[BOOK II] CHAPTER XXI
WHILE Mrs. Worth and Sallie were still in the North, the Rev. John Durham received a unanimous call to the pastorate of one of the most powerful Baptist churches in Boston, with a salary of five thousand dollars a year. He was receiving a salary of nine hundred dollars at Hambright, which could boast at most a population of two thousand. He declined the call by return mail.
The committee were thunderstruck at this quick adverse decision, refused to consider it final, and wrote him along urgent letter of protest against such ill-considered treatment. They urged that he must come to Boston, and preach one Sunday, at least, in answer to their generous offer, before rendering a final decision. He consented to do so, and went to Boston. He sought Sallie the day after his arrival.
"Ah, my beautiful daughter of the South, it's good to see you shining here in the midst of the splendours of the Hub, the fairest of them all!" he said shaking her hand feelingly.
"You mean pining, not shining," she protested.
"That's better still. I knew your heart was in the right place!"
"How is he, Doctor?" she asked.
"He's trying to pull himself together with his work, and
succeeding. The shock of a great sorrow has steadied
his nerves, broadened his sympathies, and it will make him a man."
A look of longing came over her face. "I don't want him to be too strong without me," she faltered.
"Never fear. He's so despondent at times I have to try to laugh him out of countenance."
She smiled and pressed his hand for answer as he rose to go.
"How do you like these Yankees, Miss Sallie?"
"I've been surprised and charmed beyond measure with everything I've seen!"
"You don't say so! How?"
"Well, I thought they were cold-blooded and inhospitable. I never made a more foolish mistake. I have never been more at home, or been treated more graciously in the South. To tell you the truth, they seem like our most cultured people at home, warm-hearted, cordial, sensible and neighbourly. Mama is so pleased she's trying to claim kin with the Puritans, through her Scotch Covenanter ancestry."
"After all, I believe you are right. I never preached in my life to so sensitive an audience. There's an atmosphere of solid comfort, good sense, and intelligence that holds me in a spell here. This is the place in which I've dreamed I'd like to live and work."
"Then you will accept, Doctor?"
"Now listen to you, child! Don't you think I've a heart too? My brain and body longs for such a home, but my heart's down South with mine own people who love and need me."
The committee did their best to bring the Preacher to a favourable
decision at once, but he smiled a firm refusal. They refused to
report it to the church, and sent Deacon Crane, now a venerable man of
seventy-six, the warmest admirer of the Preacher among them all to
Hambright. They authorised him to make an amazing offer of salary, if that would be any inducement, and they felt sure it would.
When the Deacon reached Hambright and saw its poverty and general air of unimportance he felt encouraged.
"A man of such power stay a lifetime in this little hole! Impossible!" he exclaimed under his breath, when he looked out of the bus along the wide deserted looking streets with a straggling cottage here and there on either side.
He stopped at the same hotel with the Preacher and became his shadow for a week. He was seated with him under the oak in the square, threshing over his argument for the hundredth time, in the most good-natured, but everlastingly persistent way.
"Doctor, it's perfect nonsense for a man of your magnificent talents, of your culture and power over an audience, to think of living always in a little village like this!"
"No, deacon, my work is here for the South."
"But, my dear man, in Boston, it would be for the whole nation, North and South. I'll tell you what we will do. Say you will come, and we will make your salary eight thousand a year. That's the largest salary ever offered a Baptist preacher in America. You will pack our church with people, give us new life, and we can afford it. You will be a power in Boston, and a power in the world."
The Preacher smiled and was silent. At length he said,
"I appreciate your offer, deacon. You pay me the highest compliment you know how to express. But you prosperous Yankees can't get into your heads the idea that there are many things which money can't measure."
"But we know a good thing when we see it, and we go for it!" interrupted the deacon.
"Believe me," continued the Preacher, "I appreciate the sacrifice, the generosity, and breadth of sympathy this offer shows in your hearts. But it is not for me. My work is here. I don't mind confessing to you that you have vastly pleased me with that offer. I'll brag about it to myself the rest of my life."
"But Doctor, think how much greater power a generous salary will give you in furnishing your equipment for work, and in ministering to any cause you may have at heart," pleaded the deacon.
"I don't know. I have a salary of nine hundred dollars. With five hundred I buy books,—food, clothes, shelter, the companionship for the soul. The balance suffices for the body. I haven't time to bother with money. The man who receives a big salary must live up to its social obligations, and he must pay for it with his life."
"Doctor, there must be some tremendous force that holds you to such a decision in a village. It seems to me you are throwing your life away."
"There is a tremendous force, deacon. It is the overwhelming sense of obligation I feel to my own people who have suffered so much, and are still in the grip of poverty, and threatened with greater trials. I can't leave my own people while they are struggling yet with this unsolved Negro problem. Two great questions shadow the future of the American people, the conflict between Labor and Capital, and the conflict between the African and the Anglo-Saxon race. The greatest, most dangerous, and most hopeless of these, is the latter. My place is here."
The deacon laughed. "You're a crank on that subject. Come to Boston and you will see with a better perspective that the question is settling itself. In fact the war absolutely settled it."
"Deacon," said the Preacher with a quizzical expres-
sion about his eyes, "Do you believe in the doctrine of Election?"
"Yes, I do."
"I thought so. You know, I never saw a man who believed in the doctrine of Election who didn't believe he was elected. I never saw a man in my life, except a lying politician, who declared the Negro problem was settled, unless he had removed his family to a place of fancied safety where he would never come in contact with it. And they all believe that the Negro's place is in the South."
The deacon laughed good-naturedly.
"Come with us, and we will show you greater problems. For one, the life and death struggle of Christianity itself with modern materialism. I tell you the Negro problem was settled when slavery was destroyed."
"You never made a sadder mistake. The South did not fight to hold slaves. Our Confederate government at Richmond offered to guarantee to Europe, the freedom of every slave for the recognition of our independence. Slavery was bound of its own weight to fall. Virginia came within one vote in her assembly of freeing her slaves years before the war. But for the frenzy of your Abolition fanatics who first sought to destroy the Union by Secession, and then forced Secession on the South, we would have freed the slaves before this without a war, from the very necessities of the progress of the material world, to say nothing of its moral progress. We fought for the rights we held under the old constitution, made by a slave-holding aristocracy. But we collided with the resistless movement of humanity from the idea of local sovereignty toward nationalism, centralisation, solidarity."
"That's why I say," interrupted the deacon, "your
Negro question has already been settled. The nation has become a reality not a name."
"And that is why I know, deacon," insisted the preacher, "that we have not only not settled this question,—we haven't even faced the issues. Nationality demands solidarity. And you can never get solidarity in a nation of equal rights out of two hostile races that do not intermarry. In a Democracy you can not build a nation inside of a nation of two antagonistic races, and therefore the future American must be either an Anglo Saxon or a Mulatto. And if a Mulatto, will the future be worth discussing?"
"I never thought of it in just that way," answered the deacon.
"It is my work to maintain the racial absolutism of the Anglo-Saxon in the South, politically, socially, economically."
"But can it be done? I see many evidences of a mixture of blood already," said the deacon seriously.
"Yes, we are doing it. This mixture you observe has no social significance, for a simple reason. It is all the result of the surviving polygamous and lawless instincts of the white male. Unless by the gradual encroachments of time, culture, wealth and political exigencies, the time comes that a negro shall be allowed freely to choose a white woman for his wife, the racial integrity remains intact. The right to choose one's mate is the foundation of racial life and of civilisation. The South must guard with flaming sword every avenue of approach to this holy of holies. And there are many subtle forces at work to obscure these possible approaches."
"Well, no matter," broke in the deacon, "come with us, and you will have more power to touch with your ideas the wealth and virtue of the whole nation."
The Preacher was silent a moment and seemed to be musing in a sort of half dream. The deacon looked at him with a growing sense of the hopelessness of his task, but of surprise at this revelation of the secrets of his inner life.
"The South has been voiceless in these later years," he went on, "her voice has been drowned in a din of cat-calls from an army of cheap scribblers and demagogues. But when these children we are rearing down here grow, rocked in their cradles of poverty, nurtured in the fierce struggle to save the life of a mighty race, they will find speech, and their songs will fill the world with pathos and power.
"I've studied your great cities. Believe me the South is worth saving. Against the possible day when a flood of foreign anarchy threatens the foundations of the Republic and men shall laugh at the faiths of your fathers, and undigested wealth beyond the dreams of avarice rots your society, until it mocks at honour, love and God—against that day we will preserve the South!"
The Preacher's voice was now vibrating with deep feeling, and the deacon listened with breathless interest.
"Believe me, deacon, the ark of the covenant of American ideals rests to-day on the Appalachian Mountain range of the South. When your metropolitan mobs shall knock at the doors of your life and demand the reason of your existence, from these poverty-stricken homes, with their old-fashioned, perhaps mediaeval ideas, will come forth the fierce athletic sons and sweet-voiced daughters in whom the nation will find a new birth!" The Preacher's eyes had filled with tears and his voke dropped into a low dream-like prophecy.
"You can not understand," he resumed, in a clear voice, "why I
feel so profoundly depressed just now because the Republican party,
which, with you stands for
the virtue, wealth and intelligence of the community, is now in charge of this state. I will tell you why. A Republican administration in North Carolina simply means a Negro oligarchy. The state is now being debauched and degraded by this fact in the innermost depths of its character and life. My place is here in this fight."
"But, Doctor, will not your industrial training of the Negro gradually minimise any danger to your society?"
"No, it will gradually increase it. Industrial training gives power. If the Negro ever becomes a serious competitor of the white labourer in the industries of the South, the white man will kill him, just as your labour Unions do in the North now where the conditions of life are hard, and men fight with tooth and nail for bread. If you train the negroes to be scientific farmers they will become a race of aristocrats, and when five generations removed from the memory of slavery, a war of races will be inevitable, unless the Anglo-Saxon grant this trained and wealthy African equal social rights. The Anglo-Saxon can not do this without suicide. One drop of Negro blood makes a negro."
"I can't tell you how sorry I am, Doctor, that I can't persuade you to become our pastor. But I can understand since this talk something of the larger views of your duty."
The deacon sought Mrs. Durham that evening and laid siege to her resolutely.
"Ah! deacon, you're shrewd—you are going to flatter me, but I can't let you. I'm an old fogy and out of date. I'm not orthodox on the Negro from Boston's point of view."
"Nonsense!" growled the deacon. "We don't care what you or the
Doctor either thinks about the Negro, or the Jap, or the Chinaman. We
want a preacher im-
bued with the power of the Holy Ghost to preach the Gospel of Christ."
"Well, you have quite captured me since you have been here. You are a revelation to me of what a deacon might be to a pastor and his wife. To be frank with you, I am on your side. I am tired of the Negro. I don't want to solve him. He is an impossible job from my point of view. I should be delighted to go to Boston now and begin life over again. But I do not figure in the decision. Dr. Durham settles such questions for himself. And I respect him more for it."
Encouraged by this decision of his wife the deacon renewed his efforts to change the Preacher's mind next day in vain. He stayed over Sunday, heard him preach two sermons, and sorrowfully bade him good-bye on Monday. He carried back to Boston his final word declining this call.
As the deacon stepped on the train, he warmly pressed his hand and said, "God bless you, Doctor. If you ever need a friend, you know my name and address."