Mr. Watson turned sharply from the contemplation of the pound of butter Mrs. Watson had cautioned him to bring home, and stared at the speaker.
"What on earth do you mean?" he inquired incredulously.
"Why, didn't you hear?" Coonie's tone was a master-piece of pained amazement. "Why, old Middleton's kickin' like a steer about this patriotic concert you're gettin' up. Says he bets it's another Mackenzie business all over, and he'll have the law if it ain't stopped. An' Splinterin' Andra says that a minister o' the Gospel who——"
"Oh, go along, Coonie!" cried the other, much relieved. "You're surely old enough to know that Mr. Egerton's got more sense than to pay attention to anything quite so pre-historic as Splinterin' Andra! And as for old Mark," he continued impressively, "you can tell him, from me, that if there'd been a few more concerts like this long ago, William Lyon Mackenzie couldn't have raised a rebellion and wouldn't have wanted to if he could."
Coonie shook his head doubtfully. "'Fraid it would only make trouble. Mark says it's all danged nonsense. Awful language that old man uses!" He sighed piously, and, lighting his pipe, proceeded to make himself comfortable.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," he continued seriously, putting his feet on the top of the stove and expectorating into the open damper at a perilous distance, "I'll tell you one thing. This here dispenser o' religion you've got in this town tries to run too many shows at once. He's tryin' to keep the Gospel trade hummin' an' have his eye on all the fun that's goin' at the same time. I ain't up in the religion business myself; there ain't likely to be any wings sproutin' 'round where I'm at, but I can tell a minister from an alligator seven days in the week, an' without specs, too, an' the first time I laid eyes on that chap you've got now, I knew he wasn't the sort that made folks hop along to Heaven any faster than they wanted to go."
"You certainly ought to be a competent judge of a minister's duty, Coonie," replied the schoolmaster sarcastically.
Mr. Basketful paused in the operation of weighing the butter. "Coonie's right," he said, with conviction. "Mr. Egerton can preach, but 'e's not wot I call spiritually minded."
"That's it!" cried Coonie. "That's the word I'm rummagin' for; he's a sort o' sleigh-ridin', tea-meetin' parson. I didn't take much stock in old Cameron when he was livin'; you couldn't take a chaw o' tobacco without him knowin' about it, but all the same he was the genu-ine article. It was uncomfortable times for sinners when he was 'round. This chap's different grade; he needs a label on him."
Mr. Watson went out, banging the door in disgust, and Coonie kept himself warm for many a mile past Glenoro, chuckling over his joke.
But the schoolmaster was too enthusiastic to be depressed by such ignorant opposition. He felt that he was creating an epoch in Canadian history; he was stirring up a sentiment which would permeate the whole country from Halifax to Vancouver and from the international boundary to the north pole, a sentiment which would fire the lukewarm blood of this people and bring glory and honour upon Canada and George Watson.
If he had remained long enough in Glenoro, he might have witnessed a condition of affairs which would have surprised him. Could he have seen the boys he had taught in the school, grown to men, pushing and jostling each other in their jealous and frantic efforts to be of the glorious chosen few who marched away to uphold the old flag on the African veldt, could he have foreseen that the disloyal young Neil, who had been the first on that shameful Dominion Day to throw away his flag and desert his country, would one day face a whole regiment for Queen and Empire, he might have confessed that he had mistaken British reticence for lack of sentiment. But the schoolmaster, though whole-souled and well-meaning, was not by any means far-seeing, so he went on stirring up a spirit of loyalty with an energy worthy of a better cause.
Through it all John Egerton was dissatisfied and worried. He felt positively grieved over the loss of an opportunity to show his appreciation of Mr. Ansdell's friendship, and he knew that the elder people of his own congregation blamed him. He had another trouble, too, which he scarcely confessed to himself; it was the strange, subtle change in Jessie Hamilton. When Donald ignored his humble letter, his repentant mood had slowly vanished. He told himself the young man was all he had suspected, and not worth his trouble. He would have resumed his attentions to Jessie with a clear conscience, but was met by a gentle but firm opposition. He was puzzled and annoyed by the change in her. She was as sweet and friendly towards him as of old, but her manner of timid deference seemed to have changed to an intangible air of superiority. The young pastor could not know that she had passed far beyond him on the spiritual road, and the distance between them bewildered him. He began to realise too, to his chagrin, that she was avoiding him. No matter what pains he took to seek her company, she managed, in some mysterious way, to elude him. He wondered gloomily how much Donald Neil had to do with the change.
But soon all personal affairs had to be set aside, for the date of Mr. Watson's great celebration had arrived. Whatever diverse opinions there may have been in the community regarding the aims of the patriotic society, all seemed unanimous in regard to attending their entertainment. The concert was to be given in the Methodist Church, while tea was served previously in the Temperance Hall across the street.
At an early hour eager spectators began to pour in.
Inside the hall, waiters, struggling through the crowd around the tables, left more cake and pie upon the human obstructions around them than they carried to the hungry folks already seated. Turkey, sandwiches, cake and pie disappeared as if by magic, as the long tables were filled again and again.
Waiters flew, dishes rattled, babies cried and everyone talked and laughed and made a noise. And every five minutes the door would fly open, creaking on its frosty hinges, to admit a rush of chill, fresh air and still another crowd.
The cooking had been done on a tremendous scale, and the results were beyond praise. The North and the South had "played a drawn game," Wee Andra declared; for even Mr. Egerton, seated with the Methodist minister at the head of the longest and most heavily-laden board, was unable to detect one slight shade of greater excellence in one than the other and ate Northern pies and Southern tarts with an impartial relish.
He and Mr. Watson succeeded after supper in extricating themselves from the hungry crowd. They crossed the street to where the windows of the church gleamed warm and bright.
"Well, Watson," said the minister encouragingly, "the crowd is here at any rate, whether it's a patriotic one or not."
"Yes siree!" The schoolmaster was in high spirits. "If it's not patriotic now, I'll bet my head it will be before we're done with them. This is all owing to our efforts!"
But John Egerton did not share his enthusiasm. He was watching morosely three figures that were just disappearing into the church ahead of him. They were Jessie and her father and mother. She had formed the habit lately of going out only with her parents, and when they remained at home she stayed with them, much to their wonder and delight. When he entered the church he found her safely ensconced between the two, and knew there was no opportunity for him to gain a word with her.
"Here comes the choir!" announced a voice from the back, as the broad shoulders of Wee Andra heralded their approach. That august body walked leisurely to their seats of honour in a bower of evergreens behind the organ, secure in the knowledge that the meeting could not possibly commence without them. They were soon settled in their places, and Syl Todd found to his unspeakable delight that he was seated next to Maggie Hamilton. His father and mother, seated in the front row, nudged each other in ecstasy at the sight of their son sitting up there on the platform with the minister and the schoolmaster and looking far handsomer and better dressed than either of them.
But poor Syl did not derive as much enjoyment from his proud position as did his parents. Maggie was extremely difficult. "Ain't the decorations lovely," he remarked, by way of a propitiatory opening of conversation. "If it hadn't a' been for you, Maggie, them flags wouldn't a' been hung near so graceful."
His divinity jerked herself round impatiently. "Oh, my goodness, I wish something else had been hung besides flags," she said with heartless meaning.
Syl laughed nervously. "Oh Maggie, you are such a tease! I never seen such a monkey of a girl as you. Look here what I got you." He handed her a little white candy tablet on which was printed a sentimental inscription. "I bought three pounds of them congregational lozengers at Basketful's to-day jist for you."
Maggie glared at the unoffending piece of confectionery, but did not deign to touch it. "My, but you must have thought I could eat like a horse!" she remarked scathingly. "You can give them to Julia Duffy," and she flounced out of the seat to another at some distance, leaving Syl to endure an evening of tormenting doubt as to whether he might see her home.
