HotFreeBooks.com
Duncan Polite - The Watchman of Glenoro
by Marian Keith
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Tell him what?" inquired Wee Andra.

"That the minister speaks Gaelic."

A shriek of laughter from those who heard greeted this announcement, and Wee Andra thumped his chum upon the back in the exuberance of his delight.

"Great head, Don!" he roared. "Catchach'll swallow him with joy before he has time to deny it."

"Don Neil," cried Jessie, "you surely wouldn't play a trick on a minister!"

"It would be fearful wicked," put in Sandy piously.

"He'll never know," laughed Donald. "We'll let Catchach foam a while and then bring him down to earth before he does any damage."

"Well, a minister should be considered above such things," said Sarah loftily.

"Not this minister," said Don with conviction, "he's able to take care of himself. Eh, Andra?"

"You bet. There's nothin' o' the old hearse about him. He's jist like the rest of us. It'll be a howlin' circus—" and he chuckled prodigiously.

"If you boys are up to any mischief about the minister," warned Bella, "I'll tell your father. Andra—Hish!"

For the minister had arisen and was returning thanks for the food of which they had partaken. The noise was hushed and every head instantly lowered.

The company broke up with the unanimous verdict that they had had a grand time and that the new minister was beyond praise. The young man walked up the hill with Flora McNabb in an equal state of satisfaction. He had the pleasant assurance that his young flock liked him and he felt sure he was going to be very happy in Glenoro. He wondered laughingly what his fastidious Helen would say could she have seen him playing "Blind Man's Buff" with Miss Duffy. He wrote her a very laughable account of the affair before he retired, and went to bed to dream that he and she lived in the little manse by the bend in the river.

So the evening which Duncan Polite had prayed over so fervently came to an end and, as the young shepherd of the flock slept peacefully in his comfortable home in the valley, well pleased with himself and the world, the old Watchman lay awake in his little shanty on the hilltop, hoping and praying that the young servant of the Master had dropped some words that would lead Donald and the young people of the Glen into a higher and nobler life.



V

A PASTORAL VISITATION

No sooner was he settled in Glenoro than the young pastor commenced a thorough and systematic course of visiting. He found it very slow work, however, in spite of his activity. Each family of his flock vied with the other in lavishing upon him its hospitality. He was detained for nearly a day at each place, and dinners, teas and lunches, so many and so elaborate, were forced upon him that he was divided between the fear of giving offence by refusing to partake and the dread of becoming a chronic dyspeptic.

His earliest visits, he felt, should be paid to the homes of his elders, so, a few days after the lively evening spent at the Hamiltons', he took his slim cane and went up over the northern wall of Glenoro to pay his respects to old Andrew Johnstone. A somewhat difficult task he knew it would be, for he had already been warned by Mrs. McNabb that Splinterin' Andra was a dour old man. But he felt no apprehensions; his sunny smile and his charming manner had often swept away greater obstacles than this old fellow's crustiness. So he strode along in high spirits, flicking the tops off the wayside weeds, whistling a gay operatic air and incidentally wondering whether her eyes were blue or grey.

When he climbed the northern hill of Glenoro and came out upon the broad, sun-flooded highlands, he found that the country sloped gently upwards, rising in great sweeping terraces of green pastureland and fields of early grain, until it reached its highest altitude on the shores of Lake Oro. Andrew Johnstone lived on the borderland between the highlands and the lowlands; his house, a substantial red brick, surrounded by orchards, stood on the edge of one of the wide terraces and commanded a view of the country for miles around. Every step of the way was a pleasure to the newcomer; the sky was dazzling and unclouded, the air was intoxicating with the scent of clover, and the tinkling music of the bobolinks sounded as though all the fairies on the Oro hills were setting out their tiny cups and saucers for a banquet.

He was strolling along, revelling in the beauty of the perfect day and in the sight of the rich slopes of farm lands coming down towards him like a magnificent staircase, when his attention was attracted by a figure on the road ahead approaching with remarkable haste. It proved to be a man, somewhat past middle age; he was of medium height and had a fiery red beard which flew back from his face and accentuated the general air of desperate hurry in his whole appearance.

His face was even redder than his beard, and his wild blue eyes blazed out in fierce contrast. An old Scotch bonnet sat upon the side of his head and a faded tartan plaid flying from his shoulders gave the finishing touches to his fantastic appearance. This rather alarming person was bearing down upon the young minister and he drew off to the side of the road and grasped his stick more firmly. John Egerton did not lack courage any more than his grandfather had done, but he felt it would be scarcely ministerial to have a fight on the public highway the first week of his pastorate. He had not been long enough in Glenoro to recognise the fiery Highlander who kept the Oa in a ferment and who went by the weird name of Catchach. Allister McBeth he really was, but, with their usual avoidance of baptismal names, the neighbours had given him a more descriptive title. He had earned it himself, for he was named after the strange guttural sound which he was in the habit of making deep in his throat, whenever his anger was roused. This was a contingency which arose on an average once an hour and which, when in the company of any mischief-loving youth of the village, became Catchach's chronic state.

His pride was so fierce, and his temper so inflammable, that he was an unfailing source of merriment, especially to the Neil boys and their friends. There was not a kinder or tenderer heart in all the Ontario Highlands than poor Catchach's, but he was always in the throes of a feud with someone, for he loved a fight and might be said never to be at peace except when he was at war.

It was this militant gentleman who was descending upon the unsuspecting young clergyman, setting the stones and dust flying in his haste. But there was no sign of war about him now, only a beaming peace and goodwill. His eyes were shining, his mouth was expanded in a terrible smile, displaying two rows of long, irregular, yellow teeth and his big red hands were outstretched in greeting. He shouted when he was some half-dozen yards distant, "They tell me you will pe hafing the Gaelic!"

"I—I am not quite sure that I understand you," said the grandson of John McAlpine, coming to a standstill and wishing with all his heart that his cane was not so slim.

"My name will pe McBess, Allister McBess!" cried the rubicund personage, grasping a rather unwilling hand and shaking it wildly, "Allister McBess, oh yes, inteet, an' they will pe telling me you will pe a real Hielanman, though how coult a Hielanman pe hafing such a name as Egerton, it is a missery to me, whatefer!"

There was no mistaking the good feeling in Catchach's beaming countenance. John Egerton smiled and shook his hand in return. "I am afraid there is a slight mistake," he answered cordially, "I can't boast of being altogether Highland Scotch, and who has been telling you I could speak Gaelic?" He pronounced it Galic and a change came over Catchach's face.

"Tonal Neil, Tonal Neil, whatefer; he will pe saying the new minister will pe Hielan' an' will pe hafing the beautiful Gaelic!"

The look of good-natured indulgence died from John Egerton's face at the mention of Donald's name. The young man with the easy air of equality had been taking liberties! "I am sorry to disappoint you, Mr. McBess," he said stiffly, making the fatal error of failing to detect McBeth in Catchach's lisp, "I am neither Highland Scotch nor can I speak the Gaelic."

Catchach let go his coat; a quiver of mortal disappointment passed over his face.

"And whoever has told you such falsehoods," continued the young man with some heat, "is an untruthful mischiefmaker!"

Catchach's fiery countenance became rigid. He stepped back and stared so wildly at the minister that the young man hastened to add for his own personal safety, "But I have much Highland blood, you know, and plenty of Lowland Scotch, too."

Alas! how little he knew of the spirit of the McBeth! "A Lowlander!" It was all Catchach could utter, but the tone in which he said it showed plainly that if Mr. Egerton had confessed to being a full-blood native of the South Sea Islands it would have been infinitely better. "A Lowlander!" repeated the Highlander with withering scorn, "Tonal Neil, Tonal Neil will pe saying she would haf the Gaelic——" The rest was lost to the ears of the despised Lowlander in a wild outpouring of Gaelic as Catchach turned and went raging down the road to wreak vengeance on the author of his disappointment.

The young minister continued on his way in great annoyance. Under any other circumstances the humour of the situation would have appealed to him, but the name of Donald Neil had driven away all the fun. In spite of his free and easy manner, John Egerton was intensely sensitive about his dignity as a minister, and to find himself the victim of a practical joke at the hands of the most influential young man of his congregation was anything but pleasant.

Had he seen the huge figure of young Andrew Johnstone disentangle itself from the raspberry bushes by the roadside and steal quietly along the edge of the field to where his idle team was standing, he would have been still more incensed; and had he chanced to look back when he reached the hilltop and noticed the same young man leaning weakly against his horses and wiping the tears from his eyes, he would have felt like administering a sound thrashing to at least two of the young people of his congregation.

He arrived at the Johnstone household at a time when he was particularly welcome to his host. Old Andrew had spent the early part of the afternoon arguing with his son upon certain hard points of doctrine. That a youth of Wee Andra's professions should presume to give any sort of an opinion whatever upon the Shorter Catechism was, in his father's eyes, nothing short of impious. But, as the young man was of that class that rush in where angels fear to tread, he had given his views on predestination without any hesitancy and had gone off to the field leaving his father in a very bad humour. Wee Andra himself was particularly happy, for he took an unfilial delight in troubling his paternal relative. At heart he was respectful and dutiful and if any one had dared to breathe a word against his father in his presence, Splinterin' Andra's son would soon have shown himself worthy of his sire's appellation; nevertheless, partly from love of fun and partly through a good-natured stupidity, he proved a veritable thorn in the flesh to his unhappy father. So old Andrew was looking forward to the visit of his pastor with the hope that his example and admonition would have a steadying effect upon his frivolous son. Like Duncan Polite, the elder looked upon the young minister as the deliverer of the people of Glenoro church from the spirit of worldliness which he felt characterised them. So, when his daughter came to summon him to the house to put on a coat and collar, as the minister had been sighted on the road not half a mile away, he hurried in with great alacrity to greet his visitor.

Tea at Elder Johnstone's was no light ceremony under any circumstances. His was not a place where people went for relaxation and jollity, except on the rare occasions when the old folks were away and Wee Andra held sway. The young minister, anxious to please and be friendly, felt from the moment he opened the gate and went up the path, where neat beds of onions and cabbages encroached upon the very doorstep, that it was going to be something of an ordeal.

His opinion did not alter when he found himself seated at the well-laden table in the big spotless dining room. He could not help contrasting the stiff formality with the ease and gaiety of the Hamilton household. Old Andrew sat, stern and dignified, at the head of the table. Ordinarily he was talkative, but on this evening he restrained himself, for a gentleman of the old school did not consider it good manners to talk too much in the presence of so superior a person as the minister. At the other end of the table Mrs. Johnstone, red-faced and anxious, bustled nervously with the new china cups and saucers. Beside the minister sat Janet, the only daughter, a fair, shy girl of sixteen, afraid to look up, and the son of the house sat opposite in his shirtsleeves responding to Mr. Egerton's friendly advances with monosyllabic answers, a puzzling contrast to his uproarious geniality at their former meetings. Of course, John Egerton could not guess that the young man was holding down his laughter by superhuman efforts and could not afford to waste any strength upon conversation.

There was a very depressing atmosphere over the whole table, but the visitor had plenty of tact to overcome it. He put Mrs. Johnstone at her ease by a cautiously worded compliment upon the repast, for he had learned that a true Scotch woman must ever be approached warily with flattery. He set Janet into a flutter of happiness by relating to her a humourous account of some of his sister's attempts at housekeeping, an art in which Janet was well versed, and he soon had her laughing at the city girl's mistakes with quite a feeling of superiority. Wee Andra was more difficult,—horses, foot-ball, farm work, music, he rose to none of these baits. But he came to life in a most surprising manner when, in dilating upon the beauties of Glenoro scenery, the minister happened to mention the enjoyment he had experienced in his afternoon walk up the green slopes.

This seemed to be the one topic in which the son of the house was interested. He looked up suddenly and remarked, "Awful quiet road; s'pose you didn't meet anybody?"

"Yes, I did meet a man," responded the other readily, glad at having made an impression at last, "a man named McBess or some such name."

"McBeth it would be," said old Andrew, "Allister McBeth,—Catchach they call him. He's a danderin' bit o' a firebrand."

"Were you speakin' to him?" Wee Andra shot out the question and took refuge in a huge gulp of tea. John Egerton glanced across the table quickly. He was beginning to suspect that Donald Neil's chum had had a hand in this childish affair, but he was too wise to show any annoyance.

"I didn't get a chance to say much to him," he said, laughing good naturedly; "he did the talking. He seemed to have become possessed of the idea that I was past-master of the art of Gaelic, and when I confessed my culpable ignorance of the language, he flew into a rage. He seemed to lay the blame upon your friend, young McDonald." He looked steadily at Wee Andra as he spoke.

Old Andrew shot a suspicious glance at his son; that young man's face was an innocent blank which did not deceive his parent.

"Aye," he grunted, "it's quite likely he was to blame. Yon Neil lads are aye up to some ill. Ye hae a hard set o' young people to deal wi' in this place, Maister Egerton, an' Ah houp the Lord'll gie ye grace to wrastle wi' them!"

Mr. Egerton looked uncomfortable. He saw quite plainly that, though the Elder was addressing him, he was talking at his son, and tried to turn the conversation. But old Andrew felt that here was an opportunity to warn the new minister of the difficulties and dangers which beset him, an opportunity no honourable man could let pass, so he launched forth. He was perfectly innocent of any double meaning in his words, but as he railed away against the lightness and giddiness of the rising generation, the young minister felt his indignation rising. Did this old man mean to point out to him the proper line of conduct? If so, he would soon let him see that John McAlpine Egerton would be dictated to by no man of his congregation, no more than would his grandfather before him! But Splinterin' Andra sailed on and when he had finished he had given the young pastor a dark and most discouraging picture of the youth of his flock.

"Aye, sir," he concluded, "they're jist given over to lichtness an' foolish talkin'. It's the blue beech gad they want; they didna get enough o't when they were bairns. Ah'm pleased that ye're come among them to show them a proper way o' conductin' themsels!"

Wee Andra cast a humorous glance at the uncomfortable visitor. He had his own opinion as to whether his pastor was a model of staid and sober conduct and was, in consequence, enjoying his father's tirade hugely.

John Egerton was very much relieved when the meal was ended, but the feeling was of short duration, for when they repaired to the parlour matters grew steadily worse. The appearance of the room with its black haircloth furniture, its bristling white lace curtains, its coffin-plate of a former Mrs. Johnstone in a black frame on the centre table, its smooth white walls adorned with strange and wonderfully constructed hair and feather wreaths in huge frames, and over all the close, damp odour, made a combination which was anything but cheerful.

The family followed him into the parlour and seated themselves stiffly around the walls. Kirsty McDuff, the servant girl, and Jimmie Bailey, the chore boy, entered also a few minutes later. The young minister noticed, with something of the sensations of a felon going to his execution, that each person held a Bible and Psalm Book, distributed solemnly by Mrs. Johnstone as they entered, and that Janet and the Bailey boy were further provided with catechisms. He glanced at the daughter of the house and pictured himself sitting before the whole household inquiring after her spiritual welfare. The comical side of it struck him and almost upset his gravity.

But there was very little food for mirth in the task before him. He had no idea of what a pastoral visitation meant to the Johnstones. Of course, he had heard very often of the strange old ways of his grandfather's time, but considered them as belonging to the dim past. But Glenoro had not quite emerged from the ancient ways. In the good old days, so lately gone, when Mr. Cameron had visited the members of his congregation, a pastoral visitation was not merely a social function, but a solemn religious ceremony. The minister might discuss with the heads of the family such light matters as the crops or the weather before or during tea; but afterwards, when the family gathered in the best room with their pastor in the midst, temporal affairs were put aside and there was a season of deep heart-searching. There were the Catechism and Scripture verses to be heard from the younger members of the family and personal questions to be asked. The minister must know just what progress each one was making on the upward road. There were virtues to commend and mistakes to rebuke. Then, after the reading of a chapter from the Book and the singing of a psalm, there were a few deep, earnest words from the pastor, words which steadied many a careless youth and instilled into the hearts of the children the knowledge that God and Right are the only factors to be reckoned with in this world. The ceremony was concluded with a long and fervent prayer by the minister, as old and young knelt around the family altar, a prayer which included a distinct comprehensive petition for each member of the family and one from which they all arose strengthened and bettered and ready for the battle against wrong.

Still more solemn had been the visitations of John Egerton's grandfather. That grand old apostle lived in the hard, rough days, and his coming was often looked forward to with dread. His scorching rebuke of sin, his powerful personality and his complete consecration combined to make his visits a sort of foreshadowing of the great judgment day.

But John McAlpine Egerton belonged to a different era. He honestly wanted to do his duty, but his duty on this occasion, he felt, consisted in making himself agreeable to the Johnstone family, not knowing that the head of the household cared not a whit how disagreeable his pastor might be so long as he was solemn. The old man, ashamed of his harsh remarks, was silent and moody. His young pastor's interests were his own and he had spoken from the highest motives. But he sighed when he thought how much better Duncan Polite would have dealt with the situation. Wee Andra was the only one who was quite at his ease; he seemed to realise that this pastoral visitation was something less rigid than former affairs of the sort, and chewed a straw with unconscious impudence. Mrs. Johnstone talked a little, but nervously and in an absent-minded manner, fearing that every word she uttered was keeping the minister from giving voice to the solemn truths he was waiting to pour forth. Janet sat on the extreme edge of the sofa, her hands folded, her golden head drooping and the unhappy young pastor sat at the other end and made desperate efforts to raise the social atmosphere.

He spoke kindly to Kirsty, a tall, fine-looking girl, very much more composed than the daughter of the house; and he asked Jimmie Bailey about the calves and the lambs, wondering all the while at the oppressive silence. Then he turned to Janet and tried to open up a conversation with her. He had noticed that the stern visage of the ruling elder relaxed almost into tenderness whenever his eye fell upon his daughter and the wily young man guessed that he might reach the father's heart through her. He inquired if Janet played the organ, and, learning that she did, he requested her to favour them with some music.

"Go on, Jinny," said her brother with suspicious heartiness, "give us a rousin' old jig."

