"Poor child," Mrs. Hodges went on, "it was awful tryin' on his nerves. Joy is worse 'n sorrow, sometimes; an' then he 'd been workin' so hard. I 'd never 'a' believed he could do it, ef Brother Simpson had n't stuck up fur it."
"She knew it, then," thought Fred. "It was all planned."
"I don't think you 'd better talk, Hester," said her husband, in a low voice. He had seen a spasm pass over the face of the prostrate youth.
"Well, I 'll go out an' see about the dinner. Some o' the folks I 've invited will be comin' in purty soon, an' others 'll be droppin' in to inquire how he is. I do hope he 'll be well enough to come to the table: it won't seem hardly like an ordination dinner without the principal person. Jes' set by him, 'Liphalet, an' give him them drops the doctor left."
As soon as he heard the door close behind her, Brent opened his eyes and suddenly laid his hand on the old man's shoulder. "You won't let anybody see me, Uncle 'Liph? you won't let them come in here?"
"No, no, my boy, not ef you don't want 'em," said the old man.
"I shall have to think it all over before I see any one. I am not quite clear yet."
"I 'low it was unexpected."
"Did you know, Uncle 'Liph?" he asked, fixing his eyes upon his old friend's face.
"I know'd they was a-plannin' somethin', but I never could find out what, or I would have told you."
A look of relief passed over Brent's face. Just then Mrs. Hodges opened the door. "Here 's Elizabeth to see him," she said.
"'Sh," said the old man with great ostentation; and tiptoeing over to the door he partly drew it to, putting his head outside to whisper, "He is too weak; it ain't best fur him to see nobody now."
He closed the door and returned to his seat. "It was 'Lizabeth," he said. "Was I right?"
For answer the patient arose from the bed and walked weakly over to his side.
"Tut, tut, tut, Freddie," said Eliphalet, hesitating over the name. "You 'd better lay down now; you ain't any too strong yet."
The young man leaned heavily on his chair, and looked into his friend's eyes: "If God had given me such a man as you as a father, or even as a guardian, I would not have been damned," he said.
"'Sh, 'sh, my boy. Don't say that. You 're goin' to be all right; you 're—you 're—" Eliphalet's eyes were moist, and his voice choked here. Rising, he suddenly threw his arms around Fred's neck, crying, "You are my son. God has give you to me to nurse in the time of your trial."
The young man returned the embrace; and so Mrs. Hodges found them when she opened the door softly and peered in. She closed it noiselessly and withdrew.
"Well, I never!" she said. There was a questioning wonder in her face.
"I don't know what to make of them two," she added; "they could n't have been lovin'er ef they had been father and son."
After a while the guests began to arrive for the dinner. Many were the inquiries and calls for the new minister, but to them all Eliphalet made the same answer: "He ain't well enough to see folks."
Mrs. Hodges herself did her best to bring him out, or to get him to let some of the guests in, but he would not. Finally her patience gave way, and she exclaimed, "Well, now, Frederick Brent, you must know that you air the pastor of a church, an' you 've got to make some sacrifices for people's sake. Ef you kin possibly git up,—an' I know you kin,—you ought to come out an' show yoreself for a little while, anyhow. You 've got some responsibilities now."
"I did n't ask for them," he answered, coldly. There was a set look about his lips. "Neither will I come out or see any one. If I am old enough to be the pastor of a church, I am old enough to know my will and have it."
Mrs. Hodges was startled at the speech. She felt vaguely that there was a new element in the boy's character since morning. He was on the instant a man. It was as if clay had suddenly hardened in the potter's hands. She could no longer mould or ply him. In that moment she recognised the fact.
The dinner was all that could be expected, and her visitors enjoyed it, in spite of the absence of the guest of honour, but for the hostess it was a dismal failure. After wielding the sceptre for years, it had been suddenly snatched from her hand; and she felt lost and helpless, deprived of her power.
As Brent thought of the long struggle before him, he began to wish that there might be something organically wrong with him which the shock would irritate into fatal illness. But even while he thought this he sneered at himself for the weakness. A weakness self-confessed holds the possibility of strength. So in a few days he rallied and took up the burden of his life again. As before he had found relief in study, now he stilled his pains and misgivings by a strict attention to the work which his place involved.
His was not an easy position for a young man. He had to go through the ordeal of pastoral visits. He had to condole with old ladies who thought a preacher had nothing else to do than to listen to the recital of their ailments. He had to pray with poor and stricken families whose conditions reminded him strongly of what his own must have been. He had to speak words of serious admonition to girls nearly his own age, who thought it great fun and giggled in his face. All this must he do, nor must he slight a single convention. No rules of conduct are so rigid as are those of a provincial town. He who ministers to the people must learn their prejudices and be adroit enough not to offend them or strong enough to break them down. It was a great load to lay on the shoulders of so young a man. But habit is everything, and he soon fell into the ways of his office. Writing to Taylor, he said, "I am fairly harnessed now, and at work, and, although the pulling is somewhat hard, I know my way. It is wonderful how soon a man falls into the cant of his position and learns to dole out the cut-and-dried phrases of ministerial talk like a sort of spiritual phonograph. I must confess, though, that I am rather good friends with the children who come to my Sunday-school. My own experiences as a child are so fresh in my memory that I rather sympathise with the little fellows, and do all I can to relieve the half-scared stiffness with which they conduct themselves in church and the Sunday-school room.
"I wonder why it is we make church such a place of terror to the young ones. No wonder they quit coming as soon as they can choose.
"I shock Miss Simpson, who teaches a mixed class, terribly, by my freedom with the pupils. She says that she can't do anything with her charges any more; but I notice that her class and the school are growing. I 've been at it for several weeks now, and, like a promising baby, I am beginning to take an interest in things.
"If I got on with the old children of my flock as well as I do with the young ones, I should have nothing to complain of; but I don't. They know as little as the youngsters, and are a deal more unruly. They are continually comparing me with their old pastor, and it is needless to say that I suffer by the comparison. The ex-pastor himself burdens me with advice. I shall tell him some day that he has resigned. But I am growing diplomatic, and have several reasons for not wishing to offend him. For all which 'shop' pray forgive me."
One of the reasons for not wishing to offend the Rev. Mr. Simpson of which Brent wrote was, as may be readily inferred, his engagement to Elizabeth. It had not yet officially become public property, but few of Dexter's observant and forecasting people who saw them together doubted for a moment that it would be a match. Indeed, some spiteful people in the community, who looked on from the outside, said that "Mr. Simpson never thought of resigning until he saw that he could keep the place in the family." But of course they were Baptists who said this, or Episcopalians, or Presbyterians,—some such unregenerate lot.
Contrary to the adage, the course of love between the young people did run smooth. The young minister had not disagreed with the older one, so Elizabeth had not disagreed with him, because she did not have to take sides. She was active in the Sunday-school and among the young people's societies, and Brent thought that she would make an ideal minister's wife. Every Sunday, after church, they walked home together, and sometimes he would stop at the house for a meal. They had agreed that at the end of his first pastoral year they would be married; and both parent and guardian smiled on the prospective union.
As his beloved young friend seemed to grow more settled and contented, Eliphalet Hodges waxed more buoyant in the joy of his hale old age, and his wife, all her ambitions satisfied, grew more primly genial every day.
Brent found his congregation increasing, and heard himself spoken of as a popular preacher. Under these circumstances, it would seem that there was nothing to be desired to make him happy. But he was not so, though he kept an unruffled countenance. He felt the repression that his position put upon him. He prayed that with time it might pass off, but this prayer was not answered. There were times when, within his secret closet, the contemplation of the dead level of his life, as it spread out before him, drove him almost to madness.
The bitterness in his heart against his father had not abated one jot, and whenever these spasms of discontent would seize him he was wont to tell himself, "I am fighting old Tom Brent now, and I must conquer him."
Thus nearly a year passed away, and he was beginning to think of asking Elizabeth to name the day. He had his eye upon a pretty little nest of a house, sufficiently remote from her father's, and he was looking forward to settling quietly down in a home of his own.
It was about this time that, as he sat alone one evening in the little chamber which was his study and bedroom in one, Mr. Simpson entered and opened conversation with him.
For some time a rumour which did violence to the good name of Sophy Davis had been filtering through the community. But it had only filtered, until the girl's disappearance a day or two before had allowed the gossips to talk openly, and great was the talk. The young minister had looked on and listened in silence. He had always known and liked Sophy, and if what the gossips said of her was true, he pitied the girl.
On this particular evening it was plain that Mr. Simpson had come to talk about the affair. After some preliminary remarks, he said, "You have a great chance, dear Brother Brent, for giving the devil in this particular part of the moral vineyard a hard blow."
"I don't clearly see why now, more than before," returned Brent.
"Because you are furnished with a living example of the fruits of evil: don't you see?"
"If there is such an example furnished, the people will see it for themselves, and I should be doing a thankless task to point it out to them. I would rather show people the beauty of good than the ugliness of evil."
"Yes, that 's the milk-and-water new style of preaching."
"Well, we all have our opinions, to be sure, but I think it rather a good style." Brent was provokingly nonchalant, and his attitude irritated the elder man.
"We won't discuss that: we will be practical. I came to advise you to hold Sophy Davis up in church next Sunday as a fearful example of evil-doing. You need n't mention any names, but you can make it strong and plain enough."
Brent flushed angrily. "Are there not enough texts in here," he asked, laying his hand upon the Bible, "that I can cite and apply, without holding up a poor weak mortal to the curiosity, scorn, and derision of her equally weak fellows?"
"But it is your duty as a Christian and a preacher of the gospel to use this warning."
"I do not need to kick a falling girl to find examples to warn people from sin; and as for duty, I think that each man best knows his own."
"Then you are n't going to do it?"
"No," the young man burst forth. "I am a preacher of the gospel, not a clerical gossip!"
"Do you mean that I am a gossip?"
"I was not thinking of you."
"Let me preach for you, Sunday."
"I will not do that either. I will not let my pulpit be debased by anything which I consider so low as this business."
"You will not take advice, then?"
"Not such as that."
"Be careful, Frederick Brent. I gave you that pulpit, and I can take it away,—I that know who you are and what you come from."
