ANNA CHAPIN RAY
THE DOMINANT STRAIN BY THE GOOD STE. ANNE ON THE FIRING LINE HEARTS AND CREEDS ACKROYD OF THE FACULTY QUICKENED THE BRIDGE BUILDERS OVER THE QUICKSANDS A WOMAN WITH A PURPOSE THE BRENTONS
ANNA CHAPIN RAY
Author of "A Woman with a Purpose," "The Bridge Builders," etc.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY WILSON C. DEXTER
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1912
Copyright, 1912, By Little, Brown, and Company.
All rights reserved
Published, January, 1912
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.
Beginning with Chapter 19 the spelling of Kathryn inexplicably changes to Katherine.
The Table of Contents is not contained in the original book. It has been generated for the convenience of the reader.
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER THIRTY CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO
However archaic and conventional it may sound, it is the literal fact that young Scott Brenton was led into the ministry by the prayer of his widowed mother. Furthermore, the prayer was not made to him, but offered in secret and in all sincerity at the Throne of Grace.
"Oh, my dearest Lord and Master," she prayed, at her evening devotions upon her knees and with her work-roughened hands clasped upon the gaudy patchwork quilt; "guide Thou my son. Bring him to feel that his perfect happiness can come only from going forth to preach Thy word to all men."
And, as it chanced, the door of her room had been left slightly open. Scott Brenton, young and alert and full of enthusiasms which his years of grinding work and economy had been powerless to down, came leaping up the steps just then. The front door had been left unlocked for him. He closed it noiselessly behind him, and then started to run up the stairs. The murmur of his mother's voice checked him, stayed his step a moment, and then changed its pace. He went on up the stairs quite soberly, thoughtful, his face a little overcast.
It was now the middle of the Christmas holidays of his junior year. The day he had left college for the short vacation, his chemistry professor had sent for him and had said things to him about his last term's work and about his examination papers at the end of the term. The things were courteous as concerned the past; to Scott Brenton's mind, they were dazzling as concerned the future. The dazzle had endured until his mother's words had fallen on his ears. Then it had eclipsed itself, leaving him to wonder whether, after all, it had not been the ignis fatuus of self-elation, and not the steady glow of truth. Scott Brenton was not much more given to introspection, at that epoch of his life, than is any other healthy youngster of nineteen. None the less, he slept curiously little, that night.
Next morning, while he dressed, he kept his teeth shut cornerwise, a habit he had when he was making up his mind to any noxious undertaking. Then he went downstairs, to find his mother smiling contentedly to herself, while she added the finishing touches to the breakfast. It was sausage, that morning, Scott Brenton always remembered afterwards. They had been chosen out of deference to his boyish appetite. He never tasted them again, if he could help it. They seemed to have added to their already strange assortment of flavours a tang of bitterness that bore the seeds of spiritual indigestion.
His mother looked up to greet him with an eagerness from which she vainly sought to banish pride. He was her only child, her all; and he was sufficiently good to look upon, clever enough to pass muster in a crowd. To her adoring eyes, however, he was a mingling of an Adonis with a Socrates. And she herself, by encouragement and admonition and self-denying toil, had helped to make him what he was. Small wonder that her pride in him could never be completely downed! Nevertheless,—
"Have a good time, last night?" she asked him tamely.
But she missed a certain young enthusiasm from his accent, as he answered,—
"Catie there?" she asked again, with the crisp elision of one whose life has been too strenuous to waste itself in the more leisurely forms of speech.
"Yes. Is breakfast ready?"
She nodded, as she speared the sizzling sausages one by one and transferred them to a platter. Then, while she poured off a little of the fat by way of gravy, she put yet another question.
"Look pretty?" she said.
Her son felt no difficulty in applying the question to Catie, the proper object, rather than to the sausages on which his mother's gaze was bent.
"About as usual," he said temperately.
His mother laughed out suddenly. The laugh brought back to her face a faint resemblance to the girl who, as the pretty daughter of old Parson Wheeler, had been the acknowledged belle of all the small community. Later on, all the small community had been jarred to its social foundations by the discovery that Betty Wheeler, child of a long, long line of parsons, was going to marry Birge Brenton who had come to "clerk it" in the village store. She did marry him, and, a little later on, and most obligingly for all concerned, he died. Few people mourned him. His wife, though, was among the few. She had a conscience of Puritan extraction, and the keenest possible sense of what was seemly.
Scott, at the time, was ten days old; therefore he did not share her mourning. Indeed, he was too busy trying to adjust himself to things in general and pins in particular to have much energy or time left over to spare for thinking about other people. Already, the trail of Mrs. Brenton's reading ancestors had led her to the naming her child Walter Scott. Her sense of decorum caused her to wonder vaguely, after her husband died, whether it would not be proper to change the baby's name to Birge. Her wonderings, though, merely served to render her uneasy; they bore no fruit in action. The associations with the name were not of the sort she cared to emphasize, and the boy was allowed to keep his more impressive label.
As time went on, though, he rebelled against the childish Wally and insisted on the Scott, but prefixed by the blank initial whose significance, he fondly hoped, would permanently remain a mystery. A month, however, after he had entered college, he was known as Ivanhoe to all the class who knew anything about him at all; and, in the catalogue published in his sophomore year, he was registered quite curtly as Scott Brenton. Never again in all his lifetime did the incriminating W reappear.
If his mother felt regretful for the change, she was far too wise to show it. Indeed, it is quite likely that she felt no regrets at all. By the time that Scott came to his 'teens, Mrs. Brenton was doing her level and conscientious best to conceal from him the demoralizing fact of her belief that he could do almost no wrong, and she clung to the modifying almost with a passionate fervour born of her clerical ancestry and her consequent belief in the inherent viciousness of unconverted man. Moreover, her inherited notions of conversion included spiritual writhings and physical night-sweats and penitential tears by way of its accomplishment. According to the creed of all the Parson Wheelers since the Puritan migration, one became a Christian rather violently, and not by leisurely unfolding. It had been to her the greatest of all reliefs since the unconfessed one born of her husband's premature removal, when the young Walter Scott had got himself converted by means of an itinerant revivalist. From that time on, her gaze had been fixed unfalteringly upon the hour when he should assume the mantle of his clerical grandparents; and she inclined to look upon his other talents as being so many manifestations of diabolic ingenuity.
And now, these Christmas holidays, the diabolism seemed to her to be rampant; it effervesced through all Scott's being like the mysterious things he brewed within his test-tubes. Not that Mrs. Brenton would have known a test-tube by sight, however. She only had gleaned from her son's talk the fact that they existed and held fizzy compounds which would kill you, if you drank them. Perhaps her analogy was all the better for her lack of specific knowledge. In any case, she saw and feared the effervescence. The sausages and the white bowl of hot fat gravy were so much carefully considered bait to lure her son back into the paths of orthodox uprightness. While they were being swallowed—slowly, by reason of their mussiness—she had certain things she wished to say to him.
To her extreme surprise, Scott said them first to her.
"Mother," he said, a little bit imperiously considering his age; "no matter now about Catie. I want to talk to you about—"
"About?" she queried nervously, while he hesitated under what obviously was a pretext of picking out the brownest sausage.
Her nervousness increased.
"Take some more gravy, Scott," she urged him hurriedly. "You'd better dip it on your bread as soon as you can; it gets cold so soon, these winter mornings."
But he ignored the spoon she offered him. When he spoke, it was with a curious hesitation.
"Mother, did I tell you what Professor Mansfield said?"
"Weren't you glad—just a very little?" His tone was boyish in its pleading.
Mrs. Brenton's answer was evasive.
"Of course, Scott. I am always glad, when your teachers speak well of you," she said.
"Yes; but think of it," he urged impatiently. "I hate to brag, mother; but do you take in all he meant: that he saw no reason, if I kept on, that I should not make a record as a chemist?"
While he spoke, his gray eyes were fixed on her imploringly. Under some conditions and in some connections, she would have been swift to read in them the text of his unspoken prayer; but not now. Her ancestral tendencies forbade: those and the doubts which centred in her son's other heritage, less orthodox and far, far less under the domination of the spiritual. Now and then the boy looked like his father, astoundingly like, and disturbingly. This was one of the times.
Across his young enthusiasm, her answer fell like a wet linen sheet.
"But are you going to keep on?"
He tried to regain his former accent.
"That is what I want to decide, right now," he said as buoyantly as he was able. "Of course, it isn't just what I started out to do; but he seemed to feel it was my chance, and you and I, both of us, have been used to taking any chance that came. What do you think I'd better do?"
For a moment, she worked fussily at the twisted wire leg of the tile that held the coffee pot. Her eyes were still upon the wire, when at last she answered.
