Read CHAPTER XIII of The Search , free online book, by Grace Livingston Hill, on ReadCentral.com.

It was a clear, crisp day in March with just a smell of Spring in the air, when Cameron finally united with the church.

He had taken a long time to think about it.  Quarantine had extended itself away into February, and while his company had had its regular drill and hard work, there had been no leave from camp, no going to Y.M.C.A. huts, and no visiting canteens.  They had been shut up to the company of the members of their own barracks, and there were times when that palled upon Cameron to a distressing degree.  Once when it had snowed for three days, and rained on the top of it, and a chill wind had swept into the cracks and crannies of the barracks, and poured down from the ventilators in the roofs.  The old stoves were roaring their best to keep up good cheer, and the men lay on their cots in rows talking; telling their vile stories, one after another, each to sound bigger than the last, some mere lads boasting of wild orgies, and all finally drifting into a chat on a sort of philosophy of the lowest ideals.  Cameron lay on his cot trying to sleep, for he had been on guard all night, and a letter from Ruth was in his inside pocket with a comfortable crackle, but the talk that drifted about him penetrated even his army blankets when he drew them up over his ears.

The fellows had arrived at a point where a young lad from Texas had stated with a drawl that all girls were more or less bad; that this talk of the high standards of womanhood was all bosh; that there was one standard for men and women, yes, but it was man’s standard, not woman’s, as was written sometimes.  White womanhood!  Bah!  There was no such thing!

In vain Cameron stuffed the blanket about his ears, resolutely shut his eyes and tried to sleep.  His very blood boiled in his veins.  The letter in his pocket cried out to be exonerated from this wholesale blackening.  Suddenly Cameron flung the blanket from him and sprang to his feet with a single motion, a tall soldier with a white flame of wrath in his face, his eyes flashing with fire.  They called him in friendly derision the “Silent Corporal” because he kept so much to himself, but now he blazed forth at them: 

“You lie, Kelly!  You know you do!  The whole lot of you are liars!  You know that rot you’ve been talking isn’t true.  You know that it’s to cover up your own vile deeds and to excuse your own lustful passions that you talk this way and try to persuade your hearts and consciences that you are no worse than the girls you have dishonored!  But it isn’t so and you know it!  There are good women!  There always have been and there always will be!  You, every one of you, know at least one.  You are dishonoring your mothers and your sisters when you talk that way.  You are worse than the beasts you are going out to fight.  That’s the rotten stuff they are teaching.  They call it Kultur!  You’ll never win out against them if you go in that spirit, for it’s their spirit and nothing more.  You’ve got to go clean!  If there’s a God in heaven He’s in this war, and it’s got to be a clean war!  And you’ve got to begin by thinking differently of women or you’re just as bad as the Huns!”

With that he seized his poncho, stamped out into the storm, and tramped for two hours with a driving sleet in his face, his thoughts a fury of holy anger against unholy things, and back of it all the feeling that he was the knight of true womanhood.  She had sent him forth and no man in his presence should defile the thought of her.  It was during that tramp that he had made up his mind to ally himself with God’s people.  Whether it would do any good in the long run in his search for God or not, whether he even was sure he believed in God or not, he would do that much if he were permitted.

His interview with the minister had not made things much plainer.  He had been told that he would grow into things.  That the church was the shepherd-fold of the soul, that he would be nurtured and taught, that by and by these doubts and fears would not trouble him.  He did not quite see it, how he was to be nurtured on the distant battlefield of France, but it was a mystical thing, anyway, and he accepted the statement and let it go at that.  One thing that stuck in his heart and troubled him deeply was the way the minister talked to him about love and fellowship with his fellow men.  As a general thing, Cameron had no trouble with his companions in life, but there were one or two, notably Wainwright and a young captain friend of his at camp, named Wurtz, toward whom his enmity almost amounted to hatred.

He was not altogether sure that the ministers suggestion that he might love the sinner and hate the sin would hold good with regard to Wainwright; but there had been only a brief time before the communion service and he had had to let the matter go.  His soul was filled with a holy uplifting as he stepped out from the pastor’s study and followed into the great church.

