The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 1/Number 1/Pendlam: A Modern Reformer
PENDLAM: A MODERN REFORMER
My theatre-going friend pulled up suddenly in his ambling discourse concerning the merits of the last actress, dropped his voice to a whisper, touched my arm, and pointed with his cane.
“Look! the Reverend John Henry Pendlam!”
“Coming out of a bar-room! Ho, ho! Sir Reverend!”
I spoke gayly, but with an indefinably serious sentiment at heart. I was interested in this John Henry Pendlam; not particularly on account of the reputation for eloquence and zeal which he had so early and rapidly achieved, but his approaching marriage with my friend’s second cousin, Susan D———, (whom I had myself even barely escaped marrying,) quickened a personal curiosity regarding my successor.
“He is on no base errand,” replied Horatio. “He goes about carrying the Gospel into these dens. The papers you see in his hand are tracts. Shall I introduce you?
Before I could fairly answer, No, (for I felt a repugnance to making the acquaintance of any man who was to marry Susan,) Pendlam, standing a moment in the gas-light before the door of the saloon, observed my friend, and advanced quickly.
“Too late to escape!” cried the young clergyman, seizing Horatio by the collar. “I have you, truant!” And he drew a tract upon him, like a revolver.
“I surrender!” said Horatio. “If it’s you, don’t shoot; I’ll come down, as the treed coon said to the hunter.”
“Don’t think to disarm me by a pleasantry,” replied Pendlam, brandishing his spiritual weapon. “This is my sermon on the theatre, which you engaged to hear me preach; I have had it printed for you.”
“Really,” said Horatio, with a humorous smile, “I had forgotten my promise. Besides, I was engaged,—let me see, it was two Sundays ago, wasn’t it?—yes, I was engaged to dine with Miss Kellerton.”
“The actress! On Sunday!” said Pendlam, with a shocked expression. “But you might have heard me in the morning.”
“In the morning we rode together,” laughed Horatio.
I knew all this was a fiction on the part of my friend, designed to mystify the minister. I said nothing, to avoid an introduction; I had stepped aside, and now stood, amused and observant, under the street lamp. Pendlam especially I studied, with one eye (figuratively speaking) on him, and the other on Susan. I compared him with myself, and had no doubt but she was weak enough to consider him the handsomer man of the two. He was of medium height, slightly built, of a nervous temperament, with bright, quick-glancing eyes, and vehement gestures. The chief characteristic of the man seemed intensity. It manifested itself in his eager movements, in his emphasis and tones of voice, in his swiftly changing expression, in his wild hair, in his neckerchief, which seemed to have been tied with a jerk, and in his dress throughout, which was evidently that of a man who had things of vaster importance to think of.
He was whirling Horatio away in a torrent of eloquence, poured out against the sins of the age, and mainly against the theatre, which he denounced as the citadel of dissipation and all immoralities; and my poor friend, who had opened the gates of this flood by his indiscreet pleasantry, was vainly endeavouring to escape and rejoin me, when I observed a person come out of the saloon, and gradually draw near, until he stood within a few feet of the zealous reformer. A group watched him from the door. Before I suspected his object, he threw out the coils of a concealed whip, and springing upon Pendlam from behind, dealt him furious successive blows over the shoulders and head. I ran to the rescue. But already Horatio had seized the whip.
“Good for evil,” cried Pendlam, as I was on the point of throttling the assailant. “My friend, how have I injured you?”
“Interfering with my business! getting away my custom! insulting folks with your cursed tracts!” frothed the angry man. “I swore to cowhide you, and I’ve done it!”
“If that is the case, I have no complaint to make,” said Pendlam. “You can go on with your cowhiding.”
“You’ve had enough for once!” growled the other, rolling up the lash.
“But if I deserve whipping for doing my duty, I deserve a good deal more,” cried Pendlam. “And if you are to be my castigator for each offence, you will find yourself pretty well employed. It would be less trouble, I should think, to do a little more, while you have your hand in. Meanwhile, take this tract upon the sin of Anger, carry it home with you, and read it carefully at your leisure.”
Muttering threats, the man returned to the saloon, amid the laughs and acclamations of his constituents. Pendlam followed impulsively, and left the tract within. He then returned to us. Up to this time, he had appeared exalted and firm; but now there came a reaction; his voice forsook him, he trembled violently, and we were obliged to give him the support of our arms. As we conducted him away, his condition might have been taken for that of many others who get into difficulty in bar-rooms. Arrived at his boarding-house, he thanked us wish pathetic earnestness, and urged us to go in.
“On one condition,” said Horatio,—“that you say no more about the theatres.”
Pendlam smiled faintly. “I should think I might refrain from that and kindred topics, at least until my shoulders have done smarting! But I assure you, my zeal will only be quickened by the occurrences of this night. The first horsewhipping is a great event. I now know what it is to be a martyr!”
We went in and conversed. My repugnance to forming a friendship with the man who was to marry Susan had vanished. I found him rather too zealous, — almost fanatical; but we forgive every thing in a man who shows generosity of heart, and sincere aspirations. Horatio took a paper from his pocket and read for the twentieth time a certain criticism upon Miss Kellerton’s acting; occasionally looking up, to listen to some remark from either Pendlam or myself,—then returning to his favorite article.
I had the honor of differing, on many essential points, with my new clerical acquaintance; and we were soon on excellent terms of courteous dispute. I assumed the philosopher, and expressed candidly my conviction that his intellect had early projected itself into doctrines which would prove too confined for its future growth. I remember distinctly his reply.
“On the contrary, it is you,” he said, “who, I perceive, will some day come over upon the very ground I now occupy. Our modern ways of thinking have become too free and lax. We cannot draw the rein and tighten the girth.”
There was a charming sparkle in his blue eyes as he spoke. I gave him my hand, and we parted. As we walked away together, Horatio asked how I liked him.
“He is in earnest, and that is everything. But mark me, he is not the man for Susan.”
“Your jealousy!” said Horatio.
“Not a bit! I see a discrepancy.”
“In my mind’s eye, Horatio.”