Mr. Watson came bustling over nervously to confer with the choir leader. "The crowd's nearly all here, do you think we'd better start, Andrew?"
"Jist as you like," was the reply. Wee Andra was of too huge proportions to be moved by any excitement. "There's Mr. Thomas Hayes, M. P., no less, comin' in at the door now!" he added, stretching his neck to get a view of the other end of the church and sending a rather unstable cedar tree and a deluge of flags crashing upon the organ. "Gosh, I've pulled down the whole shootin' match!"
Mr. Hayes was the Member of Parliament for Glenoro's constituency, as well as the Burke of the Flats, Oro's Irish settlement. He was the only orator honoured with an invitation to address the meeting. Mr. Watson hurried down the aisle to welcome the distinguished visitor, amid a hail-storm of conversation lozenges. When he had been brought to the platform and duly honoured everything was in readiness.
Glenoro custom demanded that all such affairs should be opened with prayer, but in his capacity of chairman, Mr. Watson did not see fit to call upon either clergyman to perform that ceremony; the programme was long enough, he reflected, and the praying could be dispensed with easier than anything else. The audience settled into expectant silence as Mr. Egerton arose and in a few well-chosen words explained the double mission of the Patriotic Society, and the aim of its entertainment. His audience listened attentively, and, judging from the applause that followed, seemed to be quite in sympathy with the movement. It is true that some of the babies, not yet old enough to realise their glorious heritage, occasionally interrupted his remarks, and one disloyal youth shied a "congregational lozenger" across the room; but the speaker did not appear at all disturbed.
The programme which followed was one calculated to arouse the most sluggish soul present. The choir sang quite thrillingly "The Maple Leaf Forever"; the mouth organ and concertina band played "Upon the Heights of Queenston" four times through without stopping to take breath; while the boys at the back of the church kept time vigorously with their feet. During the performance Sim Basketful made several ineffectual excursions to that abandoned region to demand order, but was met by a fusillade of confectionery. Wee Andra roared out "The Battle of the Baltic" at the top of his prodigious lungs, and was thunderously encored. The fact that in his exit he once more knocked over the evergreen tree with its burden of flags detracted not one whit from either his or Nelson's glory. Then Annie Fraser played "The Battle of Waterloo" on the organ with an execution quite worthy of the carnage of that event. The only drawback to it was that Sandy Neil, who had been detailed to announce each different part of the action, and apprise the audience of the fact that certain sounds meant "cannonade," while others symbolised the "cries of the wounded," as usual allowed his spirit of mischief to carry him away. He sang out the names of the different movements in the long-drawn-out tone associated with "calling-off" at a dance, much to the horror of the staider portion of the audience. Mrs. Fraser told 'Liza Cotton afterwards that it just gave her a turn with her heart to see her Annie sitting right up there in the midst of such iniquity.
Crooked Sandy McDonald, who was as straight as a pine stem, but who lived under the misfortune of his ancestor's distinguishing appellation, and who, next to Syl Todd, was the best elocutionist in the neighbourhood, recited "The Charge of the Light Brigade"; and though he said "Half a leak" owing to the inconvenience of a Highland accent, he rendered the selection with such vim that his efforts brought down the house, and a deluge of lozenges.
Such a warlike programme had never before been heard in the township of Oro. The very air seemed to smell of gunpowder. The schoolmaster was electrified. He sprang to his feet almost before the Light Brigade had ceased charging, and announced in a voice high and tremulous with emotion that the auspicious moment had come, for they were now to be favoured with the great feature of the evening, a patriotic address by Mr. Thomas Hayes, Member of Parliament!
Mr. Hayes arose with the ease and deliberation of an old election campaigner. He was a tall, lean man, with bright penetrating eyes, and a delightful suspicion of an Irish brogue, a man with hands horny from the plough and a brain that belongs only to the rulers of men. He represented a political party that had its stronghold in Glenoro and its impregnable fortress in the Oa; so he took his place upon the platform amid uproarious stamping and cheering.
Canada could not well have had a better champion. He spoke in the most glowing terms of his beloved land, of her wonderful scenery, her healthful climate, her free, hardy people, her glorious future. He reeled off enough information about her mines, her fisheries, her agricultural resources and her manufactures to fill an encyclopedia. He dilated upon the beauty and grandeur of Canadian scenery. He stood his audience upon the heights of Quebec and showed them the whole panorama of their wonderful country in one sentence. He swept from ocean to ocean; he swam the great lakes and sailed down innumerable rivers; he scooped out a canal to Port Nelson and shot across Hudson's Bay; he rolled across the prairies; he hewed down the forest belt; he dug gold in British Columbia; and, finally, he climbed the highest snow-capped peak of the Rocky Mountains and poured down from its dizzy heights the torrents of his eloquence; and when his bewildered hearers recovered from the delightful deluge, they found that the exponent of the Canadian Patriotic Society had skipped across the Atlantic and was thundering forth upon the wonders and beauty of Ireland!
This was a long way from Canada and the aims of the Canadian Patriotic Society, and the chairman's face lost its rapt look. John Egerton hid a smile behind the pulpit desk and that part of the audience that was of Irish extraction applauded uproariously. When, after nearly half an hour's lauding of the Emerald Isle, the orator did stop, he was so carried away by his own feelings that he wound up with a stanza, recited most thrillingly, from "Erin-go-Bragh" and sat down amid deafening applause without referring in the remotest way to his original text.
Mr. Watson was rising to announce the next piece, in a rather doubtful mood, when a voice from the back called out, with no uncertain sound as to either the sentiments or the origin of its owner, "Wot's the matter with England?"
There was a roar of laughter and a loud clapping of hands. Mr. Hayes arose again. He was too old a politician not to see that he had made a mistake in his one-sided speech. He was about to supplement it, and was beginning "Ladies and Gentlemen," when a loud voice from the centre of the church interrupted him.
Mr. Sim Basketful had sat with an expression of utter boredom during the latter portion of the member's speech, finally working himself up into a volcanic mood as it neared an end. His face was purple and his short, thick neck showed veins standing out dangerously. He might have held down his righteous indignation had it not been for the challenge from the back of the room, but the sight of that "blathering Irishman" rising in response to it was too much. Mr. Basketful was not of Mr. Hayes' political opinions and, besides that, was his rival upon tea-meeting platforms. He had convinced himself that it was due to the Presbyterian minister's interference that he, a Methodist, had been denied the honour of being the speaker of the evening. He, a class-leader in the very church where the performance was given, to be set aside for that Irish Catholic! He would show them all a thing or two before he sat down. He was standing now, looking straight ahead of him, and grasping the back of the seat before him, with true Saxon doggedness.
"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen," he shouted, and Mr. Hayes, who had met Sim Basketful many a time in his political campaigns, sat down, somewhat disconcerted.
"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, if there's anybody in this 'ere haudience wants to know wot's the matter with Hingland, I'm 'ere prepared to state, sir, that there ain't one bloomin' thing the matter with 'er!" (Loud cheers from his Anglo-Saxon hearers.) "And wot's more, Ladies and Gentlemen and Mr. Chairman, I think it's 'igh time we were 'earin' just a little about that country that's made us all wot we are!" (Applause, mingled with noises of an indefinite character.) "We've been 'earin' a lot o' nonsense about Hireland and Hirish scenery and Hirish soldiers, but wot I'd like to be hinformed about, Ladies and Gentlemen and Mr. Chairman, is if anybody in this 'ere haudience is under the himpression that a Canadian Patriotic Society is a Hirish society!"
The withering contempt of the last words, and the cheers they elicited, brought the first speaker indignantly to his feet. Not one word could he get in, however. Mr. Basketful was a true Briton, and with the aid of a voice which drowned all competitors he clung to his theme with magnificent tenacity. When the noise calmed sufficiently for him to be heard, the audience found that he was discoursing fiercely and doggedly upon the inimitable land of his birth.
