List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

while the doctor tidied up the room a bit, and then, taking the youngest
child in her lap and drawing the others about her, began to tell a story
in a low voice.  Presently she was aware that the priest was on his knees
and saying a prayer.  She stopped in her story, and looked out through
the dirty window into the chill and dark area.

"What is he doing?" whispered one of the children.

"I don't know," she said, and a sort of chill came over her heart.  It
all seemed a mockery, in these surroundings.

When he rose he said to the woman, "We will see that you do not want till
your husband comes back."

"And I will look in tomorrow," said the doctor.

When they were in the street, Father Damon thanked her for calling his
attention to the case, thanked her a little formally, and said that he
would make inquiries and have it properly attended to.  And then he
asked: "Is your work ended for the day?  You must be tired."

"Oh, no; I have several visits to make.  I'm not tired.  I rather think
it is good for me, being out-of-doors so much."  She thanked him, and
said good-by.

For a moment he stood and watched the plain, resolute little woman
threading her way through the crowded and unclean street, and then slowly
walked away to his apartment, filled with sadness and perplexity.

The apartment which he occupied was not far from the mission chapel,
and it was the one clean spot among the ill-kept tenements; but as to
comfort, it was not much better than the cell of an anchorite.  Of this,
however, he was not thinking as he stretched himself out on his pallet to
rest a little from the exhausting labors of the day.  Probably it did not
occur to him that his self-imposed privations lessened his strength for
his work.

He was thinking of Ruth Leigh.  What a rare soul!  And yet apparently she
did not think or care whether she had a soul.  What could be the spring
of her incessant devotion?  If ever woman went about doing good in an
unselfish spirit it was she.  Yet she confessed her work hopeless.  She
had no faith, no belief in immortality, no expectation of any reward,
nothing to offer to anybody beyond this poor life.  Was this the
enthusiasm of humanity, of which he heard so much?  But she did not seem
to have any illusions, or to be burned up by enthusiasm.  She just kept
on.  Ah, he thought, what a woman she would be if she were touched by the
fire of faith!

Meantime, Ruth Leigh went on her round.  One day was like another, except
that every day the kaleidoscope of misery showed new combinations, new
phases of suffering and incompetence, and there was always a fresh
interest in that.  For years now this had been her life, in the chill of
winter and the heat of summer, without rest or vacation.  The amusements,
the social duties, the allurements of dress and society, that so much
occupied the thoughts of other women, did not seem to come into her life.
For books she had little time, except the books of her specialty.  The
most exciting novels were pale compared with her daily experiences of
real life.  Almost her only recreation was a meeting of the working-
girls, a session of her labor lodge, or an assembly at the Cooper Union,
where some fiery orator, perhaps a priest, or a clever agitator,
a working-man glib of speech, who had a mass of statistics at the end of
his tongue, who read and discussed, in some private club of zealots of
humanity, metaphysics, psychology, and was familiar with the whole
literature of labor and socialism, awoke the enthusiasm of the
discontented or the unemployed, and where men and women, in clear but
homely speech, told their individual experiences of wrong and injustice.
There was evidence in all these demonstrations and organizations that the
world was moving, and that the old order must change.

Years and years the little woman had gone on with her work, and she
frankly confessed to Edith, one day when they were together going her
rounds, that she could see no result from it all.  The problem of poverty
and helplessness and incapacity seemed to her more hopeless than when she
began.  There might be a little enlightenment here and there, but there
was certainly not less misery.  The state of things was worse than she
thought at first; but one thing cheered her: the people were better than
she thought.  They might be dull and suspicious in the mass, but she
found so much patience, unselfishness, so many people of good hearts and
warm affections.

"They are the people," she said, "I should choose for friends.  They are
natural, unsophisticated.  And do you know," she went on, "that what most
surprises me is the number of reading, thoughtful people among those who
do manual labor.  I doubt if on your side of town the, best books, the
real fundamental and abstruse books, are so read and discussed, or the
philosophy of life is so seriously considered, as in certain little
circles of what you call the working-classes."

"Isn't it all very revolutionary?" asked Edith.

