Chapter VII
 

The quiet of a Sunday morning in early May was over the city. Stores and business houses were closed, save here and there a meat market, which opened for careless citizens who had neglected to lay in their supply the night before. A group of negro loafers sat on the stone steps of the National Bank, and lounged about the entrance of the Opera House. A little farther up the street a company of idle whites sat in front of a restaurant; and farther on, in the doorway of a saloon, a drunkard was sleeping in the sun. Old Dr. Watkins, in his buggy, came clattering down the street and stopped in front of the Boyd City Drug Store, and a man with his arm in a sling followed him into the building. Then the church bells rang out their cheery invitation, and the children, neat and clean in their Sunday clothes, trooped along the street to the Sunday Schools. An hour later the voices of the bells again floated over the silent city, and men and women were seen making their way to the various places of worship.

In the throng which passed through the door of the Jerusalem Church was a gentleman dressed in gray. It was not difficult to guess from his manner, as he stood in the vestibule as though waiting for someone, that he was a stranger in the place. His figure was tall, nearly if not quite six feet, well formed, but lithe rather than heavy, giving one the impression not only of strength, but of grace as well; the well-set head and clear-cut features; the dark hair and brows, overshadowing, deep-set, keen gray eyes; the mouth and chin, clean-shaven and finely turned; all combined to carry still farther the impression of power. Even the most careless observer would know that he would be both swift and sure in action, while a closer student would say, "Here is one who rules himself, as he leads others; who is strong in spirit as well as body; who is as kind as he is powerful; as loving as he is ambitious; this is indeed a man whom one would love as a friend and be forced to respect as an enemy."

Charlie Bowen, one of the ushers, came hurrying up and caught the stranger by the hand. "Good," he whispered, looking him over admiringly; "Glad to see you, old man. Whew, but you do look swell. Folks will think you're a Congressman sure, in that outfit."

"Do I take my hat off when I go in?" whispered Dick, who already had his hat in his hand, "Or do I wait till after prayers?"

"You come along and do as the Romans do, of course," replied Charlie.

"Didn't know I was getting into a Catholic church," retorted the other. "Say, don't rush me way up in front, will you?"

"Never you mind that. Come on." And before Dick could say more the usher was half way up the aisle.

"Who is that stranger Charlie Bowen is seating?" said old Mrs. Gadsby in a low voice, to her neighbor. The neighbor shook her head. "Isn't he handsome?" whispered a young school teacher to her chum. "Some distinguished strangers here to-day," thought the pastor as he glanced over his congregation. And Adam Goodrich turned his head just in time to look into the face of the tramp printer, who was being seated in the pew behind him. Miss Goodrich was with her father and Dick heard nothing of the opening part of the service, only coming to himself when Cameron was well started in his discourse. The preacher's theme was, "The Sermon on the Mount," and the first words that caught the young man's ear were, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." He glanced around at the congregation. Mrs. Gadsby was inspecting the diamonds in the ears of the lady by her side, who was resting her powdered and painted face on the back of the pew in front, as though in devotion.

"Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," read the minister. Dick thought of the widows and orphans in the city, and of the luxurious homes of the people he saw about him. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Dick looked straight at Adam Goodrich, the very back of whose head showed haughty arrogance and pride. "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Dick lifted up his eyes and looked at four members of the choir who were whispering and giggling behind their books, and noted the beautiful frescoed ceiling, the costly stained-glass windows, the soft carpets and carved furniture on the rostrum, and the comfortable, well-cushioned pews. "Is all this righteousness?" he asked himself. And he thought of the boys and girls on the street, of the hungry, shivering, starving, sin-stained creatures he had seen and known, who would not dare present themselves at the outer door of this temple, consecrated to the service of Him who said, "Come unto me and I will give you rest." And then, lest men might be mistaken, added, "Whosoever will may come."

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Dick's eyes rested on the girl in the next seat. Yes, Amy was pure in heart. There was no shadow of evil on that beautiful brow. Innocence, purity and truth were written in every line of the girlish features, and Dick's heart ached as he thought of his own life and the awful barrier between them; not the barrier of social position or wealth; that, he knew, could be overcome; but the barrier he had builded himself, in the reckless, wasted years. And then and there the strong young man fought a battle in the secret chamber of his own soul; fought a battle and won; putting from himself forever, as he believed, the dreams he had dared to dream in the lonely evening hours in the printing office.

His struggle with himself seemed to make Dick feel more keenly the awful mockery of the worshippers; and to him, who all his life had been used to looking at things as they really were, without the glasses of conventionalism or early training, the very atmosphere of the place was stifling.

When the services were over, he rushed from the building without even returning Charlie's salutation, only drawing a long breath when he was safe on the street again; and rejoiced in his heart when at dinner, the restaurant keeper cursed his wife in the kitchen, and a drunken boarder fell from his chair. "This, at least, is real," he said to himself; "but what a world this would be if only the Sermon on the Mount were lived, not simply talked about."

The Monday night following Dick's visit to the church, Charlie Bowen had gone back to the office after supper, as he often did when business was brisk, forgetting that it was the first Monday in the month, and that the official board of the Jerusalem Church would hold their regular business meeting there.

The matter was only brought to his mind when Elder Wicks, with Rev. Cameron, entered, followed soon after by two or three others. Charlie's first impulse was to leave the office, but it was necessary that his work be done. His employer knew that he was there and could easily give him a hint if it would be better for him to retire. Shrewd old Uncle Bobbie, however, had his own plans in regard to this particular meeting, and it was not a part of them to have his young assistant leave the office. So nothing was said, and the meeting opened in the regulation way, with a prayer by Elder Gardner, the Chairman of the Board. The pastor and the different standing committees, with the treasurer, made their reports; some general matters were passed upon, and then the much-talked-of, long-deferred subject of building an addition to their place of worship was introduced.

"You know, Brethren," said the pastor, "our house does not begin to hold the people at the regular services, and we must have more Sunday School room. It seems to me that there will be no better time than the present. The church is in a prosperous condition; we are out of debt; and if we ever expect to enlarge our work we must begin."

"I know, Brother Cameron," said Deacon Godfrey, stating the standard objection, as it had been stated for the past two years, "but where's the money to come from? The members are paying all they can now to keep out of debt, and I don't believe they will do any more."

"We do need more room," said Elder Chambers; "that's a fact. The Sunday School is too crowded, and lots of people can't get to hear the preaching. But I'm like Brother Godfrey, I don't see how it's to be done. I'm giving every cent I can now, and I know lots of the Brethren who are doing the same."

"The Lord will provide," said Deacon Wickham, with a pious uplifting of his eyes, and a sanctimonious whine in his voice. "The Lord will provide. Brethren, I'm ashamed for you to talk in this doubting manner. What would the congregation think if they should hear you? Can't you trust the Lord? Don't, oh, don't doubt His precious promises. He will provide. If we need an addition to the church let us ask Him. He will provide."

"Yes, the Lord will provide, but we've got to do the hustlin'," said Uncle Bobbie. "He'll provide common sense and expect us to use it."

"Couldn't the women folks do something?" timidly suggested another.

"Of course they could," said Deacon Sharpe. "They could get up a social, or fair, or an entertainment of some kind. They used to do a lot that way before Brother Cameron came."

"Yes, and spent twenty-seven cents to make seventeen, while their boys run the streets and their husbands darn their own britches," broke in Uncle Bobbie again. "I tell you, I don't believe that so much of this Ladies' Aid business is business. Christ wouldn't run a peanut stand to support the church, ner pave a sinner's way to Heaven with pop-corn balls and molasses candy--" A half smothered cough came from the next room and everybody started. "Oh, it's only Charlie. He's got some work to do to-night," said the old man, reassuringly.

"Everybody does it though," said Deacon Sharpe, encouraged by the nods of Chambers and Godfrey. "All the churches depend upon the women, with their fairs and such, to pay their way. I don't see what's the harm. It gives the women something to do, and keeps us from paying out so much cash."

"Yes, an' that's what ails the churches," retorted Elder Wicks again. "There's too many of 'em run on the lemonade and ice cream basis; and as fer givin' the women somethin' to do, my wife's got her hands full takin' care o' me and her home. That's what I got her for, ain't it? She didn't marry the church--to-be-sure, though, it does look like it sometimes."

"We must all work in the Master's vineyard. None shall lose his reward," said Deacon Wickham again. "We all have our talents and God will hold us responsible for the use we make of them. We all have our work to do." To which sentiment Uncle Bobbie's reply was, "Yes; that means all the women have our work to do, and that we'll get our reward by makin' 'em do it. I ain't got no use fer a man who lets a woman do his work, even in church. There's enough for 'em to do that we can't, without their spoilin' their eyes and breakin' their backs makin' sofa pillows, carpet rags, and mince meat, to pay the runnin' expenses of the church, and the debt besides."

