself that Bedloe Hubbell had actually shaken the seats of power. And somehow, as she now took him in, he looked it.
His transformation was one of the signs, one of the mysteries of the times. The ridicule and abuse of the press, the opposition and enmity of his childhood friends, had developed the man of force she now beheld, and who came forward to greet her.
"Alison!" he exclaimed. He had changed in one sense, and not in another. Her colour deepened as the sound of his voice brought back the lapsed memories of the old intimacy. For she had been kind to him, kinder than to any other; and the news of his marriage—to a woman from the Pacific coast—had actually induced in her certain longings and regrets. When the cards had reached her, New York and the excitement of the life into which she had been weakly, if somewhat unwittingly, drawn had already begun to pall.
"I'm so glad to see you," she told him. "I've heard—so many things. And I'm very much in sympathy with what you're doing."
They crossed the street, and walked away from the church together. She had surprised him, and made him uncomfortable.
"You've been away so long," he managed to say, "perhaps you do not realize—"
"Oh, yes, I do," she interrupted. "I am on the other side, on your side. I thought of writing you, when you nearly won last autumn."
"You see it, too?" he exclaimed.
"Yes, I've changed, too. Not so much as you," she added, shyly. "I always had a certain sympathy, you know, with the Robin Hoods."
He laughed at her designation, both pleased and taken aback by her praise. . . But he wondered if she knew the extent of his criticism of her father.
"That rector is a wonderful man," he broke out, irrelevantly. "I can't get over' him—I can't quite grasp the fact that he exists, that he has dared to do what he has done."
This brought her colour back, but she faced him bravely. You think he is wonderful, then?"
"Don't you?" he demanded.
She assented. "But I am curious to know why you do. Somehow, I never thought of—you—"
"As religious," he supplied. "And you? If I remember rightly—"
"Yes," she interrupted, "I revolted, too. But Mr. Hodder puts it so —it makes one wonder."
"He has not only made me wonder," declared Bedloe Hubbell, emphatically, "I never knew what religion was until I heard this man last Sunday."
"Until then, I hadn't been inside of a church for fifteen years,—except to get married. My wife takes the children, occasionally, to a Presbyterian church near us."
"And why, did you go then?" she asked.
"I am a little ashamed of my motive," he confessed. "There were rumours —I don't pretend to know how they got about—" he hesitated, once more aware of delicate ground. "Wallis Plimpton said something to a man who told me. I believe I went out of sheer curiosity to hear what Hodder would have to say. And then, I had been reading, wondering whether there were anything in Christianity, after all."
"Yes?" she said, careless now as to what cause he might attribute her eagerness. "And he gave you something?"
It was then she grasped the truth that this sudden renewed intimacy was the result of the impression Hodder had left upon the minds of both.
"He gave me everything," Bedloe Hubbell replied. "I am willing to acknowledge it freely. In his explanation of the parable of the Prodigal Son, he gave me the clew to our modern times. What was for me an inextricable puzzle has become clear as day. He has made me understand, at last, the force which stirred me, which goaded me until I was fairly compelled to embark in the movement which the majority of our citizens still continue to regard as quixotic. I did not identify that force with religion, then, and when I looked back on the first crazy campaign we embarked upon, with the whole city laughing at me and at the obscure and impractical personnel we had, there were moments when it seemed incomprehensible folly. I had nothing to gain, and everything to lose by such a venture. I was lazy and easy-going, as you know. I belonged to the privileged class, I had sufficient money to live in comparative luxury all my days, I had no grudge against these men whom I had known all my life."
"But it must have had some beginning," said Alison.
"I was urged to run for the city council, by these very men." Bedloe Hubbell smiled at the recollection. "They accuse me now of having indulged once in the same practice, for which I am condemning them. Our company did accept rebates, and we sought favours from the city government. I have confessed it freely on the platform. Even during my first few months in the council what may be called the old political practices seemed natural to me. But gradually the iniquity of it all began to dawn on me, and then I couldn't rest until I had done something towards stopping it.
"At length I began to see," he continued, "that education of the masses was to be our only preserver, that we should have to sink or swim by that. I began to see, dimly, that this was true for other movements going on to-day. Now comes Hodder with what I sincerely believe is the key. He compels men like me to recognize that our movements are not merely moral, but religious. Religion, as yet unidentified, is the force behind these portentous stirrings of politics in our country, from sea to sea. He aims, not to bring the Church into politics, but to make her the feeder of these movements. Men join them to-day from all motives, but the religious is the only one to which they may safely be trusted. He has rescued the jewel from the dust-heap of tradition, and holds it up, shining, before our eyes."
Alison looked at her companion.
"That," she said, "is a very beautiful phrase."
Bedloe Hubbell smiled queerly.
"I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I can't usually talk about it. But the sight of that congregation this morning, mixed as it was, and the way he managed to weld it together."
"Ah, you noticed that!" she exclaimed sharply.
"I know. It was a question of feeling it."
There was a silence.
"Will he succeed?" she asked presently.
"Ah," said Bedloe Hubbell, "how is it possible to predict it? The forces against him are tremendous, and it is usually the pioneer who suffers. I agree absolutely with his definition of faith, I have it. And the work he has done already can never be undone. The time is ripe, and it is something that he has men like Phil Goodrich behind him, and Mr. Waring. I'm going to enlist, and from now on I intend to get every man and woman upon whom I have any influence whatever to go to that church . . . ." A little later Alison, marvelling, left him.
THE CURRENT OF LIFE
The year when Hodder had gone east—to Bremerton and Bar Harbor, he had read in the train a magazine article which had set fire to his imagination. It had to do with the lives of the men, the engineers who dared to deal with the wild and terrible power of the western hills, who harnessed and conquered roaring rivers, and sent the power hundreds of miles over the wilderness, by flimsy wires, to turn the wheels of industry and light the dark places of the cities. And, like all men who came into touch with elemental mysteries, they had their moments of pure ecstasy, gaining a tingling, intenser life from the contact with dynamic things; and other moments when, in their struggle for mastery, they were buffeted about, scorched, and almost overwhelmed.
In these days the remembrance of that article came back to Hodder. It was as though he, too, were seeking to deflect and guide a force —the Force of forces. He, too, was buffeted, scorched, and bruised, at periods scarce given time to recover himself in the onward rush he himself had started, and which he sought to control. Problems arose which demanded the quick thinking of emergency. He, too, had his moments of reward, the reward of the man who is in touch with reality.
He lived, from day to day, in a bewildering succession of encouragements and trials, all unprecedented. If he remained at St. John's, an entire new organization would be necessary . . . . He did not as yet see it clearly; and in the meantime, with his vestry alienated, awaiting the bishop's decision, he could make no definite plans, even if he had had the leisure. Wholesale desertions had occurred in the guilds and societies, the activities of which had almost ceased. Little Tomkinson, the second assistant, had resigned; and McCrae, who worked harder than ever before, was already marked, Hodder knew, for dismissal if he himself were defeated.
And then there was the ever present question of money. It remained to be seen whether a system of voluntary offerings were practicable. For Hodder had made some inquiries into the so-called "free churches," only to discover that there were benefactors behind them, benefactors the Christianity of whose lives was often doubtful.
One morning he received in the mail the long-expected note from the bishop, making an appointment for the next day. Hodder, as he read it over again, smiled to himself. . . He could gather nothing of the mind of the writer from the contents.
The piece of news which came to him on the same morning swept completely the contemplations of the approaching interview from his mind. Sally Grover stopped in at the parish house on her way to business.
"Kate Marcy's gone," she announced, in her abrupt fashion.
"Gone!" he exclaimed, and stared at her in dismay. "Gone where?"
"That's just it," said Miss Grover. "I wish I knew. I reckon we'd got into the habit of trusting her too much, but it seemed the only way. She wasn't in her room last night, but Ella Finley didn't find it out until this morning, and she ran over scared to death, to tell us about it."
Involuntarily the rector reached for his hat.
"I've sent out word among our friends in Dalton Street," Sally continued. An earthquake could not have disturbed her outer, matter-of-fact calmness. But Hodder was not deceived: he knew that she was as profoundly grieved and discouraged as himself. "And I've got old Gratz, the cabinet-maker, on the job. If she's in Dalton Street, he'll find her."
"But what—?" Hodder began.
Sally threw up her hands.
"You never can tell, with that kind. But it sticks in my mind she's done something foolish."
Sally twitched, nervously.
"Somehow I don't think it's a spree—but as I say, you can't tell. She's full of impulses. You remember how she frightened us once before, when she went off and stayed all night with the woman she used to know in the flat house, when she heard she was sick?"
"You've inquired there?"
"That woman went to the hospital, you know. She may be with another one. If she is, Gratz ought to find her. . . You know there was a time, Mr. Hodder, when I didn't have much hope that we'd pull her through. But we got hold of her through her feelings. She'd do anything for Mr. Bentley —she'd do anything for you, and the way she stuck to that embroidery was fine. I don't say she was cured, but whenever she'd feel one of those fits coming on she'd let us know about it, and we'd watch her. And I never saw one of that kind change so. Why, she must be almost as good looking now as she ever was."
"You don't think she has done anything—desperate?" asked Hodder, slowly.
"Well—somehow I don't. She used to say if she ever got drunk again she'd never come back. But she didn't have any money—she's given Mr. Bentley every cent of it. And we didn't have any warning. She was as cheerful as could be yesterday morning, Mrs. McQuillen says."
"It might not do any harm to notify the police," replied Hodder, rising. "I'll go around to headquarters now."
