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

"And in fasting, too, I dare say," she added, with a little smile.

"And why not?" he asked.

"Pardon me," she said; "I don't pretend to know what you need.  I need to
eat, though Heaven knows it's hard enough to keep up an appetite down
here.  But it is physical endurance you need for the work here.  Do you
think fasting strengthens you to go through your work night and day?"

"I know I couldn't do it on my own strength."  And Dr. Leigh recalled
times when she had seen him officiating in the chapel apparently
sustained by nothing but zeal and pure spirit, and wondered that he did
not faint and fall.  And faint and fall he did, she was sure, when the
service was over.

"Well, it may be necessary to you, but not as an example to these people.
I see enough involuntary fasting."

"We look at these people from different points of view, I fear."  And
after a moment he said: "But, doctor, I wanted to ask you about Gretchen.
You see her?"

"Occasionally.  She works too many hours, but she seems to be getting on
very well, and brings her mother all she earns."

"Do you think she is able to stand alone?"

Dr. Leigh winced a little at this searching question, for no one knew
better than she the vulgarizing influence of street life and chance
associations upon a young girl, and the temptations.  She was even forced
to admit the value in the way of restraint, as a sort of police force,
of the church and priestly influence, especially upon girls at the
susceptible age.  But she knew that Father Damon meant something more
than this, and so she answered:

"But people have got to stand alone.  She might as well begin."

"But she is so young."

"Yes, I know.  She is in the way of temptation, but so long as she works
industriously, and loves her mother, and feels the obligation, which the
poor very easily feel, of doing her share for the family, she is not in
so much moral danger as other girls of her age who lead idle and self-
indulgent lives.  The working-girls of the city learn to protect

"And you think this is enough, without any sort of religion--that this
East Side can go on without any spiritual life?"

Ruth Leigh made a gesture of impatience.  In view of the actual struggle
for existence she saw around her, this talk seemed like cant.  And she

"I don't know that anything can go on.  Let me ask you a question, Father
Damon.  Do you think there is any more spirituality, any more of the
essentials of what you call Christianity, in the society of the other
side than there is on the East Side?"

"It is a deep question, this of spirituality," replied Father Damon, who
was in the depths of his proselyting action a democrat and in sympathy
with the people, and rated quite at its full value the conventional
fashion in religion.  "I shouldn't like to judge, but there is a great
body of Christian men and women in this city who are doing noble work."

"Yes," replied the little doctor, bitterly, "trying to save themselves.
How many are trying to save others--others except the distant and foreign

"You surely cannot ignore," replied the father, still speaking mildly,
"the immense amount of charitable work done by the churches!"

"Yes, I know; charity, charity, the condescension of the rich to the
poor.  What we want are understanding, fellowship, and we get alms!
If there is so much spirituality as you say, and Christianity is what you
say it is today, how happens it that this side is left in filth and
misery and physical wretchedness?  You know what it is, and you know the
luxury elsewhere.  And you think to bridge over the chasm between classes
with flowers, in pots, yes, and Bible-readers and fashionable visitors
and little aid societies--little palliatives for an awful state of
things.  Why, look at it!  Last winter the city authorities hauled off
the snow and the refuse from the fashionable avenues, and dumped it down
in the already blockaded and filthy side streets, and left us to struggle
with the increased pneumonia and diphtheria, and general unsanitary
conditions.  And you wonder that the little nihilist groups and labor
organizations and associations of agnostics, as you call them, meeting to
study political economy and philosophy, say that the existing state of
things has got to be overturned violently, if those who have the power
and the money continue indifferent."

"I do not wonder," replied Father Damon, sadly. "The world is evil, and I
should be as despairing as you are if I did not know there was another
life and another world.  I couldn't bear it.  Nobody could."

"And all you've got to offer, then, to this mass of wretchedness,
poverty, ignorance, at close quarters with hunger and disease, is to grin
and bear it, in hope of a reward somewhere else!"

"I think you don't quite--"

The doctor looked up and saw a look of pain on the priest's face.