"I know of only one way," said the pastor, anxious to prevent these too frequent clashes between the pious deacon and the sharp old elder.

"What's that?" asked Chairman Gardner.

"The Young People's Society."

There was a slight rustle and the sound as of a book falling to the floor in the other room.

"Umph," said Godfrey; "what can they do?"

"Have you ever attended their meetings?" asked Cameron. "They have done more practical, Christian work this past year than all the rest of the church put together. And if the truth must be told, are more to be depended upon at regular services, and prayer meeting, than some members of the official board."

"Better turn the church into a Young Folks' Society then," said Wickham, angrily; "and throw away the Bible altogether. Christ didn't say, 'Upon this rock I'll build my Young People's Society.' For my part, I won't have nothing to do with it. There is not a single passage of Scripture that says we shall have such things; and until you can show me, book, chapter and verse, I'll fight it."

"I'll give ye book, chapter and verse," said Uncle Bobbie; "Phillippians, iv: 8."

There was a painful silence and then one of the deacons asked, "But would the young folks help?"

"I think so," said the pastor.

"We might ask Charlie Bowen 'bout that," suggested Mr. Wicks. "Charlie," he called, "are you most through with them books?"

"Yes, sir," answered the young man.

"Well, lock 'em up and come in here."

When they had laid the matter before him Charlie said, "Yes, I am sure the Society would take the matter up but for one thing; ever since Brother Cameron's sermon, on the Church of the Future, we have been planning to furnish a reading room somewhere, and it may be that they wouldn't want to give up the idea. If it was arranged so that we could have a room in the church when the addition was built, I am sure the Society would be glad to take hold."

Uncle Bobbie's eyes twinkled as he watched his young helper. He had not misjudged his man. This was just what he had expected. But Deacon Wickham was on his feet almost before Charlie finished speaking.

"Brethren, this is entirely out of order. We have no right to listen to the counsel of this boy. He has not a single qualification, for either a deacon or an elder. I believe we ought to go according to the Scriptures or not at all; and as for this new-fangled idea of a reading room in the church, it's all wrong. The Bible don't say a thing about reading rooms and there is no authority for it whatever. If the inspired apostles had wanted reading rooms in the church they would have said so. Paul didn't have them. Let us stand for the religion of our fathers and let the young people read at home if they want to. Brethren, I am opposed to the whole thing. This boy has no right to speak here."

Wicks whispered to Charlie, "Never you mind him. He's got just so much sputtering to do anyway. I'll fix him in a minute, and then he'll wash his hands of the whole matter." "I think it's a fine plan," he said aloud.

"So do I," agreed Deacon Sharpe. "Why not let the young folks have the room? We could charge ten cents admission and make a good thing for the church. I believe we ought to watch these corners and make a little now and then. Paul worked to support himself."

"Make not my Father's house an house of merchandise," said Cameron, but faintly concealing his disgust. "I tell you, Brethren, this thing must be free. I am sure that is the plan of the young folks. The Young People's Society is not in the business to make money. Am I right, Charlie?"

"Yes, sir," answered the young Christian eagerly. "We wanted to fix some place where the young men of the town could spend their evenings, without going to the bad. There are lots of them who don't have homes, but live in boarding houses and have no place to go."

"And a pretty crowd you'll have too," said Wickham.

"Yes, and if you had to pay the preacher you'd want to rent the room," said Sharpe.

Cameron's face flushed at the hard words.

"Come, come, Brethren, what shall we do about this?" said the Chairman.

"I move," said Elder Wicks, "that we ask the Young People's Society to assist us in building the addition to the church, and that we give them one of the rooms."

"I second the motion," said Cameron; and it was carried. Then the meeting adjourned with the usual prayer.

"Well," said Wickham, "I wash my hands of the whole matter."

Uncle Bobbie nudged Charlie in the side as he started for his hat; and later, as he walked down the street, arm in arm with his pastor and his bookkeeper, he said: "Poor old Wickham; his heart's all right, but he's got so much Scripture in his head that his think machine won't work."

"Friends," said Cameron, as they paused in front of the parsonage; "this is the day I have looked forward to for a long time. This step will revolutionize our methods. It's hard to get out of old ruts, but the world needs applied Christianity. Thank God for the young people." And Uncle Bobbie said, "Amen."