Life had indeed become complicated, paradoxical. He, John Hodder, a clergyman, rector of St. John's by virtue of not having resigned, had entered a restaurant of ill repute, had ordered champagne for an abandoned woman, and had no sense of sin when he awoke the next morning! The devil, in the language of orthodox theology, had led him there. He had fallen under the influence of the tempter of his youth, and all in him save the carnal had been blotted out.
More paradoxes! If the devil had not taken possession of him and led him there, it were more than probable that he could never have succeeded in any other way in getting on a footing of friendship with this woman, Kate Marcy. Her future, to be sure, was problematical. Here was no simple, sentimental case he might formerly have imagined, of trusting innocence betrayed, but a mixture of good and evil, selfishness and unselfishness. And she had, in spite of all, known the love which effaces self! Could the disintegration, in her case, be arrested?
Gradually Hodder was filled with a feeling which may be called amazement because, although his brain was no nearer to a solution than before, he was not despondent. For a month he had not permitted his mind to dwell on the riddle; yet this morning he felt stirring within him a new energy for which he could not account, a hope unconnected with any mental process! He felt in touch, once more, faintly but perceptibly, with something stable in the chaos. In bygone years he had not seen the chaos, but the illusion of an orderly world, a continual succession of sunrises, 'couleur de rose', from the heights above Bremerton. Now were the scales fallen from his eyes; now he saw the evil, the injustice, the despair; felt, in truth, the weight of the sorrow of it all, and yet that sorrow was unaccountably transmuted, as by a chemical process, into something which for the first time had a meaning—he could not say what meaning. The sting of despair had somehow been taken out of it, and it remained poignant!
Not on the obsession of the night before, when he had walked down Dalton Street and beheld it transformed into a realm of adventure, but upon his past life did he look back now with horror, upon the even tenor of those days and years in the bright places. His had been the highroad of a fancied security, from which he had feared to stray, to seek his God across the rough face of nature, from black, forgotten capons to the flying peaks in space. He had feared reality. He had insisted upon gazing at the universe through the coloured glasses of an outworn theology, instead of using his own eyes.
So he had left the highroad, the beaten way of salvation many others had deserted, had flung off his spectacles, had plunged into reality, to be scratched and battered, to lose his way. Not until now had something of grim zest come to him, of an instinct which was the first groping of a vision, as to where his own path might lie. Through what thickets and over what mountains he knew not as yet—nor cared to know. He felt resistance, whereas on the highroad he had felt none. On the highroad his cry had gone unheeded and unheard, yet by holding out his hand in the wilderness he had helped another, bruised and bleeding, to her feet! Salvation, Let it be what it might be, he would go on, stumbling and seeking, through reality.
Even this last revelation, of Eldon Parr's agency in another tragedy, seemed to have no further power to affect him....