Part 12 out of 12
"It's perfectly awful," said Mrs. Thropp, "but bad luck can't go
On April 2d the future Mrs. Strathdene was cheered by an
extraordinary spectacle--newspapers in the Metropolitan Opera
House! Kedzie was there with her waning Marquess. The occasion
was rare enough in itself, for an American opera was being heard:
"The Canterbury Pilgrims," with Mr. Reginald De Koven's music to
Mr. Percy Mackaye's text.
Suddenly, in the _entr'acte_ the unheard-of thing--the
newspapers--appeared in the boxes and about the house! People
spread evening extras on the rails and read excitedly that President
Wilson had gone to Congress and asked it to declare that a state of
war existed and had existed.
The Italian manager directed the Polish conductor to play "The
Star-Spangled Banner" and the three thousand men and women of the
audience made a chorus on the obverse side of the curtain.
Mr. Gerard, lately returned from Germany, called for "Three cheers
for President Wilson," and there were loud huzzahs for him and for
"You and I are allies now," Kedzie murmured to the Marquess. She
thought a trifle better of her country.
The Austrian prima donna fainted and could not appear in the last
act, and everybody went home expecting to see the vigor of Uncle Sam
displayed in a swift and tremendous delivery of a blow long, long
The vigor was displayed in a tremendous delivery of words far better
It was a week before Congress agreed that war existed and over a
month passed before Congress agreed upon the nature of the army to
be raised. Nearly four months passed before the draft was made.
Jim Dyckman was almost glad of the delay, for it gave him hope
of settling his spiritual affairs in time to be a soldier. He was
determined to marry Charity as soon as the three months' probation
term was over. But Charity said no! Cowering in seclusion from the
eyes of her world, she cherished a dream that when the war broke and
the dead began to topple and the wounded to bleed, she might expiate
the crime she had not committed, by devoting to her own people her
practised mercies. She was afraid to offer them now, or even to make
her appearance among the multitudinous associations that sprang up
everywhere in a frantic effort to make America ready in two weeks
for a war that had been inevitable for two years. Not only a war
was to be fought, but a world famine.
Charity was ashamed to show her white face even at the Red Cross.
She busied herself with writing checks for the snow-storm of appeals
that choked her mail. Otherwise she pined in idleness, refusing more
than ever the devotion that Jim offered her now in a longing that
increased with denial.
She suffered infinitely, yet mocked her own sufferings as petty
trifles. She contrasted them with what the millions on millions
of Europe's men were enduring as they huddled in the snow-drenched,
grenade-spattered trenches, or agonized in all their wounds out in
the No-Man's Land between the trenches. She told herself that her
own heartaches were negligible, despicable against the innumerable
anguishes of the women who saw their men, their old men, their
young men, their lads, going into the eternal mills of the war,
while hunger and loneliness and toil unknown to women before made
up their daily portion.
She accused herself for still remaining apart from that continental
sisterhood of grief. All America seemed to be playing Hamlet,
debating, deferring, letting irresolution inhibit every necessary
Since her country had disowned her and refused her justice or
chivalry, she was tempted to disown her country and claim citizenship
among those who could fight and could sacrifice and could endure.
It was not easy to persuade a captain to take a woman passenger
aboard his ship, now that the German ambition was to sink a million
tons a month, but she resolved again to go if she had to stowaway.
First she would finish her affairs, make her will, and burn her
letters. She had neglected to change the testament she had signed
when she became Peter Cheever's wife, and took a pride in making him
her sole heir. It would be ridiculous to make him such a post-mortem
gift now, now that he had not only money enough, but a wife that
satisfied him, and a child.
She wondered whom to leave her money to. Jim Dyckman's name kept
recurring to her and she smiled at that, for he had more money than
he could use. Besides, the mention of his name in her will would
confirm the public belief in their intrigue. She had nobody to
inflict her inheritance upon but a few relatives, mostly rich
enough. She decided to establish a fund for her own orphans, the
children of other women whom she had adopted.
Making a will is in sort a preliminary death. Making hers, Charity
felt herself already gone, and looked back at life with a finality
as from beyond the grave. It was a frightful thing to review her
journey from a lofty angel's-eye view.
Her existence looked very petty. Now that her hope and her senses
were ended, she felt a grudge against the world that she had got so
little out of. She had tried to be a good woman, and her altruism
had won her such a bad name that if Dr. Mosely should preach her
funeral sermon he would feel that he had revealed a wonderful spirit
of forbearance in leaving it unmentioned that she was an abandoned
If she had been actually guilty of an intrigue with Jim Dyckman
Dr. Mosely would have forgiven her even more warmly, because it was
a woman taken in actual adultery who was forgiven, while Charity
had tactlessly fought the charge and demanded vindication instead
of winsomely appealing for pity.
By a roundabout road of self-surrender she had come to the same
destination that she might have reached by the straight path of
self-indulgence. She was perilously near to resolving that she had
been a fool not to have taken happiness, physical happiness, first.
A grand red passion seemed so much more beautiful than a petty blue
When she got home from the will-making session with McNiven she
began to go over her papers and close the books of her years.
She attacked old heaps of bundles of her husband's letters and
telegrams, and burned them with difficulty in her fireplace.
She felt no temptation to glance over them, though her lip curled
in a grimace of sardonic disgust to consider how much Peter Cheever
had been to her and how little he was to her now. The first parcels
she burned were addressed to "Miss Charity Coe." How far off it
seemed since she had been called "Miss"!
She had been a girl when Cheever's written and spoken words inflamed
her. They blazed now as she had blazed. Into that holocaust had gone
her youth, her illusions, her virginity, her bridehood, her wifely
trust. And all that was left was a black char.
She came upon letters from Jim Dyckman, also, a few. She flung them
into the fire with the rest. He had had nothing from her except
friendship and girlish romance and a grass-widow's belated affection.
Crimson thoughts stole through her dark heart like the lithe blazes
interlacing the letters; she wondered if she would have done better
to have followed desire and taken love instead of solitude.
She knew that she could have made Jim hers long ago with a little
less severity, a less harsh rebuff. The Church condemned her for
openly divorcing her husband. She might have kept him on the leash
and carried on the affair with Jim that Cheever accused her of if
Jim had been complacent and stealthy. Or, she might have kept Jim
at her heels till she was rid of Cheever and then have married him.
She would have saved him at least from floundering through the marsh
where that Kedzie-o'-the-wisp had led him to ultimate disaster.
And now that she had taken stock of her past and put it into the
fire, she felt strangely exiled. She had no past, no present, and
a future all hazy. Her loneliness was complete. She had to talk
to some one, and she telephoned to Jim Dyckman, making her good-bys
It was the first time he had been permitted to hear her voice for
weeks, and the lonely joy that cried out in his greeting brought
warm tears to her dull, dry eyes.
He heard her weeping and he demanded the right to come to see her.
She refused him and cut off his plea, hoping that he would come,
anyway, and waiting tremulously till the door-bell rang with a
forgotten thrill of a caller, a lover calling.
Her maid, who brought her Jim's name, begged with her eyes that
he should not be turned away again. Charity nodded and prinked
a little and went down-stairs into Jim's arms.
He took her there as if she belonged there and she felt that she
did, though she protested, feebly:
"You are not unmarried yet."
They were in that No-Man's-Land. She was neither maid, wife, nor
widow, but divorcée. He was neither bachelor, husband, nor widower;
he was not even a divorcé. He was a _Nisi Prius_.
The childish old fates played one of their cheapest jokes on Jim
Dyckman when, after they had dangled Charity Coe just out of his
reach for a lifetime, they flung her at his head. They do those
things. They waken the Juliets just a moment too late to save
the Romeos and themselves.
Jim had revered Charity as far too good for him, and now everybody
wondered if he would do the right thing by her. Prissy Atterbury
in a burst of chivalry said it when he said:
"Jim's no gentleman if he doesn't marry Charity."
Pet put it in a more womanly way:
"Unless he's mighty spry she'll nab him. Trust her!"
Among the few people who had caught a glimpse of Charity, no one had
been quite cruel enough to say those things to her face, but Charity
imagined them. Housed with her sick and terrified imagination for
companion, she had imagined nearly everything dismal.
And now, when, by the mere laws of gravitation, she had floated into
Jim Dyckman's arms for a moment, she heard the popular doom of them
both in the joke he attempted:
"Charity, I've got to marry you to make you an honest woman."
She wrenched free of his embrace with a violence that staggered him.
He saw that she was taking his effort at playfulness seriously, even
"No, no, Jim!" she gasped. "I've brought you enough trouble and
enough disgrace. I won't let you ruin your life by marrying me
out of pity."
"Pity! Good God!" Jim groaned. "Why, you don't think I meant that,
do you? I was just trying to be funny, because I was so happy.
I'll promise never to try to be funny again. It was like saying to
Venus, 'You're a homely old thing, but I'll let you cook for me';
or saying to--whoever it was was the Goddess of Wisdom, 'You don't
know much, but'--Why, Charity Coe, you're Venus and Minerva and all
the goddesses rolled into one."
Charity shook her head.
He roared: "If it's pity you're talking about, isn't it about time
you had a little for me? Life won't be worth a single continental
damn to me if I don't get you."
Charity had needed something of this sort for a long time. It
sounded to her like a serenade by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Her acknowledgment was a tearful, smileful giggle-sob:
"All right, as soon as you're a free man fetch the parson, for I'm
pretty tired of being a free woman."
Jim had learned from McNiven that a part of his freedom, when he got
it, would be a judicial denial of the right to surrender it for five
years. He had learned that if he wanted to marry Charity he must
persuade her over into New Jersey. It did not please Jim to have to
follow the example of Zada and Cheever, and it hit him as a peculiar
cruelty that he and Charity had to accept not only an unearned
increment of scandal in the verdict of divorce, but also a marriage
contrary to the laws of New York.
New York would respect the ceremonies of New Jersey, but there would
be a shadow on the title. Still, such marriages were recognized by
the public with little question, just as in the countries where
divorce is almost or quite impossible society of all grades has
always countenanced unions not too lightly entered into or continued.
In such countries words like "mistress," "concubine," and "morganatic
wife" take on a decided respectability with a touch of pathos rather
Jim had come to beg Charity to accept a marriage with an impediment.
He had expected a scene when he proposed a flight across the river
and a return to Father Knickerbocker with a request for pardon.
But her light suggestion of a religious ceremony threw him into
confusion. He mumbled:
"Is a parson absolutely necessary?"
Charity's lips set into a grim line.
"I'll be married by a parson or I'll not be married at all. The
Church has enough against me on account of my divorce and this
last ghastly thing. To get married outside the Church would cut
me off entirely from everything that's sacred. There won't be
any difficulty about getting a parson, will there?"
"Oh no, not at all!" Jim protested, "only--oh no, not at all,
"Only what? Except what?"
"You'll have to go to New Jersey to be married."
"Why should I?"
"Entirely on my account, honey. It's because I'm in disgrace."
This way of putting it brought her over that sill with a rush.
To be able to endure something for him was a precious ability.
She hugged him devoutly, then put his arms away.
When he left her he had a brilliant inspiration. He thought how
soothing it would be to her bruised heart, what carron-oil to her
blistered reputation, if he got Doctor Mosely to perform the
ceremony. Jim was so delighted with the stroke of genius that he
went immediately to the pastor's house. The dear old man greeted
him with a subdued warmth.
"This is an unusual privilege, dear boy. I haven't seen you for--oh,
ever so long. Of course, I have read of you--er--that is--what--to
what am I indebted for--"
"You perform marriages, don't you?"
"That is one of my perilous prerogatives. But, of course, I can't
guarantee how well my marriages will wear in these restless times."
Jim braved a flippancy: "Then, being an honest dealer, you replace
any damaged article, of course?"
"I am afraid I could hardly go so far as that."
"Could you go as far as New Jersey?"
"In my time I have ventured into Macedonia. But why do you ask?"
"You see, in a day or two, I'll be free from my present--that is,
my absent wife; and I wanted to know if you could come over and
"But I thought--I fear--do you mean to say you are marrying some
young woman from over there?"
"I'm marrying Charity Coe."
"My dear, dear boy! Really! You can't, you know! She has been
divorced and so have you."
"Yes, all quite legally."
"And you ask me to join your hands in holy matrimony?"
"No, just plain legal matrimony. I was joined in holy matrimony
once, and I don't insist on that part of it again. But Charity
wants a clergyman and I don't mind."
"Really, my son, you know better than to assume this tone to me.
You've been away from church too long."
"Well, if you want to get me back, fasten me to Charity. You know
she's the best woman that ever lived."
"She is a trifle too rebellious to merit that tribute, I fear."
"Well, give her another chance. She has had enough hard knocks.
You ought to go to her rescue."
"Do you think that to be the duty of the Church?"
"It used to be, didn't it? But don't get me into theology. I can't
swim. The point is, will you marry Charity to me?"
"Wouldn't you marry her to any man?"
"Only to one."
"Her former husband."
"But he's married to another woman."
"I do not recognize that marriage."
"Good Lord! Would you like to see Charity married to Cheever
"To Peter Cheever?"
"Whew! Say, Doctor, that's going it pretty strong."
"I do not care to discuss the sacraments with you in your present
"Did you read the trial of that woman last week who killed her
husband and was acquitted? Mrs. What's-her-name? You must have
"I pay little attention to the newspaper scandals."
"You ought to--they're what make life what it is. Anyway, this woman
had a husband who turned out bad. He was a grafter and a gambler,
a drunkard and a brute. He beat her and their five children horribly,
and finally she divorced him. The law gave her her freedom in five
minutes and there was no fuss about it, because she was poor, and
the newspapers have no room for poor folks' marriage troubles--unless
they up and kill somebody.
"Well, this woman was getting along all right when some good
religious people got at her about the sin of her divorce and the
broken sacrament, and they kept at her till finally she consented
to remarry her husband--for the children's sake! There was great
rejoicing by everybody--except the poor woman. After the remarriage
he returned to his old ways and began to beat her again, and finally
she emptied a revolver into him."
"Wasn't it? The jury disagreed on the first trial. But on the second
the churchpeople who persuaded her to remarry him went on the stand
and confessed--or perhaps you would say, boasted--that they persuaded
her to remarry him. And then she was acquitted. And that's why the
civil law has always had to protect people from--"
Doctor Mosely turned purple at the implication and the insolence.
He scolded Jim loftily, but Jim did not cower. He was upheld by
his own religion, which was Charity Coe's right to vindication
At length he realized that he was harming Charity and not Doctor
Mosely. Suddenly he was apologizing humbly:
"I'm very much ashamed of myself. You're an older man and venerable,
and I--I oughtn't to have forgotten that."
"You ought not."
"I'll do any penance you say, if you'll only marry Charity and me."
"Don't speak of that again."
He thought of his old friend and attorney, money. He put that
"I'll pay anything."
"I'll give the church a solid gold reredos or contribute any sum
to any alms--"
"Please go. I cannot tolerate any more."
Jim left the old man in such agitation that a reporter named Hallard,
who shadowed him, feeling in his journalistic bones that a big story
would break about him soon, noted his condition and called on Doctor
Mosely. He was still shaken with the storm of defending his ideals
from profanation, and Hallard easily drew from him an admission that
Mr. Dyckman was bent upon matrimony, also a scathing diatribe on the
remarriage of divorced persons as one of the signs of the increasing
degeneracy of public morals.
* * * * *
Hallard's paper carried a lovely exclusive story the next morning
in noisy head-lines. The other newspapers enviously plagiarized
it and set their news-sleuths on Jim's trail. The clergy of all
denominations took up the matter as a theme of vital timeliness.
Jim and Charity were beautifully suited to the purposes of both
sorts; the newspapers that pulpiteered the news and wrote highly
moral editorials for sensation's sake; and the pulpiteers who
shouted head-lines and yellow journalism from their rostrums,
more for the purpose of self-advertisement than for any devotion
to Christly principles of sympathy and gentle comprehension.
Jim was stupefied to find himself once more pilloried and portraited
and ballyhooed in the newspapers. But he tightened his jaws and
refused to be howled from his path by any coyote pursuit.
His next thought was of the New Jersey clergyman who had married
him to Kedzie. He motored over to him.
Jim had told Dr. Mosely that clergymen ought to keep up with the
news. He found, to his regret, that the New Jersey dominie did.
He remembered Jim well and heard him out, but shook his head.
He explained why, patiently. He had been greatly impressed by the
action of the House of Deputies of the Protestant Episcopal Church
convened at St. Louis in October, 1916. A new canon had been proposed
declaring that "no marriage shall be solemnized in this Church
between parties, either of whom has a husband or wife still living,
who has been divorced for any cause arising after marriage."
This meant that the innocent party, as well as the guilty, should
be denied another chance. The canon had been hotly debated--so hotly
that one preacher referred to any wedding of divorced persons as
"filth marriage," and others were heard insisting that even Christ's
acceptance of adultery as a cause for divorce was an interpolation
in the text, and that the whole passage concerning the woman taken in
adultery was absent from some ancient manuscripts. A halt was called
to this dangerous line of argument, and one clergyman protested that
"the question of the integrity of the Scriptures is more important
than the question of marriage and divorce." Another clergyman
pleaded: "An indissoluble marriage is a fiction. What is the use of
tying the Church up to a fiction? It is our business to teach and
not to legislate." Eventually the canon was defeated. But many of
the clergy were determined to follow it, anyway.
In any case, not only was Charity divorced, but she had been involved
in Jim's divorce, and Jim, as the New Jersey preacher pointed out
to him, was denied remarriage even by the civil law of New York. The
appeal to New Jersey was plainly a subterfuge, and he begged Jim to
give Charity up.
"You don't know what you ask," Jim cried. "I'll find somebody with
a heart!" And he stormed out.
Jim reported to Charity his two defeats and the language he had heard
and read. Charity's conscience was so clean that her reaction was one
of wrath. She pondered her future and Jim's. She could not see what
either of them had done so vile that they should be sentenced to
celibacy for life, or more probably to an eventual inevitable horror
of outward conformity and secret intrigue.
She knew too many people whose wedlock had been a lifelong tolerance
of infamy on the part of one or both. Some of the bitterest enemies
of divorce were persons who had found it quite unnecessary. She
felt that to forgive and to forget became so anti-social a habit
in matrimony that no divorce could be worse.
She was afraid of herself, too. She dared not trust herself with life
alone. She was too human to be safe. Marriage with Jim would protect
him and her from each other and from the numberless temptations
awaiting them. Finally, there were no children in the matter.
All arguments prove too much and too little, and in the end become
simply our own briefs for our own inclinations. Charity's mood being
what it was, she adopted the line of reasoning that led to her own
ambition. She spent much time on her knees, but communed chiefly
with herself, and rose always confirmed in her belief that to marry
Jim Dyckman was the next great business of her existence.
Jim, too, had grown unwontedly earnest. The marriage denounced by
the religious had taken on a religious quality. He was inclined to
battle for it as for a creed, as the clergymen had battled vainly
for the new canon.
He, too, felt a spirit of genuflexion and wanted to speak to God
personally; to appeal to Him by a private petition as to a king
whose ministers denied mercy.
By his bed he sank down and prayed. He was very solemn, but too
uncertain of the solemn voice to use it. He half whispered, half
"O God, I don't know how you want me to act. I only know that my
heart keeps on calling for Charity and a home with her, and children
some day. There'll never be any children for either of us if we obey
the Church. Forgive me if I doubt what these preachers tell me, but
I just can't believe it to be your voice. If it is not your voice,
what is it that makes me feel it such a sin not to marry Charity?
I'm going to, God, unless you stop me. I may be making a big mistake,
but if I am you'll understand. You will not be mad at me any more
than I am mad at my dog when he misunderstands me, for I know he is
a good dog and wants to do what I want him to if he can only learn
what it is. If it is not your will that I should marry Charity tell
me now so that I can't misunderstand, for if you don't I'm going
ahead. If I have to take the punishment afterward, I'll take it
rather than leave that poor soul alone. Bless her, O God, and help
And now both Charity and Jim were ready for battle. She set her hand
in Jim's and said that she would marry him in spite of all, but that
she would not give up her hope of being married by one of her own
faith until she had canvassed the entire clergy.
And then began one of the strangest quests ever undertaken, even
in this transitional period of matrimony as an institution--a quest
so strange that it would seem impossible if it had not actually
happened. Jim and Charity hunted a preacher and the press hunted
While the journalists waited for the United States to enter the war
with soldiers, the reporters kept in practice by scouting after Jim
Dyckman and sniping him whenever he showed his head. He succeeded
only in getting his resignation from his regiment accepted. He
planned to sail for France and fight for France as soon as he had
When he failed to secure a minister by letter or telegram he set
forth to make personal visits. Sometimes Charity went with him so
that there should be no delay or time for a change of mood.
From city to town they went, from village to city, searching for
an Episcopalian clergyman to say the desired words. Jim offered any
bribery that might suffice, but ahead of him went his notoriety.
Many a warm-hearted clergyman felt sympathy for Jim and Charity and
longed to end their curious pilgrimage, but dared not brave the wrath
of his fellow-preachers or accept the unwelcome fame that awaited
his blessing, and the discipline that would be meted out to him.
Jim's picture was so widely published that when he eluded one crowd
another posse sprang up wherever he reappeared. His entrance into
a town was a signal for the clergy to scurry to cover. Some of them,
to put themselves on record and insure themselves against temptation,
denounced Jim and his attachée as traveling fiends, emissaries of
The wealth that was their drag was proclaimed as their weapon.
The storm grew fiercer and the language more unrestrained. Jim and
Charity, reading in the papers the terms applied to them, cowered
Charity grew haggard and peevish. Her obstinacy was hardly more than
a lockjaw of fright, the stubbornness of a drowning child afraid to
Jim was almost equally sick. The newspaper pursuit covered him with
chagrin. His good old name was precious to him, and he knew how his
mother and father were suffering at its abuse, as well as for him
in his fugitive distress.
Jim's mother was very much mother. She took into her breast every
arrow shot at him. When she saw him she held him fiercely in her
arms, her big frame aching with a Valkyrian ardor to lift the brave
warrior on a winged horse and carry him away from the earth.
It is hard for the best of mothers to love even the best of
daughters-in-law, for how can two fires prosper on the same fuel?
It had been a little too hard for Mrs. Dyckman to love Kedzie. It
was all too easy to hate her now and to denounce her till even Jim
"Don't think of her, mother," he pleaded. "Don't let's speak of
her any more. She's only one of my past mistakes. You never mention
those--why not let her drop?"
"All right, honey. You must forgive me. I'm only a sour old woman
and it breaks my heart to think of that little, common--"
"There you go again," her husband growled, sick with grief, too.
"Let the little cat go."
"What's killing me," Jim said, "is thinking of what I've brought on
Charity. It makes me want to die."
"But you'll have to live for her sake--and your mother's," said his
mother. "Charity's the only woman I know that's worth fighting for.
I've known her since she was born and I never knew her to do or say
one single petty thing. She hasn't got one of those qualities that
women hate so much in women."
"Then why should she have to suffer such persecution?" Jim cried.
"My God! is chivalry dead in the world?"
His father flung his arm around him and hugged him roughly. "Not
while there's a man like you to fight for a woman like her. I never
was so proud of anything as I am of being the father of a big fellow
like you, who can make a battle like yours for love of a woman."
"But why should I have to fight for her? Whose business is it but
ours that we want to get married decently and live together quietly?
Isn't this a free country?"
"Only the press is free," said his father. "And poor Charity is
getting nothing more than women have always got who've dared to ask
for their own way. They used to throw 'em to the lions, or bowstring
'em in the harems. And in the days of real chivalry they burned 'em
at the stake or locked 'em up in convents or castles. But don't you
worry, Jim, Charity has you for a champion and she's mighty lucky.
Go on and fight the muckers and the muck-rakers, and don't let the
reporters or the preachers scare you away from doing the one right
The newspapers kept within the almost boundless limits of the
libel law. Jim had publicity enough, and he did not care to add to
it by a libel suit, nor could he bring himself to make a personal
attack on any of his pursuers. His discretion took on the look
of poltroonery and he groveled in shame.
One bitter day he motored with Charity to a village where a
clergyman lived who had wearied of the persecution and volunteered
his offices. When they arrived his wife told Jim that he was
stricken ill. He had fretted himself into his bed.
Jim bundled Charity into his car and set forth again in a storm.
The car skidded and turned turtle in a ditch. By some chance neither
of them was more than bruised and muddied. The hamper of food was
spilled and broken and they had hours to wait by the roadside while
a wrecking crew came from the nearest city to right the car.
While they waited, forlorn and shivering, like two tramps rather
than like two malefactors of great wealth, their hunger drove them
to banquet on their little store.
Jim, gnawing at a crust of suspicious cleanliness, studied Charity
where she huddled in the shelter of a dripping tree, like a queen
driven forth into exile. And the tears poured from his eyes and
salted the bread. He had eaten the food of his own tears. He had
tasted life and found it bitter.
When the men came with the ropes and the tackle necessary and
slowly righted the car he found that its engine ran again and he
had speed and strength once more as his servants. He tried to
encourage Charity with a figure of speech.
"They've got us ditched, honey, for a while, but we'll get righted
soon and then life will be as smooth as smooth."
She tried to smile for his sake, but she had finished with hope.
While Jim and Charity sat by the roadside the Marchioness of
Strathdene, _née_ Kedzie Thropp, of Nimrim, sat on a fine
cushion and salted with her tears the toasted English crumpet
she was having with her tea.
She had been married indeed, but the same ban that fell upon Jim's
remarriage had forbidden her the wedding of her dreams. She was
the innocent party to the divorce and she was married in a church.
But it was not of the Episcopal creed, which she was now calling the
Church of England. Kedzie-like, she still wanted what she could not
get and grieved over what she got. It is usual to berate people of
her sort, but they are no more to be blamed than other dyspeptics.
Souls, like stomachs, cannot always coordinate appetite and
Kedzie had, however, found a husband who would be permanently
precious to her, since she would never be certain of him. Like
her, he was restless, volatile, and maintained his equilibrium as
a bicycle does only by keeping on going. He was mad to be off to
the clouds of France. There was a delay because ships were sailing
infrequently, and their departure was kept secret. Passengers had
to go aboard and wait.
Bidding "bon voyage" was no longer the stupid dock-party platitude
it had been. It was bidding "good-by" with faint hope of _"au
revoir."_ Ladies going abroad, even brides, thought little of
their deck costumes so long as they included a well-tailored
Mrs. Thropp stared at Kedzie and breathed hard in her creaking
satin. And Adna looked out at her over the high collar that took
a nip at his Adam's apple every time he swallowed it.
The old parents were sad with an unwonted sorrow. They had money at
last and they had even been hauled up close to the aristocracy as
the tail to Kite Kedzie. But now they had time to realize that they
were to lose this pretty thing they had somehow been responsible
for yet unable to control. They had nearly everything else, so their
child was to be taken from them.
