The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic
Part 5 out of 8
From where he reclined, he turned his head to scrutinize,
one by one, the statues in the corners. No doubt they
were beautiful--for this was a department in which he
was all humility--and one of them, the figure of a
broad-browed, stately, though thick-waisted woman,
bending slightly forward and with both arms broken off,
was decently robed from the hips downward. The others were
not robed at all. Theron stared at them with the erratic,
rippling jangle of the waltz in his ears, and felt that he
possessed a new and disturbing conception of what female
emancipation meant in these later days. Roving along
the wall, his glance rested again upon the largest of the
Virgin pictures--a full-length figure in sweeping draperies,
its radiant, aureoled head upturned in rapt adoration,
its feet resting on a crescent moon which shone forth
in bluish silver through festooned clouds of cherubs.
The incongruity between the unashamed statues and this
serene incarnation of holy womanhood jarred upon him for
the instant. Then his mind went to the piano.
Without a break the waltz had slowed and expanded into
a passage of what might be church music, an exquisitely
modulated and gently solemn chant, through which a soft,
lingering song roved capriciously, forcing the listener
to wonder where it was coming out, even while it caressed
and soothed to repose.
He looked from the Madonna to Celia. Beyond the carelessly
drooping braids and coils of hair which blazed between
the candles, he could see the outline of her brow
and cheek, the noble contour of her lifted chin and full,
modelled throat, all pink as the most delicate rose leaf
is pink, against the cool lights of the altar-like wall.
The sight convicted him in the court of his own soul
as a prurient and mean-minded rustic. In the presence
of such a face, of such music, there ceased to be any such
thing as nudity, and statues no more needed clothes than
did those slow, deep, magnificent chords which came now,
gravely accumulating their spell upon him.
"It is all singing!" the player called out to him over
her shoulder, in a minute of rest. "That is what Chopin does--
She began, with an effect of thinking of something else,
the Sixth Nocturne, and Theron at first thought she was not
playing anything in particular, so deliberately, haltingly,
did the chain of charm unwind itself into sequence.
Then it came closer to him than the others had done.
The dreamy, wistful, meditative beauty of it all at once
oppressed and inspired him. He saw Celia's shoulders sway
under the impulse of the RUBATO license--the privilege
to invest each measure with the stress of the whole,
to loiter, to weep, to run and laugh at will--and the
music she made spoke to him as with a human voice.
There was the wooing sense of roses and moonlight,
of perfumes, white skins, alluring languorous eyes,
"You know this part, of course," he heard her say.
On the instant they had stepped from the dark, scented,
starlit garden, where the nightingale sang, into a great cathedral.
A sombre and lofty anthem arose, and filled the place
with the splendor of such dignified pomp of harmony and
such suggestions of measureless choral power and authority
that Theron sat abruptly up, then was drawn resistlessly
to his feet. He stood motionless in the strange room,
feeling most of all that one should kneel to hear such music.
"This you'll know too--the funeral march from the Second
Sonata," she was saying, before he realized that the end
of the other had come. He sank upon the divan again,
bending forward and clasping his hands tight around his knees.
His heart beat furiously as he listened to the weird,
mediaeval processional, with its wild, clashing chords
held down in the bondage of an orderly sadness.
There was a propelling motion in the thing--a sense of being
borne bodily along--which affected him like dizziness.
He breathed hard through the robust portions of stern,
vigorous noise, and rocked himself to and fro when, as rosy
morn breaks upon a storm-swept night, the drums are silenced
for the sweet, comforting strain of solitary melody.
The clanging minor harmonies into which the march relapses
came to their abrupt end. Theron rose once more,
and moved with a hesitating step to the piano.
"I want to rest a little," he said, with his hand
on her shoulder.
"Whew! so do I," exclaimed Celia, letting her hands fall
with an exaggerated gesture of weariness. "The sonatas take
it out of one! They are hideously difficult, you know.
They are rarely played."
"I didn't know," remarked Theron. She seemed not to mind
his hand upon her shoulder, and he kept it there.
"I didn't know anything about music at all. What I do know
now is that--that this evening is an event in my life."
She looked up at him and smiled. He read unsuspected
tendernesses and tolerances of friendship in the depths
of her eyes, which emboldened him to stir the fingers
of that audacious hand in a lingering, caressing trill
upon her shoulder. The movement was of the faintest,
but having ventured it, he drew his hand abruptly away.
"You are getting on," she said to him. There was an
enigmatic twinkle in the smile with which she continued
to regard him. "We are Hellenizing you at a great rate."
A sudden thought seemed to strike her. She shifted
her eyes toward vacancy with a swift, abstracted glance,
reflected for a moment, then let a sparkling half-wink
and the dimpling beginnings of an almost roguish smile
mark her assent to the conceit, whatever it might be.
"I will be with you in a moment," he heard her say;
and while the words were still in his ears she had risen
and passed out of sight through the broad, open doorway
to the right. The looped curtains fell together behind her.
Presently a mellow light spread over their delicately
translucent surface--a creamy, undulating radiance which
gave the effect of moving about among the myriad folds
of the silk.
Theron gazed at these curtains for a little, then straightened
his shoulders with a gesture of decision, and, turning on his heel,
went over and examined the statues in the further corners minutely.
"If you would like some more, I will play you the Berceuse now."
Her voice came to him with a delicious shock.
He wheeled round and beheld her standing at the piano,
with one hand resting, palm upward, on the keys. She was
facing him. Her tall form was robed now in some shapeless,
clinging drapery, lustrous and creamy and exquisitely soft,
like the curtains. The wonderful hair hung free and luxuriant
about her neck and shoulders, and glowed with an intensity
of fiery color which made all the other hues of the room
pale and vague. A fillet of faint, sky-like blue drew
a gracious span through the flame of red above her temples,
and from this there rose the gleam of jewels. Her head
inclined gently, gravely, toward him--with the posture
of that armless woman in marble he had been studying--
and her brown eyes, regarding him from the shadows,
"It is a lullaby--the only one he wrote," she said, as Theron,
pale-faced and with tightened lips, approached her.
"No--you mustn't stand there," she added, sinking into
the seat before the instrument; "go back and sit where
The most perfect of lullabies, with its swaying
abandonment to cooing rhythm, ever and again rising
in ripples to the point of insisting on something,
one knows not what, and then rocking, melting away
once more, passed, so to speak, over Theron's head.
He leaned back upon the cushions, and watched the white,
rounded forearm which the falling folds of this strange,
statue-like drapery made bare.
There was more that appealed to his mood in the Third Ballade.
It seemed to him that there were words going along with it--
incoherent and impulsive yet very earnest words,
appealing to him in strenuous argument and persuasion.
Each time he almost knew what they said, and strained after
their meaning with a passionate desire, and then there
would come a kind of cuckoo call, and everything would
swing dancing off again into a mockery of inconsequence.
Upon the silence there fell the pure, liquid, mellifluous
melody of a soft-throated woman singing to her lover.
"It is like Heine--simply a love-poem," said the girl,
over her shoulder.
Theron followed now with all his senses, as she carried
the Ninth Nocturne onward. The stormy passage, which she
banged finely forth, was in truth a lover's quarrel;
and then the mild, placid flow of sweet harmonies into
which the furore sank, dying languorously away upon
a silence all alive with tender memories of sound--
was that not also a part of love?
They sat motionless through a minute--the man on the divan,
the girl at the piano--and Theron listened for what he
felt must be the audible thumping of his heart.
Then, throwing back her head, with upturned face, Celia began
what she had withheld for the last--the Sixteenth Mazurka.
This strange foreign thing she played with her eyes closed,
her head tilted obliquely so that Theron could see the
rose-tinted, beautiful countenance, framed as if asleep
in the billowing luxuriance of unloosed auburn hair.
He fancied her beholding visions as she wrought the music--
visions full of barbaric color and romantic forms.
As his mind swam along with the gliding, tricksy phantom
of a tune, it seemed as if he too could see these visions--
as if he gazed at them through her eyes.
It could not be helped. He lifted himself noiselessly to
his feet, and stole with caution toward her. He would hear
the rest of this weird, voluptuous fantasy standing thus,
so close behind her that he could look down upon her full,
uplifted lace--so close that, if she moved, that glowing
nimbus of hair would touch him.
There had been some curious and awkward pauses in this
last piece, which Theron, by some side cerebration,
had put down to her not watching what her fingers did.
There came another of these pauses now--an odd,
unaccountable halt in what seemed the middle of everything.
He stared intently down upon her statuesque, dreaming face
during the hush, and caught his breath as he waited.
There fell at last a few faltering ascending notes,
making a half-finished strain, and then again there
Celia opened her eyes, and poured a direct, deep gaze
into the face above hers. Its pale lips were parted
in suspense, and the color had faded from its cheeks.
"That is the end," she said, and, with a turn of her lithe body,
stood swiftly up, even while the echoes of the broken
melody seemed panting in the air about her for completion.
Theron put his hands to his face, and pressed them tightly
against eyes and brow for an instant. Then, throwing them
aside with an expansive downward sweep of the arms,
and holding them clenched, he returned Celia's glance.
It was as if he had never looked into a woman's eyes before.
"It CAN'T be the end!" he heard himself saying,
in a low voice charged with deep significance. He held
her gaze in the grasp of his with implacable tenacity.
There was a trouble about breathing, and the mosaic
floor seemed to stir under his feet. He clung defiantly
to the one idea of not releasing her eyes.
"How COULD it be the end?" he demanded, lifting an uncertain
hand to his breast as he spoke, and spreading it there
as if to control the tumultuous fluttering of his heart.
"Things don't end that way!"
A sharp, blinding spasm of giddiness closed upon and
shook him, while the brave words were on his lips.
