List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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down in those reeking streets, climbing about in the foul tenement-
houses, taking a sick child in her arms, speaking a word of cheer--a good
physician going about doing good!

And it might have been!  Why was it that this peace of nature should
bring up her image, and that they should seem in harmony?  Was not the
love of beauty and of goodness the same thing?  Did God require in His
service the atrophy of the affections?  As long as he was in the world
was it right that he should isolate himself from any of its sympathies
and trials?  Why was it not a higher life to enter into the common lot,
and suffer, if need be, in the struggle to purify and ennoble all?
He remembered the days he had once passed in the Trappist monastery of
Gethsemane.  The perfect peace of mind of the monks was purchased at the
expense of the extirpation of every want, all will, every human interest.
Were these men anything but specimens in a Museum of Failures?  And yet,
for the time being, it had seemed attractive to him, this simple
vegetable existence, whose only object was preparation for death by the
extinction of all passion and desire.  No, these were not soldiers of the
Lord, but the fainthearted, who had slunk into the hospital.

All this afternoon he was drifting in thought, arraigning his past life,
excusing it, condemning it, and trying to forecast its future.  Was this
a trial of his constancy and faith, or had he made a mistake, entered
upon a slavish career, from which he ought to extricate himself at any
cost of the world's opinion?  But presently he was aware that in all
these debates with himself her image appeared.  He was trying to fit his
life to the thought of her.  And when this became clearer in his tortured
mind, the woman appeared as a temptation.  It was not, then, the love of
beauty, not even the love of humanity, and very far from being the
service of his Master, that he was discussing, but only his desire for
one person.  It was that, then, that made him, for that fatal instant,
forget his vow, and yield to the impulse of human passion.  The thought
of that moment stung him with confusion and shame.  There had been
moments in this afternoon wandering--when it had seemed possible for him
to ask for release, and to take up a human, sympathetic life with her, in
mutual consecration in the service of the Lord's poor.  Yes, and by love
to lead her into a higher conception of the Divine love.  But this
breaking a solemn vow at the dictates of passion was a mortal sin--there
was no other name for it--a sin demanding repentance and expiation.

As he at last turned homeward, facing the great city and his life there,
this became more clear to him.  He walked rapidly.  The lines of his face
became set in a hard judgment of himself.  He thought no more of escaping
from himself, but of subduing himself, stamping out the appeals of his
lower nature.  It was in this mood that he returned.

Father Monies was awaiting him, and welcomed him with that look of
affection, of more than brotherly love, which the good man had for the
younger priest.

"I hope your walk has done you good."

"Perhaps," Father Damon replied, without any leniency in his face; "but
that does not matter.  I must tell you what I could not last night.  Can
you hear me?"

They went together into the oratory.  Father Damon did not spare himself.
He kept nothing back that could heighten the enormity of his offense.

And Father Monies did not attempt to lessen the impression upon himself
of the seriousness of the scandal.  He was shocked.  He was exceedingly
grave, but he was even more pitiful.  His experience of life had been
longer than that of the penitent.  He better knew its temptations.  His
own peace had only been won by long crucifixion of the natural desires.

"I have nothing to say as to your own discipline.  That you know.  But
there is one thing.  You must face this temptation, and subdue it."

"You mean that I must go back to my labor in the city?"

"Yes.  You can rest here a few days if you feel too weak physically."

"No; I am well enough."  He hesitated.  "I thought perhaps some other
field, for a time?"

"There is no other field for you.  It is not for the moment the question
of where you can do most good.  You are to reinstate yourself.  You are a
soldier of the Lord Jesus, and you are to go where the battle is most

That was the substance of it all.  There was much affectionate counsel
and loving sympathy mingled with all the inflexible orders of obedience,
but the sin must be faced and extirpated in presence of the enemy.

On the morrow Father Damon went back to his solitary rooms, to his
chapel, to the round of visitations, to his work with the poor, the
sinful, the hopeless.  He did not seek her; he tried not to seem to avoid
her, or to seem to shun the streets where he was most likely to meet her,
and the neighborhoods she frequented.  Perhaps he did avoid them a
little, and he despised himself for doing it.  Almost involuntarily he
looked to the bench by the chapel door which she occasionally occupied at
vespers.  She was never there, and he condemned himself for thinking that
she might be; but yet wherever he walked there was always the expectation
that he might encounter her.  As the days went by and she did not appear,
his expectation became a kind of torture.  Was she ill, perhaps?  It
could not be that she had deserted her work.

