THE preacher began to speak with a quietness in almost startling contrast to his own evident emotion, and to the excitement in the audience-room. He made no allusion to the fact that this was his first appearance among his people since the wreck of the Clara Em, and the all but mortal illness which had followed his personal share in that catastrophe. Quite in his usual manner he conducted his Sunday evening service : a simple religious talk, varied by singing, and a few words from the New Testament. Bayard never read “ chapters ; ” a phrase sufficed, a narrative or a maxim ; sometimes he stopped at a single verse. The moment that the fishermen’s eyes wandered, the book closed. It was his peculiarity that he never allowed the Bible to bore his listeners ; he withheld it until they valued it. It was long remembered of him, among the people of the coast, that he made use of public prayer with a reserve and a power entirely unknown to the pulpits and the vestries. The ecclesiastical “ long prayer ” was never heard in Angel Alley. Bayard’s prayers were brief, and few. He prayed audibly before his people only when he could not help it. It seemed sometimes as if his heart broke in the act.
On this evening no prayer had as yet passed his lips; the stranger, with a slight frown, noticed this fact. But now the preacher brushed aside his notes, and, clearing the desk, crossed his hands upon it, and leaned forward with a marked change of manner. Suddenly, without a hint of his purpose, the young minister’s gentle voice rose into the tones of solemn arraignment.
“ I came here,” he said, “a stranger to this town and to its customs. It has taken me all this while to learn what your virtues and your vices are. I have dealt with you gently, preaching comfortable truths as I have been expected to preach them. I have worked in ignorance. I have spoken soft words. Now I speak them no more ! Your sin and your shame have entered like iron into my soul. People of Windover ! I accuse you in the name of Christ, whose minister I am ! ”
The expression of affectionate reverence with which his audience had listened to Bayard up to this moment now changed into one of surprise that resembled fear. Before he had spoken ten words more, it became evident that the young preacher was directing the full force of his conscience and his intelligence to a calm and deliberate attack upon the liquor habit and the liquor traffic, — one of the last of the subjects (as it is well known) conceded to be the business of a clergyman to meddle with in any community, and the very last which Windover had been trained to hear herself held to account for by her clerical teachers. At the hour when he came nearest to the adoration of those who adore without thought, when they saw him through the mist of romance, when the people, carried on a wave of heroworship, lay for the first time at his feet, Bayard for the first time opened fire upon their favorite sin.
Shot after shot poured down from those delicate, curving lips. Broadside followed broadside, and still the fire fell. He captured for them the elusive statistics of the subject ; he confronted them with its appalling facts ; he pelted them with incidents such as the soul sickens to relate or to remember. He denied them the weak consolation of condoning in themselves a moral disease too well known to be the vice of the land and of the times. He scored them with rebuke under which his leading men grew pale with alarm. Nothing could have been more unlike the conventional temperance address, yet nothing could have been more simple, manly, reasonable, and fearless.
“ For every prayer that goes up to God from this room,” he said, “ for every hymn, for every sacred word and vow of purity, for every longing of a man’s heart to live a noble life, there open fifty dens of shame upon this street to blast him. We are pouring holy oil upon a sea of mud. That is not good religion, and it is not good sense. We must prove our right to represent the Christian religion in Angel Alley. We must close its dens, or they ought to close our lips. I am ready to try,” he added, with his winning simplicity, “if you are. I shall need your help and your advice, for I am not educated in these matters as I ought to be. I was not taught how to save drunken men, in the schools where clergymen are trained. I must learn now — we must learn together — as best we can. . . . Oh, my people ! ” His voice fell from the tone of loving entreaty into that of prayer, by one of those moving transformations peculiar to himself, wherein those who heard him scarce could tell the moment when he ceased to speak to men and began to talk with God.
“ People of the Church of the Love of Christ! Approach God, for He is close at heart. . . . Thou great God ! Holy, Almighty, Merciful ! Make us know how to deal with sin, in our own souls and in the lives of others. For the sake of Thy Son whose Name we dare to bear. Amen.”
As the words of this outcry, this breath of the spirit, rose and ceased, the silence in the room was something so profound that a girl’s sigh was heard far back by the door.
The hush was stung by a long, low, sibilant sound ; a single hiss insulted that sacred stillness. Then a man, purple to the brows, rose and went out. It was old Trawl, whose saloon had been a landmark in Angel Alley for fifty years.
The stranger, who had been more moved than it seemed he cared to show by what he had heard and seen, passed slowly with the crowd down the long stairs, and reached the outer air. As the salt wind struck in his face, a hand was laid upon his shoulder. The young minister, looking pale and tired, but enviably calm, drew the visitor’s hand through his arm.
“I saw you, Fenton,” he said quietly, “when you first came in. You ’ll come straight to my lodgings with me. . . . Won’t you ? ” he added wistfully, fancying that Fenton hesitated. “ You can’t know how much it will mean to me. I have n’t seen anybody— why, I have n’t seen a fellow since I came to Windover.”
