Chapter XIV
 

The night was at hand when the young people were to hold their special meeting in the interest of the new movement. Clara Wilson had worked incessantly, and when at last the evening arrived, was calm and well satisfied. Whether the effort proved a success or not, she would be content, for she had done her best.

The incident of the man found frozen to death on the steps of the church, still so fresh in the minds of the citizens, the flying rumors about Dick's visit to the Society, and the plans of the young people, all served to arouse public curiosity to such a pitch that the place of meeting was crowded, many even standing in the rear of the room. After the opening services, which were very impressive but short, and the purpose of the Society and the proposed plan of work had been fully explained, Uncle Bobbie told, in his simple way, of the work that had been done; how the young people had called on him; how they had gone from house to house, through the cold and snow; and how he had interviewed the business men, many of whom he saw in the audience. "To-be-sure," he said, "I don't suppose you understood the matter fully or you would have been glad to help; but we'll give ye another chance in a minute." Then he told of the last business meeting; how they were encouraged when the reports came in that the citizens had responded so liberally; and how he had been forced to tell them that he had met with nothing but failure in his attempt to secure a house. "I just tell you, it made my old heart ache to see them young folks tryin' to do some practical work for Christ, come up agin a stump like that. I wish you church members could have seen 'em and heard 'em pray. I tell you it was like Heaven; that's what it was; with the angels weepin' over us poor sinners 'cause we won't do our duty."

The old gentleman finished, amid a silence that was almost painful, while many were leaning eagerly forward in their seats. The great audience was impressed by the scheme and work so practical and Christ-like. This was no theory, no doctrine of men, no dogma of a denomination.

The pastor of the Jerusalem Church stepped to the front of the rostrum and raised his hand. Without a word the people reverently bowed their heads. After a moment of silent prayer, the minister voiced the unuttered words of all, in a few short sentences: "God help us to help others," and then in clear, earnest tones began to speak. He recalled to their minds the Saviour of men, as he walked and talked in Galilee. He pictured the Christ feeding the hungry and healing the sick. He made them hear again the voice that spake as never man spake before, giving forth that wonderful sermon on the mount, and pronouncing his blessing on the poor and merciful. Again the audience stood with the Master when he wept at the grave of Lazarus, and with him sat at the last supper, when he introduced the simple memorial of his death and love. Then walking with him across the brook Kedron, they entered the shadows of the Olive trees and heard the Saviour pray while his disciples slept. "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." And then they stood with the Jewish mob, clamoring for his blood; and later with the Roman soldiery, grouped at the foot of the cross, where hung the brother of men, and heard that wonderful testimony of his undying love. "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." Then under the spell of Cameron's speech, they looked into the empty tomb and felt their hearts throb in ecstasy, as the full meaning of that silent vault burst upon them. Looking up they saw their risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, glorified with the glory that was his in the beginning; and then, then, they looked where the Master pointed, to the starving, shivering, naked ones of earth, and heard with new understanding, those oft repeated words, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto me." "Men and brethren," cried the pastor, stretching out his arms in the earnestness of his appeal, "what shall we do? Shall there be no place in all this city where the least of these may find help in the name of our common Master? Must our brothers perish with cold and hunger because we close the doors of the Saviour's church against them? These young people, led by a deep desire to do God's will, have gone as far as they can alone. Their plan has been carefully studied by good business men and pronounced practical in every way. They have the promised support of the merchants in supplying material. They have the promised patronage of the citizens; and a man, not a professed Christian, but with a heart that feels for suffering humanity has given the land. In the name of Jesus, to help the least of these, won't you buy the house?"

The deacons, with the baskets and paper and pencils, started through the congregation. In a moment Mr. Godfrey went back to Cameron and placed something in his hand. The pastor, after listening a moment to the whispered words of his officer, turned to the audience and said: "At our last meeting, one of the young people made the remark that there were jewels enough on the persons of those present to pay half the amount needed. Brother Godfrey has just handed me this diamond ring, worth I should say, between forty and fifty dollars. It was dropped into the basket by a member of the Young People's Society. Friends, do you need any more proof that these young folks are in earnest?"

At last the offering was taken, and the deacons reported one thousand dollars in cash, and pledges, payable at once. "And perhaps," said the leader, "I ought to say, in jewelry also." And he held up to the gaze of the audience a handful of finger rings, scarf-pins, ear-rings and ornaments, and a gold watch, in the ease of which was set a tiny diamond.

Again for a moment a deep hush fell over the vast congregation as they sat awed by this evidence of earnestness. Then the minister raised his voice in prayer that God would bless the offering and use it in his service, and the audience was dismissed.

Dick did not sleep well that night. Something Cameron had said in his talk, together with the remarkable gifts of the young people, had impressed him. He had gone to the church more from curiosity than anything, and had come away with a feeling of respect for Christians, that was new to him. As he thought of the jewelry, given without the display of name or show of hands, he said to himself, "Surely these people are in earnest." Then, too, under the spell of Cameron's talk, he saw always before him the figure of the Christ as he lived his life of sacrifice and love, and heard him command, "Follow thou me." In the meantime at the church he had seen people doing just that, following Him; doing as He did; and the whole thing impressed him as nothing had ever done before. So, when he went to the office next morning and found Udell strangely silent and apparently in a brown study, he was not at all surprised, and asked, "What's the matter, George? Didn't you sleep well last night either? Or did the thoughts of having been so generous with your property keep you awake?"

"The property hasn't anything to do with it," answered Udell. "It's what that preacher said; and not so much that either, I guess, as what those young folks did. I've been thinking about that handful of jewelry; if I hadn't seen it I wouldn't have believed it. Say, do you know that a few sermons like those gold trinkets would do more to convert the world than all the theological seminaries that ever bewildered the brains of poor preachers?"

