IT was a gray day in the country, gray overhead, gray on all sides. Above a broad suburban road the leafless branches of the trees interlaced in a hazy net-work of fine-drawn boughs; and, following the middle of the way, sweeping in generous curves now to the left, now to the right, the wet, shining rails of a car-track shot out of sight, gleaming in dull reflection of the leaden sky.
In the languid morning air little trails of mist dragged themselves slowly through the short green grass of the adjacent lawns, or lingered in bluish shadow amidst the brown clinging leaves of the thick-set clumps of shrubbery; and sounding from somewhere in the distance came the smooth roll of carriage wheels and regular trot of rapidly approaching horses.
At the window of a small coupé that soon turned the corner an old gentleman was sitting, scanning the passing landscape with regretful interest. Years before, he had come this way, a boy, rambling through woods and lanes in search of chestnuts. Now prim lawns and glistening purple concrete pavements replaced the fields and narrow foot-paths; ornate shingled houses of strange colors, with complicated roofs, stood where the nut-trees had bordered the pastures; delicate laces draped the windows; long vines, brilliant in the reds and browns of autumn, hung from the porches; well-managed shrubbery served alike for seclusion and display, and there were neither boundary lines nor fences.
“Everybody seems to live in everybody else’s front yard!” growled the old gentleman, disapprovingly.
He was Bishop of a golden territory, where men were particular as to boundaries,
and he had come this long distance in order to preach that morning at the cathedral in the neighboring city, at the consecration of the recently elected Bishop of Macedonia. For months the old man had been looking forward to the leisurely refinement, the delicacy, the appreciation he would encounter in an older and more advanced civilization. With the needs of a cultivated, learned, brilliant community in his mind, he had for the first time in many years given himself the pleasure of preparing a thoroughly scholarly sermon, untrammelled by the limitations of comparatively illiterate hearers.
And yet, at intervals, during the past few days spent among these fresh surroundings, he had been assailed by doubts as to the fitness of this carefully studied discourse. Once or twice, as it lay on his table in its embroidered velvet case, a mad impulse had come over him to throw it, case and all, into the fire, and to preach from his heart, in plain, rough words, the thoughts that had haunted him in the wakeful silence of the previous nights. He had, however, not given way to the impulse; and now, his sermon on the seat before him, ill-content with it and himself, he sat staring from under his thick white eyebrows, frowning at the much-changed home of his early youth.
They were nearing a large suburban town which lay between them and the city beyond. The sidewalks were now paved; the wide lawns had contracted to tiny patches of green in front of block after block of dreary brick houses; doctors’ signs became frequent, and little shops grew and multiplied until whole rows of them stood together.
“Driver,” said the Bishop, putting his head out of the window, “what part of the old town are we coming to?”
“It is the old green, sir,” was the answer.
The Bishop glanced up and about him. They had entered a wide square, the cobblestone pavement of which was cut in every direction by intersecting curves of bright steel rails. Overhead stretched a spider-web of wires; tall shops with great glass windows stood on all the corners, and from the broad side-streets shuttle-like cars dashed in and out, throwing up long iron feelers with a repulsive semblance of intelligence.
“The sooner you get out of it the better!” he called to the driver, peremptorily; for his nerves that morning were not in their normal condition; and although he would hardly acknowledge it, he felt much safer when they had left the tangle of tracks behind them. Coming out to the suburbs late on the night before his way had lain necessarily through a crowded portion of the city; repulsive faces had pressed against the carriage-windows, strange sights had half-revealed themselves; facts of which the old Bishop had often read unheeding suddenly leapt into horrible, vibrant reality, and later on he had found it impossible to sleep.
“And every evening men by hundreds retire to the ease and luxury of their homes, secure, content, unthinking, and leave a thing like that throbbing behind them!” he now growled aloud, for in the long, lonely rides across his half-savage diocese he had acquired a habit of talking to himself, and his thoughts had recurred to his chief preoccupation. “And what infernal industry have we here?”
The carriage had turned into one of the more crowded streets again, and a block of vehicles in the way had brought it to a stand-still. They were in front of a row of low wooden sheds with long roofs, raised here and there in ridges, to allow free play to the ponderous monsters generated from the rumbling, clanking machinery beneath them.
Through the wide open doors and thin walls came a Babel of resonant noise, irregular and deafening, as heavy rivets were driven into hollow cylinders of ringing metal that stood, covered with black bosses, like hairless beasts. Away in the background, gigantic wheels whirled and wound incessantly behind a dancing screen of flames, and the red glare shone on the grimy moving figures of the workmen about it. They were rough fellows, huge and brawny, yet beside the frightful powers they were evoking they seemed sad and wan; moving spectres, silent in an evil din. The old Bishop sighed. “A perfectly legitimate industry, of course,” he muttered, grudgingly, as the mass of vehicles in front of them moved slowly forward upon a long reach of causeway. “But what is this?” he said, turning a startled glance from one window of the carriage to the other. On either hand lay wide stretches of malodorous waste, where the refuse of that brutal complication we call civilization was slowly accumulating; gathering as if the rags and scraps, the bits of tin and strays of shard possessed a creeping magnetism for their kind.
“Filth, disease, cast-away uncleanliness of every species systematically set apart in carefully graded squares, and impudently advertised as a foundation for human habitation,” cried the old Bishop, indignantly. “And these are the marshes that rose green every day, fresh washed from the sea!—The whole region has become an abomination!”
They had come at last to a wide bridge under which the level gray water of a lazy tidal river crept sluggishly seaward, reflecting on its satin surface the misty spires, towers, and gilded dome of the city toward which they journeyed. Monotonous red buildings, tall, with many windows, lined the water-edge, and through the iron supports at the sides of the bridge the Bishop looked down upon the dully floating craft towed by the sooty tug-boats below. Near the channel squat, rhythmically moving machines plunged long, jointed beams into the ooze of the river-bed, drawing up a pouring black mass and slowly turning it into the flat-boats ready to receive it; every board and railing was crusted thick with a frightful black slime, and the brimming buckets turned, and dipped, and rose again, with a certain satisfaction and shameless complacency. “And men live by this!” said the Bishop, and turned away.
