“And a farm boy——”
“Yes, yes,” she said, adding: “those few days on that farm were the only happy days of my life!”
“I am that boy and I have come to thank you for the inspiration you were to me so long ago.” She looked at me intently, perhaps searching for the boy as I had been searching for the girl.
“There was a wide gulf between us then,” she said. “In these long years you have crossed to where I was and I—I have crossed to where you were, and the gulf remains.”
NEW HAVEN AGAIN—AND A FIGHT
In December, 1901, the New Haven Water Company applied for a renewal of its charter. The city had been getting nothing for this valuable franchise, and there was considerable protest against a renewal on the same terms. The Trades Council asked the ministers of the churches to make a deliverance on the question, but there was no answer. I was directly challenged to say something on the subject. I attended a hearing in the city hall. It was the annual meeting night of our church, and I closed the church meeting in the usual manner.
As quickly as possible I made my way to the public hearing. The committee room was crowded; on one side were the labouring men and on the other the stockholders and officers of the company. Several prominent members of my church, whom I had missed at the annual meeting, were in the committee room.
When called upon to speak, I asked the committee to hold the balance level. “We tax a banana vendor a few dollars a year for the use of the streets,” I said, “then why should a rich corporation be given an infinitely larger use of them for nothing?”
This provoked the rich men of the church, for most of them were stockholders in the company, and two of them were officers.
The thing was talked over afterward in the back end of a small store where all the church policies were formulated. One of the members was sent to the parsonage to question and warn me. My visitor spoke of former pastors who had been “called of God” elsewhere for much less than I had done. Another man came later, and asked for a promise that I would keep out of such affairs in the future.
This was the first fly in the ointment, the first break in the most cordial of relationships between me and the church.
The church had been organized fifty years when this incident occurred. We were preparing to celebrate the golden jubilee.
I gathered the officers together, and we went over the articles one by one. Not a man in the church believed in “everlasting damnation,” but they voted unanimously to leave the hell-fire article just as they had found it. They had all subscribed to it, and it “hadn’t hurt them.”
“Do you mean to tell me,” I asked, “that none of you believe in eternal punishment, and yet you are going to force every man, woman, and child who joins your church to solemnly swear before God that they do believe in it?” There was a great silence. “Yes, that’s exactly what’s what,” one man said.