"The whole town knows what you know, so I do not care for that. As for taking my pulpit from me, you may do that when you please. You put it upon me by force, and by force you may take it; but while I am pastor there I shall use my discretion in all matters of this kind."
"Sophy 's been mighty quiet in her devilment. She does n't accuse anybody. Maybe you 've got more than one reason for shielding her."
Brent looked into the man's eyes and read his meaning; then he arose abruptly and opened the door.
"I 'm not accusing—"
"Go," said the young man hoarsely. His face was white, and his teeth were hard set.
"You 'll learn some respect for your elders yet, if—"
"Go!" Brent repeated, and he took a step towards his visitor. Mr. Simpson looked startled for a moment, but he glanced back into the young man's face and then passed hurriedly out of the room.
Brent let two words slip between his clenched teeth: "The hound!"
No one knew what had passed between the young pastor and Mr. Simpson, but many mutterings and head-shakings of the latter indicated that all was not right. No one knew? Perhaps that is hardly correct, for on Sunday, the sermon over, when Brent looked to find Elizabeth in her usual place whence they walked home together, she was gone. He bit his lip and passed on alone, but it rankled within him that she had so easily believed ill of him.
But he had not seen the last of the Rev. Mr. Simpson's work. It was the right of five members of the congregation to call a church-meeting, and when he returned for service in the evening he found upon the pulpit the written request for such an assembly to be held on Tuesday night. Heading the list of members was the name of the former pastor, although this was not needed to tell the young man that it was his work. In anger he gave out the notice and went on with his duties.
"Somethin' must 'a' riled you to-night, Fred," said Eliphalet when church was out. "You give 'em a mighty stirrin' touch o' fire. It 'minded me o' that old supply sermon." Brent smiled mirthlessly. He knew that the same feelings had inspired both efforts.
On Tuesday evening he was early at church, and in the chair, as was the pastor's place. Early as he was, he did not much precede Mr. Simpson, who came in, followed by a coterie of his choicest spirits.
When the assembly had been duly called to order, Brent asked, "Will some one now please state the object of this meeting?"
Mr. Simpson arose.
"Brothers and sisters," he said, "the object of this meeting is a very simple one. From the time that I began to preach in this church, twenty-five years ago, we had purity and cleanness in the pulpit and in the pew."
Brent's eyes were flashing. Eliphalet Hodges, who had thought that the extra session was for some routine business, pricked up his ears.
Simpson proceeded: "One in this flock has lately gone astray: she has fallen into evil ways—"
"Brother Simpson," interrupted Brent, his face drawn and hard with anger, "will you state the object of this meeting?"
"If the pastor is not afraid to wait, he will see that that is what I am doing."
"Then you are bringing into the church matters that have no business here."
"We shall see about that. We intend to investigate and see why you refused to hold up as a warning one of the sinners of this connection. We propose to ask whom you were shielding—a sinner in the pew, or a sinner in the pulpit as well. We propose—"
"Stop!" The young man's voice broke out like the report of a rifle. "Stop, I say, or, as God sees me, here in His temple, at His very altar, I will do you violence. I speak to you not as your pastor, but as a man: not as an accused man, for you dare not accuse me."
The church was in a commotion. In all its long history, such a scene had never before been enacted within the sacred walls. The men sat speechless; the women shrank far down into their seats. Only those two men, the young and the old, stood glaring into each other's faces.
"Remember, brethren," said someone, recovering himself, "that this is the house of God, and that you are preachers of the gospel."
"I do remember that it is God's house, and for that reason I will not let it be disgraced by scandal that would stain the lowest abode of vice. I do remember that I am a preacher, and for that reason I will not see the gospel made vindictive,—a scourge to whip down a poor girl, who may have sinned,—I know not,—but who, if she did, has an advocate with God. Once before in this place have I told you my opinion of your charity and your love. Once before have I branded you as mockeries of the idea of Christianity. Now I say to you, you are hypocrites. You are like carrion birds who soar high up in the ether for a while and then swoop down to revel in filth and rottenness. The stench of death is sweet to you. Putridity is dear to you. As for you who have done this work, you need pity. Your own soul must be reeking with secret foulness to be so basely suspicious. Your own eyes must have cast unholy glances to so soon accuse the eyes of others. As for the thing which you, mine enemy, have intimated here to-night, as pastor of this church I scorn to make defence. But as a man I say, give such words as those breath again, and I will forget your age and only remember your infamy. I see the heads of some about me here wagging, some that knew my father. I hear their muffled whispers, and I know what they are saying. I know what is in their hearts. You are saying that it is the old Tom Brent in me showing itself at last. Yes, it has smouldered in me long, and I am glad. I think better of that spirit because it was waked into life to resent meanness. I would rather be the most roistering drunkard that ever reeled down these streets than call myself a Christian and carouse over the dead characters of my fellows.
"To-night I feel for the first time that I am myself. I give you back gladly what you have given me. I am no longer your pastor. We are well quit. Even while I have preached to you, I have seen in your hearts your scorn and your distrust, and I have hated you in secret. But I throw off the cloak. I remove the disguise. Here I stand stripped of everything save the fact that I am a man; and I despise you openly. Yes, old Tom, drunken Tom Brent's son despises you. Go home. Go home. There may be work for your stench-loving nostrils there."
He stood like an avenging spirit, pointing towards the door, and the people who had sat there breathless through it all rose quietly and slipped out. Simpson joined them and melted into the crowd. They were awed and hushed.
Only Mrs. Hodges, white as death, and her husband, bowed with grief, remained. A silent party, they walked home together. Not until they were in the house did the woman break down, and then she burst into a storm of passionate weeping as if the pent-up tears of all her stoical life were flowing at once.
"Oh, Fred, Fred," she cried between her sobs, "I see it all now. I was wrong. I was wrong. But I did it all fur the best. The Lord knows I did it fur the best."
"I know you did, Aunt Hester, but I wish you could have seen sooner, before the bitterness of death had come into my life." He felt strangely hard and cold. Her grief did not affect him then.
"Don't take on so, Hester," said the old man, but the woman continued to rock herself to and fro and moan, "I did it fur the best, I did it fur the best." The old man took her in his arms, and after a while she grew more calm, only her sobs breaking the silence.
"I shall go away to-morrow," said Brent. "I am going out into the world for myself. I 've been a disgrace to every one connected with me."
"Don't say that about yoreself, Fred; I ain't a-goin' to hear it," said Eliphalet. "You 've jest acted as any right-thinkin' man would 'a' acted. It would n't 'a' been right fur you to 'a' struck Brother Simpson, but I 'm nearer his age, an' my hands itched to git a hold o' him." The old man looked menacing, and his fist involuntarily clenched.
"'Liphalet," said his wife, "I 've been a-meddlin' with the business o' Providence, an' I 've got my jest desserts. I thought I knowed jest what He wanted me to do, an' I was more ignorant than a child. Furgive me ef you kin, Fred, my boy. I was tryin' to make a good man o' you."
"There 's nothing for me to forgive, Aunt Hester. I 'm sorry I 've spoiled your plans."
"I 'm glad, fur mebbe God 'll have a chance now to work His own plans. But pore little 'Lizabeth!"
Brent's heart hurt him as he heard the familiar name, and he turned abruptly and went to his room. Once there, he had it out with himself. "But," he told himself, "if I had the emergency to meet again, I should do the same thing."
The next morning's mail brought him a little packet in which lay the ring he had given Elizabeth to plight their troth.
"I thank you for this," he said. "It makes my way easier."
The story of the altercation between the young minister and a part of his congregation was well bruited about the town, and all united in placing the fault heavily on the young man's shoulders. As for him, he did not care. He was wild with the enjoyment of his new-found freedom. Only now and again, as he sat at the table the morning after, and looked into the sad faces of Eliphalet and his guardian, did he feel any sorrow at the turn matters had taken.
In regard to Elizabeth, he felt only relief. It was as if a half-defined idea in his mind had been suddenly realised. For some time he had believed her unable either to understand him or to sympathise with his motives. He had begun to doubt the depth of his own feeling for her. Then had come her treatment of him last Sunday, and somehow, while he knew it was at her father's behest, he could not help despising her weakness.
He had spent much of the night before in packing his few effects, and all was now ready for his departure as they sat at breakfast. Mrs. Hodges was unusually silent, and her haggard face and swollen eyes told how she had passed the night. All in a single hour she had seen the work of the best part of her life made as naught, and she was bowed with grief and defeat. Frederick Brent's career had really been her dream. She had scarcely admitted, even to herself, how deeply his success affected her own happiness. She cared for him in much the same way that a sculptor loves his statue. Her attitude was that of one who says, "Look upon this work; is it not fair? I made it myself." It was as much her pride as it was her love that was hurt, because her love had been created by her pride. She had been prepared to say, exultingly, "Look where he came from, and look where he is;" and now his defection deprived her for ever of that sweet privilege. People had questioned her ability to train up a boy rightly, and she had wished to refute their imputations, by making that boy the wonder of the community and their spiritual leader; and just as she had deemed her work safely done, lo, it had come toppling about her ears. Even if the fall had come sooner, she would have felt it less. It was the more terrible because so unexpected, for she had laid aside all her fears and misgivings and felt secure in her achievement.
"You ain't a-eatin' nothin', Hester," said her husband, anxiously. "I hope you ain't a-feelin' bad this mornin'." He had heard her sobbing all night long, and the strength and endurance of her grief frightened him and made him uneasy, for she had always been so stoical. "Had n't you better try an' eat one o' them buckwheat cakes? Put lots o' butter an' molasses on it; they 're mighty good."
"Ef they 're so good, why don't you eat yoreself? You been foolin' with a half a one for the last ten minutes." Indeed, the old man's food did seem to stick in his throat, and once in a while a mist would come up before his eyes. He too had had his dreams, and one of them was of many a happy evening spent with his beloved boy, who should be near him, a joy and comfort in the evening of his life; and now he was going away.
The old man took a deep gulp at his coffee to hide his emotion. It burned his mouth and gave reason for the moisture in his eye when he looked up at Fred.
"What train air you goin' to take, Fred?" he asked.
"I think I 'll catch that eight-fifty flier. It 's the best I can get, you know, and vestibuled through, too."
