Read THE AGE OF FAITH : CHAPTER III of The Seeker, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

HOW EDOM WAS FAVOURED OF GOD AND MAMMON

In the years gone, the village of Edom had matured, even as little boys wax to manhood.  Time was when all but two trains daily sped by it so fast that from their windows its name over the station door was naught but a blur.  Now all was changed.  Many trains stopped, and people of the city mien descended from or entered smart traps, yellow depot-wagons or immaculate victorias, drawn by short-tailed, sophisticated steeds managed by liveried persons whose scraped faces were at once impassive and alert.

In its outlying parts, moreover, stately villas now stood in the midst of grounds hedged, levelled, sprayed, shaven, trimmed and garnished ­grounds cherished sacredly with a reverence like unto that once accorded the Front Room in this same village.  Edom, indeed, had outgrown its villagehood as a country boy in the city will often outgrow his home ways.  That is, it was still a village in its inmost heart; but outwardly, at its edges, the distinctions and graces of urban worldliness had come upon it.

All this from the happy circumstance that Edom lay in a dale of beauty not too far from the blessed centre of things requisite.  First, one by one, then by families, then by groups of families, then by cliques, the invaders had come to promote Edom’s importance; one being brought by the gracious falling of its little hills; one by its narrow valleys where the quick little waters come down; one by the clearness of its air; and one by the cheapness with which simple old farms might be bought and converted into the most city-like of country homes.

The old stock of Edom had early learned not to part with any massive claw-footed sideboard with glass knobs, or any mahogany four-poster, or tall clock, or high-boy, except after feigning a distressed reluctance.  It had learned also to hide its consternation at the prices which this behaviour would eventually induce the newcomers to pay for such junk.  Indeed, it learned very soon to be a shrewd valuer of old mahogany, pewter, and china; even to suspect that the buyers might perceive beauties in it that justified the prices they paid.

Old Edom, too, has its own opinion of the relative joys of master and servant, the latter being always debonair, their employers stiff, formal and concerned.  It conceives that the employers, indeed, have but one pleasure:  to stand beholding with anxious solemnity ­quite as if it were the performance of a religious rite ­the serious-visaged men who daily barber the lawns and hedges.  It is suspected by old Edomites that the menials, finding themselves watched at this delicate task, strive to copy in face and demeanour the solemnity of the observing employer ­clipping the box hedge one more fraction of an inch with the wariest caution ­maintaining outwardly, in short, a most reverent seriousness which in their secret hearts they do not feel.

Let this be so or not.  The point is that Edom had gone beyond its three churches of Calvin, Wesley and Luther ­to say nothing of one poor little frame structure with a cross at the peak, where a handful of benighted Romanists had long been known to perform their idolatrous rites.  Now, indeed, as became a smartened village, there was a perfect little Episcopal church of redstone, stained glass and painted shingles, with a macadam driveway leading under its dainty porte-cochère, and at the base of whose stern little tower an eager ivy already aspired; a toy-like, yet suggestively imposing edifice, quite in the manner of smart suburban churches ­a manner that for want of accurate knowledge one might call confectioner’s gothic.

It was here, in his old home, that the Reverend Allan Delcher Linford found his first pastorate.  Here from the very beginning he rendered apparent those gifts that were to make him a power among men.  It was with a lofty but trembling hope that the young novice began his first service that June morning, before a congregation known to be hypercritical, composed as it was of seasoned city communicants, hardened listeners and watchers, who would appraise his vestments, voice, manner, appearance, and sermon, in the light of a ripe experience.

Yet his success was instant.  He knew it long before the service ended ­felt it infallibly all at once in the midst of his sermon on Faith.  From the reading of his text, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed therein might not perish, but have everlasting life,” the worldly people before him were held as by invisible wires running from him to each of them.  He felt them sway in obedience to his tones; they warmed with him and cooled with him; aspired with him, questioned, agreed, and glowed with him.  They were his ­one with him.  Their eyes saw a young man in the splendour of his early prime, of a faultless, but truly masculine beauty, delicate yet manfully rugged, square-chinned, straight-mouthed, with tawny hair and hazel eyes full of glittering golden points when his eloquence mounted; clear-skinned, brilliant, warm-voiced, yet always simple, direct, earnest; a storehouse of power, yet ornate; a source of refreshment both physical and spiritual to all within the field of his magnetism.