“ You must lead rather an isolated life, I should think,” observed Fenton with some embarrassment, as the two stood to hail the electric car that ran by Mrs. Granite’s humble door.
“ We’ll talk when we get there,” replied Bayard, rather shortly for him. “ The car will be full of people,’ he added apologetically. “ One lives in a glass bell here. Besides, I’m a bit tired.”
He looked, indeed, exhausted, as the electric light smote his thin face ; his eyes glowed like fire fed by metal, and his breath came short. He leaned his head back against the car window.
“ You cough, I see,” said Fenton, who was not an expert in silence.
“ Do I ? Perhaps. I had n’t thought of it.” He said nothing more until they had reached his lodgings. Fenton began to talk about the wreck and the rescue. He said the usual things in the usual way, offering, perforce, the tribute of a man to a manly deed.
Bayard nodded politely ; he would not talk about it.
Jane Granite opened the door for them. She looked at the minister with mute, doglike misery in her young eyes. “ You look dead beat out, sir,” she said. But Ben Trawl stood scowling in the door of the sitting-room; he had not chosen to go to the service, nor to allow her to go without him. Jane thought it was religious experience that made this such a disappointment to her.
“ Ah, Trawl,” said the minister heartily, “ I’m glad to see you here.”
He did not say, “ I am sorry you were not at church,” as Ben Trawl pugnaciously expected.
Bayard led his guest upstairs, and shut and locked the study door.
“ There ! ” he said faintly. “ Now, George Fenton, talk ! Tell me all about it. You can’t think how I am going to enjoy this ! I wish I had an easy-chair for you. Will this rocker do? If you don’t mind, I think I ’ll just lie down a minute.”
He flung himself heavily upon the old carpet-covered lounge. Fenton drew up the wooden rocking-chair to the cylinder stove, in which a low fire glimmered, and put his feet on top of the stove, after the manner of Cesarea and Galilee Hall.
“ Well,” he began, in his own comfortable way, “ I’ve accepted the call.”
“ I supposed you would,” replied Bayard, “ when I heard it was under way. I am glad of it ! ” he added cordially. “The First Church is a fine old church. You ’re just the man for them. They ’ll ordain you as easily as they swallow their native chowders. You came right over from their evening service to our place to-night ? You must have hurried.”
“ I did,” said the guest, with a certain air of condescension. “ I wanted to hear you, you know — once, at least.”
“ When you are settled, you can’t come, of course,” observed Bayard quickly. “ I understand that.”
“ Well — you see — I shall be — you know — in a very delicate position, when I become the pastor of that church.”
Fenton’s natural complacency forsook him for the instant, and something like embarrassment rested upon his easy face ; he showed it by the way he handled Mrs. Granite’s poker.
“It’s 72° in this room already,” suggested Bayard, smiling. “ Would you poke that fire any more ? . . . Oh, come, Fenton! I understand. Don’t bother your head about me, or how I may feel. A man does n’t choose to be where I am, to waste life in considering his feelings; those are the least important items in his natural history. Just stick to your subject, man. It ’s you I want to hear about.”
“ Well,” replied the guest, warming to the theme with natural enthusiasm, “ the call was unanimous. Perfectly so.”
“ That must be delightful.”
“ Why, so it is — it is, as you say, delightful. And the salary—they’ve raised the salary to get me, Bayard. You see, it had got out that. I had refused — ah — hum — several calls. And they ’d been without a man so long, I fancy they ’re tired of it. Anyhow, I’m to have three thousand dollars.”
“ That is delightful, too,” said Bayard. He turned over on his old lounge, coughing, and doubled the thin cretonne pillow under his head ; he watched his classmate with a half-quizzical smile ; his eyes and brow were perfectly serene.
“ I shall he ordained immediately,” continued Fenton eagerly, “ and bring my wife. They are refitting the parsonage. I went in last night to see that the carpets and papers and all that were what they should be. I am going to be married — Bayard, I am going to be married next week.”
“ And that is best of all,” said Bayard in a low voice.
“ She is really a lovely girl, though somewhat limited in her experience. I ’ve known her all my life — where I came from, in the western part of the State. But I think these gentle country girls make the best ministers’ wives. They educate up to the position rapidly.”
Bayard made no answer to this scintillation; a spark shot over his soft and laughing eyes, but his lips opened only to say, after a perceptible pause, —
“ Where is Tompkinton — he of the long legs and the army cape ? ”
“ Settled somewhere near you, I hear ; over across the Cape. He has a fine parish. He’s to have two thousand : that ’s doing well for a man of his stamp.”
“ I don’t think Tompkinton is the kind of man to think much about the salary,” returned Bayard gravely. “ He struck me as the other sort of fellow. What’s* become of Bent? ”
“ Graduates this summer, I suppose. I hear he’s called to Roxbury. He always aimed at a Boston parish. He ’s sure to boom.”
“ And that brakeman — Holt? He who admired Huxley’s Descent of Man?
“Oh, he is slumming in New York city. They say he is really very useful. He has some sort of mission work there, at the Five Points I’m told he makes a specialty of converted burglars.”
“ I have n’t been able to follow any of the boys,” said Bayard, coughing. “ I can’t very well — as I am situated. It does me good to hear something about somebody. Where’s that round fellow — Jaynes ? With the round glasses ? I remember he always ate two Baldwins, two en—tire Baldwin apples.”
“ Gone West, I believe. He’s admirably adapted to the West,” replied Fenton, settling his chair in his old comfortable way.
“ What an assorted lot we were ! ” said Bayard dreamily. “ And what a medley we were taught ! I have n’t opened one of my notebooks since I came here.”
“ Oh, in your work,” answered Fenton, “you don’t need to read, I should think.”
Bayard’s eyes sought his library ; rested lovingly on its full and well - used shelves; then turned away with the expression of one who says to a chosen friend, “ We understand. Why need anything be said ? ” He did not otherwise reply.
“ Were you ever ordained over your present charge ? ” asked his visitor suddenly, balancing the poker on the top curl of the iron angel that ornamented the cylinder stove. “ How did you manage it ? Did any of the —regular clergy — recognize the affair ? ”
“ I was not ordained,” replied Bayard, smiling contentedly. “ I sought nothing of the kind. But a few of the country ministers wished us Godspeed. There was one dear old man — he was my moderator at that Council — he came over and put his hands on my head and gave me the blessing.”
“ Oh — the charge to the pastor ? ”
“ We did n’t call it that. We did not steal any of the old phrases. He prayed and blessed me — that was all. He is a sincere, good man, and he made something impressive out of it, my people said. At all events, they were satisfied. We have to do things in our own way, you know. We are experimenting, of course.”
“ I should say that was a pretty serious experiment you inaugurated to-night in your service. If you’ll allow me to say so, I should call it very ill advised.”
“ It is a serious experiment,” answered Bayard gravely.
“ Expect to succeed in it ? ”
“ God knows.”
“ Bound to go on with it ? ”
“ Till I succeed or fail.”
“ What do you propose ? To turn temperance lecturer, and that sort of thing ? I suppose you ’ll be switching off your religious services into prohibition caucuses, and so forth.”
“ I propose nothing of the kind. I am not a politician. I am a preacher of the Christian religion. ”
“ I always knew you were eccentric, of course, Bayard. Everybody knows that. But I never expected to see you leading such a singular life. I never took you for this sort of fanatic. It seems so —common for a man of your taste and culture ; and there can be no doubt that it is unwise, from every point of view, even from your own, I should think. I don’t deny that your work impressed me, what I saw of it to-night. Your gifts tell — even here. It is a pity to have them misapplied. Now, what was your motive in that outbreak tonight? I take it, it was the first time you had tackled the subject.”
“ To my shame — yes. It was the first time. I have had reasons to look into it, lately — that ’s all. You see, my ignorance on the subject was colossal, to start in. We were not taught such things in the Seminary. Cesarea does as well as any of them — but no curriculum recognizes Job Slip. Oh, when I think about it ! — Predestination, foreordination, sanctification, election, and botheration, and never a lesson on the Christian socialism of our day ; not a lecture to tell us how to save a poor, lost woman, how to reform a drunkard, what to do with gamblers and paupers and thieves, and worse, how to apply what we believe to common life and common sense, how to lift miserable creatures, scrambling up, and falling back into the mud as fast as they can scramble— people of no religion, no morals, no decency, no hope, no joy, who never see the inside of a church ” —
“They ought to,” replied Fenton severely. “ That’s their fault, not ours. And all seminaries have a course on Pastoral Theology.”
“ I visited sixteen of the dens of this town last week,” answered Bayard. “ I took a policeman and went through the whole thing. I don’t blame them. I would n’t go to church if I were they. I shall dream about what I saw, — I don’t know that I shall ever stop dreaming about it. It is too horrible to tell. I would n’t even speak what I saw men and women live. The old sailors who have seen a good many ports call it a hell of a town. My own idea is, that it is n’t a particle worse than other places of its class. I fancy it’s a fair, average seaport town. Six thousand seamen sail this harbor every year. I can’t get at the number of dens they support: such figures are runaway lunatics, you understand ; they have a genius for hiding, and nobody wants to find them. But put it low — call it two hundred — in this little town. If it is n’t the business of a Christian church to shut them, whose is it ? If it is n’t the business of religious people to look after these fellows, whose is it ? I say, religious people are answerable for them, and for their vices ! The best people are responsible for the worst, or there’s no meaning in the New Testament, and no sense in the Christian religion. Oh,” said Bayard, with a sound that was more like a moan than a sigh, “ if Christ could come into Angel Alley — just this one street! If He could take this little piece of a worldful of human woe—modern human misery, you understand, all the new forms and phases that Palestine knew nothing about—if He could sweep it clean, and show us how to do it now ! Think, Fenton, think how He would go to work — what that would he ! . . . Sometimes I think it would be worth dying for.”
