In casting about for a beginning in his venture over unknown seas, there had naturally come into his mind three or four works which were anathema to the orthodox; one of which, in seven volumes, went back to his seminary days, and had been the subject of a ringing, denunciatory sermon by the dean himself. Three of them were by Germans of established reputations, another by a professor of the University of Paris. The habit of years is strong.
And though he knew that many clergymen read these books, Hodder found it impossible to overcome a nervous sense of adventure,—nay (knowing his resolution), of apostasy, almost of clandestine guilt when he mentioned them. And it seemed to him that the face of the clerk betrayed surprise. One of the works was not in stock; he would send the others that afternoon. Mr. Hodder would take them? They made a formidable parcel, but a little handle was supplied and the rector hurried out, swinging himself on a Tower Street car.
It must not be thought that the whole of what is called modern criticism was new to Hodder. This would indeed be too much of a reflection on the open-mindedness of the seminary from which he had graduated. But he found himself, now, pondering a little cynically on that "open-mindedness"; on that concession—if it had been a concession—to the methods of science. There had been in truth a course of lectures on this subject; but he saw now, very clearly, what a concerted effort had been put forward in the rest of the teaching to minimize and discredit it. Even the professor who gave the lectures had had the air of deploring them. Here it is, but on the whole one would better let it alone,—such was the inference. And he had let it alone, through all these years.
In the seminary, too, volumes by semi-learned clergymen had been thrust into his hands, efforts which Hodder recalled now, in spite of his mental state, with a smile. These invariably championed the doctrine of the virgin birth as the pillar on which the Incarnation depended. A favourite argument declared that although the Gospel texts in regard to it might be proven untrustworthy, the miraculous birth must have happened anyway! And one of these clerical authors whom he had more recently read, actually had had the audacity to turn the weapons of the archenemy, science, back upon itself. The virgin birth was an established fact in nature, and had its place in the social economy of the bee. And did not parthenogenesis occur in the silk moth?
In brief, the conclusion impressed upon him by his seminary instruction was this: that historical criticism had corrected some ideas and put some things in their right place. What these things were remained sufficiently vague. But whenever it attacked a cherished dogma it was, on general principles, wrong.
Once again in his cool study, he cut the cord with a trembling hand, and while he was eating the lunch his housekeeper had prepared, dipped into one of the larger volumes. As he read again the critical disproofs he felt an acute, almost physical pain, as though a vital part of him were being cut away, as his mind dwelt upon those beautiful legends to which he had so often turned, and which had seemed the very fountain of his faith. Legends! . . . .
He closed the book. The clock on the mantel struck three; his train was to leave at five. He rose and went down into the silent church he had grown to love, seating himself in one of the carved stalls of the choir, his eye lingering in turn on each beautiful object: on the glowing landscape in the window in memory of Eliza Parr, portraying the delectable country, with the bewildered yet enraptured faces of the pilgrims in the foreground; on the graceful, shining lectern, the aspiring arches, the carved marble altar behind the rail, and above it the painting of the Christ on the cross.
The hours of greatest suffering are the empty hours. 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' The hours when the mysterious sustaining and driving force is withdrawn, and a lassitude and despair comes over us like that of a deserted child: the hours when we feel we have reached the limit of service, when our brief span of usefulness is done. Had God brought him, John Hodder, to the height of the powers of his manhood only to abandon him, to cast him adrift on the face of the waters—led him to this great parish, with all its opportunities, only that he might fail and flee?
He sat staring at the face of the Man on the cross. Did he, in his overwrought state, imagine there an expression he had never before remarked, or had the unknown artist of the seventies actually risen above the mediocrity of the figure in his portrayal of the features of the Christ? The rector started, and stared again. There was no weakness in the face, no meekness, no suggestion of the conception of the sacrificed Lamb, no hint of a beatific vision of opening heavens—and yet no accusation, no despair. A knowing—that were nearer—a knowing of all things through the experiencing of all things, the suffering of all things. For suffering without revelation were vain, indeed! A perfected wisdom that blended inevitably with a transcendent love. Love and wisdom were one, then? To reach comprehension through conquering experience was to achieve the love that could exclaim, "they know not what they do!"
Human or divine? Man or God? Hodder found himself inwardly repeating the words, the controversy which had raged for nineteen hundred years, and not yet was stilled. Perfection is divine. Human! Hodder repeated the word, as one groping on the threshold of a great discovery . . . .
He was listening—he had for a long time been listening to a sound which had seemed only the natural accompaniment of the drama taking place in his soul, as though some inspired organist were expressing in exquisite music the undercurrent of his agony. Only gradually did he become aware that it arose from the nave of the church, and, turning, his eyes fell upon the bowed head and shoulders of a woman kneeling in one of the pews. She was sobbing.
His movement, he recalled afterward, did not come of a conscious volition, as he rose and descended the chancel steps and walked toward her; he stood for what seemed a long time on the white marble of the aisle looking down on her, his heart wrung by the violence of her grief, which at moments swept through her like a tempest. She seemed still young, but poverty had marked her with unmistakable signs. The white, blue-veined hands that clung to the railing of the pew were thin; and the shirtwaist, though clean, was cheap and frayed. At last she rose from her knees and raised a tear-stained face to his, staring at him in a dumb bewilderment.
"Can I do anything for you?" he said gently, "I am the rector here." She did not answer, but continued to stare uncomprehendingly. He sat down beside her in the pew.
"You are in trouble," he said. "Will you let me try to help you?" A sob shook her—the beginning of a new paroxysm. He waited patiently until it was over. Suddenly she got rather wildly and unsteadily to her feet.
"I must go!" she cried. "Oh, God, what would I do if—if he wasn't there?"
Hodder rose too. She had thrust herself past him into the aisle, but if he had not taken her arm she would have fallen. Thus they went together to the door of the church, and out into the white, burning sunlight. In spite of her weakness she seemed actually to be leading him, impelled by a strange force and fled down the steps of the porch to the sidewalk. And there she paused, seeing him still beside her. Fortunately he had his hat in his hand.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To take you home," he replied firmly, "you ought not to go alone."
A look of something like terror came into her eyes.
"Oh, no!" she protested, with a vehemence that surprised him. "I am strong. Oh, thank you, sir,—but I can go alone. It's Dicky—my little boy. I've never left him so long. I had gone for the medicine and I saw the church. I used to go to church, sir, before we had our troubles—and I just went in. It suddenly came over me that God might help me—the doctor can do nothing."
"I will go with you," he said.
She ceased to resist, as one submitting to the fatality of a superior will.
The pavements that afternoon, as Hodder and the forlorn woman left the cool porticoes of St. John's, were like the floor of a stone oven, and the work horses wore little bonnets over their heads. Keeping to the shady side, the rector and his companion crossed Tower Street with its trolley cars and its awninged stores, and came to that depressing district which had reproached him since the first Sunday of his ministry when he had traversed it with Eldon Parr. They passed the once prosperous houses, the corner saloons pandering to two vices, decked with the flamboyant signs of the breweries. The trees were dying along the asphalt and in the yards, the iron fences broken here and there, the copings stained with rust and soot. Hodder's thoughts might have been likened to the heated air that simmered above the bricks.
They were in Dalton Street! She seemed to have forgotten his presence, her pace quickened as she turned into a gate and flew up a flight of dirty stone steps, broken and sagging. Hodder took in, subconsciously, that the house was a dingy grey, of three stories and a Mansard roof, with a bay window on the yard side, and a fly-blown sign, "Rooms to Rent" hanging in one window. Across the street, on a lot that had once held a similar dignified residence, was the yellow brick building of the "Albert Hotel," and next door, on the east, a remodelled house of "apartments" with speaking tubes in the doorway.
The woman led him up another flight of steps to the open door of the house, through a hallway covered with a ragged carpet, where a dilapidated walnut hat-rack stood, up the stairs, threading a dark passage that led into a low-ceiled, stifling room at the very back. A stout, slatternly person in a wrapper rose as they entered, but the mother cast herself down beside the lounge where the child was. Hodder had a moment of fear that she was indeed too late, so still the boy lay, so pathetically wan was the little face and wasted the form under the cotton nightgown. The mother passed her hand across his forehead.
"Dicky!" she whispered fearfully, "Dicky!"
He opened his eyes and smiled at her; feebly.
The, stout woman, who had been looking on with that intensity of sympathy of which the poor are capable, began waving gently the palm-leaf fan. She was German.
"He is so good, is Dicky. He smile at me when I fan him—once, twice. He complains not at all."
The mother took the fan from her, hand.
"Thank you for staying with him, Mrs. Breitmann. I was gone longer than I expected." The fact that the child still lived, that she was again in his presence, the absorbing act of caring for him seemed to have calmed her.
"It is nothing, what I do," answered Mrs. Breitmann, and turned away reluctantly, the tears running on her cheeks. "When you go again, I come always, Mrs. Garvin. Ach!"
Her exclamation was caused by the sight of the tall figure and black coat of the rector, and as she left the room, Mrs. Garvin turned. And he noticed in her eyes the same expression of dread they had held when she had protested against his coming.
"Please don't think that I'm not thankful—" she faltered.
"I am not offering you charity," he said. "Can you not take from other human beings what you have accepted from this woman who has just left?"