"Oh," she hastened to say, almost as impetuously as she had spoken
before, "I don't mean you--I don't mean you.  I know what you do.  Pardon
me for speaking so.  I get so discouraged sometimes."  They stood still a
moment, looking up and down the hot, crowded, odorful street they were
in, with its flaunting rags of poverty and inefficiency.  "I see so
little result of what I can do, and there is so little help."

"I know," said the father, as they moved along.  " I don't see how you
can bear it alone."

This touched a sore spot, and aroused Ruth Leigh's combativeness.
It seemed to her to approach the verge of cant again.  But she knew the
father's absolute sincerity; she felt she had already said too much; and
she only murmured, as if to herself, "If we could only know."  And then,
after a moment, she asked, "Do you, Father Damon, see any sign of
anything better here?"

"Yes, today."  And he spoke very slowly and hesitatingly.  "If you will
excuse the personality of it.  When I entered that room today, and saw
you with that sick child in your arms, and comprehended what it all
meant, I had a great wave of hope, and I knew, just then, that there is
coming virtue enough in the world to redeem it."

Ruth was confounded.  Her heart seemed to stand still, and then the hot
blood flowed into her face in a crimson flood.  "Ah," escaped from her
lips, and she walked on more swiftly, not daring to look up.  This from
him!  This recognition from the ascetic father!  If one of her dispensary
comrades had said it, would she have been so moved?

And afterwards, when she had parted from him, and gone to her little
room, the hot flush again came to her neck and brow, and she saw his
pale, spiritual face, and could hear the unwonted tenderness of his
voice.  Yes, Father Damon had said it of her.


The question has been very much discussed whether the devil, in temperate
latitudes, is busier in the summer or in the winter.  When Congress and
the various State legislatures are in session, and the stock and grain
exchanges are most active, and society is gayest, and the churches and
benevolent and reformatory associations are most aggressive--at this
season, which is the cool season, he seems to be most animated and

But is not this because he is then most opposed?  The stream may not flow
any faster because it is dammed, but it exhibits at the obstructed points
greater appearance of agitation.  Many people are under the impression
that when they stop fighting there is a general truce: There is reason to
believe that the arch enemy is pleased with this impression, that he
likes a truce, and that it is his best opportunity, just as the weeds in
the garden, after a tempest, welcome the sun and the placidity of the
elements.  It is well known that in summer virtue suffers from inertia,
and that it is difficult to assemble the members of any vigilant
organization, especially in cities, where the flag of the enemy is never
lowered.  But wherever the devil is there is always a quorum present for
business.  It is not his plan to seek an open fight, and many observers
say that he gains more ground in summer than in any other season, and
this notwithstanding people are more apt to lose their tempers, and even
become profane, in the aggravations of what is known as spring than at
any other time.  The subject cannot be pursued here, but there is ground
for supposing that the devil prefers a country where the temperature is
high and pretty uniform.

At any rate, it is true that the development of character is not arrested
by any geniality or languor of nature.  By midsummer the Hendersons were
settled in Lenox, where the Blunts had long been, and Miss Tavish and her
party of friends were at Bar Harbor.  Henderson was compelled to be in
the city most of the time, and Jack Delancy fancied that business
required his presence there also; but he had bought a yacht, and
contemplated a voyage, with several of the club men, up the Maine coast.
"No, I thank you," Major Fairfax had said; "I know an easier way to get
to Bar Harbor."

Jack was irritable and restless, to be sure, in the absence of the sort
of female society he had become accustomed to; but there were many
compensations in his free-and-easy bachelor life, in his pretense of
business, which consisted in watching the ticker, as it is called,
in an occasional interview with Henderson, and in the floating summer
amusements of the relaxed city.  There was nothing unusual in this life
except that he needed a little more stimulation, but this was not strange
in the summer, and that he devoted more time to poker--but everybody
knows that a person comes out about even in the game of poker if he keeps
at it long enough--there was nothing unusual in this, only it was giving
Jack a distaste for the quiet and it seemed to him the restraint of the
Golden House down by the sea.  And he was more irritable there than
elsewhere.  It is so difficult to estimate an interior deterioration of
this sort, for Jack was just as popular with his comrades as ever, and
apparently more prosperous.

It is true that Jack had had other ideas when he was courting Edith
Fletcher, and at moments, at any rate, different aspirations from any he

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: