The Bishop's Silence by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
The Bishop was walking across the fields to afternoon service. It was a hot July day, and he walked slowly--for there was plenty of time--with his eyes fixed on the far-off, shimmering sea. That minstrel of heat, the locust, hidden somewhere in the shade of burning herbage, pulled a long, clear, vibrating bow across his violin, and the sound fell lazily on the still air--the only sound on earth except a soft crackle under the Bishop's feet. Suddenly the erect, iron-gray head plunged madly forward, and then, with a frantic effort and a parabola or two, recovered itself, while from the tall grass by the side of the path gurgled up a high, soft, ecstatic squeal. The Bishop, his face flushed with the stumble and the heat and a touch of indignation besides, straightened himself with dignity and felt for his hat, while his eyes followed a wriggling cord that lay on the ground, up to a small brown fist. A burnished head, gleaming in the sunshine like the gilded ball on a church steeple, rose suddenly out of the waves of dry grass, and a pink-ginghamed figure, radiant with joy and good-will, confronted him. The Bishop's temper, roughly waked up by the unwilling and unepiscopal war-dance just executed, fell back into its chains.
"Did you tie that string across the path?"
"Yes," The shining head nodded. "Too bad you didn't fell 'way down. I'm sorry. But you kicked awf'ly."
"Oh! I did, did I?" asked the Bishop. "You're an unrepentant young sinner. Suppose I'd broken my leg?"
The head nodded again. "Oh, we'd have patzed you up," she said cheerfully. "Don't worry. Trust in God."
The Bishop jumped. "My child," he said, "who says that to you?"
"Aunt Basha." The innocent eyes faced him without a sign of embarrassment. "Aunt Basha's my old black mammy. Do you know her? All her name's longer'n that. I can say it." Then with careful, slow enunciation, "Bathsheba Salina Mosina Angelica Preston."
"Is that your little bit of name too?" the Bishop asked, "Are you a Preston?"
"Why, of course." The child opened her gray eyes wide. "Don't you know my name? I'm Eleanor. Eleanor Gray Preston."
For a moment again the locust had it all to himself. High and insistent, his steady note sounded across the hot, still world. The Bishop looked down at the gray eyes gazing upward wonderingly, and through a mist of years other eyes smiled at him. Eleanor Gray--the world is small, the life of it persistent; generations repeat themselves, and each is young but once. He put his hand under the child's chin and turned up the baby face.
"Ah!" said he--if that may stand for the sound that stood for the Bishop's reverie. "Ah! Whom were you named for, Eleanor Gray?"
"For my own muvver." Eleanor wriggled her chin from the big hand and looked at him with dignity. She did not like to be touched by strangers. Again the voices stopped and the locust sang two notes and stopped also, as if suddenly awed.
"Your mother," repeated the Bishop, "your mother! I hope you are worthy of the name."
"Yes, I am," said Eleanor heartily. "Bug's on your shoulder, Bishop! For de Lawd's sake!" she squealed excitedly, in delicious high notes that a prima donna might envy; then caught the fat grasshopper from the black clerical coat, and stood holding it, lips compressed and the joy of adventure dancing in her eyes. The Bishop took out his watch and looked at it, as Eleanor, her soul on the grasshopper, opened her fist and flung its squirming contents, with delicious horror, yards away. Half an hour yet to service and only five minutes' walk to the little church of Saint Peter's-by-the-Sea.
"Will you sit down and talk to me, Eleanor Gray?" he asked, gravely.
"Oh, yes, if there's time," assented Eleanor, "but you mustn't be late to church, Bishop. That's naughty."
"I think there's time. How do you know who I am, Eleanor?"
"Dick told me."
The Bishop had walked away from the throbbing sunshine into the green-black shadows of a tree, and seated himself with a boyish lightness in piquant contrast with his gray-haired dignity--a lightness that meant athletic years. Eleanor bent down the branch of a great bush that faced him and sat on it as if a bird had poised there. She smiled as their eyes met, and began to hum an air softly. The startled Bishop slowly made out a likeness to the words of the old hymn that begins
Am I a soldier of the Cross, A follower of the Lamb?
Sweetly and reverently she sang it, over and over, with a difference.
Am I shoulder of a hoss, A quarter of a lamb?
The Bishop exploded into a great laugh that drowned the music.
"Aunt Basha taught you that, too, didn't she?" he asked, and off he went into another deep-toned peal.
"I thought you'd like that, 'cause it's a hymn and you're a Bishop," said Eleanor, approvingly. Her effort was evidently meeting with appreciation. "You can talk to me now, I'm here." She settled herself like a Brownie, elbows on knees, her chin in the hollows of small, lean hands, and gazed at him unflinchingly.
"Thank you," said the Bishop, sobering at once, but laughter still in his eyes. "Will you be kind enough to tell me then, Eleanor, who is Dick?"
Eleanor looked astonished, "You don't know anybody much, do you?" and there was gentle pity in her voice. "Why, Dick, he's--why, he's--why, you see, he's my friend. I don't know his uvver names, but Mr. Fielding, he's Dick's favver."
"Oh!" said the Bishop with comprehension. "Dick Fielding. Then Dick is my friend, too. And people that are friends to the same people should be friends to each other--that's geometry, Eleanor, though it's possibly not life."
