The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XX. Common Ground
"'But we will find common ground,' he exclaimed. 'Look here, we have already found it! This garden--Denny's garden!'"
The following Tuesday morning Dan was at work bright and early in Denny's garden. Many of the good members of Memorial Church would have said that Dan might better have been at work in his study.
The ruling classes in this congregation, that theoretically had no ruling classes, were beginning to hint among themselves of a humiliation beyond expression at the spectacle, now becoming so common, of their minister working with his coat off like an ordinary laboring man. He should have more respect for the dignity of the cloth. At least, if he had no pride of his own, he should have more regard for the feelings of his membership. Besides this they did not pay him to work in anybody's garden.
The grave and watchful keepers of the faith, who held themselves responsible to the God they thought they worshiped, for the belief of the man they had employed to prove to the world wherein it was all wrong and they were all right, watched their minister's growing interest in this Catholic family with increasing uneasiness.
The rest of the church, who were neither of the class nor of the keepers, but merely passengers, as it were, in the Ark of Salvation, looked on with puzzled interest. It was a new move in the game that added a spice of ginger to the play not wholly distasteful. From a safe distance the "passengers" kept one eye on the "class" and the other on the "keepers," with occasionally a stolen glance at Dan, and waited nervously for their cue.
The world outside the fold awaited developments with amused and breathless interest. Everybody secretly admired the stalwart young worker in the garden, and the entire community was grateful that he had given them something new to talk about. Memorial Church was filled at every service.
Meanwhile wholly unconscious of all this, Big Dan continued digging his way among the potatoes, helping the crippled boy to harvest and prepare for market the cabbages and other vegetables, that grew in the plot of ground under his study window, never dreaming that there was aught of interest either to church or town in the simple neighborly kindness. It is a fact--though Dan at this time, would not have admitted it, even to himself--that the hours spent in the garden, with Denny enthroned upon the big rock, and Deborah calling an occasional cheery word from the cottage, were by far the most pleasant hours of the day.
Every nerve and muscle in the splendid warm-blooded body of this young giant of the hills called for action. The one mastering passion of his soul was the passion for deeds--to do; to serve; to be used. He had felt himself called to the ministry by his desire to accomplish a work that would be of real worth to the world. He was already conscious of being somewhat out of place with the regular work of the church: the pastoral calls, which mean visiting, day after day, in the homes of the members to talk with the women about nothing at all, at hours when the men of the household are away laboring, with brain or hand, for the necessities of life; the meetings of the various women's societies, where the minister himself is the only man present, and the talk is all women's talk; the committee meetings, where hours are spent in discussing the most trivial matters with the most ponderous gravity--as though the salvation of the world depends upon the color of the pulpit carpet, or who should bake a cake for the next social.
For nearly a week now, Dan had found no time to touch the garden; he was resolved this day to make good his neglect. An hour before Denny was up the minister was ready for his work. As he went to get the garden-tools from the little lean-to woodshed, Deborah called from the kitchen, "'Tis airly ye are this mornin' sir. It's not many that do be layin' awake all the night waitin' for the first crack o' day, so they can get up to somebody else's work fer thim."
The minister laughingly dodged the warm-hearted expressions of gratitude he saw coming. "I've been shirking lately," he said. "If I don't do better than this the boss will be firing me sure. How is he?"
"Fine sir, fine! He's not up yet. You'll hear him yelling at you as soon as he sees what you're at."
"Good," ejaculated the other. "I'll get ahead of him this time. Perhaps I can get such a start before he turns out that he'll let me stay a while longer, as it would not be pleasant to get my discharge."
Passing laborers and business men on the way to their daily tasks, smiled at the coatless figure in the garden. Several called a pleasant greeting. The boy with the morning papers from the great city checked his whistle as he looked curiously over the fence, and the Doctor who came out on the porch looked across the street to the busy gardener and grunted with satisfaction as he turned to his roses.
But Dan's mind was not occupied altogether that morning by the work upon which his hands were engaged. Neither was he thinking only of his church duties, or planning sermons for the future. As he bent to his homely tasks his thoughts strayed continually to the young woman whom he had last seen beside the bed of the sick girl in the poverty-stricken room in Old Town. The beautiful freshness and sweetness of the morning and the perfume of the dewy things seemed subtly to suggest her. Thoughts of her seemed, somehow, to fit in with gardening.
He recalled every time he had met her. The times had not been many, and they were still strangers, but every occasion had been marked by something that seemed to fix it as unusual, making their meeting seem far from commonplace. He still had that feeling that she was to play a large part in his life and he was confident that they would meet again. He was wondering where and how when he looked up from his work to see her coming toward him, dressed in a fresh uniform of blue and white.
The young fellow stood speechless with wonder as she came on, picking her way daintily among the beds and rows, her skirts held carefully, her beautiful figure expressing health and strength and joyous, tingling life in every womanly curve and line.
There was something wonderfully intimate and sweetly suggestive in the picture they made that morning, these two--the strong young woman in her uniform of service going in the glow of the early day to the stalwart coatless man in the garden, to interrupt him in his homely labor.
"Good morning," she said with a smile. "I have been watching you from the house and decided that you were working altogether too industriously, and needed a breathing spell. Do you do everything so energetically?"
