Chapter XI
 

Needless to say that Charlie Bowen, who was the president of the Young People's Society at this time, took particular pains to notify each member that there would be a matter of unusual importance to discuss at the next meeting. And so, when he called the Society to order at eight o'clock Tuesday evening, in the lecture room of the church, almost the entire membership, including Rev. Cameron, was present. Dick remained in the reading room, but it was understood between the two that he was to be called in at the proper time.

After the regular routine business had been disposed of, the president stated that he wished to introduce a matter of great importance, which he felt sure would interest every Christian present. He then called to their minds some of the teaching they had heard from their pastor, along lines of practical Christianity; noticed briefly the condition of things in Boyd City; and asked if they would not be glad to remedy such evils. The nodding heads and earnest faces told Charlie of their interest. After recalling the death of the young man found by George Udell, he told of his conversation with Dick. "I am aware that Mr. Falkner makes no profession of Christianity," he said, "but you know him and need no word from me to tell you of the strength of his character." He then explained how he had asked Dick to speak to them, and after delicately stating the latter's objections, asked if they would receive him and listen to his ideas of Christian work.

At the close of Charlie's talk, the Society gladly voted to invite Dick in, and three of the boys started to find him, when Rev. Cameron rose to his feet, and in a voice full of emotion, said: "My dear young people. Wait just a moment. My heart is moved more than I can say, by the Christian spirit you are showing. And now, before your invitation is carried to Mr. Falkner, let us bow our heads in prayer, that we may be guided by the Holy Spirit in listening to the things he may have to put before us, and in any discussion of this subject that may follow."

A deep hush fell on the little band of young people as they followed their pastor's example, and it seemed as if a wonderful presence filled all the room. The thought flashed through Cameron's mind, "This must be another step in the new era of Christian work in this city." And then, in a few beautiful words, he voiced the prayer in the hearts of the young people, and the committee appointed went to call Dick. They found him nervously pacing up and down the passageway between the reading room and the parlor. Making known the wish of the Society, they escorted him to the meeting in the other part of the building. He was greeted by smiling faces, nods of encouragement, and just a faint ripple of applause, that sprung from a desire on the part of the young people to let him know that they were glad to bid him welcome, and ready to give him their attention.

The president stated simply that he had explained to the Society the purpose of Mr. Falkner's visit, and that he could assure the latter he was most heartily welcome. At Charlie's words, the ripple of applause became a wave, which in its strength, left no doubt on Dick's mind as to their earnestness and interest. Bowing his thanks he began, while both Charlie and Cameron wondered at his ease of manner, and the strange power of his simple, but well-chosen words.

"I have no means of knowing what your president may have said by way of introduction of myself, or as a preface to my remarks, but judging from your faces, the manner in which you receive me, and my knowledge of him, I feel that I am safe in assuming that he has said all that is necessary, and that I may proceed at once with my plan. But let me add simply this: What I have to say to you is in no way new or startling. I claim no originality, for I have simply gathered from the works of better men that which seems to me best fitted for the needs of this particular city. And understand, farther, that I speak in no sense as a Christian, but from the standpoint of one to whom has been given opportunities for study along these lines, I hope may ever be denied you.

"As I understand it, the problem that we have to consider is, briefly, how to apply Christ's teaching in our own town. Let me suggest first: That there are in this city, as in every city, two classes who present their claims for assistance; the deserving and undeserving. Any plan which does not distinguish between these two classes must prove a failure, because it would encourage the idle in their idleness, and so prove a curse instead of a blessing. It would make fraud profitable by placing a premium rather than a penalty on crime; and it would make the sufferings of the truly unfortunate much keener by compelling them to yield their self-respect as the price of their succor. The only test that can possibly succeed in distinguishing between these two classes is the test of work.

"The first thing necessary would be a suitable building. This building should have sleeping rooms, dining room, sitting room, kitchen, store-room and a bath room. There should also be a large yard with an open shed in the rear. I would have the sleeping rooms small, and a single cot in each, for you know it is sometimes good for a man to be alone. It ought not to be hard to find twenty-five people in the church who would furnish a room each, at a cost of say three dollars. The reading room supplies could be donated by friends who would be glad to give their papers and magazines when they were through with them, just as your present room is supplied. Now if you stop to think, in this mining city everyone burns coal, and kindling wood ought to find a ready sale. I believe the merchants would be glad to give away their old packing cases, boxes and barrels. These could be collected, hauled to the yard, there worked up into kindling and delivered to the customer. The whole establishment to be under the supervision of some man who, with his family, could occupy rooms in the building. All the work of the house, kitchen, dining room, care of the sleeping rooms, and all, must be done by the inmates. When a man applied for help he would be received on these conditions: that his time belonged wholly to the institution, and that he receive for his work only food and bed, with the privilege of bath and reading room of course. If he refused to comply with these conditions, or to conform to the rules of the institution, no food would be issued, nor would he be admitted.

"This briefly is my plan. I would be glad to have you ask questions and make objections or suggestions, for I believe that would be the best way to thoroughly understand the matter." Dick paused and one of the young people asked: "What would be the cost of the building and its furnishings?"

"That I cannot say," replied Dick. "It would depend of course upon how large an establishment you wished to conduct. I should think a house might be found in some convenient locality, which could be converted into the right thing, for I would not think of a large institution at the start. It would grow as fast as the people came to believe in it."

"You spoke of a store-room--what for?"

"Let the people contribute clothing, which could be kept and issued by the superintendent in charge. I said store-room, that the material might always be on hand when needed."

"Would you receive women?"

"No; they would require a separate institution with a different kind of employment."

"Would we not need women to do the housework?"

"No, everything could be done by the men under the direction of the superintendent's wife."

"Would the merchants contribute boxes enough?"

"That," with a bow and a smile, "is a matter for the Society to look after. The workers at the institution would gather them up and haul them to the yard. Old side-walks, fences, tumbled-down buildings, could also be used, so the supply need not run short, and the city would be much improved if these things were gathered up and utilized."

"Would the people buy the kindling-wood?"

"That again, is the business of the Society. Every member should be a salesman. The kindling would be put up in bundles of uniform size, warranted to be dry and to give satisfaction and delivered at the door by the workers of course. It ought not to be difficult for you to secure a sufficient number of regular customers to insure the success of the business. You see, it is not a church-begging scheme, for it benefits every person connected with it, and every person pays for what he gets. The citizens would have the pleasure of feeling that they were assisting only the worthy sufferers, and the satisfaction of knowing that they were receiving their money's worth."

"Would the income be sufficient to pay all bills?" asked Cameron.

"The food, of course, could be of the plainest, and could be bought in quantities. Twenty cents will feed a man a day. It is possible, of course, to live on less," Dick added, with a whimsical smile, which was met with answering smiles from the company of interested young people. "Now suppose you had for the start, one hundred regular customers, who would pay, each, ten cents per week for their kindling! that would bring you ten dollars per week, which would feed seven people. Not a large thing I grant you, but a start in the right direction, and much more than the church is doing now. The other expenses would not be large, and I am confident that the institution would be self-supporting. But bear in mind that the Society must own the grounds and building, so that there would be no rent. That must be the gift of the people to the poor."

"How would the superintendent and his wife be paid?"

"They would receive their house rent, provisions, and a small weekly salary, paid either by the Society, the church, or the institution. There are many men and women who would be glad to do such work."

"Would kindling-wood be the only industry?"

"I believe other things would suggest themselves. I am only planning a start you know. I said kindling-wood because that seems to be the most practical thing for this particular city."

"Would not men impose on the institution by working just enough to get their food and remain idle the rest of the time?"

"That," said Dick, "is the greatest danger, but I believe it would be met in this way: You remember I said that the time of the inmates must be given wholly to the institution. The men could be kept busy at the housework, scrubbing and cleaning when not in the yard. Then too, they could be hired out to do odd jobs of rough work for the citizens; the wages all to go to the institution. Thus, if every man was kept busy eight hours each day, and received only his food and a place to sleep, there would be no temptation to remain longer than necessary. The institution would also act as an employment agency, and when a man was offered work of any kind he would no longer be permitted to remain in the home. Much of this would necessarily be left to the discretion of the managers and directors."

This question seemed to bring the matter to a close as far as Dick was concerned, and after asking if there was anything more, and again calling attention to the fact that the greatest obstacle in the way was a suitable building, he thanked them for their attention and took his seat.

Then followed a warm discussion. Several spoke enthusiastically in favor of the scheme. One or two thought it very good, but feared it would be impossible because of the building needed. A few offered amendments to the plan. Finally a committee was appointed to see if a suitable building could be secured, and the meeting was adjourned.

At once the young people crowded about Dick, shaking his hand, thanking him, asking questions, making suggestions, with now and then a happy laugh or jest. Much to Charlie's delight, Dick, for the time being, forgot himself and talked and laughed and prophesied with the rest about our institution and the things we would do. But in the midst of it all, his manner suddenly changed, and making his way quickly to Charlie's side he whispered, "Good-night, old man, I must go."

"So soon?" asked his friend in a tone of surprise.

"Yes," replied Dick hurriedly, "I must." And Charlie was left wondering at the pain in his face, which a moment before had been so bright, for he did not know that Dick had heard Frank Goodrich saying to his sister, "Come, we must go home. We can't afford to associate with that tramp," and that he had seen Amy leaving the room on her brother's arm, without even acknowledging his presence by so much as a glance.

The next morning bright and early, Deacon Wickham might have been seen knocking at the door of the parsonage. "Why, good morning, Brother," cried Cameron, throwing wide the door and extending his hand. "What good fortune brought you out so early? Come in. Come in."

"No good fortune, sir," replied the deacon, and seating himself very stiffly on the edge of the straightest-backed chair in the room, he glared with stern eyes at the pastor, who threw himself carelessly into an easy rocker. "No good fortune, sir; I came to inquire if it is true that you are encouraging that unscriptural organization in their foolish and world-wise plans."

Cameron put on a puzzled look. "What organization, and what plans?" he asked.

"There," said the good deacon, with a sigh of great relief. "I told Sister Jones that there must be some mistake, for though you and I don't always agree, and lock horns sometimes on certain passages of the Scriptures, I did not believe that you were so far from the teaching of the Word as that."

"As what?" asked Cameron again, but this time with a faint glimmer of understanding in his voice. "Please explain, Brother Wickham."

"Why, Sister Jones came over to my house early this morning and told me that at the meeting of the Young People's Society last night, that young upstart Falkner, laid down plans for doing church work, and that you were there and approved of them. That rattle-headed boy of hers is all carried away."

The preacher nodded, "Well?"

"I could not believe it of course, but she said, as near as I could gather, that you were going to have the church buy a house and keep all the tramps who came to Boyd City. A more unscriptural thing I never heard of. Were you at the meeting last night?"

"Yes, I was there," said Cameron slowly.

The official frowned again as he said sharply: "You'll do more good for the cause, Brother Cameron, if you spend your time calling on the members. There is Deacon Godfrey's wife hasn't been out to services for three months because you haven't been to see her; and you're ruining the church now by your teaching. You've got to build on a Scriptural foundation if you want your work to last. All these people you've been getting in the last two years don't know a thing about first principles."

The minister tried to explain: "The plan suggested last night by Mr. Falkner, who was there at the invitation of the Society, was simply for an institution that would permit a man who was homeless, cold and hungry, to pay for food and lodging until he could do better. In short, to prevent deaths like that of the young man found frozen a few weeks ago."

"You don't know anything about that fellow," said the deacon. "If he had followed the teaching of the Scriptures he wouldn't have been in that fix. The Word says plainly: 'He that provideth not for his own is worse than an infidel.' You don't know whether he was a Christian or not. He may have never been baptized. Indeed, I am ready to prove that he never was, for the Scripture says that the righteous are never forsaken, nor their seed begging for bread. I've lived nearly fifty years now and I never went hungry and never slept out-doors either."

Cameron sat silently biting his lip; then looking his parishioner straight in the eye, said: "Brother Wickham, I cannot harmonize your teaching with Christ's life and character."

"My teaching is the Scripture, sir; I'll give you book, chapter and verse," snapped the deacon.