"Huh?" Eleanor stared, puzzled.
"Will you be friends with me, Eleanor Gray? I knew your mother a long time ago, when she was Eleanor Gray." Eleanor yawned frankly. That might be true, but it did not appear to her remarkable or interesting. The deep voice went on, with a moment's interval. "Where is your mother? Is she here?"
Eleanor laughed. "Oh, no," she said. "Don't you know? What a funny man you are--you know such a few things. My muvver's up in heaven. She went when I was a baby, long, long ago. I reckon she must have flewed," she added, reflectively, raising clear eyes to the pale, heat-worn sky that gleamed through the branches.
The Bishop's big hands went up to his face suddenly, and the strong fingers clasped tensely above his forehead. Between his wrists one could see that his mouth was set in a hard line. "Dead!" he said. "And I never knew it."
Eleanor dug a small russet heel unconcernedly into the ground. "Naughty, naughty, naughty little grasshopper," she began to chant, addressing an unconscious insect near the heel. "Don't you go and crawl up on the Bishop. No, just don't you. 'Cause if you do, oh, naughty grasshopper, I'll scrunch you!" with a vicious snap on the "scrunch."
The Bishop lowered his hands and looked at her. "I'm not being very interesting, Eleanor, am I?"
"Not very," Eleanor admitted. "Couldn't you be some more int'rstin'?"
"I'll try," said the Bishop. "But be careful not to hurt the poor grasshopper. Because, you know, some people say that if he is a good grasshopper for a long time, then when he dies his little soul will go into a better body--perhaps a butterfly's body next time."
Eleanor caught the thought instantly. "And if he's a good butterfly, then what'll he be? A hummin'-bird? Let's kill him quick, and see him turn into a butterfly."
"Oh, no, Eleanor, you can't force the situation. He has to live out his little grasshopper life the best that he can, before he's good enough to be a butterfly. If you kill him now you might send him backward. He might turn into what he was before--a poor little blind worm perhaps."
"Oh, my Lawd!" said Eleanor.
The Bishop was still a moment, and then repeated, quietly:
Slay not the meanest creature, lest thou slay Some humble soul upon its upward way.
"Oughtn't to talk to yourself," Eleanor shook her head disapprovingly. "'Tisn't so very polite. Is that true about the grasshopper, Bishop, or is it a whopper?"
The Bishop thought for a moment. "I don't know, Eleanor," he answered, gently.
"You don't know so very much, do you?" inquired Eleanor, not as despising but as wondering, sympathizing with ignorance.
"Very little," the Bishop agreed. "And I've tried to learn, all my life"--his gaze wandered off reflectively.
"Too bad," said Eleanor. "Maybe you'll learn some time."
"Maybe," said the Bishop and smiled, and suddenly she sprang to her feet, and shook her finger at him.
"I'm afraid," she said, "I'm very much afraid you're a naughty boy."
The Bishop looked up at the small, motherly face, bewildered. "Wh--why?" he stammered.
"Do you know what you're bein'? You're bein' late to church!"
The Bishop sprang up too, at that, and looked at his watch quickly. "Not late yet, but I'll walk along. Where are you going, waif? Aren't you in charge of anybody?"
"Huh?" inquired Eleanor, her head cocked sideways.
"Whom did you come out with?"
"Madge and Dick, but they're off there," nodding toward the wood behind them. "Madge is cryin'. She wouldn't let me pound Dick for makin' her, so I went away."
"Who is Madge?"
Eleanor, drifting beside him through the sunshine like a rose-leaf on the wind, stopped short. "Why, Bishop, don't you know even Madge? Funny Bishop! Madge is my sister--she's grown up. Dick made her cry, but I think he wasn't much naughty, 'cause she would not let me pound him. She put her arms right around him."
"Oh!" said the Bishop, and there was silence for a moment. "You mustn't tell me any more about Madge and Dick, I think, Eleanor."
"All right, my lamb!" Eleanor assented, cheerfully, and conversation flagged.
"How old are you, Eleanor Gray?"
"Six, praise de Lawd!"
The Bishop considered deeply for a moment, then his face cleared.
"'Their angels do always behold the face of my Father,'" and he smiled. "I say it too, praise the Lord that she is six."
"Madge is lots more'n that," the soft little voice, with its gay, courageous inflection, went on. "She's twenty. Isn't that old? You aren't much different of that, are you?" and the heavy, cropped, straight gold mass of her hair swung sideways as she turned her face up to scrutinize the tall Bishop.
He smiled down at her. "Only thirty years different. I'm fifty, Eleanor."
"Oh!" said Eleanor, trying to grasp the problem. Then with a sigh she gave it up, and threw herself on the strength of maturity. "Is fifty older'n twenty?" she asked.
