The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXII. As Dr. Harry Sees It
"Thus Dr. Harry presented another side of the problem to his bewildered friend--a phase of the question commonly ignored by every fiery reformer, whose particular reformation is the one--the only way."
The friendship between Dan and Dr. Abbott had grown rapidly, as was natural, for the two men had much in common. In a town as small as Corinth, there are many opportunities for even the busiest men to meet, and scarcely a day passed that the doctor and the preacher did not exchange greetings, at least. As often as their duties permitted they were together; sometimes at the office or in Dan's rooms; again, of an evening, at Harry's home; or driving miles across country behind the bay mare or big Jim--the physician to see a patient, and the minister to be the "hitchin' post."
Harry was just turning from the telephone that evening when Dan entered the house.
"Hello, parson!" he cried heartily. "I was just this minute trying to get you. I couldn't think of anything to do to anybody else, so I thought I'd have a try at you. That wasn't such a bad guess either," he added, when he had a good look at his friend's face. "You evidently need to have something fixed. What is it, liver?" He led the way into the library.
"Not mine," said Dan shortly. "I don't believe I have one."
He pushed an arm chair to face the doctor's favorite seat by the table.
Harry chuckled as he reached for his pipe and tobacco. "You don't need to have one yourself in order to suffer from liver troubles. Speaking professionally, my opinion is that you preachers, as a class, are more likely to suffer from other people's livers than from your own, though it is also true that the average parson has more of his own than he knows what to do with."
"And what do you doctors prescribe when it is the other fellow's?" asked Dan.
The other struck a match. "Oh, there's a difference of opinion in the profession. The old Doctor, for instance, pins his faith to a split bamboo with a book of flies or a can of bait."
"And you?" Dan was smiling now.
The answer came through a cloud of smoke. "Just a pipe and a book."
Dan's smile vanished. "I fear your treatment would not agree with my constitution," he said grimly. "My system does not permit me to use the remedy you prescribe."
"Oh, I see. You mean the pipe." A puff of smoke punctuated the remark. The physician was watching his friend's face now, and the fun was gone from his voice as he said gravely, "Pardon me. Brother Matthews; I meant no slur upon your personal conviction touching--"
"Brother Matthews!" interrupted Dan, sharply, "I thought we had agreed to drop all that. It's bad enough to be dodged and shunned by every man in town without your rubbing it in. As for my personal convictions, they have nothing to do with the case. In fact, my system does not permit me to have personal convictions."
Dr. Harry's eyes twinkled. "This system of yours seems to be in a bad way, Dan. What's wrong with it?"
"Wrong with it! Wrong with my system? Man alive, don't you know this is heresy! How can there be anything wrong with my system? Doesn't it relieve me of any responsibility in the matter of right and wrong? Doesn't it take from me all such burdens as personal convictions. Doesn't it fix my standard of goodness, and then doesn't it make goodness my profession? You, poor drudge; you and the rest of the merely humans must be good as a matter of sentiment! Thanks to my system my goodness is a matter of business; I am paid for being good. My system says that your pipe and, perhaps your book, are bad--sinful. I have nothing to do with it. I only obey and draw my salary."
"Oh, well," said Harry, soothingly, "there is the old Doctor's remedy. It's probably better on the whole."
"I tried that the other day," Dan growled.
"Worked, didn't it?"
Dan grinned in spite of himself. "At first the effects seemed to be very beneficial, but later I found that it was, er--somewhat irritating, and that it slightly aggravated the complaint."
The doctor was smiling now. "Suppose you try a little physical exercise occasionally--working in the garden or--"
Dan threw up his hands with a tragic gesture. "Suicide!" he almost shouted.
Then they both lay back in their chairs and fairly howled with laughter.
"Whew! That does a fellow good!" gasped Dan.
"I guess we have arrived," said Harry, with a final chuckle. "Thought we were way off the track once or twice; but I have located your liver trouble, all right. When did they call?"
"This afternoon. Did you know?"
The doctor nodded. "I have been expecting it for several days. I guess you were about the only person in Corinth who wasn't."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"If I can avoid it, I never tell a patient of a coming operation until it's time to operate; then it's all over before they can get nervous."
