The Inside of the Cup

CHAPTER XI
THE LOST PARISHIONER

I

Hodder opened the door. In the dingy passageway he perceived a tall figure which immediately turned out to be that of an old gentleman. In spite of the heat, he wore a long coat and an old-fashioned, high collar, a black tie, under which was exposed a triangle of immaculate, pleated linen. In one hand he held a gold-headed stick, a large tall hat of which the silk nap was a little rubbed, a string sustaining a parcel, the brown paper wrapping of which was soaked: in the other, a manila bag containing lemons.

His head was bent forward a little, the high dome of it was bald, but the white hair clustered thickly behind the temples. The face was clean-shaven, the cheeks touched with red, the nose high and dominating, distinctly philanthropic. And the blue eyes rested on the clergyman with a benevolence unfeigned.

"Good afternoon, sir," the old gentleman said; "I am told Mrs. Garvin lives here."

Before the rector could reply Mrs. Garvin herself stood between them.

"It's Mr. Bentley!" she exclaimed.

"I fear I'm intruding, ma'am," he said. "But some of Dicky's little friends have just informed me that he is ill, and I have taken the liberty of calling to inquire."

Mr. Bentley entered the room,—simple words to express that which was in some sort an event. He laid his parcels on the table, his hat and stick on a chair, and stood looking down in silence at the thin little form on the couch. Presently he turned.

"I'm afraid he's very ill, ma'am," he said gently. "You have your own doctor, no doubt. But if you will permit me, as a friend, to make a suggestion, we have in the city one of the best child specialists in the United States, who is never weary of curing these little ones,—Dr. Jarvis, and I shall be happy to ask him to come and see Dicky."

Mrs. Garvin glanced at Hodder, who came forward.

"I was just about to telephone for Dr. Jarvis, Mr. Bentley, when you arrived. I am Mr. Hodder, of St. John's."

"How do you do, sir?" The kindly eyes, alight with a gentle flame, rested upon the rugged figure of the rector. "I am glad that you, too, agree that Dr. Jarvis is advisable, Mr. Hodder."

There was a sound from the bed. Garvin had got to his feet and was staring wildly, with reddened lids.

"Are you Horace Bentley?" he demanded.

"That is my name, sir," Mr. Bentley replied. His expression of surprise was only momentary. And in all his life Hodder had never beheld a greater contrast in human beings than between that gracious and courtly old man and the haggard, unkempt, unshaved, and starving outcast facing him. Something like a film came over Garvin's eyes.

"He ruined you, too, twenty years back—Eldon Parr did for you, too. Oh, I know his record, I've followed his trail—he got all the Grantham stock that would have made you a millionnaire!"

"Ah," replied Mr. Bentley, smiling to humour him, "that's something I have no wish to be, sir,—a millionaire." He met the frightened gaze of the wife. "Good day, ma'am. If you will allow me, I'll come to-morrow morning to learn what Dr. Jarvis will have had to say. Have courage, ma'am, have courage. You may have faith in Dr. Jarvis."

The poor woman was incapable of speech. Mr. Bentley picked up his hat and stick.

"I've taken the liberty of bringing Dicky a little ice and a few lemons." His eyes rested again on the couch by the window. Then he turned to Garvin, who stood mutely, staring. "Good evening, sir," he said. "We must look for the best."

II

They went down the stairs of the shabby and battered house, stairs by the side of which holes had been knocked through the faded wall-paper—scars of frequent movings. The sound and smell of frying came out of the open door of what once had been the parlour, and on the front steps a little girl darted past them with a pitcher of beer. When they reached the sidewalk Mr. Bentley halted.

"If you were intending to telephone Dr. Jarvis, Mr. Hodder, there is a public station in the drug store just above here. I know that clergymen are busy persons, and I am passing it, if you are pressed for time."

