Read CHAPTER IX - THE PRESIDENT OF THE LADIES’ AID SOCIETY of Duncan Polite The Watchman of Glenoro , free online book, by Marian Keith, on ReadCentral.com.

Miss Eliza Cotton took her scissors and roll of dress patterns and started across the street for a day’s sewing at the Hamiltons’.  She liked to sew there, for she was fond of the girls in her queer way, and there was plenty of life and fun.  To-day she was particularly pleased to go to some place where she could pour out the vials of her wrath upon the minister for the ridiculous way he had acted in refusing to go on with the organ scheme.  Next to the latest news of the neighbourhood, Miss Cotton loved what she termed “style.”  Before Mr. Egerton’s advent the Glenoro Church had been utterly devoid of this saving quality.  Since his arrival, however, matters had improved rapidly.  But now, just when they had got a carpet for the pulpit stairs and matting for the aisles, and were on the eve of purchasing the long-talked-of organ, the very prompter and head of all the enterprise must suddenly declare a complete change of front.  To Miss Cotton the loss of his support was an absolute disaster, as it was to many others, especially those who had to tramp over many miles of country to return the money they had been at such pains to collect.  Even Mrs. Fraser was disappointed in the minister’s action, for she had been in hopes that Annie would be the organist, and she sighed long and deeply over the mutability of the young minister.  Such sudden changes of opinion, she declared, denoted an unstable character, and she feared he would not have a good influence over the wild and unsettled young men of Glenoro.

Miss Cotton did not care what characteristics were denoted by the affair.  She only knew that in her opinion Mr. Egerton had behaved outrageously, and she went over to the Hamiltons’ prepared to maintain the same at the point of her sharp tongue.

“Well, ’Liza,” said Mrs. Hamilton, as soon as the dressmaker was settled in her corner of the wide, breezy kitchen surrounded by billows of light blue silk, “what do you think o’ the minister changing his mind in such a hurry?”

She did not ask because she was seeking information, for Miss Cotton had left no one in doubt as to her views on the subject, but only as a pretext for getting launched upon the all-important subject.

Miss Cotton sniffed indignantly.  “Mighty queer, that’s all I have to say.  He knew as well as we did all along that Splinterin’ Andra an’ a whole crowd o’ old fogies didn’t want an organ, an’ to think he’d stand up at the very last meetin’ an’ say it would cause trouble-cause fiddlesticks!  I’ll bet there’s somethin’ at the bottom o’ all this; mebby some o’ you girls knows more about it than I do.  Jessie here seems to be gettin’ awful thick with him.”  She glanced sharply around at each young woman, engaged in some household duty.

“That’s just to make Don jealous.  Jess is awful cute!” said Maggie, who was making intermittent attempts to wash the breakfast dishes.

Jessie was accustomed to such attacks, for she was the sweetest-tempered member of the family, with much of her father’s grave gentleness, and she received even more than her share of teasing.  But her heart was still very sore over her disagreement with Donald, and she bent lower over her sewing.

“Be quiet, Mag,” said Bella, who was the only one in the Hamilton household who exercised any authority.  “Leave Jess alone and go on with your work.”

Maggie seated herself complacently upon the sewing machine box and swung her dish-towel to and fro.  “To tell you the truth, Liza,” she said solemnly, “I believe the minister was scared.  I think he thought that when Splinterin’ Andra got done makin’ kindlin’ wood o’ the organ, he’d make sausage meat o’ him, an’ if he was in that condition he couldn’t marry Jess -”

“To Don Neil,” put in Sarah neatly.

“Mother, come and make the girls be quiet,” pleaded the victim.

“Jess would make a fine minister’s wife, though, Liza,” continued Maggie, knowing well that every word she uttered would be repeated verbatim to Mrs. Fraser at the earliest possible date.  “She takes pious fits, doesn’t she, mother?”

“I never notice much piety about any of you,” retorted Mrs. Hamilton smartly.

“Oh, mother Hamilton, you ought to be ashamed to own it, and here’s Bella and Jess getting themselves fixed to join the church.  Shouldn’t wonder but I’ll be doing something rash like that myself, now that I’ve turned Christian Endeavourer.”

