Dominie Dean: A Novel

Dominie Dean: A Novel

Ellis Parker Butler
Ellis Parker Butler

Author: Butler, Ellis Parker, 1869-1937
Clergy — Fiction
Mississippi River Valley — Fiction
Iowa — Fiction
Dominie Dean: A Novel


A Novel

By Ellis Parker Butler


Fleming And Revell Company

My Dear Mr. Dare:
That day when you came to my home and suggested that I write the book to which I now gratefully prefix this brief dedication, I little imagined how real David Dean would become to me. I have just written the last page of his story and I feel less that he is a creature of my imagination than that he is someone I have known and loved all my life.
It was because there are many such men as David Dean, big of heart and great in spirit, that you suggested the writing and helped me with incident and inspiration. Your hope was that the story might aid those who regret that such men as David Dean can be neglected and cast aside after lives spent in faithful service, and who are working to prevent such tragedies; my desire was to tell as truthfully as possible the story of one such man.
While I have had a free hand in developing the character of David Dean, I most gratefully acknowledge that the suggestion of the idea, and the inspiration, were yours, and I hope I have not misused them.
Most sincerely,
Ellis Parker Butler
Flushing, N. Y.


List of Illustrations


DAVID DEAN caught his first glimpse of ‘Thusia Fragg from the deck of the “Mary K” steamboat at the moment when—a fledgling minister—he ended his long voyage down the Ohio and up the Mississippi and was ready to step on Riverbank soil for the first time.
From mid-river, as the steamer approached, the town had seemed but a fringe of buildings at the foot of densely foliaged hills with here and there a house showing through the green and with one or two church spires rising above the trees. Then the warehouse shut off the view while the “Mary K” made an unsensational landing, bumping against the projecting piles, bells jingling in her interior, paddle wheels noisily reversing and revolving again and the mate swearing at the top of his voice. As the bow of the steamer pushed beyond the warehouse, the sordidly ugly riverfront of the town came into view again—mud, sand, weather-beaten frame buildings—while on the sandy levee at the side of the warehouse lounged the twenty or thirty male citizens in shirt sleeves who had come down to see the arrival of the steamer. From the saloon deck they watched the steamer push her nose beyond the blank red wall of the warehouse. Against the rail stood all the boat’s passengers and at David’s side the friend he had made on the voyage up the river, a rough, tobacco-chewing itinerant preacher, uncouth enough but wise in his day and generation.
“Well, this is your Riverbank,” he said. “Here ye are. Now, hold on! Don’t be in a hurry. There’s your reception committee, I’ll warrant ye,—them three with their coats on. Don’t get excited. Let ’em wait and worry a minute for fear you’ve not come. Keep an even mind under all circumstances, as your motter says—that’s the idee. Let ’em wait. They’ll think all the better of ye, brother. Keep an even mind, hey? You’ll need one with that mastiff-jowled old elder yonder. He’s going to be your trouble-man.”
David put down the carpetbag he had taken up. Of the three men warranted to be his reception committee he recognized but one, Lawyer Hoskins, the man who while East had heard David preach and had extended to him the church’s call. Now Hoskins recognized David and raised his hand in greeting. It was at this moment that ‘Thusia Fragg issued from the side door of the warehouse, two girl companions with her, and faced toward the steamboat. In the general gray of the day she was like a splash of sunshine and her companions were hardly less vivid. ‘Thusia Fragg was arrayed in a dress that echoed the boldest style set forth by “Godey’s Ladies’ Book” for that year of grace, 1860—-a summer silk of gray and gold stripes, flounced and frilled and raffled and fringed—and on her head perched a hat that was sauciness incarnate. She was overdressed by any rule you chose. She was overdressed for Riverbank and overdressed for her father’s income and for her own position, but she was a beautiful picture as she stood leaning on her parasol, letting her eyes range over the passengers grouped at the steamer’s saloon deck rail.
As she stood there David raised his hand in answer to Lawyer Hoskins’ greeting and ‘Thusia Fragg, smiling, raised a black-mitted hand and waved at him in frank flirtation. Undoubtedly she had thought David had meant his salutation for her. David turned from the rail, grasped his companion’s hand in hearty farewell, and, with his carpetbag in hand, descended to the lower deck, and ‘Thusia, preening like a peacock, hurried with her girl companions to the foot of the gangplank to meet her new conquest.
This was not the first time ‘Thusia had flirted with the male passengers of the packets. Few boats arrived without one or more young dandies aboard, glad to vary the monotony of a long trip and ready to take part in a brief flirtation with any ‘Thusia and to stretch their legs ashore while the sweating negroes loaded and unloaded the cargo. When the stop was long enough there was usually time for a brisk walk to the main street and for hurried ice cream treats. The warning whistle of the steamer gave ample time for these temporary beaux to reach the boat. The ‘Thusias who could be found all up and down the river knew just the safe distance to carry their cavaliers in order to bring them back to the departing steamer in the nick of time, sometimes running the last hundred yards at a dog trot, the girls stopping short with little cries of laughter and shrill farewells, but reaching the boat landing in time to wave parasols or handkerchiefs.
Most of these gayly garbed girls were innocent enough, although these steamer flirtations were evidence that they were not sufficiently controlled by home influences. Such actually bad girls as the town had, did however, indulge in these touch-and-go-flirtations often enough to cause the sober-minded to look askance at all the young persons who flirted thus. While the more innocent, like ‘Thusia, made use of these opportunities only for their momentary flare of adventure, and while the young men were seldom seen again, even on the return trip, the town quite naturally classed all these girls as “gay”—whatever that meant.
As David stepped on the gangplank to leave the steamer he saw the three girls, ‘Thusia a little in advance, standing at the foot of the plank. ‘Thusia herself, saucy in her defiance of the eyes she knew were upon her, smiled up at him, her eyes beaming a greeting, her feet ready to fall into step with his, and her lips ready to begin a rapid chattering to carry the incident over the first awkward moment in case her “catch” proved mutely bashful. She put out her hand, either in greeting or to take David’s arm, but David, his head held high, let his clear gray eyes rest on her for an instant only and then glanced beyond her and passed by. The girl colored with rage or shame and drew back her hand as if she had unwittingly touched something hot with unprepared fingers. Her companions giggled.
The incident was over in less time than is needed to tell of it. Henry Fragg, ‘Thusia’s widowed father and agent for the steamers, seeing the committee awaiting David, came from his office and walked toward them. David strode up the plank dock to where Mr. Hoskins was holding out a welcoming hand and was greeted and introduced to Sam Wiggett, Ned Long and Mr. Fragg.
The greeting of Mr. Hoskins had a flourishing orational flavor; Sam Wiggett—a heavy-set man—went so far as to exceed his usual gruff grunt of recognition; and Ned Long, as usual, copied as closely as possible Sam Wiggett’s words and manner. Mr. Fragg’s welcome was hearty and, of the four, the only natural man-to-man greeting.
“New dominie, hey? Well, you’ll like this town when you get to know it,” he assured David. “Plenty of real folks here; good town and good people. All right, Mack!” he broke off to shout to the mate of the “Mary K”; “yes, all those casks go aboard. Well, I’m glad to have met you, Mr. Dean—”
‘Thusia was still standing where David had passed her, her back toward the town. Usually saucy enough, she was ashamed to turn and face those clean gray eyes again. Her father saw her. “’Thusia!” he called.
She turned and came.
“’Thusia, this is our new dominie,” Fragg said, placing his hand on her arm. “This is my daughter, Mr. Dean. Aren’t the women having some sort of welcome hurrah up at the manse? Why don’t you go up there and take a hand in it, ‘Thusia? Well, Mr. Dean, I’ll see you many times, I hope.”
‘Thusia, all her sauciness gone, stood abashed, and David tried vainly to find a word to ease the embarrassing situation. Mr. Wiggett relieved it by ignoring ‘Thusia utterly.
“Fragg will send your baggage up,” he growled. “We’ll walk. The women will be impatient; they’ve heard the boat whistle. You come with me, Dean, I want to talk to you.”
He turned his back on ‘Thusia and led David away.
“The less you have to do with that girl the better,” were his first words. “That’s for your own good. Hey, Long?”
“My opinion, my opinion exactly!” echoed Mr. Long. “The less the better. Yes, yes!”
“She’s got in with a crowd of fast young fools,” agreed Mr. Hoskins. “Crazy after the men. Fragg ought to take her into the woodshed and use a good stiff shingle on her about once every so often. He lets her run too wild. No sense in it!”
