Benares, Allahabad, Cawnpore, Lucknow—J.W. came to these cities with a queer feeling of having been there before. Long ago, in his early Sunday school days, the names of these places and the wonders of them had been the theme of almost the only missionary book he had at that age cared to read.
At Allahabad, said his companions of the way, an All-India Epworth League convention was to be held, and J.W. made up his mind that a League convention in India would be doubly worth attending. He did attend it too, but it left no such memory as another gathering in the same city; a memory which he knows will last after every other picture of the East has faded from his recollection.
The party had reached Allahabad at the time of the Khumb Mela, a vast outpouring of massed humanity too great for any but the merest guesses at its numbers. This "Mela," feast, religious pilgrimage, whatever it might mean to these endless multitudes, is held here at stated times because the two sacred rivers, the Jumna and the Ganges, come together at Allahabad, and tradition has it that a third river flows beneath the surface to meet the others. So the place is trebly sacred, its waters potent for purification, no matter how great one's sin.
With the others J.W. set out for an advantageous observation point, on the wall of the fort which stands on the tongue of land between the two streams. On the way J.W. assured himself that if Calcutta seemed without religion, here was more than enough of it to redress the balances. In the throng was a holy man whose upraised arm had been held aloft until it had atrophied, and would never more swing by his side. And yonder another holy one sat in the sand, with a circle of little fires burning close about him. The seeker after he knew not what who made his search while lying on a bed of spikes was here. And once a procession passed, two hundred men, all holy after the fashion of Hindu holiness, all utterly naked, with camels and elephants moving in their train. As if to show how these were counted men of special sanctity, the people fell on their faces to the ground beside them as they passed, and kissed their shadows on the sand.
The point of vantage reached, J.W.'s bewildered eyes could scarce make his brain believe what they saw. He was standing on a broad wall, thirty feet above the water, and perhaps a hundred feet back from it. Up and down the stream was an endless solid mass of heads. J.W. looked for some break in the crowd, some thinning out of its packed bodies, but as far as he could see there was no break, no end. Government officials had estimated the number of pilgrims at two millions!
A signal must have been given, or an hour had come—J.W. could not tell which—but somehow the people knew that now was the opportunity to enter the water and gain cleansing from all sin. A mighty, resistless movement carried the human stream to meet the river. Inevitably the weaker individuals were swept along helpless, and those who fell arose no more. Horrified, J.W. stood looking down on the slow, irresistible movement of the writhing bodies, and he saw a woman drop. A British police officer, standing in an angle of the wall beneath, ordered a native policeman to get the woman out But the native, seeing the crush and unwilling to risk himself for so slight a cause, waited until his superior turned away to another point of peril, and then, snatching the red-banded police turban from his head, was lost in the general mass.
The woman? Trampled to death, and twenty other men and women with her, in sight of the stunned watchers on the wall, who were compelled to see these lives crushed out, powerless to help by so much as a finger's weight.
What was it all for? J.W. asked his companions on the wall. And they said that the word went out at certain times and the people flocked to this Mela. They came to wash in the sacred waters at the propitious moment. Nothing else mattered; not the inescapable pollution of the rivers, not the weariness and hunger and many distresses of the way. It was a chance, so the wise ones declared, to be rid of sin. Certainly it might not avail, but who would not venture if mayhap there might be cleansing of soul in the waters of Mother Ganges?
On another day J.W. came to a temple, not a great towering shrine, but a third-rate sort of place, a sacred cow temple. Here was a family which had journeyed four hundred miles to worship before the idols of this temple. They offered rice to one idol, flowers to another, holy water from the river to a third. No one might know what inner urge had driven them here. The priest, slow to heed them, at length deigned to dip his finger in a little paint and with it he smeared the caste mark on the foreheads of the worshipers. It was heartless, empty formality.
J.W. watched the woman particularly. Her face was an unrelieved sadness; she had fulfilled the prescribed rites, in the appointed place, but there was no surcease from the endless round of dull misery which she knew was her ordained lot. Thought J.W.: "I suppose this is a sort of joining the church, an initiation or something of that sort. Not much like what happened when I joined the church in Delafield. Everybody was glad there; here nobody is glad, not even the priest."
At Cawnpore J.W. was able to combine business with his missionary inquiries. Here he found great woollen and cotton mills, not unlike those of America, except that in these mills women and children were working long hours, seven days a week, for a miserable wage. It was heathenism plus commercialism; that is to say, a double heathenism. For when business is not tempered by the Christian spirit, it is as pagan as any cow temple.