I concluded that silence was discretion, and refused to answer more questions. Horatio looked at his watch.
“We have just time to see Miss Kellerton in the last act of ‘The Stranger.’ She is great! You should see her, when she turns and embraces the children; it’s a scene of overwhelming pathos! Come!”
“With Pendlam’s printed sermon in your pocket?”
Horatio laughed. “We will read it during the dance!”
But I declined; and he went alone into the theatre.
Not long after, I received a certain wedding card, and, in consequence, made a certain call. Susan was all blushes and smiles at sight of me; but I was cool and circumspect.
“We are friends, are we not?” I said. “We once thought we were more than that; but we became older and wiser. We agreed to disagree, very properly. It did not break our hearts; and that shows that it is better as it is.”
“Perhaps,” murmured Susan.
“Let us be quite frank with each other; that is the best way, Susan. We are good friends?”
“O, yes!” said Susan.
“Thank you, dear Susan,—if I may still call you so, in the sense of friendship. I know your husband, and love him. I congratulate you on having so noble a companion.”
Susan sighed, and concealed a tear. Just then Pendlam entered. He seemed abstracted, and took a quick turn across the room; then gave me a surprised look, a pleased smile, and a cordial grasp of the hand. The next hour I was oblivious of all external things, in the delightful excitement of our conversation. I even forgot Susan. Poor Susan! the trouble was, she was not intellectual; not at all imaginative; but a very plain, matter-of-fact person, with deep affections, and paramount instincts. During that memorable hour, she spoke not one word. When at length I observed her consciously, she was gazing at us with a look of weariness and vacancy.
“Is it not so?” cried Pendlam.
He appealed to her. She smiled sweetly, and said with simplicity that she scarcely understood any thing that had been said.
I could see that Pendlam was a little shocked. From clear, joyous heights of poetic discourse, we looked down, and saw how far off below was her beingless mind. To the vision we then enjoyed, there was something thick and earthy in her expression. It was the first time Pendlam had observed it; I had seen it before. And even as before, I looked back, with wonder at myself, to the earlier period when I deemed her beauty peerless.
Both Pendlam and I were chilled. The fine tension of the spiritual chords relaxed, and gave forth heavier music. Susan failing to ascend to us, we came down to her. She now made haste to atone for her long silence by talking freely of the pretty new church, and the people she saw out Sunday; and she seemed proud and happy when she brought out her wedding gifts, and I praised them.
It was several weeks before I again saw Pendlam. I went with Horatio to hear him preach. The sermon surprised me. Many of the thoughts which I had advanced in our private conversations, and which he had opposed, were reproduced, but very slightly modified, in his discourse.
“Pendlam is enlarging,” whispered Horatio. “The very things you said to him the first time you met!”
I was gratified by the fact, and gratified that Horatio observed it; regarding it as evidence of Pendlam’s emancipation from his chains.
The services over, the young clergyman made his way to us through the crowd.
“I have so much wished to see you!” he exclaimed, grasping my hand. “You were a little astonished at my sermon.”
“And a good deal pleased,” I added.
Pendlam’s delicate and changing features colored finely.
“You think I have altered my views, I see by your smile. Not at all, except that I have gone farther.”
“I am glad you have gone farther,” I answered.
“But in the same direction, I assure you!” said Pendlam, quickly. “Step by step, step by step.”
“You were on your way back to Paul and the Fathers.”
“Yes; and on my arrival among them, I found myself one of the Fathers! It was a necessary experience. As Paul spoke by authority, so I, when I stand where Paul stood, also speak by authority. We must first be obedient, before we can be free. You see where I am,” said Pendlam.
Here a young woman came forward, and, with tears in her eyes, thanked her pastor for the glorious truths he had that day preached.
“They are not my truths; they are the Lord’s; I am but his mouthpiece,” answered Pendlam, well pleased.
A gray-haired deacon now approached.—“On the hull,” said he, “I liked your sarmon tolerable well, Brother Pendlam; but it warn’t one o’ your best; and if anybody else had preached it, I should have thought it contained a little dangerous doctrine.”
Pendlam blushed. This compliment did not please him quite so well. But before he could shape a reply, quite an old woman seized his hand and kissed it.
“God bless you for those words! They have done my soul good, sir!”
Her gratitude and piety were quite affecting. Tears gushed into Pendlam’s eyes. The deacon turned away with a smirk and an ominous shake of the head.
Horatio had found Susan. Pendlam took my arm, and we walked out of the church. The crowd pressed on before us; and as we reached the vestibule, we overheard suppressed voices discussing the merits of the sermon.
“It was full of beautiful truth!” said a sweet young girl’s voice.
“The most eloquent discourse I ever heard!” added a young man with a singing-book under his arm.
“For my part,” remarked a portly and well-dressed pillar of the church, “I was a good deal surprised. Rather too wild and flowery. Must have a bad tendency.”
“What we want is sound doctrine,” observed another prosperous pillar. “Better let such abstract subjects alone.”
“Dangerous doctrine! dangerous doctrine!” chimed in the gray-haired deacon.
On reaching the open air, I observed that Pendlam was quite tremulous and flushed.
“You see,” he said with a smile, “what it is to be a minister.”
We went home to his house. Horatio had arrived before us, in company with Susan and her mother. The latter was looking very uncomfortable at seeing me, I thought, for she had hated me cordially since my affair with her daughter.
“I declare, John Henry,” she said, in her energetic way, “I hope you never will preach another such sermon as long as I live! I couldn’t make neither head nor tail to it. And she gathered up her Sunday things, which she had taken off in the parlour, with an air of offended piety that occasioned a general smile. Pendlam smiled with the rest.
“Well, Horatio, you next,—what did you think of my sermon?”
“I liked it.”
“Good! but give your reason.”
“Because you said nothing about the theatre. I was mortally afraid you would; for, d’ye see, you had a distinguished theatrical personage in your audience.”
“Indeed! I was not aware; who?”
“Miss Kellerton herself!”
“Is it possible?” Pendlam looked surprised, Susan interested, Mrs. D——— (with her Sunday things on her arm) amazed.
