Read CHAPTER II - A MEMORABLE SABBATH of Duncan Polite The Watchman of Glenoro , free online book, by Marian Keith, on

The Glenoro Presbyterian Church, which the two old men were entering, was a bare, white structure, very grand in the eyes of the old folk who remembered the little log building where Mr. McAlpine, their first minister, used to preach.  But to the rising generation it appeared much inferior to the neat brick church on the slope of the northern hill, where the Methodists worshipped.

It was certainly not a handsome edifice, but Nature had done much where man had been most neglectful.  It stood right by the water’s edge; and the Oro River, coming out from between its high wooded banks, made a pretty sweep round the quiet graveyard with its white stones.  A fringe of willows hung over the water, mirrored in its green depths, and some woodbine from the neighbouring forest had found its way up the church walls and covered them with a drapery green and enduring.  Verily, beautiful for situation was the Zion of the Glenoro Presbyterians.

But inside, where man’s taste had full control, everything was very severe.  The two rows of long, stiff, black pews, the high, box-like pulpit, the little cage for the precentor, a few oil lamps in brackets along the walls and the huge black stove with its weary length of pipes stretching from end to end of the building, constituted the furniture.  As for decoration, there was absolutely none, unless the high arched panel behind the pulpit, painted a dull grey and looking like a gigantic tombstone, or the two shining tin pails hung at the elbows of the stove-pipes to prevent the rain from dripping upon the worshippers could be considered ornaments.  But the floor and the walls were white and spotless, the stove and stove-pipes shone with all the brilliancy that polish could give them; and the big, rectangular, thirty-six paned windows glittered like the waters of the Oro, whose music was now being wafted through their open sashes.

And, indeed, to the two old men who were entering the church it mattered little that man’s hand had no part in adorning their Zion, for to them the place was clothed in the beauty of holiness and filled with the presence of Him who is the brightness of His Father’s glory.

They stepped in quietly and reverently, each passing at once to his own place, Andrew to his prominent pew at the side of the pulpit, Duncan to his modest seat behind the stove.  They never addressed each other after entering the sanctuary, but sat with bowed heads in meditation and prayer until the commencement of the service.  They generally had a long time to wait, too, for no matter at what unseasonable hour in the morning the other worshippers might start for church, it was well nigh impossible to get there before the elders.

Some time passed before anyone else arrived, but at last the big door swung slowly open and Peter McNabb, elder and precentor, who was always a good second in the stately and pious race for church, entered, and went silently forward to his place in front of the pulpit.  The custom of having a precentor to “raise the tune” instead of a choir and organ was considered extremely old-fashioned by the more juvenile members of the congregation, but the old people held tenaciously to this time-honoured custom, in spite of much agitation for a change.  And, indeed, had the young advocates of progress but paused to consider, they must have been forced to confess that Peter McNabb was a much better musical instrument than any that could ever be produced by man.  He was the village blacksmith and he put the same energy into his singing on the Sabbath as he did into the mighty swing of his sledge on week days.  He knew very little about musical technique; his voice may not have been very highly cultivated; but he had an appreciation of the psalms which only a godly man can have, and a pure, silvery voice which could pour out floods of melody, or soften itself to the most heart-breaking pathos as the words demanded.  For, when he sang to the wail of Martyrdom,

  “Lord, from the depths to Thee I cry,”

he melted many a heart to tears.  And sometimes Duncan’s musical soul was so stirred that he found himself clutching the seat in a very ecstasy, almost expecting the grey panel behind the minister’s saintly head to burst into inconceivable glory of cherubim and seraphim as, with a rapturous shout, the precentor swept the congregation into the glory of the old psalm,

  “Ye gates lift up your heads on high,
  Ye doors that last for aye,
  Be lifted up that so the King
  Of glory enter may!”