He blinked and tottered under it, as it passed, and then
backed humbly to his divan and sat down, gasping a little,
and patting his hand on his heart. There was fright
written all over his whitened face.
"We--we forgot that I am a sick man," he said feebly,
answering Celia's look of surprised inquiry with a forced,
wan smile. "I was afraid my heart had gone wrong."
She scrutinized him for a further moment, with growing
reassurance in her air. Then, piling up the pillows
and cushions behind him for support, for all the world
like a big sister again, she stepped into the inner room,
and returned with a flagon of quaint shape and a tiny glass.
She poured this latter full to the brim of a thick yellowish,
aromatic liquid, and gave it him to drink.
"This Benedictine is all I happen to have," she said.
"Swallow it down. It will do you good."
Theron obeyed her. It brought tears to his eyes; but,
upon reflection, it was grateful and warming. He did feel
better almost immediately. A great wave of comfort seemed
to enfold him as he settled himself back on the divan.
For that one flashing instant he had thought that he
was dying. He drew a long grateful breath of relief,
and smiled his content.
Celia had seated herself beside him, a little away.
She sat with her head against the wall, and one foot curled
under her, and almost faced him.
"I dare say we forced the pace a little," she remarked,
after a pause, looking down at the floor, with the puckers
of a ruminating amusement playing in the corners of her mouth.
"It doesn't do for a man to get to be a Greek all of a sudden.
He must work along up to it gradually."
He remembered the music. "Oh, if I only knew how to tell you,"
he murmured ecstatically, "what a revelation your playing
has been to me! I had never imagined anything like it.
I shall think of it to my dying day."
He began to remember as well the spirit that was in the air
when the music ended. The details of what he had felt
and said rose vaguely in his mind. Pondering them,
his eye roved past Celia's white-robed figure to the broad,
open doorway beyond. The curtains behind which she
had disappeared were again parted and fastened back.
A dim light was burning within, out of sight, and its faint
illumination disclosed a room filled with white marbles,
white silks, white draperies of varying sorts, which shaped
themselves, as he looked, into the canopy and trappings
of an extravagantly over-sized and sumptuous bed.
He looked away again.
"I wish you would tell me what you really mean by that Greek
idea of yours," he said with the abruptness of confusion.
Celia did not display much enthusiasm in the tone
of her answer. "Oh," she said almost indifferently,
"lots of things. Absolute freedom from moral bugbears,
for one thing. The recognition that beauty is the only
thing in life that is worth while. The courage to kick
out of one's life everything that isn't worth while;
and so on."
"But," said Theron, watching the mingled delicacy and power
of the bared arm and the shapely grace of the hand which she
had lifted to her face, "I am going to get you to teach it
ALL to me." The memories began crowding in upon him now,
and the baffling note upon which the mazurka had stopped
short chimed like a tuning-fork in his ears. "I want to
be a Greek myself, if you're one. I want to get as close
to you--to your ideal, that is, as I can. You open up
to me a whole world that I had not even dreamed existed.
We swore our friendship long ago, you know: and now,
after tonight--you and the music have decided me.
I am going to put the things out of MY life that are
not worthwhile. Only you must help me; you must tell me
how to begin."
He looked up as he spoke, to enforce the almost tender
entreaty of his words. The spectacle of a yawn,
only fractionally concealed behind those talented fingers,
chilled his soft speech, and sent a flush over his face.
He rose on the instant.
Celia was nothing abashed at his discovery. She laughed
gayly in confession of her fault, and held her hand out to
let him help her disentangle her foot from her draperies,
and get off the divan. It seemed to be her meaning that he
should continue holding her hand after she was also standing.
"You forgive me, don't you?" she urged smilingly.
"Chopin always first excites me, then sends me to sleep.
You see how YOU sleep tonight!"
The brown, velvety eyes rested upon him, from under their
heavy lids, with a languorous kindliness. Her warm,
large palm clasped his in frank liking.
"I don't want to sleep at all," Mr. Ware was impelled to say.
"I want to lie awake and think about--about everything
all over again."
She smiled drowsily. "And you're sure you feel strong
enough to walk home?"
"Yes," he replied, with a lingering dilatory note,
which deepened upon reflection into a sigh. "Oh, yes."
He followed her and her candle down the magnificent
stairway again. She blew the light out in the hall,
and, opening the front door, stood with him for a silent
moment on the threshold. Then they shook hands once more,
and with a whispered good-night, parted.
Celia, returning to the blue and yellow room, lighted a cigarette
and helped herself to some Benedictine in the glass which
Theron had used. She looked meditatively at this little glass
for a moment, turning it about in her fingers with a smile.
The smile warmed itself suddenly into a joyous laugh.
She tossed the glass aside, and, holding out her flowing
skirts with both hands, executed a swinging pirouette
in front of the gravely beautiful statue of the armless woman.
It was apparent to the Rev. Theron Ware, from the very
first moment of waking next morning, that both he and
the world had changed over night. The metamorphosis,
in the harsh toils of which he had been laboring blindly
so long, was accomplished. He stood forth, so to speak,
in a new skin, and looked about him, with perceptions
of quite an altered kind, upon what seemed in every way
a fresh existence. He lacked even the impulse to turn
round and inspect the cocoon from which he had emerged.
Let the past bury the past. He had no vestige of interest
The change was not premature. He found himself not in
the least confused by it, or frightened. Before he had
finished shaving, he knew himself to be easily and comfortably
at home in his new state, and master of all its requirements.
It seemed as if Alice, too, recognized that he had become
another man, when he went down and took his chair at the
breakfast table. They had exchanged no words since their
parting in the depot-yard the previous evening--an event
now faded off into remote vagueness in Theron's mind.
He smiled brilliantly in answer to the furtive,
half-sullen, half-curious glance she stole at him,
as she brought the dishes in.
"Ah! potatoes warmed up in cream!" he said, with hearty
pleasure in his tone. "What a mind-reader you are,
to be sure!"
"I'm glad you're feeling so much better," she said briefly,
taking her seat.
"Better?" he returned. "I'm a new being!"
She ventured to look him over more freely, upon this assurance.
He perceived and catalogued, one by one, the emotions
which the small brain was expressing through those shallow
blue eyes of hers. She was turning over this, that,
and the other hostile thought and childish grievance--
most of all she was dallying with the idea of asking him
where he had been till after midnight. He smiled affably
in the face of this scattering fire of peevish glances,
and did not dream of resenting any phase of them all.
"I am going down to Thurston's this morning, and order
that piano sent up today," he announced presently,
in a casual way.
"Why, Theron, can we afford it?" the wife asked,
regarding him with surprise.
"Oh, easily enough," he replied light-heartedly. "You
know they've increased my salary."
She shook her head. "No, I didn't. How should I?
You don't realize it," she went on, dolefully, "but you're
getting so you don't tell me the least thing about your
Theron laughed aloud. "You ought to be grateful--
such melancholy affairs as mine have been till now,"
he declared--"that is, if it weren't absurd to think
such a thing." Then, more soberly, he explained:
"No, my girl, it is you who don't realize. I am carrying
big projects in my mind--big, ambitious thoughts and
plans upon which great things depend. They no doubt
make me seem preoccupied and absent-minded; but it
is a wife's part to understand, and make allowances,
and not intrude trifles which may throw everything out
of gear. Don't think I'm scolding, my girl. I only
speak to reassure you and--and help you to comprehend.
Of course I know that you wouldn't willingly embarrass my--
"Of course not," responded Alice, dubiously; "but--but--
"But what? Theron felt compelled by civility to say,
though on the instant he reproached himself for the weakness
"Well--I hardly know how to say it," she faltered, "but it
was nicer in the old days, before you bothered your head
about big projects, and your career, as you call it,
and were just a good, earnest, simple young servant
of the Lord. Oh, Theron!" she broke forth suddenly,
with tearful zeal, "I get sometimes lately almost scared
lest you should turn out to be a--a BACKSLIDER!"
The husband sat upright, and hardened his countenance.
But yesterday the word would have had in it all sorts
of inherited terrors for him. This morning's dawn
of a new existence revealed it as merely an empty and
"These are things not to be said," he admonished her,
after a moment's pause, and speaking with carefully
measured austerity. "Least of all are they to be said
to a clergyman--by his wife."
It was on the tip of Alice's tongue to retort, "Better by
his wife than by outsiders!" but she bit her lips,
and kept the gibe back. A rebuke of this form and gravity
was a novelty in their relations. The fear that it had
been merited troubled, even while it did not convince,
her mind, and the puzzled apprehension was to be read
plainly enough on her face.
Theron, noting it, saw a good deal more behind. Really,
it was amazing how much wiser he had grown all at once.
He had been married for years, and it was only this morning
that he suddenly discovered how a wife ought to be handled.
He continued to look sternly away into space for a little.
Then his brows relaxed slowly and under the visible
influence of melting considerations. He nodded his head,
turned toward her abruptly, and broke the silence with
"Come, come--the day began so pleasantly--it was so good
to feel well again--let us talk about the piano instead.
That is," he added, with an obvious overture to playfulness,
"if the thought of having a piano is not too distasteful
Alice yielded almost effusively to his altered mood.
They went together into the sitting-room, to measure
and decide between the two available spaces which were at
their disposal, and he insisted with resolute magnanimity
on her settling this question entirely by herself.
When at last he mentioned the fact that it was Friday,
and he would look over some sermon memoranda before
he went out, Alice retired to the kitchen in openly
Theron spread some old manuscript sermons before him
on his desk, and took down his scribbling-book as well.
But there his application flagged, and he surrendered
himself instead, chin on hand, to staring out at
the rhododendron in the yard. He recalled how he had
seen Soulsby patiently studying this identical bush.
The notion of Soulsby, not knowing at all how to sing,
yet diligently learning those sixths, brought a smile
to his mind; and then he seemed to hear Celia calling out
over her shoulder, "That's what Chopin does--he sings!"