What ‘Thusia needed was a mother to see that her vivacity found a more conventional outlet. There was nothing really wrong with ‘Thusia. She was young and fun-loving and possessed of more spirit than most of the young women of the town. She was amazingly efficient. Had she been a slower girl the housework of her father’s home would have kept her close, but she had the knack of speed. She sped through her housework like a well-oiled machine and, once through with it, she fled from the gloomy, motherless place to find what lively companionship she could. It would have been better for her reputation had she been a sloven, dawdling over her work and then moping away the short leisure at home.
Every small town has girls like ‘Thusia Fragg. You may see them arm in arm at the railway station as the trains pause for a few minutes, ready to chaffer with any “nice-looking” young fellow in a car window. You see them strolling past the local hotel, two or three in a group, ready to fall into step with any young drummer who is willing to leave his chair for a stroll. Some are bad girls, some are on the verge of the precipice of evil, and some, like ‘Thusia, are merely lovers of excitement and not yet aware of the real dangers with which they play.
‘Thusia, running the streets, was in danger of becoming too daring. She knew the town talked about her and she laughed at its gossip. In such a contest the rebel usually loses; in conspiring against smugness she ends by falling into the ranks of immorality. In Riverbank before the Civil War the danger to reputation was even greater than it is now; morality was marked by stricter conventions.
‘Thusia, despite her new dress and hat, did not linger downtown after her meeting with David. She took the teasing of her two girl friends, who made a great joke of her attempt to flirt with the new dominie, good-naturedly, but she left them as soon as she could and walked home. Her face burned with shame as she thought of the surprised glance David had given her at the foot of the gangplank and, as she entered her motherless home, she jerked her hat from her head and angrily threw it the length of the hall. She stood a moment, opening and closing her fists, like an angry animal, and then, characteristically, she giggled. She retrieved her hat, put it on her head and studied herself in the hall mirror. She tried several smiles and satisfied herself that they were charming and then, unhooking her dress as she went, she mounted the stairs. When she was in her room she threw herself on her bed and wept. Her emotions were in a chaos; and out of this came gradually the feeling that all she cared for now was to have those cool gray eyes of David’s look upon her approvingly. Everything she had done in her life seemed to have been deliberately planned to make them disapprove of her. Weighing her handicap calmly but urged by wounded pride, or desire, or love—she did not know which—she set about her pitiful attempt to fascinate David Dean.
The first Sunday that David preached in Riverbank ‘Thusia bedecked herself glowingly and sat in a pew where he could not fail to see her. Since the death of his wife Mr. Fragg had taken to churchgoing, sitting in a pew near the door so that he might slip out in case he heard the whistle of an arriving steamboat, but ‘Thusia chose a pew close under the pulpit. After the service there was the usual informal hand-shaking reception for the new dominie and ‘Thusia waited until the aisles were well cleared. Mr. Wiggett, Mr. Hoskins and one or two other elders and trustees acted as a self-appointed committee to introduce David and, as if intentionally, they built a barrier of their bodies to keep ‘Thusia from him. She waited, leaning against the end of a pew, but the half circle of black coats did not open. As the congregation thinned and David moved toward the door his protectors moved with him. The sexton began closing the windows. The black coats herded David into the vestibule and out upon the broad top step and still ‘Thusia leaned against the pew, but her eyes followed David.
“Come, come! We’ll have to be moving along, dominie,” growled Mr. Wiggett impatiently, as David stopped to receive the congratulations of one of the tireless-tongued old ladies. “Dinner at one, you know.”
“Yes, coming!” said David cheerfully, and he gave the old lady a last shake of the hand. “Now!” he said, and turned.
‘Thusia, pushing between Mr. Wiggett and Mr. Hoskins, came with her hand extended and her face glowing.
“I waited until they were all gone,” she said eagerly. “I wanted to tell you how splendid your sermon was. It was wonderful, Mr. Dean. I’m coming every Sunday—”
David took her hand. He was glowing with the kindly greetings and praises that had been showered upon him, and his happiness showed in his eyes. He would have beamed on anyone at that moment, and he beamed on ‘Thusia. He said something pleasantly conventional and ‘Thusia chattered on, still holding his hand, although in his general elation he was hardly aware of this and not at all aware that the girl was clinging to his hand so firmly that he could not have drawn it away had he tried. She knew they made a striking picture as they stood on the top step and she stood as dose to him as she could, so that she had to look up and David had to look down. The departing congregation, looking back for a last satisfactory glimpse of their fine new dominie, carried away a picture of David holding ‘Thusia’s hand and looking down into her face.
