Chapter XIX
 

Whitley's sudden return to Boyd City, and his departure so soon after, revived some whispering gossip about Amy's strange disappearance. And of course the matter was mentioned at the Ministerial Association, which still held its regular Monday morning meetings. Then, as was natural, the talk drifted to the much discussed topic, the low standard of morality in Boyd City. Old Father Beason said, "Brethren, I tell you the condition of things in this town is just awful. I walked down Broadway last Saturday night, and I declare I could hardly get along. I actually had to walk out in the street, there was such a crowd, and nearly all of them young men and young women. I never saw anything like it; and there are all of these dives always open, and always full. Candidly, Brethren, what are we doing? I just tell you we are not doing one thing. We are not beginning to touch the problem. It costs just all we can scrape and dig to keep the churches, running, and so far as I know, only Brother Cameron here has even attempted any aggressive work. Brethren, I wish we could put our heads together and formulate some plan that would stir this town and save our boys and girls, who are growing up in utter disrespect for Christianity and the teaching of Christ."

"What we want here is a Young Men's Christian Association," exclaimed Rev. Hugh Cockrell. "An Association is the very thing for a town like this. You all know how it operates. It don't conflict with the work of the churches in the least. It furnishes parlor, sitting room, libraries, gymnasium, bath rooms, and all such things, at a very nominal cost to young men. As I have said in our meetings before, I think we ought to write to the State Secretary and get him to come here and look over the situation."

"That's all right, Brother Cockrell," said the big Brother Howell, rising to his feet and pushing his hands deep into his pockets; for the big minister was lots more of a man than he was a preacher, and put his hands into his pockets when he chose, without any closely buttoned, clerical cut coat to prevent him. "That's all right about the Young Men's Christian Association. It's a good thing; a splendid thing; and I'd like to see one started here in Boyd City, but a dozen Associations won't meet the needs of this place. Those who could afford to pay the fee would enjoy the parlors and baths; those who could read might enjoy the books; and those who had worked in the mines digging coal all day, might exercise in the gymnasium, but what about the hundreds of young men who can't afford the fees, and don't want a parlor so much as a bite to eat, or a gymnasium so much as a bed, or a reading room so much as a job of work? We need something in this town that will reach out for the ignorant, fallen, hard-up, debauched, degraded men and women."

Father Beason nodded emphatic approval.

"I don't know, I'm sure," said the Rev. Jeremiah Wilks, "what you Brethren are going to do. If you hit on any plan to raise the money for all this, I'd like to know what it is. I'm going night and day now, trying to raise the debt on our new organ, and I've got to raise our benevolences yet; and besides this, my own salary is behind. I'm doing more work than any three preachers in the city. I tell you, the men who have got the money are going to hang on to it. There's Mr. Richman; I met him on the street yesterday; he was talking with a friend; and I stopped and said: Good morning, Brother Richman--he's not a member of any church you know. I only called him Brother to make him feel good you know. He said: Good morning, Reverend; kind of short; and then deliberately turned his back on me and went on talking with his friend. I didn't like to leave him like that, you know, for he's got a lot of money, I'm told. And you know we preachers never would get anything if we always quit like that; so I said, Brother Richman, I don't like to interrupt you, but can't you give me a little something this morning? I'm behind on our new organ, and on our benevolences and some other things, and my own salary is not all paid yet. I thought maybe you would help me a little. He looked at me a minute, then said with a sneer: 'I always like to know what returns I may expect for the money I invest. I'm no church member, that I have money to throw away. What do I get for it if I give you five dollars?' Why, I said, you might be a Christian some day. Brother Richman, I'd like mighty well to have you join my church. We'll all pray for you if you'd like to have us. And do you believe it, he just stood there and laughed and laughed; and the other fellow, he laughed too. Yes, he did. Well, I didn't know what to do you know, but I wanted that five dollars, so I said: But won't you help us a little, Brother Richman? It will be very acceptable. 'I tell you, Mr. Wilks,' he said; 'when you can show me that my money is doing some actual good among the poor people in this city, or that it's saving the young folks from the degrading influences here, I'll invest; and until then, I'll keep my money, and you can keep your prayers.' And do you know, he wouldn't give me a cent." The Rev. Jeremiah sat down with an air of mingled triumph and suffering, as much as to say, "See how gladly I bear persecution for the Lord."

"I understand that Mr. Richman gave to Cameron's institution though," the big preacher remarked. "How is it Brother Cameron?"

