HOWARD CHASE, RED HILL, by Charles Sheldon

Chapter IX.

     The Expressman was visibly and audibly and externally and inwardly excited. This excitement he tried to communicate to his horse and wagon, both of which had been on the retired list for several years, but had not actually retired because of financial and other reasons which the Expressman had never communicated to either of them.

     But he was now urging both of them, including himself, in the direction of the Santa Fe station, and when he arrived, he collided with the edge of the platform so violently that he was thrown off his seat backward into the wagon, where the Agent, who had come to the little window, caught a confused film motion picture of legs and arms from the recumbent figure of the Expressman as he struggled to get up, ornamented on his back more or less picturesquely with the excelsior shavings left over from the last load of furniture he had delivered to Deacon Burton.

     Before the Expressman was on his feet, the Agent heard him say in between remarks to the horse and other exclamations not intended for publication, "Mr. Chase is out of danger! Mr. Chase is out of danger!"

     "Hooray!" yelled the Agent, waving a ticket to Osage City out of the window. And he added, before going back to the ticket window: "He's what you aren't! Keep your old cow off the platform. You're breaking Rule G!"

     "I'll break your old head for you if I ever get up!" said the Expressman, as he struggled with the reins which had got tangled around his feet.

     But when he finally recovered his perpendicular and shoved his horse's front feet down off the platform, he was too much pleased over his own good news to do more than grin good-naturedly at the Agent as he came up to the window again to make sure of the news, for it had been a friendly habit of some years for the Expressman, who was a freer moral agent as he said than the one employed by the Santa Fe, to retail important items of news at the station whenever he came down to meet the trains.

     "I was just going up on the street as soon as No. 10 got away, to inquire," said the Agent, looking immensely pleased. "Did the doc tell you?"

     "Sure! I got it right out of his own mouth. I've been sittin' right out in front of the parsonage, in my wagon, last two days. An' I see some mighty curious things!" The Expressman lowered his voice. "Two nights ago what do you think I saw?"

     "An eclipse?" guessed the Agent.

     The Expressman ignored the Agent's pleasantry.

     "I seen Inez Clark go up the parsonage steps and kneel down on the porch an'----"

     "Do you remember what Mr. Chase said about gossip?" said the Agent sternly.

     "This ain't gossip," said the Expressman.

     "What is it?"

     "Just human interest. Mr. Chase said it was all right to have that."

     "We--ell--go ahead," said the Agent, a little doubtfully. "You saw her kneel down on the porch, an'----"

     "An' that's all----" said the Expressman. But he added quickly, "Deacon Allen was there that night. He's been terrible worked up over the minister. They say he was cryin' that night when it looked as if Mr. Chase was gone. I never see him cry except when he lost a dollar on a binder."

     "But Mr. Chase is going to get well----" the Agent said, lingering by the window to make sure of the good news.

     "He sure is, if he don't overeat. Everybody'll be sendin' in chicken pie, an' things. I wouldn't mind bein' him when it's safe to eat again. I'd be willing to exchange pulpits with him any time."

     The Agent had to go back to the ticket window again, where in his excitement over the news of Mr. Chase's recovery he sold a lady a ticket to Pauline, who had asked for one to St. John. After correcting this little mistake, he came back to the window. The Expressman was still there, picking excelsior out of his clothes and looking very much pleased over the news about Mr. Chase.

     "There's another thing I've been noticin' lately," he said, as the Agent opened up the key to Lawton.

     "Is this more gossip?"

     "Naw. More human interest. We're allowed to have that. Miss Burton, she's been going around looking like a ghost during the minister's typhoid. That typhoid has gone awful hard with her."

     "Have you seen her lately?"


     "I bet she's gaining to-day," said the Agent, pensively.

     "What do you know about it?" said the Expressman, jealously.

     "Not a thing. You don't, either. But Red Hill won't object any."

     "No. They have my consent. An' I'll haul their trunks for nothin' when they go off on their trip."

     "Better not talk about this," said the Agent, lowering his voice.

     "Naw. I never thought of it till you mentioned it."

     "I've been writing a few lines that may come in handy for a present some time," said the Agent. "Do you want to hear them?"

     "How can I help it if you read 'em loud enough?" said the Expressman.

