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"If it were not I, it would be another. If it were no other, it would be some thing. There always has to be either some person or some thingfor bishop."
"Of course." El Greco bowed, with his deep, glowing eyes and warm, persuasive smile, as if this road of travel was familiar enough to his mind.
"Lately," pursued the bishop, who, having once taken a topic in hand, liked to leave his mark upon it to show that he had dignified it with his attention—“lately I have been going over the subject again, not so much as to the different kinds of men who have been bishops in the world as to the unbelievable things which have been bishops. In the long apostolic succession of the race, in the unbroken laying on of hands, I smile a little foolishly when I feel laid upon me, as his present-day spiritual successor, the horns of the sacred beetle!"
"In other words," exclaimed El Greco, in joyous agreement, "human nature has always needed some one or some thing to go to solemnly and finally-beetle, Bacchus, or Buddha."
"Always," assented the bishop. "That is the one human road toward the immortal.”
"In other words," pressed El Greco, with an air of swift, sweeping logic, "all man's religions have been his attempts to empty his ash-can on God!"
The bishop drew back in silence. Long since he had learned to make allowances for El Greco's personal views and for a wounding rawness of utterance in him, which at times made of words spectacles and exposures like joints of meat in the market-house; for he was a great surgeon of speech also. El Greco took eager advantage of the bishop's silence.
"Inasmuch as God remained far away, entirely out of reach, man in the course of time devised the arrangement that God should keep on earth a delegate at large who would always be within reach. The ash-can was to be emptied on the delegate. The delegate would notify God."
The bishop remained courteously grave and courteously silent.
"That, of course," continued El Greco, with a deferential change of tone and his charm of graciousness, understanding and honoring the bishop's silence "that is your problem of the church in the world. What concerns me is the same problem as it reappears in my department of human affairs: why do we empty, love to empty, try to empty, our ash-cans on one another?"
"But your problem enters my world, too," objected the bishop, relieved to be free to reënter the conversation. "It is a very daily part of my world, a very human part." The bishop turned his face quietly toward El Greco.
"It is about the worst part of mine," avowed El Greco, giving the rug a repudiative kick-"people with nothing seriously the matter who consult me because it gives them a chance to empty the ash-can! Who gladly pay twenty, forty, a hundred dollars, if they can leave the contents poured over me. I should charge more. ought to say, "This is going to be nasty to wash off; some of it will never wash off; so long as I live I shall see your stains on me. I have been of no particular service to you for your ailment; my bill for your can-but you will get the bill!"
The bishop muttered sorrowfully: "I can't even make out a bill; I don't get a cent!"
El Greco roared with amusement and delight.
"And perhaps," he said, flicking the ash of his cigar into a little antique bronze bowl placed conveniently at his elbow, "there is small choice between our ash-cans."
"Yours could n't be more deplorable sometimes," declared the bishop in a voice of patience and a growl. "Why-why-why," El Greco reasoned urgently-"why do we aim to tell things? Why do we? Not things which give pleasure; that is easily understood. If we give pleasure, we are valued accordingly, and it is natural to wish to be of value. But things which do not give pleasure our trials, vexations, annoyances. Why do we empty these on other people when we know that our doing so will make them withdraw from us, dread us? And why in particular, after we have poured our trouble into the ear of a fellow-creature and have witnessed his distress at the predicament we have placed him in-why are we relieved, why are we the happier, at the sight of his unhappiness? Why that, in the name of kindness and decency?"
cerns every one has come up unexpectedly, here is the question: this emptying of ash-cans—is it a primitive trait which grows weaker? Is it a modern trait which grows stronger? Is it one of the traits which last on and on, varying little to our observation?"
"I have my views on the subject," proffered the bishop, with his scholar's equipment in ideas, the scholar's delight in ideas.
"Let me first state mine," protested El Greco, laughing, "especially as I am operating in my own ward. You are not expected to give way as a bishop, but you are expected to be polite as a person. Every one gives way to a surgeon, without any politeness.
"I believe it a primitive trait which has grown weaker, but which we particularly notice now because it is changing its direction dangerously toward us. That is, the ancient emptying of the human ash-can on God is dying out of human nature. Civilization testifies that the moral dirt of the earth is being less and thrown at the skies with faith that it will reach the skies and be received there. Also, every kind of delegate on earth is dis
"In the name of unkindness and appearing. There are fewer kinds of indecency!"
The bishop rose and, taking from its rack a long, flashing, splendidly figured brass poker, straightened a corner of the fire.
El Greco next spoke as one who would beguile a companion to go with him a few steps farther to some point whence they could command a wide view of a splendid country.
"Now that this subject which concerns me and concerns you and con
delegates, and fewer ash-cans are being carried to any delegate of any kind. But-and here is the great point-the universal ash-can fills as before, and man, to make up for his loss of the habit of emptying it at the skies or at the delegate, empties it on his most convenient fellow-being."
"No! no! no!" objected the bishop, lest his silence seem to be his assent.
"But I must finish; I am your guest." El Greco, then, partly from habit and partly under pressure of the bishop's impatience, spoke with the precision
and decision of his manner in a lecture. "It is time to block this new road of error and weakness in the race. It can be done. After years of toleration of chimneys and furnaces pouring their smoke into the atmosphere, blanketing the sun, blackening the earth, we have taught chimney and furnace to dispose of smoke. We have now at last taught even a gun to fire without either smoke or ash, as the most modern and most efficient of guns. Then teach a human being to consume the contents of his ash-can. Discover in human nature some resource of mind that will make the human ashcan self-disappearing in the most modern and most efficient of human beings.
"It can be done; undoubtedly Nature has put the power there. It is for us to lay our finger upon that power, force its development, make it work. I rest my whole confidence in the scheme of things, in their natural balance, their indestructible equilibrium, upon the axiom that man is equal to his lot, and therefore equal to the bearing of his burdens and the doing of his work. If he had not been equal to his lot on the planet, he would not now be on the planet. He is here still and he is here as a partial failure because he has never made use of more than part of his powers."
ized race to-day lives religiously more in the green pasture of man's virtues and less in the mire of his sins."
"Bishop," sniffed El Greco, sarcastically, "the virtues in their green pastures never pray. They kneel on the pleasant sod-and boast. It is only the broken human reed growing in the mire that sways in prayer.”
"I disagree with you absolutely,” protested the bishop even to violence. "I believe the unbroken reed prays also and prays well. Which, if either, prays better, the broken or the unbroken, God knows. broken, God knows. But I do not believe that the best traits of human nature should be dumb or denied or forced toward the background in religion any more than they are dumb or denied or forced into the background in human affairs. In practical everyday business we put them forward as the basis of our confidence; then let them be put forward as the foundation of faith. The bridge of our hope of immortal things has too long been the black bridge of forgiven sins. It would better be the old pagan's bridge between earth and heaven over which he walked, the bridge which was the rainbow. So be it with the great arch of what is beautiful in us!"
The bishop, partly from habit and partly from El Greco's facial contortions of disapproval, spoke as from the pulpit to a congregation of moral strivers:
"Yet never before in the history of our race have we so laid our burdens upon one another. But why? Because the one new virtue developed by the race in modern times is sympathy as the widening sense of brotherhood. This growth of generosity has brought with it a growth of selfishness. The modern willingness to bear one
another's burdens has developed a modern willingness to let others bear them. We now see even nations trying to throw their burdens upon one another, whole nations crying for sympathy. Not one of them would have done that in the Middle Ages; no other nation would have listened, no other nation have cared. I doubt whether the cave-men discouraged one another with talk of how poor a place the world is to live in: they were too busy for discussion. And I doubt whether the cave-woman carried the story of her domestic problems into the next cave: she herself might have gone into the other cave-woman's ash-can. But the modern woman!"
The bishop was sitting beside his writing-table, over which his readinglamp shed its close personal radiance. Near stood a vase of hothouse roses. The bishop as a man loved roses that are red, and these were red roses. He lifted the vase and brought it forward to the edge of the table as though to identify it as the object which drew the lightning of his rebuke.
"I have it here in my library this very day. These roses! They were brought here privately this afternoon. What else was brought, what else was left, you do not see. But I see. I see, and forget the roses. Forget what they are in themselves, to think of them only as thorns to peace of mind," and the bishop passed into a story which gave point and poignancy to the theme of the evening.
They were delicately nurtured, delicately balanced people, a mother and a daughter; he called no names, of course. The daughter became engaged. The young man at once con
ceived it to be his right, believed it to have become his duty, to draw her, as the sharer of his life, into all its struggles. These turned out to be the ordinary difficulties of ordinary respectability: discords which sound in all human affairs however respectable, unforeseen things which upset us innocently, clashes with business associates. "Reputable strifes merely," emphasized the bishop, "which sometimes are so much harder to bear than sins, since religion does not help us in the race of selfishness, and the cross of Christ is not a refuge for bad temper.
"That is, the young man shifted his burdens to the bride to be, the bride shifted them to her mother, the mother shifted them to her bishop-left the roses, left trouble. The daughter remains faithful to her pledge, but has already deserted in desire. Love releases her, conscience binds her. She is unhappy, she is ill. The mother calls upon the conscience of her bishop to decide what they should do.
"The church does not act in such an affair. The day may come when it will. That is my hope, that the church will try to intercept such troubles from the lives of the young. I should favor a change in the marriage ceremony: every young couple standing before the altar should, in the society of the future, give the natural pledge not to lay their burdens idly and selfishly upon one another; each will have burdens enough. For the miserable, the overburdened, are not very agreeable people in this world, and they are not very useful people," declared the bishop with candor which spared not. "The human race has not been wholly successful, but what success it has comes from its happiness. Then protect happiness in the young as their
first usefulness, and in the old as their This little gutter had burst," said the last usefulness." doctor with pity.
The bishop suddenly smote the communicative young lover without charity or conscience:
"Why did he not keep his troubles to himself after becoming pledged in marriage? That is why so many ties which are delightful to us when slight become intolerable when intimate: some concealed thing is brought out and laid upon us after we are lashed together. What right had he? Bah! I have no patience with him, to slide his man's burden to the shoulders of a young girl because she loved him!"
"When it was all over, I made an appointment for her to come to my office come at six o'clock. On purpose I continued my writing to observe what would happen. She could not wait for me to be ready to listen, began whether I was ready or not, to tell me what a hard day it had been for her.
"You killed your husband,' I said. 'He returned from work hungry, tired, staggering beneath his own load in life, needing rest, asking for a little peace in the one spot in the world where he could hope to have it and had a right to expect it. You gave him no rest, allowed him no peace. Sat beside him and loaded all your troubles on him. No wonder he put on his hat and went
The bishop passed into silence. The doctor after an interval began to speak in a very low voice, a rather sad voice. His story had no hothouse roses; its out with no dinner. No wonder he got symbol might be the dinner-pot.
A few days previous there had walked slowly into the hospital a husband and wife. He had examined the man, an inoffensive fellow, organically sound, hardly past middle age, his countenance a hundred years old, his eyes a thousand-as old as trouble, weariness, weakness. He was silently saying that he would keep his story from every one in the hospital. It could not be done. Whenever his wife appeared for her daily visit about six o'clock, the truth came out. He grew restless, pleaded by look not to be left alone with her. After each visit he had less of life left in him; she had more life in her. The nurse was then instructed to remain in the room during the visits.
"We began to protect him as far as we could. It was too late. You may have seen a little gutter set to drain too large a roof, to gather into itself to downpour whenever the storm came.
drunk. No wonder he stayed drunk. No wonder he broke down. No wonder he died half-way through life.
"I had you come here at the hour you were used to unload on him. From force of habit you unloaded on me. If you did that every day, you'd either kill me or I might kill you.'
The doctor's voice had no mercy on the woman.
The men rose.
The bishop went to a window and lifted aside the rich lace, lifted the heavy silk of purple hue, and looked out at the snow, piling itself upon his window-sills, upon the naked boughs of a much-loved little tree growing outside, an orphan of the woods. He came back to the fireplace and threw on a fragrant log and watched the flames lap themselves about it and a shower of sparks fly upward. He threw on another and watched that.