He was glad of the excuse for action. He could not have sat still. And as he walked rapidly across Burton Street he realized with a pang how much his heart had been set on Kate Marcy's redemption. In spite of the fact that every moment of his time during the past fortnight had been absorbed by the cares, responsibilities, and trials thrust upon him, he reproached himself for not having gone oftener to Dalton Street. And yet, if Mr. Bentley and Sally Grower had been unable to foresee and prevent this, what could he have done?
At police headquarters he got no news. The chief received him deferentially, sympathetically, took down Kate Marcy's description, went so far as to remark, sagely, that too much mustn't be expected of these women, and said he would notify the rector if she were found. The chief knew and admired Mr. Bentley, and declared he was glad to meet Mr. Hodder. . . Hodder left, too preoccupied to draw any significance from the nature of his welcome. He went at once to Mr. Bentley's.
The old gentleman was inclined to be hopeful, to take Sally Grower's view of the matter. . He trusted, he said, Sally's instinct. And Hodder came away less uneasy, not a little comforted by a communion which never failed to fortify him, to make him marvel at the calmness of that world in which his friend lived, a calmness from which no vicarious sorrow was excluded. And before Hodder left, Mr. Bentley had drawn from him some account of the more recent complexities at the church. The very pressure of his hand seemed to impart courage.
"You won't stay and have dinner with me?"
The rector regretfully declined.
"I hear the bishop has returned," said Mr. Bentley, smiling.
Hodder was surprised. He had never heard Mr. Bentley speak of the bishop. Of course he must know him.
"I have my talk with him to-morrow."
Mr. Bentley said nothing, but pressed his hand again . . . .
On Tower Street, from the direction of the church, he beheld a young man and a young woman approaching him absorbed in conversation. Even at a distance both seemed familiar, and presently he identified the lithe and dainty figure in the blue dress as that of the daughter of his vestryman, Francis Ferguson. Presently she turned her face, alight with animation, from her companion, and recognized him.
"It's Mr. Hodder!" she exclaimed, and was suddenly overtaken with a crimson shyness. The young man seemed equally embarrassed as they stood facing the rector.
"I'm afraid you don't remember me, Mr. Hodder," he said. "I met you at Mr. Ferguson's last spring."
Then it came to him. This was the young man who had made the faux pas which had caused Mrs. Ferguson so much consternation, and who had so manfully apologized afterwards. His puzzled expression relaxed into a smile, and he took the young man's hand.
"I was going to write to you," said Nan, as she looked up at the rector from under the wide brim of her hat. "Our engagement is to be announced Wednesday."
Hodder congratulated them. There was a brief silence, when Nan said tremulously:
"We're coming to St. John's!"
"I'm very glad," Hodder replied, gravely. It was one of those compensating moments, for him, when his tribulations vanished; and the tributes of the younger generation were those to which his heart most freely responded. But the situation, in view of the attitude of Francis Ferguson, was too delicate to be dwelt upon.
"I came to hear you last Sunday, Mr. Hodder," the young man volunteered, with that mixture of awkwardness and straightforwardness which often characterize his sex and age in referring to such matters. "And I had an idea of writing you, too, to tell you how much I liked what you said. But I know you must have had many letters. You've made me think."
He flushed, but met the rector's eye. Nan stood regarding him with pride.
"You've made me think, too," she added. "And we intend to pitch in and help you, if we can be of any use."
He parted from them, wondering. And it was not until he had reached the parish house that it occurred to him that he was as yet unenlightened as to the young man's name . . . .
His second reflection brought back to his mind Kate Mercy, for it was with a portion of Nan Ferguson's generous check that her board had been paid. And he recalled the girl's hope, as she had given it to him, that he would find some one in Dalton Street to help . . . .
There might, to the mundane eye, have been an element of the ridiculous in the spectacle of the rector of St. John's counting his gains, since he had chosen—with every indication of insanity—to bring the pillars of his career crashing down on his own head. By no means the least, however, of the treasures flung into his lap was the tie which now bound him to the Philip Goodriches, which otherwise would never have been possible. And as he made his way thither on this particular evening, a renewed sense came upon him of his emancipation from the dreary, useless hours he had been wont to spend at other dinner tables. That existence appeared to him now as the glittering, feverish unreality of a nightmare filled with restless women and tired men who drank champagne, thus gradually achieving—by the time cigars were reached—an artificial vivacity. The caprice and superficiality of the one sex, the inability to dwell upon or even penetrate a serious subject, the blindness to what was going on around them; the materialism, the money standard of both, were nauseating in the retrospect.
How, indeed, had life once appeared so distorted to him, a professed servant of humanity, as to lead him in the name of duty into that galley?
Such was the burden of his thought when the homelike front of the Goodrich house greeted him in the darkness, its enshrouded windows gleaming with friendly light. As the door opened, the merry sound of children's laughter floated down the stairs, and it seemed to Hodder as though a curse had been lifted. . . . The lintel of this house had been marked for salvation, the scourge had passed it by: the scourge of social striving which lay like a blight on a free people.
Within, the note of gentility, of that instinctive good taste to which many greater mansions aspired in vain, was sustained. The furniture, the pictures, the walls and carpets were true expressions of the individuality of master and mistress, of the unity of the life lived together; and the rector smiled as he detected, in a corner of the hall, a sturdy but diminutive hobby-horse—here the final, harmonious touch. There was the sound of a scuffle, treble shrieks of ecstasy from above, and Eleanor Goodrich came out to welcome him.
"Its Phil," she told him in laughing despair, "he upsets all my discipline, and gets them so excited they don't go to sleep for hours..."
Seated in front of the fire in the drawing-room, he found Alison Parr. Her coolness, her radiancy, her complete acceptance of the situation, all this and more he felt from the moment he touched her hand and looked into her face. And never had she so distinctly represented to him the mysterious essence of fate. Why she should have made the fourth at this intimate gathering, and whether or not she was or had been an especial friend of Eleanor Goodrich he did not know. There was no explanation....
A bowl of superb chrysanthemums occupied the centre of the table. Eleanor lifted them off and placed them on the sideboard.
"I've got used to looking at Phil," she explained, "and craning is so painful."
The effect at first was to increase the intensity of the intimacy. There was no reason—he told himself—why Alison's self-possession should have been disturbed; and as he glanced at her from time to time he perceived that it was not. So completely was she mistress of herself that presently he felt a certain faint resentment rising within him,—yet he asked himself why she should not have been. It was curious that his imagination would not rise, now, to a realization of that intercourse on which, at times, his fancy had dwelt with such vividness. The very interest, the eagerness with which she took part in their discussions seemed to him in the nature of an emphatic repudiation of any ties to him which might have been binding.
All this was only, on Hodder's part, to be aware of the startling discovery as to how strong his sense of possession had been, and how irrational, how unwarranted.
For he had believed himself, as regarding her, to have made the supreme renunciation of his life. And the very fact that he had not consulted, could not consult her feelings and her attitude made that renunciation no less difficult. All effort, all attempt at achievement of the only woman for whom he had ever felt the sublime harmony of desire—the harmony of the mind and the flesh—was cut off.
To be here, facing her again in such close proximity, was at once a pleasure and a torture. And gradually he found himself yielding to the pleasure, to the illusion of permanency created by her presence. And, when all was said, he had as much to be grateful for as he could reasonably have wished; yes, and more. The bond (there was a bond, after all!) which united them was unbreakable. They had forged it together. The future would take care of itself.
The range of the conversation upon which they at length embarked was a tacit acknowledgment of a relationship which now united four persons who, six months before, would have believed themselves to have had nothing in common. And it was characteristic of the new interest that it transcended the limits of the parish of St. John's, touched upon the greater affairs to which that parish—if their protest prevailed—would now be dedicated. Not that the church was at once mentioned, but subtly implied as now enlisted,—and emancipated henceforth from all ecclesiastical narrowness . . . . The amazing thing by which Hodder was suddenly struck was the naturalness with which Alison seemed to fit into the new scheme. It was as though she intended to remain there, and had abandoned all intention of returning to the life which apparently she had once permanently and definitely chosen....
Bedloe Hubbell's campaign was another topic. And Phil had observed, with the earnestness which marked his more serious statements, that it wouldn't surprise him if young Carter, Hubbell's candidate for mayor, overturned that autumn the Beatty machine.
"Oh, do you think so!" Alison exclaimed with exhilaration.
"They're frightened and out of breath," said Phil, "they had no idea that Bedloe would stick after they had licked him in three campaigns. Two years ago they tried to buy him off by offering to send him to the Senate, and Wallis Plimpton has never got through his head to this why he refused."
Plimpton's head, Eleanor declared dryly, was impervious to a certain kind of idea.
"I wonder if you know, Mr. Hodder, what an admirer Mr. Hubbell is of yours?" Alison asked. "He is most anxious to have a talk with you."
Hodder did not know.
"Well," said Phil, enthusiastically, to the rector, "that's the best tribute you've had yet. I can't say that Bedloe was a more unregenerate heathen than I was, but he was pretty bad."
This led them, all save Hodder, into comments on the character of the congregation the Sunday before, in the midst of which the rector was called away to the telephone. Sally Grover had promised to let him know whether or not they had found Kate Marcy, and his face was grave when he returned . . . . He was still preoccupied, an hour later, when Alison arose to go.
"But your carriage isn't here," said Phil, going to the window.
"Oh, I preferred to, walk," she told him, "it isn't far."
A blood-red October moon shed the fulness of its light on the silent houses, and the trees, still clinging to leaf, cast black shadows across the lawns and deserted streets. The very echoes of their footsteps on the pavement seemed to enhance the unreality of their surroundings: Some of the residences were already closed for the night, although the hour was not late, and the glow behind the blinds of the others was nullified by the radiancy from above. To Hodder, the sense of their isolation had never been more complete.
