HOWARD CHASE, RED HILL, by Charles Sheldon

Chapter XII.

     It was Saturday night and Agnes and Rose had left Howard in the study, while they had gone down on the street to do a little shopping. Saturday night had always been a sacred time with Howard, whose habits demanded quiet for that period, on up into the late hours, in preparation for Sunday preaching.

     To-night he was unusually abstracted and introspective. He sat gazing at the Christ, his whole being stirred to do and be as a disciple. But at the heart of his desire sat, grim and unmoved, this Red Hill problem of a community spirit. What good had his preaching done? The town was in the grip of tradition. The churches were a burden to the people, not a help. The very fact of so many, spoke of the failure of their definition of Christianity. It was a reproach to the Master, a denial of his prayer that they might be one. And his own efforts were wasted. His own success spelled failure for his brethren in the ministry. Was it worth the effort? What hope to bring together a community that had no together spirit.

     His soul gathered more and more in abstraction, removed from his outward surroundings and he had never been more completely isolated, when he was startled by a loud ring at the door. He started up and almost running out into the sitting-room, opened the door and confronted Lida's father, Mr. Wilson.

     "May I see you a few minutes, Mr. Chase? I know it's Saturday, but----"

     Howard warmly greeted him and ushered him into the study.

     Mr. Wilson was a small, unobtrusive man, owner of the elevator and flour mill at Red Hill. Everybody said he had lots of money, but few people except the wheat sellers had ever seen much of it. He had several times that summer and fall, in brief chance meetings with Howard, hinted at something in the way of a memorial to little Miss Wilson, but not even in his wildest dreams had Howard imagined so great a thing as quiet Mr. Wilson now proposed. He did it in a very few words.

     "Mr. Chase, I have heard you speak more than once of a Community Centre in Red Hill, a building into which all the people could gather for the common interests and where various enterprises could be carried on like Boy's Club work, gymnasium, Reading-room, Lecture Hall, Music, town administration, and so forth could all be housed, a place the people could call their own, and into which and out of which could centre the interested life of the place.

     "Well, Mrs. Wilson and I have talked it over. We will start that idea by giving towards such a building the sum of five thousand dollars, as a memorial to Lida. You were her greatest friend, outside the family. We feel as if this building would represent not only a memorial to our child, but be something you would know how to plan and carry on for the common good. Will you undertake this matter, if we can find others to join us, as I believe we can? For ten thousand dollars we ought to be able to put up the proper building and equip it."

     If Mr. Wilson had come into his study and proposed to Howard that they unite to start a joint in Red Hill and send for a carload of beer at once, Howard could not have been more astounded. He was so overwhelmed by the fact of his longing coming true that for a few seconds he stared at Mr. Wilson without a word. Next minute he had him by the hand, and trying to voice his feelings. Next minute, with his accustomed energy, he had seized a piece of paper and was sketching out in the rough his thought of the Building and the various things to go into it. When Mr. Wilson finally went away, after modestly disclaiming any credit for his part in the memorial, he left behind an excited young minister, pacing the little room exultantly, his heart singing hallelujah.

     He could not compose himself to his sermon-making at once, but he had gone back to his desk to sit down, when the bell rang again. This time, to his surprise, it was the young Washburn College graduate farmer. He had never called on Howard before, but now he apologised as Howard eagerly and in anticipation of something unusual, took him by the arm and drew him into the study.

     When they were seated, the farmer said, gazing with deep earnestness at Howard:

     "Mr. Chase, I owe you more than one apology for my selfish lack of cooperation in your plans for Red Hill, but the thing has been coming to a head with me all through the summer and fall, and I saw your light as I was driving home, and felt the impulse to come in and consult with you over a scheme following out your own idea of a Community Centre where we can head up all the interests of the people, in town and country. During the last two years I have been greatly prospered. I have talked over this with my wife, who is as you know a Washburn graduate. And we have agreed to put in, say, two thousand dollars to start with towards this community idea, helping to raise a building, if that is your thought, and really doing something to tie up the common life interests of all the people in town and out. We want to give a better account of our stewardship as educated Christians. We want to prove to ourselves at least, that we are worthy of our Alma Mater and doing something to express our gratitude for all she did for us. We don't know how to do it better than in this way. I want to counsel with you about it."

     Howard sat staring at him open mouthed. If the Washburn graduate had proposed that he and Howard start a gambling hall down on the street over the post office he could not have been more bewildered. When he recovered himself he told the farmer about Mr. Wilson. Two excited young men got up and gripped each other's hands. As each of the men had been athletes in college the grip was fairly successful as a grip. Then they sat down and talked it over.