Dan shuddered--the laugh was all out of him now. "I have certainly been on the table this afternoon," he said. "I need to talk it out with someone. That's what I came to you for."
"Perhaps you had better tell me the particulars," said Harry, quietly.
So Dan told him, and when he had finished they had both grown very serious.
"I was afraid of this, Dan," said Harry. "You'll need to be very careful--very careful."
The other started to speak, but the doctor checked him.
"I know. I know how you feel. What you say about the system and all that is all too true, and you haven't seen the worst of it yet, by a good deal."
"Do you mean to tell me that Miss Farwell will be made to suffer for her interest in that poor girl?" demanded Dan warmly.
"If Miss Farwell continues to live with Grace Conner at Mrs. Mulhall's, there is not a respectable home in this town that will receive her," answered the doctor bluntly.
"My God! are the people blind? Can't the church see what a beautiful--what a Christ-like thing she is doing?"
"You know Grace Conner's history," replied Harry, coolly. "What reason is there to think it will be different in Miss Farwell's case, so far as the attitude of the community goes?"
Dan could not keep his seat. In his agitation he walked the floor. Suddenly turning on the other he demanded, "Then I am to understand that my friendship with Miss Farwell will mean for me--"
Dr. Harry was silent. Indeed, how could he suggest, ever so indirectly, that the friendship between Dan and Miss Farwell should be discontinued. If the young woman had been anyone else, or if Dr. Harry himself had not--But why attempt explanation?
The minister continued tramping up and down the room, stopping now and then to face the doctor, who sat still in his chair by the library table, quietly smoking.
"This is horrible, Harry! I--I can't believe it! So far as my friendship for Miss Farwell goes, that is only an incident. It does not matter in itself."
Dr. Harry puffed vigorously. He thought to himself that this might be true, but something in Dan's face and voice when he spoke--something of which he himself was unconscious--made Harry glad that he had not answered.
"It is the spirit of it all that matters," the minister continued, pausing again. "I never dreamed that such a thing could be. That Grace Conner's life should be ruined by the wicked carelessness of these people seems bad enough. But that they should take the same attitude toward Miss Farwell, simply because she is seeking to do that Christian thing that the church itself will not do, is--is monstrous!" He turned impatiently to resume his restless movement. Then, when his friend did not speak he continued slowly, as though the words were forced from him against his will: "And to think that they could be so unmoved by the suffering of that poor girl, their own victim, and so untouched by the example of Miss Farwell; and then that they should give such grave consideration and be so influenced by absolutely groundless and vicious idle gossip! And that the church of Christ, that Christianity itself, should be so wholly in the hands of people so unspeakably blind, so--contemptibly mean and small in their conceptions of the religion of Jesus Christ!"
He confronted the doctor again and his face flushed. "Why, Doctor, my whole career as a Christian minister depends upon the mere whim of these people, who are moved by such a spirit as this. No matter what motives may prompt my course they have the power to prevent me from doing my work. This is one of the strongest and most influential churches in the brotherhood. They can give me such a name that my life-work will be ruined. What can I do?"
"You must be very careful, Dan," said Dr. Harry, slowly.
"Careful! And that means, I suppose, that I must bow to the people of this church--ruled as they are by such a spirit--as to my lords and masters; that I shall have no other God but this congregation; that I shall deny my own conscience for theirs; that I shall go about the trivial, nonsensical things they call my pastoral duties, in fear and trembling; that my ministry is to cringe when they speak, and do their will regardless of what I feel to be the will of Christ! Faugh!" Big Dan drew himself erect. "If this is what the call to the ministry means, I am beginning to understand some things that have always puzzled me greatly."
He dropped wearily into his chair.
"Tell me, Doctor," he demanded, "do the people generally, see these things?"
"It seems to me that everyone who thinks must see them," replied the other.
"Then why did no one tell me? Why did not the old Doctor explain the real condition of the church?"
"As a rule it is not a safe thing to attempt to tell a minister these things. Would you have listened, Dan, if he had tried to tell you? Or, because he is not a church man, would you not have misunderstood his motives? The Doctor loves you, Dan."
"But you are a church man, a member of the official board of my congregation. If men like you know these things why are you in the church at all?"
Silently Dr. Harry re-filled and lighted his pipe. It was as if he deliberated over his reply. The membership of every church may be divided into three distinct classes: those who are the church; those who belong to the church; and those who are members, but who neither are, nor belong to. Dr. Harry was a member.
"Dan," said the physician, "I suppose it is very difficult for such men as you to understand the religious dependence of people like myself. We see the church's lack of appreciation of true worth of character, we know the vulgar, petty scheming and wire-pulling for place, the senseless craving for notoriety, and the prostitution of the spirit of Christ's teaching to denominational ends. We understand how the ministers are at the mercy of the lowest minds and the meanest spirits in their congregation; but, Dan, because we love the cause we do not talk of these things even to each other, for fear of being misunderstood. It is useless to talk of them to our ministers, for they dare not listen. Why man, I never in my life felt that I could talk to my pastor as I am talking to you!" He smiled. "I guess that I was afraid that they would tell Judge Strong, and that the church would put me out. And, with most of them, that--probably, is exactly what would have happened. I am not sure but you will consider me unsafe, and avoid me in the future," he added whimsically.
Dan smiled at his words, though they revealed so much to him.
Dr. Harry went on, "We remain in the church, and give it our support, I suppose, because we are dependent upon it for our religious life; because we know no religious life outside of it. It is the only institution that professes to be distinctively Christian, and we love its teaching in spite of its practice. We are always hoping that some one will show us a way out. And some one will!" He spoke passionately now, with deep conviction: "Some one must! This Godless mockery cannot continue. I have too much faith in the goodness of men to believe otherwise. I don't know how the change will come. But it will come and it will come from men in the church--men like you, Dan, who come to the ministry with the highest ideals. But you must be careful, mighty careful, not for your own sake, alone, but for the sake of the cause we both love. Some operations are exceedingly dangerous to the life of the patient; some medicines must be administered with care lest they kill instead of cure. Men like me, from long experience with professional reformers, look with distrust upon the preacher who talks about his church, even while we know that there is a great need."
Thus Dr. Harry presented another side of the problem to his bewildered friend--a phase of the question commonly ignored by every fiery reformer, whose particular reformation is the one--the only way.
Later Dan asked, "Do you think Miss Farwell understands what her course means, Doctor?"
Harry shook his head. "I wish I knew how much she understands. Already two or three people who expected to call her have told me they would find someone else. I have several cases now that need a trained nurse, but they won't have her because of what they have heard. And yet I promised her, you know, that she should have plenty of work."
"Have you told her this?" asked Dan.
Again Harry shook his head. "What's the good?"
"But she ought to be told," exclaimed the other.
"I know that, Dan. But I can't do it, after urging her, as I did, to stay in Corinth. You are the one to tell her, I am sure."
Then, as if to avoid any further discussion of the matter he rose. "You certainly have had enough of this for today, old man. I think I'll prescribe a little music, now, and, if you don't mind, I'll take some of my own prescription. I feel the need."
He went to his piano, and for an hour Dan was under the spell.
When the last sweet harmony had slipped softly away into the night, the musician sat still, his head bowed. Dan went quietly to his side, and laid a hand on the doctor's shoulder.
"Amen!" he said, reverently. "It is a wonderful, beautiful ministry, Doctor. You have given me faith and hope and peace. Thank you!"
When his friend had gone, Dr. Harry went back to the piano. Softly, smoothly his fingers moved over the ivory keys. He had played for Dan--he played now for himself. Into the music he put all that he dared not put into words: all the longing, all the pain, all the surrender, all the sacrifice, were there. For again, when the minister had spoken of Miss Farwell the doctor had seen in his friend's face and heard in his voice that which Dan himself did not yet recognize. And Harry had spoken the conviction of his heart when he said, "You are the one to tell her, I am sure."
Of this man, too, it might be written, "He saved others; himself he could not save."