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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Inside Of The Cup - Volume 1 - Chapter 3. The Primrose Path
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The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 1 - Chapter 3. The Primrose Path Post by :bumper9 Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :1757

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The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 1 - Chapter 3. The Primrose Path

VOLUME I CHAPTER III. THE PRIMROSE PATH

I

Nelson Langmaid's extraordinary judgment appeared once more to be vindicated.

There had been, indeed, a critical, anxious moment, emphasized by the agitation of bright feminine plumes and the shifting of masculine backs into the corners of the pews. None got so far as to define to themselves why there should be an apparent incompatibility between ruggedness and orthodoxy--but there were some who hoped and more who feared. Luther had been orthodox once, Savonarola also: in appearance neither was more canonical than the new rector.

His congregation, for the most part, were not analytical. But they felt a certain anomaly in virility proclaiming tradition. It took them several Sundays to get accustomed to it.

To those who had been used for more than a quarter of a century to seeing old Dr. Gilman's gentle face under the familiar and faded dove of the sounding-board, to the deliberation of his walk, and the hesitation of his manner, the first impression of the Reverend John Hodder was somewhat startling. They felt that there should be a leisurely element in religion. He moved across the chancel with incredible swiftness, his white surplice flowing like the draperies of a moving Victory, wasted no time with the pulpit lights, announced his text in a strong and penetrating, but by no means unpleasing voice, and began to speak with the certainty of authority.

Here, in an age when a new rector had, ceased to be an all-absorbing topic in social life, was a new and somewhat exhilarating experience. And it may be privately confessed that there were some who sat in St. John's during those first weeks of his incumbency who would indignantly have repudiated the accusation that they were not good churchmen and churchwomen, and who nevertheless had queer sensations in listening to ancient doctrines set forth with Emersonian conviction. Some were courageous enough to ask themselves, in the light of this forceful presentation, whether they really did believe them as firmly as they supposed they had.

Dear old Dr. Gilman had been milder--much milder as the years gained upon him. And latterly, when he had preached, his voice had sounded like the unavailing protest of one left far behind, who called out faintly with unheeded warnings. They had loved him: but the modern world was a busy world, and Dr. Gilman did not understand it. This man was different. Here was what the Church taught, he said, and they might slight it at their peril!

It is one thing to believe one's self orthodox, and quite another to have that orthodoxy so definitely defined as to be compelled, whether or no, to look it squarely in the face and own or disown it. Some indeed, like Gordon Atterbury, stood the test; responded to the clarion call for which they had been longing. But little Everett Constable, who also sat on the vestry, was a trifle uncomfortable in being reminded that absence from the Communion Table was perilous, although he would have been the last to deny the efficacy of the Sacrament.

The new rector was plainly not a man who might be accused of policy in pandering to the tastes of a wealthy and conservative flock. But if, in the series of sermons which lasted from his advent until well after Christmas, he had deliberately consulted their prejudices, he could not have done better. It is true that he went beyond the majority of them, but into a region which they regarded as preeminently safe,--a region the soil of which was traditional. To wit: St. Paul had left to the world a consistent theology. Historical research was ignored rather than condemned. And it might reasonably have been gathered from these discourses that the main proofs of Christ's divinity lay in his Virgin Birth, his miracles, and in the fact that his body had risen from the grave, had been seen by many, and even touched. Hence unbelief had no excuse. By divine commission there were bishops, priests, and deacons in the new hierarchy, and it was through the Apostolic Succession that he, their rector, derived his sacerdotal powers. There were, no doubt, many obscure passages in the Scripture, but men's minds were finite; a catholic acceptance was imperative, and the evils of the present day--a sufficiently sweeping statement--were wholly due to deplorable lapses from such acceptance. The Apostolic teaching must be preserved, since it transcended all modern wanderings after truth. Hell, though not definitely defined in terms of flames, was no less a state of torture (future, by implication) of which fire was but a faint symbol. And he gave them clearly to understand that an unbaptized person ran no inconsiderable risk. He did not declare unqualifiedly that the Church alone had the power to save, but such was the inference.