It is sadly true of most men today that the more you cover them up the better they look. Our civilization demands a coat, and the rule seems to be--the more civilization, the more coat. Dan Matthews is one of those rare men who look well in his shirt sleeves. His shoulders and body needed no shaped and padded garments to set them off. The young woman's eyes, in spite of her calm self-possession, betrayed her admiration as he stood before her so tall and straight--his powerful shoulders, deep chest and great muscled arms, so clearly revealed.
But Dan did not see the admiration in her eyes. He was so bewildered by the mere fact of her presence that he failed to note this interesting detail.
He looked toward the house, then back to the young woman's face.
"You were watching me from the house," he repeated. "Really, I did not know that you--"
"Were your neighbors?" she finished. "Yes we are. Grace and I moved yesterday. You see," she continued eager to explain, "it was not good for her to remain in that place. It was all so suggestive of her suffering. I knew that Mrs. Mulhall had a room for rent, because I had planned to take it before I decided to go back to Chicago." She blushed as she recalled the thoughts that had led her to the decision, but went on resolutely. "The poor child has such a fear of everybody, that I thought it would help her to know that Mrs. Mulhall and Denny could be good to her, even though it was Denny's father, that her father--you know--"
Dan's eyes were shining. "Yes I know," he said.
"I explained to Mrs. Mulhall and, like the dear good soul she is, she understood at once and made the poor child feel better right away. I thought, too, that if Grace were living here with Mrs. Mulhall it might help the people to be kinder to her. Then someone will give her a chance to earn her living and she will be all right. The people will soon act differently when they see how Mrs. Mulhall feels, don't you think they will?"
Dan could scarcely find words. She was so entirely unconscious of the part she was playing--of this beautiful thing she was doing.
"And you?" he asked, "You are not going away?"
"Not until she gets a place. She will need me until she finds a home, you know. And Dr. Harry assures me there is plenty of work for me in Corinth. So Grace and I will keep house at Mrs. Mulhall's. Grace will do the work while I am busy. It will make her feel less dependent and," she added frankly, "it will not cost so much that way. And that brings me to what I came out here to say." She paused. "I wish to thank you, Mr. Matthews, for your help--for the money you sent. The poor child needed so many things, and--I want to beg your pardon for--for the shameful way I treated you when you called. I--I knew better, and Mrs. Mulhall has been telling me how much you have done for them. I--"
Dan interrupted, "Please don't, Miss Farwell; I understand. You were exactly right. I know, now." Then he added, slowly, "I want you to know, though, Miss Farwell, that I had no thought of being rude when we talked in the old Academy yard." She was silent and he went on, "I must make you understand that I am not the ill-mannered cad that I seemed. I--You know, this ministry"--he emphasized the word with a smile--"is so new to me--I am really so inexperienced!"
She glanced at him quickly.
He continued, "I had never before heard such thoughts as you expressed, and I was too puzzled to realize how my silence would appear to you when you knew."
"Then this is your first church?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "and I am beginning to realize how woefully ignorant I am of life. You know I was born and brought up in the backwoods. Until I went to college I knew only our simple country life; at college I knew only books and students. Then I came here."
As he talked the young woman's face cleared. It was something very refreshing to hear such a man declare his ignorance of life with the frankness of a boy. She held out her hand impulsively.
"Let's forget it all," she said. "It was a horrid mistake."
"And we are to be good friends?" he asked, grasping her outstretched hand.
Without replying the young woman quietly released her hand and drew back a few paces--she was trembling. She fought for self-control. There was something--what was it about this man? The touch of his hand--Hope Farwell was frightened by emotions new and strange to her.
She found a seat on the big rock and ignoring his question said, "So that's why you are so big and strong, and know so well how to work in a garden. I thought it was strange for one of your calling. I see now how natural it is for you."
"Yes," he smiled, "it is very natural--more so than preaching. But tell me--don't you think we should be good friends? We are going to be now, are we not?"
The young woman answered with quiet dignity, "Friendship Mr. Matthews means a great deal to me, and to you also, I am sure. Friends must have much in common. We have nothing, because--because everything that I said to you at the Academy, to me, is true. We do not live in the same world."
"But it's for myself--the man and not the minister--that I ask it," he urged eagerly.
She watched his face closely as she answered, "But you and your ministry are one and the same. Yourself--your life is your ministry. You are your ministry and your ministry is you."
"But we will find common ground," he exclaimed. "Look here, we have already found it! This garden--Denny's garden! We'll put a sign over the gate, 'No professional ministry shall enter here!'--The preacher lives up there." He pointed to his window. "The man, Dan Matthews, works in the garden here. To the man in the garden you may say what you like about the parson up there. We will differ, of course, but we may each gain something, as is right for friends, for we will each grant to the other the privilege of being true to self."
She hesitated; then slipping from the rock and looking him full in the face said, "I warn you it will not work. But for friendship's sake we will try."
Neither of them realized the deep significance of the terms, but in the days that followed, the people of Corinth had much--much more, to talk about. The Ally was well pleased and saw to it that the ladies of the Aid Society were not long in deciding that something must be done.