~ Especially for Young People
The Lonely Cabin on the Forty Mile
The story opens in Iowa with an old farmer by the name of J. Conlee. He was a father of twelve children, six boys and six girls, who grew up with every promise of becoming splendid citizens and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some of the children had grown to adulthood. One of the sons had become a lawyer and another a doctor. Still another was a professor in one of the seminaries, and when the babe about whom we are to speak arrived, the father and mother did what they had done with every other child–they dedicated him to the Lord. In his boyhood days the mother said, "I hope my little Joe will be a preacher of the Gospel like two of his brothers are."
The years rolled by, and Joe was a good boy and a credit to the home. One day, when his high school days were over, the father came to him and said, "Joe, have you decided what you will be?"
"Yes, Father," said Joe, "the course I have taken in high school has fitted me for civil engineering. I think I will be a civil engineer."
A cloud came over his father's face as he said, "Oh, I am so sorry. We hoped you would enter the ministry. Are you sure you haven't heard the Lord's voice?" He said he would pray about it, and after two weeks he came to his father and said, "Father, my mind is made up. I will enter the ministry."
His father embraced him and kissed him and said he would send him to the University of Iowa. When he had received his B.A. degree, he went for three years to school at Fort Dodge to fit himself for the ministry. One day a professor said to him,"You know there is a lot of superstition mixed up with what we originally believed. You are a brilliant fellow. I heard the President say he considered you one of the most brilliant students we have. Weigh everything carefully. Apply yourself to the study of books. I want you to read Darwin, Renan, and Huxley, every one of them philosophers."
When Joe Conlee came out of that school, there was a battle of reason against faith, and reason was winning in the great war. He accepted the pastorate in a little church in Iowa, and while there he married a splendid Christian girl, the daughter of a preacher in an adjoining town. After three years, because of his friendship with the Bishop, he was transferred to the First Methodist Church of Santa Ana. He spent two years there, but they were years in which he was fighting a tremendous battle within his soul. Greater battles are fought within the confines of the human breast than were ever waged at historic Gettysburg or Ypres or the Marne.
They gave him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity and he progressed in his ministerial aspirations, yet all the time he was drifting into modernism, looking at the Scriptures from the Modernist's standard, interpreting them, not from the basis of faith, but from the basis of reason or intellectualism.
He had been told that in order to be well balanced he should see both sides of the question and should not be swayed by emotionalism. The Methodist Conference met in Los Angeles and the Bishop complimented him on his excellent work. Soon he became the pastor of the First Methodist Church of San Diego, one of the largest on the Pacific Coast.
After two years of successful ministry there, he moved to Pomona, California, and it was during that time he built the lovely Methodist church of that place, a beautiful example of Spanish architecture. It was there that the seeds which had been sown in his heart in the past began to bear fruit, so Joe confided to his wife that he was beginning to feel a little hypocritical, that he did not believe the things his congregation demanded that he preach, and finally he said, "I am going to quit. I cannot stand it."
He denied the virgin birth of Christ and the miracles. One day Joe Conlee went into his pulpit and said, "My friends, I am about to make a confession. I cannot believe the Bible. There has been a battle in my heart for years. Now I feel I will regain some of my self-respect. This is the last time I will preach."
He was a gifted writer and soon got a job. He went back to Santa Ana and became the editor of the local newspaper. For years his name was at the head of the editorial column. However, he commenced to smoke and drink and gamble a little. He went from bad to worse. In time he left Santa Ana and went to Los Angeles, and for some time he was the editor of the paper there. He moved to Covina and founded his own newspaper. He sold it for a small fortune and became an editorial writer for two other papers, both positions he lost through drink.
His pen never lost its brilliancy. It seemed to be dipped in the very ink of inspiration. There were many days he could not report for work. Tramping around from one place to another, the man who had been the pastor of the church of San Diego and of a church at Pomona became a dissolute, drunken inebriate shuffling around in his rags; you could find him any night in the back end of the Mineral Saloon.
Blaming his old life for his downfall, he started, in his antipathy toward God, a series of open air attacks on Christianity. He became President of the Free Thinkers Association of California, and for twelve years he did not miss one night in the back of the Mineral Saloon, giving lectures on atheism and drinking himself to death. He would raise his hand and defy God to strike him dead, and when nothing would happen, he would say, "You see, friends, there is no God." He would collect a few dimes and quarters and go into the saloon to again drink himself almost to death.