"My only concern is to get Jarvis here," said the rector. "If I may go with you—"

Once again in the hot sunlight, reaction had set in. Hodder was suddenly unstrung, and the kindly old gentleman beside him seemed for the instant the only fixture in a chaotic universe. It was not until later reflection that he realized Mr. Bentley might, by an intuitive sympathy, a depth of understanding, have drained something of his state, since the incidents which followed were to be accounted for on no other grounds. In such elemental moments the frail conventions are swept away: Mr. Bentley, whoever he might be, was no longer a stranger; and it seemed wholly natural to be walking with him up the street, to hear him saying,—not with perfunctory politeness but in a tone that was itself an invitation,—"With pleasure, sir, we'll go together. And let us trust that the doctor will be at home."

Nor did Hodder stop to wonder, then, why Mr. Bentley should have sought in his conversation to dissipate something of the hideous blackness of a tragedy which must have moved him profoundly. How fortunate, he declared, that they should have arrived before it was too late! For it was plain to be seen that these Garvins were good people who had been broken by adversity.... The boy had struck him particularly—a lovable, merry little fellow whose clothes, Mr. Bentley observed, were always neatly mended, betokening a mother with self-respect and character. He even spoke of Garvin: adversity, worry, the heat, constant brooding over a happier past and an uncertain future—was it surprising that the poor man's mind had become unhinged? They must make some plan for Garvin, said Mr. Bentley, get the man and his wife into the country for a while amongst kindly people. This might no doubt be arranged....

"Here we are, sir."

The familiar smell of drugs, the sound of the trickling water in the soda fountain roused Hodder to reality, to action, and he hurried into the telephone booth, fumbled in the dog-eared book, got Dr. Jarvis's number and called it. An eternity seemed to elapse before he had a reply, heard his coin jangling in the bog, recognized the voice of the great doctor's secretary. Yes, the doctor was in would he speak to Mr. Hodder, of St. John's?... An interval, during which Hodder was suddenly struck with this designation of himself. Was he still of St. John's, then? An aeon might have elapsed since he had walked down the white marble of its aisle toward the crouching figure in the pew. He was not that man, but another—and still Mr. Hodder, of St. John's.... Then he heard the specialist say, "Hello, Mr. Hodder, what can I do for you?" Heard his own voice in reply, explaining the case. Could the doctor find time? The doctor could: he was never too busy to attend to the poor,—though he did not say so: he would be there—by half-past six. The rector hung up the receiver, opened the door of the booth and mopped his brow, for the heat was stifling.

"The doctor will go," he explained in answer to Mr. Bentley's inquiring look.

"Now, sir," said the old gentleman, when they were out of the store, "we have done all that we can for the time being. I do not live far from here. Perhaps you would give me the pleasure of taking supper with me, if you have no other engagement."

No other engagement! Not until then did Hodder remember his empty rooms in the parish house, and the train which was to have borne him away from all this already speeding northward. He accepted gratefully, nor did he pause to speculate upon the mystery by which the stream of his life seemed so suddenly to have been diverted. He had, indeed, no sense of mystery in the presence of this splendidly sane, serene old man, any more than the children who ran after him from the dingy yards and passages, calling his name, clinging to the skirts of his coat. These accepted him simply as an anomalous fact in their universe, grinned at his pleasantries, and held up grimy little hands for the kidney-shaped candy beans he drew forth from his capacious pockets. In the intervals he reminisced to the rector about the neighbourhood.

"It seems but a short while ago when the trees met overhead—magnificent trees they were. The asphalt and the soot killed them. And there were fruit trees in that yard"—he pointed with his stick to a littered sun parched plot adjoining a battered mansion—"all pink and white with blossoms in the spring. Mr. Hadley lived there—one of our forgotten citizens. He is dead and gone now and his family scattered. That other house, where the boy lies, belonged to Mr. Villars, a relation of the Atterbury family, and I can recall very well a little girl with a pink sash and a white dress who used to come running out to meet me with flowers in her hands. Incredible as it may seem, she picked them in that yard. I thought of her as I went in, how fresh and happy she used to be, and what a different place this was for children then. She must have some of her own by this time."

