The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXVI. The Winter Passes
"And, as the weeks passed, it came to be noticed that there was often in the man's eyes, and in his voice, a great sadness--the sadness of one who toils at a hopeless task; of one who suffers for crimes of which he is innocent; of one who fights for a well-loved cause with the certainty of defeat."
The harvest time passed, the winter came and was gone again, and another springtime was at hand, with its new life stirring in blade and twig and branch, and its mystical call to the hearts of men.
Memorial Church was looking forward to the great convention of the denomination that was to be held in a distant city.
All through the months following Dan's sermon on "The Fellowship of Service," the new note continued dominant in his preaching, and indeed in all his work. Even his manner in the pulpit changed. All those little formalities and mannerisms--tricks of the trade--disappeared, while the distinguishing garb of the clergyman was discarded for clothing such as is worn by the man in the pew.
It was impossible that the story of those three days in John Gardner's harvest field should not get out. Memorial Church was crowded at every service by those whose hearts responded, even while they failed to grasp the full significance of the preaching and life of this manly fellow, who, in spite of his profession, was so much a man among men.
But the attitude of the church fathers and of the ruling class was still one of doubt and suspicion, however much they could not ignore the manifest success of their minister. In spite of their misgivings their hearts swelled with pride and satisfaction as, with his growing popularity they saw their church forging far to the front. And, try as they might, they could fix upon nothing unchristian in his teaching. They could not point to a single sentence in any one of his sermons that did not unmistakably harmonize with the teaching and spirit of Jesus.
It was not so much what Dan preached that worried these pillars of the church; but it was what he did not preach, that made them uneasy. They missed the familiar pious sayings and platitudes, the time-worn sermon-subjects that had been handled by every preacher they had ever sat under. The old path--beaten so hard and plain by the many "bearers of good tidings," the safe, sure ground of denominational doctrine and theological speculation, the familiar, long-tried type of prayer, even, were all quietly, but persistently ignored by this calm-eyed, broad-shouldered, stalwart minister, who was often so much in earnest in his preaching that he forgot to talk like a preacher.
Unquestionably, decided the fathers, this young giant was "unsafe"; and--wagging their heads wisely--they predicted dire disasters, under their breath; while openly and abroad they boasted of the size of their audiences and their minister's power.
Nor did these keepers of the faith fail to make Dan feel their dissatisfaction. By hints innumerable, by carefully withholding words of encouragement, by studied coldness, they made him understand that they were not pleased. Every plan for practical Christian work that Dan suggested (and he suggested many that winter) they coolly refused to endorse, while requesting that he give more attention to the long-established activities.
Without protest or bitterness Dan quietly gave up his plans, and, except in the matter of his sermons, yielded to their demands. Never was there a word of harshness or criticism of church or people in his talks; only firm, but gentle insistence upon the great living principles of Christ's teaching. And the people, in his presence, knew often that feeling the Doctor was conscious of--that this man was, in some way, that which they might have been. Some of his hearers this feeling saddened with regret; others it inspired with hope and filled them with a determination to realize that best part of themselves; to still others it was a rebuke, the more stinging because so unconsciously given, and they were filled with anger and envy.
Meanwhile the attitude of the people toward Hope Farwell and the girl whom she had befriended, remained unaltered. But now Deborah and Denny as well came to share in their displeasure. Dan made no change in his relation to the nurse and her friends in the little cottage on the other side of the garden. In spite of constant hints, insinuations and reflections on the part of his church masters, he calmly, deliberately threw down the gauntlet before the whole scandal-loving community. And the community respected and admired him--for this is the way with the herd--even while it abated not one whit its determination to ruin him the instant chance afforded the opportunity.
So the spirit that lives in Corinth--the Ally, waited. The power that had put the shadow of pain over the life of Grace Conner, waited for Hope and Dan, until the minister himself should furnish the motive that should call it into action. Dan felt it--felt his enemy stirring quietly in the dark, watching, waiting. And, as the weeks passed, it came to be noticed that there was often in the man's eyes, and in his voice, a great sadness--the sadness of one who toils at a hopeless task; of one who suffers for crimes of which he is innocent; of one who fights for a well-loved cause with the certainty of defeat.
Because of the very fine sense of Dan's nature the situation caused him the keenest suffering. It was all so different from the life to which he had looked forward with such feelings of joy; it was all so unjust. Many were the evenings that winter when the minister flew to Dr. Harry and his ministry of music. And in those hours the friendship between the two men grew into something fine and lasting, a friendship that was to endure always. Many times, too, Dan fled across the country to the farm of John Gardner, there to spend the day in the hardest toil, finding in the ministry of labor, something that met his need. But more than these was the friendship of Hope Farwell and the influence of her life and ministry.
It was inevitable that the very attitude of the community should force these two friends into closer companionship and sympathy. The people, in judging them so harshly for the course each had chosen--because to them it was right and the only course possible to their religious ideals--drove them to a fuller dependence upon each other.
Dan, because of his own character and his conception of Christ, understood, as perhaps no one else in the community could possibly have done, just why the nurse clung to Grace Conner and the work she had undertaken; while he felt that she grasped, as no one else, the peculiarly trying position in which he so unexpectedly found himself placed in his ministry. And Hope Farwell, feeling that Dan alone understood her, realized as clearly that the minister had come to depend upon her as the one friend in Corinth who appreciated his true situation. Thus, while she gave him strength for his fight, she drew strength for her own from him.
Since that day when he had told her of the talk of the people that matter had not been mentioned between them, though it was impossible that they should not know the attitude of the community toward them both. That subtle, un-get-at-able power--the Ally, that is so irresistible, so certain in its work, depending for results upon words with double meanings, suggestive nods, tricks of expression, sly winks and meaning smiles--while giving its victims no opportunity for defense, never leaves them in doubt as to the object of its attack.
The situation was never put into words by these two, but they knew, and each knew the other knew. And their respect, confidence and regard for each other grew steadily, as it must with all good comrades under fire. In those weeks each learned to know and depend upon the other, though neither realized to what extent. So it came to be that it was not Grace Conner alone, that kept Miss Farwell in Corinth, but the feeling that Dan Matthews, also, depended upon her--the feeling that she could not desert her comrade in the fight, or--as they had both come to feel--their fight.
Hope Farwell was not a schoolgirl. She was a strong full-blooded, perfectly developed, workwoman, matured in body and mind. She realized what the continued friendship of this man might mean to her--realized it fully and was glad. Dimly, too, she saw how this that was growing in her heart might bring great pain and suffering--life-long suffering, perhaps. For--save this--their present, common fight, the life of the nurse and the life of the churchman held nothing in common. His deepest convictions had led him into a ministry that was, to her, the sheerest folly.
Hope Farwell's profession had trained her to almost perfect self-control. There was no danger that she would let herself go. Her strong, passionate heart would never be given its freedom by her, to the wrecking of the life upon which it fixed its affections. She would suffer the more deeply for that very reason. There is no pain so poignant as that which is borne in secret. But still--still she was glad! Such a strange thing is a woman's heart!
And Dan! Dan was not given to self-analysis; few really strong men are. He felt: he did not reason. Neither did he look ahead to see whither he was bound. Such a strange thing is the heart of a man!