The spirit of that wonderful music came back to him,
enfolded him in its wings. It seemed to raise itself up--
a palpable barrier between him and all that he had known
and felt and done before. That was his new birth--
that marvellous night with the piano. The conceit pleased him--
not the less because there flashed along with it the thought
that it was a poet that had been born. Yes; the former
country lout, the narrow zealot, the untutored slave
groping about in the dark after silly superstitions,
cringing at the scowl of mean Pierces and Winches,
was dead. There was an end of him, and good riddance.
In his place there had been born a Poet--he spelled the word
out now unabashed--a child of light, a lover of beauty and
sweet sounds, a recognizable brother to Renan and Chopin--
Out of the soothing, tenderly grateful revery, a practical
suggestion suddenly took shape. He acted upon it
without a moment's delay, getting out his letter-pad,
and writing hurriedly--
"Dear Miss Madden,--Life will be more tolerable to me
if before nightfall I can know that there is a piano
under my roof. Even if it remains dumb, it will be some
comfort to have it here and look at it, and imagine
how a great master might make it speak.
"Would it be too much to beg you to look in at Thurston's,
say at eleven this forenoon, and give me the inestimable
benefit of your judgment in selecting an instrument?
"Do not trouble to answer this, for I am leaving home now,
but shall call at Thurston's at eleven, and wait.
"Thanking you in anticipation,
Here Theron's fluency came to a sharp halt. There were adverbs
enough and to spare on the point of his pen, but the right
one was not easy to come at. "Gratefully," "faithfully,"
"sincerely," "truly"--each in turn struck a false note.
He felt himself not quite any of these things.
At last he decided to write just the simple word "yours,"
and then wavered between satisfaction at his boldness,
dread lest he had been over-bold, and, worst of the lot,
fear that she would not notice it one way or the other--
all the while he sealed and addressed the letter, put it
carefully in an inner pocket, and got his hat.
There was a moment's hesitation as to notifying the kitchen
of his departure. The interests of domestic discipline seemed
to point the other way. He walked softly through the hall,
and let himself out by the front door without a sound.
Down by the canal bridge he picked out an idle boy to his mind--
a lad whose aspect appeared to promise intelligence
as a messenger, combined with large impartiality in
sectarian matters. He was to have ten cents on his return;
and he might report himself to his patron at the bookstore yonder.
Theron was grateful to the old bookseller for remaining
at his desk in the rear. There was a tacit compliment
in the suggestion that he was not a mere customer,
demanding instant attention. Besides, there was no keeping
"Thurston's" out of conversations in this place.
Loitering along the shelves, the young minister's eye
suddenly found itself arrested by a name on a cover.
There were a dozen narrow volumes in uniform binding,
huddled together under a cardboard label of "Eminent
Women Series." Oddly enough, one of these bore the title
"George Sand." Theron saw there must be some mistake,
as he took the book down, and opened it. His glance
hit by accident upon the name of Chopin. Then he read
attentively until almost the stroke of eleven.
"We have to make ourselves acquainted with all sorts
of queer phases of life," he explained in self-defence
to the old bookseller, then counting out the money for
the book from his lean purse. He smiled as he added,
"There seems something almost wrong about taking advantage
of the clergyman's discount for a life of George Sand."
"I don't know," answered the other, pleasantly. "Guess she
wasn't so much different from the rest of 'em--except
that she didn't mind appearances. We know about her.
We don't know about the others."
"I must hurry," said Theron, turning on his heel.
The haste with which he strode out of the store,
crossed the street, and made his way toward Thurston's,
did not prevent his thinking much upon the astonishing
things he had encountered in this book. Their relation
to Celia forced itself more and more upon his mind.
He could recall the twinkle in her eye, the sub-mockery
in her tone, as she commented with that half-contemptuous
"Yes--George something!" upon his blundering ignorance.
His mortification at having thus exposed his dull
rusticity was swallowed up in conjectures as to just
what her tolerant familiarity with such things involved.
He had never before met a young unmarried woman who would
have confessed to him any such knowledge. But then,
of course, he had never known a girl who resembled Celia
in any other way. He recognized vaguely that he must
provide himself with an entire new set of standards by which
to measure and comprehend her. But it was for the moment
more interesting to wonder what her standards were.
Did she object to George Sand's behavior? Or did she
sympathize with that sort of thing? Did those statues,
and the loose-flowing diaphonous toga and unbound hair,
the cigarettes, the fiery liqueur, the deliberately
sensuous music--was he to believe that they signified--?
"Good-morning, Mr. Ware. You have managed by a miracle
to hit on one of my punctual days," said Celia.
She was standing on the doorstep, at the entrance to the
musical department of Thurston's. He had not noticed
before the fact that the sun was shining. The full glare
of its strong light, enveloping her figure as she stood,
and drawing the dazzled eye for relief to the bower
of softened color, close beneath her parasol of creamy
silk and lace, was what struck him now first of all.
It was as if Celia had brought the sun with her.
Theron shook hands with her, and found joy in the perception,
that his own hand trembled. He put boldly into words
the thought that came to him.
"It was generous of you," he said, "to wait for me out here,
where all might delight in the sight of you, instead of
squandering the privilege on a handful of clerks inside."
Miss Madden beamed upon him, and nodded approval.
"Alcibiades never turned a prettier compliment,"
she remarked. They went in together at this, and Theron
made a note of the name.
During the ensuing half-hour, the young minister followed
about even more humbly than the clerks in Celia's
commanding wake. There were a good many pianos in the big
show-room overhead, and Theron found himself almost awed
by their size and brilliancy of polish, and the thought
of the tremendous sum of money they represented altogether.
Not so with the organist. She ordered them rolled around
this way or that, as if they had been so many checkers on
a draught-board. She threw back their covers with the scant
ceremony of a dispensary dentist opening paupers' mouths.
She exploited their several capacities with masterful hands,
not deigning to seat herself, but just slightly
bending forward, and sweeping her fingers up and down
their keyboards--able, domineering fingers which pounded,
tinkled, meditated, assented, condemned, all in a flash, and
amid what affected the layman's ears as a hopelessly discordant hubbub.
Theron moved about in the group, nursing her parasol
in his arms, and watching her. The exaggerated deference
which the clerks and salesmen showed to her as the rich
Miss Madden, seemed to him to be mixed with a certain
assertion of the claims of good-fellowship on the score
of her being a musician. There undoubtedly was a sense
of freemasonry between them. They alluded continually
in technical terms to matters of which he knew nothing,
and were amused at remarks of hers which to him carried
no meaning whatever. It was evident that the young
men liked her, and that their liking pleased her.
It thrilled him to think that she knew he liked her,
too, and to recall what abundant proofs she had given
that here, also, she had pleasure in the fact. He clung
insistently to the memory of these evidences. They helped
him to resist a disagreeable tendency to feel himself
an intruder, an outsider, among these pianoforte experts.
When it was all over, Celia waved the others aside,
and talked with Theron. "I suppose you want me to tell you
the truth," she said. "There's nothing here really good.
It is always much better to buy of the makers direct."
"Do they sell on the instalment plan?" he asked.
There was a wistful effect in his voice which caught
She looked away--out through the window on the street below--
for a moment. Then her eyes returned to his, and regarded
him with a comforting, friendly, half-motherly glance,
recalling for all the world the way Sister Soulsby had
looked at him at odd times.
"Oh, you want it at once--I see," she remarked softly.
"Well, this Adelberger is the best value for the money."
Mr. Ware followed her finger, and beheld with dismay
that it pointed toward the largest instrument in the room--
a veritable leviathan among pianos. The price of this
had been mentioned as $600. He turned over the fact
that this was two-thirds his yearly salary, and found
the courage to shake his head.
"It would be too large--much too large--for the room,"
he explained. "And, besides, it is more than I like to pay--
or CAN pay, for that matter." It was pitiful to be
explaining such details, but there was no help for it.
They picked out a smaller one, which Celia said was at
least of fair quality. "Now leave all the bargaining
to me," she adjured him. "These prices that they talk
about in the piano trade are all in the air. There are
tremendous discounts, if one knows how to insist upon them.
All you have to do is to tell them to send it to your house--
you wanted it today, you said?"
"Yes--in memory of yesterday," he murmured.
She herself gave the directions, and Thurston's people,
now all salesmen again, bowed grateful acquiescence.
Then she sailed regally across the room and down the stairs,
drawing Theron in her train. The hirelings made salaams
to him as well; it would have been impossible to interpose
anything so trivial and squalid as talk about terms and dates
"I am ever so much obliged to you," he said fervently,
in the comparative solitude of the lower floor. She had
paused to look at something in the book-department.
"Of course I was entirely at your service; don't mention it,"
she replied, reaching forth her hand in an absent way
for her parasol.
He held up instead the volume he had purchased. "Guess what
that is! You never would guess in this wide world!"
His manner was surcharged with a sense of the surreptitious.
"Well, then, there's no good trying, IS there?"
commented Celia, her glance roving again toward the shelves.
"It is a life of George Sand," whispered Theron.
"I've been reading it this morning--all the Chopin part--
while I was waiting for you."
To his surprise, there was an apparently displeased
contraction of her brows as he made this revelation.
For the instant, a dreadful fear of having offended her
seized upon and sickened him. But then her face cleared,
as by magic. She smiled, and let her eyes twinkle
in laughter at him, and lifted a forefinger in the most
winning mockery of admonition.
"Naughty! naughty!" she murmured back, with a roguishly
He had no response ready for this, but mutely handed
her the parasol. The situation had suddenly grown
too confused for words, or even sequent thoughts.
Uppermost across the hurly-burly of his mind there
scudded the singular reflection that he should never hear
her play on that new piano of his. Even as it flashed
by out of sight, he recognized it for one of the griefs
of his life; and the darkness which followed seemed
nothing but a revolt against the idea of having a piano
at all. He would countermand the order. He would--
but she was speaking again.
They had strolled toward the door, and her voice was as
placidly conventional as if the talk had never strayed
from the subject of pianos. Theron with an effort
pulled himself together, and laid hold of her words.
"I suppose you will be going the other way," she was saying.
"I shall have to be at the church all day. We have just
got a new Mass over from Vienna, and I'm head over heels
in work at it. I can have Father Forbes to myself today,
too. That bear of a doctor has got the rheumatism,
and can't come out of his cave, thank Heaven!"
And then she was receding from view, up the sunlit,
busy sidewalk, and Theron, standing on the doorstep,
ruefully rubbed his chin. She had said he was going
the other way, and, after a little pause, he made her
words good, though each step he took seemed all in despite
of his personal inclinations. Some of the passers-by
bowed to him, and one or two paused as if to shake hands
and exchange greetings. He nodded responses mechanically,
but did not stop. It was as if he feared to interrupt
the process of lifting his reluctant feet and propelling
them forward, lest they should wheel and scuttle off
in the opposite direction.
Deliberate as his progress was, the diminishing number of
store-fronts along the sidewalk, and the increasing proportion
of picket-fences enclosing domestic lawns, forced upon
Theron's attention the fact that he was nearing home.
It was a trifle past the hour for his midday meal.
He was not in the least hungry; still less did he feel any
desire just now to sit about in that library living-room
of his. Why should he go home at all? There was no
reason whatever--save that Alice would be expecting him.
Upon reflection, that hardly amounted to a reason.
Wives, with their limited grasp of the realities of life,
were always expecting their husbands to do things
which it turned out not to be feasible for them to do.
The customary male animal spent a considerable part of his
life in explaining to his mate why it had been necessary
to disappoint or upset her little plans for his comings
and goings. It was in the very nature of things that it
should be so.
Sustained by these considerations, Mr. Ware slackened his steps,
then halted irresolutely, and after a minute's hesitation,
entered the small temperance restaurant before which,
as by intuition, he had paused. The elderly woman who
placed on the tiny table before him the tea and rolls
he ordered, was entirely unknown to him, he felt sure,
yet none the less she smiled at him, and spoke almost
familiarly--"I suppose Mrs. Ware is at the seaside,
and you are keeping bachelor's hall?"
"Not quite that," he responded stiffly, and hurried
through the meagre and distasteful repast, to avoid
any further conversation.
There was an idea underlying her remark, however, which
recurred to him when he had paid his ten cents and got
out on the street again. There was something interesting
in the thought of Alice at the seaside. Neither of them
had ever laid eyes on salt water, but Theron took for granted
the most extravagant landsman's conception of its curative
and invigorating powers. It was apparent to him that he
was going to pay much greater attention to Alice's happiness
and well-being in the future than he had latterly done.
He had bought her, this very day, a superb new piano.
He was going to simply insist on her having a hired girl.
And this seaside notion--why, that was best of all.
His fancy built up pleasant visions of her feasting her
delighted eyes upon the marvel of a great ocean storm,
or roaming along a beach strewn with wonderful marine shells,
exhibiting an innocent joy in their beauty. The fresh
sea-breeze blew through her hair, as he saw her in mind's eye,
and brought the hardy flush of health back upon her rather
pallid cheeks. He was prepared already hardly to know her,
so robust and revivified would she have become, by the
time he went down to the depot to meet her on her return.
For his imagination stopped short of seeing himself
at the seaside. It sketched instead pictures of whole
weeks of solitary academic calm, alone with his books
and his thoughts. The facts that he had no books,
and that nobody dreamed of interfering with his thoughts,
subordinated themselves humbly to his mood. The prospect,
as he mused fondly upon it, expanded to embrace the
priest's and the doctor's libraries; the thoughts which
he longed to be alone with involved close communion
with their thoughts. It could not but prove a season
of immense mental stimulation and ethical broadening.
It would have its lofty poetic and artistic side as well;
the languorous melodies of Chopin stole over his revery,
as he dwelt upon these things, and soft azure and golden
lights modelled forth the exquisite outlines of tall
He opened the gate leading to Dr. Ledsmar's house. His walk
had brought him quite out of the town, and up, by a broad
main highway which yet took on all sorts of sylvan charms,
to a commanding site on the hillside. Below, in the valley,
lay Octavius, at one end half-hidden in factory smoke,
at the other, where narrow bands of water gleamed
upon the surface of a broad plain piled symmetrically
with lumber, presenting an oddly incongruous suggestion
of forest odors and the simplicity of the wilderness.
In the middle distance, on gradually rising ground,
stretched a wide belt of dense, artificial foliage,
peeping through which tiled turrets and ornamented
chimneys marked the polite residences of those who,
though they neither stoked the furnace fires to the west,
nor sawed the lumber on the east, lived in purple and fine
linen from the profits of this toil. Nearer at hand,
pastures with grazing cows on the one side of the road,
and the nigh, weather-stained board fence of the race-course
on the other, completed the jumble of primitive rusticity
and urban complications characterizing the whole picture.
Dr. Ledsmar's house, toward which Theron's impulses had been
secretly leading him ever since Celia's parting remark
about the rheumatism, was of that spacious and satisfying
order of old-fashioned houses which men of leisure and
means built for themselves while the early traditions
of a sparse and contented homogeneous population were
still strong in the Republic. There was a hospitable look
about its wide veranda, its broad, low bulk, and its big,
double front door, which did not fit at all with the sketch
of a man-hating recluse that the doctor had drawn of himself.
Theron had prepared his mind for the effect of being
admitted by a Chinaman, and was taken somewhat aback
when the door was opened by the doctor himself.
His reception was pleasant enough, almost cordial,
but the sense of awkwardness followed him into his host's
inner room and rested heavily upon his opening speech.
"I heard, quite by accident, that you were ill," he said,
laying aside his hat.
"It's nothing at all," replied Ledsmar. "Merely a stiff
shoulder that I wear from time to time in memory of my father.
It ought to be quite gone by nightfall. It was good of you
to come, all the same. Sit down if you can find a chair.
As usual, we are littered up to our eyes here. That's it--
throw those things on the floor."
Mr. Ware carefully deposited an armful of pamphlets on the
rug at his feet, and sat down. Litter was indeed the word
for what he saw about him. Bookcases, chairs, tables,
the corners of the floor, were all buried deep under
disorderly strata of papers, diagrams, and opened books.
One could hardly walk about without treading on them.
The dust which danced up into the bar of sunshine streaming in
from the window, as the doctor stepped across to another chair,
gave Theron new ideas about the value of Chinese servants.
"I must thank you, first of all, doctor," he began,
"for your kindness in coming when I was ill. 'I was sick,
and ye visited me.'"
"You mustn't think of it that way," said Ledsmar; "your friend
came for me, and of course I went; and gladly too.
There was nothing that I could do, or that anybody
could do. Very interesting man, that friend of yours.
And his wife, too--both quite out of the common.
I don't know when I've seen two such really genuine people.
I should like to have known more of them. Are they
"They went yesterday," Theron replied. His earlier shyness
had worn off, and he felt comfortably at his ease.
"I don't know," he went on, "that the word 'genuine'
is just what would have occurred to me to describe
the Soulsbys. The, are very interesting people, as you say--
MOST interesting--and there was a time, l dare say,
when I should have believed in their sincerity. But of
course I saw them and their performance from the inside--
like one on the stage of a theatre, you know, instead of
in the audience, and--well, I understand things better
than I used to."
The doctor looked over his spectacles at him with a
suggestion of inquiry in his glance, and Theron continued:
"I had several long talks with her; she told me very
frankly the whole story of her life--and and it was
decidedly queer, I can assure you! I may say to you--
you will understand what I mean--that since my talk
with you, and the books you lent me, I see many
things differently. Indeed, when I think upon it sometimes
my old state of mind seems quite incredible to me.
I can use no word for my new state short of illumination."
Dr. Ledsmar continued to regard his guest with that calm,
interrogatory scrutiny of his. He did not seem disposed
to take up the great issue of illumination. "I suppose,"
he said after a little, "no woman can come in contact
with a priest for any length of time WITHOUT telling him
the 'story of her life,' as you call it. They all do it.
The thing amounts to a law."
The young minister's veins responded with a pleasurable
thrill to the use of the word "priest" in obvious allusion
to himself. "Perhaps in fairness I ought to explain,"
he said, "that in her case it was only done in the course
of a long talk about myself. I might say that it
was by way of kindly warning to me. She saw how I
had become unsettled in many--many of my former views--
and she was nervous lest this should lead me to--to--"
"To throw up the priesthood," the doctor interposed upon
his hesitation. "Yes, I know the tribe. Why, my dear sir,
your entire profession would have perished from the memory
of mankind, if it hadn't been for women. It is a very
curious subject. Lots of thinkers have dipped into it,
but no one has gone resolutely in with a search-light
and exploited the whole thing. Our boys, for instance,
traverse in their younger years all the stages of the
childhood of the race. They have terrifying dreams
of awful monsters and giant animals of which they have
never so much as heard in their waking hours; they pass
through the lust for digging caves, building fires,
sleeping out in the woods, hunting with bows and arrows--
all remote ancestral impulses; they play games with stones,
marbles, and so on at regular stated periods of the year
which they instinctively know, just as they were played
in the Bronze Age, and heaven only knows how much earlier.
But the boy goes through all this, and leaves it behind him--
so completely that the grown man feels himself more
a stranger among boys of his own place who are thinking
and doing precisely the things he thought and did a few
years before, than he would among Kurds or Esquimaux.
But the woman is totally different. She is infinitely
more precocious as a girl. At an age when her slow brother
is still stubbing along somewhere in the neolithic period,
she has flown way ahead to a kind of mediaeval stage,
or dawn of mediaevalism, which is peculiarly her own.
Having got there, she stays there; she dies there.
The boy passes her, as the tortoise did the hare.
He goes on, if he is a philosopher, and lets her remain
in the dark ages, where she belongs. If he happens to be
a fool, which is customary, he stops and hangs around in
Theron smiled. "We priests," he said, and paused again
to enjoy the words--"I suppose I oughtn't to inquire
too closely just where we belong in the procession."
"We are considering the question impersonally,"
said the doctor. "First of all, what you regard as
religion is especially calculated to attract women.
They remain as superstitious today, down in the marrow
of their bones, as they were ten thousand years ago.
Even the cleverest of them are secretly afraid of omens,
and respect auguries. Think of the broadest women
you know. One of them will throw salt over her shoulder
if she spills it. Another drinks money from her cup
by skimming the bubbles in a spoon. Another forecasts
her future by the arrangement of tea-grounds. They
make the constituency to which an institution based
on mysteries, miracles, and the supernatural generally,
would naturally appeal. Secondly, there is the personality
of the priest."
"Yes," assented Ware. There rose up before him,
on the instant, the graceful, portly figure and strong,
comely face of Father Forbes.
"Women are not a metaphysical people. They do not
easily follow abstractions. They want their dogmas
and religious sentiments embodied in a man, just as they
do their romantic fancies. Of course you Protestants,
with your married clergy, see less of the effects of this
than celibates do, but even with you there is a great deal
in it. Why, the very institution of celibacy itself
was forced upon the early Christian Church by the scandal
of rich Roman ladies loading bishops and handsome priests
with fabulous gifts until the passion for currying favor
with women of wealth, and marrying them or wheedling
their fortunes from them, debauched the whole priesthood.
You should read your Jerome."
"I will--certainly," said the listener, resolving to
remember the name and refer it to the old bookseller.
"Well, whatever laws one sect or another makes, the woman's
attitude toward the priest survives. She desires to see
him surrounded by flower-pots and candles, to have him
smelling of musk. She would like to curl his hair,
and weave garlands in it. Although she is not learned
enough to have ever heard of such things, she intuitively
feels in his presence a sort of backwash of the old pagan
sensuality and lascivious mysticism which enveloped
the priesthood in Greek and Roman days. Ugh! It makes
Dr. Ledsmar rose, as he spoke, and dismissed the topic with
a dry little laugh. "Come, let me show you round a bit,"
he said. "My shoulder is easier walking than sitting."
"Have you never written a book yourself?" asked Theron,
getting to his feet.
"I have a thing on serpent-worship," the scientist
replied--"written years ago."
"I can't tell you how I should enjoy reading it,"
urged the other.
The doctor laughed again. "You'll have to learn German,
then, I 'm afraid. It is still in circulation in Germany,
I believe, on its merits as a serious book. I haven't
a copy of the edition in English. THAT was all exhausted
by collectors who bought it for its supposed obscenity,
like Burton's 'Arabian Nights.' Come this way, and I
will show you my laboratory."
They moved out of the room, and through a passage,
Ledsmar talking as he led the way. "I took up that subject,
when I was at college, by a curious chance. I kept a young
monkey in my rooms, which had been born in captivity.
I brought home from a beer hall--it was in Germany--
some pretzels one night, and tossed one toward the monkey.
He jumped toward it, then screamed and ran back shuddering
with fright. I couldn't understand it at first. Then I
saw that the curled pretzel, lying there on the floor,
was very like a little coiled-up snake. The monkey had
never seen a snake, but it was in his blood to be afraid
of one. That incident changed my whole life for me.
Up to that evening, I had intended to be a lawyer."
Theron did not feel sure that he had understood the point
of the anecdote. He looked now, without much interest,
at some dark little tanks containing thick water, a row of small
glass cases with adders and other lesser reptiles inside,
and a general collection of boxes, jars, and similar
receptacles connected with the doctor's pursuits.
Further on was a smaller chamber, with a big empty furnace,
and shelves bearing bottles and apparatus like a drugstore.
It was pleasanter in the conservatory--a low,
spacious structure with broad pathways between the plants,
and an awning over the sunny side of the roof. The plants
were mostly orchids, he learned. He had read of them,
but never seen any before. No doubt they were curious;
but he discovered nothing to justify the great fuss
made about them. The heat grew oppressive inside,
and he was glad to emerge into the garden. He paused
under the grateful shade of a vine-clad trellis, took off
his hat, and looked about him with a sigh of relief.
Everything seemed old-fashioned and natural and delightfully
free from pretence in the big, overgrown field of flowers
Theron recalled with some surprise Celia's indictment
of the doctor as a man with no poetry in his soul.
"You must be extremely fond of flowers," he remarked.
Dr. Ledsmar shrugged his well shoulder. "They have their points,"
he said briefly. "These are all dioecious here. Over beyond
are monoecious species. My work is to test the probabilities
for or against Darwin's theory that hermaphroditism
in plants is a late by-product of these earlier forms."
"And is his theory right?" asked Mr. Ware, with a polite
show of interest.
"We may know in the course of three or four hundred years,"
replied Ledsmar. He looked up into his guest's face
with a quizzical half-smile. "That is a very brief period
for observation when such a complicated question as sex
is involved," he added. "We have been studying the female
of our own species for some hundreds of thousands of years,
and we haven't arrived at the most elementary rules
governing her actions."
They had moved along to a bed of tall plants, the more
forward of which were beginning to show bloom. "Here another
task will begin next month," the doctor observed.
"These are salvias, pentstemons, and antirrhinums,
or snapdragons, planted very thick for the purpose.
Humble-bees bore holes through their base, to save
the labor of climbing in and out of the flowers,
and we don't quite know yet why some hive-bees discover
and utilize these holes at once, while others never do.
It may be merely the old-fogy conservatism of the individual,
or there may be a law in it."
These seemed very paltry things for a man of such wisdom
to bother his head about. Theron looked, as he was bidden,
at the rows of hives shining in the hot sun on a bench
along the wall, but offered no comment beyond a casual,
"My mother was always going to keep bees, but somehow she
never got around to it. They say it pays very well, though."
"The discovery of the reason why no bee will touch the
nectar of the EPIPACTIS LATIFOLIA, though it is sweet
to our taste, and wasps are greedy for it, WOULD pay,"
commented the doctor. "Not like a blue rhododendron,
in mere money, but in recognition. Lots of men have
achieved a half-column in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica'
on a smaller basis than that."
They stood now at the end of the garden, before a small,
dilapidated summer-house. On the bench inside, facing him,
Theron saw a strange recumbent figure stretched at
full length, apparently sound asleep, or it might be dead.
Looking closer, with a startled surprise, he made out
the shaven skull and outlandish garb of a Chinaman.
He turned toward his guide in the expectation of a scene.
The doctor had already taken out a note-book and pencil,
and was drawing his watch from his pocket. He stepped into
the summer-house, and, lifting the Oriental's limp arm,
took account of his pulse. Then, with head bowed low,
side-wise, he listened for the heart-action. Finally,
he somewhat brusquely pushed back one of the Chinaman's eyelids,
and made a minute inspection of what the operation disclosed.
Returning to the light, he inscribed some notes in
his book, put it back in his pocket, and came out.
In answer to Theron's marvelling stare, he pointed toward
a pipe of odd construction lying on the floor beneath
"This is one of my regular afternoon duties," he explained,
again with the whimsical half-smile. "I am increasing his
dose monthly by regular stages, and the results promise
to be rather remarkable. Heretofore, observations have been
made mostly on diseased or morbidly deteriorated subjects.
This fellow of mine is strong as an ox, perfectly nourished,
and watched over intelligently. He can assimilate opium
enough to kill you and me and every other vertebrate
creature on the premises, without turning a hair, and he
hasn't got even fairly under way yet."
The thing was unpleasant, and the young minister turned away.
They walked together up the path toward the house.
His mind was full now of the hostile things which Celia
had said about the doctor. He had vaguely sympathized
with her then, upon no special knowledge of his own.
Now he felt that his sentiments were vehemently in accord
with hers. The doctor WAS a beast.
And yet--as they moved slowly along through the garden
the thought took sudden shape in his mind--it would be
only justice for him to get also the doctor's opinion
of Celia. Even while they offended and repelled him,
he could not close his eyes to the fact that the doctor's
experiments and occupations were those of a patient
and exact man of science--a philosopher. And what he
had said about women--there was certainly a great deal
of acumen and shrewd observation in that. If he would
only say what he really thought about Celia, and about
her relations with the priest! Yes, Theron recognized
now there was nothing else that he so much needed light
upon as those puzzling ties between Celia and Father Forbes.
He paused, with a simulated curiosity, about one of
the flower-beds. "Speaking of women and religion"--
he began, in as casual a tone as he could command--
"I notice curiously enough in my own case, that as I develop
in what you may call the--the other direction, my wife,
who formerly was not especially devote, is being strongly
attracted by the most unthinking and hysterical side of--
of our church system."
The doctor looked at him, nodded, and stooped to nip
some buds from a stalk in the bed.
"And another case," Theron went on--"of course it was all
so new and strange to me--but the position which Miss
Madden seems to occupy about the Catholic Church here--
I suppose you had her in mind when you spoke."
Ledsmar stood up. "My mind has better things to busy
itself with than mad asses of that description,"
he replied. "She is not worth talking about--a mere
bundle of egotism, ignorance, and red-headed lewdness.
If she were even a type, she might be worth considering;
but she is simply an abnormal sport, with a little brain
addled by notions that she is like Hypatia, and a large
impudence rendered intolerable by the fact that she
has money. Her father is a decent man. He ought to have
Mr. Ware drew himself erect, as he listened to these
outrageous words. It would be unmanly, he felt, to allow
such comments upon an absent friend to pass unrebuked.
Yet there was the courtesy due to a host to be considered.
His mind, fluttering between these two extremes,
alighted abruptly upon a compromise. He would speak
so as to show his disapproval, yet not so as to prevent
his finding out what he wanted to know. The desire
to hear Ledsmar talk about Celia and the priest seemed
now to have possessed him for a long time, to have
dictated his unpremeditated visit out here, to have been
growing in intensity all the while he pretended to be
interested in orchids and bees and the drugged Chinaman.
It tugged passionately at his self-control as he spoke.
"I cannot in the least assent to your characterization
of the lady," he began with rhetorical dignity.
"Bless me!" interposed the doctor, with deceptive
cheerfulness, "that is not required of you at all.
It is a strictly personal opinion, offered merely
as a contribution to the general sum of hypotheses."
"But," Theron went on, feeling his way, "of course,
I gathered that evening that you had prejudices in the matter;
but these are rather apart from the point I had in view.
We were speaking, you will remember, of the traditional
attitude of women toward priests--wanting to curl their
hair and put flowers in it, you know, and that suggested
to me some individual illustrations, and it occurred
to me to wonder just what were the relations between Miss
Madden and--and Father Forbes. She said this morning,
for instance--I happened to meet her, quite by accident--
that she was going to the church to practise a new piece,
and that she could have Father Forbes to herself all day.
Now that would be quite an impossible remark in our--that is,
in any Protestant circles--and purely as a matter of comparison,
I was curious to ask you just how much there was in it.
I ask you, because going there so much you have had exceptional
A sharp exclamation from his companion interrupted
the clergyman's hesitating monologue. It began like a
high-pitched, violent word, but dwindled suddenly into a groan
of pain. The doctor's face, too, which had on the flash
of Theron's turning seemed given over to unmixed anger,
took on an expression of bodily suffering instead.
"My shoulder has grown all at once excessively painful,"
he said hastily. "I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me,
Carrying the afflicted side with ostentatious caution,
he led the way without ado round the house to the front
gate on the road. He had put his left hand under his coat
to press it against his aching shoulder, and his right hung
palpably helpless. This rendered it impossible for him
to shake hands with his guest in parting.
"You're sure there's nothing I can do," said Theron,
lingering on the outer side of the gate. "I used to rub
my father's shoulders and back; I'd gladly--"
"Oh, not for worlds!" groaned the doctor. His anguish
was so impressive that Theron, as he walked down the road,
quite missed the fact that there had been no invitation
to come again.
Dr. Ledsmar stood for a minute or two, his gaze meditatively
following the retreating figure. Then he went in, opening the
front door with his right hand, and carrying himself once more
as if there were no such thing as rheumatism in the world.
He wandered on through the hall into the laboratory,
and stopped in front of the row of little tanks full of water.
Some deliberation was involved in whatever his purpose might be,
for he looked from one tank to another with a pondering,
dilatory gaze. At last he plunged his hand into the opaque
fluid and drew forth a long, slim, yellowish-green lizard,
with a coiling, sinuous tail and a pointed, evil head.
The reptile squirmed and doubled itself backward around
his wrist, darting out and in with dizzy swiftness its tiny
The doctor held the thing up to the light, and, scrutinizing it
through his spectacles, nodded his head in sedate approval.
A grim smile curled in his beard.
"Yes, you are the type," he murmured to it, with evident
enjoyment in the conceit. "Your name isn't Johnny any more.
It's the Rev. Theron Ware."
The annual camp-meeting of the combined Methodist
districts of Octavius and Thessaly was held this year in
the second half of September, a little later than usual.
Of the nine days devoted to this curious survival of
primitive Wesleyanism, the fifth fell upon a Saturday.
On the noon of that day the Rev. Theron Ware escaped
for some hours from the burden of work and incessant
observation which he shared with twenty other preachers,
and walked alone in the woods.
The scene upon which he turned his back was one worth
looking at. A spacious, irregularly defined clearing
in the forest lay level as a tennis-court, under the soft
haze of autumn sunlight. In the centre was a large,
roughly constructed frame building, untouched by paint,
but stained and weather-beaten with time. Behind it were some
lines of horse-sheds, and still further on in that direction,
where the trees began, the eye caught fragmentary
glimpses of low roofs and the fronts of tiny cottages,
withdrawn from full view among the saplings and underbrush.
At the other side of the clearing, fully fourscore tents
were pitched, some gray and mended, others dazzlingly
white in their newness. The more remote of these tents
fell into an orderly arrangement of semi-circular form,
facing that part of the engirdling woods where the trees
were largest, and their canopy of overhanging foliage
was lifted highest from the ground. Inside this half-ring
of tents were many rounded rows of benches, which followed
in narrowing lines the idea of an amphitheatre cut in two.
In the centre, just under the edge of the roof of boughs,
rose a wooden pagoda, in form not unlike an open-air stand
for musicians. In front of this, and leading from it
on the level of its floor, there projected a platform,
railed round with aggressively rustic woodwork.
The nearest benches came close about this platform.
At the hour when Theron started away, there were few enough
signs of life about this encampment. The four or five
hundred people who were in constant residence were eating
their dinners in the big boarding-house, or the cottages
or the tents. It was not the time of day for strangers.
Even when services were in progress by daylight,
the regular attendants did not make much of a show,
huddled in a gray-black mass at the front of the auditorium,
by comparison with the great green and blue expanses
of nature about them.
The real spectacle was in the evening when, as the
shadows gathered, big clusters of kerosene torches,
hung on the trees facing the audience were lighted.
The falling darkness magnified the glow of the lights,
and the size and importance of what they illumined.
The preacher, bending forward over the rails of the platform,
and fastening his eyes upon the abashed faces of those
on the "anxious seat" beneath him, borrowed an effect
of druidical mystery from the wall of blackness about him,
from the flickering reflections on the branches far above,
from the cool night air which stirred across the clearing.
The change was in the blood of those who saw and heard
him, too. The decorum and half-heartedness of their
devotions by day deepened under the glare of the torches
into a fervent enthusiasm, even before the services began.
And if there was in the rustic pulpit a man whose prayers
or exhortations could stir their pulses, they sang and
groaned and bellowed out their praises with an almost
barbarous license, such as befitted the wilderness.
But in the evening not all were worshippers. For a dozen
miles round on the country-side, young farm-workers and
their girls regarded the camp-meeting as perhaps the chief
event of the year--no more to be missed than the country
fair or the circus, and offering, from many points of view,
more opportunities for genuine enjoyment than either.
Their behavior when they came was pretty bad--not the less
so because all the rules established by the Presiding
Elders for the regulation of strangers took it for granted
that they would act as viciously as they knew how.
These sight-seers sometimes ventured to occupy the back benches
where the light was dim. More often they stood outside,
in the circular space between the tents and the benches,
and mingled cat-calls, drovers' yelps, and all sorts
of mocking cries and noises with the "Amens" of the
earnest congregation. Their rough horse-play on the
fringe of the sanctified gathering was grievous enough;
everybody knew that much worse things went on further
out in the surrounding darkness. Indeed, popular report
gave to these external phases of the camp-meeting an even
more evil fame than attached to the later moonlight
husking-bees, or the least reputable of the midwinter
dances at Dave Randall's low halfway house.
Cynics said that the Methodists found consolation
for this scandal in the large income they derived from
their unruly visitors' gate-money. This was unfair.
No doubt the money played its part, but there was something
else far more important. The pious dwellers in the camp,
intent upon reviving in their poor modern way the character
and environment of the heroic early days, felt the need
of just this hostile and scoffing mob about them to bring
out the spirit they sought. Theirs was pre-eminently
a fighting religion, which languished in peaceful
fair weather, but flamed high in the storm. The throng
of loafers and light-minded worldlings of both sexes,
with their jeering interruptions and lewd levity of conduct,
brought upon the scene a kind of visible personal devil,
with whom the chosen could do battle face to face.
The daylight services became more and more perfunctory,
as the sojourn in the woods ran its course, and interest
concentrated itself upon the night meetings, for the reason
that THEN came the fierce wrestle with a Beelzebub of flesh
and blood. And it was not so one-sided a contest, either!
No evening passed without its victories for the pulpit.
Careless or mischievous young people who were pushed into
the foremost ranks of the mockers, and stood grinning
and grimacing under the lights, would of a sudden feel
a spell clamped upon them. They would hear a strange,
quavering note in the preacher's voice, catch the sense
of a piercing, soul-commanding gleam in his eye--
not at all to be resisted. These occult forces would
take control of them, drag them forward as in a dream
to the benches under the pulpit, and abase them there like
worms in the dust. And then the preacher would descend,
and the elders advance, and the torch-fires would sway
and dip before the wind of the mighty roar that went up
in triumph from the brethren.
These combats with Satan at close quarters, if they
made the week-day evenings exciting, reacted with an
effect of crushing dulness upon the Sunday services.
The rule was to admit no strangers to the grounds from
Saturday night to Monday morning. Every year attempts
were made to rescind or modify this rule, and this season
at least three-fourths of the laymen in attendance had
signed a petition in favor of opening the gates. The two
Presiding Elders, supported by a dozen of the older preachers,
resisted the change, and they had the backing of the more
bigoted section of the congregation from Octavius.
The controversy reached a point where Theron's Presiding
Elder threatened to quit the grounds, and the leaders
of the open-Sunday movement spoke freely of the ridiculous
figure which its cranks and fanatics made poor Methodism
cut in the eyes of modern go-ahead American civilization.