Janet glanced at her mother in alarm. To play the organ when the minister was making a pastoral call was surely not to be thought of. But her mother nodded, as Mr. Egerton insisted, and the girl went reluctantly forward, feeling as if she were guilty of sacrilege. She stumbled awkwardly through a loud, noisy march, which made the visitor want to grind his teeth, and as she finished Wee Andra came to life again.

"Won't you sing something, Mr. Egerton?" he asked cordially. "He can sing jist boss, father; you ought to hear him."

Old Andrew drew in a deep breath, but made no reply. The minister demurred at first, but finally yielded. If there was anything in the old adage that "music hath charms," he told himself grimly that now was the time to put it to the test. He took up a hymn book and selected a hymn Janet could play. The leader of the Methodist Choir condescended to flop down noisily from his oblique position and join him. Janet's sweet, timid voice made a pleasant third and the trio rendered some gospel hymns very musically.

When they had finished Wee Andra begged so hard for a song that the visitor could not well refuse and, taking Janet's place at the organ, he played and sang "Sailing" in splendid style. Jimmie Bailey, who was always threatening to run away on a Lake Huron boat, was enchanted and called for more, but something in the elder's face warned the young minister that he had sung enough. He went back to his uncomfortable seat on the sofa and strove to carry on a conversation, but without success.

At length, despairing of ever making friends with this strange family, he made up his mind to depart. He asked for a Bible and Mrs. Johnstone handed him a ponderous volume, bound in gilt-edged leather, which she took, with deep reverence and some pride, from beneath the coffin-plate. Old Andrew drew a breath of relief. Now at last he would see if this young man were really worthy of his high calling and the name he bore; now surely he would speak and show that his mind was set on higher things. Likely he would say something that would set Wee Andra thinking and put some solemn truths in his empty head.

But John Egerton's one thought was to get away as quickly as possible. He read a very short psalm, in a spiritless voice, and they all knelt for a moment while he led in prayer. He took a hurried farewell of the family; the elder scarcely spoke and Mrs. Johnstone regarded him with a puzzled expression.

He walked homeward in the soft summer dusk, down the great wide staircase, which grew a deeper purple towards the bottom, his heart very heavy. He had tried so hard to do his best, but there was something sadly wrong, he could not quite understand what.

He was beginning to fear that Mrs. McNabb's warning that "Glenoro church was full of old cranks" was only too true.

He was passing slowly down the sloping, faintly pink road, absorbed in his unhappy reflections when, glancing up as he neared the edge of the valley, he noticed an old man standing at the gate of a little log shanty. The young minister remembered shaking hands with him at church—a quiet old fellow with a handsome, refined face. He had opened his gate and stood as though waiting, looking so kind, so sympathetic and so altogether different from old Andrew Johnstone that the young man felt drawn towards him. He paused involuntarily. "Good evening," he said pleasantly, "Mr.—Polite, I think?"

Duncan's smile grew more radiant. "Oh, indeed, they will be calling me that foolish name, whatever," he said apologetically, "but my name will be jist McDonald, Duncan McDonald; oh yes, and you will be coming in for a little rest?"

His manner was so eager and kindly that John Egerton readily accepted. He could not account, however, for the look of joy that overspread the old man's face as he led him up the flower-bordered path; for he was unaware that Duncan was saying to himself that Donald would be sure to drop in on his way to the Glen, as he always did, and at last he would see those two together and the Lord would do the rest.

The visitor sat down on the chair beside the lilac bush, having persuaded his host that he preferred to sit out of doors. He leaned back with a sigh of relief and gazed around him. The whole landscape was darkly radiant with that wonderful life-like pulsation which we call the after-glow. The sky was a suggestion of rose and amber fainting into a delicate green and deepening again into a transparent blue where one star hung above Duncan's pines. A world of insect life hummed sleepily in the long grass of the meadow; across the road in the darkness of the woods, a whip-poor-will was whistling away at his plaintive little tune; and from far down in the valley at their feet came up the laughter and shouts of children at play.

"This is a lovely spot," said the young man, feeling soothed and rested. Duncan Polite's face beamed; he did not answer, from sheer joy, but waited in silence for such words of wisdom as his pastor might be pleased to utter. John Egerton talked easily when his company was pleasant, and he was soon chatting away upon such topics as he considered congenial to the old farmer—the crops, the prospects for the haying, the mill in the valley, the amount of lumber sawn and the money realised.

And all the time Duncan Polite's whole soul was waiting for his guest to speak of the one great subject, the subject that would make it possible for him to tell this young disciple of his Master that all his hope for Glenoro and Donald lay in him. But the minister continued his friendly chat upon indifferent topics, until it was interrupted by a noise upon the road above, a sound of loud talking and louder laughter drawing near. He paused to listen and involuntarily the faces of both men broke into smiles in reflection of the mirth which was apparently convulsing those who approached.

"Ah, those foolish lads, hoots, toots, what a noise!" said Duncan apologetically, for he recognised Donald's voice and Sandy's, too, in the uproarious shouts of laughter.

But as they came nearer the smile faded from John Egerton's face. He caught the word Catchach, and suddenly the whole truth flashed upon him. Wee Andra had witnessed the meeting of that afternoon and was giving to the Neil boys what they apparently considered a side-splitting description of the affair. All his ministerial dignity rose to meet the insult.

Sandy's voice could be heard distinctly above the others, interspersed with convulsive haw haws.

"Great snakes! You did it that time, Don! Bet it scared next Sunday's sermon clean out o' his head!"

Then Wee Andra's deep voice, "Jimminy! It was a better show than all the monkeys at the circus!"

"Was he scared?" It was Donald Neil who dared to ask that question.

"Looked mighty skittish for a minit, but I was weepin' that hard I couldn't see very good. Catchach swore like a trooper. I could tell that by the way he was grinnin', but the fearful pity was neither me nor his Reverence could understand it!"

They went off again with such utter abandon that Duncan feared the minister might be shocked by such uproarious behaviour on the public road. He did not at all comprehend the meaning of their conversation himself, in fact he scarcely listened to it, so eagerly was he watching for Donald.

The noisy crowd passed the house, and one tall figure detached itself from the group and, swinging open the gate, came up the path. Donald never forgot to give his uncle a call, as he passed on his way to the Glen. Duncan rose in a tremor of joy. He did not notice that his nephew gave a start at the sight of the minister. Mr. Egerton rose also and for an instant the two young men looked into each other's eyes with an expression of anything but amity.

"Oh and it will be you, Donal'," cried the old man in a voice which trembled with pleasure. "Here is the minister come to call."

Donald came forward, clinging desperately to the forlorn hope that the conversation had not been overheard.

"Good evening, Mr. Egerton," he said in a rather constrained voice, holding out his hand; but the other young man did not seem to notice; perhaps the dusk accounted for his mistake.

"Good evening, Mr. McDonald," he said stiffly. "I have remained rather long," he continued, speaking to Duncan Polite and incidentally turning his back upon Donald. He shook hands with his host and without so much as a nod towards the younger man, started for the gate. Duncan followed him, protesting, but the minister could not stay. He did not seem to hear the old man's timid suggestion that Donald would be going down to the village, too, and would be glad to accompany him, but strode off alone, indignation displayed in every line of his fine, straight figure.



VI

THE FULFILMENT OF PROMISE

There was not one dissenting voice in the chorus of admiration sung by the young people of Glenoro after their new pastor's social triumph at the Hamiltons'. Everybody liked him and there went through the older folk a thrill of joy that their pastor should be the leader of the young and unsteady set, to bring them to a higher and nobler plane of life.

Even Mrs. Fraser, the hypochondriac, was pleased with him in a mournful sort of way. Of course, she was somewhat alarmed when Miss Cotton declared that the minister was "jist a terror to cut up and could play 'Dan Tucker' better than Sandy Neil himself." But Annie Fraser explained that Mr. Egerton had done it just to show that he wasn't stiff or "stuck up."

This phase of the matter was a relief to her mother. Mrs. Fraser was a person to whom the world and everything in it was one series of ever-recurring disaster. She was a doleful body, taking pleasure only in funerals and the laying out of the dead. With her peculiar taste for sorrow and distress, she had come to be self-appointed nurse to the whole neighbourhood. She was always due at the house of affliction and, with her kindly heart and a certain skill in nursing, she proved a sort of melancholy blessing. Her predilection for disaster caused her to be regarded as a bird of ill-omen, for where Mrs. Fraser was, there would calamities be gathered together, and to see her issue from the big gate on the brow of the south hill with her ominous-looking black bag was sufficient to raise apprehension in every heart. Indeed, Mrs. Duffy, who lived nearly opposite the Frasers and who regarded the village nurse with something akin to superstitious fear, would throw up her hands at the sight of the herald of misfortune passing the door and exclaim, "God bless me sowl, who's dead now?"

So if Mrs. Fraser was willing to look hopefully on the actions of the new minister, the rest of the congregation might feel themselves secure. But he was not long in showing that he could be quite as energetic in his church affairs as in playing "Dan Tucker."

He plunged into the work with a vim and ardour which commanded the admiration of a thrifty and hard-working people.

The young folk were no longer the drones in the hive; he had not been among them a month before he had stirred them all up to an activity and interest in church affairs they had never dreamed of before.

He organised a Young People's Society of Christian Endeavour and, with the help of Mr. Watson, a Young Men's Christian Association. He joined the Sons of Temperance and infused new life into that organisation. He even went so far as to get the older women out of their homes and before they knew what they were doing they had formed a Ladies' Aid Society and were making plans to carpet and decorate the church.

Miss Cotton was the president of this latter organisation and worked up the interest to such a pitch that even Mrs. Neil More went to one of the meetings, and Archie set fire to the house while she was absent, probably feeling that as the established order of the universe had been completely overturned, the total destruction of all material things should naturally follow.

The Methodists were incited to emulation by all this activity and Sim Basketful started an Epworth League. Then Mr. Egerton, in his free-hearted way, proposed that the two societies join and hold alternate meetings in the two churches, a suggestion which met with hearty approval and raised the young minister to the status of a saint in the eyes of Mr. Ansdell.

He soon established himself on friendly terms with "the boys" who met at the corner in the evenings. He entered into all their sports. Whether it was throwing quoits in the middle of the road, playing foot-ball in the river pastures below the mill, swimming in the milldam or walking the logs on the pond, he was the leader. He was a favourite with all classes. Mr. Watson, who was rumoured to have loose notions on religion, was his constant companion. Syl Todd, the village dandy, worshipped him, and Pat Duffy, who was rather a liberal-minded Catholic, declared him "a blazin' fine chap" and gave as his opinion that it was "a relief to see a parson that didn't look scared when a fellow swore a little"—which indulgence was a conversational necessity to Mr. Duffy.

The Glen grew livelier every day and the meetings at the Hamiltons' larger and more frequent. John Egerton fell into the habit of dropping in there very often. The whole family were most hospitable and Miss Jessie was very charming. He saw from the first that she and young Neil were avowed sweethearts. Mrs. McNabb informed him that Jessie and Donald had been lovers ever since the day at school when he had thrashed Pat Duffy for taking a forcible and liberal bite out of her one apple. The young minister assured himself that he was very much interested in the pretty rural romance and wrote an account of it to Helen.

But, though he admired the village belle, he could not bring himself to have any warmth of feeling for Donald. He met him almost every evening either at the Hamiltons' or down at the corner and, while he could find no fault in the young man's conduct, he never quite forgave the prank he had played and did not unbend to him as he did to the others. Donald's honest heart was filled with remorse for the mischief he had unwittingly caused and in his straightforward fashion he went to the minister to make an explanation and, if need be, offer an apology. But his friendly advances were met with such cold politeness on the part of his pastor that the apology died on Donald's lips. Instead, he made matters worse by referring to the disagreeable incident and from that time forward relations between him and the minister were somewhat strained.

They were not improved by an incident that occurred shortly. One afternoon Duncan Polite sent his nephew on an errand to some relatives who lived down by Lake Simcoe and he was not able to return until the next morning. Mr. Egerton noticed, with a feeling of relief, that he was absent from the Epworth League that evening and at the close of the meeting the thought struck him that there would surely be no harm in his walking down the hill with Jessie Hamilton. He had no sooner thought of it than his mind was made up and after the close of the meeting he found himself, somewhat to his amusement, standing with the crowd of young men who waited, at the gate, the coming of their respective chosen.

The young ladies crowded out, some hurriedly and anxiously, others, sure of their power, with provoking leisureliness. The Hamilton girls were among the last. Wee Andra seized Bella and disappeared into the darkness as suddenly as if they had been engulfed in oblivion. Sarah followed, very disgusted at being accompanied by Peter McNabb, Junior, who worked in his father's blacksmith shop and did not even know that there were such things in existence as Euclid and Algebra. Jessie came next; John Egerton stepped out from the ranks and raised his hat. "And may I have the pleasure of walking down the hill with you, Miss Jessie?" he asked, and the girl, murmuring some faint, shy words of consent, they walked side by side down the leafy path where the moonbeams through the trees made flecks of light upon her white dress.

The few stragglers still standing at the gate noticed the little scene and many were the comments upon what would likely transpire if the minister took to "keeping company with Don Neil's girl."

There was one who had noted the affair with perfect approval. Sylvanus Todd had long worshipped Maggie Hamilton from afar with absolutely no success; but so far from being disheartened by continuous rebuffs, he only seemed to increase in ardour under them. He adored Mr. Egerton's elegant ease and tried to copy it upon all occasions. His manner of addressing Jessie he considered irresistible and felt sure it would not fail with even so hardhearted a divinity as was his. Maggie was just emerging from the church, talking and laughing in a way that would have scandalised old Andrew Johnstone, when Syl stepped forward to put his new formula to the test. Raising his hat in precise imitation of the young minister's easy grace, he said, in as near an approach to Mr. Egerton's deep, musical tone as he could manage, "And may I have the pleasure of walking down the hill with you, Miss Maggie?"

But the result was quite different. Maggie turned and stared at him in genuine consternation. "Merciful gracious!" she screamed, "he's gone clean, stark, staring crazy!"

Mr. Todd was about to reply with some dignity, when Allan Fraser, who followed the more expeditious if less elegant method of the ordinary young man of Glenoro and never asked permission, caught Maggie's arm and swept her unceremoniously from underneath Sylvanus' nose.

Meanwhile, John Egerton, strolling slowly down the leafy path at Jessie's side, was enjoying himself. This was the first time he had ever been alone with the girl and by tactful questions he found out more about her in their short walk than in all of their previous acquaintance. His discoveries were all pleasant. As he had surmised, she was more serious than her sisters; she had read a little, too,—Dickens and Scott and some of Tennyson. They stood at the gate in the moonlight for a long time, talking of books. He found she had a thirst for them and he promised to lend her as many as she could read. It was late when at last he left her; the radiant moonlight, the heavy scent of the dewy garden, the soft rushing sound of the river and the slim, graceful girl beneath the wide oaks had made a combination which was intoxicating. He did not describe this scene to Helen, however, as he had done so many others.

But of course Donald heard of it, and very soon. When Coonie came down with the mail the next morning, Syl Todd confided his troubles to the mail-carrier as he watered his horse. "Now, that there Allan Fraser ain't got no more manners than if he'd never been outside of Glenoro," he said in conclusion of his mournful recital; "he don't know nothin' about how to treat a lady." Syl was the only young man in Glenoro who gave "the girls" the dignified title of "ladies."

"Always the way with them college chaps," agreed Coonie. "They think they're some punkins and they don't know enough to make cheese."

"That's true," assented Mr. Todd, warmed by this unwonted sympathy. "An' there's Don Neil; he's another that's been puttin' on airs, but I'll bet he'll quit now; mind you, Coonie, the minister went home with Jessie last night."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Coonie, expectorating copiously, "that's noos!"

"You bet! Don'll be hoppin' when he hears it. All the fellows has been sayin' they bet Mr. Egerton would have liked to go with Jessie ever since he come here if Don didn't keep him shooed off. Wait till he goes back to college and the minister'll have his turn. Long's he don't go hangin' 'round Maggie, I won't bother him." And Mr. Todd put his head on one side and gazed sentimentally up the hill, a pose which was slightly damaged by old Bella throwing up her head and spattering him with water.

As Donald Neil came cantering homeward, he met the mail driver dropping down the Glenoro hills towards the Flats. "Hello, Coonie!" called the young man, "how's yourself to-day?"

Coonie pulled up his old horse, which stopped with as much difficulty as she started. He was very glad to meet Donald. "Oh, jist chawin' an' spittin'," he answered with suspicious cordiality. "What kind o' a new apostle's this you've got up here?"

"Who? Mr. Egerton? Oh! he's all right," said Donald, giving Bella a poke in the ribs with his whip. "Haven't you seen him?"

Coonie spat disapprovingly. "Yes, you bet. Seen him this mornin' showin' off the soles o' his boots on Peter McNabb's veranda an' readin' novels. Soft snap them preacher fellows have. Nothin' in the world to do but run after the girls. Don't wonder that you're headin' that way yourself; guess Mr. Egerton thinks you're tryin' to get up to him in the religion business, so he'll race you in the sparkin' line. Haw! Haw!"

Donald looked down at him calmly. "Go on," he said quietly, "you've got something on your mind, Coonie, and you'll never be easy till it's off. I saw you were loaded when I was half a mile back; what's the trouble?"

Coonie did not enjoy this; Donald Neil was not the right sort of person to torment. He took that sort of thing too indifferently and one was always left in the tantalising doubt as to whether he cared or not. Coonie did not believe in casting his pearls before swine, so he cracked his long whip with the usual admonitory inquiry, "Gedap there! What're ye doin'?"

Bella gave her preliminary scramble, stopped, tried again and slowly shambled off. But her driver could not resist turning in his teetering seat, as the dust began to rise, to shout back, "If I'd a girl I was as spooney over as you are, I'd keep an eye skinned for chaps as good lookin' as the parson. Haw! Haw!—Gedap!"

Donald rode off with a laugh, but his face became grave as he climbed the hill. A dark suspicion that the minister might some day be his rival had long been forming in his mind. Perhaps jealousy was the cause of his unforgiving spirit. He went to Wee Andra for an explanation of just what Coonie meant and his mind was not eased by it. He had never had a dangerous rival before and he was forced to confess that the minister was certainly a very captivating young man.

Duncan Polite had hoped that ere this his nephew and Mr. Egerton would have been firm friends. He wondered sadly over his failure to bring them together at his house. He wondered over other things, too. He regarded the revival of activity in the church with a heart of overflowing joy, but a joy tinged with a puzzled uncertainty. He knew that the young people of the congregation were now taking a greater interest in religious matters than they had ever done, and yet he could not quite understand why it was that, though the boys went regularly to the meetings of the various organisations and were constant in their attendance at the weekly prayer-meeting, which they had formerly eschewed, still they showed no consequent change of conduct. Sandy's fiddling and dancing went on uninterruptedly, parallel with his Christian Endeavour meetings. Wee Andra was even more irreverent than formerly and Donald showed no signs of an added desire to enter the ministry. Donald's case was particularly disappointing. He wanted Donald to sit at his young pastor's feet and learn the lesson of true consecration. He never dreamed that those two whom he desired to be fast friends were in great danger of becoming enemies, and that events were shaping themselves to widen the breach between them.



VII

A DISASTROUS PICNIC.

Dominion Day was approaching, the day upon which Glenoro had held a picnic in Isaac Thompson's maple grove, about half a mile down the river, ever since there was a Dominion Day.

The affair was ostensibly for the Presbyterian Sabbath School, but all Glenoro and the surrounding neighbourhood attended. The people from the Oa and the Flats and even from over on the Tenth flocked to Thompson's grove and swung in the trees and joined the swimming matches and helped on the festivity. Besides the sports and other attractions, there was always a programme of music and speeches after tea. Andrew Johnstone, as superintendent of the Sabbath School, was responsible for this part of the entertainment. The young men erected a platform of new pine boards from the mill and the young women decorated it with evergreen boughs and the visiting clergymen and township orators seated themselves upon it in dignified array. Peter McNabb led the whole assembly in a psalm or paraphrase and then Mr. Cameron and the Methodist minister and all others honoured with a seat upon the platform delivered addresses to the people seated in semi-circles on the ground. Some of the speeches were sound and edifying, some were of a lighter tone and were sprinkled with judicious jokes culled from many sources for the occasion. Old Mr. Lawton, an itinerant Baptist preacher who, no matter what his peregrinations might be, always happened to be in Glenoro on Dominion Day, had told the same jokes annually within the memory of the oldest picnicker, but, as they came only once a year, they were quite fresh after their long rest and the audience laughed at them each season with unabated mirth.

When Mr. Watson participated in the Glenoro picnic for the first time, he was filled with a deep disapproval. He was an energetic, well-meaning young man, rather injudicious and fiercely patriotic after the spread-eagle manner of his cousins across the international boundary. The Glenoro picnic struck him as being nothing short of disloyal. There was not a flag to be seen anywhere in the woods, only one of the speakers mentioned the fact that it was Dominion Day, and then in a mere incidental way, and at the closing they actually sang "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" instead of "God Save the Queen!" The schoolmaster made up his mind that if he lived till the next first of July, he would show the people what a Dominion Day celebration ought to be. For this purpose he sought the co-operation of the minister. Old Andrew Johnstone was ruining the rising generation, he explained, and it was time somebody showed him that he and his old-fashioned ideas were antediluvian. John Egerton hesitated at first. He did not like the idea of running counter to his ruling elder, but he secretly agreed with Mr. Watson that that old man had too much to do with the affairs of the church. He felt also that this would be a fine opportunity to come in touch with the boys and girls; so, after some demurring, he finally yielded and consented to give a helping hand in the patriotic demonstration.

Mr. Watson set to work with wonderful zest. As the picnic was for the Sabbath school, the children should properly be the entertainers, he declared, so the public school pupils were detained every day after school hours and the minister came down and helped drill them in patriotic songs and exercises. Of course, they needed a musical instrument, so they hired the Temperance Society's organ, and Jessie Hamilton was asked to play. The whole arrangement proved highly satisfactory to the young minister. He found himself looking forward to the practise hour with pleasure, for he would walk down to the Hamiltons', call for Jessie, and together they would stroll across the bridge and up the river road beneath the trees to the school house where they spent an hour in each other's company.

The undertaking had its drawbacks as well as its pleasure, however. The chief one was young Neil Neil, a worse imp than Sandy even, and an unfailing source of disorder. He and his bosom companion in iniquity, a wild Irishman from the Flats by the name of Patrick Regan, conspired to make the practise hour a burden to both their instructors. John Egerton was sometimes tempted to wonder if Donald Neil was taking his revenge by inciting his young relative to acts of rebellion. Then, too, some of the parents grumbled because their children did not return home in time to do "the chores." This gave the schoolmaster very little trouble, however. He paid no attention to such base sentiments; patriotism must be inculcated in the minds of young Canada, whether the calves were fed or not.

But in spite of all discouragements the work progressed. There were flag drills and motion songs, patriotic songs and public spirited recitations and when the programme was finally completed Mr. Watson heaved a sigh of content. There was to be only one speech, for Mr. Egerton insisted that Mr. Ansdell be asked to say "a few words." They quite forgot, however, that the superintendent of the Sabbath school had always given the opening address and that Sim Basketful, though a Methodist, had never missed contributing to the programme. For the postmaster was undoubtedly the orator of Glenoro and had never before seen a picnic bill between the Oa and the Flats without his name on it in large type. Mr. Watson brushed away any doubts the minister had regarding the innovation. "Was he going to be ruled by Splinterin' Andra, or was he not?" he inquired, and John Egerton had responded that he most decidedly was not, so the preparations went on unabated.

To Donald Neil the new arrangement was anything but pleasing. He never seemed to be able to see Jessie any more. She was always trying over some new songs with the minister or reading a book he had given her, or in consultation with him over their preparations for the picnic. Donald's opinion of his pastor was not improved by this. He was too jealous to be quite impartial in his judgment and, therefore, did not realise that his rival was more careless than culpable. Donald's conception of a minister heretofore had been the Glenoro ideal, heightened by Duncan Polite's teachings,—a holy man, set apart from ordinary humanity for the Lord's special work. John Egerton was a revelation to him. Was this the sort of man his uncle worshipped? he asked himself. Was this the sort of man he was to emulate? He concluded by deciding that if John Egerton was a good sample of the ministry, then Donald McDonald would have nothing to do with the profession.

Meanwhile, John Egerton went happily on his way, all unconscious that he was doing any harm. As the date of the picnic approached he found, to his intense amusement, that there was still another faction in Glenoro church. This one was not at all formidable, however, for it was neither religious nor national, but merely culinary and geographical, namely, a strong rivalry in the production of pies and cakes between the matrons north of Glenoro and those beyond the southern hill. It broke out violently twice a year, at the first of July picnic and at the New Year's tea-meeting. When the date of these functions drew near, it was the custom for the North to muster their forces at the house of Andrew Johnstone, while the South flocked to their standard at Donald Fraser's and each made stupendous efforts to out-bake the other. But very rarely was there an advantage on either side. If one party got ahead of the other by so much as a cookie at one festivity, the defeated were sure to produce some unheard-of ammunition at the next. One New Year's Eve the South came charging up with thirty different varieties of pie, causing rout and dismay in the ranks of the enemy. But on the next Dominion Day the North responded gallantly with an eleven-story iced cake looking like a triumphal monument to celebrate their victory, and the balance of power was restored.

This summer, with the inspiring presence of the new minister, efforts were redoubled and for several days before the picnic the houses of the Johnstones and the Frasers were turned into bake-shops, and pies and cookies and tarts and story cakes were produced in such quantities and with such elaboration that the producers themselves were rather alarmed.

The great day arrived at last and Nature did her part nobly. It was one of those intensely clear, sunny days which only our Lady of the Sunshine can produce, a day when the thermometer announces that it is very hot, but when Nature denies the slander and the blood dances to the time set by the bracing air.

The blood was dancing in Mr. Watson's veins, at any rate. He was up early and had all his plans laid before noon. He collected his pupils at the school house early in the afternoon and gave them copious instructions. As soon as a sufficient crowd had collected at the picnic grounds, they were to walk in procession with him down to the grove, and just at their entry into the woods to burst into song and march in twos up to the platform, waving their banners and singing of the glory of Canada. After this they were to be given the freedom of the woods until such time as the performance should commence.

The idea had been Mr. Egerton's and had been planned by him with great care. He felt that the sight would be inspiring enough to please even Splinterin' Andra. For the ruling elder looked with dark disfavour upon any prominent performance by children and his young minister was rather anxious as to the effect the programme would have upon him.

John Egerton assisted his colleague at the school house and then repaired to the grove ahead of the procession, on purpose to be able to report afterwards upon its appearance. When he arrived, the picnic grounds presented a lively and pleasing appearance. Away back among the trees, in the flecking light and shade, the long, white tables were already being laid. White-aproned girls, among whom he recognised Jessie's trim figure, were flitting about them, setting cups and saucers with a musical clatter. Away in the background, a blue column of smoke rose straight into the treetops from the old stove where Mrs. Fraser and Miss Cotton were superintending the boiling of the tea and at a table near by, piled with baskets, the matrons of the North and South laughed and chatted over their rival productions. Over in an open space of sunlight the boys and young men of the village were engaged in athletic sports, jumping, racing and throwing the shoulder stone. As he looked, he saw the slim, lithe figure of Donald Neil go up over a bar with easy grace, amid the applause of the surrounding spectators. Between the trees to the right flashed a line of blue and silver, where the shouting and splashing of the swimmers had already commenced. Everywhere to right and left there were swings—little swings and big swings. The latter were patronised by young ladies and their attendant swains and manned by two stalwart young men who sent their burden of sober dun-coloured masculinity and fluttering muslin and ribbon swaying far into the treetops, to the accompaniment of many personal and highly mirth-provoking remarks from the crowd waiting to be in the same position.

There was a mingling of shouts, laughter, neighing of horses, scraping of turning buggies and clattering of dishes, harmonised by that wonderful power which the forest possesses of turning all discordant sounds within her bosom to perfect music.

The young minister moved about from group to group with a pleasant word for all. He swung with Maggie Hamilton and Annie Fraser and Julia Duffy; he entered keenly into the young men's athletic competitions; he carried water for Miss Cotton and waited on the young ladies at the tables; and finally he strolled over towards the platform where the fathers of Glenoro were gathered. They sat on mossy logs or stumps, with drooping shoulders, smoking their pipes in solemn content, discussing crops and creeds, horses and heresies and enjoying life to the full. Old Andrew Johnstone was there; but Duncan Polite was not with him. Duncan never went anywhere except to church. The ruling elder seemed in a rather mild frame of mind in spite of the fact that the reins of government had been taken out of his hands. The young pastor could not know that Duncan Polite's influence had soothed his wrath. He sat beside the old man and chatted away genially, while Splinterin' Andra watched him solemnly and with a certain wistfulness in his stern face.

But John Egerton did not rest long; he was beginning to wonder why Mr. Watson and his flock had not by this time startled them all into admiration by their appearance. The time set for their arrival had long passed and still the burst of music and the gleam of banners which was to herald their approach did not come. He arose and walked towards the road to see if they were in sight, when he saw the schoolmaster approaching alone and with a haste which betokened disaster. His friend hurried to meet him. "Why, what has happened?" he cried. "Where are the children?"

But Mr. Watson was in a state of speechless wrath. The heat of the summer sun combined with the internal burning of his indignation would have produced apoplexy in a less cadaverous person. Some minutes passed before he could quite explain the situation. When at length he could tell it, it appeared that he had collected his flock at the school in proper order and supplied them all with full instructions. Then he delivered a flag to each boy and a maple branch to each girl, to be waved as they entered the woods singing. Mr. Watson had an eye for the artistic, and had at first decreed that each flag should march beside a maple bough; but the proposition was received with such hysterical squeals and giggles from beneath the Canadian emblems and such dark looks of terrible rebellion from the red banners that the schoolmaster was compelled to change the order of their going. So the boys led the procession, going two and two, with the girls tripping demurely behind, as was compatible with the masculine idea of the fitness of things. The procession marched along quietly enough. Only one digression occurred, when Neil Neil and Patsy Regan halted long enough to hold a muscular dispute as to who should lead the van, a contest in which both the Flag that Braved a Thousand Years and the Maple Leaf Forever were trampled in the dust of the highway. The matter was settled by their teacher setting the two belligerents, with sundry cuffs and jerks, to march side by side, which they did in perfect peace until they reached the grove.

And then it occurred—the great disaster! Just how it was managed, or whether it was impromptu or with malice aforethought, the schoolmaster did not know. But just as they entered the leafy path and he was clearing his throat to give the keynote of "Upon the Heights of Queenston," without warning or disturbance, the flags of their country were flung to the ground and the disloyal young Britons were scurrying off through the woods in twenty different directions, leaping over fallen logs, crashing through underbrush and whooping like a pack of wild Indians. The crucial moment had proved too much for schoolboy modesty. Mr. Watson glared around to find himself left with only a handful of embarrassed and giggling girls. Just one boy remained, little Tommy Basketful, who was too small to run away and who held to his sister's hand. There was no use trying to have the procession now; the master dismissed the girls in a choking voice and went raging through the woods to find Mr. Egerton, his progress and his wrath accelerated by snatches of the interrupted song coming in high falsetto voice or deep bass growl, from tree-top or hollow stump.

"I'll wager my next year's salary it's that young Turk, Neil, who's at the bottom of it all!" he cried when he had finished the dismal recital and wiped the perspiration from his face. "By Jove, if it isn't a fix! There's Splinterin' Andra over by the platform; he'll never get over it! Yes sir, it's young Neil Neil's done it all, with Patsy Regan's help. They think they're safe because it's holidays, but I'll lay my rawhide on to them next term or my name's not George Watson!"

"Never mind," said the minister, with his usual kindly cheerfulness, "we shall have the programme at any rate."

"Programme! That's just what we won't have! Those young reprobates are gone for good. I know them! The girls can't do the drills alone and there won't be one piece fit to be given!"

The case was certainly more serious than the minister had at first thought. They had advertised their entertainment far and wide and the people were expecting something unique. If Neil Neil would not bring back his rebel band the whole affair would be a complete failure; he and Mr. Watson would be the laughing stock of the community and Splinterin' Andra would be grimly pleased. The young man's face darkened when he reflected that it was Donald Neil's brother who had wrought all this mischief. Was that whole family in league against him? The two looked at each other in dismay.

"Those Neil boys are a bad lot!" Mr. Watson burst forth again. "They've been the plague of Glenoro school ever since Donald started—— By Jove!" He started up suddenly, his face aglow, "I have it! Don can make young Neil do anything. We'll get him to order the young rascal back and to bring the others with him! Let's hunt him up!"

John Egerton drew back; he knew his relations with Donald Neil had not improved since Jessie had begun to help with the picnic programme and he did not at all relish the idea of asking his assistance in his dilemma. But Mr. Watson was already tearing off impetuously and, as there seemed no other way out of the difficulty and he could not leave his friend to bear the burden alone, he reluctantly followed.

A rapid survey of the grove showed that Donald was not at the sports, nor at the swings. Mr. Egerton noted with satisfaction that he was not with Jessie. She had put aside her apron and was on one of the big swings with a youth from the Tenth, her muslin dress swaying in the breeze, her brown curls flying. But Mr. Watson would not suffer him to stop one moment to admire the picture.

"He'll be down at the water," he cried, plunging headlong into a little path which led to the river. "Come along, we've no time to lose—if I only had my rawhide on that young Turk's back!"

The path they were following dipped suddenly into a little hollow where it was completely concealed from the picnickers by thick clumps of cedar and, at a sudden turn in the most secluded part, Mr. Watson almost ran against the object of their search. He was hurrying up from the river; his face was flushed, his hair damp and curly; he had evidently just emerged from the water. He drew back suddenly to let the schoolmaster pass.

"Are you playing tag?" he asked.

But Mr. Watson was in no mood for joking. "You're just the chap we're looking for, Don! Mr. Egerton and I are in a beast of a pickle. That young brother of yours has got to be looked after; he upset the procession from the school, and he's cleared off with all the other boys and we can't have any programme without them, and our whole entertainment's ruined!"

Donald glanced past him at the minister, standing in dignified silence, awaiting the issue, and for an instant a gleam of mischievous pleasure flashed in his eyes, a glance John Egerton did not fail to detect and at that moment he would have preferred to let the whole picnic be ruined rather than ask a favour of Donald Neil.

"What have I to do with it?" Donald was asking gravely.

"Oh, you know," returned the schoolmaster in a wheedling tone; "you can make Neil do anything. You order him to come back and bring the other chaps, and we'll be eternally grateful; that's a good fellow, Don."

Donald's eyes were beginning to twinkle again; he could not help enjoying his pastor's discomfort. "Why don't you discipline him yourself?" he asked teasingly. "If he's amenable to neither religion nor education"—he glanced at the minister again—"I am afraid I can do nothing with him."

John Egerton's face flushed angrily. "I think you should feel yourself responsible for your brother's action, Mr. McDonald," he said coldly. "I must say he has been an unmitigated nuisance ever since we commenced to practise, and now he promises to spoil everything. If you have the slightest interest in the entertainment, you will see that he does his duty."

Donald looked steadily into his pastor's eyes. For an instant a wild desire to refuse help, to even command Neil to see that the programme was a failure, entered his heart. But it was only momentary; Donald was incapable of being petty. But he could not resist the retort, "I couldn't think of assuming such honours in the presence of the clergyman and the schoolmaster, but I can at least produce the cause of this serious mishap." He put his fingers to his lips and gave three sharp whistles, ending in a long musical note. A moment later a boy came bounding up the path from the river; he was barefooted, his coat was off and he was plainly preparing for a swim. He stopped suddenly a few paces away when he saw who was with his brother and hung his black curly head sheepishly.

"What d'ye want?" he called.

"Come here," said Donald quietly, and Neil obeyed; he knew that whatever judgment was to be meted out to him, Don would see that he got justice. "Mr. Egerton and Mr. Watson have something to say to you."

The culprit's bright eyes took on a look of alarm; he wriggled his small bare toes in the dead leaves.

Donald pushed him towards the minister half mockingly. "Here," he said with suspicious gravity, "you must judge this grave matter for yourself."

John Egerton's sensitive face flushed hotly. He felt himself to be in an extremely ludicrous position, Mr. Watson stood in the background ready to second anything he might say, but very glad to be able to take a subordinate position in the affair, and Donald leaned back against a tree and looked upon the little scene with an extravagant solemnity which was maddening.

At that moment the young clergyman would have enjoyed turning upon the insolent fellow standing there with his arms folded so evidently enjoying his discomfiture and thrashing him soundly, had he been able to find an excuse. Unhappily he had none, however, and his wrath all burst forth upon the boy.

"What did you mean by breaking up Mr. Watson's procession and leading all the boys away?" he demanded hotly.

Neil's inbred reverence for the cloth had suffered somewhat under Mr. Egerton's efforts to teach him to sing, so he answered promptly, "I never! I jist cut off with the other fellows."

The minister's temper was fast slipping from his control. "Don't dare to tell me that!" he cried, snatching the boy's arm. "You know you planned this disgraceful affair!"

But the lad had darted a glance at his brother, and the keen instinct of childhood had perceived that Donald was not in league with his judges. So he looked up into the minister's face and said with incisive impudence, "It's a lie!"

John Egerton might have restrained his rage even then, had he not again caught the gleam of laughter in Donald's eyes. The double insult was too much. He promptly caught the saucy boy a sounding box upon the ear which sent him sprawling upon the ground.

The next instant Donald was in front of him. "Try something nearer your own size, you coward!" he was saying, and barely giving his opponent time to prepare, he planted a blow right between the minister's eyes and sent him reeling back against a tree.

He was up and at Donald in an instant, and so sudden and terrible was his onslaught that the champion boxer of Glenoro had a distinct impression that he was meeting his match. Donald was just settling to the fierce joy of battle when the schoolmaster flung himself upon them.

"There's somebody coming! Stop, Donald! For heaven's sake stop, Mr. Egerton!" he implored frantically.

The antagonists parted with a sudden awakening to their position. The minister was fighting with one of his church members! For an instant the two young men stood back and regarded each other with something like horror. Donald looked at the dark bruise on the other's lately handsome face, and, realising who it was he had struck, his generous heart smote him.

The approaching group turned off into another path, and as their voices died away a terrible silence fell upon the four. Donald was the first to break it. Duncan Polite's nephew could be courteous even in the midst of his anger.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Egerton," he said with quiet dignity; "I should not have struck you; I forgot your position."

But John Egerton's rage was still shaking him. "I regret very much that my position makes it impossible for me to give you the thrashing you deserve. If I were not the minister of this place——" His voice choked with anger.

Donald's lips grew tight at this reception of his apology. "You are happy in your choice of profession, sir," he said quietly. "It is at least—safe."

The other stepped forward, his hands clenched. "Do you intend to insult me again?" he demanded, his face white.

"I was merely going to add," said Donald with a smile, "that it's rather hard on the profession."

Mr. Watson caught his pastor round the waist in a determined grasp.

"Splinterin' Andra's coming down the path!" he whispered wildly. "He'll be here in two minutes! Don Neil, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Mr. Egerton," he implored, "for goodness' sake come away!" He dragged the unwilling young man out of the pathway. "If this gets out you'll not be able to stay in Glenoro another day! Think of yourself! Think how it would look!"

Donald stood for a moment after they had left, torn between anger and shame. The small cause of all this commotion stood shifting from one foot to another and looking up at his big brother with frightened eyes. "I never made the other fellows cut off, Don," he whispered as they stepped quickly out of the way of the elder, "honor bright, I didn't."

"I know," said Donald dully. "It's all right; run off now. And look here, Neil, not a word about this to anyone, remember, and you and the other boys be at the platform when Mr. Watson wants you."

Neil promised and ran swiftly back to the river. Left alone, Donald glanced about anxiously and was much relieved to see no one near. Personally, he did not care if he had been seen, but he knew that Duncan Polite's happiness would be at an end if he knew his nephew had been fighting the minister. With a heavy heart he walked slowly back to where the boys were pitching quoits. He was equally enraged at himself for starting the fight and for not insisting upon finishing it, yes, even though all the congregation of Glenoro Presbyterian Church, elders included, had been watching. But above all, the sense of the disgrace he had brought upon himself and all that his uncle held dear weighed upon the boy's heart. Jessie was at leisure now, standing with a group of girls near the swing, but he could not go and ask her to swing with him after what he had done. He was tormented by the thought that she might blame him if she knew. So he turned and wandered off alone into the depths of the woods, farther down the river, full of anger and misery.

The first tables were being filled when he returned. He found an excited group gathered around one of them.

"Mr. Egerton's sick!" cried Wee Andra, as Donald approached; "Watson took him home."

"I wonder if it was a sunstroke, poor young man!" exclaimed Mrs. McNabb, bustling about with motherly anxiety. "I'm going to run home and see, and if he isn't any better I'll not come back. Liza, you and Mrs. Johnstone'll have to 'tend to those sandwiches. Dear, dear, isn't it a dreadful pity!"

Mrs. Fraser was already on her way to the afflicted one, and in the bustle and consternation Donald was able to hide his perturbation. He was filled with compunction at the havoc he had unwittingly wrought, for he knew the minister's disfigured face prevented his appearance in public.

A gloom seemed to be thrown over the whole festivity. The minister's sudden affliction was the one subject of conversation at the tea-table. The usual mirth and jollity gave place to a quiet gravity which might have satisfied even Splinterin' Andra. The schoolmaster did not return, so the original programme was dropped altogether. Instead of the grand-march and chorus which was to open the exercises, they sang the twenty-third psalm, and Mr. Ansdell led in prayer, adding a fervent petition that the young pastor might speedily be restored to health. Then there were some speeches after all. Sim Basketful, who was always ready, and old Andrew Johnstone, as was his unfailing custom, gave long, earnest addresses, and they sang the Doxology and went home.

Mrs. Fraser returned just before the assembly broke up with the news that Mr. Egerton was not ill, but had had a nasty accident. Mr. Watson said that he had stumbled and fallen when they were running through the woods, and had cut his face upon a stone. Mrs. Fraser considered it a mercy that he was not killed. Poor young man! In the midst of life they were in death, and likely Providence had sent this as a warning to the young people who were careless about their future state.

Miss Cotton didn't know what in the world the minister wanted to go tearing through the bush like that for, anyhow. It wasn't very becoming, she thought, and it was likely if Providence meant any kind of a warning it was for himself.



VIII

BURSTING OF THE STORM

Duncan Polite stepped out of the little gate one Sabbath afternoon, late in July, and joined his old friend on his way to Sabbath school. To-day the service was to be of unusual interest, for Mr. Egerton was to pay his first visit to the Sabbath school. Though he had been some months in Glenoro, he had never had such an opportunity before, on account of the afternoon service at his other charge. But to-day the service at the Tenth was to be taken by a visiting clergyman, and the superintendent of the Sabbath school was looking forward grimly to his pastor's visitation.

A few months previous this event would have been hailed by Duncan as a blessing from on high, but he had learned to expect much less from his pastor than in the early days of his ministry. He still hoped and prayed for great results, for to confess, even to himself, that the young man was a failure seemed like pronouncing his own doom. Still, it was being slowly but surely borne in upon him that Mr. McAlpine's grandson was neither a prophet like his relative nor a shepherd like his predecessor. Duncan's hopes for his valley were beginning to wane. What better were they now than four months ago? What better was Donald? And at the thought of his nephew, Duncan's heart ached. What was the matter with his boy? Some strange, unpleasant change seemed to have come over him; he never went to church, and it was whispered so loudly that it was heard even in the Watchman's exclusive little shanty that Donald Neil and the minister had quarrelled, and that Jessie Hamilton was the cause. Just how badly fate was using his boy Duncan could not know. In his honest endeavours to guard the young minister from the rumours afloat regarding the picnic Donald fell under his sweetheart's suspicion. It was their first quarrel, nothing serious at first, but Donald withdrew indignantly and devoted himself to his farm work. Full of repentance Jessie watched and waited for his return, and finally, as a means of hastening him to her side, she accepted cordially the kindly attentions of the minister.

And this was the condition of affairs at a time when Duncan Polite had hoped to see the two young men in perfect sympathy over a common cause—that of raising the spiritual life of his glen. The old Watchman's eyes grew deeper and more mournful every day over the fading of his cherished hopes. His promise to his father was not being kept. The covenant the founder of Glenoro had made, and which his son had renewed, was forgotten, and often in the distress of his soul the cry of Job came to Duncan's lips, "Oh that I might have my request and that God would grant me the thing I long for!"

But in the presence of Andrew Johnstone, the peacemaker was careful to hide his fears. He knew that his friend's dissatisfaction with the young minister was smouldering ominously and he watched Splinterin' Andra with ever-increasing anxiety.

On this Sabbath, Andrew was in such a sour frame of mind that the peacemaker's task was an especially difficult one. He plunged into the dangerous subject as soon as Duncan joined him.

