List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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entered, preceded by a couple of acolytes, and advanced swiftly to the
reading-desk, there was an awed hush in the congregation.  One would not
dare to say that there was a sentimental feeling for the pale face and
rapt expression of the devotee.  It was more than that.  He had just come
from some scene of suffering, from the bed of one dying; he was weary
with watching.  He was faint with lonely vigils; he was visibly carrying
the load of the poor and the despised.  Even Ruth Leigh, who had dropped
in for half an hour in one of her daily rounds--even Ruth Leigh, who had
in her stanch, practical mind a contempt for forms and rituals, and no
faith in anything that she could not touch, and who at times was
indignant at the efforts wasted over the future of souls concerning which
no one knew anything, when there were so many bodies, which had inherited
disease and poverty and shame, going to worldly wreck before so-called
Christian eyes--even she could scarcely keep herself from adoring this
self-sacrificing spirit.  The woes of humanity grieved him as they
grieved her, and she used to say she did not care what he believed so
long as he gave his life for the needy.

It was when he advanced to the altar-rail to speak that the man best
appeared.  His voice, which was usually low and full of melody, could be
something terrible when it rose in denunciation of sin.  Those who had
traveled said that he had the manner of a preaching friar--the simple
language, so refined and yet so homely and direct, the real, the inspired
word, the occasional hastening torrent of words.  When he had occasion to
address one of the societies of ladies for the promotion of something
among the poor, his style and manner were simplicity itself.  One might
have said there was a shade of contempt in his familiar and not seldom
slightly humorous remarks upon society and its aims and aspirations,
about which he spoke plainly and vigorously.  And this was what the
ladies liked.  Especially when he referred to the pitifulness of class
distinctions, in the light of the example of our Lord, in our short
pilgrimage in this world.  This unveiling and denunciation made them
somehow feel nearer to their work, and, indeed, while they sat there,
co-workers with this apostle of righteousness.

Perhaps there was something in the priestly dress that affected not only
the congregation in the chapel, but all the neighborhood in which Father
Damon lived.  There was in the long robe, with its feminine lines, an
assurance to the women that he was set apart and not as others were; and,
on the other hand, the semi-feminine suggestion of the straight-falling
garment may have had for the men a sort of appeal for defense and even
protection.  It is certain, at any rate, that Father Damon had the
confidence of high and low, rich and poor.  The forsaken sought him out,
the hungry went to him, the dying sent for him, the criminal knocked at
the door of his little room, even the rich reprobate would have opened
his bad heart to him sooner than to any one else.  It is evident,
therefore, that Father Damon was dangerously near to being popular.
Human vanity will feed on anything within its reach, and there has been
discovered yet no situation that will not minister to its growth.
Suffering perhaps it prefers, and contumely and persecution.  Are not
opposition, despiteful anger, slander even, rejection of men, stripes
even, if such there could be in these days, manna to the devout soul
consciously set apart for a mission?  But success, obsequiousness,
applause, the love of women, the concurrent good opinion of all
humanitarians, are these not almost as dangerous as persecution?  Father
Damon, though exalted in his calling, and filled with a burning zeal,
was a sincere man, and even his eccentricities of saintly conduct
expressed to his mind only the high purpose of self-sacrifice.  Yet he
saw, he could not but see, the spiritual danger in this rising tide of
adulation.  He fought against its influence, he prayed against it,
he tried to humiliate himself, and his very humiliations increased the
adulation.  He was perplexed, almost ashamed, and examined himself to see
how it was that he himself seemed to be thwarting his own work.
Sometimes he withdrew from it for a week together, and buried himself in
a retreat in the upper part of the island.  Alas! did ever a man escape
himself in a retreat?  It made him calm for the moment.  But why was it,
he asked himself, that he had so many followers, his religion so few?
Why was it, he said, that all the humanitarians, the reformers, the
guilds, the ethical groups, the agnostics, the male and female knights,
sustained him, and only a few of the poor and friendless knocked, by his
solicitation, at the supernatural door of life?  How was it that a woman
whom he encountered so often, a very angel of mercy, could do the things
he was doing, tramping about in the misery and squalor of the great city
day and night, her path unilluminated by a ray from the future life?