"Oh, sir, it isn't that!" she cried, with a look of trust, of appeal that was new, "I would do anything—I will do anything. But my husband—he is so bitter against the church, against ministers! If he came home and found you here—"
"I know—many people feel that way," he assented, "too many. But you cannot let a prejudice stand in the way of saving the boy's life, Mrs. Garvin."
"It is more than that. If you knew, sir—"
"Whatever it is," he interrupted, a little sternly, "it must not interfere. I will talk to your husband."
She was silent, gazing at him now questioningly, yet with the dawning hope of one whose strength is all but gone, and who has found at last a stronger to lean upon.
The rector took the fan from her arrested hand and began to ply it.
"Listen, Mrs. Garvin. If you had come to the church half an hour later, I should have been leaving the city for a place far distant."
"You were going away? You stayed on my account?"
"I much prefer to stay, if I can be of any use, and I think I can. I am sure I can. What is the matter with the child?"
"I don't know, sir—he just lies there listless and gets thinner and thinner and weaker and weaker. Sometimes he feels sick, but not often. The doctor don't seem to know."
What doctor have you?"
"His name is Welling. He's around the corner."
"Exactly," said the rector. "This is a case for Dr. Jarvis, who is the best child specialist in the city. He is a friend of mine, and I intend to send for him at once. And the boy must go to a hospital—"
"Oh, I couldn't, sir."
He had a poignant realization of the agony behind the cry. She breathed quickly through her parted lips, and from the yearning in her tired eyes —as she gazed at the poor little form—he averted his glance.
"Now, Mrs. Garvin, you must be sensible," he said. "This is no place for a sick child. And it is such a nice little hospital, the one I have in mind, and so many children get well and strong there," he added, cheerfully.
"He wouldn't hear of it." Hodder comprehended that she was referring to her husband. She added inconsequently: "If I let him go, and he never came back! Oh, I couldn't do it—I couldn't."
He saw that it was the part of wisdom not to press her, to give her time to become accustomed to the idea. Come back—to what? His eye wandered about the room, that bespoke the last shifts of poverty, for he knew that none but the desperate were driven to these Dalton Street houses, once the dwellings of the well-to-do, and all the more pitiful for the contrast. The heated air reeked with the smell of stale cooking. There was a gas stove at one side, a linoleum-covered table in the centre, littered with bottles, plates, and pitchers, a bed and chairs which had known better days, new obviously bruised and battered by many enforced movings. In one corner was huddled a little group of toys.
He was suddenly and guiltily aware that the woman had followed his glance.
"We had them in Alder Street," she said. "We might have been there yet, if we hadn't been foolish. It's a pretty street, sir—perhaps you know it—you take the Fanshawe Avenue cars to Sherman Heights. The air is like the country there, and all the houses are new, and Dicky had a yard to play in, and he used to be so healthy and happy in it. . . We were rich then,—not what you'd call rich," she added apologetically, "but we owned a little home with six rooms, and my husband had a good place as bookkeeper in a grocery house, and every year for ten years we put something by, and the boy came. We never knew how well off we were, until it was taken away from us, I guess. And then Richard—he's my husband—put his savings into a company—he thought it was so safe, and we were to get eight per cent—and the company failed, and he fell sick and lost his place, and we had to sell the house, and since he got well again he's been going around trying for something else. Oh, he's tried so hard,—every day, and all day long. You wouldn't believe it, sir. And he's so proud. He got a job as porter, but he wasn't able to hold it—he wasn't strong enough. That was in April. It almost broke my heart to see him getting shabby—he used to look so tidy. And folks don't want you when you're shabby." . . .
There sprang to Hodder's mind a sentence in a book he had recently read: "Our slums became filled with sick who need never have been sick; with derelicts who need never have been abandoned."
Suddenly, out of the suffocating stillness of the afternoon a woman's voice was heard singing a concert-hall air, accompanied by a piano played with vigour and abandon. And Hodder, following the sound, looked out across the grimy yard—to a window in the apartment house opposite.
"There's that girl again," said the mother, lifting her head. "She does sing nice, and play, poor thing! There was a time when I wouldn't have wanted to listen. But Dicky liked it so . . . . It's the very tune he loved. He don't seem to hear it now. He don't even ask for Mr. Bentley any more."
"Mr. Bentley?" the rector repeated. The name was somehow familiar to him.
The piano and the song ceased abruptly, with a bang.
"He lives up the street here a way—the kindest old gentleman you ever saw. He always has candy in his pockets for the children, and it's a sight to see them follow him up and down the sidewalk. He takes them to the Park in the cars on Saturday afternoons. That was all Dicky could think about at first—would he be well enough to go with Mr. Bentley by Saturday? And he was forever asking me to tell Mr. Bentley he was sick. I saw the old gentleman on the street to-day, and I almost went up to him. But I hadn't the courage."
The child moaned, stirred, and opened his eyes, gazing at them feverishly, yet without seeming comprehension. She bent over him, calling his name . . . . Hodder thrust the fan into her hand, and rose.
"I am going to telephone Dr. Jarvis," he said, "and then I shall come back, in order to be here when he arrives."
She looked up at him.
"Oh, thank you, sir,—I guess it's for the best—"
Her voice died away, and the rector, seeking for the cause, saw that a man had entered the room. He walked up to the couch and stood for a moment staring moodily at the child, while the woman watched him, transfixed.
"Richard!" she said.
He paid no attention to her. She turned to Hodder. "This is my husband, sir. . . . Richard, I went into the church—just for a moment—I—I couldn't help it, and this gentleman—the minister—came home with me. He wanted to—he thought I was sick. And now he's going out to get the best doctor in the city for Dicky."
The man turned suddenly and confronted the rector.
"Why don't you let him die, you and your church people?" he asked. "You've done your worst to kill him."
The woman put her hand fearfully, imploringly on the man's arm.
"Richard!" she whispered.
But as Hodder glanced from the derelict beside him a wave of comprehension passed through him that swept him clean of indignation, of resentment. And this man had been prosperous and happy!
"There is but one way to save the boy's life, Mr. Garvin," he said, "and that is to put him in charge of Dr. Jarvis."
The man made no reply, but went over to the window, staring out into the yard. There was something vaguely ominous in his attitude. The rector watched him a moment, and then turned to the mother.
"You must not lose hope," he told her.
She looked at him with terror-stricken eyes that sought to be grateful. He had picked up his hat from a corner of the littered table, and started to leave, when Garvin, by a sudden movement, planted himself in the doorway. Whether he had been drinking, or whether he were merely crazed by misfortune and the hopeless search in the heat for employment, and by lack of proper nourishment, Hodder could not say. There was a light in his eyes like that in a wounded animal's; and although he was thin and slight, he had the concentrated power of desperation.
"Say, what church do you come from?" he demanded.
"From St. John's," said the rector.
"Eldon Parr's church?"
Hodder started, in spite of himself, at the name.
"Mr. Parr is a member of the congregation."
"Come off! He owns it and runs it, the same as he does everything else in this town. Maybe you don't think I read the Sunday papers. Say, I was respectable once, and had a good place. You wouldn't believe it, would you?"
Hodder hesitated. There was obviously no way to pass the man except by using physical force.
"If you have anything to say to me, Mr. Garvin, I shall be glad to talk to you later. You must not stop me now," he said with a touch of severity.
"You'll listen to me, right here and now," cried Garvin. "If you think I am going to let Eldon Parr's minister, or any one else belonging to him, save that boy's life, you've got another guess comin'. That's all. I'd rather have him die—d'ye hear? I'd rather have him die."
The woman behind them whimpered . . . . The name was ringing like a knell in Hodder's head—Eldon Parr! Coming, as it had, like a curse from the lips of this wretched, half-demented creature, it filled his soul with dismay. And the accusation had in it the profound ring of truth. He was Eldon Parr's minister, and it was Eldon Parr who stood between him and his opportunity.
"Why do you speak of Mr. Parr?" he asked, though the question cost him a supreme effort.
"Why do I speak of him? My God, because he ruined me. If it hadn't been for him, damn him, I'd have a home, and health and happiness to-day, and the boy would be well and strong instead of lying there with the life all but gone out of him. Eldon Parr did for me, and now he's murdered my son—that's why I mention him."
In the sudden intensity of his feeling, Hodder seized Garvin by the arms —arms that were little more than skin and bone. The man might be crazed, he might be drunk: that he believed what he was saying there could be no question. He began to struggle violently, but the rector was strong.
"Be still," he commanded. And suddenly, overcome less by the physical power than by the aspect of the clergyman, an expression of bewilderment came into his eyes, and he was quiet. Hodder dropped his arms. "I do not intend to go until I hear what you have to say. It would be useless, at any rate, since your child's life is at stake. Tell me how Mr. Parr has ruined you."
Garvin stared at him, half in suspicion, half in amazement.
"I guess you never knew of his ruining anybody, did you?" he demanded sullenly. "Well, I'll tell you all right, and you can go and tell him. He won't care much—he's used to it by this time, and he gets square with God by his churches and charities. Did you ever hear of a stock called Consolidated Tractions?"
Consolidated Tractions! In contrast to the sordid misery and degradation of this last refuge of the desperate Hodder saw the lofty, panelled smoking room at Francis Ferguson's, and was listening again to Wallis Plimpton's cynical amusement as to how he and Everett Constable and Eldon Parr himself had "gat out" before the crash; "got out" with all the money of the wretch who now stood before him! His parishioners! his Christians! Oh God!
