The Inside of the Cup

CHAPTER VII
THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD

I

When summer arrived, the birds of brilliant plumage of Mr. Hodder's flock arose and flew lightly away, thus reversing the seasons. Only the soberer ones came fluttering into the cool church out of the blinding heat, and settled here and there throughout the nave. The ample Mr. Bradley, perspiring in an alpaca coat, took up the meagre collection on the right of the centre aisle; for Mr. Parr, properly heralded, had gone abroad on one of those periodical, though lonely tours that sent anticipatory shivers of delight down the spines of foreign picture-dealers. The faithful Gordon Atterbury was worshipping at the sea, and even Mr. Constable and Mr. Plimpton, when recalled to the city by financial cares, succumbed to the pagan influence of the sun, and were usually to be found on Sunday mornings on the wide veranda of the country club, with glasses containing liquid and ice beside them, and surrounded by heaps of newspapers.

To judge by St. John's, the city was empty. But on occasions, before he himself somewhat tardily departed,—drawn thither by a morbid though impelling attraction, Hodder occasionally walked through Dalton Street of an evening. If not in St. John's, summer was the season in Dalton Street. It flung open its doors and windows and moved out on the steps and the pavements, and even on the asphalt; and the music of its cafes and dance-halls throbbed feverishly through the hot nights. Dalton Street resorted neither to country club nor church.

Mr. McCrae, Hodder's assistant, seemed to regard these annual phenomena with a grim philosophy,—a relic, perhaps, of the Calvinistic determinism of his ancestors. He preached the same indefinite sermons, with the same imperturbability, to the dwindled congregations in summer and the enlarged ones in winter. But Hodder was capable of no such resignation—if resignation it were, for the self-contained assistant continued to be an enigma; and it was not without compunction that he left, about the middle of July, on his own vacation. He was tired, and yet he seemed to have accomplished nothing in this first year of the city parish whereof he had dreamed. And it was, no doubt, for that very reason that he was conscious of a depressing exhaustion as his train rolled eastward over that same high bridge that spanned the hot and muddy waters of the river. He felt a fugitive. In no months since he had left the theological seminary, had he seemingly accomplished so little; in no months had he had so magnificent an opportunity.

After he had reached the peaceful hills at Bremerton—where he had gone on Mrs. Whitely's invitation—he began to look back upon the spring and winter as a kind of mad nightmare, a period of ceaseless, distracted, and dissipated activity, of rushing hither and thither with no results. He had been aware of invisible barriers, restricting, hemming him in on all sides. There had been no time for reflection; and now that he had a breathing space, he was unable to see how he might reorganize his work in order to make it more efficient.

There were other perplexities, brought about by the glimpses he had had into the lives and beliefs—or rather unbeliefs—of his new parishioners. And sometimes, in an unwonted moment of pessimism, he asked himself why they thought it necessary to keep all that machinery going when it had so little apparent effect on their lives? He sat wistfully in the chancel of the little Bremerton church and looked into the familiar faces of those he had found in it when he came to it, and of those he had brought into it, wondering why he had been foolish enough to think himself endowed for the larger work. Here, he had been a factor, a force in the community, had entered into its life and affections. What was he there?

Nor did it tend to ease his mind that he was treated as one who has passed on to higher things.

"I was afraid you'd work too hard," said Mrs. Whitely, in her motherly way. "I warned you against it, Mr. Hodder. You never spared yourself, but in a big city parish it's different. But you've made such a success, Nelson tells me, and everybody likes you there. I knew they would, of course. That is our only comfort in losing you, that you have gone to the greater work. But we do miss you."

II

The air of Bremerton, and later the air of Bar Harbor had a certain reviving effect. And John Hodder, although he might be cast down, had never once entertained the notion of surrender. He was inclined to attribute the depression through which he had passed, the disappointment he had undergone as a just punishment for an overabundance of ego,—only Hodder used the theological term for the same sin. Had he not, after all, laboured largely for his own glory, and not Gods? Had he ever forgotten himself? Had the idea ever been far from his thoughts that it was he, John Hodder, who would build up the parish of St. John's into a living organization of faith and works? The curious thing was that he had the power, and save in moments of weariness he felt it in him. He must try to remember always that this power was from God. But why had he been unable to apply it?

And there remained disturbingly in his memory certain phrases of Mrs. Constable's, such as "elements of growth."

He would change, she had said; and he had appeared to her as one with depths. Unsuspected depths—pockets that held the steam, which was increasing in pressure. At Bremerton, it had not gathered in the pockets, he had used it all—all had counted; but in the feverish, ceaseless activity of the city parish he had never once felt that intense satisfaction of emptying himself, nor, the sweet weariness that follows it. His seemed the weariness of futility. And introspection was revealing a crack—after so many years—in that self that he had believed to be so strongly welded. Such was the strain of the pent-up force. He recognized the danger-signal. The same phenomenon had driven him into the Church, where the steam had found an outlet—until now. And yet, so far as his examination went, he had not lost his beliefs, but the power of communicating them to others.