In these mills was a possible market for certain sorts of Cummings goods, as J.W. learned in the business quarter of the city. He wanted more opportunity to see how the goods he dealt in could be used, and, having by now learned the path of least resistance, he appealed to a missionary. It was specially fortunate that he did, for the missionary introduced him to the secretary of the largest mills in the city, an Indian Christian with a history.
Now, this is a hint at the story of—well, let us call him Abraham. His own is another Bible name, of more humble associations, but he deserves to be called Abraham. Thirty years ago a missionary first evangelized and then baptized some two hundred villagers—outcasts, untouchables, social lepers. Being newly become Christians, they deposed their old village god. The landlord beat them and berated them, but they were done with the idol. Now, that was no easy adventure of faith, and those who thus adventured could not hope for material gain. They were more despised than ever.
Yet inevitably they began to rise in the human scale. The missionary found one of them a young man of parts. Him he took and taught to read, to write, to know the Scriptures. He began to be an exhorter; then a local preacher; and at last he joined the Conference as a Methodist itinerant at six dollars a month. Now this boy was the father of Abraham.
As a preacher he opened village schools, and taught the children their letters, his own boy among them. Abraham learned quickly. A place was found for him in a mission boarding school. Thence he moved on and up to Lucknow Christian College. It was this man who escorted J.W. through the great mills of which he was an executive. He had a salary of two hundred dollars a month. If his father had been an American village preacher at twelve hundred dollars a year, Abraham's salary, relatively, would need to be twenty or thirty thousand dollars.
Abraham was the superintendent of a Sunday school in Cawnpore. He was giving himself to all sorts of betterment work which would lessen the misery of the poor. He had a seat in the city council. A hostel for boys was one of his enterprises. Here was a man doing his utmost to Christianize the industry in which thousands of his country men spent their lives; a second-generation Christian, and a man who must be reckoned with, no longer spurned and despised as a casteless nobody.
J.W. followed Abraham about the mills with growing admiration. Inside the walls, light, orderly paths, flowers, cleanliness. Outside the gate, to step across the road was to walk a thousand years into the past, among the smells and the ageless noises of the bazaar, with its chaffering and cheating, its primitive crudities, and its changeless wares. Certainly, a Cawnpore mill is not the ideal industrial commonwealth, but without men like Abraham to alleviate its grimness the coming of larger opportunities through work like this might well lay a heavier burden on men's lives than the primitive and costly toil which it has displaced.
There was just time for a visit to Lucknow, a city which to the British is the historic place of mutiny and siege; to American Methodists a place both of history and of present-day advance. J.W. worshiped in the great Hindustani Methodist church, the busy home of many activities. In the congregation were many students, girls from Isabella Thoburn College, and boys from Lucknow Christian College. Lifelong Methodist as he was, J.W. quickly recognized, even amid these new surroundings, the familiar aspects of a Methodist church on its busy day. The crowding congregations were enough to stir one's blood. A noble organ sounded out the call to worship and led the choir and people in the service of praise. There was a Sunday school in full operation, and an Epworth League Chapter, completely organized and active. His guide confided to J.W. that this church had yet another point of resemblance to the great churches at home; it was quite accustomed to sending a committee to Conference, to tell the bishop whom it wanted for preacher next year!
J.W. was not quite satisfied. The days of his wanderings must soon be over, but before he left India he wanted to see the missionary in actual contact with the immemorial paganism of the villages, for he had discovered that the village is India. How was the Christian message meeting all the dreary emptinesses and limitations of village life?
Once more he appealed to his missionary guide; this latest one, the last of the five men to whom Pastor Drury had written before J.W. had set out on his travels. Could he show his visitor a little of missionary work in village environment?
"Surely. Nothing easier," the district superintendent said. "We'll jump into my Ford—great thing for India, the Ford; and still greater for us missionaries—and we'll go a-villaging."
The village of their quest once reached, the Ford drew up before a neat brick house built around three sides of a courtyard, with verandas on the court side. This was no usual mud hut, but a house, and a parsonage withal. Here lived the Indian village preacher and his family. The preacher's wife was neatly dressed and capable; the children clean and well-mannered. The room had its table, and on the table books. That meant nothing to J.W., but the superintendent gave him to understand that a table with books in an Indian village house was comparable in its rarity to a small-town American home with a pipe organ and a butler!