     The farmer had been gone only a few minutes when Agnes and Rose came in. Without a word Howard put an arm about each and whirled them bewildered round and round. Then to prove he was not drunk or crazy he told them the fairy story of Mr. Wilson and the Washburn College graduate farmer. An excited parsonage group had little sleep that night. Howard swept his proposed sermon into the waste paper basket and next morning went into his pulpit and preached the Community plan in a fiery, enthusiastic, but not visionary sermon that kept Judge Randolph awake most of the time and everybody else all the time, and closed in a thrilling announcement of Mr. Wilson's and the farmer's offer.

     It was so great a surprise that the people took it in dead silence. Then they applauded. The Expressman told the Agent as they walked home that he never knew Mr. Wilson was worth over ten thousand dollars.

     "That's going to be some building, accordin' to Mr. Chase. I gathered he intends to have everything in it except a joint. He plans a caverterium and a movie and a swimmin' hole for the kids and I don't know what all. We'll all have to subscribe. Better get a move on your typewriter. Maybe you can get past Mr. Bok again, when he ain't lookin'."

     Matters moved fast after that memorable Sunday. The whole town woke up as never in its history. During the week following Deacon Burton subscribed one thousand dollars. Judge Randolph and his wife put in five hundred. But the surprise of the town was Deacon Allen. He came to Howard the next day after the sermon and put in his hand a check for two thousand dollars to be put into the library part of the building, stipulating that no other editions of the Bible go into it except the King James.

     It was the most exciting week Red Hill ever knew or ever will know. Before another Sunday the ten thousand dollars had been subscribed and more kept coming in from the country due to the efforts of the Washburn College farmer who kept his machine hot in a county canvas, and Howard called a mass meeting of the town to construct a committee, seek for plans, and consult generally.

     There were some croakers and opposers. There always are for every plan ever proposed for human betterment. But Howard's enthusiasm, tempered by a great fund of practical common sense, had the right of way. The Community idea had the right of way, and the town for once in its life sat down to a feast of imagination spread with the promise of idealism come true. Why are some people so afraid of the millennium coming to pass? Is anything more useful than the ideal, or more idealistic than the useful?

     There was a good deal of speculation as to what would become of the churches under this community idea. Howard steadfastly held to the opinion that that problem would work out in time and his opinion proved singularly true. Elder Noyes, after a series of experiences with the Board which do not belong to this story, was on the point of resigning from the ministry when Howard prevailed on him to stay on in Red Hill and take charge of one of the departments in the Community House. He proved to be unusually efficient as the Librarian and Director of Reading. Brother Harris, who had a gift with boys, gradually worked into the general management of the Play Grounds and Boys' Club Department. And Brother Grey, after various experiments, proved his great usefulness in directing the Lecture and Musical Courses which have made Red Hill famous in Kansas. The churches did not combine at first except in a real union of common service in the Municipal and Community House. The Methodists, after endeavouring to hold together and even rebuild without the help of the Board, gradually came into Howard's congregation. One of the potent factors in this was the refusal on the part of the business men to subscribe to all the churches as they had done for years. And as time went on the plan of heading all the church organisations up into one, gained more and more favour, so that within the next two years plans were under way to perfect that organisation.

     History was made fast during those two years. George Clark gave a vacant lot next his printing office, on the main street. The Building went up, under the careful supervision of the Committee, the whole town looking on, and the Expressman in particular spending leisure time, of which he had a large and unused quantity, in seeing that everything was according to specifications. And when it was finally completed, one night, Red Hill collectively, every man, woman and child, went into it and proudly raised it belonged to the whole town and the country. That was a great evening in its history, and its climax, every one agreed, came when after a great talk by Howard, explaining the plan and purpose of it all, the Washburn College graduate farmer, in a neat speech, presented Howard and his wife with a beautiful framed photograph of the Building, and a testimonial signed by nearly everybody as a token of their appreciation of what they had done. For the first time in his life Howard could not command his feelings. He broke down and received the picture in silence, tears on his face as he stood there by the side of his wife.

     One other significant event must be recorded of general and peculiar interest to all Red Hill, that centred into the Building, and that was the night, one year later, when Jake Seymour proudly and with an excitement that threatened to set the booth and all its contents on fire, put on in the Assembly Hall the Children's Play written by Inez, accepted by Edison's, photographed by Andrew Morris and passed by the new Kansas State Censorship Commission under the new law passed by the legislature of 1917.

     The play itself was called "The Other Child," and Inez, remembering the Agent's literary ambitions, had asked him to write the verses that served as a Prelude. The theme was national prohibition and it was wonderfully worked out with the photographs of Morris, who sat by the side of Inez that night, and all Red Hill knew that Inez was going to marry him sometime that winter, and wondered that such a girl as Inez would take up with such a plain-faced man. But as Inez, said to Howard and Agnes during her visit, the Lennoxes also coming on to see Inez' triumph, "Mr. Chase, I love Andrew because he first taught me, next to you, the real value of things, and I am happy with him, yes, really so."

     And the Expressman confided to the Agent:

     "You never can tell what these good-lookin' girls will do. That photographer fellow takes the first prize for looks. The first look is enough. But Inez I reckon has enough for both, an' if she's happy, Red Hill won't object."

     The Agent's verses outlined the purpose of the play. He himself read them, as they came down on the screen, in a dream to think they were really his.

They are dying on plain and on mountain,
By the river, in trenches, at sea;
They are rotting, unburied, blood-clotted,
Where Mars smites his victims in glee;
But oh, little sister of mine, to-day
In my country at peace with the world,
With our flag of freedom unfurled,
What is this we are trying to slay?

They are strong, they are men in their might,
They have grown to the stature of men,
They are fighting with strength against strength,
They can suffer again and again;
But oh, little sister of mine, so sad,
In my country at peace with the world,
With our flag of freedom unfurled,
What is this we are killing, greed-mad?

They are dying in Flanders and Poland,
They are killing and maiming like brutes,
They are filling all earth with their horror,
Theyare reaping. Death's toll of red fruits;
But oh, little sister of mine, over here,
In my country at peace with the world,
With our flag of freedom unfurled,
What is this that can kill a child's tear?

In the Mart of this country of mine
We are killing the children, not men,
They can die, as they have in the past,
They can suffer again and again;
But oh, little sister of mine, so wee,
In my country at peace with the world,
With our flag of freedom unfurled,
What is this we are killing with glee?

For we license the selling of that
Which all through the ages has slain
The bodies and souls of the children,
In its hellish red battle of gain;
But oh, little sister of mine, so wee,
In my country at peace with the world,
With our flag of freedom unfurled,
We can, and we will, set you free.

     There was an immense crowd in the Hall that night, and Howard, Agnes, Rose, Roy, Kate, Inez, her father, Andrew, as they had begun to call him, Deacon Burton, Mrs. Burton, Deacon Allen, the Agent and the Expressman were all together in one section, intensely interested in Inez' first photo film play, when Jake Seymour put his hand out of the little opening of the booth and Howard turned in alarm as a puff of smoke----

     When he looked up and saw Agnes laughing and rumpling his hair and saying, "Are you going to come out of that trance? Rose and I were later than we expected. I just peeped in here to see how the sermon was coming on and saw you were a thousand miles away----"

     Howard stared at her in perfect bewilderment.

     Then he said slowly:

     "What day is it?"

     "Saturday, you foolish boy."

     "I mean what day of the year."

     "Why, it is December 9th."

     "Year what?"

     Agnes looked at him in some alarm.

     "1916. What is the matter?"

     "I thought it was two or three years more. Mrs. Chase----" He drew her down into his lap. "I have had the most wonderful vision. Listen to me. Wait! Ask Rose to come in--I must tell it before I forget it."

     Rose came in and Howard told them. They laughed and cried together. But before he was through he had made up his mind. And when he walked into his pulpit the next morning he told the people his dream.

     It made a profound impression. At the close of that day, after all the services at the church, Howard and his wife, who were generally the last to come out of the building, came out and walked across the yard to the parsonage. When they came up on the little porch they turned around. Red Hill was there, its lights twinkling, the bluff in dim outline, the signals of the Santa Fe set for No. 3, a clear winter sky, star-set over all, the little church across the yard white in the darkness, the faint flutter of some prairie feature out on the section road. And Howard, Agnes by his side, looked up and after a moment he said:

     "Why may not my dream come true for Red Hill?"

     "I believe it will. Let us work and pray to make it real," his wife replied.

     They stood there silently a moment and then went into the parsonage.

     "Isn't it rather cold out there to be courting?" said Rose as they came in.

     "We were not courting," said Howard gravely.

     "What were you doing?"

     "Dreaming," he answered. And Agnes added--"Some dreams come true. Maybe ours will."


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