Part 1 out of 8
by Harold Frederic
No such throng had ever before been seen in the building
during all its eight years of existence. People were
wedged together most uncomfortably upon the seats;
they stood packed in the aisles and overflowed the galleries;
at the back, in the shadows underneath these galleries,
they formed broad, dense masses about the doors,
through which it would be hopeless to attempt a passage.
The light, given out from numerous tin-lined circles
of flaring gas-jets arranged on the ceiling,
fell full upon a thousand uplifted faces--some framed
in bonnets or juvenile curls, others bearded or crowned
with shining baldness--but all alike under the spell
of a dominant emotion which held features in abstracted
suspense and focussed every eye upon a common objective point.
The excitement of expectancy reigned upon each row
of countenances, was visible in every attitude--
nay, seemed a part of the close, overheated atmosphere itself.
An observer, looking over these compact lines of faces
and noting the uniform concentration of eagerness
they exhibited, might have guessed that they were watching
for either the jury's verdict in some peculiarly absorbing
criminal trial, or the announcement of the lucky numbers
in a great lottery. These two expressions seemed
to alternate, and even to mingle vaguely, upon the
upturned lineaments of the waiting throng--the hope
of some unnamed stroke of fortune and the dread of some adverse decree.
But a glance forward at the object of this universal
gaze would have sufficed to shatter both hypotheses.
Here was neither a court of justice nor a tombola.
It was instead the closing session of the annual
Nedahma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church,
and the Bishop was about to read out the list
of ministerial appointments for the coming year.
This list was evidently written in a hand strange to him,
and the slow, near-sighted old gentleman, having at last
sufficiently rubbed the glasses of his spectacles, and then
adjusted them over his nose with annoying deliberation,
was now silently rehearsing his task to himself--
the while the clergymen round about ground their teeth
and restlessly shuffled their feet in impatience.
Upon a closer inspection of the assemblage, there were a
great many of these clergymen. A dozen or more dignified,
and for the most part elderly, brethren sat grouped
about the Bishop in the pulpit. As many others,
not quite so staid in mien, and indeed with here and there
almost a suggestion of frivolity in their postures,
were seated on the steps leading down from this platform.
A score of their fellows sat facing the audience, on chairs
tightly wedged into the space railed off round the pulpit;
and then came five or six rows of pews, stretching across
the whole breadth of the church, and almost solidly filled
with preachers of the Word.
There were very old men among these--bent and decrepit
veterans who had known Lorenzo Dow, and had been ordained
by elders who remembered Francis Asbury and even Whitefield.
They sat now in front places, leaning forward with trembling
and misshapen hands behind their hairy ears, waiting to
hear their names read out on the superannuated list,
it might be for the last time.
The sight of these venerable Fathers in Israel was good
to the eyes, conjuring up, as it did, pictures of a time
when a plain and homely people had been served by a fervent
and devoted clergy--by preachers who lacked in learning
and polish, no doubt, but who gave their lives without dream
of earthly reward to poverty and to the danger and wearing toil
of itinerant missions through the rude frontier settlements.
These pictures had for their primitive accessories log-huts,
rough household implements, coarse clothes, and patched
old saddles which told of weary years of journeying;
but to even the least sympathetic vision there shone
upon them the glorified light of the Cross and Crown.
Reverend survivors of the heroic times, their very
presence there--sitting meekly at the altar-rail to hear
again the published record of their uselessness and of their
dependence upon church charity--was in the nature of a benediction.
The large majority of those surrounding these patriarchs
were middle-aged men, generally of a robust type,
with burly shoulders, and bushing beards framing shaven
upper lips, and who looked for the most part like honest
and prosperous farmers attired in their Sunday clothes.
As exceptions to this rule, there were scattered stray
specimens of a more urban class, worthies with neatly
trimmed whiskers, white neckcloths, and even indications
of hair-oil--all eloquent of citified charges; and now and
again the eye singled out a striking and scholarly face,
at once strong and simple, and instinctively referred it
to the faculty of one of the several theological seminaries
belonging to the Conference.
The effect of these faces as a whole was toward goodness,
candor, and imperturbable self-complacency rather than
learning or mental astuteness; and curiously enough it wore
its pleasantest aspect on the countenances of the older men.
The impress of zeal and moral worth seemed to diminish
by regular gradations as one passed to younger faces;
and among the very beginners, who had been ordained only within
the past day or two, this decline was peculiarly marked.
It was almost a relief to note the relative smallness
of their number, so plainly was it to be seen that they
were not the men their forbears had been.
And if those aged, worn-out preachers facing the pulpit
had gazed instead backward over the congregation,
it may be that here too their old eyes would have detected
a difference--what at least they would have deemed a decline.
But nothing was further from the minds of the members of the
First M. E. Church of Tecumseh than the suggestion that they
were not an improvement on those who had gone before them.
They were undoubtedly the smartest and most important
congregation within the limits of the Nedahma Conference,
and this new church edifice of theirs represented alike
a scale of outlay and a standard of progressive taste
in devotional architecture unique in the Methodism of that
whole section of the State. They had a right to be proud
of themselves, too. They belonged to the substantial
order of the community, with perhaps not so many very rich
men as the Presbyterians had, but on the other hand
with far fewer extremely poor folk than the Baptists
were encumbered with. The pews in the first four rows
of their church rented for one hundred dollars apiece--
quite up to the Presbyterian highwater mark--and they
now had almost abolished free pews altogether. The oyster
suppers given by their Ladies' Aid Society in the basement
of the church during the winter had established rank
among the fashionable events in Tecumseh's social calendar.
A comprehensive and satisfied perception of these advantages
was uppermost in the minds of this local audience,
as they waited for the Bishop to begin his reading.
They had entertained this Bishop and his Presiding Elders,
and the rank and file of common preachers, in a style
which could not have been remotely approached by any
other congregation in the Conference. Where else,
one would like to know, could the Bishop have been domiciled
in a Methodist house where he might have a sitting-room
all to himself, with his bedroom leading out of it?
Every clergyman present had been provided for in a
private residence--even down to the Licensed Exhorters,
who were not really ministers at all when you came to think
of it, and who might well thank their stars that the
Conference had assembled among such open-handed people.
There existed a dim feeling that these Licensed Exhorters--
an uncouth crew, with country store-keepers and lumbermen
and even a horse-doctor among their number--had taken
rather too much for granted, and were not exhibiting quite
the proper degree of gratitude over their reception.
But a more important issue hung now imminent in the balance--
was Tecumseh to be fairly and honorably rewarded for her
hospitality by being given the pastor of her choice?
All were agreed--at least among those who paid pew-rents--
upon the great importance of a change in the pulpit
of the First M. E. Church. A change in persons must
of course take place, for their present pastor had
exhausted the three-year maximum of the itinerant system,
but there was needed much more than that. For a handsome
and expensive church building like this, and with such
a modern and go-ahead congregation, it was simply a vital
necessity to secure an attractive and fashionable preacher.
They had held their own against the Presbyterians
these past few years only by the most strenuous efforts,
and under the depressing disadvantage of a minister
who preached dreary out-of-date sermons, and who lacked
even the most rudimentary sense of social distinctions.
The Presbyterians had captured the new cashier of the
Adams County Bank, who had always gone to the Methodist
Church in the town he came from, but now was lost
solely because of this tiresome old fossil of theirs;
and there were numerous other instances of the same sort,
scarcely less grievous. That this state of things must
be altered was clear.
The unusually large local attendance upon the sessions
of the Conference had given some of the more guileless
of visiting brethren a high notion of Tecumseh's piety;
and perhaps even the most sophisticated stranger never
quite realized how strictly it was to be explained by the
anxiety to pick out a suitable champion for the fierce
Presbyterian competition. Big gatherings assembled evening
after evening to hear the sermons of those selected to preach,
and the church had been almost impossibly crowded at each of
the three Sunday services. Opinions had naturally differed
a good deal during the earlier stages of this scrutiny,
but after last night's sermon there could be but one feeling.
The man for Tecumseh was the Reverend Theron Ware.
The choice was an admirable one, from points of view much
more exalted than those of the local congregation.
You could see Mr. Ware sitting there at the end of the
row inside the altar-rail--the tall, slender young
man with the broad white brow, thoughtful eyes,
and features moulded into that regularity of strength
which used to characterize the American Senatorial type
in those far-away days of clean-shaven faces and moderate
incomes before the War. The bright-faced, comely,
and vivacious young woman in the second side pew was
his wife--and Tecumseh noted with approbation that she
knew how to dress. There were really no two better or
worthier people in the building than this young couple,
who sat waiting along with the rest to hear their fate.
But unhappily they had come to know of the effort being
made to bring them to Tecumseh; and their simple pride
in the triumph of the husband's fine sermon had become
swallowed up in a terribly anxious conflict of hope
and fear. Neither of them could maintain a satisfactory
show of composure as the decisive moment approached.
The vision of translation from poverty and obscurity
to such a splendid post as this--truly it was too dazzling
for tranquil nerves.
The tedious Bishop had at last begun to call his roll
of names, and the good people of Tecumseh mentally
ticked them off, one by one, as the list expanded.
They felt that it was like this Bishop--an unimportant
and commonplace figure in Methodism, not to be mentioned
in the same breath with Simpson and Janes and Kingsley--
that he should begin with the backwoods counties,
and thrust all these remote and pitifully rustic stations
ahead of their own metropolitan charge. To these they
listened but listlessly--indifferent alike to the joy
and to the dismay which he was scattering among the divines
The announcements were being doled out with stumbling hesitation.
After each one a little half-rustling movement through
the crowded rows of clergymen passed mute judgment upon
the cruel blow this brother had received, the reward justly
given to this other, the favoritism by which a third
had profited. The Presiding Elders, whose work all this was,
stared with gloomy and impersonal abstraction down upon
the rows of blackcoated humanity spread before them.
The ministers returned this fixed and perfunctory gaze
with pale, set faces, only feebly masking the emotions
which each new name stirred somewhere among them.
The Bishop droned on laboriously, mispronouncing words
and repeating himself as if he were reading a catalogue
of unfamiliar seeds.
"First church of Tecumseh--Brother Abram G. Tisdale!"
There was no doubt about it! These were actually the
words that had been uttered. After all this outlay,
all this lavish hospitality, all this sacrifice of time
and patience in sitting through those sermons, to draw
from the grab-bag nothing better than--a Tisdale!
A hum of outraged astonishment--half groan, half wrathful
snort bounded along from pew to pew throughout the body
of the church. An echo of it reached the Bishop, and so
confused him that he haltingly repeated the obnoxious line.
Every local eye turned as by intuition to where the
calamitous Tisdale sat, and fastened malignantly upon him.
Could anything be worse? This Brother Tisdale was past fifty--
a spindling, rickety, gaunt old man, with a long horse-like
head and vacantly solemn face, who kept one or the
other of his hands continually fumbling his bony jaw.
He had been withdrawn from routine service for a number
of years, doing a little insurance canvassing on his
own account, and also travelling for the Book Concern.
Now that he wished to return to parochial work, the richest
prize in the whole list, Tecumseh, was given to him--
to him who had never been asked to preach at a Conference,
and whose archaic nasal singing of "Greenland's Icy
Mountains " had made even the Licensed Exhorters grin!
It was too intolerably dreadful to think of!
An embittered whisper to the effect that Tisdale was
the Bishop's cousin ran round from pew to pew. This did
not happen to be true, but indignant Tecumseh gave it
entire credit. The throngs about the doors dwindled as
by magic, and the aisles cleared. Local interest was dead;
and even some of the pewholders rose and made their way out.
One of these murmured audibly to his neighbors as he
departed that HIS pew could be had now for sixty dollars.
So it happened that when, a little later on,
the appointment of Theron Ware to Octavius was read out,
none of the people of Tecumseh either noted or cared.
They had been deeply interested in him so long as it seemed
likely that he was to come to them--before their clearly
expressed desire for him had been so monstrously ignored.
But now what became of him was no earthly concern of theirs.
After the Doxology had been sung and the Conference
formally declared ended, the Wares would fain have escaped
from the flood of handshakings and boisterous farewells
which spread over the front part of the church. But the
clergymen were unusually insistent upon demonstrations of
cordiality among themselves--the more, perhaps, because it
was evident that the friendliness of their local hosts
had suddenly evaporated--and, of all men in the world,
the present incumbent of the Octavius pulpit now bore
down upon them with noisy effusiveness, and defied evasion.
"Brother Ware--we have never been interduced--but let
me clasp your hand! And--Sister Ware, I presume--
He was a portly man, who held his head back so that his
face seemed all jowl and mouth and sandy chin-whisker.
He smiled broadly upon them with half-closed eyes,
and shook hands again.
"I said to 'em," he went on with loud pretence of heartiness,
"the minute I heerd your name called out for our
dear Octavius, "I must go over an' interduce myself."
It will be a heavy cross to part with those dear people,
Brother Ware, but if anything could wean me to the notion,
so to speak, it would be the knowledge that you are to take
up my labors in their midst. Perhaps--ah--perhaps they
ARE jest a trifle close in money matters, but they come
out strong on revivals. They'll need a good deal o'
stirrin' up about parsonage expenses, but, oh! such
seasons of grace as we've experienced there together!"
He shook his head, and closed his eyes altogether,
as if transported by his memories.
Brother Ware smiled faintly in decorous response,
and bowed in silence; but his wife resented the unctuous
beaming of content on the other's wide countenance,
and could not restrain her tongue.
"You seem to bear up tolerably well under this heavy cross,
as you call it," she said sharply.
"The will o' the Lord, Sister Ware--the will o' the Lord!"
he responded, disposed for the instant to put on his
pompous manner with her, and then deciding to smile again
as he moved off. The circumstance that he was to get
an additional three hundred dollars yearly in his new
place was not mentioned between them.
By a mutual impulse the young couple, when they had at last
gained the cool open air, crossed the street to the side
where over-hanging trees shaded the infrequent lamps,
and they might be comparatively alone. The wife had
taken her husband's arm, and pressed closely upon it
as they walked. For a time no word passed, but finally
he said, in a grave voice,--
"It is hard upon you, poor girl."
Then she stopped short, buried her face against his shoulder,
and fell to sobbing.
He strove with gentle, whispered remonstrance to win
her from this mood, and after a few moments she lifted
her head and they resumed their walk, she wiping her eyes
as they went.
"I couldn't keep it in a minute longer!" she said,
catching her breath between phrases. "Oh, WHY do they
behave so badly to us, Theron?"
He smiled down momentarily upon her as they moved along,
and patted her hand.
"Somebody must have the poor places, Alice," he said consolingly.
"I am a young man yet, remember. We must take our turn,
and be patient. For 'we know that all things work together for good.'"
"And your sermon was so head-and-shoulders above all
the others!" she went on breathlessly. "Everybody said so!
And Mrs. Parshall heard it so DIRECT that you were to
be sent here, and I know she told everybody how much I
was lotting on it--I wish we could go right off tonight
without going to her house--I shall be ashamed to look
her in the face--and of course she knows we're poked
off to that miserable Octavius.--Why, Theron, they tell
me it's a worse place even than we've got now!"
"Oh, not at all," he put in reassuringly. "It has
grown to be a large town--oh, quite twice the size
of Tyre. It's a great Irish place, I've heard.
Our own church seems to be a good deal run down there.
We must build it up again; and the salary is better--
But he too was depressed, and they walked on toward their
temporary lodging in a silence full of mutual grief.
It was not until they had come within sight of this goal
that he prefaced by a little sigh of resignation these
"Come--let us make the best of it, my girl! After all,
we are in the hands of the Lord."
"Oh, don't, Theron!" she said hastily. "Don't talk to me
about the Lord tonight; I can't bear it!"
"Theron! Come out here! This is the funniest thing we
have heard yet!"
Mrs. Ware stood on the platform of her new kitchen stoop.
The bright flood of May-morning sunshine completely enveloped
her girlish form, clad in a simple, fresh-starched calico gown,
and shone in golden patches upon her light-brown hair.
She had a smile on her face, as she looked down at the milk
boy standing on the bottom step--a smile of a doubtful sort,
"Come out a minute, Theron!" she called again;
and in obedience to the summons the tall lank figure
of her husband appeared in the open doorway behind her.
A long loose, open dressing-gown dangled to his knees,
and his sallow, clean-shaven, thoughtful face wore a morning
undress expression of youthful good-nature. He leaned
against the door-sill, crossed his large carpet slippers,
and looked up into the sky, drawing a long satisfied breath.
"What a beautiful morning!" he exclaimed. "The elms
over there are full of robins. We must get up earlier
these mornings, and take some walks."
His wife indicated the boy with the milk-pail on his arm,
by a wave of her hand.
"Guess what he tells me!" she said. "It wasn't a mistake
at all, our getting no milk yesterday or the Sunday before.
It seems that that's the custom here, at least so far
as the parsonage is concerned."
"What's the matter, boy?" asked the young minister,
drawling his words a little, and putting a sense of placid
irony into them. "Don't the cows give milk on Sunday, then?"
The boy was not going to be chaffed. "Oh, I'll bring you
milk fast enough on Sundays, if you give me the word,"
he said with nonchalance. "Only it won't last long."
"How do you mean--'won't last long'?", asked Mrs. Ware, briskly.
The boy liked her--both for herself, and for the doughnuts
fried with her own hands, which she gave him on his
morning round. He dropped his half-defiant tone.
"The thing of it's this," he explained. "Every new
minister starts in saying we can deliver to this house
on Sundays, an' then gives us notice to stop before
the month's out. It's the trustees that does it."
The Rev. Theron Ware uncrossed his feet and moved out on
to the stoop beside his wife. "What's that you say?"
he interjected. "Don't THEY take milk on Sundays?"
"Nope!" answered the boy.
The young couple looked each other in the face
for a puzzled moment, then broke into a laugh.
"Well, we'll try it, anyway," said the preacher.
"You can go on bringing it Sundays till--till--"
"Till you cave in an' tell me to stop," put in the boy.
"All right!" and he was off on the instant, the dipper
jangling loud incredulity in his pail as he went.
The Wares exchanged another glance as he disappeared
round the corner of the house, and another mutual laugh
seemed imminent. Then the wife's face clouded over,
and she thrust her under-lip a trifle forward out of its
place in the straight and gently firm profile.
"It's just what Wendell Phillips said," she declared.
"'The Puritan's idea of hell is a place where everybody has
to mind his own business.'"
The young minister stroked his chin thoughtfully, and let
his gaze wander over the backyard in silence. The garden
parts had not been spaded up, but lay, a useless stretch
of muddy earth, broken only by last year's cabbage-stumps
and the general litter of dead roots and vegetation.
The door of the tenantless chicken-coop hung wide open.
Before it was a great heap of ashes and cinders, soaked into
grimy hardness by the recent spring rains, and nearer still
an ancient chopping-block, round which were scattered old
weather-beaten hardwood knots which had defied the axe,
parts of broken barrels and packing-boxes, and a nameless
debris of tin cans, clam-shells, and general rubbish.
It was pleasanter to lift the eyes, and look across
the neighbors' fences to the green, waving tops of the elms
on the street beyond. How lofty and beautiful they were
in the morning sunlight, and with what matchless charm
came the song of the robins, freshly installed in their
haunts among the new pale-green leaves! Above them,
in the fresh, scented air, glowed the great blue dome,
radiant with light and the purification of spring.
Theron lifted his thin, long-fingered hand, and passed it
in a slow arch of movement to comprehend this glorious
"What matter anyone's ideas of hell," he said, in soft,
grave tones, "when we have that to look at, and listen to,
and fill our lungs with? It seems to me that we never FEEL
quite so sure of God's goodness at other times as we do
in these wonderful new mornings of spring."
The wife followed his gesture, and her eyes rested for
a brief moment, with pleased interest, upon the trees
and the sky. Then they reverted, with a harsher scrutiny,
to the immediate foreground.
"Those Van Sizers ought to be downright ashamed of themselves,"
she said, "to leave everything in such a muss as this.
You MUST see about getting a man to clean up the yard,
Theron. It's no use your thinking of doing it yourself.
In the first place, it wouldn't look quite the thing,
and, second, you'd never get at it in all your born days.
Or if a man would cost too much, we might get a boy.
I daresay Harvey would come around, after he'd finished
with his milk-route in the forenoon. We could give him
his dinner, you know, and I'd bake him some cookies.
He's got the greatest sweet-tooth you ever heard of.
And then perhaps if we gave him a quarter, or say half a dollar,
he'd be quite satisfied. I'll speak to him in the morning.
We can save a dollar or so that way."
"I suppose every little does help," commented Mr. Ware,
with a doleful lack of conviction. Then his face brightened.
"I tell you what let's do!" he exclaimed. "Get on your
street dress, and we'll take a long walk, way out into
the country. You've never seen the basin, where they
float the log-rafts in, or the big sawmills. The hills
beyond give you almost mountain effects, they are so steep;
and they say there's a sulphur spring among the slate
on the hill-side, somewhere, with trees all about it;
and we could take some sandwiches with us--"
"You forget," put in Mrs. Ware,--"those trustees are
coming at eleven."
"So they are!" assented the young minister, with something
like a sigh. He cast another reluctant, lingering glance
at the sunlit elm boughs, and, turning, went indoors.
He loitered for an aimless minute in the kitchen,
where his wife, her sleeves rolled to the elbow,
now resumed the interrupted washing of the breakfast dishes--
perhaps with vague visions of that ever-receding time
to come when they might have a hired girl to do such work.
Then he wandered off into the room beyond, which served
them alike as living-room and study, and let his eye run
along the two rows of books that constituted his library.
He saw nothing which he wanted to read. Finally he did
take down "Paley's Evidences," and seated himself in the
big armchair--that costly and oversized anomaly among
his humble house-hold gods; but the book lay unopened on
his knee, and his eyelids half closed themselves in sign
This was his third charge--this Octavius which they
both knew they were going to dislike so much.
The first had been in the pleasant dairy and hop country
many miles to the south, on another watershed and among
a different kind of people. Perhaps, in truth, the grinding
labor, the poverty of ideas, the systematic selfishness
of later rural experience, had not been lacking there;
but they played no part in the memories which now he
passed in tender review. He recalled instead the warm
sunshine on the fertile expanse of fields; the sleek,
well-fed herds of "milkers" coming lowing down the road
under the maples; the prosperous and hospitable farmhouses,
with their orchards in blossom and their spacious red barns;
the bountiful boiled dinners which cheery housewives
served up with their own skilled hands. Of course,
he admitted to himself, it would not be the same if he
were to go back there again. He was conscious of having
moved along--was it, after all, an advance?--to a point
where it was unpleasant to sit at table with the unfragrant
hired man, and still worse to encounter the bucolic
confusion between the functions of knives and forks.
But in those happy days--young, zealous, himself farm-bred--
these trifles had been invisible to him, and life there
among those kindly husbandmen had seemed, by contrast
with the gaunt surroundings and gloomy rule of the
theological seminary, luxuriously abundant and free.
It was there too that the crowning blessedness of
his youth--nay, should he not say of all his days?--
had come to him. There he had first seen Alice Hastings,--
the bright-eyed, frank-faced, serenely self-reliant girl,
who now, less than four years thereafter, could be heard
washing the dishes out in the parsonage kitchen.
How wonderful she had seemed to him then! How beautiful
and all-beneficent the miracle still appeared!
Though herself the daughter of a farmer, her presence
on a visit within the borders of his remote country
charge had seemed to make everything, there a hundred
times more countrified than it had ever been before.
She was fresh from the refinements of a town seminary:
she read books; it was known that she could play upon
the piano. Her clothes, her manners, her way of speaking,
the readiness of her thoughts and sprightly tongue--
not least, perhaps, the imposing current understanding
as to her father's wealth--placed her on a glorified
pinnacle far away from the girls of the neighborhood.
These honest and good-hearted creatures indeed called
ceaseless attention to her superiority by their deference
and open-mouthed admiration, and treated it as the most
natural thing in the world that their young minister should be
visibly "taken" with her.
Theron Ware, in truth, left this first pastorate of his
the following spring, in a transfiguring halo of romance.
His new appointment was to Tyre--a somewhat distant
village of traditional local pride and substance--and he
was to be married only a day or so before entering upon
his pastoral duties there. The good people among whom he
had begun his ministry took kindly credit to themselves
that he had met his bride while she was "visiting round"
their countryside. In part by jocose inquiries addressed
to the expectant groom, in part by the confidences of the
postmaster at the corners concerning the bulk and frequency
of the correspondence passing between Theron and the now
remote Alice--they had followed the progress of the courtship
through the autumn and winter with friendly zest.
When he returned from the Conference, to say good-bye
and confess the happiness that awaited him, they gave
him a "donation"--quite as if he were a married pastor
with a home of his own, instead of a shy young bachelor,
who received his guests and their contributions in the
house where he boarded.
He went away with tears of mingled regret and proud joy
in his eyes, thinking a good deal upon their predictions
of a distinguished career before him, feeling infinitely
strengthened and upborne by the hearty fervor of their
God-speed, and taking with him nearly two wagon-loads
of vegetables, apples, canned preserves, assorted furniture,
glass dishes, cheeses, pieced bedquilts, honey, feathers,
and kitchen utensils.
Of the three years' term in Tyre, it was pleasantest
to dwell upon the beginning.
The young couple--after being married out at Alice's home
in an adjoining county, under the depressing conditions
of a hopelessly bedridden mother, and a father and brothers
whose perceptions were obviously closed to the advantages
of a matrimonial connection with Methodism--came straight to
the house which their new congregation rented as a parsonage.
The impulse of reaction from the rather grim cheerlessness
of their wedding lent fresh gayety to their lighthearted,
whimsical start at housekeeping. They had never laughed
so much in all their lives as they did now in these
first months--over their weird ignorance of domestic details;
with its mishaps, mistakes, and entertaining discoveries;
over the comical super-abundances and shortcomings
of their "donation" outfit; over the thousand and one
quaint experiences of their novel relation to each other,
to the congregation, and to the world of Tyre at large.
Theron, indeed, might be said never to have laughed before.
Up to that time no friendly student of his character,
cataloguing his admirable qualities, would have thought
of including among them a sense of humor, much less a bent
toward levity. Neither his early strenuous battle to get
away from the farm and achieve such education as should
serve to open to him the gates of professional life,
nor the later wave of religious enthusiasm which caught
him up as he stood on the border-land of manhood,
and swept him off into a veritable new world of views
and aspirations, had been a likely school of merriment.
People had prized him for his innocent candor and
guileless mind, for his good heart, his pious zeal,
his modesty about gifts notably above the average,
but it had occurred to none to suspect in him a latent
But who could be solemn where Alice was?--Alice in a
quandary over the complications of her cooking stove;
Alice boiling her potatoes all day, and her eggs for half
an hour; Alice ordering twenty pounds of steak and half
a pound of sugar, and striving to extract a breakfast
beverage from the unground coffee-bean? Clearly not
so tenderly fond and sympathetic a husband as Theron.
He began by laughing because she laughed, and grew
by swift stages to comprehend, then frankly to share,
her amusement. From this it seemed only a step to the
development of a humor of his own, doubling, as it were,
their sportive resources. He found himself discovering
a new droll aspect in men and things; his phraseology took
on a dryly playful form, fittingly to present conceits
which danced up, unabashed, quite into the presence
of lofty and majestic truths. He got from this nothing
but satisfaction; it obviously involved increased claims
to popularity among his parishioners, and consequently
magnified powers of usefulness, and it made life so much more
a joy and a thing to be thankful for. Often, in the midst
of the exchange of merry quip and whimsical suggestion,
bright blossoms on that tree of strength and knowledge
which he felt expanding now with a mighty outward pushing
in all directions, he would lapse into deep gravity,
and ponder with a swelling heart the vast unspeakable marvel
of his blessedness, in being thus enriched and humanized
by daily communion with the most worshipful of womankind.
This happy and good young couple took the affections of
Tyre by storm. The Methodist Church there had at no time
held its head very high among the denominations, and for
some years back had been in a deplorably sinking state,
owing first to the secession of the Free Methodists
and then to the incumbency of a pastor who scandalized
the community by marrying a black man to a white woman.
But the Wares changed all this. Within a month the report
of Theron's charm and force in the pulpit was crowding
the church building to its utmost capacity--and that,
too, with some of Tyre's best people. Equally winning
was the atmosphere of jollity and juvenile high spirits
which pervaded the parsonage under these new conditions,
and which Theron and Alice seemed to diffuse wherever
Thus swimmingly their first year sped, amid universal acclaim.
Mrs. Ware had a recognized social place, quite outside
the restricted limits of Methodism, and shone in it with
an unflagging brilliancy altogether beyond the traditions
of Tyre. Delightful as she was in other people's houses,
she was still more naively fascinating in her own quaint
and somewhat harum-scarum domicile; and the drab,
two-storied, tin-roofed little parsonage might well have
rattled its clapboards to see if it was not in dreamland--
so gay was the company, so light were the hearts,
which it sheltered in these new days. As for Theron,
the period was one of incredible fructification and output.
He scarcely recognized for his own the mind which now was
reaching out on all sides with the arms of an octopus,
exploring unsuspected mines of thought, bringing in
rich treasures of deduction, assimilating, building,
propounding as if by some force quite independent of him.
He could not look without blinking timidity at the radiance
of the path stretched out before him, leading upward
to dazzling heights of greatness.
At the end of this first year the Wares suddenly discovered
that they were eight hundred dollars in debt.
The second year was spent in arriving, by slow stages and
with a cruel wealth of pathetic detail, at a realization
of what being eight hundred dollars in debt meant.
It was not in their elastic and buoyant natures to grasp
the full significance of the thing at once, or easily.
Their position in the social structure, too, was all
against clear-sightedness in material matters.
A general, for example, uniformed and in the saddle,
advancing through the streets with his staff in the proud
wake of his division's massed walls of bayonets, cannot be
imagined as quailing at the glance thrown at him by his
tailor on the sidewalk. Similarly, a man invested with
sacerdotal authority, who baptizes, marries, and buries,
who delivers judgments from the pulpit which may not be
questioned in his hearing, and who receives from all his
fellow-men a special deference of manner and speech,
is in the nature of things prone to see the grocer's
book and the butcher's bill through the little end
of the telescope.
The Wares at the outset had thought it right to trade
as exclusively as possible with members of their own
church society. This loyalty became a principal element
of martyrdom. Theron had his creditors seated in serried
rows before him, Sunday after Sunday. Alice had her
critics consolidated among those whom it was her chief duty
to visit and profess friendship for. These situations
now began, by regular gradations, to unfold their terrors.
At the first intimation of discontent, the Wares made
what seemed to them a sweeping reduction in expenditure.
When they heard that Brother Potter had spoken of them
as "poor pay," they dismissed their hired girl.
A little later, Theron brought himself to drop a laboriously
casual suggestion as to a possible increase of salary,
and saw with sinking spirits the faces of the stewards
freeze with dumb disapprobation. Then Alice paid a visit
to her parents, only to find her brothers doggedly
hostile to the notion of her being helped, and her father
so much under their influence that the paltry sum he
dared offer barely covered the expenses of her journey.
With another turn of the screw, they sold the piano she
had brought with her from home, and cut themselves down
to the bare necessities of life, neither receiving company
nor going out. They never laughed now, and even smiles
By this time Theron's sermons, preached under that stony
glare of people to whom he owed money, had degenerated
to a pitiful level of commonplace. As a consequence,
the attendance became once more confined to the insufficient
membership of the church, and the trustees complained
of grievously diminished receipts. When the Wares,
grown desperate, ventured upon the experiment of trading
outside the bounds of the congregation, the trustees
complained again, this time peremptorily.
Thus the second year dragged itself miserably to an end.
Nor was relief possible, because the Presiding Elder knew
something of the circumstances, and felt it his duty
to send Theron back for a third year, to pay his debts,
and drain the cup of disciplinary medicine to its dregs.
The worst has been told. Beginning in utter blackness,
this third year, in the second month, brought a change as welcome
as it was unlooked for. An elderly and important citizen
of Tyre, by name Abram Beekman, whom Theron knew slightly,
and had on occasions seen sitting in one of the back
pews near the door, called one morning at the parsonage,
and electrified its inhabitants by expressing a desire
to wipe off all their old scores for them, and give them
a fresh start in life. As he put the suggestion, they could
find no excuse for rejecting it. He had watched them,
and heard a good deal about them, and took a fatherly sort
of interest in them. He did not deprecate their regarding
the aid he proffered them in the nature of a loan,
but they were to make themselves perfectly easy about it,
and never return it at all unless they could spare it
sometime with entire convenience, and felt that they wanted
to do so. As this amazing windfall finally took shape,
it enabled the Wares to live respectably through the year,
and to leave Tyre with something over one hundred dollars
It enabled them, too, to revive in a chastened form their
old dream of ultimate success and distinction for Theron.
He had demonstrated clearly enough to himself, during that
brief season of unrestrained effulgence, that he had within
him the making of a great pulpit orator. He set to work now,
with resolute purpose, to puzzle out and master all the
principles which underlie this art, and all the tricks
that adorn its superstructure. He studied it, fastened his
thoughts upon it, talked daily with Alice about it.
In the pulpit, addressing those people who had so darkened
his life and crushed the first happiness out of his home,
he withheld himself from any oratorical display which
could afford them gratification. He put aside, as well;
the thought of attracting once more the non-Methodists
of Tyre, whose early enthusiasm had spread such pitfalls
for his unwary feet. He practised effects now by piecemeal,
with an alert ear, and calculation in every tone.
An ambition, at once embittered and tearfully solicitous,
He reflected now, this morning, with a certain incredulous
interest, upon that unworthy epoch in his life history,
which seemed so far behind him, and yet had come to a close
only a few weeks ago. The opportunity had been given him,
there at the Tecumseh Conference, to reveal his quality.
He had risen to its full limit of possibilities,
and preached a great sermon in a manner which he at least
knew was unapproachable. He had made his most powerful
bid for the prize place, had trebly deserved success--
and had been banished instead to Octavius!
The curious thing was that he did not resent his failure.
Alice had taken it hard, but he himself was conscious of a
sense of spiritual gain. The influence of the Conference,
with its songs and seasons of prayer and high pressure
of emotional excitement, was still strong upon him.
It seemed years and years since the religious side of him
had been so stirred into motion. He felt, as he lay
back in the chair, and folded his hands over the book
on his knee, that he had indeed come forth from the fire
purified and strengthened. The ministry to souls diseased
beckoned him with a new and urgent significance. He smiled
to remember that Mr. Beekman, speaking in his shrewd and
pointed way, had asked him whether, looking it all over,
he didn't think it would be better for him to study law,
with a view to sliding out of the ministry when a good
chance offered. It amazed him now to recall that he had
taken this hint seriously, and even gone to the length
of finding out what books law-students began upon.
Thank God! all that was past and gone now. The Call sounded,
resonant and imperative, in his ears, and there was no
impulse of his heart, no fibre of his being, which did
not stir in devout response. He closed his eyes, to be
the more wholly alone with the Spirit, that moved him.
The jangling of a bell in the hallway broke sharply upon
his meditations, and on the instant his wife thrust
in her head from the kitchen.
"You'll have to go to the door, Theron!" she warned him,
in a loud, swift whisper. "I'm not fit to be seen.
It is the trustees."
"All right," he said, and rose slowly from sprawling
recumbency to his feet. "I'll go."
"And don't forget," she added strenuously; "I believe
in Levi Gorringe! I've seen him go past here with his rod
and fish-basket twice in eight days, and that's a good sign.
He's got a soft side somewhere. And just keep a stiff
upper lip about the gas, and don't you let them jew you
down a solitary cent on that sidewalk."
"All right," said Theron, again, and moved reluctantly
toward the hall door.
When the three trustees had been shown in by the Rev. Mr. Ware,
and had taken seats, an awkward little pause ensued.
The young minister looked doubtingly from one face
to another, the while they glanced with inquiring interest
about the room, noting the pictures and appraising
the furniture in their minds.
The obvious leader of the party, Loren Pierce, a rich
quarryman, was an old man of medium size and mean attire,
with a square, beardless face as hard and impassive
in expression as one of his blocks of limestone.
The irregular, thin-lipped mouth, slightly sunken,
and shut with vice-like firmness, the short snub nose,
and the little eyes squinting from half-closed lids
beneath slightly marked brows, seemed scarcely to attain
to the dignity of features, but evaded attention instead,
as if feeling that they were only there at all from
plain necessity, and ought not to be taken into account.
Mr. Pierce's face did not know how to smile--what was the use
of smiles?--but its whole surface radiated secretiveness.
Portrayed on canvas by a master brush, with a ruff
or a red robe for masquerade, generations of imaginative
amateurs would have seen in it vast reaching plots,
the skeletons of a dozen dynastic cupboards, the guarded
mysteries of half a century's international diplomacy.
The amateurs would have been wrong again. There was
nothing behind Mr. Pierce's juiceless countenance more
weighty than a general determination to exact seven per
cent for his money, and some specific notions about
capturing certain brickyards which were interfering with
his quarry-sales. But Octavius watched him shamble along
its sidewalks quite as the Vienna of dead and forgotten
yesterday might have watched Metternich.
Erastus Winch was of a breezier sort--a florid, stout,
and sandy man, who spent most of his life driving over
evil country roads in a buggy, securing orders for dairy
furniture and certain allied lines of farm utensils.
This practice had given him a loud voice and a deceptively
hearty manner, to which the other avocation of cheese-buyer,
which he pursued at the Board of Trade meetings every
Monday afternoon, had added a considerable command of
persuasive yet non-committal language. To look at him,
still more to hear him, one would have sworn he was a
good fellow, a trifle rough and noisy, perhaps, but all
right at bottom. But the County Clerk of Dearborn County
could have told you of agriculturists who knew Erastus
from long and unhappy experience, and who held him to be
even a tighter man than Loren Pierce in the matter of a mortgage.
The third trustee, Levi Gorringe, set one wondering at the
very first glance what on earth he was doing in that company.
Those who had known him longest had the least notion;
but it may be added that no one knew him well.
He was a lawyer, and had lived in Octavius for upwards
of ten years; that is to say, since early manhood.
He had an office on the main street, just under the
principal photograph gallery. Doubtless he was sometimes
in this office; but his fellow-townsmen saw him more often
in the street doorway, with the stairs behind him, and the
flaring show-cases of the photographer on either side,
standing with his hands in his pockets and an unlighted
cigar in his mouth, looking at nothing in particular.
About every other day he went off after breakfast
into the country roundabout, sometimes with a rod,
sometimes with a gun, but always alone. He was a bachelor,
and slept in a room at the back of his office, cooking some
of his meals himself, getting others at a restaurant
close by. Though he had little visible practice,
he was understood to be well-to-do and even more,
and people tacitly inferred that he "shaved notes."
The Methodists of Octavius looked upon him as a queer fish,
and through nearly a dozen years had never quite outgrown
their hebdomadal tendency to surprise at seeing him enter
their church. He had never, it is true, professed religion,
but they had elected him as a trustee now for a number
of terms, all the same--partly because he was their
only lawyer, partly because he, like both his colleagues,
held a mortgage on the church edifice and lot.
In person, Mr. Gorringe was a slender man, with a skin
of a clear, uniform citron tint, black waving hair,
and dark gray eyes, and a thin, high-featured face.
He wore a mustache and pointed chin-tuft; and, though he
was of New England parentage and had never been further
south than Ocean Grove, he presented a general effect
of old Mississippian traditions and tastes startlingly at
variance with the standards of Dearborn County Methodism.
Nothing could convince some of the elder sisters that he was
not a drinking man.
The three visitors had completed their survey of the room now;
and Loren Pierce emitted a dry, harsh little cough, as a
signal that business was about to begin. At this sound,
Winch drew up his feet, and Gorringe untied a parcel
of account-books and papers that he held on his knee.
Theron felt that his countenance must be exhibiting to the
assembled brethren an unfortunate sense of helplessness
in their hands. He tried to look more resolute,
and forced his lips into a smile.
"Brother Gorringe allus acts as Seckertary,"
said Erastus Winch, beaming broadly upon the minister,
as if the mere mention of the fact promoted jollity.
"That's it, Brother Gorringe,--take your seat at Brother
Ware's desk. Mind the Dominie's pen don't play tricks
on you, an' start off writin' out sermons instid of figgers."
The humorist turned to Theron as the lawyer walked over
to the desk at the window. "I allus have to caution him
about that," he remarked with great joviality. "An' do YOU
look out afterwards, Brother Ware, or else you'll catch
that pen o' yours scribblin' lawyer's lingo in place o'
Theron felt bound to exhibit a grin in acknowledgment
of this pleasantry. The lawyer's change of position had
involved some shifting of the others' chairs, and the young
minister found himself directly confronted by Brother
Pierce's hard and colorless old visage. Its little eyes
were watching him, as through a mask, and under their
influence the smile of politeness fled from his lips.
The lawyer on his right, the cheese-buyer to the left,
seemed to recede into distance as he for the moment returned
the gaze of the quarryman. He waited now for him to speak,
as if the others were of no importance.
"We are a plain sort o' folks up in these parts,"
said Brother Pierce, after a slight further pause.
His voice was as dry and rasping as his cough, and its
intonations were those of authority. "We walk here,"
he went on, eying the minister with a sour regard,
"in a meek an' humble spirit, in the straight an'
narrow way which leadeth unto life. We ain't gone traipsin'
after strange gods, like some people that call themselves
Methodists in other places. We stick by the Discipline an'
the ways of our fathers in Israel. No new-fangled notions
can go down here. Your wife'd better take them flowers
out of her bunnit afore next Sunday."
Silence possessed the room for a few moments,
the while Theron, pale-faced and with brows knit,
studied the pattern of the ingrain carpet. Then he lifted
his head, and nodded it in assent. "Yes," he said;
"we will do nothing by which our 'brother stumbleth,
or is offended, or is made weak.'"
Brother Pierce's parchment face showed no sign of surprise
or pleasure at this easy submission. "Another thing:
We don't want no book-learnin' or dictionary words in
our pulpit," he went on coldly. "Some folks may stomach
'em; we won't. Them two sermons o' yours, p'r'aps they'd
do down in some city place; but they're like your wife's
bunnit here, they're too flowery to suit us. What we
want to hear is the plain, old-fashioned Word of God,
without any palaver or 'hems and ha's." They tell me
there's some parts where hell's treated as played-out--
where our ministers don't like to talk much about it
because people don't want to hear about it. Such preachers
ought to be put out. They ain't Methodists at all.
What we want here, sir, is straight-out, flat-footed hell--
the burnin' lake o' fire an' brim-stone. Pour it into
'em, hot an' strong. We can't have too much of it.
Work in them awful deathbeds of Voltaire an' Tom Paine,
with the Devil right there in the room, reachin' for 'em, an'
they yellin' for fright; that's what fills the anxious seat an'
brings in souls hand over fist."
Theron's tongue dallied for an instant with the temptation
to comment upon these old-wife fables, which were so dear
to the rural religious heart when he and I were boys.
But it seemed wiser to only nod again, and let his mentor
"We ain't had no trouble with the Free Methodists here,"
continued Brother Pierce, "jest because we kept to the
old paths, an' seek for salvation in the good old way.
Everybody can shout "Amen!" as loud and as long as
the Spirit moves him, with us. Some one was sayin'
you thought we ought to have a choir and an organ.
No, sirree! No such tom-foolery for us! You'll only stir
up feelin' agin yourself by hintin' at such things.
And then, too, our folks don't take no stock in all
that pack o' nonsense about science, such as tellin'
the age of the earth by crackin' up stones. I've b'en
in the quarry line all my life, an' I know it's all humbug!
Why, they say some folks are goin' round now preachin'
that our grandfathers were all monkeys. That comes
from departin' from the ways of our forefathers, an puttin'
in organs an' choirs, an' deckin' our women-folks out
with gewgaws, an' apin' the fashions of the worldly.
I shouldn't wonder if them kind did have some monkey blood
in 'em. You'll find we're a different sort here."
The young minister preserved silence for a little, until it
became apparent that the old trustee had had his say out.
Even then he raised his head slowly, and at last made
answer in a hesitating and irresolute way
"You have been very frank," he said. "I am obliged to you.
A clergyman coming to a new charge cannot be better served
than by having laid before him a clear statement of the
views and--and spiritual tendencies--of his new flock,
quite at the outset. I feel it to be of especial value
in this case, because I am young in years and in my ministry,
and am conscious of a great weakness of the flesh.
I can see how daily contact with a people so attached
to the old, simple, primitive Methodism of Wesley
and Asbury may be a source of much strength to me.
I may take it," he added upon second thought, with an
inquiring glance at Mr. Winch, "that Brother Pierce's
description of our charge, and its tastes and needs,
meets with your approval?"
Erastus Winch nodded his head and smiled expansively.
"Whatever Brother Pierce says, goes!" he declared.
The lawyer, sitting behind at the desk by the window,
"The place is jest overrun with Irish," Brother Pierce
began again. "They've got two Catholic churches here
now to our one, and they do jest as they blamed please
at the Charter elections. It'd be a good idee to pitch
into Catholics in general whenever you can. You could
make a hit that way. I say the State ought to make 'em
pay taxes on their church property. They've no right
to be exempted, because they ain't Christians at all.
They're idolaters, that's what they are! I know 'em!
I've had 'em in my quarries for years, an' they ain't got
no idee of decency or fair dealin'. Every time the price
of stone went up, every man of 'em would jine to screw
more wages out o' me. Why, they used to keep account o'
the amount o' business I done, an' figger up my profits, an'
have the face to come an' talk to me about 'em, as if
that had anything to do with wages. It's my belief their
priests put 'em up to it. People don't begin to reelize--
that church of idolatry 'll be the ruin o' this country,
if it ain't checked in time. Jest you go at 'em hammer
'n' tongs! I've got Eyetalians in the quarries now.
They're sensible fellows: they know when they're well off--
a dollar a day, an' they're satisfied, an' everything goes
"But they're Catholics, the same as the Irish," suddenly
interjected the lawyer, from his place by the window.
Theron pricked up his ears at the sound of his voice.
There was an anti-Pierce note in it, so to speak, which it
did him good to hear. The consciousness of sympathy
began on the instant to inspire him with courage.
"I know some people SAY they are," Brother Pierce
guardedly retorted "but I've summered an' wintered both
kinds, an' I hold to it they're different. I grant ye,
the Eyetalians ARE some given to jabbin' knives into
each other, but they never git up strikes, an' they don't
grumble about wages. Why, look at the way they live--
jest some weeds an' yarbs dug up on the roadside, an'
stewed in a kettle with a piece o' fat the size o'
your finger, an' a loaf o' bread, an' they're happy as a king.
There's some sense in THAT; but the Irish, they've got
to have meat an' potatoes an' butter jest as if--as if--"
"As if they'd b'en used to 'em at home," put in Mr. Winch,
to help his colleague out.
The lawyer ostentatiously drew up his chair to the desk,
and began turning over the leaves of his biggest book.
"It's getting on toward noon, gentlemen," he said, in an
The business meeting which followed was for a considerable
time confined to hearing extracts from the books and papers
read in a swift and formal fashion by Mr. Gorringe.
If this was intended to inform the new pastor of the exact
financial situation in Octavius, it lamentably failed
of its purpose. Theron had little knowledge of figures;
and though he tried hard to listen, and to assume an air
of comprehension, he did not understand much of what he heard.
In a general way he gathered that the church property was
put down at $12,000, on which there was a debt of $4,800.
The annual expenses were $2,250, of which the principal
items were $800 for his salary, $170 for the rent
of the parsonage, and $319 for interest on the debt.
It seemed that last year the receipts had fallen just under
$2,000, and they now confronted the necessity of making
good this deficit during the coming year, as well as
increasing the regular revenues. Without much discussion,
it was agreed that they should endeavor to secure the
services of a celebrated "debt-raiser," early in the autumn,
and utilize him in the closing days of a revival.
Theron knew this "debt-raiser," and had seen him at work--
a burly, bustling, vulgar man who took possession
of the pulpit as if it were an auctioneer's block,
and pursued the task of exciting liberality in the bosoms
of the congregation by alternating prayer, anecdote, song,
and cheap buffoonery in a manner truly sickening.
Would it not be preferable, he feebly suggested,
to raise the money by a festival, or fair, or some
other form of entertainment which the ladies could manage?
Brother Pierce shook his head with contemptuous emphasis.
"Our women-folks ain't that kind," he said. "They did try
to hold a sociable once, but nobody came, and we didn't
raise more 'n three or four dollars. It ain't their line.
They lack the worldly arts. As the Discipline commands,
they avoid the evil of putting on gold and costly apparel,
and taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of
the Lord Jesus."
"Well--of course--if you prefer the 'debt-raiser'--"
Theron began, and took the itemized account from Gorringe's
knee as an excuse for not finishing the hateful sentence.
He looked down the foolscap sheet, line by line,
with no special sense of what it signified, until his
eye caught upon this little section of the report,
bracketed by itself in the Secretary's neat hand:
First mortgage (1873) .. $1,000 ... (E. Winch) @7.. $ 70
Second mortgage (1776).. 1,700 ... (L. Gorringe) @6.. 102
Third mortgage (1878)... 2,100 ... (L. Pierce) @7.. 147
It was no news to him that the three mortgages on
the church property were held by the three trustees.
But as he looked once more, another feature of the thing
struck him as curious.
"I notice that the rates of interest vary," he remarked
without thinking, and then wished the words unsaid,
for the two trustees in view moved uneasily on their seats.
"Oh, that's nothing," exclaimed Erastus Winch, with a
boisterous display of jollity. "It's only Brother
Gorringe's pleasant little way of making a contribution
to our funds. You will notice that, at the date
of all these mortgages, the State rate of interest was
seven per cent. Since then it's b'en lowered to six.
Well, when that happened, you see, Brother Gorringe,
not being a professin' member, and so not bound by our rules,
he could just as well as not let his interest down a cent.
But Brother Pierce an' me, we talked it over, an' we made
up our minds we were tied hand an' foot by our contract.
You know how strong the Discipline lays it down that
we must be bound to the letter of our agreements.
That bein' so, we seen it in the light of duty not to change
what we'd set our hands to. That's how it is, Brother Ware."
"I understand," said Theron, with an effort at polite
calmness of tone. "And--is there anything else?"
"There's this," broke in Brother Pierce: "we're commanded
to be law-abiding people, an' seven per cent WAS the law an'
would be now if them ragamuffins in the Legislation--"
"Surely we needn't go further into that," interrupted
the minister, conscious of a growing stiffness
in his moral spine. "Have we any other business before us?"
Brother Pierce's little eyes snapped, and the wrinkles
in his forehead deepened angrily. "Business?" he demanded.
"Yes, plenty of it. We've got to reduce expenses.
We're nigh onto $300 behind-hand this minute. Besides your
house-rent, you get $800 free an' clear--that is $15.38
every week, an' only you an' your wife to keep out of it.
Why, when I was your age, young man, and after that too,
I was glad to get $4 a week."
"I don't think my salary is under discussion, Mr. Pierce--"
"BROTHER Pierce!" suggested Winch, in a half-shuckling undertone.
"Brother Pierce, then!" echoed Theron, impatiently.
"The Quarterly Conference and the Estimating Committee
deal with that. The trustees have no more to do with it
than the man in the moon."
"Come, come, Brother Ware," put in Erastus Winch,
"we mustn't have no hard feelin's. Brotherly love is
what we're all lookin' after. Brother Pierce's meanin'
wasn't agin your drawin' your full salary, every cent
of it, only--only there are certain little things connected
with the parsonage here that we feel you ought to bear.
F'r instance, there's the new sidewalk we had to lay
in front of the house here only a month ago. Of course,
if the treasury was flush we wouldn't say a word about it.
An' then there's the gas bill here. Seein' as you get
your rent for nothin', it don't seem much to ask that you
should see to lightin' the place yourself."
"No, I don't think that either is a proper charge upon me,"
interposed Theron. "I decline to pay them."
"We can have the gas shut off," remarked Brother Pierce, coldly.
"As soon as you like," responded the minister, sitting erect
and tapping the carpet nervously with his foot. Only you
must understand that I will take the whole matter to the
Quarterly Conference in July. I already see a good many
other interesting questions about the financial management
of this church which might be appropriately discussed there."
"Oh, come, Brother Ware!" broke in Trustee Winch, with a
somewhat agitated assumption of good-feeling. "Surely
these are matters we ought to settle amongst ourselves.
We never yet asked outsiders to meddle with our business here.
It's our motto, Brother Ware. I say, if you've got a motto,
stand by it."
"Well, my motto," said Theron, "is to be behaved decently
to by those with whom I have to deal; and I also propose
to stand by it."
Brother Pierce rose gingerly to his feet, with the
hesitation of an old man not sure about his knees.
When he had straightened himself, he put on his hat,
and eyed the minister sternly from beneath its brim.
"The Lord gives us crosses grievous to our natur',"
he said, "an' we're told to bear 'em cheerfully as long
as they're on our backs; but there ain't nothin' said agin
our unloadin' 'em in the ditch the minute we git the chance.
I guess you won't last here more 'n a twelvemonth."
He pulled his soft and discolored old hat down over his
brows with a significantly hostile nod, and, turning,
stumped toward the hall-door without offering to shake hands.
The other trustees had risen likewise, in tacit recognition
that the meeting was over. Winch clasped the minister's
hand in his own broad, hard palm, and squeezed it in an
exuberant grip. "Don't mind his little ways, Brother Ware,"
he urged in a loud, unctuous whisper, with a grinning
backward nod: "he's a trifle skittish sometimes when you
don't give him free rein; but he's all wool an' a yard
wide when it comes to right-down hard-pan religion.
My love to Sister Ware;" and he followed the senior
trustee into the hall.
Mr. Gorringe had been tying up his books and papers.
He came now with the bulky parcel under his arm, and his hat
and stick in the other hand. He could give little but his
thumb to Theron to shake. His face wore a grave expression,
and not a line relaxed as, catching the minister's look,
he slowly covered his left eye in a deliberate wink.
"Well?--and how did it go off?" asked Alice, from where
she knelt by the oven door, a few minutes later.
For answer, Theron threw himself wearily into the big
old farm rocking-chair on the other side of the stove,
and shook his head with a lengthened sigh.
"If it wasn't for that man Gorringe of yours,"
he said dejectedly, "I think I should feel like going off--
and learning a trade."
On the following Sunday, young Mrs. Ware sat alone in the
preacher's pew through the morning service, and everybody
noted that the roses had been taken from her bonnet.
In the evening she was absent, and after the doxology
and benediction several people, under the pretence of
solicitude for her health, tried to pump her husband as to
the reason. He answered their inquiries civilly enough,
but with brevity: she had stayed at home because she
did not feel like coming out--this and nothing more.
The congregation dispersed under a gossip-laden cloud
of consciousness that there must be something queer
about Sister Ware. There was a tolerably general
agreement, however, that the two sermons of the day
had been excellent. Not even Loren Pierce's railing
commentary on the pastor's introduction of an outlandish
word like "epitome"--clearly forbidden by the Discipline's
injunction to plain language understood of the people--
availed to sap the satisfaction of the majority.
Theron himself comprehended that he had pleased the bulk
of his auditors; the knowledge left him curiously hot
and cold. On the one hand, there was joy in the apparent
prospect that the congregation would back him up in a
stand against the trustees, if worst came to worst.
But, on the other hand, the bonnet episode entered his soul.
It had been a source of bitter humiliation to him to see
his wife sitting there beneath the pulpit, shorn by despotic
order of the adornments natural to her pretty head.
But he had even greater pain in contemplating the effect
it had produced on Alice herself. She had said not
a word on the subject, but her every glance and gesture
seemed to him eloquent of deep feeling about it.
He made sure that she blamed him for having defended
his own gas and sidewalk rights with successful vigor,
but permitted the sacrifice of her poor little inoffensive
roses without a protest. In this view of the matter,
indeed, he blamed himself. Was it too late to make the
error good? He ventured a hint on this Sunday evening,
when he returned to the parsonage and found her reading
an old weekly newspaper by the light of the kitchen lamp,
to the effect that he fancied there would be no great
danger in putting those roses back into her bonnet.
Without lifting her eyes from the paper, she answered
that she had no earthly desire to wear roses in her bonnet,
and went on with her reading.
At breakfast the next morning Theron found himself
in command of an unusual fund of humorous good spirits,
and was at pains to make the most of it, passing whimsical
comments on subjects which the opening day suggested,
recalling quaint and comical memories of the past,
and striving his best to force Alice into a laugh.
Formerly her merry temper had always ignited at the merest
spark of gayety. Now she gave his jokes only a dutiful
half-smile, and uttered scarcely a word in response
to his running fire of talk. When the meal was finished,
she went silently to work to clear away the dishes.
Theron turned over in his mind the project of offering
to help her, as he had done so often in those dear
old days when they laughingly began life together.
Something decided this project in the negative for him,
and after lingering moments he put on his hat and went out
for a walk.
Not even the most doleful and trying hour of his bitter
experience in Tyre had depressed him like this.
Looking back upon these past troubles, he persuaded himself
that he had borne them all with a light and cheerful heart,
simply because Alice had been one with him in every
thought and emotion. How perfect, how ideally complete,
their sympathy had always been! With what absolute
unity of mind and soul they had trod that difficult
path together! And now--henceforth--was it to be different?
The mere suggestion of such a thing chilled his veins.
He said aloud to himself as he walked that life would
be an intolerable curse if Alice were to cease sharing it
with him in every conceivable phase.
He had made his way out of town, and tramped along the
country hill-road for a considerable distance, before a
merciful light began to lessen the shadows in the picture
of gloom with which his mind tortured itself. All at once
he stopped short, lifted his head, and looked about him.
The broad valley lay warm and tranquil in the May sunshine
at his feet. In the thicket up the side-hill above him
a gray squirrel was chattering shrilly, and the birds sang
in a tireless choral confusion. Theron smiled, and drew
a long breath. The gay clamor of the woodland songsters,
the placid radiance of the landscape, were suddenly
taken in and made a part of his new mood. He listened,
smiled once more, and then started in a leisurely way
back toward Octavius.
How could he have been so ridiculous as to fancy that Alice--
his Alice--had been changed into someone else? He marvelled
now at his own perverse folly. She was overworked--
tired out--that was all. The task of moving in, of setting
the new household to rights, had been too much for her.
She must have a rest. They must get in a hired girl.
Once this decision about a servant fixed itself in the young
minister's mind, it drove out the last vestage of discomfort.
He strode along now in great content, revolving idly
a dozen different plans for gilding and beautifying this
new life of leisure into which his sanguine thoughts
projected Alice. One of these particularly pleased him,
and waxed in definiteness as he turned it over and over.
He would get another piano for her, in place of that which had
been sacrificed in Tyre. That beneficient modern invention,
the instalment plan, made this quite feasible--so easy,
in fact, that it almost seemed as if he should find his
wife playing on the new instrument when he got home.
He would stop in at the music store and see about it that
Of course, now that these important resolutions had been taken,
it would be a good thing if he could do something to bring
in some extra money. This was by no means a new notion.
He had mused over the possibility in a formless way ever
since that memorable discovery of indebtedness in Tyre,
and had long ago recognized the hopelessness of endeavor
in every channel save that of literature. Latterly his fancy
had been stimulated by reading an account of the profits
which Canon Farrar had derived from his "Life of Christ."
If such a book could command such a bewildering multitude
of readers, Theron felt there ought to be a chance for him.
So clear did constant rumination render this assumption
that the young pastor in time had come to regard
this prospective book of his as a substantial asset,
which could be realized without trouble whenever he got
around to it.
He had not, it is true, gone to the length of seriously
considering what should be the subject of his book.
That had not seemed to him to matter much, so long as it
was scriptural. Familiarity with the process of extracting
a fixed amount of spiritual and intellectual meat from
any casual text, week after week, had given him an idea
that any one of many subjects would do, when the time came
for him to make a choice. He realized now that the time
for a selection had arrived, and almost simultaneously
found himself with a ready-made decision in his mind.
The book should be about Abraham!
Theron Ware was extremely interested in the mechanism
of his own brain, and followed its workings with a
lively curiosity. Nothing could be more remarkable,
he thought, than to thus discover that, on the instant
of his formulating a desire to know what he should
write upon, lo, and behold! there his mind, quite on
its own initiative, had the answer waiting for him!
When he had gone a little further, and the powerful
range of possibilities in the son's revolt against the
idolatry of his father, the image-maker, in the exodus
from the unholy city of Ur, and in the influence of the
new nomadic life upon the little deistic family group,
had begun to unfold itself before him, he felt that the hand
of Providence was plainly discernible in the matter.
The book was to be blessed from its very inception.
Walking homeward briskly now, with his eyes on the sidewalk
and his mind all aglow with crowding suggestions for the
new work, and impatience to be at it, he came abruptly
upon a group of men and boys who occupied the whole path,
and were moving forward so noiselessly that he had not
heard them coming. He almost ran into the leader of this
little procession, and began a stammering apology,
the final words of which were left unspoken, so solemnly
heedless of him and his talk were all the faces he saw.
In the centre of the group were four working-men,
bearing between them an extemporized litter of two poles
and a blanket hastily secured across them with spikes.
Most of what this litter held was covered by another blanket,
rounded in coarse folds over a shapeless bulk. From beneath
its farther end protruded a big broom-like black beard,
thrown upward at such an angle as to hide everything
beyond to those in front. The tall young minister,
stepping aside and standing tip-toe, could see
sloping downward behind this hedge of beard a pinched
and chalk-like face, with wide-open, staring eyes.
Its lips, of a dull lilac hue, were moving ceaselessly,
and made a dry, clicking sound.
Theron instinctively joined himself to those who followed
the litter--a motley dozen of street idlers, chiefly boys.
One of these in whispers explained to him that the man
was one of Jerry Madden's workmen in the wagon-shops,
who had been deployed to trim an elm-tree in front
of his employer's house, and, being unused to such work,
had fallen from the top and broken all his bones.
They would have cared for him at Madden's house, but he
had insisted upon being taken home. His name was MacEvoy,
and he was Joey MacEvoy's father, and likewise Jim's
and Hughey's and Martin's. After a pause the lad,
a bright-eyed, freckled, barefooted wee Irishman,
volunteered the further information that his big brother
had run to bring "Father Forbess," on the chance that he
might be in time to administer "extry munction."
The way of the silent little procession led through
back streets--where women hanging up clothes in the
yards hurried to the gates, their aprons full of
clothes-pins, to stare open-mouthed at the passers-by--
and came to a halt at last in an irregular and muddy lane,
before one of a half dozen shanties reared among
the ash-heaps and debris of the town's most bedraggled outskirts.
A stout, middle-aged, red-armed woman, already warned by some
messenger of calamity, stood waiting on the roadside bank.
There were whimpering children clinging to her skirts,
and a surrounding cluster of women of the neighborhood,
some of the more elderly of whom, shrivelled little
crones in tidy caps, and with their aprons to their eyes,
were beginning in a low-murmured minor the wail
which presently should rise into the keen of death.
Mrs. MacEvoy herself made no moan, and her broad ruddy
face was stern in expression rather than sorrowful.
When the litter stopped beside her, she laid a hand
for an instant on her husband's wet brow, and looked--
one could have sworn impassively--into his staring eyes.
Then, still without a word, she waved the bearers toward
the door, and led the way herself.
Theron, somewhat wonderingly, found himself, a minute later,
inside a dark and ill-smelling room, the air of which was
humid with the steam from a boiler of clothes on the stove,
and not in other ways improved by the presence of a jostling
score of women, all straining their gaze upon the open
door of the only other apartment--the bed-chamber. Through
this they could see the workmen laying MacEvoy on the bed,
and standing awkwardly about thereafter, getting in the
way of the wife and old Maggie Quirk as they strove
to remove the garments from his crushed limbs. As the
neighbors watched what could be seen of these proceedings,
they whispered among themselves eulogies of the injured
man's industry and good temper, his habit of bringing
his money home to his wife, and the way he kept his Father
Mathew pledge and attended to his religious duties.
They admitted freely that, by the light of his example,
their own husbands and sons left much to be desired,
and from this wandered easily off into domestic
digressions of their own. But all the while their eyes
were bent upon the bedroom door; and Theron made out,
after he had grown accustomed to the gloom and the smell,
that many of them were telling their beads even while they
kept the muttered conversation alive. None of them paid
any attention to him, or seemed to regard his presence
there as unusual.
Presently he saw enter through the sunlit street doorway
a person of a different class. The bright light shone
for a passing instant upon a fashionable, flowered hat,
and upon some remarkably brilliant shade of red hair
beneath it. In another moment there had edged along
through the throng, to almost within touch of him, a tall
young woman, the owner of this hat and wonderful hair.
She was clad in light and pleasing spring attire,
and carried a parasol with a long oxidized silver
handle of a quaint pattern. She looked at him,
and he saw that her face was of a lengthened oval,
with a luminous rose-tinted skin, full red lips,
and big brown, frank eyes with heavy auburn lashes.
She made a grave little inclination of her head toward him,
and he bowed in response. Since her arrival, he noted,
the chattering of the others had entirely ceased.
"I followed the others in, in the hope that I might be
of some assistance," he ventured to explain to her in a
low murmur, feeling that at last here was some one to whom
an explanation of his presence in this Romish house was due.
"I hope they won't feel that I have intruded."
She nodded her head as if she quite understood.
"They'll take the will for the deed," she whispered back.
"Father Forbes will be here in a minute. Do you know is it
Even as she spoke, the outer doorway was darkened by the
commanding bulk of a newcomer's figure. The flash of a silk hat,
and the deferential way in which the assembled neighbors
fell back to clear a passage, made his identity clear.
Theron felt his blood tingle in an unaccustomed way as this
priest of a strange church advanced across the room--
a broad-shouldered, portly man of more than middle height,
with a shapely, strong-lined face of almost waxen pallor,
and a firm, commanding tread. He carried in his hands,
besides his hat, a small leather-bound case. To this
and to him the women courtesied and bowed their heads as
"Come with me," whispered the tall girl with the parasol
to Theron; and he found himself pushing along in her
wake until they intercepted the priest just outside
the bedroom door. She touched Father Forbes on the arm.
"Just to tell you that I am here," she said. The priest
nodded with a grave face, and passed into the other room.
In a minute or two the workmen, Mrs. MacEvoy, and her helper
came out, and the door was shut behind them.
"He is making his confession," explained the young lady.
"Stay here for a minute."
She moved over to where the woman of the house stood,
glum-faced and tearless, and whispered something to her.
A confused movement among the crowd followed, and out
of it presently resulted a small table, covered with a
white cloth, and bearing on it two unlighted candles,
a basin of water, and a spoon, which was brought forward
and placed in readiness before the closed door.
Some of those nearest this cleared space were kneeling now,
and murmuring a low buzz of prayer to the click of beads on
The door opened, and Theron saw the priest standing in the
doorway with an uplifted hand. He wore now a surplice,
with a purple band over his shoulders, and on his pale
face there shone a tranquil and tender light.
One of the workmen fetched from the stove a brand,
lighted the two candles, and bore the table with its
contents into the bedroom. The young woman plucked
Theron's sleeve, and he dumbly followed her into the
chamber of death, making one of the group of a dozen,
headed by Mrs. MacEvoy and her children, which filled the
little room, and overflowed now outward to the street door.
He found himself bowing with the others to receive the
sprinkled holy water from the priest's white fingers;
kneeling with the others for the prayers; following in
impressed silence with the others the strange ceremonial
by which the priest traced crosses of holy oil with his
thumb upon the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, and feet
of the dying man, wiping off the oil with a piece
of cotton-batting each time after he had repeated the
invocation to forgiveness for that particular sense.
But most of all he was moved by the rich, novel sound
of the Latin as the priest rolled it forth in the
ASPERGES ME, DOMINE, and MISEREATUR VESTRI OMNIPOTENS DEUS,
with its soft Continental vowels and liquid R's. It seemed
to him that he had never really heard Latin before.
Then the astonishing young woman with the red hair
declaimed the CONFITEOR, vigorously and with a resonant
distinctness of enunciation. It was a different Latin,
harsher and more sonorous; and while it still dominated
the murmured undertone of the other's prayers, the last moment came.