Far down toward the mouth of the river, above the heavy outlines of the buildings, a forest of masts intermingled against the sky, looking fleeting and impermanent, telling of wider, freer things, impatient to be gone. Before the old man’s eyes arose visions of the blowing grass on vast reaches of prairie, of far clear mountains, and of wild, unfettered lives spent in the open air. “I am going back to-night!” he promised himself.
On the other side of the river they joined the endless procession of all sorts of conveyances that was moving forward into the din and roar of the city. A crowd of idle men with villainous faces and in cheap, showy clothing, lingered on the pavement; a brass band played at one side of the street, and further on, standing in the gutter, a huge hand-organ ground and pounded to a furious accompaniment on the tambourine. On all the walls, in all the windows of the little shops adjacent, even swung across the street itself, flaunted great colored posters, advertising in gaudy tints and outrageous outlines the human creatures who show themselves for hire. The Bishop looked at them as he passed, incredulously, almost imploringly.
“And the least horrible of these,” he said, with a break in his voice as his eye wandered from hideous monstrosities to half-veiled vice, “the least horrible of these are those whom their God has contorted!”
Slowly the patient coachman wended his way in and out among the thronging press. As they neared the more prosperous part of the city, the quality of the buildings improved and the shops and theatres assumed a better character; but the din increased until it became intolerable, and traffic blocked the narrow streets at every turn. Iron trucks loaded with swaying bars of clanking metal made the air vibrate painfully in the ears; mingled with the increasing roar of wheels and the clamor of innumerable bells, came the wild cries of countless hawkers, attuned in harmony with Bedlam; and overhead the long droning shriek of the electric wires rose and fell persistently as the gaudy painted cars hurled to and fro, while the foot-passengers fled on the crossings.
The sidewalks swarmed with people, dividing the way in two opposing streams of close-wedged humanity, a veritable dance of death. Shoulder to shoulder with painted vice went youth and innocence, ignorant of the horror of the contact. Wealth and ease jostled against want and misery, and because privation was universal believed that it could not pinch; for custom had hardened the whole world.
It seemed to the old Bishop as if in each vacant doorway, and at the entrances of all the squalid alleys, creatures of every type of human wretchedness stood doggedly selling worthless wares; hungry women, tired men, reckless girls, little children, with the evil eyes of hoary iniquity shining out of gaunt baby faces; the blind, the lame, the wicked, and the aged, all of them ranging in expression from sodden misery to brazen effrontery, all of them worn and hollow-eyed, and all stamped into one terrific likeness by the leaden die of poverty.
Enormous windows piled high with tawdry uselessness lined the way; damaged goods, flimsy silks, half-made toys, spurious jewelry, and imperfect china, arranged with infinite attractiveness. On all sides were imitations of richer things; cunningly graded traps to excite the covetousness of every creature, and adjusted to the limits of every purse. The world, up from the veriest poverty-stricken imp in the gutters, seemed bent on acquisition, and the sight of all this worthlessness created a demand that strengthened with the growth of the ever-increasing supply, until it ended in a frenzied race for possession.
“Oh! the agony of being shepherd to this flock!” cried the old man, indignantly. “For all this is built up, one thing upon another, until it seems as if it never could cease or be bettered. To cure one abuse is only to inaugurate ten others in its place. To stop one fabrication but throws upon the world the starving, helpless fabricators—to do worse things.”
He leaned forward, and taking up the manuscript of his sermon began to look it over, his dissatisfaction increasing with every page. He was going first to the house of a brotherhood where the young Bishop-elect had spent the last few years of his priesthood, and thence they were to drive together to the cathedral.
“How old must a man be,” he said, suddenly casting the papers back on to the seat in front of him, “how old must a man be before he ceases to add to the number of his lost opportunities?”
The coachman was turning the horses in toward the sidewalk. They had stopped in front of a high black wall; toward the middle of it was an archway surmounted by a cross; behind rose the tower of a little church. A narrow door in the archway opened inward, and the Bishop-elect of Macedonia crossed the sidewalk and entered the carriage. At first, beyond a brief word of greeting, they did not speak; there was something in the worn, intent expression of the younger face that told of watching, of struggle, and of prayer; it was the look of one still in the shadow of another world whose silence is sacred.
A pang shot through the old man’s heart. “This life is telling upon you horribly,” he said, at last. “You show yourself no mercy.”
The other shook his head. “There is no question of mercy,” he answered, “no question of anything but of God’s will. Tell me, am I blind in that I feel that He has called me? Have I, after all, no right to enter upon this service? At this last moment, I am filled with doubts where hitherto my way seemed clear. And yet I dare not withdraw. I have concealed nothing, extenuated nothing—”
The old Bishop started. “Under the circumstances that was wholly unnecessary!” he exclaimed, hastily.
“It was right.”
The old Bishop turned away and looked out of the carriage-window.
“You know it was right,” the younger man persisted, gently.
“Yes, God bless you! It was right, it was right!” said the older impetuously, wiping his eyes. “But I doubt whether I should have done it myself. What did they say?”
“They—they said nothing but what you have just said yourself; some of them broke down completely. But, answer me, you have loved me, I know, beyond measure, from my boyhood. You know my life, you know my—sin. Is it fitting that I should enter upon this work? Think.”
The old Bishop put his hand over his eyes, his lips moved, there was a long silence.
“I know your life,” he said, at last; “I know your sin; far be it from me to palliate or condone. You, yourself, have never flinched in condemnation; no lapse of time has softened the rigor of your judgment, and that has been just; for a man’s sin is measured by the distance of his fall, and among God’s chosen you stood high. And yet, to turn back now would but add to your guilt. For the good of God’s cause and the welfare of your fellow-men, you may not, dare not, falter. Who can execute the plans which you have originated? Who can wield your influence? Who fill your place?”
The young man stretched out his hand, and the old Bishop took it in both of his, retaining it a moment as he asked a question.
For a moment the young Bishop did not answer. “You must leave Winstead to me,” he said at last, gently.
“What is there to leave?” asked the old man, quickly. “Has he refused to present the papers?”