“She told me she was going to hear you, to show you that she could be quite as tolerant as yourself. She expects you to return the compliment, and go to her benefit.”
Poor Pendlam hardly knew what to say in his confusion. Susan spoke up,—
“Why didn’t you point her out to me? I have such a curiosity to see her.”
“It was to her I took off my hat, coming away from the church door.”
“To her!” broke forth Mrs. D———, “to an actress! Horatio, I’m ashamed of you. You wouldn’t have caught me walking with you, if I had known!” She shook her Sunday things indignantly; and there was another general smile, as she took these representatives of her piety abruptly out of the room.
“All this is very interesting,” said Pendlam, recovering his equanimity. “I wonder what sort of a sermon I shall preach next Sabbath?”
We were invited to stay to luncheon. Horatio consented; but I declined, and took my leave, much to the gratification of Susan’s mother, no doubt.
Some months passed before I again saw Pendlam. Our next meeting was in the street. I observed him coming towards me with the peculiarly abstracted and intense expression which his face assumed under excitement.
“What now?” I asked.
“A little difficulty with my people,” he said, with a forced smile. “I have just come from a church meeting; it was terribly hot there!”
“No serious trouble, I hope?”
“O, no,—only, you will hardly be surprised to hear, my preaching has been somewhat too liberal for them.”
“Why, sir,” I cried, “if I remember right, you were for restoring the more rigorous and stringent forms of religion; drawing the rein and tightening the girth.”
“Most certainly! and do you not see? Step by step I worked back to the primitive and central principle, the soul of all religion. You know what that is. It is Love! This I have preached,” said Pendlam, his features suffused, his eyes glistening bright; “and this I shall continue to preach, while life lasts. Persecution cannot influence me. I know my duty, and I shall perform it, at all risks. You see where I am,” added Pendlam.
I was thrilled to admiration by his enthusiasm and heroic resolution. At the same time I saw him in that transitional state which is so full of peril to persons of certain temperaments, escaping into too sudden freedom and light from the walls of a narrow and gloomy belief; and I could not but smile, with mingled amusement and commiseration, at his singular step-by-step processes.
It was during the following autumn that Horatio and I one day looked in upon a reform meeting, held at the Melodeon. The audience was thin, the speaker’s numerous. The platform was crowded with male and female reformers, among whom I recognized our clerical friend Pendlam. A celebrated female orator sat down, and Pendlam stood up. The audience cheered a little; the platform cheered a good deal. He at first stammered and hesitated, not from want of thoughts, but from their pressure and multitude. They soon fused, however, and poured forth streams of fire, rather largely mixed with smoke.
“There is no other religion but Love,” declared the speaker. “And where Love is, there is Religion; in the Mohammedan, in the Mormon, in the savage,—I care not for names. And where Love is not, there Religion is not, though her image be preserved and clothed in all Christian forms. Theology and sects fall away from it; it is alone vital; it is eternal, it is unitary, it is God. Here I proclaim it to the world; here I announce to you and to all where I stand.”
This speech was reported along with others in the morning papers. It was not long before Pendlam had more church business to perplex him; and he soon withdrew from the pastorship of his troublesome flock. A number of these went with him; there was a schism in the church; and the following spring, a new society was formed, which gave Pendlam a call.
I also gave him a call, at his house. Changes had taken place since my last visit. I was shocked at Susan’s altered appearance. She had had an infant, and untold trouble along with it. The bloom of the bride was gone, and the finer permeating beauty of the happy mother had failed to replace it. Mrs. D——— was with her. This excellent lady received me with surprising politeness, and brought out the little Pendlam for my inspection.
“Is it possible, Susan, that this living, breathing, dimpled little wonder is yours?”
“I suppose it is,” said the blushing Susan.
“Where is its father?” I inquired, for John Henry had not yet appeared.
“It hasn’t got any father!” ejaculated Mrs. D———, with grim sarcasm. “A man can’t be a reform-preacher, and a father too. His sermons, lectures, and conventions are of too much importance for him even to think of his wife and child.”
I looked to see poor Susan writhe with pain under these harsh words. But she merely heaved a sigh, and let fall a tear on the babe, which she had taken from its grandmother’s arms.
“I will speak to Mr. Pendlam,” she said, as she hastily left the room.
“I am glad you have come,” said Mrs. D———, bitterly, seating herself on the sofa. “I am glad to see any person enter this house, who isn’t all eaten up with the evils of society. I have heard about the evils of society till I’m heartily sick of them. People that come to see Pendlam don’t generally talk about anything else. It’s the ruin of him, as I tell Susan; I never in this world can be reconciled to his leaving his church.”
Mrs. D——— became confidential, and abused her daughter’s husband in a style which did not argue much for the peace of his household during that energetic lady’s visits. Her indignation against him had quite swallowed up her old cherished resentment against myself. She soon went so far as to insinuate a regret that Susan had not married a man of solid sense and some mental ballast, (meaning me,) instead of a hot-headed reformer.
Susan reëntered. “Mr. Pendlam is very busy; but he will come down presently.”
She sighed, and took a seat. Mrs. D——— continued her abuse of her son-in-law, in her daughter’s presence,—which I thought in very bad taste, to say the least. Susan uttered not one word in her husband’s defence, but simply sat and sighed. I defended and praised him; for which act of friendship I earned not one look of gratitude from her, and only contempt and sneers from her mother.
I was glad when Pendlam appeared. He was looking care-worn and toil-worn; his expression had grown more intense than ever. His face lighted up a little at sight of me; but it was some minutes before his mind seemed capable of extricating itself from its abstractions, and meeting me upon social grounds.
“You will excuse me. I am heartily rejoiced to see you. I was hard at work. Just pass your hand over my forehead; it will relieve the pressure upon my brain. My mission is now fully revealed to me; everything is reform, reform. I have been led here step by step. Your magnetism is very soothing. The old crumbling walls of creeds and conventionalities are to be swept away, and their foundations subjected to the plough and the harrow. I am in the harness. I have no motive for concealment; I tell you frankly where I stand,” said Pendlam.
