THE ONE WOMAN
A STORY OF MODERN UTOPIA
THOMAS DIXON, JR.
B. WEST CLINEDINST
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER
TO WHOSE SCOTCH LOVE OF ROMANTIC LITERATURE I OWE THE HERITAGE OF ETERNAL YOUTH
I. The Man and the Woman II. Visions in the Night III. The Banker and His Fad IV. The Shorthorn Deacon V. The Cry of the City VI. The Puddle and the Tadpole VII. A Stolen Kiss VIII. Sweet Danger IX. The Spider X. The Black Cat XI. An Answer to Prayer XII. Out of the Shadows XIII. A Broken Heart-String XIV. The Voice of the Siren XV. Goest Thou to See a Woman? XVI. The Parting XVII. The Thought That Sweeps the Century XVIII. A Voice from the Past XIX. The Wedding of the Annunciation XX. An Old Sweetheart XXI. Freedom and Fellowship XXII. A Scarlet Flame in the Sky XXIII. The New Heaven XXIV. Courtier and Queen XXV. The Irony of Fate XXVI. At Close Quarters XXVII. Venus Victrix XXVIII. The Growl of the Animal XXIX. Bulldog and Mastiff XXX. The Cloud's Silver Lining XXXI. A Lace Handkerchief XXXII. A Lifetime in a Day XXXIII. The Verdict XXXIV. The Appeal XXXV. Between Two Fires XXXVI. Swift and Beautiful Feet XXXVII. The Kiss of the Bride
List of Illustrations
"Her tapering fingers rested on his broad foot."
"About her personality there was a haunting charm, the breath of a soul capable of the highest heroism."
"Little ringlets of hair curling about her face as though scorched by the warmth of the red blood below."
"Ripped it open, tore it from his arms, and threw it on the floor."
"Her arms stole around his neck."
"A faint cry came from the full lips."
"Driving his great fingers into his throat."
"A cheer suddenly burst from the crowd and echoed through the court-room."
Leading Characters of the Story
Scene: New York-Time: The Present
RUTH GORDON . . . The One Woman
REV. FRANK GORDON . . A Social Dreamer
KATE RANSOM . . . The Other Woman
MARK OVERMAN . . . .A Banker
MORRIS KING . . Ruth's Old Sweetheart
ARNOLD VAN METER . . A Shorthorn Deacon
BARRINGER . . Assistant District Attorney
THE MAN AND THE WOMAN
"Quick—a glass of water!" A man sprang to his feet, beckoning to an usher.
When he reached the seat, the woman had recovered by a supreme effort of will and sat erect, her face flushed with anger at her own weakness.
"Thank you, I am quite well now," she said with dignity.
The man settled back and the usher returned to his place and stood watching her out of the corners of his eyes, fascinated by her beauty.
The church was packed that night with more than two thousand people. The air was hot and foul. The old brick building, jammed in the middle of a block, faced the street with its big bare gable. The ushers were so used to people fainting that they kept water and smelling-salts handy in the anterooms. The Reverend Frank Gordon no longer paused or noticed these interruptions. He had accepted the truth that, while God builds the churches, the devil gets the job to heat, light and ventilate them.
The preacher had not noticed this excitement under the gallery, but had gone steadily on in an even monotone very unusual to his fiery temperament.
A half-dozen reporters yawned and drummed on their fingers with their pencils. The rumour of a brewing church trouble had been published, but he had not referred to it in the morning, and evidently was not going to do so to-night.
Toward the close of his sermon he recovered from the stupor with which he had been struggling and ended with something of his usual fervour.
He was a man of powerful physique, wide chest and broad shoulders, a tall athlete, six feet four, of Viking mould, hair blond and waving, steel-gray eyes, a strong aquiline nose and frank, serious face.
He had been called from a town in southern Indiana to the Pilgrim Congregational Church in New York when, on its last legs, it was about to sell out and move uptown. He had created a sensation, and in six months the building could not hold the crowds which struggled to hear him.
His voice was one of great range and its direct personal tone put him in touch with every hearer. Before they knew it his accents quivered with emotion that swept the heart. Emotional thinking was his trait. He could thrill his crowd with a sudden burst of eloquence, but he loved to use the deep vibrant subtones of his voice so charged with feeling that he melted the people into tears. His face, flashing and trembling, smiling and clouding with hidden fires of passion, held every eye riveted. His gestures were few and seemed the resistless burst of enormous reserve power—an impression made stronger by his great hairy blue-veined hands and the way he stood on his big, broad feet. He spoke in impassioned moments with the rush of lightning, and yet each word fell clean-cut and penetrating.
An idealist and dreamer, in love with life, colour, form, music and beauty, he had the dash and brilliancy, the warmth and enthusiasm of a born leader of men. The impulsive champion of the people, the friend of the weak, he had become the patriot prophet of a larger democracy.
A passion for music, and a fad for precious stones, especially pearls and opals, which he carried in his pockets and handled with the tenderness of a lover, were his hobbies. He had in a marked degree the peculiar power of attracting children and animals, and all women liked him instinctively from the first.
But to-night he was not himself. After a brief prayer at the close of the sermon he dismissed the crowd with the announcement of an after-meeting for those personally interested in religion.
As the people poured out through the open doors the unceasing roar of the great city's life swept in drowning the soft strains of the organ—the jar and whir of wheels, the wheeze of brakes, the tremor of machinery, the rumble of cab, the clatter of hoof-beat, the cry of child and hackman, the haunting murmur of millions like the moan of the sea borne on breezes winged with the odours of saloon and kitchen, stable and sewer—the crash of a storm of brute forces on the senses, tearing the nerves, crushing the spirit, bruising the soul, and strangling the memory of a sane life.
Gordon frowned and shivered as he sat waiting for the crowd to go, and a look of depression swept his face.
These after-meetings for personal appeal were a regular feature of his ministry. He held them every Sunday evening, no matter how tired he was or how hopeless the effort might seem. When the doors were closed about a hundred people had gathered in the centre of the church near the front.
He rose from his chair behind the altar-rail with an evident effort to throw off his weariness. He had laid aside his pulpit robe, a tribute to ritualism that this church had dragooned him into accepting.
"My friends," he began slowly and softly, with his hands folded behind him, "first a few words of testimony from any who can witness to the miracle of the Spirit in our daily life. We are crushed sometimes with the brutal weight of matter, and yet over all the Spirit broods and gives light and life. Who can bear witness to this miracle?"
"I can!" cried a man, who rose trembling with deep feeling.
His high, well-moulded forehead showed the heritage of intellectual power. His eyes, soft and tender as a woman's, had in their depths the record of a great sorrow.
Taking his watch out of his pocket, he looked at it a moment, and, as the tears began to steal down his face, spoke in a tremulous voice.
"Seven years, four months, three days and six hours ago the Spirit of God came to my poor lost soul and found it in a dirty saloon on the East Side. I was dead—dead to shame, dead to honour, dead to love, dead to the memory of life. I was so low I found scant welcome in hell's own port, the saloon. They knew me and dreaded to see me. I had served time in prison, and when I drank I was an ugly customer for the bravest policeman to meet alone.
"Ragged, dirty, blear-eyed, besotted, I was seated on a whisky barrel wondering how I could beat the barkeeper out of a drink, when a sweet-faced boy came up and handed me a card of this church's services.
"I don't know how it happened, but all of a sudden it came over me—where I was, and what I was, and what I once had been—a boy with a face like that, with a Christian father and mother who loved me as their own life, and then how I had gone down, down in drink from ditch to ditch and gutter to gutter to the bottomless pit.
"I jumped down off that whisky barrel and washed my face. That night I found this church, and the Spirit of God, here in one of these after-meetings, led my soul to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. I looked up into His beautiful face—the fairest among ten thousand—the one altogether lovable, and I heard Him say, as to the thief of old, 'This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.'
"From that day, hour and minute I've been a living man, a miracle of grace and love. I have not touched a drop of liquor since, and these hands, which had not earned an honest cent for years, have handled thousands of dollars of other people's money and not one penny has ever stuck to them. I am the living witness that God's spirit can raise man from the dead, and Jesus Christ keep him unto life!"
He sat down, crying.
Gordon lifted his hand and said, "Let us bow our heads a moment in silent prayer while every heart opens the door to the Spirit."
At the close of the service he passed the man who had spoken and pressed his hand.
"Ah, Edwards, old boy, you knew I needed that to-night. God bless you!"
Jerry Edwards smiled and nodded.
"A lady wishes to speak to you in the study, sir," the sexton said to him.
He looked around for his wife to tell her to wait, but she had gone.
His study opened immediately into the auditorium at the foot of the pulpit stairs. As he entered, a young woman of extraordinary beauty, elegantly and quietly dressed, advanced to meet him and shook his hand in a friendly, earnest way.
"Doctor, I've waited patiently to-night to see you," she said. "I've been coming to hear you for six months, and yet I have never told you how much good you have done me; and I specially wish to tell you how sorry I am that my stupid weakness to-night interrupted you. I think I came near fainting. It was so close and hot—and, pardon me if I say it—I suddenly got the insane idea that you were about to faint in the pulpit."
"Well, that is strange," interrupted Gordon, looking at her with deepening interest. "You have the gift of the sympathetic listener. I noticed no disturbance, but I did come near fainting. I have had a hard day—one of fierce nerve-strain."
She looked at him curiously.
"Then I don't feel so badly, now that I know my idea was not incipient insanity," she said, smiling. "I've quite made up my mind to send back to Kentucky for my forgotten church-letter. I've seen all fashionable society in New York can offer and I am weary of its vacuity. I've been disillusioned of a girl's silly dreams, but there are some beautiful ones in my heart I've held. I can't tell you how your church and work have thrilled and interested me. I have never heard such sermons and prayers as yours. You give to the old faiths new and beautiful meaning. Every word you have spoken has seemed to me a divine call."
"And you cannot know how cheering such a message is to me to-night," he thoughtfully replied, studying her carefully.
"I never could summon courage to come up and speak to you before, but your sermon this morning swept me off my feet. It was so simple, so heartfelt, so sincere, and yet so close in its touch of life, I felt that you had opened your very soul for me to see my own in its experiences. It will be a turning point in my life."
