Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Eric Eldred, ckirschner
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.
_All's Well That Ends Well_, iv. 3.
"Abandoning my heart, and rapt in ecstasy, I ran after her till I came
to a place in which religion and reason forsook me."
_Persian Religious Hymn.
I. AFTER SUCH A PAGAN CUT
II. THERE BEGINS CONFUSION
III. AS FALSE AS STAIRS OF SAND
IV. SOME SPEECH OF MARRIAGE
V. VOLUBLE AND SHARP DISCOURSE
VI. HEART-BURNING HEAT OF DUTY
VII. THE SHOT OF ACCIDENT
VIII. LIKE COVERED FIRE
IX. HIS PURE HEART'S TRUTH
X. A SYMPATHY OF WOE
XI. IN PLACE AND IN ACCOUNT NOTHING
XII. THE INLY TOUCH OF LOVE
XIII. A NECESSARY EVIL
XIV. HE SPEAKS THE MERE CONTRARY
XV. HEARTSICK WITH THOUGHT
XVI. THE GREAT ASSAY OF ART
XVII. A BOND OF AIR
XVIII. CRUEL PROOF OF THIS MAN'S STRENGTH
XIX. 'TWAS WONDROUS PITIFUL
XX. IN WAY OF TASTE
XXI. THIS "WOULD" CHANGES
XXII. THE BITTER PAST
XXIII. THIS DEED UNSHAPES ME
XXIV. FAREWELL AT ONCE, FOR ONCE, FOR ALL, AND EVER
XXV. WHOM THE FATES HAVE MARKED
XXVI. O WICKED WIT AND GIFT
XXVII. UPON A CHURCH BENCH
XXVIII. BEDECKING ORNAMENTS OF PRAISE
XXIX. WEIGHING DELIGHT AND DOLE
XXX. PARTED OUR FELLOWSHIP
XXXI. HOW CHANCES MOCK
XXXII. NOW HE IS FOR THE NUMBERS
XXXIII. A MINT OF PHRASES IN HIS BRAIN
XXXIV. WHAT TIME SHE CHANTED
XXXV. THE WORLD IS STILL DECEIVED
XXXVI. THE HEAVY MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
XXXVII. THIS IS NOT A BOON
AFTER SUCH A PAGAN CUT
Henry VIII., i. 3.
"We are all the children of the Puritans," Mrs. Herman said smiling.
"Of course there is an ethical strain in all of us."
Her cousin, Philip Ashe, who wore the dress of a novice from the Clergy
House of St. Mark, regarded her with a serious and doubtful glance.
"But there is so much difference between you and me," he began. Then he
hesitated as if not knowing exactly how to finish his sentence.
"The difference," she responded, "is chiefly a matter of the difference
between action and reaction. You and I come of much the same stock
ethically. My childhood was oppressed by the weight of the Puritan
creed, and the reaction from it has made me what you feel obliged to
call heretic; while you, with a saint for a mother, found even
Puritanism hardly strict enough for you, and have taken to semi-
monasticism. We are both pushed on by the same original impulse: the
stress of Puritanism."
She had been putting on her gloves as she spoke, and now rose and stood
ready to go out. Philip looked at her with a troubled glance, rising
"I hardly know," said he slowly, "if it's right for me to go with you.
It would have been more in keeping if I adhered to the rules of the
Clergy House while I am away from it."
Mrs. Herman smiled with what seemed to him something of the tolerance
one has for the whim of a child.
"And what would you be doing at the Clergy House at this time of day?"
she asked. "Wouldn't it be recreation hour or something of the sort?"
He looked down. He never found himself able to be entirely at ease in
answering her questions about the routine of the Clergy House.
"No," he answered. "The half hour of recreation which follows Nones
would just be ended."
His cousin laughed confusingly.
"Well, then," she rejoined, "begin it over again. Tell your confessor
that the woman tempted you, and you did sin. You are not in the Clergy
House just now; and as I have taken the trouble to ask leave to carry
you to Mrs. Gore's this afternoon, more because you wanted to see this
Persian than because I cared about it, it is rather late for
Philip raised his eyes to her face only to meet a glance so quizzical
that he hastened to avoid it by going to the hall to don his cloak; and
a few moments later they were walking up Beacon Hill.
It was one of those gloriously brilliant winter days by which Boston
weather atones in an hour for a week of sullenness. Snow lay in a thin
sheet over the Common, and here and there a bit of ice among the tree-
branches caught the light like a glittering jewel. The streets were
dotted with briskly gliding sleighs, the jingle of whose bells rang out
joyously. The air was full of a vigor which made the blood stir briskly
in the veins.
Philip had not for years found himself in the street with a woman.
Seldom, indeed, was he abroad with a companion, except as he took the
walk prescribed in the monastic regime with his friend, Maurice Wynne.
For the most part he went his way alone, occupied in pious
contemplation, shutting himself stubbornly in from outward sights and
sounds. Now he was confused and unsettled. Since a fire had a week
earlier scattered the dwellers in the Clergy House, and sent him to the
home of his cousin, he had gone about like one bewildered. The world
into which he was now cast was as unknown to him as if he had passed
the two years spent at St. Mark's in some far island of the sea. To be
in the street with a lady; to be on his way to hear he knew not what
from the lips of a Persian mystic; to have in his mind memory of light
talk and pleasant story; all these things made him feel as if he were
drifting into a strange unknown sea of worldliness.
Yet his feeling was not entirely one of fear or of reluctance.
Sensitive to the tips of his fingers, he felt the influences of the
day, the sweetness of his cousin's laughter, the beauty of her face. He
was exhilarated by a strange intoxication. He was conscious that more
than one passer looked curiously at them as, he in his cassock and she
in her furs, they walked up Beacon Street. He felt as in boyhood he had
felt when about to embark in some adventure to childhood strange and
"It is a beautiful day," he said involuntarily.
"Yes," Mrs. Herman answered. "It is almost a pity to spend it indoors.
But here we are."
They had come into Mt. Vernon Street, and now turned in at a fine old
house of gray stone.
"Is there any discussion at these meetings?" he asked, as they waited
for the door to be opened.
"Oh, yes; often there is a good deal. You'll have ample opportunity to
protest against the heresies of the heathen."
"I do not come here to speak," he replied, rather stiffly. "I only come
to get some idea of how the oriental mind works."
He felt her smile to be that of one amused at him, but he could not see
why she should be.
"I must give you one caution," she went on, as they entered the house.
"It's the same that the magicians give to those who are present at
their incantations. Be careful not to pronounce sacred words."
"But don't they use them?"
"Oh, abundantly; but they know how to use them in a fashion understood
only by the initiated, so that they are harmless."
They passed up the wide staircase of Mrs. Gore's handsome, if over-
furnished house. They were shown into the drawing-room, where they were
met by the hostess, a tall, superb woman of commanding presence, her
head crowned with masses of snow-white hair. Coming in from the
brilliant winter sunlight, Philip could not at first distinguish
anything clearly. He went mechanically through his presentation to the
hostess and to the Persian who was to address the meeting, and then
sank into a seat. He looked curiously at the Persian, struck by the
picturesque appearance of the long snow-white beard, fine as silk,
which flowed down over the rich robe of the seer. The face was to
Philip an enigma. To understand a foreign face it is necessary to have
learned the physiognomy of the people to which it belongs, as to
comprehend their speech it is necessary to have mastered their
language. As he knew not whether the countenance of the old man
attracted or repelled him more, and could only decide that at least it
had a strange fascination.
Suddenly Ashe felt his glance called up by a familiar presence, and to
his surprise saw his friend, Maurice Wynne, come into the room,
accompanied by a stately, bright-eyed woman who was warmly greeted by
Mrs. Gore. He wondered at the chance which had brought Maurice here as
well as himself; but the calling of the meeting to order attracted his
thoughts back to the business of the moment.
The Persian was the latest ethical caprice of Boston. He had come by
the invitation of Mrs. Gore to bring across the ocean the knowledge of
the mystic truths contained in the sacred writings of his country; and
his ministrations were being received with that beautiful seriousness
which is so characteristic of the town. In Boston there are many
persons whose chief object in life seems to be the discovery of novel
forms of spiritual dissipation. The cycle of mystic hymns which the
Persian was expounding to the select circle of devotees assembled at
Mrs. Gore's was full of the most sensual images, under which the
inspired Persian psalmists had concealed the highest truth. Indeed,
Ashe had been told that on one occasion the hostess had been obliged to
stop the reading on the ground that an occidental audience not
accustomed to anything more outspoken than the Song of Solomon, and
unused to the amazing grossness of oriental symbolism, could not listen
to the hymn which he was pouring forth. Fortunately Philip had chanced
upon a day when the text was harmless, and he could hear without
blushing, whether he were spiritually edified or not.
The Persian had a voice of exquisite softness and flexibility. His
every word was like a caress. There are voices which so move and stir
the hearer that they arouse an emotion which for the moment may
override reason; voices which appeal to the senses like beguiling
music, and which conquer by a persuasive sweetness as irresistible as
it is intangible. The tones of the Persian swayed Ashe so deeply that
the young man felt as if swimming on a billow of melody. Philip
regarded as if fascinated the slender, dusky fingers of the reader as
they handled the splendidly illuminated parchment on which glowed
strange characters of gold, marvelously intertwined with leaf and
flower, and cunning devices in gleaming hues. He looked into the deep,
liquid eyes of the old man, and saw the light in them kindle as the
reading proceeded. He felt the dignity of the presence of the seer, and
the richness of his flowing garment; but all these things were only the
fitting accompaniments to that beautiful voice, flowing on like a topaz
brook in a meadow of daffodils.
The Persian spoke admirable English, only now and then by a slight
accent betraying his nationality. He made a short address upon the
antiquity of the hymn which he was that day to expound, its authorship,
and its evident inspiration. Then in his wonderful voice he read:--
THE HYMN OF ISMAT.
Yesterday, half inebriated, I passed by the quarters where the vintners
dwell, to seek the daughter of an infidel who sells wine.
At the end of the street, there advanced before me a damsel, with a
fairy's cheeks, who in the manner of a pagan wore her tresses
dishevelled over her shoulders like a sacerdotal thread. I said: "O
thou, to the arch of whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave, what
quarter is this, and where is thy mansion?"
She answered: "Cast thy rosary to the ground; bind on thy shoulder the
thread of paganism; throw stones at the glass of piety; and quaff from
a full goblet."
"After that come before me that I may whisper a word in thine ear;--
thou wilt accomplish thy journey if thou listen to my discourse."
Abandoning my heart, and rapt in ecstasy, I ran after her until I came
to a place in which religion and reason forsook me.
At a distance I beheld a company all insane and inebriated, who came
boiling and roaring with ardor from the wine of love.
Without cymbals or lutes or viols, yet all filled with mirth and
melody; without wine or goblet or flagon, yet all incessantly drinking.
When the cord of restraint slipped from my hand, I desired to ask her
one question, but she said: "Silence!"
"This is no square temple to the gate of which thou canst arrive
precipitately; this is no mosque to which thou canst come with tumult,
but without knowledge. This is the banquet-house of infidels, and
within it all are intoxicated; all from the dawn of eternity to the day
of resurrection lost in astonishment."
"Depart thou from the cloister and take thy way to the tavern; cast off
the cloak of a dervish, and wear the robe of a libertine."
I obeyed; and if thou desirest the same strain and color as Ismat,
imitate him, and sell this world and the next for one drop of pure
The company sat in absorbed silence while the reading went on. Nothing
could be more perfect than the listening of a well-bred Boston
audience, whether it is interested or not. The exquisitely modulated
voice of the Persian flowed on like the tones of a magic flute, and the
women sat as if fascinated by its spell.
When the reading was finished, and the Persian began to comment upon
the spiritual doctrine embodied in it, Ashe sat so completely absorbed
in reverie that he gave no heed to what was being said. In his ascetic
life at the Clergy House he had been so far removed from the sensuous,
save for that to which the services of the church appealed, that this
enervating and luxurious atmosphere, this gathering to which its quasi-
religious character seemed to lend an excuse, bred in him a species of
intoxication. He sat like a lotus-eater, hearing not so much the words
of the speaker as his musical voice, and half-drowned in the pleasure
of the perfumed air, the rich colors of the room, the Persian's dress,
the illuminated scroll, in the subtile delight of the presence of
women, and all those seductive charms of the sense from which the
church defended him.
The Persian, Mirza Gholan Rezah, repeated in his flute-like voice: "'O
thou, to the arch of whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave;'" and,
hearing the words as in a dream, Philip Ashe looked across the little
circle to see a woman whose beauty smote him so strongly that he drew a
quick breath. To his excited mood it seemed as if the phrase were
intended to describe that beautifully curved brow, brown against the
fair skin, and in his heart he said over the words with a thrill: "'O
thou, to the arch of whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave!'" Half
unconsciously, and as if he were taken possession of by a will stronger
than his own, he found himself noting the soft curve and flush of a
woman's cheek, the shell-texture of her ear, and the snowy whiteness of
her throat. She sat in the full light of the window behind him, leaning
as she listened against a pedestal of ebony which upheld the bronze
bust of a satyr peering down at her with wrinkled eyes; her throat was
displayed by the backward bend of her head, and showed the whiter by
contrast with the black gown she wore. Philip's breath came more
quickly, and his head seemed to swim. Sensitive to beauty, and starved
by asceticism, he was in a moment completely overcome.
Suddenly he felt the regard of his friend Maurice resting upon him with
a questioning glance, and it was as if the thought of his heart were
laid bare. Philip made a strong effort, and fixed his look and his
attention upon the speaker, who was deep in oriental mysticism.
"It is written in the Desatir," Mirza Gholan Rezah was saying, "that
purity is of two kinds, the real and the formal. 'The real consists in
not binding the heart to evil: the formal in cleansing away what
appears evil to the view.' The ultimate spirit, that inner flame from
the treasure-house of flames, is not affected by the outward, by the
apparent. What though the outer man fall into sin? What though he throw
stones at the glass of piety and quaff the wine of sensuality from a
full goblet? The flame within the tabernacle is still pure and
undefined because it is undefilable."
Ashe looked around the circle in astonishment, wondering if it were
possible that in a Christian civilization these doctrines could be
proclaimed without rebuke. His neighbors sat in attitudes of close
attention; they were evidently listening, but their faces showed no
indignation. On the lips of Wynne Philip fancied he detected a faint
curl of derisive amusement, but nowhere else could he perceive any
display of emotion, unless--He had avoided looking at the lady in
black, feeling that to do so were to play with temptation; but the
attraction was too strong for him, and he glanced at her with a look of
which the swiftness showed how strongly she affected him. It seemed to
him that there was a faint flush of indignation upon her face; and he
cast down his eyes, smitten by the conviction that there was an
intimate sympathy between his feeling and hers.
"This is the word of enlightenment which the damsel, the
personification of wisdom, whispered into the ear of the seeker,"
continued the persuasive voice of the Persian. "It is the heart-truth
of all religion. It is the word which initiates man into the divine
mysteries. 'Thou wilt accomplish thy journey if thou listen to my
discourse.' Life is affected by many accidents; but none of them
reaches the godhead within. The divine inebriation of spiritual truth
comes with the realization of this fact. The flame within man, which is
above his consciousness, is not to be touched by the acts of the body.
These things which men call sin are not of the slightest feather-weight
to the soul in the innermost tabernacle. It is of no real consequence,"
the speaker went on, warming with his theme until his velvety eyes
shone, "what the outer man may do. We waste our efforts in this
childish care about apparent righteousness. The real purity is above
our acts. Let the man do what he pleases; the soul is not thereby
touched or altered."
Ashe sat upright in his chair, hardly conscious where he was. It seemed
to him monstrous to remain acquiescent and to hear without protest this
juggling with the souls of men. The instinct to save his fellows which
underlies all genuine impulse toward the priesthood was too strong in
him not to respond to the challenge which every word of the Persian
offered. Almost without knowing it, he found himself interrupting the
"If that is the teaching of the Persian scriptures," he said, "it is
impious and wicked. Even were it true that there were a flame from the
Supreme dwelling within us, unmanifested and undeniable, it is
evidently not with this that we have to do in our earthly life. It is
with the soul of which we are conscious, the being which we do know.
This may be lost by defilement. To this the sin of the body is death.
I, I myself, I, the being that is aware of itself, am no less the one
that is morally responsible for what is done in the world by me."
Led away by his strong feeling, Philip began vehemently; but the
consciousness of the attention of all the company, and of the searching
look of Mirza, made the ardent young man falter. He was a stranger,
unaccustomed to the ways of these folk who had come together to play
with the highest truths as they might play with tennis-balls. He felt a
sudden chill, as if upon his hot enthusiasm had blown an icy blast.
Yet when he cast a glance around as if in appeal, he saw nothing of
disapproval or of scorn. He had evidently offended nobody by his
outburst. He ventured to look at the unknown in black, and she rewarded
him with a glance so full of sympathy that for an instant he lost the
thread of what the Persian, in tones as soft and unruffled as ever, was
saying in reply to his words. He gathered himself up to hear and to
answer, and there followed a discussion in which a number of those
present joined; a discussion full of cleverness and the adroit handling
of words, yet which left Philip in the confusion of being made to
realize that what to him were vital truths were to those about him
merely so many hypotheses upon which to found argument. There were more
women than men present, and Ashe was amazed at their cleverness and
their shallow reasoning; at the ease and naturalness with which they
played this game of intellectual gymnastics, and at the apparent
failure to pierce to anything like depth. It was evident that while
everything was uttered with an air of the most profound seriousness, it
would not do to be really in earnest. He began to understand what Helen
had meant when she warned him not to pronounce sacred words in this
When the meeting broke up, the ladies rose to exchange greetings, to
chat together of engagements in society and such trifles of life. Ashe,
still full of the excitement of what he had done, followed his cousin
out of the drawing-room in silence. As they were descending the wide
staircase, some one behind said:--
"Are you going away without speaking to me, Helen?"
Ashe and Mrs. Herman both turned, and found themselves face to face
with the lady in black, who stood on the broad landing.
"My dear Edith," Mrs. Herman answered, "I am so little used to this
sort of thing that I didn't know whether it was proper to stop to speak
with one's friends. I thought that we might be expected to go out as if
we'd been in church. I came only to bring my cousin. May I present Mr.
Ashe; Mrs. Fenton."
"I was so glad that you said what you did this afternoon, Mr. Ashe,"
Mrs. Fenton said, extending her hand. "I felt just as you did, and I
was rejoiced that somebody had the courage to protest against that
Philip was too shy and too enraptured to be able to reply intelligibly,
but as they were borne forward by the tide of departing guests he was
spared the need of answer. At the foot of the stairway he was stopped
again by Maurice Wynne, and presented to Mrs. Staggchase, his friend's
cousin and hostess for the time being; but his whole mind was taken up
by the image of Mrs. Fenton, and in his ears like a refrain rang the
words of the Persian hymn: "O thou, to the arch of whose eyebrow the
new moon is a slave!"
THERE BEGINS CONFUSION
Henry VI., iv. 1.
That afternoon at Mrs. Gore's had been no less significant to Maurice
Wynne than to Philip Ashe. His was a less spiritual, less highly
wrought nature, but in the effect which the change from the atmosphere
of the Clergy House to the Persian's lecture had upon him, the
experience of Maurice was much the same. He too was attracted by a
woman. He gave his thoughts up to the woman much more frankly than
would have been possible for his friend. She was young, perhaps twenty,
and exquisite with clear skin and soft, warm coloring. Her wide-open
eyes were as dark and velvety as the broad petals of a pansy with the
dew still on them; her cheeks were tinged with a hue like that which
spreads in a glass of pure water into which has fallen a drop of red
wine; her forehead was low and white, and from it her hair sprang up in
two little arches before it fell waving away over her temples; her lips
were pouting and provokingly suggestive of kisses. The whole face was
of the type which comes so near to the ideal that the least
sentimentality of expression would have spoiled it. Happily the big
eyes and the ripe, red mouth were both suggestive of demure humor.
There was a mirthful air about the dimple which came and went in the
left cheek like Cupid peeping mischievously from the folds of his
mother's robe. A boa of long-haired black fur lay carelessly about her
neck, pushed back so that a touch of red and gold brocade showed where
she had loosened her coat. Maurice noted that she seemed to care as
little for the lecture as he did, and he gave himself up to the delight
of watching her.
When the company broke up Mrs. Staggchase spoke almost immediately to
the beautiful creature who so charmed him.
"How do you do, Miss Morison," Mrs. Staggchase said; "I must say that I
am surprised that cousin Anna brought you to a place where the doctrine
is so far removed from mind-cure. My dear Anna," she continued, turning
to a lady whom Wynne knew by name as Mrs. Frostwinch and as an
attendant at the Church of the Nativity, "you are a living miracle. You
know you are dead, and you have no business consorting with the living
in this way."
"It is those whom you call dead that are really living," Mrs.
Frostwinch retorted smiling. "I brought Berenice so that she might see
the vanity of it all."
Mrs. Staggchase presented Maurice to the ladies, and after they had
spoken on the stairs with one and another acquaintance, and Maurice had
exchanged a word with his friend Ashe, it chanced that the four left
the house together. Wynne found himself behind with Miss Morison, while
his cousin and Mrs. Frostwinch walked on in advance. He was seized with
a delightful sense of elation at his position, yet so little was he
accustomed to society that he knew not what to say to her. He was
keenly aware that she was glancing askance at his garb, and after a
moment of silence he broke out abruptly in the most naively unconscious
"I am a novice at the Clergy House of St. Mark."
A beautiful color flushed up in Miss Morison's dark cheek; and Wynne
realized how unconventional he had been in replying to a question which
had not been spoken.
"Is it a Catholic order?" she asked, with an evident effort not to look
"It is not Roman," he responded. "We believe that it is catholic."
"Oh," said she vaguely; and the conversation lapsed.
They walked a moment in silence, and then Maurice made another effort.
"Has Mrs. Frostwinch been ill?" he asked. "Mrs. Staggchase spoke of her
as a miracle."
"Ill!" echoed Miss Morison; "she has been wholly given up by the
physicians. She has some horrible internal trouble; and a consultation
of the best doctors in town decided that she could not live a week.
That was two months ago."
"But I don't understand," he said in surprise. "What happened?"
"A miracle," the other replied smiling. "You believe in miracles, of
"But what sort of a miracle?"
"Faith-cure!" repeated he in astonishment. "Do you mean that Mrs.
Frostwinch has been raised from a death-bed by that sort of jugglery?"
His companion shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't think it would raise you in her estimation if she heard you.
The facts are as I tell you. She dismissed her doctors when they said
they could do nothing for her, and took into her house a mind-cure
woman, a Mrs. Crapps. Some power has put her on her feet. Wouldn't you
do the same thing in her place?"
Wynne looked bewildered at Mrs. Frostwinch walking before him in a
shimmer of Boston respectability. He had an uneasy feeling that he was
passing from one pitfall to another. He was keenly conscious of the
richness of the voice of the girl by his side, so that he felt that it
was not easy for him to disagree with anything which she said. He let
her remark pass without reply.
"For my part," she went on frankly, "I don't in the least believe in
the thing as a matter of theory; but practically I have a superstition
about it, because I've seen Cousin Anna. She was helpless, in agony,
dying; and now she is as well as I am. If I were ill"--
She broke off with a pretty little gesture as they came within hearing
of the others, who had halted at Mrs. Frostwinch's gate. Wynne said
good-by absently, and went on his way down the hill like a man in a
"Well," Mrs. Staggchase said, "you have seen one of Boston's ethical
debauches; what do you think of it?"
"It was confusing," he returned. "I couldn't make out what it was for."
"For? To amuse us. We are the children of the Puritans, you know, and
have inherited a twist toward the ethical and the supernatural so
strong that we have to have these things served up even in our
"Then I think that it is wicked," Maurice said.
"Oh, no; we must not be narrow. It isn't wrong to amuse one's self;
and if we play with the religion of the Persians, why is it worse than
to play with the mythologies of the Greeks or Romans? You wouldn't
think it any harm to jest about classical theology."
Wynne turned toward her with a smile on his strong, handsome face.
"Why do you try to tangle me up in words?" he asked.
Mrs. Staggchase did not turn toward him, but looked before with face
entirely unchanged as she replied:--
"I am not trying to entangle you in words, but if I were it would be
all part of the play. You are undergoing your period of temptation. I
am the tempter in default of a better. In the old fashion of
temptations it wouldn't do to have the tempter old and plain. Then you
were expected to fall in love; now we deal in snares more subtle."
Maurice laughed, but somewhat unmirthfully. There was to him something
bewildering and worldly about his cousin; and he had come to feel that
he could never be at all sure where in the end the most harmless
beginning of talk might lead him.
"What then is the modern way of temptation?" he inquired.
"It shows how much faith we have in its power," she replied, as they
waited on the corner of Charles Street for a carriage to pass, "that I
don't in the least mind giving you full warning. Did you know the lady
in that carriage, by the way?"
"It was Mrs. Wilson, wasn't it?"
"Yes; Mrs. Chauncy Wilson. You have seen her at the Church of the
Nativity, I suppose. She is one phase of the temptation."
"I don't in the least understand."
"I didn't in the least suppose that you would. You will in time. My
part of the temptation is to show you all sorts of ethical jugglery,
the spiritual and intellectual gymnastics such as the Bostonians love;
to persuade you that all religion is only a sort of pastime, and that
the particular high-church sort which you especially affect is but one
of a great many entertaining ways of killing time."
"Cousin Diana!" he exclaimed, genuinely shocked.
"I hope that you understand," she continued unmoved. "I shall exhibit a
very pretty collection of fads to you if we see them all."
"But suppose," he said slowly, "that I refused to go with you?"
"But you won't," returned she, with that curious smile which always
teased him with its suggestion of irony. "In the first place you
couldn't be so impolite as to refuse me. A woman may always lead a man
into questionable paths if she puts it to his sense of chivalry not to
desert her. In the second, the spirit of the age is a good deal
stronger in you than you realize, and the truth is that you wouldn't be
left behind for anything. In the third, you could hardly be so cowardly
as to run away from the temptation that is to prove whether you were
really born to be a priest."
"That was decided when I entered the Clergy House."
"Nonsense; nothing of the sort, my dear boy. The only thing that was
decided then was that you thought you were. Wait and see our ethical
and religious raree-shows. We had the Persian to-day; to-morrow I'm to
take you to a spiritualist sitting at Mrs. Rangely's. She hates to
have me come, so I mustn't miss that. Then there are the mind-cure,
Theosophy, and a dozen other things; not to mention the semi-
irreligions, like Nationalism. You will be as the gods, knowing good
and evil, by the time we are half way round the circle,--though it is
perhaps somewhat doubtful if you know them apart."
She spoke in her light, railing way, as if the matter were one of the
smallest possible consequence, and yet Wynne grew every moment more and
more uncomfortable. He had never seen his cousin in just this mood, and
could not tell whether she were mocking him or warning him. He seized
upon the first pretext which presented itself to his mind, and
endeavored to change the subject.
"Who is Mrs. Rangely?" he asked. "A medium?"
"Oh, bless you, no. She is not so bad as a medium; she is only a New
Yorker. Do you think we'd go to real mediums? Although," she added,
"there are plenty who do go. I think that it is shocking bad form."
"But you speak as if"--
"As if spiritualism were one of the recognized ethical games, that's
all. It is played pretty well at Mrs. Rangely's, I'm told. They say
that the little Mrs. Singleton she's got hold of is very clever."
"Mrs. Singleton," Maurice repeated, "why, it can't be Alice, brother
John's widow, can it? She married a Singleton for a second husband, and
she claimed to be a medium."
"Did she really? It will be amusing if you find your relatives in the
"She wasn't a very close relative. John was only my half-brother, you
know, and he lived but six months after he married her. She is clever
enough and tricky enough to be capable of anything."
"Well," Mrs. Staggchase said, as they turned in at her door, "if it is
she it will give you an excellent chance to do missionary work."
They entered the wide, handsome hall, and with an abrupt movement the
hostess turned toward her cousin.
"I assure you," she said, "that I am in earnest about your temptation.
I want to see what sort of stuff you are made of, and I give you fair
warning. Now go and read your breviary, or whatever it is that you sham
monks read, while I have tea and then rest before I dress."
Maurice had no reply to offer. He watched in silence as she passed up
the broad stairway, smiling to herself as she went. He followed slowly
a moment later, and seeking his room remained plunged in a reverie at
which the severe walls of the Clergy House might have been startled; a
reverie disquieted, changing, half-fearful; and yet through which with
strange fascination came a longing to see more of the surprising world
into which chance had introduced him, and above all to meet again the
dark, glowing girl with whom he had that afternoon walked.
AS FALSE AS STAIRS OF SAND
Merchant of Venice, v. 2.
It was cold and gray next morning when Maurice took his way toward a
Catholic church in the North End. He had been there before for
confession, and had been not a little elated in his secret heart that
he had been able to go through the act of confession and to receive
absolution without betraying the fact that he was not a Romanist. He
had studied the forms of confession, the acts of contrition, and
whatever was necessary to the part, and for some months had gone on in
this singular course. To his Superior at the Clergy House he confessed
the same sins, but Maurice had a feeling that the absolution of the
Roman priest was more effective than that of his own church. He was not
conscious of any intention of becoming a Catholic, but there was a
fascination in playing at being one; and Wynne, who could not
understand how the folk of Boston could play with ethical truths, was
yet able thus to juggle with religion with no misgiving.
This morning he enjoyed the spiritual intoxication of the confessional
as never before. He half consciously allowed himself to dwell upon the
image of the beautiful Miss Morison to the end that he might the more
effectively pour out his contrition for that sin. He was so eloquent in
the confessional that he admired himself both for his penitence and for
the words in which he set it forth. He floated as it were in a sea of
mingled sensuousness and repentance, and he hoped that the penance
imposed would be heavy enough to show that the priest had been
impressed with the magnitude of the sin of which he had been guilty in
allowing his thoughts, consecrated to the holy life of the priesthood,
to dwell upon a woman.
It was one of those absurd anomalies of which life is full that while
Maurice sometimes slighted a little the penances imposed by his own
Superior, he had never in the least abated the rigor of any laid upon
him by the Catholic priest. It was perhaps that he felt his honor
concerned in the latter case. This morning the penance was
satisfactorily heavy, and he came out of the church with a buoyant
step, full of a certain boyish elation. He had a fresh and delightful
sense of the reality of religion now that he had actually sinned and
Next to being forgiven for a sin there is perhaps nothing more
satisfactory than to repeat the transgression, and if Maurice had not
formulated this fact in theory he was to be acquainted with it in
practice. As he walked along in the now bright forenoon, filled with
the enjoyment of moral cleanness, he suddenly started with the thrill
of delicious temptation. Just before him a lady had come around a
corner, and was walking quietly along, in whom at a glance he
recognized Miss Morison. There came into his cheek, which even his
double penances had not made thin, a flush of pleasure. He quickened
his steps, and in a moment had overtaken her.
"Good morning," he said, raising his ecclesiastical hat with an air
which savored somewhat of worldliness. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"
She started at his salutation, but instantly recognized him.
"Good morning," she responded. "I didn't expect to find anybody I knew
in this part of the town."
"It isn't one where young ladies as a rule walk for pleasure, I
suppose," Maurice said, falling into step, and walking beside her.
"I am very sure that I don't," Miss Morison replied with a toss of her
head. "I do it because I was bullied into being a visitor for the
Associated Charities, and I go once a week to tell some poor folk down
here that I am no better than they are. They know that I don't believe
it, and I have my doubts if they even believe it themselves, only they
wouldn't be foolish enough to prevaricate about it. Oh, it's a great
and noble work that I'm engaged in!"
There was something exhilarating about her as she tossed her pretty
head. Wynne laughed without knowing just why, except that she
intoxicated him with delight.
"You don't speak of your work with much enthusiasm," said he.
"Enthusiasm!" she retorted. "Why should I? It's abominable. I hate it,
the people I visit hate it, and there's nobody pleased but the
managers, who can set down so many more visits paid to the worthy poor,
and make a better showing in their annual report. For my part I am
tired of the worthy poor; and if I must keep on slumming, I'd like to
try the unworthy poor a while. I'm sure they'd be more interesting."
She spoke with a pretty air of recklessness, as if she were conscious
that this was not the strain in which to address one of his cloth.
There was not a little vexation under her lightness of manner, however,
and Wynne was not so dull as not to perceive that something had gone
"But philanthropy," he began, "is surely"--
"Your cousin," she interrupted, "declares that only the eye of
Omniscience can possibly distinguish between what passes for
philanthropy and what is sheer egotism."
He laughed in spite of himself, feeling that he ought to be shocked.
"But what," he asked, "has impressed this view of things upon you this
morning in particular?"
His companion made a droll little gesture with both her hands.
"Of course I show it," she said; "though you needn't have reminded me
that I have lost my temper."
"I beg your pardon," began Maurice in confusion, "I"--
"Oh, you haven't done anything wrong," she interrupted, "the trouble is
entirely with me. I've been making a fool of myself at the instigation
of the powers that rule over my charitable career, and I don't like the
They walked on a moment without further speech. Maurice said to himself
with a thrill of contrition that he would double the penance laid upon
him, and he endeavored not to be conscious of the thought which
followed that the delight of this companionship was worth the price
which he should thus pay for it.
"This is what happened," Miss Morison said at length. "I don't quite
know whether to laugh or to cry with vexation. There's a poor widow
who has had all sorts of trials and tribulations. Indeed, she's been a
miracle of ill luck ever since I began to have the honor to assure her
weekly that I'm no better than she is. It may be that the fib isn't
She turned to flash a bright glance into the face of her companion as
she spoke, and he tried to clear away the look of gravity so quickly
that she might not perceive it.
"Oh," she cried; "now I have shocked you! I'm sorry, but I couldn't
"No," he replied, "you didn't really shock me. It only seemed to me a
pity that you should be working with so little heart and under
direction that doesn't seem entirely wise."
"Wise!" she echoed scornfully. "There's a benevolent gentleman who
insisted upon giving this old woman five dollars. It was all against
the rules of the Associated Charities, for which he said he didn't care
a fig. That's the advantage of being a man! And what do you think the
old thing did? She took the whole of it to buy a bonnet with a red
feather in it! The committee heard of it, though I can't for my life
see how. There are a lot of them that seem to think that benevolence
consists chiefly in prying into the affairs of the poor wretches they
help! And they posted me off to scold her."
"But why did you go?"
"They said they would send Miss Spare if I didn't, and in common
humanity I couldn't leave that old creature to the tender mercies of
"What did you say?"
The face of Miss Morison lighted with mocking amusement.
"That's the beauty of it," she cried, bursting into a low laugh which
was full of the keenest fun. "I began with the things I'd been told to
say; but the old woman said that all her life long she had wanted a
bonnet with red feathers, but that she had never expected to have one.
When she got this money, she went out to buy clothing, and in a window
she saw this bonnet marked five dollars. She piously remarked that it
seemed providential. She's like the rest of the world in finding what
she likes to be providential."
"Yes," murmured Maurice, half under his breath; "like my meeting you."
Miss Morison looked surprised, but she ignored the words, and went on
with her story.
"She said she concluded she'd rather go without the clothes, and have
the bonnet; and by the time we were through I had weakly gone back on
all the instructions I'd received, and told her she was right. She knew
what she wanted, and I don't blame her for getting it when she could.
I'm sick of seeing the poor treated as if they were semi-idiots that
couldn't think without leave from the Associated Charities."
The whole tone of the conversation was so much more frank than anything
to which Wynne was accustomed that he felt bewildered. This freedom of
criticism of the powers, this want of reverence for conventionalities,
gave him a strange feeling of lawlessness. He felt as if he had himself
been wonderfully and almost culpably daring in listening. He wondered
that he was not more shocked, being sure that it was his duty to be.
There was about the young man's mental condition a sort of infantile
unsophistication. The New England mind often seems to inherit from
bygone Puritanism a certain repellent quality through which it takes
long for anything savoring of worldliness or worldly wisdom to
penetrate. When once this covering is broken, it may be added, the
result is much the same as in the case of the cracking of other glazes.
After he had parted from Miss Morison, Maurice walked on in a blissful
state of conscious sinfulness. He understood himself well enough to
know that before him lay repentance, but this did not dampen his
present enjoyment. He had not so far outgrown his New England
conscience as to escape remorse for sin, but he had become so
accustomed to the belief that absolution removed guilt that there was
in his cup of self-reproach little abiding bitterness.
That afternoon he accompanied Mrs. Staggchase to the house of Mrs.
Rangely with a confused feeling as if he were some one else. His cousin
wore the same delicately satirical air which marked all her intercourse
with him. She carried her head with her accustomed good-humored
haughtiness, and her straight lips were curled into the ghost of a
"This is the most stupid humbug of them all," she remarked, as they
neared Mrs. Rangely's house on Marlborough Street. "You'll think the
deception too transparent to be even amusing,--if you don't become a
convert, that is."
"A convert to spiritualism?" Wynne returned with youthful indignation.
"I'm not likely to fall so low as that. That is one of the things which
are too ridiculous."
She laughed, with that air of superiority which always nettled him a
"Don't allow yourself to be one of those narrow persons to whom a thing
is always ridiculous if they don't happen to believe it. You believe
in so many impossible things yourself that you can't afford to take on
The tantalizing good nature with which she spoke humiliated Wynne. She
seemed to be playing with him, and he resented her reflection upon his
creed. He was, however, too much under the spell of his cousin to be
really angry, and he was silenced rather than offended. They entered
the house to find several of the persons whom he had seen at Mrs.
Gore's on the day previous; and Wynne was at once charmed and
disquieted by the entrance a moment later of Miss Morison, who came in
looking more beautiful than ever. It gave him a feeling of exultation
to be sharing her life, even in this chance way.
The preliminaries of the sitting were not elaborate. Mrs. Rangely, the
hostess, impressed it upon her guests that Mrs. Singleton, the medium,
was not a professional, but that she was with them only in the capacity
of one who wished to use her peculiar gifts in the search for truth.
"She does not understand her powers herself," Mrs. Rangely said; "but
she feels that it is not right to conceal her light."
Maurice was too unsophisticated to understand why Mrs. Rangely's talk
struck him as not entirely genuine, but he was to some extent
enlightened when his cousin said to him afterward: "Frances Rangely has
the imitation Boston patter at her tongue's end now, but she is too
thoroughly a New Yorker ever to get the spirit of it. She rattles off
the words in a way that is intensely amusing."
The shutters of the small parlor in which the company was assembled had
been closed and the gas lighted. There were about a dozen guests, and
all had the air of being of some position. While the hostess went to
summon the medium, Maurice asked in a whisper if the master of the
house was present, and was answered that Fred Rangely was too clever to
be mixed up in this sort of thing. Wynne caught a satirical glance
between his cousin and Miss Morison, and more than ever he felt that
the meeting was a farce in which he, vowed to a nobler life, should
have had no part.
His musings were cut short by the entrance of Mrs. Rangely with the
medium. He recognized Mrs. Singleton at a glance, and was struck as he
had been before by the appealing look of innocence. She was a slender,
almost beautiful woman, with exquisite shell-like complexion, and
delicate features. An entire lack of moral sense frequently gives to a
woman an air of complete candor and purity, and Alice Singleton stood
before the company as the incarnation of sincerity and truth. Her face
was of the rounded, full-lipped, wistful type; the sensuous, selfish
face moulded into the likeness of childlike guilelessness which of all
the multitudinous varieties of the "ever womanly" is the one most
likely to be destructive.
Had it not been that Maurice was acquainted with her history, he could
hardly have resisted the fascination of this creature, as tender and as
innocent in appearance as a dewy rose; but he was thoroughly aware of
her moral worthlessness. Yet as she stood shrinking on the threshold as
if she were too timid to advance, he could not but feel her
attractiveness and the sweetness of her presence. He watched curiously
as in response to a word from Mrs. Rangely she came hesitatingly
forward, bowed in acknowledgment to a general introduction, and sank
into the chair placed for her in the centre of the circle. She was clad
in black, but a little of her creamy neck was visible between the folds
of lace which set off its fairness. Her arms were bare half way to the
elbows, and her hands were ungloved. Maurice wondered if she would
recognize him; then he reflected that he sat in the shadow, out of the
direct line of her vision, and that it was years since she had seen
"We will have the gas turned down," Mrs. Rangely said; and at once
turned it, not down, but completely out, leaving the room in absolute
There followed an interval of silence, and Maurice, whose wits were
sharpened by his knowledge of the medium, and who was on the lookout
for trickery, reflected how inevitable it was that this breathless
silence, coupled with the darkness and the expectation of something
mysterious, should bring about the frame of mind which the medium would
desire. The silence lasted so long that he, not wrapt in expectation,
began to grow impatient. He put out his hand timidly in the darkness
and touched the chair in which Miss Morison was sitting, getting
foolish comfort from even such remote communion. He fell into a reverie
in which he felt dimly what life might have been with her always at his
side, had he not been vowed to the stern refusal of all earthly
His reflections were broken by a loud, quivering sigh seeming to come
from the medium, and echoed in different parts of the room. There was
another brief interval of silence, and then the medium began to speak.
Her tone was strained and unnatural, and at first she murmured to
herself. Then her words came more clearly and distinctly.
"Oh, how beautiful!" she whispered. Then in a voice growing clearer she
went on: "Bright forms! There are three,--no, there are five; oh, the
room is full of them. Oh, how bright they are growing! They shine so
that they almost blind me. Don't you see them?"
The room rustled like a field of wheat under a breeze.
"There is one that is clearer than the others," went on the voice of
the medium in the electrical darkness. "She is all shining, but I can
see that her hair is white as snow. She must have been old before she
went into the spirit world. She smiles and leans over the lady in the
armchair. Oh, she is touching you! Don't you feel her dear hands on
Maurice felt the chair against which his fingers rested shaken by a
movement of awe or of impatience. He flushed with indignation. It was
Miss Morison to whom the medium was directing this childish
impertinence. He longed to interfere, and even made so brusque a
movement that Mrs. Staggchase leaned over and whispered to him to
"There are many spirits here," the medium went on with increasing
fervor, "but none of them are so clear. She is speaking to you, but you
cannot hear her. She is grieved that you do not understand her. Oh, try
to listen so that you may hear her message with the spiritual ear. She
is so anxious."
The audience seemed to quiver with excitement. Simply because a woman
whom Maurice knew to be capable of any falsehood sat here in the
darkness and pretended to see visions, these men and women were
apparently carried out of themselves. It seemed to him at once
monstrous and pitifully ridiculous.
"It must be your grandmother," spoke again the voice of Mrs. Singleton,
now thick with emotion. "Yes, she nods her head. She is so anxious to
reach through your unconsciousness. Wait! she is going to do something.
I think she is going to give you some token. Let me rest a moment, so
that I can help her. She wants to materialize something."
Heavy silence, but a silence which seemed alive with excitement, once
more prevailed. Maurice began himself to feel something of the
influence pervading the gathering, and was angry with himself for it.
Suddenly a cry from the medium, earnest and full of feeling, broke out
"Oh, she has something in her hand. Try to assist her. She will succeed
in materializing it fully if we can help her with our wills. I can see
it becoming clearer--clearer--clearer! Now she is smiling. She is
happy. She knows she will succeed. Yes; it is--Oh, what beautiful
roses! They are changing from white to red in her hands. She holds them
up for me to see; she is lifting them up over your head. Now, now she
is going to drop them! Quick! The light!"
The voice of Mrs. Singleton had risen almost to a scream, and bit the
nerves of the hearers. As she ended Maurice heard the soft sound of
something falling, and felt Miss Morison start violently. The gas was
at once lighted, and there in the lap and at the feet of Berenice, who
regarded them with an expression of mingled disgust and annoyance, lay
scattered a handful of crimson roses.
The company broke into expressions of admiration, of belief, of awe.
Mrs. Singleton had played to her audience with evident success. Miss
Morison gathered up the flowers without a word, and held them out to
the medium, who lay back wearied in her chair.
"Don't give them to me," Mrs. Singleton said in a faint voice. "They
were brought for you."
"How can you bear to give them up?" a woman said. "It must be your
grandmother that brought them."
"My grandmother was in very good health in Brookfield yesterday,"
Berenice responded. "I hardly think that they come from her."
The tone was so cold that Mrs. Singleton was visibly disconcerted.
"Of course I don't know the spirit," she said. "But are both your
"She nodded her head, you know," put in another.
To this Miss Morison did not even reply; but the awkwardness of the
situation was relieved by Mrs. Rangely, who broke into conventional
phrases of admiration and wonder.
"Yes, Frances," Mrs. Staggchase observed dryly, "as you say, it
couldn't be believed if one hadn't seen it."
Her manner was unheeded in the flood of praise and congratulation with
which Mrs. Singleton was being overwhelmed.
"It is what I've longed for all my life," one lady declared, wiping her
eyes. "I never could have confidence in professional mediums, but this
is so perfectly satisfactory. Oh, I _do_ feel that I owe you so much,
"Yes, this we have seen with our own eyes," another added. "It is
impossible for the most skeptical to doubt this."
To this and more Maurice listened in amazement, until he rather
thought aloud than consciously spoke:--
"But it all depends upon the unsupported testimony of the medium."
Mrs. Rangely drew herself up with much dignity.
"That," she said, "I will be responsible for."
"It isn't unsupported," chimed in one of the ladies. "Here are the
At the sound of Maurice's voice Mrs. Singleton had turned toward him,
and he saw that she recognized him. She looked around with a glance
half terrified, half appealing.
"It is so kind in you to believe in me," she murmured pathetically. "I
don't ask you to. I only tell you what I see, and"--
Maurice rose abruptly and strode forward.
"Alice," he exclaimed, "what do you mean by this humbug? Don't you see
that they take it seriously? Tell them it's a joke."
Again Mrs. Singleton looked around as if to see whether she had
"It is manly of you to attack me," she answered, evidently satisfied
with the result of her survey. "I cannot defend myself."
"Do you mean to insist?" he demanded, with growing anger.
"If the roses do not justify what I said," responded she, sinking back
as if exhausted, "it may be that I saw only imaginary shapes."
A sharp murmur ran around the room. The believers were evidently
rallying indignantly to the support of their sibyl, and cast upon Wynne
glances of bitter reproach. He looked at Mrs. Staggchase, but it was
impossible to judge from her expression whether she approved or
disapproved of what he had done. He was suddenly abashed, and stood
speechless before the rising tide of outraged remonstrance. Then
unexpectedly came from behind him the clear voice of Miss Morison.
"It is unfortunate that the roses should have been given to me," she
said, "for by an odd chance I saw them bought a couple of hours ago on
There was an instant of hushed amazement, and then the medium fled from
the parlor in hysterics.
SOME SPEECH OF MARRIAGE
Measure for Measure, v. 1.
"O thou to the arch of whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave!"
Philip Ashe colored with self-consciousness as the words came into his
mind. He felt that he had no right to think them, and yet as he looked
across the table at his hostess it seemed almost as if the phrase had
been spoken in his ear by the seductive voice of Mirza Gholan Rezah. He
sighed with contrition, and looked resolutely away, letting his glance
wander about the room in which he was sitting at dinner. He noted the
panels of antique stamped leather, and although he had had little
artistic training, he was pleased by the exquisite combination of rich
colors and dull gold. Some Spanish palace had once known the glories
which now adorned the walls of Mrs. Fenton's dining-room, and even his
uneducated eye could see that care and taste had gone to the decoration
of the apartment. Jars of Moorish pottery, few but choice, and pieces
of fine Algerian armor inlaid with gold were placed skillfully, each
displayed in its full worth and yet all harmonizing and combining in
the general effect. Ashe knew that the husband of Mrs. Fenton had been
an artist of some note, and so strongly was the skill of a master-hand
visible here that suddenly the painter seemed to the sensitive young
deacon alive and real. It was as if for the first time he realized
that the beautiful woman before him might belong to another. By a
quick, unreasonable jealousy of the dead he became conscious of how
keenly dear to him had become the living.
Ashe had met Mrs. Fenton a number of times during the week which had
intervened since the Persian's lecture at Mrs. Gore's. He had seen her
once or twice at the house of his cousin, with whom Mrs. Fenton was
intimate, and chance had brought about one or two encounters elsewhere.
He had until this moment tried to persuade himself that his admiration
for her was that which he might have for any beautiful woman; but
looking about this room and realizing so completely the husband dead
half a dozen years, he felt his self-deception shrivel and fall to
ashes. With a desperate effort he put the thought from him, and gave
his whole attention to the talk of his companions.
"Yes, Mr. Herman is in New York," Mrs. Herman was saying. "He has gone
on to see about a commission. They want him to go there to execute it,
but I don't think he will."
"Doesn't he like New York?" asked Mr. Candish, the rector of the Church
of the Nativity, who was the fourth member of the little company.
Mrs. Herman and Mrs. Fenton both laughed.
"You know how Grant feels about New York, Edith," the former said. "If
anything could spoil his temper, it is a day in what he calls the
metropolis of Philistinism."
"I never heard Mr. Herman say anything so harsh as that about
anything," Candish responded. "Do you feel in that way about it?"
"The thing which I dislike about the place is its provincialism," she
answered. "It is the most provincial city in America, in the sense that
nothing really exists for it outside of itself. If I think of New York
for ten minutes I have no longer any faith in America."
"Then I shouldn't think of it, Helen," put in Mrs. Fenton.
"Then you wouldn't go with your husband if he went there to do this
work, I suppose," Mr. Candish observed.
"I should go with him anywhere that, he thought it best to go. I fear
that you haven't an exalted idea of the devotion of the modern wife,
Ashe watched with interest the rector, who flushed a little. He knew of
him well, having more than once heard the awkwardness and social
inadaptability of the man urged as reasons of his unfitness to be
placed at the head of the most fashionable church in the city. Philip
saw him glance at the hostess and then cast down his eyes; and wondered
if this were simple diffidence.
"That is hardly fair," Mr. Candish said, somewhat awkwardly. "The
clergy, not having wives, are poor judges in such a matter."
"That might be taken as an argument for the marriage of the clergy,"
she responded with a smile.
"If they had wives they would be better able to sympathize with the
trials and joys of their parishioners."
"I never thought of that," murmured Mrs. Fenton.
Mr. Candish flushed all over his homely, freckled face.
"By the same reasoning you might hold that a clergyman should have
committed all the sins in the decalogue, so that he should have ready
sympathy with all sorts of sinners."
"I'm not sure that he wouldn't be more useful if he had," Mrs. Herman
answered with a smile; "at least a man who hasn't wanted to commit a
sin must find it hard to sympathize with the wretch that hasn't been
strong enough to resist temptation. Still, I hope that sin and marriage
are not put into the same category."
"Oh, of course not," Mrs. Fenton interpolated. "Marriage is a
"It has always seemed to me inconsistent," Mrs. Herman went on, "that
the church should exclude her priests from one of the sacraments."
Ashe saw a faint cloud pass over the face of the hostess. He was
himself a little shocked; and Candish frowned slightly.
"The church admits her priests to this sacrament in a higher sense," he
said with some stiffness.
"Now I have shocked you," was her comment. "I beg your pardon."
"I can never accustom myself to a familiar way of handling sacred
things," he returned. "It is to me too vital a matter."
"I am afraid that that is because you are still so young," she
retorted. "It is, if you'll pardon me, the prerogative of youth to find
all views but its own intolerable."
The manner in which this was said deprived the words of their sting,
but Mrs. Fenton evidently felt that they were getting upon dangerous
ground, and she interposed.
"We shall ask you to define youth next, Helen," she threw in.
"Oh, that is easy. Young people are always those of our own age."
In the laugh that followed this the question of the marriage of the
clergy was allowed to drop; but to all that had been said Philip had
listened with a beating heart. He felt the air about him to be charged
with meanings which he could not divine. He had somehow a suspicion
that the hostess was more interested in this talk than she was willing
to show; and with what in a moment he recognized as consummate and
fatuous egotism, he felt in his heart the shadow of a hope that there
might be some connection between this and her interest in him. Then a
fear followed lest there might be things here hidden which would make
him miserable did he understand.
"Mrs. Herman insists that she is a Puritan," Mrs. Fenton said a moment
later. "You see how she proves it by the position she takes on all
"Of course I am a Puritan," was the answer. "I was born so. There is
nothing which I believe that wouldn't have seemed to my forefathers
good ground for having me whipped at the cart's tail, but I am Puritan
to the bone."
"I don't see what you mean," Candish said.
"I mean that I inherit, like all of us children of the Puritans, the
way of looking at things without regard to consequences, of feeling
devoutly about whatever seems to us true, and of realizing that
individual preferences do not alter the laws of the universe; isn't
that the essence of Puritanism?"
"Perhaps," he answered; "but are the unbelievers of to-day devout?"
Ashe looked at his cousin as she paused before answering. He felt that
the question must baffle her. He did not comprehend what was behind her
"Certainly not all of them," was her reply. "The age isn't greatly
given to reverence. I am a Puritan, however, and I must say what I
think. I believe that there is a hundredfold more devoutness in the
infidelity of New England to-day than in its belief."
Ashe leaned forward in amazement, half overturning his glass in his
"Why, that is a contradiction of terms," he exclaimed.
Mrs. Herman's smile deepened.
"Not necessarily, Cousin Philip," returned she.
"It is possible for belief to degenerate into mere conventionality,
while sincere doubters at least must have a realization of the mystery
and the awe which overshadow life."
Mrs. Fenton put up her hand in a pretty gesture of deprecation.
"Come," she said, "I don't wish to be despotic, but I can't let Mrs.
Herman lead you into a discussion of that sort. We'll talk of something
"Am I to bear the blame of it all?" demanded Helen. "That I call
"Worse and worse," the hostess responded. "Now you attack the cloth."
"It seems to me," observed Mr. Candish, coming out of a brief study in
which he had apparently not heard Mrs. Fenton's last words, "that you
leave out of account the matter of desire. The believer at least longs
to believe, and surely deserves well for that."
"I don't see why. Certainly he hasn't learned the first word of the
philosophy of life who still confounds what he desires and what he
"Come, Helen," put in Mrs. Fenton; "I wouldn't have suspected you of
trying to pose as a belated remnant of the Concord School."
Ashe easily perceived that the hostess was becoming more and more
uneasy at the course of the discussion. He could see too that Mr.
Candish was growing graver, and his sallow face beginning to flush
through its thin skin. It was evident that Mrs. Fenton saw and
appreciated these signs, and wished to change the subject of
conversation. Philip wondered that she took the matter so gravely, but
cast about in his own mind for the means of helping her. Before he
could think of anything to say his cousin had started a fresh topic.
"By the way," she asked, "who is to be bishop?"
Candish shook his head with a grave smile.
"We should be relieved if we knew," was his answer.
"There's a great deal being done to defeat Father Frontford," Ashe
added; "but the lay delegates haven't been chosen."
"The friends of Mr. Strathmore are working very hard," observed Mrs.
Fenton. "It would be a great misfortune if they were to succeed."
"But I suppose the friends of Father Frontford are at work too?"
Ashe thought that he detected a faint trace of satire in her voice, and
he turned toward her with earnest gravity.
"It is not to be supposed," he answered, "that the friends of the
church are idle at a time of so much importance. Mr. Strathmore is
really little better than a Unitarian; or at least he is so lax that
he gives the world that opinion."
He felt that this was a reply which must end all inclination to
raillery on her part. He began to feel fresh sympathy with the
disturbance of Mr. Candish earlier in the dinner. The matter now was to
him so vital that he could not talk of it except with the greatest
gravity. He watched Helen closely to discover if she were disposed to
smile at his reply. He could detect no ridicule in her expression,
although she did not seem much impressed with the weight of the charge
he had brought against Mr. Strathmore, the popular candidate for the
bishopric of the diocese, then vacant.
"Mrs. Chauncy Wilson is doing a good deal," Mrs. Fenton remarked,
glancing smilingly at Helen.
"Oh, yes," responded the other. "I remember now that she declined to be
on a committee for the picture-show because, as she said, she had to
run the campaign for the bishop."
"The expression," Candish began, rather stiffly, "is somewhat"--
"It is hers, not mine," Helen replied. "I should not have chosen the
"It is singular," Mrs. Fenton said thoughtfully, "how little general
interest there is in this matter of the choice of a bishop."
"And what there is," Mrs. Herman put in with a faint suspicion of
raillery in her tone, "comes from the fact that Mr. Strathmore is
popular as a radical."
"It is natural enough that the general public should look at it in that
way," Mr. Candish commented. "Mr. Strathmore has all the elements of
popularity. He is emotional and sympathetic; and religious laxity
presented by such a man is always attractive."
"The infidelity of the age finds such a man a living excuse," Ashe
said, feeling to the full all that the words implied.
Mrs. Fenton smiled upon him, but shook her head.
"That is a somewhat extreme view to take of it, Mr. Ashe. I think it is
rather the personal attraction of the man than anything else."
The talk drifted away into more secular channels, and Ashe in time
forgot for the moment that he was already almost a priest. Youth was
strong in his blood, and even when a man has vowed to serve heaven by
celibacy the must of desire may ferment still in his veins. A youthful
ascetic has in him equally the making of a saint and a monster; and
until it is decided which he is to be there will be turmoil in his
soul. His newly realized love for Mrs. Fenton threw Ashe into a tumult
of mingled bliss and anguish. The heart of the most simple mortal soars
and exults in the sense that it loves. It may be timid, sad,
despairing, but even the smart of love's denial cannot destroy the joy
of love's existence. Philip felt the sting of his conscience; he looked
upon his passion as no less hopeless than it was opposed to his vows;
he was overshadowed by a half-conscious foresight of the pain which
must arise from it; yet he swam on waves of delight such as even in his
moments of religious ecstasy he had never before known. He felt his
cheeks flush, and when his cousin glanced at him he dropped his eyes in
the fear that they would betray his secret. He dared not look openly at
Mrs. Fenton, yet from time to time he stole glances so slyly that he
seemed almost to deceive himself and to conceal from his conscience the
Yet, too, he struggled. He realized at moments what he was doing, and
his cheek grew pale at the idea that he was juggling with his
conscience and his soul. He tried to attend to the talk, and could only
succeed in listening for the sound of her voice. He kept no more hold
on the conversation than was sufficient to allow him to put in a word
now and then to cover his preoccupation. The instinct of simulation
asserted itself as it springs in a bird which flies away to decoy the
hunter from its nest. He feigned to be interested, to be as usual, but
all his blood was trembling and tumbling with this new delirium; and
all struggles to forget his passion only increased its intensity.
At moments he was astonished at himself. He could not understand what
had taken possession of him. He even whispered a desperate question to
himself whether it might not be that he had been singled out for a
special temptation of the devil,--a distinction too flattering to be
wholly disagreeable. Then he glanced again at his hostess, fair, sweet,
and to his mind sacred before him, and felt that he had wronged her by
supposing that the arch fiend could make of her a temptation. He had
for a moment a humiliating fear that he might have eaten something that
after the spare diet of the Clergy House had exhilarated him unduly. He
felt that at best he was a poor thing; and he seemed to stand outside
of his bare, empty life, pitying and scorning the futility of an
existence unblessed by the love of this peerless woman.
The evening went on, and Ashe struggled to conceal the wild commotion
of his mind, feeling it almost a relief to get away, so fearful had he
been of losing control of his tumultuous emotions. It would be bliss to
be alone with his dream.
As he and Mrs. Herman were going home, Helen said:--
"I do wonder"--
"What do you wonder?" he asked.
