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List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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"I don't see," Jack remarked, "what women especially are to gain by such
a revolution."

"Perhaps independence, Jack," replied Edith.  "You should hear my club of
working-girls, who read and think much on these topics, talk of these
things."

"Yes," said Father Damon, "you toss these topics about, and discuss them
in the magazines, and fancy you are interested in socialistic movements.
But you have no idea how real and vital they are, and how the dumb
discontent of the working classes is being formulated into ideas.
It is time we tried to understand each other."

Not all the talk was of this sort at the Golden House.  There were three
worlds here--that of Jack, to which Edith belonged by birth and tradition
and habit; that of which we have spoken, to which she belonged by
profound sympathy; and that of Father Damon, to which she belonged by
undefined aspiration.  In him was the spiritual element asserting itself
in a mediaeval form, in a struggle to mortify and deny the flesh and yet
take part in modern life.  Imagine a celibate and ascetic of the
fifteenth century, who knew that Paradise must be gained through poverty
and privation and suffering, interesting himself in the tenement-house
question, in labor leagues, and the single tax.

Yet, hour after hour, in those idle summer days, when nature was in a
mood that suggested grace and peace, when the waves lapsed along the
shore and the cicada sang in the hedge, did Father Damon unfold to Edith
his ideas of the spiritualization of modern life through a conviction of
its pettiness and transitoriness.  How much more content there would be
if the poor could only believe that it matters little what happens here
if the heart is only pure and fixed on the endless life.

"Oh, Father Damon," replied Edith, with a grave smile, "I think your
mission ought to be to the rich."

"Yes," he replied, for he also knew his world, "if I wanted to make my
ideas fashionable; but I want to make them operative.  By-and-by," he
added, also with a smile, "we will organize some fishermen and carpenters
and tailors on a mission to the rich."

Father Damon's visit was necessarily short, for his work called him back
to town, and perhaps his conscience smote him a little for indulging in
this sort of retreat.  By the middle of August Jack's yacht was ready,
and he went with Mavick and the Van Dams and some other men of the club
on a cruise up the coast.  Edith was left alone with her Baltimore
friend.

And yet not alone.  As she lay in her hammock in those dreamy days a new
world opened to her.  It was not described in the chance romance she took
up, nor in the volume of poems she sometimes held in her hand, with a
finger inserted in the leaves.  Of this world she felt herself the centre
and the creator, and as she mused upon its mysteries, life took a new,
strange meaning to her.  It was apt to be a little hazy off there in the
watery horizon, and out of the mist would glide occasionally a boat,
and the sun would silver its sails, and it would dip and toss for half an
hour in the blue, laughing sea, and then disappear through the mysterious
curtain.  Whence did it come?  Whither had it gone?  Was life like that?
Was she on the shore of such a sea, and was this new world into which she
was drifting only a dream?  By her smile, by the momentary illumination
that her sweet thoughts made in her lovely, hopeful face, you knew that
it was not.  Who can guess the thoughts of a woman at such a time?  Are
the trees glad in the spring, when the sap leaps in their trunks, and the
buds begin to swell, and the leaves unfold in soft response to the
creative impulse?  The miracle is never old nor commonplace to them, nor
to any of the human family.  The anticipation of life is eternal.  The
singing of the birds, the blowing of the south wind, the sparkle of the
waves, all found a response in Edith's heart, which leaped with joy.  And
yet there was a touch of melancholy in it all, the horizon was so vast,
and the mist of uncertainty lay along it.  Literature, society,
charities, all that she had read and experienced and thought, was nothing
to this, this great unknown anxiety and bliss, this saddest and sweetest
of all human experiences.  She prayed that she might be worthy of this
great distinction, this responsibility and blessing.

And Jack, dear Jack, would he love her more?




XII

Although Father Damon had been absent from his charge only ten days, it
was time for him to return.  If he had not a large personal following, he
had a wide influence.  If comparatively few found their way to his
chapel, he found his way to many homes; his figure was a familiar one in
the streets, and his absence was felt by hundreds who had no personal
relations with him, but who had be come accustomed to seeing him go about
on his errands of encouragement, and probably had never realized how much
the daily sight of him had touched them.  The priestly dress, which may
once have provoked a sneer at his effeminacy, had now a suggestion of
refinement, of unselfish devotion, of consecration to the service of the
unfortunate, his spiritual face appealed to their better natures, and the
visible heroism that carried his frail figure through labors that would
have worn out the stoutest physique stirred in the hearts of the rudest
some comprehension of the reality of the spirit.