The lunch of native food seemed delicious, if it was "hot," to J.W.'s healthy appetite, and if he had not seen over how tiny a fire it had been prepared he would have credited the smiling housewife with a lavishly equipped kitchen.
People began to drop in. It was somewhat disconcerting to the visitor, to see these callers squatting on their heels, talking one to another, but watching him continually out of the corners of their eyes. One of them, the chaudrie, headman of the village, being introduced to J.W., told him, the superintendent acting as interpreter, how the boys' school flourished, and how he and other Christians had gone yesterday on an evangelizing visit to another village, not yet Christian, but sure to ask for a teacher soon.
The preacher, in a rather precise, clipped English, asked J.W. if he cared to walk about the village. "We could go to the mohulla [ward], where most of our Christians live. They will be most glad to welcome you."
The way led through dirty, narrow streets, or, rather, let us say, through the spaces between dwellings, to the low-caste quarter. Here were people of the bottom stratum of Indian life, yet it was a Christian community in the making. The little school was in session—a group of fifteen or twenty boys and girls with their teacher. It was all very crude, but the children read their lessons for the visitor, and did sums on the board, and sang a hymn which the pastor had composed, and recited the Lord's Prayer and the Twenty-third psalm.
"These," said the pastor, "are the children of a people which for a thousand years has not known how to read or write. Yet see how they learn."
"Yes," the superintendent agreed, "but that isn't the best of it, as you know. They are untouchables now, but even caste, which is stronger than death, yields to education. Once these boys and girls have an education they cannot be ignored or kept down. They will find a place in the social order."
"I can see that," J.W. said, thinking of Abraham. "But education is not a missionary monopoly, is it? If these children were educated by Hindus, would not the resulting rise in their condition come just the same?"
"It would, perhaps," the missionary answered, "but your 'if' is too big. For the low caste and the out-caste people there is no education unless it is Christian education. We have a monopoly, though not of our choosing. The educated Hindu will not do this work under any circumstances. It has been tried, with all the prestige of the government, which is no small matter in India, and nothing comes of it. Not long ago the government proposed a wonderful scheme for the education of the 'depressed classes.' The money was provided, and the equipment as well. There were plenty of Hindus, that is, non-Christians, who were indebted to the government for their education. They were invited to take positions in the new schools. But no; not for any money or any other inducement would these teachers go near. And there you are. I know of no way out for the great masses of India except as the gospel opens the door."
"Is there no attempt of any sort on the part of Indians who are not Christians? Surely, some of them are enlightened enough to see the need, and to rise above caste." J.W. suspected he was asking a question which had but one answer.
"Yes, there is such an effort occasionally," the superintendent admitted. "The Arya Samaj movement makes an attempt once in a while, but it always fails. If a few are bold enough to disregard caste, they are never enough to do anything that counts. The effort is scarcely more than a gesture, and even so it would not have been made but for the activities of the missionaries."
* * * * *
And so ended J.W.'s Indian studies. Before many days he was retracing his way—Calcutta, Singapore, Hongkong, Shanghai, Yokohama. And then on a day he found himself aboard a liner whose prow turned eastward from Japan's great port, and his heart was flying a homeward-bound pennant the like of which never trailed from any masthead.
THIS EXPERIMENT TEACHETH—?
For the first day or so out from Japan J.W. behaved himself as does any ordinary American in similar case; all the sensations of the journey were swallowed up in the depths of his longings to be home. The voyage so slow; the Pacific so wide!
But shortly he resigned himself to the pervading restfulness of shipboard, and began to make acquaintances. Of them all one only has any interest for us—Miss Helen Morel, late of Manila. Her place was next to his at the table. Like J.W., she was traveling alone, and before they had been on board twenty-four hours they had discovered that both were Methodists; he, from Delafield in the Middle West, she from Pennsylvania. J.W. found, altogether to his surprise, that she listened with flattering attention while he talked. For J.W. is no braggart, nor is he overmuch given to self-admiration; we know him better than that. But it was pleasant, none the less, on good days to walk up and down the long decks, and on other days to sit in comfortable deck chairs, with nothing to do but talk.
Miss Morel, being a teacher going home after three years of steady, close work in a Manila high school, was ready to talk of anything but school work. She found herself immensely interested in J.W.'s experiences. He had told her of the double life, so to say, which he had led; preaching the good news of better tools, and studying the work of other men and women, as truly salesmen as himself, who preached a more arresting and insistent gospel.