"You must do as you think right, my son."
"But what do you really think, yourself?" he urged her.
This time, she lifted her eyes until they rested full upon his own.
"It isn't exactly what we have planned it all for, Scott. Still, it may be that this will be the next best thing, after all."
"Then you would be disappointed, if I took the chance?"
She felt the edge of the coming renunciation in his voice and in his half-unconscious change of tense, and she dropped her eyes again, for fear they should betray the gladness that she felt, and so should hurt him.
"Do you need to decide just now?" she asked evasively.
"Between now and next summer."
"Why not wait till then?"
He crossed her question with another.
"What's the use of waiting?"
"You may get more light on it, if you wait," she said gravely.
Scott shut his teeth hard upon an end of sausage. It seemed to him that it was only one more phase of the same futile whole, when his teeth encountered a hard bit of bone. And his mother sat there, outwardly impartial, inwardly disapproving, and talked about more light, when already his young eyes were blinded by the lustrous dazzle. Oh, well! It was all in the day's work, all in the difference between nineteen and thirty-nine, he told himself as patiently as he was able. And his mother at thirty-nine, he realized with disconcerting clearness, was infinitely older than Professor Mansfield's wife at sixty. Indeed, he sometimes wondered if she ever had been really young, ever really young enough to forget her heritage of piety in healthy, worldly zeal. Whatever the depths of one's filial devotion, it sometimes jars a little to have one's mother use, by choice, the phraseology of the minor prophets. In fact, in certain of his more unregenerate moments, Scott Brenton had allowed himself to marvel that he had not been christened Malachi. At least, it would have been in keeping with the habitual tone of the domestic table talk. And yet, in other moments, he realized acutely that that same heritage was in his nature, too. The village gossips had been exceedingly benevolent, in that they had spared him any inkling of the sources whence had come certain other strains which set his blood to tingling every now and then.
Just such a strain was tingling now, as he laid down his knife and fork, rested his elbows on the table before him and clasped his hands tight above his plate.
"I think I have all the light I am likely to get, mother," he said steadily.
"But, if the light within thee be—"
He checked her with a sudden petulant lift of his head. And, after all, it was not quite her fault. Life, for her, had been so hard and so busy that he ought not to grudge her the consolation she had been able to dig up out of the accumulated debris of the ancestral trick of sermonizing. In a more gracious, plastic existence, she would have taken it out in Browning and the Russians; yet she was not necessarily more narrow because her literary artists were pre-Messianic. Neither was it the fault of those same artists that they were quoted in and out of season, and always for the purpose of clinching an obnoxious point.
"It isn't," he said, as quietly as he was able. Then the boyishness pent up within him came bursting out once more. "Listen, mother," he said impetuously. "Really, this thing has got to be talked out between us to the very dregs. We may as well face it now as ever, and come to the final conclusion. I know you started out to make me into a minister. I know you feel that it is the one great profession of them all. But is it?"
For a minute, her hands gripped each other; but they were underneath the hanging edge of tablecloth, and so invisible to Scott.
"What can be greater than to speak the truth that makes us free?" she questioned.
"Isn't there more than one kind of truth, mother?" he challenged her.
"How can there be?"
Again he shut his teeth and swallowed down his opposition. He was too immature to argue that there might be different facets to the selfsame truth.
"Listen, mother," he began again, when he had proved to himself that he could rely upon his self-control. "As I say, I started out to be a minister, to be another Parson Wheeler in fact, if not in name. I know it has been your dream to hear me preach, some day or other. And I know how you have pinched and scrimped and worked, to give me the education that I was bound to need."
"You have worked, too, Scott," she told him, in swift generosity. "You have tugged along and gone without things and worked hard, in your books and out of them. You know I have been proud of you; the credit for it isn't all mine, by any means."
His young face flushed and softened. Unclasping his hands, he leaned across the table and laid his palm upon her fingers as they rested on the cloth beside her plate. Both palm and fingers were roughened and callous with hard work; but mother and son both were of that fast-vanishing class of folk who spell their Education with the largest sort of capital letter. Their minds were alike, in that they both believed the work worth while, for the sake of all that it would be able to accomplish.
"Thank you, mother," Scott said unsteadily. "I am glad you feel so, even if I don't deserve it." Then he steadied sharply and became practical. "So far, we've put it through, one way or the other," he went on. "Still, if I go in for the ministry," and his mother winced at the bald worldliness of his phrasing; "I shall have a year and a half more at college, and then three years of divinity school. We can do it, I suppose. For a matter of fact, I ought to be able to put it through alone, without a cent from you; but is it quite worth while? According to Professor Mansfield, if I keep steady, I can go straight from my degree into the laboratory as a paid demonstrator. It wouldn't be much pay, of course. Still, it would help along, and I could go on studying under him, all the time I was about it. By the time three years were over, the three years I would have to spend in the divinity school, I should be, ought to be, well upon my feet and walking towards a future of my own."
His mother drew a long breath, as the swift torrent of words came to an end. Then,—
"And at the end of twenty years, my son? That is the real question."
Scott's enthusiasm all went out of him. His assent came heavily.
"Yes," he admitted. "Yes. I suppose that is the real question, mother. It all depends—"
She looked up at him sharply, as if in haste to probe the limits of his hesitation.
"Depends?" she echoed.
"Upon the way you feel about it, mother."
She shook her head.
"Not that," she offered swift correction; "but upon the question which is right. You are at the forking of the roads, the narrow and the broad. You are almost a man, Scott. I have no right to decide this for you; you must make your own choice for yourself. However, my son, you know my dreams for you; you know my prayers."
And Scott Brenton, boy as he was in years, bowed his head in grave assent, and then and there made his great renunciation. He did know his mother's dreams; he had overheard, albeit unknown to her, her prayer. She had given all she had for him; his young honour, taking no thought for disastrous consequences, demanded that he should give up at least this one thing for her. He pushed back his chair, went around the table and laid one hand upon her shoulder.
"I do know, mother dear. As far as I can, I will do my best to carry them all out."
He bent above her in a brief, awkward caress, the caress of a man whose life has been too hard and too narrow to give him opportunity to perfect himself in the arts of masculine endearments. Then, leaving his breakfast half uneaten, he went away upstairs and shut the door of his own room behind him. A long hour later, he came down the stairs again, and went away in search of Catie.
He hoped Catie would listen to him, and understand him and his crisis; but, all the time he hoped, he was conscious of a sneaking fear lest she would not. Scott loved to talk things out, and Catie, when she was not too busy otherwise, was a good listener. Nevertheless, her comprehensions were concrete and very, very finite.
To all seeming, there always had been a Catie in Scott Brenton's life, always had been a Catie for him to seek in seasons of domestic stress or discipline. Indeed, his first memory of her was inextricably mingled with the recollections of an early spanking. Scott was naturally a good child, and Mrs. Brenton, as a rule, spanked cunningly, but very seldom. Now and then, she felt that circumstances justified the deed.
Scott, seven years old and inventive withal, had been locked up in the house alone, one day, while his mother went to a particularly attractive funeral with carriages enough for even the outside circle of the mourners. One such mourner failing, she had been bidden to the vacant seat in the rearmost carriage, and her absence had been prolonged unduly. She came home, expecting to find Scott wailing loudly for his missing mother. Instead, she found him playing camp-out Indian, as he called it, with her best bed by way of wickiup, and the wickiup was provisioned lavishly and stickily from the resources of the closet where she kept her jams.
Prudence and frugality demanded that Mrs. Brenton should remove her best clothes, before she essayed to administer justice at short range. Scott, left to himself, played on contentedly the while, until his camp was rudely invaded by a foe clad in a second-best petticoat and a shoulder shawl, and armed with a slipper which had seen better days. Even then, prudence cried out for yet another delay, for the young Indian was carrying so much of his commissariat upon his person that it seemed wise to wash him, before she proceeded to the spanking. Mrs. Brenton's point of view, moreover, was decidedly old-fashioned. Instead of rejoicing at this fresh manifestation of her boy's imagination, she concentrated all her remarks upon what she termed his theft, and she frugally used the period while she was scrubbing him, to drive her spoken condemnations home. Accordingly, it was a long, long time of duplex agony before the spanking finally achieved itself, and Scott, clean, but tingling from the slipper's impact, was told to go out and sit down on the doorstep and think over what a bad, bad boy he had been.
Like Alexander the Less, he found the doorstep distinctly cooling to his fevered person, and he sat there contentedly enough, while he gave himself over to the luxury of bubbly sobs and of digging his fists into his weeping eyes. So absorbed was he in this soothing occupation that he paid no heed to the patter of approaching footsteps, until a voice fell on his ears.