She spoke with a quiet seriousness, and Gordon felt that he had never seen a face of such exquisite grace.
With a promise that he would call to see her within the week, she left.
He stood for a moment gazing at her name, "Miss Kate Ransom," on the card she gave him, his mind aglow with the consciousness of her remarkable beauty, the famous Kentucky type, and yet a distinct variation.
Her figure was full and magnificent in the ripe glory of youth, a delicate face, the blonde's colour, thick, waving auburn hair that seemed brown till the light blazed through its deep red tints, violet-blue eyes, cordial and smiling, at once mysterious, magic, friendly, gravely candid. Her skin was smooth as a babe's, with the delicate creamy satin of the blonde flashing the scarlet tints of every emotion. Her lips were cherry-red, and as she listened they half parted with a lazy suggestion of tenderness and love; while the face was one of refined mentality, as unconscious as a child's of its splendid beauty.
Her gait was proud and careless, telling of perfect health and stores of untouched vital powers, a movement of the body at once strong, luxurious, insolently languid, rhythmic and full of dumb music. It was when she moved that she expressed the consciousness of power, a gleam of cruelty, a challenge that was to man an added charm.
"What a woman!" he exclaimed aloud, as he drew on his coat. "The kind of a woman who enraptures the senses, drugs the brain and conscience of the man who responds to her call—the woman about whom men have never been able to compromise, but have always killed one another!"
His wife opened the door for him in silence.
"Who was that woman, Frank?" she asked at length, her long, dark lashes blinking rapidly.
"What woman, Ruth?"
"The beauty I saw glide softly into your study."
Gordon smiled as he sank into a chair in the library.
"Miss Kate Ransom, a stranger I never met before."
"You seem a magnet for strange women, and your church their Mecca."
"Yes, and strange men. God knows New York, with its dead and deserted churches, needs such a Mecca."
"You promised to call, of course?"
"Certainly; it's my business. The Church needs every friend and every dollar to be had on Manhattan Island."
"And the distinguished young pastor of the Pilgrim Church needs the smiles of all beautiful women. His wife is a little faded with worry and care for his children, while crowds hang on his eloquence and silly women sigh into his handsome face. Ah, Frank, before we came to New York you had eyes only for me. The city, the crowd and the flattery of fools have turned your head. You are letting go of all things you once held. Now the Bible is 'literature.' You are sighing for the freedom of a 'larger life.' Where will it end? I wonder if you have weighed marriage in the balances and found it wanting?"
Gordon rose with a sigh, walked slowly to the window and looked down on the city lying below. Their little home was perched on the cliffs of Washington Heights.
The smile had died from his handsome face and his tall figure was stooped with exhaustion. He raised one hand and brushed back a stray lock from his forehead, across which a frown had slowly settled.
"By all means keep your hair adjusted," his wife continued sarcastically. "The women are all in love with that blond hair. And it is so effective in the pulpit. If you were not six feet four it might be effeminate, but I assure you it is the secret of your strength. I trust you will be wiser than Samson."
"You have quit the old faiths," she continued rapidly, "and gone to preaching Christian Socialism. You have driven the best members of the church away, and made the press your enemy. That mob which hails you a god will turn and curse you. You will never build your marble dream out of such stuff. Both your sermons to-day will make your trustees more hostile. There was no Bible in them—only personalities and rank Socialism. I saw that woman in front of me drinking it all in as the inspired gospel."
Gordon winced and his brow clouded.
"I gave up everything for you—home, talents, friends," she went on. "Now that I am thirty-one, it is the new face that charms."
"You did give up a very particular friend for me," Gordon remarked teasingly. "I only learned recently that you were once engaged to Mr. Morris King, your faithful attorney, and that you threw him over for an athletic parson with blond hair and a smile, yet I have never chided you about this little secret. Mr. King is still a romantic bachelor. He has not been initiated into the joys of a Sunday sermon at 10 P. M., with his wife in the pulpit. He has much to live for."
Her lips quivered and her eyes grew dim.
"Come, come, my dear; you know that I love you and that I am faithful to you. But such words and scenes as these may destroy the tenderest love at last. Words, even, are deeds."
"How philosophical! Quite like one of the epigrams of your chum, Mark Overman, of whose cruel tongue you're so fond. I wonder you don't make Mr. Overman a deacon in the new order of your church."
Gordon sank back into the chair and thoughtfully shaded his brow with his hand, his face drawn into deep lines of weariness.
When she saw the look of pain in his face her eyes softened.
"What I fear of you, Frank, is not your intention, but your performance. You mean well, but you never could resist a pretty woman."
"In a sense, no. If I could, I never would have married."
The faintest suggestion of a smile played about her eyes and then faded.
"I wonder what pretty speeches you said to the stranger to-night? You have such charming manners with a woman."
He looked at her appealingly and she stared at him without reply.
"For God's sake, Ruth, end this scene. If you only knew how tired I am to-night—tired in body, in heart and soul. I think the past week has been the most trying of my whole life. It opened with a newspaper attack on me inspired by Van Meter. You know how sensitive I am to such criticism.
"Saturday came without a moment for preparation for the great crowds I knew would be present to-day after that attack on me. Instead of work yesterday, a procession of people, hungry and suffering, were at the door from morning until night. All their burdens they poured out to me; All their wrongs and grievances against God and man became mine.
"On Saturday night the trustee meeting was held to discuss our building project. Van Meter led the opposition with skill. When I poured out my soul's dream to them of a great temple of marble, a flaming centre of Christian Democracy instead of the old brick barn we call a church—a temple that would flash its glory from the sky above the sordid materialism that is crushing the lives and hearts of men, telling in marble song of God, of immortality, of faith and hope and love—they stared at me in contempt until I felt the blood freeze in my veins. When I drew a picture of its great auditorium thronged with thousands of eager faces, Van Meter coolly interrupted me with the remark:
"'We don't want such trash elbowing our old parishioners out of their pews. We've had too much of it already. With all your mob, the pew-rents have fallen off.'
"My first impulse was that of Christ when he took a whip in the temple. I wanted to knock him down. Instead, I rushed out of the house and left him victorious.
"I waked this morning with the burden of all this week's horror choking me, waked to the consciousness that in a few hours thousands of faces would be looking up to me with hungry souls to be fed. Well, I had nothing to give them except my own heart's blood, and so to-day I tore my heart open for them to devour it. True, I didn't preach the Bible except as its truth had passed into my own soul's experiences. When I preach such sermons I always quit with the sense of utter helplessness, exhaustion and failure. Could my bitterest enemy read my heart in that hour he would cry out for pity.
"I never so felt the crushing burden of all that crowd of people as to-day. I've heard so much of their sorrows and struggles the past week. I felt that the city was a great beast in some vast arena of time, that I was alone, naked and unarmed, on the sands, struggling with it for the life of the people, while my enemies looked on. As never before, I heard the rush of its half-crazed millions, its crash and roar, saw its fierce brutality, its lust, its cruelty, its senseless scramble for pleasure, its indifference to truth, its millions of to-day but a symbol of the millions gone before and the trampling millions to come, and I felt I was a failure. I felt that I was pitching straws against a hurricane, only to find them blown back into my face. I came down out of that pulpit with the weariness of a thousand years crushing my tired body and soul, feeling that I could never speak again, or struggle against the tide any more—that I was broken, bruised and done for all time, and I came home feeling so—"
He paused a moment and a sigh caught his voice. His wife's face had softened and a tear was quivering on her long eyelashes.
"I came home thus worn out to-night hoping for a word of cheer, yet knowing it would be days before I could recover from the sheer nerve-agony I had endured. What a reception you have given me! And for what? A beautiful woman stopped to tell me my message had not been in vain, that it had made for her a light on life's way, and that the prayers in which I had tried to realise as my own, the people's thoughts and hopes and fears had been a revelation to her, and because I smiled—"
His wife was again staring at him with the glitter of jealousy. He saw it and ceased to speak.
He suddenly sprang to his feet and walked to the door. Taking down his hat and light overcoat from the rack, he said, as though to himself:
"We will spend the night under different roofs."
As he passed toward the door there was a faint cry fiom within scarcely louder than a whisper, tense with agony and pitiful in its pleading accents;
"Frank, dear, please come back!"
But when she summoned strength to rush to the door, crying with terror she had never known before "Frank! Frank!" he had turned the corner and disappeared.
VISIONS IN THE NIGHT
Gordon walked rapidly with the quick stride of the trained athlete. Walking was a pet exercise.
His mind was now in a whirl of fury. He had never before given away to passion in a quarrel with his wife. They had been married twelve years, and, up to the birth of their boy, four years before, had lived as happily as possible for two people of strong wills. Discord had slowly grown as his fame increased. His wife was now jealous of almost every woman who spoke to him.
They had quarreled before, but he had always kept a clear head and laughed her out of countenance. These quarrels had ended with tears and kisses and were forgotten until the next.
To-night somehow every thrust found his most sensitive spots. He wondered why? Dimly conscious of a curious interest in the woman who had spoken so sweetly to him at the close of his service, he wondered if his wife divined the fact by some subtle power their long association had developed and sharpened.
His enthusiasm for the Socialistic ideal was fast becoming an absorbing passion, and was destined to lead him into strange company.
His wife felt this, resented it, and, becoming more and more conservative, the gulf between them daily widened and deepened.
He cared nothing for her ridicule of his blond locks. He wore them half in defiance of conventionality and half in whimsical love for the picture of a beautiful mother from whom he had inherited them.
"What could have possessed her to-night?" he slowly muttered as he emerged from Central Park and swung into Fifth Avenue. "Am I really losing my grasp of truth because I am giving up traditional dogmas? Has God given to her soul the power to look inside my heart and find its secret thoughts? Why does she keep asking me if I have lost faith in marriage? Never in word or deed have I hinted at such a thing."
And yet the memory of that beautiful woman, with a voice like liquid music, friendly, soothing, reassuring, kept echoing through his soul.