He would be carried off night after night to a praying wife, while delirium tremens seized him again and again. He became emaciated, a hollow-eyed, blaspheming, cursing, swearing, and carousing man; he had gone down into the very mud and scum of things, but every night his wife prayed for him. I wonder what the professor who gave him those books would have thought if he could have seen him at Los Angeles, dirty, ragged, holes in the knees of his trousers, beard grown and matted, a poor, old, drunken sot!
One day, going down the street, he accidentally bumped into a man. Dr. Conlee was drunk as usual and said, "Can you give a fellow a dime?"
The man looked at him and recognized his old pastor. He said in amazement, "You are not Conlee, man? Tell me!"
"That is my name, Conlee," said the drunkard.
"My old pastor! What are you doing like this? I cannot believe my own eyes." And the kindly, Christian doctor, for he was a M.D., took him to his house, gave him a bath, a new suit of clothes and took him to a hotel not far away, explaining to the clerk what he was doing.
Dr. Conlee pawned that suit of clothes and spent it on drink. The doctor interested his friends, and they tried their best to salvage the old drunk, but could do nothing with him. Every penny he got went for drink until he got as low as a human being could possibly get.
At last everybody gave him up but the doctor, and he said, "If we could get him away from the Mineral Saloon, it might help him to pull himself together."
It was at the time of the great gold strike in Alaska, and men were climbing over the Chilkoot Pass like a lot of ants on their way to the gold fields in a mad rush for the yellow metal, and his friends thought if they could get him in a change of environment that his life might be changed.
The old drunk said he would be willing to go. So they packed his little trunk, bought him another suit of clothes, and put him on the boat bound for Skagway. His wife and little daughter came to see him off. His little girl, Florence, put her arms around his neck and said, "Daddy, dear Daddy, Mamma put in a little medicine chest that she thought you might need if you should get hurt there. Do not forget, Daddy, we will pray for you, and Daddy, inside the medicine chest I have put my little Book. I wouldn't give it to anybody else in the world but you, Daddy. You will read it?"
That little Bible meant everything to Florence, and on the flyleaf she had written the words, "To my darling daddy. With love from Florence."
"Do not forget–we love you." The whistle blew and the old steamer plowed its watery way. In the bottom of his trunk was the little medicine chest with the Bible inside.
In a few weeks he was in that great seething, cursing, surging mass of humanity–prospectors en route to the Yukon. The very first place he found was a saloon, the biggest in town. He got a job in that vile hell hole. The Reverend Joseph Conlee was sweeping up the floors and cleaning out the cuspidors, and his pay was "all he could drink" and food just enough to keep him alive.
One day the owner of a big place came to him and said, "Doc, I want you to go over to the Forty Mile. We have struck gold over there, and I am the first man to hear of it, with the exception of the man who made the find. I have bought the old log cabin, and I want you to go out and hold the place."
"Not me," said Joe. "I will not leave here. You know my little weakness." He wasn't going where he couldn't get whiskey. But the man said, "Joe, you can have all you want to drink. We will send supplies out for two weeks on the dog team. You'll have nothing to do but to sit in the cabin and have a wonderful time."
So Joe Conlee found himself out in the lonely cabin on the Forty Mile with nothing to do but to drink. He had laid in a good supply as winter was coming on, and he wanted enough to last. He laughed and laughed as he sat down to drink himself to death.
The whiskey barrel was a quarter empty when one day in October there was a knock at the door of the cabin. There stood Jimmie Miller, a Roman Catholic, who said he was cold and hungry. The latch-string is always out in Alaska. You dare not turn a man away, so Conlee said, "Come in, Pard. There's grub and a whiskey barrel."
Jimmie Miller laughed as he entered the cabin door. So the two of them sat down to drink. They were there over two weeks, drinking themselves to sleep every night–never missing a night–when there came another knock at the door, and Wally Flett, a spiritualist medium from San Francisco came. When he saw the liquor, his mouth commenced to water, and he said, "Wouldn't you like me to stay with you?" They said, "Yes," and there were three of them now in the cabin. Their ribald laughter, their filthy jesting, their obscene storytelling, their drinking and carousing were unspeakable.