     But he braced himself against the side of the station, close up by the open window, while the Agent, lowering his voice so that no possible listener in the waiting-room could hear, recited the verses he had picked out on an old typewriter he had bought at a second-hand store at a bargain.

"He belonged to the Bachelor class,
And every day
He was heard to say
It's a weary world!
Alas! Alas!'

"He's no more in the Bachelor class,
Because he has found
By looking around
In this weary world,
A lass, a lass!"

      "What do you think of it?" asked the Agent, not because he was vain or egotistic, but simply because he was hungry for literary talk, and the Expressman had come to be almost his only unprejudiced listener. The Expressman was slow to give an opinion. But at last he said, slowly.

     "I've seen worse things in the Ladies' Home Journal."

     "Do you think they would do anything with it?" the Agent asked eagerly.

     "Yes, I'm sure they would. At any rate, if they didn't do something with it, they'd do something to it. But if I were you, I'd be mighty careful about' letting President Ripley see any of your poetry. Some day you'll get so absorbed in your literary efforts that you'll forget to pull down the semaphore and No. 3 will stop here and then you'll be out of a job. Better go by the rule of the Santa Fe, my boy. `Safety First' is the only safe rule for anybody."

     "Yes. Like you observed it a few minutes ago."

     "I can't keep my horse from runnin' away sometimes."

     "Running away! Your old plug couldn't run if it was hitched onto a fast freight on a down grade," said the Agent, who felt grieved at the Expressman's literary criticism.

     "I hurried down here to tell you the news about Mr. Chase," retorted the Expressman, in a hurt voice.

     "Oh, yes, I'd forgot that! You're all right. I beg your pardon and that of the horse and wagon. And say," the Agent called out as he went back to the ticket window, "get some flowers for me, and send 'em up to the parsonage. I'll pay you when Mr. Bok sends me a check for the poem."

     If the Agent and the Expressman rejoiced over the minister's recovery, what shall be said of Red Hill generally? There had never been a time in its history when it poured out such a collective stream of kindly feeling as it now poured into the little parsonage. Red Hill had never known the rare joy of loving somebody like that. The experience was so new that it did not know how to take it and Howard did not know how to receive it, as the days went by.

     He sat propped up in the little bed room, rapidly convalescing, while Roy and Kate and Roy vied with one another to show their affection for him. The bureau and the little table and two chairs were covered with flowers, and Howard was bewildered by almost hourly messages sent in by the neighbours.

     "Where'd that bouquet come from?" he asked Roy, who could hardly contain himself over his chum's recovery.

     He pointed a white finger at a particularly lurid bunch of flowers evidently personally conducted together, to which there was attached a freight car tag.

     Roy brought it up to the bed where Howard could read what was written on it in lead pencil.

     "From the Expressman and the Agent. Bought with a check for a poem which the Agent expects to get from The Ladies' Home Journal."

     Howard almost had a relapse as he read it.

     "Place that on the foot of the bed. It'll help me to get well," he gasped, letting his laugh down into his old time grin. But there were tears behind the grin, as there often were.

     "When I get well enough I'll make the Agent send me a copy of that poem. Tell me about the church, Roy. How's everything going?"

     "Fine, all right. You didn't know I've been preaching for you, did you? Haven't dared tell you before, for fear it might retard your recovery. But I've had a great time. Only I wish you'd tell me how you manage to keep your folks awake. Some of your best people fall peacefully to sleep before I get to the second hymn. They look so happy, I can't bear to wake 'em up. The only time they rouse up is when I say something about you, so I mention you often. And, oh yes, you'll be interested to know Deacon Allen comes regularly every morning on his way down town. He was here the night we thought you were going."

     He did not mention Inez. It seemed to him it was not an item of news.

     "Everybody's very kind," Howard murmured. "I didn't know----"

     "All the ministers have been here. They've kept up the union mid-week services and the Sunday night. I heard something about a curious letter Brother Noyes had had from his Mission Board. But I don't know what it is. He said he wanted to counsel with you about something very important when you were able."

     "Has any one else called?" Howard asked after a while.

     "`Any one else!' Why, you old Bach, the whole town has called. I don't believe anybody's missed you, unless it's the undertaker. You've been the most called on man in the history of the town."