Bremerton, and the sight of another carrying on the work in which he had been happy, weighed upon him, and Bar Harbor offered distraction. Mrs. Larrabbee had not hesitated to remind him of his promise to visit her. If the gallery of portraits of the congregation of St. John's were to be painted, this lady's, at the age of thirty, would not be the least interesting. It would have been out of place in no ancestral hall, and many of her friends were surprised, after her husband's death, that she did not choose one wherein to hang it. She might have. For she was the quintessence of that feminine product of our country at which Europe has never ceased to wonder, and to give her history would no more account for her than the process of manufacture explains the most delicate of scents. Her poise, her quick detection of sham in others not so fortunate, her absolute conviction that all things were as they ought to be; her charity, her interest in its recipients; her smile, which was kindness itself; her delicate features, her white skin with its natural bloom; the grace of her movements, and her hair, which had a different color in changing lights—such an ensemble is not to be depicted save by a skilled hand.

The late Mr. Larrabbee's name was still printed on millions of bright labels encircling cubes of tobacco, now manufactured by a Trust. However, since the kind that entered Mrs. Larrabbee's house, or houses, was all imported from Egypt or Cuba, what might have been in the nature of an unpleasant reminder was remote from her sight, and she never drove into the northern part of the city, where some hundreds of young women bent all day over the cutting-machines. To enter too definitely into Mrs. Larrabbee's history, therefore, were merely to be crude, for she is not a lady to caricature. Her father had been a steamboat captain—once an honoured calling in the city of her nativity—a devout Presbyterian who believed in the most rigid simplicity. Few who remembered the gaucheries of Captain Corington's daughter on her first presentation to his family's friends could recognize her in the cosmopolitan Mrs. Larrabbee. Why, with New York and London at her disposal, she elected to remain in the Middle West, puzzled them, though they found her answer, "that she belonged there," satisfying Grace Larrabbee's cosmopolitanism was of that apperception that knows the value of roots, and during her widowhood she had been thrusting them out. Mrs. Larrabbee followed by "of" was much more important than just Mrs. Larrabbee. And she was, moreover, genuinely attached to her roots.

Her girlhood shyness—rudeness, some called it, mistaking the effect for the cause—had refined into a manner that might be characterized as 'difficile', though Hodder had never found her so. She liked direct men; to discover no guile on first acquaintance went a long way with her, and not the least of the new rector's social triumphs had been his simple conquest.

Enveloped in white flannel, she met his early train at the Ferry; an unusual compliment to a guest, had he but known it, but he accepted it as a tribute to the Church.

"I was so afraid you wouldn't come," she said, in a voice that conveyed indeed more than a perfunctory expression. She glanced at him as he sat beside her on the cushions of the flying motor boat, his strange eyes fixed upon the blue mountains of the island whither they were bound, his unruly hair fanned by the wind.

"Why?" he asked, smiling at the face beneath the flying veil.

"You need the rest. I believe in men taking their work seriously, but not so seriously as you do."

She was so undisguisedly glad to see him that he could scarcely have been human if he had not responded. And she gave him, in that fortnight, a glimpse of a life that was new and distracting: at times made him forget—and he was willing to forget—the lower forms of which it was the quintessence,—the factories that hummed, the forges that flung their fires into the night in order that it might exist; the Dalton Streets that went without. The effluvia from hot asphalt bore no resemblance to the salt-laden air that rattled the Venetian blinds of the big bedroom to which he was assigned. Her villa was set high above the curving shore, facing a sheltered terrace-garden resplendent in its August glory; to seaward, islands danced in the haze; and behind the house, in the sunlight, were massed spruces of a brilliant arsenic green with purple cones. The fluttering awnings were striped cardinal and white.

Nature and man seemed to have conspired to make this place vividly unreal, as a toy village comes painted from the shop. There were no half-tones, no poverty—in sight, at least; no litter. On the streets and roads, at the casino attached to the swimming-pool and at the golf club were to be seen bewildering arrays of well-dressed, well-fed women intent upon pleasure and exercise. Some of them gave him glances that seemed to say, "You belong to us," and almost succeeded in establishing the delusion. The whole effect upon Hodder, in the state of mind in which he found himself, was reacting, stimulating, disquieting. At luncheons and dinners, he was what is known as a "success"—always that magic word.

He resisted, and none so quick as women to scent resistance. His very unbending attitude aroused their inherent craving for rigidity in his profession; he was neither plastic, unctuous, nor subservient; his very homeliness, redeemed by the eyes and mouth, compelled their attention. One of them told Mrs. Larrabbee that that rector of hers would "do something."

But what, he asked himself, was he resisting? He was by no means a Puritan; and while he looked upon a reasonable asceticism as having its place in the faith that he professed, it was no asceticism that prevented a more complete acquiescence on his part in the mad carnival that surrounded him.

"I'm afraid you don't wholly approve of Bar Harbor," his hostess remarked; one morning.

"At first sight, it is somewhat staggering to the provincial mind," he replied.

She smiled at him, yet with knitted brows.

"You are always putting me off—I never can tell what you think. And yet I'm sure you have opinions. You think these people frivolous, of course."

"Most of them are so," he answered, "but that is a very superficial criticism. The question is, why are they so? The sight of Bar Harbor leads a stranger to the reflection that the carnival mood has become permanent with our countrymen, and especially our countrywomen."

"The carnival mood," she repeated thoughtfully, "yes, that expresses it. We are light, we are always trying to get away from ourselves, and sometimes I wonder whether there are any selves to get away from. You ought to atop us," she added, almost accusingly, "to bring us to our senses."

"That's just it," he agreed, "why don't we? Why can't we?"

"If more clergymen were like you, I think perhaps you might."

His tone, his expression, were revelations.

"I—!" he exclaimed sharply, and controlled himself. But in that moment Grace Larrabbee had a glimpse of the man who had come to arouse in her an intense curiosity. For an instant a tongue of the fires of Vulcan had shot forth, fires that she had suspected.

"Aren't you too ambitious?" she asked gently. And again, although she did not often blunder, she saw him wince. "I don't mean ambitious for yourself. But surely you have made a remarkable beginning at St. John's. Everybody admires and respects you, has confidence in you. You are so sure of yourself," she hesitated a moment, for she had never ventured to discuss religion with him, "of your faith. Clergymen ought not to be apologetic, and your conviction cannot fail, in the long run, to have its effect."

"Its effect,—on what?" he asked.

Mrs. Larrabbee was suddenly, at sea. And she prided herself on a lack of that vagueness generally attributed to her sex.

"On—on everything. On what we were talking about,—the carnival feeling, the levity, on the unbelief of the age. Isn't it because the control has been taken off?"

He saw an opportunity to slip into smoother waters.

"The engine has lost its governor?"

"Exactly!" cried Mrs. Larrabbee. "What a clever simile!"

"It is Mr. Pares," said Hodder. "Only he was speaking of other symptoms, Socialism, and its opposite, individualism,—not carnivalism."

"Poor man," said Mrs. Larrabbee, accepting the new ground as safer, yet with a baffled feeling that Hodder had evaded her once more, "he has had his share of individualism and carnivalism. His son Preston was here last month, and was taken out to the yacht every night in an unspeakable state. And Alison hasn't been what might be called a blessing."

"She must be unusual," said the rector, musingly.

"Oh, Alison is a Person. She has become quite the fashion, and has more work than she can possibly attend to. Very few women with her good looks could have done what she has without severe criticism, and something worse, perhaps. The most extraordinary thing about her is her contempt for what her father has gained, and for conventionalities. It always amuses me when I think that she might have been the wife of Gordon Atterbury. The Goddess of Liberty linked to—what?"

Hodder thought instinctively of the Church. But he remained silent.

"As a rule, men are such fools about the women they wish to marry," she continued. "She would have led him a dance for a year or two, and then calmly and inexorably left him. And there was her father, with all his ability and genius, couldn't see it either, but fondly imagined that Alison as Gordon Atterbury's wife, would magically become an Atterbury and a bourgeoise, see that the corners were dusted in the big house, sew underwear for the poor, and fast in Lent."

"And she is happy—where she is?" he inquired somewhat naively.

"She is self-sufficient," said Mrs. Larrabbee, with unusual feeling, "and that is just what most women are not, in these days. Oh, why has life become such a problem? Sometimes I think, with all that I have, I'm not, so well off as one of those salesgirls in Ferguson's, at home. I'm always searching for things to do—nothing is thrust on me. There are the charities—Galt House, and all that, but I never seem to get at anything, at the people I'd like to help. It's like sending money to China. There is no direct touch any more. It's like seeing one's opportunities through an iron grating."

Hodder started at the phrase, so exactly had she expressed his own case.

"Ah," he said, "the iron grating bars the path of the Church, too."

And just what was the iron grating?

They had many moments of intimacy during that fort night, though none in which the plumb of their conversation descended to such a depth. For he was, as she had said, always "putting her off." Was it because he couldn't satisfy her craving? give her the solution for which—he began to see—she thirsted? Why didn't that religion that she seemed outwardly to profess and accept without qualification—the religion he taught set her at rest? show her the path?

Down in his heart he knew that he feared to ask.

That Mrs. Larrabbee was still another revelation, that she was not at rest, was gradually revealed to him as the days passed. Her spirit, too, like his own, like 'Mrs Constable's, like Eldon Parr's, like Eleanor Goodrich's, was divided against itself; and this phenomenon in Mrs. Larrabbee was perhaps a greater shock to him, since he had always regarded her as essentially in equilibrium. One of his reasons, indeed,—in addition to the friendship that had grown up between them,—for coming to visit her had been to gain the effect of her poise on his own. Poise in a modern woman, leading a modern life. It was thus she attracted him. It was not that he ignored her frivolous side; it was nicely balanced by the other, and that other seemed growing. The social, she accepted at what appeared to be its own worth. Unlike Mrs. Plimpton, for instance, she was so innately a lady that she had met with no resistance in the Eastern watering places, and her sense of values had remained the truer for it.

He did not admire her the less now he had discovered that the poise was not so adjusted as he had thought it, but his feeling about her changed, grew more personal, more complicated. She was showing an alarming tendency to lean on him at a time when he was examining with some concern his own supports. She possessed intelligence and fascination, she was a woman whose attentions would have flattered and disturbed any man with a spark of virility, and Hodder had constantly before his eyes the spectacle of others paying her court. Here were danger-signals again!

Mrs. Plaice, a middle-aged English lady staying in the house, never appeared until noon. Breakfast was set out in the tiled and sheltered loggia, where they were fanned by the cool airs of a softly breathing ocean. The world, on these mornings, had a sparkling unreality, the cold, cobalt sea stretching to sun-lit isles, and beyond, the vividly painted shore,—the setting of luxury had never been so complete. And the woman who sat opposite him seemed, like one of her own nectarines, to be the fruit that crowned it all.

Why not yield to the enchantment? Why rebel, when nobody else complained? Were it not more simple to accept what life sent in its orderly course instead of striving for an impossible and shadowy ideal? Very shadowy indeed! And to what end were his labours in that smoky, western city, with its heedless Dalton Streets, which went their inevitable ways? For he had the choice.

To do him justice, he was slow in arriving at a realization that seemed to him so incredible, so preposterous. He was her rector! And he had accepted, all unconsciously, the worldly point of view as to Mrs. Larrabbee,—that she was reserved for a worldly match. A clergyman's wife! What would become of the clergyman? And yet other clergymen had married rich women, despite the warning of the needle's eye.

She drove him in her buckboard to Jordan's Pond, set, like a jewel in the hills, and even to the deep, cliff bordered inlet beyond North East, which reminded her, she said, of a Norway fiord. And sometimes they walked together through wooded paths that led them to beetling shores, and sat listening to the waves crashing far below. Silences and commonplaces became the rule instead of the eager discussions with which they had begun,—on such safer topics as the problem of the social work of modern churches. Her aromatic presence, and in this setting, continually disturbed him: nature's perfumes, more definable,—exhalations of the sea and spruce,—mingled with hers, anaesthetics compelling lethargy. He felt himself drowning, even wished to drown,—and yet strangely resisted.

"I must go to-morrow," he said.

"To-morrow—why? There is a dinner, you know, and Mrs. Waterman wished so particularly to meet you."

He did not look at her. The undisguised note of pain found an echo within him. And this was Mrs. Larrabbee!

"I am sorry, but I must," he told her, and she may not have suspected the extent to which the firmness was feigned.

"You have promised to make other visits? The Fergusons,—they said they expected you."

"I'm going west—home," he said, and the word sounded odd.

"At this season! But there is nobody in church, at least only a few, and Mr. McCrae can take care of those—he always does. He likes it."

Hodder smiled in spite of himself. He might have told her that those outside the church were troubling him. But he did not, since he had small confidence in being able to bring them in.

"I have been away too long, I am getting spoiled," he replied, with an attempt at lightness. He forced his eyes to meet hers, and she read in them an unalterable resolution.

"It is my opinion you are too conscientious, even for a clergyman," she said, and now it was her lightness that hurt. She protested no more. And as she led the way homeward through the narrow forest path, her head erect, still maintaining this lighter tone, he wondered how deeply she had read him; how far her intuition had carried her below the surface; whether she guessed the presence of that stifled thing in him which was crying feebly for life; whether it was that she had discovered, or something else? He must give it the chance it craved. He must get away—he must think. To surrender now would mean destruction...

Early the next morning, as he left the pier in the motor boat, he saw a pink scarf waving high above him from the loggia. And he flung up his hand in return. Mingled with a faint sense of freedom was intense sadness.



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