II

It was entirely fitting, no doubt, when the felicitations of certain of the older parishioners on his initial sermon were over, that Mr. Hodder should be carried westward to lunch with the first layman of the diocese. But Mr. Parr, as became a person of his responsibility, had been more moderate in his comment. For he had seen, in his day, many men whose promise had been unfulfilled. Tightly buttoned, silk hatted, upright, he sat in the corner of his limousine, the tasselled speaking-tube in his hand, from time to time cautioning his chauffeur.

"Carefully!" he cried. "I've told you not to drive so fast in this part of town. I've never got used to automobiles," he remarked to Hodder, "and I formerly went to church in the street-cars, but the distances have grown so great--and I have occasionally been annoyed in them."

Hodder was not given to trite acquiescence. His homely composure belied the alertness of his faculties; he was striving to adapt himself to the sudden broadening and quickening of the stream of his life, and he felt a certain excitement--although he did not betray it--in the presence of the financier. Much as he resented the thought, it was impossible for him not to realize that the man's pleasure and displeasure were important; for, since his arrival, he had had delicate reminders of this from many sources. Recurrently, it had caused him a vague uneasiness, hinted at a problem new to him. He was jealous of the dignity of the Church, and he seemed already to have detected in Mr. Parr's manner a subtle note of patronage. Nor could Hodder's years of provincialism permit him to forget that this man with whom he was about to enter into personal relations was a capitalist of national importance.

The neighbourhood they traversed was characteristic of our rapidly expanding American cities. There were rows of dwelling houses, once ultra-respectable, now slatternly, and lawns gone grey; some of these houses had been remodelled into third-rate shops, or thrown together to make manufacturing establishments: saloons occupied all the favourable corners. Flaming posters on vacant lots announced, pictorially, dubious attractions at the theatres. It was a wonderful Indian summer day, the sunlight soft and melting; and the smoke which continually harassed this district had lifted a little, as though in deference to the Sabbath.

Hodder read the sign on a lamp post, Dalton Street. The name clung in his memory.

"We thought, some twenty years ago, of moving the church westward," said Mr. Parr, "but finally agreed to remain where we were."

The rector had a conviction on this point, and did not hesitate to state it without waiting to be enlightened as to the banker's views.

"It would seem to me a wise decision," he said, looking out of the window, and wholly absorbed in the contemplation of the evidences of misery and vice, "with this poverty at the very doors of the church."

Something in his voice impelled Eldon Parr to shoot a glance at his profile.

"Poverty is inevitable, Mr. Hodder," he declared. "The weak always sink."

Hodder's reply, whatever it might have been, was prevented by the sudden and unceremonious flight of both occupants toward the ceiling of the limousine, caused by a deep pit in the asphalt.

"What are you doing, Gratton?" Mr. Parr called sharply through the tube.

Presently, the lawns began to grow brighter, the houses more cheerful, and the shops were left behind. They crossed the third great transverse artery of the city (not so long ago, Mr. Parr remarked, a quagmire), now lined by hotels and stores with alluring displays in plate glass windows and entered a wide boulevard that stretched westward straight to the great Park. This boulevard the financier recalled as a country road of clay. It was bordered by a vivid strip, of green; a row of tall and graceful lamp posts, like sentinels, marked its course; while the dwellings, set far back on either side, were for the most part large and pretentious, betraying in their many tentative styles of architecture the reaching out of a commercial nation after beauty. Some, indeed, were simple of line and restful to the trained eye.

They came to the wide entrance of the Park, so wisely preserved as a breathing place for future generations. A slight haze had gathered over the rolling forests to the westward; but this haze was not smoke. Here, in this enchanting region, the autumn sunlight was undiluted gold, the lawns, emerald, and the red gravel around the statesman's statue glistening. The automobile quickly swung into a street that skirted the Park,--if street it might be called, for it was more like a generous private driveway,--flanked on the right by fences of ornamental ironwork and high shrubbery that concealed the fore yards of dominating private residences which might: without great exaggeration, have been called palaces.

"That's Ferguson's house," volunteered Mr. Parr, indicating a marble edifice with countless windows. "He's one of your vestrymen, you know. Ferguson's Department Store." The banker's eyes twinkled a little for the first time. "You'll probably find it convenient. Most people do. Clever business man, Ferguson."