“ It strikes me it is harder to guess than predestination — what He would do if He were reincarnated,” replied Fenton gravely.
“It had not struck me so,” answered Bayard gently, “ but there may be something in that.”
“Now,” continued Fenton, “ take yourself. I fancy you believe — Do you suppose you are doing the kind of thing He would set about, if He were in your place ? ”
“ How can I tell ? ” said Bayard in a voice so low that it was scarcely articulate. “ How can a man know ? All I do know is, that I try. That is what — and that is all — I try to do. And I shall keep on trying, till I die.”
He spoke with a solemnity which admitted of no light response, even from a worldly man. Fenton was not that, and his eyes filled.
“ Well,” he said, after a silence, “ you are a good man, Emanuel Bayard. God go with you.”
“And with you,” replied Bayard, holding out his hand. “ Our roads lie different ways. We shall not talk like this again.”
“ You won’t mind that ? You won’t feel it,” said Fenton uncomfortably, for he had risen to leave, and the conversation hung heavily on his heart, “ if I don’t run across your way often ? It would hardly do, you see. My people — the church — the circumstances ” —
He brought the poker down hard upon the cerebrum of the iron angel, who resented the insult by tumbling over on the funnel ; thence, with a slam, to the floor. Fenton picked up the ornament, with a red face, and restored it to its place. He felt, as a man sometimes does, more rebuked than irritated by the inanimate thing.
“ Good-by,” said Bayard gently. It was all he said. He still held out his hand ; his classmate wrung it, and passed, with bowed head, from his presence.
The happy weather held over into the next day, and the harbor wore her celestial smile. The gentleness of summer clothed in the colors of spring rested upon the wooded coast beyond the long cliffoutline ; upon the broken scallops of the beaches, and the moss-green piers of the docks; upon the waves swelling without foam, and the patched sails of the anchored fleet unfurled to dry. The water still held the blue and gray tints that betoken cold weather too recently past or too soon returning to be forgotten. But the wind was south, and the saxifrage was in bud upon the downs in the clefts of the broken rocks between the boulders.
Bayard was a weak and weary man that day, — the events of the previous evening had told upon him more than he would have supposed possible, — and he gave himself a luxury. He put the world and the evil of it from his heart and brain, and went out on Wind over Point, to sun himself, alone ; crawling along, poor fellow, at a sad pace, Stopping often to rest, and panting as he pushed on. He had been an athletic lad, a vigorous, hearty man ; illness and its subtle train of physical and mental consequences spoke in the voices of strangers to him.
“ They will pass on,” he thought.
Bayard was such a lovable, cordial, human man that the isolation of his life in Windover had affected him more than it might have done a natural recluse.
Solitude is the final test of character as well as of nature. The romance of consecration has its glamour as well as the romance of love. Bayard had felt his way into this beautiful mist with a stout, good sense which is rare in the devotee, and which was perhaps his most remarkable quality. This led him to accept without fruitless resistance a lot which was pathetically alien to him. He was no gray-bearded saint, on whose leathern tongue joy had turned to ashes ; to whom renunciation was the last throw left in the game of life. He was a young man, ardent, eager, buoyant; confiding in hope because he had not tested it; believing in happiness because he had not known it; full of untried, untamed capacity for human delight, and with the instinct (generations old) of a luxurious training toward human ease. He had cut the silken cords between himself and the world of his old habits, ambitions, and friends with a steady stroke ; he had smitten the soft network like a man, and flung it from him like a spirit; but there were hours when he felt as if he were bleeding to death, inwardly, from sheer desolation.
“ That call of George Fenton’s upset me last night,” he said aloud, as he sank down at the base of a big boulder in the warm sand. He sometimes talked to the sea ; nothing else in Windover could understand him ; he was acquiring some of the habits of lonely people who live apart from their own class. How impossible it would have been in Cambridge, in Boston, or in Cesarea to be caught talking aloud! His pale face flushed, and he drew his hat over it, thanking Heaven that the rocks were deaf and the downs were dumb, that the sun would never tell, and the harbor was too busy to listen. He had lain there in the sand for some time, as motionless as a mollusk at low water.
“ All a man needs is a little hmman rest,” he thought. The April sun seemed to sink into his brain and heart with the healing touch that nothing human ever gives. He pushed his hat away from his face, and looked up gratefully, as if he had been caressed.
As he did so, he heard footsteps upon the crisp, red-cupped moss that surrounded the base of the boulder. He rose instinctively, and confronted a woman, — a lady. She had been walking far and fast, and had glorious color. The skirt of her purple gown was splashed with little sticks and burs and bits of moss ; her hands were full of saxifrage. She was trying, in the rising wind, to hold a sun-umbrella over her head, for she wore the street or traveling dress of the town, and her little bonnet gave her as much protection from the sun as a purple butterfly whose wings were dashed with gold.