More than once as they went side by side on the narrow foot-path across the field the Bishop put out his hand to hold the little brown one near it, but each time the child floated from his touch, and he smiled at the unconscious dignity, the womanly reserve of the frank and friendly little lady. "Thus far and no farther," he thought, with the quick perception of character that was part of his power. But the Bishop was as unconscious as the child of his own charm, of the magnetism in him that drew hearts his way. Only once had it ever failed, and that was the only time he had cared. But this time it was working fast as they walked and talked together quietly, and when they reached the open door that led from the fields into the little robing-room of Saint Peter's, Eleanor had met her Waterloo. Being six, it was easy to say so, and she did it with directness, yet without at all losing the dignity that was breeding, that had come to her from generations, and that she knew of as little as she knew the names of her bones. Three steps led to the robing-room, and Eleanor flew to the top and turned, the childish figure in its worn pink cotton dress facing the tall powerful one in sober black broadcloth.
"I love you," she said. "I'll kiss you," and the long, strong little arms were around his neck, and it seemed to the Bishop as if a kiss that had never been given came to him now from the lips of the child of the woman he had loved. As he put her down gently, from the belfry above tolled suddenly a sweet, rolling note for service.
When the Bishop came out from church the "peace that passeth understanding" was over him. The beautiful old words that to churchmen are dear as their mothers' faces, haunting as the voices that make home, held him yet in the last echo of their music. Peace seemed, too, to lie across the world, worn with the day's heat, where the shadows were stretching in lengthening, cooling lines. And there at the vestry step, where Eleanor had stood an hour before, was Dick Fielding, waiting for him, with as unhappy a face as an eldest scion, the heir to millions, well loved, and well brought up, and wonderfully unspoiled, ever carried about a country-side. The Bishop was staying at the Fieldings'. He nodded and swung past Dick, with a look from the tail of his eye that said: "Come along." Dick came, and silently the two turned into the path of the fields. The scowl on Dick's dark face deepened as they walked, and that was all there was by way of conversation for some time. Finally:
"You don't know about it, do you, Bishop?" he asked.
"A very little, my boy," the Bishop answered.
Dick was on the defensive in a moment. "My father told you--you agree with him?"
"Your father has told me nothing. I only came last night, remember. I know that you made Madge cry, and that Eleanor wasn't allowed to punish you."
The boyish face cleared a little, and he laughed. "That little rat! Has she been talking? It's all right if it's only to you, but Madge will have to cork her up." Then anxiety and unhappiness seized Dick's buoyant soul again. "Bishop, let me talk to you, will you please? I'm knocked up about this, for there's never been trouble between my father and me before, and I can't give in. I know I'm right--I'd be a cad to give in, and I wouldn't if I could. If you would only see your way to talking to the governor, Bishop! He'll listen to you when he'd throw any other chap out of the house."
"Tell me the whole story if you can, Dick, I don't understand, you see."
"I suppose it will sound rather commonplace to you," said Dick, humbly, "but it means everything to me. I--I'm engaged to Madge Preston. I've known her for a year, and been engaged half of it, and I ought to know my own mind by now. But father has simply set his forefeet and won't hear of it. Won't even let me talk to him about it."
Dick's hands went into his pockets and his head drooped, and his big figure lagged pathetically. The Bishop put his hand on the young man's shoulder, and left it there as they walked slowly on, but he said nothing.
"It's her father, you know," Dick went on. "Such rot, to hold a girl responsible for her ancestors! Isn't it rot, now? Father says they're a bad stock, dissipated and arrogant and spendthrift and shiftless and weak--oh, and a lot more! He's not stingy with his adjectives, bless you! Picture to yourself Madge being dissipated and arrogant and--have you seen Madge?" he interrupted himself.
The Bishop shook his head. "Eleanor made an attempt on my life with a string across the path, to-day. We were friends over that."
"She's a winning little rat," said Dick, smiling absent-mindedly, "but nothing to Madge. You'll understand when you see Madge how I couldn't give her up. And it isn't so much that--my feeling for her--though that's enough in all conscience, but picture to yourself, if you please, a man going to a girl and saying: 'I'm obliged to give you up, because my father threatens to disinherit me and kick me out of the business. He objects because your father's a poor lot.' That's a nice line of conduct to map out for your only son. Yet that's practically what my father wishes me to do. But he's brought me up a gentleman, by George," said Dick straightening himself, "and it's too late to ask me to be a beastly cad. Besides that," and voice and figure drooped to despondency again, "I just can't give her up."
The Bishop's keen eyes were on the troubled face, and in their depths lurked a kindly shade of amusement. He could see stubborn old Dick Fielding in stubborn young Dick Fielding so plainly. Dick the elder had been his friend for forty years. But he said nothing. It was better to let the boy talk himself out a bit. In a moment Dick began again.
"Can't see why the governor's so keen against Colonel Preston, anyway. He's lost his money and made a mess of his life, and I rather fancy he drinks too much. But he's the sort of man you can't help being proud of--bad clothes and vices and all--handsome and charming and thorough-bred--and father must know it. His children love him--he can't be such a brute as the governor says. Anyway, I don't want to marry the Colonel--what's the use of rowing about the Colonel?" inquired Dick, desperately.
The Bishop asked a question now: "How many children are there?"
"Only Madge and Eleanor. They're here with their cousins, the Vails, summers. Two or three died between those two, I believe. Lucky, perhaps, for the family has been awfully hard up. Lived on in their big old place, in Maryland, with no money at all. I've an idea Madge's mother wasn't so sorry to die--had a hard life of it with the fascinating Colonel." The Bishop's hand dropped from the boy's shoulder, and shut tightly. "But that has nothing to do with my marrying Madge," Dick went on.
