Andrew gave a derisive snort. "If ye can see ony similarity between David and yon bit, gigglin' light-headed lass o' Donald Fraser's that thinks she's to play the thing, ye're michty far seein', Duncan. And ye ken weel if the Gospel does na' touch them, they'll no be converted by a few bit worldly squeaks from a music-boax. No, it's jist all vanity, Duncan, jist vanity, an' we'll no hae the thing in Maister Cameron's church as lang as Ah've gotten the use o' ma' arms!"
But the organ party went on collecting money unheedingly, and Duncan was in despair. He appealed to Donald, but found very little satisfaction. Donald was working hard in the harvest fields, and came to Glenoro very seldom. Duncan could not but guess the reason; the minister's attentions to Jessie Hamilton were growing more marked every day. Wherever he looked Duncan could see signs of trouble, which he was powerless to avert.
The great day arrived when the sum of money was complete. At the next Endeavour meeting they would make all arrangements for purchasing the organ. Mr. Egerton preached a very clever and caustic sermon that Sabbath upon narrow-mindedness, and Duncan Polite's face was drawn with pain as he listened.
On Monday evening, the night before the final and crucial meeting the young minister was walking briskly down the road from the Oa. He had been taking tea with one of his most friendly families and had stayed rather late playing croquet with the young ladies. As he went along the winding thoroughfare it suddenly occurred to him that he could save time if he went over the fields and through the woods, coming out on the road again just above the Glen. He was over the fence in an instant and crossing the dusky fields, the sharp stubble of the wheat clicking against his feet as he walked. Then he crossed a sweet-scented pasture, with the dim, shadowy outlines of the cows lying here and there, the stillness broken now and then by the soft tinkle of a disturbed bell. Next he entered the woods, so dark and still, with only the light of a few stars peeping through the branches. The young man forgot Splinterin' Andra and Donald Neil and all his worries as he moved through the mysterious darkness. The strange, still whisper of the forest, that gave a sense of life, as if the whole dark surroundings were some great breathing creature, touched him nearly. He felt awed; the trivial things which made up so much of his life seemed infinitesimal now, in the face of this mysterious wonder. When he emerged into the grey light of the open fields again, he was both saddened and uplifted. He climbed the fence into Duncan Polite's pasture field and made his way round the little shanty, stepping quietly for fear of disturbing the old man, who might be sleeping. But as he passed the place a sound arrested his footsteps, a sound of a human voice full of anguish.
The minister paused and drew nearer. The green paper window-blind was rolled up a few inches and from beneath it shone the light of a lamp. He stepped up to the window and peeped in. In the middle of the bare room knelt Duncan Polite. His Scotch bonnet lay on the floor at his side and the rays of the little lamp on the table touched his thin white hair with silver. His pallid face was upturned, his eyes closed. Collie stood beside him, his head on one side, a look of longing on his canine face, as though his dog's heart were striving to know and share his master's grief. He stiffened and bristled at the scent of the intruder, but Duncan had begun to speak again and the dumb sympathiser was once more all attention.
"Oh, my Father, my Father!" The words broke from him like a cry of pain. "Oh, my Father, Thou knowest there will be dissension in Thy House and trouble in Thy Holy Place! Oh set Ye open unto us the gates of righteousness! Father, lead us to the light and let not Thine Holy One be put to shame among us!"
His voice broke, and Collie gave a quivering whine. Then the man's tones rose again in passionate pleading. He poured out his whole, great soul in such an anguish-laden prayer for the young man who was listening, that he stood for a moment overcome. Then, unable to bear it, he turned and slipped softly around the house and out upon the road. He stumbled often and he did not walk with his accustomed easy swing. And as he entered the valley, the lights of the village swam below in a mist, and the sad drone of the river rose to meet him like the echo of Duncan Polite's prayer.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE LADIES' AID SOCIETY
Miss Eliza Cotton took her scissors and roll of dress patterns and started across the street for a day's sewing at the Hamiltons'. She liked to sew there, for she was fond of the girls in her queer way, and there was plenty of life and fun. To-day she was particularly pleased to go to some place where she could pour out the vials of her wrath upon the minister for the ridiculous way he had acted in refusing to go on with the organ scheme. Next to the latest news of the neighbourhood, Miss Cotton loved what she termed "style." Before Mr. Egerton's advent the Glenoro Church had been utterly devoid of this saving quality. Since his arrival, however, matters had improved rapidly. But now, just when they had got a carpet for the pulpit stairs and matting for the aisles, and were on the eve of purchasing the long-talked-of organ, the very prompter and head of all the enterprise must suddenly declare a complete change of front. To Miss Cotton the loss of his support was an absolute disaster, as it was to many others, especially those who had to tramp over many miles of country to return the money they had been at such pains to collect. Even Mrs. Fraser was disappointed in the minister's action, for she had been in hopes that Annie would be the organist, and she sighed long and deeply over the mutability of the young minister. Such sudden changes of opinion, she declared, denoted an unstable character, and she feared he would not have a good influence over the wild and unsettled young men of Glenoro.
Miss Cotton did not care what characteristics were denoted by the affair. She only knew that in her opinion Mr. Egerton had behaved outrageously, and she went over to the Hamiltons' prepared to maintain the same at the point of her sharp tongue.
"Well, 'Liza," said Mrs. Hamilton, as soon as the dressmaker was settled in her corner of the wide, breezy kitchen surrounded by billows of light blue silk, "what do you think o' the minister changing his mind in such a hurry?"
She did not ask because she was seeking information, for Miss Cotton had left no one in doubt as to her views on the subject, but only as a pretext for getting launched upon the all-important subject.
Miss Cotton sniffed indignantly. "Mighty queer, that's all I have to say. He knew as well as we did all along that Splinterin' Andra an' a whole crowd o' old fogies didn't want an organ, an' to think he'd stand up at the very last meetin' an' say it would cause trouble—cause fiddlesticks! I'll bet there's somethin' at the bottom o' all this; mebby some o' you girls knows more about it than I do. Jessie here seems to be gettin' awful thick with him." She glanced sharply around at each young woman, engaged in some household duty.
"That's just to make Don jealous. Jess is awful cute!" said Maggie, who was making intermittent attempts to wash the breakfast dishes.
Jessie was accustomed to such attacks, for she was the sweetest-tempered member of the family, with much of her father's grave gentleness, and she received even more than her share of teasing. But her heart was still very sore over her disagreement with Donald, and she bent lower over her sewing.
"Be quiet, Mag," said Bella, who was the only one in the Hamilton household who exercised any authority. "Leave Jess alone and go on with your work."
Maggie seated herself complacently upon the sewing machine box and swung her dish-towel to and fro. "To tell you the truth, Liza," she said solemnly, "I believe the minister was scared. I think he thought that when Splinterin' Andra got done makin' kindlin' wood o' the organ, he'd make sausage meat o' him, an' if he was in that condition he couldn't marry Jess——"
"To Don Neil," put in Sarah neatly.
"Mother, come and make the girls be quiet," pleaded the victim.
"Jess would make a fine minister's wife, though, Liza," continued Maggie, knowing well that every word she uttered would be repeated verbatim to Mrs. Fraser at the earliest possible date. "She takes pious fits, doesn't she, mother?"
"I never notice much piety about any of you," retorted Mrs. Hamilton smartly.
"Oh, mother Hamilton, you ought to be ashamed to own it, and here's Bella and Jess getting themselves fixed to join the church. Shouldn't wonder but I'll be doing something rash like that myself, now that I've turned Christian Endeavourer."
"A fine specimen of a Christian Endeavorer you are," said Miss Cotton scornfully. "An' you an active member, too!"
"Of course! I wouldn't be in anything where I couldn't be active. It's heaps o' fun."
"My goodness, if you giddy folks had old Mr. Cameron over you, he'd show you how to behave. It's my private opinion the minister don't know a Christian from a wheelbarrow or he wouldn't have all you feather-heads joining his societies."
"That's true, I do believe," agreed Maggie, "or he'd never a' got you for President of the Ladies' Aid, for you know you say heaps more than your prayers!"
"Maggie, you're a caution; do behave!" cried her mother, glancing at Miss Cotton with secret pride to see how she appreciated Maggie's sharp tongue.
"Oh, she's gone daft. Don't listen to her, 'Liza," cried Bella impatiently. "Whatever do you 'spose made Mr. Egerton turn 'round and act the way he did, anyhow?"
Miss Cotton looked mysterious. "I know a good bit more about that chap than I've ever told," she said, nodding her head in a tantalising manner. "I've got a letter over home that might throw some light on the matter." She took up her work again, waiting for this startling piece of intelligence to take effect.
"What in the world is it, 'Liza?" cried Mrs. Hamilton, approaching the sewing machine. "I jist knew by the look o' you when you came in that you'd something in your mind that——"
"That's so, she does look queer," declared Maggie, stopping, with her dish-cloth suspended, to examine Miss Cotton critically. "Now, I've seen 'Liza so often when her mind was empty——"
"Don't listen to her, 'Liza!" cried Jessie, her small mouth twitching with laughter. "What were you going to say?"
"Well, if that young gas-bag would shut up for half a minit, I'd tell you something pretty queer about the minister. But, mind you, it's a dead secret, and you must promise——"
There was a chorus of solemn pledges to secrecy from the group which collected hastily around the sewing machine. Mrs. Hamilton left her bread-making and came, with floury hands held carefully away from the blue silk, to listen.
Miss Cotton leaned back in her chair and raised her scissors. Such moments as this were her happiest. "Well, I don't pretend to know what made him change his mind so sudden," she said, lowering her voice mysteriously, "for I don't, not any more than that sewing machine; but I do know somethin' about him, that not a soul in Glenoro knows, an' it makes me have some idea why he acts so queer." A solemn silence fell over the listeners.