Alison, while repudiating the notion that an escort were needed in a neighbourhood of such propriety and peace, had not refused his offer to accompany her. And Hodder felt instinctively, as he took his place beside her, a sense of climax. This situation, like those of the past, was not of his own making. It was here; confronting him, and a certain inevitable intoxication at being once, more alone with her prevented him from forming any policy with which to deal with it. He might either trust himself, or else he might not. And as she said, the distance was not great. But he could not help wondering, during those first moments of silence, whether she comprehended the strength of the temptation to which she subjected him . . . .
The night was warm. She wore a coat, which was open, and from time to time he caught the gleam of the moonlight on the knotted pearls at her throat. Over her head she had flung, mantilla-like, a black lace scarf, the effect of which was, in the soft luminosity encircling her, to add to the quality of mystery never exhausted. If by acquiescing in his company she had owned to a tie between them, the lace shawl falling over the tails of her dark hair and framing in its folds her face, had somehow made her once more a stranger. Nor was it until she presently looked up into his face with a smile that this impression was, if not at once wholly dissipated, at least contradicted.
Her question, indeed, was intimate.
"Why did you come with me?"
"Why?" he repeated, taken aback.
"Yes. I'm sure you have something you wish to do, something which particularly worries you."
"No," he answered, appraising her intuition of him, "there is nothing I can do, to-night. A young woman in whom Mr. Bentley is interested, in whom I am interested, has disappeared. But we have taken all the steps possible towards finding her."
"It was nothing—more serious, then? That, of course, is serious enough. Nothing, I mean, directly affecting your prospects of remaining—where you are?"
"No," he answered. He rejoiced fiercely that she should have asked him. The question was not bold, but a natural resumption of the old footing "Not that I mean to imply," he added, returning her smile, "that those prospects' are in any way improved."
"Are they any worse?" she said.
"I see the bishop to-morrow. I have no idea what position he will take. But even if he should decide not to recommend me for trial many difficult problems still remain to be solved."
"I know. It's fine," she continued, after a moment, "the way you are going ahead as if there were no question of your not remaining; and getting all those people into the church and influencing them as you did when they had come for all sorts of reasons. Do you remember, the first time I met you, I told you I could not think of you as a clergyman. I cannot now—less than ever."
"What do you think of me as?" he asked.
"I don't know," she considered. "You are unlike any person I have ever known. It is curious that I cannot now even think of St. John's as a church. You have transformed it into something that seems new. I'm afraid I can't describe what I mean, but you have opened it up, let in the fresh air, rid it of the musty and deadening atmosphere which I have always associated with churches. I wanted to see you, before I went away," she went on steadily, "and when Eleanor mentioned that you were coming to her house to-night, I asked her to invite me. Do you think me shameless?"
The emphasis of his gesture was sufficient. He could not trust himself to speak.
"Writing seemed so unsatisfactory, after what you had done for me, and I never can express myself in writing. I seem to congeal."
"After what I have done for you!" he exclaimed: "What can I have done?"
"You have done more than you know," she answered, in a low voice. "More, I think, than I know. How are such things to be measured, put into words? You have effected some change in me which defies analysis, a change of attitude,—to attempt to dogmatize it would ruin it. I prefer to leave it undefined—not even to call it an acquisition of faith. I have faith," she said, simply, "in what you have become, and which has made you dare, superbly, to cast everything away. . . It is that, more than anything you have said. What you are."
For the instant he lost control of himself.
"What you are," he replied. "Do you realize—can you ever realize what your faith in me has been to me?"
She appeared to ignore this.
"I did not mean to say that you have not made many things clear, which once were obscure, as I wrote you. You have convinced me that true belief, for instance, is the hardest thing in the world, the denial of practically all these people, who profess to believe, represent. The majority of them insist that humanity is not to be trusted. . ."
They had reached, in an incredibly brief time, the corner of Park Street.
"When are you leaving?" he asked, in a voice that sounded harsh in his own ears.
"Come!" she said gently, "I'm not going in yet, for a while."
The Park lay before them, an empty, garden filled with checquered light and shadows under the moon. He followed her across the gravel, glistening with dew, past the statue of the mute statesman with arm upraised, into pastoral stretches—a delectable country which was theirs alone. He did not take it in, save as one expression of the breathing woman at his side. He was but partly conscious of a direction he had not chosen. His blood throbbed violently, and a feeling of actual physical faintness was upon him. He was being led, helplessly, all volition gone, and the very idea of resistance became chimerical . . . .
There was a seat under a tree, beside a still lake burnished by the moon. It seemed as though he could not bear the current of her touch, and yet the thought of its removal were less bearable . . . For she had put her own hand out, not shyly, but with a movement so fraught with grace, so natural that it was but the crowning bestowal.
"Alison!" he cried, "I can't ask it of you. I have no right—"
"You're not asking it," she answered. "It is I who am asking it."
"But I have no future—I may be an outcast to-morrow. I have nothing to offer you." He spoke more firmly now, more commandingly.
"Don't you see, dear, that it is just because your future as obscure that I can do this? You never would have done it, I know,—and I couldn't face that. Don't you understand that I am demanding the great sacrifice?"
"Sacrifice!" he repeated. His fingers turned, and closed convulsively on hers.
"Yes, sacrifice," she said gently. "Isn't it the braver thing?"
Still he failed to catch her meaning.
"Braver," she explained, with her wonderful courage, "braver if I love you, if I need you, if I cannot do without you."
He took her in his arms, crushing her to him in his strength, in one ineffable brief moment finding her lips, inhaling the faint perfume of her smooth akin. Her lithe figure lay passively against him, in marvellous, unbelievable surrender.
"I see what you mean," he said, at length, "I should have been a coward. But I could not be sure that you loved me."
So near was her face that he could detect, even under the obscurity of the branches, a smile.
"And so I was reduced to this! I threw my pride to the winds," she whispered. "But I don't care. I was determined, selfishly, to take happiness."
"And to give it," he added, bending down to her. The supreme quality of its essence was still to be doubted, a bright star-dust which dazzled him, to evaporate before his waking eyes. And, try as he would, he could not realize to the full depth the boy of contact with a being whom, by discipline, he had trained his mind to look upon as the unattainable. They had spoken of the future, yet in these moments any consideration of it was blotted out. . . It was only by degrees that he collected himself sufficiently to be able to return to it. . . Alison took up the thread.
"Surely," she said, "sacrifice is useless unless it means something, unless it be a realization. It must be discriminating. And we should both of us have remained incomplete if we had not taken—this. You would always, I think, have been the one man for me,—but we should have lost touch." He felt her tremble. "And I needed you. I have needed you all my life—one in whom h might have absolute faith. That is my faith, of which I could not tell you awhile ago. Is it—sacrilegious?"
She looked up at him. He shook his head, thinking of his own. It seemed the very distillation of the divine. "All my life," she went on, "I have been waiting for the one who would risk everything. Oh, if you had faltered the least little bit, I don't know what I should have done. That would have destroyed what was left of me, put out, I think, the flickering fire that remained, instead of fanning it into flame. You cannot know how I watched you, how I prayed! I think it was prayer—I am sure it was. And it was because you did not falter, because you risked all, that you gained me. You have gained only what you yourself made, more than I ever was, more than I ever expected to be."
"Alison!" he remonstrated, "you mustn't say that."
She straightened up and gazed at him, taking one of his hands in her lithe fingers.
"Oh, but I must! It is the truth. I felt that you cared—women are surer in such matters than men. I must conceal nothing from you—nothing of my craftiness. Women are crafty, you know. And suppose you fail? Ah, I do not mean failure—you cannot fail, now. You have put yourself forever beyond failure. But what I mean is, suppose you were compelled to leave St. John's, and I came to you then as I have come now, and begged to take my place beside you? I was afraid to risk it. I was afraid you would not take me, even now, to-night. Do you realize how austere you are at times, how you have frightened me?"
"That I should ever have done that!" he said.
"When I looked at you in the pulpit you seemed so far from me, I could scarcely bear it. As if I had no share in you, as if you had already gone to a place beyond, where I could not go, where I never could. Oh, you will take me with you, now,—you won't leave me behind!"
To this cry every fibre of his soul responded. He had thought himself, in these minutes, to have known all feelings, all thrills, but now, as he gathered her to him again, he was to know still another, the most exquisite of all. That it was conferred upon him to give this woman protection, to shield and lift her, inspire her as she inspired him—this consciousness was the most exquisite of all, transcending all conception of the love of woman. And the very fulness of her was beyond him. A lifetime were insufficient to exhaust her . . . .
"I wanted to come to you now, John. I want to share your failure, if it comes—all your failures. Because they will be victories—don't you see? I have never been able to achieve that kind of victory—real victory, by myself. I have always succumbed, taken the baser, the easier thing." Her cheek was wet. "I wasn't strong enough, by myself, and I never knew the stronger one . . . .
"See what my trust in you has been! I knew that you would not refuse me in spite of the fact that the world may misunderstand, may sneer at your taking me. I knew that you were big enough even for that, when you understood it, coming from me. I wanted to be with you, now, that we might fight it out together."
"What have I done to deserve so priceless a thing?" he asked.
She smiled at him again, her lip trembling.
"Oh, I'm not priceless, I'm only real, I'm only human—human and tired. You are so strong, you can't know how tired. Have you any idea why I came out here, this summer? It was because I was desperate—because I had almost decided to marry some one else."
She felt him start.
"I was afraid of it;" he said.