It had startled him just a little to find so many people there.  In contemplating this act of allying himself with God he had always thought of it as being between himself and God, with perhaps the minister and an elder or two.  He sat down in the place indicated for him much disturbed in spirit.  It had always been an annoyance to him to be brought to the notice of his fellow townsmen, and a man in uniform in these days was more than ever an object of interest.  His troubled gaze was downward during the opening hymns and prayers.  But when he came to stand and take his vows he lifted his eyes, and there, off at one side where the seats grouped in a sort of transept, he caught a glimpse of Ruth Macdonald standing beside her tall Captain-cousin who was home for the day, and there was a light in her eyes that steadied him and brought back the solemnity of the moment once more.  It thrilled him to think she was there.  He had not realized before that this must be her church.  In fact, he had not thought of it as being any church in particular, but as being a part of the great church invisible to which all God’s children belonged.  It had not occurred to him until that morning, either, that his mother might be hurt that he had not chosen her church.  But when he spoke to her about it she shook her head and smiled.  She was only glad of what he was doing.  There were no regrets.  She was too broad minded to stop about creeds.  She was sitting there meekly over by the wall now, her hands folded quietly in her lap, tears of joy in her eyes.  She, too, had seen Ruth Macdonald and was glad, but she wondered who the tall captain by her side might be.

It happened that Cameron was the only person uniting by confession at that time, for the quarantine had held him beyond the time the pastor had spoken of when so many were joining, and he stood alone, tall and handsome in his uniform, and answered in a clear, deep voice:  “I do,” “I will!” as the vows were put upon him one by one.  Every word he meant from his heart, a longing for the God who alone could satisfy the longings of his soul.

He thrilled with strange new enthusiasm as the congregation of church members were finally called upon to rise and receive him into their fellowship, and looking across he saw Ruth Macdonald again and his beloved Captain La Rue standing together while everybody sang: 

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

But when the bread and the wine had been partaken of, the solemn prayer of dedication spoken, the beautiful service was over, and the rich tones of the organ were swelling forth, he suddenly felt strange and shy among all that crowd of people whom he knew by sight only.  The elders and some of the other men and women shook hands with him, and he was trying to slip away and find his mother when a kindly hand was laid upon his shoulder and there stood the captain with Ruth beside him, and a warm hand shake of welcome into the church.

“I’m so glad,” he said, “that you have taken this step.  You will never regret it, Cameron.  It is good that we can be of the same company here if we have failed in other ways.”  Then turning to Ruth he said: 

“I didn’t tell you, did I, Ruth, that I’ve failed in trying to get Cameron transferred to my division?  I did everything I could, but they’ve turned down my application flatly.  It seems like stupidity to me, for it was just the place for which he was most fitted, but I guess it’s because he was too much of a man to stay in a quiet sector and do such work.  If he had been maimed or half blinded they might have considered him.  They need him in his present place, and I am the poorer for it.”

There was a glow in Ruth’s eyes as she put her hand in Cameron’s and said simply:  “I’m glad you’re one of us now,” that warmed his heart with a great gladness.

“I didn’t know you were a member,” he said wonderingly.

“Why, yes, I’ve been a member since I was fourteen,” she said, and suddenly he felt that he had indeed come into a holy and blessed communion.  If he had not yet found God, at least he was standing on the same ground with one of his holy children.

That was the last time he got home before he sailed.  Shipping quarantine was put on his company the very next week, the camp was closed to visitors, and all passes annulled.  The word came that they would be going over in a few days, but still they lingered, till the days grew into three weeks, and the Spring was fully upon them in all its beauty, touching even the bare camp with a fringe of greenness and a sprinkle of wild bloom in the corners where the clearing had not been complete.

Added to his other disappointments, a direful change had taken place at camp.  The “peach of a captain” had been raised to the rank of major and Captain Wurtz had been put in his place.  It seemed as if nothing worse could be.

The letters had been going back and forth rather often of late, and Cameron had walked to the loneliest spot in the camp in the starlight and had it out with himself.  He knew now that Ruth Macdonald was the only girl in all the world to him.  He also knew that there was not a chance in a thousand that he could ever be more to her than he now was.  He knew that the coming months held pain for him, and yet, he would not go back and undo this beautiful friendship, no, not for all the pain that might come.  It was worth it, every bit.

He had hoped to get one more trip home, and she had wanted to see the camp, had said that perhaps when the weather got warmer she might run down some day with his mother, but now the quarantine was on and that was out of the question.  He walked alone to the places he would have liked to show her, and then with a sigh went to the telephone office and waited two hours till he got a connection through to her house, just to tell her how sorry he was that he could not come up as he had expected and take that ride with her that she had promised in her last letter.  Somehow it comforted him to hear her voice.  She had asked if there would be no lifting of the quarantine before they left, no opportunity to meet him somewhere and say good-bye, and he promised that he would let her know if any such chance came; but he had little hope, for company after company were being sent away in the troop trains now, hour after hour, and he might be taken any minute.