"I've known it for two whole days, an' never whispered it to a livin' soul!" she added, proud of this achievement in reticence.
"My! it's a wonder you didn't explode." Maggie's voice somewhat relieved the tension. The narrator paid no heed.
"Now I guess you won't believe me, but mind you, I seen that fellow before he ever came here. It was when I was in Toronto that fall, visitin' Maria, an' you'd never guess where I seen him, if you was to try from now to the crack o' doom!"
She resumed her sewing with the most aggravating coolness.
"Drunk in the street," suggested Maggie.
"Maggie, it's awful to talk about a minister like that!" cried her mother, weakening her reproof with a laugh.
"Where in the world was it, 'Liza?"
Miss Cotton resumed her oratorical attitude. "Well, mind you, I never knew myself that I'd ever clapped eyes on him, till night before last, but his face puzzled the senses out o' me ever since he came here. Only I'd heard so much about what old McAlpine looked like, that I thought it was because he looked like him. But if I've told Mrs. Fraser once, I've told her a dozen times that——"
"Oh, go on with your yarn!" Maggie's dish-cloth was waving impatiently.
"Well, you mind that fall I went to the Exhibition an' stayed with Maria till near Christmas? My, the sights I did see that time! You girls ought to take a trip to the city now, why——"
"Oh, never mind, 'Liza," said Maggie, knowing the narrator's weakness. "Settle the minister first, an' you can talk Toronto all day after."
"My! but you're anxious about him, Maggie! That's a bad sign. Well, as I was sayin', I stayed all fall, you know, an' Maria she was bound and determined I'd see an' hear everything that was worth while, an' her and James they jist trotted me 'round till I was near dead. James Turner does make Maria an awful kind man, I will say, though I ain't got much use for men. Well, one night we went to a high-toned concert, got up by a lot o' college fellows. I tell you there's where you see the fine lookin' chaps! Don Neil couldn't hold a candle to them, the way they was dressed up, reg'lar doods every one o' them, an' the style! If I'd been a young thing like one o' you girls now, I'd a lost my heart a dozen times over. But if you'd a' seen the fellows that took part in the concert, you'd a' died, the way they were rigged up! They all came a-flippin' an' a-floppin' out onto the platform, an' besides their pants an' coats, every mother's son o' them had on some kind of a long cloak, for all the world like Mrs. Duffy's black dolman. An' they had the curiousest things on their heads, jist exactly like the black shingles that was flyin' 'round here the night the sawmill burned down!"
"Why, they were college gowns and caps," said Sarah; "Don Neil and Allan Fraser are both going to get them."
"Well, don't I know that, you young upstart. An' Mrs. Fraser's in an awful way about Allan wearin' one, too, but that don't prove that they didn't look jist like the mischief itself."
"Dear me, do they wear them kind o' things out amongst other folks?" inquired Mrs. Hamilton in mild alarm. She had supposed that such raiment would be confined to the seclusion of one's own bed chamber.
"Indeed, they jist do, Mrs. Hamilton. If Jessie an' Don Neil makes up this little lovers' quarrel they've got up lately, you'll have him comin' flappin' down the hill to see her in one o' them next winter. But reelly, you wouldn't believe what awful trollops they were; an' if I couldn't turn out a stylisher lookin' wrapper an' a mighty better fit, too, I'd go an' choke myself."
"You'll choke before you get this story told, if you don't quit talkin'," said the plain-spoken Maggie. "Did the minister have a wrapper on?"
But Miss Cotton had a fine eye to the structure of a story. "Oh, I'm comin' to him, at the right time. Well, as I was sayin', there was a whole swarm o' these fellows came floppin' an' flounderin' onto the platform an' they all squat down in a long row with their wrappers an' shingles on, an' started to play like all possessed on what they call bangjoes or some such tomfoolery."
"Banjoes," corrected Sarah. "Lots of the boys and girls play them at the High School."
The orator paid no attention.
"An' they set there fiddle-dee-deein' for about a quarter of an hour,—an' now I'm comin' to the important part. There was one tall, good-lookin' chap, sittin' right in the middle o' the row——"
"Mr. Egerton," whispered Maggie.
"An' he was scratchin' away for dear life on some sort of a fryin'-pan thing, an' I leans over to James an' I sez, 'James,' sez I, 'ain't it for all the world like gratin' nutmegs?' sez I. Well, we were bang-up in the very front seat, for James Turner always believes in gettin' all he pays for, an' the fellows was makin' the awfullest clatter, an' you know, James Turner's as deaf as a post, anyhow, an'—well, now, if any o' you scalawags lets this out I'll massacree the whole lot o' you!"
A chorus of renewed promises and entreaties to continue followed this terrible threat.
"Well, jist as I was sayin' it, good and loud, what should that blessed racket do but stop short, jist as if they'd all been shot dead; an' jist at that very min'it I was yellin' 'gratin' nutmegs!' at the top o' my lungs!"
She joined heartily in the shrieks of laughter, for Miss Cotton loved a joke on herself, as well as on another.
"O' course, they all went at it again, with a bang," she continued, "but them fellas heard, o' course, an' they started to shake. An' this tall chap in the middle, I'm tellin' you about, was the worst of all. I thought he'd a' took a conniption fit an' when he did manage to sober up a bit, he stared down at me that hard, that if I'd been a skit o' a thing like one o' you girls, I'd a' blushed, sure. But I jist stared back at him, good and hard, I tell you, till he had to look away.
"There was lots more programme besides that, singin' an' speakin' pieces an'—oh, land! there was one girl come switchin' in with a long tail to her dress, that would reach clean from here to the mill, an' the neck of it cut that low it would make a body want to get under the seat; it was jist shameful! An' the way she sang was jist near as bad. She squalled an' took on as if everybody she'd ever knowed had been massacreed, an' you couldn't make out one single word she said no more than if it had been Eyetalian. An' all them folks set with their mouths open, an' seemed to think it was jist grand, low neck an' all, an' when she finished up with a yell jist like the sawmill whistle, they clapped fit to kill. I'm sure I'd heaps rather listen to Julia Duffy singin' 'Father, dear father, come home with me now,' an' you know what that's like."
"But that ain't near the worst yet. After all them fellas got through some more scrabblin', out comes the tall chap again, I was tellin' you about. Maria said it was him, or I never would a guessed it, because, as sure as you're standin' there, Mrs. Hamilton, he was all blackened up and togged out with a long-tailed coat, an' a high hat, an' danced, an' cut up jist fit to kill. The people all went clean into fits; an' I thought James Turner would a' died laughin'. It was real kind o' comical, too, the way he went on. But now I'm comin' to the real part o' my story. When we were goin' home on the street car, Maria says to me, sez she, 'Do you mind the fellow that sang the coon song?' sez she. 'Well, I should think I do,' sez I, 'an' of all the bold young scamps!'—'Well,' sez she, 'that fellow's goin' to be a Presbyterian minister!' 'A minister!' sez I; 'what on earth's a minister doin' flappin' 'round in a black night-gown an' playin' on a fryin' pan an' singin' nigger songs? He ought to be home readin' his Bible!' sez I. 'Well,' sez Maria, 'he's goin' to be one anyhow. He's jist in Var-city yet,' sez she, 'an' I guess it don't matter.' 'Well,' sez I, 'Maria Cotton, the sooner he gets out o' Var-city, or whatever you call it, the better, for it must be a wicked hole!' Well, we didn't say any more about him, 'cause we was racin' an tearin' 'round to somethin' new all the time, an' I clean forgot all about it, until Monday night, I was goin' home a piece o' the road with Mrs. Fraser, an' Mrs. Basketful called to me that there was a letter from Maria for me. I was scairt for a minit, for I thought her an' the children must be all dead, she writes so seldom. But here if she didn't write to tell me the most surprisin' news you ever heard, no less than that my gigglin' dancin' chap with the bangjo was no less than our own minister!"
There was a chorus of startled exclamations. Everyone had guessed the end of the story, but it was astounding nevertheless when put into words.
"How I could ha' been so stupid as to forget," continued Miss Cotton, "I can't imagine. It's a good long time ago, though, an' Maria never told me his name; but now what do you think o' that, Mrs. Hamilton?"
"Dear, dear, ain't it awful!" exclaimed that lady, in genuine distress. She was of the old school, who considered a minister removed far beyond the frivolities of ordinary mortals, and was completely bewildered. "Mebby that was when he was sowin' his wild oats," she said at last, with some hope.
"Pshaw, mother, ministers ain't supposed to grow wild oats!" cried Bella piously. She was not as much enamoured of Mr. Egerton as formerly; for Wee Andra was openly antagonistic to him since his mysterious disagreement with Donald Neil.
"Don't any o' you girls breathe a word o' this," warned Mrs. Hamilton. "Andra Johnstone an' some o' the other elders aren't too well pleased with the poor fellow now."
"My!" sighed Maggie. "Wouldn't I love to tell Splinterin' Andra that the minister could sing nigger songs and play a banjo. He'd say—'Show me the sinfu' instrument of Belial an' Ah'll smash it into a thoosand splinters!'" She accompanied the speech with such an exaggerated imitation of the old man's vigorous gestures, using the poker in lieu of a cane, that the spectators shrieked with laughter.
"I'm afraid he'd smash the minister, too," declared Sarah.
"Oh, well," said Jessie, "I don't see that there was any harm in Mr. Egerton's singing and playing when he was young——"
"Oh, yes, o' course you'll take his part!" cried Miss Cotton. "But I'll tell you this much, I've got something more to tell, bigger than all that, something that'll make you think he ain't quite so perfect."
"Why, 'Liza!" cried Mrs. Hamilton in alarm, "there surely ain't more!"
"There jist is, Mrs. Hamilton, an' something pretty queer." She was whispering again, and her audience drew near with bated breath. "Maria wrote two whole pages about him, an' she left the worst to the last. She said, 'I s'pose he's a great fella' for the girls, he always was in Toronto, an'—Jessie's lookin' scairt, I do declare! Well, she said he'd better take care 'cause he was engaged to a high-toned lady in Toronto, engaged to be married, mind you! It's true, too, because Maria knows. She's rich, an' awful stylish, an' her name's Helen Weir-Huntley, mind ye, one o' them high-toned names with a stroke in the middle. An' Mrs. McNabb told Mrs. Fraser on the sly that Mrs. Basketful told her he wrote to a girl by that name every week o' his life, only not to tell. An' he gets a letter back every week, too, with a big chunk of red wax on it, an' some kind of a business stamped on; jist stylish folks uses that kind. So I guess you girls had better quit playin' organs an' doin' things for him!"
Jessie's face flushed crimson. "I don't see what difference that would make, 'Liza," she said with a steady look from her deep grey eyes.
"Well, well, ain't it awful!" commented Mrs. Hamilton for the fifth time, quite overcome by this second disclosure.
"Well, I think it's a pretty queer thing, anyhow," said the narrator, setting the sewing machine whirring again; "I don't set up for no saint myself——"
"That's a good thing, 'Liza," interrupted Maggie, who had recovered somewhat; "just think how it would bother you!"
"But I do say," continued the other, imperturbably, "that ministers ought to act different from common folks. And when I heard about his goin's on, I jist thought it wasn't any wonder he acted so queer about the organ. Bella, let's see if this band fits. Goodness gracious, girls, speak of angels! Who's that comin' in at the front gate?"
"It's him! It's the minister!" cried Maggie, dancing wildly around, "Let's go an' ask him how Miss Thingy-me-bob-with-the-stroke-in-the-middle-of-her-name is!"
"For pity's sake!" cried Mrs. Hamilton, an ejaculation of no particular meaning, but one she always used under unusual excitement.
"Bella, run an' show him into the settin' room, while I wash my hands out o' this bread. Who'd a' thought of him comin' here this mornin' an' us jist talkin' about him!"
"Mercy me, mother! I can't go to the door in this wrapper. Send somebody else; Jess, you look all right."
"Yes, Jess, you trot out an' show him in. Tell him the President of the Ladies' Aid's here, in a most pious frame of mind, and she'd like to hear him play the bangjo and sing the other Joe—'Old Black Joe,' or whatever you call him, and maybe he'll dance the 'Highland Fling,' too!"
"Maggie!" implored her mother. "He'll hear you! There's the knocker!"
The minister's sudden appearance put an abrupt termination to Miss Cotton's gossip, but the story did not end there. Jessie concluded for the time, that, though a minister, Mr. Egerton must be something of a flirt, and as Donald was now repentant she soon found no time to bestow upon his rival. The young minister missed the girl's pleasant companionship, but he soon discovered that there was much greater trouble ahead of him. The story of his musical attainments in his college days rolled through Glenoro, gaining in bulk as it progressed. For, contrary to Miss Cotton's warning but quite in accord with her expectations, the tale leaked out. Bella told it to Wee Andra, who told "the boys" at the corner. Syl Todd rehearsed it before Coonie the next morning, and that was all that was necessary. Coonie embellished it to suit himself, and produced such a work of art that he shocked Mrs. Fraser beyond speech when he delivered it to her at the top of the hill.
By the time it reached the Oa it was to the effect that in his college days Mr. Egerton had been a very wild and dissolute youth. Glenoro might not have objected to a thoroughly reformed villain, but this young man's gay conduct left them in doubt whether at heart he was any better now than in the past. Old Andrew Johnstone, who had been somewhat mollified by the young man's action in regard to the organ, was once more aroused. At first he paid no heed to the story, for his son had told it to him. Wee Andra did not think it necessary to repeat it verbatim; he was rather vague concerning details, but extremely serious. Some tale 'Liza Cotton had heard, he explained. It was quite true, he feared, something or other about his playing a fiddle and dancing, far worse than Sandy Neil had ever been guilty of, for this was in a theatre. Wee Andra knew the word theatre was to his father a synonym for the bottomless pit. "Mebbe the minister had been an actor once." Wee Andra hoped, for the sake of the Church, that it wasn't true.
"Ah, ye tale-bearer!" cried his father with a withering contempt, which could not quite hide his perturbation. "It's a fine pack ye meet every night in the Glen! Their only thought is to hear or tell some new thing, let it be false or true! Ye canna' even keep yer ill tongues aff a meenister o' the Gospel!"
"But this is true, father," declared the young man seriously. "'Liza Cotton saw him herself; you can ask her, if you don't believe me. Man!" he continued, growing frivolous again, "it'll be fine here next winter if he plays the fiddle! Sandy Neil's goin' to ask him to learn him some new dance tunes!"
"Ah, ye irreverent fool!" shouted his father, rising up from the dinner table where this conversation had been held. "Man, ye an' yon Neil pack neither fear God nor regard man! Get oot o' ma' sight!"
Wee Andra, having wisely deferred his last shot until his dinner was finished, obeyed his father's injunction with alacrity, and went off to the fields, consumed with unfilial mirth.
Meantime the subject of all this discussion was not oblivious to the fact that some strange undercurrent of feeling was working against him. Coonie was the instrument used to make a reality out of the intangible thing.
The mail-carrier was coming slowly down the hill one September morning with hanging head and sullen mien. Eliza Cotton had been sewing down on the Flats for over a week and he had not had any fun for a long time. He was just sweeping the valley with his green eyes like a huge spider in search of prey, when he caught sight of a tempting fly. The young minister was coming up the leaf-strewn path by the roadside. He was just turning in at the McNabbs' gateway, when Coonie pulled up. He had brought a bundle from Lakeview for the blacksmith's wife with his accustomed grumblings, and had intended to fling it over the gate, as he passed, in the hope that it contained something breakable. But now he recognised in it an instrument in the hand of Providence to give him the long-wished-for speech with the minister.
"Good-mornin'!" he called, rather crustily, for Coonie affected good manners before no one, no matter what was his aim. "Will you hand this bundle to the Missus in there, if you're goin'. It's some o' the fool truck I've got to lug across the country for weemen."
Mr. Egerton stepped towards the buckboard, and Coonie grinned as he saw the brilliant polish of his boots disappear in the grey dust of the road.
"Hope you're likin' Glenoro," he said as he handed out the parcel.
John Egerton met the unaccustomed friendliness of the mail-carrier with the utmost cordiality. "Oh, yes, very well indeed, thank you!" he answered, but without the enthusiasm he would have displayed a couple months previous.
"Awful place for talk," replied Coonie righteously. "Never saw the likes. If a fellow's ever done anythin' in his life he shouldn't a' done, cried too much when he was a baby, or anythin' like that, they'll find it out. S'pose you'll find they're rakin' up all the things you ever did?"
John Egerton looked at the questioner keenly. He was not sufficiently acquainted with this queer specimen to be able to answer him according to his folly; so he said curtly, "I am perfectly willing they should, Mr. Greene; I never did anything I am ashamed of."
Coonie's face expressed profound astonishment, not unmixed with gentle reproof. "Is that so? Glad to hear it, sir, glad to hear it." He shook his head doubtfully as he spoke, and rode away, his shoulders drooping suspiciously. He was in such good humour that seeing some of the Hamilton girls on the veranda, he drew in all the breath he was capable of and bawled, "Say, which o' yous girls is goin' to marry the minister? I hear you're all after him!"
There was a chorus of smothered shrieks and a sudden vanishing of whisking skirts within the doorway, and having satisfied himself that Mr. Egerton must have heard, Coonie swung his whip round old Bella and clattered up to the post-office in high glee. And Duncan Polite from his watchtower on the hilltop witnessed his meeting with the minister and prayed that the young servant of his Master might be speaking to Coonie of things eternal.
John Egerton returned to his study in deep annoyance. He now realised certainly that someone was circulating slanderous tales about him, tales that had caused Jessie Hamilton to avoid him. His thoughts instantly reverted to Donald. He had noticed him and Jessie strolling along the river bank nearly every evening lately; probably he was filling the girl's mind with disagreeable untruths regarding her pastor. He believed young Neil capable of it. The knowledge of his perfect innocence in the past only served to increase his anger at anyone who had dared to malign him. He waited until four o'clock and then went up to the schoolmaster's house and demanded an explanation.
Mr. Watson confessed all he knew, making the story as much like the original as possible. It was not Donald but 'Liza Cotton that had told it, he explained. At first the victim of the tale could have laughed at the absurdity of it all, it seemed so trivial. But that did not explain why Jessie Hamilton had so suddenly preferred Donald to him.
"Are you sure that's all, Watson?" he demanded, "absolutely all?"
"Well—," the schoolmaster hesitated, but he was the minister's slave and could deny him nothing. "There was something more, about your being engaged. They've even got the lady's name; the post-mistress indorsed it, too. Aren't they a pack of jackals, anyhow!"
The young shepherd went home without denying this imputation against his flock. He was overcome by a feeling of impotent rage against everyone in Glenoro. Did ever mortal man have such a position to fill? He must be all things to all men. He must have the inspiration of his grandfather in the pulpit, and the piety of Mr. Cameron in the home; he must be a hail-fellow-well-met with every country bumpkin who came under his notice, and he must have the manner of a judge pronouncing death, to meet with the approval of his elders. He must not pay attention to any particular young lady, and yet he must dance attendance upon all; he must have the gift of tongues in the Oa and an Irish brogue in the Flats. And just when he was pleasing the party he felt to be the most influential, and to him the most congenial, they must turn upon him and rend him for the very qualities they most admired in him! He was exasperated beyond endurance. He would resign: yes immediately, and leave the silly, gossiping place to its fate. And then he thought how it would look before his compeers: he, John McAlpine Egerton, the pride of his year, the hope of the professors, and the most promising young man in the college, could not manage this little back-woods church for one year. And then there was Jessie. Of course he was not in love with her, he told himself, but he did want her to think well of him. She had heard about Helen, of course. It was the old story. He could not lift his hat to a girl but the whole congregation must stand waiting for him to marry her. He fairly writhed in his indignation during the night, the only night his Glenoro congregation had disturbed his slumbers, and the next morning he was no nearer a solution of his difficulties.