To the aged minister behind him, Peter’s singing was a pillar of faith.  Mr. Cameron had travelled widely in his younger days and had heard grand music in the cathedrals of the old world, magnificent harmonies of trained voices with flute and violin and organ helping to interpret the divine meaning of the old masters.  It had all been very grand and he often longed to hear such music again; but he sometimes wondered, as he sat in the shadow of his pulpit desk on a Sabbath morning, why there had been nothing in all its grandeur which tended to settle so unshakably the foundations of one’s faith, as did listening to Peter McNabb lead his Glenoro congregation slowly and solemnly in

  “Oh Lord the God of Hosts, who can
    To Thee compared be? 
  The Mighty One, the Lord, Whose truth
    Doth round encompass Thee!”

There were three more elders:  big John Hamilton, whose only sin was a family of over-dressed daughters; Donald Fraser, son of the Fraser famous for having Mr. McAlpine’s first service at his place; and Peter Farquhar, a Highlander, one of the many McDonalds.  Good men and true they all were, who feared God and eschewed evil, veritable fathers in Israel to the congregation.

The people soon followed.  Duncan Polite’s face lit up with pleasure as a group of five filed past him into his pew, his widowed sister and her four boys.  The old man’s gaze rested lovingly upon Donald, the lad of his hopes.  He was a young man worthy a second glance, a straight, lithe fellow, the kind they breed in the Canadian Highlands.  His thin, keen face showed a striking resemblance to his uncle’s in its handsome regularity of feature, but there was nothing of Duncan Polite in the bold flash of the young man’s eye, nor in the proud swing of his fine figure.

Duncan’s attention was taken from him by a slight disturbance at his side.  Archie, a small urchin of nine, was struggling quietly but persistently with Neil, his senior by two years, for the honour of sitting next his uncle.  Mrs. Neil treated the affair, as she did all the boys’ misdemeanours, with a sweet, unconscious placidity, but Donald, who exercised a sort of muscular authority over his brothers, put out his big foot with a quiet but emphatic kick which settled the dispute.

Sandy looked disappointed.  “Why didn’t you let the little beggars fight it out?” he whispered, “it would give Splinterin’ Andra something to chew on.”

Donald’s face twitched with laughter, and from his point of vantage in the front pew, the ruling elder caught the smile on the face of Glenoro’s future pastor and sighed to think how greatly his friend was being deceived.

The last straggler had slipped into the back seat, the church was filled, and every eye was turned expectantly towards the vestry door.  It opened presently and the aged minister came forth.  As he went up the steep pulpit stair, Duncan Polite’s loving eye caught signs of added weakness in his gait, the motions of one too weary for further effort, and his heart was smitten with fear.  He could never contemplate the removal of his pastor without the apprehension of coming disaster.  There was a new class of people growing up in the church, whose broad views threatened to overturn the simple, pious ways of their fathers.  As long as Mr. Cameron was over them Duncan felt assured they would never go far astray, but he often looked into the future with some misgivings.

The minister’s text was characteristic, one that Duncan remembered all his life afterwards, as his greatest stay and comfort in times of distress:  “And the Lord shall guide thee continually and satisfy thy soul in drought.”

The sermon was not shortened because of the minister’s apparent weakness; a Glenoro sermon was never less than an hour in length and very often reached the two-hour limit.  There were two morning sermons, one in Gaelic immediately following the English service for the benefit of the Highlanders who flocked down from the Oa, the Highland settlement north of Glenoro.  Many of the Gentiles, who did not know the chosen language, went home after the first service, and their places were taken by the new contingent.

Andrew Johnstone always remained for the Gaelic service.  He understood very little of the language, but he felt the presence of the elders was necessary, and then he could walk home with Duncan and discuss the sermon, a pleasure for which it was worth waiting.

The breaking up of the Glenoro congregation followed an established order of procedure and varied not one Sabbath from another.  Any departure from the order of their going would have been considered as irregular as though the minister were to pronounce the benediction before the sermon.  First, the young men of the back row flung themselves through the door, noiselessly but hastily, inhaling great breaths of relief.  Next came those who had to get their horses from the shed, and close upon them the village folk, passing with fine superiority their rural neighbours.  These came out last, to linger and chat while the big double buggies were whirled into place with a scraping sound and the families were perched aboard.  Duncan and Andrew, as was their custom, waited for a private word with the minister.  The former watched Donald hand his mother into the smart single buggy and drive away through the gate.  He did not even miss the glance of Donald’s eyes towards John Hamilton’s daughters, passing up the street like a gay posy of flowers.  Duncan Polite’s heart was ever young and he smiled sympathetically as he caught the answering glance from a pair of bright eyes beneath a big white hat.

The minister came slowly down the aisle, shaking hands with all.  He had only time for his midday meal and then he was away again to his other charge, a church some nine miles distant on one of the township roads colloquially styled the Tenth.  But Mr. Cameron never hurried away without a word with his two old friends.

“Ye’re no lookin’ well the day, sir,” said Andrew Johnstone anxiously.  “The work’s ower hard on ye in the hot weather; ye’re needin’ a bit rest.”

“Oh, I will be getting a rest, Andrew,” he answered, smiling, “a good long rest, and it will be soon.”

Duncan Polite looked up with a sudden flash of apprehension in his eyes, but his friend returned the glance with a reassuring smile.

“And so Donald is going to college,” he said.  “Ah, that’s fine, Duncan, that’s fine!  We’ll make a minister of him yet, and a fine one he’ll be, I promise.  You’ll live to hear him preach here when I’m gone.”

Duncan put up his hand in protest.

“Tut, tut, sir,” said the elder sharply, as was his way when he was moved, “ye’ll hear him yersel’ some day if he comes till it, never fear.”

The minister shook his head.  “No, Andrew, I will not hear the lad, but it is a great comfort to me to see Donald McDonald’s grandson taking up the work he prayed for, and I hope the Father will spare you both a long time.  But as for me -” He paused.  The church was empty but for the three old men; the subdued murmur of the people’s voices came through the open windows; a smile illuminated the old minister’s saintly face.  “As for me, it will not be long; ’Tarry thou here, for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan.’”

He turned and, still smiling, walked up the aisle and into the vestry.  The two went out into the sunlight.

“Surely he wouldna’ mean -” suggested Andrew Johnstone, afraid to say more.

But Duncan Polite could not answer; in the midst of his happiness, when his hopes were at their height, he had been stricken with a great fear.  He understood too well the significance of his pastor’s words, the farewell of Elijah, and, like Elisha, the old man could have cried out from his very soul, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee!” But he knew that this was a Jordan that must be crossed alone.

The two friends walked up the hill in silence, one filled with a foreboding, the other with a dread certainty of impending trouble.

“If Maister Cameron’s ever ta’en awa frae us, Duncan,” said the elder gloomily, “mark ma word, there’ll be trouble in the kirk.  We ha’e a pack o’ godless young folk growin’ up that need the blue beech gad, every one o’ them, an’ if Maister Cameron was ta’en Ah’m no sayin’ what they’d do!”

Duncan had turned and was looking down the hill at a rapidly approaching figure.  His companion followed the direction of his gaze.  “Man, is yon Peter McNabb?” he inquired in amazement.

The feeling was quite natural.  To see an elder of the Presbyterian Church rushing along the public highway without his coat, on the Sabbath day, was sufficient to raise consternation in the breast of any Glenorian.  Duncan’s heart contracted with fear.  “Is it the minister?” he asked tremulously, as the blacksmith came up to them, breathless.

Peter’s ruddy face was pale beneath the tan.  His eyes fell before the question as though he were guilty.  “Aye, it’s jist that,” he said with simple sorrow; “I came for ye both.”

The two turned and retraced their steps at his side.  Andrew Johnstone was the first to speak.  “He’s no gone, Peter?” he asked, with more than his usual sternness.

“Aye,” said the other in a whisper, “that’s jist it, Andra, he’s gone.”