Sandy Neil, his eyes dancing, slipped out of his place in the choir, and made his way softly down the aisle at the side of the church. "Catchach's down there," he whispered to the choir leader as he passed; "I'm goin' to stir him up;" and Wee Andra threw back his head with a laugh which blew out the lamp on the organ.
But none of these things moved the patriotic Englishman. He was launched upon his favourite theme, his native land, and was irresistible. England was the only country in the world. He stamped, he sawed the air, he used metaphors and similes and hyperboles in a vain endeavour to give some idea of her glory. He eulogized her commerce, her statesmen, her Queen. He brought up her infantry, he charged with her cavalry, he poured upon his hearers her heavy artillery. And at last, backed by the whole great English navy, he swept every other country off the face of the globe and retired to his seat behind the stove, the Wellington of one last, grand, oratorical Waterloo.
Mr. Egerton reached over and, catching the distracted chairman by the sleeve, shouted above the din that if he wanted to avoid further trouble he must either close the meeting or make the choir sing something, and be quick about it. The chairman arose and strove to make his voice heard above the noise, but the chirping of a sparrow in a tempest would have been as effectual.
For down at the other end of the church a most alarming tumult was in progress. Cries of "Order!" and "Sit down!" were mingled with "Go on, Catchach; speak up! Scotland forever!" and equally ominous sounds.
Through the struggling crowd a man was fighting his way fiercely to the platform.
"Order! Order!" shrieked the chairman. But the disorderly person had reached the platform, his red whiskers flying, his blue eyes blazing, and his big fists brandishing threateningly above his head. It was Catchach! The schoolmaster sat down very discreetly and hastily. It was Catchach, worked up to a white fury over the insult to Scotland—Scotland, the flower of creation, to be neglected, while the scum of the earth was being exalted!
"Mister Chairman, Ladies an' Chentlemen!" he shouted, "I will not pe a public spoke, as you will pe knowing, put—" he went off into a storm of Gaelic, but suddenly checked himself, at the roars of laughter from his Sassenach enemies. The ridicule saved him—and Scotland. He had been incoherent with rage, but that laugh steadied him, and settled him into a cold fury. He would make a speech for the glory of Scotland now, if they pulled the church down about his ears. And he did it well, too. England was forgotten, Ireland was in oblivion, Canada did not exist. But Scotland! the land of the Heather and the Thistle! Catchach grew wildly poetic over her. The noise of English groans and Irish jeers and Scottish applause was so great that much of the effusion was lost, but in the intervals of the uproar could be caught such snatches as, "Who iss it that hass won efery great pattle in the last century? Ta Hielanders!" "Who won ta pattle of Palacklafa? Ta Hielanders!" "Who stormed ta heights of Awlma? Ta Hielanders!"
On he swept down to the last page of history, shouting the answers to this glorious catechism with a ferocious defiance that challenged denial; and at every shout there was an answering roar from the inhabitants of the Oa which threatened to dislodge the roof.
The distracted chairman had not the courage to attempt to stem the torrent. He did not care to obtrude himself inside Catchach's range of vision, for before he was done with Scotland the orator was rolling up his sleeves and calling out like Goliath of Gath for all the township of Oro to come forward and contradict him. Many of the audience became alarmed, and some of the older folk were starting for the door, when at last the flow of fiery eloquence ceased. How he ever managed to stop, no one could understand; some people said they supposed he had come to the limit of his English. If Catchach had been able to address his audience in Gaelic, it is likely they would not have seen their homes until morning.
But he did stop at last, and went tearing down the aisle and out of the door, shaking the dust of the place from off his feet. The back row arose in a body, and went roaring after him, for Catchach in a rage was better than all the patriotic demonstrations on earth.
The meeting broke up in complete disorder. The hour was unconscionably late, and the remainder of the long inspiriting programme had perforce to be omitted. Those of the audience who remained sang "God Save the Queen" in a rather distracted fashion and hurried away with the firm conviction that a patriotic concert was an exceedingly improper performance.
As the unhappy chairman and his confederate were leaving the scene of their disappointment Sim Basketful brushed violently past the Irish orator and confronted them. He informed them in a choking voice that if the Presbyterians were contemplating getting up any more such disgraceful performances, they would see that they were held in their own church, as the Methodists objected to having their place of worship turned into a den of thieves.
In the rush of preparation for the concert the winter had slipped away, and by the time it was over the days had come when the sun was too ardent for the snow's white resistance, when the roads became soft and almost impassable, and spring began peeping at the wintry world in brilliant sunrises and sunsets.
When the young minister of Glenoro found that the long winter evenings, in which he had planned to accomplish so much, had gone, he could not help looking back over the past season of feverish activity with regret. One evening in early spring as he walked down the great stairway that led into Glenoro he was reviewing his winter's work with the feeling of self-dissatisfaction that was so common to him now. Every step he took seemed to lead him into greater depths of despondency.
The evening was one which might have raised the most discouraged soul. Before him lay the white valley overspread with the soft radiance of a late winter sunset. The gold of the hilltops where the sun's rays had full play, the soft rose, the delicate green and the faint lilac where the shadows of the valley met and mingled with the brightness, the deep purple-and-grey tones of the woods by the river made a picture such as only the magic of winter can paint. The air was motionless, and the smoke from the houses in the village rose in stately columns straight into the still atmosphere, colourless and ethereal in the shadow of the hills, but changing into pearl-white as they rose beyond their rim, and blossoming, where the sun's rays caught them, into gigantic frost-flowers of rose and amethyst and violet.
The noise of children playing on the millpond, the barking of a dog, the musical clang of Peter McNabb's anvil arose to the hills where the minister walked. Away across the valley a sleigh was moving slowly down the winding road; he could hear the clear tinkle of the bells as though they were at his side.
But the young man was too absorbed in his own sad reflections to notice his surroundings. He was asking himself what progress he had made in Glenoro with his tremendous activity and his multiplicity of meetings? What had he accomplished in the past winter? He thought with disgust of the Canadian Patriotic Society. He had given up the revival services for the concert and Mr. Watson's romantic nonsense, with the result that it had brought upon him both ridicule and discredit. He could not help wondering, now that he was on such intimate terms with all the young people of the congregation, what was to be the result. Were the pleasant relations he had established to be the means to a better end or was this all? Was he really going to be their pastor in the true sense of the word, or merely an agreeable companion?
He sighed deeply over these perplexing and haunting questions. He did not confess, even to himself, however, that their burden was augmented greatly by another problem that had vexed him all winter. It had assumed a graver aspect that very day, owing to a piece of news he had heard at the dinner-table.
Peter McNabb, Junior, whose tongue was the McNabb's family skeleton, had started the meal with, "Say, folks, Don Neil's comin' home to-morrow. Neil told me to-day."
"Indeed," said the blacksmith as he heaped Mr. Egerton's plate with fried pork and potatoes, "he's home early this spring."
"He's jist comin' for the Easter holidays; Sandy sent for him to come an' help with the logs. He's goin' back again after. Sandy an' all his gang are at the camp back o' the lake there waitin' for the ice to break, an' I seen Jimmy Archie Red yisterday, an' he says they're havin' a whale o' a time, drinkin' an' cuttin' up like sin."
"Aye, aye," said Peter, Senior, shaking his head sadly, "poor Sandy's goin' like his father, Ah'm afraid; Neil More was too fond o' the drink. Duncan Polite'll be feelin' terrible, if he hears it."
"Mebby Don'll straighten them up when he comes," suggested Flora, who secretly admired the handsome young student.
"Indeed," broke in her mother, busy with the tea-cups, "I'm just afraid Donald's not much better. He seemed to be a steady boy once, but I guess he's got his head turned in the city. They say he's just filled with infidel notions."