“A fine specimen of a Christian Endeavorer you are,” said Miss Cotton scornfully.  “An’ you an active member, too!”

“Of course!  I wouldn’t be in anything where I couldn’t be active.  It’s heaps o’ fun.”

“My goodness, if you giddy folks had old Mr. Cameron over you, he’d show you how to behave.  It’s my private opinion the minister don’t know a Christian from a wheelbarrow or he wouldn’t have all you feather-heads joining his societies.”

“That’s true, I do believe,” agreed Maggie, “or he’d never a’ got you for President of the Ladies’ Aid, for you know you say heaps more than your prayers!”

“Maggie, you’re a caution; do behave!” cried her mother, glancing at Miss Cotton with secret pride to see how she appreciated Maggie’s sharp tongue.

“Oh, she’s gone daft.  Don’t listen to her, ’Liza,” cried Bella impatiently.  “Whatever do you ’spose made Mr. Egerton turn ’round and act the way he did, anyhow?”

Miss Cotton looked mysterious.  “I know a good bit more about that chap than I’ve ever told,” she said, nodding her head in a tantalising manner.  “I’ve got a letter over home that might throw some light on the matter.”  She took up her work again, waiting for this startling piece of intelligence to take effect.

“What in the world is it, ’Liza?” cried Mrs. Hamilton, approaching the sewing machine.  “I jist knew by the look o’ you when you came in that you’d something in your mind that -”

“That’s so, she does look queer,” declared Maggie, stopping, with her dish-cloth suspended, to examine Miss Cotton critically.  “Now, I’ve seen ’Liza so often when her mind was empty -”

“Don’t listen to her, ’Liza!” cried Jessie, her small mouth twitching with laughter.  “What were you going to say?”

“Well, if that young gas-bag would shut up for half a minit, I’d tell you something pretty queer about the minister.  But, mind you, it’s a dead secret, and you must promise -”

There was a chorus of solemn pledges to secrecy from the group which collected hastily around the sewing machine.  Mrs. Hamilton left her bread-making and came, with floury hands held carefully away from the blue silk, to listen.

Miss Cotton leaned back in her chair and raised her scissors.  Such moments as this were her happiest.  “Well, I don’t pretend to know what made him change his mind so sudden,” she said, lowering her voice mysteriously, “for I don’t, not any more than that sewing machine; but I do know somethin’ about him, that not a soul in Glenoro knows, an’ it makes me have some idea why he acts so queer.”  A solemn silence fell over the listeners.

“I’ve known it for two whole days, an’ never whispered it to a livin’ soul!” she added, proud of this achievement in reticence.

“My! it’s a wonder you didn’t explode.”  Maggie’s voice somewhat relieved the tension.  The narrator paid no heed.

“Now I guess you won’t believe me, but mind you, I seen that fellow before he ever came here.  It was when I was in Toronto that fall, visitin’ Maria, an’ you’d never guess where I seen him, if you was to try from now to the crack o’ doom!”

She resumed her sewing with the most aggravating coolness.

“Drunk in the street,” suggested Maggie.

“Maggie, it’s awful to talk about a minister like that!” cried her mother, weakening her reproof with a laugh.

“Where in the world was it, ’Liza?”

Miss Cotton resumed her oratorical attitude.  “Well, mind you, I never knew myself that I’d ever clapped eyes on him, till night before last, but his face puzzled the senses out o’ me ever since he came here.  Only I’d heard so much about what old McAlpine looked like, that I thought it was because he looked like him.  But if I’ve told Mrs. Fraser once, I’ve told her a dozen times that -”

“Oh, go on with your yarn!” Maggie’s dish-cloth was waving impatiently.

“Well, you mind that fall I went to the Exhibition an’ stayed with Maria till near Christmas?  My, the sights I did see that time!  You girls ought to take a trip to the city now, why -”

“Oh, never mind, ’Liza,” said Maggie, knowing the narrator’s weakness.  “Settle the minister first, an’ you can talk Toronto all day after.”