Then one day he called her up and told her that the next Saturday and Sunday the camp was to be thrown open to visitors, and if she could come down with his mother he would meet them at the Hostess’ House and they could spend the day together.  Ruth promptly accepted the invitation and promised to arrange it all with his mother and take the first train down Saturday morning.  After he had hung up the receiver and paid his bill he walked away from the little telephone headquarters in a daze of joy.  She had promised to come!  For one whole day he would have her to himself!  She was willing to come with his mother!  Then as he passed the officers’ headquarters it occurred to him that perhaps she had other interests in coming to camp than just to see him, and he frowned in the darkness and his heart burned hot within him.  What if they should meet Wainwright!  How the day would be spoiled!

With this trouble on his mind he went quite early in the morning down as near to the little trolley station as he could get, for since the quarantine had been put on no soldiers without a special pass were allowed beyond a certain point, which was roped off about the trolley station.  Sadly, Cameron took his place in the front rank, and stood with folded arms to wait.  He knew he would have some time to stand before he could look for his guests, but the crowd was always so great at the train times that it was well to get a good place early.  So he stood and thought his sad thoughts, almost wishing he had not asked them to come, as he realized more and more what unpleasantness might arise in case Wainwright should find out who were his guests.  He was sure that the lieutenant was not above sending him away on a foolish errand, or getting him into a humiliating situation before his friends.

As he stood thus going over the situation and trying to plan how he might spirit his guests away to some pleasant spot where Wainwright would not be likely to penetrate, he heard the pompous voice of the lieutenant himself, and slipping behind a comrade turned his face away so that he would not be recognized.

“Yes, I got special leave for three days!” proclaimed the satisfied voice, and Cameron’s heart bounded up so joyously that he would have almost been willing then and there to put aside his vow not to salute him, and throw his arms about his enemy.  Going away for three days.  That meant two things!  First that Wainwright would not have to be thought of in making his plans, and second that they were evidently not going to move before Wainwright got back.  They surely would not have given him leave if the company was to be sent away that day.  A third exultant thought followed; Wainwright was going home presumably to see Ruth and Ruth would not be there!  Perhaps, oh perhaps he might be able to persuade her and his mother to stay over Sunday!  He hardly dared to hope, however, for Ruth Macdonald might think it presumptuous in him to suggest it, and again she might wish to go home to meet Wainwright.  And, too, where could they sleep if they did stay.  It was hopeless, of course.  They would have to go back to Baltimore or to Washington for the night and that would be a hard jaunt.

However, Ruth Macdonald had thought of such a possibility herself, and when she and Mrs. Cameron stepped down from the Philadelphia train at the small country station that had suddenly become an important point because of the great camp that had sprung up within a stone’s throw of it, she looked around enquiringly at the little cottage homes in sight and said to her companion: 

“Would it be very dreadful in us to discover if there is some place here where we could stay over night in case John’s company does not go just yet and we find we would be allowed to see him again on Sunday?”

She knew by the sudden lighting of the mother’s wistful face that she had read aright the sighs half stifled that she had heard on the train when the mother had thought she was not noticing.

“Oh, do you suppose we could stay?” The voice was full of yearning.

“Well, we can find out, at least.  Anyhow, I’m going in here to see whether they would take us in case we could.  It looks like a nice neat place.”

Ruth pulled open the gate, ran up the steps of the pleasant porch shaded with climbing roses, and knocked timidly at the open door.

A broad, somewhat frowsy woman appeared and surveyed her coolly with that apprising glance that a native often gives to a stranger; took in the elegant simplicity of her quiet expensive gown and hat, lingering with a jealous glance on the exquisite hand bag she carried, then replied apathetically to Ruth’s question: 

“No, we’re all full.  We ain’t got any room.  You might try down to the Salvation Army Hut.  They got a few rooms down there.  It’s just been built.  They might take you in.  It’s down the road a piece, that green building to the right.  You can’t miss it.  You’ll see the sign.”

Ruth caught her breath, thanked her and hastened back to her companion.  Salvation Army!  That was eccentric, queer, but it would be perfectly respectable!  Or would it?  Would Aunt Rhoda disapprove very much?  Somehow the Salvation Army was associated in her mind with slums and drunkards.  But, at least, they might be able to direct her to a respectable place.

