Chapter XLIII. The Home Coming
 

"Some things, thank God, are beyond the damning power of our improvements."

And now this story goes back again to the mountains to end where it began: back to where the tree-clad ridges roll, like mighty green billows into the far distant sky; where the vast forests lie all a-quiver in the breeze, shimmering in the sun, and the soft, blue haze of the late summer lies lazily over the land.

Beyond Wolf ridge, all up and down Jake and Indian creeks, and even as near as Fall creek, are the great lead and zinc mines. Over on Garber the heavily loaded trains, with engines puffing and panting on the heavy grades, and waking the echoes with wild shrieks, follow their iron way. But in the Mutton Hollow neighborhood, there are as yet no mines, with their unsightly piles of refuse, smoke-grimed buildings, and clustering shanties, to mar the picture. Dewey Bald still lifts its head in proud loneliness above the white sea of mist that still, at times, rolls over the valley below. The paths are unaltered. From the Matthews house on the ridge, you may see the same landmarks. The pines show black against the sunset sky. And from the Matthews place--past the deerlick in the big, low gap past Sammy's Lookout and around the shoulder of Dewey--looking away into the great world beyond, still lies the trail that is nobody knows how old.

So in life. With all the changes that time inevitably brings, with all our civilization, our inventions and improvements, some things must remain unchanged. Some things--the great landmarks in life and in religion, the hills, the valleys, the mists, must ever remain the same. Some things, thank God, are beyond the damning power of our improvements.

In minor things the Matthews home itself is altered. But Dan's father and mother are still--in spite of the years that have come--Young Matt and Sammy.

It was that best of all seasons in the Ozarks--October--the month of gold, when they were sitting on the front porch in the evening with the old Doctor, who had arrived during the afternoon.

"Now, Doctor," said the mother, "tell us all about it." There was no uneasiness in her calm voice, no shadow of worry in her quiet eyes. And the boy's father by her side was like her in serene confidence. They knew from Dan's letters something of the trials through which he had passed; they had assured him often of their sympathy. It never occurred to them to doubt him in any way or to question the final outcome.

"Yes, Doctor," came the deep voice of the father. "We have had Dan's letters of course, but the lad's not one to put all of his fight on paper. Let's have it as you saw it."

So the Doctor told them--told of the causes that had combined to put Dan on the rack, that had driven him in spite of himself to change his views of the church and its ministry; told of the forces that had been arrayed against him, how the lad had met these forces, and how he had battled with himself--all that the Doctor had seen in the months of watching; all that he knew of Dan, even to the time when Dan declared his doubt of everything, and to the chastising of Judge Strong. He omitted nothing except the declaration he had heard Dan make to the Judge.

Several times the narrator was interrupted by the deep-voiced, hearty laugh of the father, or with exclamations of satisfaction. Sometimes the Doctor was interrupted by a quick, eager question from the mother, that helped to make the story clear. Many times they uttered half-whispered exclamations of wonder, distress or indignation.

"When he left Corinth," said the Doctor in conclusion, "he told me that he had no clearly-defined plans, though he hinted at something that he had in mind."

"But, Doctor, haven't you forgotten a very important part of your story?" the mother asked.

"What have I forgotten?" he questioned.

"Why, the girl of course. What is a story without a girl?" she laughed merrily.

To which the Doctor answered, "I reckon Dan will tell you about that himself."

At this they all joined in a hearty laugh.

The next day Dan arrived and after a brief time, given up to the joy of family reunion, he took up the story where the Doctor had left off.

From Corinth Dan had gone directly to the president of the big steel works, whom he had met at the time of the convention. With the assistance and advice of this man of affairs he had been visiting the big mines and smelters and studying zinc and lead. He had worked out his plan and had interested capital and had come home to consult with his parents concerning the opening and development of the mine on Dewey Bald.

Then he talked to them of the power of wealth for good, of the sacredness of such a trust--talked as they had never heard him talk before of the Grace Conners, and the crippled Dennys, who needed elder brothers willing to acknowledge the kinship.

When he had finished his mother kissed him and his father said, "It is for this, son, that mother and I have held the old hill yonder. It is a part of our religious belief that God put the wealth in the mountains, not for us alone, but for all men. So it has been to us a sacred trust, which we have never felt that we were fitted to administer. We have always hoped that our first born would accept it as his life work--his ministry."

So Dan found his garden--and entered the ministry that has made his life such a blessing to men.

The next morning he saddled his mother's horse early. At breakfast she announced that she was going over to the Jones ranch on the other side of Dewey. "And what are you planning to do today?" she said to Dan as he followed her out of the house.

"I was going over to old Dewey myself," he answered. "I thought I would like to look the ground over." He smiled down at her. "But now I'm going with you. Just wait a minute until I saddle a horse."

She laughed at him. "Oh no, you're not."

"But, mother, I want to talk to you. I--I have something to tell you."

"Yes, I know," she nodded. "You have already told me--"

"Has Doctor--" he burst forth.

"No indeed! For shame, Dan. You know Doctor wouldn't. It was in your letters, and--But I have planned for you to tell me the rest this evening. Go with your father and Doctor to look at the stock this morning and write your business letters while I attend to my affairs. Then, the first thing after dinner, you slip away alone over to Dewey and do your planning. Perhaps I'll meet you on the old trail as you come back. You see I have it all fixed."

"Yes," he said slowly, "you always have things fixed, don't you? What a mother you are! There's only one other woman in all the world like you."

And at this she answered bravely, "Yes, I know dear. I have always known it would come, and I am glad, glad my boy--but--I--I think you'd better kiss me now." So she left him standing at the fence and rode away alone down the old familiar path.

After dinner Dan set out.