"In behalf of the Board, I accept your challenge and await the miracle," retorted Van Meter. "You can pray till you're blue in the face and you will never get money enough to buy a lot on Fifth Avenue big enough to bury yourself, to say nothing of rearing a Solomon's Temple on it."
"We shall see," the young giant replied.
"This Board is tired of the circus business," Van Meter went on angrily. "You have transformed the church already into a menagerie. We don't want any more of your Soup-House Sarahs, Hallelujah Johns nor decorative bums testifying here to the power of miracles, while we wonder whether our overcoats will be on the rack when we recover from the spell of their eloquence. It's a big world, there's room for us all, but there's not room for any more new wrinkles in this church."
"Yes, it is a big world, Deacon, but there are some small potatoes in it. There's hope for a fool, he may be turned from his folly, but God Almighty can't put a gallon into a pint cup."
"We'll see who the small potato is before the day is done," Van Meter snorted.
Gordon continued, meditatively, without noticing the interruption:
"Of all the little things on this earth a little New Yorker is the smallest. I've met ignorance in the South, sullen pigheadedness in New England; I've measured the boundless cheek of the West, my native heath; but for self-satisfied stupidity, for littleness in the world of morals, I have seen nothing on earth, or under it, quite so small as a well-to-do New Yorker. He has little brains, or culture, and only the rudiments of common sense, but, being from New York, he assumes everything. Of God's big world, outside Wall Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Central Park and Coney Island, he knows nothing; for he neither reads nor travels; and yet pronounces instant judgment on world movements of human thought and society."
And deliberately he put on his hat and left the room.
The net result of the meeting was a vote to reduce the pastor's salary a thousand dollars and add it to the music fund; and Van Meter hired two detectives to watch the minister.
A STOLEN KISS
For several weeks after Gordon flung down the gauntlet to his Board of Trustees and began his battle for supremacy, his wife maintained a strange attitude of silence and reserve.
She had hired a nurse and resumed her study of music. Her contralto voice, one of great depth and sweetness, he had admired extravagantly in the days of their courtship, but she had ceased to sing of late years. He always listened to her lullaby to the children with fascination. The soft round notes from her delicate throat seemed full of magic and held him in a spell.
Before he left for his study one morning, she looked up into his face with yearning in her dark eyes.
"Come into the parlour, Frank; I will sing for you."
She took her seat at the piano, and her white tapering fingers ran lightly over the keys with deft, sure touch.
"What would you like to hear?" she asked timidly, from beneath her long lashes, with the old haunting charm in her manner.
"Tennyson's 'Break, break, break, on thy cold gray stones, O Sea!' No poet ever dreamed that song as you have sung it, Ruth."
Never did he hear her sing with such feeling. Her Voice, low, soft and caressing with the languid sensuousness of the South, quivered with tenderness, and then rose with the storm and broke in round, deep peals of passion until he could hear the roar of the surf and feel its white spray in his face. Her erect lithe figure, with the small white hands and wrists flashing over the keys, the petite anxious face with stormy eyes and raven hair, seemed the incarnate soul of the storm.
"Glorious, Ruth!" he cried, with boylike wonder.
And then she bent over the piano and burst into tears.
"Why, what ails you, my dear?"
"Oh, Frank, I'm selfish to leave the children to a nurse and study music."
"Nonsense. Self-sacrifice is rational only as it is the highest form of self-development. It is your duty to develop yourself. Self is the source of all knowledge and strength; books are its record; the world exists only through its eyes."
"I'm afraid of it. I wish to give all to you and the children, not to myself. I want you all to myself, and you are growing away from me. I know it, and it is breaking my heart."
He laughed at her fears, kissed her and went to his study.
Since his break with his Board, he had grown daily in power—power in himself and over his people. Conflict was always to him the trumpet call to heroic deeds. The knowledge that Van Meter was now his open enemy and that he was attempting to build a hostile faction within the church roused his soul to its depths. Thrown back thus upon himself and his appeal to the greater tribunal of the people, he preached as never before in his life. His sermons had the vigour and prophetic fire of the crusader. His crowds increased until it was necessary to ask for police aid to control the exits and entrances to the building. Long before the hour of service, a dense mass of men and women were packed against the doors.
Van Meter watched this growth of influence with wonder and disgust. He determined to leave no stone unturned that might put a stumbling-block in his way. His detectives had failed as yet to find any clue that might compromise him. Once they rushed to his office with the information that they had tracked him to a questionable house. The Deacon called up his son-in-law and asked excitedly for a reporter to write a thrilling piece of news. The reporter found that Gordon had called at the house, but in answer to a summons to see a dying girl.
Van Meter insisted upon the item being printed, but the young city editor scowled and threw it in the waste basket.
The Deacon at length discovered Ruth's jealousy and located the woman who was its object. A costly bouquet of flowers was placed on Gordon's desk in the study every morning, and an enormous one blossomed every Sunday morning and evening on the little table beside his chair in the pulpit. The sexton could not tell who paid the bills. A florist sent them.
The Deacon had been bitterly chagrined at the outcome of his movement in reducing the salary. At first the people heard it with amazement, and then, when Gordon informed a reporter of the fight in progress and it was published, they laughed, and a cheque was sent him for two thousand dollars to make good the deficit and add one thousand more.
The day after this advent he had a hard day's work. A procession of people drained him of every cent of money he could spare and every ounce of sympathy and shred of nerve force in his body.
He had tried the year before to establish a free employment bureau to relieve him of this strain. But the bureau added to his work. He had to close it. It had required the employment of five assistants, and even these could make little impression on the list of applicants who crowded the rooms and blocked the pavements from morning until night.
When the sick and hungry and out-of-works had been disposed of after a fashion, the miscellaneous crowd filed in.
An old college mate came in shivering in a dirty suit. He fumbled at his hat nervously until he caught Gordon's eye and saw him smile.
"Well, by the great hornspoon, Ned, you look like you've fallen into a well!"
"Worse'n that, Frank; I slipped clean into hell. I got with some fellows, went on a drunk, stayed a month and lost my place. I want you to loan me money to get to Baltimore, buy a decent suit of clothes, and I'll get another position. Yes, and I'll lift my head up and be a man."
Gordon sent out to the bank and got the money for him.
Another seedy one softly explained to him that he was a fellow countryman from Indiana. Gordon gave him a quarter.
A sobbing woman closely veiled he recognised as a bride he had married in the church after prayer meeting two weeks before.
"Doctor," she said in a whisper, "I've called to beg you please not to allow any one to know of my marriage. My husband turned out to be a burglar. He stole ten thousand dollars from an old lady who is one of our boarders, and skipped. He married me to get the run of the house. He tried to marry her first, though she was seventy-five years old, got in her room last night, stole the money, and now he's gone. I'm heartbroken!"
"What! because he's gone?"
"No; because I was a fool. I know he has a dozen wives. He was so handsome."
"Madam, I'm not very sorry for you. I tried to prevent you marrying him that night. I begged you to go back to Jersey City to your own church."
"You will keep it secret, Doctor?" she begged.
"I'll not publish it. But the certificate is on file in the Hall of Records. Any one can see it who wishes. It is beyond my control."
An old woman with bedraggled skirt, reddened eyes and a fat, motherly face timidly approached. She had been overlooked.
"Doctor, you're my last chance. I come up to New York to see my son-in-law, as grand a rascal as ever lived. He owes me a thousand dollars and won't pay it. We lost our crop down in Old Virginia. So I scraped up the money and got here to squeeze what he owed out of that rascal. Now he's turned me out into the street and moved where I can't find him. I'm starvin' to death. I ain't got a cent to go home; an' what's worse'n all, I got a letter this mornin' tellin' me my idiot boy's down sick an' cryin' for me. I'm the only one can do anything for him. He can't understand nobody else."
Her voice broke and she bit her lips to keep back the tears.
"I've begged all day. Everybody laughs at me. I heard you preach one Sunday. I knowed you wouldn't laugh at me. I want you to loan me twenty dollars to get home quick. I'll start the minute I can get to the train, an' I'll pay you back if I have to sell my feather beds. Now, will you do it?"
"Well, a more improbable story was never told a New Yorker, but something whispers to me you're telling the truth."
"You'll do it?"
She drew a deep breath, and cried with streaming eyes:
"Oh, Lord, have mercy on my poor soul, that I doubted You, and thought You had forsaken me!"
Gordon handed her the cheque.
"I'm going to kiss you!" she fairly screamed.
Before he could lift his hand or protest, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
As he took her hands down from his shoulders and drew his face away from the mouldy-smelling old shawl, he looked toward the door, and Ruth stood in the entrance. Her eyes blazed with wrath, but as she saw the faded and bedraggled dress and moth-eaten shawl and looked into the tear-stained motherly old face she burst into hysterical laughter.
Gordon rose and escorted the woman to the door with courtesy.
"You will find the bank at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Twenty-third Street—the Garfield National. Write me how your son is when you reach home, and send me the money when you are able."
"I will. God bless you, sir," she answered with fervour.
When he returned to his study, Ruth was still hysterical, and he sat down without a word and began to write.
"Frank, I'm sorry to have been so rude," she said at length.
"Is that all?"
"No; I'm sorry I humiliated myself by spying on you."
She sat twisting her handkerchief, glancing at him timidly.
"And you can't understand how deeply you have wounded me by such an act, Ruth. I hope you have heard all that passed here this morning."