"Were you? Did you think, did you wonder a little about me?" There was a vibrant note of triumph to which he reacted. She drew away from him. a little. "Perhaps, when you know how sordid my life has been, you won't want me."
"Is—Is that your faith, Alison?" he demanded. "God forbid! You have come to a man who also has confessions to make."
"Oh, I am glad. I want to know all of you—all, do you understand? That will bring us even closer together. And it was one thing I felt about you in the beginning, that day in the garden, that you had had much to conquer—more than most men. It was a part of your force and of your knowledge of life. You were not a sexless ascetic who preached a mere neutral goodness. Does that shock you?"
He smiled in turn.
"I went away from here, as I once told you, full of a high resolution not to trail the honour of my art—if I achieved art—in the dust. But I have not only trailed my art—I trailed myself. In New York I became contaminated, —the poison of the place, of the people with whom I came in contact, got into my blood. Little by little I yielded—I wanted so to succeed, to be able to confound those who had doubted and ridiculed me! I wasn't content to wait to deny myself for the ideal. Success was in the air. That was the poison, and I only began to realize it after it was too late.
"Please don't think I am asking pity—I feel that you must know. From the very first my success—which was really failure—began to come in the wrong way. As my father's daughter I could not be obscure. I was sought out, I was what was called picturesque, I suppose. The women petted me, although some of them hated me, and I had a fascination for a certain kind of men—the wrong kind. I began going to dinners, house parties, to recognize, that advantages came that way . . . . It seemed quite natural. It was what many others of my profession tried to do, and they envied me my opportunities.
"I ought to say, in justice to myself, that I was not in the least cynical about it. I believed I was clinging to the ideal of art, and that all I wanted was a chance. And the people I went with had the same characteristics, only intensified, as those I had known here. Of course I was actually no better than the women who were striving frivolously to get away from themselves, and the men who were fighting to get money. Only I didn't know it.
"Well, my chance came at last. I had done several little things, when an elderly man who is tremendously rich, whose name you would recognize if I mentioned it, gave me an order. For weeks, nearly every day, he came to my studio for tea, to talk over the plans. I was really unsophisticated then—but I can see now—well, that the garden was a secondary consideration . . . . And the fact that I did it for him gave me a standing I should not otherwise have had . . . . Oh, it is sickening to look back upon, to think what an idiot I was in how little I saw....
"That garden launched me, and I began to have more work than I could do. I was conscientious about it tried—tried to make every garden better than the last. But I was a young woman, unconventionally living alone, and by degrees the handicap of my sex was brought home to me. I did not feel the pressure at first, and then—I am ashamed to say—it had in it an element of excitement, a sense of power. The poison was at work. I was amused. I thought I could carry it through, that the world had advanced sufficiently for a woman to do anything if she only had the courage. And I believed I possessed a true broadness of view, and could impress it, so far as I was concerned, on others . . . .
"As I look back upon it all, I believe my reputation for coldness saved me, yet it was that very reputation which increased the pressure, and sometimes I was fairly driven into a corner. It seemed to madden some men—and the disillusionments began to come. Of course it was my fault —I don't pretend to say it wasn't. There were many whom, instinctively, I was on my guard against, but some I thought really nice, whom I trusted, revealed a side I had not suspected. That was the terrible thing! And yet I held to my ideal, tattered as it was. . . "
Alison was silent a moment, still clinging to his hand, and when she spoke again it was with a tremor of agitation.
"It is hard, to tell you this, but I wish you to know. At last I met a man, comparatively young, who was making his own way in New York, achieving a reputation as a lawyer. Shall I tell you that I fell in love with him? He seemed to bring a new freshness into my life when I was beginning to feel the staleness of it. Not that I surrendered at once, but the reservations of which I was conscious at the first gradually disappeared—or rather I ignored them. He had charm, a magnificent self-confidence, but I think the liberality of the opinions he expressed, in regard to women, most appealed to me. I was weak on that side, and I have often wondered whether he knew it. I believed him incapable of a great refusal.
"He agreed, if I consented to marry him, that I should have my freedom —freedom to live in my own life and to carry on my profession. Fortunately, the engagement was never announced, never even suspected. One day he hinted that I should return to my father for a month or two before the wedding . . . . The manner in which he said it suddenly turned me cold. Oh," Alison exclaimed, "I was quite willing to go back, to pay my father a visit, as I had done nearly every year, but—how can I tell you?—he could not believe that I had definitely given up-my father's money . . . .
"I sat still and looked at him, I felt as if I were frozen, turned to stone. And after a long while, since I would not speak to him, he went out. . . Three months later he came back and said that I had misunderstood him, that he couldn't live without me. I sent him away.... Only the other day he married Amy Grant, one of my friends . . . .
"Well, after that, I was tired—so tired! Everything seemed to go out of life. It wasn't that I loved him any longer,—all had been crushed. But the illusion was gone, and I saw myself as I was. And for the first time in my life I felt defenceless, helpless. I wanted refuge. Did you ever hear of Jennings Howe?"
Alison nodded. "Of course you must have—he is so well known. He has been a widower for several years. He liked my work, saw its defects, and was always frank about them, and I designed a good many gardens in connection with his houses. He himself is above all things an artist, and he fell into the habit of coming to my studio and giving me friendly advice, in the nicest way. He seemed to understand that I was going through some sort of a crisis. He called it 'too much society.' And then, without any warning, he asked me to marry him.
"That is why I came out here—to think it over. I didn't love him, and I told him so, but I respected him.
"He never compromised in his art, and I have known him over and over to refuse houses because certain conditions were stipulated. To marry him was an acknowledgment of defeat. I realized that. But I had come to the extremity where I wanted peace—peace and protection. I wanted to put myself irrevocably beyond the old life, which simply could not have gone on, and I saw myself in the advancing years becoming tawdry and worn, losing little by little what I had gained at a price.
"So I came here—to reflect, to see, as it were, if I could find something left in me to take hold of, to build upon, to begin over again, perhaps, by going back to the old associations. I could think of no better place, and I knew that my father would, be going away after a few weeks, and that I should be lone, yet with an atmosphere back of me,—my old atmosphere. That was why I went to church the first Sunday, in order to feel more definitely that atmosphere, to summon up more completely the image of my mother. More and more, as the years have passed, I have thought of her in moments of trouble. I have recovered her as I never had hoped to do in Mr. Bentley. Isn't it strange," she exclaimed wonderingly, "that he should have come into both our lives, with such an influence, at this time?"
"And then I met you, talked to you that afternoon in the garden. Shall I make a complete confession? I wrote to Jennings Howe that very week that I could not marry him."
"You knew!" Hodder exclaimed: "You knew then?"
"Ah, I can't tell what I knew—or when. I knew, after I had seen you, that I couldn't marry him! Isn't that enough?"
He drew in his breath deeply.
"I should be less than a man if I refused to take you, Alison. And—no matter what happens, I can and will find some honest work to support you. But oh, my dear, when I think of it, the nobility and generosity of what you have done appalls me."
"No, no!" she protested, "you mustn't say that! I needed you more than you need me. And haven't we both discovered the world, and renounced it? I can at least go so far as to say that, with all my heart. And isn't marriage truer and higher when man and wife start with difficulties and problems to solve together? It is that thought that brings me the greatest joy, that I may be able to help you . . . . Didn't you need me, just a little?"
"Now that I have you, I am unable to think of the emptiness which might have been. You came to me, like Beatrice, when I had lost my way in the darkness of the wood. And like Beatrice, you showed me the path, and hell and heaven."
"Oh, you would have found the path without me. I cannot claim that. I saw from the first that you were destined to find it. And, unlike Beatrice, I too was lost, and it was you who lifted me up. You mustn't idealize me." . . . She stood up. "Come!" she said. He too stood, gazing at her, and she lifted her hands to his shoulders . . . . They moved out from under the tree and walked for a while in silence across the dew-drenched grass, towards Park Street. The moon, which had ridden over a great space in the sky, hung red above the blackness of the forest to the west.
"Do you remember when we were here together, the day I met Mr. Bentley? And you never would have spoken!"
"How could I, Alison?" he asked.
"No, you couldn't. And yet—you would have let me go!"
He put his arm in hers, and drew her towards him.
"I must talk to your father," he said, "some day—soon. I ought to tell him—of our intentions. We cannot go on like this."
"No," she agreed, "I realize it. And I cannot stay, much longer, in Park Street. I must go back to New York, until you send for me, dear. And there are things I must do. Do you know, even though I antagonize him so—my father, I mean—even though he suspects and bitterly resents any interest in you, my affection for you, and that I have lingered because of you, I believe, in his way, he has liked to have me here."
"I can understand it," Hodder said.
"It's because you are bigger than I, although he has quarrelled with you so bitterly. I don't know what definite wrongs he has done to other persons. I don't wish to know. I don't ask you to tell me what passed between you that night. Once you said that you had an affection for him —that he was lonely. He is lonely. In these last weeks, in spite of his anger, I can see that he suffers terribly. It is a tragedy, because he will never give in."
"It is a tragedy." Hodder's tone was agitated.
"I wonder if he realizes a little" she began, and paused. "Now that Preston has come home—"
"Your brother?" Hodder exclaimed.
"Yes. I forgot to tell you. I don't know why he came," she faltered. "I suppose he has got into some new trouble. He seems changed. I can't describe it now, but I will tell you about it . . . . It's the first time we've all three been together since my mother died, for Preston wasn't back from college when I went to Paris to study . . . ."
They stood together on the pavement before the massive house, fraught with so many and varied associations for Hodder. And as he looked up at it, his eye involuntarily rested upon the windows of the boy's room where Eldon Parr had made his confession. Alison startled him by pronouncing his name, which came with such unaccustomed sweetness from her lips. "You will write me to-morrow," she said, "after you have seen the bishop?"