“My! but you’re anxious about him, Maggie!  That’s a bad sign.  Well, as I was sayin’, I stayed all fall, you know, an’ Maria she was bound and determined I’d see an’ hear everything that was worth while, an’ her and James they jist trotted me ’round till I was near dead.  James Turner does make Maria an awful kind man, I will say, though I ain’t got much use for men.  Well, one night we went to a high-toned concert, got up by a lot o’ college fellows.  I tell you there’s where you see the fine lookin’ chaps!  Don Neil couldn’t hold a candle to them, the way they was dressed up, reg’lar doods every one o’ them, an’ the style!  If I’d been a young thing like one o’ you girls now, I’d a lost my heart a dozen times over.  But if you’d a’ seen the fellows that took part in the concert, you’d a’ died, the way they were rigged up!  They all came a-flippin’ an’ a-floppin’ out onto the platform, an’ besides their pants an’ coats, every mother’s son o’ them had on some kind of a long cloak, for all the world like Mrs. Duffy’s black dolman.  An’ they had the curiousest things on their heads, jist exactly like the black shingles that was flyin’ ’round here the night the sawmill burned down!”

“Why, they were college gowns and caps,” said Sarah; “Don Neil and Allan Fraser are both going to get them.”

“Well, don’t I know that, you young upstart.  An’ Mrs. Fraser’s in an awful way about Allan wearin’ one, too, but that don’t prove that they didn’t look jist like the mischief itself.”

“Dear me, do they wear them kind o’ things out amongst other folks?” inquired Mrs. Hamilton in mild alarm.  She had supposed that such raiment would be confined to the seclusion of one’s own bed chamber.

“Indeed, they jist do, Mrs. Hamilton.  If Jessie an’ Don Neil makes up this little lovers’ quarrel they’ve got up lately, you’ll have him comin’ flappin’ down the hill to see her in one o’ them next winter.  But reelly, you wouldn’t believe what awful trollops they were; an’ if I couldn’t turn out a stylisher lookin’ wrapper an’ a mighty better fit, too, I’d go an’ choke myself.”

“You’ll choke before you get this story told, if you don’t quit talkin’,” said the plain-spoken Maggie.  “Did the minister have a wrapper on?”

But Miss Cotton had a fine eye to the structure of a story.  “Oh, I’m comin’ to him, at the right time.  Well, as I was sayin’, there was a whole swarm o’ these fellows came floppin’ an’ flounderin’ onto the platform an’ they all squat down in a long row with their wrappers an’ shingles on, an’ started to play like all possessed on what they call bangjoes or some such tomfoolery.”

“Banjoes,” corrected Sarah.  “Lots of the boys and girls play them at the High School.”

The orator paid no attention.

“An’ they set there fiddle-dee-deein’ for about a quarter of an hour,-an’ now I’m comin’ to the important part.  There was one tall, good-lookin’ chap, sittin’ right in the middle o’ the row -”

“Mr. Egerton,” whispered Maggie.

“An’ he was scratchin’ away for dear life on some sort of a fryin’-pan thing, an’ I leans over to James an’ I sez, ‘James,’ sez I, ’ain’t it for all the world like gratin’ nutmegs?’ sez I. Well, we were bang-up in the very front seat, for James Turner always believes in gettin’ all he pays for, an’ the fellows was makin’ the awfullest clatter, an’ you know, James Turner’s as deaf as a post, anyhow, an’-well, now, if any o’ you scalawags lets this out I’ll massacree the whole lot o’ you!”

A chorus of renewed promises and entreaties to continue followed this terrible threat.

“Well, jist as I was sayin’ it, good and loud, what should that blessed racket do but stop short, jist as if they’d all been shot dead; an’ jist at that very min’it I was yellin’ ‘gratin’ nutmegs!’ at the top o’ my lungs!”

She joined heartily in the shrieks of laughter, for Miss Cotton loved a joke on herself, as well as on another.

“O’ course, they all went at it again, with a bang,” she continued, “but them fellas heard, o’ course, an’ they started to shake.  An’ this tall chap in the middle, I’m tellin’ you about, was the worst of all.  I thought he’d a’ took a conniption fit an’ when he did manage to sober up a bit, he stared down at me that hard, that if I’d been a skit o’ a thing like one o’ you girls, I’d a’ blushed, sure.  But I jist stared back at him, good and hard, I tell you, till he had to look away.