"Christ taught and lived a doctrine of love and helpfulness toward all men, even enemies," continued Cameron. "When I remember how he pointed out the hungry and naked and homeless, and then said: 'Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me,' I cannot help but feel sure in my heart that we are right, and I must tell you that Mr. Falkner's plan for doing just that work is the most practical and common-sense one I have ever heard. The only thing I find to wonder at is the stupidity of the church and myself, that we did not adopt it long ago."

"Then I am to understand that you support and encourage this unscriptural way of doing things?"

"I most certainly have given my support to the young people in this effort; and as far as possible, will encourage and help them in their labor of love."

"Labor of love, fiddlesticks," said the deacon; "Labor of foolishness. You'll find, sir, that it will be better to take my advice and the advice of the sacred writers, instead of going off after the strange teaching of an outcast and begging infidel."

"Stop!" said Cameron, springing to his feet, and speaking in a tone that few people ever heard him use. "I beg of you be careful that you do not go too far. Whatever his religious convictions may be, Mr. Falkner is neither an outcast nor a beggar; and although I am only your pastor, it might be well for you to remember that I am also a gentleman, and will allow no man to speak of my friends in any such language."

"Well, well," whined Wickham hastily, holding out his hand, "The Scriptures say that there must be love between brethren, and I want you to know that I bear you no ill will whatever, no ill will whatever; but I warn you, I wash my hands of the whole matter. I don't want to know anything about it."

Cameron took the proffered hand and replied, "That's the best thing you can do, Brother Wickham. You have discharged your duty faithfully as an officer in the church and are released from all responsibility whatever."

"Yes, yes," said the other, as he stood on the porch; "And don't let them call on me for any money. Remember I wash my hands of the whole thing. How much did you say it would cost?"

"I don't know yet, exactly."

"Well, you know I can't give anyway. I'm already doing more than my share in a scriptural way, and I must wash my hands of this."

"Yes," said Cameron to himself, as he shut the door; "A certain Roman governor washed his hands once upon a time." And then the pastor took himself to task for his uncharitable spirit.

Later in the day, Rev. Cameron had another visitor. Old father Beason, whose hair had grown white in the Master's service. He had been with his congregation over twenty years and they would not give him up; for while his sermons may have lost some of their youthful fire, they were riper for the preacher's long experience, and sweeter for his nearness to the source of love.

The old man met Cameron's outstretched hand of welcome with a smile that, in itself, was a benediction. Though identified with a different denomination, he was a close friend to the pastor of the Jerusalem Church, and always stood ready to draw from his wealth of experience for the benefit of his younger brother. When they were seated in Cameron's cozy den with a basket of fruit between them, Rev. Beason began:

"Brother Jim, what's this about the proposed work of your young people? Suppose you tell me about it, if you don't mind. I've heard a good many things to-day, and I just thought I'd run over and get the straight of it."

Cameron laughed as he carefully selected a rosy-cheeked apple. "You're the second caller I've had to-day who needed straightening out. I've been wishing you would run in, and if you had not, I would have been over to see you this evening. This work is right along lines that you and I have talked over many times." And then he told the whole story.

When Cameron had finished, the older man asked a few questions, and then slowly nodding his head, repeated softly: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."

"Brother Cameron, you know that I belong to a church that is noted for its conservative spirit, but I have been preaching more years than you have lived, and have been at it too long to be bound altogether by the particular belief of any particular people, and I want to say to you that if I were a younger man, I would take just your course exactly. There is no use, Brother Jim, of our flinching or dodging the question. The church is not meeting the problems of the day, and it's my candid opinion that ninety-nine out of every hundred preachers know it. But I'm too old to make the fight. I haven't the strength to do it. But my boy, do you go in to win, and may God's richest blessing rest upon you. And you'll stir this city as it never was stirred before. I only wish I were twenty years younger; I'd stand by you. But this needs young blood and I am an old, worn-out man. It is almost time that I was going home, and I dare not take up any work like this that will need years of patient labor to complete." He arose to his feet, and grasping Cameron's hand, said, "Good night, Brother Jim; we older men must turn our work, all unfinished, over to younger, stronger hands to complete. My boy, see that you keep that which is committed unto you, and don't, Oh don't, be sidetracked by the opinions of men. The victory will be yours, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Good-night Jim, I thank God for this day."