"Yes, at once. You mustn't let it worry you."
"I feel as if I had cast off that kind of worry forever. It is only —the other worries from which we do not escape, from which we do not wish to escape."
With a wonderful smile she had dropped his hands and gone in at the entrance, when a sound made them turn, the humming of a motor. And even as they looked it swung into Park Street.
"It's a taxicab!" she said. As she spoke it drew up almost beside them, instead of turning in at the driveway, the door opened, and a man alighted.
"Preston!" Alison exclaimed.
He started, turning from the driver, whom he was about to pay. As for Hodder, he was not only undergoing a certain shock through the sudden contact, at such a moment, with Alison's brother: there was an additional shock that this was Alison's brother and Eldon Parr's son. Not that his appearance was shocking, although the well-clad, athletic figure was growing a trifle heavy, and the light from the side lamps of the car revealed dissipation in a still handsome face. The effect was a subtler one, not to be analyzed, and due to a multitude of preconceptions.
Alison came forward.
"This is Mr. Hodder, Preston," she said simply.
For a moment Preston continued to stare at the rector without speaking. Suddenly he put out his hand.
"Mr. Hodder, of St. John's?" he demanded.
"Yes," answered Hodder. His surprise deepened to perplexity at the warmth of the handclasp that followed.
A smile that brought back vividly to Hodder the sunny expression of the schoolboy in the picture lightened the features of the man.
"I'm very glad to see you," he said, in a tone that left no doubt of its genuine quality.
"Thank you," Hodder replied, meeting his eye with kindness, yet with a scrutiny that sought to penetrate the secret of an unexpected cordiality. "I, too, have hoped to see you."
Alison, who stood by wondering, felt a meaning behind the rector's words. She pressed his hand as he bade her, once more, good night.
"Won't you take my taxicab?" asked Preston. "It is going down town anyway."
"I think I'd better stick to the street cars," Hodder said. His refusal was not ungraceful, but firm. Preston did not insist.
In spite of the events of that evening, which he went over again and again as the midnight car carried him eastward, in spite of a new-born happiness the actuality of which was still difficult to grasp, Hodder was vaguely troubled when he thought of Preston Parr.
THE INSIDE OF THE CUP
By Winston Churchill
XXVII. RETRIBUTION XXVIII. LIGHT
The Bishop's House was a comfortable, double dwelling of a smooth, bright red brick and large, plate-glass windows, situated in a plot at the western end of Waverley Place. It had been bought by the Diocese in the nineties, and was representative of that transitional period in American architecture when the mansard roof had been repudiated, when as yet no definite types had emerged to take its place. The house had pointed gables, and a tiny and utterly useless porch that served only to darken the front door, made of heavy pieces of wood fantastically curved.
It was precisely ten o'clock in the morning when Hodder rang the bell and was shown into the ample study which he had entered on other and less vital occasions. He found difficulty in realizing that this pleasant room, lined with well-worn books and overlooking a back lawn where the clothes of the episcopal family hung in the yellow autumn sun, was to be his judgment seat, whence he might be committed to trial for heresy.
And this was the twentieth century! The full force of the preposterous fact smote him, and a consciousness of the distance he himself had travelled since the comparatively recent days of his own orthodoxy. And suddenly he was full again of a resentful impatience, not only that he should be called away from his labours, his cares, the strangers who were craving his help, to answer charges of such an absurd triviality, but that the performance of the great task to which he had set his hand, with God's help, should depend upon it. Would his enemies be permitted to drive him out thus easily?
The old bishop came in, walking by the aid of a cane. He smiled at Hodder, who greeted him respectfully, and bidding him sit down, took a chair himself behind his writing table, from whence he gazed awhile earnestly and contemplatively at the rugged features and strong shoulders of the rector of St. John's. The effect of the look was that of a visual effort to harmonize the man with the deed he had done, the stir he had created in the city and the diocese; to readjust impressions.
A hint of humour crept into the bishop's blue eyes, which were watery, yet strong, with heavy creases in the corners. He indicated by a little gesture three bundles of envelopes, bound by rubber bands, on the corner of his blotter.
"Hodder," he said, "see what a lot of trouble you have made for me in my old age! All those are about you."
The rector's expression could not have been deemed stern, but it had met the bishop's look unflinchingly. Now it relaxed into a responding smile, which was not without seriousness.
"I am sorry, sir," Hodder answered, "to have caused you any worry—or inconvenience."
"Perhaps," said the bishop, "I have had too much smooth sailing for a servant of Christ. Indeed, I have come to that conclusion."
Hodder did not reply. He was moved, even more by the bishop's manner and voice than his words. And the opening to their conversation was unexpected. The old man put on his spectacles, and drew from the top of one of the bundles a letter.
"This is from one of your vestrymen, Mr. Gordon Atterbury," he said, and proceeded to read it, slowly. When he had finished he laid it down.
"Is that, according to your recollection, Mr. Hodder, a fairly accurate summary of the sermon you gave when you resumed the pulpit at the end of the summer?"
"Yes, sir," answered the rector, "it is surprisingly accurate, with the exception of two or three inferences which I shall explain at the proper moment."
"Mr. Atterbury is to be congratulated on his memory," the bishop observed a little dryly. "And he has saved me the trouble of reading more. Now what are the inferences to which you object?"
Hodder stated them. "The most serious one," he added, "is that which he draws from my attitude on the virgin birth. Mr. Atterbury insists, like others who cling to that dogma, that I have become what he vaguely calls an Unitarian. He seems incapable of grasping my meaning, that the only true God the age knows, the world has ever known, is the God in Christ, is the Spirit in Christ, and is there not by any material proof, but because we recognize it spiritually. And that doctrine and dogma, ancient speculations as to how, definitely, that spirit came to be in Christ, are fruitless and mischievous to-day. Mr. Atterbury and others seem actually to resent my identification of our Lord's Spirit with the social conscience as well as the individual conscience of our time."
The bishop nodded.
"Hodder," he demanded abruptly, leaning forward over his desk, "how did this thing happen?"
"You mean, sir—"
There was, in the bishop's voice, a note almost pathetic. "Oh, I do not mean to ask you anything you may deem too personal. And God forbid, as I look at you, as I have known you, that I should doubt your sincerity. I am not your inquisitor, but your bishop and your friend, and I am asking for your confidence. Six months ago you were, apparently, one of the most orthodox rectors in the diocese. I recognize that you are not an impulsive, sensational man, and I am all the more anxious to learn from your own lips something of the influences, of the processes which have changed you, which have been strong enough to impel you to risk the position you have achieved."
By this unlooked-for appeal Hodder was not only disarmed, but smitten with self-reproach at the thought of his former misjudgment and underestimation of the man in whose presence he sat. And it came over him, not only the extent to which, formerly, he had regarded the bishop as too tolerant and easygoing, but the fact that he had arrived here today prepared to find in his superior anything but the attitude he was showing. Considering the bishop's age, Hodder had been ready for a lack of understanding of the step he had taken, even for querulous reproaches and rebuke.
He had, therefore, to pull himself together, to adjust himself to the unexpected greatness of soul with which he was being received before he began to sketch the misgivings he had felt from the early days of his rectorship of St. John's; the helplessness and failure which by degrees had come over him. He related how it had become apparent to him that by far the greater part of his rich and fashionable congregation were Christians only in name, who kept their religion in a small and impervious compartment where it did not interfere with their lives. He pictured the yearning and perplexity of those who had come to him for help, who could not accept the old explanations, and had gone away empty; and he had not been able to make Christians of the poor who attended the parish house. Finally, trusting in the bishop's discretion, he spoke of the revelations he had unearthed in Dalton Street, and how these had completely destroyed his confidence in the Christianity he had preached, and how he had put his old faith to the test of unprejudiced modern criticism, philosophy, and science. . .
The bishop listened intently, his head bent, his eyes on he rector.
"And you have come out—convinced?" he asked tremulously. "Yes, yes, I see you have. It is enough."
He relapsed into thought, his wrinkled hand lying idly on the table.
"I need not tell you, my friend," he resumed at length, "that a great deal of pressure has been brought to bear upon me in this matter, more than I have ever before experienced. You have mortally offended, among others, the most powerful layman in the diocese, Mr. Parr, who complains that you have presumed to take him to task concerning his private affairs."
"I told him," answered Holder, "that so long as he continued to live the life he leads, I could not accept his contributions to St. John's."
"I am an old man," said the bishop, "and whatever usefulness I have had is almost finished. But if I were young to-day, I should pray God for the courage and insight you have shown, and I am thankful to have lived long enough to have known you. It has, at least, been given one to realize that times have changed, that we are on the verge of a mighty future. I will be frank to say that ten years ago, if this had happened, I should have recommended you for trial. Now I can only wish you Godspeed. I, too, can see the light, my friend. I can see, I think, though dimly, the beginnings of a blending of all sects, of all religions in the increasing vision of the truth revealed in Jesus Christ, stripped, as you say, of dogma, of fruitless attempts at rational explanation. In Japan and China, in India and Persia, as well as in Christian countries, it is coming, coming by some working of the Spirit the mystery of which is beyond us. And nations and men who even yet know nothing of the Gospels are showing a willingness to adopt what is Christ's, and the God of Christ."
Holder was silent, from sheer inability to speak.
"If you had needed an advocate with me," the bishop continued, "you could not have had one to whose counsel I would more willingly have listened, than that of Horace Bentley. He wrote asking to come and see me, but I went to him in Dalton Street the day I returned. And it gives me satisfaction, Mr. Holder, to confess to you freely that he has taught me, by his life, more of true Christianity than I have learned in all my experience elsewhere."
