ROBERT E. KNOWLES
New York Chicago Toronto FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY London and Edinburgh
Copyright, 1905, by FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
First Edition, September, 1905. Second Edition, October, 1905. Third Edition, October 15, 1905. Fourth Edition, November 1905. Fifth Edition, December 1905. Sixth Edition, April, 1906.
New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 80 Wabash Avenue Toronto: 27 Richmond Street, W. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street
To The Canadian Pilgrim Fathers
I THE TURN OF THE TIDE 9
II A MAN WITH A SECRET 20
III OUR MUTUAL TRIAL 26
IV OUR MUTUAL VERDICT 34
V MY KIRK SESSION 42
VI THE FIRST PARISH ROUND 50
VII "THE CHILD OF THE REGIMENT" 58
VIII "A NEW FOOT ON THE FLOOR" 64
IX "ANGELS UNAWARES" 73
X MY PIOUS PROFLIGATE 78
XI PLUCKING A FIERY BRAND 88
XII "BY THAT SAME TOKEN" 98
XIII WITH THE WORKMEN 106
XIV WITH THE EMPLOYERS 119
XV A BOLD PROPOSAL 128
XVI GEORDIE'S OOT-TURN 141
XVII "NOO, THE IN-TURN" 154
XVIII HOW ELSIE WON THE GATE 159
XIX A MAIDEN'S LOVE 175
XX A FATHER'S CRUCIFIXION 187
XXI THE OLD PRECENTOR'S NEW SONG 199
XXII "THE MILLS OF THE GODS" 215
XXIII A MAIDEN PRIESTESS 229
XXIV THE SWEET SUNNY SOUTH 241
XXV ST. CUTHBERT'S SECOND CALL 258
XXVI LOVE'S SINGING SACRIFICE 276
XXVII THE HIDDEN CRUCIFIX 290
XXVIII THE HEATHERY HILLS 300
XXIX "AND ALL BUT HE DEPARTED" 311
XXX LOVE'S VICTORY OVER SIN 323
XXXI LOVE'S TRIUMPH OVER ALL 330
The TURN of The TIDE
"If you don't get the call you needn't come back here," said my wife to me as I stood upon the door-sill, bag in hand, and my hard-bought ticket in my pocket.
"Well, dear one, I would be sure of it if they could only see the perquisite that goes along with me."
"You must be more serious, Tom, if you expect great calls; but come inside a minute till I say good-bye. When you brought me first to Canada we had half a dozen good-byes to every one farewell. Good-bye again, and if they don't call you they will deserve what they lose."
Thus spoke my wife, and thus was I despatched on the mission that was big with moment.
It was a wondrous hour that brought to us the invitation which I was now proceeding to accept. Not that we were unhappy because our salary was small; we had not lived by bread alone, and our souls were well content. But my wife had delirious visions, which she affirmed were sane and reasonable, of her husband's coming yet into his own, and indulged every now and then in savage and delicious little declarations of the great misfit, which misfit was in my being the minister of a little church which afforded a little salary and provoked a little fame.
Her other days had been spent in luxury and amid the refinement and the pleasures which money only can provide. And when, our wedding day drawing near apace, I sent her my budget letter, bitterly revealing impecunious facts at which I had before but darkly hinted, and warning her of all the sacrifice which lay beyond, she replied with vehement repudiation of any fears, and in that hour made me rich.
"Cheese and kisses," wrote she, "are considered good fare in my South land for all who have other resources in their hearts." And I mentally averred that half of that would be enough for me.
And so we went ahead—oh, progressive step! And we were never poor again.
But there came a more heroic hour. It was hard, so hard to do, but the pressure rendered concealment quite impossible, for the note I had endorsed was handed in for suit. So I told her one twilight hour that our already limited income must be shared with an unromantic creditor. There was a little tightening of the lips, then of the arms, then of those mutual heart cords entangled in their eternal root.
We were boarding then, three rooms in a family hotel, and when I returned next day at evening I found everything—books, furniture, piano—all moved to a room upon the topmost story. I was directed thither by the smiling landlord, more enlightened than I, and I entered with furtive misgivings in my soul and with visions of that spacious Southern home before my rueful eyes.
But she was there, radiant and triumphant, still flushed with exercise of hand and heart, viewing proudly her proof of a new axiom that two or more bodies may occupy the same space at the selfsame time.
"I am so glad you didn't come before," she said. "I wanted to be all settled before you saw it. This is just as good as we had before, and only half the price. Isn't it cozy? And everything just fits. And we are away from all the noise. And look at that lovely view. And now we can pay off that horrid note. Aren't you glad?"
"But, Emmeline, my heart breaks to see you caged like this. It is noble of you, just like you, but I cannot forgive myself that I have brought you to this," said I, my voice trembling with pain and joy.
"Why, dear one, how can you speak like that? We have everything here, and each other too, and we shall be caged together."
I kissed that girlish face again and blessed the gift of heaven, murmuring only, in tones that could not be heard, "He setteth the solitary in families," and as we went down together I wondered if that sudden elevation had not brought us nearer heaven than we had been below.
It was largely owing to this lion-hearted courage that I now found myself swiftly borne towards the vacant pulpit which yawned in stately expectation of its weekly candidate.
The invitation "to conduct divine services in St. Cuthbert's, whose pulpit is now vacant," had come unsought from the kirk session of that distant temple.
St. Cuthbert's was the stately cathedral of all adjoining Presbyterianism. It was the pride and crown of a town which stood in prosperous contentment upon the verge of cityhood. Its history was great and honourable; its traditions warlike and evangelical; its people intelligent and intense. Its vast area was famed for its throng of acute and reflective hearers, almost every man of whom was a sermon taster, while its officers were the acknowledged possessors of letters patent to the true ecclesiastical nobility. In my student days, medals and scholarships were never quoted among the trophies of our divinity men if it could be justly said of any one that he had preached twice before the hard heads of St. Cuthbert's. This triumph was recited with the same reverent air as when men used to say, "He preached before the Queen."