"No," said the Bishop, shortly.
"And you see," said Dick, slipping to another tangent, "it's not the money I'm keenest about, though of course I want that too, but it's father. You believe I think more of my father than of his money, don't you? We've been good friends all my life, and he's such a crackerjack old fellow. I'd hate to get along without him." Dick sighed, from his boots up--almost six feet. "Couldn't you give him a dressing down, Bishop? Make him see reason?" He looked anxiously up the three inches that the Bishop towered above him.
At ten o'clock the next morning Richard Fielding, owner of the great Fielding Foundries, strolled out on his wide piazza, which, luxurious in deep wicker chairs and Japanese rugs and light, cool furniture, looked under scarlet and white awnings, across long boxes of geraniums and vines, out to the sparkling Atlantic. The Bishop, a friendly light coming into his thoughtful eyes, took his cigar from his lips and glanced up at his friend. Mr. Fielding kicked a hassock aside, moved a table between them, and settled himself in another chair, and with the scratch of a match, but without a word spoken, they entered into the companionship which had been a life-long joy to both.
"Father and the Bishop are having a song and dance without words," Dick was pleased sometimes to say, and felt that he hit it off. The breeze carried the scent of the tobacco in intermittent waves of fragrance, and on the air floated delicately that subtle message of peace, prosperity, and leisure which is part of the mission of a good cigar. The pleasantness of the wide, cool piazza, with its flowers and vines and gay awnings; the charm of the summer morning, not yet dulled by wear and tear of the day; the steady, deliberate dash of the waves on the beach below; the play and shimmer of the big, quiet water, stretching out to the edge of the world; all this filled their minds, rested their souls. There was no need for words. The Bishop sighed comfortably as he pushed his great shoulders back against the cool wicker of the chair and swung one long leg across the other. Fielding, chin up and lips rounded to let out a cloud of smoke, rested his hand, cigar between the fingers, on the table, and gazed at him satisfied. This was the man, after Dick, dearest to him in the world. Into which peaceful Eden stole at this point the serpent, and, as is usual, in the shape of woman. Little Eleanor, long-legged, slim, fresh as a flower in her crisp, faded pink dress, came around the corner. In one hot hand she carried, by their heads, a bunch of lilac and pink and white sweet peas. It cost her no trouble at all, and about half a minute of time, to charge the atmosphere, so full of sweet peace and rest, with a saturated solution of bitterness and disquiet. Her presence alone was a bombshell, and with a sentence or two in her clear, innocent voice, the fell deed was done. Fielding stopped smoking, his cigar in mid-air, and stared with a scowl at the child; but Eleanor, delighted to have found the Bishop, saw only him. A shower of crushed blossoms fell over his knees.
"I ran away from Aunt Basha. I brought you a posy for 'Good-mornin','" she said. The Bishop, collecting the plunder, expressed gratitude. "Dick picked a whole lot for Madge, and then they went walkin' and forgot 'em. Isn't Dick funny?" she went on.
Mr. Fielding looked as if Dick's drollness did not appeal to him, but the Bishop laughed, and put his arm around her.
"Will you give me a kiss, too, for 'Good-morning,'" he said; and then, "That's better than the flowers. You had better run back to Aunt Basha now, Eleanor--she'll be frightened."
Eleanor looked disappointed, "I wanted to ask you 'bout what dead chickens gets to be, if they're good. Pups? Do you reckon it's pups?"
The theory of transmigration of souls had taken strong hold. Mr. Fielding lost his scowl in a look of bewilderment, and the Bishop frankly shouted out a big laugh.
"Listen, Eleanor. This afternoon I'll come for you to walk, and we'll talk that all over. Go home now, my lamb." And Eleanor, like a pale-pink over-sized butterfly, went.
"Do you know that child, Jim?" Mr. Fielding asked, grimly.
"Yes," answered the Bishop, with a serene pull at his cigar.
"Do you know she's the child of that good-for-nothing Fairfax Preston, who married Eleanor Gray against her people's will and took her South to--to--starve, practically?"
The Bishop drew a long breath, and then he turned and looked at his old friend with a clear, wide gaze. "She's Eleanor Gray's child, too, Dick," he said.
Mr. Fielding was silent a moment. "Has the boy talked to you?" he asked. The Bishop nodded. "It's the worst trouble I've ever had. It would kill me to see him marry that man's daughter. I can't and won't resign myself to it. Why should I? Why should Dick choose, out of all the world, the one girl in it who would be insufferable to me. I can't give in about this. Much as Dick is to me I'll let him go sooner. I hope you'll see I'm right, Jim, but right or wrong, I've made up my mind."
The Bishop stretched a large, bony hand across the little table that stood between them. Fielding's fell on it. Both men smoked silently for a minute.
"Have you anything against the girl, Dick?" asked the Bishop, presently.
"That she's her father's daughter--it's enough. The bad blood of generations is in her. I don't like the South--I don't like Southerners. And I detest beyond words Fairfax Preston. But the girl is certainly beautiful, and they say she is a good girl, too," he acknowledged, gloomily.
"Then I think you're wrong," said the Bishop.
"You don't understand, Jim," Fielding took it up passionately. "That man has been the bete noir of my life. He has gotten in my way half-a-dozen times deliberately, in business affairs, little as he amounts to himself. Only two years ago--but that isn't the point after all." He stopped gloomily. "You'll wonder at me, but it's an older feud than that. I've never told anyone, but I want you to understand, Jim, how impossible this affair is." He bit off the end of a fresh cigar, lighted it and then threw it across the geraniums into the grass. "I wanted to marry her mother," he said, brusquely. "That man got her. Of course, I could have forgiven that, but it was the way he did it. He lied to her--he threw it in my teeth that I had failed. Can't you see how I shall never forgive him--never, while I live!" The intensity of a life-long, silent hatred trembled in his voice.
"It's the very thing it's your business to do, Dick," said the Bishop, quietly. "'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you'--what do you think that means? It's your very case. It may be the hardest thing in the world, but it's the simplest, most obvious." He drew a long puff at his cigar, and looked over the flowers to the ocean.
"Simple! Obvious!" Fielding's voice was full of bitterness. "That's the way with you churchmen! You live outside passions and temptations, and then preach against them, with no faintest notion of their force. It sounds easy, doesn't it? Simple and obvious, as you say. You never loved Eleanor Gray, Jim; you never had to give her up to a man you knew beneath her; you never had to shut murder out of your heart when you heard that he'd given her a hard life and a glad death. Eleanor Gray! Do you remember how lovely she was, how high-spirited and full of the joy of life?" The Bishop's great figure was still as if the breath in it had stopped, but Fielding, carried on the flood of his own rushing feeling, did not notice. "Do you remember, Jim?" he repeated.
"I remember," the Bishop said, and his voice sounded very quiet.
"Jove! How calm you are!" exploded the other.
"You're a churchman; you live behind a wall, you hear voices through it, but you can't be in the fight--it's easy for you."
"Life isn't easy for anyone, Dick," said the Bishop, slowly. "You know that. I'm fighting the current as well as you. You are a churchman as well as I. If it's my metier to preach against human passion, it's yours to resist it. You're letting this man you hate mould your character; you're letting him burn the kindness out of your soul. He's making you bitter and hard and unjust--and you're letting him. I thought you had more will--more poise. It isn't your affair what he is, even what he does, Dick--it's your affair to keep your own judgment unwarped, your own heart gentle, your own soul untainted by the poison of hatred. We are both churchmen, as you put it--loyalty is for us both. You live your sermon--I say mine. I have said it. Now live yours. Put this wormwood away from you. Forgive Preston, as you need forgiveness at higher hands. Don't break the girl's heart, and spoil your boy's life--it may spoil it--the leaven of bitterness works long. You're at a parting of the ways--take the right turn. Do good and not evil with your strength; all the rest is nothing. After all the years there is just one thing that counts, and that our mothers told us when we were little chaps together--be good, Dick."
The magnetic voice, that had swayed thousands, the indescribable trick of inflection that caught the heart-strings, the pure, high personality that shone through look and tone, had never, in all his brilliant career, been more full of power than for this audience of one. Fielding got up, trembling, and stood before him.
"Jim," he said, "whatever else is so, you are that--you are a good man. The trouble is you want me to be as good as you are; and I can't. If you had had temptations like mine, trials like mine, I might try to follow you--I would try. But you haven't--you're an impossible model for me. You want me to be an angel of light, and I'm only--a man." He turned and went into the house.
The oldest inhabitant had not seen a devotion like the Bishop's and Eleanor's. There was in it no condescension on one side, no strain on the other. The soul that through fulness of life and sorrow and happiness and effort had reached at last a child's peace met as its like the little child's soul, that had known neither life nor sorrow nor conscious happiness, and was without effort as a lily of the field. It may be that the wisdom of babyhood and the wisdom of age will look very alike to us when we have the wisdom of eternity. And as all the colors of the spectrum make sunlight, so all his splendid powers that patient years had made perfect shone through the Bishop's character in the white light of simplicity. No one knew what they talked about, the child and the man, on the long walks that they took together almost every day, except from Eleanor's conversation after. Transmigration, done into the vernacular, and applied with startling directness, was evidently a fascinating subject from the first. She brought back as well a vivid and epigrammatic version of the nebular hypothesis.
"Did you hear 'bout what the world did?" she demanded, casually, at the lunch-table. "We were all hot, nasty steam, just like a tea-kettle, and we cooled off into water, sailin' around so much, and then we got crusts on us, bless de Lawd, and then, sir, we kept on gettin' solid, and circus animals grewed all over us, and then they died, and thank God for that, and Adam and Evenin' camed, and Madge can't I have some more gingerbread? I'd just as soon be a little sick if you'll let me have it."
The "fairyland of science and the long results of time," passing from the Bishop's hands into the child's, were turned into such graphic tales, for Eleanor, with all her airy charm, struck straight from the shoulder. Never was there a sense of superiority on the Bishop's side, or of being lectured on Eleanor's.
"Why do you like to walk with the Bishop?" Mrs. Vail asked, curiously.
"Because he hasn't any morals," said the little girl, fresh from a Sunday-school lesson.
Saturday night Mr. Fielding stayed late in the city, and Dick was with his lady-love at the Vails; so the Bishop, after dining alone, went down on the wide beach below the house and walked, as he smoked his cigar. Through the week he had been restless under the constant prick of a duty undone, which he could not make up his mind to do. Over and over he heard his friend's agitated voice. "If you had had temptations like mine, trials like mine, I would try to follow you," it said. He knew that the man would be good as his word. He could perhaps win Dick's happiness for him if he would pick up the gauntlet of that speech. If he could bring himself to tell Fielding the whole story that he had shut so long ago into silence--that he, too, had cared for Eleanor Gray, and had given her up in a harder way than the other, for the Bishop had made it possible that the Southerner should marry her. But it was like tearing his soul to do it. No one but his mother, who was dead, had known this one secret of a life like crystal. The Bishop's reticence was the intense sort, that often goes with a frank exterior, and he had never cared for another woman. Some men's hearts are open pleasure-grounds, where all the world may come and go, and the earth is dusty with many feet; and some are like theatres, shut perhaps to the world in general, but which a passport of beauty or charm may always open; and with many, of finer clay, there are but two or three ways into a guarded temple, and only the touchstone of quality may let pass the lightest foot upon the carefully tended sod. But now and then a heart is Holy of Holies. Long ago the Bishop, lifting a young face from the books that absorbed him, had seen a girl's figure filling the narrow doorway, and dazzled by the radiance of it, had placed that image on the lonely altar, where the flame waited, before unconsecrated. Then the girl had gone, and he had quietly shut the door and lived his life outside. But the sealed place was there, and the fire burned before the old picture. Why should he, for Dick Fielding, for any one, let the light of day upon that stillness? The one thing in life that was his own, and all these years he had kept it sacred--why should he? Fiercely, with the old animal jealousy of ownership, he guarded for himself that memory--what was there on earth that could make him share it? And in answer there rose before him the vision of Madge Preston, with a haunting air of her mother about her; of young Dick Fielding, almost his own child from babyhood, his honest soul torn between two duties; of old Dick Fielding, loyal and kind and obstinate, his stubborn feet, the feet that had walked near his for forty years, needing only a touch to turn them into the right path.
Back and forth the thoughts buffeted each other, and the Bishop sighed, and threw away his cigar, and then stopped and stared out at the darkening, great ocean. The steady rush and pause and low wash of retreat did not calm him to-night.
"I'd like to turn it off for five minutes. It's so eternally right," he said aloud and began to walk restlessly again.
Behind him came light steps, but he did not hear them on the soft sand, in the noise of a breaking wave. A small, firm hand slipped into his was the first that he knew of another presence, and he did not need to look down at the bright head to know it was Eleanor, and the touch thrilled him in his loneliness. Neither spoke, but swung on across the sand, side by side, the child springing easily to keep pace with his great step. Beside the gift of English, Eleanor had its comrade gift of excellent silence. Those who are born to know rightly the charm and the power and the value of words, know as well the value of the rests in the music. Little Eleanor, her nervous fingers clutched around the Bishop's big thumb, was pouring strength and comfort into him, and such an instinct kept her quiet.
So they walked for a long half-hour, the Bishop fighting out his battle, sometimes stopping, sometimes talking aloud to himself, but Eleanor, through it all, not speaking. Once or twice he felt her face laid against his hand, and her hair that brushed his wrist, and the savage selfishness of reserve slowly dissolved in the warmth of that light touch and the steady current of gentleness it diffused through him. Clearly and more clearly he saw his way and, as always happens, as he came near to the mountain, the mountain grew lower. "Over the Alps lies Italy." Why should he count the height when the Italy of Dick's happiness and Fielding's duty done lay beyond? The clean-handed, light-hearted disregard of self that had been his habit of mind always came flooding back like sunshine as he felt his decision made. After all, doing a duty lies almost entirely in deciding to do it. He stooped and picked Eleanor up in his arms.
"Isn't the baby sleepy? We've settled it together--it's all right now, Eleanor. I'll carry you back to Aunt Basha."
"Is it all right now?" asked Eleanor, drowsily. "No, I'll walk," kicking herself downward. "But you come wiv me." And the Bishop escorted his lady-love to her castle, where the warden, Aunt Basha, was for this half hour making night vocal with lamentations for the runaway.
"Po' lil lamb!" said Aunt Basha, with an undisguised scowl at the Bishop. "Seems like some folks dunno nuff to know a baby's bedtime. Seems like de Lawd's anointed wuz in po' business, ti'in' out chillens!"
"I'm sorry, Aunt Basha," said the Bishop, humbly. "I'll bring her back earlier again. I forgot all about the time."
"Huh!" was all the response that Aunt Basha vouchsafed, and the Bishop, feeling himself hopelessly in the wrong, withdrew in discreet silence.
Luncheon was over the next day and the two men were quietly smoking together in the hot, drowsy quiet of the July mid-afternoon before the Bishop found a chance to speak to Fielding alone. There was an hour and a half before service, and this was the time to say his say, and he gathered himself for it, when suddenly the tongue of the ready speaker, the savoir faire of the finished man of the world, the mastery of situations which had always come as easily as his breath, all failed him at once.