“There was lots more programme besides that, singin’ an’ speakin’ pieces an’-oh, land! there was one girl come switchin’ in with a long tail to her dress, that would reach clean from here to the mill, an’ the neck of it cut that low it would make a body want to get under the seat; it was jist shameful!  An’ the way she sang was jist near as bad.  She squalled an’ took on as if everybody she’d ever knowed had been massacreed, an’ you couldn’t make out one single word she said no more than if it had been Eyetalian.  An’ all them folks set with their mouths open, an’ seemed to think it was jist grand, low neck an’ all, an’ when she finished up with a yell jist like the sawmill whistle, they clapped fit to kill.  I’m sure I’d heaps rather listen to Julia Duffy singin’ ‘Father, dear father, come home with me now,’ an’ you know what that’s like.”

“But that ain’t near the worst yet.  After all them fellas got through some more scrabblin’, out comes the tall chap again, I was tellin’ you about.  Maria said it was him, or I never would a guessed it, because, as sure as you’re standin’ there, Mrs. Hamilton, he was all blackened up and togged out with a long-tailed coat, an’ a high hat, an’ danced, an’ cut up jist fit to kill.  The people all went clean into fits; an’ I thought James Turner would a’ died laughin’.  It was real kind o’ comical, too, the way he went on.  But now I’m comin’ to the real part o’ my story.  When we were goin’ home on the street car, Maria says to me, sez she, ‘Do you mind the fellow that sang the coon song?’ sez she.  ‘Well, I should think I do,’ sez I, ‘an’ of all the bold young scamps!’-’Well,’ sez she, ‘that fellow’s goin’ to be a Presbyterian minister!’ ‘A minister!’ sez I; ‘what on earth’s a minister doin’ flappin’ ‘round in a black night-gown an’ playin’ on a fryin’ pan an’ singin’ nigger songs?  He ought to be home readin’ his Bible!’ sez I.  ‘Well,’ sez Maria, ‘he’s goin’ to be one anyhow.  He’s jist in Var-city yet,’ sez she, ‘an’ I guess it don’t matter.’  ‘Well,’ sez I, ’Maria Cotton, the sooner he gets out o’ Var-city, or whatever you call it, the better, for it must be a wicked hole!’ Well, we didn’t say any more about him, ‘cause we was racin’ an tearin’ ‘round to somethin’ new all the time, an’ I clean forgot all about it, until Monday night, I was goin’ home a piece o’ the road with Mrs. Fraser, an’ Mrs. Basketful called to me that there was a letter from Maria for me.  I was scairt for a minit, for I thought her an’ the children must be all dead, she writes so seldom.  But here if she didn’t write to tell me the most surprisin’ news you ever heard, no less than that my gigglin’ dancin’ chap with the bangjo was no less than our own minister!”

There was a chorus of startled exclamations.  Everyone had guessed the end of the story, but it was astounding nevertheless when put into words.

“How I could ha’ been so stupid as to forget,” continued Miss Cotton, “I can’t imagine.  It’s a good long time ago, though, an’ Maria never told me his name; but now what do you think o’ that, Mrs. Hamilton?”

“Dear, dear, ain’t it awful!” exclaimed that lady, in genuine distress.  She was of the old school, who considered a minister removed far beyond the frivolities of ordinary mortals, and was completely bewildered.  “Mebby that was when he was sowin’ his wild oats,” she said at last, with some hope.

“Pshaw, mother, ministers ain’t supposed to grow wild oats!” cried Bella piously.  She was not as much enamoured of Mr. Egerton as formerly; for Wee Andra was openly antagonistic to him since his mysterious disagreement with Donald Neil.

“Don’t any o’ you girls breathe a word o’ this,” warned Mrs. Hamilton.  “Andra Johnstone an’ some o’ the other elders aren’t too well pleased with the poor fellow now.”

“My!” sighed Maggie.  “Wouldn’t I love to tell Splinterin’ Andra that the minister could sing nigger songs and play a banjo.  He’d say-’Show me the sinfu’ instrument of Belial an’ Ah’ll smash it into a thoosand splinters!’” She accompanied the speech with such an exaggerated imitation of the old man’s vigorous gestures, using the poker in lieu of a cane, that the spectators shrieked with laughter.

“I’m afraid he’d smash the minister, too,” declared Sarah.

“Oh, well,” said Jessie, “I don’t see that there was any harm in Mr. Egerton’s singing and playing when he was young -”

“Oh, yes, o’ course you’ll take his part!” cried Miss Cotton.  “But I’ll tell you this much, I’ve got something more to tell, bigger than all that, something that’ll make you think he ain’t quite so perfect.”

“Why, ’Liza!” cried Mrs. Hamilton in alarm, “there surely ain’t more!”

“There jist is, Mrs. Hamilton, an’ something pretty queer.”  She was whispering again, and her audience drew near with bated breath.  “Maria wrote two whole pages about him, an’ she left the worst to the last.  She said, ‘I s’pose he’s a great fella’ for the girls, he always was in Toronto, an’-Jessie’s lookin’ scairt, I do declare!  Well, she said he’d better take care ’cause he was engaged to a high-toned lady in Toronto, engaged to be married, mind you!  It’s true, too, because Maria knows.  She’s rich, an’ awful stylish, an’ her name’s Helen Weir-Huntley, mind ye, one o’ them high-toned names with a stroke in the middle.  An’ Mrs. McNabb told Mrs. Fraser on the sly that Mrs. Basketful told her he wrote to a girl by that name every week o’ his life, only not to tell.  An’ he gets a letter back every week, too, with a big chunk of red wax on it, an’ some kind of a business stamped on; jist stylish folks uses that kind.  So I guess you girls had better quit playin’ organs an’ doin’ things for him!”

Jessie’s face flushed crimson.  “I don’t see what difference that would make, ’Liza,” she said with a steady look from her deep grey eyes.

“Well, well, ain’t it awful!” commented Mrs. Hamilton for the fifth time, quite overcome by this second disclosure.

“Well, I think it’s a pretty queer thing, anyhow,” said the narrator, setting the sewing machine whirring again; “I don’t set up for no saint myself -”

“That’s a good thing, ’Liza,” interrupted Maggie, who had recovered somewhat; “just think how it would bother you!”

“But I do say,” continued the other, imperturbably, “that ministers ought to act different from common folks.  And when I heard about his goin’s on, I jist thought it wasn’t any wonder he acted so queer about the organ.  Bella, let’s see if this band fits.  Goodness gracious, girls, speak of angels!  Who’s that comin’ in at the front gate?”

“It’s him!  It’s the minister!” cried Maggie, dancing wildly around,
“Let’s go an’ ask him how Miss
Thingy-me-bob-with-the-stroke-in-the-middle-of-her-name is!”

“For pity’s sake!” cried Mrs. Hamilton, an ejaculation of no particular meaning, but one she always used under unusual excitement.

“Bella, run an’ show him into the settin’ room, while I wash my hands out o’ this bread.  Who’d a’ thought of him comin’ here this mornin’ an’ us jist talkin’ about him!”

“Mercy me, mother!  I can’t go to the door in this wrapper.  Send somebody else; Jess, you look all right.”

“Yes, Jess, you trot out an’ show him in.  Tell him the President of the Ladies’ Aid’s here, in a most pious frame of mind, and she’d like to hear him play the bangjo and sing the other Joe-’Old Black Joe,’ or whatever you call him, and maybe he’ll dance the ‘Highland Fling,’ too!”

“Maggie!” implored her mother.  “He’ll hear you!  There’s the knocker!”

The minister’s sudden appearance put an abrupt termination to Miss Cotton’s gossip, but the story did not end there.  Jessie concluded for the time, that, though a minister, Mr. Egerton must be something of a flirt, and as Donald was now repentant she soon found no time to bestow upon his rival.  The young minister missed the girl’s pleasant companionship, but he soon discovered that there was much greater trouble ahead of him.  The story of his musical attainments in his college days rolled through Glenoro, gaining in bulk as it progressed.  For, contrary to Miss Cotton’s warning but quite in accord with her expectations, the tale leaked out.  Bella told it to Wee Andra, who told “the boys” at the corner.  Syl Todd rehearsed it before Coonie the next morning, and that was all that was necessary.  Coonie embellished it to suit himself, and produced such a work of art that he shocked Mrs. Fraser beyond speech when he delivered it to her at the top of the hill.