The man was speaking in his shrill voice.
"Well, I was a Traction sucker, all right, and I guess you wouldn't have to walk more than two blocks to find another in this neighbourhood. You think Eldon Parr's a big, noble man, don't you? You're proud to run his church, ain't you? You wouldn't believe there was a time when I thought he was a big man, when I was kind of proud to live in the same city with him. She'll tell you how I used to come home from the store and talk about him after supper, and hope that the kid there would grow up into a financier like Eldon Parr. The boys at the store talked about him: he sort of laid hold on our imaginations with the library he gave, and Elmwood Park, and the picture of the big organ in your church in the newspapers—and sometimes, Mary and me and the boy, in the baby carriage, on Sunday afternoons we used to walk around by his house, just to look at it. You couldn't have got me to believe that Eldon Parr would put his name to anything that wasn't straight.
"Then Consolidated Tractions came along, with Parr's, name behind it. Everybody was talking about it, and how it was payin' eight per cent. from the start, and extra dividends and all, and what a marvel of finance it was. Before the kid came, as soon as I married her, we began to save up for him. We didn't go to the theatres or nothing. Well, I put it all, five thousand dollars, into Consolidated. She'll tell you how we sat up half the night after we got the first dividend talking about how we'd send the kid to college, and after we went to bed we couldn't sleep. It wasn't more than a year after that we began to hear things—and we couldn't sleep for sure, and the dividends stopped and the stock tumbled. Even then I wouldn't believe it of him, that he'd take poor people's money that way when he had more than he knew what to do with. I made up my mind if I went down to see him and told him about it, he'd make it right. I asked the boss for an hour off, and headed for the Parr building—I've been there as much as fifty times since—but he don't bother with small fry. The clerks laugh when they see me comin' . . . I got sick worryin', and when I was strong enough to be around they'd filled my job at the grocery, and it wasn't long before we had to move out of our little home in Alder Street. We've been movin' ever since," he cried, and tears of weakness were in his eyes, "until we've come to this, and we'll have to get out of here in another week. God knows where we'll go then."
"Then I found out how he done it—from a lawyer. The lawyer laughed at me, too. Say, do you wonder I ain't got much use for your church people? Parr got a corporation lawyer named Langmaid—he's another one of your millionnaire crooks—to fix it up and get around the law and keep him out of jail. And then they had to settle with Tim Beatty for something like three hundred thousand. You know who Beatty is—he owns this city—his saloon's around here on Elm Street. All the crooks had to be squared. Say," he demanded aggressively, "are Parr and Langmaid any better than Beatty, or any of the hold-up men Beatty covers? There's a street-walker over there in those flats that's got a million times more chance to get to heaven—if there is any—than those financiers, as they call 'emselves —I ain't much on high finance, but I've got some respect for a second story man now—he takes some risks! I'll tell you what they did, they bought up the short car lines that didn't pay and sold 'em to themselves for fifty times as much as they were worth; and they got controlling interests in the big lines and leased 'em to themselves with dividends guaranteed as high as eighteen per cent. They capitalized the Consolidated for more millions than a little man like me can think of, and we handed 'em our money because we thought they were honest. We thought the men who listed the stock on the Exchange were honest. And when the crash came, they'd got away with the swag, like any common housebreakers. There were dummy directors, and a dummy president. Eldon Parr didn't have a share—sold out everything when she went over two hundred, but you bet he kept his stock in the leased lines, which guarantee more than they earn. He cleaned up five million, they say.... My money—the money that might give that boy fresh air, and good doctors ....Say, you believe in hell, don't you? You tell Eldon Parr to keep his charity,—he can't send any of it in here. And you'd better go back to that church of his and pray to keep his soul out of hell." . . .
His voice, which had risen even to a higher pitch, fell silent. And all at once, without warning, Garvin sank, or rather tumbled upon the bed, sobbing in a way that was terrible to see. The wife stole across the room, sat down beside him, and laid her hand on his shoulder. . . .
In spite of the intensity of his own anguish, Hodder was conscious of a curious detachment; and for months afterward particular smells, the sight of a gasoline stove, a certain popular tune gave him a sharp twinge of pain. The acid distilling in his soul etched the scene, the sounds, the odours forever in his memory: a stale hot wind from the alley rattled the shutter-slats, and blew the door to; the child stirred; and above the strident, irregular weeping rose main, in ironical contrast, the piano and the voice across the yard. In that glimpse he had into the heart of life's terrible mystery he momentarily understood many things: he knew that behind the abandon of the woman's song was the same terror which reigned in the room in which he stood . . . .
There were voices in the passageway without, a woman saying in a German accent,—"It is here, sir."
There was a knock at the door . . . .
THE LOST PARISHIONER
Hodder opened the door. In the dingy passageway he perceived a tall figure which immediately turned out to be that of an old gentleman. In spite of the heat, he wore a long coat and an old-fashioned, high collar, a black tie, under which was exposed a triangle of immaculate, pleated linen. In one hand he held a gold-headed stick, a large tall hat of which the silk nap was a little rubbed, a string sustaining a parcel, the brown paper wrapping of which was soaked: in the other, a manila bag containing lemons.
His head was bent forward a little, the high dome of it was bald, but the white hair clustered thickly behind the temples. The face was clean-shaven, the cheeks touched with red, the nose high and dominating, distinctly philanthropic. And the blue eyes rested on the clergyman with a benevolence unfeigned.
"Good afternoon, sir," the old gentleman said; "I am told Mrs. Garvin lives here."
Before the rector could reply Mrs. Garvin herself stood between them.
"It's Mr. Bentley!" she exclaimed.
"I fear I'm intruding, ma'am," he said. "But some of Dicky's little friends have just informed me that he is ill, and I have taken the liberty of calling to inquire."
Mr. Bentley entered the room,—simple words to express that which was in some sort an event. He laid his parcels on the table, his hat and stick on a chair, and stood looking down in silence at the thin little form on the couch. Presently he turned.
"I'm afraid he's very ill, ma'am," he said gently. "You have your own doctor, no doubt. But if you will permit me, as a friend, to make a suggestion, we have in the city one of the best child specialists in the United States, who is never weary of curing these little ones,—Dr. Jarvis, and I shall be happy to ask him to come and see Dicky."
Mrs. Garvin glanced at Hodder, who came forward.
"I was just about to telephone for Dr. Jarvis, Mr. Bentley, when you arrived. I am Mr. Hodder, of St. John's."
"How do you do, sir?" The kindly eyes, alight with a gentle flame, rested upon the rugged figure of the rector. "I am glad that you, too, agree that Dr. Jarvis is advisable, Mr. Hodder."
There was a sound from the bed. Garvin had got to his feet and was staring wildly, with reddened lids.
"Are you Horace Bentley?" he demanded.
"That is my name, sir," Mr. Bentley replied. His expression of surprise was only momentary. And in all his life Hodder had never beheld a greater contrast in human beings than between that gracious and courtly old man and the haggard, unkempt, unshaved, and starving outcast facing him. Something like a film came over Garvin's eyes.
"He ruined you, too, twenty years back—Eldon Parr did for you, too. Oh, I know his record, I've followed his trail—he got all the Grantham stock that would have made you a millionnaire!"
"Ah," replied Mr. Bentley, smiling to humour him, "that's something I have no wish to be, sir,—a millionaire." He met the frightened gaze of the wife. "Good day, ma'am. If you will allow me, I'll come to-morrow morning to learn what Dr. Jarvis will have had to say. Have courage, ma'am, have courage. You may have faith in Dr. Jarvis."
The poor woman was incapable of speech. Mr. Bentley picked up his hat and stick.
"I've taken the liberty of bringing Dicky a little ice and a few lemons." His eyes rested again on the couch by the window. Then he turned to Garvin, who stood mutely, staring. "Good evening, sir," he said. "We must look for the best."
They went down the stairs of the shabby and battered house, stairs by the side of which holes had been knocked through the faded wall-paper—scars of frequent movings. The sound and smell of frying came out of the open door of what once had been the parlour, and on the front steps a little girl darted past them with a pitcher of beer. When they reached the sidewalk Mr. Bentley halted.
"If you were intending to telephone Dr. Jarvis, Mr. Hodder, there is a public station in the drug store just above here. I know that clergymen are busy persons, and I am passing it, if you are pressed for time."
"My only concern is to get Jarvis here," said the rector. "If I may go with you—"
Once again in the hot sunlight, reaction had set in. Hodder was suddenly unstrung, and the kindly old gentleman beside him seemed for the instant the only fixture in a chaotic universe. It was not until later reflection that he realized Mr. Bentley might, by an intuitive sympathy, a depth of understanding, have drained something of his state, since the incidents which followed were to be accounted for on no other grounds. In such elemental moments the frail conventions are swept away: Mr. Bentley, whoever he might be, was no longer a stranger; and it seemed wholly natural to be walking with him up the street, to hear him saying, —not with perfunctory politeness but in a tone that was itself an invitation,—"With pleasure, sir, we'll go together. And let us trust that the doctor will be at home."