"Cry-baby!" the voice chirped, in the high key which, to the youthful mind, is expressive of disdain. And then it added even more disdainfully, "Dirty-face!"
Dazed by this two-fold attack upon him, Scott took down his smudgy fists and displayed to the intruder's view his smudgy countenance. An older pair of eyes might easily have discovered cause for wonder that, in so short a time since his scrubbing, so great a quantity of mother earth could have found its way upward to mingle with his tears and form the dust that grimed his face. Despite his tears and his grime, however, Scott's manly temper roused itself to face his critic.
"I ain't!" he bellowed hotly at the air around him, without troubling himself to look to see whence the strange voice had come.
The voice reflected somewhat of his opposition.
"You are, too. What's on your face?"
"Blackberry jam and soap," Scott answered, with a craftiness beyond his years. He told the literal truth, but not all the truth. No need to inform this critical stranger what was the crust that lay on top of all.
The critical stranger removed her pink countenance from the crack between the front-fence pickets, and pushed the gate open just a very little way. Seen through the larger crack, she stood revealed to Scott, a slim little damsel of perhaps six years, her pink calico frock starched until it stood out stiffly above her knees, and her topmost curl tied up with a mammoth bow of green gauze ribbon, obviously culled from some box of ancestral finery. She was a pretty child; but, even at that tender age, the decision of her little mouth and chin was too pronounced, the lift of her small head a trifle too self-satisfied.
"What's the matter, cry-baby?" she inquired, as Scott's interest in her appearing was punctuated with a fresh gulp of woe.
"I've been spanked."
The critical light faded from her eyes, to be replaced by another light, this time of interest.
"I was playing Indian in mother's jam."
Most damsels of that age would have asked for further particulars. Instead,—
"Hh!" she sniffed, and the sniff spoke volumes as to the quality of her young imagination.
Scott felt it lay upon him to defend himself from all which the sniff implied.
"'Twas fun, too," he asserted suddenly, as, with a final wipe of his fist across his eyes, he dismissed the outward traces of his grief. "You get things to eat to take with you, and the bed's the camp, and you live there for years and always, all alone. And then they smell the things you're eating and—"
"Who's they?" the small girl demanded.
"Oh, wolves and Indians and things, and they come around and growl awfully. But you aren't afraid. You take your gun, and crawl in under the blankets and go on eating, sure they won't come in after you—"
"What do you eat?"
Had Scott been a few years older, he doubtless would have answered,—
As it was, however, he responded glibly,—
"Hh!" Again there came the sniff. "Snakes don't have meat. They only wiggle."
Scott glared at her, during a moment of speechless hostility. Then suddenly he fired upon her with what was to be the favourite weapon of his later life.
"Prove it!" he ordered her defiantly.
But his defiance fell upon a surface quite impenetrable to its shaft.
"'Fraid cat!" he retorted curtly.
And then, for a short while, there was a silence. Out of the corner of her eye, the little girl was watching Scott. Scott, his head ostentatiously averted, was gazing at something he had dug up out of his trouser pocket, something concealed within the curve of his smudgy hand. Young as he was, his theories did not fail him. The silence prolonged itself for minutes which seemed to them both like hours. Then the eternal feminine yielded to the sting of curiosity.
"What you got?" she asked him, as the gate swung open just a little wider.
Scott was too canny to yield one whit of his advantage. His hand shut into a fist.
The gate swung open wider yet, and the small girl marched through the opening.
"Tell me," she said imperiously. "I want to see it."
Scott still held himself aloof, still held his trophy concealed from her curious eyes. She tried to grasp his hand, missed it, then succeeded. Then she tried to pry open the tight-shut fingers.
"Show me!" she ordered.
He shook his head, smiling derisively at her, while her strong little fingers did their best to pluck open his hard little fist.
Without another word, she bent above his hand. An instant later, the hand flew open, and the ball of the opening thumb showed the prints of small, sharp teeth.
"What is it?" she asked once more.
Scott's voice dropped to a murmur which was charged with mystery.
"It's a back tooth of the whale that swallowed Jonah."
Instantly she struck his hand a blow that sent his trophy flying off into the thick grass beside the step.
"It is not," she said shrilly. "It's nothing but a dirty old chicken bone, so there!"
And then, to the unspeakable astonishment of Scott, she seated herself upon the bottom step, smoothed her calico skirt across her little knees, and prepared to await further developments in tranquil comfort. It was thus that Scott Brenton first learned the lesson that the feminine mind only gains the fullest comfort in having the last word, when it is able to sit by and watch that word sink in and be digested. Later on in his life, the lesson was repeated again and again, with an increasing list of corollaries. Oddly enough, too, it was always given to him by the selfsame teacher, sometimes with mildness, sometimes with spiritual floggings.
This time, however, she appeared to be contented with the form her teaching had taken, contented, too, with its effect upon himself. Accordingly, she made no effort to continue the discussion. She merely sat there, silent, in the place whence she had ousted him, and gloated on her victory, sure that in time his masculine impatience would lead him to break in upon the pause.
She knew her man.
"What's your name?" Scott asked her curtly, after an interval of digging one heel and then the other into the turf beside the step.
She scented criticism in his reply.
"It's better than yours is," she retorted.
"It is not, too," he made counter retort. "Besides, you don't know my name."
Slowly the little damsel nodded, once, twice.
"Yes, I do. The man told me."
"The man that sells hens' eggs to my mother. I asked him, and he told me."
Scott eyed her with fierce hostility. Was there no limit to this small girl's all-penetrating curiosity?
"What is it, then?" he asked defiantly.
"It's Walter Scott Brenton," she assured him. And then she added, by way of turning her triumph into a crushing rout, "I think it's the homeliest name I ever heard."
And once again Scott Brenton gritted his teeth upon the fact that he was downed.
Later, he took his turn for extracting information concerning his uninvited guest. He extracted it from herself, however, and with refreshing directness. At the advanced age of seven years, one sees no especial use in conventional beatings about the bush. One goes straight to the point, or else one keeps still entirely; and, at that phase of his existence, keeping still was not Scott Brenton's forte. Indeed, he was later than are the most of us in learning the lesson that the keenest social weapon lies in reticence.
The starchy little damsel, it appeared, was the daughter of a petty farmer, lately come into the village. She was an only child; her home was the third house up the street, and her mother, busy about her household tasks and already a good deal under the thumb of her small daughter, considered her whole maternal duty done when the child was washed and curled and clothed in starch, and then turned out to play. Catie was able to look out for herself, Catie's mother explained contentedly to her new neighbours, and she knew enough to come home, when she was hungry. Best let her go her ways, then. She would learn to be a little woman, all the sooner; and, in the meantime, it was a great deal easier to do the housework without having a child under foot about the kitchen.
And go her ways the little damsel did, with only her guardian angel to see to it that her way was not the wrong one. By the time her father's first week's rent was due, Catie had made acquaintance with every inhabitant of the village, from the Methodist minister down to the blacksmith's bob-tailed cat. Not only that; but Catie, by dint of many questions, had discovered why the Methodist minister's wife was buried in the churchyard with a slice of marble set up on top of her, and why the blacksmith's bob-tailed cat lacked the major portion of her left ear. If ever there was a gossip in the making, it was Catie Harrison. More than that, her accumulated gossip was sorted out and held in reserve, ready to be applied to any end that suited her small convenience. Scott Brenton found that fact out to his cost, when the story of his camp and his subsequent spanking came back upon him by way of the man that sold the hens' eggs, in retaliation for his refusal to ask that he himself and Catie should be allowed to have a ride in the egg-man's wagon. Catie might be but six years and nine months old; but already her infant brain had fathomed the theory of effectual relation between the crime and the punishment. Her ideal Gehenna would be made up of countless little assorted hells, not of one vast and indiscriminate lake of flaming brimstone. Perchance this very fact had its own due share of influence upon the later theology of Scott Brenton.
That there would be influence, no one who watched the children could deny. After the first day's squabbles, perhaps even on account of them, they became inseparable. When they were not together, either Catie was looking for Scott, or Scott for Catie, save upon the too frequent occasions when discipline fell upon the two of them simultaneously and forced them into a temporary captivity. When they were held apart, they spent their time planning up new things to do together, once the parental ban was off their intercourse. When they were together, it was Scott who supplied the imagination for the pair of them. Catie's share lay in the crafty outworking of the plan. When their plans came to disaster, as often happened by reason of the boldness of Scott's young conceptions, Catie took the disappointment with the temper of a little vixen, kicked against the pricks and openly defied the Powers that Be. Scott, on the other hand, shut his teeth and accepted the penalty, already intent upon the question as to what he should undertake another time.