Then Theron Ware saw his opportunity, and preached
an impromptu sermon upon the sanctity of the Sabbath,
which ended all discussion. Sometimes its arguments seemed
to be on one side, sometimes on the other, but always
they were clothed with so serene a beauty of imagery,
and moved in such a lofty and rarefied atmosphere
of spiritual exaltation, that it was impossible to link
them to so sordid a thing as this question of gate-money.
When he had finished, nobody wanted the gates opened.
The two factions found that the difference between them had
melted out of existence. They sat entranced by the charm
of the sermon; then, glancing around at the empty benches,
glaringly numerous in the afternoon sunlight, they whispered
regrets that ten thousand people had not been there
to hear that marvellous discourse. Theron's conquest was
of exceptional dimensions. The majority, whose project
he had defeated, were strangers who appreciated and
admired his effort most. The little minority of his
own flock, though less susceptible to the influence
of graceful diction and delicately balanced rhetoric,
were proud of the distinction he had reflected upon them,
and delighted with him for having won their fight.
The Presiding Elders wrung his hand with a significant grip.
The extremists of his own charge beamed friendship upon
him for the first time. He was the veritable hero of the week.
The prestige of this achievement made it the easier
for Theron to get away by himself next day, and walk in
the woods. A man of such power had a right to solitude.
Those who noted his departure from the camp remembered
with pleasure that he was to preach again on the morrow.
He was going to commune with God in the depths of the forest,
that the Message next day might be clearer and more
Theron strolled for a little, with an air of aimlessness,
until he was well outside the more or less frequented
neighborhood of the camp. Then he looked at the sun
and the lay of the land with that informing scrutiny
of which the farm-bred boy never loses the trick, turned,
and strode at a rattling pace down the hillside.
He knew nothing personally of this piece of woodland--
a spur of the great Adirondack wilderness thrust southward
into the region of homesteads and dairies and hop-fields--
but he had prepared himself by a study of the map, and he
knew where he wanted to go. Very Soon he hit upon the path
he had counted upon finding, and at this he quickened
Three months of the new life had wrought changes
in Theron. He bore himself more erectly, for one thing;
his shoulders were thrown back, and seemed thicker.
The alteration was even more obvious in his face.
The effect of lank, wistful, sallow juvenility had vanished.
It was the countenance of a mature, well-fed, and confident man,
firmer and more rounded in its outlines, and with a glow
of health on its whole surface. Under the chin were
the suggestions of fulness which bespeak an easy mind.
His clothes were new; the frock-coat fitted him, and the thin,
dark-colored autumn overcoat, with its silk lining exposed
at the breast, gave a masculine bulk and shape to his figure.
He wore a shining tall hat, and, in haste though he was,
took pains not to knock it against low-hanging branches.
All had gone well--more than well--with him. The second
Quarterly Conference had passed without a ripple.
Both the attendance and the collections at his church were
larger than ever before, and the tone of the congregation
toward him was altered distinctly for the better.
As for himself, he viewed with astonished delight the progress
he had made in his own estimation. He had taken Sister
Soulsby's advice, and the results were already wonderful.
He had put aside, once and for all, the thousand foolish
trifles and childish perplexities which formerly had racked
his brain, and worried him out of sleep and strength.
He borrowed all sorts of books boldly now from the Octavius
public library, and could swim with a calm mastery
and enjoyment upon the deep waters into which Draper
and Lecky and Laing and the rest had hurled him.
He dallied pleasurably, a little languorously, with a dozen
aspects of the case against revealed religion, ranging from
the mild heterodoxy of Andover's qualms to the rude
Ingersoll's rollicking negation of God himself, as a woman
of coquetry might play with as many would-be lovers.
They amused him; they were all before him to choose;
and he was free to postpone indefinitely the act
of selection. There was a sense of the luxurious in this
position which softened bodily as well as mental fibres.
He ceased to grow indignant at things below or outside
his standards, and he bought a small book which treated
of the care of the hand and finger nails.
Alice had accepted with deference his explanation that
shapely hands played so important a part in pulpit oratory.
For that matter, she now accepted whatever he said or did
with admirable docility. It was months since he could
remember her venturing upon a critical attitude toward him.
She had not wished to leave home, for the seaside or any
other resort, during the summer, but had worked outside
in her garden more than usual. This was inexpensive, and it
seemed to do her as much good as a holiday could have done.
Her new devotional zeal was now quite an odd thing;
it had not slackened at all from the revival pitch.
At the outset she had tried several times to talk with her
husband upon this subject. He had discouraged conversation
about her soul and its welfare, at first obliquely, then,
under compulsion, with some directness. His thoughts
were absorbed, he said, by the contemplation of vast,
abstract schemes of creation and the government of the universe,
and it only diverted and embarrassed his mind to try
to fasten it upon the details of personal salvation.
Thereafter the topic was not broached between them.
She bestowed a good deal of attention, too, upon her piano.
The knack of a girlish nimbleness of touch had returned
to her after a few weeks, and she made music which Theron
supposed was very good--for her. It pleased him,
at all events, when he sat and listened to it; but he had
a far greater pleasure, as he listened, in dwelling upon
the memories of the yellow and blue room which the sounds
always brought up. Although three months had passed,
Thurston's had never asked for the first payment on the piano,
or even sent in a bill. This impressed him as being
peculiarly graceful behavior on his part, and he recognized
its delicacy by not going near Thurston's at all.
An hour's sharp walk, occasionally broken by short
cuts across open pastures, but for the most part on
forest paths, brought Theron to the brow of a small knoll,
free from underbrush, and covered sparsely with
beech-trees. The ground was soft with moss and the
powdered remains of last year's foliage; the leaves above
him were showing the first yellow stains of autumn.
A sweet smell of ripening nuts was thick upon the air,
and busy rustlings and chirpings through the stillness told
how the chipmunks and squirrels were attending to their harvest.
Theron had no ears for these noises of the woodland.
He had halted, and was searching through the little
vistas offered between the stout gray trunks of the
beeches for some sign of a more sophisticated sort.
Yes! there were certainly voices to be heard, down in
the hollow. And now, beyond all possibility of mistake,
there came up to him the low, rhythmic throb of music.
It was the merest faint murmur of music, made up almost
wholly of groaning bass notes, but it was enough.
He moved down the slope, swiftly at first, then with
increasing caution. The sounds grew louder as he advanced,
until he could hear the harmony of the other strings
in its place beside the uproar of the big fiddles,
and distinguish from both the measured noise of many feet
moving as one.
He reached a place from which, himself unobserved,
he could overlook much of what he had come to see.
The bottom of the glade below him lay out in the full sunshine,
as flat and as velvety in its fresh greenness as a garden lawn.
Its open expanse was big enough to accommodate several
distinct crowds, and here the crowds were--one massed about
an enclosure in which young men were playing at football,
another gathered further off in a horse-shoe curve at
the end of a baseball diamond, and a third thronging
at a point where the shade of overhanging woods began,
focussed upon a centre of interest which Theron could
not make out. Closer at hand, where a shallow stream
rippled along over its black-slate bed, some little boys,
with legs bared to the thighs, were paddling about,
under the charge of two men clad in long black gowns.
There were others of these frocked monitors scattered
here and there upon the scene--pallid, close-shaven,
monkish figures, who none the less wore modern hats,
and superintended with knowledge the games of the period.
Theron remembered that these were the Christian Brothers,
the semi-monastic teachers of the Catholic school.
And this was the picnic of the Catholics of Octavius.
He gazed in mingled amazement and exhilaration upon
the spectacle. There seemed to be literally thousands
of people on the open fields before him, and apparently
there were still other thousands in the fringes of the woods
round about. The noises which arose from this multitude--
the shouts of the lads in the water, the playful
squeals of the girls in the swings, the fused uproar
of the more distant crowds, and above all the diligent,
ordered strains of the dance-music proceeding from
some invisible distance in the greenwood--charmed his
ears with their suggestion of universal merriment.
He drew a long breath--half pleasure, half wistful regret--
as he remembered that other gathering in the forest
which he had left behind.
At any rate, it should be well behind him today, whatever the
morrow might bring! Evidently he was on the wrong side
of the circle for the headquarters of the festivities.
He turned and walked to the right through the beeches,
making a detour, under cover, of the crowds at play.
At last he rounded the long oval of the clearing,
and found himself at the very edge of that largest throng
of all, which had been too far away for comprehension
at the beginning. There was no mystery now. A rough,
narrow shed, fully fifty feet in length, imposed itself
in an arbitrary line across the face of this crowd,
dividing it into two compact halves. Inside this shed,
protected all round by a waist-high barrier of boards,
on top of which ran a flat, table-like covering, were twenty
men in their shirt-sleeves, toiling ceaselessly to keep
abreast of the crowd's thirst for beer. The actions
of these bartenders greatly impressed Theron. They moved
like so many machines, using one hand, apparently, to take
money and give change, and with the other incessantly
sweeping off rows of empty glasses, and tossing forward
in their place fresh, foaming glasses five at a time.
Hundreds of arms and hands were continually stretched out,
on both sides of the shed, toward this streaming bar,
and through the babel of eager cries rose without pause the
racket of mallets tapping new kegs.
Theron had never seen any considerable number of his
fellow-citizens engaged in drinking lager beer before.
His surprise at the facility of those behind the bar
began to yield, upon observation, to a profound amazement
at the thirst of those before it. The same people
seemed to be always in front, emptying the glasses
faster than the busy men inside could replenish them,
and clamoring tirelessly for more. Newcomers had to
force their way to the bar by violent efforts, and once
there they stayed until pushed bodily aside. There were
actually women to be seen here and there in the throng,
elbowing and shoving like the rest for a place at the front.
Some of the more gallant young men fought their way outward,
from time to time, carrying for safety above their heads
glasses of beer which they gave to young and pretty girls
standing on the fringe of the crowd, among the trees.