Nor did Hodder stop to wonder, then, why Mr. Bentley should have sought in his conversation to dissipate something of the hideous blackness of a tragedy which must have moved him profoundly. How fortunate, he declared, that they should have arrived before it was too late! For it was plain to be seen that these Garvins were good people who had been broken by adversity . . . . The boy had struck him particularly—a lovable, merry little fellow whose clothes, Mr. Bentley observed, were always neatly mended, betokening a mother with self-respect and character. He even spoke of Garvin: adversity, worry, the heat, constant brooding over a happier past and an uncertain future—was it surprising that the poor man's mind had become unhinged? They must make some plan for Garvin, said Mr. Bentley, get the man and his wife into the country for a while amongst kindly people. This might no doubt be arranged....
"Here we are, sir."
The familiar smell of drugs, the sound of the trickling water in the soda fountain roused Hodder to reality, to action, and he hurried into the telephone booth, fumbled in the dog-eared book, got Dr. Jarvis's number and called it. An eternity seemed to elapse before he had a reply, heard his coin jangling in the bog, recognized the voice of the great doctor's secretary. Yes, the doctor was in would he speak to Mr. Hodder, of St. John's? . . . An interval, during which Hodder was suddenly struck with this designation of himself. Was he still of St. John's, then? An aeon might have elapsed since he had walked down the white marble of its aisle toward the crouching figure in the pew. He was not that man, but another—and still Mr. Hodder, of St. John's. . . . Then he heard the specialist say, "Hello, Mr. Hodder, what can I do for you?" Heard his own voice in reply, explaining the case. Could the doctor find time? The doctor could: he was never too busy to attend to the poor,—though he did not say so: he would be there—by half-past six. The rector hung up the receiver, opened the door of the booth and mopped his brow, for the heat was stifling.
"The doctor will go," he explained in answer to Mr. Bentley's inquiring look.
"Now, sir," said the old gentleman, when they were out of the store, "we have done all that we can for the time being. I do not live far from here. Perhaps you would give me the pleasure of taking supper with me, if you have no other engagement."
No other engagement! Not until then did Hodder remember his empty rooms in the parish house, and the train which was to have borne him away from all this already speeding northward. He accepted gratefully, nor did he pause to speculate upon the mystery by which the stream of his life seemed so suddenly to have been diverted. He had, indeed, no sense of mystery in the presence of this splendidly sane, serene old man, any more than the children who ran after him from the dingy yards and passages, calling his name, clinging to the skirts of his coat. These accepted him simply as an anomalous fact in their universe, grinned at his pleasantries, and held up grimy little hands for the kidney-shaped candy beans he drew forth from his capacious pockets. In the intervals he reminisced to the rector about the neighbourhood.
"It seems but a short while ago when the trees met overhead—magnificent trees they were. The asphalt and the soot killed them. And there were fruit trees in that yard"—he pointed with his stick to a littered sun parched plot adjoining a battered mansion—"all pink and white with blossoms in the spring. Mr. Hadley lived there—one of our forgotten citizens. He is dead and gone now and his family scattered. That other house, where the boy lies, belonged to Mr. Villars, a relation of the Atterbury family, and I can recall very well a little girl with a pink sash and a white dress who used to come running out to meet me with flowers in her hands. Incredible as it may seem, she picked them in that yard. I thought of her as I went in, how fresh and happy she used to be, and what a different place this was for children then. She must have some of her own by this time."
The character of the street had changed to what might be called shabby-genteel, and they stopped before a three-story brick house—one of a row—that showed signs of scrupulous care. The steps were newly scrubbed, the woodwork neatly painted.
"This is where I live, sir," said Mr. Bentley, opening the door with a latchkey and leading the way into a high room on the right, darkened and cool, and filled with superb, old-fashioned rosewood furniture. It was fitted up as a library, with tall shelves reaching almost to the ceiling.
An old negro appeared, dressed in a swallow-tailed coat. His hair was as white as his master's, and his face creased with age.
"Sam," said Mr. Bentley, "I have brought home a gentleman for supper."
"Yassah, Misteh Ho'ace. I was jest agwine to open up de blin's."
He lifted the wire screens and flung back the shutters, beamed on the rector as he relieved him of his hat, and noiselessly retired. Curiosity, hitherto suppressed by more powerful feelings, awoke in Hodder speculations which ordinarily would have been aroused before: every object in the room bespoke gentility, was eloquent of a day when wealth was honoured and respected: photographs, daguerreotypes in old-fashioned frames bore evidence of friendships of the past, and over the marble mantel hung a portrait of a sweet-faced woman in the costume of the thirties, whose eyes reminded Hodder of Mr. Bentley's. Who was she?
Hodder wondered. Presently he found himself before a photograph on the wall beyond, at which he had been staring unconsciously.
"Ah, you recognize it," said Mr. Bentley.
"Yes," Mr. Bentley repeated, "St. John's." He smiled at Hodder's glance of bewilderment, and put his hand on the younger man's arm. "That picture was taken before you were born, sir, I venture to say—in 1869. I am very fond of it, for it gives the church in perspective, as you see. That was Mr. Gore's house"—he indicated a square, heavily corniced mansion—"where the hotel now stands, and that was his garden, next the church, where you see the trees above the wall."
The rector turned again and looked at his host, who, was gazing at the picture thoughtfully.
"I ought to have remembered," he said. "I have seen your name in the church records, sir, and I have heard Mr. Waring speak of you."
"My dear Mr. Hodder, there is no reason why you should have known me. A great many years have passed since I was a parishioner of St. John's —a great many years."
"But it was you," the rector began, uncertainly, and suddenly spoke with conviction, "it was you who chose the architect, who did more than other men to make the church what it is."
"Whatever I may have done," replied Mr. Bentley, with simple dignity, "has brought its reward. To this day I have not ceased to derive pleasure from it, and often I go out of my way, through Burton Street, although the view is cramped. And sometimes," he added, with the hint of a twinkle in his eye, "I go in. This afternoon is not the first time I have seen you, Mr. Hodder."
"But—?" said the rector. He stared at the other's face, and the question died on his lips.
"You wonder why I am no longer a parishioner. The time came when I could not afford to be." There was no hint of reproach in his voice, of bitterness. He spoke regretfully, indeed, but as one stating an incontrovertible fact. "I lost my fortune, I could not keep my pew, so I deeded it back to the church. My old friends, Mrs. Dimock and Asa Waring, and others, too, were very kind. But I could not accept their hospitality."
Hodder bowed his head in silence. What thundered indictment of the Church of Christ could have been as severe, as wholly condemning as these few words so dispassionately uttered by the man beside him?
The old darky entered, and announced supper.
Hodder had lost his way, yet a hand had been held out to him, and he seized it. With a sense of being led, psychically as well as physically, he followed Mr. Bentley into a large bedroom, where a high, four-posted bed lifted a pleated canopy toward the ceiling. And after he had washed his hands they entered a dining-room looking out upon a little yard in the rear, which had been transformed into a garden. Roses, morning glories, and nasturtiums were growing against the walls; a hose lay coiled upon the path; the bricks, baked during the day, were splashed with water; the leaves and petals were wet, and the acrid odour of moist earth, mingling with perfumes, penetrated the room. Hodder paused in the window.
"Sam keeps our flowers alive," he heard Mr. Bentley say, "I don't know how."
"I scrubs 'em, sah," said Sam. "Yassah, I washes 'em like chilluns."
He found himself, at Mr. Bentley's request, asking grace, the old darky with reverently bent head standing behind his master; sitting down at a mahogany table that reflected like a mirror the few pieces of old silver, to a supper of beaten biscuits that burned one's fingers, of 'broiled chicken and coffee, and sliced peaches and cream. Mr. Bentley was talking of other days—not so long gone by when the great city had been a village, or scarcely more. The furniture, it seemed, had come from his own house in what was called the Wilderness Road, not far from the river banks, over the site of which limited trains now rolled on their way eastward toward the northernmost of the city's bridges. He mentioned many names, some remembered, some forgotten, like his own; dwelt on pleasures and customs gone by forever.
"A little while after I moved in here, I found that one old man could not fill the whole of this house, so I let the upper floors," he explained, smilingly. "Some day I must introduce you to my tenants, Mr. Hodder."
By degrees, as Hodder listened, he became calm. Like a child, he found himself distracted, talking, asking questions: and the intervals grew longer between the recurrent surges of fear when the memory rose before him of the events of the day,—of the woman, the child, and the man: of Eldon Parr and this deed he had done; hinting, as it did, of closed chambers of other deeds yet to be opened, of countless, hidden miseries still to be revealed: when he heard once more the tortured voice of the banker, and the question: "How would you like to live in this house —alone?" In contrast, now he beheld the peace in the face of the man whose worldly goods Eldon Parr had taken, and whom he had driven out of the church. Surely, this man had found a solution! . . . What was it?
Hodder thought of the child, of the verdict of Dr. Jarvis, but he lingered on, loth to leave,—if the truth be told—afraid to leave; drawing strength from his host's calm, wondering as to the source of it, as to the life which was its expression; longing, yet not presuming, to question. The twilight deepened, and the old darky lit a lamp and led the way back to the library.
"Sam," said Mr. Bentley, "draw up the armchair for Mr. Hodder beside the window. It is cooler there."
"I ought to go," Hodder said. "I ought to see how the child is. Jarvis will have been there by this time, and there may be necessaries—"
"Jarvis will have attended to that," Mr. Bentley replied. "Sit down, Mr. Hodder. I am not sure that, for the present, we have not done all in this case that is humanly possible."