Some hundreds of miles must be traversed before I reached the place, but only some four-and-twenty hours before I reached the time, of my trial sermons. Therefore did I convert my car into a study and my unsteady knee into a desk, giving myself to the rehearsal of those discourses by which I was to stand or fall. Every weak hand thereof I laboured to strengthen, and every feeble knee I endeavoured to confirm. And what motley hours were those I spent on that fast-flying train! All my reflections tended to devotion, but yet my errand was throbbing with ambition.
Whereupon I fell into a strange and not unprofitable reverie, painfully striving to separate my thoughts, the sheep from the goats, and to reconcile them the one to the other. I knew well enough the human frame to be persuaded that ambition could not altogether be cast out from the spirit of a man, which led me to reflect upon its possible place and purpose if controlled by a master hand beyond the hand of time. I strove to discover my inmost motive, far behind all other aims, and consoled myself with the hope that God might make it the dominant and sovereign one, to which all others might be unconscious ministers, even as all other lesser ones obey the driving wheel.
I somehow felt that the vision of that radiant face at home, for whom ambition sprung like a fountain, was in no wise inconsistent with the holiest work which awaited me on the morrow.
At thought of her, my ambition, earth-born though it was, seemed to be robed in white and to be unashamedly ministering unto God. And I was fain to believe at last that this very hope of a larger place was from Himself, and that He was the shepherd of the sheep and of the goats alike. Whereupon I fell upon my sermons afresh with a clearer conscience, which means a stronger mind, and swiftly prayed, even while I worked, that the Lord of the harvest would winnow my tumultuous thoughts, garnering the wheat unto Himself and burning the tares with unquenchable fire.
Onward rushed the hours, and onward rolled the train in its desperate struggle with them, till the setting sun, victorious over both, reminded me that I would be in New Jedboro before the dusk deepened into dark. Then restored I my sermon notes, reburnished and repaired, to the trusty keeping of my well-worn valise, settling myself for one of those delicious baths of thought to be truly enjoyed only on the farther side of toil.
I had but well begun to compose my mind and to forecast the probable experiences of the morrow, when a rich Scotch voice broke in upon me with the unmistakable inquiry, "And where micht ye be gaein?"
I responded with the name of New Jedboro, assuming the air of a man who was bent only upon a welcome visit to long-separated friends. But I had reckoned without my host. My interrogator was a Scot, with the Scot's incurable curiosity, always to be estimated by the indifference of his air. If his face be eloquent of profound unconcern, then may you know that a fever of inquisitiveness is burning at his heart.
My questioner seemed to scarcely listen for my answer, yet a tutored eye could tell that he was camping on my trail.
His next interrogation was launched with courteous composure: "Ye'll no' be the man wha's expeckit in St. Cuthbert's ower the Sabbath?"
I now saw that this was no diluted Scotsman. Bred on Canadian soil, he was yet original and pure. He had struck the native Scottish note, the ecclesiastical. Like all his countrymen, he had a native taste for a minister. His instincts were towards the Kirk, and for all things akin to Psalm or Presbytery he intuitively took the scent. I have maintained to this day that he sniffed my sermons from afar, undeceived by the worldly flavour of my rusty bag.
I collected myself heroically, and replied that I was looking forward to the discharge of the high duty to which he had referred. Upon this admission he moved nearer, as a great lawyer stalks his quarry in the witness box. He eyed me solemnly for a moment, with the look of one taking aim, and then said slowly—
"I'm no' an elder in that kirk."
"Are you not?" said I, with as generous an intonation of surprise as conscience would permit.
"I'm no' an elder," he repeated. "But I gang till it," he added.
Then followed a pause, which I dared to break with the remark, "I am told it is a spacious edifice."
He merely glanced at me, as if to say that all irrelevant conversation was out of place, and then continued—
"And I'm no' the precentor; I'm no' the man, ye ken, that lifts the tune."
I nodded sympathetically, trying to convey my sense of the mistake the congregation had made in its choice of both elders and precentor.
"Ye wud say, to luik at me, that I'm no' an office-seeker, an' ye're richt. But I haud an office for a' that."
This time I smiled as if light had come to me, and as one who has been reassured in his belief in an overruling Providence.
"What office do you hold?" said I.
"Ye wudna guess in a twalmonth. I'm no' the treasurer, as ye're thinkin'—I'm the beadle."
I uttered a brief eulogy upon the honour and responsibility of that position, pointing out that the beadle had a dignity all his own, as well as the elders and other officers of the kirk.
He endorsed my views with swift complacent nods.
"That's what I aye think o' when I see the elders on the Sabbath mornin'," said he; "forbye, there's severals o' them, but wha ever heard tell o' mair than ae beadle? And what's mair, I had raither be a door-keeper in the Lord's hoose than dwall in tents o' sin. Them's Dauvit's words, and they aye come to me when I compare mysel' wi' the elders."
I hurriedly commended his reference to the Scriptures, at the same time avoiding any share in his rather significant classification, remarking on the other hand that elders had their place, and that authority was indispensable in all churches, and the very essence of the Presbyterian system.
He interrupted me, fearing he had been misunderstood.
"Mind ye," he declared fervently, "I'm no' settin' mysel' up even wi' the minister. I regard him as mair important than me—far mair important," he affirmed, with reckless humility, "but the elders, they are juist common fowk like mysel'. An' at times they are mair than common. Me an' the minister bear a deal frae the elders. He aye bids me to bear wi' them, an' I aye bid him no' to mind. I tell him whiles that we'd meet an' we'd greet whaur the elders cease frae troublin'—them's the poet's words."
We were now some two miles or so from the town and the church wherein he exercised his gifts and magnified his office; and my rugged friend, dismissing the elders for the time, reverted to the inquiry he had seen fit previously to ignore.
"Ye were askin' me aboot the kirk."
"Yes," said I in a chastened voice, "I asked you if it was not very large."