And so the days wore on. To the adult mind, they would have seemed to pass monotonously. The quicker child perceptions, though, the magnifying point of view that makes a mountain out of every mole hill, caused them to seem charged with an infinite amount of variety and incident, full of enthusiastic dreams and thrills, and of crushing disappointments which, however, never completely ended hope. Scott's heritage from the long line of Parson Wheelers would have made him stick to the belief that two and two must always equal four, had it not been for that other heritage which kept him always hoping that some day or other it might equal five. Already, he was starting on a life-long quest for that same five, and Catie, nothing loath, went questing by his side. Catie, though, went out of the merest curiosity, and her invariable "I told you so" added the final, the most poignant sting to all of Scott's worst disappointments. At the mature age of six or seven, Catie Harrison showed quite plainly that no mere longing for a possible ideal would ever lure her from the path of practical expediency. She walked slowly, steadily ahead, while her boy companion leaped to and fro about her, chasing first one bright butterfly of the imagination and then another, only to clutch them and bring them back to her to be viewed relentlessly with prosaic eyes which saw only the spots where his impatient touch had rubbed away the downy bloom.
And so the months rolled past them both, Catie the young materialist and potential tyrant, and Scott Brenton the idealist. The years carried the children out of the perpetual holidays of infancy and into the treadmill of schooling that begins with b, a, ba and sometimes never ends. Side by side, the two small youngsters entered the low doorway of the primary school; side by side, a few years later, a pair of lanky striplings, they were plodding through their intermediate studies which seemed to them unending. Catie was eagerly looking towards the final pages of her geography and grammar, for beyond them lay the entrance to another perpetual holiday, this time of budding maturity. Scott's eyes were also on the finish, but for a different reason. His mother, one night a week before his fourteenth birthday, had talked to him of college, of his grandfather, the final Parson Wheeler of the line, and, vaguely, of certain ambitions which had sprung up within her heart, the morning she had listened to the birth-cry of her baby boy.
A week later, she had given him his grandfather's great gold pen, albeit with plentiful instructions to the effect that he was not to use it, but to keep it in its box, untarnished, until such time as he was fitted to employ it in writing sermons of his own. Scott had received the gift with veneration, and then quite promptly had summoned Catie to do reverence at the selfsame shrine. But Catie had rebelled.
"Fudge!" she had said crisply. "What's the sense of having a useful thing like that, that you can't use?"
At the mature age of four, Scott Brenton's favourite pastime had been what he termed "playing Grandpa Wheeler." The game accomplished itself by means of a chair by way of pulpit, and a serried phalanx of other chairs by way of congregation, whom the young preacher harangued by the hour together. The harangues were punctuated by occasional bursts of song, not always of a churchly nature, and emphasized by gestures which were more forceful than devout. In this game Mrs. Brenton often joined him, lending her thin soprano voice to help out his quavering childish notes, and doing her conscientious best, the while, to keep the songs attuned to the key of proper piety. To be sure, she did insist upon bringing her sewing into church and, on one occasion, she patched her young son's trousers into a hideous pucker, by reason of her greater interest in the method of his expoundings.
"Just for all the world like father!" she was wont to say. "But wherever did he pick it up, when father was in his grave, three years before the child was born?"
The question was left unanswered by herself of whom she asked it. All too soon, moreover, it was joined by another question of similar import, but far more appalling. Indeed, where did the boy, where does any boy, pick up the tricks and manners and the phraseology of certain of his forbears who quitted the world before he fairly entered it? In Scott's case, the example was a flagrant one.
At the starting of the game of "Grandpa Wheeler," Mrs. Brenton had been so charmed with the outworkings of heredity as to balk at nothing Scott might do: sermon, hymn, or even prayer. When she was sure of her role and had the leisure, she joined him in his imitative worship, delighting in the unconscious fashion in which the sonorous phrases of convention rolled off from her son's baby lips. And then, one day, Scott's memory failed him in his invocation. There came a familiar phrase or two, and then a babble of meaningless syllables, ending in a long-drawn and relieved Amen. An instant later, Scott lifted up his head.
"Mo—ther," he shrilled vaingloriously; "I forgetted how it ought to go; but didn't I put up a bully bluff?"
And, in consequence, Mrs. Brenton took her prayers into bed with her, that night. Some of them, even, lasted till the dawn.
This was when Scott was only four. By the time he was fourteen, he took himself more seriously. He still played "Grandpa Wheeler" in imagination; but he no longer called it play, but plans. Already, he was looking forward to the hour when, in creaking Sunday shoes and shiny Sunday broadcloth, he should mount the stairs of the old-fashioned pulpit in the village church, gather the hearts of the waiting congregation within the welcoming and graceful gesture which would prelude his opening prayer, and then scourge those same hearts with the lashing truths which lead unto regeneration. He saw himself distinctly in this role, more distinctly, even, than in the blurry mirror before which he performed his morning toilet. It was no especial wonder that he did so. Ever since he had been old enough to pay heed to anything, his mother had been holding the picture up before his eyes.
Catie, however, refused to be impressed by the picture.
"What makes you want to be a minister?" she asked him. "I'd rather you kept a store. There's lots more money in it."
"I don't see what difference it is going to make to you?" Scott answered rather cavalierly.
Catie's reply was matter-of-fact, regardless of the sentimental nature of its substance.
"Don't be stupid, Scott. Of course, we shall be married, when we get grown up, and then you'll have me to support."
It was the first time she had announced this rather radical plan of hers, so it was no especial wonder that, for the moment, it took Scott's breath away. Not that he objected especially, however. It was only the novelty of the idea that staggered him. To his slowly-developing masculine mind, it never had occurred that he and Catie could not go on for ever, just chums and playmates and, now and then, lusty foes, without complicating their relations by more formal, final ties. He rallied swiftly, however.
"Well, you'll have to marry a minister, then," he told her sturdily.
Her nose wrinkled in disgust.
"And wear shabby clothes and a bad bonnet, like Mrs. Platt, and have to go to all the funerals in town! How horrid! Oh, Scott, do be some other kind of a man. A minister's wife can't dance anything but the Virginia reel, nor play anything more than muggins. Why can't you be a dentist, if you won't keep a store?"
For the once, Scott showed himself dominant, aggressive.
"Because I'd rather preach. It's what all my people have always done."
Then Catie made her blunder.
"What about your father?" she asked, and her voice was taunting.
Scott forgot his holy heritage and turned upon her swiftly.
"Shut up!" he bade her curtly, and her cheek tingled under the blow he dealt her.
It was the first time in his life that Scott had turned upon her with decision. Moreover, perchance it would have been better for him, had it not been the last.
For three days afterward, the subject was as a sealed book between them. Then Catie broke the seals, and gingerly.
"I have been thinking about your being a minister," she told him, as she dropped into step beside him, on the way to school. "Of course, you were very rude to treat me the way you did, the other day; and I hope you are sorry."
Scott shut his teeth, although he nodded shortly. He had not enjoyed the three-day frost between himself and Catie; but he was sure that, in the final end, he had been in the right of it, even if he had been a little unceremonious in pressing the matter home on her attention. Moreover, his will had triumphed; Catie had been the one, not he, to break the silence. The casualness of her "Hullo!" that morning, had not deceived him in the least. He was perfectly well aware that she had lain in wait for his passing, her eye glued to the crack of the front-window curtains. The victory was his. He could afford to yield the minor point concerning manners, when he stood so firmly entrenched upon that other point which concerned the ministry.
"Of course," he conceded guardedly; "I know I was beastly when I hit a girl."
"Yes." Catie's accent was uncompromising. "It was a disgrace to you. I wonder you can look me in the face. If it had been any other boy, I never would have spoken to him again as long as I lived."
"Really?" To her extreme disgust, Scott seemed to take her utterances merely as matter for scientific investigation.
"Of course not," she said impatiently.
"But why?" he asked her.
"Why?" she flashed. "Because he wouldn't deserve to be spoken to, nor even looked at."
"No; I don't mean that," the boy answered, still with the same apparent desire to probe the situation to the very bottom. "But why should you speak to me, and not to him?"
She suspected him of fishing for a sweetie, and, out of sheer contrariety, she flung him a bit of crust.
"Because I am used to you, I suppose. One gets so, after eight or nine years of growing up together." And, in that one sentence, Catie showed the practical maturity of her grasp on life and on Scott Brenton.
Half way to the distant schoolhouse, she spoke again, this time more tactfully.
"Never mind the spat, Scott. That's over and done with, even if you were horrid," she told him. "But really, now we're growing up, we ought to think things over and decide things." And, despite her short frocks and her childish face, her words held a curious accent of mature decision.
"What sort of things?"
"The things you are going to do, when you grow up."
"I have decided, I tell you," he said stubbornly.
"To be a country parson, all your days?" she queried flippantly.
"To be a minister, yes. Not a country one, though."
"Oh." She pondered. "What then?"
He looked over her head, not so much in disdain as in search of a more distant vista.
"In a city church, of course, a great stone church with towers and chimes and arches, and crowded full of people, and with their horses and carriages waiting at the doors," he answered, he who had never trodden a paved street in all his life.
"Oh!" But, this time, the monosyllable was breathy, and not sharp.
"Yes, and there will be a choir as good as those people who sang at the town hall, last Thanksgiving, and flowers, lots of them, roses in winter, even," he went on eagerly. "And you can hear a pin drop while I am preaching, only once in a while somebody will sob a little in the pauses, and then put in a roll of hundred-dollar bills when the contribution box comes round."
Catie drew another long breath, and her eyes sparkled.
"Lovely!" she said, and she stretched out the word to its full length by way of expressing her contentment. "And where'll I be?"
Scott withdrew his eyes from distant space and gazed upon her blankly.
"I hadn't thought about that," he said.
Then, for an instant, the glory of his dream was shattered.
"Pig!" Catie said concisely.
However, it was not within the limits of her curiosity to drop the prediction at this piquant point. The framing of the picture, for so she regarded it, had pleased her. Scott failing, she must fill in the portrait to suit herself.
"I'll tell you, then. I shall be there, in the very front seat, dressed in flowing curls," Catie's hair, at this epoch, was pokery in its stiff straightness; "and a real lace dress. And, after service, all the rich people in the church will ask us out to dinner. Of course, in a church like that, the minister's wife is always at the top of things, and I shall help along your work by making people like me and be willing to listen to your sermons because you are my husband."
And then the two young egotists fell silent, each one of them lost in outlining a future in which he himself was the central point, the guiding principle of all things. Between the two of them, however, there was this one essential difference: Scott's forecastings were vague and rosy dreams, Catie's were concrete plans.
None the less and despite that difference, from that time onward, it was tacitly agreed between the children that Scott would one day be a minister, with Catie for his wife. To be sure, it was Catie herself who supplied the latter clause, not Scott.
"You'll have to have some sort of a wife," she argued superbly. "Ministers always do. It might as well be me. You like me better than any of the other girls, and I am used to having you around." And, upon this rocky basis of practicality, their young romance was built.
Mrs. Brenton, meanwhile, looked on them with contented eyes, smiling a little now and then at the downright fashion in which the thirteen-year-old Catie made known her matrimonial plans. Mrs. Brenton liked Catie well enough, but not too well. She could have dreamed of another sort of wife for her boy, for Catie's crudeness occasionally irritated her, Catie's self-centred ambition, her intervals of density sometimes came upon Mrs. Brenton's nerves. However, girls were scarce upon the horizon of the Brentons. Catie was not perfect; but, at least, she might be infinitely worse. And Scott would be sure to need a practical wife, to counteract his habitual disregard of concrete things. Catie would see to it that his wristbands were not frayed and that his buttons were in their proper places. She might not enter into his ideals, but she would mend his socks and insist upon his changing them when he had wet his feet. Socks were more important to a man than mere ideals, any day, more important, that is, as concerned his conjugal relations. Scott could make up his ideals to suit himself. His socks must be prepared for him by wifely hands.
Of course, they were only children now, only little children, too young to be thinking about such things as marriage. And yet—And Mrs. Brenton shook her head. And yet, were not the happiest marriages prearranged in just this way? Surely, this was far better as a preparation for wedded life than was the sudden, feverish courtship which rushed at express-train speed and clatter from the first introduction of two strangers to the final irrevocable words before the altar. Mrs. Brenton's own experience had taught her that acquaintance should come before one's marriage, not wait till after.
All in all, the more she thought about it, Mrs. Brenton favoured Catie's somewhat premature announcement of her plans. Despite his heritage of sturdy parson blood, Mrs. Brenton confessed to herself that Scott might easily become a little erratic now and then, might let go his hold upon the one thing needful in order to gratify his curiosity concerning the touch of less essential, more alluring trifles. He needed the steady, sturdy influence of some one outside himself to keep him always in the beaten tracks. Already, for better or for worse, Catie's influence upon him was a strong one; stronger, Mrs. Brenton admitted to herself with a woful little sigh, than that of his own mother, despite the ill-concealed anxiety and the doting love that only a mother can give, and then only to an only son. Between the two of them, herself and Catie, Catie's will was the stronger law. Catie, if she chose, could keep Scott's feet well in the limits of the beaten trails. It should be her duty to impress on Catie's girlish mind that the beaten trail was the only one for him to follow, the path of expediency as well as the path of holiness; that complete contentment and success lay only at its other end.
Accordingly, Mrs. Brenton took it upon her shoulders to play the part of Providence for those two young children: Scott and Catie. To Scott, she pointed out Catie as the girl best worth his attention and his comradeship, the while, with the other hand, she still held up before him the picture she had so long ago created, the picture of himself, child of the preaching race of Wheelers, proclaiming the gospel to all men and some heathen. Side by side she placed them: the world-given wife, the heaven-offered career. Moreover, she was so far the artist that she was able to shift her lights and shades to fall now upon the one and now upon the other, according as Scott's interest in one or other of them appeared to her to wane. Her quick-sighted mother love was prompt to warn her of that waning, prompt to make her understand that, to a boy like Scott, a hard and fast monotony would be fatal to almost any plan.
With Catie, on the other hand, her course was altogether different, altogether simpler. With the constant and unwavering blows of a carpenter pounding a nail into an oaken plank, she pounded into Catie's mind the undeniable truths that Scott's ancestry alone was enough to fit him for the ministry; that the ministry, granted the sincerity of its orthodox convictions, may be the highest field of labour offered to any man. Moreover, to these palpable truths, she added others, a shade less undeniable. She impressed it on the mind of Catie that Scott's sole chance of happiness, in this life and the life to come, rested upon their combined ability to shield him from any adverse influence which might deflect his footsteps from his predestined goal. She impressed it on the mind of Catie, also, that it was her girlish duty to herd her immature companion into the proper fold; that her young and sprightly charms, her girlish loyalty should be to her as a shepherd's crook, the guiding wand to be applied in moments of extremest peril.
After her lights, Mrs. Brenton was canny. If she only had been a little bit more worldly, she would have been a clever woman; moreover, her potential cleverness had never been one half so manifest as when she talked about all this to Catie. She did not put forward her urgings crudely, as for the sake of Scott, her son. Rather than that, she held them up to Catie coyly, as glimpses of opportunity and power which waited for her at the gateway of maturity: opportunity given only to the helpmeet of a man in the commanding position offered by his ministerial profession, power given to that helpmeet by reason of her position by his side.
Like the conductor of an orchestra who draws out from one instrument and then another the varied themes of an overture, so Mrs. Brenton drew from the unlike minds of Catie and her son the selfsame and successive themes of what she, in her mother blindness, deemed the one possible and ennobling overture to Scott Brenton's life. It was quite characteristic of Mrs. Brenton's make-up, however, that she took no thought of Catie's life, save in so far as it could be applied to the ultimate development of Scott, her son.
"A puffic' fibbous!" the monthly nurse had announced triumphantly, when she had presented Mrs. Opdyke's first-born son to his mother for her inspection.
The phrase, and the smile which invariably accompanied it, were the main stock in trade of the monthly nurse. Upon these two items, she had based her popularity which now had endured for more than a dozen years of escorting over the threshold of this world the sons and daughters of "first families only," as her professional card insisted. To be sure, the constant employment of the phrase had robbed it of all critical significance. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether, even at the start of her career, the nurse had ever linked it in her mind with the great god Apollo. From some one of her predecessors, she had picked it up and found that it fitted well upon her tongue. Later, the "fibbouses" abounded more and more plenteously, as her clientage increased, and she applied the term indiscriminately, regardless whether the recipient were an Apollo, or a mere Diana.
However, from the start, Reed Opdyke certainly deserved the phrase. Long generations of clean, high-minded living cannot fail to produce an effect upon their offspring. Reed's father had branched off from a line of lawyers to hold the chair of chemistry in one of the great colleges for girls. Reed's mother was of Pilgrim stock, well-nigh untainted by the blood of later, lesser arrivals on the Massachusetts shore. On either side of the house, it had been a matter of simple creed to hold one's body and one's mind equally aloof from possibilities of disease. Reed Opdyke's make-up showed the value of this creed.
Not that he thought very much about it, however. He accepted as a matter of course his sanity, very much as he accepted most other things that came in his way. His loosely curled fists within his pockets, his head erect and his lips smiling, he went striding along through life, taking the best of it as his natural right, and letting the rest of it alone. From kindergarten into school and from school into college, the old, old road trodden by all his ancestors, he journeyed quite as a matter of course. In fact, it never struck him that any fellow could do otherwise; never, that is, until he met Scott Brenton.
For Scott, in time, had also come to college. His mother had insisted upon that; had worked for it that it might in time be possible; had scrimped and toiled and saved, the while she had been training her only child to a strict economy which, however galling, he must accept as well worth the while for the sake of all that it was going to put within his grasp. Accordingly, Scott had been sent to school throughout the termtimes, sent well or ill, in good days and in bad. He had been goaded into an ambition which held him at the top of his small classes in the village school. When the top of the top class was reached, and college was still inaccessible, Mrs. Brenton had stiffened her sinews for yet greater toil and scrimping, and had sent her son up to Andover where the Wheeler name was a tradition, where the knowledge of Scott's ancestry would help him to find the employment that he needed. Scott's education was to be by no means easy of achievement. To gain his school diploma and his later degrees at college, he too must work, not alone at books, but, in his off-hours, at any task that offered.
And Scott did work, too. Around him, other boys were going in for football, making records on the track team, getting occasional leaves to run in to Boston for an odd half-holiday. Then they came back, hilarious and triumphant, to discuss their experience at mealtimes, boasting, chaffing, wrangling merrily in the intimacy known to boyhood, the world over. They never thought to pay any especial attention to the other boy who brought them things to eat, a boy with luminous gray eyes and clothes which were in sore need of pressing. He was just "that waiter chap" and not a human being like themselves. They talked about their secret plans before him, with no more thought of his personality than as if he had been a concrete post. And, after listening to their chatter throughout a protracted mealtime, after seeing, as he could not fail to do, how he counted to them for absolutely nothing at all, Scott Brenton had his hours when he too doubted the fact of his own humanity. An active brain and an almost automatic body trained to supple service: these by themselves, he realized, do not go far towards making a human thing of life. Contacts are necessary for that, not total isolation; and contact was the one thing denied him. Now and then he had his hours of wishing that those other boys, boys whose talk was full of reference to unfamiliar ways of life: of wishing that they would treat him a little bit unkindly. Anything would be better than this absolute ignoring of his individuality.
In his intervals of waiting on the table, he washed up the dishes. His meals he took, standing by the sink, a plate on the shelf before him, while he washed and chewed simultaneously. There were other tasks besides, tasks all of them more or less menial, all of them adding to the general drain upon his nerves and body. The rest of the time, his studies kept him busy. Indeed, it was no small wonder that he was able to maintain a decent footing in his class, so fagged out and weary was he by the time he had a moment's leisure to prepare his next-day's lessons. But prepare them he did, and well, although his eyes grew heavy over the task and ached with the strain of working by the one dim light with which his shabby garret room was equipped. It was a single room, unhappily. Even there, all contact was denied him. Saint Simon, sitting alone upon his pillar and gazing down upon his fellow men, was no more solitary than was Scott Brenton. Moreover, Saint Simon had the final consolation of being quite aware that he was looking down, a consolation which, to Scott Brenton, was permanently refused.
And then, Andover done, there came college, not one of the small colleges where individual idiosyncrasies count so much in making up the estimate of the student's character; but a great university, so great that it can stop to measure no man by any one trait or any several traits, so busy that it must grasp him in the round, or not at all. There lay the fact of Scott Brenton's ultimate salvation. He would have been downed completely, judged by the finical standards of the little college.
It was in his choice of college that, for the first time in his life, Scott Brenton's will had become dominant. His mother would fain have had it otherwise. The Wheelers, one and all, had been little-college men. The tradition was in their blood, and she had inherited it to the full: the strange belief that the smaller college offers less temptation to go astray; the equally strange belief that the closer contact with a few professors can quite atone for the lack of friction against a great crowd of fellow students, alien to one another in habits of mind and body, yet all of them, swiftly or sluggishly as may be, moving towards the selfsame goal. It had seemed to Mrs. Brenton something bordering on the blasphemous when Scott had endeavoured to put this latter phase of the question before her. Realizing his own futility upon that score, he finally had changed his tactics and assured her that, as far as money-earning work went, there were ten chances in the great college to one in the small.
And Scott was right, albeit his argument was wholly superficial. The truth of the matter was that his Andover experience had left him sore and downhearted; that he knew, in the bottom of his boyish soul, that he must plunge beyond his depth and swim into a wider sea, or else go down entirely, pushed out of sight beneath the overlapping circles of the little cliques, all too self-centred to admit of any common focus.
Mrs. Brenton did not care at all about any common focus. The phrase "college spirit" sounded intemperate, and she would have been the last person in the world to agree to the belief that Scott could gain any education from contact with boys of his own age. To her mind, one fusty old professor out-valued one hundred eager undergraduates, as source of inspiration to the young. Education, to her mind, lay in the desk-end of the classroom; it was unthinkable to her that Scott had lost the best of Andover, by reason of his solitary life there. As for college, the students, all but Scott, were bound to be full of the wiles of the devil. Scott's safety lay in his books, and in his keeping too busy in his off-hours to have time to get into mischief.
Moreover, the purely practical end of the keeping busy was beginning to loom large upon Mrs. Brenton's horizon. More and more she was coming to realize that it is no small undertaking for any widow with an almost imperceptible income to put a son through college. Valiantly she toiled and scrimped; but it was becoming increasingly necessary for Scott to help her out in both the toiling and the scrimping. Accordingly, the creases deepened, both vertically about the corners of Scott's lips and horizontally across his shiny knees and shoulder blades. His eyes, though, grew more luminous, as time went on, perhaps because they were surrounded by ever deepening hollows.
It was those eyes that first caught the attention of Reed Opdyke. Midway in his sophomore year, Opdyke, with a dozen others of his kind, had revolted from the monotony of the commons table, and had set up a so-called joint of their own, an eating-club presided over by a gaunt and self-helping senior, and served by a quartette of cadaverous and self-helping sophomores among whom was Scott Brenton.
Reed Opdyke was a busy youngster, full of the countless interests that cram the college days of a popular, easy-going student. Also he was a potential leader of men, who gave himself leisure to study the people with whom he came into any kind of contact, to sort them out and classify them according to their possibilities as they unveiled themselves to his boyish eyes. Three of the cadaverous sophomores he dismissed with a glance. They were impossible. They lacked all spiritual yeast and, to the end of time, they would be waiters in one sense or another. Scott Brenton was different. A fellow with those eyes must have it in him to count for something, some day. Lounging in his seat at table, Opdyke kept his eye on Scott, talked at him, then talked to him; and then, obedient to some boyish whim or other, a few days later, the meal ended, he took him by the elbow and walked him off to Mory's for a second supper.
Mrs. Brenton, on her knees beside her bed, that night, prayed long and fervently and with full particulars concerning the education of her son. Her heart would have frozen with horror, had she seen the smoke-filled room where her son was sitting, with Reed Opdyke across the table from him. Her hopes for his future would have shrivelled into naught, could she have realized that, over that very table, her son, her Scott, was to receive a lesson, new and quite unforgettable. One hour of jovial human comradeship had opened Scott Brenton's eyes to more things than he ever yet had dreamed of. It had taught him once for all that irresponsible, carefree youth is not, of necessity, vicious.
As the days and the weeks ran on, the comradeship increased. Measured by the days of Opdyke, overflowing full of interests, it took the smallest possible share of time: a look of comprehension, a word of casual greeting, and, on rare occasions, a bit of a walk together when their ways chanced to coincide. Still more occasionally, a stray hour was spent at Mory's, or in Opdyke's room in Lawrence. As yet, a boyish delicacy had kept Opdyke from seeking to invade what he knew could not fail to be the barrenness of Scott Brenton's quarters.
Slight as was their intercourse, viewed in Opdyke's eyes, to Scott it filled the whole horizon, the one near and vital fact which broke in upon its emptiness and cut away the barren wastes about him. He lived alternately upon the memory of Opdyke as he had seen him last, and upon the anticipations of their next meeting. His hours of table service, ceasing to be wearisome, had become veritable social functions, for was there not always the chance of a random word and smile? Those failing, there was always the pleasure of watching Opdyke, now lounging lazily in his seat and mocking at his fellows, now bending forward above the table, heedless of his cooling plate, the while he harangued his companions with a facility which seemed to Scott the acme of brilliant eloquence.
At Reed's elbow, Scott followed each inflection of the persuasive voice, his lean face glowing with appreciation at every point his idol scored. For the time being, awkwardness was lost and all self-consciousness. Why think about himself, when he could have the chance to watch Reed Opdyke and to listen to him? Scott's nature thrilled in answer to the alien touch, unconsciously as that touch was given. It never once would have struck Opdyke that he was becoming an object of idolatry to this gaunt starveling to whom, as he expressed it, he had tried to be a little decent. It was quite within the limits of his comprehension that he could step down now and then to Scott. It never would have occurred to him, at that epoch of his experience, that Scott could try to clamber up to him. Save for the minutes when he consciously gave his attention to the ungainly young waiter, he disregarded him completely.
The other boys, however, were quick to take in the situation and to comment on it. "Reed's parson" they called Scott, and they chaffed Opdyke mercilessly, when Scott's back was turned. Scott, had he heard the chaff, would have been wounded to the death, a death he would have met far, far inside his shell, regretful that ever he had come out of it. Opdyke, however, merely laughed and stuck to his original position.
"A fellow with such eyes is bound to have it in him. He's never had a chance," he said to his chaffing mates. "Wait till he finds himself, and then see what happens."
"Nothing," came the prompt reply. "He won't ever find himself, Reed. He has found you, and that's as much as such a fellow as he is, can ever assimilate."
And the reply was by no means wide of the mark. For the present, Scott Brenton was finding it all he could do to assimilate Reed Opdyke. Indeed, it was only in the very end of all things that fulness of assimilation came.
As the time went on, partly in defiance of the chaffing of his chronies, partly on account of it, Opdyke lent himself more and more to the assimilating process. He sought out Scott more often, had him in his room, taught him to fill a pipe and smoke it after the fashion of a gentleman, dropped into his ears specious hints regarding manners, and about the efficiency of one's mattress as frugal substitute for a tailor's pressboard. To be sure, upon that latter count Scott took him with unforeseen literalness; and, in his zeal to carry out his teacher's dictum, subjected his coat to the mattress treatment, as well as his more simply-outlined nether garments. Moreover, it should be set down as distinctly to Opdyke's credit that he suppressed his merriment, the next time he saw the coat upon Scott Brenton's shoulders.
Just at this epoch, some waggish member of the eating club employed his camera at their expense. The resultant film, in after weeks, became one of the most popular assets of the class. True, the needful haste had caused the camera to tip a little. None the less, what the picture lacked in composition, it made up in clearness and in vitality. Taken solely as a study of contrasting types, it was of no small sociological value, since it proved past all gainsaying that the absolute democracy of a great college can bring into close relationship the most impossibly divergent natures.
Scott, at this time, was thin and lean. His shoulders were bowed a little with the strain of unceasing work and worry; in his more self-conscious moments, he shambled when he walked. Only moderately tall, clothed in ill-cut garments which he wore as uneasily as possible, his immature young figure was not one to call out much admiration on the score of its virility. Indeed, the one really virile thing about Scott Brenton was his hair, which sprang out strongly from his scalp, fine, but thick and just a little wavy where it lay across his crown. His head was well-shaped, only that it was a bit too high above the ears, the brow a bit too salient; the eyes alone, though, at that time, redeemed from hopeless mediocrity his worn, ill-nourished face. Beside his hips, his hands dangled limply, showing a stretch of unclothed wrist sticking out below the shrunken coat sleeves.
Beside him in the picture, Reed Opdyke strode lightly, still, to all seeming, the "puffic' fibbous" that his nurse had dubbed him. Six feet tall, lean and supple as a deerhound and as totally unconscious of his long, slim body, it was impossible to fancy him as ever being betrayed into an awkward motion. Above his straight, slim shoulders, his curly brown head rose proudly, his thin lips smiled a greeting to all the world around him, his brown eyes looked straight and true into the eyes of every man he chanced to meet. Only his sense of humour and his comfortable smattering of original sin could have saved Reed Opdyke from being insupportable. Beauty like his, albeit manly, is bound to be a certain handicap.
It was to Reed Opdyke's influence that Scott owed the encouraging plaudits of his chemistry professor.
In an elective system which, at that time, was still left quite unmodified, Scott had happened upon the chemistry class by way of filling up his courses for his sophomore year. He had been going on with it indifferently for some months, when Opdyke had been transferred to his division. Up to that time, Scott had liked the class but temperately; that is, although it had seemed to him a useless frill upon the garment of his education, he did not dislike it in the least, and he had made a fair showing in his recitations.
Opdyke's coming into his division had changed all that. At first, Scott merely had been possessed by a fury of desire to shine before his idol's eyes. A little later on, Opdyke's manifest, albeit rather casual, interest in the subject had led Scott to revise his earlier notions carefully, to decide that there might be something in it, after all. By the beginning of his junior year, Scott had won the tardy attention of the head of the department. By the beginning of the Christmas holidays of that junior year, the head of the department had felt it his plain duty to explain to Scott that the road ahead of him was likely to be an open one and easy. If he kept on as he had begun, in time he might be head of a department on his own account. Absurd for a fellow with a mind like his to be spending his time over rhetoric and the classics! Science was his line, pure science; above all, chemistry.
And Scott had listened in silence, at first too much astounded by the unexpected verdict to make answer. Then, as the head of the department left off predicting and fell to making plans, Scott plucked up courage to tell of the ministerial career supposedly ahead of him. The professor, downright and enthusiastic in his utterances, pooh-poohed the entire ministerial idea. Nonsense! Absurd! Spoil a chemist to make a parson! Preposterous! Any one could preach, if he tried. Not one man in a dozen could even make a quantitative analysis tally up, and get anywhere near as much material out of it as went in. Waste on flourishing gestures those lithe hands that were so obviously created for the manipulation of such delicate things as balances and test-tubes and the like! It was impossible. Scott must take the other idea home with him and think it over carefully, during the coming holidays.
And Scott did take the idea home with him; but, from the first, he found it out of the question to think it over carefully. How could he, when, within himself, he knew that his feeling for the profession laid down before him by ancestral tradition and by his mother's constant urgings: that his feeling for the ministry was a perfunctory affection, a wholly different matter from the passionate desire that throbbed within him at the thought of giving up his life to scientific study. To preach ancient beliefs that no human power could verify, or to work on steadily, helping to broaden the field of truth, and proving all things as he went along: these were the alternatives. Obviously there could be no comparison between them.
Scott took the idea home with him, as Professor Mansfield had advised him. All those first days at home, he hugged the idea tight, tight, caressed it, gloated over it in secret, but allowed no one, not even Catie, to share it with him. Before he went back again to college, he would show it to his mother, would allow her to share his ecstasy at the new opportunity opened out before him. Not yet, however. For the first time in all his life, Scott Brenton was seriously in love. He gave to this new vision a fervent passion such as Catie had been powerless to arouse; like all young lovers, he desired a little time to revel in secret over the mere fact that he knew he was in love.
Of his mother's consent to the change of plan, Scott Brenton felt no doubt. Little by little, with his growth towards manhood, Scott had come to dominate his mother more than either of them realized. His very repression, his subordination in all his other relationships, helped towards this end. It was but a natural reaction from his servile position when away from home that, once more at home, he should assert himself as potential master of the house. His virile will was dormant, crushed, but it was by no means dead. And his mother, adoring him and idealizing him despite her maternal qualms on his account, yielded herself readily enough to his domination. And then, all at once, her yielding came to a sudden end against the bed rock of her character. Her own ambition, Scott's ultimate salvation, alike forbade him to renounce his ministerial career.
After all, though, it was one of the pitched battles that settle themselves without the final appeal to arms. On that winter night when Scott had come in, buoyantly alive and hopeful, to be met upon the threshold by his mother's prayer, the boy had realized that the fight was on. Next morning, over the plate of sausages, the crisis came, and went. Contrary to all his expectations, Scott left the table vanquished, his light of hope gone out for ever. It was a meagre consolation that, in thinking back upon the matter afterwards, he could take to himself the credit of having spoken no word which could ever fester in his mother's mind.
He had gone up to his room to lock the door and then to stand long at the window, staring with unseeing eyes down into the village street. By good rights, he should have seen one future, if not the other, opening out before him in ever-widening vistas. At nineteen or so, however, one is not too imaginative. Scott merely saw a vagrant dog trying to paw his way through a deep drift that lay across the road. He had a fellow feeling for the dog, when he gave up his effort and, sitting down in the ruins of his tunnel, abandoned himself to the contemplation of a flea.
After a while, he gave up his moody drumming on the pane, turned his back to the bleak perspective and, seizing his hat, departed in search of Catie. He found Catie mending a tear in the new frock she had worn, the night before, and unsympathetic in proportion to her discontent. The hollowness of the world was all about him, when he went back to college, three days later.
His first intention had been to throw over all his scientific study once for all. Forbidden the whole loaf, why whet his appetite by nibbling at the one slice offered him? His common sense, however, aided by the urging of Professor Mansfield, restored him to his reason. Scott had lost no time at all in making a clean breast of the matter to Professor Mansfield: his mother's dreams for him, her prejudices, his own choice and his renouncing of it all for the sake of what his mother had already given up for him. To his colleagues, the old professor expressed himself with plain profanity. To Scott, he took a gentler tone, spoke with appreciation of a mother such as Mrs. Brenton must be, spoke of the ministerial profession with an admiration he was far from feeling, and then craftily suggested to his favourite student that the preaching of the gospel should go hand in hand with scientific truth. In these modern days, a clergyman should be fully abreast of scientific thought. Best keep on with his chemistry. It might be useful to him, later on. Even eternal brimstone was susceptible of analysis.
Then, an instant later, the old professor could have bitten out his tongue for his unholy jest. His penitence was in no wise lessened by the quality of Scott's answering laugh. Best leave those fellows to their ministerial sackcloth, without questioning the quality of the flax from which it was spun. A man of Scott Brenton's calibre would do no harm by his preaching. What was the sense of seeking to upset any orthodox beliefs he might happen to have inherited? Besides, as long as Scott kept up his sciences, he was reasonably sure of keeping up his common sense and, what was a long way more important, his perspective and his sense of fun.
Despite his disappointed resolutions to dismiss the boy from his mind, the old professor, going his chemical way, worried about Scott. It seemed to him, according to his bald phrasing, to be a cruel waste of good material to make a parson out of what might have been a great explorer, for, to Professor Mansfield's mind, the incomplete and lengthening list of elements was just as reasonable a field for exploration as was the Antarctic Continent, or Darkest Africa. The results, indeed, of such exploration were bound to be a great deal the more useful. The professor worried. In time, he laid his worries on the dinner table before Reed Opdyke whose father had been a classmate of his own.
"It's an awful shame about young Brenton," he observed, when he and Opdyke and the tobacco had been left to themselves.
"What about him?" Opdyke questioned carelessly, as he picked up a match.
"That he has talents of his own, and a conscience that belongs to his mother. I believe in mothers, Reed; yours is a wonderful woman. But, in this case, I doubt the wonder, and I deplore the way she keeps her thumb on Brenton."
"You think she does?"
"I know it. Her confounded theories of sanctity are putting a binding around all his brain, a tight binding that is going to shrink and cause a pucker. Brenton has a first-class scientific mind, granted it gets the training. Left to himself and the divinity school, he'll turn into a perfect ass as preacher."
Opdyke shook his head.
"Nothing so possible as that, I'm afraid," he contradicted. "He'll just settle down on his heels, and shuffle along in——" He hesitated for a finish of his phrase.
The professor supplied it, and ruthlessly.
"Mental carpet slippers. Precisely. And I could give him boots and spurs."
"Why don't you do it, then?" Opdyke asked him bluntly.
In the interest of the subject, the old professor forgot that he was talking to one of his students and about another.
"Because he's got the very devil of a conscience, and won't let me. There is a widowed mother in the background, and a perfect retinue of preaching ancestors, whole dozens of them and all Baptists, and they have conspired to poison the boy's mind with the notion that it's up to him to preach, too. It would be all right, if he had anything to say; but he hasn't. He's tongue-tied and unmagnetic at the best; what's more, he has learned too many things to let him flaunt abroad the old beliefs as battle standards. He's gone too far, and not far enough. His life is bound to be a miserable sort of compromise, a species of battledore and shuttlecock arrangement between the limits of the deep sea and the devil." And then the professor pulled himself up short. "Know him?" he queried curtly, as he lit his match.
"As one does know people one never meets out anywhere," he said.
"What do you mean by that?" The question was still curt.
"He waits at my joint."
"Of course. And?"
"How do you know there is an and, Professor?" he asked easily.
"Because I know you, and because I've heard of 'Reed's parson.' You're your father's own son, Reed. You never could get a starveling like Scott Brenton out of sight of your conscience. How much have you seen of him?"
"Not much." And Opdyke gave a few details.
The professor nodded thoughtfully. Then,—
"See more," he ordered; "any amount more. You have time enough, you lazy young sinner, and I'll be answerable for all the consequences."
Opdyke yielded to his curiosity.
"What kind of consequences?"
"The inevitable kind that follow all you youngsters. Listen, boy. Brenton is a mixture of genius, and prig, and ignorant young hermit; or, rather, he has the elements all inside him, ready to be mixed. You'll have to do the mixing."
"I?" Opdyke looked startled. "Professor, what a beast of a bore!"
"No matter if it is. I believe in the conservation of all latent energy. Brenton's is all latent, and I count on you to do the conserving. I've been asking questions lately. From all accounts, you are the only man in college but myself who has taken the pains to get inside the poor beggar's shell."
"Hm. Well?" Opdyke's eyes were on the smoke in front of him; but, to the older man, it was plain that he was listening intently.
"Now you've got to go to work to get him out of his shell, so that people can see what he is like and, more than that, so that he can find out what people really are. He has no more knowledge of humanity than a six-months puppy; in fact, he hasn't so much. And—he's—got—to—learn." The words came weightily.
"What's the good?" Opdyke asked lazily.
The reply was unexpected, even to him who knew Professor Mansfield's downright ways.
"To teach him what an ass he really is. Till he finds that out—till you all find it out about yourselves, there's not much hope for any of you."
"Thanks," he said a little shortly.
Bending across the table, the old professor laid a friendly hand upon his arm.
"Don't be huffy, Reed. A few of you take in the knowledge with your mother's milk. That's what saves society, by marking it off into separate classes, what makes the difference between your father's son, and the strenuous scion of fifty ministerial Wheelers. But, because you've already got it, you owe all the more to the poor chaps who haven't."
"Yes, sir." Opdyke's reply came with dutiful promptness, although it was plain to the professor that he had flown quite beyond the limits of the young mind before him. "What do you want me to do with him, though?"
The professor's eyes twinkled, as he dragged himself back to the practical aspects of the case.
"Coax him out of his shell. If he won't come, then haul him out by the ears. Have him in your room and have some other men in there to meet him. Take him about with you. Take him to Mory's, on a thick night there. Show him life, the way you know it. If you must, show him an occasional siren. I can say this to you, Reed, because I have taken pains to find out that your sirens are pretty decent ones, cleaner than most of them. To sum it up, let Scott Brenton see life as you are living it, not as he imagines it from the point of view of the man who never can do anything but sit back in a corner and look on."
Opdyke filled his pipe anew, puffed at it silently, then spoke.
"Beastly tantalizing thing to do," he said. "What in thunder is the use?"
The professor spoke with sudden fervour.
"Much!" he said. "At least, it will teach him, when he's preaching for the Lord, to remember that Mammon isn't always quite so black as he is painted."
And so, on top of Reed Opdyke's other interests, Professor Mansfield laid the burden of Scott Brenton's worldly training. In pointing out the need of it to Opdyke, however, the old professor had been by no means as downright as he seemed. From above his lecture notes and his blowpipes, he kept keen eyes upon the members of his classes. Watching Scott steadily, in those days which followed upon the boy's bitter disappointment, he had seen new lines graving themselves about his lips, lines of decision now, not of worried mal-nutrition, lines that too easily might shape themselves to wilfulness. Scott, recluse that he had been, had also been as steady as a deacon; but the old professor realized that a reaction might come at almost any instant. One outlet, and that the highest one, forbidden him, he might seek other, lower ones in sheer bravado. Forbidden to climb into the Tree of Knowledge of all Good, he might, in revenge, fall greedily upon the Apples of Sodom. Left to himself, no one knew what harpies he might chance upon as comrades, nor what sights they might show him. To prevent all that, to provide him with an outlet which should be as wholesome as it was fresh and sparkling, the professor had given him into the safe hands of Reed Opdyke. It was as he said: he was quite well aware that, although Reed had his sirens, they all were curiously clean ones; in short, that his young Mammon was nobler far than many a senile God.
As a matter of course, Catie came to Scott's commencement. Had she answered sincerely to any questions put to her, she would have confessed to a two-fold purpose: the showing off of her proprietorship in Scott, and the showing off of her pair of new frocks, the most elaborate achievements as yet attempted by the village dressmaker. It must be confessed, however, that Catie found both of these deeds a little disillusioning. Scott was so busy in so many ways that he seemed to Catie to spare her only the smaller fragments of his time; and her two new gowns, which at home had been tried on amid the plaudits of the girl friends bidden to the private view, sank into insignificance beside the round dozen or more frocks which each of the other commencement guests was wearing in bewildering succession. To be sure, Catie's gowns had the most trimming on them; but her satisfaction in that fact was somewhat modified by the discovery that all her trimming was running the wrong way.