Everywhere a remarkable good-humor prevailed.
Once a sharp fight broke out, just at the end of the bar
nearest Theron, and one young man was knocked down.
A rush of the onlookers confused everything before the
minister's eyes for a minute, and then he saw the aggrieved
combatant up on his legs again, consenting under the kindly
pressure of the crowd to shake hands with his antagonist,
and join him in more beer. The incident caught his fancy.
There was something very pleasingly human, he thought,
in this primitive readiness to resort to fisticuffs,
and this frank and genial reconciliation.
Perhaps there was something contagious in this wholesale
display of thirst, for the Rev. Mr. Ware became conscious
of a notion that he should like to try a glass of beer.
He recalled having heard that lager was really a most
harmless beverage. Of course it was out of the question
that he should show himself at the bar. Perhaps some one
would bring him out a glass, as if he were a pretty girl.
He looked about for a possible messenger. Turning, he found
himself face to face with two smiling people, into whose
eyes he stared for an instant in dumfounded blankness.
Then his countenance flashed with joy, and he held out both
hands in greeting. It was Father Forbes and Celia.
"We stole down upon you unawares," said the priest,
in his cheeriest manner. He wore a brown straw hat,
and loose clothes hardly at all clerical in form,
and had Miss Madden's arm drawn lightly within his own.
"We could barely believe our eyes--that it could be you
whom we saw, here among the sinners!"
"I am in love with your sinners," responded Theron,
as he shook hands with Celia, and trusted himself to look
fully into her eyes. "I've had five days of the saints,
over in another part of the woods, and they've bored the
head off me."
At the command of Father Forbes, a lad who was loitering
near them went down through the throng to the bar,
and returned with three glasses of beer. It pleased
the Rev. Mr. Ware that the priest should have taken it
for granted that he would do as the others did. He knocked
his glass against theirs in compliance with a custom strange
to him, but which they seemed to understand very well.
The beer itself was not so agreeable to the taste as he
had expected, but it was cold and refreshing.
When the boy had returned with the glasses, the three
stood for a moment in silence, meditatively watching
the curious scene spread below them. Beyond the bar,
Theron could catch now through the trees regularly
recurring glimpses of four or five swings in motion.
These were nearest him, and clearest to the vision
as well, at the instant when they reached their highest
forward point. The seats were filled with girls,
some of them quite grown young women, and their curving
upward sweep through the air was disclosing at its climax
a remarkable profusion of white skirts and black stockings.
The sight struck him as indecorous in the extreme, and he
turned his eyes away. They met Celia's; and there was
something latent in their brown depths which prompted him,
after a brief dalliance of interchanging glances, to look
again at the swings.
"That old maid Curran is really too ridiculous,
with those white stockings of hers," remarked Celia;
"some friend ought to tell her to dye them."
"Or pad them," suggested Father Forbes, with a gay
little chuckle. "I daresay the question of swings and ladies'
stockings hardly arises with you, over at the camp-meeting, Mr. Ware?"
Theron laughed aloud at the conceit. "I should say not!"
"I'm just dying to see a camp-meeting!" said Celia.
"You hear such racy accounts of what goes on at them."
"Don't go, I beg of you!" urged Theron, with doleful emphasis.
"Don't let's even talk about them. I should like to feel
this afternoon as if there was no such thing within
a thousand miles of me as a camp-meeting. Do you know,
all this interests me enormously. It is a revelation to me
to see these thousands of good, decent, ordinary people,
just frankly enjoying themselves like human beings.
I suppose that in this whole huge crowd there isn't
a single person who will mention the subject of his soul
to any other person all day long."
"I should think the assumption was a safe one," said the
priest, smilingly, "unless," he added on afterthought,
"it be by way of a genial profanity. There used to be
some old Clare men who said 'Hell to my soul!' when they
missed at quoits, but I haven't heard it for a long time.
I daresay they're all dead."
"I shall never forget that death-bed--where I saw you first,"
remarked Theron, musingly. "I date from that experience
a whole new life. I have been greatly struck lately,
in reading our 'Northern Christian Advocate' to see
in the obituary notices of prominent Methodists how over
and over again it is recorded that they got religion
in their youth through being frightened by some illness
of their own, or some epidemic about them. The cholera
year of 1832 seems to have made Methodists hand over fist.
Even to this day our most successful revivalists,
those who work conversions wholesale wherever they go,
do it more by frightful pictures of hell-fire surrounding
the sinner's death-bed than anything else. You could
hear the same thing at our camp-meeting tonight, if you
"There isn't so much difference as you think,"
said Father Forbes, dispassionately. "Your people keep
examining their souls, just as children keep pulling up
the bulbs they have planted to see are there any roots yet.
Our people are more satisfied to leave their souls alone,
once they have been planted, so to speak, by baptism.
But fear of hell governs them both, pretty much alike.
As I remember saying to you once before, there is really
nothing new under the sun. Even the saying isn't new.
Though there seem to have been the most tremendous changes
in races and civilizations and religions, stretching over
many thousands of years, yet nothing is in fact altered
very much. Where religions are concerned, the human race
are still very like savages in a dangerous wood in the dark,
telling one another ghost stories around a camp-fire. They
have always been like that."
"What nonsense!" cried Celia. "I have no patience with
such gloomy rubbish. The Greeks had a religion full
of beauty and happiness and light-heartedness, and they
weren't frightened of death at all. They made the image
of death a beautiful boy, with a torch turned down.
Their greatest philosophers openly preached and practised
the doctrine of suicide when one was tired of life.
Our own early Church was full of these broad and beautiful
Greek ideas. You know that yourself! And it was only
when your miserable Jeromes and Augustines and Cyrils
brought in the abominable meannesses and cruelties
of the Jewish Old Testament, and stamped out the sane
and lovely Greek elements in the Church, that Christians
became the poor, whining, cowardly egotists they are,
troubling about their little tin-pot souls, and scaring
themselves in their churches by skulls and crossbones."
"My dear Celia," interposed the priest, patting her
shoulder gently, "we will have no Greek debate today.
Mr. Ware has been permitted to taboo camp-meetings,
and I claim the privilege to cry off on Greeks. Look at
those fellows down there, trampling over one another
to get more beer. What have they to do with Athens,
or Athens with them? I take it, Mr. Ware," he went on,
with a grave face but a twinkling eye, "that what we are
observing here in front of us is symbolical of a great
ethical and theological revolution, which in time will modify
and control the destiny of the entire American people.
You see those young Irishmen there, struggling like pigs at
a trough to get their fill of German beer. That signifies
a conquest of Teuton over Kelt more important and far-reaching
in its results than the landing of Hengist and Horsa.
The Kelt has come to grief heretofore--or at least been
forced to play second fiddle to other races--because he
lacked the right sort of a drink. He has in his blood an
excess of impulsive, imaginative, even fantastic qualities.
It is much easier for him to make a fool of himself,
to begin with, than it is for people of slower wits and
more sluggish temperaments. When you add whiskey to that,
or that essence of melancholia which in Ireland they call
'porther,' you get the Kelt at his very weakest and worst.
These young men down there are changing all that.
They have discovered lager. Already many of them
can outdrink the Germans at their own beverage.
The lager-drinking Irishman in a few generations will
be a new type of humanity--the Kelt at his best.
He will dominate America. He will be THE American.
And his church--with the Italian element thrown clean out
of it, and its Pope living, say, in Baltimore or Georgetown--
will be the Church of America."
"Let us have some more lager at once," put in Celia.
"This revolution can't be hurried forward too rapidly."
Theron could not feel sure how much of the priest's discourse
was in jest, how much in earnest. "It seems to me,"
he said, "that as things are going, it doesn't look much
as if the America of the future will trouble itself about
any kind of a church. The march of science must very soon
produce a universal scepticism. It is in the nature of
human progress. What all intelligent men recognize today,
the masses must surely come to see in time."
Father Forbes laughed outright this time. "My dear
Mr. Ware," he said, as they touched glasses again,
and sipped the fresh beer that had been brought them,
"of all our fictions there is none so utterly baseless
and empty as this idea that humanity progresses.
The savage's natural impression is that the world he
sees about him was made for him, and that the rest
of the universe is subordinated to him and his world,
and that all the spirits and demons and gods occupy
themselves exclusively with him and his affairs.
That idea was the basis of every pagan religion, and it
is the basis of the Christian religion, simply because it
is the foundation of human nature. That foundation is just
as firm and unshaken today as it was in the Stone Age.
It will always remain, and upon it will always be built
some kind of a religious superstructure. 'Intelligent men,'
as you call them, really have very little influence,
even when they all pull one way. The people as a whole
soon get tired of them. They give too much trouble.
The most powerful forces in human nature are self-protection
and inertia. The middle-aged man has found out that the
chief wisdom in life is to bend to the pressures about him,
to shut up and do as others do. Even when he thinks he
has rid his own mind of superstitions, he sees that he
will best enjoy a peaceful life by leaving other peoples'
superstitions alone. That is always the ultimate view of
"But I don't see," observed Theron, "granting that all
this is true, how you think the Catholic Church will come
out on top. I could understand it of Unitarianism,
or Universalism, or the Episcopal Church, where nobody
seems to have to believe particularly in anything except
the beauty of its burial service, but I should think the very
rigidity of the Catholic creed would make it impossible.
There everything is hard and fast; nothing is elastic;
there is no room for compromise."
"The Church is always compromising," explained the priest,
"only it does it so slowly that no one man lives long
enough to quite catch it at the trick. No; the great
secret of the Catholic Church is that it doesn't debate
with sceptics. No matter what points you make against it,
it is never betrayed into answering back. It simply says
these things are sacred mysteries, which you are quite
Back to Full Books