"Thae was no' yir exact words, but I ken yir meanin'. It's a gran' kirk, St. Cuthbert's, an' ye'll need to speak oot—no' to yell, ye ken, for I'm nigh deefened wi' the roarin' o' the candidates sin' oor kirk was preached vacant by the Presbytery. Dinna be ower lang; and be sure to read a' the psalm afore ye sit doon, and hae the sough o' Sinai in yir discoorse, specially at the mornin' diet; an' aye back up the Scriptures wi' the catechism, an' hae a word or twa aboot the Covenanters, them as sealed their testimony wi' their bluid, ye ken. Ye'll tak' ma advice as kindly; it's mair than likely we'll never meet again gin the morrow's gone."
I thanked him for his counsel and reached for my bag, at the signal of escaping steam.
The car door had just closed behind me when I felt a hand upon my arm and heard a now familiar voice—
"An' dinna pray ower muckle for yir ain devoted folk at hame; an' dinna ask the King an' Head o' the Kirk to fetch till us a wise under-shepherd o' the flock."
With a word of additional acknowledgment I stepped on to the station platform, but my parley with a burly cabman was interrupted by the same voice whispering in my ear—
"Ye micht mind the elders in yir prayer; gin they were led mair into the licht it wad dae nae harm to onybody."
A MAN With a SECRET
There was no one about the station to welcome me and none to direct, but there were many to stare and wonder.
The moderator of the vacant kirk had provided me with the address of the house to which he said I should repair. I was in no wise mortified by this apparent lack of hospitality, for the aforesaid moderator had reminded me in his postscript that the folk of St. Cuthbert's were notoriously Scotch, untrained to any degree of devotion at the beginning, but famous for the fervour of their loyalty at the close of their ministers' careers.
Whether or not I should have any career at all amongst them was the subject of my thoughts as I wended my way to "Inglewood," for such was the melodious title of the house which was to be my home during my sojourn in New Jedboro.
Beautiful for situation it proved to be, nestling among its sentinels of oak, upon the highest hill of seven which garrisoned the town. The signs of wealth and good taste were everywhere about, and my probationer's heart was beating fast when I pulled the polished silver knob whose patrician splendour had survived the invasion of all electrical upstarts.
I heard the answering bell far within, breaking again and again into its startled cry, and my soul answered it with peals of such humiliation as is known only to the man whose heart affords a home to that ill-matched pair, the discomfiture of the candidate and the pride of the Presbyterian.
The door was opened by the master of the house, Michael Blake, a man of forty-five or so, the wealthy senior of New Jedboro's greatest manufacturing firm.
I suppose he looked first at me, but my first sensation was of his keen eye swiftly falling on the shabby travelling-bag in my left hand, my right kept disengaged for any friendly overture which might await me.
Oh, the shame and the anguish of those swift glances towards one's travelling-bag! Can no kind genius devise a scheme for their temporary concealment such as the modern book agent has brought to its perfection, full armed beneath the treacherous shelter of his cloak?
I broke the silence: "Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Blake?"
"Yes, that is my name," responded a rich, soulful voice, resonant with the finest Scottish flavour, "and what can I do for you, sir?"
Presuming that it would be hardly delicate for me to state the particular duty I was expecting him to discharge, I betook myself to the association of ideas, and replied—
"I am to preach in St. Cuthbert's to-morrow," hoping that this might suggest to him the information he had sought.
Swift and beautiful was the transformation. The soul of hospitality leaped from his face, stern and secretive though it was. His eye, which had seemed to hold my blushing bag at bay, turned now upon me with all the music of a great welcome in its glance. He looked at me with that frank abruptness which true cordiality creates, and when he took my hand in his my heart leaped to the warm shelter of its grasp.
"I have been looking for you; you are welcome here," he said, in the quietest of tones. He drew me gently within the massive door, and in that moment I knew that I was in the custody of love.
A grandfather's clock, proud and stately in its sense of venerable faithfulness, was gravely ticking off the moments with hospitality in its tone. A pleasant-faced lassie showed me to my room, reminding me that the evening meal awaited my descent.
My host justified my every impression. While we disposed of the plain but appetizing fare, whose crown was the speckled trout which his skill had lured from home, he submitted me to the kindliest of cross-examinations concerning my past, my scholarship, my evangelical positions, my household, and much else that nestled among them all. Throughout, I felt the charm and the power of his gentleness, and under its secret influence I yielded up what many another would have sought in vain. Some natures there are which search you as the sun lays bare the flowers, making for itself a pathway to their inmost heart, every petal opening before its siege of love.
But reciprocity there was none. His lips seemed to stand like inexorable sentinels before his heart, in league with its great secret, the guardians of a past which no man had heard revealed. One or two tentative attempts to discover his antecedents were foiled by his charming taciturnity.
"I came from the old country many years ago," was the only information he vouchsafed me.
The evening was spent in conversation which never flamed but never flagged. My increasing opportunity for observation served but to confirm my conviction that I was confronted with a man who had one great and separate secret hidden within the impenetrable recesses of a contrite heart. He said little about St. Cuthbert's or the morrow, his most significant observation being to the effect that the serious-minded of the kirk were looking forward to my appearance with hopeful interest.
After he had bidden me good-night, he again sought me in my chamber, interrupting the devotions which I was striving to conduct in oblivion of to-morrow and in the sombre light of the Judgment Day.
"Will you do me a kindness in the kirk to-morrow?" he said, with almost pathetic eagerness.
I responded fervently that nothing could be a greater kindness to myself than the sense of one bestowed on him.
"Very well, then, will you give us the Fifty-first Psalm to sing at the morning service—it always seems to me that it is the soul's staple food; and let us begin with the fifth verse—
"'Behold, Thou in the inward parts With truth delighted art.'
It falls like water on the thirsty heart. And perhaps, if your previous selection will permit, you would give us in the evening the paraphrase—
"'Come let us to the Lord our God With contrite hearts return.'
My mother first taught me that," he added, with the first quiver of the lip I yet had seen, "and I have learned it anew from God."
He then swiftly departed, little knowing that he had given me that night a pillow for both head and heart. I fell asleep, his great quotations and his earnest words flowing about my soul even as the ocean laves the shore.