“He has said nothing to the Committee.”
“Does he mean to be present?”
“If he is present,” said the old Bishop, “he means to behave himself, for Winstead, however vindictive, is not wholly without honor; and this is one of those times when, so long as the whole cannot possibly be told, there is no lie so damaging as half the truth. I have too much faith in Winstead’s better self to believe him capable of such perfidy; besides, he would not dare.”
“I am not sure that he may not dare.”
“You—are—not—sure—? You have let things go on. Oh! here we are at the church! But this must be seen to!”
They had reached the cathedral and the carriage had drawn up to the sidewalk. The grassy squares all about it were ornamented with palms and gigantic tropical ferns. The young man’s eyes wandered over it all, taking in the gala look in which the old building seemed to have clothed itself.
“They love me,” he murmured; “they wish to do me honor!”
“Stephen!” said the old Bishop, almost violently, “this man’s lips must be closed!”
“Except God close them Himself, none shall molest him,” said the younger, opening the carriage door.
“It is madness!”
“It is justice.”
A blue-and-white awning secluded a narrow stairway that led down the outer walls from some upper room; the younger Bishop crossed toward it, followed by the older. At the foot of the stair they stood a moment talking even more earnestly than hitherto, then they passed under the awning and disappeared.
For an hour or more every loaded car moving up and down on the broad streets, on either side of the great building, had come to a standstill, pouring out crowds of well-dressed men and women carrying prayer-books and red-lettered cards of admission. There was an air of anticipation on all faces, of interest tempered by decorum, as for something a little less cheerful than the theatre and somewhat more entertaining than church. They had assembled in parochial droves, each apparently from a different suburb, and a regiment of discriminating ushers was busily employed in driving them politely to their places. Numerous stragglers strove against this, feeling that of necessity the seat adjudged them must be inferior, a becoming modesty that generally resulted in their attaining what they feared they deserved!
A gentle buzz of conversation arose from all parts of the church, and every now and then some devout woman would hurriedly bethink herself and kneel down, to the temporary embarrassment of her neighbors. In a certain sense, either individually or collectively, they all knew each other and commented on each other after a manner which in that part of the country had become stereotyped.
“Those people in the opposite gallery are the St. Jameses from Silchester,” whispered a woman who sat among the St. Judes. “You can always tell the Silchester people by the smell of camphor and the wrinkles in their clothes. They keep all their things in chests, and never take them out until just before they put them on. That red-faced creature in front of the pillar is Mrs. Pennyngton.”
“Do you mean to say that she is the one who writes the novels?” returned her neighbor.
“Why shouldn’t she be?”
“The refined, delicate—”
“Oh! if you must retain your illusions you had better not look at the Silchester people. That little old maid next to Mrs. Pennyngton, with the bunch of curls behind, is Miss Fanshawe, the one for whom the poet Harriman killed himself when she refused him; and that big fat man, also, he is a poet—”
“That is enough, one of my favorite poets lives in Silchester.”
“This poet is a genuine Silchester article—never heard of outside the place.”
“Still, I refuse to have any more celebrities pointed out to me. Between the ones we have met coming over in the cars, and the ones we have seen since we arrived, I am utterly bereft of ideals.”
On the other side of the church Mrs. Pennyngton was talking.
“Did you ever see such windows, such agonizing crudities?”
“Shut your eyes,” suggested Miss Fanshawe.
“Then she would have nothing to divert her mind from that organ,” said the fat man, who composed the music for his own songs.
“Nonsense,” said Miss Fanshawe. “They have got the best organist in the city.”
“His phrasing is abominable!”
“I don’t believe you know what phrasing is—in music,” said Miss Fanshawe, standing up and staring about her.
“I have always contended that Harriman killed himself because he was afraid she might change her mind and take him back again,” whispered the poet, with malice.
“Do take care !” warned Mrs. Pennyngton. “She writes for the papers.”
“Who is that with Jackson?” said Miss Fanshawe, looking over her shoulder at them suspiciously. “Don’t you see him? Leaning forward to talk to the woman next him, there, at the end of the gallery where the Winchester St. Judes are sitting.”
“Don’t ask me,” said Mrs. Pennyngton, putting up a lorgnette. “I can’t tell one of those Winchester women from another.”
“You are not looking in the right place. There! She turned her head. Right in front!”
“Oh!” said Mrs. Pennyngton, “that one! What a beautiful woman!”
“Does she belong to the St. Judes?” asked Miss Fanshawe.
“Not she!” said Mrs. Pennyngton. “In Winchester that gown would be considered immoral: it fits. Distinguished, isn’t she?”
“If you choose to call it so,” said Miss Fanshawe. “For my part I find her conspicuous—people of that class nearly always are.”
“ People of what class?” said Mrs. Pennyngton, impatiently. “What nasty things you always say, Julia! You don’t suppose—”
“Of course I don’t suppose anything, I have too much respect for the house of God!”
“You will be pleased to know,” said the poet, leaning across Mrs. Pennyngton and speaking distinctly, “you will be pleased to hear that the woman over there with Jackson is his cousin, the beautiful Mrs. Bellingham.” Miss Fanshawe sat down, hastily producing her note-book.
“Where is she staying? How long has she been here? Do you suppose she came on purpose to go to this? I wonder if anybody knows whether she and the Bishop-elect knew each other when he was rector—”
“Do hush!” said Mrs. Pennyngton. “Here come the clergy.”
“I think I should see better if I moved into the back seat,” said Miss Fanshawe, stooping down and hunting for her umbrella and overshoes.
“There is not an inch of space up there.”
“Oh, yes, there is plenty of room, if they will only move up. When they rise for the processional I mean to slip in behind them and sit down.”
She rose and elbowed her way through the crowded aisle; there was a motion to take her place, but Mrs. Pennyngton and the poet promptly moved along, and with the aid of the other occupants of the pew, comfortably filled the vacancy; those who had been standing remained standing still.
The boys’ voices in the hitherto murmuring choir sounded out in full volume, and everybody rose.
Two by two a long procession of men in robes poured down the aisle to the chancel, lining the walls of the apse, slowly filling the pews in the body of the church, and lighting up the reddish gloom of the vast dim nave with the white reflections of their gowns. The air was filled with a soft rustling, heard even above the music. The rich borders of the stained-glass windows shone above the galleries like strings of jewels hung on the walls, and the spreading pillars, stretching up like great trees, were lost amid the cross-beams and arches of the shadowy vault above.
“Who is that?” whispered Mrs. Bellingham, indicating a tall man with his hands full of papers, who seated himself near the foot of a column directly opposite them. “Not Winstead?”
“And why not Winstead?” returned her cousin, softly. “He is the Secretary of the Diocese, and presents the credentials for the new Bishop.”
“Ah, ha!” said Jackson. “You don’t mean to say that the hero of the Winstead catastrophe is our new— Why!—of course it is! What a numskull I’ve been not to put two and two together long ago. Of all the stupendous jokes—!”
“How can you?” said Mrs. Bellingham, suddenly sitting down.
“There is no reason for you to take it to heart,” whispered Jackson, looking at her keenly as he followed her example. “Why, you’ve turned the color of chalk! It can’t concern you, and even if it did, nothing is going to happen. But the new Bishop! It is a pity that circumstances make it out of the question to repeat it. Awfully good story!”
“What you call an awfully good story is one of the black spots in a perfect life.”
“Black spot? Where?” said Jackson. “He behaved like an idiot, I’ll grant you, but aside from that I can’t see what particular harm he did.”
“He behaved like an angel of God!” said Mrs. Belliugham.
“Then the angels of God are uncommon fools,” returned Jackson. “What earthly harm did he do?”
“No harm for a man like you, perhaps. For a man like him—well, I do not like to think what it has cost him—and me too.”
“All nonsense,” whispered Jackson. “You women are forever making idols! I know men, and as far as I can see, they are all pretty much alike—angels of God, bishops, club-men, and other clergy!”
“Who told you about Winstead?” said Mrs. Bellingham, unmoved by his pessimism.
“No one told me. I learned it by a happy combination of accidents and observation.—How did you come to know of it?”
“The old Bishop told me—Bishop Dennison,” said Mrs. Belliugham, hastily, and almost defensively.
“Rather an extraordinary breach of confidence.”
“The young Bishop was our rector then—he told Bishop Dennison to tell me.”
Jackson was silent for a moment.—”And that is why you have compelled me to move heaven and earth to get you a card of admission to this thing?” he said, at last.
Mrs. Bellingham was looking away from him; she did not turn her head. “It was not the reason,” she said, steadily.
“It is curious,” said Jackson, irrelevantly, “how you never will tell a lie. It is the only weak spot I have found in your character.”
“I cannot be troubled with lying,” said Mrs. Bellingham.
“But you might be a little less reckless about revealing the truth at times,” said Jackson.
“I never reveal anything that I would prefer to conceal,” said Mrs. Belliugham.
“Oh, miracle among women!” said Jackson.
“Stand up and sing,” she said. “We are attracting attention.”
The south gallery, where they were seated, widened into a little balcony that almost jutted over the chancel. The pulpit was immediately below them, a barrel-shaped affair built out of the pillar corresponding to that against which the Secretary was seated. Mrs. Bellingham leaned back in her place and watched him. He was dressed in a voluminous robe that covered his feet and spread out like a snow-drift on the floor. There was not a touch of black about him—his hair, his beard, everything was white except his extraordinarily dark eyes that with wide-open lids scanned the people provingly, as a general might scan a field whereon he shortly means to give battle. He carried some papers that occasionally he glanced down upon, sorting them mechanically, one package into his right, the other into his left, hand. By the time they were fully arranged he had finished his leisurely survey of the floor of the church and raised his eye to the gallery.
“He does not know you; we all grow old,” whispered Jackson, as Winstead’s gaze passed steadily from Mrs. Bellingham to her neighbors.
“People who do not know me do not behave that way,” said Mrs. Bellingham. “See, why is he getting up? Where is he going?”
“It being church,” said Jackson, “I can’t say.”
Winstead had risen hastily from his seat, and hurrying down the chancel steps, left the church by a side-door that led directly to the foot of the covered outside stair down which the clergy were still filing. The last men who passed him nodded with a look of curiosity as they went by, and one of them turned his head as he disappeared round the corner of the nave.
For a moment Winstead stood alone, looking upward. The high stone tower, draped in deeply-colored Virginia creeper, rose into the sky overhead, and from a sharp corner of its upper edge a light pennon of scarlet branch fluttered across a patch of blue in the midst of the autumn gray. He turned away a moment as if in indecision; then, at the sound of voices behind the awning, stood still.
The consecrating bishops were following the clergy, descending leisurely, the natural dignity of their carriage made even more imposing by the long, stately lines of their heavy robes.
“Ah, Mr. Secretary,” said one of them. “Some change in your arrangements?”
The Secretary drew himself up; there was a rich episcopal note of condescension in the voice that irritated him. “I wished for a word with the Bishop-elect,” he said.
“We left him a moment alone,” said another. “He will follow almost immediately;” and resuming their interrupted talk, they also passed out of sight around the corner.
Again Winstead hesitated; then with impatient haste he strode under the awning and ran up the stairs.
He was turning abruptly into a large upper room when something he saw there stayed his feet. The young Bishop was kneeling in front of a long open window, his face turned toward the sky. In the absolute certainty of being alone he spoke aloud, as if to one bending above him.
“I am in Thy hands,” he said. “Judge Thou. Even at the last moment, shouldst Thou find me unworthy, I bend before Thee!” I He stopped, but after a moment’s pause resumed, as if in a spontaneous burst of adoration: “For Thou only art holy! Thou oniy art the Lord!” Reluctantly he rose; in turning his eye fell upon the man at the door. “Why are you here?” he asked, gently.
“To mitigate the scandal into which you are hurrying us,” was the answer. “It is too late to prevent it altogether, but—feign illness—anything—”
“I do not feign,” said the other, and turning toward the window, he raised his eyes again to the sky.
“You will not understand that my decision is unalterable?” pursued the Secretary.
“I understand,” said the Bishop.
“Not all the beautiful women in Christendom shall hinder me!” said Winstead, loudly. “Do you know who is in the church?”
The sun that had been struggling with the mists for some time suddenly shone brightly through the window. The young Bishop took a step in the direction of the gray white figure in the doorway.
“Be silent!” he said.
“I will not be deterred,” Winstead cried. “If you do not wish to be disgraced before her you had better stop while you can. No power can hinder me!”
A long beam from the stained glass at the top of the sash fell on the Bishop’s hair, irradiating it in a golden glory; like a young archangel he towered above his tormentor.
“Go,” he said, “my thoughts must be with other things. Yet—if it is just—the Power that has deterred you from the beginning will deter you now. We are but instruments in the hands of God! If I am fit for His work, He will not set me aside.”
“On your own head, then, be the consequences,” said the other, and was gone.
“The young Bishop stood a moment looking upward. A smile lit up his face, a smile of utter self-surrender and loving confidence. His God had not given him the spirit of fear.
Winstead, in the meantime, retraced his steps and gained his old place. The choir, after singing quite through the hymns, and finding that the remainder of the procession did not appear, began all over again, and were well along to the closing verses before a general craning of necks announced the coming of the consecrating bishops.
Stately, large, and slow, they swept up the aisle, while the clergy rose on all sides to receive them. The crowd in the galleries bent over the railings; people on the back seats even came down the steps between the pews, and leaned upon the shoulders of those in front. Mrs. Bellingham frowned upon them indignantly and turned away.
A little behind the rest of the procession the Bishop-elect entered, the two presenting bishops with him; Jackson watched his cousin as they came forward. Directly below the chancel steps, three chairs were placed at the head of the aisle, and in front of these the three men knelt together. Mrs. Belliugham, resting her elbow on the flat balustrade in front of her, looked down; as the young Bishop knelt, he was clearly in view. For some time she studied every line of his face with grave, attentive interest. Her head was turned a little way from Jackson; he could only catch the outline of her cheek. Suddenly her color rose, a tear brimmed over her eyelashes and rolled downward. Jackson started impatiently and she leaned back, wiping her wet cheek with her handkerchief.
“Real tears!” whispered Jackson, incredulously.
“He is so miserably changed!” she answered.
“And how does that concern you?” said Jackson.
“It concerns me very deeply,” said Mrs. Bellingham.
“What do you wish me to understand?” whispered Jackson, slowly. “Or is this merely an enigmatical pose?”
“I do not wish to be amused—now,” said Mrs. Belliugham.
“If you want something serious, then, look at your Secretary. Under any other circumstances I should say he meant mischief.”
Mrs. Bellingham turned her eyes thoughtfully in the direction of the chancel. Winstead was sitting rigidly still, staring in front of him, a hand grasping a sheaf of papers on either knee. “He does mean mischief,” she said.
“Fortunately he must wait some time before he can get at it,” whispered Jackson.
Mrs. Bellingham shook her head doubtfully. “You do not know him. No one can predict what he may do,” she said. “Hush!”
The service had begun and the people, from sheer force of habit, knelt to pray, but the thoughts of all were centred upon the slender figure between the two bishops below the chancel. They wondered of what he was thinking; whether he was nervous; if he might not be regretting the glory of certain fame which a Bishop’s duties would inevitably quench. A few believed that he was dazzled by the honor of the episcopate, guided by an overweening desire for authority; others whispered that unmistakable symptoms had warned him of the early decay of his mental powers, and congratulated him on the craft that inspired him to accept a position in which his decadence would not be conspicuous.
Only Mrs. Belliugham, with her hands clasped upon the railing of the gallery, looked down upon the bowed head below her, and knew. “He is thinking of God,” she told herself. “Not of Winstead, nor of honors, nor of disgrace; he is not even thinking of—” She made a little rueful face, but to her own heart she did not finish the sentence. “We are all nothing to him; he has outlived—everything! I saw it when he first came in.” She covered her eyes, and forgot to follow the service, until Jackson touched her arm, and she rose hurriedly.
With a sudden thunder of voices the whole body of men in the nave began to repeat their creed: a plain confession of faith, a simple line of division; and yet, so saturated with feeling, so permeated with the storm and stress that went to its making, that, unconsciously, men to this day roll it forth defiantly, with an aggressive menace that out of the demarcation creates a curse.
Mrs. Bellingham grew a little pale, and forgot to bow her head, while Jackson from over her shoulder scanned the clergy curiously. “It never came over me before that they really believed all that,” he muttered, but his companion by a quick movement silenced him.
A few prayers and a short hymn were all that preceded the sermon. Old Bishop Dennison slowly mounted to the pulpit and, in that clear musical voice which seems to be a part of the Apostolic succession, began to speak. The whole congregation stirred a moment in their places, and then, for the most part, settled themselves to other things. Miss Fanshawe finished her notes for the evening paper—Mrs. Bellingham had been invaluable to her. Mrs. Pennyngton nervously planned a fresh combination of colors and a new arrangement of curtains over her whole house. She had of late been haunted by a troublesome idea which during the sermon she had hoped to develop into a plot, but the curtains and the colors took demoniacal possession of her imagination and led her away captive, repining. The poet fixed his eyes on space and entered Nirvana.
The speaker himself, delivering one sonorous, well-prepared period after another, found that, as time went on, his mind began to wander. Pictures of the night before started up between him and the manuscript; the crowds of the morning strayed in among his sentences; the roll of the city still in his ears deadened the sound of his own voice, and the apathy of the faces before him blotted out his interest in his subject. But his thoughts, running on in disjointed soliloquy, gained in clearness as his reading became more and more mechanicaL
“Look at this clergy!” he commented, savagely, to himself; wooden, wooden, wooden, sitting in judgment. There are thinkers among them, scholars, men of might, men of heart, all of them wearing that expressionless neutrality of countenance that the servants of the Church reserve for the hearing of their brethren. They are not here to sympathize, or to learn, or to receive counsel, they are come to—but,” remorsefully, “what is this interminable sermon I am preaching but wooden also? They are no more weary of it than I am myself. Fortunately, it is nearly done.—That strange, beautiful==yes, good woman, why is she here?—My poor young brother! How often in our paths through life do our renunciations start up, endowed afresh with agony! And yet, who dares pity him? He hears and sees to-day as from a Mount of Transfiguration: the sorrows of earth cannot touch him; his thoughts commune with better things, in other worlds than ours. Surely he is the chosen of God! Even in that dark time when he slipped and stumbled, the light of God’s consecration still shone from him, the hand of God still upheld him. And how unflinchingly he has taken up his burden and carried it. Never a thought in palliation; not one cowardly impulse of concealment; no single maudlin surrender to self-reproach!—I have lost my place!”
He turned to his manuscript and for awhile gave it his undivided attention, unconsciously raising his voice.
“This building would ruin a throat of brass,” his mind went on, perversely, “and yet why should I make such an effort to be heard, when none are listening? What a gathering! Representatively, these people are the best of the land; wealth, position, scholarship, fashion, family, beauty—all serene and tranquil, while outside of their lives, whirls that howling pandemonium of hideous misery and homelessness. They know it, they look down at it every day, as from an Olympus—Oh, my God, why hast Thou denied me one moment of strength, one burst of inspiration, to make them see it and feel it, tintil it enters into their souls with the keen, fresh pang of absolute novelty?
“What empty words I pour out to them! In this horrible time should men gather together to hear intricate quibbles for the authenticity of this or the genuineness of that, and ingenious reconciliations of the irreconcilable? Will these things open the people’s eyes to the crisis that confronts them?
“Oh, my brother, my brother! Single-handed he goes up to perish against this serried phalanx of indifference! He will strive; he will agonize and entreat, but because it is he, they will not heed! They would listen to a man’s very heart’s blood, falling a drop at a time, and, because of his office, they would call it perfunctory!
“When will this people be gathered together again? Not until he lies stretched in this chancel before them, and they see in death the majesty that in life they could not understand! My God, my God, I am old and feeble! Lift from my shoulders the intolerable burden of this lost opportunity! Let me speak with power to this blind, deaf, heartless generation of the Comfortable! Let me turn them to the aid of their brother!
“IN THE GREED OF RICHES, THE VANITY OF LEISURE, THE UNCHARITABLENESS OF GOODNESS, AND THE ALOOFNESS OF LEARNING; IN THE NARROWNESS OF ECCLESIASTICISM, THE OBSTINACY OF AGE, THE INTOLERANCE OF YOUTH, AND THE BLINDNESS OF INEXPERIENCE, YOU STAND ASIDE AS IF THE FATE OF YOUR BRETHREN CONCERNED YOU NOT!”
It was as though the wind had blown through a grove of poplars. The whole congregation rustled and a thousand white faces turned all at once in a flash of intelligence toward the pulpit, for the old Bishop was speaking his hidden thought aloud!
“All the great dark world around you cries out to you for help. Men and women starve at your gates, they plead beneath your windows, and dragging themselves up your stairways, they knock with fleshless hands upon the very panels of your doors. Desolate, oppressed, trodden down, ground into the mire; even through these mighty walls their cry rings in to you; far up in the dim shadows of these arches broods the mist of their tears. You see it, and you close your eyes; you hear it, and you place your hands upon your ears.
“All of you, all of you! Saint and sinner alike, you steel your hearts to the unspeakable suffering of the world about you; cruel beyond all cruelty recorded in the slow torture to which you leave the miserable; hard beyond all savage hardness in the years upon years during which you have stood, like adamant, for your own, absolutely untouched to any active issue. You talk; you may think you act; but, save a devoted few, you none of you act.
“Carried onward by the impetus of your own selfishness, you all roll forward, hardening your hearts. I with the rest, an old man. I, too, have lain down softly when my brother shivered in the icy air; have eaten daintily when my brother became a very brute for hunger; have turned the light God gave me to the pleasant illumination of my own soul, when the lamp of my brother, starving for oil, guiding falsely, made his path among the pitfalls more fatal than the darkness itself.
“And in this mad race to destruction are there none to reach out by the way? None to cry a halt?
“Scholars, men of learning! How will you help our brother? In the calm of retirement, when do you give these things a thought? To what do you turn your efforts? Where is your land? The love of country, the love of man, the love of God, seem dead within you! Thousands of souls are intrusted to you. Into your hands is given the formation of our future. Who among you remembers it? The task laid upon your shoulders surpasses all other tasks. How do you perform it?
“You train up scholars and gentlemen, but where are our statesmen? Where are the youth that out of leisure and knowledge turn to their country as their most sacred charge? The young men whom you send into life learn first of all that their hands should be clean; they cannot heal the nation’s sores lest they sicken at the corruption of the nation’s wounds! They cannot espouse the nation’s cause lest the mud that the nation’s spoilers cast up against them cling to their garments.
“Young men, strong men, come to us and help us! You I arraign not, on you I cast no reproach. Steel your nerves, keep clean your hearts, and forget your garments. Counselled by folly and shallow ignorance, gathering to themselves every element of wrong, offering opportunity to vice, and confounding justice with spoliation, great hordes of our fellow-creatures surge, in the blind wrath of pain, up against the bulwarks of order and honesty. Who shall turn them from a menace to a defence? Never in the whole history of the world was there such need of a man!—a man of action and of thought, a man of power and of sympathy, who could yet for this cause lay aside the rewards that thought and power bring in their train; for there are better things than calm, nobler things than knowledge. In the fierce pleasure of the strife for right, in the absolute self-forgetfulness of the struggle against wrong, in profound study of the problems that confront us, and in unceasing consideration of the welfare of others, that man would gain surpassing wisdom, knowledge deep as beneficial, and the calm of the strong in Spirit who wait on God.