"Dick," he stammered, "there is something I want to tell you," and he turned on his friend a face which astounded him.
"What on earth is it? You look as if you'd been caught stealing a hat," he responded, encouragingly.
The Bishop felt his heart thumping as that healthy organ had not thumped for years. "I feel a bit that way," he gasped. "You remember what we were talking of the other day?"
"The other day--talking--" Fielding looked bewildered. Then his face darkened. "You mean Dick--the affair with that girl." His voice was at once hard and unresponsive. "What about it?"
"Not at all," said the Bishop, complainingly. "Don't misunderstand like that, Dick--it's so much harder."
"Oh!" and Fielding's look cleared. "Well, what is it then, old man? Out with it--want a check for a mission? Surely you don't hesitate to tell me that! Whatever I have is yours, too--you know it."
The Bishop looked deeply disgusted. "Muddlehead!" was his unexpected answer, and Fielding, serene in the consciousness of generosity and good feeling, looked as if a hose had been turned on him.
"What the devil!" he said. "Excuse me, Jim, but just tell me what you're after. I can't make you out."
"It's most difficult." The Bishop seemed to articulate with trouble. "It was so long ago, and I've never spoken of it." Fielding, mouth and eyes wide, watched him as he stumbled on. "There were three of us, you see--though, of course, you didn't know. Nobody knew. She told my mother, that was all.--Oh, I'd no idea how difficult this would be," and the Bishop pushed back his damp hair and gasped again. Suddenly a wave of color rushed over his face.
"No one could help it, Dick," he said. "She was so lovely, so exquisite, so--"
Fielding rose quickly and put his hand on his friend's forehead, "Jim, my dear boy," he said gravely, "this heat has been too much for you. Sit there quietly, while I get some ice. Here, let me loosen your collar," and he put his fingers on the white clerical tie.
Then the Bishop rose up in his wrath and shook him off, and his deep blue eyes flashed fire.
"Let me alone," he said. "It is inexplicable to me how a man can be so dense. Haven't I explained to you in the plainest way what I have never told another soul? Is this the reward I am to have for making the greatest effort I have made for years?" And after a moment's steady, indignant glare at the speechless Fielding he turned and strode in angry majesty through the wide hall doorway.
When he walked out of the same doorway an hour later, on his way to service, Fielding sat back in a shadowy corner and let him pass without a word. He watched critically the broad shoulders and athletic figure as his friend moved down the narrow walk--a body carefully trained to hold well and easily the trained mind within. But the careless energy that was used to radiate from the great elastic muscles seemed lacking to-day, and the erect head drooped. Fielding shook his own head as the Bishop turned the corner and went out of his view.
"'Mens sana in corpore sano,'" he said aloud, and sighed. "He has worked too hard this summer. I never saw him like that. If he should--" and he stopped; then he rose, and looked at his watch and slowly followed the Bishop's steps.
The little church of Saint Peter's-by-the-Sea was filled even on this hot July afternoon, to hear the famous Bishop, and in the half-light that fell through painted windows and lay like a dim violet veil against the gray walls, the congregation with summer gowns and flowery hats, had a billowy effect as of a wave tipped everywhere with foam. Fielding, sitting far back, saw only the white-robed Bishop, and hardly heard the words he said, through listening for the modulations of his voice. He was anxious for the man who was dear to him, and the service and its minister were secondary to-day. But gradually the calm, reverent, well-known tones reassured him, and he yielded to the pleasure of letting his thoughts be led, by the voice that stood to him for goodness, into the spirit of the words that are filled with the beauty of holiness. At last it was time for the sermon, and the Bishop towered in the low stone pulpit and turned half away from them all as he raised one arm high with a quick, sweeping gesture.
"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen!" he said, and was still.
A shaft of yellow light fell through a memorial window and struck a golden bar against the white lawn of his surplice, and Fielding, staring at him with eyes of almost passionate devotion, thought suddenly of Sir Galahad, and of that "long beam" down which had "slid the Holy Grail." Surely the flame of that old vigorous Christianity had never burned higher or steadier. A marvellous life for this day, kept, like the flower of Knighthood, strong and beautiful and "unspotted from the world." Fielding sighed as he thought of his own life, full of good impulses, but crowded with mistakes, with worldliness, with lowered ideals, with yieldings to temptation. Then, with a pang, he thought about Dick, about the crisis for him that the next week must bring, and he heard again the Bishop's steady, uncompromising words as they talked on the piazza. And on a wave of selfish feeling rushed back the old excuses. "It is different. It is easy for him to be good. Dick is not his son. He has never been tempted like other men. He never hated Fairfax Preston--he never loved Eleanor Gray." And back somewhere in the dark places of his consciousness began to work a dim thought of his friend's puzzling words of that day: "No one could help loving her--she was so lovely--so exquisite!"
The congregation rustled softly everywhere as the people settled themselves to listen--they listened always to him. And across the hush that followed came the Bishop's voice again, tranquilly breaking, not jarring, the silence. "Not disobedient to the heavenly vision," were the words he was saying, and Fielding dropped at once the thread of his own thought to listen.