Suddenly they loved her with a grave-side ache. She was their baby,
their little girl, their youth, their beauty, their romance, their
daughter. And perhaps in a few days she would be shattered and dead
in a torpedoed ship. Perhaps in some high-flung lifeboat she would
be crouching all drenched and stuttering with cold and dying with
Mrs. Thropp broke into big sobs that jolted her sides and she fell
over against Adna, who did not know how to comfort her. He held
her in arms like a bear's and patted her with heavy paws, but she
felt on her head the drip-drip of his tears. And thus Kedzie by her
departure brought them together in a remarriage, a poor sort of
honeymoon wherein they had little but the bitter-sweet privilege
of helping each other suffer.
The picture of their welded misery brought Kedzie a return, too,
to her child hunger for parentage. She wanted a mother and a
father and she could not have them. She went to put her exquisite
arms about them and the three so dissimilar heads were grotesquely
The Marquess of Strathdene pretended to be disgusted and stormed
out. But that was because he did not want to be seen making an ass
of himself, weeping as Bottom the Weaver wept. He flung away his
salted and extinguished cigarette and wondered what was the matter
with the world where nothing ever came out right.
His own mother was weeping all the time and her letters told always
of new losses. The newspapers kept printing stories of Strathdene's
chums being put away in a trench or a hospital, or falling from
the clouds dead.
And starvation was coming everywhere; in England there was talk
of famine, and all America had gone mad with fear of it. But still
the war went on in a universal suicide which nobody could stop, and
peace, the one thing that everybody wanted, was wanted by nobody
on any terms that anybody else would even discuss.
As he agonized with his philosophy and lighted another cigarette,
the street roared like hurricane. Below the windows the French
Mission was proceeding up Fifth Avenue. Marechal Joseph Joffre
and Rene Viviani were awakening tumult in the American heart and
stirring it to the rescue of France and of England and of Belgium
and Italy, with what outcome none could know. One could only know
that at last the great flood of war had encircled the United
States, reducing it to the old primeval problems and emotions:
how to get enough to eat, how to get weapons, how to find and beat
down the enemy, how to endure the farewells of fathers, mothers,
sons, sisters, sweethearts, wives. Everything was complex beyond
understanding for minds, but things were very simple for hearts;
they had only to ache with sorrow or wrath.
The Marchioness of Strathdene and her airy husband reached England
without being submarined, and there, to her great surprise, Kedzie
found a whole new universe of things not quite right. "If only it
were otherwise!" was still the perpetual alibi of contentment.
From the glory of the festivals of alliance Jim Dyckman and Charity
Coe were absent. Both were so eager to be abroad in the battle that
they did not miss the flag-waving. But they wanted to cross the
sea together. The importance of this ambition tempted Charity to
a desperate conclusion that the formalities of her union with Jim
did not matter so long as they were together. Yet the risk of death
was so inescapable and she was so imbued with churchliness that
her dreams were filled with visions of herself dead and buried in
unhallowed ground, of herself and Jim standing at heaven's gate
and turned away for lack of a blessing on their union.
Her soul was about ready to break completely, but her body gave
out first. It was in a small town in New Jersey that they found
The sky seemed to rain ice-water and they took refuge in the
village's one hotel, a dismal place near the freight-station.
The entrance was up a narrow staircase, past a bar-room door.
The rooms were ill furnished and ill kept, and the noise of
screaming locomotives and jangling freight-cars was incessant.
But there was no other hospitality to be had in the town.
Jim left Charity at her door and begged her to sleep. Her dull
eyes and doddering head promised for her.
He went to his own room and laughed at the cheap wretchedness of it:
the cracked pitcher in the cracked bowl, the washstand whose lower
door would not stay open, the two yellow towels in the rack, the
bureau, the cane chairs, and the iron bed with its thin mattress
and neglected drapery.
He lowered himself into a rickety rocker and looked out through
the dirtier window at the dirty town. The only place to go was to
sleep, and he tried to make the journey. But a ferocious resentment
at the idiocy of things drove away repose.
He resolved that he had been a fool long enough. He would give up
the vain effort to conform, and would take Charity without sanction.
He was impatient to go to her then and there, but he dared not
approach her till she had rested.
He remembered a book he had picked up at one of their villages of
denial. It was one of those numberless books everybody is supposed
to have read. For that reason he had found it almost impossible to
begin. But he was desperate enough to read even a classic. He hoped
that it would be a soporific. That was his definition of a classic.
The book was the Reverend Charles Kingsley's _Hypatia._ Jim was
down on the Episcopal clergy one and all, and he read with prejudice,
skipping the preface, of course, which set forth the unusual impulse
of a churchman to help the Church of his own day by pointing out the
crimes and errors of the Church of an earlier day; a too, too rare
appeal to truth for the sake of salvation by the way of truth.
As Jim glanced angrily through the early pages, the pictures of life
in the fifth century caught and quickened his gritty eyes. He skimmed
the passages that did not hold him, but as the hours went on he grew
more unable to let go.
The sacred lunch hour passed by ignored. The rain beat down on the
roof as the words rained up from the page. The character of that
eminently wise and beautiful and good Hypatia seemed to be Charity
in ancient costume. The hostility of the grimy churchmen of that day
infuriated him. He cursed and growled as he read.