The poor young man was treading a hard road, one which was made all the harder because it was of his own choosing. For he had, like the foolish priests of olden times, tried to do, with carnal means, a holy task which demanded heavenly, and was suffering the naturally resulting confusion and distress. For he had forgotten that the Jehovah who demanded holy fire from Nadab and Abihu, does so even to-day; and the priest who raises unconsecrated hands to His altar must even yet hear the dread tones of the Omnipotent—"I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me: and before all the people I will be glorified."
THE WATCHMAN'S DESPAIR
The summer was gone. The harvest days, the days of crimson and golden woods, of smooth-shaven fields, of orchards weighed down with their sweet burden, and of barns bursting with grain had come. A tingle of frost in the bracing air told that they must soon give place to winter.
One mild evening Duncan Polite sat at his shanty door, watching the sun go down behind the flaming trees. He knew the nights would soon be too chill for this pleasant pastime and he cherished each moment spent at his open door. In his sadness and anxiety, the glorious robes assumed by Nature at the sunset hour lifted, for a little, the shadow from his spirit.
But to-night the sun went down in a colourless silver glow, which prophesied winter and storms, and to Duncan the grey dreariness seemed in keeping with his feelings. For Donald had gone back to the city that day, and when he had bidden the boy farewell the old man had also parted with his great aspiration. Donald had come to him the week before, and with his usual frankness made known the fact that he could never entertain any further thought of entering the ministry, and had therefore abandoned all idea of returning to college. The sacrifice of his education was a great trial to Donald, but he could not return under a false pretence.
Duncan Polite made no appeal, uttered no reproof. He realised that he had been expecting this all summer, and he had become so accustomed to disappointments of the bitterest kind that this one did not move him as he had expected.
"It will be between your own soul and your Maker, Donal'," he said gently. "And I will not be urging you; for only the Lord must guide you to this great work." He sighed deeply and at the sight of the pain he was inflicting Donald's heart suddenly contracted.
"But you will be going back and finishing your colleging, my lad,—yes," as Donald protested vehemently, "you will be doing this for me, for my heart will be in it, and if the Lord will not be calling you to the church, you will be a good man, like your grandfather, and that will be a great thing, whatever."
Donald could not answer. Even when he came to say good-bye, he could find but few words of gratitude. But the reticent Duncan understood, and the young man went away with the fixed determination, that though he could not attain to his uncle's ambition, he would at least, with God's help, be such a man as would never bring dishonour upon Duncan Polite.
When his boy left him the brightness seemed to die out of the days for the lonely old watchman on the hilltop. He realised now how much he had hoped for and expected in the springtime, when Donald returned from college and Mr. McAlpine's grandson stood in Glenoro pulpit. When he thought of all his great hopes, he could not forbear, in the bitterness of his soul, saying to himself, as he saw around him the signs of a dying season, "The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
A figure grew out of the dusk of the road, and the gate latch clicked, and a familiar form, erect and sturdy, came up the path. Duncan arose with a sensation of comfort at the sight of his friend. Andrew Johnstone never went down to the village without dropping in for a few minutes at the little shanty.
Duncan brought out a chair, and together the two old men sat at the door and watched the stars come out in the clear, pale sky, and as if they were their earthly reflections, the lights appear in the valley. Andrew puffed a while at his pipe in silence.
"So Donal's awa'" he said at length, guessing partly the reason of the weary look in his friend's face.
"Yes, oh, yes,"—Duncan's voice was like a sigh—"he would be going back to-day."
"Aye, it's jist as weel. He'll come to nae mair harm in the city than he would in yon gabblin' crew o' young folk in the Glen. Man, Duncan, the Scripter described them weel. They're jist naething but the cracklin' o' thorns under a pot, aye, an' yon foolish bit crater that an ill fate has gie'n us for a meenister is the lightest o' them a'. May the Lord forgie the man that disgraced Maister Cameron's pulpit an' Maister McAlpine's name!"
Duncan did not seem to have the strength to combat his friend's statements; and Splinterin' Andra sailed on, encouraged by his silence.
"Ah dinna ken what's come till the man; he acted maist strange aboot the bit music-boax, an' whiles Ah hoped he'd got some sense intill him. But there's nae change in him. It's a tea-meetin' or a huskin' bee, or ane o' his society meetin's ivery night. Och, for a meenister wi' the grace of God in his heart an' a hunger for souls! We hae fallen upon ill times, Duncan!"
Duncan Polite roused himself with an effort. "They will not be so bad but the Father can mend them, Andra, an' indeed it will not be like the times when your father an' mine would be praying here for the Glen."
"Ah dinna ken that," replied old Andrew morosely. "If they didna' have a meenister in thae times, to show them the way o' salvation, they didna hae a bit worldling to lead them astray."
"Oh, it may be better than we will be thinking; the young folk now are always at the church, Andra, and at the prayer meeting."
"Hooch! an' they might jist as well be awa' for a' the good they get. There's a pack o' godless young folk in the Glen that naething but the terrors o' damnation'll iver reach an' they listen to a meenister who says 'peace, peace' when there's nae peace!"
"Oh, well, indeed, indeed,"—Duncan Polite's gentle voice again stemmed the torrent—"we must jist be praying for an awakening, Andra, like our fathers would be doing. And it will be coming," he added with a sudden fire. "But I will be fearing the sacrifice."
Andrew Johnstone paused in his fierce puffing at his pipe, and turned to look at his friend. The light of the dying sun touched his white hair and his thin face and showed the sudden, mysterious, supernatural fire in his deep eyes. The matter-of-fact Scot felt a strange sensation as of the presence of some greater power.
"The sacrifice, Duncan?" he asked in a tone of surprise. "Ye ken they will na' heed the one great Sacrifice that's already been made."
"Yes, oh yes, that's jist it, Andra." Duncan's voice sank to a whisper. "They have rejected the Sacrifice and the Lord will require one from among us. It would be a message to me."
His voice died away; his eyes seemed to pierce the violet mists of the valley with prophetic power.
Andrew Johnstone was silent, oppressed by a feeling he did not understand. Duncan continued, as though speaking to himself:
"Yes, oh yes, indeed. There will be a sacrifice, and I will be fearing it! What will the Lord require? It would be the first fruits in the olden times, Andra, and I will be thinking of Donal' an' Sandy an' the lads——"
"Ah, they're jist a scandalous pack!" cried the other, relieved at again being able to pour out his feelings upon something tangible. "Yon lad o' mine's the worst o' them a' wi' his singin' an' his dancin'. It's the blue beech gad they want, ivery one 'o' them. Ah wouldna' be botherin' wi' them lads o' Betsey's, Duncan; they're a sair burden to ye!"
"I have a burden, Andra," said Duncan, after a long silence, and speaking with an effort. "But Betsey's lads will not be making it any greater. I——" he hesitated again. To the reticent Duncan Polite the confession of his heart's secret was extremely difficult. "I have a burden," he continued, "but it is the whole Glen I carry, day an' night, Andra, day an' night!"
There was a wail in the old man's voice which sent a thrill of sympathy through his old comrade.
"Yes, they will not be like they were, and the sin will be growing; the tavern is at the lake yet; and the lads will not be heeding the word of God, and I will be saying, what will be the end, what will be the end?" He paused again; his friend was gazing at him wonderingly.
"My father would be praying and watching the valley all his life, for he would be making a covenant with the Lord at the big stone over yonder; you will be minding that, Andra. But when he died, he would be leaving it to me, and when he was going he would be saying, 'Duncan, lad, remember Bethel. God hath set you as a watchman on the hilltop here, to warn every soul from the way of death; see that He doth not require the blood of a soul at your hands.' And I would be thinking, in my presumption, that I would be like my father, and that I would be worthy for this work. And the Lord would be answering my father's prayer by sending Mr. McAlpine, and I would be praying, too, for a deliverer, but I would not be worthy; and He has punished my pride. And I will be bringing all this sin and worldliness on the place."
"It's havers ye're talkin', Duncan!" cried old Andrew sharply. "It's no yer fault! If the careless an' godless willna' listen to the Gospel ye're no to blame, man!"
"Look you!" cried the old man, pointing down the dim valley with its twinkling lights. "I will be seeing this day and night, all my life, and the Lord hath put it into my heart to be a watchman of souls. I have heard Him say it, 'Son of man, I have set thee a watchman ..... and if the people be not warned, and if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hands!' ..... 'At the watchman's hands,' mark you, Andra; and the sword of unrighteousness will be hanging over my father's Glen, and I will not be keeping my covenant!"
"Duncan!" cried his friend in alarm, "this is not right for you. The Lord doesna' lay the sins o' ithers on one man's heid. By their own deeds shall they stand or fall."
Duncan Polite shook his head slowly; he seemed scarcely to hear. "He would be showing me I was not worthy," he said, in deepest humility. "For I would not be warning the people as my father would, and I will be punished for my sin. The blessing will not be coming as in my father's time; for I will be hearing Him say, 'Bind the sacrifice with cords even unto the horns of the altar,' and what will it be, Andra, what will it be? The watchman will be an unfaithful servant. Oh, wae's me for a worthless vessel!"
Old Andrew's sympathy moved him to rough, quick speech. "Ye're tryin' to carry the sins o' people who must suffer for their ain, Duncan McDonald," he said, with a harshness Duncan did not misunderstand. "It's nane o' your fault, man!"
"It will be my inheritance, Andra," said the other, with quiet but firm conviction. "I would be hearing it, 'Son of man, I have set thee a watchman.' It would be a message to me."
There was a long silence, broken only by the distant sounds of the village. To the matter-of-fact Andrew Johnstone the mystic Highlander was a puzzle; but his faith and sympathy remained unabated. Duncan had never fully opened his heart before, and his friend stood awed at the depths revealed. He had little to say in reply; the elder was a man whose emotions, except that of righteous indignation, were kept suppressed. But every word of his old friend sank deep into his heart. He parted with a word of comfort.
"We mustna' forget that the Lord has us a' in His hands, Duncan," he said awkwardly, as he rose to go, feeling strange in his entirely new role of comforter to the hopeful one. "He is all-wise, an' He kens, ye mind."
"Oh, indeed yes, indeed yes." Duncan's tone was full of contrition for his late despair. "He will be a very present help in time of trouble."
But he sat at his dark little window, looking over at the place of his covenant until the shadowy, ethereal greyness of the dawn concentrated itself in a glorious bar on the eastern horizon and gradually grew into the great awakening of another day.
He had been disturbed in his meditations and prayers only once. At about midnight, a laughing crowd of young folk passed the house on their way to the village. They were returning from a husking bee. Duncan could hear their noisy, gay chatter, and among the merriest voices he could distinguish the one that he had once hoped would call all the youth of his valley to a higher and better life.
COALS OF FIRE
When Donald Neil left Glenoro his pastor drew a breath of relief. Donald's conduct towards him, since the day of the picnic had been above reproach, but try as he would, he could not help associating all his troubles with that young man. With his removal the minister was not surprised to find that his affairs settled down to their old happy level. The story of his youthful frivolity was dying out; when Coonie furnished a new variation of it every day, sensible people ceased to believe even the original. The young people, always ready to follow him, convinced themselves, though somewhat reluctantly, that he had acted rightly regarding the organ; and the older folk considered his conduct in that affair wise beyond his years.
Without any volition on his part he gradually drifted into his old intimacy with Jessie Hamilton. Since her reconciliation with Donald he had enjoyed very little of her company, and had missed it more than he cared to admit. Jessie admired him profoundly; the very fact of his being a minister set him immeasurably above all the other young men of her acquaintance. He must be a wonder of goodness and unselfishness, the girl felt, to give up his whole life to the service of God, and she was filled with a sublime joy to find that he deigned to single her out to assist him in his great work. Though she never dreamed of setting him above her hero, she felt compelled to admit that he must be a great deal better than Don, for Don had lately scouted the idea of being a minister. She felt herself highly privileged to be the friend of such a man. And since he was engaged to be married, there could be no harm in her being friendly with him.
Whatever mistakes John Egerton made, they were committed with the best intentions. He determined, while enjoying Jessie's friendship, to maintain a strictly impartial position among the young ladies of his congregation. But somehow fate seemed against him. The very night after Donald left there was a husking bee at Big Archie Red McDonald's in the Oa, and as he sat down in the long, noisy row of boys and girls and helped to fill the barn with laughter and dust, he found himself next to Jessie. He had never seen her look prettier, and she had never found him more entertaining. He threw himself into the work with all his might, and was so gay and so witty, that the common verdict was spoken by Big Archie Red's bigger and redder son, that "they didn't know what fun was until the minister came." He could not resist the pleasure of a walk down the great terraces in the moonlight in such pleasant company as Jessie afforded. That walk was the beginning of it; what was to be the end, all Glenoro was in a fever to know. There was no doubt of one thing; the minister was "keeping company" with John Hamilton's second girl whether his congregation liked it or not.
For a short season John Egerton experienced an uncomfortable sensation that he was not acting just rightly. This was at Thanksgiving time, when he paid his first visit to Toronto. As the train whirled him northward again, through the sunlit spaces of brown earth and blue sky, he told himself positively that he had gone too far with the little village belle, and that he must hereafter walk more circumspectly. For when he had found himself once more in the stately home of the woman he loved, and Helen, tall and beautiful, had swept into the spacious drawing-room to greet him, he realised, for the first time, what a difference lay between the queenly young woman of society and the simple little country girl who had been absorbing such a dangerously large amount of his time and thoughts. Helen, so composed, so elegantly poised, so thoroughly at home in the best social circles of the city, would be a perfect companion for him, one in every way suited to take her place at his side in the brilliant career he had mapped out for himself. Jessie would have looked out of place, he feared, in Helen's elegant home.
But when he returned, and met the Glenoro girl coming down the northern hill, her nut-brown curls dancing in the wind, her cheeks crimson from its caress, her eyes as clear and radiant as the river which flashed before her, he was forced to admit that Jessie was as perfectly in accord with her surroundings as Helen had been in the flower-scented drawing-room. He was bewildered. Was it possible, he asked himself, for a man to have two natures, quite distinct in tastes? He worried himself almost to distraction over the question; but as there was no one to answer it, he drove it from his mind by spending the evening at the Hamiltons' teaching Jessie to play chess.
And so the autumn passed very merrily for the minister of Glenoro, disturbed only by occasional doubts as to his course, until, with the opening of winter, came the Christmas holidays and Donald Neil. Duncan Polite's heart grew happy again under his boy's sunny presence. Donald's deep regret at the disappointment he was causing his best friend made him assiduous in his attentions to Duncan. He spent so much of his time at the old shanty on the hill that the old man's cares were for the time forgotten.
Unfortunately, Donald's advent brought anything but peace in other quarters. John Egerton asked himself with keen self-reproach if it were possible that he was jealous of the young man. He could not help resenting Donald's cool manner of appropriating Jessie's time and attention. The young minister was not accustomed to being set aside in that lordly fashion. He felt it was high time that this haughty youth, who had behaved so ill to him ever since his arrival in Glenoro, was taught a lesson. He would show him that John Egerton was to be shoved aside by no man. So he steadily continued his visits to the Hamiltons', and abated not one whit his attentions to their pretty daughter.
Those were exciting days for Glenoro. Coonie was kept so busy manufacturing and spreading tales of the rivals, that he quite neglected Miss Cotton, and sometimes even forgot to linger on the road. Jessie, herself, seemed to enjoy the excitement as much as anyone. Perfectly secure in the knowledge that Donald loved her, and equally sure of her love for him, she felt there could be no harm in having "a little fun." She was carried away by the flattery, and took a foolish pleasure in encouraging both young men. She lived only in the intoxication of the moment, quite careless of the fact that she was laying up sorrow for herself as well as for others.
The winter had opened with a severe frost preceding the snow, and the Oro was a glittering sheet of ice. In the daytime the school children covered the shining expense, and when a game of shinny was in progress Mr. Watson might ring his bell till it cracked. But in the evenings the grown-up youth of the village appropriated the pond. Every night it was black with skaters, while occasionally a group would spin away up the river under the dark, over-shadowing banks.
The pond, however, was the centre of attraction. For several evenings Wee Andra had been furnishing hilarious entertainment for the village by his agonized efforts to skate. Donald had undertaken the herculean task of instructing him in the art, and no one envied him his position. For while the Glenoro giant was not utterly devoid of agility on his native element, on the ice, and crippled by skates, he was as helpless as an ocean steamship without an engine and almost as difficult to navigate. The crowd generally gave him a wide space for their gyrations, for, when Wee Andra succumbed to the forces of gravity he never managed to descend unaccompanied.
One evening the tutor called in reinforcements. It was the last night of his holidays and he did not want to spend it all on even such a faithful friend as Andrew. So Donald summoned Allan Fraser to assist him in piloting his unsteady burden to the other shore. With their pupil hanging helpless between them, the two young men staggered uncertainly along, followed by a noisy crowd, very merry, and very prodigal of advice of a highly mirth-provoking order. Between his frantic lunges the victim was vowing death and destruction to all and sundry, from his faithful teachers down, as soon as he was free from the accursed shackles. The young man's wrath was not appeased by the fact that his supporters were weak with laughter and that Bella Hamilton was skimming gaily up the river with Mack Fraser, the most expert skater on the pond.
Jessie was circling around with Maggie, waiting for Donald. She had promised him this last evening. He was to join her as soon as he had dragged his friend once more over the slippery circuit. Just as Donald turned away, the minister came skating smoothly towards her. He had just arrived. Would Miss Jessie not come up the river a little way with him? She glanced across the pond. The boys were still struggling manfully with their wobbling burden. They could not be back for some time, she reflected. Don would never know if she took just one little skate up to the school house and back. She gave the minister her hand and they glided up the winding silvery track to where the moonlight was hidden by the towering river banks.
Meanwhile, Wee Andra, goaded to desperation by his absolute lack of success and the facetious remarks which were rendering his guides weak and incompetent, resolved to give up the hopeless struggle. He shoved aside his supporting comrades fiercely, and came down upon the ice with a crash that seemed as if he had decided to end his tortures Samson-like and die with his tormentors. But fortunately the ice held.
He tore off his skates, and, hurling them in the direction whence had arisen most of the remarks upon his uncertain locomotion, leaped up and charged headlong into the ranks of the enemy.
Very much relieved, Donald skated back eagerly to Jessie. When he reached the spot where he had left her, he saw her disappearing with his rival up the glittering pathway. Donald's face grew dark with anger. He was too indignant to consider that he had returned much sooner than she expected. He realised only that she had left him on this his last night, and for that fellow! He turned with a fierce jerk, and almost skated into Maggie. That young lady was darting wildly here and there in her efforts to elude Syl Todd. Whatever trouble Syl might have with his head, he was the perfection of nimbleness with his feet, and Maggie was almost cornered. She clutched Donald's arm.