"Perhaps," replied the doctor, dryly.  "But they have no more fads than
other people.  Their theories seem to them not only practical, but they
try to apply them to actual legislation; at any rate, they discriminate
in vagaries.  You would have been amused the other night in a small
circle at the lamentations over a member--he was a car-driver--who was
the authoritative expositor of Schopenhauer, because he had gone off into
Theosophy.  It showed such weakness."

"I have heard that the members of that circle were Nihilists."

"The club has not that name, but probably the members would not care to
repudiate the title, or deny that they were Nihilists theoretically--that
is, if Nihilism means an absolute social and political overturning in
order that something better may be built up.  And, indeed, if you see
what a hopeless tangle our present situation is, where else can the mind
logically go?"

"It is pitiful enough," Edith admitted.  "But all this movement you speak
of seems to me a vague agitation."

"I don't think," the doctor said, after a moment, "that you appreciate
the intellectual force that is in it all, or allow for the fermenting
power in the great discontented mass of these radical theories on the
problem of life."

This was a specimen of the sort of talk that Edith and the doctor often
drifted into in their mission work.  As Ruth Leigh tramped along late
this afternoon in the slush of the streets, from one house of sickness
and poverty to another, a sense of her puny efforts in this great mass of
suffering and injustice came over her anew.  Her indignation rose against
the state of things.  And Father Damon, who was trying to save souls, was
he accomplishing anything more than she?  Why had he been so curt with
her when she went to him for help this afternoon?  Was he just a narrow-
minded, bigoted priest?  A few nights before she had heard him speak on
the single tax at a labor meeting.  She recalled his eloquence, his
profound sympathy with the cause of the people, the thrilling, pathetic
voice, the illumination of his countenance, the authority, the
consecration in his attitude and dress; and he was transfigured to her
then, as he was now in her thought, into an apostle of humanity.  Alas!
she thought, what a leader he would be if he would break loose from his
superstitious traditions!


The acquaintance between the house of Henderson and the house of Delancy
was not permitted to languish.  Jack had his reasons for it, which may
have been financial, and Carmen had her reasons, which were probably
purely social.  What was the good of money if it did not bring social
position? and what, on the other hand, was the good of social position if
you could not use it to get money?

In his recent association with the newly rich, Jack's twenty thousand a
year began to seem small.  In fact, in the lowering of the rate of
interest and the shrinkage of securities, it was no longer twenty
thousand a year.  This would have been a matter of little consequence in
the old order.  His lot was not cast among the poor; most of his
relations had solid fortunes, and many of them were millionaires, or what
was equivalent to that, before the term was invented.  But they made
little display; none at all merely for the purpose of exhibition, or to
gain or keep social place.  In this atmosphere in which he was born Jack
floated along without effort, with no demand upon him to keep up with a
rising standard of living.  Even impecuniosity, though inconvenient,
would not have made him lose caste.

All this was changing now.  Since the introduction of a new element even
the conservative old millions had begun to feel the stir of uneasiness,
and to launch out into extravagance in rivalry with the new millions.
Even with his relations Jack began to feel that he was poor.  It did not
spur him to do anything, to follow the example, for instance, of the
young fellows from the country, who were throwing themselves into Wall
Street with the single purpose of becoming suddenly rich, but it made him
uneasy.  And when he was with the Hendersons, or Miss Tavish, whose
father, though not newly rich, was one of the most aggressive of
speculators, and saw how easily every luxurious desire glided into
fulfillment, he felt for the first time in his life the emotion of envy.
It seemed then that only unlimited money could make the world attractive.
Why, even to keep up with the unthinking whims of Miss Tavish would
bankrupt him in six months.  That little spread at Wherry's for the
theatre party the other night, though he made light of it to Edith, was
almost the price he couldn't afford to pay for Storm.  He had a grim
thought that midwinter flowers made dining as expensive as dying.
Carmen, whom nothing escaped, complimented him on his taste, quite aware
that he couldn't afford it, and, apropos, told him of a lady in Chicago
who, hearing that the fashion had changed, wrote on her dinner cards, "No
flowers."  It was only a matter of course for these people to build a new
country-house in any spot that fashion for the moment indicated, to equip

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: