"And the spark," she demanded, "is not Socialism—their nightmare?"
"The spark is Christianity itself—but I am afraid they will not be able to distinguish it from Socialism. The central paradox in Christianity consists in the harmonizing of the individual and socialistic spirit, and this removes it as far from the present political doctrine of socialism as it is possible to be. Christianity, looked at from a certain viewpoint,—and I think the proper viewpoint,—is the most individualistic of religions, since its basic principle is the development of the individual into an autonomous being."
They stood facing each other on an open stretch of lawn. The place was deserted. Through the trees, in the near distance, the sightless front of the Ferguson mansion blazed under the September sun.
"Individualistic!" she repeated, as though dazed by the word applied to the religion she had discarded. "I can't understand. Do you think I ever can understand?" she asked him, simply.
"It seems to me you understand more than you are willing to give yourself credit for," he answered seriously. "You don't take into account your attitude."
"I see what you mean—a willingness to take the right road, if I can find it. I am not at all sure that I want to take it. But you must tell me more—more of what you have discovered. Will you?"
He just hesitated. She herself appeared to acknowledge no bar to their further intimacy—why should he?
"I will tell you all I know," he said.
Suddenly, as if by a transference of thought, she voiced what he had in mind.
"You are going to tell them the truth about themselves!" she exclaimed. "—That they are not Christians!"
His silence was an admission.
"You must see," he told her, after the moment they had looked into each other's faces, "that this is the main reason why I must stay at St. John's, in the Church, if I conscientiously can."
"I see. The easier course would be to resign, to have scruples. And you believe there is a future for the Church."
"I believe it," he assented.
She still held his eyes.
"Yes, it is worth doing. If you see it that way it is more worth doing than anything else. Please don't think," she said, "that I don't appreciate why you have told me all this, why you have given me your reasons. I know it hasn't been easy. It's because you wish me to have faith in you for my own sake, not for yours. And I am grateful."
"And if that faith is justified, as you will help to justify it, that it may be transferred to a larger sphere," he answered.
She gave him her hand, but did not reply.
MR. GOODRICH BECOMES A PARTISAN
In these days of his preparation, she haunted him continually. In her he saw typified all those who possessed the: divine discontent, the yearning unsatisfied,—the fatalists and the dreamers. And yet she seemed to have risen through instinct to share the fire of his vision of religion revealed to the countless ranks of strugglers as the hidden motive-power of the world, the impetus of scientist, statesman, artist, and philanthropist! They had stood together on the heights of the larger view, whence the whole of the battle-line lay disclosed.
At other and more poignant moments he saw her as waving him bravely on while he steamed out through towering seas to safety. The impression was that of smiling at her destiny. Had she fixed upon it? and did she linger now only that she might inspire him in his charge? She was capable, he knew, of taking calmly the irrevocable step, of accepting the decree as she read it. The thought tortured, the desire to save her from herself obsessed him; with true clairvoyance she had divined him aright when she had said that he wished her to have faith in him for her own sake. Could he save her in spite of herself? and how? He could not see her, except by chance. Was she waiting until he should have crossed the bar before she should pay some inexorable penalty of which he knew nothing?
Thus he speculated, suffered, was at once cast down and lifted up by the thought of her. To him, at least, she was one of those rare and dauntless women, the red stars of history, by whom the Dantes and Leonardos are fired to express the inexpressible, and common clay is fused and made mad: one of those women who, the more they reveal, become the more inscrutable. Divinely inarticulate, he called her; arousing the passion of the man, yet stirring the sublimer efforts of the god.
What her feelings toward him, whether she loved him as a woman loves a man he could not say, no man being a judge in the supreme instance. She beheld him emancipated, perhaps, from what she might have called the fetters of an orthodoxy for which she felt an instinctive antagonism; but whether, though proclaiming himself free, the fact of his continuation in the ministry would not of itself set up in her a reaction, he was unable to predict. Her antipathy to forms, he saw, was inherent. Her interest —her fascinated absorption, it might be called—in his struggle was spiritual, indeed, but it also had mixed in it the individualistic zeal of the nonconformist. She resented the trammels of society; though she suffered from her efforts to transcend them. The course he had determined upon appeared to her as a rebellion not only against a cut-and-dried state of mind, but also against vested privilege. Yet she had in her, as she confessed, the craving for what privilege brings in the way of harmonious surroundings. He loved her for her contradictions.
Thus he was utterly unable to see what the future held for him in the way of continued communion with her, to evolve any satisfactory theory as to why she remained in the city. She had told him that the gardens were an excuse. She had come, by her own intimation, to reflect, to decide some momentous question. Marriage? He found this too agitating to dwell upon, summoning, as it did, conjectures of the men she might have known; and it was perhaps natural, in view of her attitude, that he could only think of such a decision on her part as surrender.
That he had caught and held her attention, although by no conscious effort of his own, was clear to him. But had he not merely arrested her? Would she not presently disappear, leaving only in his life the scarlet thread which she had woven into it for all time? Would he not fail to change, permanently, the texture of hers?
Such were his hopes and fears concerning her, and they were mingled inextricably with other hopes and fears which had to do with the great venture of his life. He dwelt in a realm of paradoxes, discovered that exaltation was not incompatible with anxiety and dread. He had no thought of wavering; he had achieved to an extent he would not have believed possible the sense of consecration which brings with it indifference to personal fortunes, and the revelation of the inner world, and yet he shrank from the wounds he was about to receive—and give. Outwardly controlled, he lived in the state of intense excitement of the leader waiting for the time to charge.
The moment was at hand. September had waned, the nights were cooling, his parishioners were returning from the East. One of these was Eleanor Goodrich, whom he met on a corner, tanned and revived from her long summer in Massachusetts. She had inherited the kindly shrewdness of glance characteristic of gentlefolk, the glance that seeks to penetrate externals in its concern for the well-being of those whom it scrutinizes. And he was subtly aware, though she greeted him cordially, that she felt a change in him without being able to account for it.
"I hear you have been here all summer," she said reproachfully. "Mother and father and all of us were much disappointed that you did not come to us on the Cape."
"I should have come, if it had been possible," he replied. "It seems to have done you a world of good."
"Oh, I!" She seemed slightly embarrassed, puzzled, and did not look at him. "I am burned as disgracefully as Evelyn. Phil came on for a month.
"He tells me he hasn't seen you, but that isn't surprising, for he hasn't been to church since June—and he's a vestryman now, too."
She was in mourning for her father-in-law, who had died in the spring. Phil Goodrich had taken his place. Eleanor found the conversation, somehow, drifting out of her control. It was not at all what she would have desired to say. Her colour heightened.
"I have not been conducting the services, but I resume them next Sunday," said the rector. "I ought to tell you," he went on, regarding her, "in view of the conversation we have had, that I have changed my mind concerning a great many things we have talked about—although I have not spoken of this as yet to any of the members of the congregation."
She was speechless, and could only stare at him blankly.
"I mean," he continued, with a calmness that astonished her afterwards, "that I have changed my whole conception as to the functions and future of the Church, that I have come to your position, that we must make up our minds for ourselves, and not have them made up for us. And that we must examine into the truth of all statements, and be governed accordingly."
Her attitude was one of mingled admiration, concern, and awe. And he saw that she had grasped something of the complications which his course was likely to bring about.
"But you are not going to leave us!" she managed to exclaim.
"Not if it is possible to remain," he said, smiling.
"I am so glad." She was still overpowered by the disclosure. "It is good of you to tell me. Do you mind my telling Phil?"
"Not at all," he assured her.
"Will you forgive me," she asked, after a slight pause during which she had somewhat regained her composure, "if I say that I always thought, or rather hoped you would change? that your former beliefs seemed so—unlike you?"
He continued to smile at her as she stepped forward to take the car.
"I'll have to forgive you," he answered, "because you were right—"
She was still in such a state of excitement when she arrived down town that she went direct to her husband's law office.
"I like this!" he exclaimed, as, unannounced, she opened the door of his sanctuary. "You might have caught me with one of those good-looking clients of mine."
"Oh, Phil!" she cried, "I've got such a piece of news, I couldn't resist coming to tell you. I met Mr. Hodder—and he's changed."
"Changed!" Phil repeated, looking up at her flushed face beside him. Instead of a law-book, he flung down a time table in which he had been investigating the trains to a quail shooting club in the southern part of the state: The transition to Mr. Hodder was, therefore, somewhat abrupt. "Why, Nell, to look at you, I thought it could be nothing else than my somewhat belated appointment to the United States Supreme Court. How has Hodder changed? I always thought him pretty decent."
"Don't laugh at me," she begged, "it's really serious—and no one knows it yet. He said I might tell you. Do you remember that talk we had at father's, when he first came, and we likened him to a modern Savonarola?"
"And George Bridges took the floor, and shocked mother and Lucy and Laureston," supplied Phil.
"I don't believe mother really was as much shocked as she appeared to be," said Eleanor. "At any rate, the thing that had struck us—you and me—was that Mr. Hodder looked as though he could say something helpful, if he only would. And then I went to see him afterwards, in the parish house—you remember?—after we had been reading modern criticism together, and he told me that the faith which had come down from the fathers was like an egg? It couldn't be chipped. I was awfully disappointed—and yet I couldn't help liking him, he was so honest. And the theological books he gave me to read—which were so mediaeval and absurd! Well, he has come around to our point of view. He told me so himself."
"But what is our point of view, Nell?" her husband asked, with a smile. "Isn't it a good deal like Professor Bridges', only we're not quite so learned? We're just ordinary heathens, as far as I can make out. If Hodder has our point of view, he ought to go into the law or a trust company."
"Oh, Phil!" she protested, "and you're on the vestry! I do believe in Something, and so do you."
"Something," he observed, "is hardly a concrete and complete theology."
"Why do you make me laugh," she reproached him, "when the matter is so serious? What I'm trying to tell you is that I'm sure Mr. Hodder has worked it out. He's too sincere to remain in the Church and not have something constructive and satisfying. I've always said that he seemed to have a truth shut up inside of him which he could not communicate. Well, now he looks as though he were about to communicate it, as though he had discovered it. I suppose you think me silly, but you'll grant, whatever Mr. Hodder may be, he isn't silly. And women can feel these things. You know I'm not given to sentimentality, but I was never so impressed by the growth in any personality as I was this morning by his. He seems to have become himself, as I always imagined him. And, Phil, he was so fine! He's absolutely incapable of posing, as you'll admit, and he stood right up and acknowledged that he'd been wrong in our argument. He hasn't had the services all summer, and when he resumes them next Sunday I gathered that he intends to make his new position clear."
Mr. Goodrich thrust his hands in his pockets and gave a low whistle.
"I guess I won't go shooting Saturday, after all," he declared. "I wouldn't miss Hodder's sermon for all the quail in Harrington County."
"It's high time you did go to church," remarked Eleanor, contemplating, not without pride, her husband's close-cropped, pugnacious head.
Your judgments are pretty sound, Nell. I'll do you that credit. And I've always owned up that Hodder would be a fighter if he ever got started. It's written all over him. What's more, I've a notion that some of our friends are already a little suspicious of him."
"You mean Mr. Parr?" she asked, anxiously.
"No, Wallis Plimpton."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, with disdain in her voice.
"Mr. Parr only got back yesterday, and Wallis told me that Hodder had refused to go on a yachting trip with him. Not only foolishness, but high treason." Phil smiled. "Plimpton's the weather-vane, the barometer of that crowd—he feels a disturbance long before it turns up—he's as sensitive as the stock market."
"He is the stock market," said Eleanor.
"It's been my opinion," Phil went on reflectively, "that they've all had just a trace of uneasiness about Hodder all along, an idea that Nelson Langmaid slipped up for the first time in his life when he got him to come. Oh, the feeling's been dormant, but it existed. And they've been just a little afraid that they couldn't handle him if the time ever came. He's not their type. When I saw Plimpton at the Country Club the other day he wondered, in that genial, off-hand manner of his, whether Hodder would continue to be satisfied with St. John's. Plimpton said he might be offered a missionary diocese. Oh we'll have a fine old row."
"I believe," said Eleanor, "that that's the only thing that interests you."
"Well, it does please me," he admitted, when I think of Gordon Atterbury and Everett Constable and a few others,—Eldon Parr,—who believe that religion ought to be kept archaic and innocuous, served in a form that won't bother anybody. By the way, Nell, do you remember the verse the Professor quoted about the Pharisees, and cleansing the outside of the cup and platter?"
"Yes," she answered, "why?"
"Well—Hodder didn't give you any intimation as to what he intended to do about that sort of thing, did he?"
"What sort of thing?"
"About the inside of Eldon Parr's cup,—so to speak. And the inside of Wallis Plimpton's cup, and Everett Constable's cup, and Ferguson's cup, and Langmaid's. Did it ever strike you that, in St. John's, we have the sublime spectacle of Eldon Parr, the Pharisee in chief, conducting the Church of Christ, who, uttered that denunciation? That's what George Bridges meant. There's something rather ironical in such a situation, to say the least."
"I see," said Eleanor, thoughtfully.
"And what's more, it's typical," continued Phil, energetically, "the big Baptist church on the Boulevard is run by old Sedges, as canny a rascal as you could find in the state. The inside of has cup has never been touched, though he was once immersed in the Mississippi, they say, and swallowed a lot of water."
"Hodder's been pretty intimate with Eldon Parr—that always puzzled me," Phil went on. "And yet I'm like you, I never doubted Hodder's honesty. I've always been curious to know what would happen when he found out the kind of thing Eldon Parr is doing every day in his life, making people stand and deliver in the interest of what he would call National Prosperity. Why, that fellow, Funk, they sent to the penitentiary the other day for breaking into the Addicks' house isn't a circumstance to Eldon Parr. He's robbed his tens of thousands, and goes on robbing them right along. By the way, Mr. Parr took most of Addicks' money before Funk got his silver."
"Phil, you have such a ridiculous way of putting things! But I suppose it's true."
"True! I should say it was! There was Mr. Bentley—that was mild. And there never was a hold-up of a western express that could compare to the Consolidated Tractions. Some of these big fellows have the same kind of brain as the professional thieves. Well, they are professional thieves —what's the use of mincing matters! They never try the same game twice. Mr. Parr's getting ready to make another big haul right now. I know, because Plimpton said as much, although he didn't confide in me what this particular piece of rascality is. He knows better." Phil Goodrich looked grim.
"But the law?" exclaimed his wife.
"There never was a law that Nelson Langmaid couldn't drive a horse and carriage through."
"And Mr. Langmaid's one of the nicest men I know!"
"What I wonder," mused Phil, "is whether this is a mere doctrinal revolt on Hodder's part, or whether he has found out a few things. There are so many parsons in these days who don't seem to see any inconsistency in robbing several thousand people to build settlement houses and carved marble altars, and who wouldn't accept a Christmas box from a highwayman. But I'll do Hodder the justice to say he doesn't strike me as that kind. And I have an idea that Eldon Parr and Wallis Plimpton and the rest know he isn't, know that he'd be a Tartar if he ever get started, and that's what makes them uneasy."
"Then it isn't his change of religious opinions they would care about?" said Eleanor.
"Oh, I don't say that Eldon Parr won't try to throw him out if he questions the faith as delivered by the Saints."
"Phil, what a way of putting it!"
"Any indication of independence, any approach to truth would be regarded as dangerous," Phil continued. And of course Gordon Atterbury and others we could mention, who think they believe in the unchipped egg theory, will be outraged. But it's deeper than that. Eldon Parr will give orders that Hodder's to go."
"Certainly. That vestry, so far as Mr. Parr is concerned, is a mere dummy board of directors. He's made Langmaid, and Plimpton, and even Everett Constable, who's the son of an honourable gentleman, and ought to know better. And he can ruin them by snapping his fingers. He can even make the financial world too hot for Ferguson. I'll say this for Gordon Atterbury, that Mr. Parr can't control him, but he's got a majority without him, and Gordon won't vote for a heretic. Who are left, except father-in-law Waring and myself?"
"He can't control either of you!" said Eleanor, proudly.
"When it comes to that, Nell—we'll move into Canada and buy a farm."
"But can he hurt you, Phil—either of you?" she asked, after a moment.
"I'd like to see him try it," Phil Goodrich declared
And his wife thought, as she looked at him, that she would like to see Mr. Parr try it, too.
Phil Goodrich had once said that Mr. Plimpton's translation of the national motto E pluribus unum, was "get together," and it was true that not the least of Mr. Plimpton's many gifts was that of peace making. Such was his genius that he scented trouble before it became manifest to the world, and he stoutly declared that no difference of opinion ever existed between reasonable men that might not be patched up before the breach became too wide—provided that a third reasonable man contributed his services. The qualifying word "reasonable" is to be noted. When Mr. Bedloe Hubbell had undertaken, in the name of Reform, to make a witch's cauldron of the city's politics, which Mr. Beatty had hitherto conducted so smoothly from the back room of his saloon, Mr. Plimpton had unselfishly offered his services. Bedloe Hubbell, although he had been a playmate of Mr. Plimpton's wife's, had not proved "reasonable," and had rejected with a scorn only to be deemed fanatical the suggestion that Mr. Hubbell's interests and Mr. Beatty's interests need not clash, since Mr. Hubbell might go to Congress! And Mr. Plimpton was the more hurt since the happy suggestion was his own, and he had had no little difficulty in getting Mr. Beatty to agree to it.