"Oh, Don," she cried, "get me out o' this. That crazy little mosquito is after me again!"
Glad of an excuse for swift motion, Donald caught her hands and swept her forward with a force that made her gasp. Away they spun in a mad race up the river, Maggie propelled by the impulse of a wild glee, Donald by the anger that was consuming him. Neither had any thought of the direction they were taking, neither dreamed that their winged flight was to be a race with death.
A few moments earlier Jessie had declared that they must turn back. They had gone farther up the river than they had ever ventured before, and she was troubled at the thought that Donald might be waiting. John Egerton felt chagrined at her evident anxiety to return. He could not shut his eyes to the fact that Donald was very much to her, perhaps everything. "Let us cross here, and go down the other side," he suggested, wishing to prolong the pleasure. They glided out from the shadow of the overhanging cliffs, the ice ringing beneath their feet. Here the banks were close together, and a narrow strip of moonlight marked the middle of the stream. Just as they touched its silvery edge, there came a loud crackling sound. John Egerton realised with appalling suddenness that he had made a fatal mistake. With a powerful swing of his arm he sent the girl flying forward. "To the shore!" he shouted. Before Jessie could grasp his meaning she felt herself darting forward with the impetus from his arm, and at the same instant the ice beneath her companion gave way with a sickening crash, and he was engulfed in the swirling black water.
The girl's wild scream of terror was scarcely uttered when there was a rush past her; she realised as if in a dream that Maggie was beside her and that someone was darting out towards the middle of the river, grasping a stout rail. The sisters clung to each other for an instant in dumb fear, as they saw in the narrow strip of moonlight, the minister's head, just above the black hole. He was clinging desperately to the edge of the ice, which broke off now and then in his benumbed grasp. Donald shouted a word of encouragement, and laying the rail upon the ice he threw himself across it and worked cautiously forward. As he went down upon the rail there was a cry from the bank.
"Oh, Jess, Don's in too!" gasped Maggie, faint with terror. Jessie's heart stood still. In the darkness of the shadow Donald's figure was scarcely discernible to her terrified gaze.
"Oh, he's gone down," she cried; "if he drowns I'll die!" She tore herself from Maggie's grasp and shot down the stream calling for help.
As Donald reached cautiously forward and clutched the drowning man in an iron grip, Jessie's cry of terror floated out to him. He never dreamed of applying the words to himself. In the whirl of the moment he scarcely grasped their meaning. That came to him later with overwhelming force. With all his strength he was struggling to draw his burden up on the ice. But already Jessie had returned with assistance; another rail was being propelled towards the dangerous spot, another pair of strong arms were stretched out and in a few moments the young minister was dragged back, unconscious, into safety.
The next morning brought to John Egerton a vivid recollection of the last night's events. His first impulse was to get out of his bed and go straight to Donald and thank him from the bottom of his full and humble heart. But Mrs. McNabb sat at his side, sympathetic but inexorable. He was not to move out of his bed that day, she commanded; Mrs. Fraser had left instructions to that effect. The helpless prisoner appealed to Peter Junior. That young man came into the room before going to his work to see if his hero had quite recovered. "See what your mother's doing to me, Pete," he complained, half laughingly. "I'm as well as you are, and she won't let me get up. I want to see Donald. He pulled me out all alone, didn't he?"
Peter Junior was a garrulous youth of seventeen indiscreet summers. He was enthusiastic over Donald's courageous deed. "You just bet he did, Mr. Egerton!" he cried, seating his blacksmith's overalls on the minister's immaculate white counterpane, too eager to notice that his mother was telegraphing frantic disapproval. "You just bet! Mack Fraser got there in time to give a little pull, but Don did the most of it. Say! but it was fine though! All the fellows 'round said it was jist nip an' tuck for about a minit whether he'd go in himself or not!"
"It was simply splendid of him!" cried the minister warmly. "I shall never be able to thank him."
Mrs. McNabb left the room for a few minutes and her son became confidential.
"Say, though," he exclaimed sympathetically, "all the fellows was sayin' last night it must be kind o' awkward for you, havin' Don pull you out. They're all wonderin' how Jessie Hamilton'll take it."
If Mrs. McNabb had happened to take her patient's temperature at that moment she would have been highly alarmed. But it was impossible to resent Peter's blundering sympathy.
"Where's Donald?" he asked, with an effort. "I must see him."
"He went off this mornin' early. Sandy drove him to Mapletown. Don't know what he was in such a fearful rush for. Allan Fraser's goin' on the same train an' he doesn't go till the afternoon. Hello, there's Flo yellin' at me. Now, you take care o' yourself, an' do what mother tells you," he added, rising, and gazing affectionately at the young minister. "You'll soon be all right. There's been about a thousand people here this mornin' already askin' for you."
John Egerton scarcely heard the kindly words. Left alone he turned his face to the wall. He was descending the valley of bitter humiliation and regret. Donald Neil, the young man he had almost hated, had saved his life at the risk of his own, and had then gone off apparently to escape his thanks. Did the young man despise him so much then? His conscience smote him relentlessly as he went over the events of the past two weeks. How must his conduct have looked in Donald's eyes? And he the minister, the guide and example of the young men of the community. It was impossible to bear his self-accusation and lie inactive. In spite of his landlady's prayers and protests he insisted upon rising. He felt rather weak and giddy, but he got to his writing desk and there poured out his repentant soul in a letter to Donald. He thanked him humbly from the bottom of his heart for the great service he had rendered him. He hinted that if he had ever done Donald an injury, either in word or action, he was willing to make amends ten-fold. He declared that he was ready, nay anxious, to do anything or everything that Donald might suggest that would in any small way help to repay him for what he had done.
Donald was touched by the letter. It was impossible not to read the sorrow and repentance in it, not to feel its ring of truth. He pondered over it deeply. A man who could write such a letter as that could not but be honourable, he reflected. And why should he blame him for falling in love with Jessie? Indeed Donald confessed that he did not see how he could help it. And was he justified in hating the man because he had won that which he himself had lost? It was hard to be generous, but Donald's nature was so essentially honest he could not but respond to the heartfelt words. He intended to answer the letter the very next evening, but was prevented by an invitation to the home of one of his professors.
Donald was glad to escape from his own moody thoughts, so, early in the evening, he found himself packed into a layer of fellow students against the wall of the crowded drawing-room. He was listening absently to the strains of music that floated in from another room, when he felt himself clutched violently from behind. He turned to meet an elegant young man, small and dapper, who was struggling eagerly to his side. Donald recognised him as a law student whose field of labour was in society, and who went by the name of Dickey Deane.
"I say, McDonald," he whispered eagerly, when he had dragged Donald aside, "don't you hail from Glenoro, or some such place, and don't you occasionally masquerade under the title of Neil?"
Donald confessed that he was guilty on both counts.
The young man slapped him joyously upon the back. "By Jove!" he cried enthusiastically, "I've found you at last! Come along here, my Eureka; there's a young lady here waiting to fall down and worship you. Didn't you pull the Reverend Egerton out of a hole in the ice at Christmas? You close beggar, why couldn't you tell people? And Jack Egerton's your minister! Well, Jupiter, wouldn't that drive anyone to drink! You'll know all about Miss Weir-Huntley, then. She's had me doing amateur detective work for nearly a week, running down a glorious hero by the name of Neil. I didn't know you had to travel incog. Come along here; you may be a questionable character, for all I know, but she thinks you're Neptune's own son. There she is, under the lamps, the goddess in pale green. Isn't she a stunner? Don't you wish you had let the Reverend Jack go under?"
Donald's grip brought the young man's headlong progress to a sudden termination. His brain was in a whirl. The young lady's name had awakened vague memories of Glenoro gossip.
"Hold on there," he said firmly, "what are you raving about? Who is Miss Weir-Huntley anyway, and what under the canopy does she want with me?"
"Why, you unshorn, backwoods lamb, she's the belle of Toronto! She's Jack Egerton's dearly-beloved, and finally and most important of all, she's the faithful and adoring worshipper of your glorious self!"
But Donald was in no mood for levity. He looked across the heads of the crowd at the regal young woman beneath the chandelier. "Do you mean to tell me," he asked, "that she's engaged to—to marry our minister, Mr. Egerton?"
"Why, of course. Everybody knows that. She's waiting till he gets famous. Don't faint! By Jove, old fellow, I believe you're hit already! All the fellows get that way over her; I'm a chronic case myself. Cheer up; shouldn't wonder if she'd throw Jack over for you. She's awfully taken with you already, and when she sees you——" He broke off with an extravagant gesture of admiration which was not altogether feigned.
Donald did not notice him; he was asking himself why he had not let the double-dealing cad drown, but the next moment he was bowing over a beautiful, jewelled hand and a pair of dark eyes were looking unutterable gratitude into his, and Donald felt ashamed. He left her as soon as was possible without seeming rude, and went home to face the matter squarely. This man, this despicable creature who had won Jessie's affection, was playing with her. He was amusing himself making love to the little country girl while this haughty young queen held his heart. Donald was torn by conflicting emotions. Should he write to Jessie and tell her? He was too sorely hurt to do that, besides she would not listen to him. Should he write to John Egerton and tell him in a few scorching words what he thought of him? In the end he did neither, and two in Glenoro who expected to hear from him wondered at his silence.
Miss Weir-Huntley found young Mr. McDonald a difficult puzzle. She wanted to show her gratitude to the young man who had saved Jack's life, but this strange youth would have none of her favours. He refused coldly all her invitations. Donald could not be friendly towards John Egerton's betrothed; Jessie's cry was still ringing in his ears. The young lady gave him up at last, concluding that he must be a boor in spite of his fine appearance and his courage. Only once was she able to show him any attention. She was driving home in her carriage when she came upon Donald crossing the campus. She insisted upon his taking the seat at her side as far as his boarding-house. As Donald stepped from the carriage and stood on the sidewalk bowing his thanks very gravely, Allan Fraser appeared at the street door. That young man was profoundly impressed.
"My eye!" he gasped, watching the elegant equipage disappear down the street, "the Prince o' Wales and all the royal family! I say, Don, is that the girl little Deane says is all gone on you? Who is she, anyway?"
Donald turned his back upon him in disgust. "Oh, shut up, will you?" he cried, slamming the door in his friend's face.
Allan uttered a long whistle. "Hello! it's serious, all right," he said to himself. "Christmas, but isn't she a daisy! I'm glad he's got over mooning for that little Hamilton flirt, anyway!"
The first great January snowfall was heralded by a leaden sky and a surly looking sunrise, and early in the forenoon down came the white flakes, thick and fast, whirling this way and that, until the valley and the surrounding hills lay pure and soft under their fairy covering.
In the afternoon Miss Cotton took her sewing, put a shawl over her head, and ran over to the Hamiltons'. She was lonely, and, besides, she had some news to tell.
"Here's 'Liza comin'," announced Maggie to the group sitting around the dining room stove. "Chuck full o' news, too, I know. I can tell by the way she's hoppin' along. Old Mother Fraser's jist gone away from there; she's been tellin' her something new about Mr. Egerton, I guess!"
She ran out to the hall and flung open the door. "Hello, 'Liza! Come along in; we're all here, Sarah'n all. It was too snowy for her to go to school. My, but you needn't bring all the snow in; leave a little outdoors for sleighin'."
"If you weren't such a lazy poke, Maggie Hamilton, you'd have a path shovelled to your gate; it looks like the track to a wigwam!"
"It's jist too bad, 'Liza," said Mrs. Hamilton as she swept the snow from her visitor's feet and skirts. "If I've told them girls once to sweep that path, I've told them a dozen times. Where's Mary Fraser been?"
"Up to see old Duncan Polite." Miss Cotton spread her cold hands over the stove, and surveyed the four girls sharply. "My, but you're pretendin' to be awful busy! An' Maggie sewin', too, as I'm alive! The poor old man's got brownkaties, she says."
Sarah covered her face with her French Grammar and giggled.
"Oh yes, smarty! You've got to snicker at somethin'. I s'pose they've learned you some new-fangled way o' sayin' it at the High School. But brownkaties is good enough for ordinary folks, an' bad enough, too. An' that's what the poor old fellow's got anyhow. They had a doctor out from Mapletown, an' Betsey Neil's been there three nights. He's had a cold all fall, Mrs. Fraser says, an' wouldn't look after it."
"Dear, dear," said Mrs. Hamilton in distress. "One o' you girls must run up to-morrow with some beef-tea or something. That's too bad. Sit close to the fire, 'Liza, it's dreadful cold."
"You'd better send Jessie up with the stuff," remarked the visitor, planting two trim feet upon the stove damper. "Maybe she'll get news o' Donald."
"How d'ye know she don't get news anyhow?" demanded Maggie.
"Well, I got some news I'll bet she never got. Don's up sides with you now, Miss Jessie!"
Jessie looked at her with a startled expression in her grey eyes.
"I don't know what you mean," she said with attempted lightness.
"Well, Mrs. Fraser told me to-day that Annie got a letter from Allan yesterday and he said Donald Neil was jist gone crazy over a city lady, a real high-flier, too, rich as a Jew, mind you; she has a carriage and she calls at the college every afternoon for my gentleman Donald and drives him home, coachman and footman and everything. Now wouldn't that kill you? I guess nobody in Glenoro'll be good enough for Don, now; he'll be gittin' stuck up, like all the other folks that take to book-learnin'"—she cast a meaning glance at Sarah, who smiled good naturedly. She rather enjoyed being considered proud of her educational attainments.
"Well, what do you think o' your old beau now, Jessie?" continued the visitor.
Jessie's cheeks were very pink, but she returned Miss Cotton's gaze steadily. "Why, I guess he's got a right to do anything he likes," she said indifferently.
"Well I should hope so, specially when you've been carryin' on with the minister all fall. I guess Don thought two could play at that game." She looked sharply at the girl, in some doubt. She really hoped she did not care, for 'Liza Cotton's heart was a kindly one, and she never told her tales from malice, but from a sheer inability to be quiet. "You'd better look out you don't lose both your beaux," she added. "You and the minister don't seem so chummy since Christmas. Did you have a tiff?"
Jessie's eyes sparkled, and the garrulous visitor knew she had gone too far. "I think that's my affair," said the girl quietly.
Miss Cotton laughed easily. "There now, you needn't get mad over it. Goodness me, I always thought you were the good-tempered one o' the family; you'll soon be as bad as Sarah for firin' up."
Sarah flew to defend herself, and incidentally to establish more firmly her reputation as the bad-tempered member of the household, and in the war of words which ensued Jessie's embarrassment was forgotten. Mrs. Hamilton sat and stitched placidly through the altercation, breaking in at last to ask if Mrs. Fraser had said Duncan Polite could eat anything. There was some chicken broth in the house she could send up with Babbie when she came home from school.
Jessie slipped away, when the conversation turned from her affairs and crept upstairs. So this was the reason of Don's silence. Someone else had her place in his heart. She realised with a sharp pang that it was her own fault. She had trifled with his love, because the minister's attentions flattered her, and now she was reaping her just reward. It was the first real trial of the girl's bright, easy life. But she came of a stock of pioneers, hardy folk, accustomed to shoulder the adversities of life, and she bore her burden bravely. Only her mother knew that the news of Donald meant more to her than wounded vanity.
Every day during Duncan Polite's illness, Mrs. Hamilton, as was her custom in all cases of sickness in the village, sent one of the girls to his house with some tempting delicacy, jellies or custards or gruel or beef-tea, the best she could produce. Jessie had refused positively, from the first, to take her turn at these errands of mercy; though she had always been very willing under such circumstances in the past. But 'Liza Cotton's words had aroused a feeling of delicacy regarding a visit to Donald's uncle.
But one day she found it impossible to refuse. Sarah and the little girls were at school, Bella and Maggie were away, and her mother was preparing to make the snowy journey up to Duncan Polite's house, when Jessie interfered. She would go this once, she said, but never again.
The morning was clear and bright, the world a dazzling vision of white, with here and there intense blue shadows. Above, stretched a cloudless dome of the same deep azure. The air was mild, and the girl let her dark coat fly open, revealing a jaunty scarlet blouse; her cheeks were pink and her eyes bright from the exercise. So it was no wonder that as she passed the McNabbs' a pair of admiring eyes watched her, their owner wishing he could find some plausible excuse for going up the hill that morning. But it was Friday, and his sermon was not yet commenced.
Duncan Polite saw Jessie coming. He was able to sit up at his window by this time and look over his little hedge of blooming geraniums at the glittering white world. One of the little girls had always come formerly, and he had been able to reward her with a wonderful story of the fairies that danced on the heather in the old land, or of Bonnie Prince Charlie, or some other charming personage. But this young lady was different. Duncan had scarcely spoken to her since the days she used to sit on his knee and have her turn at the stories. But he had long known that she was Donald's sweetheart, and he saw her come with feelings of mingled embarrassment and joy.
He arose quickly with all the natural courtesy that had earned him his name, and had the door wide open, before Jessie reached the steps. "Oh indeed, indeed, it would be too kind of you and your mother to be troubling," he said deprecatingly, as he took the little tin pail. "Come away in, come away!"
"You should not come to the door when you are sick, Mr. McDonald," said the girl kindly. "Are you better to-day?"
"Oh, yes indeed, yes indeed, I will jist be all right," cried Duncan, sweeping the snow from her small, neat boots. "And now you will jist be sitting by the fire for a rest after your long walk."
His tone was so eager that Jessie's heart was touched. She took the proffered seat, and Duncan in his pleasure and overwhelming hospitality began to cram the stove full of wood.
"Oh, I'm not cold, Mr. McDonald," she said, "not a little bit. Why, I was hot coming up the hill, the sun is so strong."
Duncan smiled at the bright, beautiful face. "Ah, it will be good to be young," he said, sinking into his old rocking chair again. "Oh yes, indeed. Then you will be taking off your things for a little?" he questioned nervously.
The girl slipped off her jacket and fur cap, and sat by the window, her curly head and her bright dress making a pretty picture in the bare little room. Duncan regarded her with a wistful admiration.
"Oh yes, yes," he sighed. "You will be minding me o' the times when Betsey would be a lass, and my father and mother would be here."
Jessie's soft grey eyes were full of sympathy. "I suppose everything has changed for you since then, hasn't it?"
Duncan nodded. How sadly things had changed for him, the girl could not guess.
"Father always says," she continued, "that people aren't nearly as good now as they were in the old times, when Mr. McAlpine used to come here. He says we young folks have too good a time." She gave a little half-apologetic laugh.
Duncan looked up suddenly with a feeling of joyful surprise. He had not dreamed that this bright young creature would understand or appreciate his troubles, but she had touched the keynote at once. His sensitive nature opened to sympathy as a morning glory to the sunrise: his reticent tongue was immediately loosened.
"I will be afraid that sometimes us old folk will not be giving the young ones the credit they deserve," he said indulgently. "But indeed the lads and lasses in the Glen will be doing work in the church we would never be having in my young days. There will be this new society, whatever, the Christian Endeavour."
Jessie looked out through the red and green of the geraniums at the brilliant blue and silver of the landscape. She knew that the purpose of the new society was above reproach, but somehow she could not quite understand just what good it did. "Yes," she said vaguely.
"And you will be a member of the church now," Duncan ventured gently. "And I would be very glad to see all the young folk that would be coming to the Lord's table at the last communion, for it will be a very holy consecration to God."
Jessie felt her cheeks growing hot; she looked down at the bare, white floor.
"It will be a fine thing to be giving up the life to the Lord's work in youth," continued Duncan softly.
The girl looked up with an effort. She knew that her joining the church had had nothing whatever to do with giving up her life to the Lord's work. She had taken that step at the last communion because Bella and a large number of the young people of the church were doing the same, and because she had arrived at the time of life when, in her opinion, everyone was supposed to join a church; and most of all, because Mr. Egerton had asked her. He had never said anything about a holy consecration. She knew her catechism perfectly and could repeat whole chapters of the Bible; she had never done anything wicked in her life, not even what she considered wicked, and she had supposed these qualifications were sufficient. Mr. Egerton had given her the impression that he had thought so at least. Duncan Polite's conception of the act seemed entirely different.
"I know we all joined the church, but it didn't seem,—I didn't think it was like that," she faltered. "I don't think I'm any different."
"Oh, indeed, you will be a good lassie, yes indeed, oh, yes! But when the Lord calls His chosen to take of His broken body and His shed blood"—he whispered the sacred words tenderly—"He will be expecting them to do much for Him."
"I don't think I'm like that. I know I'm not," burst out the girl. "Mr. McDonald"—she looked at him, suddenly resolved to ask him some questions that puzzled her. She had never been able to bring herself to ask her father, and Mr. Egerton would not understand. "Is it wrong for all us girls and boys to belong to the church, and just go on acting the same? I—I like nice clothes, and fun, and—and it's just the same now, I don't see any difference." She stopped, overcome.
Duncan's brown eyes were radiating kindness. "My child," he said tenderly, "I will not be wise to tell you these things, but——" he hesitated a moment and a tenderer light came over his face; his voice sank to a whisper—"but if you would be having the vision, the vision of Calvary; if you would be seeing how the Lord Jesus put away His life for us, you would be knowing then that His work is all and these other things will be just nothing."
Jessie's bright head drooped, her eyes filled with tears. She was looking at her half-hearted, worldly interest in the work of the Master in comparison with Duncan Polite's devotion. The old man's words were not all; piety creates its surrounding atmosphere, stronger than any verbal expression of it, and Duncan's manner said far more than his tongue. He saw her emotion and with his usual tact changed the conversation to lighter subjects. Jessie's face grew brighter after that, and she chatted away unreservedly until it was time for her to leave. Just before she rose, Duncan lifted his old leather-bound Bible from the table and glanced at her timidly. "Would you be minding if I would read jist a word?" he inquired eagerly.
"Oh, I should like it so much," said the girl gently.
Duncan opened the Book reverently, his face glowing; then he paused and looked at her again. "Oh, but it is you will be the fine reader, and my eyes will not be so good, indeed, since this cold, and maybe you would jist be reading this now, and I would be much obliged, whatever."
Jessie took the Bible, and read where he had indicated. It was the sweet story of Mary, who sat at the Master's feet. She had read it many times before, but it had never seemed quite the same, for, when she finished, Duncan Polite said softly, "Yes, that will be it, oh yes, indeed, jist to sit at His feet and learn of Him."
That was the first of many visits the girl paid the old man. Duncan never left his own house, though his sister begged him to spend the winter with her. But the watchman must not leave his post, he felt, and his loneliness was more than compensated for by Jessie's visits. Through his long, weary convalescence the girl came regularly two or three times a week, with the dainties her mother was in the habit of lavishing upon the sick. At first her sisters teased her about her sudden change of mind regarding visiting Duncan Polite. Maggie declared she liked to go because she had to pass the McNabbs' and would likely see the minister, but Sarah gave it as her opinion that she went to get the latest news of Donald.
Jessie paid no heed to their raillery beyond smiling enigmatically. They little guessed her real motive. She looked forward to her visits eagerly as the winter progressed. Gradually her heart was opening to the old man's teaching. He said very little, but every word he uttered the girl carried away in her heart. The visit always ended by their reading a few verses of the Bible together, and one day, before she left, Duncan laid his hand gently upon her curls and said softly, "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee!" and she went away feeling that a benediction had fallen upon her.
At the time of these visits to Duncan Polite, Jessie was studying, with the other members of the Christian Endeavour Society, the life of Christ. The meetings were well attended, and Mr. Egerton gave them a most graphic and interesting account of the historical and picturesque aspect of the wondrous season upon earth of the Son of the Most High. But Jessie went up to the little shanty on the hilltop for the spiritual side. Under Duncan's gentle, humble dealing with the divine mystery, the girl gradually came to comprehend, in a measure, what Duncan had termed "the vision." She understood, at last, the meaning of the Great Sacrifice, beside which all possible human sacrifice stands poor and mean. She caught a gleam of the light from Calvary, and in its searching effulgent blaze all the faint glitter of worldly achievement grew dim and disappeared.
Among other things which she saw for the first time in their proper light was her association with the young minister. She knew now that only her poor pride in the envy she excited had made her desire his attentions. She looked at the man himself with new eyes, and though slow to blame another in her new-found humility, she could not help thinking how different it might have been with her and Donald had their pastor had more of the spirit of Duncan Polite.
But she did not criticise him; her own idle, careless life she found too full of faults to censure another. That life was gradually being turned to higher aims, for a new Jessie Hamilton had been born that winter, and one who was destined to help fulfil the old watchman's great desire.
THE CANADIAN PATRIOTIC SOCIETY
The winter passed swiftly and merrily in Glenoro. Since the accident on the river skating had fallen into disfavour, but the minister loved coasting, someone discovered, and the young people turned the south hill into such a splendid slide that the teams could scarcely get down to the mill with their saw-logs. Then there were parties and tea-meetings, and the weekly meetings of the many organisations in connection with the church. The young pastor and his youthful friends lived in a constant whirl.
This state of affairs brought down many a wrathful condemnation from the ruling elder upon the heads of the young minister and all his generation. Andrew Johnstone had well-nigh lost all hope of the young man's ever accomplishing any good. But he and Duncan Polite still clung to one straw. Every winter the Methodists held a series of revival services, and this year the Presbyterian Church was to be asked to join them. Such friendly relations had been established between the two denominations since Mr. Egerton's arrival in Glenoro that this was at last possible. Andrew and his friend looked to this period of special services as an anchor in the great tide of worldliness which, to them, seemed to be sweeping away their church.
But when the Methodist minister approached his brother clergyman with the proposition, Mr. Egerton was compelled to give a reluctant refusal. He was grieved at his inability to help Mr. Ansdell in any undertaking, but he had already promised all his spare time and energy to a scheme of the schoolmaster's. Early in the winter Mr. Watson had dropped into the minister's study, his small, thin face full of eagerness.
"Look here, Mr. Egerton," he said, tilting his chair back against the wall, "let's get up a patriotic society this winter; it'll keep things lively."
The young clergyman was already beginning to realise that he had very little time for reading or study and scarcely relished the thought of additional engagements. "What should you do at the meetings, for instance?" he asked.
"Oh, stir up a spirit of loyalty. I'm not just sure how; but you'd be sure to find a way."
"Why not make it a literary society, and study one of the poets; don't you think that would be better?"
Mr. Watson did not look satisfied. "I don't believe you're half patriotic," he said banteringly, "but I'll make a bargain with you. I know a literary society would be a good thing, and I'll go in for it head and feet, if you'll promise to call it the Canadian Patriotic Society, and let's talk about Canada for ten minutes or so before you begin on your poets."
John Egerton was rather pleased with the idea. Certainly young Canadians were grievously ignorant of their own country, and a literary society would supply a great want.
So the Canadian Patriotic Society was duly organised and from the first was a great success.
But a quiet weekly meeting at a private house was not sufficient for the insatiable energy and fervid patriotism of Mr. Watson. He decided that the Canadian Patriotic Society must come before the public. His last attempt at a patriotic demonstration had met with such humiliating disaster that he had abandoned all such projects for a time, but here was a grand opportunity to educate the public. They would give a patriotic concert that very winter and astonish all the township of Oro. Of course the society was ready for anything and was soon plunged in monster preparations for the event. It was at this juncture that Mr. Egerton was asked to assist in the period of revival services. But this new society and its concert completely filled his spare time, so the two weeks of special meetings, when the old minister laboured faithfully to bring souls to Christ, were carried on without help from his young confederate. The attendance was smaller than on former occasions, and the interest seemed faint. John Egerton was sorely troubled. He felt he could not be blamed, and yet his conscience rebuked him.
In spite of its immense popularity the Canadian Patriotic Society met with some opposition. As the minister was taking such an active part in it, Duncan Polite watched its development with a faint hope. But Splinterin' Andra soon dispelled his illusions. "It's jist some more o' his balderdash to keep young folk oot o' their beds at night," he declared bitterly. "Man, if the buddie'd be faithful to his Maister, he needna' fear for his country!"
Old Mark Middleton, whose forebears were United Empire Loyalists, was another active dissenter. Mark's ancestry placed him in a position to speak with authority upon such subjects and his opinion had some weight with the community. He declared that the whole thing savoured of rebellion, and he, for one, would be very glad if he were sure the schoolmaster and the Presbyterian minister weren't hatching some Irish plot against the Government.
Coonie found this a tempting morsel, and delivered it duly to the schoolmaster the first Saturday he found him at the corner. "Awful sorry to hear about the row you'n the minister are gettin' into," he remarked sympathetically, as he crawled into the store, and pulled his poor, half-frozen limbs up to the stove.