By the time it reached the Oa it was to the effect that in his college days Mr. Egerton had been a very wild and dissolute youth.  Glenoro might not have objected to a thoroughly reformed villain, but this young man’s gay conduct left them in doubt whether at heart he was any better now than in the past.  Old Andrew Johnstone, who had been somewhat mollified by the young man’s action in regard to the organ, was once more aroused.  At first he paid no heed to the story, for his son had told it to him.  Wee Andra did not think it necessary to repeat it verbatim; he was rather vague concerning details, but extremely serious.  Some tale ’Liza Cotton had heard, he explained.  It was quite true, he feared, something or other about his playing a fiddle and dancing, far worse than Sandy Neil had ever been guilty of, for this was in a theatre.  Wee Andra knew the word theatre was to his father a synonym for the bottomless pit.  “Mebbe the minister had been an actor once.”  Wee Andra hoped, for the sake of the Church, that it wasn’t true.

“Ah, ye tale-bearer!” cried his father with a withering contempt, which could not quite hide his perturbation.  “It’s a fine pack ye meet every night in the Glen!  Their only thought is to hear or tell some new thing, let it be false or true!  Ye canna’ even keep yer ill tongues aff a meenister o’ the Gospel!”

“But this is true, father,” declared the young man seriously. “’Liza Cotton saw him herself; you can ask her, if you don’t believe me.  Man!” he continued, growing frivolous again, “it’ll be fine here next winter if he plays the fiddle!  Sandy Neil’s goin’ to ask him to learn him some new dance tunes!”

“Ah, ye irreverent fool!” shouted his father, rising up from the dinner table where this conversation had been held.  “Man, ye an’ yon Neil pack neither fear God nor regard man!  Get oot o’ ma’ sight!”

Wee Andra, having wisely deferred his last shot until his dinner was finished, obeyed his father’s injunction with alacrity, and went off to the fields, consumed with unfilial mirth.

Meantime the subject of all this discussion was not oblivious to the fact that some strange undercurrent of feeling was working against him.  Coonie was the instrument used to make a reality out of the intangible thing.

The mail-carrier was coming slowly down the hill one September morning with hanging head and sullen mien.  Eliza Cotton had been sewing down on the Flats for over a week and he had not had any fun for a long time.  He was just sweeping the valley with his green eyes like a huge spider in search of prey, when he caught sight of a tempting fly.  The young minister was coming up the leaf-strewn path by the roadside.  He was just turning in at the McNabbs’ gateway, when Coonie pulled up.  He had brought a bundle from Lakeview for the blacksmith’s wife with his accustomed grumblings, and had intended to fling it over the gate, as he passed, in the hope that it contained something breakable.  But now he recognised in it an instrument in the hand of Providence to give him the long-wished-for speech with the minister.

“Good-mornin’!” he called, rather crustily, for Coonie affected good manners before no one, no matter what was his aim.  “Will you hand this bundle to the Missus in there, if you’re goin’.  It’s some o’ the fool truck I’ve got to lug across the country for weemen.”

Mr. Egerton stepped towards the buckboard, and Coonie grinned as he saw the brilliant polish of his boots disappear in the grey dust of the road.

“Hope you’re likin’ Glenoro,” he said as he handed out the parcel.

John Egerton met the unaccustomed friendliness of the mail-carrier with the utmost cordiality.  “Oh, yes, very well indeed, thank you!” he answered, but without the enthusiasm he would have displayed a couple months previous.

“Awful place for talk,” replied Coonie righteously.  “Never saw the likes.  If a fellow’s ever done anythin’ in his life he shouldn’t a’ done, cried too much when he was a baby, or anythin’ like that, they’ll find it out.  S’pose you’ll find they’re rakin’ up all the things you ever did?”

