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George Randolph Chester.

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the attacks of envy and malice ! It has gone so far
that I, last night, received from the Reverend Smith
Boyd, a request to resign from this vestry ! " He
paused in triumph on that, as if he had made against
the Reverend Smith Boyd a charge of such ghastly
infamy that the young rector must shrivel before his
eyes. " I have led a blameless life ! I have never
smoked nor drank! I have paid every penny I ever
owed and fulfilled every promise I ever made. I have
obeyed the gospel, and partaken of the sacraments,
and the Divine Being has rewarded me abundantly !
He has chosen me, because of my faithful stewardship,
to gather the foods of earth from its sources, and feed
it to the mouths of the hungry ; and I shah 1 not depart
from my stewardship in this church, because I am here,
as I am everywhere, by the will of God ! "

Perhaps W. T. Chisholm was not shocked by this
blasphemy, but the dismay of it sat on every other face,



A VESTRY MEETING 359

even on that of Nicholas Van Ploon, who was compelled
to dig deep to find his ethics.

" You infernal old thief ! " wondered Manning, re
covering from his amazement. " Was it Divine Provi
dence which directed you to devise the scheme whereby
the railroads paid you two dollars- rebate on every car
of wheat you shipped, and a dollar bonus on every
car of wheat your competitors shipped? I could give
you a string of sins as long as the catechism, and you
dare not deny one of them, because I can prove them
on you! And yet you have the effrontery to say that
a Divine Providence would establish you in your mo
nopoly, by such scoundrelly means as you have risen
to become the greatest dispenser of self advertising
charities in the world! You propose to ride into
Heaven on your universities and your libraries, and on
the fact that you never smoked nor drank nor swore
nor gambled ; but when you come face to face with this
horrible new god you have created, a deity who would
permit you to attain wealth by the vile methods you
have used, you will find him with a pitch-fork in his
hands ! I am glad that Doctor Boyd, though knowing
your vindictive record, has had bravery enough to de
mand your resignation from this vestry! I hope he
receives it ! "

Joseph G. Clark had remained standing, and his head
shook, as with a palsy, while he listened to the charge of
Manning. He was a very old man, and it had been
quite necessary for him to restrain his passions through
out his life.

" You will go first ! " he shouted at Manning. " I
am impregnable ; but you have no business on this ves
try! You can be removed at any time an examination



360 THE BALL OF FIRE

is ordered, for I have heard you, we have all heard you,
deny the immaculate conception, and thereby the Di
vinity of Christ, in whom alone there is salvation ! "

A hush like death fell on the vestry. The Reverend
Smith Boyd was the first to break the ghastly silence.

" Gentlemen," said he, " I do not think that we are
in a mood to-day for further discussion. I suggest
that we adjourn."

His voice seemed to distract the attention of Clark
from Manning, at whom he had been glowering. He
turned on the Reverend Smith Boyd the remainder of
the wrath which marked his first break into senility.

" As for you ! " he snarled, " you will keep your fin
gers out of matters which do not concern you ! You
were hired to preach the gospel, and you will confine
your attention to that occupation, preaching just what
you find sanctioned in this book ; nothing more, nothing
less ! " and taking a small volume which lay on the table,
he tossed it in front of the Reverend Smith Boyd.

It was the Book of Common Prayer, containing, in
the last pages, the Articles of Faith.

Clark seized his hat and coat, and strode out of the
door, followed by the red-faced Chisholm, who had also
been asked to resign. Nicholas Van Ploon rose, and
shook hands with the Reverend Smith Boyd.

" Sargent has told me about your plan for the new
tenements," he stated. " I am in favour of buying
the property."

" We ll swing it for you, Boyd," promised Jim Sar
gent. " I ve been talking with some of the other mem
bers, and they seem to favour the idea that the new
Vedder Court will be a great monument. There ll be
no such magnificent charity in the world, and no such
impressive sacrifice as giving up that cathedral! I



A VESTRY MEETING 361

think Cunningham will be with us, when it comes to a
vote."

" Certainly," interposed Nicholas Van Ploon. " We
don t need to make any profit from those tenements.
The normal increase in ground value will be enough."

" Yes," said Cunningham slowly. " I am heartily in
favour of the proposition."

" Coming along, Doctor," invited Manning, going
for his coat and hat.

" No, I think not," decided the Reverend Smith Boyd
quietly.

He was sitting at the end of the table facing the
Good Shepherd, at the edge of whose robe still sparkled
crystalline light, and in his two hands he thoughtfully
held the Book of Common Prayer.



CHAPTER XXXVI

HAND IN HAND

THE Reverend Smith Boyd walked slowly out into
the dim church, with the little volume in his hand.
The afternoon sun had sunk so low that the illumina
tion from the stained glass windows was cut off by
the near buildings, and the patches of ruby and of
sapphire, of emerald and of topaz, glowed now near
the tops of the slender columns, or mellowed the dusky
spaces up amid the arches.

It was hushed and silent there, deserted, and far
from the thoughts of men. The young rector walked
slowly up the aisle to a pew in the corner near the main
entrance, and sat down, still with the little Book of
Common Prayer in his hand, and, in the book, the Ar
ticles of Religion. From them alone must he preach ;
nothing more and nothing less. That was the duty for
which he was hired. His own mind, his own intelli
gence, the reason and the spirit and the soul which
God had given him were for no other use than the clever
support of the things which were printed here. And
who had formulated these articles? Men; men like
himself. They had made their interpretation in sol
emn conclave, and had defined the Deity, and the form
in which he must be addressed, as one instructs a serv
ant in the proper words to use in announcing the ar
rival of a guest or the readiness of a dinner. The
interpretation made, these men had arrogantly closed



HAND IN HAND 363

the book, and had said, in effect, this is the way of sal
vation, and none other can avail. Unless a man be
lieves what is here set down, he can in nowise enter
the Kingdom of Heaven ; and a pure life filled with good
works is for naught.

The Reverend Smith Boyd had no need to read those
Articles of Religion. He had been over them countless
times, and he knew them by heart, from beginning to
end. He had opened wide the credulity of his mind,
and had forced his belief into these channels, so that
he might preach the gospel, not of Christ, but of his
church, with a clean conscience. And he had done so.
Whatever doubts there had lurked in him, from
that one period of infidelity in his youth, he had shut
off behind a solid wall over which he would not peer.
There were many things behind that wall which it were
better for him not to see, he had told himself, lest, from
among them, some false doctrine may creep up and
poison the purity of his faith. He had thrown himself
solidly on faith. Belief implicit and unfaltering was
necessary to the support of the dogmatic theology he
taught, and he gave it that belief; implicit and unfal
tering. Reason had no part in religion or in theology ;
and for good cause !

But here had come a condition where reason, like a
long suppressed passion of the body, clamoured insist
ently to be heard, and would have its voice, and strode
in, and took loud possession. Joseph G. Clark, so filled
with iniquity that he could not see his own sins, so rot
ted, to the depths of his soul, that he could twist every
violation of moral law into a virtue, so sunken in the
foulness of every possible onslaught upon mercy and
justice and humanity that millions suffered from his
deeds, this man could sit in the vestry of Market



364 THE BALL OF FIRE

Square Church, and control the destinies of an organ
isation built ostensibly for the purpose of saving souls
and spreading the gospel of mercy and justice and
humanity, could sit in the seat of the holy, because, with
his lips he could say : " I acknowledge Christ as my
Redeemer " ! Rufus Manning, whose life was an open
page, whose record was one upon which there was no
blot, who had lived purely, and humanely, and merci
fully and compassionately, who had given freely of his
time and of his goods for the benefit of those who were
weak and helpless and needy, who had read deeply into
human hearts, and had comforted them because he was
gifted with a portion of that divine compassion which
sent an only begotten Son to die upon the cross, that
through his blood the sins of man might be washed
away, this man could be driven from the vestry of Mar
ket Square Church, itself guilty and stained with sin,
because he could not, or would not say with his lips,
" I acknowledge Christ as my Redeemer " !

Reason made a terrific onslaught against faith at
this juncture. Familiar as he was with the book, the
Reverend Smith Boyd turned to the Articles of Re
ligion.

" We are accounted righteous before God, only for
the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by
Faith, and not for our own works or deserving. . . .

" Works done before the grace of Christ, and the In
spiration of His Spirit, are not pleasant to God, for
as much as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ ;
neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or de
serve grace of congruity : yea, rather, for that they are
not done as God hath willed and commanded them to
be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin."

There was some discrepancy here between the works



HAND IN HAND 365

and the faith of Clark and the works and the faith of
Manning. The Reverend Smith Boyd made no doubt
that the Great Judge would find little difficulty in dis
tinguishing between these two men, and in deciding
upon their respective merits ; but that was not the point
which disturbed the young rector. It was the atti
tude of the church towards these men, and the fact
that he must uphold that attitude. It was absurd?
The Reverend Smith Boyd was a devout and earnest
and consistent believer, not merely in the existence of
God, but in his greatness and his power and his glory,
his justice and his mercy and his wisdom; but the Rev
erend Smith Boyd suddenly made the startling discov
ery that he was not preaching God! He was preach
ing the church and its creed!

Started, now, he went through the thirty-nine Arti
cles of Religion, one by one, slowly, thoughtfully, and
with a quickened conscience. Reason knocked at the
door of Faith, and entered; but it did not drive out
Faith. T.hey sat side by side, but each gave some
thing to the other. No, rather, Reason stripped the
mask from Faith, tore away the disguising cloak, and
displayed her in all her simple beauty, sweet, and gen
tle, and helpful. What was the faith he had been
called upon to teach? Faith in the thirty-nine Arti
cles of Religion! This had been cleverly substituted
by the organisers of an easy profession, for faith in
God, which latter was too simple of comprehension for
the purposes of any organisation.

For a long time the Reverend Smith Boyd sat in the
corner pew, and when he had closed the book, all that
had been behind the wall of his mind came out, and was
sorted into heaps, and the bad discarded and the good
retained. He found a wonderful relief in that. He



366 THE BALL OF FIRE

had lived with a secret chamber in his heart, hidden
even from himself, and now that he had opened the door,
he felt free. Above him, around him, within him, was
the presence of God, infinite, tender, easy of under
standing; and from that God, his God, the one which
should walk with him through life his friend and com
forter and counsellor, he stripped every shred of pre
tence and worthless form and useless ceremony!

" I believe in God the Creator ; the Maker of my
conscience ; my Friend and Father." The creed of
Gail!

He walked out into the broad centre aisle, now, amid
the solemn pews and the avenue of slender columns,
and beneath graceful arches which pointed heaven
ward the aspirations of the human soul. Before the
altar he paused and gazed up at the beautiful Henri
Dupres crucifix. The soft light from one of the cleres
tory windows flooded in on Him, and the compassion
ate eyes of the Son of God seemed bent upon the young
rector in benign sympathy. For a moment the rec
tor stood, tall and erect, then he stretched forth his
arms:

" I know tha-t my Redeemer liveth ! " he said, and
sank to his knees.

Two high points he had kept in his faith, points
never to be shaken; the existence of his Creator, his
mercy and his love, and the Divinity of his Son, who
died, was crucified and buried, and on the third day
arose to ascend unto Heaven. Reason could not de
stroy that citadel in a man born to the necessity of
Faith! Man must believe some one thing. If it was
as easy, as he had once set forth, to believe in the bibli
cal account of the creation of the world as to believe
in a pre-existent chaos, out of which evoluted the spirit



HAND IN HAND 367

of life, and all its marvels of growing trees and flying
birds and reasoning men, it was as easy to go one step
further, and add the Son to the Father and to the Holy
Ghost! Even chaps must have been created!

Fully satisfied, the Reverend Smith Boyd walked into
the vestry, and wrote his resignation from the rector
ship of Market Square Church, for he could no longer
teach, and preach, Faith in the thirty-nine Articles
of Religion! Within his grasp he had held a position
of wealth, of power, of fame ! He scarcely considered
their loss ; and in the ease with which he relinquished
them, he knew that he was self-absolved from the
charge of using his conscience as a ladder of ambition !
If personal vanity had entered into his desire to build
the new cathedral, it had been incidental, not fundamen
tal. It made him profoundly happy to know this with
positiveness.

He called up the house of Jim Sargent, and asked
for Gail.

" Come over," he invited her. " I want to see you
very much. I m in the church. Come in through the
vestry."

" All right," was the cheerful reply. " I ll be there
in a minute."

He had been very sly ! He was tremendously
pleased with himself! He had kept out of his voice
all the longing, and all the exultation, and all the love!
He would not trust even one vibration of his secret to
a cold telephone wire!

He set the door of the vestry open wide. Within
the church, the organist had conquered that baffling
run in the mighty prelude of Bach, and the great dim
spaces up amid the arches were pulsing in ecstasy with
the tremendous harmony. Outside, upon the back-



368 THE BALL OF FIRE

ground of the celestial strain, there rose a fluttering,
a twittering, a cooing. The doves of spring had re
turned to the vestry yard.

Just a moment and Gail appeared, poised in the door
way, with a filmy pink scarf about her shoulders, a
simple frock of delicate grey upon her slender figure,
her brown hair waving about her oval face, a faint
flush upon her cheeks, her brown eyes sparkling, her
red lips smiling up at him.

He had intended to tell her much, but instead, he
folded her in his arms, and she nestled there, content.
For a long, happy moment they stood, lost to the world
of thought ; and then she looked up at him, and laughed.

" I knew it from your voice," she said.

He laughed with her; then he grew grave, but there
was the light of a great happiness in his gravity.

" I have resigned," he told her.

That was a part of what she had known.

" And not for me ! " she exulted. It was not a ques
tion. She saw that in him was no doubt, no quandary,
no struggle between faith and disbelief.

" I see my way clearly," he smiled down at her ; " and
there are no thorns to cut for me. I shall never
change."

" And we shall walk hand in hand about the great
est work in the world," she softly reminded him, and
there were tears in her eyes. " But what work shall
that be, Tod?" She looked up at him for guidance,
now.

" To shed into other lives some of the beauty which
blossoms in our own," he replied, walking with her into
the great dim nave, where the shadows still quivered with
the under-echoes of the mighty Bach prelude. " I
have been thinking much of the many things you have



HAND IN HAND 369

said to me," he told her, " and particularly of the need,
not for a new religion, but for a re-birth of the old;
that same new impulse towards the better and the
higher life which Christ brought into the world. I
have been thinking on the mission of Him, and it was
the very mission to the need of which you have held so
firmly. He came to clear away the thorns of creed
which had grown up between the human heart and God !
The brambles have grown again. The time is almost
ripe, Gail, for a new quickening of the spirit; for the
Second Coming."

She glanced at him, startled.

" For a new voice in the wilderness," she wondered.

" Not yet," he answered. " We have signs in the
hearts of men, for there is a great awakening of the
public conscience throughout the world; but before the
day of harvest arrives, we must have a sign in the sky.
No great spiritual revival has ever swept the world
without its attendant supernatural phenomena, for
mysticism is a part of religion, and will be to the end
of time. Reason, by the very nature of itself, realises
its own limitations, and demands something beyond its
understanding upon which to hang its faith. It is
the need of faith which distinguishes the soul from the
mind."

" A sign," mused Gail, her eyes aglow with the
majesty of the thought.

" It will come," he assured her, with the calm pre
science of prophecy itself. " As no great spiritual re
vival has ever swept the world without its attendant
supernatural phenomena, so no grerat spiritual revival
has ever swept the world without its concreted symbol
which men might wear upon their breasts. The cross !
What shall be its successor? A ball of fire in the sky?



370 THE BALL OF FIRE

Who knows ! If that symbol of man s spiritual re
juvenation, of his renewed nearness to God, were, in
reality, a ball of fire, Gail, I would hold it up in the
sight of all mankind though it shrivelled my arm ! "

The thin treble note stole out of the organ loft,
pulsing its timid way among the high, dim arches, as
if seeking a lodgment where it might fasten its tiny
thread of harmony, and grow into a song of new glory,
the glory which had been born that day in the two
earnest hearts beneath in the avenue of slender col
umns. The soft light from one of the clerestory win
dows flooded in on the compassionate Son of Man above
the altar. The very air seemed to vibrate with the new
inspiration which had been voiced in the old Market
Square Church. Gail gazed up at Smith Boyd, with
the first content her heart had ever known; content in
which there was both earnestness and serenity, to re
place all her groping. He* met her gaze with eyes in
which there glowed the endless love which it is be
yond the power of speech to tell. There was a moment
of ecstasy, of complete understanding, of the perfect
unity which should last throughout their lives. In that
harmony, they walked from the canopy of dim arches,
out through the vestry, and beneath the door above
which perched the two grey doves, cooing. For an in
stant Gail looked back into the solemn depths, and a
wistfulness came into her eyes.

" The ball of fire," she mused. " When shall we see
it in the sky ? "



VAIL-BALLOU CO., B1NGHAMTON AND NEW YORK



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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 24 of 24)