     Howard grinned again, but rather sheepishly, and Roy Lennox, looking gravely at him, was saying to himself:

     "I've half a mind to tell you, but I guess I won't. Some things are better to find out for yourself."

     But as he sat there by the bed he pictured Agnes Burton, as he had caught the look on her face as she presided at the little organ, bravely trying to conceal her feelings and knowing all the while she was betraying her deep interest in the outcome of the struggle going on at the parsonage. Do what she would, exercise all the self-control of which she was capable, and she was capable of a great deal, she could not conceal from herself that her heart was there, not here in this little church, and when Lennox began to preach, she could not help seeing in his place the fiery, unconventional, wide-awake minister unlike any one else in Red Hill, as he swung around the little pulpit, sometimes in his eagerness, putting one foot out over the edge of the platform until she was afraid he was going to fall off, and then, with one swift stride, he would be over near the chorus end of the platform, appealing to all the young people there to lead the clean life, while her own heart beat quick as his eye flashed and his whole bearing spoke of power and the joy of living. And she could see the faces in the congregation--faces she had known since she was a little girl--and noted the astonishing change in them, no longer apathetic or sleepy or indifferent, but awake, interested for the first time since they were born, in a religion which was becoming as real as money and as big as all outdoors. She could almost laugh there in church as she watched Deacon Allen struggling with his conservatism and his affection, gasping as Howard tore in pieces some life-long doctrine or habit, and tears in his eyes as the next minute he touched some tender chord of memory in the old man's heart not touched for long, dry, dusty years.

     And she knew, as she sat there, her mind and heart over in the parsonage, that if it were not for a worldwide conventionalism which made women repress their feelings, she would rise from her place in the chorus and go swiftly over across the little yard and fall on her knees before Rose and beg her to let her be somewhere near him. What was she thinking! But--ah! he might even now be dying! And if he should, life would never be the same for her again. And when Lennox, in his closing prayer during those Sundays he was taking his friend's place, prayed for the pastor's recovery, she sat with her head bowed and her hands over her face, afraid of tears as betrayal, but she could not by any effort conceal her interest and during those days her face, as the Expressman told the Agent, was like a ghost's, if ghosts have faces, and more than the Expressman saw it, and commented on it. For Red Hill, in spite of all that happened, had not become angelised yet sufficiently to let go of the Expressman's "human interest," in this particular case feeling a glow of more than ordinary "interest" in seeing a romance wrought out before their very eyes.

     With Howard's sure and complete recovery, Agnes Burton, almost at a bound, recovered her usual joyful and animated appearance. So that by the time Howard was able to go out and meet her for the first time, she presented a picture of health and loveliness that struck him with an unpleasant sense of irritation. His first greeting was rather formal. As for herself, she was struggling again to repress her joy and replied to his commonplaces with others. And he did not understand how, if she did care, as she had seemed to that evening, she had asked him if he was well and told him he might break down, how she could be going about looking so glad and so gloriously healthy and happy.

     Stupid! Ah, yes. But then, Howard Chase, Red Hill, Kansas, is not a perfect human being. Only a man, like other men, but different. In some things a child almost, as to his real knowledge of womankind.

     All this led to important events which belong to their own place in this true story. Meanwhile, the high school teacher went her way and Howard went his, each taking up the daily task which needs must be done, no matter what the affairs of the heart.

     There came a day early that fall when Howard was able to resume his pulpit and parish work and Roy Lennox and his wife had made their plans and fixed the date for their departure, with Inez, for New York.

     They were all together at the parsonage the evening before the day they were to leave, and George Clark, Deacon and Mrs. Burton and Agnes were guests at the evening meal. Inez sat between her teacher and Mrs. Lennox, and the talk at the table flowed back and forth, many times centring about New York and its wonderful life, as Mrs. Lennox, who had been born there, pictured its best things, removed from its commercialised selfishness and social dissipation.

     Inez was silent, grave, even serious, as she listened. Life was going to be so different for her soon. She sat there doubting over many things, anticipating and dreading the future, and wondering how it was all coming out.

     After the meal, Mrs. Lennox, Mrs. Burton, the deacon, Clark, Agnes, and Mr. Lennox seemed to form a group for a moment, while Howard had gone into his study to get a circular Roy had been asking for, and Inez went out into the kitchen where Rose was busy.

     "Miss Chase, will it be all right if I see Mr. Chase just a moment? I only want to say a word to him--I----"

     Rose looked at her. She was trembling. A look in her face expressed a feeling that made Rose want to take her in her arms as if she were a little, sorrowful child who had lost a cherished toy.

     "He's in the study now, I only want to say a word."

     Rose nodded and Inez slipped back into the sitting room, and in through the half open door of the study.

     Howard was at his desk, and had started to rise from his chair when Inez entered.

     Before he could prevent it, she had fallen on her knees and seized his hand carried it to her lips.

     "Oh, Mr. Chase. You are good. Pray for me. I'm not a bad girl. But I'm afraid--now--I thought when you were going to die that I could not live. I never meant to do you any harm. Pray for me, won't you? I'm going to be afraid down there."

     Howard gently withdrew his hand and put it on Inez' head. And at that moment, it seemed to Inez as if in some real way her feeling for the minister changed from what it had been to one of lasting respect and confidence as her friend and pastor.

     He was saying, "Inez, remember you are going to be in the home of two of the best people in all the world. You were born to be a useful and happy woman. You will have the help of their counsel and friendship. And promise me, Inez, promise God that you will not get in the way of anything that will help to make a useful and happy woman of you."

     "Miss Burton asked me the same thing," said Inez, simply.

     She was on her feet brushing away her tears, a different look on her face, as Howard said cheerfully, "We all expect great things of you. Remember, you're a member of my flock here in Red Hill. Don't forget Kansas. And don't forget what you've promised."

     "No, I won't, Mr. Chase."

     She said it impulsively.

     "And I'll never forget your great kindness to me and what you did that Sunday."

     "It's going to be all right," said Howard.

     Inez looked at him silently. Then they both went out into the sitting room. Inez stole over to Mrs. Lennox and sat near her during the rest of the evening, a happy look on her face, new to it, happy forerunner of her strange life in the big city.

     Next day an interested group was down at the Santa Fe to see Mr. and Mrs. Lennox and Inez off on No. 10. Red Hill knew all about the invitation given to Inez by the Lennoxes, and various comments were made on it.

     For it is not to be understood that Red Hill ceased to talk about its neighbours and one another all on account of one sermon. That would be pushing the miracle too far. But much of the "human interest" insisted on by the Expressman is a good thing. Nothing is quite so fine as dialogue over the event of other people, if it is free from malice and petty criticism.

     So Red Hill thought of the astonishing good fortune that had come to Inez and talked accordingly.

     As the Expressman himself ventured to say to her after getting her trunk check for her--with the familiarity of acquaintance that dated back to her birth:

     "You look prettier than any picture I ever seen. I bet New York folk'll turn around and look at you when you go walking up Fifth Avenue. But I hope it won't turn your head any to have 'em look around."

     Inez blushed and shook the Expressman's rough and not overclean hand, and the tears came as she remembered many little acts of kindness he had shown in going after freight for the shop in rush orders.

     The Agent came up also, somewhat diffidently, holding out to Inez a typewritten card which he said she could read after the train started. The Agent, it may be said here, had once been smitten with Inez, but had foregone any hopes after being smitten by her when he ventured to hint his feelings. That was some time in the past, and he was all over it, and felt good-natured towards her and really wished her a safe and pleasant journey.

     "It's a pity the Santa Fe don't run clear to New York," he said, as Inez took the card and thanked him, her eyes twinkling over the memory of the Agent's brief courtship. "I understand some of those dinky little roads east of Chicago still carry red lights on their signal systems and run a slow special full of coffins behind every other number to take care of the aged and the dead and dying. You'll be all right up to the Dearborn Station, then you'll have to watch your step the rest of the way. That's the reason I thought you might remember what's on the card."

     He didn't say it was his own literary effort, but Inez and Mrs. Lennox guessed it was as they read it, and laughed over it after the train started.

"Safety first on cars and trains,
Saves many travellers aches and pains;
And no matter how great the hurry,
Safety first saves time and worry."