"You mean," said the rector, "that they will accept nothing from me." It came from him, spontaneously, like a cry. He had not meant to say it. "I don't blame them. I don't blame them for losing their faith in God and man, in the Church. I ought to have seen it before, but I was blind, incredibly blind—until it struck me in the face. You saw it, sir, and you left a church from which the poor are thrust out, which refuses to heed the first precept of its Master."
"I saw it," answered Mr. Bentley, "but I could do nothing. Perhaps you can do—something."
"Ah!" Hodder exclaimed sharply, "why do you say that? The Church is paralyzed, chained. How can she reach these wretched people who are the victims of the ruthless individualism and greed of those who control her? You know—that man, Mr. Bentley." (Hodder could not bring himself to pronounce Eldon Parr's name.) "I had an affection for him, I pitied him, because he suffers—"
"Yes," echoed Mr. Bentley, "he suffers."
Hodder was momentarily arrested by the sadness of his tone.
"But he doesn't know why he suffers—he cannot be made to see," the rector went on. "And he is making others suffer,—hideously, while he imagines himself a Christian. He is the Church to that miserable, hopeless wretch we saw to-day, and to hundreds of the same kind whom he has driven to desperation. And I—who am supposed to be the vicar of God—I am powerless. They have a contempt for me, a just contempt. They thrust me out of their doors, bid me to return and minister to their oppressors. You were right to leave, and I should have left long since."
He had not spoken with violence, or with a lack of control. He seemed rather to have regained a mastery of himself, and felt as a man from whom the shackles have been struck, proclaiming his freedom. Mr. Bentley's eyes lighted in involuntary response as he gazed at the figure and face before him. He pressed his hands together.
"If you will forgive a curiosity, Mr. Hodder, that is somewhat due to my interest in a church with which I have many precious associations, may I ask if this is a sudden determination on your part?"
"No," Hodder said. "I have known ever since I came here that something was wrong, but at first I couldn't see it, and after that I wouldn't see it. That is about what happened, as I look back on it.
"But the farther in I went," Hodder continued, "the more tangled and bewildered I became. I was hypnotized, I think," he added with a gesture,—"hypnotized, as a man is who never takes his eyes from a pattern. I wanted to get at this neighbourhood—Dalton Street—I mean, and finally I agreed to the establishment of a settlement house over here, to be paid for largely by Eldon Parr and Francis Ferguson. I couldn't see the folly of such an undertaking—the supreme irony of it, until—until it was pointed out to me." He hesitated; the remembrance of Alison Parr ran through him, a thread of pain. "And even then I tried to dodge the issue, I tried to make myself believe that good might flow out of evil; that the Church, which is supposed to be founded on the highest ideal ever presented to man, might compromise and be practical, that she might accept money which had been wrung from a trusting public by extortion, by thinly disguised thievery such as this Consolidated Tractions Company fraud, and do good with it! And at last I made up my mind to go away, to-day, to a quiet place where I might be alone, and reflect, when by a singular circumstance I was brought into contact with this man, Garvin. I see now, clearly enough, that if I had gone, I should never have come back."
"And you still intend to go?" Mr. Bentley asked.
Hodder leaned his elbow against the mantel. The lamplight had a curious effect on Mr. Bentley's face.
"What can I do?" he demanded. The question was not aimed directly at his host—it was in the nature of a renewed appeal to a tribunal which had been mute, but with which he now seemed vaguely aware of a certain contact. "Even supposing I could bring myself to accept the compromise —now that I see it clearly, that the end justifies the means—what good could I accomplish? You saw what happened this afternoon—the man would have driven me out if, it hadn't been for you. This whole conception of charity is a crime against civilization—I had to have that pointed out to me, too,—this system of legalized or semi-legalized robbery and the distribution of largesse to the victims. The Church is doing wrong, is stultifying herself in encouraging it. She should set her face rigidly against it, stand for morality and justice and Christianity in government, not for pauperizing. It is her mission to enlighten these people, all people—to make them self-respecting, to give them some notion of the dignity of their souls and their rights before God and man."
"Aren't you yourself suggesting," said Mr. Bentley, "the course which will permit you to remain?"
Hodder was silent. The thought struck him with tremendous force. Had he suggested it? And how—why? Could it be done? Could he do it or begin it?
"We have met at last in a singular way," he heard Mr. Bentley going on, "in a way that has brushed aside the conventions, in a way—I am happy to say—that has enabled you to give me your confidence. And I am an old man,—that has made it easier. I saw this afternoon, Mr. Hodder, that you were troubled, although you tried to hide it."
"I knew that you saw it," Hodder said.
"Nor was it difficult for me to guess something of the cause of it. The same thing has troubled me."
"Yes," Mr. Bentley answered. "I left St. John's, but the habits and affections of a lifetime are not easily severed. And some time before I left it I began to have visions of a future for it. There was a question, many years ago, as to whether a new St. John's should not be built in the West End, on a site convenient to the parishioners, and this removal I opposed. Mr. Waring stood by me. We foresaw the day when this district would be—what it is now—the precarious refuge of the unfortunate in the battle of life, of just such unhappy families as the Garvins, of miserable women who sell themselves to keep alive. I thought of St. John's, as you did, as an oasis in a desert of misery and vice. At that time I, too, believed in the system of charities which you have so well characterized as pauperizing."
Mr. Bentley smiled, as at a reminiscence.
"My eyes were opened," he replied, and in these simple words summed up and condemned it all. "They are craving bread, and we fling them atones. I came here. It was a house I owned, which I saved from the wrecks, and as I look back upon what the world would call a misfortune, sir, I can see that it was a propitious event, for me. The street 'ran down,' as the saying goes. I grew gradually to know these people, my new neighbours, largely through their children, and I perceived many things I had not dreamed of—before then. I saw how the Church was hampered, fettered; I saw why they disliked and distrusted it."
"And yet you still believed that it had a mission?" Hodder interrupted. He had been listening with rapt attention.
"I still believed it," said Mr. Bentley. "My conception of that mission changed, grew, and yet it seemed further and further from fulfilment. And then you came to St. John's."
"I!" The cry was involuntary.
"You," Mr. Bentley repeated. "Sometimes," he added whimsically, "I go there, as I have told you. I saw you, I heard you preach. I talked to my friend Waring about you. I saw that your eyes were not opened, but I think I had a certain presentiment, for which I do not pretend to account, that they would be opened."
"You mean," said the rector, "that if I believe in the mission of the Church as I have partially stated it here tonight, I—should stay and fight for it."
"Precisely," Mr. Bentley replied.
There was a note of enthusiasm, almost of militancy in the old gentleman's tone that surprised and agitated Hodder. He took a turn up and down the room before he answered.
"I ought to tell you that the view I expressed a moment ago is new to me. I had not thought of it before, and it is absolutely at variance with any previous ideas I have held. I can see that it must involve, if carried to its logical conclusion, a change in the conception of Christianity I have hitherto held."
He was too intent upon following up the thought to notice Mr. Bentley's expression of assent.
"And suppose," he asked, "I were unable to come to any conclusion? I will be frank, Mr. Bentley, and confess to you that at present I cannot see my way. You have heard me preach—you know what my beliefs have been. They are shattered. And, while I feel that there is some definite connection between the view of the Church which I mentioned and her message to the individual, I do not perceive it clearly. I am not prepared at present to be the advocate of Christianity, because I do not know what Christianity is. I thought I knew.
"I shall have to begin all over again, as though I had never taken orders, submit to a thorough test, examine the evidence impartially. It is the only way. Of this much I am sure, that the Church as a whole has been engaged in a senseless conflict with science and progressive thought, that she has insisted upon the acceptance of facts which are in violation of reason and which have nothing to do with religion. She has taught them to me—made them, in fact, a part of me. I have clung to them as long as I can, and in throwing them over I don't know where I shall land."
His voice was measured, his words chosen, yet they expressed a withering indignation and contempt which were plainly the culmination of months of bewilderment—now replaced by a clear-cut determination.
"I do not blame any individual," he continued, "but the system by which clergymen are educated.
"I intend to stay here, now, without conducting any services, and find out for myself what the conditions are here in Dalton Street. You know those people, Mr. Bentley, you understand them, and I am going to ask you to help me. You have evidently solved the problem."
Mr. Bentley rose. And he laid a hand, which was not quite steady, on the rector's shoulder.
"Believe me, sir," he replied, "I appreciate something of what such a course must mean to you—a clergyman." He paused, and a look came upon his face, a look that might scarce have been called a smile—Hodder remembered it as a glow—reminiscent of many things. In it a life was summed ups in it understanding, beneficence, charity, sympathy, were all expressed, yet seemingly blended into one. "I do not know what my testimony may be worth to you, my friend, but I give it freely. I sometimes think I have been peculiarly fortunate. But I have lived a great many years, and the older I get and the more I see of human nature the firmer has grown my conviction of its essential nobility and goodness."
Hodder marvelled, and was silent.
"You will come here, often,—every day if you can. There are many men and women, friends of mine, whom I should like you to know, who would like to know you."
"I will, and thank you," Hodder answered. Words were inadequate for the occasion . . . .
THE WOMAN OF THE SONG
On leaving Mr. Bentley, Hodder went slowly down Dalton Street, wondering that mere contact with another human being should have given him the resolution to turn his face once again toward the house whither he was bound. And this man had given him something more. It might hardly have been called faith; a new courage to fare forth across the Unknown—that was it; hope, faint but revived.
