The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter VI. The Calling of Dan Matthews
"'In the battle of life we cannot hire a substitute; whatever work one volunteers to make his own he must look upon as his ministry to the race.'"
Dan, with the Doctor and Mrs. Oldham were to take supper and spend the evening at Elder Jordan's. Martha went over early in the afternoon, leaving the two men to follow.
As they were passing the monument, Dan stopped. "Did you know him?" he asked curiously, when he had read the inscription. It was not like Dan to be curious.
The Doctor answered briefly: "I was there when he was born and was his family physician all his life, and I was with him when he died."
Something in the doctor's voice made Dan look at him intently for a moment, then in a low tone: "He was a good man?"
"One of the best I ever knew, too good for this town. Look at that thing. They say that expressed their appreciation of him--and it does," he finished grimly.
"But," said Dan, in a puzzled way, turning once more to the monument, "this inscription--" he read again the sentence from the statesman's speech on the forgotten issue of his passing day.
The Doctor said nothing.
Then gazing up at the cast-iron figure posed stiffly with outstretched arm in the attitude of a public speaker, Dan asked: "Is that like him?"
"Like him! It's like nothing but the people who conceived it," growled the Doctor indignantly. "If that man were living he would not be always talking about issues that have no meaning at this day. He would be giving himself to the problems that trouble us now. This thing," he rapped the monument with his stick until it gave forth a dull, hollow sound, "this thing is not a memorial to the life and character of my friend. It memorializes the dead issue to which he gave himself at one passing moment of his life, and which, had he lived, he would have forgotten, as the changing times brought new issues to be met as he met this old one. He was too great, too brave, to ever stand still and let the world go by. He was always on the firing line. This thing--" he rapped the hollow iron shaft again contemptuously, and the hollow sound seemed to add emphasis to his words--"this is a dead monument to a dead issue. Instead of speaking of his life, it cries aloud in hideous emphasis that he is dead."
They stood silently for a moment then Dan said, quietly: "After all, Doctor, they meant well."
"And that," retorted the old man grimly, "is what we doctors say when we see our mistakes go by in the hearse."
They went on up the street until they reached the church. Here Dan stopped again. He read the inscription cut large in the stone over the door, "The Strong Memorial Church." Again Dan turned to his friend inquiringly.
"Judge Strong, the old Judge," explained the Doctor. "That's his picture in the big stained-glass window there."
In all his intentions Nathaniel Jordan was one of the best of men. Surely, if in the hereafter, any man receives credit for always doing what his conscience dictates, Nathan will. He was one of those characters who give up living ten years before they die. Nathan stayed on for the church's good.
Miss Charity, the Elder's only child is--well, she was born, raised and educated for a parson's wife. The Doctor says that she didn't even cry like other babies. At three she had taken a prize in Sunday school for committing Golden texts, at seven she was baptized, and knew the reason why, at twelve she played the organ in Christian Endeavor. At fourteen she was teaching a class, leading prayer meeting, attending conventions, was president of the Local Union, and pointed with pride to the fact that she was on more committees than any other single individual in the Memorial Church. The walls of her room were literally covered with badges, medals, tokens, prizes and emblems, with the picture of every conspicuous church worker and leader of her denomination. Between times the girl studied the early history of her church, read the religious papers and in other ways fitted herself for her life work. Poor Charity! She was so cursed with a holy ambition, that to her men were not men, they simply were or were not preachers.
When Dan and the Doctor reached the Jordan home they found this daughter of the church at the front gate watching for them, a look of eager hope and expectancy on her face. The Elder himself with his wife and Mrs. Oldham were on the front porch. Martha could scarcely wait for the usual greeting and the introduction of Dan to Mrs. Jordan, before she opened on the Doctor with, "It's a great pity Doctor, that you couldn't bring Brother Matthews here before the last possible minute; supper is ready right now. A body would think you had an important case, if they didn't know that you were too old to do anything any more."
