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gospel to sinners, and I do think the most brutal
sight I ever witnessed was that presiding elder
announcing grave charges against a man who
looked as if he had died beneath the blow; and still
stared in front of him with wide, horror-stricken
eyes. And he was proved innocent, which must
have increased his anguished sense of injustice.

My ear caught the name of "Walter Bliss." I
remembered him forty years ago on the Berton
cirouit. He was young then, so young in his
spiritual life that he still was jojrful, radiating



A Circuit Rider's Widow 367

courage, hope, and faith with no eflFort, simply
because he was young, innocent, hopeful of a long
life in the ministry. "Nothing against* him!"
shouted the presiding elder.

Then Walter Bliss stood up.

I should never have recognized this gray,
withered shade of a man. All the hardships of
the years, the weariness, the failures — they were
written like an epitaph upon this scrawny figure,
as if there had not been room for this sorrowful
script in the wrinkles upon his brow. It was
written all over him — ^in the sag of his shoulders,
in his trembling knees, in his arms sticking out
from his body like the picked wings of a bird.

He had not risen in the Conference, as we say.
He had always been sent to the poorest circuits,
where the labour was hardest, and the salary
meagre to the point of dried fruit for quarterage.
But for forty years when his name was called the
presiding elder had always to answer, "Nothing
against him!"

It is a long time to be good.

He read his report. He admitted that he had
not been successful this year. One inferred that
he never had been— only faithful. He was able
to collect about 50 per cent, of his assessments.
His salary had not been paid in full. He had held
four revivals, but had not received many acces-



368 A Circuit Rider's Widow

sions to the church. Yes, he had baptized quite
a number of infants.

That was all, but still he stood, like a man col-
lecting his feeble strength for a final eflFort.

"I wish to take the superannuate relation," he
said, as simply as that.

He was done at last. He had gone down in
the struggle. No more circuits, no more long
journeys through snow and sleet to a church where
maybe not three people came to hear him preach
that day. Never again the struggle to get his
paltry assessments, no more revivals with sinners
crowding the altar with him, bending above, teach-
ing them the great secret of penitence and love.
Henceforth he would be only an old preacher with
nothing more to suffer, and nothing more to do.
It was awful to be so bereaved of his Lord's
service.

He remained standing. He wished to say some-
thing about those forty years in the itineracy.

But the bishop did not see him. He called for
the next report. Not a word of praise or sympa-
thy for the man who had just finished giving his
life for the chiu-ch.

The old preacher slipped slowly back into his
seat, looking vaguely confused. How had it hap-
pened? He was about to say something. But the
bishop did not seem to know that.



A Circuit Rider's Widow 369

Sometimes I know that I am not a sufficiently
patient Christian. I know it with deep regret and
a certain violent satisfaction. And this was one of
the times. I wanted to jump up, lean over the
balcony rail, and shout:

"Stop! That old man wants to say something.
It's his last chance as a Methodist itinerant. Give
him the floor and holler ' Amen ! ' for him,"

If I had done that they would have removed me
for disturbing public worship, I reckon.

But of course the bishop had his side. He was
in command of a church conducted according to
military ideas. When an old cavalry horse falls in
the fight the general doesn't go down and close his
dying eyes. He charges straight ahead, which is
the right way if he is to get anywhere. But it cer-
tainly does look very bad to see him doing it in the
church of God. I don't say it is wrong — ^I say it
looks heartless.

As the names of the preachers are arranged
alphabetically for this investigation of character.
Brother Wade's name would come near the close
of the session — ^for they managed to pass at odd
times only thirty or forty each day.

On Friday morning they were as far down as the
Smiths in the conference. There are several Ts,
one or two Us and Vs, then before I could brace
myself the secretary called, "Felix Wade!"



370 A Circuit Rider's Widow

"Nothing against him!" responded the pre-
siding elder.

Brother Wade stood up and read his astounding
report.

This is made out on blanks, furnished with the
printed heads under which reports are to be made.
It is a good plan and saves time. The preacher is
not supposed to wind himself or the Conference
with explanations of why he did so well or so badly
with his work that year. He is expected to reduce
the whole thing to numerals, recite them and sit
down, merely privately asking the Lord to have
mercy upon him if he has raised only 10 per cent,
of his assessments, which I reckon, until this day,
was the lowest report of that kind ever made by a
member of this Conference.

There was a curious stillness, a significant con-
centration of attention, as Brother Wade held up
that little narrow cream-coloured slip of paper.

1. No accessions to the church.

2. No revivals held.

3. Oi^e conversion.

4. Sunday-school assessments paid.

5. Less than one per cent, of conference collec-
tions paid.

6. No salary assessed for pastor. Three hun-
dred dollars paid.

7. Five infants baptized.



A Circuit Rider's Widow 371

It must have taken him less than one minute to
read these items. Then he resumed his seat, folded
his legs, and left his cowlick to speak for itself.

The Bishop stared at him in petrified amazement.
The members of the conference eased their necks
round, as if they wished to resume a front-face
position without being suspected of visual curiosity
in this man who had just damned himself.

In the midst of this appalling stillness our pre-
siding elder stood up.

"Bishop," he said in low tones, "Brother Wade
desires to surrender his credentials and his license
to preach. There is nothing against him, and he
has stood with credit his examinations for the com-
ing year."

This added assurance that there was nothing
against him was important. If charges are pre-
ferred against a preacher he cannot surrender his
license vmtil after the trial. If he is found guilty
the church demands them. So this was the earliest
possible moment when Brother Wade could have
been reKeved of his duties.

The elder advanced, laid these credentials on
the bishop's desk, and the incident was closed.
The business of the Conference proceeded with
the usual machine-like precision.

I sat like a poor old pubUcan in the dark gallery,
the only representative of the chiu-ch at Berton,



372 A Circuit Rider's Widow

which somehow I felt had been weighed in the
scales and found wanting. We had had the light,
and we preferred darkness, at least a well-shaded,
world-tinted cover for our prayers and deeds.

Momentum gathered by more than a hundred
years of progress will carry as large a body as a
Christian organization a long way before it begins
to wobble.

The great Methodist Episcopal Church South
was certainly moving swiftly and directly to the
ends it held in view — of being a rich and powerful
influence chartered in the name of God — but I
felt dimly that things were not so well with us as
they should be. The atmosphere of an Annual
Conference is not spiritual, because it is, strictly
speaking, a business meeting, called to audit ac-
counts and assign the work of the church for an-
other year. All the fine sermons one hears at a
conference do not entirely conceal the real nature
and purpose of the body.

This is as it should be, of course. I am not
complaining, I'm only explaining why I felt very
low in my mind and very humble in my soul as I
sat up there in the brown gloom of the balcony.
I could not see the people on the conference floor
below. My eyes were holden by tears which
changed everything into a dark moving mist. I
could still hear the sharp, incisive voice of the



A Circuit Rider's Widmo 373

bishop, saying something about church e3rten-
sion.

Then I heard the quick, elastic tread of some
one coming up the st^s into the gallery. The
next moment Felix Wade slipped into the seat
beside me.

We sat there in silence for I know not how long,
with the rasping voice of the advancing church
cutting the air as the bishop continued his ex-
hortation.

"You have been good to me," Brother Wade
said finally.

I fumbled in my reticule, took out my handker-
chief and wiped the tears from beneath my glasses.
But I could not stop my lips from primping.

"You have -held up my hands," he went on.

I looked round at him and met the familiar,
half-tender, half -humorous smile.

"We needed you, Brother Wade," I whimpered.
"We are sorry to lose you."

"But I'll never lose you, dear lady. I'll re-
member you all my life as the fair weather of a
hard season," he said gently. "I could not go
without telling you that."

"But you are not going now!" I exclaimed.

"At once. I have an important engagement

in A to-night. Lum meets me there," he

said, rising and holding out his hand.



374 A Circuit Rider's Widow

"You will not return to Berton," I held out,
"to pack things?"

. "No; that is already done — except" — ^he looked
at me like a boy making a present to his grand-
mother — "except the painting which you remem-
ber hung over the fireplace in the parsonage par-
lour. I have ventured to bequeath that to you."

The next moment he was gone. I dropped back
in my seat, feeling as a mother must feel after
bidding her favourite son good-bye who is already
on his way to the wars. And I could not comfort
myself, because I did not know what would become
of him.

The bishop was still speaking about the im-
portance of church extension. But I thought I
would get up presently, when I felt better, and go
out. Maybe I should be able to catch the noon
train for Berton. It did not matter whom we
should get for a pastor — ^I made up my mind to
let Charlotte run things next year. It was her
kind of a church anyhow.



THE END




THE COUNTRT LIFE PBESS
GARDEN CITY, N. T.





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Online LibraryCorra HarrisA circuit rider's widow → online text (page 20 of 20)