"I had thought," exclaimed the rector, wonderingly, "that I owed him more than any other man."
"There are many who think that—hundreds, I should say," the bishop replied . . . . "Eldon Parr ruined him, drove him from the church.... It is strange how, outside of the church, his influence has silently and continuously grown until it has borne fruit in—this. Even now," he added after a pause, "the cautiousness, the dread of change which comes with old age might, I think, lead me to be afraid of it if I—didn't perceive behind it the spirit of Horace Bentley."
It struck Holder, suddenly, what an unconscious but real source of confidence this thought had likewise been to him. He spoke of it.
"It is not that I wouldn't trust you," the bishop went on. "I have watched you, I have talked to Asa Waring, I have read the newspapers. In spite of it all, you have kept your head, you have not compromised the dignity of the Church. But oh, my friend, I beg you to bear in mind that you are launched upon deep waters, that you have raised up many enemies —enemies of Christ—who seek to destroy you. You are still young. And the uncompromising experiment to which you are pledged, of freeing your church, of placing her in the position of power and influence in the community which is rightfully hers, is as yet untried. And no stone will be left unturned to discourage and overcome you. You have faith,—you have made me feel it as you sat here,—a faith which will save you from bitterness in personal defeat. You may not reap the victory, or even see it in your lifetime. But of this I am sure, that you will be able to say, with Paul, 'I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.' Whatever happens, you may count upon my confidence and support. I can only wish that I were younger, that my arm were stronger, and that I had always perceived the truth as clearly as I see it now."
Holder had risen involuntarily while these words were being spoken. They were indeed a benediction, and the intensity of his feeling warned him of the inadequacy of any reply. They were pronounced in sorrow, yet in hope, and they brought home to him, sharply, the nobility of the bishop's own sacrifice.
"And you, sir?" he asked.
"Ah," answered the bishop, "with this I shall have had my life. I am content. . . ."
"You will come to me again, Hodder? some other day," he said, after an interval, "that we may talk over the new problems. They are constructive, creative, and I am anxious to hear how you propose to meet them. For one thing, to find a new basis for the support of such a parish. I understand they have deprived you of your salary."
"I have enough to live on, for a year or so," replied the rector, quickly. "Perhaps more."
"I'm afraid," said the bishop, with a smile in his old eyes, "that you will need it, my friend. But who can say? You have strength, you have confidence, and God is with you."
Life, as Hodder now grasped it, was a rapidly whirling wheel which gave him no chance to catch up with the impressions and experiences through which it was dragging him. Here, for instance, were two far-reaching and momentous events, one crowding upon the other, and not an hour for reflection, realization, or adjustment! He had, indeed, after his return from the bishop's, snatched a few minutes to write Alison the unexpected result of that interview. But even as he wrote and rang for a messenger to carry the note to Park Street, he was conscious of an effort to seize upon and hold the fact that the woman he had so intensely desired was now his helpmate; and had, of her own freewill, united herself with him. A strong sense of the dignity of their relationship alone prevented his calling her on the telephone—as it doubtless had prevented her. While she remained in her father's house, he could not. . .
In the little room next to the office several persons were waiting to see him. But as he went downstairs he halted on the, landing, his hand going to his forehead, a reflex movement significant of a final attempt to achieve the hitherto unattainable feat of imagining her as his wife. If he might only speak to her again—now, this morning! And yet he knew that he needed no confirmation. The reality was there, in the background; and though refusing to come forward to be touched, it had already grafted itself as an actual and vital part of his being, never to be eliminated.
Characteristically perfecting his own ideal, she had come to him in the hour when his horizon had been most obscure. And he experienced now an exultation, though solemn and sacred, that her faith had so far been rewarded in the tidings he now confided to the messenger. He was not, as yet, to be driven out from the task, to be deprived of the talent, the opportunity intrusted to him by Lord—the emancipation of the parish of St. John's.
The first to greet him, when he entered his office, was one who, unknown to himself, had been fighting the battle of the God in Christ, and who now, thanks to John Hodder, had identified the Spirit as the transforming force. Bedloe Hubbell had come to offer his services to the Church. The tender was unqualified.
"I should even be willing, Mr. Hodder," he said with a smile, "to venture occasionally into a pulpit. You have not only changed my conception of religion, but you have made it for me something which I can now speak about naturally."
Hodder was struck by the suggestion.
"Ah, we shall need the laymen in the pulpits, Mr. Hubbell," he said quickly. "A great spiritual movement must be primarily a lay movement. And I promise you you shall not lack for opportunity."
At nine o'clock that evening, when a reprieve came, Hodder went out. Anxiety on the score of Kate Marcy, as well as a desire to see Mr. Bentley and tell him of the conversation with the bishop, directed his steps toward Dalton Street. And Hodder had, indeed, an intention of confiding to his friend, as one eminently entitled to it, the news of his engagement to Alison Parr.
Nothing, however, had been heard of Kate. She was not in Dalton Street, Mr. Bentley feared. The search of Gratz, the cabinet-maker, had been fruitless. And Sally Grover had even gone to see the woman in the hospital, whom Kate had befriended, in the hope of getting a possible clew. They sat close together before the fire in Mr. Bentley's comfortable library, debating upon the possibility of other methods of procedure, when a carriage was heard rattling over the pitted asphalt without. As it pulled up at the curb, a silence fell between them. The door-bell rang.
Holder found himself sitting erect, rigidly attentive, listening to the muffled sound of a woman's voice in the entry. A few moments later came a knock at the library door, and Sam entered. The old darky was plainly frightened.
"It's Miss Kate, Marse Ho'ace, who you bin tryin' to fin'," he stammered.
Holder sprang to his feet and made his way rapidly around the table, where he stood confronting the woman in the doorway. There she was, perceptibly swaying, as though the floor under her were rocked by an earthquake. Her handsome face was white as chalk, her pupils widened in terror. It was curious, at such an instant, that he should have taken in her costume,—yet it was part of the mystery. She wore a new, close-fitting, patently expensive suit of dark blue cloth and a small hat, which were literally transforming in their effect, demanding a palpable initial effort of identification.
He seized her by the arm.
"What is it?" he demanded.
"Oh, my God!" she cried. "He—he's out there—in the carriage."
She leaned heavily against the doorpost, shivering . . . . Holder saw Sally Grover coming down the stairs.
"Take her," he said, and went out of the front door, which Sam had left open. Mr. Bentley was behind him.
The driver had descended from the box and was peering into the darkness of the vehicle when he heard them, and turned. At sight of the tall clergyman, an expression of relief came into his face.
"I don't like the looks of this, sir," he said. "I thought he was pretty bad when I went to fetch him—"
Holder pushed past him and looked into the carriage. Leaning back, motionless, in the corner of the seat was the figure of a man. For a terrible moment of premonition, of enlightenment, the rector gazed at it.
"They sent for me from a family hotel in Ayers Street," the driver was explaining. Mr. Bentley's voice interrupted him.
"He must be brought in, at once. Do you know where Dr. Latimer's office is, on Tower Street?" he asked the man. "Go there, and bring this doctor back with you as quickly as possible. If he is not in, get another, physician."
Between them, the driver and Holder got the burden out of the carriage and up the steps. The light from the hallway confirmed the rector's fear.
"It's Preston Parr," he said.
The next moment was too dreadful for surprise, but never had the sense of tragedy so pierced the innermost depths of Holder's being as now, when Horace Bentley's calmness seemed to have forsaken him; and as he gazed down upon the features on the pillow, he wept . . . . Holder turned away. Whatever memories those features evoked, memories of a past that still throbbed with life these were too sacred for intrusion. The years of exile, of uncomplaining service to others in this sordid street and over the wide city had not yet sufficed to allay the pain, to heal the wound of youth. Nay, loyalty had kept it fresh—a loyalty that was the handmaid of faith. . .
The rector softly left the room, only to be confronted with another harrowing scene in the library, where a frantic woman was struggling in Sally Grover's grasp. He went to her assistance. . . Words of comfort, of entreaty were of no avail,—Kate Marcy did not seem to hear them. Hers, in contrast to that other, was the unmeaning grief, the overwhelming sense of injustice of the child; and with her regained physical strength the two had all they could do to restrain her.
"I will go to him," she sobbed, between her paroxysms, "you've got no right to keep me—he's mine . . . he came back to me—he's all I ever had . . . ."
So intent were they that they did not notice Mr. Bentley standing beside them until they heard his voice.
"What she says is true," he told them. "Her place is in there. Let her go."
Kate Marcy raised her head at the words, and looked at him a strange, half-comprehending, half-credulous gaze. They released her, helped her towards the bedroom, and closed the door gently behind her. . . The three sat in silence until the carriage was heard returning, and the doctor entered.
The examination was brief, and two words, laconically spoken, sufficed for an explanation—apoplexy, alcohol. The prostrate, quivering woman was left where they had found her.
Dr. Latimer was a friend of Mr. Bentley's, and betrayed no surprise at a situation which otherwise might have astonished him. It was only when he learned the dead man's name, and his parentage, that he looked up quickly from his note book.
"The matter can be arranged without a scandal," he said, after an instant. "Can you tell me something of the circumstances?"
It was Hodder who answered.
"Preston Parr had been in love with this woman, and separated from her. She was under Mr. Bentley's care when he found her again, I infer, by accident. From what the driver says, they were together in a hotel in Ayers Street, and he died after he had been put in a carriage. In her terror, she was bringing him to Mr. Bentley."
The doctor nodded.
"Poor woman!" he said unexpectedly. "Will you be good enough to let Mr: Parr know that I will see him at his house, to-night?" he added, as he took his departure.
Sally Grower went out with the physician, and it was Mr. Bentley who answered the question in the rector's mind, which he hesitated to ask.
"Mr. Parr must come here," he said.
As the rector turned, mechanically, to pick up his hat, Mr. Bentley added
"You will come back, Hodder?"
"Since you wish it, sir," the rector said.
Once in the street, he faced a predicament, but swiftly decided that the telephone was impossible under the circumstances, that there could be no decent procedure without going himself to Park Street. It was only a little after ten. The electric car which he caught seemed to lag, the stops were interminable. His thoughts flew hither and thither. Should he try first to see Alison? He was nearest to her now of all the world, and he could not suffer the thought of her having the news otherwise. Yes, he must tell her, since she knew nothing of the existence of Kate Marcy.
Having settled that,—though the thought of the blow she was to receive lay like a weight on his heart,—Mr. Bentley's reason for summoning Eldon Parr to Dalton Street came to him. That the feelings of Mr. Bentley towards the financier were those of Christian forgiveness was not for a moment to be doubted: but a meeting, particularly under such circumstances, could not but be painful indeed. It must be, it was, Hodder saw, for Kate Marcy's sake; yes, and for Eldon Parr's as well, that he be given this opportunity to deal with the woman whom he had driven away from his son, and ruined.
The moon, which had shed splendours over the world the night before, was obscured by a low-drifting mist as Hodder turned in between the ornamental lamps that marked the gateway of the Park Street mansion, and by some undiscerned thought—suggestion he pictured the heart-broken woman he had left beside the body of one who had been heir to all this magnificence. Useless now, stone and iron and glass, pictures and statuary. All the labour, all the care and cunning, all the stealthy planning to get ahead of others had been in vain! What indeed were left to Eldon Parr! It was he who needed pity,—not the woman who had sinned and had been absolved because of her great love; not the wayward, vice-driven boy who lay dead. The very horror of what Eldon Parr was now to suffer turned Hodder cold as he rang the bell and listened for the soft tread of the servant who would answer his summons.
The man who flung open the door knew him, and did not conceal his astonishment.
"Will you take my card to Miss Parr," the rector said, "if she has not retired, and tell her I have a message?"
"Miss Parr is still in the library, sir."
"Yes, sir." The man preceded him, but before his name had been announced Alison was standing, her book in her hand, gazing at him with startled eyes, his name rising, a low cry, to her lips.
He took the book from her, gently, and held her hands.
"Something has happened!" she said. "Tell me—I can bear it."
He saw instantly that her dread was for him, and it made his task the harder.
It's your brother, Alison."
"Preston! What is it? He's done something——"
Hodder shook his head.
"He died—to-night. He is at Mr. Bentley's."
It was like her that she did not cry out, or even speak, but stood still, her hands tightening on his, her breast heaving. She was not, he knew, a woman who wept easily, and her eyes were dry. And he had it to be thankful for that it was given him to be with her, in this sacred relationship, at such a moment. But even now, such was the mystery that ever veiled her soul, he could not read her feelings, nor know what these might be towards the brother whose death he announced.
"I want to tell you, first, Alison, to prepare you," he said.
Her silence was eloquent. She looked up at him bravely, trustfully, in a way that made him wince. Whatever the exact nature of her suffering, it was too deep for speech. And yet she helped him, made it easier for him by reason of her very trust, once given not to be withdrawn. It gave him a paradoxical understanding of her which was beyond definition.
"You must know—you would have sometime to know that there was a woman he loved, whom he intended to marry—but she was separated from him. She was not what is called a bad woman, she was a working girl. I found her, this summer, and she told me the story, and she has been under the care of Mr. Bentley. She disappeared two or three days ago. Your brother met her again, and he was stricken with apoplexy while with her this evening. She brought him to Mr. Bentley's house."
"My father—bought her and sent her away."
"I heard a little about it at the time, by accident. I have always remembered it . . . . I have always felt that something like this would happen."
Her sense of fatality, another impression she gave of living in the deeper, instinctive currents of life, had never been stronger upon him than now. . . . She released his hands.
"How strange," she said, "that the end should have come at Mr. Bentley's! He loved my mother—she was the only woman he ever loved."
It came to Hodder as the completing touch of the revelation he had half glimpsed by the bedside.
"Ah," he could not help exclaiming, "that explains much."
She had looked at him again, through sudden tears, as though divining his reference to Mr. Bentley's grief, when a step make them turn. Eldon Parr had entered the room. Never, not even in that last interview, had his hardness seemed so concretely apparent as now. Again, pity seemed never more out of place, yet pity was Hodder's dominant feeling as he met the coldness, the relentlessness of the glance. The thing that struck him, that momentarily kept closed his lips, was the awful, unconscious timeliness of the man's entrance, and his unpreparedness to meet the blow that was to crush him.
"May I ask, Mr. Hodder," he said, in an unemotional voice, "what you are doing in this house?"
Still Hodder hesitated, an unwilling executioner.
"Father," said Alison, "Mr. Hodder has come with a message."
Never, perhaps, had Eldon Parr given such complete proof of his lack of spiritual intuition. The atmosphere, charged with presage for him, gave him nothing.
"Mr. Hodder takes a strange way of delivering it," was his comment.
Mercy took precedence over her natural directness. She laid her hand gently on his arm. And she had, at that instant, no thought of the long years he had neglected her for her brother.
"It's about—Preston," she said.
"Preston!" The name came sharply from Eldon Parr's lips. "What about him? Speak, can't you?"
"He died this evening," said Alison, simply.
Hodder plainly heard the ticking of the clock on the mantel . . . . And the drama that occurred was the more horrible because it was hidden; played, as it were, behind closed doors. For the spectators, there was only the black wall, and the silence. Eldon Parr literally did nothing, —made no gesture, uttered no cry. The death, they knew, was taking place in his soul, yet the man stood before them, naturally, for what seemed an interminable time . . . .
"Where is he?" he asked.
"At Mr. Bentley's, in Dalton Street." It was Alison who replied again.
Even then he gave no sign that he read retribution in the coincidence, betrayed no agitation at the mention of a name which, in such a connection, might well have struck the terror of judgment into his heart. They watched him while, with a firm step, he crossed the room and pressed a button in the wall, and waited.
"I want the closed automobile, at once," he said, when the servant came.
"I beg pardon; sir, but I think Gratton has gone to bed. He had no orders."
"Then wake him," said Eldon Parr, "instantly. And send for my secretary."
With a glance which he perceived Alison comprehended, Hodder made his way out of the room. He had from Eldon Parr, as he passed him, neither question, acknowledgment, nor recognition. Whatever the banker might have felt, or whether his body had now become a mere machine mechanically carrying on a life-long habit of action, the impression was one of the tremendousness of the man's consistency. A great effort was demanded to summon up the now almost unimaginable experience of his confidence; of the evening when, almost on that very spot, he had revealed to Hodder the one weakness of his life. And yet the effort was not to be, presently, without startling results. In the darkness of the street the picture suddenly grew distinct on the screen of the rector's mind, the face of the banker subtly drawn with pain as he had looked down on it in compassion; the voice with its undercurrent of agony:
"He never knew how much I cared—that what I was doing was all for him, building for him, that he might carry on my work."
So swift was the trolley that ten minutes had elapsed, after Hodder's arrival, before the purr of an engine and the shriek of a brake broke the stillness of upper Dalton Street and announced the stopping of a heavy motor before the door. The rector had found Mr. Bentley in the library, alone, seated with bent head in front of the fire, and had simply announced the intention of Eldon Parr to come. From the chair Hodder had unobtrusively chosen, near the window, his eyes rested on the noble profile of his friend. What his thoughts were, Hodder could not surmise; for he seemed again, marvellously, to have regained the outward peace which was the symbol of banishment from the inner man of all thought of self.
"I have prepared her for Mr. Parr's coming," he said to Hodder at length.
And yet he had left her there! Hodder recalled the words Mr. Bentley had spoken, "It is her place." Her place, the fallen woman's, the place she had earned by a great love and a great renunciation, of which no earthly power might henceforth deprive her . . . .
Then came the motor, the ring at the door, the entrance of Eldon Parr into the library. He paused, a perceptible moment, on the threshold as his look fell upon the man whom he had deprived of home and fortune,—yes and of the one woman in the world for them both. Mr. Bentley had risen, and stood facing him. That shining, compassionate gaze should have been indeed a difficult one to meet. Vengeance was the Lord's, in truth! What ordeal that Horace Bentley in anger and retribution might have devised could have equalled this!
And yet Eldon Parr did meet it—with an effort. Hodder, from his corner, detected the effort, though it were barely discernible, and would have passed a scrutiny less rigid,—the first outward and visible sign of the lesion within. For a brief instant the banker's eyes encountered Mr. Bentley's look with a flash of the old defiance, and fell, and then swept the room.
"Will you come this way, Mr. Parr?" Mr. Bentley said, indicating the door of the bedroom.
Alison followed. Her eyes, wet with unheeded tears, had never left Mr. Bentley's face. She put out her hand to him . . . .
Eldon Parr had halted abruptly. He knew from Alison the circumstances in which his son had died, and how he had been brought hither to this house, but the sight of the woman beside the bed fanned into flame his fury against a world which had cheated him, by such ignominious means, of his dearest wish. He grew white with sudden passion.
"What is she doing here?" he demanded.