Yet Mr. Plimpton's career in the ennobling role of peacemaker had, on the whole, been crowned with such success as to warrant his belief in the principle. Mr. Parr, for instance,—in whose service, as in that of any other friend, Mr. Plimpton was always ready to act—had had misunderstandings with eminent financiers, and sometimes with United States Senators. Mr. Plimpton had made many trips to the Capitol at Washington, sometimes in company with Mr. Langmaid, sometimes not, and on one memorable occasion had come away smiling from an interview with the occupant of the White House himself.
Lest Mr. Plimpton's powers of premonition seem supernatural, it may be well to reveal the comparative simplicity of his methods. Genius, analyzed, is often disappointing, Mr. Plimpton's was selective and synthetic. To illustrate in a particular case, he had met Mr. Parr in New York and had learned that the Reverend Mr. Hodder had not only declined to accompany the banker on a yachting trip, but had elected to remain in the city all summer, in his rooms in the parish house, while conducting no services. Mr. Parr had thought this peculiar. On his return home Mr. Plimpton had one day dropped in to see a Mr. Gaines, the real estate agent for some of his property. And Mr. Plimpton being hale-fellow-well-met, Mr. Gaines had warned him jestingly that he would better not let his parson know that he owned a half interest in a certain hotel in Dalton Street, which was leased at a profitable rate.
If Mr. Plimpton felt any uneasiness, he did not betray it. And he managed to elicit from the agent, in an entirely casual and jovial manner, the fact that Mr. Hodder, a month or so before, had settled the rent of a woman for a Dalton Street flat, and had been curious to discover the name of the owner. Mr. Gaines, whose business it was to recognize everybody, was sure of Mr. Hodder, although he had not worn clerical clothes.
Mr. Plimpton became very thoughtful when he had left the office. He visited Nelson Langmaid in the Parr Building. And the result of the conference was to cause Mr. Langmaid to recall, with a twinge of uneasiness, a certain autumn morning in a room beside Bremerton Lake when he had been faintly yet distinctly conscious of the, admonitory whisperings of that sixth sense which had saved him on other occasions.
"Dash it!" he said to himself, after Mr. Plimpton had departed, and he stood in the window and gazed across at the flag on the roof of 'Ferguson's.' "It would serve me right for meddling in this parson business. Why did I take him away from Jerry Whitely, anyhow?"
It added to Nelson Langmaid's discomfort that he had a genuine affection, even an admiration for the parson in question. He might have known by looking at the man that he would wake up some day,—such was the burden of his lament. And there came to him, ironically out of the past, the very words of Mr. Parr's speech to the vestry after Dr. Gilman's death, that succinct list of qualifications for a new rector which he himself, Nelson Langmaid, had humorously and even more succinctly epitomized. Their "responsibility to the parish, to the city, and to God" had been to find a rector "neither too old nor too young, who would preach the faith as we received it, who was not sensational, and who did not mistake Socialism for Christianity." At the "Socialism" a certain sickly feeling possessed the lawyer, and he wiped beads of perspiration from his dome-like forehead.
He didn't pretend to be versed in theology—so he had declared—and at the memory of these words of his the epithet "ass," self applied, passed his lips. "You want a parson who will stick to his last, not too high or too low or too broad or too narrow, who has intellect without too much initiative . . . and will not get the church uncomfortably full of strangers and run you out of your pews." Thus he had capped the financier. Well, if they had caught a tartar, it served him, Nelson Langmaid, right. He recalled his talk with Gerald Whitely, and how his brother-in-law had lost his temper when they had got on the subject of personality . . . .
Perhaps Wallis Plimpton could do something. Langmaid's hopes of this were not high. It may have been that he had suspicions of what Mr. Plimpton would have called Hodder's "reasonableness." One thing was clear—that Mr. Plimpton was frightened. In the sanctuaries, the private confessionals of high finance (and Nelson Langmaid's office may be called so), the more primitive emotions are sometimes exhibited.
"I don't see what business it is of a clergyman, or of any one else, whether I own property in Dalton Street," Mr. Plimpton had said, as he sat on the edge of the lawyer's polished mahogany desk. "What does he expect us to do,—allow our real estate to remain unproductive merely for sentimental reasons? That's like a parson, most of 'em haven't got any more common sense than that. What right has he got to go nosing around Dalton Street? Why doesn't he stick to his church?"
"I thought you fellows were to build him a settlement house there," Langmaid observed.
"On the condition that he wouldn't turn socialist."
"You'd better have stipulated it in the bond," said the lawyer, who could not refrain, even at this solemn moment, from the temptation of playing upon Mr. Plimpton's apprehensions. "I'm afraid he'll make it his business, Wallis, to find out whether you own anything in Dalton Street. I'll bet he's got a list of Dalton Street property in his pocket right now."
Mr. Plimpton groaned.
"Thank God I don't own any of it!" said Langmaid.
"What the deuce does he intend to do?" the other demanded.
"Read it out in church," Langmaid suggested. "It wouldn't sound pretty, Wallis, to be advertised in the post on Monday morning as owning that kind of a hotel."
"Oh, he's a gentleman," said Mr. Plimpton, "he wouldn't do anything as low as that!"
"But if he's become a socialist?" objected Langmaid.
"He wouldn't do it," his friend reiterated, none too confidently. "I shouldn't be surprised if he made me resign from the vestry and forced me to sell my interest. It nets me five thousand a year."
"What is the place?" Langmaid asked sympathetically, "Harrod's?"
Mr. Plimpton nodded.
"Not that I am a patron," the lawyer explained somewhat hastily. "But I've seen the building, going home."
"It looks to me as if it would burn down some day, Wallis."
"I wish it would," said Mr. Plimpton.
"If it's any comfort to you—to us," Langmaid went on, after a moment, "Eldon Parr owns the whole block above Thirteenth, on the south side —bought it three years ago. He thinks the business section will grow that way."
"I know," said Mr. Plimpton, and they looked at each other.
The name predominant in both minds had been mentioned.
"I wonder if Hodder really knows what he's up against." Mr. Plimpton sometimes took refuge in slang.
"Well, after all, we're not sure yet that he's 'up against anything,'" replied Langmaid, who thought the time had come for comfort. "It may all be a false alarm. There's no reason, after all, why a Christian clergyman shouldn't rescue women in Dalton Street, and remain in the city to study the conditions of the neighbourhood where his settlement house is to be. And just, because you or I would not be able to resist an invitation to go yachting with Eldon Parr, a man might be imagined who had that amount of moral courage."
"That's just it. Hodder seems to me, now I come to think of it, just the kind of John Brown type who wouldn't hesitate to get into a row with Eldon Parr if he thought it was right, and pull down any amount of disagreeable stuff about our ears."
"You're mixing your heroes, Wallis," said Langmaid.
"I can't help it. You'd catch it, too, Nelson. What in the name of sense possessed you to get such a man?"
This being a question the lawyer was unable to answer, the conversation came to another pause. And it was then that Mr. Plimpton's natural optimism reasserted itself.
"It isn't done,—the thing we're afraid of, that's all," he proclaimed, after a turn or two about the room. "Hodder's a gentleman, as I said, and if he feels as we suspect he does he'll resign like a gentleman and a Christian. I'll have a talk with him—oh, you can trust me! I've got an idea. Gordon Atterbury told me the other day there is a vacancy in a missionary diocese out west, and that Hodder's name had been mentioned, among others, to the bishops for the place. He'd make a rattling missionary bishop, you know, holding services in saloons and knocking men's heads together for profanity, and he boxes like a professional. Now, a word from Eldon Parr might turn the trick. Every parson wants to be a bishop."
Langmaid shook his head.
"You're getting out of your depths, my friend. The Church isn't Wall Street. And missionary bishops aren't chosen to make convenient vacancies."
"I don't mean anything crude," Mr. Plimpton protested. "But a word from the chief layman of a diocese like this, a man who never misses a General Convention, and does everything handsomely, might count,—particularly if they're already thinking of Hodder. The bishops would never suspect we wanted to get rid of him."
"Well," said Langmaid, "I advise you to go easy, all along the line."