     The last view the little group at the station had of Inez was the sight of her between Mr. and Mrs. Lennox on the rear platform as No. 10 swung through the bridge over the creek and disappeared around the curve of Red Hill bluff. And Howard Chase, as he turned back to his work, breathed a sigh of relief, and offered a prayer full of hope for one of his flock who had started on a new journey destined to be filled at the end with wonderful experiences and results.

     He took up his work with his accustomed energy and enthusiasm. As the time went on, he began to realise some changing conditions.

     In the first place, his long illness and absence from his pulpit had affected his congregation somewhat. The first Sunday he appeared the church was filled. Then as the weeks succeeded one another, his congregations dropped off. No community or church lives on the mountain top all the time or strikes twelve every hour. And human nature in ministers being about like the same thing in other people, Reverends Noyes, Harris and Gray had put an extra spurt of ecclesiastical effort while Howard was ill and increased the attendance at their services under the spur of the union meetings and the general awakening interest in religious things.

     But Howard was not one of the easily discouraged type, and he had a strain of doggedness in his makeup that some men of brilliant and quick action completely lack. He "pegged away" as he said to Rose, with the firm belief that if he continued to make his services attractive and worth while, people would come anyway, and he need not be concerned about an audience.

     So he went after one thing and another, getting acquainted with the farmers, starting a census of the town and getting ready to propose a scheme he had been brooding over during his convalescence to unite in one general interest the entire life of the town.

     Included in this scheme was the straightening out of the film business, and one day when big Jake Seymour was well enough, he went over to his little house to talk matters over and see what could be done.

     Seymour greeted him very cordially and frankly expressed his doubts about reforming the business. He was going to open his "movie" in a few days and he showed Howard a printed list of films he had had a friend send him from Kansas City, and while Howard was looking them over and asking rapid fire questions, he put in a word now and then about his own accident and his recent illness.

     "I'm glad to see you're fully recovered from your burns that night, Mr. Chase. You haven't ever asked me about the details of the accident and I've not cared to talk about it, but----"

     Howard cheerfully interrupted:

     "I'm as curious as most men, but I thought it was your affair and probably you didn't care to talk about a mistake, or something."

     "It was a mistake, all right," Seymour grinned. "You see, the `take-up' reel got jammed and before I knew it the film had piled up on me and curled up into a hot carbon and whiff--off she went. I did a fool thing a year ago that nearly cost me my eyesight. I took out a hot carbon and laid it down right on top of a film I had carelessly laid on the shelf, and--see the scars?"

     He pointed to several on his hands.

     "I managed to cover it up with a coat. But----"

     He shrugged his big shoulders and looked at Howard earnestly.

     "These titles here on your list marked with the red pencil, what are they?" Howard asked.

     "Those are films passed by the Appeal Board over the Censors."

     "Tell me about that," Howard asked, in his rapid question manner.

     The motion picture man went into the history of the censorship of films in the State, Howard interrupting often.

     "Then do you mean to tell me that the Appeal Board, consisting of the Governor, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, sometimes do not see these films that go out advertised as passed over the censors?"

     "Sure. If they happen to be out of town some one in their offices, some subordinate clerks, pass on the film and it goes out over the state `Passed by the Appeal Board over the Censors.' And let me tell you right now that one of the worst pictures ever shown in Kansas a few weeks ago went out over the condemnation of the censors with the Appeal Board's endorsement, and not one of the members of the Appeal Board ever saw it."

     "Then, see here, Mr. Chase, we're up against it here in Red Hill, because I'm on a lock system and have to take what is sent me. And I don't have time after the stuff comes in on No. 5 to look it over. And then I can't afford, of course, to take big reels put out by the Paramount people, the high class stuff. They charge seven dollars and a half as a minimum for any film they send out. After I've paid my express and rent and light and heat and incidentals I don't ever make over twenty-seven a week, and in the off season I don't clear much more than ten or fifteen, and that ain't much, even if I am an old Bach, in these times of high living."

     "And they sure do send me some of the worst stuff. It's old and patched up and cheap, I mean the film, and the stories are the limit. Cowboy stuff and love slush that makes you want to get into the picture and knock the bloomin' lid off the hero and the heroine. Excuse me for using that word blooming, but it's a substitute for a stronger one. I'm ready and willing to help the preachers clean up the movie, but will you tell me how to clean up the authors who write the skinaros and the picture fellers who turn the characters in the silly stories into next door to idiots and insaners? You've got to go back of the Appeal Board and its absent members, and back of the censors who have to pass judgment on what's sent 'em, and back of the exchanges who are simply selling what they get, clear back to the men and women who wrote the rot that gets made up into nightmares. Look at the titles. They give the stories away:

     "The Harem Scarem Deacon."