The character of the street had changed to what might be called shabby-genteel, and they stopped before a three-story brick house—one of a row—that showed signs of scrupulous care. The steps were newly scrubbed, the woodwork neatly painted.

"This is where I live, sir," said Mr. Bentley, opening the door with a latchkey and leading the way into a high room on the right, darkened and cool, and filled with superb, old-fashioned rosewood furniture. It was fitted up as a library, with tall shelves reaching almost to the ceiling.

An old negro appeared, dressed in a swallow-tailed coat. His hair was as white as his master's, and his face creased with age.

"Sam," said Mr. Bentley, "I have brought home a gentleman for supper."

"Yassah, Misteh Ho'ace. I was jest agwine to open up de blin's."

He lifted the wire screens and flung back the shutters, beamed on the rector as he relieved him of his hat, and noiselessly retired. Curiosity, hitherto suppressed by more powerful feelings, awoke in Hodder speculations which ordinarily would have been aroused before: every object in the room bespoke gentility, was eloquent of a day when wealth was honoured and respected: photographs, daguerreotypes in old-fashioned frames bore evidence of friendships of the past, and over the marble mantel hung a portrait of a sweet-faced woman in the costume of the thirties, whose eyes reminded Hodder of Mr. Bentley's. Who was she?

Hodder wondered. Presently he found himself before a photograph on the wall beyond, at which he had been staring unconsciously.

"Ah, you recognize it," said Mr. Bentley.

"St. John's!"

"Yes," Mr. Bentley repeated, "St. John's." He smiled at Hodder's glance of bewilderment, and put his hand on the younger man's arm. "That picture was taken before you were born, sir, I venture to say—in 1869. I am very fond of it, for it gives the church in perspective, as you see. That was Mr. Gore's house"—he indicated a square, heavily corniced mansion—"where the hotel now stands, and that was his garden, next the church, where you see the trees above the wall."

The rector turned again and looked at his host, who, was gazing at the picture thoughtfully.

"I ought to have remembered," he said. "I have seen your name in the church records, sir, and I have heard Mr. Waring speak of you."

"My dear Mr. Hodder, there is no reason why you should have known me. A great many years have passed since I was a parishioner of St. John's—a great many years."

"But it was you," the rector began, uncertainly, and suddenly spoke with conviction, "it was you who chose the architect, who did more than other men to make the church what it is."

"Whatever I may have done," replied Mr. Bentley, with simple dignity, "has brought its reward. To this day I have not ceased to derive pleasure from it, and often I go out of my way, through Burton Street, although the view is cramped. And sometimes," he added, with the hint of a twinkle in his eye, "I go in. This afternoon is not the first time I have seen you, Mr. Hodder."

"But—?" said the rector. He stared at the other's face, and the question died on his lips.

"You wonder why I am no longer a parishioner. The time came when I could not afford to be." There was no hint of reproach in his voice, of bitterness. He spoke regretfully, indeed, but as one stating an incontrovertible fact. "I lost my fortune, I could not keep my pew, so I deeded it back to the church. My old friends, Mrs. Dimock and Asa Waring, and others, too, were very kind. But I could not accept their hospitality."

Hodder bowed his head in silence. What thundered indictment of the Church of Christ could have been as severe, as wholly condemning as these few words so dispassionately uttered by the man beside him?

The old darky entered, and announced supper.

Hodder had lost his way, yet a hand had been held out to him, and he seized it. With a sense of being led, psychically as well as physically, he followed Mr. Bentley into a large bedroom, where a high, four-posted bed lifted a pleated canopy toward the ceiling. And after he had washed his hands they entered a dining-room looking out upon a little yard in the rear, which had been transformed into a garden. Roses, morning glories, and nasturtiums were growing against the walls; a hose lay coiled upon the path; the bricks, baked during the day, were splashed with water; the leaves and petals were wet, and the acrid odour of moist earth, mingling with perfumes, penetrated the room. Hodder paused in the window.

"Sam keeps our flowers alive," he heard Mr. Bentley say, "I don't know how."

"I scrubs 'em, sah," said Sam. "Yassah, I washes 'em like chilluns."

He found himself, at Mr. Bentley's request, asking grace, the old darky with reverently bent head standing behind his master; sitting down at a mahogany table that reflected like a mirror the few pieces of old silver, to a supper of beaten biscuits that burned one's fingers, of 'broiled chicken and coffee, and sliced peaches and cream. Mr. Bentley was talking of other days—not so long gone by when the great city had been a village, or scarcely more. The furniture, it seemed, had come from his own house in what was called the Wilderness Road, not far from the river banks, over the site of which limited trains now rolled on their way eastward toward the northernmost of the city's bridges. He mentioned many names, some remembered, some forgotten, like his own; dwelt on pleasures and customs gone by forever.

"A little while after I moved in here, I found that one old man could not fill the whole of this house, so I let the upper floors," he explained, smilingly. "Some day I must introduce you to my tenants, Mr. Hodder."

By degrees, as Hodder listened, he became calm. Like a child, he found himself distracted, talking, asking questions: and the intervals grew longer between the recurrent surges of fear when the memory rose before him of the events of the day,—of the woman, the child, and the man: of Eldon Parr and this deed he had done; hinting, as it did, of closed chambers of other deeds yet to be opened, of countless, hidden miseries still to be revealed: when he heard once more the tortured voice of the banker, and the question: "How would you like to live in this house—alone?" In contrast, now he beheld the peace in the face of the man whose worldly goods Eldon Parr had taken, and whom he had driven out of the church. Surely, this man had found a solution!... What was it?

Hodder thought of the child, of the verdict of Dr. Jarvis, but he lingered on, loth to leave,—if the truth be told—afraid to leave; drawing strength from his host's calm, wondering as to the source of it, as to the life which was its expression; longing, yet not presuming, to question. The twilight deepened, and the old darky lit a lamp and led the way back to the library.

"Sam," said Mr. Bentley, "draw up the armchair for Mr. Hodder beside the window. It is cooler there."

"I ought to go," Hodder said. "I ought to see how the child is. Jarvis will have been there by this time, and there may be necessaries—"

"Jarvis will have attended to that," Mr. Bentley replied. "Sit down, Mr. Hodder. I am not sure that, for the present, we have not done all in this case that is humanly possible."

"You mean," said the rector, "that they will accept nothing from me." It came from him, spontaneously, like a cry. He had not meant to say it. "I don't blame them. I don't blame them for losing their faith in God and man, in the Church. I ought to have seen it before, but I was blind, incredibly blind—until it struck me in the face. You saw it, sir, and you left a church from which the poor are thrust out, which refuses to heed the first precept of its Master."

"I saw it," answered Mr. Bentley, "but I could do nothing. Perhaps you can do—something."

"Ah!" Hodder exclaimed sharply, "why do you say that? The Church is paralyzed, chained. How can she reach these wretched people who are the victims of the ruthless individualism and greed of those who control her? You know—that man, Mr. Bentley." (Hodder could not bring himself to pronounce Eldon Parr's name.) "I had an affection for him, I pitied him, because he suffers—"

"Yes," echoed Mr. Bentley, "he suffers."

Hodder was momentarily arrested by the sadness of his tone.

"But he doesn't know why he suffers—he cannot be made to see," the rector went on. "And he is making others suffer,—hideously, while he imagines himself a Christian. He is the Church to that miserable, hopeless wretch we saw to-day, and to hundreds of the same kind whom he has driven to desperation. And I—who am supposed to be the vicar of God—I am powerless. They have a contempt for me, a just contempt. They thrust me out of their doors, bid me to return and minister to their oppressors. You were right to leave, and I should have left long since."

He had not spoken with violence, or with a lack of control. He seemed rather to have regained a mastery of himself, and felt as a man from whom the shackles have been struck, proclaiming his freedom. Mr. Bentley's eyes lighted in involuntary response as he gazed at the figure and face before him. He pressed his hands together.

"If you will forgive a curiosity, Mr. Hodder, that is somewhat due to my interest in a church with which I have many precious associations, may I ask if this is a sudden determination on your part?"

"No," Hodder said. "I have known ever since I came here that something was wrong, but at first I couldn't see it, and after that I wouldn't see it. That is about what happened, as I look back on it.

"But the farther in I went," Hodder continued, "the more tangled and bewildered I became. I was hypnotized, I think," he added with a gesture,—"hypnotized, as a man is who never takes his eyes from a pattern. I wanted to get at this neighbourhood—Dalton Street—I mean, and finally I agreed to the establishment of a settlement house over here, to be paid for largely by Eldon Parr and Francis Ferguson. I couldn't see the folly of such an undertaking—the supreme irony of it, until—until it was pointed out to me." He hesitated; the remembrance of Alison Parr ran through him, a thread of pain. "And even then I tried to dodge the issue, I tried to make myself believe that good might flow out of evil; that the Church, which is supposed to be founded on the highest ideal ever presented to man, might compromise and be practical, that she might accept money which had been wrung from a trusting public by extortion, by thinly disguised thievery such as this Consolidated Tractions Company fraud, and do good with it! And at last I made up my mind to go away, to-day, to a quiet place where I might be alone, and reflect, when by a singular circumstance I was brought into contact with this man, Garvin. I see now, clearly enough, that if I had gone, I should never have come back."

"And you still intend to go?" Mr. Bentley asked.

Hodder leaned his elbow against the mantel. The lamplight had a curious effect on Mr. Bentley's face.

"What can I do?" he demanded. The question was not aimed directly at his host—it was in the nature of a renewed appeal to a tribunal which had been mute, but with which he now seemed vaguely aware of a certain contact. "Even supposing I could bring myself to accept the compromise—now that I see it clearly, that the end justifies the means—what good could I accomplish? You saw what happened this afternoon—the man would have driven me out if, it hadn't been for you. This whole conception of charity is a crime against civilization—I had to have that pointed out to me, too,—this system of legalized or semi-legalized robbery and the distribution of largesse to the victims. The Church is doing wrong, is stultifying herself in encouraging it. She should set her face rigidly against it, stand for morality and justice and Christianity in government, not for pauperizing. It is her mission to enlighten these people, all people—to make them self-respecting, to give them some notion of the dignity of their souls and their rights before God and man."

"Aren't you yourself suggesting," said Mr. Bentley, "the course which will permit you to remain?"

Hodder was silent. The thought struck him with tremendous force. Had he suggested it? And how—why? Could it be done? Could he do it or begin it?

"We have met at last in a singular way," he heard Mr. Bentley going on, "in a way that has brushed aside the conventions, in a way—I am happy to say—that has enabled you to give me your confidence. And I am an old man,—that has made it easier. I saw this afternoon, Mr. Hodder, that you were troubled, although you tried to hide it."

"I knew that you saw it," Hodder said.

"Nor was it difficult for me to guess something of the cause of it. The same thing has troubled me."

"You?"

"Yes," Mr. Bentley answered. "I left St. John's, but the habits and affections of a lifetime are not easily severed. And some time before I left it I began to have visions of a future for it. There was a question, many years ago, as to whether a new St. John's should not be built in the West End, on a site convenient to the parishioners, and this removal I opposed. Mr. Waring stood by me. We foresaw the day when this district would be—what it is now—the precarious refuge of the unfortunate in the battle of life, of just such unhappy families as the Garvins, of miserable women who sell themselves to keep alive. I thought of St. John's, as you did, as an oasis in a desert of misery and vice. At that time I, too, believed in the system of charities which you have so well characterized as pauperizing."

"And now?"