"Right you are, George, but is it true?"

"Is what true?" asked the other.

"Why, what Cameron said about Christ being the Saviour of men, and all that."

The printer paused in his work. "What do you say?" he asked as last, without answering Dick's question.

"Well," answered Dick slowly, "I've tried hard for several years, to make an infidel of myself, because I couldn't stand the professions of the church, and their way of doing things. But that meeting last night was different, and I was forced to the conclusion, in spite of myself, that Cameron spoke the truth, and that Christ is what he claimed to be, the Saviour of mankind, in the truest, fullest sense of the word. I'm sure of this. I have always wished that it were true, and have always believed that the Christian life, as Christ taught it, would be the happiest life on earth. But there's the rub. Where can a fellow go to live the life, and why are you and I not living it as well as the people who have their names on the church books? Must I join a company of canting hypocrites in order to get to Heaven?"

"Seems to me that word is a little strong for those who put up their rings and stuff last night," said Udell; "and anyway, I know one in the crowd who was in earnest."

"You are right, George," returned Dick. "I spoke harshly. I know there are earnest ones in the church, but I don't see how they stand it. But you're dodging my question. Do you believe in Christ as the Saviour of men?"

"Folks say that I'm an infidel," answered George.

"I don't care what folks say, I want to know what you think about it."

"I don't know," said George. "Sometimes, when I listen to the preachers, I get so befuddled and mixed up that there's nothing but a big pile of chaff, with now and then a few stray grains of truth, and the parson keeps the air so full of the dust and dirt that you'd rather he wouldn't hunt for the grain of truth at all. Then I'm an infidel. And again I see something like that last night, and I believe it must be true. And then I think of Clara, and am afraid to believe because I fear it's the girl and not the truth I'm after. You see, I want to believe so bad that I'm afraid I'll make myself believe what I don't believe. There, now you can untangle that while you run off that batch of cards. It's half-past eight now and we have not done a blessed thing this morning." He turned resolutely to his task of setting up another speech for the local politician.

"George, what in the world does this mean?" asked Dick, about two hours later, holding up a proof sheet that he had just taken from the form George had placed on the stone, and reading: "When Patrick Henry said, Give me liberty or give me Clara, he voiced a sentiment of every American church member."

George flushed. "Guess you'd better set up the rest of this matter," he said gruffly. "I'll run the press awhile." He laid down his stick and put the composing case between himself and Dick as soon as possible.

"That bloomin' politician must be crazy," said the boy, as he scrubbed wearily at an inky roller, with a dirty rag. "Old Pat. Henry never said no such stuff as that, did he George?"

"You dry up," was all the answer he received.

All that week and the week following, Dick's mind fastened itself upon the proposition: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of men. At intervals during working hours at the office, he argued the question with Udell, who after his strange rendering of the great statesman's famous speech, had relapsed into infidelity, and with all the strength of his mind, opposed Dick in his growing belief. The evenings were spent with Charlie Bowen, in discussing the same question. And here it was Charlie who assumed the affirmative and Dick as stoutly championed Udell's position. At last, one day when Dick had driven his employer into a corner, the latter ended the debate forever, by saying rather sharply, "Well, if I believed as you do, I'd stand before men and say so. No matter what other folks believed, did or said, if a man was so good as to give me all the things that you say Christ has given to the world, I would stand by him, dead or alive. And I don't see why you can't be as honest with Him as you are with men." And Charlie clinched the matter that evening by saying, "Dick, if I thought you really believed your own arguments, I wouldn't talk with you five minutes, for the doctrine you are teaching is the most hopeless thing on earth. But I can't help feeling that if you would be as honest with yourself as you are with others, you wouldn't take that side of the question. Suppose you preach awhile from your favorite, Shakespeare, taking for your text, 'This above all, To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man.'"

There were no more arguments after that, but Dick went over in his mind the experience of the past; how he had seen, again and again, professed Christians proving untrue to their Christ. He looked at the church, proud, haughty, cold, standing in the very midst of sin and suffering, and saying only, "I am holier than thou." He remembered his first evening in Boyd City, and his reception after prayer-meeting, at the church on the avenue, and his whole nature revolted at the thought of becoming one of them. Then he remembered that meeting of the Young People and the unmistakable evidence of their love, and the words of Uncle Bobbie Wicks in the printing office that rainy night: "You'll find out, same as I have, that it don't matter how much the other fellow dabbles in the dirt, you've got to keep your hands clean anyway. And it aint the question whether the other fellow is mean or not, but am I living square?"

And so it was, that when he went to church Sunday evening, his heart was torn with conflicting emotions, and he slipped into a seat in the rear of the building, when the ushers were all busy, so that even Charlie did not know he was there. Cameron's sermon was from the text, "What is that to thee? Follow thou me." And as he went on with his sermon, pointing out the evils of the church, saying the very things that Dick had said to himself again and again, but always calling the mind of his hearers back to the words of Jesus, "What is that to thee? Follow thou me," Dick felt his objections vanish, one by one, and the great truth alone remain. The minister brought his talk to a close, with an earnest appeal for those who recognized the evils that existed in the church, because it was not following Christ as closely as it ought, to come and help right the wrongs, Dick arose, went forward, and in a firm voice, answered the question put by the minister, thus declaring before men his belief in Christ as the Son of God, and accepting Him as his personal Saviour.

As he stood there, the audience was forgotten. The past, with all its mistakes and suffering, its doubt and sin, came before him for an instant, then vanished, and his heart leaped for joy, because he knew that it was gone forever. And the future, made beautiful by the presence of Christ and the conviction that he was right with God, stretched away as a path leading ever upward, until it was lost in the glories of the life to come, while he heard, as in a dream, the words of his confessed Master, "Follow: thou me."