"Yes," replied Cameron, "he gave a hundred dollars unsolicited, and promised more if it were needed."

There was silence for a moment; then the president said, "Brother Cameron, would you mind telling the Association just how your work is conducted? I for one, would like to know more about it, and perhaps we could all adopt a similar plan. What would you suggest as a remedy for the existing conditions in this city?"

"As far as our work goes, we have hardly touched the matter yet," replied Cameron. "There is room for every church In the place; but what we need, I feel sure, is a united effort, and--"

"Brethren," interrupted the Rev. Dr. Frederick Hartzel, "I must beg that this useless discussion be stopped. So far as I can see, all of this is of no profit whatever. My time is altogether too valuable to waste in such foolish talk as this. I endeavor to put some thought into my sermons, and I cannot take this valuable time from my studies. If the Association persists in taking up the meetings with such subjects, instead of discussing some of the recent theological themes that are attracting the attention of the clergy everywhere, I must beg that I be given optional attendance. These new-fangled notions of uneducated young men may be all right for some, but you can't expect such men as myself to listen to them. I move that we adjourn."

"Brother Cameron has the floor and I think the Brethren would like to hear him," suggested the president.

"Brother President," said Cameron, calmly, before the others could speak, for he saw the light of righteous indignation creeping into the eye of the big Rev. Howells; "if the Brethren wish to talk with me of our work, they know that they are always welcome at my home; and I will be glad to discuss any plan for reaching those for whom our Saviour died. I second Rev. Hartzell's motion to adjourn." And the meeting dismissed with prayer as usual, that God would fill their hearts with love, and help them to do their Master's work, as He would have it done, and that many souls might be added to their number.

That evening, lost in troubled thought, the young pastor of the Jerusalem Church sat alone before the fire, in his little study. Once his wife knocked timidly and opening the door, said, "James, dear, it's time you're going to bed."

"Not now, Fanny," he answered; and she, knowing well what that tone of voice meant, retired to her room, after seeing everything snug for the night.

The cocks were crowing midnight; the fire burned lower and lower. Once he impatiently hitched his chair a little closer, but made no other move, until, just as the clock chimed three, he arose stiffly to his feet and stood shivering with cold, looking at the blackened embers. Then he made his way to his chamber, where he fell asleep like a man tired out with a hard day's work.

All the next day he said nothing, but was silent and moody, and the following night sat once more alone in his study, thinking, thinking, thinking, until again the fire went out and he was cold.

"Fanny," he said, the following afternoon, entering the kitchen and putting his arm about his wife, as she stood at the table busy with her baking. "Fanny, what can we do for the young people of Boyd City? Amy is only one of many. It is all the result of the do-nothing policy of the church, and of the Goodrich type of Christians, who think more of their social position than they do of the souls of their children, or the purity of their characters."

"Oh, James, you oughtn't to say that. Mr. Goodrich may not look at those things as you do perhaps, but we ought to remember his early training."

"Early training, bosh," answered the minister, losing his patience as even ministers will sometimes do. "You'd better say his lack of early training. I tell you, Fanny, the true gentleman, whether he be Christian or not, values character more than position, while the sham aristocrat is a sham in everything, and doesn't even know the real article when he sees it."

"Oh, here, here," cried Mrs. Cameron, "that's not the way for a preacher to talk."

"Preacher or no preacher, it's the truth," he replied excitedly. "Let me forget that I belong to the class that has produced such a thing as this kind of religion, and remember that I am only a man. If the ministers in this city cared half as much for the salvation of souls and the teaching of Christ, as they do for their own little theories and doctrines, the world could not hold such a churchified hypocrite as Adam Goodrich, and girls would not go wrong as that poor child did. The Rev. Hartzell, D. D., is the cause; and if you go down on Fourth Street, or East Third you can see the effect; egotism, bigotry, selfishness, man-made doctrines and creeds in the pulpit; saloons and brothels on the street; church doors closed over a mawkish sentimentality, and men and women dying without shelter and without God. Truly we need a preacher, with a wilderness training like John the Baptist who will show us the way of the Lord, rather than a thousand theological, hot-house posies, who will show us only the opinions of the authorities." And the Rev. James tramped up and down the kitchen, speaking with all the vehemence of a political spellbinder, until his wife caught him by the coat and insisted that she wanted to be kissed. When that operation was successfully performed, she said, "Now run away to your study, dear, and don't bother about this just now. You're excited." And the preacher went, of course.