"Did I say that out loud?" she responded. "I didn't mean to. I was
thinking that I couldn't help wondering whether Edith Fenton will ever
marry Mr. Candish."
The first thought of Ashe was terror lest his secret had been
discovered; his second was a memory of the way in which he had seen
Mrs. Fenton look at the rector at dinner. He was overwhelmed by a rush
of hot anger against his rival.
"Mr. Candish!" he echoed. "Why, he is an ordained priest!"
His own words cut him like a sword. He had himself pronounced the death
sentence of his own hope. It was with difficulty that he suppressed a
groan, and what reply or comment Mrs. Herman made was lost in the
tumult of an inner voice crying in his heart: "O thou, to the arch of
whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave!"
VOLUBLE AND SHARP DISCOURSE
Comedy of Errors, ii. 1.
On the morning after the dinner at Mrs. Fenton's, Philip Ashe and
Maurice Wynne met on the steps of Mrs. Chauncy Wilson's. The house was
on the proper side of the Avenue, with a regal front of marble and with
balconies of wrought iron before the wide windows above, one of
especially elaborate workmanship, having once adorned the front of the
palace of the Tuileries. Pillars of verd antique stood on either side
of the doorway, as if it were the portal of a temple.
"Good morning, Phil," Maurice called out as they met. "Are you bound
for Mrs. Wilson's too?"
"Yes," was the answer. "I had a note last night."
"Well," Wynne said gayly, as they mounted the steps, "if the inside of
the house is as splendid as the outside, we two poor duffers will be
out of place enough in it."
"You may be a duffer if you like," he retorted, "but I'm not."
"Here comes somebody," was the reply. "For my part I'm half afraid of
Mrs. Wilson. They say"--
But the door began to move on its hinges, and cut short his words.
Wynne might have concluded his remark in almost any fashion, for there
were few things which had not been said about Mrs. Wilson. Although she
had been born and bred in Boston, one of the most common comments upon
her was that she was "so un-Bostonian." Exactly what the epithet
"Bostonian" might mean would probably have been hard to explain, but it
is seldom difficult to defend a negation; it was at least easy to show
that the lady did not regard the traditions in which she had been
nourished, and that she had a boldness which was as far as possible
from the decorous conventionality to be expected of one in whose veins
ran the blood of the most correctly exclusive old Puritan families.
There was a general feeling that Mrs. Wilson's marriage was to be held
accountable for many of her eccentricities; although, as Mrs.
Staggchase remarked, if Elsie Dimmont had not been what she was she
would not have chosen Chauncy Wilson. Well-born, wealthy, pretty, and
not without a certain cleverness, Miss Dimmont had had choice of
suitors enough who were all that the most exacting of her relatives
could desire; yet she had disregarded the conviction of the family that
it was her duty to marry to please them, and had chosen to please
herself by selecting a handsome young doctor whom she met at the house
of a cousin in the country. He was of some local eminence in his
profession, it is true, although as time went on he gave less attention
to it; he was handsome, and astute, and amusing; but he was a man
without ancestors or traditions. He seemed born to justify the saying
that nothing subdues the feminine imagination like force; and although
the stormy times which were liberally predicted at the marriage of two
creatures so strong-willed had undoubtedly marked their marital career,
it was in the end impossible not to see that Dr. Wilson had secured and
held command of his household.
It is impossible for two to live together, however, without mutual
reaction, and Elsie had unquestionably lost something of the fineness
of the breeding which was hers by right of birth. For a time after her
marriage she had been excessively given up to gayety. She had figured
as a leader in the fastest of the "smart set," as society journals
called it. She rode well, owned a stud which could not be matched in
town, and raced for stakes which startled the conservative old city. It
was even affirmed by the more credulous or more scandalous of the
gossips that it was only the stand taken by the managers of the County
Club which prevented her on one occasion from riding as her own jockey;
and short of this there was little she did not do.
All this, however, was in the early days of the marriage, before Dr.
Wilson had become accustomed to his position as husband of the richest
woman in town and a member of what was to him the sacred aristocracy.
When the time came that he had found his place and entered his veto
upon these wild doings, there was an instant and determined revolt on
the part of his wife. Elsie fought desperately to maintain her position
as head of the family. By way of humiliating her husband she flirted
with an openness which won for her a reputation by no means to be
envied, and she wantonly trampled on his wishes. Given a husband,
however, with an iron will and a fibre not too fine, with a good temper
and yet with a certain ruthlessness in asserting his sway, and there
is little doubt that in the end he will triumph. If a clever, handsome,
good-humored man does not subdue a wild, headstrong wife, it is almost
surely owing to over-delicacy; and Chauncy Wilson was never hampered by
this. Elsie plunged and reared when she felt the curb,--to use a figure
which in those days might have been her own,--but she was by a
judicious application of whip and spur taught that she had found her
master. The result was that she became not only manageable, but
devotedly fond of her husband. No woman was ever mastered and treated
with kindness who did not thereupon love. Dr. Wilson was too good-
natured to be unkind, and for the most part he allowed his wife to have
her way, fully aware that he had but to speak to restrain her; and thus
it came about that the household was on a most peaceful and
Mrs. Wilson, however, craved excitement, and ethical amusements she
laughed to scorn. She did, it is true, take up high-church piety, which
she treated, as Mrs. Staggchase did not hesitate to say, as a
plaything; but her interest in church matters was chiefly in the line
of politics. She took charge of the affairs of the Church of the
Nativity with a high hand which abashed and disquieted the devout
rector. She liked Mr. Candish, although she did not hesitate to jest at
his unpolished manners and rather unprepossessing person, and it was
inevitable that she should be unable to appreciate his self-denying
devotion. On one or two occasions she had found him to have a will not
inferior to her own; and although she resented whatever balked her
pleasure, she was yet a woman and respected power in a man.
Mr. Candish was of all men the one least resembling the traditional
pastor of a fashionable church, and had nothing of the caressing manner
dear to the souls of self-pampered penitents. Fashionable women found
little to admire in this man with the air of a bourgeois and the
simplicity of a babe. He had, however, a strong will, and a sure faith
which was not without its effect upon his parishioners. Ladies whose
religion was largely an affair of nerves found comfort in relying upon
his simple and untroubled devotion. They were piqued by being treated
as souls rather than bodies, but this was perhaps one of the secrets of
his influence. Every woman of his flock had unconsciously some secret
conviction that to her was reserved the triumph of subduing this
intractable nature, hitherto unconquered by the fascinations of the
sex. An ugly man may generally be successful with women if he remains
sufficiently indifferent to them. His unattractiveness, suggesting, as
it must, the idea of his having cause to be especially solicitous and
humble, imparts to his attitude in such a case an all-subduing flavor
of mystery. The instinctive belief of the other sex is that he is but
protecting his sensitiveness, and each longs to tear aside the veil of
dissimulation. The rector, it may be added, was an eloquent preacher,
and he intoned the service wonderfully. His voice in speaking was
somewhat harsh, but when he intoned, it melted into a beautiful
baritone, rich, full, and sweet, which, informed by his deep and
earnest feeling, thrilled his hearers with profound emotion. Mrs.
Wilson was proud of the effect which the service at the Nativity always
had, and she took in it the double pleasure of one who claimed a share
in religious enthusiasms and who had something of the glory of a
manager whose tenor succeeds in opera.
Into the contest over the election of a bishop to fill the place
recently left vacant Mrs. Wilson had thrown herself with characteristic
vigor. There were but two candidates now seriously considered, the Rev.
Rutherford Strathmore and Father Frontford. The former, a popular
preacher of liberal views, was regarded as the more likely to receive
the appointment, but the High Church party contested the point warmly,
supporting the claims of the Father Superior of the Clergy House which
was the home of Maurice Wynne and Philip Ashe. The political side of
the matter was exactly to Mrs. Wilson's taste. A woman has but to be
rich enough and determined enough to be allowed to amuse herself with
the highest concerns of both church and state; and Mrs. Wilson lacked
neither money nor determination. Her vigor at first disconcerted and in
the end outwardly subdued the clergy. If she actually had less
influence than she supposed, she was at least thoroughly entertained,
and that after all was her object. She interviewed influential persons,
she wrote letters, some of them sufficiently ill-judged, she sought
information in regard to the character and circumstances of the clergy
in the diocese, and did everything with the zeal and dash which
characterized whatever she undertook.
"Have you any idea what Mrs. Wilson wants of us?" Wynne asked of
Philip, as they waited in the luxurious reception-room.
"I only know that Father Frontford said that we were to put ourselves
under her orders," was the reply. "Of course it is something about the
Maurice looked at him keenly.
"Old fellow," he said, "you look pale. What's the matter with you?"
"I didn't sleep well," Ashe answered with a flush. "I went to Mrs.
Fenton's to dine, and the indulgence wasn't good for me. It's really
Maurice did not reply, but sank into an easy-chair and looked about
him. The room was a charming fancy of the decorator, who claimed to
have taken his inspiration from the American mullein. The ceiling was
of a pale, almost transparent blue, a tint just strong enough to
suggest a sky and yet leave it half doubtful if such a meaning were
intended; the walls were hung with a rough paper matching in hue the
velvety leaves of the plant, here and there touched with
conventionalized figures of the yellow blossoms. This contrast of green
and yellow was softened and united by a clever use of the clear red of
the mullein stamens sparingly used in the figures on the walls, in the
cords of the draperies, and in the trimmings of the velvet furniture.
The decorator had used the same simple tone for walls, furniture, and
curtains; and the effect was delightfully soothing and distinguished.
Wynne felt somehow out of place in this room which bore the stamp of
wealth and taste so markedly. He smiled to himself a little bitterly,
recalling how alien he was to these things. Descended from a family for
generations established in a New England town, he had in his veins too
good blood to feel abashed at the sight of splendors; but he had in his
life seen little of the world outside of lecture-rooms or the Clergy
House. Born with the appreciation of sensuous delight, with the
instinctive desire for the beautiful and refined, he felt awake within
him at contact with the richness and luxury of the life which he was
now leading tastes which he had before hardly been aware of possessing.
He was being influenced by the joy of worldly life, so subtly
presented that he did not even appreciate the need of guarding against
His reflections were cut short by the entrance of a servant who
conducted the young men to a private sitting-room up-stairs. The halls
through which they passed were hung with superb old tapestry,
interspersed with magnificent pictures. On the broad landing it was
almost as if the visitors came into the presence of a beautiful woman,
lying naked amid bright cushions in an oriental interior. As he dropped
his eyes from the alluring vision, Maurice saw in the corner the name
of the artist.
"Fenton," he said aloud. "Did he paint that?"
His companion started, regarding the picture with widening eyes. The
English footman, whom Wynne addressed, turned back to say over his
"Yes, sir; they say it's his best picture, and some says he painted his
best friend's wife that way, with nothing on, sir."
"It is a wicked picture!" Ashe said with what seemed to Maurice
The footman regarded the speaker over his shoulder with a smile.
"Oh, that's owin' to your bein' of the cloth, sir," was his comment.
"They don't generally feel to own to likin' it; but they mostly notices
A superb screen of carved and gilded wood stood before an open door
above. When this was reached, the footman slipped noiselessly behind
it, and they heard their names announced.
"Show them in," Mrs. Wilson's voice said.
The lady met them in a wonderful morning gown which seemed to be
chiefly cascades of lace, with bows of carmine ribbon here and there
which brought out the color of the dark eyes and hair of the wearer.
Maurice could hardly have told why he flushed, yet he was conscious of
the feeling that there was something intimate in the costume. To be met
by this beautiful woman, her hand outstretched in greeting, her eyes
shining, her white neck rising out of the foam of laces; to breathe the
air, soft and perfumed, of this room; to be surrounded by this luxury,
these tokens of a life which stinted nothing in the pursuit of
enjoyment; more than all to appreciate by some subtle inner sense the
appealing charm of femininity, the suggestions of domestic intimacies;
all this was to the young deacon to be exposed to influences far more
formidable to the ascetic life than those grosser temptations with
which a stupid fiend assailed St. Anthony. Wynne drew a deep breath,
wondering why he felt so strangely moved and confused; yet
unconsciously steeling himself against owning to his conscience what
was the truth.
"It is so good of you to come early," Mrs. Wilson said brightly. "I
hope you don't mind coming upstairs. I wanted to talk to you
confidentially, and we might be interrupted. Besides, you see, I am not
dressed to go down."
The young men murmured something to the effect that they did not in the
least mind coming up.
"Didn't mind coming up!" she echoed. "Is that the way you answer a lady
who gives you the privilege of her private sitting-room? Come, you must
do better than that. If you can't compliment me on my frock, you might
at least say that you are proud to be here."
The two deacons stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, abashed at
her raillery. Maurice saw the lips of Ashe harden, and he hastened to
speak lest his companion should say something stern.
"You should remember, Mrs. Wilson," he said a little timidly, yet not
without a gleam of humor, "that our curriculum at the Clergy House does
not include a course in compliment."
"It should then," she responded gayly. "How in the world is a clergyman
to get on with the women of his congregation if he can't compliment?
Why, the salvation or the damnation of most women is determined by
The visitors stood speechless. Mrs. Wilson broke into a gleeful laugh.
"Come," cried she; "now I have shocked you! Pardon me; I should have
remembered--_virginibus puerisque!_ Sit down, and we will come to
Both the young men flushed at her half-contemptuous, half-jesting
phrase, but they sat down as directed. Mrs. Wilson took her seat
directly in front of them, and proceeded to inspect them with cool
"I am looking you over," she observed calmly. "I must decide what work
you are fitted for before I can assign anything to you."
Two young men do not live together so intimately, and care for each
other so tenderly as did the two deacons without coming to know each
other well; and Maurice was so fully aware of the extreme sensitiveness
of Ashe that he involuntarily glanced at his friend to see how he bore
this inspection. He resented the impertinence of the scrutiny far more
on Philip's account than his own. Ashe's pale face had on it the
faintest possible flush, and his always grave manner had become really
solemn; but otherwise he made no sign. Wynne had a certain sense of
humor which helped him through the ordeal, and there was a faint gleam
of a smile in his eye as he confronted the brilliant woman before him;
but he was ill-pleased that his friend should be made uncomfortable.
"Do you judge by outward appearances," he asked, "or have you power to
read the heart?"
"Men so seldom have hearts," she retorted, "that it is not worth while
to bother with that branch." Then she added, as if thinking aloud, and
looking Ashe in the face: "You are an enthusiast, and take things with
frightful seriousness. You must see Mrs. Frostwinch. You'll just suit
Maurice could see his companion shrink under this cool directness, and
he hastened to interpose.
"But Mrs. Frostwinch," he said, "is absorbed in Christian Science or
something, isn't she?"
"Oh, dear, yes," Mrs. Wilson answered, toying with the broad crimson
ribbon which served her as a girdle. "There is a horrid woman named
Trapps, or Grapps, or Crapps, or something, that has fastened herself
upon cousin Anna, and is mind-curing her, or Christian-sciencing her,
or fooling her in some way; but Mrs. Frostwinch is too well-bred really
to have any sympathy with anything so vulgar. She takes to it in
desperation; but she really detests the whole thing."
"But," Ashe began hesitatingly, "does her conscience"--
Mrs. Wilson laughed, making a gesture as if sweeping all that sort of
"I dare say her conscience pricks her, if that's what you mean; but
it's so much easier to endure the sting of conscience than of cancer
that I'm not surprised at her choice."
"Besides," Maurice put in, "this is all done nowadays under the name of
religion. It isn't as if it were called by the old names of mesmerism
or Indian doctoring."
"That's true enough," assented she. "At any rate Anna is mixed up with
this woman, who gets a lot of money out of her, and earns it by making
her think that she's better. However, Cousin Anna must be made to see
that it's her duty in this case to use her influence to prevent the
election of a man who would subvert the church if he could."
"But if you are her cousin," Ashe began, "would it not"--
"Be better if I went to see her myself? Not in the least. She entirely
disapproves of my having anything to do with the election. Besides,
nobody can successfully talk religion to a woman but a man."
Maurice smiled in spite of himself at the air with which this was said,
but he none the less felt that Mrs. Wilson was flippant.
"What influence has Mrs. Frostwinch?" he asked.
"Well," Mrs. Wilson answered, leaning back to consider, "I don't know
whether to say that she controls three votes in the upper house of the
Convention, or four."
The two young men regarded her in puzzled silence.
"There are at least three clergymen in the diocese that are dependent
upon her," Mrs. Wilson explained. "There is Mr. Bobbins: he married her
cousin,--not a near cousin, but near enough so that Anna has half
supported the family, and the family is always increasing. I tell Anna
that they have babies just to work on her compassion. I think it's
wrong to encourage it, myself. Then there is Mr. Maloon; he depends on
Mrs. Frostwinch to support his mission. Then there's Brother Pewtap,--
did you ever know such a lovely name for a country parson?--he just
lives on her with a family bigger than Mr. Robbins's. He's really a
Strathmore man, but he wouldn't dare to vote against her wishes. She
might manage all those votes. Besides, there's a Mr. Jewett somewhere
near Lenox that she's helped a good deal; but I haven't found out about
She rose as she spoke, and went to a writing-table fitted out with all
the inventions known to man for the decoration of the desk and the
encumbrance of the writer.
"I have here a list of all the clergy of the diocese," she said, taking
up a book bound in red morocco and silver. "I've marked them down as
far as I've found out about them. It's necessary to be systematic. I've
done just as they do in canvassing a city ward."
Maurice regarded Mrs. Wilson with ever-increasing amazement, but, too,
not without increasing amusement. He was somewhat shocked by the
business way in which she treated the subject, but his heart was set on
the election of Father Frontford; he was honest in feeling that the
church would be injured by the election of Mr. Strathmore, and he was
too completely a man not to be half-unconsciously willing that for the
accomplishment of an end he desired a woman should do many things which
he would not do himself. The three went over the list together, the
young men giving such information as they possessed, Maurice all the
time strangely divided in his mind between disapprobation of Mrs.
Wilson and admiration. Her breath was on his cheek as she bent over
the book, the perfume of her laces filled faintly the air, now and then
her hand touched his. He was not conscious of the potency of this
feminine atmosphere which enveloped him; he did not so much think
personally of Mrs. Wilson, beautiful and near though she was, as he
felt her presence as a sort of impersonation of woman. He thought of
Miss Morison, and warmed with a nameless thrill, of longing. Then he
recalled the remark of Mrs. Staggchase that he was undergoing his
temptation, and his heart sank.
"You see," Mrs. Wilson was saying, when he forced his wandering
attention to heed her words, "men are really elected before the
convention. The work must be done now. You two can, of course, do a lot
of things that it wouldn't be good form for a regular clergyman to do.
Of course you wouldn't be able to manage the directing, but there is a
good deal of work that is in your line."
"Of course we are glad to do what we can," Maurice responded, smiling.
He glanced at Ashe and saw that his friend's face was stern.
"I knew you would be," the lady went on. "Mr. Ashe is to see Mrs.
Frostwinch. You can't be too eloquent in telling her the consequences
of Mr. Strathmore's election. If you can get her to write to the men
I've named, she can secure them. It won't be amiss to flatter her a
little; and above all don't abuse the faith-cure business."
"But if she speaks of it," Ashe returned hesitatingly, "what am I to
"Oh, she'll be sure to speak of it; but you must manage to evade. Let
her say, and don't you contradict. She'll say enough, I've no doubt.
Very likely she'll abuse it herself; but don't for goodness' sake make
the mistake of falling in with her. If you do, it'll be fatal."
"But I know Mrs. Frostwinch so slightly," Philip objected, "that I do
"Come!" she interrupted; "there is to be none of this. You are under my
orders. I'll give you a letter to Cousin Anna now."
"But! But what?" she cried, laughing. "Do you mean that you distrust
your leader so soon? Do I look like a woman to fail?"
She spread out her arms in a gesture half imploring, half jocose, her
laces fluttering, her ribbons waving, the ringlets about her face
dancing. Her eyes were brimming with mocking light, and however poorly
she might seem to represent ideas theological she certainly did not