"You have jest finally made up yore mind to go, have you?"
"Nothing could turn me from it now, Uncle 'Liph."
"It seems like a shame. You 'ain't got nothin' to do down in Cincinnaty."
"I 'll find something before long. I am going to spend the first few days just in getting used to being free." The next moment he was sorry that he had said it, for he saw his guardian's eyes fill.
"I am sorry, Frederick," she said, with some return to her old asperity, "I am sorry that I 've made your life so hard that you think that you have been a slave. I am sorry that my home has been so onpleasant that you 're so powerful glad to git away from it, even to go into a strange city full of wickedness an' sin."
"I did n't mean it that way, Aunt Hester. You 've been as good as you could be to me. You have done your duty by me, if any one ever could."
"Well, I am mighty glad you realise that, so 's ef you go away an' fall into sinful ways you can't lay none of it to my bringin'-up."
"I feel somehow as if I would like to have a go with sin some time, to see what it is like."
"Well, I lay you 'll be satisfied before you 've been in Cincinnaty long, for ef there ever was livin' hells on airth, it 's them big cities."
"Oh, I have got faith to believe that Fred ain't a-goin' to do nothin' wrong," said Eliphalet.
"Nobody don't know what nobody 's a-goin' to do under temptation sich as is layin' in wait fur young men in the city, but I 'm shore I 've done my best to train you right, even ef I have made some mistakes in my poor weak way an' manner."
"If I do fall into sinful ways, Aunt Hester, I shall never blame you or your training for it."
"But you ain't a-goin' to do it, Fred; you ain't a-goin' to fall into no evil ways."
"I don't know, Uncle 'Liph. I never felt my weakness more than I do now."
"Then that very feelin' will be yore stren'th, my boy. Keep on feelin' that way."
"It 'll not be a stren'th in Cincinnaty, not by no means. There is too many snares an' pitfalls there to entrap the weak," Mrs. Hodges insisted.
It is one of the defects of the provincial mind that it can never see any good in a great city. It concludes that, as many people are wicked, where large numbers of human beings are gathered together there must be a much greater amount of evil than in a smaller place. It overlooks the equally obvious reasoning that, as some people are good, in the larger mass there must be also a larger amount of goodness. It seems a source of complacent satisfaction to many to sit in contemplation of the fact of the extreme wickedness of the world. They are like children who delight in a "bluggy" story,—who gloat over murder and rapine.
Brent, however, was in no wise daunted by the picture of evil which his guardian painted for him, and as soon as breakfast was over he got his things in hand ready to start. Buoyant as he was with his new freedom, this was a hard moment for him. Despite the severity of his youthful treatment in Dexter, the place held all the tender recollections he had, and the room where he stood was the scene of some memories that now flooded his mind and choked his utterance when he strove to say good-bye. He had thought that he should do it with such a fine grace. He would prove such a strong man. But he found his eyes suffused with tears, as he held his old guardian's hand, for, in spite of all, she had done the best for him that she knew, and she had taken a hard, uncompromising pride in him.
"I hope you 'll git along all right, Frederick," she faltered forth tearfully. "Keep out of bad company, an' let us hear from you whenever you can. The Lord knows I 've tried to do my dooty by you."
Poor Eliphalet tried to say something as he shook the young man's hand, but he broke down and wept like a child. The boy could not realise what a deal of sunshine he was taking out of the old man's life.
"I 'll write to you as soon as I am settled," he told them, and with a husky farewell hurried away from the painful scene. At the gate the old couple stood and watched him go swinging down the street towards the station. Then they went into the house, and sat long in silence in the room he had so lately left. The breakfast-table, with all that was on it, was left standing unnoticed and neglected, a thing unprecedented in Mrs. Hodges' orderly household.
Finally her husband broke the silence. "It 'pears as if we had jest buried some one and come home from the funeral."
"An' that 's jest what we have done, ef we only knowed it, 'Liphalet. We 've buried the last of the Fred Brent we knowed an' raised. Even ef we ever see him ag'in, he 'll never be the same to us. He 'll have new friends to think of an' new notions in his head."
"Don't say that, Hester; don't say that. I can't stand it. He is never goin' to furgit you an' me, an' it hurts me to hear you talk like that."
"It don't soun' none too pleasant fur me, 'Liphalet, but I 've learned to face the truth, an' that 's the truth ef it ever was told."
"Well, mebbe it 's fur the best, then. It 'll draw us closer together and make us more to each other as we journey down to the end. It 's our evenin', Hester, an' we must expect some chilly winds 'long towards night, but I guess He knows best." He reached over and took his wife's hand tenderly in his, and so they sat on sadly, but gathering peace in the silence and the sympathy, until far into the morning.
Meanwhile the eight-fifty "flier" was speeding through the beautiful Ohio Valley, bearing the young minister away from the town of his birth. Out of sight of the grief of his friends, he had regained all his usual stolid self-possession, though his mind often went back to the little cottage at Dexter where the two old people sat, and he may be forgiven if his memory lingered longer over the image of the man than of the woman. He remembered with a thrill at his heart what Eliphalet Hodges had been to him in the dark days of his youth, and he confessed to himself with a half shame that his greatest regret was in leaving him.
The feeling with which he had bidden his guardian good-bye was one not of regret at his own loss, but of pity for her distress. To Elizabeth his mind only turned for a moment to dismiss her with a mild contempt. Something hard that had always been in his nature seemed to have suddenly manifested itself.
"It is so much better this way," he said, "for if the awakening had come later we should have been miserable together." And then his thoughts went forward to the new scenes towards which he was speeding.
He had never been to Cincinnati. Indeed, except on picnic days, he had scarcely ever been outside of Dexter. But Cincinnati was the great city of his State, the one towards which adventurous youth turned its steps when real life was to be begun. He dreaded and yet longed to be there, and his heart was in a turmoil of conflicting emotion as he watched the landscape flit by.
It was a clear August day. Nature was trembling and fainting in the ecstasies of sensuous heat. Beside the railway the trenches which in spring were gurgling brooks were now dry and brown, and the reeds which had bent forward to kiss the water now leaned over from very weakness, dusty and sickly. The fields were ripening to the harvest. There was in the air the smell of fresh-cut hay. The corn-stalks stood like a host armed with brazen swords to resist the onslaught of that other force whose weapon was the corn-knife. Farther on, between the trees, the much depleted river sparkled in the sun and wound its way, now near, now away from the road, a glittering dragon in an enchanted wood.
Such scenes as these occupied the young man's mind, until, amid the shouts of brake-men, the vociferous solicitations of the baggage-man, and a general air of bustle and preparation, the train thundered into the Grand Central Station. Something seized Brent's heart like a great compressing hand. He was frightened for an instant, and then he was whirled out with the rest of the crowd, up the platform, through the thronged waiting-room, into the street.
Then the cries of the eager men outside of "Cab, sir? cab, sir?" "Let me take your baggage," and "Which way, sir?" bewildered him. He did the thing which every provincial does: he went to a policeman and inquired of him where he might find a respectable boarding-house. The policeman did not know, but informed him that there were plenty of hotels farther up. With something like disgust, Brent wondered if all the hotels were like those he saw at the station, where the guests had to go through the bar-room to reach their chambers. He shuddered at it; so strong is the influence of habit. But he did not wish to go to a hotel: so, carrying his two valises, he trudged on, though the hot sun of the mid-afternoon beat mercilessly down upon him. He kept looking into the faces of people who passed him, in the hope that he might see in one encouragement to ask for the information he so much wanted; but one and all they hurried by without even so much as a glance at the dusty traveller. Had one of them looked at him, he would merely have said, mentally, "Some country bumpkin come in to see the sights of town and be buncoed."
There is no loneliness like the loneliness of the unknown man in a crowd. A feeling of desolation took hold upon Brent, so he turned down a side-street in order to be more out of the main line of business. It was a fairly respectable quarter; children were playing about the pavements and in the gutters, while others with pails and pitchers were going to and from the corner saloon, where their vessels were filled with foaming beer. Brent wondered at the cruelty of parents who thus put their children in the way of temptation, and looked to see if the little ones were not bowed with shame; but they all strode stolidly on, with what he deemed an unaccountable indifference to their own degradation. He passed one place where the people were drinking in the front yard, and saw a mother holding a glass of beer to her little one's lips. He could now understand the attitude of the children, but the fact, nevertheless, surprised and sickened him.
Finally, the sign "Boarding Here" caught his eye. He went into the yard and knocked at the door. A plump German girl opened it, and, to his question as to accommodation, replied that she would see her mistress. He was ushered into a little parlour that boasted some shabby attempts at finery, and was soon joined by a woman whom he took to be the "lady of the house."
Yes, Mrs. Jones took boarders. Would he want room and board? Terms five dollars per week. Had he work in the city? No? Well, from gentlemen who were out of work she always had her money in advance. But would he see his room first?
Wondering much at Mrs. Jones's strange business arrangement, Brent allowed her to conduct him to a room on the second floor, which looked out on the noisy street. It was not a palatial place by any means, but was not uncomfortable save for the heat, which might be expected anywhere on such a day. He was tired and wanted rest, so he engaged the place and paid the woman then and there.
"You just come off the train, I see. Will you have luncheon at once, Mr.—?"
"Brent," said he. "Yes, I will have some luncheon, if you please."
"Do you take beer with your luncheon?"
"No-o," he said, hesitating; and yet why should he not take beer? Everybody else did, even the children. Then he blushed as he thought of what his aunt Hester would think of his even hesitating over the question. She would have shot out a "no" as if it were an insult to be asked. So without beer he ate his luncheon and lay down to rest for the afternoon. When one has travelled little, even a short journey is fatiguing.
In the evening Brent met some of the other boarders at supper; there were not many. They were principally clerks in shops or under-bookkeepers. One genial young fellow struck up a conversation with Fred, and became quite friendly during the evening.
"I guess you will go out to the 'Zoo' to-morrow, won't you? That is about the first place that visitors usually strike for when they come here."
"I thought of getting a general idea of the city first, so that I could go round better before going farther out."
"Oh, you won't have any trouble in getting around. Just ask folks, and they will direct you anywhere."
"But everybody seems to be in a hurry; and by the time I open my mouth to ask them, they have passed me."
