List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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which they enjoyed all the more for the good action of visiting the East
Side--a little supper which lasted very late, and was more and more
enjoyed as it went on, and was, in fact, so gay that when the ladies were
set down at their houses, Jack insisted on dragging Mavick off to the
Beefsteak Club and having something manly to drink; and while they drank
he analyzed the comparative attractions of Carmen and Miss Tavish; he
liked that kind of women, no nonsense in them; and presently he wandered
a little and lost the cue of his analysis, and, seizing Mavick by the
arm, and regarding him earnestly, in a burst of confidence declared that,
notwithstanding all appearances, Edith was the dearest girl in the world.

It was at this supper that the famous society was formed, which the
newspapers ridiculed, and which deceived so many excellent people in New
York because it seemed to be in harmony with the philanthropic endeavor
of the time, but which was only an expression of the Mephistophelian
spirit of Carmen--the Society for Supplying Two Suspenders to Those who
have only One.

By the end of June there was no more doubt about the heat of the town
than about its odors.  The fashionable residence part was dismantled and
deserted.  At least miles and miles of houses seemed to be closed.
Few carriages were seen in this quarter, the throngs of fashion had
disappeared, comparatively few women were about, and those that appeared
in the Sunday promenade were evidently sight-seers and idlers from other
quarters; the throng of devotees was gone from the churches, and indeed
in many of them services were suspended till a more convenient season.
The hotels, to be sure, were full of travelers, and the club-houses had
more habitues than usual, and were more needed by the members whose
families had gone into the country.

Notwithstanding the silence and vacation aspect of up-town, the public
conveyances were still thronged, and a census would have shown no such
diminution of population as seemed.  Indeed, while nobody was in town,
except accidentally, the greater portion of it presented a more animated
appearance than usual, especially at night, on account of the open
windows, the groups on door-steps and curb-stones, and the restless
throng in the streets-buyers and sellers and idlers.  To most this
outdoor life was a great enjoyment, and to them the unclean streets with
the odors and exhalations of decay were homelike and congenial.  Nor did
they seem surprised that a new country should so completely reproduce the
evil smells and nastiness of the old civilization.  It was all familiar
and picturesque.  Work still went on in the crowded tenement-houses, and
sickness simply changed its character, death showing an increased
friendliness to young children.  Some impression was of course made by
the agents of various charities, the guilds and settlements bravely
strove at their posts, some of the churches kept their flags flying on
the borders of the industrial districts, the Good Samaritans of the
Fresh-air Fund were active, the public dispensaries did a thriving
business, and the little band of self-sacrificing doctors, most of them
women, went their rounds among the poor, the sick, and the friendless.

Among them Ruth Leigh was one who never took a vacation.  There was no
time for it.  The greater the heat, the more noisome the town, the more
people became ill from decaying food and bad air and bad habits, the more
people were hungry from improvidence or lack of work, the more were her
daily visits a necessity; and though she was weary of her monotonous
work, and heart-sick at its small result in such a mass, there never came
a day when she could quit it.  She made no reputation in her profession
by this course; perhaps she awoke little gratitude from those she served,
and certainly had not so much of their confidence as the quacks who
imposed upon them and took their money; and she was not heartened much by
hope of anything better in this world or any other; and as for pay, if
there was enough of that to clothe her decently, she apparently did not
spend it on herself.

It was, in short, wholly inexplicable that this little woman should
simply go about doing good, without any ulterior purpose whatever, not
even notoriety.  Did she love these people?  She did not ever say
anything about that.  In the Knights of Labor circle, and in the little
clubs for the study of social questions, which she could only get leisure
to attend infrequently, she was not at all demonstrative about any
religion of humanity.  Perhaps she simply felt that she was a part of
these people, and that whether they rejected her or received her, there
was nothing for her to do but to give herself to them.  She would
probably have been surprised if Father Damon had told her that she was in
this following a great example, and there might have been a tang of
agnostic bitterness in her reply.  When she thought of it the condition
seemed to her hopeless, and the attitude of what was called civilization
towards it so remorseless and indifferent, and that of Christianity so
pharisaical.  If she ever lost her temper, it was when she let her mind
run in this nihilistic channel, in bitterness against the whole social
organization, and the total outcome of civilization so far as the mass of
humanity is concerned.