"It's strange how I always seem to be in the wrong. Frank, I am very sorry. You must forgive me. And I have another confession. I've been receiving anonymous letters about you for the past three weeks. I was too weak and cowardly to show them to you. It was one of these letters which caused me to come here this morning. And now I've wounded you, and alienated your heart from me more than ever. I feel I shall die."
She began to sob.
"Come, Ruth, you must conquer this insanity. Naturally you are bright, witty, cheerful and altogether charming. Jealousy reduces you to a lump of stupidity."
"You do forgive me?"
"Yes; and don't, for heaven's sake, do such a thing again. Ask me what you wish to know. I am not a liar; I will tell you the truth."
"But I don't want to hear it if it's cruel," she protested.
"The truth is best, gentle or cruel."
She kissed him impulsively and left.
He sat for an hour, tired, sore and brooding over this scene with his wife. He caught the perfume of the flowers on his desk, and in the tints of the roses saw the warm blushes of the woman who had sent them. Her voice was friendly and caressing and her speech, words of sweetest flattery—flattery that cleared the stupor from his brain and gave life and new faith in himself and his work; flattery that had in it a mysterious personal flavour that piqued his curiosity and fed his vanity. How clearly he recalled her—the superb figure, with rounded bust and arms full and magnificent, in the ripe glory of youth, her waving auburn hair so thick and long it could envelop half her body. Often he had watched the light blaze through its red tints while he talked to her of his dreams, her lips half parted with lazy tenderness and ready with gentle words. He recalled the rhythmic music of her walk, strong and insolent in its luxury of health. And he was grateful for the cheer she had brought into his life.
Kate Ransom had attempted no close analysis of her absorbing interest in Gordon's work. The change in her life from weariness to thrilling interest had been its own justification. Wealth had robbed her of the mystery and charm of accident. The future was fixed; there could be no unknown. The men she had met in society were mere fops, or expert butlers who wrote books on etiquette. Life was a problem for them of what the tailors could do.
She had been isolated from humanity. Now she felt the red blood tingling to her finger tips. Her days were full of sweet surprises or sudden revelations of drama and tragedy, and her woman's soul responded with eager interest.
She had never loved. Such a woman could not love a tailor's dummy. Her nature was warm, rich and passionate, and she was consumed with longing for the moment of bliss when her whole being would so burn with sacrificial fire for her beloved that she could walk with him naked in winter snows, unconscious of cold.
Dress, the great mania of the empty minded, she had outgrown. She knew instinctively the colour and the style most becoming to her beauty, and she used these with the ease and assurance of an expert. She was proud of her beautiful face and figure and held them as divine gifts, the surest tokens of the fulfilment of her desires.
Her heart, rich in the ripened treasures of unspent motherhood, brooded in tenderness over her new work—the tortures of half-starved mothers, their doomed babes, their idle fathers, and the misery of the poor and the fallen. This yearning to help she knew to be the cry within her own soul for peace. How to express this fullness of life Gordon was teaching her. Slowly and unconsciously she was clothing this powerful, athletic man with every attribute of her ideal. His steel-gray eyes seemed to pierce her very soul and say, "I understand you; come with me." His eloquence and emotional thinking were more and more to her the voice of a prophet seer. His face, that flashed and trembled, smiled and clouded with fires of smouldering passion, held her as in a spell. She knew this power was slowly tightening about her heart, yet she rejoiced in its very pain. When she greeted him, and he unconsciously held her soft hand in his big blue-veined grasp, a sense of restful joy came she knew not whence nor why.
Her enthusiasm in his work, her faith and cheering flattery were drawing him with resistless magnetism.
As the summer advanced the heat became so terrific and the suffering in the city so great that Gordon determined to stay at his post and take his vacation in the fall. Mrs. Ransom fussed and fumed over Kate's determination to stay, but there was no help for it.
July broke the record of forty years for heat. Scores were prostrated daily and dead horses blocked traffic at almost every hour. A drought threatened the water-supply, and night brought no relief to the millions who sweltered in the tenements.
The babies began to die by thousands—more than two thousand a week on Manhattan. Island alone. The city's wagons raked the little black coffins up and dumped them into the Potters' Field, one on top of the other, like so many dead flies. Down every tenement-walled street the white ribbons fluttered their tragic story from cellar to attic. At night tired mothers walked the pavements, hot and radiating heat, till the sun rose again, carrying their sick babies, or crowded the housetops, fanning them as they lay on their pallets, pale and still, fighting with Death the grim, silent battle.
Kate Ransom finally gave her entire time to these children. She fitted up a hotel in the mountains of Pennsylvania and kept it full. She chartered a steamer and took a thousand of them for a day up the Hudson as an experiment, and asked Gordon to go with them. They would have music, and a dinner spread under the trees of the park which stretched back from the water's edge into the towering hills.
He met them at the ferry slip from which the steamer sailed. Kate was already there, and the throng filled every inch of the floor space. She was moving about among them, while they gazed at her in admiration no words in their vocabulary could express. Her face was flushed with excitement, and her violet eyes, wide open, were sparkling with pleasure.
The man's eyes lingered on the scene, feeling that, for all her magnificently human body, no angel ever made a fairer vision.
He was struck with the silence of these children. As he looked closer it was only too plain they were not children. They were only little wizen-faced men and women, who had never learned to laugh or smile or play; little pinched faces with weak eyes that had never seen God's green fields; little dirty ears that had been bruised with a thousand beastly noises, but had never heard the murmur of beautiful waters in the depths of a forest. His heart went out to them in a great yearning pity as he recalled his own enchanted childhood.
His voice was soft with tears as he greeted Kate.
"A more pathetic sight than this crowd of silent children old earth never saw. But the shining figure in the centre lights the shadows with a touch of divine beauty."
"It does break one's heart to see such children, doesn't it?" she answered, looking at them tenderly and ignoring his pointed tribute to her beauty.
"Are we all ready?" Gordon cried.
"If you are. Is Mrs. Gordon not coming?"
"No; I couldn't persuade her. She took our chicks to the seashore."
As the boat moved swiftly up the great river in the fresh morning air and the breeze blowing down its channel strengthened, they sat together on the after deck and watched the dead souls of the little ones stir with life under the kiss of the wind and the caress of the music.
In the park they spread out in the whispering stillness of the woods. Nature breathed the sweet breath of her life into their hearts again and they began to twist their queer little faces and try to laugh. They called to one another and listened with mute wonder at the echo among the rock-ribbed hills. Gordon watched curiously in their faces the flash of the inherited memory of forest habits, choked and stunted and dormant in all city folks, and yet alive as long as the human heart beats. Within two hours they had grown noisy with play after a timid, clumsy fashion.
"Give them a week and they would learn to laugh!" Kate exclaimed.
But the man was now more interested in watching the woman than the children, as he saw her satin skin flush with pleasure and the creamy lace on her full bosom rise and fall.
They sat down on a rock beside a brook.
"What an inspiration to see this old yet ever new miracle of regeneration unfold under the magic touch of a woman's hand!"
"You mean a man's hand," she replied. "This would never have interested me except that you led me to see it."
"Then we've helped one another. I'm beginning to feel you are indispensable. I wonder if you, too, will leave us after awhile as so many pass on."
"No; this has become my very life," she soberly answered, looking down at the ground and then into his face with frank, open-eyed pleasure.
He was silent for several minutes and then softly laughed.
"What is it?" she cried.
"You could never guess."
She lifted her superb arms, showing bare to the elbow, and felt of the mass of auburn hair. "That load of red hay about to fall?"
"Don't be sacrilegious. No."
"Harness broken anywhere?" She felt of her belt, and ran her hands down the lines of her beautiful figure, eyeing him laughingly.
"I'll tell you," he said, sinking his voice to its lowest note of expressive feeling, while a whimsical smile played round the corners of his eyes. "Sitting here in the woods by your side on this glorious summer day, your eyes looked so blue in the creamy satin of your face, I suddenly thought I smelled the violets with which God mixed their colours."
"You think of such silly things," she said with mock severity.
"There's nothing silly about it. Beauty is an attribute of the divine. I worship it for its own sweet sake wherever I find it, in pearl or opal, dewdrop or flower, the stars, or a woman's face or form or eyes."
She lowered her head.
"Do you know the old legend of the opal?" he asked.
He took some stones from his pocket and held in the light an opal of rare luster.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she cried.
"And its story is as beautiful as its face. Listen: A sunbeam lingered under a leaf in the forest at sunset, loath to leave so fair a spot, until the moon suddenly rose. Enraptured with the shimmering beauty of a moonbeam, he stood entranced and trembling and could not go. In ecstasy they met, embraced and kissed. The sun sank and left him in her arms. The opal is the child of their love. In its fair face is forever mingled the silver of the rising moon and the golden glory of the sunset."
"I believe you made that up," she laughed.
"I wish I were poet enough."
"I had no idea you dreamed of such romantic nonsense."
"Yes, I dream many things. I had a funny dream about you the other night."
"Tell me what it was," she begged.
"I dare not."
"I thought you would dare anything."
"No; you see, dreams are such intimate, unconventional mysteries. Dreams have no regard for law or custom The soul and the body seem equally free and without sin or shame. I have a curious feeling of awe about sleep and dreams. It's the surest evidence I have of immortality and the reality of a spiritual life. It is to me the prophecy of the ideal world, too, in which we will dare to live some day what we really are, without pretence or hypocrisy—live that deep secret inner life we try sometimes to hide from the eye of God."
"And you will not even give me a hint of this dream?"
"No. It was very foolish, but very charming and beautiful. It was in part a picture from that dream which made me laugh awhile ago about your eyes."
"I think it mean in you to tell me that much and no more."
"I would tell you if I dared. I may dare some day."
She was afraid to ask him after that, and yet something within cried for joy.
They rose, gathered the children for dinner, ands after three hours in the woods, returned to the city as the twilight softly fell over its ragged steel and granite sky-line.
"You must take tea with us to-night," she said, as they stepped from the boat.
His wife would not return for supper and he consented.
It was not the first time he had spent an hour at the table of the Ransom household. Mrs. Ransom deemed herself honoured by his visits, and his chats with the invalid father about books were bright spots in his life.
Kate had sent the stringed band from the boat to the house and stationed them in the conservatory opening into the dining-room. The tender strains of the music, the splash of a fountain mingled with the songs of birds in their cages, the gleam of silver and diamond flash of cut glass, gave Gordon's senses a soothing contrast to the wild beauty of the woods. His nature responded to art and luxury as quickly as to the sensuous voice of Nature in the glory of her summer's splendour.
There was something in this glittering beauty, cold and cruel, that appealed to him. He always felt at home in such surroundings. Beneath his idealism and love of humanity there was still hidden somewhere the nerve of an Epicurean.
When Kate appeared, dressed for tea, simply but richly, with her splendid neck and shoulders bare and little ringlets of hair curling about her face as though scorched by the warmth of the red blood below, he felt the picture complete.
She chatted with him before entering the dining-room.
Her manner was always flattering and frankly gracious, but to-night there was an added note of warmth and familiar comradeship. Never had he seen her so charming and so resistless. Always intensely conscious of her sex, she seemed to have the power to-night of communicating to the man before her that consciousness so intimately, so directly and yet so delicately that he was led captive.
With scarcely a spoken word their relationship leaped the space of years. The quiver of her eyelid, the dilation of a nostril, little inarticulate exclamations, the turn of her head, the rising and falling of her bosom, the flash of her violet eyes, the subtle perfume of her hair or the graceful movement of her magnificent form spoke the language of life deep and rhythmic which no words have ever expressed.
He went home, on fire with the dream of an ideal life and work with such a woman of supreme beauty.
The passing of a year added immensely to the fame of the pastor of the Pilgrim Church. His sermons now reached twenty millions of people through the daily press every Monday morning. It had become necessary to issue tickets of admission to the members and admit them by a small door that was cut beside the large ones.
Van Meter had ceased to be of sufficient importance for serious notice. The growth of Gordon's influence within the year had been so rapid, he found he had set out to fight a flea with artillery.
The old man felt his eclipse with bitterness. He had quit talking much, but writhed in silent fury at the sight of this tall athlete with his conquering gray eyes and smooth, serious face. Yet he was a regular attendant. The preacher's eloquence, the vibrant tones of his voice, full of passion, or trembling with prophetic zeal, and the whole drama of a living militant church with this daring revolutionist at its head, risen from the grave of the old, fascinated him in spite of his hatred.
In the local development of the church Kate Ransom had become, next to the pastor, the most important factor. She had shown strong administrative talent, had organized kindergartens, night-schools for teaching domestic science to girls, established a reading-room, and opened a coffee house on the corner near the church, fitting it up with the magnificence of a saloon, with free lunch counter, music and singing. It was crowded with working-men and women every night.
Her work had brought her in daily contact with Gordon, and their comradeship had become so constant and so sweet that neither of them dared face the problem of its meaning.
To the woman the man had become little less than her God. Their daily life, its hopes, its poetry, its dreams of social and civic salvation, were enough in themselves: she did not analyse or question.
For the man, this fair woman, beautiful in face and form beyond the flight of his fancy, and loyal in the worship of his strength, as the soul of the strong man ever desires of his ideal woman, she had become a daily inspiration. And yet he had not acknowledged this even in a whisper of his soul.
In the meanwhile, his wife's interest in music had ceased, and she was rarely seen at the church on Sundays or at its weekday functions. She had withdrawn from its life and had settled into a state of somber resentment.
She would frequently sit through a meal eating little, speaking in monosyllables, her black eyes staring, wide open, and yet seeing nothing, looking past the things that bound her, back into the sunlit years of girlhood, or forward into the future whose shadow's chill she felt already on her soul. Often he found her at night seated by the window in the dark alone, looking down on the city below.
She had ceased to ask him of his work or plans and he no longer troubled her with their discussion. Their lives were separated by an ever-widening gulf.
Stimulated by a sermon he had preached in August of the previous summer, when the death-rate was at its highest, a wave of reform had swept over New York. In his sermon he had arraigned the city government in terms so trenchant and terrible the people had rallied as to a trumpet call to battle.
A resistless movement for the overthrow of a corrupt administration took the city by storm. Day and night with voice and pen, with all the fire and passion of his magnetic personality, he had led these assaults.
Complete success crowned the movement. The reform Mayor was elected by a large majority.
Ten months had passed and the net results were discouraging. Police scandals ran riot as of yore; gambling, drinking and the social evil flourished as before; and the press, that had valiantly and almost unanimously championed Reform, now exhausted upon it the vocabulary of abuse.
Gordon was disgusted and sickened and felt that one of his fairest dreams had been shattered forever.
The reaction from this reform programme had thrown him more than ever back upon his ideas of a Socialistic revolution which should destroy Commercialism itself, and he had become its enthusiastic champion.
Kate Ransom had followed his change of views with keenest sympathy. She had read every book after him and had responded to his every mood.
"No; we're on the wrong tack, with our half-way measures and our fitful charities," he said to her.
"We must go deeper. We must make the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man our daily life, not merely a poetic theory.
"We have hundreds of beautiful-souled men and women giving their lives in sacrifice for the city's poor and fallen. They seem to make little impression on its ocean of misery. We are bailing out the sea with teaspoons."
"I feel you are right, as you always are," she responded, unconscious of the contradiction.
"The Brotherhood of Man and the Solidarity of the Race we must make vital realities. Greed, commercialism, competition and the monopolistic instincts are the cause of all this crime and misery and confusion. Love, not force, must rule the world."
"And you are the prophet to lead humanity into this Kingdom of Love," she said, her eyes enfolding him with their soft blue light.
"I fear I'm too great a coward for such a task. The man who does it must break with the past, become accursed for the truth's sake, defy social law and convention, breast the storm of the world's hate, die despised, and wait for a nobler generation to place his name on the roll of the world's heroes."
"It is your work," she cried with elation.
"It's a lonely way for the soul to travel."
"You will have one loyal follower the blackest hour of the darkest night that comes."
A curious smile played around her full lips, and he looked away, afraid to say anything.
"Yes, I know that," he softly answered. "And I'm more afraid for that very reason."
"I'm not afraid." Her voice rang clear and thrilling.
"I wonder if you know the meaning of such words; or if you are thinking of one thing and I of another?" he slowly asked.
"I dare to think many things I've never dared to say," she replied.
"A break must come sooner or later," he went on. "No man of my temperament and brain can live under the conditions here, feel the grip of this cruelty on the throat of humanity, read and think, and endure it."
"It seems to me a social revolution must come quickly."
"I wondered if you had felt that?" Gordon asked, as he leaned back in his chair and locked his powerful hands behind his head. "This presentiment of overwhelming change haunts me day and night and makes many things seem childish and futile.
"Ill and feverish from overwork one day last week, I stood by my window, looking down on the city, dreaming and listening to its cries for help, watching the sweep of the elevated trains coming and going, and I was overwhelmed with the immensity of its complex life. Our hurrying cars carry within the corporate limits daily more passengers than all the railroads of the western hemisphere. I thought of the rivers of human flesh that flow unceasingly through its streets and flood its market places. And these millions are but one wave of the ocean forever breaking on the shores of time, its tides everlasting, insistent, resistless, never pausing, behind them the pressure of the heaped centuries, and over them the lowering clouds of fresh storms soon to burst and add their tons."
He paused and closed his eyes as though to shut out the roar, while she listened with half-parted lips.
"And as I looked out the window I had a startling experience. I saw a huge dragon-like beast begin to crawl slowly down from the hills and stretch his big claws over the housetops of the city below. I was not asleep or in a trance, but wide awake, only a little feverish. With increasing horror I watched this monster stretch his enormous body, covered with scales, and short hair growing between the scales, on and on, until he covered the city and gathered its thousands of houses within his huge paws. His eyes were enormous and blood-red, his breath hot.
"I moved back, gasping with surprise and horror, to find it was only a spider crawling down his slender thread on the window close to my eye. It was a fevered delusion, but it haunted me for days, and haunts me still.
"I am growing in the conviction that the very foundations of morals are shifting, and that Religion, Society and Civilisation must readjust themselves or humanity sink into unspeakable degradation.
"Belief in the old religious authority is gone. Our church is thronged because of a peculiar personal power with which I am endowed. I could wield that power without a church, society, creed or Bible. Esthetic forces now draw people to non-ritualistic churches that once came for prayer and preaching. The preacher must secularise his sermon or talk to vacant pews. Historic Christianity has been destroyed by Criticism. A thousand wild Isms nourish in the twilight of this eclipse of Faith, while Materialism and the Pursuit of Pleasure strangle out spiritual hopes."