But the rector was finding difficulty in tabulating his impressions.

They turned in between two posts of a gateway toward a huge house of rough granite. And Hodder wondered whether, in the swift onward roll of things, the time would come when this, too, would have been deemed ephemeral. With its massive walls and heavy, red-tiled roof that sloped steeply to many points, it seemed firmly planted for ages to come. It was surrounded, yet not hemmed in, by trees of a considerable age. His host explained that these had belonged to the original farm of which all this Park Street property had made a part.

They alighted under a porte-cochere with a glass roof.

"I'm sorry," said Mr. Parr, as the doors swung open and he led the way into the house, "I'm sorry I can't give you a more cheerful welcome, but my son and daughter, for their own reasons, see fit to live elsewhere."

Hodder's quick ear detected in the tone another cadence, and he glanced at Eldon Parr with a new interest....

Presently they stood, face to face, across a table reduced to its smallest proportions, in the tempered light of a vast dining-room, an apartment that seemed to symbolize the fortress-like properties of wealth. The odd thought struck the clergyman that this man had made his own Tower of London, had built with his own hands the prison in which he was to end his days. The carved oaken ceiling, lofty though it was, had the effect of pressing downward, the heavy furniture matched the heavy walls, and even the silent, quick-moving servants had a watchful air.

Mr. Parr bowed his head while Hodder asked grace. They sat down.

The constraint which had characterized their conversation continued, yet there was a subtle change in the attitude of the clergyman. The financier felt this, though it could not be said that Hodder appeared more at his ease: his previous silences had been by no means awkward. Eldon Parr liked self-contained men. But his perceptions were as keen as Nelson Langmaid's, and like Langmaid, he had gradually become conscious of a certain baffling personality in the new rector of St. John's. From time to time he was aware of the grey-green eyes curiously fixed on him, and at a loss to account for their expression. He had no thought of reading in it an element of pity. Yet pity was nevertheless in the rector's heart, and its advent was emancipating him from the limitations of provincial inexperience.

Suddenly, the financier launched forth on a series of shrewd and searching questions about Bremerton, its church, its people, its industries, and social conditions. All of which Hodder answered to his apparent satisfaction.

Coffee was brought. Hodder pushed back his chair, crossed his knees, and sat perfectly still regarding his host, his body suggesting a repose that did not interfere with his perceptive faculties.

"You don't smoke, Mr. Hodder?"

The rector smiled and shook his head. Mr. Parr selected a diminutive, yellow cigar and held it up.

"This," he said, "has been the extent of my indulgence for twenty years. They are made for me in Cuba."

Hodder smiled again, but said nothing.

"I have had a letter from your former bishop, speaking of you in the highest terms," he observed.

"The bishop is very kind."

Mr. Parr cleared his throat.

"I am considerably older than you," he went on, "and I have the future of St. John's very much at heart, Mr. Hodder. I trust you will remember this and make allowances for it as I talk to you.

"I need not remind you that you have a grave responsibility on your shoulders for so young a man, and that St. John's is the oldest parish in the diocese."

"I think I realize it, Mr. Parr," said Hodder, gravely. "It was only the opportunity of a larger work here that induced me to leave Bremerton."

"Exactly," agreed the banker. "The parish, I believe, is in good running order--I do not think you will see the necessity for many--ahem--changes. But we sadly needed an executive head. And, if I may say so, Mr. Hodder, you strike me as a man of that type, who might have made a success in a business career."

The rector smiled again.

"I am sure you could pay me no higher compliment," he answered.

For an instant Eldon Parr, as he stared at the clergyman, tightened his lips,--lips that seemed peculiarly formed for compression. Then they relaxed into what resembled a smile. If it were one, the other returned it.

"Seriously," Mr. Parr declared, "it does me good in these days to hear, from a young man, such sound doctrine as you preach. I am not one of those who believe in making concessions to agnostics and atheists. You were entirely right, in my opinion, when you said that we who belong to the Church--and of course you meant all orthodox Christians--should stand by our faith as delivered by the saints. Of course," he added, smiling, "I should not insist upon the sublapsarian view of election which I was taught in the Presbyterian Church as a boy."