OUR MUTUAL TRIAL
The Sabbath morning broke serene and fair. Thus also awoke my spirit, still invigorated by its contact with one I felt to be an honest and God-fearing man, whose ardour I knew was chastened by a long-waged conflict of the soul.
Our morning worship was led by Mr. Blake himself, who besought the Divine blessing upon the labours of him who was "for this day 'our servant for Jesus' sake.'"
We walked to the church together, mingling with the silent and reverent multitude pressing towards a common shrine.
As he left me at the vestry door, he said earnestly—
"Forget that you are a candidate of St. Cuthbert's, and remember that you are a minister of God."
The beadle recognized me with a confidential nod, inspected the pulpit robe which I had donned, and taking up the "Books," he led the way to the pulpit steps with an air which might have provoked the envy of the most solemn mace-bearer who ever served his king.
He opened the door, and then there appeared to my wondering view a sea of expectant faces, vast beyond my utmost dream. They were steeped in silence, a silence so intense that it left the impress on my mind of an ocean, majestic in its heaving grandeur; for the stiller you find the sea of human faces the more reasonably may you dread the trough of human waves.
The wonder of the reverent and the sneer of the scornful have alike been prompted by the preaching of a candidate. Something strange and incongruous seems to pertain to the performance of a man whose acknowledged purpose is the dual one of winning alike the souls and the smiles of men. He seeks, as all preachers are supposed to do, the uplift of his hearers' souls, while his very appearance is a pledge of his desire to so commend himself as to be their favourite and their choice. Much hath been written, and more hath been said, of the humiliation to which he must submit who occupies a vacant pulpit as the applicant for a vacant kirk.
But, whatever ground there be for these reflections, I felt the force of none of them that radiant Sabbath morning in St. Cuthbert's. My Calvinism, which is regarded by those who know it not as dragonlike and altogether drastic, proved now my comfort and my stay, and within its vast pavilion I seemed to hide as in the covert of the Eternal. For there surged through heart and brain the stately thought that such experimental dealings between a minister and a people might be sublimated before reverent eyes, hallowed as a holy venture, and destined to play its part in the economy of God.
His claim seemed loftier far than any obligation between my heart and man, and so uplifted was I by the sense of a commission which even candidature could neither invalidate nor deform, that all sense of servility, all cringing thought of livelihood, all fear of faltering and all faltering of fear, seemed to flee away even as the blasphemy of darkness retreats before the sanctities of the morn. In very truth I forgot that I was a candidate of St. Cuthbert's and seemed but to remember that I was a minister of God.
Whether my sermon was good or ill I could not then have told; but I could well have told that a victorious secret is to him who strives after earnestness of heart, unvexed by the clamour of his own rebellious and ambitious soul.
The congregation was vast and reverent as befitted the purpose of the hour; the most careless eye could mark the strong and reflective cast of those Scottish faces, whose native adamant was but little softened by their sojourn beneath Canadian skies. Reverence seemed to clothe these worshippers like a garment. They were as men who believed in God, whereby are men most fearsome and yet most glorious to look upon. It was the fearsomeness of such a face, garrisoned in God, which had beat back the haughty gaze of Mary when she met the eye of Knox, burning with a fire which no torch of time had kindled.
And when they sang their opening hymn, they seemed to stride upwards as mountaineers, for they lifted up their eyes as men who would cast them down again only before God Himself. From word to word they climbed, and from line to line, as though each word or line were some abutting crag of the very hill of God. Besides, the psalm they sung was this—
"I to the hills will lift mine eyes From whence doth come mine aid."
Their intensity steadied my very soul. They seemed to look at me as if to say, "We are in earnest if you are; our kirk is vacant but our hearts are full," and the pulpit in which I stood, and in which many a hapless man had stood before, was hallowed by its solemn garrison of waiting souls, and redeemed of all taint of treason towards its sacred trust.
When I called them unto prayer, they answered as the forest answers when the wind brings it word from heaven, save some venerable few who rose erect (as was their fathers' way), standing like sentinel oaks amid lesser trees, they also bending with an obeisance prompted from within. It seemed not hard to lead these earnest hearts in prayer—they seemed the rather to lead my soul as by a more familiar path; or, to state the truth more utterly, their devoutness seemed to bear me on, as the deep ocean bears itself and its every burden towards the shore.
This intensity of worship pervaded its every act. They joined in the reading of the Word as those who must both hear and see it for themselves, their books opening and closing in unison with the larger one which decked their pulpit like a crown.
Even when the collection was taken up they maintained their loftiness of poise. It had been often told me that Scotch folk contribute to an offering with the same heroism wherewith their ancestors opened their unshrinking veins, doling forth their money, like their blood, with a martyr's air. But although I remarked that some Scottish eyes followed their departing coins with glances of parental tenderness, there was yet a solemn stateliness about the operation which greatly won me, even those who dedicated the homeliest copper doing it unabashedly, as if to the Lord, and not unto men.
We closed with the penitential psalm which Mr. Blake had asked, and its great words seemed charged with the strong reality of men who believed in sin with the same old-fashioned earnestness as marked their faith in God, the two answering the one to the other as deep calleth unto deep, eternally harmonious as they are.
The congregation swayed slowly down the aisle, Scottishly cold and still, like the processional of the ice in the spring-time. They reminded me of noble bergs drifting through the Straits of Belle Isle. It was a Presbyterian flood, and every man a floe. But I suspected mightily that they were nevertheless the product of the spring, and somehow felt that they dwelt near the confines of the summer. The fire which warmed their hearts had touched my own, and in that very moment wherein they turned their backs upon me, I pursued them with surrendering tenderness, and coveted for my own the rugged faithfulness which hath now enriched these many golden years.
One or two turned to glance at me, but when their gaze met mine they despatched their eyes on some impartial quest, as if caressing their noble church or looking for some lingering friend.
The precentor, whose place was in a kind of songster's pulpit just below me, was wreathed in the complacent air of a man who has discharged a lofty duty and has done it well. He had borne himself throughout as the real master of the entire service, and as one who had ruled from an untitled throne. He cast me one or two swift glances, such as would become an engineer who had brought his train or a pilot who had brought his ship to the desired haven. I returned his overture with a look of humble gratitude, and he thereupon relaxed as one well content with what was his hard-earned due, but nothing more. I have well learned since then that by so much as one values one's peace, by that much must one reverence the precentor.