The young clerk, Mr. Perkins by name, thought this was a great joke and laughed long and loudly at it.
"I wish to gracious I could go around with you. I have been so busy ever since I have been here that I have never seen any of the show sights myself. But I tell you what I will do: I can steer you around some on Thursday night. That is my night off, and then I will show you some sights that are sights." The young man chuckled as he got his hat and prepared to return to the shop. Brent thanked him in a way that sounded heavy and stilted even to his own ears after the other's light pleasantry.
"And another thing," said Perkins, "we will go to see the baseball game on Sunday, Clevelands and the Reds,—great game, you know." It was well that Mr. Perkins was half-way out of the door before he finished his sentence, for there was no telling what effect upon him the flush which mounted to Brent's face and the horror in his eyes would have had.
Go to a baseball game on Sunday! What would his people think of such a thing? How would he himself feel there,—he, notwithstanding his renunciation of office, a minister of the gospel? He hastened to his room, where he could be alone and think. The city indeed was full of temptations to the young! And yet he knew he would be ashamed to tell his convictions to Perkins, or to explain his horror at the proposition. Again there came to him, as there had come many times before, the realisation that he was out of accord with his fellows. He was not in step with the procession. He had been warped away from the parallel of every-day, ordinary humanity. In order to still the tumult in his breast, he took his hat and wandered out upon the street. He wanted to see people, to come into contact with them and so rub off some of the strangeness in which their characters appeared to him.
The streets were all alight and alive with bustle. Here a fakir with loud voice and market-place eloquence was vending his shoddy wares; there a drunkard reeled or was kicked from the door of a saloon, whose noiselessly swinging portals closed for an instant only to be reopened to admit another victim, who ere long would be treated likewise. A quartet of young negroes were singing on the pavement in front of a house as he passed and catching the few pennies and nickels that were flung to them from the door. A young girl smiled and beckoned to him from a window, and another who passed laughed saucily up into his face and cried, "Ah, there!" Everywhere was the inevitable pail flashing to and fro. Sickened, disgusted, thrown back upon himself, Brent turned his steps homeward again. Was this the humanity he wanted to know? Was this the evil which he wanted to have a go with? Was Aunt Hester, after all, in the right, and was her way the best? His heart was torn by a multitude of conflicting emotions. He had wondered, in one of his rebellious moods, if, when he was perfectly untrammelled, he would ever pray; but on this night of nights, before he went wearily to bed, he remained long upon his knees.
Brent found himself in a most peculiar situation. He had hated the severe discipline of his youth, and had finally rebelled against it and renounced its results as far as they went materially. This he had thought to mean his emancipation. But when the hour to assert his freedom had come, he found that the long years of rigid training had bound his volition with iron bands. He was wrapped in a mantle of habit which he was ashamed to display and yet could not shake off. The pendulum never stops its swing in the middle of the arc. So he would have gone to the other extreme and revelled in the pleasures whose very breath had been forbidden to his youth; but he found his sensibilities revolting from everything that did not accord with the old Puritan code by which they had been trained. He knew himself to be full of capabilities for evil, but it seemed as if some power greater than his held him back. It was Frederick Brent who looked on sin abstractly, but its presence in the concrete was seen through the eyes of Mrs. Hester Hodges. It could hardly be called the decree of conscience, because so instantaneous was the rejection of evil that there was really no time for reference to the internal monitor. The very restriction which he had complained of he was now putting upon himself. The very yoke whose burden he hated he was placing about his own neck. He had run away from the sound of "right" and "duty," but had not escaped their power. He felt galled, humiliated, and angry with himself, because he had long seen the futility of blind indignation against the unseen force which impelled him forward in a hated path.
One thing that distressed him was a haunting fear of the sights which Perkins would show him on the morrow's night. He had seen enough for himself to conjecture of what nature they would be. He did not want to see more, and yet how could he avoid it? He might plead illness, but that would be a lie; and then there would be other nights to follow, so it would only be a postponement of what must ultimately take place or be boldly rejected. Once he decided to explain his feelings on the subject, but in his mind's eye he saw the half-pitying sneer on the face of the worldly young cityite, and he quailed before it.
Why not go? Could what he saw hurt him? Was he so great a coward that he dared not come into the way of temptation? We do not know the strength of a shield until it has been tried in battle. Metal does not ring true or false until it is struck. He would go. He would see with his own eyes for the purpose of information. He would have his boasted bout with sin. After this highly valorous conclusion he fell asleep.
The next morning found him wavering again, but he put all his troubled thoughts away and spent the day in sight-seeing. He came in at night tired and feeling strange and lonesome. "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad," we used to say; but all that is changed now, and whom the devil wishes to get, he first makes lonesome. Then the victim is up to anything.
Brent had finished his supper when Perkins came in, but he brightened at the young clerk's cheery salute, "Hello, there! ready to go, are you?"
"Been ready all day," he replied, with a laugh. "It 's been pretty slow."
"'Ain't made much out, then, seeing the sights of this little village of ours? Well, we 'll do better to-night, if the people don't see that black tie of yours and take you for a preacher getting facts for a crusade."
Brent blushed and bit his lip, but he only said, "I 'll go up and change it while you 're finishing your supper."
"Guess you 'd better, or some one will be asking you for a sermon." Perkins laughed good-naturedly, but he did not know how his words went home to his companion's sensitive feelings. He thought that his haste in leaving the room and his evident confusion were only the evidence of a greenhorn's embarrassment under raillery. He really had no idea that his comrade's tie was the badge of his despised calling.
Brent was down again in a few minutes, a grey cravat having superseded the offending black. But even now, as he compared himself with his guide, he appeared sombre and ascetic. His black Prince Albert coat showed up gloomy and oppressive against young Perkins's natty drab cutaway relieved by a dashing red tie. From head to foot the little clerk was light and dapper; and as they moved along the crowded streets the preacher felt much as a conscious omnibus would feel beside a pneumatic-tired sulky.
"You can talk all you want to about your Chicago," Perkins was rattling on, "but you can bet your life Cincinnati 's the greatest town in the West. Chicago 's nothing but a big overgrown country town. Everything looks new and flimsy there to a fellow, but here you get something that 's solid. Chicago 's pretty swift, too, but there ain't no flies on us, either, when it comes to the go."
Brent thought with dismay how much his companion knew, and felt a passing bitterness that he, though older, had seen none of these things.
"Ever been in Chicago?" asked Perkins; "but of course you have n't." This was uttered in such a tone of conviction that the minister thought his greenness must be very apparent.
"I 've never been around much of anywhere," he said. "I 've been hard at work all my life."
"Eh, that so? You don't look like you 'd done much hard work. What do you do?"
"I—I—ah—write," was the confused answer.
Perkins, fortunately, did not notice the confusion. "Oh, ho!" he said: "do you go in for newspaper work?"
"No, not for newspapers."
"Oh, you 're an author, a regular out-and-outer. Well, don't you know, I thought you were somehow different from most fellows I 've met. I never could see how you authors could stay away in small towns, where you hardly ever see any one, and write about people as you do; but I suppose you get your people from books."
"No, not entirely," replied Brent, letting the mistake go. "There are plenty of interesting characters in a small town. Its life is just what the life of a larger city is, only the scale is smaller."
"Well, if you 're on a search for characters, you 'll see some to-night that 'll be worth putting in your note-book. We 'll stop here first."
The place before which they had stopped was surrounded by a high vine-covered lattice fence: over the entrance flamed forth in letters set with gas-lights the words "Meyer's Beer-Garden and Variety Hall. Welcome." He could hear the sound of music within,—a miserable orchestra, and a woman singing in a high strident voice. People were passing in and out of the place. He hesitated, and then, shaking himself, as if to shake off his scruples, turned towards the entrance. As he reached the door, a man who was standing beside it thrust a paper into his hand. He saw others refuse to take it as they passed. It was only the announcement of a temperance meeting at a neighbouring hall. He raised his eyes to find the gaze of the man riveted upon him.
"Don't you go in there, young man," he said. "You don't look like you was used to this life. Come away. Remember, it 's the first step—"
"Chuck him," said Perkins's voice at his elbow. But something in the man's face held him. A happy thought struck him. He turned to his companion and said, in a low voice, "I think I 've found a character here already. Will you excuse me for a while?"
"Certainly. Business before pleasure. Pump him all you can, and then come in. You 'll find me at one of the tables on the farther side." Perkins passed on.
"You won't go in, my young friend?" said the temperance man.
"What is it to you whether I go in or stay out?" asked Brent, in a tone of assumed carelessness.
"I want to keep every man I kin from walkin' the path that I walked and sufferin' as I suffer." He was seized with a fit of coughing. His face was old and very thin, and his hands, even in that hot air, were blue as with cold. "I wisht you 'd go to our meetin' to-night. We 've got a powerful speaker there, that 'll show you the evils of drink better 'n I kin."
"Where is this great meeting?" Brent tried to put a sneer into his voice, but an unaccountable tremor ruined its effect.
He was duly directed to the hall. "I may come around," he said, carelessly, and sauntered off, leaving the man coughing beside the door of the beer-garden. "Given all of his life to the devil," he mused, "drunk himself to death, and now seeking to steal into heaven by giving away a few tracts in his last worthless moments." He had forgotten all about Perkins.
He strolled about for a while, and then, actuated by curiosity, sought out the hall where the meeting was being held. It was a rude place, in a poor neighbourhood. The meeting-room was up two flights of dingy, rickety stairs. Hither Brent found his way. His acquaintance of the street was there before him and sitting far to the front among those whom, by their position, the young man took to be the speakers of the evening. The room was half full of the motleyest crew that it had ever been his ill fortune to set eyes on. The flaring light of two lard-oil torches brought out the peculiarities of the queer crowd in fantastic prominence. There was everywhere an odour of work, but it did not hang chiefly about the men. The women were mostly little weazen-faced creatures, whom labour and ill treatment had rendered inexpressibly hideous. The men were chiefly of the reformed. The bleared eyes and bloated faces of some showed that their reformation must have been of very recent occurrence, while a certain unsteadiness in the conduct of others showed that with them the process had not taken place at all.
