Chapter XXIV. The Way Out
 

"'You see you will need to find a way out for yourself.'"

Deborah was in the rear of the house, busily engaged with a big washing. Denny had gone up town on some errand. Much to Miss Farwell's surprise Dan did not, as usual, take the path leading to the garden, but kept straight ahead to the porch, and his face was very grave as he asked if he might come in. She welcomed him with frank pleasure, and took up at once the thread of conversation which the visit of the Elders had interrupted the day before. But it was clear that her big friend's mind was busy with other thoughts, and soon they were facing an embarrassing silence. The young woman gazed thoughtfully at the monument across the street, while Dan moved uneasily. At last the man broke the silence.

"Miss Farwell I don't know what you will think of me for coming to you upon the errand that brought me, but I feel that I--I mean, I want you to believe that I am trying to do what is best."

She looked at him questioningly.

Dan went on. "I learned something yesterday, that I am sure you ought to know, and there seems to be no one else to tell you, so I--I came."

Miss Farwell's cheeks and brow grew crimson, but in a moment she was her own calm self again.

"Go on, please."

Then he told her.

While he was speaking of the Elders' visit and his talk with Dr. Abbott, she watched him closely. Two or three times she smiled. When he had finished she asked with a touch of sarcasm in her voice, "And do you wish to see my letters of recommendation? Shall I give you a list of people to whom you might write?"

"Miss Farwell!" Dan's voice brought the hot color again to her cheek.

"Forgive me! That was unkind," she said.

"Well rather. You might see that I did not come to you with this for--well for fun," he finished with a grim smile.

"You don't seem to be enjoying it greatly," she agreed critically. "I can easily understand how this talk might result in something very serious for you. You will remember, I think, that I warned you, you could not leave the preacher on the other side of the fence." She was deliberately trying him. "But of course you can easily avoid any trouble with your people, you have only to--"

She stopped, checked by the expression on his face.

His voice rang out sharply with a quality in its tone that sent a thrill to the heart of the woman. "I did not come here to discuss the possibility of trouble for me. Please believe this--even if I am a servant of the church."

He spoke the last words with a shade of bitterness, she thought, and as she looked at him--his powerful form tense for a moment, with firm-set lips and square jaw and stern eyes--she found herself wondering what would happen if this servant should ever decide to be the master.

"Don't you see how this idle, silly, wicked talk is likely to harm you?" he asked almost roughly. "You know what the same thing did for Grace Conner. It is really serious, Miss Farwell--believe me it is, or I should not have told you about it at all. Already Dr. Harry--" He checked himself. His reference to his friend was unintentional.

She finished the sentence quietly, "--has found some people who will not employ me because of the things that are being said. I knew something was wrong, for--instead of telling me of possible cases and assuring me of work, he has been saying lately, 'I will let you know if anything turns up.'"

Dan broke in eagerly, "Dr. Abbott has done everything he could, Miss Farwell. I ought not to have mentioned him at all. You must not think--"

She interrupted him with quiet dignity. "Certainly I do not think of any such thing. You and Dr. Abbott are both very kind to consider me in this way, but really you must not be troubled about this silly gossip. I am not exactly dependent upon the good people of Corinth, you know. I can go back to the city at any time. Perhaps," she added slowly, "considering everything that would be the wisest thing to do, after all. It was only for Grace Conner's sake I have remained."

Dan spoke eagerly again, "But you do not need to leave Corinth. This talk you know, is all because of your companion's reputation."

"You mean," she said quietly, "the reputation that people have given my companion."

"So far as the situation goes it amounts to the same thing," he answered. "It is your association with her. If you could arrange to board with some family now--"

Again she interrupted him. "Grace needs me, Mr. Matthews."

"But it is all so unjust," he argued lamely. "The sacrifice is too great. You can't afford to place yourself before the community in such a wrong light."

The young woman's face revealed her surprise and disappointment. She had grown to think of Dan as being big and fine in spirit as in body, and now, to hear him voice, what she believed to be the spirit and policy of his profession, was a shock that hurt. She would have flashed out at him with scornful, cutting words, but she felt, intuitively, that he was not being true to himself in this--that he was forced, as it were, into a false position by something deep down in his life. This feeling robbed her of the power to reply in stinging words, and instead gave her answer a note of sadness.

"Are you not advocating the doctrines and policy of the people who are responsible for the 'wrong light' rather than the teachings of Christ? Are you not now speaking professionally, having forgotten our agreement to leave the preacher on the other side of the fence?"

The big fellow's embarrassment was evident as he said, "Miss Farwell, you must not--you must not misunderstand me again. I did not mean--I cannot stand the thought of your being so misjudged because of this beautiful Christian service. I was only seeking a way out."

"No," she said gently, "I will not misunderstand you, but there is only one way out, as you put it."

"And that?"

"My ministry."

Dan sprang to his feet and crossed the room to her side.

"What a woman you are!" he exclaimed impulsively.

She arose, trembling; always when he came near--something about this man moved her strangely.

"But my way out will not help you," she said. "You must think of your ministry."

"I thought we agreed not to talk of that," he returned.

"But we must. You must consider what the result will be if you are seen with me--with Grace and me." She caught herself quickly. "Can the pastor of Memorial Church afford to associate with two women of such doubtful reputation? What will your church think?" She was smiling as she spoke, but beneath the smile there was much of earnestness. She was determined that he should know how well she understood his position. She wondered if he himself understood it. "You see you will need to find a way out for yourself," she insisted.

"I am not looking for a way out," he growled.

"Ah, but you should. You must consider your influence. Consider the great harm your interest in Grace Conner will do your church. You must remember your position in the community. You cannot afford to--to risk your reputation."

Under her skillfully chosen words, he again assumed an air of indignant reserve. She saw his hands clench, and the great muscles in his arms and shoulders swell.

Unconsciously--or was it unconsciously?--she had repeated almost the exact words of Elder Jordan. The stock argument sounded strange coming from her. Deliberately she went on. "Really there is no reason why you should suffer from this. It is not necessary for you to continue our little friendship. You can stay on the other side of the fence. I--we will understand. You have too much at stake. You--"

He interrupted. "Miss Farwell, I don't know what you think of me that you can say these things. I had hoped that you were beginning to look upon me as a man, not merely as a preacher. I had even dared think that our friendship was growing to be something more than just a little friendly acquaintance. If I am mistaken, I will stay on the other side of the fence. If I am right--if you do care for my friendship," he finished slowly, "I will try to serve my people faithfully, but I will not willingly shape my life by their foolish, wicked whims. Denny's garden may get along without me, and you may not need what you call 'our little friendship' but I need Denny's garden, and--I need you."

Her face shone with gladness. "Forgive me," she said. "I only wished to be sure that you understood some things clearly."

At her rather vague words, he said, "I am beginning to understand a good many things."

"And understanding, you will still come to--" she smiled, "to work in Denny's garden?"

"Yes," he answered with a boyish laugh, "just as if there were no other place in all the world where I could get a job."

She watched him as he swung down the walk, through the gate and away up the street under the big trees.

And as she watched him, she recalled his words, "I need you;--just as though there were no other place in all the world." The words repeated themselves in her mind.

How much did they mean, she wondered.