When I regained the vestry I found it peopled with six or seven elders (a great and sweltering population), but no word of favour or approval escaped a single Scottish lip. Their hour had not yet come; but I knew it not, and was proportionately cast down by what seemed to me a silent rhetoric of scorn. But it was the will of heaven to somewhat set aside what I unknowingly estimated to be the verdict of indifference. The beadle, as one with whom I had had a past, beckoned me without, whispering that a "wumman body," a stranger, desired to speak with me in an adjoining room.
Her story was short and sad; her request, the sobbing entreaty of a broken heart that I would pray for her darling and her prodigal, her first-born, wandering in that farthest of all countries which lies beyond the confines of a mother's ken. I answered her with a glance which owned the kinship of her tears, and pledged it with a hand which, thank God, has ever found its warmest welcome in the hand of woe. Then I went back to the vestry unafraid. "For what," thought I, "can these elders do either for me or against me, if I am really a priest unto God for one mother's son? This woman has evidently forgotten that I am a candidate of St. Cuthbert's, and has remembered only that I am a minister of God."
OUR MUTUAL VERDICT
The evening service was like unto that of the morning, the only difference being that I saw this sturdy folk, mountain-like, in the light of the setting, instead of the rising sun. But still no word or hint revealed to me the favour or disfavour with which my efforts had been received by the people of St. Cuthbert's, save only that one man ventured to remark that I had brought him in mind of Thomas Chalmers.
I hurriedly exclaimed, "Is that so?" in a tone which all too plainly implored him to go on.
"Yes," said he. "When ye blawed yir nose, if ma een had been shut, I cud hae swore it was Chammers," whereupon the last state of me was worse than the first.
But I was a little comforted in overhearing one Scot say to another as they passed me on their homeward way, "He's no' to be expeckit to preach like yon man frae Hawick," to which the other replied, and I caught his closing words, "But there was a bit at the end that wasna bad."
This was but a thin gruel to satisfy one's wondering soul, but it was shortly thickened by the beadle. He was waiting for us at Mr. Blake's, wishing instruction about some task that fell within his duties, but he managed to have a word with me—
"I canna tell what waits ye, but, gin ye'd like to see through the manse, I'll tak' ye through the morn."
I thanked him, declining, but secretly blessed him and inwardly rejoiced.
At worship that night my gentle host read the story of the prodigal, and when we knelt to pray he repeated twice, "I will arise and go unto my Father," and in the pause I felt that the wave of some besetting memory was beating on the shore; more and more was it borne in upon me that this man had a past, shared only by himself and God and some one else unknown.
The morning witnessed my departure from New Jedboro, and from the window of the train I watched its fast-retreating hills, so often trodden by me since with the swinging stride of joy, or clambered with the heavy step of care.
There is neither time nor space to set down in detail all that followed. Let it suffice to say that while they were musing the fire burned, and the good folk of St. Cuthbert's slowly and solemnly resolved to call me to their ancient church.
They were scandalized by a report, which spread with pestilential ease, that I had known my wife but three short weeks when I asked her to walk the long walk with me. This and other rumours provoked them to despatch a sage and ponderous officer to the distant scene of my labours, that he might investigate them on the spot. He came, he saw, he was conquered. My wife lassoed him at a throw. He went home in fetters, his eloquence alone unloosed. Long before the night on which they should meet to call, he had brandished his opinion as to the wisdom of my delirious haste.
"But did he mak' his choice so redeek'lus sudden?" he was asked.
"I dinna ken," he answered tropically, "and I dinna care. If he bided three weeks, he bided ower lang. I kent that fine when ance I saw her. Noo, I pit it till ye, gin ye were crossin' a desert place, an' ye saw the Rose o' Sharon afore ye, wad ye no' pluck it gin ye micht, and pluck it quick? I pit it till ye." And they answered him not a word, for there is no debater like the heart.
I was told in after days that my historic friend the beadle canvassed for me night and day, laying mighty stress upon the fact that he knew me well, since he had travelled with me, assuring every ear that I was "uncommon ceevil," and proudly laying bare the independent scorn with which I had met his proposition to inspect the manse.
"But we micht get him yet," he concluded, "gin we gang richt aboot it."
These testimonials, together with his plaintive appeal to be relieved of the responsibility which the absence of a fixed minister threw upon himself, went far to confirm the wavering.
Nor shall I linger to trace the workings of that ponderous machinery whereby I was at last installed as the minister of St. Cuthbert's Church. Even the great assemblage which gathered to welcome us, with its infinite introductions, its features social, devotional, and deputational, its addresses civic and ecclesiastical, must be dismissed with a word.
It reminded me of nothing so much as of the launching of a ship, and beneath all its tumult of artillery there thrummed the deep undertone of joy. For St. Cuthbert's, contrary to its historic way, had parted with its last minister, a man of great ability, amid the smoke of battle, and he had gone forth as Napoleon went, with a martial record which the corroding years even yet have scarcely tarnished. Fierce had been the fight, the factions grimly equal, and beclouded with a sublime confusion as to which side had been led by heaven and which by Belial. On this point, even now, they do not exactly see eye to eye.
And this deep joy, whose untiring hum (joy's native voice) had entwined itself with every exercise of our exultant gathering was born of the assurance of returning harmony and the welcome calm which follows the departing storm. The gentle vines of peace were beginning to clothe their scarred and disfigured Zion.
St. Cuthbert's hailed that night as the hour of its convalescence. In consequence, every speech, even those from dry and desiccated lips, was coloured with the melody of hope. Even hoary jokes and ancestral stories, kept for tea-meetings as hard tack is kept for the army and navy, were disinfected by the kindly flavour which brooded like an April cloud.
And now it is my purpose to set down as best I may some of the features of my life, and a few of my most vivid observations among these remarkable folk.
