Chapter XV. The Minister's Opportunity
 

"He saw only the opportunity so mysteriously opened to him."

When Dan left Miss Farwell in the summer house at Judge Strong's he went straight to his room.

Two or three people whom he met on the way turned when he had passed to look back at him. Mrs. James talking over the fence with her next door neighbor, wondered when he failed to return her greeting. And Denny from his garden hailed him joyfully. But Dan did not check his pace. Reaching his own gate he broke fairly into a run, and leaping up the stairway, rushed into his room, closing and locking his door. Then he stood, breathing hard, and smiling grimly at the foolish impulse that had made him act for all the world like a thief escaping with his booty.

He puzzled over this strange feeling that possessed him, the feeling that he had taken something that did not belong to him, until the thought struck him that there might, after all, be good reason for the fancy; that it might indeed be more than a fancy.

Pacing to and fro the length of his little study he recalled every detail of that meeting in the Academy yard. And as he remembered how he had consciously refrained from making known his position to the young woman--not once, but several times when he knew that he should have spoken, and how his questions, combined with the evident false impression that his words had given her had led her to speak thoughts she would never have dreamed of expressing had she known him, the conviction grew that he had indeed--like a thief, taken something that did not belong to him. And as he realized more and more how his silence must appear to her as premeditated, and reflected how her fine nature would shrink from what she could not but view as a coarse ungentlemanly trick he grew hot with shame. No wonder, he told himself, that he had instinctively shrunk from looking into the faces of the people whom he had met and had fled to the privacy of his rooms.

Dan did not spare himself that afternoon, and yet beneath all the self scorn he felt, there was a deeper sub-conscious conviction, that he was not--at heart--guilty of the thing with which he charged himself. This very conviction, though felt but dimly, made him rage the more. He had the hopeless feeling of one caught in a trap--of one convicted of a crime of which in the eyes of the law he was guilty, but which he knew he had unwittingly committed.

The big fellow in so closely analyzing the woman's thoughts and feelings, and in taking so completely her point of view, neglected himself. He could not realize how true to himself he had been that afternoon, or how truly the impulse that had prompted him to deny his calling was an instinct of his own strong manhood--the instinct to be accepted or rejected for what he was within himself, rather than for the mere accident of his calling and position in life.

One thing was clear, he must see Miss Farwell again. She must listen to his explanation and apology. She must somehow understand. For apart from his interest in the young woman herself, there was that purpose of the minister to win her to the church. It was a monstrous thought that he himself should be the means of strengthening her feeling against the cause to which he had given his life. So he had gone to Judge Strong's home early that evening determined to see her. But at the gate, when he saw Dr. Harry turning in as if to stop, he had passed on in the dusk. Later at prayer meeting his thoughts were far from the subject under discussion. His own public petition was so faltering and uncertain that Elder Jordan watched him suspiciously.

It would be interesting to know just how much the interest of the man in the woman colored and strengthened the purpose of the preacher to win this soul so antagonistic to his church.

The next day, Dan was putting the finishing touches to his sermon on "The Christian Ministry" when his landlady interrupted him with the news of the attempted suicide in Old Town. Upon hearing that the girl had at one time been a member of his congregation, he went at once to learn more of the particulars from Dr. Oldham. He found his old friend who had returned from Old Town a half hour before, sitting in his big chair on the front porch gazing at the cast-iron monument across the way. To the young man's questions the Doctor returned only monosyllables or grunts and growls that might mean anything or nothing at all. Plainly the Doctor did not wish to talk. His face was dark and forbidding, and under his scowling brows, his eyes--when Dan caught a glimpse of them--were hard and fierce. The young man had never seen his friend in such a mood and he could not understand.

Dan did not know that the kind-hearted old physician had just learned from his wife that the girl with the bad reputation had called at the house to see him a few hours before she had made the attempt to end her life, and that she had been sent away by the careful Martha with the excuse that the doctor was too busy to see her. Neither could the boy know how the old man's love for him was keeping him silent lest, in his present frame of mind, he say things that would strengthen that something which they each felt had come between them.

Suddenly the Doctor turned his gaze from the monument and flashed a meaning look straight into the brown eyes of the young minister. "She was a member of your church. Why don't you go to see her? Ask the nurse if there is anything the church can do." As Dan went down the walk he added, "Tell Miss Farwell that I sent you." Then smiling grimly he growled to himself, "You'll get valuable material for that sermon on the ministry, or I miss my guess."

The nurse! The nurse! He was to see her again! The thought danced in Dan's brain. How strangely the opportunity had come. The young minister felt that the whole thing had, in some mysterious way, been planned to the end he desired. In the care that the church would give this poor girl the nurse would see how wrongly she had judged it. She would be forced to listen to him now. Surely God had given him this opportunity!

What--the poor suicide?

Oh, but Dan was not thinking of the suicide. That would come later. Just now his mind and heart were too full of his own desire to win this young woman to the church. He saw only the opportunity so mysteriously opened to him. Dan was thoroughly orthodox.

So in the brightness of the afternoon the pastor of Memorial Church went along the street that, in the gray chill of the early morning, had echoed the hurried steps of the doctor's horse. The homes--so silent when the nurse had passed on her mission--were now full of life. The big trees--dank and still then, now stirred softly in the breeze, and rang with the songs of their feathered denizens. The pale stars were lost in the infinite blue and the sunlight warmed and filled the air--flooding street and home and lawn and flower and tree with its golden beauty. At the top of Academy Hill Dan paused. For him no shroud of mist wrapped the picturesque old building; no fog of mysterious depths hid the charming landscape.

Recalling the things the nurse had said to him there under the oak on the grassy knoll, and thinking of his sermon in answer--he smiled. It was a good sermon, he thought, with honest pride--strong, logical, convincing.

And it was--at that moment.

With a confident stride he went on his way.