It was late, and a stuffy little man with a wheezy voice and a very red nose was holding forth on the evils of intemperance, very much to his own satisfaction evidently, and unmistakably to the weariness of his audience. Brent was glad when he sat down. Then there followed experiences from women whose husbands had been drunkards and from husbands whose wives had been similarly afflicted. It was all thoroughly uninteresting and commonplace.
The young man had closed his eyes, and, suppressing a yawn, had just determined to go home, when he was roused by a new stir in the meeting, and the voice of the wheezy man saying "And now, brothers, we are to have a great treat: we are to hear the story of the California Pilgrim, told by himself. Bless the Lord for his testimony! Go on, my brother." Brent opened his eyes and took in the scene. Beside the chairman stood the emaciated form of his chance acquaintance. It was the man's face, now seen in the clearer light, that struck him. It was thin, very thin, and of a deathly pallor. The long grey hair fell in a tumbled mass above the large hollow eyes. The cheek-bones stood up prominently, and seemed almost bursting through the skin. His whole countenance was full of the terrible, hopeless tragedy of a ruined life. He began to speak.
"I' ll have to be very brief, brothers and sisters, as I have n't much breath to spare. But I will tell you my life simply, in order to warn any that may be in the same way to change their course. Twenty years ago I was a hard-workin' man in this State. I got along fairly, an' had enough to live on an' keep my wife an' baby decent. Of course I took my dram like the other workmen, an' it never hurt me. But some men can't stand what others kin, an' the habit commenced to grow on me. I took a spree, now an' then, an' then went back to work, fur I was a good hand, an' could always git somethin' to do. After a while I got so unsteady that nobody would have me. From then on it was the old story. I got discouraged, an' drunk all the more. Three years after I begun, my home was a wreck, an' I had ill-treated my wife until she was no better than I was; then she got a divorce from me, an' I left the town. I wandered from place to place, sometimes workin', always drinkin'; sometimes ridin' on trains, sometimes trampin' by the roadside. Fin'lly I drifted out to Californy, an' there I spent most o' my time until, a year ago, I come to see myself what a miserable bein' I was. It was through one of your Bands of Hope. From then I pulled myself up; but it was too late. I had ruined my health. I started for my old home, talkin' and tellin' my story by the way. I want to get back there an' jest let the people know that I 've repented, an' then I can die in peace. I want to see ef my wife an' child—" Here a great fit of coughing seized him again, and he was forced to sit down.
Brent had listened breathlessly to every word: a terrible fear was clutching at his heart. When the man sat down, he heard the voice of the chairman saying, "Now let us all contribute what we can to help the brother on his journey; he has n't far to go. Come forward and lay your contributions on the table here, now. Some one sing. Now who 's going to help Brother Brent?"
The young man heard the name. He grasped the seat in front of him for support. He seized his hat, staggered to his feet, and stumbled blindly out of the room and down the stairs.
"Drunk" said some one as he passed.
He rushed into the street, crying within himself, "My God! my God!" He hurried through the crowds, thrusting the people right and left and unheeding the curses that followed him. He reached home and groped up to his room.
"Awful!" murmured Mrs. Jones. "He seemed such a good young man; but he 's been out with Mr. Perkins, and men will be men."
Once in his room, it seemed that he would go mad. Back and forth he paced the floor, clenching his hands and smiting his head. He wanted to cry out. He felt the impulse to beat his head against the wall. "My God! my God! It was my father," he cried, "going back home. What shall I do?" There was yet no pity in his heart for the man whom he now knew to be his parent. His only thought was of the bitterness that parent's folly had caused. "Oh, why could he not have died away from home, without going back there to revive all the old memories? Why must he go back there just at this troublous time to distress those who have loved me and help those who hate me to drag my name in the dust? He has chosen his own way, and it has ever been apart from me. He has neglected and forgotten me. Now why does he seek me out, after a life spent among strangers? I do not want him. I will not see him again. I shall never go home. I have seen him, I have heard him talk. I have stood near him and talked with him, and just when I am leaving it all behind me, all my past of sorrow and degradation, he comes and lays a hand upon me, and I am more the son of Tom Brent to-night than ever before. Is it Fate, God, or the devil that pursues me so?"
His passion was spending itself. When he was more calm he thought, "He will go home with a religious testimony on his lips, he will die happy, and the man who has spent all his days in drunkenness, killed his wife, and damned his son will be preached through the gates of glory on the strength of a few words of familiar cant." There came into his mind a great contempt for the system which taught or preached so absurd and unfair a doctrine. "I wish I could go to the other side of the world," he said, "and live among heathens who know no such dreams. I, Frederick Brent, son of Tom Brent, temperance advocate, sometime drunkard and wife-beater." There was terrible, scorching irony in the thought. There was a pitiless hatred in his heart for his father's very name.
"I suppose," he went on, "that Uncle 'Liph"—he said the name tenderly—"has my letter now and will be writing to me to come home and hear my father's dying words, and receive perhaps his dying blessing,—his dying blessing! But I will not go; I will not go back." Anger, mingled with shame at his origin and a greater shame at himself, flamed within him. "He did not care for the helpless son sixteen years ago: let him die without the sight of the son now. His life has cursed my life, his name has blasted my name, his blood has polluted my blood. Let him die as he lived—without me."
He dropped into a chair and struck the table with his clenched fists.
Mrs. Jones came to the door to ask him not to make so much noise. He buried his face in his hands, and sat there thinking, thinking, until morning.
Next morning when Brent went down to breakfast he was as a man who had passed through an illness. His eyes were bloodshot, his face was pale, his step was nervous and weak.
"Just what I expected," muttered Mrs. Jones. "He was in a beastly condition last night. I shall speak to Mr. Perkins about it. He had no right to take and get him in such a state."
She was more incensed than ever when the gay young clerk came in looking perfectly fresh. "He 's used to it," she told herself, "and it does n't tell on him, but it 's nearly killed that poor young man."
"Hullo there, Brent," said Perkins. "You chucked me for good last night. Did you lose your way, or was your 'character' too interesting?"
"Character too interesting," was the laconic reply.
"And I 'll bet you 've been awake all night studying it out."
"You are entirely right there," said Brent, smiling bitterly. "I have n't slept a wink all night: I 've been studying out that character."
"I thought you looked like it. You ought to take some rest to-day."
"I can't. I 've got to put in my time on the same subject."
Mrs. Jones pursed her lips and bustled among the teacups. The idea of their laughing over their escapades right before her face and thinking that she did not understand! She made the mental observation that all men were natural born liars, and most guilty when they appeared to be most innocent. "Character," indeed! Did they think to blind her to the true situation of things? Oh, astute woman!
"Strange fellow," said Perkins to his spoon, when, after a slight breakfast, Brent had left the table.
"There 's others that are just as strange, only they think they 're sharper," quoth Mrs. Jones, with a knowing look.
"I don't understand you," returned her boarder, turning his attention from his spoon to the lady's face.
"There 's none so blind as those who don't want to see."
"Again I say, I don't understand you, Mrs. Jones."
"Oh, Mr. Perkins, it 's no use trying to fool me. I know men. In my younger days I was married to a man."
"Strange contingency! But still it casts no light on your previous remarks."
"You 've got very innocent eyes, I must say, Mr. Perkins."
"The eyes, madam, are the windows of the soul," Perkins quoted, with mock gravity.
"Well, if the eyes are the soul's windows, there are some people who always keep their windows curtained."
"But I must deny any such questionable performance on my part. I have not the shrewdness to veil my soul from the scrutiny of so keen an observer as yourself."
"Oh, flattery is n't going to do your cause one mite of good, Mr. Perkins. I 'm not going to scold, but next time you get him in such a state I wish you 'd bring him home yourself, and not let him come tearing in here like a madman, scaring a body half to death."
"Will you kindly explain yourself? What condition? And who is 'him'?"
"Oh, of course you don't know."
"I do not."
"Do you mean to tell me that you were n't out with Mr. Brent last night before he came home?"
"I assuredly was not with him after the first quarter of an hour."
"Well, it 's hard to believe that he got that way by himself."
"That way! Why, he left me at the door of Meyer's beer-garden to talk to a temperance crank who he thought was a character."
"Well, no temperance character sent him rushing and stumbling in here as he did last night. 'Character,' indeed! It was at the bottom of a pail of beer or something worse."
"Oh, I don't think he was 'loaded.' He 's an author, and I guess his eye got to rolling in a fine frenzy, and he had to hurry home to keep it from rolling out of his head into the street."
"Mr. Perkins, this is no subject for fun. I have seen what I have seen, and it was a most disgraceful spectacle. I take your word for it that you were not with Mr. Brent, but you need not try to go further and defend him."
"I 'm not trying to defend him at all; it 's really none of my business." And Perkins went off to work, a little bit angry and a good deal more bewildered. "I thought he was a 'jay,'" he remarked.
To Brent the day was a miserable one. He did not leave his room, but spent the slow hours pacing back and forth in absorbed thought, interrupted now and then by vain attempts to read. His mind was in a state of despairing apprehension. It needed no prophetic sense to tell him what would happen. It was only a question of how long a time would elapse before he might expect to receive word from Dexter summoning him home. It all depended upon whether or not the "California Pilgrim" got money enough last night for exploiting his disgraceful history to finish the last stage of the journey.
What disgusted the young man so intensely was that his father, after having led the life he had, should make capital out of relating it. Would not a quiet repentance, if it were real, have been quite sufficient? He very much distrusted the sincerity of motive that made a man hold himself up as an example of reformed depravity, when the hope of gain was behind it all. The very charity which he had preached so fiercely to his congregation he could not extend to his own father. Indeed, it appeared to him (although this may have been a trick of his distorted imagination) that the "Pilgrim" had seemed to take a sort of pleasure in the record of his past, as though it were excellent to be bad, in order to have the pleasure of conversion. His lip involuntarily curled when he thought of conversion. He was disgusted with all men and principles. One man offends, and a whole system suffers. He felt a peculiar self-consciousness, a self-glorification in his own misery. Placing the accumulated morality of his own life against the full-grown evil of his father's, it angered him to think that by the intervention of a seemingly slight quantity the results were made equal.