Another long sigh from Susan. Mrs. D——— tossed her contemptuous chin, and expressed scorn in divers significant ways.
“I should want to conceal a little, if I was in your place,” she remarked, cuttingly.
“Truth is truth; it can harm only those who are in error,” said Pendlam.
“It certainly hasn’t done you a very great amount of good.” Another toss of the contemptuous chin.
“On the contrary, it has done me incalculable good,” answered the son-in-law, with a smile.
“Oh! you consider it good, then, to be cut off from the church,—to give up a good situation and sure salary,—to lose the respect of everybody whose respect is worth having!”
“If I have done all this for the truth’s sake, it is good,”—the reformer’s face kindled with enthusiasm,—“and I for one find it good.
“Perhaps you do, but I know who don’t. I believe reform, like charity, begins at home. You talk of your duty to humanity; I believe the first duty is to one’s own family. I don’t think much of that man’s mission to the world, who forgets his own wife and child.”
Horatio had previously told me, what I could hardly believe, that Mrs. D——— was accustomed to abuse her son-in-law in this way, in the presence of strangers. Susan did nothing but sigh. Pendlam smiled, as if he was used to it.
“I need a little such invective occasionally, to refresh my zeal,” he said, with provoking meekness. “It shows me where I am. It assures me that I am fighting the good fight. I do not blame my good mother; she is worldly-minded, and sees things from her stand-point. Neither she nor Susan can perceive anything but loss and disgrace, in the change from the handsome, fashionable church, where I used to preach, to the naked hail where our new society holds its meetings. Very natural for people upon their plane. But I view things from another stand-point, to which I have been led step by step; and I have simply to be true to my own revealed mission.”
“Mission! revealed! step by step! planes and stand-points!” exclaimed Mrs. D———, rising in great disgust. “For my part, I believe in common sense; I don’t know any other plane or stand-point, and I don’t believe Providence ever intended we should have any other. There, you have my opinion!” And with a violent gesture, as if throwing her opinion from her, and shutting our little party into the room with that formidable object, she swept out, slammed the door after her, and rustled remorselessly up stairs.
“Persons upon her plane are very much to be pitied,” observed Pendlam, quietly.
Susan began to cry, and the scene became so painful to me, that I made haste to shake hands with the ill-mated couple, say a few soothing words, and take leave of them. From that time, I saw Pendlam occasionally, but avoided the house. It was a peculiarity of his impressible nature, to imbibe, unconsciously to himself, the sentiments of powerful persons with whom he came in contact, retain and revolve them in his intellect, until they reappeared as his own original convictions. He now went with reformers, and carried with him their atmosphere. To hear him talk, you would have thought universal reorganization at hand. I said I avoided the house; but one day Horatio came to me with a doleful face, backing a petition that I would go and talk with Susan.
“There has been an explosion! The old woman is gone; she has declared open, internecine war against Pendlam.”
“I thought she had declared that some time ago, good Horatio!”
“Ah, but now she is trying to get his wife away from him! She has sent plenipotentiaries, with threats and entreaties, and they have frightened Susan out of her poor little wits. Go and reassure her.”
“Horatio, I am not certain what would be best. They never belonged together. But at your request, I will go and see what I can do.”
I went. Susan received me with an effort at a smile, which was a failure, and at my inquiry for Pendlam, burst into tears.
“He is not dead, I hope.”
“No,” sobbed Susan.
“Nor in jail?”
“No.” Another sob.
“Nor in any serious trouble?”
“Trouble enough, Heaven knows! Mother has gone. I don’t know what to do. All the nice people we used to visit with have turned against us.”
“But our happiness does not depend upon nice people, you know, dear Susan.”
“But he is getting into the strangest ways! Shabby folks, with long beards, come to see him. He has left off family devotions.”
Susan was weeping; when, at a quick step in the hall, she took alarm, and hurried from the room, just in time to hide her tears from her husband.
“Alone?” said Pendlam.
“No; Susan has just left me.”
“I am glad you have come. I have thought for several days that I required your magnetism. Every thing with me now is magnetism. My nature demands a certain magnetism, as the appetite demands a certain quality of food. There are coarse magnetisms, and fine magnetisms; yours is peculiarly agreeable to me. Some repel me, and some attract irresistibly. I have only to follow my impressions, to get what is necessary for me. That’s where I am,” said Pendlam.
He urged me to stay and dine; and as I desired an opportunity to converse further with Susan, I consented. I was surprised to see a dish of roast meat come upon the table,—Pendlam having, for the past year, preached vegetarianism. But he assured me that he had not changed his theory of dietetics.
“There are times, however, when we require the magnetisms of certain animal foods. To-day I perceived that my system demanded the magnetism of lamb. If your constitution is wanting in the lamb element, you will find this tender.”
Pendlam, I should observe, had neglected to say grace.
“Your theory of magnetisms,” said I, “would seem a very convenient one. To-morrow, for example, you can require the magnetism of roast beef. The next day, the magnetisms of turtle-soup and venison will be found agreeable. The magnetisms of some birds are said to be excellent. And I have no doubt but in time you will arrive at the discovery, that the magnetism of a certain distilled beverage, called brandy, stimulates digestion.”
Pendlam laughed and blushed.
“I have not forgotten that for three good years of my life I waged war against King Alchohol. (Will you try a bit of the lamb?) But I do not push my principles over the verge of prejudice, as those do who condemn the grape.”
“Condemn the grape?” I repeated.
“The juice of the grape, which is the same thing. Where this can be obtained pure, it will be found highly beneficial to persons on a certain plane. The grape magnetism is eminently spiritualizing.”
So saying, to my utter astonishment, Pendlam uncorked a small bottle, which I had supposed to contain pepper-sauce, and commenced pouring out wine.
“This will answer in lieu of grace,” I suggested.
“The act of prayer,” said Pendlam, “has indisputable uses. It opens the avenues to an influx of spiritual magnetisms. But where the mind is kept in the receptive condition without the aid of the external form of prayer, this becomes like a scaffolding after the house is built. Step by step, I have been led to this high spiritual plane.”
Susan, as of old, sat and sighed.
Pendlam found my magnetism so attractive, that it was impossible for me to obtain a minute’s conversation with Susan alone. I departed, wearied and disheartened with her sad, despairing face haunting me.
I had little further personal knowledge of Pendlam’s career, until Horatio came for me, one evening, to attend a meeting of the Disciples of Freedom.
We found the Melodeon crowded by one of those stifling audiences for which no ventilation seems availing. A portion had come to be interested, a portion to be amused. To the former, the object of the meeting was wise and great; to the latter, it was ridiculous enough to be worth an evening’s senseless laughter. For my own part, only the strong desire I felt to observe the characteristics of a new sect daily increasing in numbers and influence could induce me to undergo the exhaustion of sitting an hour in such an assembly.
We took seats in an obscure corner, and looked around. Here were curious, lank stalks of humanity, which seemed to have been raked from unheard-of, outlandish stubbles. Occasionally, in beautiful relief out of these, a clear, full-berried stem of ripened grain lifted its gracious head. It was a strange mixture; a strange power, indeed, that had swept together such promising wheat and such refuse chaff and straw in one incongruous mass.
We turned our eyes to the platform. There sat Pendlam, with other prominent Disciples. A young man was speaking wise and beautiful words. From the well of a deep and sincere soul he drew needed counsel for the perishing multitude; said what he seemed impelled to say, and sat down. He was followed by a sallow-visaged, black-bearded speaker, who poured forth abundant venomous froth of denunciation. He had caught enough of the phraseology of the more philosophical Disciples, to impress the earnest ignorant with some show of profundity. I was glad when his stream dried up. Pendlam next arose and read a paper upon “Magnetisms and Organizations.” After him, came forward a gentleman with a model, illustrating the design of a dwelling-house for the Associated Disciples. He showed, entirely to the satisfaction of himself at least, that society should be reduced to a mechanism, and mankind to pivots and wheels. This was the dawn of the millennial era. The world was to be saved by organization. First, an association; then an association of associations, which should spread over the United States, abolish taxes, banks, slavery, and private property, elect its president, annex South America, the British and Russian possessions, and eventually Europe, Africa, and Asia. The model dwelling-house was likened to a manger, in which Christ was to be born, at his second coming. The speaker ended by introducing the “Practical Organizer of the Initial Association of Free Disciples.”
Horatio and myself had already remarked upon the platform an individual whose features seemed somehow familiar to us. He was rather stoutly built, full-faced, of a sanguine complexion and temperament. His mouth indicated both sensuality and decision of character. His forehead was prominent and low, his eye keen, his neck thick and muscular. We were not surprised to see him arise and step forward as the Practical Organizer of the Initial Association of Free Disciples.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said he, “I am no orator. I am a business man. I am not here to make a speech, but to tell you about the practical part of this Association.”
At the first words he spoke, a flood of recollections rushed over me. For a moment my breath was quite taken away.
“I know him!” “I remember him!” Horatio and I whispered almost simultaneously.
His voice was unmistakable. He was the fellow who had flogged Pendlam four years before.
Extremes had met. The temperance missionary and the infuriate liquor-dealer stood upon the same platform.
Soon after, we took our leave. We walked up and down in the fresh air. How sweet, how cool it seemed, after an hour spent amid the heated breaths of the packed audience!
I had parted from my friend, and was returning home, when I met two persons walking arm in arm. I heard one of them say,—
“I find that no great work can be accomplished, without due regard paid to magnetisms; and in organization, we must take care that they are harmoniously distributed. I find that I now assume relations with every individual according to these subtile laws. You see where I am,” said Pendlam.
For Pendlam was the speaker. His companion was the Practical Organizer of the Initial Association of Free Disciples.
I went home, filled with a multitude of reflections. Strong interest led me soon after to pay a visit to Pendlam’s house. As I went in, I met a man coming out. He had a stout frame, keen eye, sensual mouth, sanguine complexion, muscular neck.
“Susan,” said I, “who is that man?”
“One of my husband’s friends,” answered Susan, in some confusion.
“And yours?”—eyeing her closely.
“Oh, he comes frequently to the house; I see him occasionally.”
“’Tis he who gave Pendlam that bottle of wine?”
“I believe so.”
“And that flogging, Susan!”
“Oh, they have made that up,” said Susan, innocently.
“If they are satisfied, I have nothing to say. Are you happy, Susan?” for a change had come over her, which I did not readily understand.
“Oh, dear!” said Susan, “we have had so much trouble!” She began to give way to her emotions. “We have lost all our old friends. Mother never comes near us now. Sometimes I don’t know what we shall do. Tell me what you think of it;—is Henry so much out of the way as people think? He certainly knows more than anybody else, and I don’t see how he can be wrong.” She ended with a sob.
“You are aware,” I answered, “that Pendlam and I partly agree in every thing, and wholly agree in nothing. He is right, and he is wrong. He takes hold of what is a truth, but detaches it from universal truth, and so it becomes an error.” I saw she did not comprehend. “But never despair,” I added. “The future depends upon you.”
“What can I do?” she pleaded.
“Remain firm in principle, dear Susan. Whatever happens, stand true to him and to yourself. Do that, and all will be well.”
The crying of her child, which was sick, called her away. I sought Pendlam’s study. I found him busily writing. He was pale and thin, and there was a wild brightness in his eye which did not please me.
“You, of all men!” he exclaimed. “Sit down.” He closed the door, with an air of mystery. “I was just writing to you.”
“To me? Then I have saved you the trouble of employing a messenger.”
“Susan would be mortified and incensed, if she knew what I am about to say. But truth is truth. She is perishing; I see new evidence of it every day. It is for want of magnetisms. I have little to give her, and what I have is not such as she requires. Do not be astonished when I tell you I have discovered that there do not exist between us the requisite affinities.”
I smiled; for Pendlam was continually announcing discoveries of facts I had discovered long before.
“You see where I am,” said Pendlam. “I am compelled to go to other women for the magnetisms I need; she must receive what she requires from other men.”
“That is interesting,” I replied. “What is the peculiar process of imparting these magnetisms?”