"Oh, I'll go easy enough," Mr. Plimpton assented, smiling. "Do you remember how I pulled off old Senator Matthews when everybody swore he was dead set on voting for an investigation in the matter of those coal lands Mr. Parr got hold of in his state?"
"Matthews isn't Hodder, by a long shat," said Langmaid. "If you ask me my opinion, I'll tell you frankly that if Hodder has made up his mind to stay in St. John's a ton of dynamite and all the Eldon Parrs in the nation can't get him out."
"Can't the vestry make him resign?" asked Mr. Plimpton, uncomfortably.
"You'd better, go home and study your canons, my friend. Nothing short of conviction for heresy can do it, if he doesn't want to go."
"You wouldn't exactly call him a heretic," Mr. Plimpton said ruefully.
"Would you know a heretic if you saw one?" demanded Langmaid.
"No, but my wife would, and Gordon Atterbury and Constable would, and Eldon Parr. But don't let's get nervous."
"Well, that's sensible at any rate," said Langmaid . . . .
So Mr. Plimpton had gone off optimistic, and felt even more so the next morning after he had had his breakfast in the pleasant dining room of the Gore Mansion, of which he was now master. As he looked out through the open window at the sunshine in the foliage of Waverley Place, the prospect of his being removed from that position of dignity and influence on the vestry of St. John's, which he had achieved, with others, after so much walking around the walls, seemed remote. And he reflected with satisfaction upon the fact that his wife, who was his prime minister, would be home from the East that day. Two heads were better than one, especially if one of the two were Charlotte Gore's. And Mr. Plimpton had often reflected upon the loss to the world, and the gain to himself, that she was a woman.
It would not be gallant to suggest that his swans were geese.
The successful navigation of lower Tower Street, at noonday, required presence of mind on the part of the pedestrian. There were currents and counter-currents, eddies and backwaters, and at the corner of Vine a veritable maelstrom through which two lines of electric cars pushed their way, east and weft, north and south, with incessant clanging of bells; followed by automobiles with resounding horns, trucks and delivery wagons with wheels reverberating on the granite. A giant Irish policeman, who seemed in continual danger of a violent death, and wholly indifferent to it, stood between the car tracks and halted the rush from time to time, driving the people like sheep from one side to the other. Through the doors of Ferguson's poured two conflicting streams of humanity, and wistful groups of young women, on the way from hasty lunches, blocked the pavements and stared at the finery behind the plate-glass windows.
The rector, slowly making his way westward, permitted himself to be thrust hither and thither, halted and shoved on again as he studied the faces of the throng. And presently he found himself pocketed before one of the exhibits of feminine interest, momentarily helpless, listening to the admiring and envious chorus of a bevy of diminutive shop-girls on the merits of a Paris gown. It was at this moment that he perceived, pushing towards him with an air of rescue, the figure of his vestryman, Mr. Wallis Plimpton.
"Well, well, well!" he cried, as he seized Hodder by the arm and pulled him towards the curb. "What are you doing herein the marts of trade? Come right along with me to the Eyrie, and we'll have something, to eat."
The Eyrie was a famous lunch club, of limited membership, at the top of the Parr Building, where financial affairs of the first importance were discussed and settled.
Hodder explained that he had lunched at half-past twelve.
"Well, step into my office a minute. It does me good, to see you again, upon my word, and I can't let you get by without a little pow-wow."
Mr. Plimpton's trust company, in Vine Street, resembled a Greek temple. Massive but graceful granite columns adorned its front, while within it was partitioned off with polished marble and ornamental grills. In the rear, guarded by the desks and flanked by the compartments of various subordinates, was the president's private sanctum, and into this holy of holies Mr. Plimpton led the way with the simple, unassuming genial air of the high priest of modern finance who understands men. The room was eloquent almost to affectation of the system and order of great business, inasmuch as it betrayed not the least sign of a workshop. On the dark oak desk were two leather-bound books and a polished telephone. The walls were panelled, there was a stone fireplace with andirons set, a deep carpet spread over the tessellated floor, and three leather-padded armchairs, one of which Mr. Plimpton hospitably drew forward for the rector. He then produced a box of cigars.
"You don't smoke, Mr. Hodder. I always forget. That's the way you manage to keep yourself in such good shape." He drew out a gold match box and seated himself with an air of gusto opposite his guest. "And you haven't had a vacation, they tell me."
"On the contrary," said the rector, "McCrae has taken the services all summer."
"But you've been in the city!" Mr. Plimpton exclaimed, puffing at his cigar.
"Yes, I've been in the city."
"Well, well, I'll bet you haven't been idle. Just between us, as friends, Mr. Hodder, I've often wondered if you didn't work too hard —there's such a thing as being too conscientious, you know. And I've an idea that the rest of the vestry think so. Mr. Parr, for instance. We know when we've got a good thing, and we don't want to wear you out. Oh, we can appreciate your point of view, and admire it. But a little relaxation—eh? It's too bad that you couldn't have seen your way to take that cruise—Mr. Parr was all cut up about it. I guess you're the only man among all of us fairly close to him, who really knows him well," said Mr. Plimpton, admiringly. "He thinks a great deal of you, Mr. Hodder. By the way, have you seen him since he got back?"
"No," Hodder answered.
"The trip did him good. I thought he was a little seedy in the spring —didn't you? Wonderful man! And when I think how he's slandered and abused it makes me hot. And he never says anything, never complains, lives up there all alone, and takes his medicine. That's real patriotism, according to my view. He could retire to-morrow —but he keeps on—why? Because he feels the weight of a tremendous responsibility on his shoulders, because he knows if it weren't for him and men like him upon whom the prosperity of this nation depends, we'd have famine and anarchy on our hands in no time. And look what he's done for the city, without ostentation, mind you! He never blows his own horn-never makes a speech. And for the Church! But I needn't tell you. When this settlement house and chapel are finished, they'll be coming out here from New York to get points. By the way, I meant to have written you. Have our revised plans come yet? We ought to break ground in November, oughtn't we?"
"I intend to lay my views on that matter before the vestry at the next meeting, the rector said.
"Well," declared Mr. Plimpton, after a scarcely perceptible pause, "I've no doubt they'll be worth listening to. If I were to make a guess," he continued, with a contemplative smile, blowing a thin stream of smoke towards the distant ceiling, "I should bet that you have spent your summer looking over the ground. I don't say that you have missed your vocation, Mr. Hodder, but I don't mind telling you that for a clergyman, for a man absorbed in spiritual matters, a man who can preach the sermons you preach, you've got more common-sense and business thoroughness than any one I have ever run across in your profession."
"Looking over the ground?" Hodder repeated, ignoring the compliment.
"Sure," said Mr. Plimpton, smiling more benignly than ever. "You mustn't be modest about it. Dalton Street. And when that settlement house is built, I'll guarantee it will be run on a business basis. No nonsense."
"What do you mean by nonsense?" Hodder asked. He did not make the question abrupt, and there was even the hint of a smile in his eyes, which Mr. Plimpton found the more disquieting.
"Why, that's only a form of speech. I mean you'll be practical, efficient, that you'll get hold of the people of that neighbourhood and make 'em see that the world isn't such a bad place after all, make 'em realize that we in St. John's want to help 'em out. That you won't make them more foolishly discontented than they are, and go preaching socialism to them."
"I have no intention of preaching socialism," said Hodder. But he laid a slight emphasis on the word which sent a cold shiver down Mr. Plimpton's spine, and made him wonder whether there might not be something worse than socialism.
"I knew you wouldn't," he declared, with all the heartiness he could throw into his voice. "I repeat, you're a practical, sensible man. I'll yield to none in my belief in the Church as a moral, uplifting, necessary spiritual force in our civilization, in my recognition of her high ideals, but we business men, Mr. Hodder,—as—I am sure you must agree, —have got to live, I am sorry to say, on a lower plane. We've got to deal with the world as we find it, and do our little best to help things along. We can't take the Gospel literally, or we should all be ruined in a day, and swamp everybody else. You understand me?
"I understand you," said the rector.