John Egerton looked at the questioner keenly.  He was not sufficiently acquainted with this queer specimen to be able to answer him according to his folly; so he said curtly, “I am perfectly willing they should, Mr. Greene; I never did anything I am ashamed of.”

Coonie’s face expressed profound astonishment, not unmixed with gentle reproof.  “Is that so?  Glad to hear it, sir, glad to hear it.”  He shook his head doubtfully as he spoke, and rode away, his shoulders drooping suspiciously.  He was in such good humour that seeing some of the Hamilton girls on the veranda, he drew in all the breath he was capable of and bawled, “Say, which o’ yous girls is goin’ to marry the minister?  I hear you’re all after him!”

There was a chorus of smothered shrieks and a sudden vanishing of whisking skirts within the doorway, and having satisfied himself that Mr. Egerton must have heard, Coonie swung his whip round old Bella and clattered up to the post-office in high glee.  And Duncan Polite from his watchtower on the hilltop witnessed his meeting with the minister and prayed that the young servant of his Master might be speaking to Coonie of things eternal.

John Egerton returned to his study in deep annoyance.  He now realised certainly that someone was circulating slanderous tales about him, tales that had caused Jessie Hamilton to avoid him.  His thoughts instantly reverted to Donald.  He had noticed him and Jessie strolling along the river bank nearly every evening lately; probably he was filling the girl’s mind with disagreeable untruths regarding her pastor.  He believed young Neil capable of it.  The knowledge of his perfect innocence in the past only served to increase his anger at anyone who had dared to malign him.  He waited until four o’clock and then went up to the schoolmaster’s house and demanded an explanation.

Mr. Watson confessed all he knew, making the story as much like the original as possible.  It was not Donald but ’Liza Cotton that had told it, he explained.  At first the victim of the tale could have laughed at the absurdity of it all, it seemed so trivial.  But that did not explain why Jessie Hamilton had so suddenly preferred Donald to him.

“Are you sure that’s all, Watson?” he demanded, “absolutely all?”

“Well-,” the schoolmaster hesitated, but he was the minister’s slave and could deny him nothing.  “There was something more, about your being engaged.  They’ve even got the lady’s name; the post-mistress indorsed it, too.  Aren’t they a pack of jackals, anyhow!”

The young shepherd went home without denying this imputation against his flock.  He was overcome by a feeling of impotent rage against everyone in Glenoro.  Did ever mortal man have such a position to fill?  He must be all things to all men.  He must have the inspiration of his grandfather in the pulpit, and the piety of Mr. Cameron in the home; he must be a hail-fellow-well-met with every country bumpkin who came under his notice, and he must have the manner of a judge pronouncing death, to meet with the approval of his elders.  He must not pay attention to any particular young lady, and yet he must dance attendance upon all; he must have the gift of tongues in the Oa and an Irish brogue in the Flats.  And just when he was pleasing the party he felt to be the most influential, and to him the most congenial, they must turn upon him and rend him for the very qualities they most admired in him!  He was exasperated beyond endurance.  He would resign:  yes immediately, and leave the silly, gossiping place to its fate.  And then he thought how it would look before his compeers:  he, John McAlpine Egerton, the pride of his year, the hope of the professors, and the most promising young man in the college, could not manage this little back-woods church for one year.  And then there was Jessie.  Of course he was not in love with her, he told himself, but he did want her to think well of him.  She had heard about Helen, of course.  It was the old story.  He could not lift his hat to a girl but the whole congregation must stand waiting for him to marry her.  He fairly writhed in his indignation during the night, the only night his Glenoro congregation had disturbed his slumbers, and the next morning he was no nearer a solution of his difficulties.

The poor young man was treading a hard road, one which was made all the harder because it was of his own choosing.  For he had, like the foolish priests of olden times, tried to do, with carnal means, a holy task which demanded heavenly, and was suffering the naturally resulting confusion and distress.  For he had forgotten that the Jéhovah who demanded holy fire from Nadab and Abihu, does so even to-day; and the priest who raises unconsecrated hands to His altar must even yet hear the dread tones of the Omnipotent-“I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me:  and before all the people I will be glorified.”