"I've heard that he don't go to church, since him an' Jessie Hamilton split up last fall," declared Peter, Junior, injudiciously. He turned to his sister a face of indignant reproach. "What on earth are you jabbin' your feet into me for, Flo? It's true, every word. Mack Fraser says Allan wrote home——"
"Pass Mr. Egerton the pickles, Peter," said Mrs. McNabb, with a warning wink from behind the tea-pot. And Peter shoved the cucumbers across the table in sulky silence, wondering why on earth it was that he could never be allowed to speak at the table without some mysterious interruption.
But John Egerton understood perfectly, and this evening, as he walked down the hillside, his conscience was once more asking troublesome questions. Was he responsible for Donald's changed conduct? This man who had saved his life, had he really come between him and Jessie? Then there were those wild young men at the lumber camp; he knew most of them personally. As their pastor, should he not go to them? That would be rather difficult with Donald there. And then, he asked himself bitterly, what good would he do if he did go? He had always been a good fellow among the boys, but what more? His conscience forbade a satisfactory answer, and his spirits sank to a very low ebb.
He was aroused from his melancholy heart-searchings by the sight of Duncan Polite's little shanty by the roadside, with the sunset glow reflected in flame from the window panes. He must call and see if the old man's cold were better. He was not at all remiss in his duties of this sort and was so kind and sympathetic in time of sickness that he was always welcome. But he had not visited Duncan Polite very often, though the old man had been ill all winter. Ever since the night John Egerton had heard him wrestling in prayer, and had guessed dimly at what manner of man the silent old hermit was, he had felt uncomfortable in his presence. But to-night he realised that he should not pass without dropping in just a moment to see how he was progressing.
Duncan Polite answered his knock. He had an old plaid of the McDonald tartan over his shoulders, his face was white and emaciated, and a cough frequently interrupted his utterance. But his eyes were as bright as ever, and his face full of kindness. He welcomed his young pastor warmly.
"Eh, Mr. Egerton," he cried, smiling brightly at this young man who was breaking his heart. "Indeed it would be kind to come and see an old man, and the roads breaking up, whatever. Come away in, come away;" he drew up his best chair to the fire, and set his guest into it, bustling around and in every way he could ministering to his comfort.
The young man put his feet upon the damper of the stove, and tilted his chair back in the free and easy manner which had charmed Glenoro. "And how's that troublesome cough to-day, Mr. McDonald? better, I hope?"
"Oh jist, jist! It will be nearly gone, indeed. Betsey will be giving me drugs; but hoots, toots, the weemen must be potterin' about a body. I will not be sick at all, oh no indeed."
The minister knew that he ought to ask after Donald, but he could not bring himself to do so. Instead, he said, "I hear your nephew has a fine quantity of logs to bring down to the mill."
"Oh that would be Sandy." Duncan's face grew suddenly grave. "Yes, he will be a great lumberman, and Donald will be coming home to-morrow to help him"—he paused and looked at his guest. A great resolution seized him. "Mr. Egerton," he said suddenly.
The young man looked up in some surprise. Duncan was leaning forward, his thin hands trembling, his face aglow with eagerness.
"Yes?" inquired the visitor encouragingly.
Duncan's humility was almost overmastering him, but he struggled on. "I will be very bold, to be asking you," he faltered. "It would be about Sandy and the lads. They would be good lads, but jist a wee bit careless, and I would be thinking they would be listening to the minister——"
He had spoken the very thought which had been troubling the young man on the road. "You mean you would like me to visit the camp?" he asked kindly.
Duncan's eyes were burning with hope. "Yes, oh yes! An' jist to be saying a word, you will be knowing best what."
He stopped, for his guest had started suddenly and was gazing eagerly out at the window. Duncan did not know that his eye had caught a bewitching glimpse of a blue velvet cap, with a wealth of golden brown curls nestling beneath. Jessie was walking into the village alone! The young man rose to his feet. He had scarcely had an opportunity to see the girl or speak to her for nearly a month. Surely there would be no harm in his taking this happy chance of a walk with her.
Donald would be home the next day, and it would be the last time.
"I am sorry I cannot stay and talk this matter over with you, Mr. McDonald," he said kindly; "it is almost dark and I should have been home much earlier. But if I have a moment to spare I shall run up to the camp and see the boys. Good-night." He hurried to the door, Duncan following him. "I hope your cough will soon be better," he called over his shoulder as he strode down the path, "Good-night!"—and then he was away through the gate and down the dusky road.
Duncan sat for a long time after he had left with his head bowed and his face buried in his thin, trembling hands. A racking cough shook his frame occasionally, but he did not rise to mend the dying fire. The room grew chilly, and at last Collie rose and went to his master.
The old man arose slowly at the gentle touch of a cold nose against his face. He replenished the fire, and moved listlessly about the room, preparing his supper. His face looked whiter and thinner than before the minister's visit, and his movements were painfully slow. There was something more serious than a persistent cough undermining Duncan Polite's health.
But there was no word or look of complaint from him. He went about his work as usual, tidying the room, and stirring the pot of oatmeal porridge which was cooking for his supper. His habits were of the simplest; a bowl of oatmeal, or pease brose, and a pitcher of milk sufficed for his supper as well as for his breakfast. He set the frugal meal upon the bare pine table, then lit his one small lamp, which had been well trimmed and polished, and pulled down the green paper window blinds. He noticed there was still a brightness over the eastern heavens, though the colours of the sunset had faded. Duncan shut out the world and sat down to his lonely meal. Collie lay quietly at his feet, waiting his turn, giving an occasional thump of his tail upon the floor, to remind his master that he was hungry; but when Duncan bowed his head over the repast for a few moments, the dog lay motionless until he raised it again. The dancing light from the wide damper of the old stove and the rays of the little lamp could not penetrate to the corners of the room, but they lit up Duncan's white, patient face and his silver hair, and shone on the glass doors of his cupboard, revealing the rows of shining dishes, and threw into relief the bare dark rafters of the ceiling.
Duncan stirred his porridge absently. His appetite had been poor all winter, and to-night he could not eat. He sat staring ahead of him with sad, unseeing eyes. Suddenly Collie raised his head and sniffed suspiciously. A quick bounding footstep was crunching the snow on the little pathway to the gate. The dog leaped up with a joyous bark and the next instant the door flew open, and a young man burst into the room.
Duncan arose, speechless with joy and surprise at the sight of the stalwart figure and handsome face. "Donal'!" was all he could say.
"Hello, Uncle!" the boy cried in his old ringing tones, catching the old man's hand and shaking it violently; then he put a hand upon his uncle's shoulder and stepped back from him. "Why, you never told me you were sick!" he cried sharply.
"Hoots, toots!" exclaimed Duncan, laughing from sheer joy. "It will be jist a bit of a cold. Eh, eh, and we would not be expecting you till to-morrow, and your mother would be telling the lads they must meet you. And would you be walking all the way from the station?"
"Oh, no, only it would have been better than driving. I came scratching along with Mack Fraser. How is mother?"
"Oh, your poor mother will be jist fine indeed, and the lads. Eh, and you will be getting to be a great man, Donal'; I will be thinking you will be a boy no more."
Donald laughed. "It's surely time. Why didn't Sandy tell me you were sick?"
"Hoots, that would be jist foolishness, for there would be nothing wrong, whatever."
"But there has been," said Donald, looking at him steadily. He hung his coat and cap in their accustomed place behind the stove, and turned to the old man again. His heart smote him as he took in the changes on the beloved face. He wondered if his refusal to enter the ministry had had anything to do with their cause.
But Duncan was bustling about the room in aimless delight. "Dear, dear, you must be having your supper, lad!" he cried; "you will be hungry."
"I should think I am. I felt the Glenoro air and the Glenoro appetite strike me at the same instant. Here, sit down and let me get it."