Hodder laughed, but did not interrupt.

"On the other hand," Mr. Parr continued, "I have little patience with clergymen who would make religion attractive. What does it amount to--luring people into the churches on one pretext or another, sugar-coating the pill? Salvation is a more serious matter. Let the churches stick to their own. We have at St. John's a God-fearing, conservative congregation, which does not believe in taking liberties with sound and established doctrine. And I may confess to you, Mr. Hodder, that we were naturally not a little anxious about Dr. Gilman's successor, that we should not get, in spite of every precaution, a man tinged with the new and dangerous ideas so prevalent, I regret to say, among the clergy. I need scarcely add that our anxieties have been set at rest."

"That," said Hodder, "must be taken as a compliment to the dean of the theological seminary from which I graduated."

The financier stared again. But he decided that Mr. Hodder had not meant to imply that he, Mr. Parr, was attempting to supersede the dean. The answer had been modest.

"I take it for granted that you and I and all sensible men are happily. agreed that the Church should remain where she is. Let the people come to her. She should be, if I may so express it, the sheet anchor of society, our bulwark against socialism, in spite of socialists who call themselves ministers of God. The Church has lost ground--why? Because she has given ground. The sanctity of private property is being menaced, demagogues are crying out from the house-tops and inciting people against the men who have made this country what it is, who have risked their fortunes and their careers for the present prosperity. We have no longer any right, it seems, to employ whom we will in our factories and our railroads; we are not allowed to regulate our rates, although the risks were all ours. Even the women are meddling,--they are not satisfied to stay in the homes, where they belong. You agree with me?"

"As to the women," said the rector, "I have to acknowledge that I have never had any experience with the militant type of which you speak."

"I pray God you may never have," exclaimed Mr. Parr, with more feeling than he had yet shown.

"Woman's suffrage, and what is called feminism in general, have never penetrated to Bremerton. Indeed, I must confess to have been wholly out of touch with the problems to which you refer, although of course I have been aware of their existence."

"You will meet them here," said the banker, significantly.

"Yes," the rector replied thoughtfully, "I can see that. I know that the problems here will be more complicated, more modern,--more difficult. And I thoroughly agree with you that their ultimate solution is dependent on Christianity. If I did not believe,--in spite of the evident fact which you point out of the Church's lost ground, that her future will be greater than her past, I should not be a clergyman."

The quiet but firm note of faith was, not lost on the financier, and yet was not he quite sure what was to be made of it? He had a faint and fleeting sense of disquiet, which registered and was gone.

"I hope so," he said vaguely, referring perhaps to the resuscitation of which the rector spoke. He drummed on the table. "I'll go so far as to say that I, too, think that the structure can be repaired. And I believe it is the duty of the men of influence--all men of influence--to assist. I don't say that men of influence are not factors in the Church to-day, but I do say that they are not using the intelligence in this task which they bring to bear, for instance, on their business."

"Perhaps the clergy might help," Hodder suggested, and added more seriously, "I think that many of them are honestly trying to do so."

"No doubt of it. Why is it," Mr. Parr continued reflectively, "that ministers as a whole are by no means the men they were? You will pardon my frankness. When I was a boy, the minister was looked up to as an intellectual and moral force to be reckoned with. I have heard it assigned, as one reason, that in the last thirty years other careers have opened up, careers that have proved much more attractive to young men of ability."

"Business careers?" inquired the rector.

"Precisely!"

"In other words," said Hodder, with his curious smile, "the ministry gets the men who can't succeed at anything else."

"Well, that's putting it rather strong," answered Mr. Parr, actually reddening a little. "But come now, most young men would rather be a railroad president than a bishop,--wouldn't they?"

"Most young men would," agreed Hodder, quickly, "but they are not the young men who ought to be bishops, you'll admit that."

The financier, be it recorded to his credit, did not lack appreciation of this thrust, and, for the first time, he laughed with something resembling heartiness. This laughter, in which Hodder joined, seemed suddenly to put them on a new footing--a little surprising to both.

"Come," said the financier, rising, "I'm sure you like pictures, and Langmaid tells me you have a fancy for first editions. Would you care to go to the gallery?"

"By all means," the rector assented.

Their footsteps, as they crossed the hardwood floors, echoed in the empty house. After pausing to contemplate a Millet on the stair landing, they came at last to the huge, silent gallery, where the soft but adequate light fell upon many masterpieces, ancient and modern. And it was here, while gazing at the Corots and Bonheurs, Lawrences, Romneys, Copleys, and Halses, that Hodder's sense of their owner's isolation grew almost overpowering Once, glancing over his shoulder at Mr. Parr, he surprised in his eyes an expression almost of pain.

"These pictures must give you great pleasure," he said.

"Oh," replied the banker, in a queer voice, "I'm always glad when any one appreciates them. I never come in here alone."

Hodder did not reply. They passed along to an upstairs sitting-room, which must, Hodder thought, be directly over the dining-room. Between its windows was a case containing priceless curios.

"My wife liked this room," Mr. Parr explained, as he opened the case. When they had inspected it, the rector stood for a moment gazing out at a formal garden at the back of the house. The stalks of late flowers lay withering, but here and there the leaves were still vivid, and clusters of crimson berries gleamed in the autumn sunshine. A pergola ran down the middle, and through denuded grape-vines he caught a glimpse, at the far end, of sculptured figures and curving marble benches surrounding a pool.

"What a wonderful spot!" he exclaimed.

"My daughter Alison designed it."

"She must have great talent," said the rector.

"She's gone to New York and become a landscape architect," said his host with a perceptible dryness. "Women in these days are apt to be everything except what the Lord intended them to be."

They went downstairs, and Hodder took his leave, although he felt an odd reluctance to go. Mr. Parr rang the bell.

"I'll send you down in the motor," he said.

"I'd like the exercise of walking," said the rector. "I begin to miss it already, in the city."

"You look as if you had taken a great deal of it," Mr. Parr declared, following him to the door. "I hope you'll drop in often. Even if I'm not here, the gallery and the library are at your disposal."

Their eyes met.

"You're very good," Hodder replied, and went down the steps and through the open doorway.

Lost in reflection, he walked eastward with long and rapid strides, striving to reduce to order in his mind the impressions the visit had given him, only to find them too complex, too complicated by unlooked-for emotions. Before its occurrence, he had, in spite of an inherent common sense, felt a little uneasiness over the prospective meeting with the financier. And Nelson Langmaid had hinted, good-naturedly, that it was his, Hodder's, business, to get on good terms with Mr. Parr--otherwise the rectorship of St. John's might not prove abed of roses. Although the lawyer had spoken with delicacy, he had once more misjudged his man--the result being to put Hodder on his guard. He had been the more determined not to cater to the banker.

The outcome of it all had been that the rector left him with a sense of having crossed barriers forbidden to other men, and not understanding how he had crossed them. Whether this incipient intimacy were ominous or propitious, whether there were involved in it a germ (engendered by a radical difference of temperament) capable of developing into future conflict, he could not now decide. If Eldon Parr were Procrustes he, Hodder, had fitted the bed, and to say the least, this was extraordinary, if not a little disquieting. Now and again his thoughts reverted to the garden, and to the woman who had made it. Why had she deserted?

At length, after he had been walking for nearly an hour, he halted and looked about him. He was within a few blocks of the church, a little to one side of Tower Street, the main east and west highway of the city, in the midst of that district in which Mr. Parr had made the remark that poverty was inevitable. Slovenly and depressing at noonday, it seemed now frankly to have flung off its mask. Dusk was gathering, and with it a smoke-stained fog that lent a sickly tinge to the lights. Women slunk by him: the saloons, apparently closed, and many houses with veiled windows betrayed secret and sinister gleams. In the midst of a block rose a tall, pretentious though cheaply constructed building with the words "Hotel Albert" in flaming electric letters above an archway. Once more his eye read Dalton Street on a lamp....

Hodder resumed his walk more slowly, and in a few minutes reached his rooms in the parish house.

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