The persecution of Hypatia wrought him to such wrath that he wanted
to turn back the centuries and go to her defense. He breathed hard as
he came to the last of the book and read of the lynching of Hypatia,
the attack of the Christians upon her chariot, the dragging of her
exquisite body through the streets, and even into the church, and up
to the altar, up to the foot of "the colossal Christ watching unmoved
from off the wall, his right hand raised to give a blessing--or
Jim panted as Philammon did, tracing her through the streets by the
fragments of her torn robes and fighting through the mob in vain to
reach her and shield her. He became Philammon and saw not words on
a page, but a tragedy that lived again.
She shook herself free from her tormentors, and, springing back,
rose for one moment to her full height, naked, snow-white against
the dusky mass around--shame and indignation in those wide clear
eyes, but not a stain of fear. With one hand she clasped her golden
locks around her; the other long white arm was stretched upward
toward the great still Christ, appealing--and who dare say, in
vain?--from man to God.
Her lips were opened to speak; but the words that should have come
from them reached God's ear alone; for in an instant Peter struck
her down, the dark mass closed over her again ... and then wail on
wail, long, wild, ear-piercing, rang along the vaulted roofs and
thrilled like the trumpet of avenging angels through Philammon's
Crushed against a pillar, unable to move in the dense mass, he
pressed his hands over his ears. He could not shut out those
shrieks! When would they end? What in the name of the God of mercy
were they doing? Tearing her piecemeal? Yes, and worse than that.
And still the shrieks rang on, and still the great Christ looked
down on Philammon with that calm, intolerable eye, and would not
turn away. And over His head was written in the rainbow, "I am the
same, yesterday, to-day, and forever!" The same as He was in Judea
of old, Philammon? Then what are these, and in whose temple? And
he covered his face with his hands, and longed to die.
It was over. The shrieks had died away into moans; the moans to
silence. How long had he been there? An hour, or an eternity?
Thank God it was over! For her sake--but for theirs?
Startled by the vividness of the murder, Jim looked up from the
book, thinking that he had heard indeed the shrieks of Charity
in a death-agony. The walls seemed to quiver still with their
He put down the book in terror and saw where he was. It was like
waking from a nightmare. He was glad to find that he was not in
a temple of ancient Alexandria, but in even that dingy New Jersey
He wondered if Charity had not died. He hesitated to go to her door
and knock. She needed sleep so much that he hardly dared to risk
waking her, even to assure himself that she was alive.
He went to the window and saw two men under umbrellas talking in
the yard between the hotel wings. They would not have been laughing
as they were if they had heard shrieks.
His eye was caught by a window opposite his. There sat Charity in
a heavy bath-robe; her hair was down; she had evidently dropped
into the chair by the open window and fallen asleep.
Jim stared at her and was reminded of how he had stared at Kedzie
on his other wedding journey. Only, Kedzie had been his bride, and
Charity was not yet, and might never be. Kedzie was girlish against
an auroral sky; she was rather illumined than dressed in silk.
Charity was a heart-sick woman, driven and fagged, and swaddled now
in a heavy woolen blanket of great bunches and wrinkles. Kedzie was
new and pink and fresh as any dew-dotted morning-glory that ever
sounded its little bugle-note of fragrance. Charity was an old
sweetheart, worn, drooping, wilted as a broken rose left to parch
Yet it was Charity that made his heart race with love and desire
and determination. She was Hypatia to him and he vowed that the
churchmen should not deny her nor destroy her. He clenched his
fists with resolution, then went back to his book and finished
it. He loved it so well that he forgave the Church and the clergy
somewhat for the sake of this clergyman who had spoken so sturdily
for truth and beauty and mercy. He loved the book so well that he
even read the preface and learned that Hypatia really lived once
and was virtuous, though pagan, and was stripped and slain at
the Christian altar, chopped and mutilated with oyster shells in
a literal ostracism, her bones burned and her ashes flung into
The lesson Kingsley drew from her fate was that the Church was
fatally wrong to sanction "those habits of doing evil that good
may come, of pious intrigue, and at last of open persecution,
which are certain to creep in wheresoever men attempt to set up
a merely religious empire, independent of human relationships
and civil laws." The preacher-novelist warned the Church of now
that the same old sins of then were still at work.
Jim closed the book and returned to the window to study Charity.
He vowed that he would protect her from that ostracism. His wealth
was but a broken sword, but it should save her.
He felt it childish of her to be so set upon a wedding at the hands
of one of the clergymen who stoned her, but he liked her better for
finding something childish and stubborn in her. She was so good,
so wise, so noble, so all-for-others, that she needed a bit of
obstinate foolishness to keep her from being absolute marble.
He put on his hat and his raincoat and went out into the town,
hunting a clergyman, resolved to compel him at all costs. The sudden
shower became lyrical to his mood as a railroad train clicks to the
mood of the passenger.
There was but one Episcopal church in the village and the
parsonage was a doleful little cottage against a shabby temple.
The hotelkeeper had told him how to find it, and the name of the
Jim tapped piously on the door, then knocked, then pounded. At
length a voice came to him from somewhere, calling:
"Come into the church!"
"That's what I've been trying to do for weeks," Jim growled. He
went into the church and found the parson in his shirt-sleeves. He
had been setting dishpans and wash-tubs and pails under the various
jets of water that came in through the patched roof in unwelcome
His sleeves were rolled up and he was rolling up pew cushions. He
gave Jim a wet hand and peered at him curiously. It relieved Jim
not to be recognized and regarded as a visiting demon.