"We did have an important case, my dear," the Doctor replied, "and it was Dan who caused our delay."
"That's it; lay it on to somebody else like you always do. What in the world could poor Brother Matthews be doing to keep him from a good meal?"
"He was studying--let me see, what was it, Dan? Art, Political Economy--or Theology?"
Dan smiled. "I think it might have been the theory and practice of medicine," he returned. At which they both laughed and the others joined in, though for his life the Doctor couldn't see why.
"Well," said the Elder, when he had finished his shrill cackle, "we better go in and discuss supper awhile; that's always a satisfactory subject at least." Which was a pretty good one for Nathaniel.
When the meal was finished, they all went out on the front porch again, where it soon became evident that Nathaniel did not propose to waste more time in light and frivolous conversation. By his familiar and ponderous "Ahem--ahem!" even Dan understood that he was anxious to get down to the real business of the evening, and that he was determined to do his full duty, or--as he would have said--"to keep that which was committed unto him."
"Ahem--ahem!" A hush fell upon the little company, the women turned their chairs expectantly, and the Doctor slipped over to the end of the porch to enjoy his evening cigar. The Elder had the field.
With another and still louder "Ahem!" he began. "I am sorry that Brother Strong is not here this evening. Judge Strong that is, Brother Matthews; he is our other Elder, you understand. I expected him but he has evidently been detained."
The Doctor, thinking of Dr. Harry and the nurse, chuckled, and Nathan turned a look of solemn inquiry in his direction.
"Ahem--ahem,--you did not come to Corinth directly from your home, I understand, Brother Matthews?"
The Doctor could see Dan's face by the light from the open window. He fancied it wore a look of amused understanding.
"No," answered the minister, "I spent yesterday in the city."
"Ahem--ahem," coughed the Elder. "Found an acquaintance on the train coming up, didn't you? We noticed you talking to a young woman at the car window."
Dan paused a moment before answering, and the Doctor could feel the interest of the company. Then the boy said, dryly, "Yes, I may say though, that she is something more than an acquaintance."
Smothered exclamations from the women. "Ah hah," from the Elder. The Doctor grinned to himself in the dark. "The young scamp!"
"Ahem! She had a pretty face, we noticed; are you--that is, have you known her long?"
"Several years, sir; the lady you saw is my mother. I went with her to the city day before yesterday, where she wished to do some shopping, and accompanied her on her way home as far as Corinth."
More exclamations from the women.
"Why, Doctor, you never told us it was his mother," cried Martha, and Nathaniel turned toward the end of the porch with a look of righteous indignation.
"You never asked me," chuckled the Doctor.
After this the two older women drifted into the house. Charity settled herself in an attitude of rapt attention, and the program was continued.
"Ahem. You may not be aware of it Brother Matthews, but I know a great deal about your family, sir."
"Indeed," exclaimed Dan.
"Yes sir. You see I have some mining interests in that district, quite profitable interests I may say. Judge Strong and I together have quite extensive interests. Two or three years ago we made a good many trips into your part of the country, where we heard a great deal of your people. Your mother seems to be a remarkable woman of considerable influence. Too bad she is not a regular member of the church. Our preachers often tell us, and I believe it is true, that people who do so much good out of the church really injure the cause more than anything else."
Dan made no answer to this, but as the Doctor saw his face in the light it wore a mingled expression of astonishment and doubt.
The Elder proceeded, "They used to tell us some great stories about your father, too. Big man, isn't he?"
"Yes sir, fairly good size."
"Yes, I remember some of his fights we used to hear about; and there was another member of the family, they mentioned a good deal. Dad--Dad--"
"Howitt," said Dan softly.
"That's it, Howitt. A kind of a shepherd, wasn't he? Discovered the big mine on your father's place. One of your father's fights was about the old man. Ahem--ahem--I judge you take after your father. I don't know just what to think about your whipping that fellow this morning. Someone had to do something of course, but--ahem, for a minister it was rather unusual. I don't know how the people will take it."
"I'm afraid that I forgot that I was a minister," said Dan uneasily. "I hope, sir, you do not think that I did wrong."
"Ahem--ahem, I can't say that it was wrong exactly, but as I said, we don't know how the people will take it. But there's one thing sure," and the Elder's shrill cackle rang out, "it will bring a big crowd to hear you preach. Well, well, that's off the subject. Ahem--Brother Matthews, why haven't your people opened that big mine in Dewey Bald?"
"I expect it would be better for me to let father or mother explain that to you, sir," answered Dan, as cool and calm as the evening.
"Yes, yes of course, but it's rather strange, rather unusual you know, to find a young man of your make-up and opportunities for wealth, entering the ministry. You could educate a great many preachers, sir, if you would develop that mine."
"Father and mother have always taught us children that in the battle of life one cannot hire a substitute; that whatever work one volunteers to make his own he must look upon as his ministry to the race. I believe that the church is an institution divinely given to serve the world, and that, more than any other, it helps men to the highest possible life. I volunteered for the work I have undertaken, because naturally I wish my life to count for the greatest possible good; and because I feel that I can serve men better in the church than in any other way."
"Whew!" thought the Doctor, "that was something for Nathan to chew on." The lad's face when he spoke made his old friend's nerves tingle. His was a new conception of the ministry, new to the Doctor at least. Forgetting his cigar he awaited the Elder's reply with breathless interest.
"Ahem--ahem, you feel then that you have no special Divine call to the work?"
"I have always been taught at home, sir, that every man is divinely called to his work, if that work is for the good of all men. His faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the call is revealed in the motives that prompt him to choose his field." The boy paused a moment and then added slowly--and no one who heard him could doubt his deep conviction--"Yes sir, I feel that I am divinely called to preach the gospel."
"Ahem--ahem, I trust, Brother Matthews, that you are not taken up with these new fads and fancies that are turning the minds of the people from the true worship of God."
"It is my desire, sir, to lead people to the true worship of God. I believe that nothing will accomplish that end but the simple old Jerusalem gospel."
The Doctor lit his cigar again. They seemed to be getting upon safer ground.
"I am glad to hear that--" said the Elder heartily--"very glad. I feared from the way you spoke, you might be going astray. There is a great work for you here in Corinth--a great work. Our old brother who preceded you was a good man, sound in the faith in every way, but he didn't seem to take somehow. The fact is the other churches--ahem--are getting about all our congregation."
Then for an hour or more, Elder Jordan, for the new minister's benefit, discussed in detail the religious history of Corinth, with the past, present and future of Memorial Church; while Charity, drinking in every word of the oft-heard discussion, grew ever more entranced with the possibilities of the new pastor's ministry, and the Doctor sat alone at the farther end of the porch. The Elder finished with: "Well, well, Brother Matthews, you are young, strong, unmarried, and with your reputation as a college man and an athlete you ought to do great things for Memorial Church. We are counting on you to build us up wonderfully. And let me say too, that we are one of the oldest and best known congregations in our brotherhood here in the state. We have had some great preachers here. You can make a reputation that will put you to the top of your--ah, calling."
Dan was just saying, "I hope I will please you, sir," when the women appeared in the doorway. Martha had her bonnet on.
"Come, come Nathan," said Mrs. Jordan, "you mustn't keep poor Brother Matthews up another minute. He must be nearly worn out with his long journey and all the excitement."
The Doctor thought again of the girl who had made the same journey in the car behind Dan, and who had also shared the excitement. He wondered how the nurse was enjoying her evening and when she would get to bed. "That's so," exclaimed the Doctor, rising to his feet. "We're all a lot of brutes to treat the poor boy so."
Dan whirled on him with a look that set the old man to laughing, "That's all right, sonny," he chuckled. "Come on, I've been asleep for an hour."