As the tumult of passion died in the glow of the walk in the open air he became conscious of the life of the city again. The avenue was a blaze of light. Its miles of electric torches flashed like stars in the milky way.
He passed under dozens of awnings before palatial homes in front of which stood lines of carriages. The old Dutch and English ancestors of these people were once faithful observers of the Sabbath. Now they went to church in the mornings as a form of good society and held their receptions in the evenings. Some of them employed professional vaudeville artists to enliven their Sunday social bouts.
New York, proud imperial Queen of the Night, seemed just waking to her real life, a strange new life in human history—a life that had put darkness to flight, snuffed out the light of moon and star, laughed at sleep, twin sister of Death, and challenged the soul of man to live without one refuge of silence or shadow.
And yet the warmth and glow, the splendour and beauty of it all stirred his imagination and appealed to his love.
At length he stood before the old church that had been the arena of his struggles and triumphs for the past ten years, and was destined to be for him the scene of a drama more thrilling than any he had known or dreamed in the past.
He passed into the auditorium, ascended the pulpit, and sat down in the armchair where but a few hours before he had held the gaze of thousands. The electric lights glimmering through the windows of the gable showed the empty pews in sharp outline.
"I wonder if they know when they go they sometimes leave my soul as empty and as lonely as those vacant pews? I give, give, give forever of thought, sympathy and life and never receive, until sometimes my heart cries to a passing dog for help!
"I'd build here to God a temple whose sheer beauty and glory would stop every huckster on the street, lift his eyes to heaven and melt his soul into tears. It must—it shall come to pass!"
He sat there for nearly two hours, dreaming of his plans of uplifting the city, and through the city as a centre reaching the Nation and its millions with pen and tongue of fire. Gradually the sense of isolation from self enveloped him, and the thought of human service challenged the highest reach of his powers.
He opened the face of his watch and felt the hands, a habit he had formed of telling the time in the dark. It was one o'clock.
He thought of his wife and their quarrel. He had forgotten it in larger thoughts, and his heart suddenly went out in pity to her. He had not meant what he said. He loved her in spite of all harsh words and bitter scenes. She was the mother of his two lovely children, a girl of ten and a boy of four. The idea of a night apart from her, he, and theirs came with a painful shock. He felt his strength and was ashamed that he had left her so cruelly. He hurried to the Twenty-third Street elevated station and boarded a car for his home.
When his wife recovered from the first horror of his leaving, she was angry. With a nervous laugh she went into the nursery, kissed the sleeping chil-dren and went to bed. She tossed the first hour, thinking of the quarrel and many sharp thrusts she might have given him. Perhaps she would renew the attack when he came in and attempted to make up. The clock struck eleven and she sprang up, walked to her window and looked out.
A great new fear began to brood over her soul.
"No, no, he could not have meant it—he is not a brute!" she cried, as she began to nervously clasp her hands and turn her wedding ring over and over again on her tapering finger, until it seemed a band of fire to her fevered nerves.
As she stood by the window in her scarlet silk robe she made a sharp contrast in person to the woman whose shadow had fallen to-night across her life. She was a petite brunette of distant Spanish ancestry, a Spottswood from old Tidewater Virginia. To the tenderest motherhood she combined a passionate temper with intense jealousy. The anxious face was crowned with raven hair. Her eyes were dark and stormy, and so large that in their shining surface the shadows of the long lashes could be seen.
Her nature, for all its fiery passions, was refined, shy and tremulous. A dimple in her chin and a small sensitive mouth gave her an expression at once timid and childlike. Her footstep had feline grace, delicacy and distinction. She had a figure almost perfect, erect, lithe, with small hands and feet and tiny wrists. Her voice was a soft contralto, caress-ing and full of feeling, with a touch of the languor and delicate sensuousness of the Old South. About her personality there was a haunting charm, vivid and spiritual, the breath of a soul capable of the highest heroism if once aroused.
At twelve o'clock she relighted the gas and went downstairs to stand at the parlour window to scan more clearly every face that might pass, and—yes, she would be honest with herself now—to spring into his arms the moment he entered, smother him with kisses and beg him to forgive the bitter words she had spoken in anger.
She was sure he would come in a moment. He must have gone on one of his long walks. She could see the elevated cars on their long trestle, count the stations, and guess how many minutes it would take him to climb the hill and rush up the steps. Over and over she did this, and now it was one o'clock and he had not come.
What if he had been stricken suddenly with mortal illness! His face had looked so weary and drawn. She began to cry incoherently, and sank on her knees.
"Lord, forgive me. I am weak and selfish, and I was wicked to-night. Hear the cry of my heart. Bring him to me quickly, or I shall die!"
As the sobs choked her into silence, she sprang to her feet, both hands on her lips to keep back a scream of joy, for she had heard his footstep on the stoop.
The latch clicked, and he was in the hall.
There was a flash of red silk and two white arms were around his neck, her form convulsed with a joy she could not control or try to conceal.
He soothed her as a child, and, as he kissed her tenderly, felt her lips swollen and wet with the salt tears of hours of weeping.
"You will not remember the foolish things I said to-night, dear?" she pleaded. "There, there, I'll blot them out with kisses—one for every harsh word, and one more for love's own sake. But you must promise me, Frank, never to leave me like that again." A sob caught her voice, and her head drooped.
"You may curse me, strike me, do anything but that. Oh, the loneliness, the agony and horror of those hours when I realised you were gone in anger and might not come back to-night—dear, it was too cruel. Such wild thoughts swept my heart! You do forgive me?"
He stooped and kissed her.
"Why ask it, Ruth?"
"I know I am selfish and fretful and wilful," she said, with a sigh. "I was only a spoiled child of nineteen when you took me by storm, body and soul. You remember, on our wedding day, when I looked up into your handsome face and the sense of responsibility and joy crushed me for a moment, I cried and begged you, who were so brave and strong, to teach me if I should fail in the least thing? And you promised, dear, so sweetly and tenderly. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember," he slowly answered.
"And now, somehow, you seem to have drawn away from me as though the task had wearied you. Come back closer! When I am foolish you must be wise. You can make of me what you will. You know I am afraid of this Socialism. It seems to open gulfs between us. You read and read, while I can only wait and love. You cannot know the silent agony of that waiting for I know not what tragedy in our lives. Frank, teach and lead me—I will follow. I love you with a love that is deathless. If you will be a Socialist, make me one. Show me there is nothing to fear. I've thought marriage meant only self-sacrifice for one's beloved. I've tried to give my very life to you and the children. If I'm making a mistake, show me."
"I will try, Ruth."
She ran her tapering fingers through his hair, smiled and sighed.
"How beautiful you are, my dear! I know it is a sin to love any man so. One should only love God like this."
THE BANKER AND HIS FAD
When Gordon woke next morning from a fitful sleep he was stupid and blue and had a headache. His wife had not slept at all, but was cheerful, tender and solicitous.
"Ruth, I can't go down to the ministers' meeting this morning," he said wearily. "I must take a day off in the country. I'll lose both soul and body if I don't take one day's rest in seven. I didn't tell you last night that I came near fainting in the pulpit during the evening sermon."
She slipped her hand in his, looking up reproachfully at him out of her dark eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me that, Frank?"
"I thought you had enough troubles last night. I'll run out on Long Island and spend the day with Overman. You needn't frown. You are strangely mistaken in him. I know you hate his brutal frankness, and he is anything but a Christian, but we are old college chums, and he's the clearest-headed personal friend I have. I need his advice about my fight with Van Meter. Overman is a venomous critic of my Social dreams. I've often wondered at your dislike of him, when he so thoroughly echoes your feelings."
She was silent a moment, and gravely said: "Take a good day's rest, then, and come back refreshed. I'll try to like even Mr. Overman, if he will help you. I'm going to turn over a new leaf this morning."
He laughed, kissed her, and hurried to catch the train for Babylon, where Overman lived in his great country home.
Mark Overman was a bacholer of forty, noted for the fact that he had but one eye and was so homely it was a joke. His friends said he was so ugly it was fascinating, and he was constantly laughing about it himself. He was a Wall Street banker, several times a millionaire, famed for his wit, his wide reading, his brutally cynical views of society, and his ridicule of modern philanthropy and Socialistic dreams.
He was a man of average height with the heavy-set, bulldog body, face and neck, broad, powerful hands and big feet. He had an enormous nose, shaggy eyebrows and a bristling black moustache. But the one striking peculiarity about him was his missing right eye. The large heavy eyelid was drooped and closed tightly over the sightless socket, which seemed to have sunk deep into his head. This cavern on one side of his face gave to the other eye a strange power. When he looked at you, it gleamed a fierce steady blaze like the electric headlight of an engine. How he lost that eye was a secret he guarded with grim silence, and no one was ever known to ask him twice.
Though five years older, he was Gordon's classmate at Wabash College.
Overman had always scorned the suggestion of an artificial eye. He swore he would never stick a piece of glass in his head to deceive fools. He used to tell Gordon that he was the only one-eyed man in New York who had the money to buy a glass eye and didn't do it.
"I prefer life's grim little joke to stand as it is," he said, as he snapped his big jaws together and twisted the muscles of his mouth into a sneer. He had a habit, when he closed an emphatic speech, of twisting the muscles of his mouth in that way. When animated in talk, he was the incarnation of disobedience, defiance, scorn, success.
Two things he held in special pride—hatred for women and a passionate love for game-cocks. He allowed no woman on his place in any capacity, and, by the sounds day and night, he kept at least a thousand roosters. He would drop the profoundest discussion of philosophy or economics at the mention of a chicken, and with a tender smile plunge into an endless eulogy of his pets.
Gordon found him in a chicken yard fitting gaffs on two cocks.
"Caught in the act!" he cried.
"Well, who cares? They've got to fight it out. It's in 'em. They're full brothers, too. Hatched the same day. They never scrapped in their lives till yesterday, when I brought a new pullet and put her in the neighbouring yard. They both tried to make love to her through the wire fence at the same time, and they were so busy crowing and strutting and showing off to this pullet they ran into each other and began to fight. Now one must die, and I'm just fixing these little steel points on for them so the function can be performed decently. I'm a man of fine feelings."