“Come, come! Dinner’s waiting!” Mr. Wiggett growled impatiently.
“Well, good-by, Mr. Dean,” ‘Thusia exclaimed. “My dinner is waiting, too, and you must not keep me forever, you know. I suppose we’ll see a great deal of each other, anyway. Now—will you please let me have my hand?”
She laughed and David dropped her hand. He blushed. ‘Thusia ran down the steps and David turned to see Mary Wiggett standing in the vestibule door in an attitude best described as insultedly aloof.
Mr. Wiggett’s face was red.
Her dinner waiting!” he cried. “She’s got to go home and get it before it waits. She’s a forward, street-gadding hussy!”
“Father!” exclaimed his daughter.
“Well, she shan’t come it over the dominie,” he growled. “I’ll speak to Fragg about it.”
David walked ahead with Mary Wiggett. He was no fool. He knew well enough the troubles a young, unmarried minister has in store if he happens to be presentable, and he knew he was not ill-favored. It is not always—except in books—that the leading pillar of the church has a daughter whose last chance of matrimony is the dominie. Mary Wiggett had by no means reached her last chance. She was hardly eighteen—only a year older than ‘Thusia Fragg—and forty young men of Riverbank would have been glad to have married her. She was a little heavier than ‘Thusia, both in mind and body, and a little taller, almost matronly in her development, but she was a splendid girl for all that, and more than good-looking in a satisfying blond way. David was so far from being her last chance, that she had not yet thought of David as a possible mate at all, but it was a fact that David was to take dinner with the Wiggetts and another fact that ‘Thusia was not considered a proper person, and Mary had resented having to stand back against the church door while David held ‘Thusia’s hand. If Mary had one fault it was a certain feeling that a daughter of Samuel Wiggett, who was the richest man in the church, was the equal of any girl on earth. To be made to stand back for ‘Thusia Fragg was altogether unbearable.
Neither had Mr. Wiggett, at that time, any thought of David as a husband for Mary. He hoped Mary would not marry for ten years more and that when she did she would marry someone “with money.” The only interest the stubborn, rough-grained old money-lover had in David was the interest of an upright pillar of the church who, sharing the duty of choosing a new dominie, had delegated his share to Mr. Hoskins and was still fearful lest Mr. Hoskins had made a mistake. He was bound it should not be a mistake if he could help it. Having in his youth had a dozen love affairs and having married a stolid, cow-like woman for safety’s sake, he believed the natural fate of a young man was to behave foolishly and he considered a young minister more than normally unable to take care of himself. If David incurred censure Mr. Wiggett would be blamed for letting Mr. Hoskins bring David to Riverbank.


NEITHER Mr. Wiggett nor Mary understood David then. I doubt if Riverbank ever quite understood him. When he was ten—a thin-faced, large-eyed child, sitting on the edge of an uncushioned pew in a small, bleak church, his hands clasped on his knees and his body tense as he hung on the words of the old dominie in the pulpit above him—he had received the Call. From that moment his destiny had been fixed. There had been no splendid Sign—no blaze of glory-light illuminating the dusky interior of the church, no sun ray turning his golden curls into a halo. His clasped hands had tightened a little; he had leaned a little further forward; a long breath, ending in a deep sigh, had raised his thin chest and David Dean had given himself to his Lord and Master to do His work while his life should last. Never was a life more absolutely consecrated.
That the lad Davy should hear the Call was not strange. Religion had been an all-important part of his parents’ lives. The rupture that wrenched American Presbyterianism into antagonistic parts in the year of David’s birth had been of more vital importance than bread and meat to David’s father.
He never forgave the seceders. To David’s mother the rupture had been a sorrow, as if she had lost a child. In this atmosphere—his father was an elder—David grew and his faith was fed to him from his birth; it was part of him, but until the Call came he had not thought of being worthy to preach. After the Call came he thought of nothing

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Dominie Dean: A Novel
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