"What is the use of it all," he asked himself, "my struggle, involuntary though it was, my self-abnegation, my rigidity, when what little character I have built up is overshadowed by my father's past? Why should I have worked so hard and long for those rewards, real or fancied, the favour of God and the respect of men, when he, after a career of outrageous dissipation, by a simple act or claim of repentance wins the Deity's smile and is received into the arms of people with gushing favour, while I am looked upon as the natural recipient of all his evil? Of course they tell us that there is more joy over the one lamb that is found than over the ninety and nine that went not astray; it puts rather a high premium on straying." He laughed bitterly. "With what I have behind me, is it worth being decent for the sake of decency? After all, is the game worth the candle?"
He took up a little book which many times that morning he had been attempting to read. It was an edition of Matthew Arnold's poems, and one of the stanzas was marked. It was in "Mycerinus."
Oh, wherefore cheat our youth, if thus it be, Of one short joy, one lust, one pleasant dream, Stringing vain words of powers we cannot see, Blind divinations of a will supreme? Lost labour! when the circumambient gloom But holds, if gods, gods careless of our doom!
He laid the book down with a sigh. It seemed to fit his case.
It was not until the next morning, however, that his anticipations were realised, and the telegraph messenger stopped at his door. The telegram was signed Eliphalet Hodges, and merely said, "Come at once. You are needed."
"Needed"! What could they "need" of him? "Wanted" would have been a better word,—"wanted" by the man who for sixteen years had forgotten that he had a son. He had already decided that he would not go, and was for the moment sorry that he had stayed where the telegram could reach him and stir his mind again into turmoil; but the struggle had already recommenced. Maybe his father was burdening his good old friends, and it was they who "needed" him. Then it was his duty to go, but not for his father's sake. He would not even see his father. No, not that! He could not see him.
It ended by his getting his things together and taking the next train. He was going, he told himself, to the relief of his guardian and his friend, and not because his father—his father!—wanted him. Did he deceive himself? Were there not, at the bottom of it all, the natural promptings of so close a relationship which not even cruelty, neglect, and degradation could wholly stifle?
He saw none of the scenes that had charmed his heart on the outward journey a few days before; for now his sight was either far ahead or entirely inward. When he reached Dexter, it was as if years had passed since he left its smoky little station. Things did not look familiar to him as he went up the old street, because he saw them with new eyes.
Mr. Hodges must have been watching for him, for he opened the door before he reached it.
"Come in, Freddie," he said in a low voice, tiptoeing back to his chair. "I 've got great news fur you."
"You need n't tell me what it is," said Brent. "I know that my father is here."
Eliphalet started up. "Who told you?" he said; "some blockhead, I 'll be bound, who did n't break it to you gently as I would 'a' done. Actu'lly the people in this here town—"
"Don't blame the people, Uncle 'Liph," said the young man, smiling in spite of himself. "I found it out for myself before I arrived; and, I assure you, it was n't gently broken to me either." To the old man's look of bewildered amazement, Brent replied with the story of his meeting with his father.
"It 's the good Lord's doin's," said Eliphalet, reverently.
"I don't know just whose doing it is, but it is an awful accusation to put on the Lord. I 've still got enough respect for Him not to believe that."
"Freddie," exclaimed the old man, horror-stricken, "you ain't a-gettin' irreverent, you ain't a-beginnin' to doubt, air you? Don't do it. I know jest what you 've had to bear all along, an' I know what you 're a-bearin' now, but you ain't the only one that has their crosses. I 'm a-bearin' my own, an' it ain't light neither. You don't know what it is, my boy, when you feel that somethin' precious is all your own, to have a real owner come in an' snatch it away from you. While I thought yore father was dead, you seemed like my own son; but now it 'pears like I 'ain't got no kind o' right to you an' it 's kind o' hard, Freddie, it 's kind o' hard, after all these years. I know how a mother feels when she loses her baby, but when it 's a grown son that 's lost, one that she 's jest been pilin' up love fur, it 's—it 's—" The old man paused, overcome by his emotions.
"I am as much—no, more than ever your son, Uncle 'Liph. No one shall ever come between us; no, not even the man I should call father."
"He is yore father, Freddie. It 's jest like I told Hester. She was fur sendin' him along." In spite of himself, a pang shot through Brent's heart at this. "But I said, 'No, no, Hester, he 's Fred's father an' we must take him in, fur our boy's sake.'"
"Not for my sake, not for my sake!" broke out the young man.
"Well, then, fur our Master's sake. We took him in. He was mighty low down. It seemed like the Lord had jest spared him to git here. Hester 's with him now, an'—an'—kin you stand to hear it?—the doctor says he 's only got a little while to live."
"Oh, I can stand it," Brent replied, with unconscious irony. The devotion and the goodness of the old man had softened him as thought, struggle, and prayer had failed to do.
"Will you go in now?" asked Eliphalet. "He wants to see you: he can't die in peace without."
The breath came hard between his teeth as Brent replied, "I said I would n't see him. I came because I thought you needed me."
"He 's yore father, Freddie, an' he 's penitent. All of us pore mortals need a good deal o' furgivin', an' it does n't matter ef one of us needs a little more or a little less than another: it puts us all on the same level. Remember yore sermon about charity, an'—an' jedge not. You 'ain't seen all o' His plan. Come on." And, taking the young man by the hand, he led him into the room that had been his own. Hester rose as he entered, and shook hands with him, and then she and her husband silently passed out.
The sufferer lay upon the bed, his eyes closed and his face as white as the pillows on which he reclined. Disease had fattened on the hollow cheeks and wasted chest. One weak hand picked aimlessly at the coverlet, and the laboured breath caught and faltered as if already the hand of Death was at his throat.
The young man stood by the bed, trembling in every limb, his lips now as white as the ashen face before him. He was cold, but the perspiration stood in beads on his brow as he stood gazing upon the face of his father. Something like pity stirred him for a moment, but a vision of his own life came up before him, and his heart grew hard again. Here was the man who had wronged him irremediably.
Finally the dying man stirred uneasily, muttering, "I dreamed that he had come."
"I am here." Brent's voice sounded strange to him.
The eyes opened, and the sufferer gazed at him. "Are you—"
"I am your son."
"You—why, I—saw you—"
"You saw me in Cincinnati at the door of a beer-garden." He felt as if he had struck the man before him with a lash.
"No: I went to your temperance meeting."
The elder Brent did not hear the ill-concealed bitterness in his son's voice. "Thank God," he said. "You heard—my—story, an'—it leaves me—less—to tell. Something—made me speak—to you that—night. Come nearer. Will—you—shake hands with—me?"
Fred reached over and took the clammy hand in his own.
"I have—had—a pore life," the now fast weakening man went on; "an' I have—done wrong—by—you, but I—have—repented. Will you forgive me?"
Something came up into Brent's heart and burned there like a flame.
"You have ruined my life," he answered, "and left me a heritage of shame and evil."
"I know it—God help me—I know it; but won't—you—forgive me, my son? I—want to—call you—that—just once." He pressed his hand closer.
Could he forgive him? Could he forget all that he had suffered and would yet suffer on this man's account? Then the words and the manner of old Eliphalet came to him, and he said, in a softened voice, "I forgive you, father." He hesitated long over the name.
"Thank God for—for—the name—an'—forgiveness." He carried his son's hand to his lips, "I sha' n't be—alive—long—now,—an' my—death—will set—people—to talkin'. They will—bring—up the—past. I—don't want you—to—stay an' have—to bear—it. I don't want to—bring any more on—you than I have—already. Go—away, as—soon as I am dead."
"I cannot leave my friends to bear my burdens."
"They will not speak—of them—as they—will speak of—you, my—poor—boy. You—are—old—Tom Brent's—son. I—wish I could take—my name—an' all—it means—along—with—me. But—promise—me—you—will—go. Promise—"
"I will go if you so wish it."
"Thank—you. An'—now—good-bye. I—can't talk—any—more. I don't dare—to advise—you—after—all—you—know—of me; but do—right—do right."
The hand relaxed and the eyelids closed. Brent thought that he was dead, and prompted by some impulse, bent down and kissed his father's brow,—his father, after all. A smile flitted over the pale face, but the eyes did not open. But he did not die then. Fred called Mrs. Hodges and left her with his father while he sat with Eliphalet. It was not until the next morning, when the air was full of sunlight, the song of birds, and the chime of church bells, that old Tom Brent's weary spirit passed out on its search for God. He had not spoken after his talk with his son.
There were heavy hearts about his bed, but there were no tears, no sorrow for his death,—only regret for the manner of his life.
Mrs. Hodges and Eliphalet agreed that the dead man had been right in wishing his son to go away, and, after doing what he could to lighten their load, he again stood on the threshold, leaving his old sad home. Mrs. Hodges bade him good-bye at the door, and went back. She was too bowed to seem hard any more, or even to pretend it. But Eliphalet followed him to the gate. The two stood holding each other's hands and gazing into each other's eyes.
"I know you 're a-goin' to do right without me a-tellin' you to," said the old man, chokingly. "That 's all I want of you. Even ef you don't preach, you kin live an' work fur Him."
"I shall do all the good I can, Uncle 'Liph, but I shall do it in the name of poor humanity until I come nearer to Him. I am dazed and confused now, and want the truth."
"Go on, my boy; you 're safe. You 've got the truth now, only you don't know it; fur they 's One that says, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.'"
Another hearty hand-shake, and the young man was gone.
As Fred went down the street, some one accosted him and said, "I hear yore father 's home."
"Yes, he 's home," said Fred.
Tom Brent was buried on Tuesday morning. The Rev. Mr. Simpson, who, in spite of his age, had been prevailed upon to resume charge of his church, preached the sermon. He spoke feelingly of the "dear departed brother, who, though late, had found acceptance with the Lord," and he ended with a prayer—which was a shot—for the "departed's misguided son, who had rejected his Master's call and was now wandering over the earth in rebellion and sin." It was well that he did not see the face of Eliphalet Hodges then.
Dan'l Hastings nodded over the sermon. In the back part of the church, Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Smith whispered together and gaped at the two old mourners, and wondered where the boy was. They had "heerd he was in town."
Bill Tompkins brought Elizabeth to the funeral.
