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   Chapter 6 THE PUDDLE AND THE TADPOLE

The One Woman By Thomas Dixon Characters: 10042

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


When Gordon started home from his round of visits with Kate the wind had hauled to the north and it began to spit drops of snow. The cars were still crowded, the aisles full and the platforms jammed, though it was seven o'clock. He buttoned his coat about his neck and paced the station, waiting for a train in which he could find a seat.

"Bad omen for my trustee meeting to-night," he muttered. "This air feels like Van Meter's breath."

He allowed four trains to pass, and at last boarded one worse crowded than the first. With a sigh for the end of chivalry, he pushed his way through the dense mass packed at the doors, wedging his big form roughly among the women, to the centre of the car, and mechanically seized a strap. He was so used to this leather-strap habit that he held on with one hand and, while reading, unfolded and folded his paper with the other.

He climbed the hill to his home in the face of a howling snow-storm.

Ruth looked at him intently.

"I am sorry I couldn't get home earlier," he said, "I've had a hard day."

"But such pleasant help that you didn't mind it, I'm sure. I heard Miss Ransom was assisting you. I went to the church and found you had gone out with her. I hear she is becoming indispensable in your work."

"Come, Ruth, let's not have another silly quarrel."

"No; it's a waste of breath," she replied bitterly.

He slipped quietly out of the house after supper and hurried back to his study to collect his thoughts for the battle he knew he must wage with Van Meter. This one man had ruled the church with his rod of gold for twenty years. He had established a mission station on the East Side and gathered into it the undesirable people. He was the watchdog of the Prudential Committee guarding the door to membership.

This trustee meeting had for him a double interest. A panic in Wall Street had all but ruined Van Meter. He had attempted to corner the bread market. The wheat crop had been ruined by a hard winter, and the little black eyes, watching, believed the coup could be made.

The attempt was in concerted action through his associate houses in Chicago and St. Louis, and he had plunged as never before. The corner had failed. It was reported that he had made an assignment. This had proved a mistake. His long-established credit and his high personal standing in Wall Street had rallied money to his support and he had pulled out with the loss of three-fourths of his fortune.

Gordon wondered what the effect of this blow would be on his character and attitude toward the church's work. He was specially anxious to know the effect of the reverse on the imagination of the other members of the Board, who merely revolved in worshipful admiration around his millions.

He asked Van Meter to come to his study for a personal interview before the meeting. The Deacon was cool and polite, and his little eyes were shining with a distant luster.

"I was sorry, Deacon, to learn of your personal misfortunes."

Van Meter wet his dry lips with his tongue, looked Gordon squarely in the face and snapped:

"Were you the clergyman who made the statement concerning that corner reported yesterday in an evening paper?"

Gordon flushed, turned uneasily in his chair, and boldly replied:

"Yes, I was, and I repeat it to you. On every such attempt to coin money out of hunger and despair, I pray God's everlasting curse to fall. I am glad your corner failed. The world is larger than New York, and New York is larger than the Stock Exchange. Am I clear?"

"Quite so. With your permission I will return to the trustee meeting."

"Very well. I wish to make a statement to the Board when you are ready."

Gordon frowned, sat down and made some notes of the points he wished to urge.

He had often wondered at the impotence of the average preacher in New York. But as he felt the forces of materialism closing about him, and their steel grip on his heart, he began to know why New York is the preacher's graveyard. He had won his great audience. His voice had not been drowned in the roar of the breakers of this ocean of flesh, but he had met bitter disillusioning. As he looked into the faces of his Board of Trustees, dominated by that little bald-headed man, he felt the cruel force of Overman's sneer at the modern church as the home of the mean and the crippled and the sick. The appeal to the ideal seemed to stick in his throat.

He had thrilled at the struggle with the big city's rushing millions. Their stupendous indifference dared him to conquer or die, and he had conquered. He had seen these indifferent millions swallow cabinets, presidents, princes and kings, and rush on their way without a thought whether they lived or died. He had made himself heard. But this power that worshiped a dollar and called it God, that controlled the finances of the church and sought to control its pastor and strangle his soul-this was the force slowly choking him to death unless he could conquer it.

The average preacher,

when he landed in New York and faced the roar of its advancing ocean of materialism, fluttered hopelessly about for a year or two like a frightened sand-fiddler in the edge of the surf of a cyclone, was engulfed, and disappeared.

To conquer this sea and lift his voice in power above its thunder, and then be strangled in a little yellow puddle full of tadpoles, was more than his soul could endure.

"I'll not submit to it," he growled, with clenched fist.

When he entered the meeting, the dozen men were hanging on Van

Meter's lips as on the inspired word of Moses.

"I was just telling the Board," he suavely explained, "that Mr. Wellford, on whom we must depend for such a building enterprise involving millions, has declared his hostility to the scheme. He is out of sympathy with the sensational methods of the Pilgrim Church."

"I'll inform the Board," said Gordon, as he advanced toward Van Meter and thrust his hands in his pockets, "that it's not true. I have seen Mr. Wellford, by his invitation, this week at his home. I laid our great plan before him. I found him a big man, a man who thinks big thoughts, and does big things. He told me frankly he was heartily in favour of it and would do his part the moment we were ready and other men of wealth would join in the movement. He simply declares that we must act first."

Van Meter pursed his lips and tried to lift his nose into a sneer.

"May I ask, Doctor, if it is your intention to demand a vote to-night on this building scheme?"

"It is."

"Then I suggest that we vote first and hear your speech afterward.

Some of us may wish to go before you're done."

Gordon turned red with rage and started to sit down, but, wheeling, he again faced the chairman and glared at him.

"Pardon my business methods, Doctor," he went on, "but your visions are rather tiresome. We are old New Yorkers. We know what you are going to tell us of the dark problem of the city's corruption, the poverty of the poor, and so on. Every now and then we see such sacred fires burning in the heart of a country parson called to town. Yet, in spite of the splendour of these little fizzling pinwheels that light the cruelty and darkness of metropolitan life for a moment, New York has managed somehow to jog along."

Gordon's anger melted into a laugh as he watched the Deacon's face grow purple with fury as he fairly hissed the last sentence of his speech. He was not an impressive man in an attempted flight of eloquence, and the preacher's laughter quite unhorsed him.

"Gentlemen," Gordon said with quiet dignity, "I came here to-night to make an appeal. But, I'm no longer in the mood. I see in your faces the folly of it. I make an announcement to you. The Temple will be built, with or without you. I prefer your cooperation. I can do it with your united opposition. God lives, and the age of miracles is not passed."

"In behalf of the Board, I accept your challenge and await the miracle," retorted Van Meter. "You can pray till you're blue in the face and you will never get money enough to buy a lot on Fifth Avenue big enough to bury yourself, to say nothing of rearing a Solomon's Temple on it."

"We shall see," the young giant replied.

"This Board is tired of the circus business," Van Meter went on angrily. "You have transformed the church already into a menagerie. We don't want any more of your Soup-House Sarahs, Hallelujah Johns nor decorative bums testifying here to the power of miracles, while we wonder whether our overcoats will be on the rack when we recover from the spell of their eloquence. It's a big world, there's room for us all, but there's not room for any more new wrinkles in this church."

"Yes, it is a big world, Deacon, but there are some small potatoes in it. There's hope for a fool, he may be turned from his folly, but God Almighty can't put a gallon into a pint cup."

"We'll see who the small potato is before the day is done," Van

Meter snorted.

Gordon continued, meditatively, without noticing the interruption:

"Of all the little things on this earth a little New Yorker is the smallest. I've met ignorance in the South, sullen pigheadedness in New England; I've measured the boundless cheek of the West, my native heath; but for self-satisfied stupidity, for littleness in the world of morals, I have seen nothing on earth, or under it, quite so small as a well-to-do New Yorker. He has little brains, or culture, and only the rudiments of common sense, but, being from New York, he assumes everything. Of God's big world, outside Wall Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Central Park and Coney Island, he knows nothing; for he neither reads nor travels; and yet pronounces instant judgment on world movements of human thought and society."

And deliberately he put on his hat and left the room.

The net result of the meeting was a vote to reduce the pastor's salary a thousand dollars and add it to the music fund; and Van Meter hired two detectives to watch the minister.

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