And then he began to examine himself with a morbid introspection.  Had
the hope that he should see her occasionally influenced him at all in his
obedience to Father Monies?  Had he, in fact, a longing to be in the
streets where she had walked, among the scenes that had witnessed her
beautiful devotion?  Had his willingness to take up this work again been
because it brought him nearer to her in spirit?

No, she could not be ill.  He heard her spoken of, here and there, in his
calls and ministrations to the sick and dying.  Evidently she was going
about her work as usual.  Perhaps she was avoiding him.  Or perhaps she
did not care, after all, and had lost her respect for him when he
discovered to her his weakness.  And he had put himself on a plane so
high above her.

There was no conscious wavering in his purpose.  But from much dwelling
upon the thought, from much effort rather to put it away, his desire only
to see her grew stronger day by day.  He had no fear.  He longed to test
himself.  He was sure that he would be impassive, and be all the stronger
for the test.  He was more devoted than ever in his Work.  He was more
severe with himself, more charitable to others, and he could not doubt
that he was gaining a hold-yes, a real hold-upon the lives of many about
him.  The attendance was better at the chapel; more of the penitent and
forlorn came to him for help.  And how alone he was!  My God, never even
to see her!

In fact, Ruth Leigh was avoiding him.  It was partly from a womanly
reserve--called into expression in this form for the first time--and
partly from a wish to spare him pain.  She had been under no illusion
from the first about the hopelessness of the attachment.  She
comprehended his character so thoroughly that she knew that for him any
fall from his ideal would mean his ruin.  He was one of the rare spirits
of faith astray in a skeptical age.  For a time she had studied curiously
his efforts to adapt himself to his surroundings.  One of these was
joining a Knights of Labor lodge.  Another was his approach to the
ethical-culture movement of some of the leaders in the Neighborhood
Guild.  Another was his interest in the philanthropic work of agnostics
like herself.  She could see that he, burning with zeal to save the souls
of men, and believing that there was no hope for the world except in the
renunciation of the world, instinctively shrank from these contacts,
which, nevertheless, he sought in the spirit of a Jesuit missionary to a
barbarous tribe.

It was possible for such a man to be for a time overmastered by human
passion; it was possible even that he might reason himself temporarily
into conduct that this natural passion seemed to justify; yet she never
doubted that there would follow an awakening from that state of mind as
from a horrible delusion.  It was simply because Ruth Leigh was guided by
the exercise of reason, and had built up her scheme of life upon facts
that she believed she could demonstrate, that she saw so clearly their
relations, and felt that the faith, which was to her only a vagary of the
material brain, was to him an integral part of his life.

Love, to be sure, was as unexpected in her scheme of life as it was in
his; but there was on her part no reason why she should not yield to it.
There was every reason in her nature and in her theory why she should,
for, bounded as her vision of life was by this existence, love was the
highest conceivable good in life.  It had been with a great shout of joy
that the consciousness had come to her that she loved and was loved.
Though she might never see him again, this supreme experience for man or
woman, this unsealing of the sacred fountain of life, would be for her an
enduring sweetness in her lonely and laborious pilgrimage.  How strong
love is they best know to whom it is offered and denied.

And why, so far as she was concerned, should she deny it?  An ordinary
woman probably would not.  Love is reason enough.  Why should artificial
conventions defeat it?  Why should she sacrifice herself, if he were
willing to brave the opinion of the world for her sake?  Was it any new
thing for good men to do this?  But Ruth Leigh was not an ordinary woman.
Perhaps if her intellect had not been so long dominant over her heart it
would have been different.  But the habit of being guided by reason was
second nature.  She knew that not only his vow, but the habit of life
engendered by the vow, was an insuperable barrier.  And besides, and this
was the touchstone of her conception of life and duty, she felt that if
he were to break his vow, though she might love him, her respect for him
would be impaired.

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