“Sometimes by conversation,—sometimes by the contact of hands,—perhaps by a kiss; no rule is laid down; the process must depend upon the kind of magnetism to be imparted.”
“Very naturally. But what have I to do with all this?”
“I will tell you. I was not Susan’s first choice; but you were. That fact is very significant; it shows an affinity. And what I desire is, that———”
“My dear John Henry,” I interrupted, “allow me to say that you are quite mistaken. If I know any thing of affinities, there is none between Susan and myself; no more, I judge, than there is between you and the gentleman I met going out, as I was coming in.”
“Oh,—Clodman! You saw him?” cried Pendlam.
“Yes, and remember distinctly seeing him at least twice before; once as the Practical Organizer of the Initial Association of Free Disciples, and once as the self-appointed castigator of unfortunate temperance missionaries.“
“You are pleased to be sarcastic,” said Pendlam, mildly. “He is a very useful man to us. I welcome his visits to my house; for I consider his magnetism highly beneficial to Susan.”
“Then, by all the gods at once, you wrong me!” I said. “If that man’s magnetism is what she needs, to suppose that mine is, also, is an insult. I lose patience with you, O most free Disciple!”
“I see,” replied Pendlam, with a smile, “you have not yet reached the plane of perfect freedom. I cannot argue with you; but when you have had certain necessary experiences, and arrived at my stand-point, you will see as I do.”
He conducted me to the door, rather coolly. I stopped a moment to speak to Susan.
“For the love of Heaven,” I said, “remember what I told you. You don’t know how much depends upon you!”
Susan stared. I left her staring.
About this time Miss Kellerton returned, and played a brilliant engagement. I accompanied Horatio one evening to witness her fourth appearance in a new play, which had taken the theatrical portion of the city by storm. The play-house was packed from top to bottom. We had our seats in the orchestra, where we enjoyed a view of both actors and audience, and a cool breeze from behind the scenes. For criticisms of the performance, I must refer the reader to the newspapers of the period. Horatio cheered like a madman. He was quite beside himself with enthusiasm, especially at the close of the third act. He was clapping furiously, and looking about upon the audience to see who else was cheering, when he suddenly stopped, his hands asunder, his countenance transfixed with an alarming expression. I thought he had clapped himself into a fit.
“Horatio!” I cried,—“Horatio! what’s the matter?”
“Yonder! by the pillar!” I now thought (his head being turned) that perchance he beheld a ghost. “Don’t you see?—Pendlam!”
It was true;—there sat the reformer, out-cheering Horatio himself! By his side was Susan, looking brighter and happier than I had seen her for months. By her side sat———
“That rascal Clodman!” hissed Horatio, through his teeth.
Miss Kellerton came before the curtain. A vast tumult of applause burst forth and died away. Pendlam cheered after all the rest had ceased. Then he and Clodman conferred,—the face of the latter so near Susan’s, as he leaned before her, that Horatio swore he kissed her. Both Pendlam and Susan were beaming with smiles.
“This recreation will do them good,” I whispered.
“That Clodman is a villain!” muttered Horatio. “Ask Miss Kellerton; she knows him. But, villany aside, what a stupendous joke it is to see Pendlam here!”
Horatio arose, flushed and excited.
“Where are you going?” I demanded.
“I’ll tell you soon. Let me pass.”
He left the theatre. I did not see him again until the play was over. He made his way to the orchestra box where I sat, in time to applaud Miss Kellerton’s final appearance before the curtain. Then he grasped my arm.
“Come with me; they are going!”
He indicated Pendlam’s party. We passed up the aisle, reached the hail, and waited for them at the foot of the stairs. Presently they appeared. Clodman was praising the performance; Susan expressed her delight; Pendlam said something about miscellaneous magnetisms. They had reached the foot of the stairs, when Horatio sprang upon them like a brigand, and seized John Henry’s collar.
“Ha! Horatio!” gasped Pendlam, a good deal startled.
“Too late to escape!” And Horatio drew a tract upon him, like a revolver. “Here is something, sir, which I think will suit your case,” levelling it at Pendlam’s throat.
“Ha!” stammered Pendlam, reading the title. "'The Theatre a Stronghold of Vice; a Sermon, by ———'"
“By the Reverend John Henry Pendlam,” roared out Horatio. “Pendlam, the distinguished temperance-preacher!”
A lurid smile played over the grim features of the Practical Organizer.
“Pendlam has outgrown his former opinions,” he said, with a look of hate at Horatio.
“Not precisely,” said Pendlam. “I have simply enlarged them, or rather added to there. I preach temperance the same; but very man must be his own master. The vices of the theatre appear just as hideous to me as ever; but the theatre itself may be redeemed, and made an instrument of salvation. As the patronage of bad people rendered it what it has been, so the patronage of the good is required to make it what it should be. The divine magnetism of a few spiritual persons in the audience must necessarily affect, not only the remainder of the audience, but also the actors. In our new Association———”
“Come!” growled the Practical Organizer, turning away, with Susan leaning confidingly on his arm; “shall we go?”
“Excuse me. I will give you my ideas of a spiritual drama another time. I’ll take this sermon. I shall read with interest what I had to say on the subject before my mind had attained its present plane. Good night! You see where I am,” added Pendlam.
Thenceforward the Pendlams were frequent visitors at the theatres. When John Henry was too much occupied to attend, Clodman had the gallantry to escort Susan. This was considered exceedingly kind in Clodman; he not only treated Susan to delightful dramatic performances, but at the same time imparted to her his valuable magnetism.
One Sabbath evening Horatio came suddenly upon me in the street, and pulled me breathlessly around a corner.
“Wait till I can speak; the miracle of miracles! I have been to—to call on her; and who do you suppose had been dining with her?”
I named successively several noted actress-hunters and snobs, whose names disgusted Horatio. “Who then?” I asked.
“Pendlam! Pendlam! Pendlam!” ejaculated Horatio. “He wanted to consult her upon the subject of creating a Divine Drama, or some such nonsense.”
“Possibly a new Divine Comedy,” I suggested.