In another town than Dexter the events narrated in the last chapter would have proved a nine days' wonder, gained their meed of golden gossip, and then given way to some newer sensation. But not so here. This little town was not so prolific in startling episodes that she could afford to let such a one pass with anything less than the fullest comment. The sudden return of Tom Brent, his changed life, and his death were talked of for many a day. The narrative of his life was yet to be a stock camp-meeting sermon story, and the next generation of Dexterites was destined to hear of him. He became a part of the town's municipal history.
Fred's disappearance elicited no less remark. Speculations as to his whereabouts and his movements were rife. The storm of gossip which was going on around them was not lost on Eliphalet Hodges and his wife. But, save when some too adventurous inquirer called down upon himself Mrs. Hodges' crushing rebuke or the old man's mild resentment, they went their ways silent and uncommunicative.
They had heard from the young man first about two weeks after his departure. He had simply told them that he had got a place in the office of a packing establishment. Furthermore, he had begged that they let his former fellow-townsmen know nothing of his doings or of his whereabouts, and the two old people had religiously respected his wishes. Perhaps there was some reluctance on the part of Mrs. Hodges, for after the first letter she said, "It does seem like a sin an' a shame, 'Liphalet, that we can't tell these here people how nice Fred 's a-doin', so 's to let 'em know that he don't need none o' their help. It jest makes my tongue fairly itch when I see Mis' Smith an' that bosom crony o' her'n, Sallie Martin, a-nosin' around tryin' to see what they kin find out."
"It is amazin' pesterin', Hester. I 'm su'prised at how I feel about it myself, fur I never was no hand to want to gossip; but when I hear old Dan'l Hastings, that can't move out o' his cheer fur the rheumatiz,—when I hear him a-sayin' that he reckoned that Fred was a-goin' to the dogs, I felt jest like up an' tellin' him how things was."
"Why on airth did n't you? Ef I 'd 'a' been there, I 'd—"
"But you know what Freddie's letter said. I kept still on that account; but I tell you I looked at Dan'l." From his pocket the old man took the missive worn with many readings, and gazed at it fondly. "Yes," he repeated, "I looked at Dan'l hard. I felt jest like up an' tellin' him."
"Well, no wonder. I 'm afeared I 'd 'a' clean furgot Freddie's wishes an' told him everything. To think of old Dan'l Hastings, as old he is, a-gossipin' about other people's business! Sakes alive! he needs every breath he 's got now fur his prayers,—as all of us pore mortals do now," added Mrs. Hodges, as she let her eyes fall upon her own wrinkled hands.
"Yes, we 're old, Hester, you an' I; but I 'm mighty glad o' the faith I 've been a-storin' up, fur it 's purty considerable of a help now."
"Of course, 'Liphalet, faith is a great comfort, but it 's a greater one to know that you 've allus tried to do yore dooty the very best you could; not a-sayin' that you 'ain't tried."
"Most of us tries, Hester, even Dan'l."
"I ain't a-goin' to talk about Dan'l Hastings. He 's jest naturally spiteful an' crabbed. I declare, I don't see how he 's a-goin' to squeeze into the kingdom."
"Oh, never mind that, Hester. God ain't a-goin' to ask you to find a way."
Mrs. Hodges did not reply. She and her husband seldom disagreed now, because he seldom contradicted or found fault with her. But if this dictum of his went unchallenged, it was not so with some later conclusions at which he arrived on the basis of another of Fred's letters.
It was received several months after the settlement of the young man in Cincinnati, and succeeded a long silence. "You will think," it ran, "that I have forgotten you; but it is not so. My life has been very full here of late, it is true, but not so full as to exclude you and good Aunt Hester. I feel that I am growing. I can take good full breaths here. I could n't in Dexter: the air was too rarefied by religion."
Mrs. Hodges gasped as her husband read this aloud, but there was the suspicion of a smile about the corners of Eliphalet's mouth.
"You ask me if I attend any church," the letter went on. "Yes, I do. When I first left, I thought that I never wanted to see the inside of a meeting-house again. But there is a young lady in our office who is very much interested in church work, and somehow she has got me interested too, and I go to her church every Sunday. It is Congregational."
"Congregational!" exclaimed Mrs. Hodges. "Congregational! an' he borned an' raised up in the Methodist faith. It 's the first step."
"He was n't borned nothin' but jest a pore little outcast sinner, an' as fur as the denomination goes, I guess that church is about as good as any other."
"'Liphalet Hodges, air you a-backslidin' too?"
"No: I 'm like Freddie; I 'm a-growin'."
"It 's a purty time of life fur you to be a-talkin' about growin'. You 're jest like an old tree that has fell in a damp place an' sen's out a few shoots on the trunk. It thinks it 's a-growin' too, but them shoots soon wither, an' the tree rots; that 's what it does."
"But before it rotted, it growed all that was in it to grow, did n't it. Well, that 's all anybody kin do, tree or human bein'." He paused for a moment. "I 'ain't got all my growth yit."
"You kin git the rest in the garden of the Lord."
"It ain't good to change soil on some plants too soon. I ain't ready to be set out." He went on reading:
"'I 'm not so narrow as I was at home. I don't think so many things are wrong as I used to. It is good to be like other people sometimes, and not to feel yoreself apart from all the rest of humanity. I am growing to act more like the people I meet, and so I am—'" the old man's hand trembled, and he moved the paper nearer to his eyes—"'I—' What 's this he says? 'I am learning to dance.'"
"There!" his wife shot forth triumphantly. "What did I tell you? Going to a Congregational church an' learnin' to dance, an' he not a year ago a preacher of the gospel."
Eliphalet was silent for some time: his eyes looked far out into space. Then he picked up the paper that had fluttered from his hand, and a smile flitted over his face.
"Well, I don't know," he said. "Freddie 's young, an' they 's worse things in the world than dancin'."
"You ain't a-upholdin' him in that too, air you? Well, I never! You 'd uphold that sinful boy ef he committed murder."
"I ain't a-upholdin' nothin' but what I think is right."
"Right! 'Liphalet Hodges, what air you a-sayin'?"
"Not that I mean to say that dancin' is right, but—"
"There ain't no 'buts' in the Christian religion, 'Liphalet, an' there ain't no use in yore tryin' to cover up Freddie's faults."
"I ain't a-tryin' to cover nothin' up from God. But sometimes I git to thinkin' that mebbe we put a good many more bonds on ourselves than the Lord ever meant us to carry."
"Oh, some of us don't struggle under none too heavy burdens. Some of us have a way of jest slippin' 'em off of our shoulders like a bag of flour."
"Meanin' me. Well, mebbe I have tried to make things jest as easy fur myself as possible, but I 'ain't never tried to make 'em no harder fur other people. I like to think of the Master as a good gentle friend, an' mebbe I 'ain't shifted so many o' the burdens He put on me that He won't let me in at last."
"'Liphalet, I did n't say what I said fur no slur ag'in' you. You 're as good a Christian man as—well, as most."
"I know you did n't mean no slur, Hester. It was jest yore dooty to say it. I 've come to realise how strong yore feelin' about dooty is, in the years we 've been together, an' I would n't want you to be any different."
The calm of old age had come to these two. Life's turbulent waters toss us and threaten to rend our frail bark in pieces. But the swelling of the tempest only lifts us higher, and finally we reach and rest upon the Ararat of age, with the swirling floods below us.
Eliphalet went on with the letter. "He says some more about that little girl. 'Alice is a very nice and sensible girl. I like her very much. She helps me to get out of myself and to be happy. I have never known before what a good thing it was to be happy,—perhaps because I have tried so hard to be so. I believe that I have been selfish and egotistical.' Freddie don't furgit his words," the old man paused to say. "'I have always thought too much of myself, and not enough of others. That was the reason that I was not strong enough to live down the opposition in Dexter. It seems that, after all your kindness to me, I might have stayed and made you and Aunt Hester happy for the rest of your days.' Bless that boy! 'But the air stifled me. I could not breathe in it. Now that I am away, I can look back and see it all—my mistakes and my shortcomings; for my horizon is broader and I can see clearer. I have learned to know what pleasure is, and it has been like a stimulant to me. I have been given a greater chance to love, and it has been like the breath of life to me. I have come face to face with Christianity without cant, and I respect it for what it is. Alice understands me and brings out the best that is in me. I have always thought that it was good for a young man to have a girl friend.'"
For an instant, Mrs. Hodges resumed her old manner. A slight wave from the old flood had reached the bark and rocked it. She pursed her lips and shook her head. "He furgot Elizabeth in a mighty short time."
"Ef he had n't he 'd ought to be spanked like a child. Elizabeth never was the kind of a mate fur Freddie, an' there ain't nobody that knows it better than you yoreself, Hester, an' you know it."
Mrs. Hodges did not reply. The wavelet had subsided again.
"Now jest listen how he ends up. 'I want you and Aunt Hester to come down and see me when you can. I will send for you in a week or two, if you will promise to come. Write to me, both of you. Won't you? Your changed boy, Fred.' Changed, an' I 'm glad of it. He 's more like a natural boy of his age now than he ever was before. He 's jest like a young oak saplin'. Before he allus put me in mind o' one o' them oleander slips that you used to cut off an' hang ag'in' the house in a bottle o' water so 's they 'd root. We 'll go down, won't we, Hester? We 'll go down, an' see him."
"Not me, 'Liphalet. You kin go; but I ain't a-goin' nowhere to be run over by the cars or wrecked or somethin'. Not that I 'm so powerful afeared of anything like that, fur I do hope I 'm prepared to go whenever the Master calls; but it ain't fur me to begin a-runnin' around at my age, after livin' all these years at home. No, indeed. Why, I could n't sleep in no other bed but my own now. I don't take to no sich new things."
And go Mrs. Hodges would not. So Eliphalet was forced to write and refuse the offered treat. But on a day there came another letter, and he could no longer refuse to grant the wish of his beloved boy. The missive was very brief. It said only, "Alice has promised to marry me. Won't you and Aunt Hester come and see me joined to the dearest girl in the world?" There was a postscript to it: "I did not love Elizabeth. I know it now."
"Hester, I 'm a-goin'." said Eliphalet.