One day Father Damon climbed up to the top of a wretched tenement in
Baxter Street in search of a German girl, an impulsive and pretty girl of
fifteen, whom he had missed for several days at the chapel services.
He had been in the room before.  It was not one of the worst, for though
small and containing a cook-stove, a large bed, and a chest of drawers,
there was an attempt to make it tidy.  In a dark closet opening out from
it was another large bed.  As he knocked and opened the door, he saw that
Gretchen was not at home.  Her father sat in a rocking-chair by an open
window, on the sill of which stood a pot of carnations, the Easter gift
of St. George's, a wax-faced, hollow-eyed man of gentle manners, who
looked round wearily at the priest.  The mother was washing clothes in a
tub in one corner; in another corner was a half-finished garment from a
slop-shop.  The woman alternated the needle at night and the tub in the
daytime.  Seated on the bed, with a thin, sick child in her arms, was Dr.
Leigh.  As she looked up a perfectly radiant smile illuminated her
usually plain face, an unworldly expression of such purity and happiness
that she seemed actually beautiful to the priest, who stopped,
hesitating, upon the threshold.

"Oh, you needn't be afraid to come in, Father Damon," she cried out; "it
isn't contagious--only rash."

Father Damon, who would as readily have walked through a pestilence as in
a flower-garden, only smiled at this banter, and replied, after speaking
to the sick man, and returning in German the greeting of the woman, who
had turned from the tub, "I've no doubt you are disappointed that it
isn't contagious!"  And then, to the mother: " Where is Gretchen?  She
doesn't come to the chapel."

"Nein," replied the woman, in a mixture of German and English, "it don't
come any more in dot place; it be in a shtore now; it be good girl."

"What, all day?"

"Yaas, by six o'clock, and abends so spate.  Not much it get, but my man
can't earn nothing any more."  And the woman, as she looked at him, wiped
her eyes with the corner of her apron.

"But, on Sunday?" Father Damon asked, still further.

"Vell, it be so tired, and goed up by de Park with Dick Loosing and dem
oder girls."

"Don't you think it better, Father Damon," Dr. Leigh interposed, "that
Gretchen should have fresh air and some recreation on Sunday?"

"Und such bootiful tings by de Museum," added the mother.

"Perhaps," said he, with something like a frown on his face, and then
changed the subject to the sick child.  He did not care to argue the
matter when Dr. Leigh was present, but he resolved to come again and
explain to the mother that her daughter needed some restraining power
other than her own impulse, and that without religious guidance she was
pretty certain to drift into frivolous and vulgar if not positively bad
ways.  The father was a free-thinker; but Father Damon thought he had
some hold on the mother, who was of the Lutheran communion, but had
followed her husband so far as to become indifferent to anything but
their daily struggle for life.  Yet she had a mother's instinct about the
danger to her daughter, and had been pleased to have her go to Father
Damon's chapel.

And, besides, he could not bring himself in that presence to seem to
rebuke Ruth Leigh.  Was she not practically doing what his Lord did--
going about healing the sick, sympathizing with the poor and the
discouraged, taking upon herself the burden of the disconsolate,
literally, without thought of self, sharing, as it were, the misery and
sin of this awful city?  And today, for the first time, he seemed to have
seen the woman in her--or was it the saint?  and he recalled that
wonderful illumination of her plain face that made her actually beautiful
as she looked up from the little waif of humanity she held in her arms.
It had startled him, and struck a new chord in his heart, and planted a
new pang there that she had no belief in a future life.

It did not occur to him that the sudden joy in her face might have been
evoked by seeing him, for it was a long time since she had seen him.  Nor
did he think that the pang at his heart had another cause than religious
anxiety.  Ah, priest and worldly saint, how subtle and enduring are the
primal instincts of human nature!

"Yes," he said, as they walked away, in reply to her inquiry as to his
absence, "I have been in retreat a couple of weeks."

"I suppose," she said, softly, "you needed the rest; though," and she
looked at him professionally, "if you will allow me to say it, it seems
to me that you have not rested enough."

"I needed strength"--and it was the priest that spoke--" in meditation
and prayer to draw upon resources not my own."

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