So agreed those who listened to that first sermon on Faith, in which that virtue was said be like the diamond, made only the brighter by friction.  Motionless his listeners sat while he likened Faith to the giant engine that has rolled the car of Religion out from the maze of antiquity into the light of the present day, where it now waits to be freighted with the precious fruits of living genius, then to speed on to that hoped-for golden era when truth shall come forth as a new and blazing star to light the splendid pageantry of earth, bound together in one law of universal brotherhood, independent, yet acknowledging the sovereignty of Omnipotence.

Rapt were they when, with rare verbal felicity and unstudied eloquence, the young man pictured himself standing upon a lofty sunlit mountain, while a storm raged in the valley below, calling passionately to those far down in the ebullition to come up to him and mingle in the blue serene of Faith.  Faith was, indeed, a tear dropped on the world’s cold cheek of Doubt to make it burn forever.

Even those long since blase to pulpit oratory thrilled at the simple beauty of his peroration, which ran:  “Faith! Oh, of all the flowers that swing their golden censers in the parterre of the human heart, none so rich, so rare, as this one flower of Faith.  Other flowers there may be that yield as rich perfume, but they must be crushed in order that their fragrance become perceptible.  But this flower ­”

In spite of this triumph, it had taken him still another year to prevail over one of his hearers.  True, she had met him after that first triumphant ordination sermon with her black lashes but half-veiling the admiration that shone warm in the gray of her eyes; and his low assurance, “Nance, you please me!  Really you do!” as his yellow eyes lingered down her rounded slenderness from summer bonnet to hem of summer gown, rippled her face with a colour she had to laugh away.

Yet she had been obstinate and wondering.  There had to be a year in which she knew that one she dreamed of would come back; another in which she believed he might; another in which she hoped he would ­and yet another in which she realised that dreams and hopes alike were vain ­vain, though there were times in which she seemed to feel again the tingling life of that last hand-clasp; times when he called to her; times when she had the absurd consciousness that his mind pressed upon hers.  There had been so many years and so much wonder ­and no one came.  It had been foolish indeed.  And then came a year of wondering at the other.  The old wonder concerning this one, excited by a certain fashion of rendering his head in unison with his shoulders ­as might the statue of Perfect Beauty turn upon its pedestal ­with its baser residue of suspicion, had been happily allayed by a closer acquaintance with Allan.  One must learn, it seemed, to distrust those lightning-strokes of prejudice that flash but once at the first contact between human clouds.

Yet in the last year there had come another wonder that excited a suspicion whose troubling-power was absurdly out of all true proportion.

It was in the matter of seeing things ­that is, funny things.

Doubtless she had told him a few things more or less funny that had seemed to move him to doubt or perplexity, or to mere seriousness; but, indeed, they had seemed less funny to her after that.  For example, she had told Aunt Bell the anecdote of the British lady of title who says to her curate, concerning a worthy relative by marriage lately passed away, toward whom she has felt kindly despite his inferior station:  “Of course I couldn’t know him here ­but we shall meet in heaven.”  Aunt Bell had been edified by this, remarking earnestly that such differences would indeed be wiped out in heaven.  Yet when Nancy went to Allan in a certain bubbling condition over the anecdote itself and Aunt Bell’s comment thereon, he made her repeat it slowly, after the first hurried telling, and had laughed but awkwardly with her, rather as if it were expected of him ­with an eye vacant of all but wonder ­like a traveller not sure he had done right to take the left-hand turn at the last cross-roads.

Again, the bishop who ordained him had, in a relaxed and social moment after the ceremony, related that little classic of Bishop Meade, who, during the fight over a certain disestablishment measure, was asked by a lobbyist how he would vote.  The dignified prelate had replied that he would vote for the bill, for he held that every man should have the right to choose his own way to heaven.  None the less, he would continue to be certain that a gentleman would always take the Episcopal way.  To Nancy Allan retold this, adding,

“You know, I’m going to use it in a sermon some time.”

“Yes ­it’s very funny,” she answered, a little uncertainly.

“Funny?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think so?”

“Of course ­I’ve heard the bishop tell it myself ­and I know he thinks it funny.”

“Well ­then I’ll use it as a funny story.  Of course, it is funny ­I only thought” ­what it was he only thought Nancy never knew.

Small bits of things to wonder at, these were, and the wonder brought no illumination.  She only knew there were times when they two seemed of different worlds, bereft of power to communicate; and at these times his superbly assured wooing left her slightly dazed.

But there were other times, and different ­and slowly she became used to the idea of him ­persuaded both by his own court and by the spirited encomiums that he evoked from Aunt Bell.

Aunt Bell was at that time only half persuaded by Allan to re-enter the church of her blameless infancy.  She was still minded to seek a little longer outside the fold that rapport with the Universal Mind which she had never ceased to crave.  In this process she had lately discarded Esoteric Buddhism for Subliminal Monitions induced by Psychic Breathing and correct breakfast-food.  For all that, she felt competent to declare that Allan was the only possible husband for her niece, and her niece came to suspect that this might be so.

When at last she had wondered herself into a state of inward readiness ­a state still governed by her outward habit of resistance, this last was beaten down by a letter from Mrs. Tednick, who had been a school friend as Clara Tremaine, and was now married, apparently with results not too desirable.

“Never, my dear,” ran the letter to Nancy, “permit yourself to think of marrying a man who has not a sense of humour.  Do I seem flippant?  Don’t think it.  I am conveying to you the inestimable benefits of a trained observation.  Humour saves a man from being impossible in any number of ways ­from boring you to beating you. (You may live to realise that the tragedy of the first is not less poignant than that of the second.) Whisper, dear! ­All men are equally vain ­at least in their ways with a woman ­but humour assuredly preserves many unto death from betraying it egregiously.  Beware of him if he lack it.  He has power to crucify you daily, and yet be in honest ignorance of your tortures.  Don’t think I am cynical ­and indeed, my own husband is one of the best and dearest of souls in the world, the biggest heart ­but be sure you marry no man without humour.  Don’t think a man has it merely because he tells funny stories; the humour I mean is a kind of sense of the fitness of things that keeps a man from forgetting himself.  And if he hasn’t humour, don’t think he can make you happy, even if his vanity doesn’t show.  He can’t ­after the expiration of that brief period in which the vanity of each is a holy joy to the other.  Remember now!”

Curiously enough this well-intended homily had the effect of arousing in Nancy an instant sense of loyalty to Allan.  She suffered little flashes of resentment at the thought that Clara Tremaine should seem to depreciate one toward whom she felt herself turning with a sudden defensive tenderness.  And this, though it was clear to the level eye of reason that Clara must have been generalising on observations made far from Edom.  But her loyal spirit was not less eager to resent an affront because it might seem to have been aimless.

And thereafter, though never ceasing to wonder, Nancy was won.  Her consent, at length, went to him in her own volume of Browning, a pink rose shut in upon “A Woman’s Last Word” ­its petals bruised against the verses: 

  “What so false as truth is,
    False to thee? 
  Where the serpent’s tooth is,
    Shun the tree.

  “Where the apple reddens,
    Never pry ­
  Lest we lose our Edens,
    Eve and I.

  “Be a god and hold me
    With a charm! 
  Be a man and fold me
    With thine arm!”

That was a moment of sweetness, of utter rest, of joyous peace ­fighting no longer.

A little while and he was before her, proud as a conquerer may be ­glad as a lover should.

“I always knew it, Nance ­you had to give in.”

Then as she drooped in his arms, a mere fragrant, pulsing, glad submission ­

“You have always pleased me, Nancy.  I know I shall never regret my choice.”

And Nancy, scarce hearing, wondered happily on his breast.