Mr. Plimpton's cigar had gone out. In spite of himself, he had slipped from the easy-going, casual tone into one that was becoming persuasive, apologetic, strenuous. Although the day was not particularly warm, he began to perspire a little; and he repeated the words over to himself, "I understand you." What the deuce did the rector know? He had somehow the air of knowing everything—more than Mr. Plimpton did. And Mr. Plimpton was beginning to have the unusual and most disagreeable feeling of having been weighed in the balance and found wanting. He glanced at his guest, who sat quite still, the head bent a trifle, the disturbing gray eyes fixed contemplatively an him—accusingly. And yet the accusation did not seem personal with the clergyman, whose eyes were nearly the medium, the channels of a greater, an impersonal Ice. It was true that the man had changed. He was wholly baffling to Mr. Plimpton, whose sense of alarm increased momentarily into an almost panicky feeling as he remembered what Langmaid had said. Was this inscrutable rector of St. John's gazing, knowingly, at the half owner of Harrods Hotel in Dalton Street, who couldn't take the Gospel literally? There was evidently no way to find out at once, and suspense would be unbearable, in vain he told himself that these thoughts were nonsense, the discomfort persisted, and he had visions of that career in which he had become one of the first citizens and the respected husband of Charlotte Gore clashing down about his ears. Why? Because a clergyman should choose to be quixotic, fanatical? He did not took quixotic, fanatical, Mr. Plimpton had to admit,—but a good deal saner than he, Mr. Plimpton, must have appeared at that moment. His throat was dry, and he didn't dare to make the attempt to relight his cigar.
"There's nothing like getting together—keeping in touch with people, Mr. Hodder," he managed to say. "I've been out of town a good deal this summer—putting on a little flesh, I'm sorry to admit. But I've been meaning to drop into the parish house and talk over those revised plans with you. I will drop in—in a day or two. I'm interested in the work, intensely interested, and so is Mrs. Plimpton. She'll help you. I'm sorry you can't lunch with me."
He had the air, now, of the man who finds himself disagreeably and unexpectedly closeted with a lunatic; and his language, although he sought to control it, became even a trifle less coherent.
"You must make allowances for us business men, Mr. Hodder. I mean, of course, we're sometimes a little lax in our duties—in the summer, that is. Don't shoot the pianist, he's doing his—ahem! You know the story.
"By the way, I hear great things of you; I'm told it's on the cards that you're to be made a bishop."
"Oh," answered the rector, "there are better men mentioned than I!"
"I want you to know this," said his vestryman, as he seized Hodder's hand, "much as we value you here, bitterly as we should hate to lose you, none of us, I am sure, would stand in the way of such a deserved advancement."
"Thank you, Mr. Plimpton," said the rector.
Mr. Plimpton watched the vigorous form striding through the great chamber until it disappeared. Then he seized his hat and made his way as rapidly as possible through the crowds to the Parr Building. At the entrance of the open-air roof garden of the Eyrie he ran into Nelson Langmaid.
"You're the very man I'm after," said Mr. Plimpton, breathlessly. "I stopped in your office, and they said you'd gone up."
"What's the matter, Wallis?" inquired the lawyer, tranquilly. "You look as if you'd lost a couple of bonds."
I've just seen Hodder, and he is going to do it."
"Sit down here, at this table in the corner, and I'll tell you."
For a practical man, it must be admitted that Mr. Plimpton had very little of the concrete to relate. And it appeared on cross-examination by Mr. Langmaid, who ate his cold meat and salad with an exasperating and undiminished appetite—that the only definite thing the rector had said was that he didn't intend to preach socialism. This was reassuring.
"Reassuring!" exclaimed Mr. Plimpton, whose customary noonday hunger was lacking, "I wish you could have heard him say it!"
"The wicked," remarked the lawyer, "flee when no man pursueth. Don't shoot the pianist!" Langmaid set down his beer, and threw back his head and laughed. "If I were the Reverend Mr. Hodder, after such an exhibition as you gave, I should immediately have suspected the pianist of something, and I should have gone off by myself and racked my brains and tried to discover what it was. He's a clever man, and if he hasn't got a list of Dalton Street property now he'll have one by to-morrow, and the story of some of your transactions with Tom Beatty and the City Council."
"I believe you'd joke in the electric chair," said Mr. a Plimpton, resentfully. "I'll tell you this,—and my experience backs me up, —if you can't get next to a man by a little plain talk, he isn't safe. I haven't got the market sense for nothing, and I'll give you this tip, Nelson,—it's time to stand from under. Didn't I warn you fellows that Bedloe Hubbell meant business long before he started in? and this parson can give Hubbell cards and spades. Hodder can't see this thing as it is. He's been thinking, this summer. And a man of that kind is downright dangerous when he begins to think. He's found out things, and he's put two and two together, and he's the uncompromising type. He has a notion that the Gospel can be taken literally, and I could feel all the time I was talking to him he thought I was a crook."
"Perhaps he was right," observed the lawyer.
"That comes well from you," Mr. Plimpton retorted.
"Oh, I'm a crook, too," said Langmaid. "I discovered it some time ago. The difference between you and me, Wallis, is that I am willing to acknowledge it, and you're not. The whole business world, as we know it, is crooked, and if we don't cut other people's throats, they'll cut ours."
"And if we let go, what would happen to the country?" his companion demanded.
Langmaid began to shake with silent laughter.
"Your solicitude about the country, Wallis, is touching. I was brought up to believe that patriotism had an element of sacrifice in it, but I can't see ours. And I can't imagine myself, somehow, as a Hercules bearing the burden of our Constitution. From Mr. Hodder's point of view, perhaps,—and I'm not sure it isn't the right one, the pianist is doing his damnedest, to the tune of—Dalton Street. We might as well look this thing in the face, my friend. You and I really don't believe in another world, or we shouldn't be taking so much trouble to make this one as we'd like to have it."
"I never expected to hear you talk this way," said Mr. Plimpton.
"Well, it's somewhat of a surprise to me," the lawyer admitted.
"And I don't think you put it fairly," his friend contended. "I never can tell when you are serious, but this is damned serious. In business we have to deal with crooks, who hold us up right and left, and if we stood back you know as well as I do that everything would go to pot. And if we let the reformers have their way the country would be bedlam. We'd have anarchy and bloodshed, revolution, and the people would be calling us, the strong men, back in no time. You can't change human nature. And we have a sense of responsibility—we support law and order and the Church, and found institutions, and give millions away in charity."
The big lawyer listened to this somewhat fervent defence of his order with an amused smile, nodding his head slightly from side to side.
"If you don't believe in it," demanded Mr. Plimpton, why the deuce don't you drop it?"
"It's because of my loyalty," said Langmaid. "I wouldn't desert my pals. I couldn't bear, Wallis, to see you go to the guillotine without me."
Mr. Plimpton became unpleasantly silent.
"Well, you may think it's a joke," he resumed, after a moment, "but there will be a guillotine if we don't look out. That confounded parson is getting ready to spring something, and I'm going to give Mr. Parr a tip. He'll know how to handle him. He doesn't talk much, but I've got an idea, from one or two things he let drop, that he's a little suspicious of a change in Hodder. But he ought to be waived."
"You're in no condition to talk to Mr. Parr, or to anyone else, except your wife, Walks," Langmaid said. "You'd better go home, and let me see Mr. Parr. I'm responsible for Mr. Hodder, anyway."
"All right," Mr. Plimpton agreed, as though he had gained some shred of comfort from this thought. "I guess you're in worse than any of us."
THE INSIDE OF THE CUP
By Winston Churchill
XX. THE ARRAIGNMENT XXI. ALISON GOES TO CHURCH XXII. WHICH SAY TO THE SEERS, SEE NOT!
Looking backward, Hodder perceived that he had really come to the momentous decision of remaining at St. John's in the twilight of an evening when, on returning home from seeing Kate Marcy at Mr. Bentley's he had entered the darkening church. It was then that his mission had appeared to him as a vision. Every day, afterward, his sense and knowledge of this mission had grown stronger.
To his mind, not the least of the trials it was to impose upon him, and one which would have to be dealt with shortly, was a necessary talk with his assistant, McCrae. If their relationship had from the beginning been unusual and unsatisfactory, adjectives would seem to defy what it had become during the summer. What did McCrae think of him? For Hodder had, it will be recalled, bidden his assistant good-by—and then had remained. At another brief interview, during which McCrae had betrayed no surprise, uttered no censure or comment, Hodder had announced his determination to remain in the city, and to take no part in the services. An announcement sufficiently astounding. During the months that followed, they had met, at rare intervals, exchanged casual greetings, and passed on. And yet Hodder had the feeling, more firmly planted than ever, that McCrae was awaiting, with an interest which might be called suspense, the culmination of the process going on within him.
Well, now that he had worked it out, now that he had reached his decision, it was incumbent upon him to tell his assistant what that decision was. Hodder shrank from it as from an ordeal. His affection for the man, his admiration for McCrae's faithful, untiring, and unrecognized services had deepened. He had a theory that McCrae really liked him—would even sympathize with his solution; yet he procrastinated. He was afraid to put his theory to the test. It was not that Hodder feared that his own solution was not the right one, but that McCrae might not find it so: he was intensely concerned that it should also be McCrae's solution—the answer, if one liked, to McCrae's mute and eternal questionings. He wished to have it a fruition for McCrae as well as for himself; since theoretically, at least, he had pierced the hard crust of his assistant's exterior, and conceived him beneath to be all suppressed fire. In short, Hodder wished to go into battle side by side with McCrae. Therein lay his anxiety.
Another consideration troubled him—McCrae's family, dependent on a rather meagre salary. His assistant, in sustaining him in the struggle he meant to enter, would be making even a greater sacrifice than himself. For Hodder had no illusions, and knew that the odds against him were incalculable. Whatever, if defeated, his own future might be, McCrae's was still more problematical and tragic.
The situation, when it came, was even more difficult than Hodder had imagined it, since McCrae was not a man to oil the wheels of conversation. In silence he followed the rector up the stairs and into his study, in silence he took the seat at the opposite side of the table. And Hodder, as he hesitated over his opening, contemplated in no little perplexity and travail the gaunt and non-committal face before him:
"McCrae," he began at length, "you must have thought my conduct this summer most peculiar. I wish to thank you, first of all, for the consideration you have shown me, and to tell you how deeply I appreciate your taking the entire burden of the work of the parish."
McCrae shook his head vigorously, but did not speak.
"I owe it to you to give you some clew to what happened to me," the rector continued, "although I have an idea that you do not need much enlightenment on this matter. I have a feeling that you have somehow been aware of my discouragement during the past year or so, and of the causes of it. You yourself hold ideals concerning the Church which you have not confided to me. Of this I am sure. I came here to St. John's full of hope and confidence, gradually to lose both, gradually to realise that there was something wrong with me, that in spite of all my efforts I was unable to make any headway in the right direction. I became perplexed, dissatisfied—the results were so meagre, so out of proportion to the labour. And the very fact that those who may be called our chief parishioners had no complaint merely added to my uneasiness. That kind of success didn't satisfy me, and I venture to assume it didn't satisfy you."
Still McCrae made no sign.
"Finally I came to what may be termed a double conclusion. In the first place, I began to see more and more clearly that our modern civilization is at fault, to perceive how completely it is conducted on the materialistic theory of the survival of the fittest rather than that of the brotherhood of man, and that those who mainly support this church are, consciously or not, using it as a bulwark for the privilege they have gained at the expense of their fellow-citizens. And my conclusion was that Christianity must contain some vital germ which I had somehow missed, and which I must find if I could, and preach and release it. That it was the release of this germ these people feared unconsciously. I say to you, at the risk of the accusation of conceit, that I believed myself to have a power in the pulpit if I could only discover the truth."
Hodder thought he detected, as he spoke these words, a certain relaxation of the tension.
"For a while, as the result of discouragement, of cowardice, I may say, of the tearing-down process of the theological structure—built of debris from many ruins on which my conception of Christianity rested, I lost all faith. For many weeks I did not enter the church, as you yourself must know. Then, when I had given up all hope, through certain incidents and certain persona, a process of reconstruction began. In short, through no virtue which I can claim as my own, I believe I have arrived at the threshold of an understanding of Christianity as our Lord taught it and lived it. And I intend to take the pulpit and begin to preach it.
"I am deeply concerned in regard to yourself as to what effect my course may have on you. And I am not you to listen to me with a view that you should see your way clear to support me McCrae, but rather that you should be fully apprised of my new belief and intentions. I owe this to you, for your loyal support in the pest. I shall go over with you, later, if you care to listen, my whole position. It may be called the extreme Protestant position, and I use protestant, for want of a better word, to express what I believe is Paul's true as distinguished from the false of his two inconsistent theologies. It was this doctrine of Paul's of redemption by faith, of reacting grace by an inevitable spiritual law —of rebirth, if you will—that Luther and the Protestant reformers revived and recognized, rightly, as the vital element of Christ's teachings, although they did not succeed in separating it wholly from the dross which clung to it. It is the leaven which has changed governments, and which in the end, I am firmly convinced, will make true democracy inevitable. And those who oppose democracy inherently dread its workings.
"I do not know your views, but it is only fair to add at this time that I no longer believe in the external and imposed authority of the Church in the sense in which I formerly accepted it, nor in the virgin birth, nor in certain other dogmas in which I once acquiesced. Other clergymen of our communion have proclaimed, in speech and writing, their disbelief in these things. I have satisfied my conscience as they have, and I mean to make no secret of my change. I am convinced that not one man or woman in ten thousand to-day who has rejected Christianity ever knew what Christianity is. The science and archaic philosophy in which Christianity has been swaddled and hampered is discredited, and the conclusion is drawn that Christianity itself must be discredited."
"Ye're going to preach all this?" McCrae demanded, almost fiercely.
"Yes," Hodder replied, still uncertain as to his assistant's attitude, "and more. I have fully reflected, and I am willing to accept all the consequences. I understand perfectly, McCrae, that the promulgation alone of the liberal orthodoxy of which I have spoken will bring me into conflict with the majority of the vestry and the congregation, and that the bishop will be appealed to. They will say, in effect, that I have cheated them, that they hired one man and that another has turned up, whom they never would have hired. But that won't be the whole story. If it were merely a question of doctrine, I should resign. It's deeper than that, more sinister." Hodder doubled up his hand, and laid it on the table. "It's a matter," he said, looking into McCrae's eyes, "of freeing this church from those who now hold it in chains. And the two questions, I see clearly now, the doctrinal and the economic, are so interwoven as to be inseparable. My former, ancient presentation of Christianity left men and women cold. It did not draw them into this church and send them out again fired with the determination to bring religion into everyday life, resolved to do their part in the removal of the injustices and cruelties with which we are surrounded, to bring Christianity into government, where it belongs. Don't misunderstand me I'm not going to preach politics, but religion."
"I don't misunderstand ye," answered McCrae. He leaned a little forward, staring at the rector from behind his steel spectacles with a glance which had become piercing.
"And I am going to discourage a charity which is a mockery of Christianity," Hodder went on, "the spectacle of which turns thousands of men and women in sickening revolt against the Church of Christ to-day. I have discovered, at last, how some of these persons have made their money, and are making it. And I am going to let them know, since they have repudiated God in their own souls, since they have denied the Christian principle of individual responsibility, that I, as the vicar of God, will not be a party to the transaction of using the Church as a means of doling out ill-gotten gains to the poor."
"Mr. Parr!" McCrae exclaimed.
"Yes," said the rector, slowly, and with a touch of sadness, "since you have mentioned him, Mr. Parr. But I need not say that this must go no farther. I am in possession of definite facts in regard to Mr. Parr which I shall present to him when he returns."
"Ye'll tell him to his face?"
"It is the only way."
McCrae had risen. A remarkable transformation had come over the man, —he was reminiscent, at that moment, of some Covenanter ancestor going into battle. And his voice shook with excitement.
"Ye may count on me, Mr. Hodder," he cried. "These many years I've waited, these many years I've seen what ye see now, but I was not the man. Aye, I've watched ye, since the day ye first set foot in this church. I knew what was going on inside of ye, because it was just that I felt myself. I hoped—I prayed ye might come to it."
The sight of this taciturn Scotchman, moved in this way, had an extraordinary effect on Hodder himself, and his own emotion was so inexpressibly stirred that he kept silence a moment to control it. This proof of the truth of his theory in regard to McCrae he found overwhelming.
"But you said nothing, McCrae," he began presently. "I felt all along that you knew what was wrong—if you had only spoken."
"I could not," said McCrae. "I give ye my word I tried, but I just could not. Many's the time I wanted to—but I said to myself, when I looked at you, 'wait, it will come, much better than ye can say it.' And ye have made me see more than I saw, Mr. Hodder,—already ye have. Ye've got the whole thing in ye're eye, and I only had a part of it. It's because ye're the bigger man of the two."
"You thought I'd come to it?" demanded Hodder, as though the full force of this insight had just struck him.
"Well," said McCrae, "I hoped. It seemed, to look at ye, ye'r true nature—what was by rights inside of ye. That's the best explaining I can do. And I call to mind that time ye spoke about not making the men in the classes Christians—that was what started me to thinking."
"And you asked me," returned the rector, "how welcome some of them would be in Mr. Parr's Pew."
"Ah, it worried me," declared the assistant, with characteristic frankness, "to see how deep ye were getting in with him."