The greater number of them had been born in bonnie Scotland, and all of them, even those who had never seen their ancestral home, spoke and lived and thought as though they had just come from the heathery hills. They were sprung from the loins of heroes, the stalwart pioneers from Roxburghshire and Ayrshire and Dumfries, and many another noble spot whose noblest sons had gone forth to earth's remotest bound, flaming with love of liberty and God. Seventy years before they had settled about New Jedboro, thinking of the well-loved Scottish town whose name it bore.
Soon the echoing forest bowed before their gleaming axes, and they made the wilderness to blossom like the rose. Comfort, and even wealth, came to them at the imperious beck of industry. Stern and earnest, reckoning frivolity a sin, finding their pleasure in a growing capacity for self-denial and a growing scorn of needless luxury, they cherished in their blood the iron which had been bequeathed by noble sires.
Hand in hand with God like sons of Knox, they built the school and the church with the first-fruits of their toil, disporting themselves again in their unforgotten psalms, worshipping after the dear-bought manner of their fathers, not a few of whom had paid the price of blood, nor deemed it sacrifice.
Like draws to like, they say. With St. Cuthbert's this had certainly been the case; for every minister who had served them heretofore had been both born and educated in their motherland.
Three had they had. The first was the Reverend John Grant, Doctor of Divinity, from Greenock; the second, the Reverend James Kay, from Aberdeen; the third, my immediate predecessor, the Reverend Henry Alexander from Glasgow.
Like a mountain peak towered the memory of their first minister, a man of gigantic power, scholarly and profound, grimly genial, carrying with him everywhere the air of the Eternal. He was as eloquent almost as human lips can be, magnetic to the point of tyranny, and grandly independent of everything and every one but God. His fame covered Canada like a flood. American colleges sought the honour of their laurel on his brow, and from one of the best he accepted his Doctor's hood. City congregations coveted him with pious envy, but he hearkened to few and coquetted with none. He had assumed the cure of St. Cuthbert's when it was almost entirely (as it was still considerably) a country congregation, revelling in solitude and souls, both of which were nearer here to Nature's heart than amid the sweltering throng. Here he cherished his mighty heart and gave eternal bent to hearts only less mighty than his own.
"Remote from towns he ran his godly race, Nor e'er had changed nor wished to change his place."
Throughout my ministry in St. Cuthbert's the mention of his name was the signal for a cloud of witnesses. Forty years had elapsed since the countryside followed him to his grave, shrouded in gown and bands, a regalia more than royal to their loving eyes. But they had guarded his memory with the vigilance which belongs only to the broken heart, and the traditions of his greatness were fresh among them still.
"I likit the ither twa fine," said a shrewd sermon taster to me soon after my arrival, "but their sermons didna plough the soul like the Doctor's; we hae na had the fallow grun' turned up sin' he dee'd."
And so said, or thought, they all.
My KIRK SESSION
He would need a brave and facile pen who would venture to portray the kirk session of St. Cuthbert's Church. For any kirk session is far from commonplace, let alone the session of such a church as mine. Kirk sessions are the bloom of Scottish character in particular and the crown and glory of mankind in general. Piety, sobriety, severity, these are the three outstanding graces which they illustrate supremely; but interlocked with these are many other gifts and virtues in varying degrees of culture.
In St. Cuthbert's, the pride of eldership was chiefly vested in their wives and daughters.
"Ye mauna be ower uplifted aboot yir faither's office," was the oft-repeated admonition of the elder's wife to the elder's children, and the children were not slow to remark that her words were one part rebuke and ten parts pride. For to mothers and bairns alike he appeared as one of God's kings and priests when he walked down the aisle with the vessels of the Lord.
Many of these men were poor, grandly and pathetically poor, but none was poor enough to appear at the sacramental board without his "blacks," radiant with the lustre of open love and sacred sacrifice. This I afterwards learned was their wives' doing, and marvellous in my eyes. Ah me! How many a decently apparelled husband, how many a white-robed child, has come forth out of great tribulation not their own. Indeed, uncounted multitudes there are who shall walk in white before the throne of God, whose robes the secret sacrifice of loving hearts hath whitened as no fuller of earth can whiten them.
My first meeting with the kirk session of St. Cuthbert's was an epoch-marking incident. Twenty-eight there were who sat about the session-room, every man but one an importation from Caledonia's rugged hills. Roxburgh's covenanting heroes, Wigtonshire's triumphant martyrs, Dumfriesshire and her Cameronians, with their great namesake's lion heart; Ayrshire, with her bloody memories of moor and moss-hags, of quarry and conventicle, of Laud and liberty—all these had filtered through and reappeared in these silent and stalwart men.
Of these eight-and-twenty faces at least one score had the cast of marble and the stamp of eternity upon them. I felt like a hillock nestling at the feet of lofty peaks, for I do make my oath that when you are begirt by men in whose veins there flows the blood of martyrs, who have been slowly nurtured upon such stately doctrines as are their daily food, who actually believe in God as a living participator in the affairs of time, whose mental pabulum has been Thomas Boston and Samuel Rutherford and Philip Doddridge, and who have used these worthies but as helps to climb that unpinnacled hill of the Eternal Word—when you get such men as these, multiplied a hundredfold by the stern consciousness of a religious trust, if you are not then among the Rockies of flesh and blood, I am as one who sees men like walking trees, ignorant of the true altitudes of human life.
But I was yet to learn, and to learn by heart (the great medium of all real character), that many a fragrant flower may bloom in secret clefts of rock-bound hills, frowning and forbidding though they be. For God loves to surprise us, especially in happy ways; and His is a sanguine sun.
It should now be stated that I began my ministry in St. Cuthbert's with the handicap of an Irish ancestry. How then was I to wear the hodden gray? Or how was I to commingle myself with that historic tide which I well knew the Scottish heart regarded as fed more than any other from the river that makes glad the city of God?
My every vein was already full to overflowing with Irish blood. My father was from Ballymena and my mother was from Cork, a solution which no chemistry could cure. I was inclined by nature and confirmed by practice towards a reasonable pride in my ancestral land. But odds were against me. Even the mistress of my manse, whose judgment was wont to take counsel of her kindly heart, even she remonstrated when she first discovered my nativity, and has never since been altogether thankful, though she strives hard to be resigned.