Oddly enough, he recognized the costume before he did the wearer; so incredible did he find it that she should stand there, living, glowing, laughing,— a sumptuous beauty, stamped against the ascetic sky of Windover.
“ You ! ” he cried.
“Oh, I did not expect—I did not think ” — she stammered. He had never seen Helen Carruth disconcerted. But she blushed like a schoolgirl when she gave him, saxifrage and all, her ungloved hand.
“ Mother sent me ! — I came down for her and Father,” began Helen Carruth abruptly. Then she thought how that sounded, — as if she need be supposed to apologize for or explain the circumstance that she happened to find one of her father’s old students sunning himself upon a given portion of the New England coast; and she blushed again. When she saw the sudden, upward motion of Bayard’s heavy eyelids, she could have set her pretty teeth through her tongue, for vexation at her little faux pas. From sheer embarrassment, she laughed it off.
“ I have n’t heard anybody laugh like that since I came to Windover,” said Bayard, drawing a long breath. “ Do give me an encore ! ”
“ Now, then, you are laughing at me! ”
“ Upon the word of a poor heretic parson— no. You can’t think how it sounds. It sinks in—like the sun.”
“ But I don’t feel like laughing any more. I’ve got all over it. I’m afraid I can’t oblige you.”
“ Why not? You used to he good natured, I thought — in Cesarea, ages ago.”
“You are enough to drive the laugh out of a faun,” said the young lady soberly. “ Pray sit down again on your sand sofa. I did not know you had been so ill. Put on your hat, Mr. Bayard. Good society does not require ghosts to stand bareheaded at the seacoast in April.”
“ I don’t move in good society any longer. I am not expected to know anything about its customs. Sit down beside me a minute — and I will. No — stay. Perhaps you will take cold ? I wish I had some wraps. My coat ” —
“ When I take your coat ” — began the healthy girl. He had already flung his overcoat upon the dry, warm sand. She gave it back to him. Then she saw the color start into his pale face.
“ Oh, forgive me ! ” she said quickly. “ I did not mean — Mr. Bayard, I never was ill in my life.”
“Nor I, either, before now,” pleaded Bayard rather piteously.
“That was a sensible man who called it the ‘insolence of health.’ I did not mean to be impertinent, if you will take the trouble to believe me. I fail to grasp the situation — that ’s all. I am simply obtuse — blunt — blunt as a clam.”
She waved her sun-umbrella dejectedly toward the beach, where a solitary clam-digger, a bent, picturesque old man, was seeking his next chowder.
“ The amount of it is,” said Miss Carruth, more in her usual manner, “ that I was taken a little by surprise. You used to look so — different. You are greatly changed, Mr. Bayard. Being a heretic does not agree with you.”
“ I have had a little touch of something they call pneumonia down here,” observed Bayard carelessly. “ I’ve been out only a few days.”
She made no answer at. first; Bayard was looking at the clam-digger, but he felt that she was looking at him. She had seated herself on the sand beside him ; she was now quite her usual self ; her momentary embarrassment had disappeared like a sail around the Point. — a graceful, vanishing thing of whose motion one thinks afterwards. He did not suppose that she was there to sympathize with him, but he was vaguely aware of a certain unbridged gap in the subject, when she unexpectedly said, —
“ You have not asked me what I came to Windover for.”
“ Windover does not belong to me, Miss Carruth; nor”— A ray of disused mischief sprang to his eyes. Did he start to say, “ nor you ” ? He might have been capable of it as far back as Harvard, or even in junior year at Cesarea. That flash of human nonsense changed his appearance to an almost startling extent.
“ Why, now,” she laughed, “ I think I could recognize you without an introduction.”
“But you haven’t told me why you did come to Windover.”
“It does n’t signify. You exhibit no interest in the subject, sir.”
“ You are here,” he answered, looking at her. “ That fact preoccupied me.”
This reply was without precedent in her experience of him ; and she gave no sign, whether of pleasure or displeasure, of its effect upon her. She looked straight at the clam-digger, who was shouldering his basket laboriously upon his bent back, making a sombre Millet sketch against the cheerful afternoon sky.
“ I came down to engage our rooms,” she said lightly. “ We are coming here, you know, this summer. We board at the Mainsail. I had to have it out with Mrs. Salt about the mosquito bars. Mother would n’t come last year because the mosquito bars had holes, and let in hornets and a mouse. You understand,” she added, with something of unnecessary emphasis, “ we always come here summers.”
“ I understand nothing at all! ” said Bayard breathlessly. “ You were not here last summer, when I was candidating in the First Church.”
“ That, I tell you, was on account of the hornets and the mouse. The mouse clinched it ; he waked her walking up her sleeve one morning. So we went to Campobello the year after. But we always come to Windover.”