Mr. Bentley smiled, as at a reminiscence.

"My eyes were opened," he replied, and in these simple words summed up and condemned it all. "They are craving bread, and we fling them atones. I came here. It was a house I owned, which I saved from the wrecks, and as I look back upon what the world would call a misfortune, sir, I can see that it was a propitious event, for me. The street 'ran down,' as the saying goes. I grew gradually to know these people, my new neighbours, largely through their children, and I perceived many things I had not dreamed of—before then. I saw how the Church was hampered, fettered; I saw why they disliked and distrusted it."

"And yet you still believed that it had a mission?" Hodder interrupted. He had been listening with rapt attention.

"I still believed it," said Mr. Bentley. "My conception of that mission changed, grew, and yet it seemed further and further from fulfilment. And then you came to St. John's."

"I!" The cry was involuntary.

"You," Mr. Bentley repeated. "Sometimes," he added whimsically, "I go there, as I have told you. I saw you, I heard you preach. I talked to my friend Waring about you. I saw that your eyes were not opened, but I think I had a certain presentiment, for which I do not pretend to account, that they would be opened."

"You mean," said the rector, "that if I believe in the mission of the Church as I have partially stated it here tonight, I—should stay and fight for it."

"Precisely," Mr. Bentley replied.

There was a note of enthusiasm, almost of militancy in the old gentleman's tone that surprised and agitated Hodder. He took a turn up and down the room before he answered.

"I ought to tell you that the view I expressed a moment ago is new to me. I had not thought of it before, and it is absolutely at variance with any previous ideas I have held. I can see that it must involve, if carried to its logical conclusion, a change in the conception of Christianity I have hitherto held."

He was too intent upon following up the thought to notice Mr. Bentley's expression of assent.

"And suppose," he asked, "I were unable to come to any conclusion? I will be frank, Mr. Bentley, and confess to you that at present I cannot see my way. You have heard me preach—you know what my beliefs have been. They are shattered. And, while I feel that there is some definite connection between the view of the Church which I mentioned and her message to the individual, I do not perceive it clearly. I am not prepared at present to be the advocate of Christianity, because I do not know what Christianity is. I thought I knew.

"I shall have to begin all over again, as though I had never taken orders, submit to a thorough test, examine the evidence impartially. It is the only way. Of this much I am sure, that the Church as a whole has been engaged in a senseless conflict with science and progressive thought, that she has insisted upon the acceptance of facts which are in violation of reason and which have nothing to do with religion. She has taught them to me—made them, in fact, a part of me. I have clung to them as long as I can, and in throwing them over I don't know where I shall land."

His voice was measured, his words chosen, yet they expressed a withering indignation and contempt which were plainly the culmination of months of bewilderment—now replaced by a clear-cut determination.

"I do not blame any individual," he continued, "but the system by which clergymen are educated.

"I intend to stay here, now, without conducting any services, and find out for myself what the conditions are here in Dalton Street. You know those people, Mr. Bentley, you understand them, and I am going to ask you to help me. You have evidently solved the problem."

Mr. Bentley rose. And he laid a hand, which was not quite steady, on the rector's shoulder.

"Believe me, sir," he replied, "I appreciate something of what such a course must mean to you—a clergyman." He paused, and a look came upon his face, a look that might scarce have been called a smile—Hodder remembered it as a glow—reminiscent of many things. In it a life was summed ups in it understanding, beneficence, charity, sympathy, were all expressed, yet seemingly blended into one. "I do not know what my testimony may be worth to you, my friend, but I give it freely. I sometimes think I have been peculiarly fortunate. But I have lived a great many years, and the older I get and the more I see of human nature the firmer has grown my conviction of its essential nobility and goodness."

Hodder marvelled, and was silent.

"You will come here, often,—every day if you can. There are many men and women, friends of mine, whom I should like you to know, who would like to know you."

"I will, and thank you," Hodder answered. Words were inadequate for the occasion....



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