It may not have occurred to them that he was of finer clay than they--
perhaps he was not--but his presence was in their minds a subtle
connection and not a condescending one, rather a confession of
brotherhood, with another world and another view of life.  They may not
have known that their hearts were stirred because he had the gift of
sympathy.

And was it an unmanly trait that he evoked in men that sentiment of
chivalry which is never wanting in the roughest community for a pure
woman?  Wherever Father Damon went there was respect for his purity and
his unselfishness, even among those who would have been shamefaced if
surprised in any exhibition of softness.

And many loved him, and many depended on him.  Perhaps those who most
depended on him were the least worthy, and those who loved him most were
least inclined to sacrifice their own reasonable view of life to his own
sublimated spiritual conception.  It was the spirit of the man they
loved, and not the creed of the priest.  The little chapel in its subdued
lights and shadows, with confessionals and crosses and candles and
incense, was as restful a refuge as ever to the tired and the dependent;
but wanting his inspiring face and voice, it was not the same thing, and
the attendance always fell away when he was absent.  There was needed
there more than elsewhere the living presence.

He was missed, and the little world that missed him was astray.  The
first day of his return his heart was smitten by the thinness of the
congregation.  Had he, then, accomplished nothing; had he made no
impression, established in his shifting flock no habit of continuance in
well-doing that could survive even his temporary withdrawal?  The fault
must be his.  He had not sufficiently humiliated and consecrated himself,
and put under all strength of the flesh and trust in worldly
instrumentalities.  There must be more prayer, more vigils, more fasting,
before the power would come back to him to draw these wandering minds to
the light.  And so in the heat of this exhausting August, at the time
when his body most needed re-enforcement for the toil he required of it,
he was more rigid in his spiritual tyranny and contempt of it.

Ruth Leigh was not dependent upon Father Damon, but she also learned how
long ten days could be without a sight of him.  When she looked into his
chapel occasionally she realized, as never before, how much in the air
his ceremonies and his creed were.  There was nothing there for her
except his memory.  And she knew when she stepped in there, for her cool,
reasoning mind was honest, that it was the thought of him that drew her
to the place, and that going there was a sentimental indulgence.  What
she would have said was that she admired, loved Father Damon on account
of his love for humanity.  It was a common saying of all the professional
women in her set, and of the working-girls, that they loved Father Damon.
It is a comfort to women to be able to give their affection freely where
conventionalities and circumstances make the return of it in degree
unlikely.

At the close of a debilitating day Dr. Leigh found herself in the
neighborhood of the mission chapel.  She was tired and needed to rest
somewhere.  She knew that Father Damon had returned, but she had not seen
him, and a double motive drew her steps.  The attendance was larger than
it had been recently, and she found a stool in a dark corner, and
listened, with a weary sort of consciousness of the prayers and the
singing, but not without a deeper feeling of peace in the tones of a
voice every inflection of which she knew so well.  It seemed to her that
the reading cost him an effort, and there was a note of pathos in the
voice that thrilled her.  Presently he advanced towards the altar rail--
he was accustomed to do this with his little flock--and placing one hand
on the lectern, began to speak.

At first, and this was not usual, he spoke about himself in a strain of
sincere humility, taking blame upon himself for his inability to do
effectively the great service his Master had set him to do.  He meant to
have given himself more entirely to the dear people among whom he
labored; he hoped to show himself more worthy of the trust they had given
him; he was grateful for the success of his mission, but no one knew so
well as he how far short it came of being what he ought to have made it.
He knew indeed how weak he was, and he asked the aid of their sympathy
and encouragement.  It seemed to be with difficulty that he said this,
and to Ruth's sympathetic ear there was an evidence of physical
exhaustion in his tone.  There was in it, also, for her, a confession of
failure, the cry of the preacher, in sorrow and entreaty, that says,

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