The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XI. Reflections
"And gradually, out of the material of his school experience, he built again the old bulwark, behind which he could laugh at his confusion of the hour before."
Since that first chance meeting at the depot when he had looked into the nurse's eyes and heard her voice only for a moment, Dan had not been able to put the young woman wholly out of his mind. The incident on the street when she had gone to Denny, and the scene that followed in Denny's home had strengthened the first impression, while the meeting at the old Academy yard had stirred depths in his nature never touched before. The very things she had said to him were so evidently born out of a nature great in its passion for truth and in its capacity for feeling that, even though her words were biting and stung, he could not but rejoice in the beauty and strength of the spirit they revealed.
The usual trite criticisms of the church Dan had heard, and had already learned to think somewhat lightly of the kind of people who commonly make them. But this young woman--so wholesome, so good to look at in her sweet seriousness, so strong in her womanliness and withal so useful in what she called her ministry--this woman was--well, she was different.
Her words were all the more potent, coming as they did after the disquieting thoughts and the feeling of dissatisfaction that had driven him from his study that afternoon. The young minister could not at first rid himself of the hateful suggestion that there might be much truth in the things she had said. After all under the fine words, the platitudes and the professions, the fact remained he was earning his daily bread by being obedient to those who hired him. He had already begun to feel that his work was not so much to give what he could to meet the people's need as to do what he could to supply the wants of Memorial Church, and that his very chance to serve depended upon his satisfying these self-constituted judges. He saw too, that these same judges, his masters, felt the dignity of their position heavily upon them, and would not be in the least backward about rendering their decision. They would let him know what things pleased them and what things were not to their liking. Their opinions and commandments would not always be in definite words, perhaps, but they would be none the less clearly and forcibly given for all that.
He had spoken truly when he had told Miss Farwell, as they parted, that he had lost something. And now, as he walked the country road, he sought earnestly to regain it; to find again his certainty of mind; to steady his shaken confidence in the work to which he had given his life.
Dan's character was too strong, his conviction too powerful, his purpose too genuine, for him to be easily turned from any determined line of thought or action. Certainly it would require more than the words of a stranger to swing him far from his course, even though he felt that there might be a degree of truth in them. And so, as he walked, his mind began shaping answers to the nurse's criticism and gradually, out of the material of his school experience, he built again the old bulwark, behind which he could laugh at his confusion of the hour before.
But withal Dan's admiration of the young woman's mind and character was not lessened. More, he felt that she had in some way given him a deeper view into her life and thoughts than was due a mere stranger. He was conscious, too, of a sense of shame that he had, in a way, accepted her confidence under false pretense. He had let her believe he was not what he was. But, he argued with himself, he had not intentionally deceived her and he smiled at last to think how she would enjoy the situation with him when she learned the truth.
How different she was from any of the women he had known in the church! They mostly accepted their religious views as they would take the doctor's prescription--without question.
And how like she was to his mother!
Then came the inevitable thought--what a triumph it would be if he could win such a character to the church. What an opportunity! Could he do it? He must.
With that the minister began putting his thoughts in shape for a sermon on the ministry. Determined to make it the effort of his life, he planned how he would announce it next Sunday for the following week, and how, with Dr. Harry's assistance, he would perhaps secure her attendance at the service.
Meanwhile Hope Farwell passing quickly along the village street on her way home from the old Academy yard, was beset by many varied and conflicting emotions. Recalling her conversation with the man who was to her so nearly a total stranger, she felt that she had been too earnest, too frank. It troubled her to think how she had laid bare her deepest feelings. She could not understand how she had so far forgotten her habitual reserve. There was a something in that young man, so tall and strong, and withal so clean looking, that had called from her, in spite of herself, this exposition of her innermost life and thoughts. She ought not to have yielded so easily to the subtle demand that he--unconsciously no doubt--had made.
It was as though she had flung wide open the door to that sacred, inner chamber at which only the most intimate of her friends were privileged to knock. He had come into the field of her life in the most commonplace manner--through the natural incident of their meeting. He should have stopped there, or should have been halted by her. The hour should have been spent in conversation on such trivial and commonplace topics as usually occupy strangers upon such occasions, and they should have parted strangers still. She felt that after this exhibition of herself, as she termed it in her mind, she at least was no stranger to him. And she was angry with herself, and ashamed, when she reflected how deeply into her life he had entered; angry with him too, in a way, that he had gained this admittance with apparently no effort.
She reflected too, that while she had so freely opened the door to him, and had admitted him with a confidence wholly inexcusable, he had in no way returned that confidence. She searched her memory for some word--some expression of his, that would even hint at what he thought, or believed, or was, within himself; something that would justify her in feeling that she knew him even a little. But there was nothing. It was as though this stranger, whom she had admitted into the privacy of the inner chamber, had worn mask and gown. No self-betraying expression had escaped him. He had not even told her his name. While she had laid out for his inspection the strongest passions of her life; had felt herself urged to show him all, and had kept nothing hidden. He had looked and had gone away making no comment.
"Of course," she thought, "he is a gentleman, and he is cultured and refined, and a good man too." Of this she was sure, but that was nothing. One does not talk as she had talked to a man just because he is not a ruffian or a boor. She wanted to know him as she had made herself known to him. She could not say why.