"And you are the seer called to lead out of this chaos," the woman whispered. "I know this from my own life. But for you I would be listening to idiotic platitudes, cultivating sham, my very soul 'crucified between a whimper and a smile.' I owe it to you that I am a woman—not a cross between an angel and an idiot."
The passion with which she said this, bending her beautiful face, flushed with emotion, so close to his that he caught the perfume of her mass of waving hair, went to the man's head like wine.
"Why not spring our building scheme on the people at once, without authority from the Board of Trustees, and make it the rallying cry of the new Humanity?" he cried eagerly.
"I believe it will succeed," she answered, her heart glowing with the consciousness of the intimacy of that little word "our" he had used.
She got pad and pencil, and Gordon dictated to her a plan for engaging every force of the church and its congregation and various societies in the project.
He fixed the Sunday on which to make the effort of his life in his appeal to the people of his congregation and the world for the million-dollar fund needed. It was eleven o'clock before they finished the discussion of the scheme, and aglow with enthusiasm he left for his home.
As he sat down in the car and lived over again his happiness of the past hours in this woman's companionship the paradox of his return in a few minutes to the arms of his wife struck him squarely in the face for the first time.
He could not plead a mistake in his first love. His romance was genuine. He had loved with all the fire of his youth. The passion which drew him to Ruth was mutual and resistless. Yet its ardour had cooled. He could not say it was his fault, not altogether hers. It seemed as inevitable in its decline as its onrush was resistless. Yet at the thought of this new woman he felt his heart beat with quicker stroke. He was older and stronger than the youth of the past, and the woman more mature in the ripened glory of beauty.
Yet he began to recall with infinite tenderness the love life with Ruth. Its memories were very real and very sweet. And the faces of his children haunted him with strange power. The idea of a divorce from Ruth and the loss of these children cut him with sharp pain.
Had he outgrown his first love? Could he continue to live with one woman if he loved another? Was not this the one unpardonable sin and shame? And yet to break that bond and form the other if he could meant the end of associations in which the fibers of his very life were wrought.
But was not this one of the burning problems of the new humanity, this freedom of the soul and body, this new birth into the liberty and love of a great Brotherhood? Was not sham and hypocrisy now the law of life, and was not Society perishing because of it?
Thus wrestling with the tragic dilemma he felt closing about him, he went past his station to the end of the line and had to take the down train back. It was past midnight when he reached his home.
THE BLACK CAT
When Van Meter heard of the scheme to appeal directly to the people to build the temple in defiance of the Board of Trustees, who were the legal managers of the church's property, he was thunderstruck.
When the Sunday arrived he came half an hour earlier than usual to watch every incident of the day with his little black eyes open their widest.
It was a crisp November morning. Recent rains had washed the streets clean, the wind was blowing fresh, the sky was cloudless and the sun lit in cool gleaming splendour every avenue and park of the great city.
The people had returned from their country places and the hotels were thronged with merchants and visitors from the four quarters of the earth.
An enormous crowd squeezed into every inch of space the police would allow to be filled in the church, and hundreds were turned away, unable to gain admission.
Gordon had spent the entire day and night before in an agony of preparation, and he had not left his study until two o'clock Sunday morning. He took his seat in the pulpit trembling with anxiety. The organ burst into the strains of the Doxology and the crowd rose. He stood with folded hands looking over the sea of faces, and his heart began to ache with an agony of suspense and fear of failure.
The singing ceased, and every head bent as he lifted his big hand, with its blue veins standing out like a net of steel wires, and pronounced a brief invocation.
When he read the hymn, the people felt in his voice the shock of a storm of pent-up emotion. He read it slowly, beautifully, and with exquisite tenderness.
While they sang he sat with his elbow on the little table on which stood a vase of roses, his face resting thoughtfully on his left hand, studying the people, his soul on fire with the sense of their infinite needs.
Crouching low in his seat under the left gallery, he saw a man who had confessed a great wrong and was searching for peace.
At a post on the right, in a seat where he had been accustomed to see a working-girl for the past two years, a stranger sat. The girl was found dead in her room the week before. She had lost her place because she wore shabby clothes, and she wore shabby clothes because she had been sending her earnings to her home in Connecticut, supporting an aged father, mother and a worthless brother.
The rich, the poor, the old, the young, the outcast, the publican and sinner, the strange woman and the sweet face of innocent girlhood were there looking up at him for guidance and help.
But outnumbering all were massed rows of clean-faced young men whom his enthusiasm had drawn resistlessly. His heart went out to them in yearning sympathy, fighting their battles in the morning of life with the powers and princes of the spirit world for the mastery of the soul.
He felt the sledge-hammer blow of their united heart-beat strike his brain with the pain of a bludgeon.
The agony of fear was now upon him. He saw Van Meter sitting in the central tier of seats watching him sharply out of his little half-closed eyes, the incarnate sign of the mortal enmity of organised wealth, and he must appeal for money.
His great crowd had infinite needs, but much money they did not have. He thought with hope of the twenty millions of people who read his sermons on Monday morning, and of a dozen big-hearted men of wealth he knew in the city, and he was cheered.
He had prepared a most powerful sermon on the text, "The common people heard Him gladly." He felt they could not resist his appeal. And yet in spite of himself his gaze would wander back to Van Meter, drawn by his black eyes as by the charm of an adder.
The Deacon was wondering, as he watched him, what could possibly be the outcome of this daring insanity. He had been fooled so often by the power of this athletic dreamer, he feared to predict the end, though he felt certain what it would be.
The services were unusually impressive. Special music had been prepared by the choir and rendered magnificently. Gordon read the hymns and Scripture with a feeling so intense the people were thrilled. His prayer had been simple and heartfelt, and had melted scores of people to tears.
He rose and faced the crowd with the keenest sense of solemnity. The hour was propitious; he could feel the hearts of the people beat responsive to his slightest tone, word or gesture.
As he swept rapidly through his introduction and into his theme he knew he was holding these thousands of breathless listeners in the hollow of his hand. He could feel their heartstrings quiver as he touched them with tenderness or struck them with some mighty thought.
His soul was singing with triumph, when suddenly a ripple of laughter ran along the front tier of the gallery, and a hundred heads were turned upward to see what the disturbance meant.
Had a bolt of lightning struck his spinal column he could not have been more shocked.
He repeated mechanically the last sentence in a dazed sort of way, and a louder ripple of laughter ran the entire length of both galleries and echoed through the main floor.
He stopped, fumbled at his notes, and turned red. The people before him were smiling and craning their necks to see more plainly something on the wide platform of the pulpit.
He suddenly got the insane idea that a fiend had thrust his head in the door behind him and was mocking and grinning.
He turned and looked, and there sat an impudent little black cat with big yellow eyes.
She had been sitting on her haunches blinking at him when he raised his voice or gestured, and the crowd has never yet gathered on this earth in the temple of Baal or Jehovah that can resist a cat accompaniment to the functions of a priest.
When Gordon looked the little cat full in the face, she liked him at once, and in the softest, friendliest treble said:
And the crowd burst into incontrollable laughter.
At first the full import of the situation did not reach his mind, he was so stunned with surprise. He stood looking at the cat in helpless stupor, and blushing red. And then the sickening certainty crushed him that the day was lost; that it was beyond the power of human genius, or the reach of the spirit of God, to remove that cat and regain control of his audience.
He turned sick with anger and humiliation, and his big bear-like hands clasped his sheet of notes and slowly crushed them.
He continued to look at the cat and she cocked her head to one side, opened her yellow eyes wider and, slowly, in grieved accents said:
Which unmistakably meant, "I'm very sorry you don't like me as well as I do you."
Again the crowd laughed.
Gordon stepped backward and bent slowly over the cat. She did not look very bright, but she was too shrewd for that movement.
The crowd watched breathlessly. He grasped at her.
She sprang quickly to one side, bowed her back, bushed her tail, and scampered across the platform crying:
"Pist! pist!" and ran up the column that supported the end of the gallery.
The preacher's empty hand struck the bare floor, and the crowd was convulsed.
A young man sitting in the gallery near the column caught the cat as she climbed over the rail, ran to a window and was about to throw her down to the pavement twenty feet below.
Gordon lifted his hand and cried:
"Don't do that, young man—don't hurt her; bring her here."
It had, suddenly occurred to the preacher as he watched Van Meter bending low in his pew overcome with laughter, that he had stooped to this contemptible trick to defeat him and make the solemnest hour of life ridiculous. He knew the Deacon had come to the church earlier than usual. He was sure he had done it.
A curious smile began to play about his lips, and a cold glitter came into his steel-gray eyes.
He took the cat in his arms and stroked her gently. She purred and rubbed her face against his and moved her feet up and down, sheathing and unsheathing her claws in his robe with evident delight.
The crowd grew still. Instinctively they knew that something big was happening in the soul of the man they were watching.
"This little cat, my friends," he said, "is an innocent actor in a tragedy this morning, but she is the agent of one who is not innocent."
He fixed his gaze on Van Meter, who stirred with uneasy amazement.
"They say that cats sometimes incarnate the souls of dead men. This one is the soul of a living man, my good friend, Deacon Arnold Van Meter, who had her brought here this morning."
The Deacon turned red, drew his head down as though he would pull it within his shoulders, and shrank from the gaze of the crowd.
Gordon handed the cat back to the young man, whispered something to him, and he disappeared.
Then, walking up to the pulpit, he snatched off its crimson cloth and threw it behind him. He ran his big muscular hands into the throat of his robe, ripped it open, tore it from his arms, crushed it into a shapeless mass and threw it on the floor.
He snatched up the golden lectern pulpit, hurled it back into the comer, and moved the little table with its vase of roses into its place. He did this quickly, without a word or an exclamation to break the awful stillness with which the crowd watched him.
They knew that a tremendous drama was being enacted before them. So intense was the excitement the people on the back tiers of the galleries sprang impulsively to their feet and stood on the pews.
Van Meter's eyes danced with wild amazement as he straightened himself up, sure Gordon had gone mad. But when he advanced to the edge of the platform, looking a foot taller in his long black Prince Albert coat, folded his giant arms across his breast, the nostrils of his great aquiline nose dilated, his lips quivering, and looked straight into Van Meter's face, the Deacon saw there was dangerous method in his madness.
His eyes blazing with pent-up passion, he began in deliberate tones an extempore address.
In a moment the air was charged with the thrill of his powerful personality wrought to the highest tension of emotional power.
"My friends," he began, "there are moments in our experience when we live a lifetime—moments when the hair of our heads turns gray, a soul dies within a laving body, or a dead one rises, shakes off its grave clothes, and lifts its head in the sunlight.
"From this hour I am a free man. I will live what I am, and speak what I feel to be the truth. The truth shall be its own justification. I will wear no robes, mumble no ceremonies, call no man Rabbi, and permit no man to call me Rabbi. I proclaim the universal priesthood of believers.
"While I am your pastor the Kitchen Mission in which we have gathered the poor on the East Side will be closed at the hour of service, and all God's children shall enter this house because it is their Father's!"
Van Meter shrank back in his pew as a ripple of applause ran round the galleries.
"If men ask a sign to-day whether the Church of the living God exists in New York, what is our answer?
"Look about you. New York is the centre of the commerce, society, art, literature and politics of the Western World. Her port, in which fly the flags of every nation, is the gateway of two worlds. The feet of four millions daily press her pavements. Her walls frame the furnace in which are being tried by fire the faiths, hopes and dreams of the centuries past and to come. In mere volume of population she is the equal of three great Atlantic states: Virginia, North and South Carolina. One man alone of her millions of citizens possesses wealth greater than the valuation of all the property of the State of North Carolina, the cradle of American democracy, containing fifty thousand square miles and supporting a population of a million six hundred thousand.
"In the roar of this modern Babylon beats the fevered heart of modern civilisation. He who wins that heart holds the key to the century. Imperial Rome, mistress of the world, was a pygmy compared to this.
"And what are we doing?
"Our Protestant churches have thirty-five thousand men and one hundred thousand women enrolled out of two millions on Manhattan Island. Our invested capital is one hundred million dollars, our annual gifts four millions, and we fail to hold one-half the children born in our own homes.
"As a remedy for this the Trustees proposed to me to sell out and move uptown to vacant lots! They say the people have gone. They have come—come in such numbers and with such problems, churches have fled before the avalanche of humanity.
"Within a stone's throw of this church are districts in which ten men and women sleep in one room twelve feet square. New York is the most crowded city in the world. London has seven people to a house; we have sixteen. In two houses were found the other day one hundred and thirty-six children. Death stalks through these crowded alleys with scythe ever swinging.
"Shall we, too, desert?
"I hear the tread of coming thousands from these shadows who will laugh at your flag, who know not the name of your President, or your God, whose heavy hands upon your doors will summon you before the tribunal of the knife, the torch, the bomb to make good your right to live.
"When your population shall number ten millions, and the gulf between the rich and poor shall have become impassable, some gigantic corner shall have doubled the price of bread, starvation spread her black wings, and idle thousands sullen and desperate begin to look with darkening brows on your unprotected wealth, then will come the test of modern society.
"This growth of the city is as resistless and inevitable as the movement of time. Why people continue to turn their backs upon the open fields and crowd into this great foul, rattling, crawling, smoking, stinking, ghastly heap of fermenting brickwork, oozing poison at every pore, is beyond my ken, but they come. They come each year in hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands, crowding the crowded trades, crowding closer the crowded dens in which human beings whelp and stable as beasts. They leave friends and neighbours who love them, leave earth for hell, and still they come. The tenement, huge monster of modern greed, engulfs them, and the word home is stricken from their tongue.
"They tell us that yesterday a man in a fit of insanity murdered his wife and two daughters. Insanity? Love has its hours when death becomes beautiful. Poets sing of old Virginius who slew his daughter to save her from dishonour. May it not be better to die a man than live a beast?
"There are conditions about us where suicide is a luxury and the death of a child a joy. They are gathered to the Potters' Field, but they rest. We pile them one on top of the other in big black trenches, but the dawn does not call them to beastly toil. Their little forms moulder, but they no longer cry for bread and their pinched faces no longer try to smile. They are safe in Death's land-locked harbour.
"Last year the deaths on this island numbered forty thousand. Ten thousand—one in four—were buried from hospitals, jails, almshouses, asylums and workhouses. I have been assailed by a deacon of this church because I no longer preach hell. Why preach hell to people who expect to better their condition in the next world whether they go up or down?
"I am here henceforth to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, the healing of the bruised, the release of the captive, and to preach the Gospel to the poor.
"Let snobs and apes hear me. Democracy is the goal of the race, the destiny of the world. American Democracy is but a hundred years old, yet not one crowned head is left on the western hemisphere. Crowns, thrones, scepters, titles, privileges belong to the past; they are doomed. The people already rule the world. Emperors, kings and presidents exist, not by the grace of God, but by the consent of the people, to whom they give account of their stewardship. Empires are the dungheaps out of which democracies grow.
"The historian writes of the common people. Once of kings and princes were their stories. The eyes of the world are on the masses. Science toils to make Nature their servant. Art portrays their life. Literature, once a clown at the feet of Fortune's fools, now writes of the people. Wealth lays its tribute at their feet. The millionaire, who dies to-day grasping his millions as his own, is hissed while he lives, openly cursed while he lies cold in death, and forgotten in contempt.
"Outside the history of the common people there is nothing worth recording. They are mankind. As a half-million miles make no difference in the vast distance to the sun in figuring an eclipse, so the classes may be disregarded.
"Jesus Christ was the carpenter's son. His home was humble, His birth lowly. He was born poor, lived and died poor. The foxes had holes, the birds of the air nests, but He had not where to lay His head. Our robes and altar cloths, our tin and tinsel, were not His.
"When John Wesley raised his voice for the people the Church of England had the opportunity to become the Church of the Anglo-Saxon race, that is now conquering the world. They called him a liar, a hypocrite, a Jesuit, a devil, cast him out, and the opportunity passed forever.
"I see a man before me who hates this big crowd and yet expects to go to heaven. Heaven is the home of millions—'a great multitude which no man could number,' says the seer. Hell is the home of swell society."
The words leaped from Gordon's lips a rushing torrent and swept the crowd. Growing each moment more and more conscious of his strength, he attained the heights of eloquence. Intoxicated with the reflex action from the sea of eager listeners, he outdid himself with each succeeding climax of feeling. Never had his voice been so deep, so full, so clear, so penetrating, so thrilling, and never had he been so conscious of its control. Not once did it break. Its loudest trumpet note echoed with sure roundness.
When he turned his eyes from Van Meter after his first assault they rested on the face of Kate Ransom, her magnificent figure tense, rigid, her cheeks scarlet, her blue eyes flashing with tears of excitement. She was stirred to her soul's depths, and no figure in all the throbbing crowd gave to the speaker such inspiring response. Her face flashed back as from a mirror every throb of thought and stroke of his heart.
Van Meter gazed on him hypnotised by the violence of his onrush. When Gordon would suddenly lift his enormous blue-veined hand high over his head in an impassioned gesture the Deacon cowered unconsciously beneath his towering figure.
Pausing a moment, while the crowd held its' breath, watching every movement and every twitch of a muscle of his face, he pointed his long finger at the Deacon and continued:
"And, as if to mock intelligence, Tradition raises the feeble cry of reminiscent senility, 'Back to the old paths!'
"Protestantism is the rebellion of reason against the shackles of authority. Our conscience fettered by tradition stultifies its own life. We must go forward or die.
"Theology is a science, religion a life. The one is a fact, the other an analysis after the fact. The stage-coach yielded to the limited, the sailing craft to the ocean greyhound, but we are told that the only age that ever knew the truth, or had the right to express it, was the age which burned witches, executed dumb animals as criminals, whipped church bells for heresy, held chemistry a black art and electricity a manifestation of the devil or the Shekina of God.
"The men to whom I speak have seen New York grow from a town of three hundred thousand on the lower end of Manhattan Island to be the imperial metropolis of the New World with four millions within her golden gates.
"Within a generation, the Brooklyn Bridge, a dream in the brain of a man, has spun its spider web of steel across the river, our buildings grown from four stories to towering castles of steel with their flag-staffs in the clouds.
"Our nation has been baptised in blood and a new Constitution established.
"The German Empire has been created, and a new map of the world made.
"Steam and electricity have been applied to travel and speech, and the earth transformed into a whispering gallery. The cylinder press has proclaimed universal education, and the dynamo crowned the brow of humanity with a coronet of light.
"But our churches in New York have merely moved uptown! Their methods are the methods of their fathers—a solecism, stupid, irrational, immoral.
"The superstition that seeks to limit the horizon of the soul to the bounds of ancestral tradition has ever been the deadliest foe of human hope. Doubt is the vestibule of knowledge. They who doubt, rebel and disobey have ever led the shining way of progress and of life.
"Your Traditionalists crucified the Christ. They declared him to be the friend of publicans and harlots.
"Since then they have covered the Church with the infamy of cruelty and blood, flame, sword, thumb-screw, rack and torch. The blackest pages in the story of the martyrdom of man have been written by their hands. They sent Alva into the Netherlands to sweep it with fire. They revoked the edict of Nantes until the soil of France was drunk with the blood of her children. They led the trembling sons and daughters of faith, barefoot and blindfolded, over burning plowshares, stretched them on wheel and rack, tore them limb from limb, sparing not for the groan of age, the lisp of childhood, or the piteous cry of expectant motherhood.
"The Bible they made a bludgeon with which to brain heretics, forged its word into chains, and with its leaves kindled martyr fires.
"They have arraigned the reason, the heart and the knowledge of the race against Jesus Christ and His religion. They stretched Galileo on the rack for inventing a telescope which gave new beauty to the psalm, 'The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.'
"They are driving manhood from the modern Church. Your New York congregations average four women to one man. Of forty-three Governors of our states, only seventeen are members of any church; yet all profess allegiance to the religion of Jesus. The men have formed secret societies outside the Church.
"The Church triumphant will be a social power. Man to-day is more than an individual. The individual has played his role in the growth of the centuries. This is the age of federation, organisation, society, humanity. Man can no longer live to himself or die to himself.
"I proclaim again the universal priesthood of believers. I call for those mighty forces among the unordained which thrilled the Waldenses, the Franciscans, the Puritan and early Methodists and sent them on their glorious careers. I preach a holy crusade for man as man, in the name of God, whose image he bears. I ask you to join with me as man, not as priest, and build here a 'Temple of Humanity' that shall be for a sign of hope and faith and freedom."
As he closed, a spontaneous burst of applause shook the building, and instead of the usual prayer which ended his sermons he lifted both his big hands high above his head and the audience rose.
"Let us sing the national hymn, 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty,'" he cried, his voice still throbbing with emotion. "And while we sing the ushers will pass the subscription cards that you may join with us in our enterprise."
He dismissed the crowd with the Benediction, and the whole mass lingered, discussing with flushed faces the extraordinary scene they had witnessed and speculating on its outcome. It was evident his action and speech had produced a moral earthquake in the church.
The older and more conservative members slipped out one by one and went home dazed.
The younger and more sensitive crowded about Gordon in hundreds, wrung his hand and pledged their support. For half an hour he could not move, so dense was this struggling mass around him.
He did not see Kate among them. He knew the scene had cut too deeply into her life for such poor expression. The ushers at last handed him a bundle of subscription cards and he hurried to his study to read their verdict.
AN ANSWER TO PRAYER
When Gordon reached his study and locked the door, he turned the bundle of cards over nervously, afraid to look at them.
He untied the package, read the first, and ran rapidly through the pile. The total subscriptions reached only twenty thousand dollars. He had asked for a million.
A sickening sense of failure crushed him. How weak and puerile the eloquence of words or the beat of the human heart against that mysterious force gleaming at him through Van Meter's black eyes!
He sat brooding over the power wielded by a dozen men whose names were linked with the Deacon's in Wall Street. This group of men had personal fortunes of more than eight hundred millions and controlled as much more. He believed that they dictated the policy of railroads, banks, trade, the State, the Nation, and that no king or emperor of the world wielded such despotism over men as these uncrowned monarchs of money. He felt as though he had collided with the stars in their courses and been crushed to dust.
An Answer to Prayer 129
In the middle of the pile of cards he found one signed by Kate Ransom. She had written across the printed form in her smooth, flowing hand:
"Please call after the service and let me know the result. I will send you my subscription to-morrow."
He knew that she would make a liberal gift, but her fortune could not be more than a million, perhaps not half so large. Her generosity could not save the day even if she gave half of all she possessed, a supposition of course preposterous.
He could not summon courage to go in the bitterness of his defeat. He scrawled a note and sent it by the sexton.
"Feeling too blue to call. Failure complete and pitiful. The subscriptions reach only twenty thousand dollars. GORDON."
There was but one forlorn hope left. He had written personal letters to several millionaires he knew in town. They might respond.
He sat in his study in the afternoon, dull, stupid and sick, feeling an iron band around his brain. He could not think. Ho gave up the work on his evening sermon and determined to repeat an old one.
As he sat in an aching stupor the sexton announced a gentleman who insisted on seeing him on important business.
"I told him you would see no one at this hour, but he says he must see you."
"Show him in," Gordon said, with a frown.
The man entered, gazed at the preacher with curious interest, and stood with his silk hat in hand, smiling.
"This is Doctor Gordon?"
"Leave off the doctor and you have it right."
"I am the bearer of good news. A client of mine has instructed me to call and say that the sum of one million dollars will be placed to your credit in the Garfield National Bank within two years, and that you will be its sole trustee for the building of your projected Temple. One-third of it will be available within three months. I am sorry, I am forbidden to disclose the name."
Gordon sprang to his feet, pale as death, overwhelmed with awe. To have the answer of his prayers, the agonising of his soul for years, answered in the hour of utter defeat thrilled him with a sense of solemnity he had never felt. The man was not a man. He was the messenger swift and beautiful from the courts of heaven, for whose coming his eyes had long strained and his ears listened. Not a doubt of its truth shadowed his mind. He knew it was true. It was the fulfilment of life. It had been ordained from eternity. He had seen it always. Now he saw with his eyes. A paean of exaltation welled within him.
With dimmed eyes he grasped the lawyer's hand and fairly crushed it in his iron grip.
"My friend, your face will always be beautiful to me, and your name a song of joy. You have come to lift me from the gulf of despair and renew my faith."
"With all my heart I congratulate you," he warmly responded.
He left his card, and Gordon locked his door, walked back to his desk and fell on his knees. In transports of childlike gratitude he poured out his soul. All the old faith in prayer was in him again, the breath he breathed. He talked to God as to a loving father, promising in broken accents to cleanse his heart of every selfish thought and consecrate anew every energy to his work.
And then he caught the perfume of flowers, and saw the face of a woman, and she was not the wife of his youth or the mother of his children.
"God forgive me for the drifting of the past," he cried. "I will tear this madness out of my heart and love only Thee. I will be true to the vows taken at Thy altar. I have been wayward and sinned in Thy sight in heart and thought. Wash me in Thy love and I shall be clean, and though my sins be as scarlet they shall be like wool."
He rose from his knees determined to go immediately to Kate Ransom, tell her the news, make a clean breast of his love for her, beg her to put the ocean between them, and for all time end their dangerous relationship.
She greeted him with reserve, and seemed embarrassed.
With impetuous rush he told her the tidings.
"I've been lifted from the depths of Sheol to the highest heaven. Every hope and dream of my struggle is a living reality. An unknown millionaire has given the whole sum needed—a million dollars—and our Temple will rise in grandeur!"
She smiled timidly, and said: "I knew it would be so. You were glorious this morning."
He felt her embarrassment and wondered if she could have divined his grim purpose of separation.
"You do not seem so glad as I thought you would be," he said, with something of reproach in his voice.
"Some joys are too intense for speech. The scene this morning and your burning message went too deep for words."
"I understand," he said softly.
"I wonder if you do?" she asked, dropping her eyes.
"Yes, and I have come to the hardest task of my life, one of the bitterest and one of the sweetest," he said, with deliberation.
She glanced at him quickly and began to tremble.
"Not another hour must pass without a confession to you."
He moved across the room and sat down as if by an effort to put distance between them.
"What is it?" she asked, colouring.
He was silent a moment and then said with low, deliberate tenderness:
"I love you."
She sobbed, and he looked steadily out of the window.
"I dare not sit by your side when I tell you this," he continued passionately. "I have felt it growing in spite of reason or will. I know it's tragedy and sealed my lips with bolts of steel. I have been too weak to keep away from you, strong enough to keep silent. But God has sent his messenger to-day to recall me to duty. There is truth in the old faith. He has heard and answered the prayer of my heart. Somewhere in this Mammon-cursed city there is one beautiful disinterested soul that gives and asks nothing. I have seen, as in a flash of lightning, my danger. I must tear this passion out of my life, though it kill me. I must be true to my vows. I must live without scandal or shame. And you," he paused and his voice sank to a tense whisper—"my beautiful darling, glorious love of my manhood—you must help me!"
He buried his face in his great hands, convulsed with emotion.
"I will, my dearest," she tenderly answered.
"If I had failed to-day," he went on tremblingly, "perhaps in reckless fury I might have forgotten duty, dashed the cup of this martyrdom from my lips, and drowned conscience in the sweetness of your kiss. But God sent success, not failure. And I must be worthy. I have sinned a thousand times as I have gloated over your beauty, heard the music of your voice, touched your soft hand and looked into your soul through those dear blue eyes. It must end. One hour thus face to face we will speak, and never again by word or deed recall that we are aught to one another. I have not asked if you love me. How well I know the tragic truth! But you will tell me once, that my ears may never forget the words on your lips."
"I love you, I love you, I-love-you!" she sobbed in anguish.
"We must never be together alone again," he sighed.
"We must not see each other any more."
"It is best," she said, with despair.
"I dare not touch your hand—good-by!" he cried, staggering to his feet.
"Good-by, Frank, my hero, my love—my God!"
He took one step toward the door, but his feet carried him to her side.
He trembled, hesitated, and then slowly drew her to his heart. Her arms stole around his neck and her head drooped on his breast, the perfume of her hair was in his nostrils, and their lips met in burning kisses.
"God forgive us! It was more than mortal flesh could bear to go without one moment of love's sweet life!" he cried. "And now we must part."
He took her hands in his and gently kissed them, while she looked away seeing only his face, for it had long since filled the world.
He turned abruptly into the hall, and, moving to the door with swift step, he saw lying on the silver tray the card of the lawyer he had met an hour ago. In a moment it flashed over him that Kate was the unknown messenger. He had not dreamed her fortune of such magnitude.
He seized the card and rushed back into the room.
"Is that your lawyer's name?" he gasped.
She smiled and nodded her head in assent.
"And I never dreamed it possible!"
He looked at her as though in a trance.
"Yes, I will confess now. You have confessed to me. My fortune came direct from my grandmother, who willed me her farm on which the oil was discovered. My father's fortune is worth perhaps five hundred thousand dollars. Mine was worth about two million dollars. I have given one to you. I may give you the other if you ask it. One was all you asked."
Again he took her to his heart.
"I have misread the message. Such love is in itself divine, and its own defense. You are mine by the higher law of life. I will not give you up—you are mine, mine! I will defy the world. I loved my child-wife. I was honest then. I will be honest now. I loved as a boy loves. Now I am a man, with a man's fierce passions, and you are the answer—strength calling to strength, deep answering unto deep! Your eyes, my darling, flash the beauty of every flower that blooms and every star of the sky; in your hair is the rose's breath and the golden glory of the sun! I will not live with one woman and love another."
And the twilight deepened into night while they held each other's hands and smiled into each other's faces.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
When Gordon announced at the evening service that a million dollars had been subscribed to the new "Temple of Man," and that he had been constituted its sole trustee, the crowd burst into a storm of applause.
In vain he raised his big muscular hand over the tumult.
Troops of young men and women with flushed faces, some laughing, some crying, sprang from their seats, rushed to the platform and seized his hand.
The strains of the national hymn suddenly burst from the crowd, and they rose en masse singing it with triumphant peal. As its last note died away a woman's voice started "Nearer, My God, to Thee," the people caught it instantly and its mighty chorus rolled heavenward. The singing had in it the spontaneous rhythm of hearts transported by resistless feeling. For half an hour they stood and sang the old familiar hymns whose sentences were wet with the tears and winged with the hopes and mysteries of their lives.
Instead of a sermon, Gordon read his resignation as pastor of the Pilgrim Church.
And then, folding his hands behind him, in trumpet tones he cried:
"Next Sunday morning will be the last service I will ever conduct in this church; the Sunday morning following, at eleven o'clock, the first services of the 'Church of the Son of Man' will be held in the old Grand Opera House. It will seat four thousand people. All who wish to join this independent society are cordially invited to be present and bring your friends. The work of building the 'Temple of Man' will begin at once. Within six months we hope to lay its corner-stone."
The meeting was closed at once with the Doxology and Benediction.
The reporters crowded around him for fuller details. He refused to give any further information. They interviewed every officer of the church and congregation from whom any news might be secured, and it was nine o'clock before the excitement had subsided and the crowd left.
The organist and quartet choir lingered to rehearse their music for the following Sunday.
Gordon retired to his study, where he had asked Kate to meet him for an important conference.
The church opened on the cross street and stretched its barn shape through the entire block. The study was beside the pulpit platform, a little beyond the centre of the building. Behind it was the Sunday-school and reading-room, opening on the rear.
Kate had the keys to the reading-room, which was under her direction, and Gordon asked her to come to his study from the rear entrance through the Sunday-school room that she might avoid the suspicion of the reporters. For the same reason he did not wish to be seen at her house. He had left the door of his study unlocked for her, and she entered before the crowd had left the church.
Within a few moments from the time she unlocked the door of the reading-room, Van Meter's detectives informed him that she was in the pastor's study and that he had left the rear door open for her to secretly enter.
The Deacon despatched one of his men with an anonymous note to Ruth informing her that Gordon was in his study alone by secret appointment with Kate Ransom, and giving to her duplicate keys to every door in the church building.
The detective did not see Ruth, but the maid said she was at home, and he handed her the package.
Gordon had telephoned to her briefly the facts of the excitement of the morning, and told her he was so exhausted that he would not return for dinner, but would take his meals at a hotel and come home after the evening service.
When Ruth received the note and keys she was brooding over his absence and peering in the depths of the widening gulf which separated them in such a crisis of his life.
The note threw her into the wildest excitement. All the old fiery temper and jealousy which she had kept smouldering in restraint now burst its bounds.
Flushed and trembling she rushed from the house and soon reached the church.
She opened the door gently, and with soft feline step was about to enter the Sunday-school room to reach his study, when through the glass sliding partition she heard the voice of Van Meter talking in the dark to a detective and a reporter.
She listened intently.
"I wish you had a flashlight camera," he was saying. "His wife will be here in a few minutes and the scene in that room would be worth ten thousand dollars. I have a good photograph of the woman you can use. You can get his anywhere."
"It will be a great scoop on the other fellows who will write up the Temple without the Priestess!" the reporter whispered.
"I'd give a thousand dollars to see his face in the morning when he picks up your paper and reads its headlines," chuckled the Deacon. "His eloquence, his bullfrog voice, his curling locks, his splendid eyes, will all be needed, and will all of them be inadequate to the occasion."
"It will be tough on that beautiful woman, the scandal—by George, it's a pity," the reporter sighed.
"But it will be a great day for the little black-eyed spitfire wife of his he's been neglecting for the past year. Her revenge will be sweet. I've been sorry enough for her."
"I wonder if she will promptly sue for a divorce?"
"Yes; you can write that down without an interview," the Deacon replied.
Ruth had come raging in anger against her husband. But the cold words of these men, whispering in the dark their joy over his downfall, stopped the beat of her heart.
She could see the big cruel headlines in the morning paper, holding her beloved up to shame in the hour of his triumph. Surely this would be what he deserved. But she loved him—yes, good or bad, she loved him. He was the hero of her girl's soul, the father of her beautiful children, and in spite of all his coldness and neglect he was her heart's desire.
And the feeling came crushing down upon her that perhaps she had failed somehow to do her whole duty. She had been wilful and fretful and had not kept in touch and sympathy with his work. She had demanded a perfect love and loyalty, and in agony she asked herself if she had given as much as she had demanded. Had she not thought too much of her own rights and wrongs and too little of his hopes and burdens? And perhaps because of this he was to be crushed at a blow, and his enemies laugh at his calamity and give to her their maudlin pity.
She could hear the sweet strains of the organ in the church and the soprano singing the Gloria.
She held her hand on her heart for a moment, as though it were breaking, and suddenly her soul was born anew.
Out of the shadows of self and self-seeking she lifted up her head into the sunlight of a perfect love, a love that suffereth long and is kind, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, seeketh not its own, believeth all things, endureth all things—love that never faileth.
"Lord, have mercy on me, and help me—I must save him!" she cried in agony.
Rapidly retracing her steps, she passed back into the street and around the block to the front of the church.
To her joy she encountered no one. The Deacon was so sure of his triumph he had withdrawn his detectives from the street and had them massed as witnesses in the Sunday-school room. He was sure they would emerge by that way, for it was Gordon's usual way of exit, and the choir was still singing in the church.
With feverish haste she applied the key to the spring lock of the door for the members' entrance and passed noiselessly down the aisle in the shadows under the gallery, unobserved by the choir. Only the lights about the organ were burning.
When she reached the door of the study she paused.
What if she found him with his arms about her and his lips on hers? Could she control herself? Would she not spring on the woman, with all the tiger of her hot Southern blood from centuries of proud ancestry tingling in her tapering fingers, and tear those blue eyes from her head? She must be sure. No; it was over now. She had conquered self. She would save him.
Slipping the key softly into the lock, she entered and stood a moment, her stormy eyes burning a deep, steady fire.
They were studying a map of the city with eager interest in the location of the Temple and did not see or hear her.
As she saw them thus, a sense of gratitude soothed her excitement and gave perfect control of her voice.
"Frank," she said quietly.
"Ruth!" he exclaimed in amazement, striding toward her, while Kate blushed and, with dilated eyes, stared at her, dumb with fear of a scene of violence.
"Yes," she continued in even, rapid tones, "I have come, in love, not anger, to save you both from shame and disgrace. That room behind you is full of detectives and reporters. They are waiting for the choir to leave to find you here alone. They sent for me to give a fitting climax to the scene. They have your photograph already, Miss Ransom, and the reporter is preparing his article on the hidden Priestess of the new Temple."
"Oh, I thank you!" Kate cried, trembling.
"Keep your thanks. I do this from no regard for you. Frankly, I hate you—hate and envy yoi your terrible beauty that has robbed me of that which I hold dearer than life."
"But I do not hate you, Mrs. Gordon. I have for you only the kindliest feelings," Kate protested.
"I prefer your hatred. But we have no time for talk."
Ruth quickly removed her hat and cloak and handed them to Kate.
"Exchange with me and pass quickly out of the church by the little front door. Keep under the shadows of the gallery and the choir cannot see you."
In a moment it was done, and Gordon faced his wife alone.
"My dear, that was a beautiful deed you have just done."
"Don't say 'my dear' to me again until we have come to an understanding of this meeting," his wife said, closing her lips firmly.
"As you will," he gravely answered.
"When we are at home to-night alone I will hear your explanation."
"What you have told me is of such importance I cannot go home to-night. I must see friends who will reach that newspaper in time to know what Van Meter can have printed. It may keep me the whole night."
"Very well; it will not be the first night I have spent alone," she answered bitterly.
"I will go with you to the elevated station, and will be home certainly early in the morning."
They stepped from the study, and Gordon turned the electric switch, filling the room with a blaze of light.
Van Meter and his men blinked in amazement at the sight of the preacher and his wife quietly walking toward them.
"You contemptible old sneak!" he hissed. "How dare you crawl into this room to spy on me?"
"I thought I had good reasons for being here," he spluttered, nervously clearing his throat.
"Well, you thought a lie as your father, the devil, did before you."
"Apparently a mistake somewhere," stammered the Deacon, looking sheepishly at Mrs. Gordon. "And I'd like to explain to you, sir, that I didn't bring that cat."
"Well, cat or no cat, I give you a parting warning. We will not meet again in this church, and if I ever catch you sneaking around me I'll take a whip and thrash you as I would a cur, you little ferret-eyed imp of hell!"
The Deacon cowered beneath the furious giant figure and beckoned to the detectives.
Gordon and his wife passed by them and out into the night.
A BROKEN HEART-STRING
The press next morning devoted entire pages to the sensation in the Pilgrim Church. Portraits of Gordon, his life and theories, sketches of the extraordinary scene in his pulpit, a full stenographic report of his address which he had carefully corrected at midnight, portraits of his wife and children, pictures of the old church, its reading-rooms, clubhouses and coffee-house, were exploited.
His letter of resignation and the gift of a millon dollars for building a vast Temple of Humanity, that would be a forum of free thought in the heart of the metropolis, were the subject of separate editorials in every paper.
Speculation as to the identity of this mysterious millionaire, who had apparently deserted the army of entrenched wealth to support this daring young revolutionist, filled columns. But it was all the wildest guessing. Many of the greater magnates hastened to deny with emphasis that they were in any way connected with the scheme. Several of them denounced the preacher as a dangerous man whose wild theories threatened social order. Gordon breathed a sigh of relief when he found not a line hinting at Kate Ransom's part in the drama or linking his name with hers.
After two o'clock, when he finished his last conference with the reporters and his friends, he went to a hotel where he was not known. He spent the rest of the night pacing the floor fighting to a finish the battle between the memory of Ruth and his children and his fierce new passion.
Just before dawn he lay down and fell asleep, dreaming of Kate. The battle between the flesh and the spirit had ended.
He slept until noon, ate a hasty breakfast, called at the Ransom house a moment, and hurried to his home.
His wife had read the morning papers with increasing amazement at the sensation created, and a sense of impending tragedy began to crush her. For hours she had been walking back and forth from her window watching for his approach, until now she dreaded to see him.
At the sound of his footstep she recalled the fact that she was the judge and he the culprit in the scene to be enacted. She had demanded an explanation of the meaning of the meeting with this woman, and she would have it. If his excuse were good she would be generous in her love and beg him to begin once more their old life, even if she threw the last shred of pride to the winds and made herself his veriest slave. And yet her heart misgave her. She felt herself lost and ruined before the battle began, but determined to play her part bravely.
She watched him over the banisters as he stepped into the hall and greeted the children with unusual tenderness.
He took Lucy's little form up and placed her arms around his neck.
"Now hug me long, and hard, and kiss me sweet," he whispered.
The child squeezed his neck and, placing her hands on his cheeks, softly kissed his lips and eyes as she had often seen her mother do. He ran his hand gently through her brown curls that seemed a perfect mixture of her mother's and his own, and Ruth thought his hand trembled as he kissed her again.
"I never saw you quite so beautiful, my baby, as this morning," he said, as he placed her on the floor.
When he entered the room upstairs Ruth had recovered her composure and stood waiting, her petite figure drawn to its full height, her anxious face unusually thin, her eyes, set in the dark rings of a sleepless night, looking blacker and stormier than ever in the shadows of her disheveled hair.
"Sorry I could not come sooner, Ruth," he began, with evident embarrassment. "But I did not get to sleep until just before day, and I was so exhausted I slept until noon."
"Let us waste no words," said the soft, round voice. "I have waited long; I am waiting still for ycur explanation. Why was that woman in your study alone with you last night at half-past ten o'clock?"
"You wish to know the whole truth?"
"I demand it."
"Very well," he replied deliberately. "The immediate reason is a secret of great importance, I must ask you to guard it sacredly."
"I've kept a dark one in my soul. You have had no cause to complain."
"The morning papers are full of wild speculation as to the millionaire who gave that immense sum to build the Temple. Miss Ransom gave the money."
"Impossible!" she gasped.
"So I thought at first. A lawyer came in the afternoon and told me of the gift without a hint of its author. In answer to a request on a card asking that I inform her of the results of my appeal, I called at her house—-"
"Before you called at your own or informed your wife," she interrupted with bitterness.
"Yes; you have ceased to care about rny work. But there was another and more urgent reason why I called,"
"Doubtless!" she cried impatiently.
"When the import of this gift fully dawned on me, the fulfilment of my grandest hopes in the very moment of defeat (for the popular subscription was a failure), I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God. I fell on my knees and thanked Him. And then, Ruth—"
He paused and looked at her wistfully in pity for the little weak figure that would reel beneath the blow of his words.
"And then what?" she asked quickly.
Gordon lowered his chin and rested it on his hand, while a dreamy tone came into his voice, softening it to its lowest notes, and a trance-like look overspread his face.
"And then I recalled that I had been deceiving you and myself and another. I faced for the first time honestly the fact that I was madly in love with a woman not my wife—"
Ruth went white, gave an inarticulate groan, staggered and sank into a chair near him, sobbing in agony.
"Oh! Frank, for the sake of Jesus, the friend of the weak, who loved little children, whose name you have so often spoken, have mercy on me! Do not tell me any more. I am only a woman—I cannot bear it!"
"But the truth is best, Ruth. You must hear it," he went on rapidly. "I asked God to forgive me for the wrong I had done you and her. I said I would tear that love out of my soul if it killed me, and be true to my marriage vow. I went there to tell her this and ask her to put the ocean between us. I found that she loved me even as I loved her, and she promised. As I started to leave the house, never to enter it again, I saw the card of the lawyer on her table, and the truth flashed over me that she had made this sacrifice of her fortune—greater than I had dreamed—for me and my work, and that because of this I was leaving her forever. It was more than I could bear or ask her to bear. I faced anew the facts. Our love has grown cold. We are no longer congenial. Your ways have ceased to be mine. It is wrong to love one woman and live with another. We must separate."
"No, no, no, no, Frank, dear, my husband, my love, my own. Not this. You do not mean it!" she groaned, as she sank to the floor, buried her face in her arms and stretched out her hand until her tapering fingers rested on his broad foot.
He bent and took her hand as though to lift her.
Suddenly the fever of her hot fingers trembling with overpowering passion, the moisture of her hand, and the tremor of her convulsed body swept his memory with the pain and rapture of his hour with Kate.
Still holding her fingers, he slipped his watch from his pocket with the other hand and glanced quickly at its face to see if it were time for his return to the Ransom house.
"Come, Ruth, this is very painful to me. You must not humiliate yourself so. You have pride and the heritage of noble blood."
She sprang to her feet and stared at him, with infinite yearning in her eyes, gave a faint cry, half anguish, half despair, and threw herself into his arms, holding him with passionate violence while she smothered his lips and eyes with kisses.
He attempted gently to draw her arms from his neck.
"No, you shall not," she cried, holding him convulsively. "I will not let you go. You are my husband—my own, my love, the hero of my girl's dreams, the father of my babies. I have no pride. I will do anything for you if you will only love me."
"But, Ruth, if I have ceased to love you—"
"Don't, don't say it!" she shrieked, placing her hand on his lips. "I will not hear it. You do love me. This woman has lured you with her devil's beauty, and thrown her spell over your baser nature. Ah, Frank, dear, tell me that you love me! Lie to me as meaner men lie to their women. Such a lie I'll hold an honour before the awful shame of desertion. You cannot humiliate me so. See, dear, I am at your feet. Have mercy on me. Do not ask me to bear more than I can endure. Am I not the mother of your children?"
Gordon frowned and withdrew her arms from his neck.
"All this is very painful, Ruth. You cannot mean it. You know I have tried to be honest. I hate a lie. I could not tell one if I tried. You cannot love me and ask this infamy. I could never lift up my head again as a leader and teacher of men and know I was a wilful liar."
The little figure shivered.
"But, Frank, I can't give you up. It was the touch of your hand, the music of your voice that first awoke my woman's soul. You are my mate. You cannot know the young mother-wonder, pain and joy that thrilled my heart as I first bent over Lucy's face, your dear eyes in hers smiling at me. Our very flesh became one in Nature's miracle of love."