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   Chapter 3 THE BANKER AND HIS FAD

The One Woman By Thomas Dixon Characters: 18559

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


When Gordon woke next morning from a fitful sleep he was stupid and blue and had a headache. His wife had not slept at all, but was cheerful, tender and solicitous.

"Ruth, I can't go down to the ministers' meeting this morning," he said wearily. "I must take a day off in the country. I'll lose both soul and body if I don't take one day's rest in seven. I didn't tell you last night that I came near fainting in the pulpit during the evening sermon."

She slipped her hand in his, looking up reproachfully at him out of her dark eyes.

"Why didn't you tell me that, Frank?"

"I thought you had enough troubles last night. I'll run out on Long Island and spend the day with Overman. You needn't frown. You are strangely mistaken in him. I know you hate his brutal frankness, and he is anything but a Christian, but we are old college chums, and he's the clearest-headed personal friend I have. I need his advice about my fight with Van Meter. Overman is a venomous critic of my Social dreams. I've often wondered at your dislike of him, when he so thoroughly echoes your feelings."

She was silent a moment, and gravely said: "Take a good day's rest, then, and come back refreshed. I'll try to like even Mr. Overman, if he will help you. I'm going to turn over a new leaf this morning."

He laughed, kissed her, and hurried to catch the train for Babylon, where Overman lived in his great country home.

Mark Overman was a bacholer of forty, noted for the fact that he had but one eye and was so homely it was a joke. His friends said he was so ugly it was fascinating, and he was constantly laughing about it himself. He was a Wall Street banker, several times a millionaire, famed for his wit, his wide reading, his brutally cynical views of society, and his ridicule of modern philanthropy and Socialistic dreams.

He was a man of average height with the heavy-set, bulldog body, face and neck, broad, powerful hands and big feet. He had an enormous nose, shaggy eyebrows and a bristling black moustache. But the one striking peculiarity about him was his missing right eye. The large heavy eyelid was drooped and closed tightly over the sightless socket, which seemed to have sunk deep into his head. This cavern on one side of his face gave to the other eye a strange power. When he looked at you, it gleamed a fierce steady blaze like the electric headlight of an engine. How he lost that eye was a secret he guarded with grim silence, and no one was ever known to ask him twice.

Though five years older, he was Gordon's classmate at Wabash College.

Overman had always scorned the suggestion of an artificial eye. He swore he would never stick a piece of glass in his head to deceive fools. He used to tell Gordon that he was the only one-eyed man in New York who had the money to buy a glass eye and didn't do it.

"I prefer life's grim little joke to stand as it is," he said, as he snapped his big jaws together and twisted the muscles of his mouth into a sneer. He had a habit, when he closed an emphatic speech, of twisting the muscles of his mouth in that way. When animated in talk, he was the incarnation of disobedience, defiance, scorn, success.

Two things he held in special pride-hatred for women and a passionate love for game-cocks. He allowed no woman on his place in any capacity, and, by the sounds day and night, he kept at least a thousand roosters. He would drop the profoundest discussion of philosophy or economics at the mention of a chicken, and with a tender smile plunge into an endless eulogy of his pets.

Gordon found him in a chicken yard fitting gaffs on two cocks.

"Caught in the act!" he cried.

"Well, who cares? They've got to fight it out. It's in 'em. They're full brothers, too. Hatched the same day. They never scrapped in their lives till yesterday, when I brought a new pullet and put her in the neighbouring yard. They both tried to make love to her through the wire fence at the same time, and they were so busy crowing and strutting and showing off to this pullet they ran into each other and began to fight. Now one must die, and I'm just fixing these little steel points on for them so the function can be performed decently. I'm a man of fine feelings."

"You're a brute when you let them kill one another with gaffs."

"Nonsense. The fighting instinct is elemental in all animal life-two-legged and four-legged. Animals fight as inevitably as they breathe. You can trace the progress of man by the evolution of his weapons-the stone, the spear, the bow and arrow, the sword, the gun."

"Well, you're not going to have the fight this morning. Put up those inventions of the devil and come into the house."

"All right. You're a parson; I'll not allow them to fight. I'll just chop the head off of one and let you eat him for dinner." Overman grinned, and pierced Gordon with his gleaming eye.

"It would be more sensible than the exhibition of brutality you were preparing."

"Not from the rooster's point of view, or mine. I love chickens. If I tried to eat one it would choke me. But I can see your mouth watering now, looking at that fat young pullet over there, dreaming of the dinner hour when you expect to smash her beautiful white breast between your cannibal jaws. Funny men, preachers!"

Gordon laughed. "After all, you may be right. Our deepest culture is about skin deep. Scratch any of us with the right tool and you'll find a savage."

They strolled into the library and sat down. It was the largest and best-furnished room in the house. Its lofty ceiling was frescoed in sectional panels by a great artist. Its walls were covered as high as the arm could reach with loaded bookshelves, and alcove doors opened every ten feet into rooms stored with special treasures of subjects on which he was interested. Masterpieces of painting hung on the walls over the cases, while luxurious chairs and lounges in heavy leather were scattered about the room among the tables, desks and filing cabinets. At one end of the room blazed an open wood fire of cord wood full four feet in length. Beside the chimney windows opened with entrancing views of the Great South Bay and the distant beaches of Fire Island. Across the huge oak mantel he had carved the sentence:

"I AM AN OLD MAN NOW; I'VE HAD LOTS OF TROUBLE, AND MOST OF IT NEVER HAPPENED."

"Frank, old boy, you look as though you had been pulled through a small-sized auger hole yesterday. How is the work going?"

"All right. But Van Meter puzzles me. I want your advice about him. You've come in contact with him in Wall Street and know him. He is the one man power in my church-the senior deacon and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Society. In spite of all my eloquence and the crowds that throng the building, he has set the whole Board against me. He is really trying to oust me from the pastorate of the church. Shall I take the bull by the horns now and throw him and his Mammon-worshiping satellites out, or try to work such material into my future plans? Give me your advice as a cool-headed outsider."

Overman was silent a moment.

"Well, Frank, now you've put the question squarely, I'm going to be candid. I'm alarmed about you. The strain on your nerves is too great. This maggot of Socialism in your brain is the trouble. It is the mark of mental and moral breakdown, the fleeing from self-reliant individual life into the herd for help. You call it 'brotherhood,' the 'solidarity of the race.' Sentimental mush. It's a stampede back to the animal herd out of which a powerful manhood has been evolved. This idea is destroying your will, your brain, your religion, and will finally sap the moral fiber of your character. It is the greatest sentimentalist."

Gordon grunted.

"It's funny how you have the faculty of putting the opposition in terms of its last absurdity."

"Grunt if you like; I'm in dead earnest. You want to put on the brakes. You've struck the down grade. Socialism takes the temper out of the steel fiber of character. It makes a man flabby. It is the earmark of racial degeneracy. The man of letters who is poisoned by it never writes another line worth reading; the preacher who tampers with it ends a materialist or atheist; the philanthropist bitten by it, from just a plain fool, develops a madman; while the home-builder turns free-lover and rake under its teachings."

"You're a beauty to grieve over the loss to the world of home-builders!"

Gordon cried, with scorn.

"Maybe my grief is a little strained-but really, Frank, I hate women, not because I don't feel the need of their love-"

He drew the muscles of his big mouth together and looked thoughtfully out of the window with his single piercing eye.

"No; for the first time on that point I'll make an honest, clean confession to you. I hate women because I'm afraid of them. I have a face that can stop an eight-day clock if I look at it hard enough; and yet beneath this hideous mask there's a poor coward's soul that worships beauty and hungers for love! I don't allow women in this house because I can't stand the rustle of their drapery. I don't want one of them to get her claws into me. They can see through me in a minute. Women have an X-ray in their eyes. They can look t

hrough a brick wall, without going to see what's on the other side. A man learns a thing is true by a painful process of reasoning. A woman knows a thing is so-because! She knows it thoroughly, too, from top to bottom. Whenever a woman looks at me I can feel her taking an X-ray photograph of the marrow of my bones."

He wheeled suddenly and fixed his eye on Gordon.

"I'll bet you had another quarrel with your wife last night?"

"How do you know?"

"Tell by your hangdog look. You look like an old Shanghai rooster that a little game-cock has knocked down and trampled on for half an hour before letting him up."

"We did have some words."

"Exactly; and I can tell you what about. Your wife is growing more nervous over the tendency of your religion and your thinking. You can't fool her about it. She knows you are drifting where she can never follow. She knows instinctively that Socialism is the return to the animal herd and that the family will be trampled to death beneath its hoofs."

"Come, Mark, you're crazy. The Brotherhood of Man and the Solidarity of the Race can have such meaning only to a lunatic."

"Don't you know that the triumph of Socialism will destroy the monogamic family?" Overman asked sharply.

"Rubbish."

"Strange, how you sentimentalists slop over things. You have allowed second-hand Socialistic catch words to change your methods of work and thought and revolutionize your character, and yet you have never seriously tried to go to the bottom of it. Come into this room a minute."

They went into an alcove room.

"Here I have more than a thousand volumes of Socialistic literature. I've read it all with more or less thoroughness. When I look at the titles of these books I feel as though I've eaten tons of sawdust. You are preaching this stuff as the gospel, and yet you don't know what your masters are really trying to do."

"I know that there can be no true home life until the shadow of want has been lifted," said the preacher emphatically. "The aim of Socialism is to bring to pass this dream of heaven on earth."

"Just so. But you've never defined what the dream will be like when it comes. Your masters have. Let me read some choice bits to you from these big-brained, clear-eyed men who created your movement. I like these men because they scorn humbug. Defiance, disobedience, contempt for thing that is, consumes them."

He drew from the shelves a lot of books, threw them on a table, and took up a volume.

"This from Fourier: 'Monogamy and private property are the main characteristics of Civilisation. They are the breastworks behind which the army of the rich crouch and from which they sally to rob the poor. The individual family is the unit of all faulty societies divided by opposing interests.'