“She made him stay and dine on Sunday! And will you believe it?—he finds her magnetic impartations, as he calls them, highly agreeable and advantageous to his constitution! Bless him! he isn’t the first man who has found them agreeable, if not so advantageous. But she gave him a dose!”
“Of bitter truth about Clodman. She knows him for a villain, and told him so. I was there, and glad to hear it. But I was enraged. I could have wrung John Henry Pendlam’s neck for him, when he said, with his quiet, charitable, mild, incredulous smile, that he was already aware there existed in the community a good deal of prejudice against Clodman!”
Matters were now progressing rapidly to a crisis. One day during the ensuing summer, I asked Horatio the usual question, “Where is Pendlam now?”— referring, as John Henry himself would have said, not to locality, but condition.
“That is impossible to say,” replied Horatio, “for I have not seen him since yesterday. Then he was situated opposite a bottle of pale sherry, which that rascal Clodman had just brought to the house. They were drinking, and talking over the Organization of Free Disciples. Several wealthy men have become interested in the enterprise, and large amounts have been subscribed. Pendlam is writing a work on the subject.”
“Her child is sick, and claims all her attention. They are trying to cure it with magnetisms. Clodman is day and night at the house; his magnetism being considered indispensable for the restoration of the child.”
A month later, Horatio brought me word that the child was dead.
Another month, and I learned that Susan had been sent to some celebrated Western Magnetic Springs for her health.
“How did she go?”
Horatio hesitated. “I am sorry to say she has gone with that rascal Clodman, who is travelling on business for the Association. Pendlam remains at home, hard at work on his book. I will now add what I did not wish you to know,” said Horatio. “For some months Pendlam’s family subsisted almost entirely upon funds advanced him by that rascal Clodman. They talk of his wonderful generosity! But the villain has a wife of his own, and a couple of young children, who are left to suffer for want of the actual necessaries of life. Pendlam has given up preaching, you know, in order to devote himself entirely to the Association.”
“Horatio, I am afraid that all is lost. I did hope better things of Susan. Wretched, wretched girl!”
Tears came into Horatio’s eyes. “How could the damnable thing ever happen?” he exclaimed, passionately. “She was a true, honest girl; and Pendlam is not a bad man.”
“He is a man,” I said, “who verily thinketh no evil. He has imagination, intellect, spirituality; but he wants balance. From the first, I saw that his powers needed centralizing. He had no hold upon integral truth, but snatched here a fragment and there a fragment. Always distrust that man, Horatio, that talks forever of planes, and stand-points, and step-by-step processes, and deems it necessary to inform you each day where he stands.”
“I do not know what could have saved him!” sighed Horatio.
“I know what could; an entire and absorbing love. His wife should have been one towards whom all his thoughts and sympathies would have been drawn. Such a love would have given him concentration, poise, unity. But, on the other hand, his heart had no anchor, and his intellect was left adrift. He has pursued truth, forgetting that truth is a tree, one and mighty, but with innumerable branches; and that it is unsafe to risk the weight of one’s salvation upon a single bough. Susan had no part in his life; she was left with that hungry, yearning heart, until the sympathy even of a Clodman seemed food to her perishing nature. Pity her, Horatio, but do not condemn.”
The Initial Association failed. Clodman did not return; and it was found that he had appropriated to his private use the funds of the Association. Behind him he had left a distressed family, and many creditors. Where was Susan?
I now thought it time to hunt up Pendlam. After no little search, I was sent to an obscure lodging. I opened the door pointed out to me, and entered an extraordinary chamber. The sides were covered with strange diagrams, grotesque drawings, lettered inscriptions. Some were sketched rudely upon the plastering with colored chalk; others were designed upon paper, and pasted on the wall. In the centre of the room sat an indescribable human figure, with its face buried in its hands. It wore an anomalous garment, slashed with various colors, like a harlequin’s coat. Upon one shoulder was sewed the semblance of a door cut out of blue cloth; on the other, a crescent cut out of green. Upon the head was set a tinsel crown, amid tangles of disordered hair. Above was a huge brass key, suspended by a tow string from the ceiling. Table and floor were littered with manuscripts and papers; under the former I observed an empty bottle.
I spoke. The figure started, and looked up. In the sallow cheeks, untrimmed beard, sunken and encircled eyes, I recognized Pendlam. A quick flush spread over his haggard features, and he made a snatch at his tinsel crown.
“Do not be disturbed,” I entreated.
He smiled, but with an air of embarrassment; and leaving the tinsel upon his uncombed head, pointed to the wall.
“You see where I am,” said Pendlam.
“I see, yet do not see.”
“I have reached the plane of symbols. You are aware that there is something in symbols?”
“A great deal! a great deal!” I said, from a sorrowful heart, as I glanced around me.
Pendlam, who had spoken doubtingly, seemed encouraged.
“Symbols are the highest expression of spiritual thought. Both words and pictures are used. They are the language of the spirit, which only the same spirit can understand. Look here, and you will see some symbols of a very astonishing character.”
“Astonishing,” said I, “is a mild word!”
“And what is equally astonishing,” added the eager reformer, “is the manner in which they are produced. The hand is moved to write or draw them spontaneously. The symbol comes first, the interpretation afterwards. Here is a vulture soaring a way with a lamb. It has a meaning.”
“A deep meaning,” I added. “We have known such a vulture!”
“Here,” he cried,—too excited to heed any words but his own,—“are swine feeding upon golden fruit.”
“Oh, the swine! Oh, the precious, wasted, golden fruit!”
“Here is one in words; it reads, Beware of falling from a balloon. It requires a peculiar experience,” added Pendlam, with a smile, “to enable one to understand that beautiful symbol.”
“Perhaps I have not had the requisite experience; but”—I laid my hand on Pendlam’s shoulder—“I know a man who has fallen from several balloons!”
“Here is one,” said Pendlam, turning to the table, which I have just drawn. “I was trying to get at its meaning when you came in.” He showed me a sketch consisting of a number of zigzag lines, joined one to another, and tending towards a circle.
“My dear John Henry,” said I, “any person who has watched your course for the last four or five years will readily see the meaning of that symbol. It is a map of your voyage of discoveries.”