"Why do you always flaunt your Irish origin?" she reasoned once. "If it is good stock, be modest about it; and if it is not, the less said the better."
Then she remarked that she was no doubt prejudiced, for she had once witnessed the noble procession in New York on St. Patrick's Day; and she added that they all seemed to have mouths like the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky and complexions like an asphalt pavement under repairs. My wife's power of detecting analogies was uncommonly acute.
* * * * *
When the session had been duly constituted, the minutes of the last meeting were read by the session clerk. It is probably quite within the mark to say that all ecclesiastical officialdom can produce no other dignitary with the same stern grandeur as pertains to the clerk of a Scottish session. I have witnessed archbishops in their robes and with their mitres, and have marvelled at the gravity with which they clothed the most ponderous frivolities, at their stately genuflections, at the swift shedding and donning of their bewildering millineries. I have seen General Booth resplendent in his flaming clericals. I have even looked on the bespangled Dowie, dazzling and bedazzled—but none of these has the majesty of poise, the aroma of responsibility, or the inexorable air of authority which mark the true-bred session clerk.
The minutes having been read and hermetically sealed, I addressed the elders briefly, referring to my great duties and my poor abilities, after which I invited them to a general deliberation, and begged them to acquaint me with the mind and temper of the congregation, asking such advice as might be useful in entering upon my labours.
"We bid ye welcome, moderator," began the senior elder, by name Sandy Grant, "an' we'll do what in us lies to haud up yir hands; ye're no' oor servant, but oor minister, and we're a' ready to do yir biddin', gin it's the will o' God. Ye're sittin' in a michty seat, moderator. It was frae that chair that oor first minister spak' till us in far ither days."
At this reference to the golden age, I saw a wave of tenderness break over the faces of the older men.
"Ay, I mind weel the nicht Doctor Grant sat amang us for the first time, as ye're sittin' noo."
This time it was Ronald M'Gregor who had spoken, the love-light on whose face even sixty winters could not disguise.
"We'll never look upon his like again. Ye've mebbe watched the storm, sir, when it beat upon the shore. His style o' delivery was like the ragin' o' the waves. Ye see that buik, moderator, yir haun's restin' on the tap o't. Weel, he dune for sax o' them the while he was oor minister. We bocht the strongest bound o' them, but he banged them to tatters amazin' fast. A page at a skite. Times it was like the driftin' o' the leaves in the fall. He was graun' on the terrors o' the law. We haena been what's to say clean uplifted wi' the michty truth o' the punishment o' the lost sin' his mooth was closed in death," and Ronald sighed the sigh of the hungry heart.
"Div ye no' mind the Doctor on the decrees, the simmer o' the cholera—div ye no' mind yon, Ronald?" said Thomas Laidlaw, swept into the seething tide of reminiscence; but here the session clerk rose to a point of order.
"The members o' this court will address the moderator," he said sternly. "Moreover, we are here for business, not for history. We might well think shame of ourselves, glorifying the old when we should be welcoming the new. We're no' to be aye dwellin' amang the tombs" (this with a rise in feeling and a drop in language). "Besides, Doctor Grant was no' a common man, and it's no becomin' to be comparin' common men along wi' the likes o' him."
So this, thought I, is the Scottish mode of paying compliments. I had always heard that their little tributes were more medicinal than confectionery.
Then followed a painful calm, for Scottish calms are stormy things.
It was Michael Blake who first resumed.
"Let us forget the things which are behind," he said, "if we only can," and there was a wealth of agony in his words, "and let us press forth unto those things which are before. We greet you, moderator, as the messenger of peace, for we are all but sinful men and unworthy of the trust we hold. I hope you will preach to us the grace of God, for we have learned ourselves the terrors of the law."
"I move that we adjourn," interjected Ronald M'Gregor, alarmed for the retirement of Sinai, and fearful of a too early spring.
"I second that," said a rugged patriarch, hitherto silent.
"But I hope the moderator 'll permit me to express the hope that he'll no' shorten up the services, and that he'll gie the young fowk mair o' the catechism than we hae been gettin', and mak' the sacraments mair searchin' to the soul," said Saunders M'Tavish.
"Ye're oot o' order," interrupted the clerk; "there's a motion to adjourn afore the Chair."
"But I maun tak' ma staun," exclaimed Saunders.
"Ye mauna," retorted the clerk, "ye maun tak' yir seat," and Saunders dropped where he stood, while his fellow-elders looked into each other's faces as if to say that this thing might have befallen any one of them.
The FIRST PARISH ROUND
I soon began, of course, the visitation of my flock. Although my title to youth was at that time undisputed, and although the unreflective would have labelled me "new school," the importance of faithful visiting was ever before my mind.
The curate's place (unhappiest of men) had more than once been offered me at the hands of portly ministers, prepared to deny themselves all the visiting, they to take all the preaching and nearly all the salary, while their untitled slave was to deny himself the high joy of the pulpit, to starve on the salary's dregs, and to indulge himself royally in a very carnival of unceasing visitation. These overtures I had had little hesitation in declining, for observation had taught me that the slave's place soon makes the slave's spirit, unless that slavery be an indenture unto God, which is but the sterner name for liberty.
Moreover, curates (especially Presbyterian, which implieth the greater perversion) seemed to lack the breath of the uplands which the pulpit breathes, and too often degenerate into society favourites, whose flapping tails of black may be seen as these curates ring at fashionable doors, where "five-o'clocks" within await the kid-gloved ministers of men who are supposed to be the stewards of eternal life. I had once overheard an enamelled queen of fashion declare, with much emotion, that their curate was indispensable to a high-class "at home," and even panegyrize his graceful transportation of cups of tea, however full.
Whereupon I forever swore that I would frizzle upon no such heathen altar; I vowed to be either a minister or a butler—one thing or the other—but never a Right Reverend Butler, which is a monster and a tongue-cheeked comedy to both God and man.