November came and went. They made three trips to Dawson with the dogs for whiskey and grub. Then the constant drinking got on their nerves. The three of them drank, drank, drank until they cried and cringed in torment with delirium tremens, night after night. Then for fun they had a spiritualistic seance, and Wally Flett, the old medium, told how he used to fool people. He showed them how the slate writing and the tapping were done. Night after night that was the program for the three in the lonely cabin.
Then one night one came very near the border of death. Jimmie Miller had delirium tremens and a fever. In great agony he cried, "Get me a doctor. You cannot let me lie here and die." But they were forty miles from Dawson City; it was forty below zero, and the snows were deep. The delirious man kept screaming, "Get me a doctor." Then Dr. Conlee remembered that down in the old trunk was a medicine chest, so he brought it out, opened it, and out fell a little black book on the floor. He opened it and read, "From Florence to Daddy."
Wally Flett said, "What have you got, Conlee?"
"It's a Bible, curse it!" and Conlee strode over to the stove, but as he lifted up the lid to throw it in, Wally Flett shouted, "Don't throw it in, man. Don't you know we haven't a thing to read in this Godforsaken country? Your only magazine I have read twenty times," and' he snatched the Bible from the hand of Joseph Conlee.
Dr. Conlee said, "If you want to read that you may, but I will not. What was that written on the front page? 'To my darling daddy, with love, from Florence."' He was a little more sober now. "My little girl! I am glad I did not burn the Book my little Florrie gave me."
The medicine commenced to work. Jimmie Miller began to recover, and as he was convalescing, he started to read the Bible. Jimmie had a habit of reading out loud. Joe used to tell him to shut up, but Wally Flett was interested. He would say, "What was that you read, Jimmy?" Then Jimmy would read it again. Wally said, "I had no idea there were things like that in the Bible. What do you say if we read it just to pass the time away, not to believe it? Joe was once a preacher; he tells us what fools the preachers are."
So they took turns in reading, and unknown to them, a change was coming into the Lonely Cabin on the Forty Mile–and the whiskey barrel went down more slowly. Some days they would read five, six, and seven chapters, and when they came to the New Testament, the curses became fewer, the whiskey barrel began to be let alone, and Wally Flett said, "Haven't you noticed a change coming over us? I haven't heard swearing now for three or four days. I wonder if it is that Bible that is doing it?"
January came, and they started reading the Gospel of Saint John. Then there came that eventful day–February 14th. It was Wally's turn to read, and Joe got back of the stove: "Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." Joe's hand brushed across his eyes. "What's the matter, Joe?"
"Were you crying, Joe?"
"Yes, go ahead. I am thinking about my little girl. I am not crying because of that Bible." Then Wally said, "I'd like to know if this Book is true. For the last five days I've been wanting to pray, and I was scared you fellows would laugh at me, but I will not be scared anymore. I will ask God, if there is a God, to speak to me."
Joe said, "Well, since you have committed yourself, I will tell you that my heart has been broken for the last week. I can hear my mother back in Iowa praying–though she is now in Glory. What about you, Jimmy?"
"If you fellows want to pray, I will pray with you." Three old drunken sots in the lonely cabin got down on their knees to pray. Their prayers rose higher and higher. Suddenly, Wally Flett jumped to his feet, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus heard me!" While he was shouting, up jumped Jimmie Miller, and then Joe Conlee, the third man in that cabin, arose shouting glory. It was two o'clock in the morning when they arose from prayer. Into that cabin had come the Man with the seamless robe. I can see Him standing in Spirit by the old Yukon stove, as He put His hands on their heads.
Then Joe took the whiskey barrel and rolled it to the door. Wally took the hatchet to it, and the cursed liquor ran out into the snow amid shouts of glory. The angels were looking over the battlements of Glory as they saw what happened in the lonely cabin. Jimmie Miller, Joe Conlee, and Wally Flett were born again by the Spirit of God.
Young friend, be careful what you read. There is no book like the Bible, and if ever a battle starts within the confines of your heart and life, say, "Lord, while I cannot understand, I will believe Thee; and where I cannot reason, I will walk in faith; and where I cannot see, I will trust."
Charles S. Price (Golden Grain)
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