Presently he stopped on the sidewalk, looked around him, and read a sign in glaring, electric letters, Hotel Albert. Despite the heat, the place was ablaze with lights. Men and women were passing, pausing—going in. A motor, with a liveried chauffeur whom he remembered having seen before, was standing in front of the Rathskeller. The nightly carousal was beginning.
Hodder retraced his steps, crossed the street diagonally, came to the dilapidated gate he remembered so well, and looked up through the dusk at the house. If death had entered it, there was no sign: death must be a frequent visitor hereabouts. On the doorsteps he saw figures outlined, slatternly women and men in shirt-sleeves who rose in silence to make way for him, staring at him curiously. He plunged into the hot darkness of the hall, groped his way up the stairs and through the passage, and hesitated. A single gas jet burned low in the stagnant air, and after a moment he made out, by its dim light, a woman on her knees beside the couch, mechanically moving the tattered palm-leaf over the motionless little figure. The child was still alive. He drew a deep breath, and entered; at the sound of his step Mrs. Garvin suddenly started up.
"Richard!" she cried, and then stood staring at the rector. "Have you seen my husband, sir? He went away soon after you left."
Hodder, taken by surprise, replied that he had not. Her tone, her gesture of anxiety he found vaguely disquieting.
"The doctor has been here?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered absently. "I don't know where he can be—Richard. He didn't even wait to see the doctor. And he thinks so much of Dicky, sir, he sits here of an evening—"
Hodder sat down beside her, and taking the palm-leaf from her hand, began himself to fan the child. Something of her misgiving had communicated itself to him.
"Don't worry," he said. "Remember that you have been through a great deal, and it is natural that you should be overwrought. Your husband feels strongly. I don't blame him. And the sight of me this afternoon upset him. He has gone out to walk."
"Richard is proud," she answered simply. "He used to say he'd rather die than take charity—and now he's come to it. And it's—that man, sir, who's got on his brain, and changed him. He wasn't always like this, but now he can't seem to think of anything else. He wakes up in the night . . . . And he used to have such a sweet nature—you wouldn't have known him . . . and came home so happy in the evenings in Alder Street, often with a little fruit, or something he'd bought for us, and romp with Dicky in the yard, and I'd stand and laugh at them. Even after we'd lost our money, when he was sick that time, he didn't feel this way. It grew on him when he couldn't get work, and then he began to cut things out of the papers about Mr. Parr. And I have sometimes thought that that's kept him from getting work. He talks about it, and people don't know what to make of him. They don't know how hard he'd try if they'd give him something.". . . .
"We shall find something," said the rector, striving to throw into his voice confidence and calm. He did not dare to look at her, but continued to move the fan.
The child stirred a little. Mrs. Garvin put out her hand.
"Yes, the doctor was here. He was very kind. Oh, sir," she exclaimed, "I hope you won't think us ungrateful—and that Mr. Bentley won't. Dr. Jarvis has hopes, sir,—he says—I forget the name he called it, what Dicky has. It's something uncommon. He says it was—brought on by the heat, and want of food—good food. And he's coming himself in the morning to take him out to that hospital beyond the park—in an automobile, sir. I was just thinking what a pity it is Dicky wouldn't realize it. He's always wanted to ride in one." Suddenly her tears flowed, unheeded, and she clung to the little hand convulsively. "I don't know what I shall do without him, Sir, I don't . . . . I've always had him . . . and when he's sick, among strangers." . . .
The rector rose to the occasion.
"Now, Mrs. Garvin," he said firmly, "you must remember that there is only one way to save the boy's life. It will be easy to get you a room near the hospital, where you can see him constantly."
"I know—I know, sir. But I couldn't leave his father, I couldn't leave Richard." She looked around distractedly. "Where is he?"
"He will come back presently," said the rector. "If not, I will look for him."
She did not reply, but continued to weep in silence. Suddenly, above the confused noises of the night, the loud notes of a piano broke, and the woman whose voice he had heard in the afternoon began once more with appalling vigour to sing. The child moaned.
Mrs. Garvin started up hysterically.
"I can't stand it—I can't stand her singing that now," she sobbed.
Thirty feet away, across the yard, Hodder saw the gleaming window from which the music came. He got to his feet. Another verse began, with more of the brazen emphasis of the concert-hall singer than ever. He glanced at the woman beside him, irresolutely.
"I'll speak to her," he said.
Mrs. Garvin did not appear to hear him, but flung herself down beside the lounge. As he seized his hat and left the room he had the idea of telephoning for a nurse, when he almost ran into some one in the upper hall, and recognized the stout German woman, Mrs. Breitmann.
"Mrs. Garvin"—he said, "she ought not to be left—"
"I am just now going," said Mrs. Breitmann. "I stay with her until her husband come."
Such was the confidence with which, for some reason, she inspired him, that he left with an easier mind.
It was not until the rector had arrived at the vestibule of the apartment house next door that something—of the difficulty and delicacy of the errand he had undertaken came home to him. Impulse had brought him thus far, but now he stood staring helplessly at a row of bells, speaking tubes, and cards. Which, for example, belonged to the lady whose soprano voice pervaded the neighbourhood? He looked up and down the street, in the vain hope of finding a messenger. The song continued: he had promised to stop it. Hodder accused himself of cowardice.
To his horror, Hodder felt stealing over him, incredible though it seemed after the depths through which he had passed, a faint sense of fascination in the adventure. It was this that appalled him—this tenacity of the flesh,—which no terrors seemed adequate to drive out. The sensation, faint as it was, unmanned him. There were still many unexplored corners in his soul.
He turned, once more contemplated the bells, and it was not until then he noticed that the door was ajar. He pushed it open, climbed the staircase, and stood in the doorway of what might be called a sitting room, his eyes fixed on a swaying back before an upright piano against the wall; his heart seemed to throb with the boisterous beat of the music. The woman's hair, in two long and heavy plaits falling below her waist, suddenly fascinated him. It was of the rarest of russet reds. She came abruptly to the end of the song.
"I beg your pardon—" he began.
She swung about with a start, her music dropping to the floor, and stared at him. Her tattered blue kimono fell away at her elbows, her full throat was bare, and a slipper she had kicked off lay on the floor beside her. He recoiled a little, breathing deeply. She stared at him.
"My God, how you scared me!" she exclaimed. Evidently a second glance brought to her a realization of his clerical costume. "Say, how did you get in here?"
"I beg your pardon," he said again, "but there is a very sick child in the house next door and I came to ask you if you would mind not playing any more to-night."
She did not reply at once, and her expression he found unsolvable. Much of it might be traced to a life which had contracted the habit of taking nothing on trust, a life which betrayed itself in unmistakable traces about the eyes. And Hodder perceived that the face, if the stamp of this expression could have been removed, was not unpleasing, although indulgence and recklessness were beginning to remould it.
"Quit stringin' me," she said.
For a moment he was at a loss. He gathered that she did not believe him, and crossed to the open window.
"If you will come here," he said, "I will show you the room where he lies. We hope to be able to take him to the hospital to-morrow." He paused a moment, and added: "He enjoyed your music very much when he was better."
The comment proved a touchstone.
"Say," she remarked, with a smile that revealed a set of surprisingly good teeth, "I can make the box talk when I get a-goin'. There's no stopping me this side of grand opera,—that's no fable. I'm not so bad for an enginoo, am I?"
Thus directly appealed to, in common courtesy he assented.
"No indeed," he said.
"That's right," she declared. "But the managers won't have it at any price. Those jays don't know anything, do they? They've only got a dream of what the public wants. You wouldn't believe it, but I've sung for 'em, and they threw me out. You wouldn't believe it, would you?"
"I must own," said the rector, "that I have never had any experience with managers."
She sat still considering him from the piano stool, her knees apart, her hands folded in her lap. Mockery came into her eyes.
"Say, what did you come in here for, honest injun?" she demanded.
He was aware of trying to speak sternly, and of failing. To save his life he could not, then, bring up before himself the scene in the little back room across the yard in its full terror and reality, reproduce his own feelings of only a few minutes ago which had impelled him hither. A month, a year might have elapsed. Every faculty was now centred on the woman in front of him, and on her life.
"Why do you doubt me?" he asked.
She continued to contemplate him. Her eyes were strange, baffling, smouldering, yellow-brown, shifting, yet not shifty: eyes with a history. Her laugh proclaimed both effrontery and uneasiness.
"Don't get huffy," she said. "The kid's sick—that's on the level, is it? You didn't come 'round to see me?" The insinuation was in her voice as well as in her words. He did not resent it, but felt an odd thrill of commingled pity and—fear.
"I came for the reason I have given you," he replied; and added, more gently: "I know it is a good deal to ask, but you will be doing a great kindness. The mother is distracted. The child, as I told you, will be taken to the hospital in the morning."
She reached out a hand and closed the piano softly.
"I guess I can hold off for to-night," she said. "Sometimes things get kind of dull—you know, when there's nothing doing, and this keeps me lively. How old is the kid?"
"About nine," he estimated.
"Say, I'm sorry." She spoke with a genuineness of feeling that surprised him. He went slowly, almost apologetically toward the door.
"Good night," he said, "and thank you."
Her look halted him.
"What's your hurry?" she demanded.
"I'm sorry," he said hastily, "but I must be going." He was, in truth, in a panic to leave.
"You're a minister, ain't you?"
"Yes," he said.
"I guess you don't think much of me, do you?" she demanded.