"Indeed, perhaps your poor mother will be saying I should not be keeping you."
"I'll get home all the sooner if I'm fortified inside. Oatmeal porridge!" he continued joyfully, as he lifted the lid from the pot and seized the wooden ladle. "I say, Uncle Dunc, this is royal!"
"Indeed it will be jist common fare for such a great city man as you will be getting to be." Duncan regarded him with tender pride.
Donald laughed derisively as he tumbled the contents of the porridge pot into a bowl. "And buttermilk, too, by all that's fortunate! And a festival like this on top of six months' boarding house hash!"
He seated himself at the table and attacked the homely fare with a country boy's hearty appetite. Duncan forgot his own supper in the joy of watching him.
"Well, how's things? as Coonie says. You said mother is well, and the boys?"
"Yes, she will be fine indeed, and Weil and wee Archie, too. They will be growing up to be fine lads. And Sandy will be at the camp waiting for you." He looked at Donald yearningly, as though he would fain tell him more about Sandy, but could not.
"I'm just in time, then. And Wee Andra and—all the rest?"
The old man gave him as full an account as he was able of the doings of the neighbourhood, but Duncan Polite lived in a world apart, and Donald missed the information he was seeking.
Then it was Donald's turn to be catechised. He had to satisfy his uncle in regard to his work at college, his coming examinations, his professors, his friends, his sports and all other college lore.
Duncan sat listening to the recital in silent delight, thinking much more of the speaker than of the words he uttered. But as he rattled on the old man became conscious of a vague fear entering his heart. He could not define its cause, but somehow Donald seemed changed. There was a recklessness in his manner and an occasional irreverence in his speech which struck his foster-father painfully. He tried several times to lead the conversation to questions regarding Donald's spiritual welfare.
"Mr. Egerton was here jist a few minutes before you came," he said by way of commencement. If he had known that Donald had met him and Jessie Hamilton walking into the Glen together he might have refrained from mentioning the young minister, and would perhaps have understood his nephew's reckless demeanour.
"That's so?" Donald's answer was rather sharp, and he added sarcastically, "It's a great pity I missed the beneficial influence of his pastoral visitation."
"Why is it you would never be liking him, Donal'?" inquired the old man remorsefully. "He would be speaking very highly of you last Christmas, and I feel he will be trying to do the Lord's work."
Donald laughed scornfully. "Perhaps he is. But if that's so, I'm sorry for the Lord's work; it seems to be a mighty mean business sometimes."
Duncan winced as if with acute pain. "Donal'," he said gravely, "it will not be right to be speaking this way of God's minister. I am thinking you would not be doing it before you went away, lad."
Donald was smitten with remorse. He looked across the table at the old man's gentle, white face, and a lump rose in his throat. "I don't mean to say anything disparaging of the ministry, Uncle," he said contritely, "but I know Mr. Egerton better than anyone thinks, and,—well, he's not a gentleman, that's all."
"It is only the Lord who can judge a man, Donal'," said Duncan Polite, after a moment's pained silence. "Mr. Egerton will be the Lord's servant and his Master will know all his work better than we will."
But Donald had almost finished his second year at college and was very confident of himself. "Well, here's something I don't understand, Uncle. There's a fellow in my year, who makes no profession of Christianity, who doesn't believe one-half the Bible, in fact, and yet I know he does twice the good in the world that Mr. Egerton does."
"Ah, but the Father will be all-kind, Donal'," said Duncan Polite gently but firmly, "and He will be accepting the service of His followers no matter how poor and mean it would be. But what would the Judge be saying of the man who would not own His only begotten Son?"
Donald arose from the table and walked up and down the bare little room. Duncan watched him with a look of yearning. "Would this young man be a friend of yours, Donal'?" he inquired tremulously.
Donald paused and looked down into the dancing flames, his hands dug into his pockets, his brow drawn together in perplexity. "He's my roommate," he answered. "You used to wish I could be intimate with Mr. Egerton, Uncle, but I tell you honestly he can't be compared to Mark Seymour. He's the soul of honour, as fine a man as you could wish to know, and I'd rather accept his creed than that of a man who spends his time praying for sinners better than himself."
Duncan's face was white. "I will not be quite understanding you, Donal'," he said steadily. "Is it that you would be leaving the Saviour out of your life, my lad?"
Donald turned; the look in the old man's face brought him to his side. He laid his hands on Duncan Polite's shoulders. "I would rather do anything than hurt you, Uncle," he cried. "But you always taught me, above all things, never to deceive you, and I must tell you, honestly, I cannot see that religion has much to do with a man's life. But there is another thing I can say truthfully," he looked the old man straight in the eyes, "I have never done anything I should be ashamed to tell you!"
For an instant a wave of joy and pride swept away the despair that was clutching Duncan's heart. He arose and patted the boy on the back as he used to do in his childhood, murmuring Gaelic expressions of endearment. "Oh, indeed, indeed, I will be knowing that, laddie!" he cried, his eyes moist. "Yes, indeed, and that would be a blessing to my very soul. But, eh, my child, my child, if you would be losing your hold on Christ, I would be fearing for you, Donal'! There is no other name under Heaven whereby we may be saved; it will be the Word of Omnipotence, Donal', and any man who would be trying another way would be failing. And if I would be losing you, Donal'——" he stopped overcome.
Donald turned away; he felt guilty of the worst brutality. He put on his overcoat silently, and then came back to the old armchair. "I've been nothing but a burden and a trouble to you all my life," he said bitterly.
"Wheesh, wheesht, laddie!" cried Duncan Polite. "What would my life be without you? You must not be saying such things, child, for you would be a credit to us all, indeed. And I will jist be praying that the Shepherd will be leading you to the fold."
Donald went away, humble and heart-sore. His home-coming had been a double grief to him. His faint hopes of a reconciliation with Jessie had been crushed, and now he was wounding most cruelly his best friend. He took no thought of another Friend, still kinder, whom he was wounding. And indeed had Donald been able, by an effort of his will, to be at that moment all his uncle desired, he would have done so. But he had cast away his anchor, in a moment of self-sufficiency and it would be hard to find it again. He could not know that a season was coming swiftly upon him, a season of storm and stress, when that discarded anchor would be his only stay, and the nearness with which he came to missing his hold upon it forever changed his whole future life.
If Donald could have guessed that someone in Glenoro was watching and waiting for him in alternate hope and fear, he might not have been in such haste to get away. But he remained only one day at home, and then, without even visiting the village, set off to join Sandy at the camp.
He found the men ensconced in a rough shanty in the woods north of Lake Oro. A large belt of timber in that region belonged to the Neil boys and Sandy had taken the contract of supplying the Glenoro mill with logs for the coming season. But he found that commanding such an enterprise was no easy task, and he handed over the responsibility with much relief to Donald. The cutting and hauling had been almost completed, and now all that was needed was an open lake to float the logs across to the river and thence down to the village. The Oro was already free of ice, rushing along, high and swollen with the melting snow. A few days more of sun and wind would clear the lake also, and send its winter fetters crashing up on the shore.
So when Donald arrived the camp was not very busy, though it was exceedingly lively. The men had plenty of leisure, and they spent it and their winter's wages at a little old tavern, a remnant of earlier and rougher days, which stood where the river left Lake Oro. Under any other circumstances Donald would have exercised a restraining influence upon Sandy and the boys of his acquaintance, but just now his heart was angry and reckless. So the wild revelry suffered no abatement because of his presence.
Duncan Polite waited anxiously for the boys' return, the dread of impending disaster hanging over his spirit. The weather changed to sudden warmth, however, and brought to the old man a renewal of strength and the hope that Donald would soon be with him. He was well enough to go to church the next Sabbath, the first time in many months. Andrew Johnstone was so pleased to have his old friend with him again that his stick never moved from its peaceful position in the rear, and he even forbore to make any caustic remarks about the minister.
His spirits were only in keeping with the day. Spring had descended upon the world with a sudden dazzling rush. The air was clear and intoxicatingly fresh; blinding white clouds raced joyously across the radiant blue. As Duncan passed through the gate an early robin, swinging in the tall elm, poured out his ecstatic little heart in hysterical song. Everywhere was water, water, rushing down the hills in a thousand mad rivulets, flashing in the sunlight like chains of diamonds and filling the air with their song of wild freedom. And through the valley came the river, a monster now, roaring down its narrow channel and swirling out past the church as if it would carry away the village.
As the two old men walked slowly up the hill on the way home they heard the news for which Duncan had been anxiously waiting: the ice on the lake had broken, and the boys intended to bring down their lumber on the morrow.
The next day passed, warm and sunshiny, but Donald Neil's logs did not appear in the Glenoro millpond. Duncan sat at his window in the dusk of the evening, expecting every moment to see Donald coming up the path to tell him their work was finished. But the night was descending, and Donald had not come. A great dread had taken hold of the old man's heart, a dread he could not explain. He knew that both Donald and Sandy were expert river drivers, but he could not reason himself out of the fear that the crisis had come. This sacrifice towards which he had been looking for so many months, was it near? And what would it be?
He had set his door open, owing to the warmth of the night, and through it came the sound of ceaseless pouring of water. Sitting with his face pressed against the pane, thinking of his high hopes of just one year ago, he mournfully shook his head.
"The sacrifice," he murmured, "it must come, but, oh, my Father, must it be Donal'? 'Bind ye the sacrifice with cords even unto the horns of the altar.' Ah, it would be a message, a message—and will it be Donal'? must I give him up, oh, my Father?" His hands clasped and unclasped, his face stood out from the darkness of the room, white with pain.
He had not noticed a little figure making its way rapidly down the road; but his eye caught it as it entered the gate. His heart stood still as he saw Archie, his sister's youngest boy, come running up the path. "What will you be wanting, laddie?" he asked, almost in a whisper, as the little fellow paused in the doorway.
"Oh, are you there, Uncle Duncan!" cried the child, groping his way across the room. "It's so awful dark here. Jimmie Archie's folks is sugarin' off to-night in the bush down alongside the river, and I want to go over, an' mother she wouldn't let me go alone. Now, ain't that mean, Uncle Duncan?"
Duncan breathed a great sigh of relief. "Will the boys not be down with the logs yet?"
"Nop; Jimmie Archie said all the fellows Sandy and Don had was drunk at the tavern to-day, an' the logs was all ready to bring out into the river, mind ye, an' Crummie Bailey—it was at school, you know—an' Crummie said he'd bet Don an' Sandy was drunker than 'em all; an' I thumped him good, you bet, uncle, an' he's eleven an' I'm only ten an' a half!"
Duncan put his hand upon the child's head with a feeling of helpless woe. "Yes, yes, laddie," he said absently.
"Mother said I couldn't go to the sugar bush without somebody with me," Archie broke out again. "Aw, shucks, I ain't a kid!" The dignity of ten years and a half was being sadly ruffled. He leaned upon the arm of Duncan's chair and looked up coaxingly.
"I guess I'll have to stay away, 'cause there's nobody to go with me, an' mother said I wasn't to ask you, 'cause it would make your cold worse."
He sighed prodigiously over this self-denial, and with his characteristic self-forgetfulness Duncan put aside his own trouble. "Oh, indeed it is a great man you will be some day," he said. "But what if I would be going with you?"
"Oh, man! but I wish you could! Only I ain't such a baby as to have somebody luggin' me 'round."
Duncan patted his head lovingly. "Hoots, toots, but you surely won't leave a poor old man like your uncle to find his way alone," he said, with great tact. "I will not be at Jimmie Archie's sugar bush for many a year, and you will jist be showing me the road."
Archie's pride was somewhat mollified by this aspect of the case, and being further soothed by a huge slab of bread and jam, he set off with his uncle in high glee. Duncan put on his bonnet and plaid and with Collie bounding in front, half mad with joy at this unexpected excursion, they stepped out upon the road. The moon was shining, but its rays were obscured by the mild night mists. A soft, suffused light shrouded the landscape, giving an unreal and weird appearance to all objects. A rising wind shifted the ghostly clouds here and there; it was a strangely uncanny night.
Jimmie Archie McDonald's farm lay up the river, next to Andrew Johnstone's. But the belt of maples with the sugar camp was quite near. So when Duncan Polite and the child had gone a short distance up the road they climbed a fence and crossed the soft, yielding fields until they reached the line of timber that bordered the stream.
"There's a path jist along by the river that goes straight to Jimmie Archie's bush," explained Archie importantly, strutting ahead. "Ain't you glad I called for you, Uncle Duncan?" He dashed into the woods whooping and yelling, with Collie circling about him in noisy delight, and darted back again at short intervals to ask a dozen unanswerable questions. "What made the moon look so queer? And what was the moon made of, anyhow? Sandy said it was made of green cheese; but Don said if that was true they must have got a chunk of the moon to make Sandy's head. And Don ought to know, since he'd been to college. And what made the moon shine? The master told the Fourth Class that the moon didn't have any light of its own. And Crummie Bailey said that was a howlin' lie, 'cause any fool could see it. And the master heard him saying it at recess, and he licked Crummie good for it, too. And was the shadow on the moon really a man?"
Duncan replied at random. Ordinarily he was Archie's most interesting chum, but to-night he was silent and absent. The boy concluded it was because his uncle had been sick all winter. He was too excited over the prospect of a visit to the sugar bush and unlimited taffy to care very much, however, and went dancing along over the ghostly patches of snow and through the weird, shifting mists, his tongue keeping pace with his feet.
"Don't you wish there was tagers and lions in the bush here, Uncle? I bet I'd shoot them if there was. Sandy says there's lions down in the river bed, but I bet he jist said that to see if I'd get scared. He can't scare me, though. What kind of a noise does a lion make. Uncle Dune? Listen, do you hear that funny noise ahead?" He drew closer to his uncle. "Is that the kind of a noise a lion makes?"
"It will jist be the river you hear, child," said Duncan reassuringly.
"No, I don't mean that squashy noise; it's that bangin' sound," he insisted anxiously. "Listen!"
They stood still, the child holding the man's fingers, and above the sighing of the bare treetops and the rushing of the river there came the sound of dull, booming thuds.
"We will jist see," said Duncan, striving to hide his apprehension. They hurried through the underbrush towards the river, where a few cedar clumps overhung its edge. Duncan seized one and, leaning over, looked down into the dark ravine. The pale moonlight touched the water and revealed the cause of the unusual sounds. Strange dark forms were hurrying along its glinting surface. Down the foaming tide they came, shooting past, swift and stealthy. As far up the river as Duncan's eye could pierce still they appeared, whirling silently forward. But farther down was a sight that made the old man's heart stand still. A few yards below him, and just at the turn in the river above the village were the "Narrows," where the most careful navigation of logs was necessary to prevent a jam. And there, wedged in the narrow channel, hurled together into fantastic shapes and augmented each moment by the oncoming logs which struck the heap with a resounding boom, was piled a wild jumbled mass of timber!
Like most of the early settlers of Glenoro, Duncan was an experienced river-driver, and instantly realised the gravity of the situation. If the jam of logs were permitted long to impede the progress of the river in its high, swollen condition, there would be a disastrous flood in the village. In a flash there passed before his mind a picture of the havoc it would cause,—death and destruction swift and certain upon the unwarned inhabitants, men and women hurried into Eternity unprepared! And Donald,—Donald would be held responsible! This jam must have resulted through his carelessness. Before the world he would be disgraced; before his Maker—the thought struck the old man with a paralysing fear. He stood for a moment motionless, watching the shifting, heaving, rumbling mass,—and then life seemed suddenly to return.