"I'm glad to meet some one who knows about missions at first hand," Miss Morel began one morning, as they stepped out on the promenade deck for their constitutional. "You know, I think people at home don't understand at all. They are so absorbed with their little parish affairs that they can't appreciate this wonderful work that is being done so far from home."
J.W. agreed, though not without mental reservations. He knew how true it was that many of the home folks did not rightly value mission work, but he was not so sure about their "little parish affairs." He watched to see if Miss Morel meant to expand that idea.
But she evidently had thought at once of something else. Said she, "Sometimes I think that if the gossip about missionaries and missions which is so general in the Orient gets back home, as it surely does in one way or another, it must have a certain influence on what people think about the work."
"Oh, that," said J.W., with no little scorn. "That stuff is always ignorant or malicious, and I doubt if it gets very far with church people. Of course it may with outsiders. I've heard it, any amount of it; you can't miss it if you travel in the East And there's just enough excuse for it to make it a particularly vicious sort of slander. You could say as much about the churches at home, and a case here and there would not be lacking to furnish proof."
"Certainly," said the teacher. "And yet missions are so wonderful; so much more worth while than anything that is being done at home, don't you think?"
There it was again. "I'm afraid I don't follow you, Miss Morel," J.W. said, with a puzzled air. "Do you mean that the churches at home are not onto their job, if you'll excuse the phrase?"
His companion laughed as she answered, "Maybe not quite as strong as that. But they are doing the same old thing in the same old way. Going to church and home again, to Sunday school and home again, to young people's meeting and home again. But out here," and her hand swung in a half circle as though she meant to include the whole Pacific basin, "out here men and women are doing such splendid pioneer work, in all sorts of fascinating ways."
"True enough," J.W. assented. "I've seen that, all right. But the home church isn't so dead as you might think. Just before I left Delafield to go to Saint Louis, for instance, a new work for the foreign-speaking people of our town was being started, with the Board of Home Missions and Church Extension backing up the local workers. They were planning to make a great church center for all these people, and I hear that it is getting a good start."
"Oh, yes, I can well believe that, Mr. Farwell," Miss Morel hastened to say. "I think work for the immigrant is so very interesting, don't you? But, of course, that's not quite what I meant. The usual dull things that churches do, you know."
"Well, take another instance that I happen to remember," J.W. had a touch of the sort of feeling he used to delight in at Cartwright, when he was gathering his material for a debate. "My first summer after leaving college, a few of us in First Church got busy studying our own town. We found two of the general church boards ready to help us with facts and methods. The Home Missions people gave us one sort of help, and another board, with the longest name of them all, the Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals, showed us how to go about an investigation of the town's undesirable citizens and their influence. It is in that sort of business for all of us, you know."
"That must have been exciting," said Miss Morel. "I know I should enjoy such work. What did you find out, and what could you do about it?"
That was a question not to be glibly answered, J.W. knew. But he meant to be fair about it. "We found out plenty that surprised us; a great deal," he added, "that ought to be done, and much more that needed to be changed. We even went so far as to draw up a sort of civic creed, 'The Everyday Doctrines of Delafield,' The town paper printed it, and it was talked about for a while, but probably we were the people who got the most out of it; it showed us what we church members might mean to the town. And that was worth something."
Miss Morel was sure it was. But she came back to her first idea about the home churches. "Don't you think that much of the preaching, and all that, is pretty dull and tiresome? I came from a little country church, and it was so dreary."
J.W. thought of Deep Creek, and said, "I know what you mean; but even the country church is improving. I must tell you some time about Marty, my chum. He's a country preacher, helped in his training by the Rural Department of the Home Missions Board, and his people come in crowds to his preaching. Country churches are waking up, and the Board people at Philadelphia have had a lot to do with it."
"Well, I'm glad. But anyway, home missions is rather commonplace, haven't you noticed?" and Miss Morel looked almost as though she were asking a question of state.
"I can't say I've found it so," J.W. said, stoutly, "I was some time learning, but I ran into a lot of experiences before I left home. Take the work for colored people, for instance. I had to make a speech at a convention, and I found out that our church has a Board of Education for Negroes which is doing more than any other agency to train Negro preachers and teachers and home makers, and doctors and other leaders. That's not so very commonplace, would you say so?"
"Well, no," the young lady admitted. "It is very important work, of course; and I'd dearly love to have a share in it. I am a great believer in the colored races, you know. But you are making me begin to think I am all wrong about the church at home. I don't mean to belittle it. Perhaps I appreciate it more than I realized. Anyway, tell me something else that you have found out."