"We're to hae oor bit meenister the day," he announced sourly. "We need na expec' ony great thing though, Ah'm thinkin'," he added soberly. "Ah suppose Ah'll ask him to take the Bible class."

"Oh, that will be a fine thing," said Duncan, with a great show of hopefulness. "The young man will be knowing his Bible well, and he will jist be giving the young folk some grand thoughts. Oh yes, indeed."

"Mebby." Andrew Johnstone's voice was anything but hopeful. "He could learn them plenty aboot fit-ball and croquet better, though."

Duncan saw the danger and hastened into the breach with soothing words. "It would be too soon to look for results," he declared. They must be patient. He managed to guide the conversation into smoother channels, and by the time they reached the church the danger of an outburst had been once more averted.

Mr. Egerton taught the Bible class in a most kindly and pleasant manner considering the ungracious way the superintendent requested his services. But Jessie Hamilton sat in one corner of it, her sweet face half hidden beneath her wide drooping hat, and that may have partially accounted for the feeling of pleasure with which he undertook the task.

During the remainder of the exercises he sat with the pupils, a silent spectator of old Andrew's methods. The superintendent was more impressively solemn than usual, and to the young minister, accustomed mostly to city Sabbath schools where the average boy conducted himself with considerable freedom, the place was oppressively rigid. He was amazed at the solemn silence. The children were unusually well behaved; even Mr. Hamilton's class was exemplary, for beside the usual terror of Splinterin' Andra, the presence of the minister demanded the very best conduct.

But the atmosphere of the place was oppressive to the bright, high-spirited young man. The bare severity of the building was bad enough in church, he felt, but in Sunday school it was disastrous. It should be a bright place, full of light and life. He made up his mind he would set Miss Cotton and the Ladies' Aid to redouble their efforts towards improving the place. When the service ended with a long, slowly-droned psalm and the children filed quietly out, whispering even on the doorstep, the minister drew a deep breath of relief.

He found himself walking up the hill with old John Hamilton and Peter McNabb. Behind them came the superintendent and Duncan Polite. Mr. Hamilton turned to include them in their conversation.

"And what do ye think o' oor Sabbath school, Maister Egerton?" he was saying. "Maister Johnstone here has made us a fine superintendent for mony a lang year."

"It's very good indeed," answered the young man heartily; "fine attendance, and the order is better than I ever saw it. But don't you think children need a little more brightness and life in their service to keep them interested?" He turned to his sour-faced elder with a charming air of deference which would have disarmed any man but Splinterin' Andra. But the elder's stick was already waving threateningly behind him, like the tail of a lion aroused. The young man did not notice the ominous sign and hastened on to his doom.

"I believe your Sabbath school to be a most exemplary one, Mr. Johnstone, but I hope you do not mind my saying that I believe the children should take a more active part in the exercises. They should feel it is theirs. A few good rousing hymns, now, in which they are interested, and—" he hesitated a moment, and then remembering how often the young people had begged him to open the subject of a musical instrument to Splinterin' Andra, and feeling that he was doing well, and now was his opportunity, continued—"and perhaps the use of an organ to help the music would aid greatly and add brightness and interest to the school."

The red rag had been shaken in the bull's face! Shaken very politely and gently it is true, but a maddening challenge nevertheless. Had the minister only left out the organ the presence of Duncan Polite might have restrained his friend from violence, but an organ stood for everything that was frivolous and worldly. And now that this man who had been the Joshua of his hopes, who was to lead the young people into the promised land of righteousness after their old leader had gone up to his rest, now that he had come out avowedly the promoter of instability and the apostle of fashion, it was too much for Splinterin' Andra. He had loved and revered the young man so long, in spite of his many failures, that his resentment was now in proportion to his former confidence.

Peter McNabb saw the danger, and burst in with a not altogether irrelevant remark about there being thunder in the air; but he was too late; already Splinterin' Andra's stick had darted from its place like a sword from its scabbard.

"Man!" he exclaimed, turning a face of righteous wrath upon the well-meaning young clergyman, "man! It's ma' opeenion, that wi' an instrument o' wund in the pulpit, we're no in great need o' anither in the congregation!" and sweeping a clattering shower of stones down the hill, he tramped away ahead, leaving consternation and dismay in his wake.

Duncan Polite walked by his friend's side in silence. He sympathised deeply with Andrew's feelings, but this new disaster was like to break the old man's heart. But Andrew Johnstone was not done.

"An organ!" He repeated the words with all the bitterness of his disappointed soul. "An organ! The Lord peety the kirk that has a fule for a meenister!"

"Oh, you must not be saying that, Andra," said Duncan Polite. "The Lord will be a better judge than man——"

But old Andrew interrupted him tempestuously.

"Man, Duncan, Ah've kept it tae ma'sel for mony a day, but Ah jist canna bide it ony mair! Him an' his organ! Aye, he's after some bit balderdash a' the time. Ah tell ye the buddy's no got the root o' the matter in him! He can preach, aye, Ah'll no deny yon, but what's the gude o' what he's haverin' aboot? This mornin' he preached jist half an oor, aye, an' twenty meenits o' it taken up in provin' that Paul was a gude man, a thing that no the biggest fule in the Glen would gainsay, no, not even oor Andra'," he concluded sombrely.

Duncan sighed. He had noticed that the sermons were steadily growing shorter. Indeed, from the first Sabbath of his pastorate the young minister had deliberately set himself to abbreviate the church service, commencing with the sermon. He had done it so gradually that he flattered himself it was unnoticed, but no one could depart one jot or one tittle from the ancient ways without the argus eye of the ruling elder spying out the offence.

"Oh well, indeed," said Duncan Polite, "it would be a clever sermon, Andra, and I would be thinking he gave us some fine thoughts on Paul."

"Paul!" cried the other with withering scorn. "Paul! and who sent out meenisters to preach Paul?"

Duncan could not answer. John McAlpine Egerton was a clever speaker certainly, with much of his grandfather's fire, but to the brilliant discourses on the heroes of the Bible which had constituted his sermons lately Duncan had listened with a remote ache in his heart. For though Paul was a great apostle, and David the Lord's anointed King, who were they to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Old Andrew was still talking, his stick waving furiously. "It's railin' agen this, and rowin' agen that: it's Socialism and Anarchism and some other rubbishy ism every Sabbath. Man, why can the crater no preach the Gospel? Aye, an' we had a half an oor o' havers aboot infidelity last Sabbath. Tod! Naebody in the Glen kenned what infidelity was till he cam' except mebby yon lad o' Silas Todd's, an' the crater's no wise onyway!"

Duncan made a feeble attempt to stem the tide. "But these societies, maybe they will be doing good, whatever."

This was only fuel to the fire. "His societies! Man, wi' his Y. P. S. C. E. an' his Y. M. C. A. an' his X. Y. Z., fowk's heids are fair turned! Jist sparkin' bees, every ane o' them! An' him the biggest spark o' them a'! A Chreestian Endeavour Society! Man, where's he gaun to get it, wi' oot the Chreestians? Our Andra an' yon natral o' Silas Todd's, an' thae huzzies o' John Hamilton's, an' yon nephew o' yours! A Chreestian Endeavour! Eh, man, does the buddy no ken he canna mak' bricks wi'oot straw?"

Duncan made no reply. He was as utterly crushed as though he were guilty of all the sins imputed to the minister. His heart was crying out in its pain and disappointment. Andrew's parting words sounded like the closing forever of the door of hope. "Aye, an' we thought he would be anither Mr. McAlpine! The Lord forgie us for oor meeserable presumption!"

When the first sting of his resentment against the elder was over, John Egerton was not sorry that the disagreeable affair had occurred. The quarrel had not been of his seeking, everybody knew that; and the knowledge that he did not need to be on friendly terms with the cantankerous old man was a distinct relief. He realised now that the ruling elder had been something of an encumbrance to him ever since he came to Glenoro. He represented everything unprogressive in the church, and he, the minister, had always been under the unpleasant obligation of conciliating him. He almost drew a breath of relief when he found it was quite proper for him to take the opposite course.

So the consequence of Andrew Johnstone's hasty words was that the young minister joined the rising generation in all their risings. Fortified by his support they soared higher than they had ever dared before and demanded every innovation that has ever been known since churches began to follow the fashions. And first of all they set themselves tenaciously to the getting of a church organ.

They went about it with the wisdom of the serpent, too. The Christian Endeavour Society went through the congregation, collecting money from such as were favourable to the project. When they found themselves with a sufficient sum, their plan was to purchase the coveted instrument, present it to the session, and they would just like to see how Splinterin' Andra would prevent their accepting it.

But that was exactly what Splinterin' Andra intended to do; failing that, he determined to carry his old threat of violence into effect, rather than allow the desecration. He grew fiercer and more resolute every day, and yet in spite of his strength it was plain that at last he was approaching defeat.

Duncan Polite strove to bring about a peaceable settlement. He counselled yielding.

"It will be a great sin in the Lord's sight, Andra," he said pleadingly, "these wranglings among his own people. 'Peace be within thy walls, oh Zion!' that will be the will of the Master and, indeed, I will be thinking if we would jist all be of the right mind, this organ would be a source of blessing, and like David's harp that drove the evil spirits from Saul."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse