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Esther

Chapter VIII
Mr. Hazard was not happy. Like Esther he felt himself getting into a state of mind that
threatened to break his spirit. He had been used to ordering matters much as he
pleased. His parish at Cincinnati, being his creation, had been managed by him as
though he owned it, but at St. John's he found himself less free, and was conscious of
incessant criticism. He had been now some months in his new pulpit; his popular
success had been marked; St. John's was overflowing with a transient audience, like a
theater, to the disgust of regular pew-owners; his personal influence was great; but he
felt that it was not yet, and perhaps never could be, strong enough to stand the scandal
of his marriage to a woman whose opinions were believed to be radical. On this point he
was not left in doubt, for the mere suspicion of his engagement raised a little tempest in
the pool. The stricter sect, not without reason, were scandalized. They held to their
creed, and the bare mention of Esther Dudley's name called warm protests from their
ranks. They flatly said that it would be impossible for Mr. Hazard to make them believe
his own doctrine to be sound, if he could wish to enter into such a connection. None but
a free-thinker could associate with the set of free-thinkers, artists and other unusual
people whose society Mr. Hazard was known to affect, and his marriage to one of them
would give the unorthodox a hold on the parish which would end by splitting it.
One of his strongest friends, who had done most to bring him to New York and make his
path pleasant, came to him with an account of what was said and thought, softening the
expression so as to bear telling.
"You ought to hear about it," said he, "so I tell you; but it is between you and me. I don't
ask whether you are engaged to Miss Dudley. For my own pleasure, I wish you may be.
If I were thirty years younger I would try for her myself; but we all know that she has
very little more religious experience than a white rosebud. I'm not strict myself, I don't
mind a little looseness on the creed, but the trouble is that every old woman in the
parish knows all about the family. Her father, William Dudley, a great friend of mine as
you know, was a man who liked to defy opinion and never hid his contempt for ours. He
paid for a pew at St. John's because, he said, society needs still that sort of police. But
he has told me a dozen times that he could get more police for his money by giving it to
the Roman Catholics. He never entered his pew. His brother-in-law Murray is just as
bad, never goes near the church, and is always poking fun at us who do. The professor
is a full-fledged German Darwinist, and believes in nothing that I know of, unless it is
himself. Esther took to society, and I'm told by my young people that she was one of the
best waltzers in town until she gave it up for painting and dinners. Her set never
bothered their heads about the church. Of the whole family, Mrs. Murray is the only one
who has any weight in the parish, and she has a good deal, but if I know her, she won't
approve the match any more than the rest, and you must expect to get the reputation of
being unorthodox. Only yesterday old Tarbox told me he thought you were rather weak
on the Pentateuch, and the best I could say was that now-a-days we must choose
 
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