He spoke quickly, clearly, in short Anglo-Saxon words--the words that carry their message straightest to hearts red with Saxon blood--of the complex nature of every man--how the angel and the demon live in each and vary through all the shades of good and bad. How yet in each there is always the possibility of a highest and best that can be true for that personality only--a dream to be realized of the lovely life, blooming into its own flower of beauty, that God means each life to be. In his own rushing words he clothed the simple thought of the charge that each one has to keep his angel strong, the white wings free for higher flights that come with growth.
"The vision," he said, "is born with each of us, and though we lose it again and again, yet again and again it comes back and beckons, calls, and the voice thrills us always. And we must follow, or lose the way. Through ice and flame we must follow. And no one may look across where another soul moves on a quick, straight path and think that the way is easier for the other. No one can see if the rocks are not cutting his friend's feet; no one can know what burning lands he has crossed to follow, to be so close to his angel, his messenger. Believe always that every other life has been more tempted, more tried than your own; believe that the lives higher and better than your own are so not through more ease, but more effort; that the lives lower than yours are so through less opportunity, more trial. Believe that your friend with peace in his heart has won it, not happened on it--that he has fought your very fight. So the mist will melt from your eyes and you will see clearer the vision of your life and the way it leads you; selfishness will fall from your shoulders and you will follow lightly. And at the end, and along the way you will have the glory of effort, the joy of fighting and winning, the beauty of the heights where only an ideal can take you."
What more he said Fielding did not hear--for him one sentence had been the final word. The unlaid ghost of the Bishop's puzzling talk an hour before rose up and from its lips came, as if in full explanation, "He has fought your very fight." He sat in his shadowy, dark corner of the cool, little stone church, and while the congregation rose and knelt and sang and prayed, he was still. Piece by piece he fitted the mosaic of past and present, and each bit slipped faultlessly into place. There was no question in his mind now as to the fact, and his manliness and honor rushed to meet the situation. He had said that where his friend had gone he would go. If it was down the road of renunciation of a life-long enmity, he would not break his word. Complex problems resolve themselves at the point of action into such simple axioms. Dick should have a blessing and his sweetheart; he would do his best for Fairfax Preston; with his might he would keep his word. A great sigh and a wrench at his heart as if a physical growth of years were tearing away, and the decision was made. Then, in a mist of pain and effort, and a surprised new freedom from the accustomed pang of hatred, he heard the rustle and movement of a kneeling congregation, and, as he looked, the Bishop raised his arms. Fielding bent his gray head quickly in his hands, and over it, laden with "peace" and "the blessing of God Almighty," as if a general commended his soldier on the field of battle, swept the solemn words of the benediction.
Peace touched the earth on the blue and white September day when Madge and Dick were married. Pearly piled-up clouds, white "herded elephants," lay still against a sparkling sky, and the air was alive like cool wine, and breathing warm breaths of sunlight. No wedding was ever gayer or prettier, from the moment when the smiling holiday crowd in little Saint Peter's caught their breath at the first notes of "Lohengrin" and turned to see Eleanor, white-clad and solemn, and impressed with responsibility, lead the procession slowly up the aisle, her eyes raised to the Bishop's calm face in the chancel, to the moment when, in showers of rice and laughter and slippers, the Fielding carriage dashed down the driveway, and Dick, leaning out, caught for a last picture of his wedding-day, standing apart from the bright colors grouped on the lawn, the black and white of the Bishop and Eleanor, gazing after them, hand in hand.
Bit by bit the brilliant kaleidoscopic effect fell apart and resolved itself into light groups against the dark foliage or flashing masses of carriages and people and horses, and then even the blurs on the distance were gone, and the place was still and the wedding was over. The long afternoon was before them, with its restless emptiness, as if the bride and groom had taken all the reason for life with them.
There were bridesmaids and ushers staying at the Fieldings'. The graceful girl who poured out the Bishop's tea on the piazza, some hours later, and brought it to him with her own hands, stared a little at his face for a moment.
"You look tired, Bishop. Is it hard work marrying people? But you must be used to it after all these years," and her blue eyes fell gently on his gray hair. "So many love-stories you have finished--so many, many!" she went on, and then quite softly, "and yet never to have a love-story of your own!"
At this instant Eleanor, lolling on the arm of his chair, slipped over on his knee and burrowed against his coat a big pink bow that tied her hair. The Bishop's arm tightened around the warm, alive lump of white muslin, and he lifted his face, where lines showed plainly to-day, with a smile like sunshine.
"You are wrong, my daughter. They never finish--they only begin here. And my love-story"--he hesitated and his big fingers spread over the child's head, "It is all written in Eleanor's eyes."
"I hope when mine comes I shall have the luck to hear anything half as pretty as that. I envy Eleanor," said the graceful bridesmaid as she took the tea-cup again, but the Bishop did not hear her.
He had turned toward the sea and his eyes wandered out across the geraniums where the shadow of a sun-filled cloud lay over uncounted acres of unhurried waves. His face was against the little girl's bright head, and he said something softly to himself, and the child turned her face quickly and smiled at him and repeated the words:
"Many waters shall not wash out love," said Eleanor.