Though expressing themselves as very much alarmed over the situation, and the condition of the churches, the members of the Ministerial Association went no farther in the matter than the discussions at their regular meetings and private talks from time to time. It would be hard to give a reason why this was so if Cameron's criticism were not true; but so it certainly was. Cameron, however, was much wrought up. He did not in the least mind the Rev. Hartzell's opinion of himself or his work, and cared not one whit that he had been prevented from expressing himself to his brethren. He did care, however, for the work itself, regardless of the preachers, and the train of thought which he had so often followed was stirred afresh in his mind by the incident. With his heart so full of the matter it was not at all strange that he should preach another of his characteristic sermons on what he called "Applied Christianity." His house was crowded, as it always was on Sunday evenings, largely with young men and women, though many business men were in attendance.

He introduced his subject by showing the purpose and duty of the church: that it was not a social club, not simply a place to see and be seen, not a musical organization, and not an intellectual battlefield; but that it was a place to build Christ-like characters, and that the church had no excuse for living, save as it preached Christ's gospel and did His work. Then he asked, "Is the church doing this?" and called attention to the magnificent buildings, expensive organs, paid choirs, large-salaried preachers, and in the same city hundreds and thousands of men and women who were going to eternal ruin. "Did Christ make a mistake when he said, 'And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself?' Or was it that men were lifting up themselves instead of the Master?"

He showed that the reason why more laborers and business men were not Christians was because Christianity had become, not a work, but a belief; that it had grown to be, not a life, but a sentiment; and that laborers and business men had not much place for beliefs and sentiments. "The church," said Cameron, "must prove herself by her works as did Christ, and her work must be the same as Christ's."

It caused a great deal of talk, of course. No preacher can branch out from the old, well-beaten paths, without creating talk. He was roundly scored by his Brethren in the ministry, and accused of all sorts of sensationalism, but bore it all without a word, except to say, "I am glad if I can even stir you up enough that you will condemn me; though I cannot help but think that if you would spend the same energy in remedying the evils you well know exist, you would do more for Christ and your fellow men." But to his wife he said, "Fanny, I am convinced that if we ever have a practical working plan for helping the poor and needy, and for the protection of the boys and girls in this city, on a scale sufficient to at all meet the needs, it will come from the citizens and not from the preachers. The world really believes in Christ, but has lost confidence in the church. And if some plan could be started, independent of the churches, but on a Christian basis, I believe it would succeed."

"Well," said his wife, with a smile, "I think I know one preacher who will have a hand in it anyway, and I know you do not include the Young People's Society with the church."

Cameron jumped to his feet and walked rapidly up and down the room. "Fanny," he said at last, facing his companion. And as he stood, with both hands in the side pockets of his short coat, and his feet braced wide apart, he looked so much a boy that the good wife laughed before she answered, "Yes sir, please, what have I done?"

"Do you know that I am to speak at the regular union meeting of the Young People next Sunday night?"

"Yes sir," meekly.

"And you know that the subject of the evening is 'Beaching the Masses.'"

She nodded.

"And do you know what I am going to do?"

"No sir."

"Well, just wait and see," and planting a kiss on the upturned lips, he ran off to shut himself up in his study.

The practical Christian work of the home established by the young people of the Jerusalem Church, and the remarkable success of the reading rooms, was proving a great educational factor in the life of Boyd City. The people were beginning to realize the value of such work, and the time was ripe for larger things. As has been said, Cameron's sermon caused no little talk, while the preachers did not hesitate to help the matter along, and to keep the pot boiling by the fire of their criticism.

It was a custom of the Young People's Societies in the city, to meet for union services once each month, at which time one of the pastors would speak on some topic of particular interest to young Christians, dealing with social, civil, or political questions, from the standpoint of Christianity, and this happened to be Cameron's turn to deliver the address. The young pastor was a favorite generally, in spite of his somewhat questionable standing with the theologians; so when it was announced that he would speak, and that the subject was one upon which he was known to have strong ideas, the public looked forward to the meeting with more than usual interest. When the time came, the Zion Church, which was the largest in the city, was crowded to its utmost capacity.

Cameron began by reading from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my Brethren, ye have lone it unto me."

Then he said that as his talk was in no way to be a sermon, he felt free to give himself more liberty perhaps, than if he were in the pulpit; and that he would discuss the question not simply from the standpoint of Christianity, but of good citizenship, and the best interests of the people as well.

The audience settled itself at these words and waited breathlessly.

The speaker then laid down the proposition, that the question of reaching the masses, did not have to do simply with those who called themselves Christians, but with all society, all business, all government; in fact, with all that touched mankind. He showed how the conditions of the least of these gave rise to bad conditions everywhere, and bred crime, anarchy and animalism; and how that the physical, moral and intellectual life of all men is concerned. Then he took his hearers from street to street in their own city, bidding them to look at the young men and women on the corners, in the saloons and wine rooms, and asked, without any reference to Christianity in any way, "What will be the legitimate fruit of such sowing? What influence are we throwing about our boys and girls, and upon what foundation are we building our social, business and municipal life?"

Then turning to Christians, he reviewed the grand work that the church had done in the past, in moulding the lives of men and nations; and plead that she prove true to the past by rising to the present and meeting the problems of to-day. He called upon them in the name of their common Master, to put their minds to this question and to rest not from their study until a practical solution had been found. He urged, too, that those standing outside the church with idle hands, content to criticize and condemn, were not doing even so much as the institution with which they refused to stand identified. "I can see no difference," he said, "and before God, I believe there is none, between an idle church member and a do-nothing man of the world. They both stand on the same plane, and that plane is the plane of death."

Then, after an earnest appeal that the teaching of Jesus be applied, that the worth of souls be judged by the price paid on Calvary, and that all men, within and without the church, unite for the common cause, humanity; he turned suddenly to the chairman and said: "Mr. President, because of these things regarding the church, which all men know to be true; because of these things regarding our city, which all men know to be true; for the sake of Christ and His gospel, for the sake of our country and our laws, for the love of our boys and girls, I suggest that each society in this union appoint a committee of three from their membership, each of these committees to add to itself one good business man who believes in the teaching of Christ, but who is not connected with any church; the joint committee to meet in council for the purpose of formulating some plan to meet the needs of this city along the lines of our subject this evening."

At this strange and unexpected ending of Cameron's address, the audience sat astonished. Then, from all over the house, voices were heard murmuring approval of the plan.

Rev. Jeremiah Wilks was the first to speak. "I'm heartily in favor of the suggestion," he said. "I think it's a good thing. It will get some of our moneyed men interested in the church and it will do them good. I've often told our people that something like this ought to be done, and I know the preachers of the city will be glad to take hold of the matter and help to push it along. I'll bring it before our Ministerial Association. You can count on me every time."

"But, Mr. President," said a strange gentleman, when Rev. Wilks had resumed his seat, "Is it the idea of the gentleman who suggests this plan, that the movement be under the control of or managed by the ministers?"

A painful hush fell over the audience. The president turned to Cameron, who answered, "It is certainly not my idea that this matter be placed in the hands of the ministers; whatever part they have in the movement must be simply as Christian citizens of this community, without regard to their profession."

The audience smiled. Rev. Frederick Hartzel was on his feet instantly: "Ladies and gentlemen, I must protest. I do not doubt but that your young brother here means well, but perhaps some of us, with more experience, and with more mature thought, are better able to handle this great question. Such a plan as he has proposed is preposterous. A committee without an ordained minister on it, thinking to start any movement in harmony with the teaching of Christ is utter folly. It is a direct insult to the clergy, who, as you know, compose the finest body of men, intellectually and morally, in the country. I must insist that the regularly ordained ministers of the city be recognized on this committee."

Rev. Hugh Cockrell agreed with Hartzel, in a short speech, and then Uncle Bobbie Wicks obtained a hearing.

"I don't reckon that there's much danger of Brother Hartzel's amendment goin' through, but I just want a word anyhow. To-be-sure, you all know me, and that I'm a pretty good friend to preachers." The audience laughed. "I aint got a thing in the world agin 'em. To-be-sure, I reckon a preacher is as good as any other feller, so long as he behaves himself; but seein' as they've been tryin' fer 'bout two thousand years to fix this business, an' aint done nothin' yet, I think it's a mighty good ide' to give the poor fellers a rest, and let the Christians try it fer a spell."

"You've got to recognize the church, sir," cried Hartzel; and Uncle Bobbie retorted: "Well, if we recognize Christ, the church will come in all right, I reckon;" which sentiment so pleased the people that Cameron's suggestion was acted upon.

And thus began the movement that revolutionized Boyd City and made it an example to all the world, for honest manhood, civic pride and municipal virtue.