     "Soul Mates."

     "Two Slips and a Miss."

     "Quicksands of Deceit."

     "Pills of Peril."

     "Right Car but Wrong Berth."

     "One A. M."

     "I tell you, Mr. Chase, if you can help put the right kind of shows into this town you will do the kiddies a lot of good. For believe me, they are getting some pretty seamy looks at tough life that ain't doin' 'em any good, and when the Appeal Board or its substitutes passes a film that the censors rejected they don't seem to give a thought to the kiddies, it's only grownups they seem to have in mind. But I see more kiddies than any one else at the show here, and it's so everywhere."

     Howard talked with Seymour a long time, found him a rough but rugged soul, with an honest heart and a real love of the kiddies, and came away feeling that the show problem in Red Hill was not a simple one, but setting his resolute will and fiery enthusiasm to the working of it out, assured that Seymour would help, not hinder, any real honest effort to better the conditions.

     And then, as the fall months passed, and winter began, Howard Chase came into a new experience, so new, so unexpected, so humiliating that he felt as if he were losing his identity and were some one else, reincarnated, after a period of several aeons.

     No. 5 brought the daily mail from the east, and one night as Howard sat in his little study, Rose brought in a letter the perusal of which kept brother and sister up late, debating on the right course.

     The letter addressed to The Reverend Howard Chase, Red Hill, Kansas, was from a minister living in Maine, telling Howard of a cousin of Howard's father, relating a pitiful story of trouble, and after many details closing with the assurance that there was nothing but the poor house for this cousin unless Howard, the only near relative, the only relative of any sort, in fact, would assume the obligations of kinship and either take the cousin into his own home or pay for his board and room at a private house. The letter also intimated that in all probability there would be need of a private nurse and doctor before the winter was over and other personal obligations which would increase the expenses.

     "It's Cousin Alfred!" Howard exclaimed. "How often Father used to speak of him and his unfortunate business venture! And to think of him facing the poor house! Why! He's a university man! We simply forgot him in our life out here. But we can never let him go to the poor house! It would disgrace the family! It's not to be thought of!"

     "And I don't see how we could take him in here!" Rose said anxiously. "He's too old and feeble, according to this letter. And besides, with all your church, and----"

     "No. That isn't feasible, Rose. We must send him the money and let this Brother do what he offers in the way of finding a place for him."

     "But you haven't any money, Howard," Rose said, with a feeling of dismay and almost terror. "You told me the other day you had only two hundred and fifty dollars in the bank."

     "Sister," said Howard cheerfully, "you let me manage this. This is a man's job. I'll get the money. We simply can't let one of the Chase family go to the poor house! Why, it's unthinkable! But you leave it to me. I'll manage it. It's my lookout. No relative of mine goes to the poor house even if I finally go myself."

     A rapid and exhaustive correspondence followed with the Brother in Maine, and as a result, after being convinced that there was no other course open, Howard sent on half of his savings to meet a longstanding indebtedness and provide for the first two months' care in a private house. And he breathed freer to think an honoured cousin of his father was not in the poor house.

     Then he set himself resolutely to increase his salary. He had tried the pen while in the Seminary, and knew he had a gift that way, but had not wanted to take the time from his sermon writing.

     But now he sat up until one and two o'clock writing articles for money. The Youth's Companion paid him fifteen dollars for a religious editorial, and asked him for others. He responded with two a month and the little yellow check came with pleasant promptness. And during those three months following the receipt of the letter from Maine he opened up a vein of anecdotal items that brought him small sums ranging from two to seven dollars apiece.

     But then came a new experience, that at first bewildered, then humiliated him. And bewildered, then angered, following that feeling, he had a fear, real penetrating fear--the kind that makes the cold sweat break out on a brave man when he wakes up suddenly at night and sees no way of escape from a sure danger.

     Deacon Allen served as church treasurer. The first six months of Howard's pastorate the deacon paid him his check every Monday, seventeen dollars and twenty-five cents. Howard, who had come out of Seminary with a little surplus, put half the check into the bank, gave his sister the rest and contented himself with drawing on small amounts by check as he needed it. The expenses of the parsonage were not heavy, and Rose, who was a miracle worker as a housekeeper, managed to keep almost within the amount Howard gave her.

     But as that eventful winter crept on, Deacon Allen's check was less and less prompt. Sometimes, with a half apology, he would hand Howard a part of the amount, saying something about the difficulty of keeping up the pledges, or muttering a word about the hot, dry summer and the discouraging outlook for crops.

     Let us hasten to add that Deacon Allen was not personally actuated by any small or mean motive so far as church finances were concerned. But following a life long habit of thinking in common with nearly every other member of the church, he gave as little as he dared to the annual expense, and went on the supposition that Howard had some means somewhere--look at his rich New York friends--and it did not matter much if the salary were not paid every week--of course, it would all be made up some time at the end of the year when they always faced a deficit and covered it with a more or less painful surgical operation on the pocketbooks of the few loyal men who would either double their subscriptions under pressure or help buy the articles the Ladies' Aid Society had first extracted from their husbands, in the raw material, made up into Christmas gifts to themselves.

     But as the holidays approached and Deacon Allen's check suspended altogether for two weeks, Howard faced a condition he had never dreamed could be possible. The deacon had explained that the furnace needed repairing and a number of other necessary items, like insurance and so forth, must be met. That week an urgent letter from the Brother in Maine, supplemented by two large bills from a doctor and a nurse, brought a response from Howard that drew the last dollar out of his bank, and for the first time in his life he faced debt.

     He had had a horror of it all his life and by superhuman efforts had managed to keep clear. But now he faced it and did not see any way out, and for the first time in his life he felt humiliated, deeply and cruelly.

     And why, asks some hard-headed business man, didn't the fool go to his Board of Trustees and tell them to pay him or find another preacher?

     Yes. Ask the ministers, some of them missionaries on our own Kansas frontier, why they don't resort to heroic measures to raise their own salaries! And see what answers you get.

     Under other circumstances, Howard would have gone to Deacon Burton. But several reasons were in the way. How could he make his private affairs public, tell the people or even Deacon Burton that because he had assumed the kinsman's obligation to keep a relative out of the poor house he was seriously embarrassed financially. The church was under no obligation to support his relatives. That was his affair. He could not make the public a confidant in his private matters.

     But there was another reason why it was out of the question to go to Deacon Burton.

     He had at last come to the place where he could not escape his own conviction that Agnes Burton was necessary to him. The events of the winter had made it more and more clear to him in a multitude of ways that cried out with insistent clamour for her to come and stand by his side and be his helpmeet. And he had begun to hope from more than one tone or look that Love's song was not far from her lips if once he should go to her boldly.

     But now! What could he offer her! He was a beggar! Actually a beggar! He, support a wife! Why, in a few days he would not be able to pay for the bread on his own simple table! He, a married. man! And this church, that had made a definite pledge to him in writing to pay him a certain wage for his services, did not think his services worth enough to keep its word and expected him to live on promises and excuses, and yet it would criticise him if he did not pay his bills or did not keep up with his outward appearances and his outlay for books and study what was required of an educated minister of the Gospel.

     He went out of the house one evening at this time, the day after he had drawn his last bank deposit, and telling Rose he was going down town after the mail, he walked along through the dimly lighted streets, fear and shame and humiliation tugging at his heart.

     There was only one letter for him, a long envelop with the Youth's Companion letter head across the corner.

     He had not written them anything for several weeks and out of curiosity to see what they were writing him for, he paused by the little desk near the door and opened the envelope.

     Its contents startled him. He read the closely type-written pages over again and he was absorbed in the contents when some one going out close by him caused him to look up.

     It was Miss Burton. He took off his hat and said good evening. She returned his greeting, and they walked out of the post office together, Howard still holding in his hand the letter from the Youth's Companion, and in spite of the presence of the school teacher so near him, or was it because of it, deeply pondering on the way which had suddenly opened for him a new career in life.

Go to previous chapter   Go to next chapter   Return to Contents