Hodder did not reply to this. He had himself risen, and stood looking at McCrae, filled with a new thought.
"There is one thing I should like to say to you—which is very difficult, McCrae, but I have no doubt you see the matter as clearly as I do. In making this fight, I have no one but myself to consider. I am a single man—"
"Yell not need to go on," answered McCrae, with an odd mixture of sternness and gentleness in his voice. "I'll stand and fall with ye, Mr. Hodder. Before I ever thought of the Church I learned a trade, as a boy in Scotland. I'm not a bad carpenter. And if worse comes to worse, I've an idea I can make as much with my hands as I make in the ministry."
The smile they exchanged across the table sealed the compact between them.
The electric car which carried him to his appointment with the financier shot westward like a meteor through the night. And now that the hour was actually at hand, it seemed to Hodder that he was absurdly unprepared to meet it. New and formidable aspects, hitherto unthought of, rose in his mind, and the figure of Eldon Parr loomed to Brobdingnagian proportions as he approached it. In spite of his determination, the life-blood of his confidence ebbed, a sense of the power and might of the man who had now become his adversary increased; and that apprehension of the impact of the great banker's personality, the cutting edge with the vast achievements wedged in behind it, each adding weight and impetus to its momentum the apprehension he had felt in less degree on the day of the first meeting, and which had almost immediately evaporated—surged up in him now. His fear was lest the charged atmosphere of the banker's presence might deflect his own hitherto clear perception of true worth. He dreaded, once in the midst of those disturbing currents, a bungling presentation of the cause which inspired him, and which he knew to be righteousness itself.
Suddenly his mood shifted, betraying still another weakness, and he saw Eldon Parr, suddenly, vividly—more vividly, indeed, than ever before—in the shades of the hell of his loneliness. And pity welled up, drowning the image of incarnate greed and selfishness and lust for wealth and power: The unique pathos of his former relationship with the man reasserted itself, and Hodder was conscious once more of the dependence which Eldon Parr had had on his friendship. During that friendship he, Hodder, had never lost the sense of being the stronger of the two, of being leaned upon: leaned upon by a man whom the world feared and hated, and whom he had been enable to regard with anything but compassion and the unquestionable affection which sprang from it. Appalled by this transition, he alighted from the car, and stood for a moment alone in the darkness gazing at the great white houses that rose above the dusky outline of shrubbery and trees.
At any rate, he wouldn't find that sense of dependence to-night. And it steeled him somewhat to think, as he resumed his steps, that he would meet now the other side, the hard side hitherto always turned away. Had he needed no other warning of this, the answer to his note asking for an appointment would have been enough,—a brief and formal communication signed by the banker's secretary. . .
"Mr. Parr is engaged just at present, sir," said the servant who opened the door. "Would you be good enough to step into the library?"
Hardly had he entered the room when he heard a sound behind him, and turned to confront Alison. The thought of her, too, had complicated infinitely his emotions concerning the interview before him, and the sight of her now, of her mature beauty displayed in evening dress, of her white throat gleaming whiter against the severe black of her gown, made him literally speechless. Never had he accused her of boldness, and now least of all. It was the quality of her splendid courage that was borne in upon him once more above the host of other feelings and impressions, for he read in her eyes a knowledge of the meaning of his visit.
They stood facing each other an appreciable moment.
"Mr. Langmaid is with him now," she said, in a low voice.
"Yes," he answered.
Her eyes still rested on his face, questioningly, appraisingly, as though she were seeking to estimate his preparedness for the ordeal before him, his ability to go through with it successfully, triumphantly. And in her mention of Langmaid he recognized that she had meant to sound a note of warning. She had intimated a consultation of the captains, a council of war. And yet he had never spoken to her of this visit. This proof of her partisanship, that she had come to him at the crucial instant, overwhelmed him.
"You know why I am here?" he managed to say. It had to do with the extent of her knowledge.
"Oh, why shouldn't I?" she cried, "after what you have told me. And could you think I didn't understand, from the beginning, that it meant this?"
His agitation still hampered him. He made a gesture of assent.
"It was inevitable," he said.
"Yes, it' was inevitable," she assented, and walked slowly to the mantel, resting her hand on it and bending her head. "I felt that you would not shirk it, and yet I realize how painful it must be to you."
"And to you," he replied quickly.
"Yes, and to me. I do not know what you know, specifically,—I have never sought to find out things, in detail. That would be horrid. But I understand—in general—I have understood for many years." She raised her head, and flashed him a glance that was between a quivering smile and tears. "And I know that you have certain specific information."
He could only wonder at her intuition.
"So far as I am concerned, it is not for the world," he answered.
"Oh, I appreciate that in you!" she exclaimed. "I wished you to know it. I wished you to know," she added, a little unsteadily, "how much I admire you for what you are doing. They are afraid of you—they will crush you if they can."
He did not reply.
"But you are going to speak the truth," she continued, her voice low and vibrating, "that is splendid! It must have its effect, no matter what happens."
"Do you feel that?" he asked, taking a step toward her.
"Yes. When I see you, I feel it, I think." . . .
Whatever answer he might have made to this was frustrated by the appearance of the figure of Nelson Langmaid in the doorway. He seemed to survey them benevolently through his spectacles.
"How are you, Hodder? Well, Alison, I have to leave without seeing anything of you—you must induce your father not to bring his business home with him. Just a word," he added to the rector, "before you go up."
Hodder turned to Alison. "Good night," he said.
The gentle but unmistakable pressure of her hand he interpreted as the pinning on him of the badge of her faith. He was to go into battle wearing her colours. Their eyes met.
"Good night," she answered . . . .
In the hall the lawyer took his arm.
"What's the trouble, Hodder?" he asked, sympathetically.
Hodder, although on his guard, was somewhat taken aback by the directness of the onslaught.
"I'm afraid, Mr. Langmaid," the rector replied, "that it would take me longer to tell you than the time at your disposal."
"Dear me," said the lawyer, "this is too bad. Why didn't you come to me? I am a good friend of yours, Hodder, and there is an additional bond between us on my sister's account. She is extremely fond of you, you know. And I have a certain feeling of responsibility for you,—I brought you here."
"You have always been very kind, and I appreciate it," Hodder replied. "I should be sorry to cause you any worry or annoyance. But you must understand that I cannot share the responsibility of my acts with any one."
"A little advice from an old legal head is sometimes not out of place. Even Dr. Gilman used to consult me. I hope you will bear in mind how remarkably well you have been getting along at St. John's, and what a success you've made."
"Success!" echoed the rector.
Either Mr. Langmaid read nothing in his face, or was determined to read nothing.
"Assuredly," he answered, benignly. "You have managed to please everybody, Mr. Parr included,—and some of us are not easy to please. I thought I'd tell you this, as a friend, as your first friend in the parish. Your achievement has been all the more remarkable, following, as you did, Dr. Gilman. Now it would greatly distress me to see that state of things disturbed, both for your sake and others. I thought I would just give you a hint, as you are going to see Mr. Parr, that he is in rather a nervous state. These so-called political reformers have upset the market and started a lot of legal complications that's why I'm here to-night. Go easy with him. I know you won't do anything foolish."
The lawyer accompanied this statement with a pat, but this time he did not succeed in concealing his concern.
"That depends on one's point of view," Hodder returned, with a smile. "I do not know how you have come to suspect that I am going to disturb Mr. Parr, but what I have to say to him is between him and me."
Langmaid took up his hat from the table, and sighed.
"Drop in on me sometime," he said, "I'd like to talk to you—Hodder heard a voice behind him, and turned. A servant was standing there.
"Mr. Parr is ready to see you, sir," he said.
The rector followed him up the stairs, to the room on the second floor, half office, half study, where the capitalist transacted his business when at home.
Eldon Parr was huddled over his desk reading a typewritten document; but he rose, and held out his hand, which Hodder took.
"How are you, Mr. Hodder? I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but matters of some legal importance have arisen on which I was obliged to make a decision. You're well, I hope." He shot a glance at the rector, and sat down again, still holding the sheets. "If you will excuse me a moment longer, I'll finish this."
"Certainly," Hodder replied.
"Take a chair," said Mr. Parr, "you'll find the evening paper beside you."
Hodder sat down, and the banker resumed his perusal of the document, his eye running rapidly over the pages, pausing once in a while to scratch out a word or to make a note on the margin. In the concentration of the man on the task before him the rector read a design, an implication that the affairs of the Church were of a minor importance: sensed, indeed, the new attitude of hostility, gazed upon the undiscovered side, the dangerous side before which other men had quailed. Alison's words recurred to him, "they are afraid of you, they will crush you if they can." Eldon Parr betrayed, at any rate, no sign of fear. If his mental posture were further analyzed, it might be made out to contain an intimation that the rector, by some act, had forfeited the right to the unique privilege of the old relationship.
Well, the fact that the banker had, in some apparently occult manner, been warned, would make Hodder's task easier—or rather less difficult. His feelings were even more complicated than he had anticipated. The moments of suspense were trying to his nerves, and he had a shrewd notion that this making men wait was a favourite manoeuvre of Eldon Parr's; nor had he underrated the benumbing force of that personality. It was evident that the financier intended him to open the battle, and he was —as he had expected—finding it difficult to marshal the regiments of his arguments. In vain he thought of the tragedy of Garvin . . . . The thing was more complicated. And behind this redoubtable and sinister Eldon Parr he saw, as it were, the wraith of that: other who had once confessed the misery of his loneliness. . . .
At last the banker rang, sharply, the bell on his desk. A secretary entered, to whom he dictated a telegram which contained these words: "Langmaid has discovered a way out." It was to be sent to an address in Texas. Then he turned in his chair and crossed his knees, his hand fondling an ivory paper-cutter. He smiled a little.
"Well, Mr. Hodder," he said.
The rector, intensely on his guard, merely inclined his head in recognition that his turn had come.
"I was sorry," the banker continued, after a perceptible pause,—that you could not see your way clear to have come with me on the cruise."
"I must thank you again," Hodder answered, "but I felt—as I wrote you —that certain matters made it impossible for me to go."
"I suppose you had your reasons, but I think you would have enjoyed the trip. I had a good, seaworthy boat—I chartered her from Mr. Lieber, the president of the Continental Zinc, you know. I went as far as Labrador. A wonderful coast, Mr. Hodder."
"It must be," agreed the rector. It was clear that Mr. Parr intended to throw upon him the onus of the first move. There was a silence, brief, indeed, but long enough for Hodder to feel more and more distinctly the granite hardness which the other had become, to experience a rising, reenforcing anger. He went forward, steadily but resolutely, on the crest of it. "I have remained in the city," he continued, "and I have had the opportunity to discover certain facts of which I have hitherto been ignorant, and which, in my opinion, profoundly affect the welfare of the church. It is of these I wished to speak to you."
Mr. Parr waited.
"It is not much of an exaggeration to say that ever since I came here I have been aware that St. John's, considering the long standing of the parish, the situation of the church in a thickly populated district, is not fulfilling its mission. But I have failed until now to perceive the causes of that inefficiency."
"Inefficiency?" The banker repeated the word.
"Inefficiency," said Hodder. "The reproach, the responsibility is largely mine, as the rector, the spiritual, head of the parish. I believe I am right when I say that the reason for the decision, some twenty years ago, to leave the church where it is, instead of selling the property and building in the West End, was that it might minister to the poor in the neighbourhood, to bring religion and hope into their lives, and to exert its influence towards eradicating the vice and misery which surround it."
"But I thought you had agreed," said Mr. Parr, coldly, "that we were to provide for that in the new chapel and settlement house."
"For reasons which I hope to make plain to you, Mr. Parr," Hodder replied, "those people can never be reached, as they ought to be reached, by building that settlement house. The principle is wrong, the day is past when such things can be done—in that way." He laid an emphasis on these words. "It is good, I grant you, to care for the babies and children of the poor, it is good to get young women and men out of the dance-halls, to provide innocent amusement, distraction, instruction. But it is not enough. It leaves the great, transforming thing in the lives of these people untouched, and it will forever remain untouched so long as a sense of wrong, a continually deepening impression of an unchristian civilization upheld by the Church herself, exists. Such an undertaking as that settlement house—I see clearly now—is a palliation, a poultice applied to one of many sores, a compromise unworthy of the high mission of the Church. She should go to the root of the disease. It is her first business to make Christians, who, by amending their own lives, by going out individually and collectively into the life of the nation, will gradually remove these conditions."
Mr. Parr sat drumming on the table. Hodder met his look.
"So you, too, have come to it," he said.
"Have come to what?"
Hodder, in the state of clairvoyance in which he now surprisingly found himself, accurately summed up the value and meaning of the banker's sigh.
"Say, rather," he replied, "that I have come to Christianity. We shall never have what is called socialism until there is no longer any necessity for it, until men, of their owe free will, are ready to renounce selfish, personal ambition and power and work for humanity, for the state."
Mr. Parr's gesture implied that he cared not by what name the thing was called, but he still appeared strangely, astonishingly calm;—Hodder, with all his faculties acute, apprehended that he was dangerously calm. The man who had formerly been his friend was now completely obliterated, and he had the feeling almost of being about to grapple, in mortal combat, with some unknown monster whose tactics and resources were infinite, whose victims had never escaped. The monster was in Eldon Parr—that is how it came to him. The waxy, relentless demon was aroused. It behooved him, Hodder, to step carefully . . . .
"That is all very fine, Mr. Hodder, very altruistic, very Christian, I've no doubt-but the world doesn't work that way." (These were the words borne in on Hodder's consciousness.) "What drives the world is the motive furnished by the right of acquiring and holding property. If we had a division to-day, the able men would come out on top next year."
The rector shook his head. He remembered, at that moment, Horace Bentley.
"What drives the world is a far higher motive, Mr. Parr, the motive with which have been fired the great lights of history, the motive of renunciation and service which is transforming governments, which is gradually making the world a better place in which to live. And we are seeing men and women imbued with it, rising in ever increasing numbers on every side to-day."
"Service!" Eldon Parr had seized upon the word as it passed and held it. "What do you think my life has been? I suppose," he said, with a touch of intense bitterness, "that you, too, who six months ago seemed as reasonable a man as I ever met, have joined in the chorus of denunciators. It has become the fashion to-day, thanks to your socialists, reformers, and agitators, to decry a man because he is rich, to take it for granted that he is a thief and a scoundrel, that he has no sense of responsibility for his country and his fellow-men. The glory, the true democracy of this nation, lies in its equal opportunity for all. They take no account of that, of the fact that each has had the same chance as his fellows. No, but they cry out that the man who, by the sweat of his brow, has earned wealth ought to divide it up with the lazy and the self-indulgent and the shiftless.
"Take my case, for instance,—it is typical of thousands. I came to this city as a boy in my teens, with eight dollars in my pocket which I had earned on a farm. I swept the floor, cleaned the steps, moved boxes and ran errands in Gabriel Parker's store on Third Street. I was industrious, sober, willing to do anything. I fought, I tell you every inch of my way. As soon as I saved a little money I learned to use every ounce of brain I possessed to hold on to it. I trusted a man once, and I had to begin all over again. And I discovered, once for all, if a man doesn't look out for himself, no one will.
"I don't pretend that I am any better than any one else, I have had to take life as I found it, and make the best of it. I conformed to the rules of the game; I soon had sense enough knocked into me to understand that the conditions were not of my making. But I'll say this for myself," Eldon Parr leaned forward over the blotter, "I had standards, and I stuck by them. I wanted to be a decent citizen, to bring up my children in the right way. I didn't squander my money, when I got it, on wine and women, I respected other men's wives, I supported the Church and the institutions of the city. I too even I had my ambitions, my ideals —and they were not entirely worldly ones. You would probably accuse me of wishing to acquire only the position of power which I hold. If you had accepted my invitation to go aboard the yacht this summer, it was my intention to unfold to you a scheme of charities which has long been forming in my mind, and which I think would be of no small benefit to the city where I have made my fortune. I merely mention this to prove to you that I am not unmindful, in spite of the circumstances of my own life, of the unfortunates whose mental equipment is not equal to my own."
By this "poor boy" argument which—if Hodder had known—Mr. Parr had used at banquets with telling effect, the banker seemed to regain perspective and equilibrium, to plant his feet once more on the rock of the justification of his life, and from which, by a somewhat extraordinary process he had not quite understood, he had been partially shaken off. As he had proceeded with his personal history, his manner had gradually become one of the finality of experience over theory, of the forbearance of the practical man with the visionary. Like most successful citizens of his type, he possessed in a high degree the faculty of creating sympathy, of compelling others to accept —temporarily, at least—his point of view. It was this faculty, Hodder perceived, which had heretofore laid an enchantment upon him, and it was not without a certain wonder that he now felt himself to be released from the spell.
The perceptions of the banker were as keen, and his sense of security was brief. Somehow, as he met the searching eye of the rector, he was unable to see the man as a visionary, but beheld—and, to do him justice—felt a twinge of respect for an adversary worthy of his steel.