"Run to the Glen, Archie!" he cried to the frightened boy. "Run, laddie, and tell the folk at Peter McNabb's shop there will be a jam at the Narrows!"
Archie was off down a cross track like a hare, Collie after him. Duncan stooped down, feeling among the underbrush, and caught up a stout pole. Grasping it he made his way hurriedly down the bank and along the water's edge to the quaking, seething mass. Cautiously he climbed out upon it, the water hissing about him in angry, spurting jets. He could feel the pile rising beneath him with fearful rapidity. A swift examination convinced Duncan of two startling truths—first, the jam must be broken immediately, or it would be too late, and second, he might break it, even with the small pole he held, but he was neither young enough nor nimble enough to do it and save his own life.
And then, of a sudden, a thought struck him, as if a great light had broken over his soul, an illumination which chased away all the dark, weary shadows and fears of the past months. The Sacrifice! The trial he had been dreading! Was this it? Merely the giving of a poor, worn-out life, and the promised blessing would descend? He had failed to save Donald and his father's home from sin and worldliness; but now if he gave his life to save his boy from life-long regret and despair, and his friends from sudden death, would not the Father accept this and send the reward? A sense of overwhelming joy and hope seized the old man. He grasped his pole tightly and went resolutely forward.
With the skilled eye of an old river-driver he soon discovered the "key." Right beneath him lay the log that could unlock the huge, groaning gateway, and let the impeded tide sweep safely down the valley. Duncan leaned forward and pried at it with his pole, putting into the work a strange strength he had not felt for many a year. The mass creaked ominously. A gust of wind caught his old Scotch bonnet, sending it whirling away into the darkness and tossing his white hair. He struggled on, throwing his whole weight upon the pole with a desperate energy, and praying with all the passion of his soul that the High Priest would accept his humble sacrifice. The great hope that perhaps he would be considered worthy to imitate, even in the feeblest manner, the atonement that his Master had made was filling him and lending his arm an unnatural strength. Behind him the waters surged and the piling logs boomed threateningly. But to Duncan there was no menace in the sound. It brought to his mind the words of his favourite psalm, as Peter McNabb sang it in the little church by the river,
"The Lord's voice on the waters is; The God of Majesty Doth thunder—"
"Oh, my Father, my Father!" he was praying with passionate fervour, as he struggled with the stubborn beam, "accept this poor sacrifice, and may Donal' and my father's Glen be saved!"
The answer came in a thunderous roar. Like a wild animal let loose, the wall of lumber leaped up and hurled itself forward. It caught the old man as if he had been a feather and flung him away into the whirling blackness. For an instant his white hair shone out like a snowflake on the dark river, for an instant only, and then the great billow of liberated water came roaring forward and swept over him on its way down the valley.
THE COVENANT RENEWED
The party from the village which arrived at the Narrows, armed with lanterns, cant-hooks and poles, only to find the jam broken, searched all night for the man who had saved their lives at the sacrifice of his own. The news of the heroic act and the averted disaster spread swiftly, and all night long lights wandered up and down and shout answered shout across the dark water.
There were many very sorrowful hearts among the searchers, but none so heavy as was borne by an old man who kept apart from the crowd. He stumbled along in a bewildered fashion over rocks and underbrush, his cap gone, his grey hair dishevelled by the wind. He paused often to peer over the swollen waters, and Peter McNabb's heart was smitten with pity as he passed him once and heard him whisper, "Duncan, lad, whaur are ye?"
And it was Andrew Johnstone who found him. Just as the first grey light of the morning stole in at the eastern doorway of the valley he came upon him, lying peacefully beneath the overhanging willows, beside the churchyard. It seemed fitting that Duncan Polite should have found a harbour in the shelter of his Zion, the place that had been the centre of all his hopes.
They covered the quiet, peaceful face and carried him very tenderly,—Peter McNabb and Andrew Johnstone and some of his other lifelong friends,—into John Hamilton's house.
They laid him in the darkened sitting-room, and Mrs. Fraser, in her never failing kindness of heart, went to tell his bereaved sister, while Wee Andra drove off to Lake Oro to find Donald and Sandy.
All day the neighbours came in, silently and sorrowfully, to see the man who had saved the village and to speak of the brave deed he had done at such cost.
But none of all the crowd guessed at the meaning of the sacrifice, except one man. He did not weep nor lament nor speak one word of sorrow. But his shoulders were bent from their accustomed straightness, and his eyes lacked their steady gleam. He sat by the side of his friend all that day and through the next night, refusing to eat or take rest, and motionless, except when he stooped to pat the dog that lay at his feet and that raised his head occasionally with a mournful whine. Andrew Johnstone made no complaint nor did he say anything when his friends came to sympathise with him. But Mrs. Fraser, who had visited the room in company with Duncan's stricken sister, heard Splinterin' Andra whisper softly as they left the place, "Ma hert is very sair for thee, Jonathan, ma brother!"
The roads were in such an impassable condition that by nine o'clock at night Wee Andra had not returned, and Duncan Polite had been laid in his coffin, ready for his long rest. One dim lamp burned near the head of the bier, and at its foot sat old Andrew, his head bowed, his face in his hands. Across the hall the sorrowing neighbours had gathered in the dining-room, where some of Duncan Polite's friends were leading in prayer for the bereaved relatives. Peter McNabb had asked the minister to open the service, but had accepted his refusal in silent sympathy, wondering somewhat at the young man's grief-stricken face. Mr. Ansdell's gentle voice was raised in a petition that the brave deed might be a lesson to all, and the house was very still, when the front door opened softly and a man glided into the parlour. He crossed the room silently and stood gazing down at the figure in the coffin. At the sight of him, the dog lying by old Andrew's side arose and, crossing to where he stood, crouched at his feet, whining pitifully as though begging for help.
Aroused by the movement the old man raised his head.
"Donald!" he cried aloud, startled by the sight of the young man's ghastly face and wild eyes.
But Donald did not seem to be aware of his presence. He looked around the room as if dazed.
"It's true, then!" he cried in a harsh whisper, "it's true."
His eyes were fixed unmeaningly on the elder.
"He was more than a father to me; and I murdered him," he added distinctly.
Andrew Johnstone rose stiffly and came over to where the boy stood. "Wheesht, Donald!" he whispered in alarm. "Wheesht, lad, it is the Lord's will!"
Donald stared at him stupefied. Even half-crazed as he was, there came to his tossed soul a kind of vague wonder that Splinterin' Andra did not scourge him with a pitiless condemnation. "I did it," he repeated, clinging to the one thought he was capable of comprehending. "We were at the tavern when the boom broke—I murdered him!"
"Come awa', lad, an' sit ye doon here, till Ah tell ye"—Andrew Johnstone took hold of the boy's shoulder gently. A wonderful change seemed to have come over the stern old man during the vigil by his dead; the mantle of Duncan Polite seemed to have fallen upon him. "Come awa," he whispered.
But Donald flung off the hand fiercely. He turned again to look at his uncle, and the fire slowly died from his eyes as he gazed at the beloved face. His strength seemed to suddenly leave him. Andrew Johnstone stepped towards him fearing he would fall, but with one more glance at the dead Donald turned and groped his way to the door like one blind.
The prayers were still going on in the dining-room. Peter McNabb's deep, resonant voice could now be heard, and Jessie, who had come in from the kitchen, was standing in a dark corner of the hall waiting to enter. She was weeping silently, not only for the loss of the old man, who was very dear to her, but for the grief and the blame it must bring upon the one she loved the most. She raised her eyes at the sound of the front door opening and caught a glimpse of his ghastly face and desperate eyes as Donald slipped out. There was the depth of despair in his look. All the girl's heart went out to him in love and pity winged by a terrible fear. He looked like one who might do himself harm. She forgot their estrangement, forgot that he might love another, everything but that Donald was in dire distress. She darted noiselessly to the door. "Don!" she whispered eagerly into the darkness. A figure was passing out of the gate and turning down towards the river. A wild terror seized the girl. She flew down the path and caught his arm. "Don, Don," she cried, "where are you going?"
He turned and looked down at her dully. Just then he was capable of realising only that she was striving to turn him from his purpose. "Let go!" he said savagely. "I killed him, I tell you!"
But Jessie clung to his arm desperately.
"Oh, Don," she sobbed, "come back to the house with me, please do come!"
The sight of her tears seemed to affect him. He stared at her as if a gleam of comprehension had come to him. "Why do you want to stop me?" he asked sullenly. "You don't care!"
The girl realised that this desperate situation was no time for false pride. "Oh, Don," she whispered softly, "how can you say that, how can you think it? You know I care, more than anyone!"
He ceased his resistance and stood a moment as if trying to understand. Jessie was praying with all her heart for strength and wisdom to meet and grapple with the despair that was driving him to destruction. She turned and gently led him back to the gate, and as they went she spoke to him as Jessie Hamilton could never have spoken had she not learned through Duncan Polite's help the true meaning of all sorrow and happiness, spoke to him of his mother, of his duty, of his God. It was the hour of Donald's weakness and trial, when Satan desired to sift him as wheat, an hour in which he might have fared ill had the woman who loved him not stood by with her new strength. But it passed in victory, and when at last he laid his head down upon the top of the gate where they stood and convulsive sobs shook his frame, she knew that he was saved.
The day was one of promising spring when they laid Duncan Polite beside Mr. Cameron under the elms. The hepaticas were peeping out around his covenant stone on the hilltop, the river was gay and smiling and all the world seemed glad. And it was well, for an eternal springtime had dawned for the old watchman of Glenoro.
When they carried him into the church for his last service the place was packed to the doors. Everyone had come to do honour to the man who had done so much for them. Even Coonie was there. He had hurried into Glenoro, early, for the first time in his life. His shoulders drooped more than ever, his wrinkled brown face was even unusually sullen, and his small green eyes were filled with a fierce sorrow. Mr. Ansdell preached the funeral sermon. To the wonder of all, Andrew Johnstone desired it, and everyone felt he must yield a deference to his wishes. As for John Egerton, he was relieved. Remembering his last interview with Duncan Polite and how he might have averted this catastrophe had he been faithful to his duty, he felt he could not bear the ordeal.
The minister's text was a strange one for a funeral sermon, but that, too, was Andrew Johnstone's choice. "Son of man, I have set thee a watchman." The old clergyman was the very one for his task. He spent no time in eulogising the dead; but he told simply and tenderly the story of Duncan Polite's covenant, how he had striven to keep it, giving at length his all, even his life, to serve the people of his Glen.
There was not a person in the congregation who did not take the lesson to heart. The story of the old man's unselfish interest in the spiritual life of the place took a firm hold upon the listeners and roused them to better and nobler aims. But there was one to whom the sermon was a fiery ordeal. For even Donald, well-nigh crushed with the weight of his grief and the knowledge of all he had missed, was no more torn by the old clergyman's words than the young minister who sat reviewing his past self-satisfied year in Glenoro in the light of Duncan Polite's hopes.
The May days had come, and Glenoro was all pink and white in a burst of apple blossoms when Donald next returned from college. On the evening after his arrival he walked down the village street with mingled feelings of joy and pain. Jessie was waiting for him at the gate; he almost fancied he could detect her white dress through the trees even at this distance, but he had just passed an old house on the hilltop, a house at which he had always stopped in the past, and now it was silent and empty. As he turned from behind the elms and came in full view of the village, he suddenly paused. The minister was just emerging from Peter McNabb's gate; he turned up the hill and he and Donald came face to face.
The two young men stood for an instant, and then, with a common impulse, stretched out their hands. John Egerton grasped the hand of Duncan Polite's nephew with a pang of regret. If he had done this long before, what a different turn affairs might have taken.
Donald was the first to speak. "This is very kind of you, Mr. Egerton," he said with his accustomed frankness. "I have misjudged you so often——"
"Don't say anything about what is past, Mr. McDonald," said the other hastily; "I can never forget what I owe you, and it would be the deepest of my many regrets in leaving Glenoro if you and I could not part friends."
"There need be no doubt of that," said Donald simply; "I am sorry you are leaving."
John Egerton's face was overcast. "I must. I came here not knowing what was required of me. In fact, I never realised what was required of my calling until I had a glimpse into a life of real Christian consecration. I am going to another field, to do better work, I hope."
Donald was touched by the honest confession. This did not seem the gay, self-sufficient young man he had met on former occasions. "I cannot pretend to criticise another man's life, knowing my own," he answered humbly. "I am sure I wish you all success in your new place."
"Thank you. Success does not mean quite the same to me now as it did a few months ago. There is one thing I would like to say to you before I go, Mr. McDonald"—he hesitated—"I believe your uncle wished you to enter the ministry?"
Donald made a motion of assent. That was a subject upon which, as yet, he could not trust himself to speak.
"I thought so. And part of his hope was that I should help you to it," he added bitterly. "But I have hoped and prayed every day since that God would lead you to it. Have you decided yet?"
Donald's voice was not quite steady. "I have. A man surely does not need a second lesson such as I have had to show him the way."
John Egerton held out his hand again. "I am very, very glad," he said earnestly. "Do not make my mistake. There is no sting like the sting of regret; you and I both know that."
Donald was silent. He was not given to much speaking at any time, and now the depth of his feeling closed his lips. But he took his pastor's hand with a heart-warming grip, and without another word the two parted in mutual understanding and sympathy.
But at the sight of Jessie leaning over the gate between the oaks all other thoughts fled from Donald's mind. She wore a soft white dress, with a blue ribbon, his favourite colour, at her throat. Her uncovered head, with its wealth of golden brown curls, was poised like a flower on a slender stem. Her deep eyes were aglow with welcome. "I saw you talking to Mr. Egerton," she said, when Donald had opened the gate for her and they were passing down the village street.
"Yes, he's an honest man, Jessie; I never understood him before."
"He's changed, too," said the girl gravely. "I am sure he will do much good in his new charge."
When they had walked down the leafy street and reached the little churchyard gate a silence fell between them. They had planned this walk before Donald's return, and their thoughts were serious. Together they passed around the old white building. The grass beneath their feet was an intense emerald, and the young, fresh leaves of the woodbine covering the church walls glistened in the light of the fading sunset.
They paused before a new white stone under a tall elm. Donald caught his breath as he stooped to read the lettering in the gathering dusk: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace."
He gazed at it so long that Jessie put out her hand and touched his sleeve in silent sympathy.
"Here is the other one, Don," she whispered. He started and turned. "Wee Andra and Sandy brought it down this morning. Mr. Johnstone wanted it."
Donald put his hand upon the rough stone that had been Duncan Polite's Bethel. "It was kind of him," he said softly.
They were shut out from the village by the church; the soft grass of the graveyard was under their feet, the elms with their small, green, fairy-like leaves hung over them, and the river murmured softly at their side. He took her hands in his. "Can't we renew that covenant here, you and I, Jessie, for his sake?" Donald whispered.
"And for the sake of One who suffered more than he did, Don," added the girl gently. And standing together by Duncan Polite's covenant stone they gave their young lives anew to the work that had been his life's aim.
The vow which Donald and Jessie took that day has been fulfilled in the little glen and the memory of Duncan Polite is cherished and his influence abides in many a home of humble piety and simple happiness. So the Watchman accomplished by his death that which had been denied him in life, and as all knowledge and peace are his, he must surely see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.