"And this choice bit from William Morris: 'Marriage under existing conditions is absurd. The family, about which so much twaddle is talked, is hateful. A new development of the family will take place, as the basis not of a predetermined lifelong business arrangement to be formally held to irrespective of conditions, but on mutual inclination and affection, an association terminable at the will of either party.'"

Overman fixed his eye on Gordon for a moment, laid his hand on his arm and asked:

"Now, honestly, Frank, confess to me you never read one of those sentences in your life?"

"No, I never did."

"I was sure of it. Listen again; this from Robert Owen: 'In the new Moral World the irrational names of husband, wife, parent and child will be heard no more. Children will undoubtedly be the property of the whole community.'

"But perhaps the idea has been best expressed by Mr. Grant Allen. Hear his clean-cut statement: 'No man, indeed, is truly civilised till he can say in all sincerity to every woman of all the women he loves, to every woman of all the women who love him: "Give me what you can of your love and yourself; but never strive for my sake to deny any love, to strangle any impulse that pants for breath within you. Give me what you can, while you can, without grudging, but the moment you feel you love me no more, don't do injustice to your own prospective children by giving them a father whom you no longer respect, or admire, or yearn for." When men and women can both alike say this, the world will be civilised. Until they can say it truly, the world will be as now, a jarring battle-field of monopolist instincts.'

"Then this gem from another of the frousy-headed-Karl Pearson: 'In a Socialist form of government the sex relation would vary according to the feelings and wants of individuals.'

"Observe in all these long-haired philosophers how closely the idea of private property is linked with the family. That is why the moment you attack private property in your pulpit your wife knows instinctively that you are attacking the basis of her life and home. Private property had its origin in the family. The family is the source of all monopolistic instincts, and your reign of moonshine brotherhood can never be brought to pass until you destroy monogamic marriage."

"But my dream is of an ideal marriage and home life," cried the preacher.

"Yes, and that is why you make me furious. You don't know the origin or meaning of this Socialistic dream and yet you are preaching it every Sunday, inflaming the minds of that crowd. I don't blame your wife. She sees in her soul the rock on which you must wreck your ship sooner or later. The herd and the mating pair cannot co-exist as dominant forces. This is why Socialism never converts a woman except through some-individual man. Woman's maternal instinct created monogamic marriage. The only women who become Socialists directly are the sexless, the defectives and the oversexed, who can always be depended on to make the herd a lively place for its fighting male members. What have you to say to this?"

Overman turned his head sideways and pierced Gordon again with his single eye.

"Well, I confess you've given me something to think about, and I'm going to the bottom of the subject. You've opened vistas of great ideas. It's the question of the century, the thought that is sweeping life before it. While I've been listening to you, more and more I've seen the need of consecration to the leading and teaching of the people who are being swept by millions into this movement. But you haven't told me what to do with Van Meter."

"Yes, I have, The trouble, I tell you, is with you, not Van Meter. He's a little man, but he's just the size of a deacon in a modern church in New York. Win him over and work with him. He's your only hope. Van Meter knows his business as a deacon and trustee. You are off the track."

"But how can I ever reconcile Van Meter's commercialism with any living religion?"

Overman frowned and shrugged his shoulders.

"Religion? Man, you haven't religion! Religion is the worship of a Superior Being, fear of His power, submission to His commands, inability to discuss theoretically the formulas of faith, the desire to spread the faith, and the habit of considering as enemies all who do not accept it. You can't pass examination on any of these points. Your idea of God is the First Cause. You do not really worship or fear anything. You submit blindly to nothing. You have written an interrogation point before every dogma. You have ceased to be missionary and become humanitarian. As a priest you're a joke. Van Meter is a better deacon than you are a priest. I don't blame him. He must put you out, or be put out of business sooner or later. Your passion for reforming the world, your 'enthusiasm for humanity,' are things apart from worship and absolutely antagonistic to it."

"But not antagonistic to the mission of Christ."

"Granted. But the Christianity of Christ is one thing and modern Christianity another thing. The ancient Church, you must remember, absorbed Paganism. Van Meter's religion is, I grant you, a pretty stiff mixture of Paganism and Christianity, but historically he is in line with the Church and you are out of line with it. I'd do one of two things-use Van Meter for all he is worth, or get out of his church and let him alone. It's his. He and his kind built it. You are an interloper."

"Perhaps so," Gordon mused.

"You know my opinion of your dream of social salvation. I say let the fit survive and the weak go to the wall. If you could save all the floating trash that so moves your pity, you would only lower the standard of humanity. Hell is the furnace made to consume such worthless rubbish. You are even apologising for hell because you can't stand the odour of burning flesh. I like the old God of Israel better than the ghost you moderns have set up. Honestly, Frank, you have never treated Van Meter decently. He's a small man, but he is in dead earnest, and he is historically a Christian. I don't know what the devil you are, and I don't believe you know yourself. Go to Van Meter, have a plain business talk with him, and see if you can't come to an understanding."

"That's the only sensible thing you've said to me."

"And the only immoral thing; for if you and Van Meter ever agree you will both do some tall lying."

"I think I'll take your advice and see him, anyhow."

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