Chapter XXXIX. The Victory of the Ally

"So the old Doctor found him in the late afternoon--his great strength shaken by rage and doubt; found him struggling like a beast in the trap."

Nathaniel was greatly agitated as he faced the minister in the doorway. He moved unsteadily across the room, stumbling toward the chair Dan offered, and his hand shook so violently that his cane rattled against the window ledge, where he attempted to lay it--rattled and fell to the floor. He jumped in his seat at the sound. Dan picked up the cane and placed it on the table. Then the Elder found his voice--thin and trembling--and said, "I came about--about Brother Strong, you know."

"Yes," said Dan, a great pity for this good old man in his heart. "Did Judge Strong send anything?"

The Elder fumbled in his pocket and drew out an envelope. He extended it with shaking fingers to Dan, who opened it and examined the contents. Slowly he replaced them in the envelope and, looking at his visitor, waited.

Again the Elder found his voice and said with a little more self-control, "A bad business, Brother Matthews; too bad, too bad; poor Brother Strong!"

He shook his head sadly. Dan looked at him curiously, but made no reply.

"Poor Brother Strong," the Elder repeated. "Brother Matthews, I want to ask you to use your influence with these people to keep this sad affair from getting out. Do you think they will insist on--ah, on bringing action against Brother Strong now--now that he has--ah, complied with your request?"

"And why," asked Dan, "should you wish the matter kept secret?"

The Elder gazed at him blankly. "Why? Why, on account of the church, of course. Judge Strong is one of our leading members--an Elder. He has been for years. It would ruin us--ruin us!"

"But," said Dan coolly, "he is a thief. You must know that he stole this money. Here--," he stretched forth his hand, holding the envelope, "here is his confession of guilt."

The Elder's voice trembled again. "Brother Matthews! Brother Matthews! I--I protest! Such language, applied to an Elder is unchristian; you know the scripture?"

"Is it not true?" persisted Dan.

"Ahem! Brother Strong may have made a mistake, may--ah, have done wrong, but the church--the church; we must think of the good name of the cause! Coming so soon after the revival, too!"

"Am I to understand, then, that the church will keep this man in his place as an Elder; that you will protect him when you know his true character?"

At the question the other stared blankly. "Why--why how could we get along without him?"

"How can you get along with him?" asked Dan.

"But there isn't a man in Corinth who has done so much for us and for the missionary cause! No, no, we must be more careful, Brother Matthews."

"Then for the sake of his contributions and his position in the community the church will shield him from the results of his crime?"

The Elder squirmed uneasily in his chair.

"Is that what you mean?" insisted Dan.

"Why--I--I don't think, Brother Matthews, for the good of our cause in Corinth, that it would be good policy to make this matter public and so create a great stir. Brother Strong has made restitution. We must be charitable, brother, and forgiving. You must not think too--too hard of him. Are these people determined to push this matter?"

"Oh, no," said Dan, "not at all. They want only that which belongs to them. You may rest easy; as I told the Judge last night, this will end the matter. It was under that promise that he made restitution, as you call it. I was simply asking to know how the church would look upon such a thing when it touches an Elder. You have explained it clearly--policy!"

The Elder stiffened. It was remarkable how quickly he revived under Dan's assurance that the danger was past! Very dignified now, as became one in his position, he said, "Ahem, ahem! I fear, Brother Matthews, that you are not--ah--not entirely in harmony with our brotherhood in many things."

Dan was silent.

"Ahem! The tone of your sermons has been I may say--ah, questioned by a good many of us, and your attitude toward the board has not been quite as cordial as we feel we have a right to expect."

"Do you speak from personal experience, sir?"

"Oh, no--no indeed, Brother Matthews; but--ah, Brother Strong has felt for some time past that you have treated him rather coldly."

Dan waited.

"A lack of harmony between a pastor and his Elder is very bad--ah, very bad. Ahem! Ahem! And so, considering everything we--Brother Str--that is the board have thought best that your relations with the Memorial Church should discontinue."

"And when was this action taken?" asked Dan quietly.

"The day before the meetings closed. We wished to have the benefit of Brother Sigman's advice before he left. He met with us and we considered the whole matter quite carefully and prayerfully. I was appointed to tell you. I should add that there is no doubt but the people will concur in the board's decision. Many of the members, I may say, were seen before we took action."

Dan glanced toward his desk where, in the envelopes, lay his resignation and his answer to the Chicago church. In the excitement of McGowan's trouble he had neglected to mail them.

"Of course," he questioned, quietly curious now, "the board will give me a letter?"

"Ahem! We--ah, discussed that also," said the Elder. "Brother Strong and the Evangelist--and, I may say, the entire board feel that we cannot consistently do so."

"May I ask why?"

"Ahem! Your teaching, Brother Matthews, does not seem to be in harmony with the brotherhood. We cannot endorse it, and the talk in the community about your conduct has been very damaging; very!"

"Is it charged that my teaching has been false to the principles of Christianity as taught by Christ?"

"I cannot discuss that part, Brother Matthews. It is not such teaching as the churches of our brotherhood want."

"Does the church, sir, believe that my character is bad?"

"No, sir--no, sir! No one really believes that, but you have been--ah, injudicious. There has been so much talk, you know--"

"Who has talked?" Dan interrupted.

The Elder continued, "These things follow a minister all his life. We cannot recommend a man of bad repute to our sister churches; it would reflect upon us."

"For the same reason that you keep in a high office in the church a man who is an unrepentant thief?" said Dan.

The Elder rose. "Really, Brother Matthews, I cannot listen to such words about our Elder!"

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Dan huskily. "I was thinking aloud. Please tell me one thing more. I have here a letter from a church in Chicago asking me to consider a call. Have the Elders received a letter from them?"

"Ahem! Yes, we considered it at that same meeting."

"And you have written them?"

"We could not recommend you. I am sorry, Brother Matthews."

"I believe you are," said Dan slowly. "Thank you."

When the Elder was gone Dan turned sadly back to his little study; the study that had come to stand so for everything to which he had devoted his life with such holy purpose, for which he had sacrificed so much.

Slowly he went to his desk and looked down upon the work scattered over it. Taking up the two letters he tore them slowly into fragments and dropped them into the waste basket. Then as slowly he turned to his books, touching many of the familiar volumes with a caressing hand. Then he went to the table where lay his church papers and the missionary pamphlets and reports. The envelope from Judge Strong caught his eye.

Mechanically he took his hat and went to carry the message to his friends on the other side of the garden. From across the street the old Doctor hailed him but he did not hear.

Delivering the envelope, with a few brief words, the minister left his friends and wandered on down the street in a bewildered, dazed fashion, scarce knowing where he went, or why; until he turned in through the gap in the tumble-down fence to the old Academy yard.

But he could not stay there. The place was haunted, he could not stay! He turned his face toward the open country, but the fields and woodlands had no call for him that day. It was his little study that called; his books, his work.

As one goes to sit beside the body of a dear friend, conscious that the friend he loved is not there, yet unable to leave the form wherein the spirit had lived, so Dan went back to his room, his desk, his books, his papers--that which had been his work.

And now the deep passions of the man stirred themselves--awoke. Wild anger, mad rage, seized and shook him. His whole sense of justice was outraged. This was not Christianity, this thing that had caught him in its foul snare! And if the church was not Christian what was Christianity? Was there, indeed, such a thing? Was it all such a hollow mockery?

So the Doctor found him in the late afternoon--his great strength shaken by rage and doubt; found him struggling like a beast in the trap.

And the Doctor saw that the hour for which he had waited had come.

Dan needed him--needed him badly!