“ For instance, how many seasons constitute ‘ always ‘ ? ”
“ Three. This will be four. Father likes it above everything. So did Mother before the mouse epoch. She got to feeling hornets in her shoes whenever she put them on. I wonder Father never told you we always come to Windover? ”
“ The Professor had other things in his mind when he talked to me — second probation, and the dangers of modern German exegesis.”
“ Yes, I know. Dear Papa ! Windover is n’t a doctrine.”
“ I wonder you never told me you always came to Windover ? ”
“ Oh, I left that to Father,” replied the young lady demurely. “ I did come near it, though, once. Do you remember that evening ” —
“ Yes,” he interrupted ; “ I remember that evening.”
“ I mean, when you had taken me up the Seminary walk to see the cross. When you said good-by, that night, I thought I ’d mention it. But I changed my mind. You see, you had n’t had your call, then. I thought—I might — hurt your feelings. But we always do come to Windover. We are coming as soon as Anniversary is over. We have the Flying Jib to ourselves — that little green cottage, you know, on the rocks. What! Never heard of the Flying Jib ? You don’t know the summer Windover, do you ? ”
“ Only the winter Windover, you see.”
“ Nor the summer people, I suppose ? ”
“ Only the winter people.”
“ Father ’s hired that old fish-house for a study,” continued Helen, with some abruptness. “ He says he can’t, stand the women on the Mainsail piazzas ; you can hear them over at the Flying Jib when the wind sets our way ; they discuss the desserts, and pick each other’s characters to pieces, and compare Kensington stitches and neuralgia. Father is going to bring down his article on The State of the Unforgiven after Death — There ! ” she said suddenly, “ that Millet sketch is walking into Father’s study with his basket on his back. The State of the Unforgiven will be a little — clammy, don’t you think ? ”
Her eyes looked like the bed of a brown brook in the sun. Bayard laughed.
“ The dear Professor ! ” he said.
“ If Father were n’t such an archangel in private life, it would n’t be so funny,” observed Helen, jabbing the point of her purple-and-gold changeable silk sun-umbrella into the sand. “ I can’t see what he wants the unconverted to be burned up for. Can you ? ”
“ The State of the Unforgiven before Death is more than I can manage,” replied Bayard, smiling; “ I have my hands full.”
“ Do you like it ? ” asked Helen, with a pretty, puzzled knot between her smooth brows.
“ Like what ? I like this.”
He looked at her; as any other man might, — like those students who used to come so often, and who suddenly called no more. Helen had never seen that expression in his eyes. She dropped her own. She dug little wells in the fine white sand with her sun-umbrella before she said, —
“ I have to get the six-o’clock train ; you know I have n’t come to stay, yet.”
“ But you are coming ! ” he exclaimed, with irrepressible joyousness.
She made no answer, and Bayard’s sensitive color changed.
“ Do I like what ? ” he repeated in a different tone.
“ Heresy and martyrdom,” replied Helen serenely.
“ I regret nothing, if that is what you mean; no matter what it costs, no matter how it ends — no, not for an hour. I told the truth, and I took the consequenees ; that is all. How can a man regret standing by his best convictions ? ”
“ He might regret the convictions,” suggested Helen.
“ Might he ? Perhaps. Mine are so much stronger than they were when I started in that they race me and drag me like winged horses in a chariot of fire.”
His eyes took on their dazzling look ; like fine flash-lights they shot forth a brilliance as burning as it was brief ; then their calm and color returned to them. Helen watched the transfiguration touch and pass his face with a sense of something so like reverence that it made her uncomfortable. Like many girls trained as she had been, she had small regard for the priestly office, and none for the priestly assumptions. The recognition of a spiritual superiority which she felt to be so far above her that, in the nature of things, she could not understand it, gave her strong nature a jar : something within her, hitherto fixed and untroubled, shook before it.
Bayard, without apparent consciousness of the young lady’s thoughts, or indeed of her presence for that moment, went on dreamily : —
“ I was a theorizer, a dreamer, a theologic apprentice, a year ago. I knew no more of real life than — that silver sea-gull making for the lighthouse tower. I took notes about sin in the lectureroom. Now I study misery and shame in Angel Alley. The gap between them is as wide as the stride of that angel in Revelation —do you remember him ? — who stood with one foot upon the land and one upon the sea. All I mind is, that I have so much more to learn than I need have had — everything, in fact. If I had been taught, if I had been trained — if it had not all come with that kind of shock which benumbs a man’s brain at first, and uses up his vitality so much faster than he can afford to spare it — But I have no convictions, that I ought to be talking like this ! ”
“ Go on,” said Helen softly.
“ Oh, to what end ? ” asked Bayard wearily. “ That ecclesiastical system which brought me where I am can’t be helped by one man’s rebellion. It’s going to take a generation of us. But there is enough that I can help. It is the can-be’s, not the can’t-be’s, that are the business of men like me.”
“ I saw you with that drunken man ; he had his arms about you,” answered Helen, with charming irrelevance. Her untroubled brows still held that little knot, half of perplexity, half of annoyance. It became her, for she looked the more of a woman for it.
“ Job Slip ? Oh, in Boston that day ; yes. I got him home to his wife all right, . that night. He was sober after that for — for quite a while. I wish you had seen that woman ! ” he said earnestly. “ Mari is the most miserable—and the most grateful—person that I know. I never knew what a woman could suffer till I got acquainted with that family. They have a dear little boy. His father used to beat him over the head with a shovel. Joey comes over to see me sometimes, and goes to sleep on my lounge. We ‘re great chums.”
“ You do like it,” said Helen slowly. She had raised her brown eyes while he was speaking, and watched his face with a veiled look. “ Yes ; there’s no doubt about it. You do.”
“Wouldn’t you?” asked Bayard, smiling.
“ No, I should n’t.” She shook her head with that positiveness so charming in an attractive woman, and so repellent in an ugly one. “ When they burn you at the stake, you ’ll swallow the fire and enjoy it. You ’ll say, ‘ Forgive them, for they don’t mean it, poor things.’ I should say, ‘ Lord, punish them, for they ought to know better.’ That’s just the difference between us. Mother must be right. She always says I am not spiritual.
“ I don’t know but I should like to see that little boy, though,” added Helen reluctantly ; “ and Mari — if she had on a clean apron.”
“ She does n’t very often. But it might happen. Why, you might go over there with me — sometime — this summer, and see them ? ” suggested Bayard eagerly.
“ So you lay the first little smoking fagot, do you? For me, too?” She laughed.
“ God forbid ! ” said Bayard quickly.
Helen’s voice had not been as light as her laugh, and her bright face was grave when he turned and regarded it. She gave back his gaze without evasion, now. She seemed to have grown indefinably older and gentler since she had sat there on the sand beside him. Her eyes, for the first time, now, it appeared, intentionally studied him. She took in the least detail of his changed appearance : the shabby coat, the patch on his boot, his linen, worn and darned, the fading color of his hat. She remembered him as the best dressed man in Cesarea Seminary ; nothing but rude, real poverty could have so changed that fashionable and easy student into this country parson, rusting and mended and out - of - the - mode, and conscious of it to the last sense, as only the town-bred man of luxurious antecedents can be of the novel deprivation that might have been another’s native air.
“ I don’t know that it is necessary to look so pale,” was all she said. “ I should think you’d tan here in this glare. I do. See ! ”
She held out her bare hands, and doubled them up, putting them together to scrutinize the delicate backs of them for the effect of an hour’s Windover sun. Her dark purple gloves and the saxifrage lay in her lap. Bayard held the sunumbrella over her. It gave him a curious sense of event to perform this little courtesy ; it was so long since he had been among ladies, and lived like other gentlemen ; he felt as if he had been upon a journey in strange lands, and were coming home again. A blossom of the saxifrage fell to the hem of her dress, and over upon the sand. He delicately touched and took it, saying nothing.
“ Does Mr. Hermon Worcester come and pour pitch and things on the bonfire ? ” asked Helen suddenly.
“ I thought you knew,” answered Bayard ; “ my uncle has disinherited me. He is not pleased with what I have done.”
“Ah! I did not know. Does n’t he — Excuse me, Mr. Bayard. It is not my business.”
“ He writes to me,” said Bayard. “ He sent me things when I was sick. He was very kind then. We have not quarreled at all. But it is some time since I have seen him. I am very fond of my uncle. He is an old man, you know. He was brought up so. We must n’t blame him. He thinks I am on the road to perdition. He does n’t come to Windover.”
“ I see,” said Helen. She leaned her head back against the boulder and looked through half-shut lids at the dashing sea. The wind was rising.
“ I must go,” she said abruptly.
“May I take you over to the station ? ” he asked, with boyish anxiety.
“ Mr. Salt is going to harness old Pepper,” she answered.
Bayard said nothing. He remembered that he could not afford to drive a lady to the station ; he could not offer to “ take ” her in the electric conveyance of the great American people. He might have spent at least three quarters of an hour more beside her. It seemed to him that he had not experienced poverty till now. The exquisite outline of his lip trembled for the instant with that pathos which would have smitten a woman to the heart if she had loved him. Helen was preoccupied with her saxifrage and her purple gloves. She did not, to all appearance, see his face, and he was glad of it.
He arose in silence, and walked beside her to the beach and toward the town.
“Mr. Bayard,” observed Helen, with her pleasant unexpectedness, “ I owe you something.”
All this while she had not mentioned the wreck or the rescue ; she alone, of all people whom he had seen since he came out of his sick-room, had not inquired, nor exclaimed, nor commended, nor admired. Something in her manner — it could hardly be said what — reminded him now of this omission ; he had not thought of it before.
“ I owe you a recognition,” she said.
“ I cancel the debt,” he answered, smiling.
“ You cannot. I owe you the recognition — of a friend — for that brave and noble deed you did. Accept it, sir ! ”
She spread out her hands with a pretty gesture, as if she gave him something ; she moved her head with a commanding and royal turn, as if her gift had value. He lifted his hat.
“ I could have done no less then ; but I might do more — now.”
His worn face had lightened delicately. He looked hopeful and happy.
“ A man does n’t put himself where I am, to complain,” he added. “ But I don’t suppose you could even guess how solitary my position is. The right thing said in the right way gives me more courage than — people who say it. can possibly understand. I have so few friends — now. If you allow me to count you among them, you do me a very womanly kindness ; so then I shall owe you, ” —
“I cancel the debt! ” she interrupted, laughing. “ Did n’t Father write to you,” she hurried on, “ when you were so ill ? ”
“ Oh yes. The Professor’s note was the first I was allowed to read. He said all sorts of things that I did n’t deserve. He said that, in spite of the flaws in my theology, I had done honor to the old Seminary.”
“ Really ? Father will wear a crown and a harp for that concession. Did he give you any message from me, I wonder ? ”
“ He said the ladies sent their regards.”
“Oh! Was that all?”
“ That was all.”
“ It was not quite all,” said Helen, after a moment’s rather grave reflection. “ But never mind. Probably Father thought the exegesis incorrect somewhere.”
“ Perhaps he objected to the context ? ” asked Bayard mischievously.
“ More likely he had a quarrel in the Faculty on his mind, and forgot it.”
“If you had written it yourself ” — suggested Bayard humbly. “ But of course you had other things to do.”
Helen gave him an inscrutable look. She made no reply. They passed the fish-house, and the old clam-digger, who was sitting on his overturned basket in the sun, opening clams with a blunt knife, and singing hoarsely : —
The child’s at the door,
The man ’s at the wheel.
Fog at the back,
Death at the keel.
Which shall it be ?
God, He won’t tell.
Drive on to&emdash ! ”
“ There is Mr. Salt,” said Helen ; for the two had come slowly up in silence to the old gate (fastened with a rope tied in a sailor’s knot) that gave the shortcut across the meadow to the Mainsail summer hotel.
“ He is watching for me. How sober he looks! Perhaps something dreadful has happened to Mrs. Salt. Wait a minute. Let me run in ! ”
She tossed her sun-umbrella, gloves, and saxifrage in a heap across Bayard’s arm, and ran like a girl or a collie swaying across the meadow in the wind. In a few minutes she walked back, flushed and laughing.
“ Pepper can’t go ! ” she cried. “ He’s got the colic. He’s swallowed a celluloid collar. Mr. Salt says he thought it was sugar. I must go right along and catch the car.”
“ You have eight minutes yet,” said Bayard joyously, “and I can go too ! ”
The car filled up rapidly; they chatted of little things, or sat in silence. Jane Granite came aboard as they passed her mother’s door. Bayard lifted his hat to her cordially ; she was at the further end of the car ; she got off at a grocery store, to buy prunes, and did not look back. She had only glanced at Helen Carruth, Bayard did not notice when Jane left.
The train came in and went out. Helen stood on the platform, leaning over to take her saxifrage : a royal vision, blurring and melting in purple and gold before his eyes.
The train came in and went out; her laughing eyes looked back from the frame of the car window. The train went out. He turned away, and went slowly home.
Jane had not returned, and Mrs. Granite was away. The house was deserted, and the evening was coming on cold. He climbed the steep stairs wearily to his rooms, and lighted a fire, for he coughed a good deal. He had to go down into the shed and bring up the wood and coal. He was so tired when this was done that he flung himself upon the old lounge. He looked slowly about his dismal rooms: at the top curl of the iron angel on the ugly stove ; at the empty wooden rocking-chair with the bones ; at the paper screen, where the Cupid on the basket of grapes sat forever tasting, and never eating, impossible fruit; at the study-table, where the subscription list for his quarter’s salary lay across the manuscript notes of his last night’s sermon. The great St. Michael on the wall eyed him with that absence of curiosity which belongs to remote superiority. Bayard did not return the gaze of the picture. He took something from his vest pocket and looked at it gently, twisting it about in his thin hands. It was a sprig of saxifrage, whose white blossom was hanging its head over upon the dry, succulent stem. Bayard got up suddenly, and put the flower in a book upon his study-table.
As he did so. a short, soft, broken sound pattered up the stairs. The door opened without the preliminary of a knock, and little Joey Slip walked seriously in. He said he had come to see the minister. He sat down sedately and ceremoniously upon the carpet lounge. He said Marin said to say Father’s home from Georges’, drunk as a fish. He put out his little fingers and patted Bayard on the cheek, as if the minister had been the child, and Joey the old, old man.
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.