The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXXII. The Barrier
"As he looked at the figure so immovable, so hideously rigid and fixed in the act of proclaiming an issue that belonged to a dead age, he felt as if his heart would burst with wild rage at the whole community, people and church."
The Elder's visit to Dan was prompted not alone by the church situation, as he had come to look upon it in the conference with Judge Strong the evening before, but by the old man's regard for the young minister himself. Because of this he had said nothing to his brother official of his purpose, wishing to make his visit something more than an official call in the interest of the church. Nathaniel felt that alone he could talk to Dan in a way that would have been impossible in the presence of Judge Strong, and in this he was not mistaken.
In the months of his work in Corinth, Dan had learned to love this old church father, whose faithfulness to the dead past and to the obsolete doctrines of his denomination, was so large an element in his religion. It was impossible not to recognize that, so far as the claims of his creed would permit, Elder Jordan was a true Christian man--gentle, tolerant, kind in all things, outside the peculiar doctrine of the founders of his sect.
It was impossible for the minister and his Elder to see life from the same point of view. They belonged to different ages. The younger man, recognizing this, honored his elder brother for his fidelity to the faith of his fathers, and saw in this very faith, a virtue to admire. But the older man saw in Dan's broader views and neglect of the issues that belonged to the past age, a weakness of Christian character--to be overcome if possible, but on no ground to be tolerated, lest the very foundation of the church be sapped.
Elder Jordan's regard for Dan was wholly personal, entirely aside from the things of the church. The Elder was capable of sacrificing his own daughter if, in his judgment, it was necessary for the good of the cause, but he would not have loved her the less. There was that inhuman something in his religion that has always made religion a thing of schools and churches, rather than a thing of farms and shops; a thing of set days, of forms, rites, ceremonies, beliefs--rather than a thing of everyday living and the commonplace, individual duties, pleasures and drudgeries of life.
The old churchman did not spare Dan that afternoon. Very clearly he forced the minister to see the situation, making him understand the significance of the gossip that had been revived, and the growing dissatisfaction of the church leaders with his sermons. Dan listened quietly, with no lack of respect for the man who talked to him so plainly--for, under the sometimes harsh words, he felt always the true spirit of the speaker and his kindly regard.
Touching his preaching Dan could make no reply, for he realized how impossible it was for the Elder to change his point of view. The young minister had, indeed, neglected the things that, to the Elder and his kind, were the vital things. That he had taught the truths that to him seemed most vital made no difference in the situation. The fact remained that he was the hired servant of Memorial Church and was not employed by that body to preach what he considered the most vital truths.
But touching his friendship with the nurse, Dan spoke warmly in defense of the young woman--of himself he said nothing. As the Elder listened, he thought he saw how Dan had been influenced in his ministry by this woman who was not of the church, and the idea that had sent Charity to Miss Farwell took possession of him. Even as his daughter pleaded with the nurse to set the minister free, Nathaniel pleaded with Dan to free himself. Inevitably the results were exactly the same.
"Think of your ministry, my boy," urged the old man, "of the sacred duties of your office. Your attitude towards this woman has been, in every way, just what the people expect the conduct of a man to be toward the one he is seeking to make his wife. Yet no one for a moment thinks you expect to marry this woman, who is known to be an alien to the church. What success could you hope to have as a minister if you take to wife one who would have nothing to do with your church? What right have you, then, to be so intimate with her, to seek her company so constantly? Granting all that you say of her character, and all that Dr. Miles has written, why does she stay in Corinth, where no one will employ her, when she could so easily return to her work in the city, taking that Conner girl with her?"
Dan could find no words to answer the Elder. He was stunned by the situation to which he had been so suddenly awakened by the old man's plain words. But there were elements in the problem unknown to Nathaniel Jordan, though the old man felt that somehow his lance had gone deeper than he intended.
When the Elder was gone Dan's mind and heart clutched those words, "No one believes for a moment that you expect to marry this woman."
"To marry this woman--to marry--to marry!" He thought of his father and mother, and their perfect companionship. "What right have you in this case, to be so intimate with her, to seek her company so constantly?"
He started to go to the window that looks down on the garden, thinking to see her there, but checked himself. He knew now why the garden had grown to mean so much to him. He tried to realize what his life would be without this woman who had so grown into it.
Dan Matthews was no weakling who could amuse himself with a hundred imitation love affairs. In his veins ran the fierce, red blood of a strong race that had ruled by the simple strength of manhood their half-wild mountain wilderness. As the tiny stream, flowing quietly through peaceful meadow, still woodland, and sunny pasture--growing always broader and deeper as it runs--is unconscious of its quiet power until checked by some barrier, and rising, swelling to a mighty flood--seeks to clear its path; so Dan's love had grown. In the fields of friendship it had gained always depth and power until now--coming to the barrier--it rose in all its strength--a flood of passion that shook every nerve and fibre of the man's being, a mighty force that would not be denied.
Going to the other window he saw the cast-iron monument. And as he looked at the figure so immovable, so hideously rigid and fixed in the act of proclaiming an issue that belonged to a dead age, he felt as if his heart would burst with wild rage at the whole community, people and church.
"What right had he to the companionship of this woman?"
"The right that God has given to every man--nay to every beast and bird--the right to seek his mate; the right of the future. What right, indeed, had anyone to challenge him, to say that he should not win her if he could? If he could--"
As suddenly as the rage had come it left him, and he shrank hopeless within himself, cowering before the thought of his position in life, and of her attitude toward the church and its ministers.
"The Elder and his people need give themselves no uneasiness," he thought. "The barrier was too well-built to be swept aside by love of man and woman."
He saw that now, even the old friendship between them would be impossible. He wondered if his going out of her life would make any ripple in its calm, even current; if she would care very much?
The Elder had asked, "Why has she remained in Corinth?"
"Could it be--No, no! That would be too much. It was her interest in Grace Conner alone that held her."
So Big Dan faced this thing against which the very strength of his manhood was his greatest weakness, and facing it he, too, was afraid to go into the garden--as he thought--to meet her. He must gain a little self-control first. He must grow better acquainted with this thing that had come upon him so quickly.
Following the instinct of his ancestors to face trouble in the open, he, too, set out, bound for a long tramp across the country. Perhaps he would go as far even as John Gardner's, and spend the night there. He went up the street for a block before turning north, lest his friends in the garden hail him. Then walking quickly he pushed on towards the outskirts of town, on the old Academy Hill road.