Read CHAPTER VI - THE FULFILMENT OF PROMISE of Duncan Polite The Watchman of Glenoro , free online book, by Marian Keith, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gosh!” exclaimed Coonie, expectorating copiously, “that’s noos!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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