“But you, oh, you whose unjust gains lengthen out slavery to the free; you who are strong in the power of wealth, fixed firm in your places; you who with stony eyes ride forward to destruction, dragging us all captive, the statesman in your company, the scholar in your train, the patriot beneath your wheels—to you I turn with warning and with threat. How will you help our brother? You set us this pace! At the doors of your conscience lie the blackest atrocities of this atrocious age; the grinding of the poor, the multiplication of useless exactions, the ostentations of meaningless expenditure, the building up of colossal abuses, the oblivion to human suffering, the deafness to human cries! All of you in comfort, all of you in power, and a howl of desperation, a shriek of despair filling the very portals of your ears! The victims of your rapacity go about the streets daily in grinding toil or slowly cankering inaction. Holding the fate of men in your hands, you deal out starvation or slavery as your grasping interests dictate; in your colossal self-seeking you would drag a universe to destruction! And you will not be warned. When my brother calls you will stand aside, a priesthood of Mammon, you and your women and your children, until the fire of the Lord ascends from the riven earth to destroy you!
“And you, also, oh women who sit at ease! Our hope and our destruction, what can I say to move you? Will you nurse the sick in emulation, visit the poor in ostentation, and in the name of charity make heartless pilgrimages to look on the suffering and degradation of earth’s prostrate children? Will you attain learning and throw away wisdom? Strive for material equality where God has given you spiritual precedence; and make of yourselves slaves to convention, where in simplicity you might rule?
“Woe unto you! Steeped in useless luxury, scattering temptation, covetousness, and infamy from your very garments, setting up a standard for the tiring of your bodies higher than the ideal you strive for in the adornment of your souls, while the evil you have wrought in the hearts of your sisters cries unto heaven!
“You hold us all in your hands. For your sakes we heap up riches; for your sakes we strive for fame; for your sakes we forget our country, our duties, and our God! The children are yours; the men are yours: all, all of us are as you make us, great or small, and you turn to the mirror of your own self-consciousness and—forget us!
“Oh you, at once the most spiritual and most material of God’s created beings, how you could raise up the whole wide world! How you do debase!”
The old man’s voice faltered; he stopped a moment and looked as if bewildered; tears were running down his face; he dashed them aside, his gaze fixed on all the assembled crowd of white-robed clergy in the nave. Stretching his hands out over them half in supplication, half in blessing:
“Brethren,” he said, “peace be unto you! When I look down upon all this concourse the walls of the church seem to fall away; I see wide plains and fertile valleys and far hilly countries with hundreds of villages nestling among the trees. The spires of the churches gleam softly, the smoke from quiet homes rises gently, and the still glory of the autumn lies over it all like a benediction from God.
“Even when my eyes turn to crowded towns, thundering city streets, atmospheres dimmed with dust and choked with murk, in your hearts I see peace, in your homes quiet and love. For with you there need be no ignoble strife for favor, or struggle for success. And yet, set aside from the spur of ordinary human emulation, how many of you forget to strive? Hemmed in by unsympathetic souls, held down by uncomprehending minds, how many, of you still ungrudgingly give your best, and try in humility to make high things clear for those whose limitations hold them low?
“There are old men in your midst, men who through long authority rule by instinct: how will they help our brother?
“Oh, friends, dear and valued companions of a life-long work, look to your hardened wills!
“If time has narrowed the range of your judgment, and bitter experience taught you distrust, pray that God will grant you clearer insight and fill you with a broader courage; for in the shell that routine has formed about you, you cannot help us! Set not your faces over against the young world; remember your own errors and be merciful, remember your own successes and have faith.
“But the old are few, while the young are many.
“Oh, hot young blood! vowed to lives of self-restraint; rash young hearts! pledged to obscurity; what have you undertaken? To you will our brother turn for sympathy, from you must come his chief support. How will you give it? In contention or in peace? In grudging misconception or in generous alliance? Strong in your early manhood, strong in your numbers, strong in your unity, will you array yourselves against him and, with the sullen instinct of opposition, leave him as you have so often left God’s servants, to work out his task alone?
“Young men, young men! how little you know of the loneliness of authority, the impotence of power. How often, in the mere pride of rebellion, have you left us helpless when we turned to you for aid! How many times refused us when the fire of your enthusiasm would breathe new life into the plans our wisdom leaves coldly inadequate! Oh, intolerant youth! narrow, unyielding, and blind. Merciless in judgment, pitiless to condemn, you know not how you wound. I, an old man, grown gray in authority, stand here pleading for you against yourselves—pleading for my brother’s work, for the love you could give him, the fealty you could pledge him; for the strong arms with which you might uphold him and the stout hearts with which you could defend!
“But nay; why should I plead?
“In the name of God I command you! Stand firm by your leader. These are no times for dissensions in the household of our Master, and when my brother in his greater wisdom cannot yield, then, yield you!”
The old Bishop thundered out the last sentence, the echoes of his voice died away, and the church was silent. He paused a moment; then, resting his elbow on the cushion in front of him, he leaned forward.
“Brother beloved!” he said, softly, “what shall I say to you?”
As if moved by some inward impulse the young Bishop rose to his full height; there was a flutter over all the church, and people began to rise in the galleries; but as the old man’s voice proceeded they seated themselves, loath to miss a word.
“Brother beloved!”—there was infinite pity and sweetness in the tone—”the way is hard! Out of fifty years of service and of toil I cry to you. Many a day will pass wherein you shall see no answer to your effort, no reward for your pain; you will pour out love without return, life itself without recognition. Brother, are you ready for this?
“Are you ready to be patient under misunderstanding, silent under detraction; self restrained when justly incensed, yielding when thwarted, generous when wronged? Can you be wise in dilemma, calm in confusion, and a rock in time of storm?
“Brother, when God calls you to the rescue of his down-trodden children, are you ready to smite without mercy, to cry out without fear, to denounce without flinching, to expose without ruth? Will you fall like a lion on the enemies of justice, scatter them, scatter them like chaff before the wind? God’s man of war! Strong in battle, undismayed when vanquished, mightiest in defeat!
“Brother, brother! Our hope, our watchword. God’s Future! We who have striven and failed turn to you for strength! Fail us not! Fail us not!”
The old man’s voice sank to a whisper, and in all the great church there was utter silence. Then he lifted his hands, white, thin, shaking, and, with a rustle like the oncoming of a tempest, the people rose while he tremulously said the invocation.
After the last word he stood for a moment, looking dazed and troubled. Winstead, starting up from his seat, hastily crossed the chancel and offered his arm as a support down the narrow pulpit stairs. Disregarding it, the old man put his hand on the priest’s shoulder. “God will bless you, Winstead,” he murmured, “for if you had not conquered the black revenge in your heart you would not be here!”
Winstead opened his mouth and turned his head with a startled gesture of denial, but the loving pressure of the hand on his shoulder silenced him, and the next instant the Bishop had left him and was walking unsteadily to his place. For a moment after seating himself the old man felt vainly about with the gesture of one who misses something that he cannot recall; it was the forgotten manuscript of his sermon.
Speaking from the episcopal chair, the Presiding Bishop began the Order of Consecration. There was a new stir among the people as the three men at the head of the aisle rose and came forward to the steps of the chancel. The young Bishop was very pale, but absolutely calm and untroubled. Winstead, at the foot of the column, in profound abstraction was again shifting his papers. Those in his left hand he had laid upon his knee; those in his right he was rolling in a tight package as if he intended to put them aside; for one moment the steadfast gaze of the Bishop-elect met and caught the flickering obstinacy of his. A dark red flush mounted to Winstead’s forehead; his eyes turned to the ground as if he dared not look lest his resolution falter.
The young Bishop drew in a long breath, and unconsciously squared his shoulders.
“The Secretary does mean mischief!” said Jackson, leaning forward to his cousin again and speaking with a quiver of excitement in his voice.
Mrs. Bellingham’s hands were clasped in her lap, her breath was coming shortly in little dry gasps, almost audible.
“The other knows it is coming and is not afraid,” whispered Jackson. “Look at him! By George, he’s magnificent!”
“Oh,” breathed Mrs. Bellingham, helplessly, “this is miserable!”
The voice of the Presiding Bishop ceased. A long pause followed. In the gallery over the chancel Mrs. Bellingham rose slowly to her feet. So many people were already standing in the aisles near at hand that her motion was scarcely conspicuous, yet Jackson whispered to her angrily to sit down.
“Stand up behind me,” she returned, “I may need you.”
“Good God!” breathed the scandalized Jackson, and his knees smote together, “I do believe she means to interfere!”
In the chancel all eyes were turned on Winstead, who sat immovable, still looking at the ground. Under cover of an ample sleeve the man next him twitched his gown. “What are you waiting for?” he whispered, impatiently. Winstead turned on him with uncomprehending eyes, and then, finding himself the focus of universal observation, rose hurriedly. The papers in his lap scattered far and wide; but he did not even see them. With the step and manner of a man aroused from the most intense preoccupation he moved to the front of the chancel railing. Unwinding the papers he held in his hand—
“In behalf of the Diocese of Macedonia—” he began, in a loud, clear voice, and then stopped short.
Mrs. Bellingham leaned suddenly forward and bent far over the edge of the gallery, her hands resting on the balustrade. The face of the young Bishop remained unchanged. Miss Fanshawe opposite, standing on the seat in order to see, made a note for the evening paper on the indecorous behavior of fashionable people in church.
“He meant to read the other papers,” whispered Jackson, excitedly. “He has got hold of the right ones in spite of himself!”
In another instant it was all over; regaining his self-control as quickly as he had lost it, Winstead read to the end the formal credentials from the diocese and returned to his seat.
“I don’t wonder at your bungling things,” said the clergyman next him, handing him the papers he had just finished gathering from the floor. “A man who brings the greater part of his private correspondence into church deserves to make a mess of it.”
Winstead took the papers from him. “We are but instruments in the hands of God,” he said, softly.
“It seems to me you’ve all lost your wits,” said the other. “What has come over the new Bishop?” But Winstead neither looked nor made answer; covering his face with his hands he leaned his elbow on his knee and prayed, while the young Bishop, with bowed head and trembling lips, burdened with an unutterable weight of humiliation, took upon himself the vows of his office.
“To withstand and convince gainsayers”—“to drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines”—“to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts”—“to show, in all things, an example of good works unto others, that the adversary may be ashamed”—“to maintain quietness, love, and peace.”
“A simple little contract,” whispered Jackson to Mrs. Bellingham, “and easy to carry out.” But Mrs. Bellingham, conscious only of an overwhelming sense of relief, had fallen back in her seat with closed eyes; she did not heed, did not even hear
With quaint antiphony the stately old bishops gathered about the man kneeling in their midst, praying and solemnly laying their hands upon his head.
“In ten minutes it will all be over,” whispered Jackson, flippantly.
Mrs. Bellingham opened her eyes, drew a short, sudden breath, and for an instant caught her lower 1ip sharply in her teeth; then she sank slowly to her knees, her hands clasped in front of her, her thoughts afar. Jackson wondered what she was thinking of.
But she was not thinking. She was saying: “Good-by! ah, good-by!”
Hitherto, from him, she had been shut out; henceforth, for him, she should not exist.
“Good-by! ah, good-by!” She claimed nothing; in her inmost soul there was not so much as the echo of his name, only—”Good-by! ah, good-by!”
“Come,” said Jackson, as the choir began a triumphant recessional hymn. “Come; let us get out before the crowd.”
Mrs. Belliugham rose. Already the service had reached far into the afternoon. Streaming through the western windows, lighting up long beams of motes all the way down the nave, the sunlight fell in streaks of dim, rich color. All the clergy were on their feet, and the procession of bishops was moving out between them. Prelate and priest, all singing, they advanced toward the great entrance of the cathedral, while the heavy throbs of the organ beat on the air; the procession passed under the choir-loft and a darker shade fell on the towering fair head of the young Bishop walking in front of the rest; then the wide doors opened and a great wash of white light faded the darkly brilliant interior. The Bishop’s tall form stood out a moment, black, against the glare, a line of sunshine gilding the edge of his satin robe and coloring his full white sleeve with blue—a step downward—he was gone!
“From Macedonia” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published in
Scribner’s Magazine v. 16, no. 4, Oct. 1894; reprinted in
A Truce, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, June 1895; second
edition edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2008.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is
©2008 by Brian Kunde.