He halted abruptly, struck by the challenge, and he saw that this woman had spoken not for herself, but for an entire outlawed and desperate class. The fact that the words were mocking and brazen made no difference; it would have been odd had they not been so. With a shock of surprise he suddenly remembered that his inability to reach this class had been one of the causes of his despair! And now? With the realization, reaction set in, an overpowering feeling of weariness, a desire—for rest—for sleep. The electric light beside the piano danced before his eyes, yet he heard within him a voice crying out to him to stay. Desperately tired though he was, he must not leave now. He walked slowly to the table, put his hat on it and sat down in a chair beside it.
"Why do you say that?" he asked.
"Oh, cut it out!" said the woman. "I'm on to you church folks." She laughed. "One of 'em came in here once, and wanted to pray. I made a monkey of him."
"I hope," said the rector, smiling a little, "that is not the reason why you wish me to stay."
She regarded him doubtfully.
"You're not the same sort," she announced at length.
"What sort was he?"
"He was easy,—old enough to know better—most of the easy ones are. He marched in sanctimonious as you please, with his mouth full of salvation and Bible verses." She laughed again at the recollection.
"And after that," said the rector, "you felt that ministers were a lot of hypocrites."
"I never had much opinion of 'em," she admitted, "nor of church people, either," she added, with emphasis.
"There's Ferguson, who has the department store,—he's 'way up' in church circles. I saw him a couple of months ago, one Sunday morning, driving to that church on Burton Street, where all the rich folks go. I forget the name—"
"St. John's," he supplied. He had got beyond surprise.
"St. John's—that's it. They tell me he gives a lot of money to it —money that he steals from the girls he hires. Oh, yes, he'll get to heaven—I don't think."
"How do you mean that he steals money from the girls?"
"Say, you are innocent—ain't you! Did you ever go down to that store? Do you know what a floorwalker is? Did you ever see the cheap guys hanging around, and the young swells waiting to get a chance at the girls behind the counters? Why do you suppose so many of 'em take to the easy life? I'll put you next—because Ferguson don't pay 'em enough to live on. That's why. He makes 'em sign a paper, when he hires 'em, that they live at home, that they've got some place to eat and sleep, and they sign it all right. That's to square up Ferguson's conscience. But say, if you think a girl can support herself in this city and dress on what he pays, you've got another guess comin'."
There rose up before him, unsummoned, the image of Nan Ferguson, in all her freshness and innocence, as she had stood beside him on the porch in Park Street. He was somewhat astonished to find himself defending his parishioner.
"May it not be true, in order to compete with other department stores, that Mr. Ferguson has to pay the same wages?" he said.
"Forget it. I guess you know what Galt House is? That's where women like me can go when we get all played out and there's nothing left in the game—it's on River Street. Maybe you've been there."
"Well," she continued, "Ferguson pays a lot of money to keep that going, and gets his name in the papers. He hands over to the hospitals where some of us die—and it's all advertised. He forks out to the church. Now, I put it to you, why don't he sink some of that money where it belongs—in living wages? Because there's nothing in it for him —that's why."
The rector looked at her in silence. He had not suspected her of so much intellect. He glanced about the apartment, at the cheap portiere flung over the sofa; at the gaudy sofa cushions, two of which bore the names and colours of certain colleges. The gas log was almost hidden by dried palm leaves, a cigarette stump lay on the fender; on the mantel above were several photographs of men and at the other side an open door revealed a bedroom.
"This is a nice place, ain't it?" she observed. "I furnished it when I was on velvet—nothing was too good for me. Money's like champagne when you take the cork out, it won't keep. I was rich once. It was lively while it lasted," she added, with a sigh: "I've struck the down trail. I oughtn't, by rights, to be here fooling with you. There's nothing in it." She glanced at the clock. "I ought to get busy."
As the realization of her meaning came to him, he quivered.
"Is there no way but that?" he asked, in a low voice.
"Say, you're not a-goin' to preach, are you?"
"No," he answered, "God forbid! I was not asking the question of you."
She stared at him.
"Of who, then?"
He was silent.
"You've left me at the station. But on the level, you don't seem to know much, that's a fact. You don't think the man who owns these flats is in it for charity, do you? 'Single ladies,' like me, have to give up. And then there are other little grafts that wouldn't interest you. What church do you come from anyway?"
"You mentioned it a little while ago."
"St. John's!" She leaned back against the piano and laughed unrestrainedly. "That's a good one, to think how straight I've been talking to you."
"I'm much obliged to you," he said.
Again she gazed at him, now plainly perplexed.
"What are you giving me?"
"I mean what I say," he answered. "I am obliged to you for telling me things I didn't know. And I appreciate—your asking me to stay."
She was sitting upright now, her expression changed, her breath came more rapidly, her lips parted as she gazed at him.
"Do you know," she said, "I haven't had anybody speak to me like that for four years." Her voice betrayed excitement, and differed in tone, and she had cast off unconsciously the vulgarity of speech. At that moment she seemed reminiscent of what she must once have been; and he found himself going through an effort at reconstruction.
"Like what?" he asked.
"Like a woman," she answered vehemently.
"My name is John Hodder," he said, "and I live in the parish house, next door to the church. I should like to be your friend, if you will let me. If I can be of any help to you now, or at any other time, I shall feel happy. I promise not to preach," he added.
She got up abruptly, and went to the window. And when she turned to him again, it was with something of the old bravado.
"You'd better leave me alone, I'm no good;" she said. "I'm much obliged to you, but I don't want any charity or probation houses in mine. And honest work's a thing of the past for me—even if I could get a job. Nobody would have me. But if they would, I couldn't work any more. I've got out of the hang of it." With a swift and decisive movement she crossed the room, opened a cabinet on the wall, revealing a bottle and glasses.
"So you're bent upon going—downhill?" he said.
"What can you do to stop it?" she retorted defiantly, "Give me religion —-I guess you'd tell me. Religion's all right for those on top, but say, it would be a joke if I got it. There ain't any danger. But if I did, it wouldn't pay room-rent and board."
He sat mute. Once more the truth overwhelmed, the folly of his former optimism arose to mock him. What he beheld now, in its true aspect, was a disease of that civilization he had championed. . .
She took the bottle from the cupboard and laid it on the table.
"What's the difference?" she demanded. "It's all over in a little while, anyway. I guess you'd tell me there was a hell. But if that's so, some of your church folks'll broil, too. I'll take my chance on it, if they will." She looked at him, half in defiance, half in friendliness, across the table. "Say, you mean all right, but you're only wastin' time here. You can't do me any good, I tell you, and I've got to get busy."
"May we not at least remain friends?" he asked, after a moment.
Her laugh was a little harsh.
"What kind of friendship would that be? You, a minister, and me a woman on the town?"
"If I can stand it, I should think you might."
"Well, I can't stand it," she answered.
He got up, and held out his hand. She stood seemingly irresolute, and then took it.
"Good night," he said.
"Good night," she repeated nonchalantly.
As he went out of the door she called after him:
"Don't be afraid I'll worry the kid!"
The stale odour of cigarette smoke with which the dim corridor was charged intoxicated, threatened to overpower him. It seemed to be the reek of evil itself. A closing door had a sinister meaning. He hurried; obscurity reigned below, the light in the lower hall being out; fumbled for the door-knob, and once in the street took a deep breath and mopped his brow; but he had not proceeded half a block before he hesitated, retraced his steps, reentered the vestibule, and stooped to peer at the cards under the speaking tubes. Cheaply printed in large script, was the name of the tenant of the second floor rear,—MISS KATE MARCY. . . .
In crossing Tower Street he was frightened by the sharp clanging of a great electric car that roared past him, aflame with light. His brain had seemingly ceased to work, and he stumbled at the curb, for he was very tired. The events of the day no longer differentiated themselves in his mind but lay, a composite weight, upon his heart. At length he reached the silent parish house, climbed the stairs and searched in his pocket for the key of his rooms. The lock yielded, but while feeling for the switch he tripped and almost fell over an obstruction on the floor.
The flooding light revealed his travelling-bags, as he had piled them, packed and ready to go to the station.
THE INSIDE OF THE CUP
By Winston Churchill
XIII. WINTERBOURNE XIV. A SATURDAY AFTERNOON XV. THE CRUCIBLE XVI. AMID THE ENCIRCLING GLOOM
Hodder fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, awaking during the night at occasional intervals to recall chimerical dreams in which the events of the day before were reflected, but caricatured and distorted. Alison Parr was talking to the woman in the flat, and both were changed, and yet he identified both: and on another occasion he saw a familiar figure surrounded by romping, ragged children—a figure which turned out to be Eldon Parr's!
Finally he was aroused by what seemed a summons from the unknown—the prolonged morning whistle of the shoe factory. For a while he lay as one benumbed, and the gradual realization that ensued might be likened to the straining of stiffened wounds. Little by little he reconstructed, until the process became unbearable, and then rose from his bed with one object in mind,—to go to Horace Bentley. At first—he seized upon the excuse that Mr. Bentley would wish to hear the verdict of Dr. Jarvis, but immediately abandoned it as dishonest, acknowledging the true reason, that in all the—world the presence of this one man alone might assuage in some degree the terror in his soul. For the first time in his life, since childhood, he knew a sense of utter dependence upon another human being. He felt no shame, would make no explanation for his early visit.
He turned up Tower, deliberately avoiding Dalton Street in its lower part, reached Mr. Bentley's door. The wrinkled, hospitable old darky actually seemed to radiate something of the personality with which he had so long been associated, and Hodder was conscious of a surge of relief, a return of confidence at sight of him. Yes, Mr. Bentley was at home, in the dining room. The rector said he would wait, and not disturb him.
"He done tole me to bring you out, sah, if you come," said Sam.
"He expects me?" exclaimed Hodder, with a shock of surprise.
"That's what he done tole me, sah, to ax you kindly for to step out when you come."
The sun was beginning to penetrate into the little back yard, where the flowers were still glistening with the drops of their morning bath; and Mr. Bentley sat by the window reading his newspaper, his spectacles on his nose, and a great grey cat rubbing herself against his legs. He rose with alacrity.
"Good morning, sir," he said, and his welcome implied that early morning visits were the most common and natural of occurrences. "Sam, a plate for Mr. Hodder. I was just hoping you would come and tell me what Dr. Jarvis had said about the case."
But Hodder was not deceived. He believed that Mr. Bentley understood perfectly why he had come, and the knowledge of the old gentleman's comprehension curiously added to his sense of refuge. He found himself seated once more at the mahogany table, permitting Sam to fill his cup with coffee.
"Jarvis has given a favourable report, and he is coming this morning himself, in an automobile, to take the boy out to the hospital."
"That is like Jarvis," was Mr. Bentley's comment. "We will go there, together, after breakfast, if convenient for you," he added.
"I hoped you would," replied the rector. "And I was going to ask you a favour. I have a check, given me by a young lady to use at my discretion, and it occurred to me that Garvin might be willing to accept some proposal from you." He thought of Nan Ferguson, and of the hope he lead expressed of finding some one in Dalton Street.
"I have been considering the matter," Mr. Bentley said. "I have a friend who lives on the trolley line a little beyond the hospital, a widow. It is like the country there, you know, and I think Mrs. Bledsoe could be induced to take the Garvins. And then something can be arranged for him. I will find an opportunity to speak to him this morning."
Hodder sipped his coffee, and looked out at the morning-glories opening to the sun.
"Mrs. Garvin was alone last night. He had gone out shortly after we left, and had not waited for the doctor. She was greatly worried."
Hodder found himself discussing these matters on which, an hour before, he had feared to permit his mind to dwell. And presently, not without feeling, but in a manner eliminating all account of his personal emotions, he was relating that climactic episode of the woman at the piano. The old gentleman listened intently, and in silence.
"Yes," he said, when the rector had finished, "that is my observation. Most of them are driven to the life, and held in it, of course, by a remorseless civilization. Individuals may be culpable, Mr. Hodder—are culpable. But we cannot put the whole responsibility on individuals."
"No," Hodder assented, "I can see that now." He paused a moment, and as his mind dwelt upon the scene and he saw again the woman standing before him in bravado, the whole terrible meaning of her life and end flashed through him as one poignant sensation. Her dauntless determination to accept the consequence of her acts, her willingness to look her future in the face, cried out to him in challenge.
"She refused unconditionally," he said.
Mr. Bentley seemed to read his thought, divine his appeal.
"We must wait," he answered.
"Do you think?—" Hodder began, and stopped abruptly.
"I remember another case, somewhat similar," said Mr. Bentley. "This woman, too, had the spirit you describe—we could do nothing with her. We kept an eye on her—or rather Sally Grover did—she deserves credit —and finally an occasion presented itself."
"And the woman you speak of was—rehabilitated?" Hodder asked. He avoided the word "saved."
"Yes, sir. It was one of the fortunate cases. There are others which are not so fortunate."
"We are beginning to recognize that we are dealing, in, many instances, with a disease," Mr. Bentley went on. "I am far from saying that it cannot be cured, but sometimes we are forced to admit that the cure is not within our power, Mr. Hodder."
Two thoughts struck the rector simultaneously, the: revelation of what might be called a modern enlightenment in one of Mr. Bentley's age, an indication of uninterrupted growth, of the sense of continued youth which had impressed him from the beginning; and, secondly, an intimation from the use of the plural pronoun we, of an association of workers (informal, undoubtedly) behind Mr. Bentley. While he was engaged in these speculations the door opened.
"Heah's Miss Sally, Marse Ho'ace," said Sam.
"Good morning, Sally," said Mr. Bentley, rising from the table with his customary courtesy, "I'm glad you came in. Let me introduce Mr. Hodder, of St. John's."
Miss Grover had capability written all over her. She was a young woman of thirty, slim to spareness, simply dressed in a shirtwaist and a dark blue skirt; alert, so distinctly American in type as to give a suggestion of the Indian. Her quick, deep-set eyes searched Hodder's face as she jerked his hand; but her greeting was cordial, and, matter-of-fact. She stimulated curiosity.
"Well, Sally, what's the news?" Mr. Bentley asked.
"Gratz, the cabinet-maker, was on the rampage again, Mr. Bentley. His wife was here yesterday when I got home from work, and I went over with her. He was in a beastly state, and all the niggers and children in the neighbourhood, including his own, around the shop. Fusel oil, labelled whiskey," she explained, succinctly.
"What did you do?"
"Took the bottle away from him," said Miss Grower. The simplicity of this method, Holder thought, was undeniable. "Stayed there until he came to. Then I reckon I scared him some."
"How?" Mr. Bentley smiled.
"I told him he'd have to see you. He'd rather serve three months than do that—said so. I reckon he would, too," she declared grimly. "He's better than he was last year, I think." She thrust her hand in the pocket of her skirt and produced some bills and silver, which she counted. "Here's three thirty-five from Sue Brady. I told her she hadn't any business bothering you, but she swears she'd spend it."
"That was wrong, Sally."
Miss Grower tossed her head.
"Oh, she knew I'd take it, well enough."
"I imagine she did," Mr. Bentley replied, and his eyes twinkled. He rose and led the way into the library, where he opened his desk, produced a ledger, and wrote down the amount in a fine hand.
"Susan Brady, three dollars and thirty-five cents. I'll put it in the savings bank to-day. That makes twenty-two dollars and forty cents for Sue. She's growing rich."
"Some man'll get it," said Sally.
"Sally," said Mr. Bentley, turning in his chair, "Mr. Holder's been telling me about a rather unusual woman in that apartment house just above Fourteenth Street, on the south side of Dalton."
"I think I know her—by sight," Sally corrected herself. She appealed. to Holder. "Red hair, and lots of it—I suppose a man would call it auburn. She must have been something of a beauty, once."
The rector assented, in some astonishment.
"Couldn't do anything with her, could you? I reckoned not. I've noticed her up and down Dalton Street at night."
Holder was no longer deceived by her matter-of-fact tone.
"I'll tell you what, Mr. Holder," she went on, energetically, "there's not a particle of use running after those people, and the sooner you find it out the less worry and trouble you give yourself."
"Mr. Holder didn't run after her, Sally," said Mr. Bentley, in gentle reproof.
"Well," said Miss Grower, "I've had my eye on her. She has a history —most of 'em have. But this one's out of the common. When they're brazen like that, and have had good looks, you can nearly always tell. You've. got to wait for something to happen, and trust to luck to be on the spot, or near it. It's a toss-up, of course. One thing is sure, you can't make friends with that kind if they get a notion you're up to anything."
"Sally, you must remember—" Mr. Bentley began.
Her tone became modified. Mr. Bentley was apparently the only human of whom she stood in awe.
"All I meant was," she said, addressing the rector, "that you've got to run across 'em in some natural way."
"I understood perfectly, and I agree with you," Holder replied. "I have come, quite recently, to the same conclusion myself."
She gave him a penetrating glance, and he had to admit, inwardly, that a certain satisfaction followed Miss Grower's approval.
"Mercy, I have to be going," she exclaimed, glancing at the black marble clock on the mantel. "We've got a lot of invoices to put through to-day. See you again, Mr. Holder." She jerked his hand once more. "Good morning, Mr. Bentley."
"Good morning, Sally."
Mr. Bentley rose, and took his hat and gold-headed stick from the rack in the hall.
"You mustn't mind Sally," he said, when they had reached the sidewalk. "Sometimes her brusque manner is not understood. But she is a very extraordinary woman."
"I can see that," the rector assented quickly, and with a heartiness that dispelled all doubt of his liking for Miss Grower. Once more many questions rose to his lips, which he suppressed, since Mr. Bentley volunteered no information. Hodder became, in fact, so lost in speculation concerning Mr. Bentley's establishment as to forget the errand on which—they were bound. And Sally Grower's words, apropos of the woman in the flat, seemed but an energetic driving home of the severe lessons of his recent experiences. And how blind he had been, he reflected, not to have seen the thing for himself! Not to have realized the essential artificiality of his former method of approach! And then it struck him that Sally Grower herself must have had a history.
Mr. Bentley, too, was preoccupied.
Presently, in the midst of these thoughts, Hodder's eyes were arrested by a crowd barring the sidewalk on the block ahead; no unusual sight in that neighbourhood, and yet one which aroused in him sensations of weakness and nausea. Thus were the hidden vice and suffering of these sinister places occasionally brought to light, exposed to the curious and morbid stares of those whose own turn might come on the morrow. It was only by degrees he comprehended that the people were gathered in front of the house to which they were bound. An ambulance was seen to drive away: it turned into the aide street in front of them.