The nurse's work in Corinth was nearly finished; she would probably never meet this man again. She started at the thought. Would she ever meet him again? What did it matter? And yet--she would not confess it even to herself, but it did, somehow, seem to matter. Of one thing she was sure--he was well worth knowing. She had felt that there was a depth, a richness, a genuineness to him, and it was this feeling, this certainty of him, that had led her to such openness. Yes--she was sure there were treasures there--deep within, for those whom he chose to admit. She wished--(why should she not confess it after all)--she wished that she might be admitted.
Hope Farwell was alone in the world with no near living relatives. She had only her friends; and friends to her meant more than to those who have others dearer to them by ties of blood.
That evening when Dr. Harry was leaving the house after his visit to his patient, the nurse went with him to the door, as usual, for any word of instruction he might wish to give her privately.
"Well, Miss Hope," he said, "you've done it."
"What have I done?" she asked, startled.
"Saved my patient in there. She would have gone without a doubt, if you had not come when you did. It's your case all right."
"Then I'm glad I came," she said quietly. "And I may go back soon now, may I not, Doctor?"
He hesitated, slowly drawing on his gloves.
"Must you go back Miss Farwell? I--we need you so much here in Corinth. There are so many cases you know where all depends upon the nurse. There is not a trained nurse this side of St. Louis. I am sure I could keep you busy." There was something more than professional interest in the keen eyes that looked so intently into her own.
"Thank you Doctor, you are very kind, but you know Dr. Miles expects me. He warned me the last thing before I left, that he was only lending me to you for this particular case. You know how he says those things."
"Yes," said the man grimly, "I know Miles. It is one of the secrets of his success, that he will be satisfied with nothing but the best. He warned me, too."
He watched her keenly. "It would be just like Miles," he thought, "to tell the young woman of the particular nature of the warning." But Miss Farwell betrayed no embarrassing knowledge, and the doctor said, "You did not promise to return to Chicago did you?"
She answered slowly, "No, but he expects me, and I had no thought of staying, only for this case."
"Well won't you think of it seriously? There are many nurses in Chicago. I don't mean many like you--" interrupting himself hastily--"but here there is no one at all," and in his low-spoken words there was a note of interest more than professional.
She lifted her face frankly and let him look deep into her eyes as she answered--"I appreciate your, argument, Dr. Abbott, and--I will think about it."
He turned his eyes away, and his tone was quite professional as he said heartily, "Thank you, Miss Farwell. I shall not give up hoping that we may keep you. Good night!"
"Isn't he a dear, good man?" exclaimed the invalid, as the nurse re-entered the sick room.
"Yes," she answered, "he is a good man, one of the best I think, that I have ever known."
The patient continued eagerly, "He told me the ladies could come here for their Aid Society meeting next week, if you would stay to take care of me. You will, won't you dear?"
The nurse busy with the medicine the doctor had left did not answer at once.
"I would like it so much," came the voice from the bed.
Hope turned and went quickly to her patient saying with a smile, "Of course I will stay if you wish it. I believe the meeting will do you good."
"Oh thank you, and you'll get to meet our new minister then, sure. Just to think you have never seen him, and he has called several times, but you have always happened to be out or in your room."
"Yes," said the young woman, "I have managed to miss him every time."
Something in the voice, always so kind and gentle, caused the sick woman to turn her head on the pillow and look at her nurse intently.
"And you haven't been to church, since you have been here, either."
"Oh, but you know I am like your good doctor in that, I can plead professional duties."
"Dr. Harry is always there when he can possibly go. I never thought of it before. Will you mind, dearie, if I ask you whether you are a Christian or not? I told Sapphira this afternoon that I knew you were."
"Yes," said Hope, "you are right. I cannot often go to church, but--" and there was a ring of seriousness in her voice now, "I am a Christian if trying to follow faithfully the teachings of the Christ is Christianity."
"I was sure you were," murmured the other, "Brother Matthews will be so glad to meet you. I know you will like him."
To which the nurse answered, "But you will be in no condition for the visit of the ladies, if I don't take better care of you now. Did you know that you were going to sleep? Well you are. You have had a busy day, and you are not to speak another word except 'good night.' I am going to turn the light real low--so--And now I am going to sit here and tell you about my walk. You're just to shut your eyes and listen and rest--rest--rest."
And the low, sweet voice told of the flowers and the grass and the trees, the fields lying warm in the sunlight, with the flitting cloud-shadows, and the hills stretching away into the blue, until no troubled thought was left in the mind of the sick woman. Like a child she slept.
But as the nurse talked to make her patient forget, the incident of the afternoon came back, and while the sick woman slept, Hope Farwell sat going over again in her mind the conversation on the grassy knoll in the old Academy yard, recalling every word, every look, every expression. What was his work in life? He was no idler, she was sure. He had the air of a true worker, of one who was spending his life to some purpose. She wondered again at the expression on his face as she had seen it when they parted. Should she go back to the great city and lose herself in her work, or--she smiled to herself--should she yield to Dr. Abbott's argument and stay in Corinth a little longer?