Mrs. Cameron, too, looked dubious.  This having a society girl to chaperone was new business for her.  She had never thought much about it, but somehow she would hardly have associated the Salvation Army with the Macdonald family in any way.  She paused and looked doubtfully at the unpretentious little one-story building that stretched away capaciously and unostentatiously from the grassy roadside.

“SALVATION ARMY” arose in bold inviting letters from the roof, and “Ice Cold Lemonade” beckoned from a sign on the neat screen door.  Ruth was a bit excited.

“I’m going in!” she declared and stepped within the door, Mrs. Cameron following half fearfully.

The room which they entered was long and clean and pleasant.  Simple white curtains draped the windows, many rush-bottomed big rocking chairs were scattered about, a long desk or table ran along one side of the room with writing materials, a piano stood open with music on its rack, and shelves of books and magazines filled the front wall.

Beyond the piano were half a dozen little tables, white topped and ready for a hungry guest.  At the back a counter ran the width of the room, with sandwiches and pies under glass covers, and a bright coffee urn steaming suggestively at one end.  Behind it through an open door was a view of the kitchen, neat, handy, crude, but all quite clean, and through this door stepped a sweet-faced woman, wiping her hands on her gingham apron and coming toward them with a smile of welcome as if they were expected guests.  It was all so primitive, and yet there was something about it that bore the dignity of refinement, and puzzled this girl from her sheltered home.  She was almost embarrassed to make her enquiry, but the hearty response put her quite at her ease, as if she had asked a great favor of another lady in a time of stress: 

“I’m so sorry, but our rooms are all taken,” the woman waved a slender hand toward the long side of the room and Ruth noticed for the first time that a low partition ran the length of the room at one side with doors.  Mechanically she counted them, eight of them, neat, gray-painted doors.  Could these be rooms?  How interesting!  She had a wild desire to see inside them.  Rooms!  They were more like little stalls, for the partitions did not reach all the way to the ceiling.  A vision of her own spacious apartment at home came floating in vague contrast.  Then one of the doors opposite her opened as its occupant, a quiet little elderly woman, came out, and she had a brief glimpse of the white curtained window, the white draped comfortable looking bed, a row of calico curtained hooks on the wall, and a speck of a wash stand with tin pitcher and basin in the corner, all as clean and new as the rest of the place.  She swiftly decided to stay here if there was any chance.  Another look at the sweet face of the presiding woman who was trying to make them understand how crowded everything was, and how many mothers there were with sons who were going that night or the next, and who wanted to be near them, determined her.  She was saying there was just a chance in case a certain mother from Boston who had written her did not arrive at five o’clock: 

“But we ought not to take a chance,” said Cameron’s mother, looking at the eager faced girl with a cautious wistfulness.  “What could we do if night came and we had no place to stay?”

Ruth cast her eyes about.

“Couldn’t we sit in a couple of those rocking chairs all night?” she asked eagerly.

The Salvation Army woman laughed affectionately as if she had found a kindred spirit: 

“Why, dearie, I could give you a couple of cots out here in the dining room if you didn’t mind.  I wouldn’t have pillows, but I think I could get you some blankets.”

“Then we’ll stay,” said Ruth triumphantly before Mrs. Cameron could protest, and went away feeling that she had a new friend in the wise sweet Salvation Army woman.  In five minutes more they were seated in the trolley on their way into the camp.

“I’m afraid your people would not like you to stay in such a place,” began Mrs. Cameron dubiously, though her eyes shone with a light that belied her words.

“Nonsense!” said Ruth with a bewildering smile, “it is as clean as a pin and I’m very much excited about staying there.  It will be an adventure.  I’ve never known much about the Salvation Army before, except that they are supposed to be very good people.”

“There might be some rough characters -”

“Well, I guess they can’t hurt us with that good woman around, and anyhow, you’re going to stay till your son goes!” laughingly declared Ruth.

“Well, we’ll see what John says,” said his mother with a sigh, “I can’t let you do anything-questionable.”

“Please, Mrs. Cameron,” pleaded Ruth, “let us forget things like that this trip and just have a happy time.”

The mother smiled, sadly, wistfully, through a mist of tears.  She could not help thinking how wonderful it would have been if there had been no war and her dear boy could have had this sweet wholesome girl for a friend.