Read CHAPTER VIII - BURSTING OF THE STORM of Duncan Polite The Watchman of Glenoro , free online book, by Marian Keith, on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But old Andrew interrupted him tempestuously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew gave a derisive snort.  “If ye can see ony similarity between David and yon bit, gigglin’ light-headed lass o’ Donald Fraser’s that thinks she’s to play the thing, ye’re michty far seein’, Duncan.  And ye ken weel if the Gospel does na’ touch them, they’ll no be converted by a few bit worldly squeaks from a music-boax.  No, it’s jist all vanity, Duncan, jist vanity, an’ we’ll no hae the thing in Maister Cameron’s church as lang as Ah’ve gotten the use o’ ma’ arms!”

But the organ party went on collecting money unheedingly, and Duncan was in despair.  He appealed to Donald, but found very little satisfaction.  Donald was working hard in the harvest fields, and came to Glenoro very seldom.  Duncan could not but guess the reason; the minister’s attentions to Jessie Hamilton were growing more marked every day.  Wherever he looked Duncan could see signs of trouble, which he was powerless to avert.

The great day arrived when the sum of money was complete.  At the next Endeavour meeting they would make all arrangements for purchasing the organ.  Mr. Egerton preached a very clever and caustic sermon that Sabbath upon narrow-mindedness, and Duncan Polite’s face was drawn with pain as he listened.

On Monday evening, the night before the final and crucial meeting the young minister was walking briskly down the road from the Oa.  He had been taking tea with one of his most friendly families and had stayed rather late playing croquet with the young ladies.  As he went along the winding thoroughfare it suddenly occurred to him that he could save time if he went over the fields and through the woods, coming out on the road again just above the Glen.  He was over the fence in an instant and crossing the dusky fields, the sharp stubble of the wheat clicking against his feet as he walked.  Then he crossed a sweet-scented pasture, with the dim, shadowy outlines of the cows lying here and there, the stillness broken now and then by the soft tinkle of a disturbed bell.  Next he entered the woods, so dark and still, with only the light of a few stars peeping through the branches.  The young man forgot Splinterin’ Andra and Donald Neil and all his worries as he moved through the mysterious darkness.  The strange, still whisper of the forest, that gave a sense of life, as if the whole dark surroundings were some great breathing creature, touched him nearly.  He felt awed; the trivial things which made up so much of his life seemed infinitesimal now, in the face of this mysterious wonder.  When he emerged into the grey light of the open fields again, he was both saddened and uplifted.  He climbed the fence into Duncan Polite’s pasture field and made his way round the little shanty, stepping quietly for fear of disturbing the old man, who might be sleeping.  But as he passed the place a sound arrested his footsteps, a sound of a human voice full of anguish.

The minister paused and drew nearer.  The green paper window-blind was rolled up a few inches and from beneath it shone the light of a lamp.  He stepped up to the window and peeped in.  In the middle of the bare room knelt Duncan Polite.  His Scotch bonnet lay on the floor at his side and the rays of the little lamp on the table touched his thin white hair with silver.  His pallid face was upturned, his eyes closed.  Collie stood beside him, his head on one side, a look of longing on his canine face, as though his dog’s heart were striving to know and share his master’s grief.  He stiffened and bristled at the scent of the intruder, but Duncan had begun to speak again and the dumb sympathiser was once more all attention.

“Oh, my Father, my Father!” The words broke from him like a cry of pain.  “Oh, my Father, Thou knowest there will be dissension in Thy House and trouble in Thy Holy Place!  Oh set Ye open unto us the gates of righteousness!  Father, lead us to the light and let not Thine Holy One be put to shame among us!”

His voice broke, and Collie gave a quivering whine.  Then the man’s tones rose again in passionate pleading.  He poured out his whole, great soul in such an anguish-laden prayer for the young man who was listening, that he stood for a moment overcome.  Then, unable to bear it, he turned and slipped softly around the house and out upon the road.  He stumbled often and he did not walk with his accustomed easy swing.  And as he entered the valley, the lights of the village swam below in a mist, and the sad drone of the river rose to meet him like the echo of Duncan Polite’s prayer.