"You're a brute when you let them kill one another with gaffs."
"Nonsense. The fighting instinct is elemental in all animal life—two-legged and four-legged. Animals fight as inevitably as they breathe. You can trace the progress of man by the evolution of his weapons—the stone, the spear, the bow and arrow, the sword, the gun."
"Well, you're not going to have the fight this morning. Put up those inventions of the devil and come into the house."
"All right. You're a parson; I'll not allow them to fight. I'll just chop the head off of one and let you eat him for dinner." Overman grinned, and pierced Gordon with his gleaming eye.
"It would be more sensible than the exhibition of brutality you were preparing."
"Not from the rooster's point of view, or mine. I love chickens. If I tried to eat one it would choke me. But I can see your mouth watering now, looking at that fat young pullet over there, dreaming of the dinner hour when you expect to smash her beautiful white breast between your cannibal jaws. Funny men, preachers!"
Gordon laughed. "After all, you may be right. Our deepest culture is about skin deep. Scratch any of us with the right tool and you'll find a savage."
They strolled into the library and sat down. It was the largest and best-furnished room in the house. Its lofty ceiling was frescoed in sectional panels by a great artist. Its walls were covered as high as the arm could reach with loaded bookshelves, and alcove doors opened every ten feet into rooms stored with special treasures of subjects on which he was interested. Masterpieces of painting hung on the walls over the cases, while luxurious chairs and lounges in heavy leather were scattered about the room among the tables, desks and filing cabinets. At one end of the room blazed an open wood fire of cord wood full four feet in length. Beside the chimney windows opened with entrancing views of the Great South Bay and the distant beaches of Fire Island. Across the huge oak mantel he had carved the sentence:
"I AM AN OLD MAN NOW; I'VE HAD LOTS OF TROUBLE, AND MOST OF IT NEVER HAPPENED."
"Frank, old boy, you look as though you had been pulled through a small-sized auger hole yesterday. How is the work going?"
"All right. But Van Meter puzzles me. I want your advice about him. You've come in contact with him in Wall Street and know him. He is the one man power in my church—the senior deacon and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Society. In spite of all my eloquence and the crowds that throng the building, he has set the whole Board against me. He is really trying to oust me from the pastorate of the church. Shall I take the bull by the horns now and throw him and his Mammon-worshiping satellites out, or try to work such material into my future plans? Give me your advice as a cool-headed outsider."
Overman was silent a moment.
"Well, Frank, now you've put the question squarely, I'm going to be candid. I'm alarmed about you. The strain on your nerves is too great. This maggot of Socialism in your brain is the trouble. It is the mark of mental and moral breakdown, the fleeing from self-reliant individual life into the herd for help. You call it 'brotherhood,' the 'solidarity of the race.' Sentimental mush. It's a stampede back to the animal herd out of which a powerful manhood has been evolved. This idea is destroying your will, your brain, your religion, and will finally sap the moral fiber of your character. It is the greatest sentimentalist."
"It's funny how you have the faculty of putting the opposition in terms of its last absurdity."
"Grunt if you like; I'm in dead earnest. You want to put on the brakes. You've struck the down grade. Socialism takes the temper out of the steel fiber of character. It makes a man flabby. It is the earmark of racial degeneracy. The man of letters who is poisoned by it never writes another line worth reading; the preacher who tampers with it ends a materialist or atheist; the philanthropist bitten by it, from just a plain fool, develops a madman; while the home-builder turns free-lover and rake under its teachings."
"You're a beauty to grieve over the loss to the world of home-builders!" Gordon cried, with scorn.
"Maybe my grief is a little strained—but really, Frank, I hate women, not because I don't feel the need of their love—"
He drew the muscles of his big mouth together and looked thoughtfully out of the window with his single piercing eye.
"No; for the first time on that point I'll make an honest, clean confession to you. I hate women because I'm afraid of them. I have a face that can stop an eight-day clock if I look at it hard enough; and yet beneath this hideous mask there's a poor coward's soul that worships beauty and hungers for love! I don't allow women in this house because I can't stand the rustle of their drapery. I don't want one of them to get her claws into me. They can see through me in a minute. Women have an X-ray in their eyes. They can look through a brick wall, without going to see what's on the other side. A man learns a thing is true by a painful process of reasoning. A woman knows a thing is so—because! She knows it thoroughly, too, from top to bottom. Whenever a woman looks at me I can feel her taking an X-ray photograph of the marrow of my bones."
He wheeled suddenly and fixed his eye on Gordon.
"I'll bet you had another quarrel with your wife last night?"
"How do you know?"
"Tell by your hangdog look. You look like an old Shanghai rooster that a little game-cock has knocked down and trampled on for half an hour before letting him up."
"We did have some words."
"Exactly; and I can tell you what about. Your wife is growing more nervous over the tendency of your religion and your thinking. You can't fool her about it. She knows you are drifting where she can never follow. She knows instinctively that Socialism is the return to the animal herd and that the family will be trampled to death beneath its hoofs."
"Come, Mark, you're crazy. The Brotherhood of Man and the Solidarity of the Race can have such meaning only to a lunatic."
"Don't you know that the triumph of Socialism will destroy the monogamic family?" Overman asked sharply.
"Strange, how you sentimentalists slop over things. You have allowed second-hand Socialistic catch words to change your methods of work and thought and revolutionize your character, and yet you have never seriously tried to go to the bottom of it. Come into this room a minute."
They went into an alcove room.
"Here I have more than a thousand volumes of Socialistic literature. I've read it all with more or less thoroughness. When I look at the titles of these books I feel as though I've eaten tons of sawdust. You are preaching this stuff as the gospel, and yet you don't know what your masters are really trying to do."
"I know that there can be no true home life until the shadow of want has been lifted," said the preacher emphatically. "The aim of Socialism is to bring to pass this dream of heaven on earth."
"Just so. But you've never defined what the dream will be like when it comes. Your masters have. Let me read some choice bits to you from these big-brained, clear-eyed men who created your movement. I like these men because they scorn humbug. Defiance, disobedience, contempt for thing that is, consumes them."
He drew from the shelves a lot of books, threw them on a table, and took up a volume.
"This from Fourier: 'Monogamy and private property are the main characteristics of Civilisation. They are the breastworks behind which the army of the rich crouch and from which they sally to rob the poor. The individual family is the unit of all faulty societies divided by opposing interests.'
"And this choice bit from William Morris: 'Marriage under existing conditions is absurd. The family, about which so much twaddle is talked, is hateful. A new development of the family will take place, as the basis not of a predetermined lifelong business arrangement to be formally held to irrespective of conditions, but on mutual inclination and affection, an association terminable at the will of either party.'"
Overman fixed his eye on Gordon for a moment, laid his hand on his arm and asked:
"Now, honestly, Frank, confess to me you never read one of those sentences in your life?"
"No, I never did."
"I was sure of it. Listen again; this from Robert Owen: 'In the new Moral World the irrational names of husband, wife, parent and child will be heard no more. Children will undoubtedly be the property of the whole community.'
"But perhaps the idea has been best expressed by Mr. Grant Allen. Hear his clean-cut statement: 'No man, indeed, is truly civilised till he can say in all sincerity to every woman of all the women he loves, to every woman of all the women who love him: "Give me what you can of your love and yourself; but never strive for my sake to deny any love, to strangle any impulse that pants for breath within you. Give me what you can, while you can, without grudging, but the moment you feel you love me no more, don't do injustice to your own prospective children by giving them a father whom you no longer respect, or admire, or yearn for." When men and women can both alike say this, the world will be civilised. Until they can say it truly, the world will be as now, a jarring battle-field of monopolist instincts.'
"Then this gem from another of the frousy-headed—Karl Pearson: 'In a Socialist form of government the sex relation would vary according to the feelings and wants of individuals.'
"Observe in all these long-haired philosophers how closely the idea of private property is linked with the family. That is why the moment you attack private property in your pulpit your wife knows instinctively that you are attacking the basis of her life and home. Private property had its origin in the family. The family is the source of all monopolistic instincts, and your reign of moonshine brotherhood can never be brought to pass until you destroy monogamic marriage."
"But my dream is of an ideal marriage and home life," cried the preacher.
"Yes, and that is why you make me furious. You don't know the origin or meaning of this Socialistic dream and yet you are preaching it every Sunday, inflaming the minds of that crowd. I don't blame your wife. She sees in her soul the rock on which you must wreck your ship sooner or later. The herd and the mating pair cannot co-exist as dominant forces. This is why Socialism never converts a woman except through some—individual man. Woman's maternal instinct created monogamic marriage. The only women who become Socialists directly are the sexless, the defectives and the oversexed, who can always be depended on to make the herd a lively place for its fighting male members. What have you to say to this?"
Overman turned his head sideways and pierced Gordon again with his single eye.
"Well, I confess you've given me something to think about, and I'm going to the bottom of the subject. You've opened vistas of great ideas. It's the question of the century, the thought that is sweeping life before it. While I've been listening to you, more and more I've seen the need of consecration to the leading and teaching of the people who are being swept by millions into this movement. But you haven't told me what to do with Van Meter."
"Yes, I have, The trouble, I tell you, is with you, not Van Meter. He's a little man, but he's just the size of a deacon in a modern church in New York. Win him over and work with him. He's your only hope. Van Meter knows his business as a deacon and trustee. You are off the track."
"But how can I ever reconcile Van Meter's commercialism with any living religion?"
Overman frowned and shrugged his shoulders.
"Religion? Man, you haven't religion! Religion is the worship of a Superior Being, fear of His power, submission to His commands, inability to discuss theoretically the formulas of faith, the desire to spread the faith, and the habit of considering as enemies all who do not accept it. You can't pass examination on any of these points. Your idea of God is the First Cause. You do not really worship or fear anything. You submit blindly to nothing. You have written an interrogation point before every dogma. You have ceased to be missionary and become humanitarian. As a priest you're a joke. Van Meter is a better deacon than you are a priest. I don't blame him. He must put you out, or be put out of business sooner or later. Your passion for reforming the world, your 'enthusiasm for humanity,' are things apart from worship and absolutely antagonistic to it."
"But not antagonistic to the mission of Christ."
"Granted. But the Christianity of Christ is one thing and modern Christianity another thing. The ancient Church, you must remember, absorbed Paganism. Van Meter's religion is, I grant you, a pretty stiff mixture of Paganism and Christianity, but historically he is in line with the Church and you are out of line with it. I'd do one of two things—use Van Meter for all he is worth, or get out of his church and let him alone. It's his. He and his kind built it. You are an interloper."
"Perhaps so," Gordon mused.
"You know my opinion of your dream of social salvation. I say let the fit survive and the weak go to the wall. If you could save all the floating trash that so moves your pity, you would only lower the standard of humanity. Hell is the furnace made to consume such worthless rubbish. You are even apologising for hell because you can't stand the odour of burning flesh. I like the old God of Israel better than the ghost you moderns have set up. Honestly, Frank, you have never treated Van Meter decently. He's a small man, but he is in dead earnest, and he is historically a Christian. I don't know what the devil you are, and I don't believe you know yourself. Go to Van Meter, have a plain business talk with him, and see if you can't come to an understanding."
"That's the only sensible thing you've said to me."
"And the only immoral thing; for if you and Van Meter ever agree you will both do some tall lying."
"I think I'll take your advice and see him, anyhow."
THE SHORTHORN DEACON
Gordon and Overman came into town on the four o'clock express. They sat down in opposite seats near the centre of the car.
Neither of them noticed Van Meter, who also lived at Babylon in the summer, board the train as it pulled out of the station. He was a pompous little man, short and red-faced, with gray side whiskers and bald head. His eyes were sharp and beady and shined like shoe-buttons. Piety and thrift were written all over him. As a deacon he passed the bread and wine at the Lord's Table on Sunday, with his black eyes half closed, dreaming of cornering the bread market of the world on Monday. For him New York was the centre of the universe, and the Stock Exchange was the centre of New York. The rest of this earth was provincial, tributary soil. He had gone abroad, but rarely ventured beyond Philadelphia or Coney Island on this side. He was the presiding officer of the Stock Exchange and the President of the Metropolitan Bible and Tract Society. He took himself very seriously.
As they got out of the car at Long Island City, Gordon said to him:
"Deacon, I wish to have a talk with you tomorrow. Shall I call at your home or office?"
"Come down to the office at two o'clock; I'll be out at night," Van Meter answered briskly.
The next day Gordon walked from the church down Fourth Avenue to Union Square and down Broadway to the Battery. It was a glorious day in early spring. The air had in it yet the cool breath of winter, but the electric thrill of coming life was in the soft breezes that came from the South, where flowers were already blooming and birds singing. The hucksters were selling sweet violets and the cry of the strawberry man echoed along the side streets.
Fourth Avenue was piled with builders' material. The old brick homes were crumbling and steel-ribbed monsters climbing into the sky from their sites.
"Progress everywhere but in the churches," muttered Gordon. "The Church alone seems dead in New York."
Broadway was one vast river of humanity. As far as the eye could reach the throng engulfed the pavements and overflowed into the streets between the curbs, mingling with the mass of cars, cabs, trucks and wagons. On either side towered the interminable miles of business houses whose nerves and arteries reach to the limits of the known world, savage and civilised. Behind those fronts sat the engineers of industry with their hands on the throttles of the world's machinery, their keen eyes and ears alert to every sound of danger in the ceaseless roar around them.
Shadowy and far away seemed the Spirit world from those hurrying, rushing, cursing, struggling men. And yet the earth was quivering beneath them with the shock of spiritual forces. The age of miracles was only dawning.
He felt like climbing to the tower of one of those great temples of trade and shouting to the throng to lift up their heads from the stones below and beyond the line of towering steel and granite see the Glory of God. And as he thought how little that crowd would heed it if he did, he felt himself in the grip of Titanic forces of Nature sweeping through time and eternity, and that he was but an atom tossed by their fury.
As he passed the City Hall his eye rested on the towering castles of the metropolitan newspapers. He could feel in the air the throb of their presses, the whir of their wheels within wheels telling the story of a day's life, wet with tears of hope and love, or poisoned with slander and falsehood, their minarets and domes the flaming signs in the sky of a new power in history, a menace to the life of the ancient Church and its priesthood. Was this power a threat to human liberty, or the highest expression of its hope? Only the future would reveal. What silent forces crouched behind those towers with their throbbing cylinders the world could only guess as yet.
He walked past old Castle Garden where so many weary feet have landed and found hope.
His heart filled with patriotic pride. Far out in the harbour stood Liberty Enlightening the World, lifting her torch among the stars, her face calm and majestic, gazing serenely out to sea.
"Land of faith and hope—my country!" he exclaimed. "Here the commonest man has risen from the dust and proved himself a king. Home of the broken-hearted, the tyrant-cursed, the bruised, the oppressed, within thy magic gates the miracle of life has been renewed!"
He looked out on the great emerald harbour gleaming in the sunlight, its sky-line white with clouds and penciled with the pennant-tipped masts of a thousand ships flying the flags of every nation of the earth. His soul was flooded again with the sense of the city's imperial splendour, stretching out her hand to grasp the financial scepter of the world, already the second city of the earth, a kingdom mightier than Caesar ruled and richer than Croesus dreamed.
He came back to Wall Street, and, as he turned into the narrow lane, felt its power shadow his imagination.
"After all," he muttered, "Van Meter is not far wrong in his idea of the omnipotence of this street."
The Deacon's office was plainly furnished. He was seated at an old-fashioned mahogany desk, evidently a relic of his Knickerbocker past. Born in New York sixty years before, he was popularly reckoned a multimillionaire, though his wealth was overestimated. Compared to the big-brained, eagle-eyed men who had come from the West and mastered Wall Street, Van Meter was really a pygmy.
He greeted Gordon politely.
"Delighted to welcome you, Doctor, to my office. This is the first call you have ever honoured me with downtown."
"I've been to your home often, Deacon."
"But somehow you've always been shy of Wall Street," said Van Meter, expansively. "I suppose you look on us down here somewhat as the old-time preacher regarded the saloon-keeper. You should know us better. This alley is the jugular vein of the nation, and the Stock Exchange its heart. We have a President and Congress at Washington, and some very handsome buildings there. It is supposed to be the capital of the republic. A political myth! Here is the capital. The money centre is the seat of government. The Southern Confederacy failed, not for lack of soldiers or generals of military genius, but because it had no money."
Van Meter's stature grew taller and his eyes larger as Gordon felt the truth of his words.
"Well, Deacon, I wish to know you better. I'm afraid I've not always been fair to you as the senior officer of the church and one of its oldest members."
"I haven't worried over it," he replied quickly.
"I know you in your home life," Gordon continued. "You are a faithful and tender husband and father. If you were to die to-morrow, your servants would stand sobbing at the doorway when I entered. You are one of the kindest men in your individual life."
"Thanks. I hardly thought you would say so much."
"Then you have misjudged me. The only criticism I've ever made of you has been as a part of our social and economic order. This is a question, it seems to me, we might differ about and still be friends. Now, I wish you to tell me honestly, face to face, why you object to me as the pastor of your church?"
"You wish me to be perfectly frank?" he asked, with his black eyes twinkling.
"Perfectly so. You couldn't say anything that would anger me. I am too much in earnest."
"Well, to begin with, you don't preach the simple gospel."
"No; but I do preach the gospel of Christ."
"Your reference to the strike amongst the women shirt-makers in New York drove one of the richest men out of our church."
"Yes; I saw him jump up and go out during the service. The women were making shirts for his house at thirty-five cents a dozen, finding their own thread and using their own machines. I said if I found one of those shirts in my house I'd put it in the fire with a pair of tongs, and I would. I'd be afraid to touch a seam lest I felt the throb of a woman's bruised fingers in it."
The Deacon softly stroked his whiskers.
"It was an unfortunate remark. He contributed $500 a year to the church. He has gone where the simple gospel of Christ is preached."
"Yes, so simple that he can sleep through it and know that it will never touch his life," Gordon said with a sneer. "What's the use to talk about mustard plaster? I say apply it to the place that hurts."
"You preach Evolution. I don't like the idea that man is descended from a monkey."
"The weight of scholarship sustains the theory."
"Well, my idea is, if it's true, the less said about it the better. And then you lack dignity out of the pulpit."
"Even so, Deacon, the most dignified man I ever saw was a dead man—a dead New Yorker. What we need in the church is life."
"But you have departed from the faith of our fathers."
"Perhaps," Gordon said, with a twinkle in his eye, "if you mean our famous fathers who 'landed first on their knees and then on the aborigines.'"
Van Meter ignored the remark.
"You said one day that in America we had but two classes, the masses and the asses. That sentence cost the church a thousand dollars in pew-rents. I think such assertions blasphemous."
"Well, it's true."
"I don't think so; and if it were, it don't pay to say such things."
"Am I only to preach the truths that pay?"
"We hired you to preach the simple gospel of Christ."
"Pardon me, Deacon; I am not your hired man. I chose this church as the instrument through which I could best give my message to the world. I answer to God, not to you. The salary you pay me is not the wage of a hireling. My support comes from the free offerings laid on God's altar."
"We call them pew-rents. You are trying to abolish this system, as old as our life, and allow a mob of strangers to push and crowd our old members out of their pews."
"I believe the system of renting pews un-Christian and immoral-a mark of social caste."
"And that's why I think you're a little crazy. Even your best friends say you're daft on some things."
"So did Christ's."
The Deacon's face clouded and his black eyes flashed.
"From denouncing private pews you have begun to denounce private property. Our church is becoming a Socialist rendezvous and you a firebrand." "Deacon, you have allowed your commercial habits to master your thinking, your religion and your character. In your home, you are a good man. In Wall Street," he smiled, "pardon me, you are a highwayman, and you carry the ideals and methods of the Street into your duties as a churchman."
"Pretty far apart for a pastor and deacon, then, don't you think?"
"You ran the preacher away who preceded me, too," mused Gordon.
The Deacon's eyes danced at this acknowledgment of his power.
"He was a little slow for New York. You are rather swift."
Gordon rose and looked down good-naturedly on the shining bald head as he took his leave.
"I suppose we will have to fight it out?"
"It looks that way. My kindest regards to Mrs. Gordon."
THE CRY OF THE CITY
Kate Ransom entered the church with enthusiasm. Even Van Meter, learning that she lived on Gramercy Park and was a woman of wealth, congratulated Gordon on the event.
She organized a working-girls' club and became its presiding genius. Her beauty and genial ways won every girl with whom she came in contact. Her club became at once a force in Gordon's work, absolutely loyal to his slightest wish. She formed a corps of visitors and asked to be allowed to help in his pastoral work.
"Before we begin," she said, "let me be your assistant for a day. I wish to see the city as you see it, that I can direct my girls with intelligence."
On the day fixed, she acted as usher for his callers at the church.
The President of his boys' club was admitted first to tell him a saloon had been opened next door to their building in spite of their protest to the Board of Excise.
"It's no use to waste breath on the Board. They know that saloon is within the forbidden number of feet from our church. But as the Governor of New York has recently said, 'Give me the vote of the saloons; I don't mind the churches,' go down to this lawyer and tell him to insist on an indictment of Crook, the Chairman of the Board, for the violation of his oath of office."
"It's no use, sir," said Anderson, his assistant. "I've been to see him. He tells me there were three indictments for penitentiary offenses pending against Crook when the Mayor promoted him to be Chairman of the Board. Three courts have pronounced him guilty, but the new Legislature is going to pass an ex-post facto law to relieve him of his term in prison."
"Then try him with one more indictment and include the whole Board of Excise this time. We will let them know we are alive."
Kate ushered in a slatternly little woman, dirty, ugly, cross-eyed and her face red from weeping. "Please, Doctor, come quick. They've got Dan. They knocked him in the head, dragged him down the stairs and flung him in the wagon. He's in jail, and they say they'll have him in Sing Sing in a week. He ain't done a thing. You're the only friend we've got in the world."
"On what charge did they arrest him, Mrs. Hogan?"
"Just a lot o' policemen charged on him with billies!"
"But why did they do it?"
"It's the policeman on the beat who's got a grudge agin him. He swore he'd land him in Sing Sing. And if you can't stop him, he'll do it."
Gordon wrote a note to a lawyer and handed it to her.
"Go to this lawyer and tell him to take the case."
"Dan's a friend of mine," he explained to Kate. "I've taken him out of the hospital three times from delirium tremens, and found work for him a dozen times. But he can't hold his job. Everything seems against him.
"'It's me face, Doctor,' he tells me in despair. 'When they see me they won't stand me. Me wife's cross-eyed, or she'd 'a' never married me. I was tin years prowlin' up an' down the earth seekin' a woman. But I couldn't catch one. She'd 'a' got away from me if she could 'a' seed straight.'"
Kate laughed and ushered in a young woman with blond hair and an ill-fitting dress. She walked as in a dream, and there was a strange look in her eye.
"I hope you are feeling better to-day, Miss Alice."
She made no reply, but seated herself wearily, while Gordon drew a cheque for fifty dollars and handed it to her. She placed it mechanically in her purse.
"I hope you are making progress in your art now that you have a comfortable studio," he said kindly.
"I want to see him," she replied in a low voice.
"But I can't give you his address, When he came to me, conscience stricken, and told me that you were wandering about the streets of New York ill and half starved, and placed this fund at my disposal, he stipulated that he would pay it only so long as you let him alone. You promised me last month to stop writing letters to the general post-office."
"I can't help it. I love him. I don't want this money; I want him."
"But you know he is married."
"He said he'd get a divorce. I love him. I'll be his servant, his dog—if he will only see me and speak to me. Tell me where to find him. I believe all men are friends to one another."
Kate, waiting behind the curtain which cut off Gordon's desk, could hear distinctly.
When the young woman emerged she led her into the adjoining room, and there was the sound of a kiss at the door as she left.
An aged father and mother came, dressed in their best clothes, and very timid.
"We have a great sorrow, Doctor," the father began tremulously. "We are strangers in New York. We hate to trouble you. But we heard you preach, and you seemed to get so close to our hearts we felt we had known you all our lives."
He paused and the mother began to brush the tears from her eyes.
"Our boy is a medical student here. We were proud of him—all we had dreamed and never seen, all we had hoped to be and never been in life, we expected to see in him. We skimped and saved and gave him an education. Sometimes we didn't have much to eat at home, but we didn't care. Did we, Ma?"
The mother shook her head.
"Then we mortgaged the farm and sent him here to study three years and be a great doctor."
He paused, bent low and covered his face with his hands.
"And now, sir, he's taken to drink, and they tell us at the college he won't get his diploma! And we thought, after we heard you, maybe you could see him, get hold of him, and help us save him. He's all we've got. The rest are dead."
Gordon looked away and his lips quivered.
"You'll help us, Doctor?"
"I'll do the best I can for you, my friends. It's such a sad old story in this town that one gets hardened to it till we see it in some fresh revelation of anguish like yours."
He took the name and address and the old man and woman went out, softly crying.
A widow came to tell him of an assault on her twelve-year-old daughter.
"And because the brute is a rich man on an avenue," she sobbed, "they've turned him loose with a fine. I'm poor and ignorant, and I'm not a member of your church, but all the people are talking about you in our neighbourhood, and told me you were a friend of the weak, and I'm here."
He called his assistant in.
"Anderson, do you know anything of this case? How could such a thing be?"
"I've looked into it. It's just as she tells you. The man was arraigned before a police magistrate, who had no power to try such a case. He was allowed to plead under an assumed name-John Stevens, of Newark, New Jersey, fined and discharged. I informed the city editor of the Herald of the case; he detailed a reporter, who wrote it up. He left out the man's real name. Nothing has come of it. Our courts have become so debased, God only knows what they will do next. We have a police judge now who is the owner of five disreputable dives, which he runs every day and Sunday. He sits down on the bench on Monday and discharges the cases against his saloons. We've another, who was drunk in the gutter, with two warrants out for his arrest, when the Boss made him a judge. What can we expect from such courts?"
He sent her away with the premise to consult the best legal talent.
A little frousle-headed woman, carrying a bag full of documents, then explained to him that she was the inventor of a process for preserving dead bodies, meats and eggs by treating them with the purifying ozone of the air, and wished him to organise a company, make her president, and act as her secretary.
"It's the greatest invention ever conceived by the human mind," she explained, as she spread out scores of letters and testimonials from men who had tested it, and many who had signed anything to get rid of her.
"Madam, if your process can only be applied to the city government of New York you will deserve a monument higher than the Statue of Liberty. But I'm afraid there's not enough ozone in the atmosphere."
He had to call help to get her out, and then she only went after she got the loan of five dollars to tide her over the week.
A theological student with an open hatchet face, from the western plains, on his way to Moody's school at Northfield, asked for money to get there.
"I had a-plenty," he explained, "but I met a man who asked me to change a bill for him. He got the change, but I'm looking for him to get the bill. I don't know, to save my life, how he got away. I still have his umbrella that he asked me to hold."
Gordon smiled and loaned him the money.
"I don't ask you for any references. You are the real thing, my boy."
A woman in mourning, whom he recognised immediately from her published pictures, asked him to champion the cause of her son, who was under sentence of death.
Gordon readily recalled the case as a famous one. He had followed it with some care and was sure from the evidence that the young man was guilty.
For a half hour she poured out her mother's soul to him in piteous accents.
"My dear madam," he said at last, "I cannot possibly undertake such work."
"Then who will save him? I've tramped the streets of New York for six months and appealed to every man of power. Your voice raised in protest against this shameful and unjust death will turn the tide of public opinion and save him. You can't refuse me!"
"I must refuse," he answered firmly.
She turned pale, and her mouth twitched nervously. He looked into her white face with a great pity and a feeling of horror swept his heart. The pathos and the agony of the tragedy filled him with strange foreboding. In his imagination he could hear the click of handcuffs on his own wrists and feel the steel of prison bars on his own hands as he peered through the grating toward the gate of Death.
But he was firm in his refusal, and she left with words of bitterness and reproach.
After a long procession of people, sick, and most of them out of work, he was surprised to see one of his own deacons approach with a look of dejection.
"Why, Ludlow, what ails you?"
"Sorry to trouble you, Pastor, but I've lost my place. You see, I'm more than fifty years old, and though I've worked for my firm twenty years, they laid me off for a younger man. I'm ruined unless I can get work. I've four people dependent on me. I've come to ask you to see the Manager of the new department store and get me a place. I've been there three times, but I can't get to the Manager."
"I'll do it to-day, Deacon. Let me know when you need anything."
After two hours of this work, he left, with Kate Ransom, for his round of visits.
She looked at him as he started smilingly from the church.
"And you have gone through with this every day for ten years?"
"While I have been around the corner laughing and dancing with a lot of idiots. And you seem as cheerful as though you had been listening to ravishing music!"
"Yes, I must be cheerful."
"How do you endure it? Yet it fascinates me, this life—in touch with drama more thrilling than poets dream. It seems to me I'm just beginning to live. I am very grateful to you."
He looked into her face, smiling.
"The gratitude is on my side. You are going to be more popular than the pastor."
"I'm sure you will not be jealous."
"Hardly, as long as I hear the extravagant things you are telling your girls about loyalty to the leader."
She blushed and turned her violet eyes frankly on him.
"I believe in loyalty."
He answered with a look of gratitude.
"We must go first to that store for Ludlow. He's the best deacon in the church, a staunch friend, a loyal, tireless worker."
Gordon waited patiently at the store a half hour and succeeded in reaching the Manager. As they left, he said to Kate:
"Did you see that crowd of two hundred men waiting at his door?"
"Yes; what were they doing there?"
"Waiting their turn to see the Manager. They will come back to-morrow, and next day and next day, just like that. I felt mean to sneak in ahead of them by a private door because my card could open it. The Manager gave me a note to the head of the department Ludlow wishes to enter and asked him to suspend the rule against men fifty years of age and give my man a trial. In return for this favour he coolly asked me to deliver a lecture before his employees that will cost me a week's work. I had to do it. The head of the department who read the note told me to send Ludlow to see him, but he scowled at me as though he would like to tear my eyes out. He will put him on and discharge him in a month for some frivolous offense."
They boarded a Broadway car and got off at City Hall Park.
"Where are you going down here?" she asked.
"To a building that collapsed yesterday and killed thirty working people. That house was condemned fifteen years ago by the Inspector. But its owner was a friend of the Boss, and it stood till it fell and killed those people."
The street was blocked by the fire department playing their streams on the smouldering ruins, while gangs of men worked cleaning away the rubbish and searching for dead bodies.
A crowd of relatives and friends were pressing close to the ropes. Many of them had stood there all night, crazed with grief, wringing their hands, hoping and praying they might find some token of love left of those dear to them, and yet hoping against hope that they might find nothing and that their beloved would appear, saved by some miracle.
Gordon had promised a mother whose daughter was missing to help her in the search. She did not know where her own child worked. She only knew it was downtown near the City Hall. A building had fallen in, and she had not come home.
Just as they approached the ruins a body was found and brought to the enclosure for identification. The mother recognized her daughter by an earring. She flung herself across the black-charred trunk with a shriek that rang clear and soul-piercing above the roar and thunder of the city's life at high tide. Above the rumble of car, the rattle of wagon, the jar of machinery, the tramp and murmur of millions the awful cry pierced the sky.
Kate put her hand on Gordon's arm and pressed her red lips together, shivering. "O dear! O dear! what a cry! I can't go any closer. I'll wait for you out at the edge of the crowd."
He pushed into the throng, lifted the woman, spoke a few words of tenderness to her, and told her he would call at her home later.
As he was about to leave, a tall, delicate man working among the ruins reeled and sank in a faint. When he revived, he quit his job and went home without a word.
"What was the matter with that man?" Gordon asked the foreman of the wrecking company.
"Starved, to tell you the truth. He came here yesterday and begged for a job. He looked so pale and sick I couldn't refuse him. He fainted the first hour and went home. He came back this morning and begged me to try him again. I did, but you see he is too weak. He told me his family was starving."
He joined Kate and they crossed the City Hall Square and walked down Centre Street to the Tombs prison.
She was pale and quiet, glancing at him now and then.
"I've an engagement at the Tombs," he told her, "with a lady to whom I used to make innocent love in our youth in a college town. I got a note from her yesterday, written in the clear, beautiful hand I recognised from the memory of little perfumed things she used to send me. You don't know what a queer sick feeling came over me when I recognised from the street number that she was in prison. I haven't seen her in fifteen years. She was the village belle and made what was supposed to be a brilliant marriage."
They entered the grim old prison, that looked like an Egyptian temple, with its huge slanting walls of granite squatting low on Centre Street like a big pot-bellied spider, watching with one eye the brilliant insects of wealth on Broadway and with the other the gray vermin swarming under the Bridge and along the river.
Kate put her hand on Gordon's arm and drew closer as they passed down its gloomy corridor to the warden's office.
She tried to smile, but by the twitching at the corners of her full lips he could see she was nearer to crying. Again, as her body touched his, he felt the warmth and glow of her beauty, her blue eyes, cordial and grave, her waving auburn hair with its glowing fires, her step luxurious and rhythmic, and. now as her hand trembled, instead of the gleam of cruelty and conscious power, the timid appeal to the strength of the man.
She looked at him and lowered her eyes, and then flashed them up straight into his face with a smile.
"I'm not afraid!" she said impulsively.
"Of course not."
His steel-gray eyes looked into hers, and they both laughed.
Gordon asked the warden's permission to see the woman whose letter had brought him and also the young man who had returned from Sing Sing for a new trial.
"What is the charge against the woman?" he asked.
"Shoplifting, sir. She's been here before and begged off. But they are going to send her up this time. I'll allow her to see you in the reception room."
She came in, with a poor attempt at dignity, and then collapsed into whining but hopeful lying. She was dressed in an old sunburnt frock. Her hair was tousled, her shoes untied, and a corset-string was hanging outside her skirt. Her front teeth were out, and the red blotches on her face told the story of drink and drugs.
"Doctor, it's all a mistake. I swear to you I am innocent. You don't know how it humiliates me for you to see me like this—you, who knew me in the old days at home, when I was rich and petted and loved. And now I haven't a friend in the world. My husband left me. If you will tell them to let me off, they will do it for your sake. I swear to you I will leave New York, go back to my old home and try to begin life over again." She buried her face in her hands.
"What shall I do?" he whispered to Kate. "She is lying. She will never leave New York."
"Promise her—promise her; I'll try to do something for her."
They passed inside, along Murderers' Row, and stopped before the cell in which stood the man waiting his new trial. He poured out his story again, and as Gordon looked sadly through the bars at his face the certainty of his guilt gave the lie to every fair word.
As his glib tongue rattled on, Gordon's mind was farther and farther away. He was thinking of that grim sentence from the old Bible, "Sin when it is full grown bringeth forth death." And again this problem of sin, the wilful and persistent violation of known law, threw its shadow for a moment over his dream of social brotherhood. The voice of the man angered him. He frowned, bade him good-by and left.
And as he passed out, he felt, in spite of the charm of Kate's companionship, the shadow of that veiled mother by his side, and heard the bitter cries of her broken heart, until the sin and shame of the man seemed his own. The pity and pathos of it all haunted and filled him with vague forebodings.—"Now for something more cheerful," he said, as they passed out of the Tombs and boarded an uptown car.
"A derrick at work in that wreck yesterday fell on a working-man. He has a wife and four children. We must see how he is getting on."
They got off on the Bowery, turned down a cross street toward the East River, threading their way through the masses of people jamming the sidewalks, and dodging missiles from dirty children screaming and romping at play.
"Mercy!" exclaimed Kate, "I thought Broadway and Fifth Avenue and the shopping districts crowded—but this is beyond belief! I didn't know there were so many people in the world."
"And what you see, just a drop in the ocean of humanity. There are miles and miles of these tenements in New York—square mile after square mile, packed from cellar to attic. We have a million and a half crowded behind these grim walls on this island alone."
"Surely not all so ugly and wretched as these?"
"Many worse. But don't let the outside deceive you. Back of these nightmares of scorched mud, festooned with shabby clothes, are thousands of brave loving men and women, living their lives cheerfully, not asking us for pity. Even in this squalor grow beautiful, innocent girls like flowers in a muck-heap. When I see these children growing up thus into fair men and women with such sur-roundings, I know that every babe is born a child of God, not of the devil."
They climbed a dark stairway and knocked at the back door of a double-decker tenement.
A stout woman opened it, and they entered the tiny kitchen, so small that the table had to be pushed against the wall to pass it and the family of six could not all eat at one time because the table could not be pulled out into the room.
"How is John this afternoon, Mrs. McDonald?"
"We don't know, sir. The doctor's in there now. If he dies, God knows what we will do; and if he lives, a cripple, it'll be worse."
The doctor called them into the front room and whispered to Gordon:
"He's got to die, and I'm going to tell him. I'm glad you are here."
He took the man by the hand.
"Well, John, I'm sorry to say so to you, but you must know it. You can't live beyond the day."
The man drew himself upon his elbow, looked at the doctor in a dazed sort of way and then at his wife holding his crying baby in her arms, the other little ones clinging to her dress, and gasped:
"Did you say die? Here—now—to-day—die? And if I do, I leave my helpless ones to starve."
He paused, fingering the covering nervously, shut his jaws firmly and looked at the doctor.
"Almighty God! I can't die!" he growled through his teeth. "I will not die!"
"No, no, you sha'n't die, John. We'll help you to live!" his wife cried.
"Very well; if you keep on feeling that way you may live," said the doctor cheerfully. "We will hope for the best."
Kate's eyelids drooped as she stood watching this scene as in a dream. She took the woman by the hand as she left:
"I do hope he will live for your sake. I believe he will."
When they reached the street, the doctor said to her:
"Glad to welcome you, Miss Ransom, from the little world into the great one."
"Thank you. I begin to feel I have not been in the world at all before. Will he live, do you think?"
"If he holds that iron will with the grip he has on it now he'll pull through—and be a hopeless invalid for life. He will join the great army of industrial cripples—a havoc that makes war seem harmless. The wrecking corporation have already sent their lawyer and settled his case for eighty-five dollars cash: not enough to bury him. He thought it better than nothing."
The doctor hurried on to another patient.
It had grown quite dark. Gordon took Kate by the arm after the modern fashion, and they threaded their way through the crowds made denser by the return of the working people. She had removed her right glove in the house and did not replace it immediately. His big hand clasped her rounded, beautiful arm, and a thrill of emotion swept him at the consciousness of her nearness, her sympathy, her open admiration and sweet companionship in his work.
Again, as she walked with the quick, sinuous and graceful swing of her body, he was impressed with her perfect health and vital power. She had recovered her balance now, and when she spoke it was with contagious enthusiasm.
"I can never thank you enough for opening the door of a real world to me, Doctor," she declared, looking up at him soberly.
"And you have no idea what inspiration you have given the church—just at a time I need it, too," he answered warmly.
"I've been wondering what I did here for nine years, unconscious of this wonderful drama of love and shame, joy and sorrow about me. But what did he mean by an army of cripples greater than the havoc of war?"
"Victims of machinery. It's incredible to those who do not come in contact with it. The railroads alone kill and wound thirty-five thousand working-men every year: this is a small percentage of the grand total. More men are killed and wounded by machinery in America than were killed and wounded any year in the great Civil War, the bloodiest and most fatal struggle in history. We pay billions in pensions to our soldiers, but nothing is done about this. The social order that permits such atrocity must go down before the rising consciousness of human brotherhood. The employers ask, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' and forget that they are echoing the shriek of the first murderer over his victim's body."
"And I never thought of it before. How strange that so many people are in the world and never a part of it."
"You can begin to see the outlines of the problems before us. It will be years before you can realise the height and depth of need that calls here to-day for deeds more heroic than knights of old ever dreamed."
Again she looked at him with frank admiration.
"But the most wonderful thing I have seen to-day has been a man," she boldly said. "Your faith, your optimism, your dreams in the face of the awful facts of life, and with it a tenderness of sympathy I never thought in you, have been a revelation to me. I feel more and more ashamed of the years I have wasted."
She said this very tenderly, while Gordon unconsciously tightened the grip of his big hand on her arm, and then went on as though she had not spoken.
"What a call to an earnest life! New York City furnishes two-thirds of the convicts of the state. We have one murder and ten suicides every week. More than eighty thousand men and women are arrested here every year. Fifty thousand pass through that basilisk's den we saw to-day. We have a hundred thousand child workers out of whose tender flesh we are coining gold. Three hundred thousand of our women are hewers of wood and drawers of water, robbed of their divine right of love and motherhood. There are twenty thousand children and fifty thousand men and women homeless in our streets. I have seen more than five hundred of them fighting for the chance of sleeping on the bare planks of a dirty police lodging-house."
He felt her nerves quiver with sympathy and surprise.
"I never dreamed such things took place in New York."
"Yes, and those homeless children are the saddest tragedy. We haven't orphanages for them. When a house burns down that has a coal shute or an opening in it where a child can crawl, the firemen thrust their hooks in and pull out a bundle of charred rags and flesh—one of these homeless waifs. No father or mother that ever bent over a cradle, looked into a baby's face and felt its warm breath can realise that horror and not go mad. We don't realise it. We ignore it. We have four hundred churches. We open them a few hours every week. We have nine thousand saloons opened all day, most of the night, and Sunday too. We haven't orphanages, but we have these nine thousand factories where orphans are made. When our country friends come to see us we take them to see the saloons! Our shame is our glory. You have to-day seen some of the fruits."
"And yet you have faith?"
"Yes; I have eyes that see the invisible. In all this crash of brute forces I see beauty in ugliness, innocence in filth. Here one is put to the test. Here the great powers of Nature have gathered for their last assault and have challenged man's soul to answer for its life. Dark spiritual forces shriek their battle-cries over the din of matter. The swiftness of progress, crushing and enriching, the mad greed for gold, the worship of success—a success that sneers at duty, honour, love and patriotism—the filth and frivolity of our upper strata, the growth of hate and envy below, the restlessness of the masses, the waning of faith, the growth of despair, the triumph of brute force, the reign of the liar and huckster—all these are more real and threatening here, as beasts and reptiles increase in size as we near the tropics. We are nearing the tropics of civilisation. We must not forget that the flowers will be richer, wilder, more beautiful, and life capable of higher things."
They had reached her door, and he released her arm, soft, round and warm, with a sense of loss and regret.
"Yet with all its shadows and sorrows," he cried with enthusiasm, "I love this imperial city. It is the centre of our national life—its very beating heart. If we can make it clean, its bright blood will go back to the farthest village and country seat with life. I shall live to see its black tenements swept away, and homes for the people, clean, white and beautiful, rise in their places. I have a vision of its streets swept and garnished, of green parks full of happy children, of working-men coming to their homes with songs at night as men once sang because their work was glad. I haven't much to depend on just now in the church. But God lives. I have a growing group of loyal young dreamers, and you have come as an omen of greater things."
"I'll do my best not to disappoint you."
He shook hands with her, declining to go in, and, as she sprang swiftly and gracefully up the steps, his eyes lingered a moment on the rhythm of her movement and the glory of her splendid figure in sheer rapture for its perfect beauty.
As he turned homeward, he thrust his hand, yet warm with the touch of her bare arm, into his pocket, drew out two pearls, looked tenderly at them and felt their smooth, rounded forms. A longing for such companionship in work with his wife swept his soul.
THE PUDDLE AND THE TADPOLE
When Gordon started home from his round of visits with Kate the wind had hauled to the north and it began to spit drops of snow. The cars were still crowded, the aisles full and the platforms jammed, though it was seven o'clock. He buttoned his coat about his neck and paced the station, waiting for a train in which he could find a seat.
"Bad omen for my trustee meeting to-night," he muttered. "This air feels like Van Meter's breath."
He allowed four trains to pass, and at last boarded one worse crowded than the first. With a sigh for the end of chivalry, he pushed his way through the dense mass packed at the doors, wedging his big form roughly among the women, to the centre of the car, and mechanically seized a strap. He was so used to this leather-strap habit that he held on with one hand and, while reading, unfolded and folded his paper with the other.
He climbed the hill to his home in the face of a howling snow-storm.
Ruth looked at him intently.
"I am sorry I couldn't get home earlier," he said, "I've had a hard day."
"But such pleasant help that you didn't mind it, I'm sure. I heard Miss Ransom was assisting you. I went to the church and found you had gone out with her. I hear she is becoming indispensable in your work."
"Come, Ruth, let's not have another silly quarrel."
"No; it's a waste of breath," she replied bitterly.
He slipped quietly out of the house after supper and hurried back to his study to collect his thoughts for the battle he knew he must wage with Van Meter. This one man had ruled the church with his rod of gold for twenty years. He had established a mission station on the East Side and gathered into it the undesirable people. He was the watchdog of the Prudential Committee guarding the door to membership.
This trustee meeting had for him a double interest. A panic in Wall Street had all but ruined Van Meter. He had attempted to corner the bread market. The wheat crop had been ruined by a hard winter, and the little black eyes, watching, believed the coup could be made.
The attempt was in concerted action through his associate houses in Chicago and St. Louis, and he had plunged as never before. The corner had failed. It was reported that he had made an assignment. This had proved a mistake. His long-established credit and his high personal standing in Wall Street had rallied money to his support and he had pulled out with the loss of three-fourths of his fortune.
Gordon wondered what the effect of this blow would be on his character and attitude toward the church's work. He was specially anxious to know the effect of the reverse on the imagination of the other members of the Board, who merely revolved in worshipful admiration around his millions.
He asked Van Meter to come to his study for a personal interview before the meeting. The Deacon was cool and polite, and his little eyes were shining with a distant luster.
"I was sorry, Deacon, to learn of your personal misfortunes."
Van Meter wet his dry lips with his tongue, looked Gordon squarely in the face and snapped:
"Were you the clergyman who made the statement concerning that corner reported yesterday in an evening paper?"
Gordon flushed, turned uneasily in his chair, and boldly replied:
"Yes, I was, and I repeat it to you. On every such attempt to coin money out of hunger and despair, I pray God's everlasting curse to fall. I am glad your corner failed. The world is larger than New York, and New York is larger than the Stock Exchange. Am I clear?"
"Quite so. With your permission I will return to the trustee meeting."
"Very well. I wish to make a statement to the Board when you are ready."
Gordon frowned, sat down and made some notes of the points he wished to urge.
He had often wondered at the impotence of the average preacher in New York. But as he felt the forces of materialism closing about him, and their steel grip on his heart, he began to know why New York is the preacher's graveyard. He had won his great audience. His voice had not been drowned in the roar of the breakers of this ocean of flesh, but he had met bitter disillusioning. As he looked into the faces of his Board of Trustees, dominated by that little bald-headed man, he felt the cruel force of Overman's sneer at the modern church as the home of the mean and the crippled and the sick. The appeal to the ideal seemed to stick in his throat.
He had thrilled at the struggle with the big city's rushing millions. Their stupendous indifference dared him to conquer or die, and he had conquered. He had seen these indifferent millions swallow cabinets, presidents, princes and kings, and rush on their way without a thought whether they lived or died. He had made himself heard. But this power that worshiped a dollar and called it God, that controlled the finances of the church and sought to control its pastor and strangle his soul—this was the force slowly choking him to death unless he could conquer it.
The average preacher, when he landed in New York and faced the roar of its advancing ocean of materialism, fluttered hopelessly about for a year or two like a frightened sand-fiddler in the edge of the surf of a cyclone, was engulfed, and disappeared.
To conquer this sea and lift his voice in power above its thunder, and then be strangled in a little yellow puddle full of tadpoles, was more than his soul could endure.
"I'll not submit to it," he growled, with clenched fist.
When he entered the meeting, the dozen men were hanging on Van Meter's lips as on the inspired word of Moses.
"I was just telling the Board," he suavely explained, "that Mr. Wellford, on whom we must depend for such a building enterprise involving millions, has declared his hostility to the scheme. He is out of sympathy with the sensational methods of the Pilgrim Church."
"I'll inform the Board," said Gordon, as he advanced toward Van Meter and thrust his hands in his pockets, "that it's not true. I have seen Mr. Wellford, by his invitation, this week at his home. I laid our great plan before him. I found him a big man, a man who thinks big thoughts, and does big things. He told me frankly he was heartily in favour of it and would do his part the moment we were ready and other men of wealth would join in the movement. He simply declares that we must act first."
Van Meter pursed his lips and tried to lift his nose into a sneer.
"May I ask, Doctor, if it is your intention to demand a vote to-night on this building scheme?"
"Then I suggest that we vote first and hear your speech afterward. Some of us may wish to go before you're done."
Gordon turned red with rage and started to sit down, but, wheeling, he again faced the chairman and glared at him.
"Pardon my business methods, Doctor," he went on, "but your visions are rather tiresome. We are old New Yorkers. We know what you are going to tell us of the dark problem of the city's corruption, the poverty of the poor, and so on. Every now and then we see such sacred fires burning in the heart of a country parson called to town. Yet, in spite of the splendour of these little fizzling pinwheels that light the cruelty and darkness of metropolitan life for a moment, New York has managed somehow to jog along."
Gordon's anger melted into a laugh as he watched the Deacon's face grow purple with fury as he fairly hissed the last sentence of his speech. He was not an impressive man in an attempted flight of eloquence, and the preacher's laughter quite unhorsed him.
"Gentlemen," Gordon said with quiet dignity, "I came here to-night to make an appeal. But, I'm no longer in the mood. I see in your faces the folly of it. I make an announcement to you. The Temple will be built, with or without you. I prefer your cooperation. I can do it with your united opposition. God lives, and the age of miracles is not passed."