Perhaps he had been remiss in his duty.  Perhaps he was letting a vague
philanthropy take the place of a personal solicitude for individual
souls.  The elevation of the race!  What had the land question to do with
the salvation of man?  Suppose everybody on the East Side should become
as industrious, as self-denying, as unselfish as Ruth Leigh, and yet
without belief, without hope!  He had accepted the humanitarian situation
with her, and never had spoken to her of the eternal life.  What
unfaithfulness to his mission and to her!  It should be so no longer.

It was after one of his weeks of retreat, at the close of vesper service,
that Dr. Leigh came to him.  He had been saying in his little talk that
poverty is no excuse for irreligion, and that all aid in the hardship of
this world was vain and worthless unless the sinner laid hold on eternal
life.  Dr. Leigh, who was laboring with a serious practical problem,
heard this coldly, and with a certain contempt for what seemed to her a
vague sort of consolation.

"Well," he said, when she came to him in the vestry, with a drop from the
rather austere manner in which he had spoken, "what can I do for you?"

"For me, nothing, Father Damon.  I thought perhaps you would go round
with me to see a pretty bad case.  It is in your parish."

"Ah, did they send for me?  Do they want spiritual help?"

"First the natural, then the spiritual," she replied, with a slight tone
of sarcasm in her voice.  "That's just like a priest," she was thinking.
"I do not know what to do, and something must be done."

"Did you report to the Associated Charities?"

"Yes.  But there's a hitch somewhere.  The machine doesn't take hold.
The man says he doesn't want any charity, any association, treating him
like a pauper.  He's off peddling; but trade is bad, and he's been away a
week.  I'm afraid he drinks a little."


"The mother is sick in bed.  I found her trying to do some fine
stitching, but she was too weak to hold up the muslin.  There are five
young children.  The family never has had help before."

Father Damon put on his hat, and they went out together, and for some
time picked their way along the muddy streets in silence.

At length he asked, in a softened voice, "Is the mother a Christian?"

"I didn't ask," she replied shortly.  "I found her crying because the
children were hungry."

Father Damon, still under the impression of his neglect of duty, did not
heed her warning tone, but persisted, "You have so many opportunities,
Dr. Leigh, in your visits of speaking a word."

"About what?" she asked, refusing to understand, and hardened at the
slightest sign of what she called cant.

"About the necessity of repentance and preparation for another life," he
answered, softly but firmly.  "You surely do not think human beings are
created just for this miserable little experience here?"

"I don't know.  I have too much to do with the want and suffering I see
to raise anxieties about a world of which no one can possibly know

"Pardon me," he persisted, "have you no sense of incompleteness in this
life, in your own life? no inward consciousness of an undying

The doctor was angry for a moment at this intrusion.  It had seemed
natural enough for Father Damon to address his exhortations to the poor
and sinful of his mission.  She admired his spirit, she had a certain
sympathy with him; for who could say that ministering to minds diseased
might not have a physical influence to lift these people into a more
decent and prosperous way of living?  She had thought of herself as
working with him to a common end.  But for him now to turn upon her,
absolutely ignoring the solid, rational, and scientific ground on which
he knew, or should know, she stood, and to speak to her as one of the
"lost," startled her, and filled her with indignation.  She had on her
lips a sarcastic reply to the effect that even if she had a soul, she had
not taken up her work in the city as a means of saving it; but she was
not given to sarcasm, and before she spoke she looked at her companion,
and saw in the eyes a look of such genuine humble feeling, contradicting
the otherwise austere expression of his face, that her momentary
bitterness passed away.

"I think, Father Damon," she said, gently, "we had better not talk of
that.  I don't have much time for theorizing, you know, nor much
inclination," she added.

The priest saw that for the present he could make no progress, and after
a little silence the conversation went back to the family they were about
to visit.

They found the woman better--at least, more cheerful.  Father Damon
noticed that there were medicines upon the stand, and that there were the
remains of a meal which the children had been eating.  He turned to the
doctor.  "I see that you have been providing for them."

"Oh, the eldest boy had already been out and begged a piece of bread when
I came.  Of course they had to have something more at once.  But it is
very little that I can do."

He sat down by the bed, and talked with the mother, getting her story,

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