"There isn't time," J.W. objected. "But if you won't think me a nuisance, maybe I can tell you part of it. For example, Sunday school. Long ago I discovered that the whole church was providing for Sunday school progress through a Board of Sunday Schools, and there isn't a modern Sunday school idea anywhere that this Board doesn't put into its scheme of work. I was a very small part of it myself for a while, so I know."
"Yes, and even I know a little about the Sunday School Board," confessed Miss Morel. "It has helped us a lot in the Philippines. And so I must admit that the church does try to improve and extend Sunday school work. What else?"
J.W. told about his experiences on the Mexican border, where home missions and foreign missions came together. Then, seeing that she was really listening, he told of his and Marty's college days, how Marty had borrowed money from the Board of Education, and how the same Board had a hand in the college evangelistic work. He told about the deaconesses who managed the hospital at Manchester, and the training school which Marcia Dayne Carbrook had attended when she was getting ready to go to China. That school had sent out hundreds of deaconesses and other workers.
The thought of Marcia made him think of Joe, and he told what he knew of how the Wesley Foundation at the State University had helped Joe when he could easily have made shipwreck of his missionary purpose. Of course the story of his visit to the Carbrooks in China must also be told.
Miss Morel changed the subject again. "Tell me, Mr. Farwell," she asked, "were you in the Epworth League when you were at home?"
"I surely was," said J.W. "That was where I got my first start; at the Cartwright Institute." And the story jumped back to those far-off days when he was just out of high school.
As he paused Miss Morel said, "I was an Epworthian, too, and in the young women's missionary societies. We had a combination society in our church, so I was a 'Queen Esther' and a 'Standard Bearer' as well. Those organizations did me a world of good. You know, when I think of it, the women's missionary societies have done a wonderful work in America and everywhere."
"I guess they have," said J.W. "I know my mother has always been a member of both, and she's always been the most intelligent and active missionary in the Farwell family."
The talk languished for a while, and then Miss Morel exclaimed, "I know why we've stopped talking; we're hungry. It is almost time for luncheon, and if you have an appetite like mine, you're impatient for the call."
J.W. looked at his watch and saw that there was only ten minutes of the morning left. So they separated to get ready against the sounding of the dinner gong.
But J.W. was not hungry. He was struggling with an old thought that to him had all the tantalizing quality of novelty. The talk of the morning had become a sort of roll-call of church boards. How did it happen that the church was busy with this and that and the other work? Why a Board of Hospitals and Homes? Why a Deaconess Board, even though deaconess work happened to be merciful and gentle and Christlike? What was the church doing with a Book Concern? How came it that we had that board with the long name—Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals? He had traveled from Yokohama to Lucknow and back, and everywhere he had found this same church doing all sorts of work, with no slightest suspicion but that all of it was her proper business.
So picture after picture flickered before his mind's eye, as though his brain had built up a five-reel mental movie from all sorts of memory film; a hundred feet of this, two hundred of that, a thousand here, there just a flash. It had all one common mark; it was all "the church," but the hit-and-miss of it, its lightning change, bewildered him. The pictures leaped from Cartwright to Cawnpore, from the country church at Ellis to Joe Carbrook's hospital in China; from New York and Philadelphia and Chicago and Cincinnati and Washington to the ends of the country and the ends of the earth; and in and through it all, swift bits of unrelated yet vivid hints of Advocates and Heralds, of prayer meetings and institutes, of new churches and old colleges, of revivals and sewing societies, of League socials and Annual Conferences, of deaconesses visiting dreary homes, and soft-footed nurses going about in great hospitals; of beginners' departments and old people's homes; of kindergartens and clinics and preparatory classes. There seemed no end to it all, every moment some new aspect of the church's activity showed itself and then was gone.
It was a most confused and confusing experience; and all through the rest of the day J.W. caught himself wondering again and again at the variety and complexity of the church's affairs.
Why should a church be occupied with all this medley? Why should it be so distracted from its main purpose, to be a Jack of all trades? Why should it open its doors and train its workers and spend its money in persistent response to every imaginable human appeal?
Perhaps that might be it; "human." Once a philosopher had said, "I am a man, and therefore nothing human is foreign to me." What if the church by its very nature must be like that? what if this really were its main purpose—all these varied and sometimes almost conflicting activities no more than its effort to obey the central law of its life?
J.W. was in his stateroom; he paced the narrow aisle between the berths—three steps forward, three steps back, like a caged wild thing. Something was coming to new reality in his soul; he was scarce conscious of the walls that shut him in. Once he stopped by the open port. He looked out at the tumbling rollers of the wide Pacific. And as he looked he thought of the vastness of this sea, how its waters washed the icy shores of Alaska and the palm-fronded atolls of the Marquesas; how they carried on their bosom the multitudinous commerce of a hundred peoples; how from Santiago to Shanghai and from the Yukon to New Zealand it was one ocean, serving all lands, and taking toll of all.
In spite of all the complexities and diversities of the lands about this ocean, they had one possession which all might claim, as it claimed them—the sea. It gave them neighbors and trade, climate and their daily bread. In the sociology and geography and economics of the Orient this Pacific Ocean was the great common denominator. And in the geography and economics and sociology of the kingdom of God? Might it not be—must it not be, the church!
Not only the Pacific basin, but the round world was like that, every part of it dependent on all the rest, and growing every day more and more conscious of all the rest. Railways helped this process, and so did steamships and air routes and telegraph and wireless. More than that, all the world was becoming increasingly related to the life of every part. With raw material produced in Brazil to make tires for the limousines of Fifth Avenue and the Lake Shore Drive, what of the new kinship between the producers in Brazil and the users in the States? All good was coming to be the good of all the earth; and all evil was able to affect the lives of unsuspecting folk half the earth's circumference away.
In such a time, what an insistent call for the program and power of the Christian faith! And the call could be answered. J.W. had seen the church applying the program as well in a Chinese city and in an Indian village as in his home town and on the Mexican border. He was sure that the power that was in the Christian message could heal all the hurts of the world, and bring all peoples into "a world-commonwealth of good will."
This was what Jesus meant to do; not just to save here and there a little group for heaven out of the general hopelessness, but to save and make whole the heart of mankind. The church was not, first of all, seeking its own enlargement, but extending the reach of its Founder's purpose. It did all its many-sided work for a far greater reason than any increase in its own numbers and importance; in a word, for the Christianizing of life, Sunday and every day, in Delafield as well as in the forests of the Amazon and the huddled cities of China.
J.W. sat on the edge of his berth. In the first glow of this new understanding his nerves had steadied to a serenity that was akin to awe. Yet he knew he had made no great discovery. The thing he saw had been there all the time.
Then his mind set to work again on that motley procession of pictures which he had likened to a patchwork film. Was it as disjointed as it seemed? Could it not be so put together as to make a true continuity, consistent and complete?
Why not? In the events of his own life, strangely enough, he had the clue to its right arrangement. By what seemed to be accidental or incidental opportunity it had been his singular fortune to come in contact with some aspect or another of all the work his church was doing. And every element of it, from the beginners' class at Delafield to the language school at Nanking, from the college social in First Church to the celebration at Foochow—it was all New Testament work. Its center was always Jesus Christ's teaching or example, or appeal. There was in its complexity a vast simplicity; each was a part of all, and all was in each.
"John Wesley Farwell, Jr.," said that young man to himself, "this thing is not your discovery—but how does that bit of Keats' go?"
'Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise— Silent, upon a peak in Darien,'
There you have it! But I might have known. Cortez, if it was Cortez, could not have guessed the Pacific. He had nothing to suggest it. But I might have guessed the singleness of the church's work. What is my name for, unless I can appreciate the man who said 'The world is my parish,' and who would do anything—sell books, keep a savings bank, open a dispensary—for the sake of saving souls? That's the single idea, the simple idea. It makes all these queer activities part of one great activity; and rests them all on one under-girding truth—'The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.'
But the wonderful thing to me is that, after all this time, I should suddenly have found this out for myself!
"What a story to take home to Delafield! Pastor Drury is going to have the surprise of his life!"
* * * * *
Three people met J.W. as his train pulled in to the station at Delafield. The other two were his father and mother.
After the first tearfully happy greetings, J.W. looked around the platform. "I rather thought Brother Drury might have come too," he said.
The others exchanged meaning glances, and his father asked, "Then you didn't get my second letter at San Francisco?"
"No," said J.W., in vague alarm, "only the one. What's wrong? Is Mr. Drury—"
"He's at home now, son," said the elder Farwell, gravely. "He came home from our Conference hospital at Hillcrest two weeks ago. We hope he's going to gain considerable strength, but he's had some sort of a stroke, we don't rightly know what, and he's pretty hard hit. He's better than he was last week, but he can't leave his room; sits in his easy chair and doesn't say much."
J.W.'s heart ached. Without always realizing it, he had been counting on long talks with the pastor; there was so much to tell him. And especially so since that wonderful day out in the middle of the Pacific, when he had seen what he even dared to call his 'vision' of the church.
So he said, "You and mother drive on home; I'll walk up with Jeannette."
For lovers who had just met after a year's separation these two were strangely subdued. They had everything to say to each other, but this sudden falling of the shadow of suffering on their meeting checked the words on their lips.
"Will he get better?" J.W. asked Jeannette.
"They fear not," she answered. "The doctors say he may live for several years, but he will never preach again. He just sits there; he's been so anxious to see you. You must go to-day."
"Of course. And what shall I say about the wedding? If he can't leave his room——"
Jeannette interrupted him: "If he can't leave his room, it will make no difference. Church wedding or home wedding I should have chosen, as I have told you; but you and I, John Wesley, are going to be married by Walter Drury, wherever he is, if he's alive on our wedding day."
"Why, yes," said J.W., with a little break in his voice, "it wouldn't seem right any other way. We can have the dinner, or breakfast or whatever it is, just the same, but we'll be married in his room. I'm glad you feel that way about it too; though it's just like you."
And it was so. J.W. went up to the study as soon as he could rid himself of the dust of the day's travel, more eager to show Walter Drury he loved him than to tell his story or even to arrange for the wedding.
As to that ceremony, the plans had long ago been understood; nothing more was needed than to tell Walter Drury his study afforded a better background and setting for this particular wedding than a cathedral could provide.
J.W. was prepared for a great change in Pastor Drury, but he noticed no such signs of breakdown as he had expected to see. He did not know that the beloved pastor was keyed up for this meeting. He could not guess that the beaming eye, the old radiant smile, the touch of color in a face usually pale, were on special if unconscious display because the pastor's heart was thanking God that he had been permitted to welcome home his son in the gospel.
Those had been dreary days, in the hospital, despite the ceaseless ministries of nurses and doctors and friends from Delafield. This hospital was a place of noble service, one of many such places which have arisen in the Methodism of the last forty years. It was a hospital through and through—the last word in equipment and competence, but not at all an "institution." It was at once a home for the sick and a training school of the Christian graces, where the distressed of body and mind could be given the relief they needed—all of it given gladly, in Christ's name.
Walter Drury was not unmindful of the care and skill which the hospital staff lavished on him, though no more faithfully on him than on many an unknown or unresponsive patient. But he was in a pitifully questioning mood. The doctors had told him he could not expect to preach again. When the district superintendent had come to visit him, he carried away with him Walter Drury's request for retirement at the coming session of the Annual Conference.
In his quiet moments—there were so many of them now—the broken man counted up his years of service, all too few, as it seemed to him, and lacking much of what they might have shown in outcomes for the church and the kingdom. His Conference was one of the few which paid the full annuity claim of its retired preachers, but even so he had not much to look forward to. His twenty-five years in the active ranks meant that he could count on twenty-five times $15 a year, $375, on which to live, when he gave up his work.
Perhaps he could live on this, with what little he had been able to put aside; at any rate he could be glad now that there was none but himself to think about. But was it worth all he had put into his vocation? His brother in Saint Louis, not remarkably successful in his business, had been able at least to make some provision for his old age. He too might have been a moderately successful business or professional man. Truly it was more than the older preachers had, this Conference annuity, which would keep him from actual want; so much, surely, had been gained by the church's growing sense of responsibility for its veterans.
But had it really paid? Was all the gentle efficiency of the hospital, and all the church's money which would come to him from the Conference funds and the Board of Conference Claimants, enough to compensate him for the long years when he had been spendthrift of all his powers for the sake of his work?
He knew, of course, the answer to his questions; no one better. But he was a broken-down preacher, old before his time; and knowing the answer was not at all the same as having the answer. So he had been brought home from Hillcrest, mind-weary and much cast down. Nor did he regain any of his old buoyancy of spirit until the day when they told him J. W, would be home next week.
It was then that he told himself, "If J.W. has come back with only a story to tell"—and gloom was in his face; "But if he has come back with the story to tell"—and his heart leaped within him at the thought.
The pastor and J.W. were soon talking away with the old familiarity, but mostly about inconsequentials. Neither was quite prepared for more intimate communion; and, of course, the returning traveler had much to do. The wedding was near at hand, and everybody but himself had been getting ready this long time. So the call was too brief to suit either of them, with the longer visits each hoped for of necessity deferred to a more convenient season.
J.W. must make a hurried journey to Saint Louis to turn in his report to Peter McDougall, which report Peter was much better prepared to receive than J.W. suspected. And a highly satisfactory arrangement was made for J.W.'s continued connection with the Cummings Hardware Corporation.
Doubtless all weddings are much alike in their ceremonial aspects; short or long, solemn-spoken ancient ritual or commonplace legal form, the essence of them all is that this man and this woman say, "I will." So it was in Walter Drury's study. And then the little group seated itself about the pastor; Marty with Alma Wetherell, soon to become Mrs. Marty; all the Shenks, the elder Farwells, John Wesley, Jr., and Jeannette. The dinner would not be for an hour yet, and this was the pastor's time.
Pastor Drury could not talk much. He had kept his chair as he read the ritual, and now he sat and smiled quietly on them all. But once and again his eye sought J.W. and the look was a question yet unanswered.
"What sort of a voyage home did you have?" Mrs. Farwell asked her son, motherlike, using even a query about the weather to turn attention to her boy.
"A good voyage, mother," said J.W. "A fine voyage. But one day—will you let me tell it here, all of you? I've hardly been any more eager for my wedding day than for a chance to say this. I won't tire you, Mr. Drury, will I?"
"You'll never do that, my boy," said the preacher. "But don't bother about me, I've long had a feeling that what you are going to say will be better for me than all the doctors." For he had seen the eager glow on J.W.'s face, and his heart was ready to be glad.
Thus it was that J.W. told the story of his great moment; how he had talked with Miss Morel one morning of the many-sided work of the church, and how in the afternoon he had looked through the open port of his stateroom and had seen an ocean that looked like the church, and a church that seemed like the ocean.
"I shall remember that day forever, I think," he said. "For the first time in my life I could put all the pieces of my life together; my home, my church, the Sunday school, the League, college, the needy life of this town, your country work, Marty, Mexico, China, India—everything; and I could see as one wonderful, perfect picture, every bit of it necessary to all the rest. Our church at work to make Jesus Christ Lord of all life, in my home and clear to the 'roof of the world' out yonder under the snows of Tibet. Can you see it, folks? I think you always could, Mr. Drury!" and he put his hand affectionately on the pastor's knee.
Pastor Drury's face was even paler than its wont, but in his eyes glowed the light that never was on sea or land. He was hearing what sometimes he had feared he might not last long enough to hear. The Experiment was justified, and he was comforted!
He picked up the Bible that lay near his hand, and turned to the Gospel by Luke. "I hope none of you will think I wrest the Book's words to lesser meanings," he said, "but there is only one place in it that can speak what is in my heart to-day." And he read the song of Simeon in the temple: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation," and so to the end.
It was very still when his weak voice ceased; but in a moment the silence was broken by a cry from J.W.
"Why, Mr. Drury, it has been you, all these years!"
"What do you mean, J.W.?". said Marty, somewhat alarmed and thoroughly mystified.
"Exactly what I say, Marty. Can't you see it too? Can't all of you see it?" and J.W. looked from one face to another around the room. "Jeannette, you know what I mean, don't you?"
And Jeannette, at once smiling and tearful, said, "Yes, J.W., I've thought about it many times, and I know now it is true."
Marty said, "Maybe so; but what?" for he was still bewildered.
"Why," J.W. began, with eager haste, "Mr. Drury planned all this—years and years ago. Not our wedding, I don't mean that," and he paused long enough to find Jeannette's hand and get it firmly in his own, "we managed that ourselves, didn't we, dear? But—I don't know why—this blessed minister of God began, somewhere far back yonder, to show me what God was trying to do through our church, and, later, through the other churches. He saw that I went to Institute. He steered me through my Sunday school work. He showed me my lifework. He made me want to go to college. He introduced me to the Delafield that is outside our own church. He got me my job in Saint Louis—don't you dare to deny it," as the pastor raised a protesting hand. "I've talked with our sales manager; he put the idea of the Far Eastern trip into Mr. McDougall's mind—and, well, it has been Pastor Drury all these years, and he knew what he was doing!"
Pastor Drury had kept his secret bravely, but there was no need to keep it longer, and now he was well content that these dear friends should have discovered it on such a day of joy. After all, it had been a beautiful Experiment, and not altogether without its value. So he made no more ado, and in his heart there was a great peace.