“Such tacking and shifting?” queried Pendlam, with a smile commiserating my ignorance.
“Just such tacking and shifting. If you had possessed a good compass, it would have shown you.”
Pendlam caught at the word compass. “It is singular;—you must have some spiritual perception;—it was written through my hand nine days ago, Purchase a compass. here is the writing; I placed it upon the wall as a symbol; and I have intended buying a compass as soon as I could get the means.”
“Ah, John Henry,” said I, “there is more in your symbols than you suppose. You want no purchasable compass.”
Pendlam rewarded my simplicity with another pitying smile.
“Here,” said he, “you who know so much of symbols, explain this. Avoid the shores of Old Spain. I have not yet penetrated its meaning,”
“Leave it,” I replied, “with the unexplained Pythagorean symbol touching abstinence from beans. Perhaps future events will reveal it.”
Pendlam smiled as before. But was I not right? Did not lamentable events in the not far-off future give to the symbol a melancholy significance?
“Come,” I said, “leave these abstruse studies; take off that symbolic coat, that tinsel crown; wash, comb your hair, and walk with me.”
“I should enjoy a walk,” replied Pendlam; “but I am directed to retain these symbols upon my person, and you would hardly wish me to appear in the street with them.”
“Directed!—by what authority?”
“By the Spirit. Some beautiful use is to be fulfilled. I see where you are,” added Pendlam;—“from your stand-point it must look absurd enough.”
I sat down, and endeavoured to reason with him. But I found it impossible for a person upon my plane to reach with any argument a person upon his. In vain I recapitulated his successive trials and failures.
“It is true,” he confessed, “I have been called to pass through some strange experiences. But all were necessary steps; and I have now reached a stand-point from which I can look back and see in its indisputable place every grade of the progressive ascent. There has been only apparent failure. Our attempted Association was a necessary foreshadowing of what remains to be unfolded; a prophetic symbol. We have all been taught great lessons.”
“And the vulture and the lamb!” I said, sternly; “where are they?”
“I perceive,” answered Pendlam, charitably, “you do not understand.”
“It is you,” I cried, “who have failed to understand your own symbols. To use plain language, then, where is Susan? She is the lamb that was entrusted to your keeping, and that you suffered the obscene bird to carry away!”
“You are pleased to employ harsh terms,” said Pendlam, meekly. “Susan has done well; she has followed her attractions, and that is obedience to the Spirit. Perfect freedom is essential to progression. Consequently, above a certain plane, monogamy, which has undeniable primitive uses, ceases to exist. The laws of chemical affinity teach this by analogy. When the mutual impartations which result from the conjunction of positive and negative have blended in a state of equilibrium, there is consequent repulsion, and the law of harmonies ordains new combinations. You see where I am,” said Pendlam.
Disheartened and sorrowful, I set out to go. At the door I turned back.
“Can I do anything for you, John Henry?”
“Not unless”—Pendlam hesitated a moment—“if you have a dollar to spare?”
I gave him a bank-bill. As he leaned forward to receive it, he struck his head against the suspended key.
“Another symbol,” I said. “Break not your brains upon the key of brass.”
He scratched his head, rearranged his tinsel, and smiling, advanced to show me the stairs. I looked back once: there crowned he stood, in his symbolic coat, with the green crescent and blue door on the shoulders; and as a gust from the stairway blew open the garment, I beheld a great yellow heart on his breast. That picture remained impressed upon my vision. In the street, I recalled the room, the drawings, the inscriptions,—all so tragical and saddening! I had not proceeded far, when, moved by greater compassion, I turned and retraced my steps. At the door of the house, I saw the servant girl who had admitted me coming out with a bottle, and thought it the same I had seen lying empty under Pendlam’s table. I followed her into a grocery on the corner. She called for gin, and paid for it out of my bank-bill.
I now changed my mind, and went to consult Horatio. It was concluded that Pendlam’s old habits of thought and associations ought to be entirely broken up. Deserted, destitute, dependent, he condescended, after long holding out against us, to listen to what we proposed. Hearing of a vacancy in a newspaper office in a western city, we had procured for him the situation. Not without a struggle, he consented to accept it, abandoned his darling reformatory projects, and set out for his new sphere.
His position was that of subordinate writer; and for a time he maintained it with considerable ability. But he grew restless under restraint; and at length, taking advantage of the managing editor’s absence, he published articles on prohibited subjects, which lost the paper half its subscribers, and him his situation. When next heard of, he was gaining a meagre subsistence by writing theatrical puffs,—employment for which he was indebted to the kindness of a certain influential actress named Kellerton.
In the mean time Susan returned from her unhappy wanderings; and her mother’s family, seizing upon her like wolves, hid her from the world in their den. And I was pleased not long after to read that an individual named Clodman, a noted swindler, had recently been shot in a street-fight in St. Louis, by a husband whose domestic peace he had disturbed.
The last word of all, that ends this strange, eventful, and, alas! too true history, remains to be said.
For some months, we had heard nothing of Pendlam. But last week I received a bundle of Roman Catholic publications, one of which contained an article proclaiming a miraculous conversion of the distinguished reformer, and thereby greatly glorifying Catholicism.
The same mail brought me a letter from the convert.
“At last,” he wrote, “I have found peace in the bosom of the Holy Catholic Church. All my previous experiences were necessary to lead me where I am. This is the divine association I was so long seeking elsewhere in vain; I find in its forms the true symbols of a universal religion; and I now perceive that the seeming errors, in which I was for a time permitted to stray, were wisely designed to convince me of the sublime truth, that celibacy is the single condition befitting a holy apostolic teacher.”
Amid the flood of reflections that rushed upon me, arose prominent the image of poor Pendlam’s unexplained symbol: “Avoid the shores of old Spain.” Had it not now received its interpretation? The tossed voyager, failing to make the continent of truth, but beating hither and thither amid the reefs and breakers of dangerous coasts, mistaking many islands for the main, and drifting on unknown seas, had at last steered straight to the old Catholic shores, front which the great discoverers had sailed so many years before.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.