"Go on, 'Liphalet, go on. I want you to go, but I 'm set in my ways now. I do hope that girl kin do something besides work in an office. She ought to be a good housekeeper, an' a good cook, so 's not to kill that pore child with dyspepsy. I do hope she won't put saleratus in her biscuits."
"I think it 's Freddie's soul that needs feedin.'"
"His soul 'll go where it don't need feedin', ef his stomach ain't 'tended to right. Ef I went down there, I could give the girl some points."
"I don't reckon you 'd better go, Hester. As you say, you're set in yore ways, an' mebbe her ways 'ud be diff'rent; an' then—then you 'd both feel it."
"Oh, I suppose she thinks she knows it all, like most young people do."
"I hope she don't; but I 'm a-goin' down to see her anyhow, an' I 'll carry yore blessin' along with mine."
For the next week, great were the preparations for the old man's departure, and when finally he left the old gate and turned his back on the little cottage it was as if he were going on a great journey rather than a trip of less than a hundred miles. It had been a long time since he had been on a train, and at first he felt a little dubious. But he was soon at home, for his kindly face drew his fellow-passengers to him, and he had no lack of pleasant companions on the way.
Like Fred, the noises of the great station would have bewildered him, but as he alighted and passed through the gate a strong hand was laid on his shoulder, and his palm was pressing the palm of his beloved son. The old carpet-bag fell from his hands.
"Freddie Brent, it ain't you?"
"It 's I, Uncle 'Liph, and no one else. And I 'm so glad to see you that I don't know what to do. Give me that bag."
They started away, the old man chattering like a happy child. He could not keep from feasting his eyes on the young man's face and form.
"Well, Freddie, you jest don't look like yoreself. You 're—you 're—"
"I 'm a man, Uncle 'Liph."
"I allus knowed you 'd be, my boy. I allus knowed you 'd be. But yore aunt Hester told me to ask you ef—ef you 'd dropped all yore religion. She 's mighty disturbed about yore dancin'."
Brent laughed aloud in pure joy.
"I knowed you had n't," the old man chuckled.
"Lost it all? Uncle 'Liph, why, I 've just come to know what religion is. It 's to get bigger and broader and kinder, and to live and to love and be happy, so that people around you will be happy."
"You 're still a first-rate preacher, Freddie."
"Oh, yes, Uncle 'Liph; I 've been to a better school than the Bible Seminary. I have n't got many religious rules and formulas, but I 'm trying to live straight and do what is right."
The old man had paused with tears in his eyes. "I been a-prayin' fur you," he said.
"So has Alice," replied the young man, "though I don't see why she needs to pray. She 's a prayer in herself. She has made me better by letting me love her. Come up, Uncle 'Liph. I want you to see her before we go on to my little place."
They stopped before a quiet cottage, and Fred knocked. In the little parlour a girl came to them. She was little, not quite up to Fred's shoulder. His eyes shone as he looked down upon her brown head. There were lines about her mouth, as if she had known sorrow that had blossomed into sweetness. The young man took her hand. "Uncle 'Liph," he said, "this is Alice."
She came forward with winning frankness, and took the old man's hand in hers. The tears stood in his eyes again.
"This is Alice," he said; "this is Alice." Then his gaze travelled to Fred's glowing face, and, with a sob in his voice that was all for joy, he added, "Alice, I 'm glad you're a-livin'."
Paul Laurence Dunbar
A poet who starts out by being handicapped by excessive praise suffers from it for a long time. This very thing happened to Paul Laurence Dunbar, who published some very promising poems. Just because he happened to be a negro, a vast amount of adulation was heaped upon him. He showed the right sort of stuff, however, by not having his head turned and by going to work. Since those first publications he has done much creditable work both in poetry and in prose. His poetry is of the very best and his prose work has fine value. He writes genuine dialect, and he goes in for fine sentiment. Mr. Dunbar's volumes are as follows:
THE FANATICS. 12mo, cloth, $1.50. FOLKS FROM DIXIE. 12mo, cloth, illustrated, $1.25. THE UNCALLED. 12mo, cloth, $1.25. THE STRENGTH OF GIDEON. 12mo, cloth, illus., $1.25. THE LOVE OF LANDRY. 12mo, cloth, $1.25.
LYRICS OF LOWLY LIFE. 16mo, cloth, $1.25. LYRICS OF THE HEARTH-SIDE. 16mo, cloth, $1.25. POEMS OF CABIN AND FIELD. 8vo, cloth, illus., $1.50.
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The VICTORIAN AGE of ENGLISH LITERATURE
BY MRS. OLIPHANT
In Two Volumes, 8vo, cloth, $3.00 Also in the Ajax Series, One Volume, 12mo, $1.00
This is one of the most important of Mrs. Oliphant's works, and by reason of her long association with the period of which she writes, it should prove no less authoritative than interesting.
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WANTED: A MATCHMAKER
A Christmas Story. By PAUL LEICESTER FORD, author of "Janice Meredith," "Hon. Peter Stirling," etc. With illustrations by H. C. Christy, and decorations by Margaret Armstrong. 8vo, cloth, $2.00
AS YOU LIKE IT
By WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. With five full-page photogravure illustrations, and numerous drawings and decorations to accompany the text, by Will H. Low. 8vo, cloth, $2.50
Also LARGE PAPER EDITION, limited to 200 copies, beautifully printed and bound, $15.00 net
Purchasers of this edition will receive an extra set of the illustrations, on Japan paper, with gold borders, in an envelope. These are very suitable for framing, and make a beautiful holiday present.
WONDERS OF NATURE
Described by Great Writers, and profusely illustrated with views from nature. Edited by ESTHER SINGLETON. 8vo, cloth, $2.00
By ROBERT BROWNING. With decorations and illustrations by Margaret Armstrong. 8vo, cloth, $1.50
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DODD, MEAD & COMPANY 372 Fifth Ave., New York
NEW JUVENILE LITERATURE
ELSIE'S YOUNG FOLKS, by Martha Finley, author of the "Elsie" books. 12mo, cloth, $1.25
It is unnecessary to do more than to announce a new "Elsie" book, for a multitude of young readers eagerly await the appearance of each new volume in the series.
HARRY THURSTON PECK
THE ADVENTURES OF MABEL (for children of five and six), by Harry Thurston Peck. New edition. Illustrations by Melanie Elisabeth Norton. Large 12mo, $1.00
These are simple stories told in such a way as really to interest children of five and six years of age, and not written over their heads. The author has told them to his own child, and as they charmed her, it is believed they will delight other children of her age.
ELISABETH W. CHAMPNEY
ANNEKE, A LITTLE DAME OF NEW NETHERLANDS, by Elizabeth W. Champney, author of the "Witch Winnie" books. This is volume II in the series of "Dames and Daughters of Colonial Days." 12mo, cloth, $1.50
Mrs. Champney has projected a series in which the initial volume was published last autumn. The series gives great promise of interest and instruction for younger readers.
AMANDA M. DOUGLAS
A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD WASHINGTON, by Amanda M. Douglas. Uniform with "A Little Girl in Old New York" and "A Little Girl in Old Boston." 12mo, cloth, $1.50
This is a continuation of the "Little Girl" Series which has been so warmly welcomed.
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY, Publishers 372 Fifth Avenue, Corner 35th Street, New York
THE MASTER CHRISTIAN
By MARIE CORELLI
The Most Talked-of Novel of the Season
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IT IS UNTRUTHFUL
"Miss Corelli has libelled the whole Roman curia."—Dr. William Barry.
IT IS NOT WELL WRITTEN
"It is a disappointing book. It is brilliant in spots, but as a whole it is a dismal failure!"—San Francisco Chronicle.
IT IS NOT INTERESTING
"She emits a long-drawn melancholy howl. Six hundred solid pages of small print, and nothing but words, words, words."—N. Y. Sun.
IT IS SACRILEGIOUS
"The book is one that jars on the religious sensibilities irrespective of creed. The religious part of the story is merely denunciation."—Chicago Tribune.
IT IS IMMORAL
"The book if generally read by the young would be as destructive as the immoral novel."—Watertown Herald.
IT IS TRUTHFUL
"That every one of her charges is true in substance I have not a shadow of doubt."—Dr. Joseph Parker.
IT IS WELL WRITTEN
"It is written with vigor, strength, and an abandon of fine expression that carries all before it."—Philadelphia Item.
IT IS INTERESTING
"The story holds the interest from beginning to end. Of all her books, this is the most interesting and thrilling."—New York Press.
IT IS NOT SACRILEGIOUS
"The book is not irreverent."—Ian Maclaren.
"The book is a bold attack on dogma and the creeds, and pleads eloquently for the pure love of Christ."—Chicago Inter Ocean.
IT IS MORAL
"There are many who will object to the book, but in spite of their strictures the book will find thousands of sympathizers who will condone it."—Boston Journal.
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12mo, cloth, 610 pages, $1.50
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DODD, MEAD & CO., Publishers New York
NOVELS BY AMELIA E. BARR
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Each 12mo, cloth, 60 cents.
1 JAN VEDDER'S WIFE. 2 A DAUGHTER OF FIFE. 3 THE BOW OF ORANGE RIBBON. Also 100 illustrations by Th. Hampe. 12mo, cloth, $1.50. 4 THE SQUIRE OF SANDALSIDE. 5 A BORDER SHEPHERDESS. 6 PAUL AND CHRISTINA. 7 MASTER OF HIS FATE. 8 REMEMBER THE ALAMO. 9 THE LAST OF THE MACALLISTERS. 10 BETWEEN TWO LOVES. 11 FEET OF CLAY. 12 THE HOUSEHOLD OF McNEIL. 13 FRIEND OLIVIA. 14 SHE LOVED A SAILOR. 15 A SISTER TO ESAU. 16 LOVE FOR AN HOUR IS LOVE FOREVER. 17 CHRISTOPHER, AND OTHER STORIES. 18 THE HALLAM SUCCESSION. 19 THE LOST SILVER OF BRIFFAULT. 20 CLUNY MacPHERSON. 21 A SINGER FROM THE SEA. 22 THE LONE HOUSE. 23 SCOTTISH SKETCHES. 24 BERNICIA. 25 A KNIGHT OF THE NETS. 26 THE KING'S HIGHWAY. 27 A ROSE OF A HUNDRED LEAVES. Illustrated.