Theron had stood face to face with death at many other bedsides;
no other final scene had stirred him like this.
It must have been the girl's Latin chant, with its clanging
reiteration of the great names--BEATUM MICHAELEM ARCHANGELUM,
BEATUM JOANNEM BAPTISTAM, SANCTOS APOSTOLOS PETRUM
ET PAULUM--invoked with such proud confidence in this
squalid little shanty, which so strangely affected him.
He came out with the others at last--the candles and the
folded hands over the crucifix left behind--and walked
as one in a dream. Even by the time that he had gained
the outer doorway, and stood blinking at the bright
light and filling his lungs with honest air once more,
it had begun to seem incredible to him that he had seen
and done all this.
While Mr. Ware stood thus on the doorstep, through a minute
of formless musing, the priest and the girl came out, and,
somewhat to his confusion, made him one of their party.
He felt himself flushing under the idea that they would think
he had waited for them--was thrusting himself upon them.
The notion prompted him to bow frigidly in response
to Father Forbes' pleasant "I am glad to meet you, sir,"
and his outstretched hand.
"I dropped in by the--the merest accident," Theron said.
"I met them bringing the poor man home, and--and quite
without thinking, I obeyed the impulse to follow them in,
and didn't realize--"
He stopped short, annoyed by the reflection that this
was his second apology. The girl smiled placidly at him,
the while she put up her parasol.
"It did me good to see you there," she said, quite as if
she had known him all her life. "And so it did the rest
Father Forbes permitted himself a soft little chuckle,
approving rather than mirthful, and patted her on the
shoulder with the air of being fifty years her senior
instead of fifteen. To the minister's relief, he changed
the subject as the three started together toward the road.
"Then, again, no doctor was sent for!" he exclaimed,
as if resuming a familiar subject with the girl. Then he
turned to Theron. "I dare-say you have no such trouble;
but with our poorer people it is very vexing.
They will not call in a physician, but hurry off first
for the clergyman. I don't know that it is altogether
to avoid doctor's bills, but it amounts to that in effect.
Of course in this case it made no difference; but I have
had to make it a rule not to go out at night unless they
bring me a physician's card with his assurance that it
is a genuine affair. Why, only last winter, I was routed
up after midnight, and brought off in the mud and pelting
rain up one of the new streets on the hillside there,
simply because a factory girl who was laced too tight
had fainted at a dance. I slipped and fell into a puddle
in the darkness, ruined a new overcoat, and got drenched
to the skin; and when I arrived the girl had recovered
and was dancing away again, thirteen to the dozen.
It was then that I made the rule. I hope, Mr. Ware,
that Octavius is producing a pleasant impression upon you
"I scarcely know yet," answered Theron. The genial talk
of the priest, with its whimsical anecdote, had in truth
passed over his head. His mind still had room for nothing
but that novel death-bed scene, with the winged captain
of the angelic host, the Baptist, the glorified Fisherman.
and the Preacher, all being summoned down in the pomp
of liturgical Latin to help MacEvoy to die. "If you don't
mind my saying so," he added hesitatingly, "what I have
just seen in there DID make a very powerful impression
"It is a very ancient ceremony," said the priest;
"probably Persian, like the baptismal form, although,
for that matter, we can never dig deep enough for the
roots of these things. They all turn up Turanian if we
probe far enough. Our ways separate here, I'm afraid.
I am delighted to have made your acquaintance, Mr. Ware.
Pray look in upon me, if you can as well as not. We are
near neighbors, you know."
Father Forbes had shaken hands, and moved off up another
street some distance, before the voice of the girl
recalled Theron to himself.
"Of course you knew HIM by name," she was saying, "and he
knew you by sight, and had talked of you; but MY poor
inferior sex has to be introduced. I am Celia Madden.
My father has the wagon-shops, and I--I play the organ at
"I--I am delighted to make your acquaintance," said Theron,
conscious as he spoke that he had slavishly echoed the
formula of the priest. He could think of nothing better
to add than, "Unfortunately, we have no organ in our church."
The girl laughed, as they resumed their walk down the street.
"I'm afraid I couldn't undertake two," she said,
and laughed again. Then she spoke more seriously.
"That ceremony must have interested you a good deal,
never having seen it before. I saw that it was all new
to you, and so I made bold to take you under my wing,
so to speak."
You were very kind," said the young minister. "It was
really a great experience for me. May--may I ask,
is it a part of your functions, in the church, I mean,
to attend these last rites?"
"Mercy, no!" replied the girl, spinning the parasol on her
shoulder and smiling at the thought. "No; it was only
because MacEvoy was one of our workmen, and really came
by his death through father sending him up to trim a tree.
Ann MacEvoy will never forgive us that, the longest day
she lives. Did you notice her? She wouldn't speak to me.
After you came out, I tried to tell her that we would
look out for her and the children; but all she would say
to me was: 'An' fwat would a wheelwright, an' him the
father of a family, be doin' up a tree?'"
They had come now upon the main street of the village,
with its flagstone sidewalk overhung by a lofty canopy of
elm-boughs. Here, for the space of a block, was concentrated
such fashionable elegance of mansions and ornamental lawns
as Octavius had to offer; and it was presented with the
irregularity so characteristic of our restless civilization.
Two or three of the houses survived untouched from the
earlier days--prim, decorous structures, each with its
gabled centre and lower wings, each with its row of fluted
columns supporting the classical roof of a piazza across
its whole front, each vying with the others in the whiteness
of those wooden walls enveloping its bright green blinds.
One had to look over picket fences to see these houses,
and in doing so caught the notion that they thus railed
themselves off in pride at being able to remember before
the railroad came to the village, or the wagon-works were thought of.
Before the neighboring properties the fences had been
swept away, so that one might stroll from the sidewalk
straight across the well-trimmed sward to any one of a dozen
elaborately modern doorways. Some of the residences,
thus frankly proffering friendship to the passer-by,
were of wood painted in drabs and dusky reds,
with bulging windows which marked the native yearning
for the mediaeval, and shingles that strove to be
accounted tiles. Others--a prouder, less pretentious sort--
were of brick or stone, with terra-cotta mouldings
set into the walls, and with real slates covering
the riot of turrets and peaks and dormer peepholes overhead.
Celia Madden stopped in front of the largest and most
important-looking of these new edifices, and said,
holding out her hand: "Here I am, once more.
Good-morning, Mr. Ware."
Theron hoped that his manner did not betray the flash
of surprise he felt in discovering that his new
acquaintance lived in the biggest house in Octavius.
He remembered now that some one had pointed it out
as the abode of the owner of the wagon factories;
but it had not occurred to him before to associate this
girl with that village magnate. It was stupid of him,
of course, because she had herself mentioned her father.
He looked at her again with an awkward smile,
as he formally shook the gloved hand she gave him,
and lifted his soft hat. The strong noon sunlight,
forcing its way down between the elms, and beating upon
her parasol of lace-edged, creamy silk, made a halo
about her hair and face at once brilliant and tender.
He had not seen before how beautiful she was. She nodded
in recognition of his salute, and moved up the lawn walk,
spinning the sunshade on her shoulder.
Though the parsonage was only three blocks away,
the young minister had time to think about a good many
things before he reached home.
First of all, he had to revise in part the arrangement
of his notions about the Irish. Save for an occasional
isolated and taciturn figure among the nomadic portion
of the hired help in the farm country, Theron had scarcely
ever spoken to a person of this curiously alien race before.
He remembered now that there had been some dozen or more
Irish families in Tyre, quartered in the outskirts among
the brickyards, but he had never come in contact with any
of them, or given to their existence even a passing thought.
So far as personal acquaintance went, the Irish had been
to him only a name.
But what a sinister and repellent name! His views on
this general subject were merely those common to his
communion and his environment. He took it for granted,
for example, that in the large cities most of the poverty
and all the drunkenness, crime, and political corruption
were due to the perverse qualities of this foreign people--
qualities accentuated and emphasized in every evil direction
by the baleful influence of a false and idolatrous religion.
It is hardly too much to say that he had never encountered
a dissenting opinion on this point. His boyhood had been
spent in those bitter days when social, political, and blood
prejudices were fused at white heat in the public
crucible together. When he went to the Church Seminary,
it was a matter of course that every member of the faculty
was a Republican, and that every one of his classmates
had come from a Republican household. When, later on,
he entered the ministry, the rule was still incredulous
of exceptions. One might as well have looked in the
Nedahma Conference for a divergence of opinion on the
Trinity as for a difference in political conviction.
Indeed, even among the laity, Theron could not feel sure
that he had ever known a Democrat; that is, at all closely.
He understood very little about politics, it is true.
If he had been driven into a corner, and forced to attempt
an explanation of this tremendous partisan unity in which he
had a share, he would probably have first mentioned the War--
the last shots of which were fired while he was still
in petticoats. Certainly his second reason, however,
would have been that the Irish were on the other side.
He had never before had occasion to formulate, even in his
own thoughts, this tacit race and religious aversion in which
he had been bred. It rose now suddenly in front of him,
as he sauntered from patch to patch of sunlight under
the elms, like some huge, shadowy, and symbolic monument.
He looked at it with wondering curiosity, as at something
he had heard of all his life, but never seen before--
an abhorrent spectacle, truly! The foundations upon
which its dark bulk reared itself were ignorance, squalor,
brutality and vice. Pigs wallowed in the mire before its base,
and burrowing into this base were a myriad of narrow doors,
each bearing the hateful sign of a saloon, and giving
forth from its recesses of night the sounds of screams
and curses. Above were sculptured rows of lowering,
ape-like faces from Nast's and Keppler's cartoons,
and out of these sprang into the vague upper gloom--on the
one side, lamp-posts from which negroes hung by the neck,
and on the other gibbets for dynamiters and Molly Maguires,
and between the two glowed a spectral picture of some
black-robed tonsured men, with leering satanic masks,
making a bonfire of the Bible in the public schools.