Kate Marcy, who had not seemed to hear his entrance, raised up to him a face from which all fear had fled, a face which, by its suggestive power, compelled him to realize the absolute despair clutching now at his own soul, and against which he was fighting wildly, hopelessly. It was lying in wait for him, With hideous patience, in the coming watches of the night. Perhaps he read in the face of this woman whom he had condemned to suffer all degradation, and over whom he was now powerless, something which would ultimately save her from the hell now yawning for him; a redeeming element in her grief of which she herself were not as yet conscious, a light shining in the darkness of her soul which in eternity would become luminous. And he saw no light for him—He thrashed in darkness. He had nothing, now, to give, no power longer to deprive. She had given all she possessed, the memorial of her kind which would outlast monuments.
It was Alison who crossed the room swiftly. She laid her hand protectingly on Kate Marcy's shoulder, and stooped, and kissed her. She turned to her father.
"It is her right," she said. "He belonged to her, not to us. And we must take her home with us.
"No," answered Kate Marcy' "I don't want to go. I wouldn't live," she added with unexpected intensity, "with him."
"You would live with me," said Alison.
"I don't want to live!" Kate Marcy got up from the chair with an energy they had not thought her to possess, a revival of the spirit which had upheld her when she had contended, singly, with a remorseless world. She addressed herself to Eldon Parr. "You took him from me, and I was a fool to let you. He might have saved me and saved himself. I listened to you when you told me lies as to how it would ruin him . . . . Well,—I had him you never did."
The sudden, intolerable sense of wrong done to her love, the swift anger which followed it, the justness of her claim of him who now lay in the dignity of death clothed her—who in life had been crushed and blotted out—with a dignity not to be gainsaid. In this moment of final self-assertion she became the dominating person in the room, knew for once the birthright of human worth. They watched her in silence as she turned and gave one last, lingering look at the features of the dead; stretched out her hand towards them, but did not touch them . . . and then went slowly towards the door. Beside Alison she stopped.
"You are his sister?" she said.
She searched Alison's face, wistfully.
"I could have loved you."
"And can you not—still?"
Kate Mercy did not answer the question.
"It is because you understand," she said. "You're like those I've come to know—here. And you're like him . . . . I don't mean in looks. He, too, was good—and square." She spoke the words a little defiantly, as though challenging the verdict of the world. "And he wouldn't have been wild if he could have got going straight."
"I know," said Alison, in a low voice.
"Yes," said Kate Mercy, "you look as if you did. He thought a lot of you, he said he was only beginning to find out what you was. I'd like you to think as well of me as you can."
"I could not think better," Alison replied.
Kate Mercy shook her head.
"I got about as low as any woman ever got," she said
"Mr. Hodder will tell you. I want you to know that I wouldn't marry —your brother," she hesitated over the name. "He wanted me to—he was mad with me to night, because I wouldn't—when this happened."
She snatched her hand free from Alison's, and fled out of the room, into the hallway.
Eldon Parr had moved towards the bed, seemingly unaware of the words they had spoken. Perhaps, as he gazed upon the face, he remembered in his agony the sunny, smiling child who need to come hurrying down the steps in Ransome Street to meet him.
In the library Mr. Bentley and John Hodder, knowing nothing of her flight, heard the front door close on Kate Marcy forever . . . .
Two days after the funeral, which had taken place from Calvary, and not from St. John's, Hodder was no little astonished to receive a note from Eldon Parr's secretary requesting the rector to call in Park Street. In the same mail was a letter from Alison. "I have had," she wrote, "a talk with my father. The initiative was his. I should not have thought of speaking to him of my affairs so soon after Preston's death. It seems that he strongly suspected our engagement, which of course I at once acknowledged, telling him that it was your intention, at the proper time, to speak to him yourself.
"I was surprised when he said he would ask you to call. I confess that I have not an idea of what he intends to say to you, John, but I trust you absolutely, as always. You will find him, already, terribly changed. I cannot describe it—you will see for yourself. And it has all seemed to happen so suddenly. As I wrote you, he sat up both nights, with Preston—he could not be induced to leave the room. And after the first night he was different. He has hardly spoken a word, except when he sent for me this evening, and he eats nothing . . . . And yet, somehow, I do not think that this will be the end. I feel that he will go on living. . . . .
"I did not realize how much he still hoped about Preston. And on Monday, when Preston so unexpectedly came home, he was happier than I have known him for years. It was strange and sad that he could not see, as I saw, that whatever will power my brother had had was gone. He could not read it in the face of his own son, who was so quick to detect it in all others! And then came the tragedy. Oh, John, do you think we shall ever find that girl again?—I know you are trying but we mustn't rest until we do. Do you think we ever shall? I shall never forgive myself for not following her out of the door, but, I thought she had gone to you and Mr. Bentley."
Hodder laid the letter down, and took it up again. He knew that Alison felt, as he felt, that they never would find Kate Marcy . . . . He read on.
"My father wished to speak to me about the money. He has plans for much of it, it appears, even now. Oh. John, he will never understand. I want so much to see you, to talk to you—there are times when I am actually afraid to be alone, and without you. If it be weakness to confess that I need your reassurance, your strength and comfort constantly, then I am weak. I once thought I could stand alone, that I had solved all problems for myself, but I know now how foolish I was. I have been face to face with such dreadful, unimagined things, and in my ignorance I did not conceive that life held such terrors. And when I look at my father, the thought of immortality turns me faint. After you have come here this afternoon there can be no longer any reason why we should not meet, and all the world know it. I will go with you to Mr. Bentley's.
"Of course I need not tell you that I refused to inherit anything. But I believe I should have consented if I possibly could have done so. It seemed so cruel—I can think of no other word—to have, to refuse at such a moment. Perhaps I have been cruel to him all my life—I don't know. As I look back upon everything, all our relations, I cannot see how I could have been different. He wouldn't let me. I still believe to have stayed with him would have been a foolish and useless sacrifice . . . But he looked at me so queerly, as though he, too, had had a glimmering of what we might have been to each other after my mother died. Why is life so hard? And why are we always getting glimpses of things when it is too late? It is only honest to say that if I had it to do all over again, I should have left him as I did.
"It is hard to write you this, but he actually made the condition of my acceptance of the inheritance that I should not marry you. I really do not believe I convinced him that you wouldn't have me take the money under any circumstances. And the dreadful side of it all was that I had to make it plain to him—after what has happened that my desire to marry you wasn't the main reason of my refusal. I had to tell him that even though you had not been in question, I couldn't have taken what he wished to give me, since it had not been honestly made. He asked me why I went on eating the food bought with such money, living under his roof? But I cannot, I will not leave him just yet . . . . It is two o'clock. I cannot write any more to-night."
The appointed time was at the November dusk, hurried forward nearly an hour by the falling panoply of smoke driven westward over the Park by the wet east wind. And the rector was conducted, with due ceremony, to the office upstairs which he had never again expected to enter, where that other memorable interview had taken place. The curtains were drawn. And if the green-shaded lamp—the only light in the room—had been arranged by a master of dramatic effect, it could not have better served the setting.
In spite of Alison's letter, Holder was unprepared for the ravages a few days had made in the face of Eldon Parr. Not that he appeared older: the impression was less natural, more sinister. The skin had drawn sharply over the cheek-bones, and strangely the eyes both contradicted and harmonized with the transformation of the features. These, too, had changed. They were not dead and lustreless, but gleamed out of the shadowy caverns into which they had sunk, unyielding, indomitable in torment,—eyes of a spirit rebellious in the fumes . . . .
This spirit somehow produced the sensation of its being separated from the body, for the movement of the hand, inviting Holder to seat himself, seemed almost automatic.
"I understand," said Eldon Parr, "that you wish to marry my daughter."
"It is true that I am to marry Alison," Holder answered, "and that I intended, later on, to come to inform you of the fact."
He did not mention the death of Preston. Condolences, under the circumstances, were utterly out of the question.
"How do you propose to support her?" the banker demanded.
"She is of age, and independent of you. You will pardon me if I reply that this is a matter between ourselves," Holder said.
"I had made up my mind that the day she married you I would not only disinherit her, but refuse absolutely, to have anything to do with her."
"If you cannot perceive what she perceives, that you have already by your own life cut her off from you absolutely and that seeing her will not mend matters while you remain relentless, nothing I can say will convince you." Holder did not speak rebukingly. The utter uselessness of it was never more apparent. The man was condemned beyond all present reprieve, at least.
"She left me," exclaimed Eldon Parr, bitterly.
"She left you, to save herself."
"We need not discuss that."
"I am far from wishing to discuss it," Holder replied.
"I do not know why you have asked me to come here, Mr. Parr. It is clear that your attitude has not changed since our last conversation. I tried to make it plain to you why the church could not accept your money. Your own daughter, cannot accept it."
"There was a time," retorted the banker, "when you did not refuse to accept it."
"Yes," Holder replied, "that is true." It came to him vividly then that it had been Alison herself who had cast the enlightening gleam which revealed his inconsistency. But he did not defend himself.
"I can see nothing in all this, Mr. Hodder, but a species of insanity," said Eldon Parr, and there crept into his tone both querulousness and intense exasperation. "In the first place, you insist upon marrying my daughter when neither she nor you have any dependable means of support. She never spared her criticisms of me, and you presume to condemn me, a man who, if he has neglected his children, has done so because he has spent too much of his time in serving his community and his country, and who has—if I have to say it myself—built up the prosperity which you and others are doing your best to tear down, and which can only result in the spread of misery. You profess to have a sympathy with the masses, but you do not know them as I do. They cannot control themselves, they require a strong hand. But I am not asking for your sympathy. I have been misunderstood all my life, I have become used to ingratitude, even from my children, and from the rector of the church for which I have done more than any other man."