The clergyman's high black waistcoat was frayed and shiny, as well
as wet, and his reverted collar had an evident edge from the way
the preacher kept moistening his finger and running it along the
rim. In spite of this worse than a hair-shirt martyrdom, the parson
seemed to be a mild and pitiful soul, and Jim felt hopeful of him
as he began:
"I must apologize, Mr. Rutledge, for intruding on you, but I--well,
I've got more money than I need and I imagine you've got less. I
want to give you a little of mine for your own use. Is there any
place you could put ten thousand dollars where it would do some
Young Mr. Rutledge felt for a moment that he was dreaming or
delirious. He made Jim repeat his speech; then he stammered:
"Oh, my dear sir! The wants of this parish! and my poor chapel! You
can see the state of the roof, and the broken windows. The people
are too poor to pay for repairs. My own pittance is far in arrears,
but I can't complain of that since so many of my dear flock are
in need. I was just about persuaded that we should have to abandon
the fight to keep the church alive. I had not counted on miracles,
but it seems that they do occur."
"Well, I'm not exactly a miracle-worker, but I've got some money
you can have if--there's a string to it, of course. But you could
use ten thousand dollars, couldn't you?"
"Indeed not," said Mr. Rutledge, feeling as Faust must have felt
when Mephisto began to promise things. A spurt of water from a new
leak brought him back from the Middle Ages and he cried: "You might
lend a hand with this tub, sir, if you will."
When the new cascade was provided for, Jim renewed his bids for
the preacher's soul:
"If you can't use ten thousand, how much could you use?"
"I don't know."
"Well, you could use a new roof at least. I'll give you a new roof,
and a real stained-glass window of Charity to replace that broken
imitation atrocity, and a new organ and hymn-books, and new pew
covers, and I'll pay your arrears of salary and guarantee your
future, and I'll give you an unlimited drawing account for your
poor, and--any other little things you may think of."
Mr. Rutledge protested:
"It's rather cruel of you, sir, to make such jokes at such a time."
"God bless you, old man! I never was so much in earnest. It's easy
for me to do those little trifles."
"Then you must be an angel straight from heaven."
"I'm an angel, they tell me, but from the opposite direction. It's
plain you don't know who I am. Sit down and I'll tell you the story
of my life."
So the little clergyman in his shirt-sleeves sat shivering with
incipient pneumonia and beatitude, and by his side in the damp pew
in the dark chapel Jim sat in his raincoat and unloaded his message.
The Reverend Mr. Rutledge had heard of Jim and of Charity, and had
regretted the assault of their moneyed determination on the bulwarks
of his faith. But somehow as he heard Jim talk he found him simple,
honest, forlorn, despised and rejected, and in desperate necessity.
He looked at his miserable church and thought of his flock. Jim's
money would put shingles on the rafters and music in the hymns and
food in the hungry. It became a largess from heaven.
He could see nothing, hear nothing, but a call to accept. He asked
for a moment to consider. He retired to pray.
His prayer was interrupted by one of his hungriest parishioners, a
Mrs. McGillicuddy, one of those poor old washerwomen whose woes pile
up till they are almost laughable to a less humorous heart than the
little preacher's. He asked her to wait and returned to his prayers.
His sheep seemed to gather about their shepherd and bleat for
pasture and shelter. They answered his prayer for him. He came
back and said:
* * * * *
"I do," was what Jim and Charity said a little later when Jim had
wrested Charity from her sleep by pounding at her door. He waited,
frantically, while she dressed. And he had the town's one hack at
the door below. He was afraid that the parson would change his mind
before they could get the all-important words out of him.
They rode through the rain like Heine's couple in the old stage-
coach, with Cupid, the blind passenger, between them. They ran into
the church under the last bucketfuls of shower. Jim produced the
license he had carried so long in vain. The washerwoman consented
to be one witness; the sexton-janitor made the other.
Jim had the ring ready, too. He had carried it long enough. It made
a little smoldering glimmer in the dusk church. He knelt by Charity
during the prayer, and helped her to her feet, and the little
clergyman kissed her with fearsome lips. Jim nearly kissed him
He did hug Mrs. McGillicuddy, and pressed into her hand a bill that
she thought was a dollar and blessed him for. When she got home and
found what it was she almost fainted into one of her own tubs.
Jim left a signed check for the minister, with the sumlines blank,
and begged him not to be a miser. They left with him a great doubt
as to what the Church would do to him for doing what he had done
for his chapel. But he was as near to a perfection of happiness
as he was likely ever to be.
His future woes were for him, as Charity's and Jim's were for them.
They would be sufficient to their several days; but for this black
rainy night there were no sorrows.
It was too late to get back to the city and luxury--and notoriety.
They stayed where they were and were glad enough. They expected to
fare worse on the battle-front in France where they would spend
There was some hesitation as to which of their two rooms at the
hotel was the less incommodious, but the furniture had been magically
changed. Everything was velvet and silk; what had been barrenness
was a noble simplicity; what had been dingy was glamorous.
The ghastly dinner sent up from the dining-room was a great banquet,
and the locomotive whistles and the thunderous freight-cars were
epithalamial flutes and drums.
Outside, the world was a rainy, clamorous, benighted place. And
to-morrow they must go forth into it again. But for the moment
they would snatch a little rapture, finding it the more fearfully
beautiful because it was so dearly bought and so fleeting, but
chiefly beautiful because they could share it together.
They were mated from the first, and all the people and the trials
that had kept them apart were but incidents in a struggle toward each
other. Henceforth they should win on side by side as one completed
being, doing their part in war and peace, and compelling at last from
the world, along with the blame and the indifference that every one
has always had from the world, a certain praise and gratitude which
the world gives only to those who defy it for the sake of what their
own souls tell them is good and true and honorable.