As the minister of a vast congregation like St. Cuthbert's, I might on the other hand have requested an assistant who should relieve me of the visiting, leaving me only the duties of the pulpit, oceanic enough for any man. Indeed, one of the stalwarts had suggested this to me, averring that I needed more time for my sermons, whereat I looked at him sharply; but his face was placid as a sea of milk, which is the way of Scotsmen when they mean to score. But this dual ministry was ever the object of my disfavour, for he preaches best who visits best, and the weekly garner makes the richest grist for the Sunday mill. True and tender visiting is the sermon's fuse, and what God hath put together no man can safely put asunder.
One of my first visits was to the farmhouse of Donald M'Phatter, a belated member of the fold, for he and his wife Elsie had not beshadowed St. Cuthbert's door for many a year. This parochial policy had been suggested to me by the beadle:
"Ye maun luik to the driftwood first—pit oot the laggin' log frae the shore, ye ken," he said to me, following this up with an exhaustive narrative of the raftsman's life which had once been his.
I found Donald dour but deferential, full-armed against every appeal for his reform.
"I willna gang," he exclaimed, "till ony kirk that pits oot the token at the sacrament, and taks up wi' they bit cairds they're usin' the noo. Cairds at the sacrament! it's fair insultin' to the Almichty."
[Footnote 1: A small piece of metal with the words "This do in remembrance of Me," given in Scottish churches, before the Sacrament of The Supper, to those entitled to participate.]
I parried the blow as best I could, and was on the verge of winning in the argument when he suddenly took another tack.
"Forbye, I hae dune ma duty. Didna I gang steady when the Doctor was oor meenister? Ilka Sabbath day I gaed an' hearkened till the graun' sermons twa oors at a time, an' God grippit me thae days, an' He hasna loosened His haud o' me yet. Ance saved, aye saved. That's ma doctrine. Wha can slip awa frae grace, forbye it be thae Methody buddies an' ither Armenian fowk, an' there was na ane o' them in the parish in the doctor's day. The fields was fine an' fu' o' wheat thae days, but there's muckle mustard noo, I tell ye that."
"But you will surely admit, Mr. M'Phatter, that the nourishment of years ago will not suffice for to-day. Yesterday's dinner will not forestall the necessity of the day that follows," I urged, inwardly ashamed of the threadbare argument.
He saw its threadbareness too, for he retorted—
"That's a verra auld argyment; in fac', it's clean stale, if it's no' rotten. Doctor Grant wud hae sniffit at it. And what's mair, it's no' an argyment ava', for I hae mony a dinner o' the sermons that I gathered in thae far back days. I aye eat and sup off that when ye an' yir fowk's fummlin' wi' yir cairds at the kirk. Bide a meenit."
He hurried into an adjoining room, and soon returned with a sheaf of rusty notes, clearing his throat awhile with the sound of a trumpeter calling to the fray.
"I wasna ane o' the sleepin' kind; I aye paid attention in the hoose o' God. I only sleepit ance an' I cudna help it, for oor Jeanie was born that mornin'—an' that was a work o' needcessity. An' what's mair, I aye took notes o' the discoorse, an' I hae them yet.
"They's ma dinners noo, tae use yir word, minister—they's ma dinners, an' they hunger nae mair wha tak's them—saxteen or seventeen coorses, ilka ane o' them; nane o' yir bit lunches wi' napkins an' flowers and finger bowls like ye hae the noo, no' worth the bit grace ye say ower them—they's nane o' yir teas, tastin' an' sniffin', wi' sweeties an' sic like—they's meat, sir, strong meat for strong men, an' the bane's in the baith o' them like."
He stopped, as a cannon stops after it has fired, the aroma of battle still pouring from its lips.
"What are these papers in your hand?" I asked, not for information, but for breath. (You have seen a caged canary leap from its perch to its swing, and back again, when sorely pressed.) He speedily closed that door.
"They, sir? Div ye no' ken what's they? They's Doctor Grant's heids and pertikklers. Doctor Grant's heids and pertikklers, I'm tellin' ye. A' o' them but ane is the heids an' pertikklers o' sermons that made St. Cuthbert's ring like the wood on an August nicht when the thunder roams it. That ither ane he preach't in a graun city kirk wha soucht to get him, and they cudna—an' it was croodit like the barn mou' when harvest's dune, an' I was there masel', an' he kent me—an' I'm the man that held his cane in ma haun the time he preach't, I'm tellin' ye." And Donald's withered face was now aglow with such a tenderness as only bygone years can loan to age; his eyes were ashine with tears, each one the home of sheeted days that had come back from the dead, and his parted lips were drinking deep of the mystic tides of memory.
* * * * *
A rich mosaic was the visitation of this sterling race. The lovely valleys and the picturesque hills of their ancestral sires I have often roamed since then, but never have I seen the Scottish character in its homely beauty as it appeared to me in their happy Canadian life among the cozy farmhouses of this fruitful countryside. The traditions of their native land were tenderly cherished by them all, and many were the stories they related of the old days in Scotland and of the day whereon they looked their last upon the unforgotten heather.
One of my first visits was to Mrs. Gavin Toshack, whom I found in a reminiscent mood.
"Ay," she said, "we're a' Scotch aboot thae pairts; an' God keep us sae. There's been scarce a fly in the ointment, forbye Sandy Trother's wife, who gied him, an' gied us a', a heap o' tribble; but she was Irish, ye ken. An' oor ministers hae a' been frae Scotland; but we had ane for mebbe twa month or mair—nae oor ain minister, but only a kin' o' evangelist buddy. He was an Irish buddy tae, but there were severals converted. That was nae Irish wark whatever, but the grace o' God. We were na lang oot frae the auld country when he cam'; I mind fine. It was in the year '37. We sailed frae Annan Water Foot in July, an' eight weeks or mair it took us afore we landit in Quebec. Then by canal and wagon till we reach't New Jedboro; 'twas a sair, weary ride. But the breath o' freedom an' o' promise was in the air—an' we hae oor ain hame noo an' twa hunner acres o' the finest land in a' the country. An' we're independent noo, wi' eneuch for a bite an' a sup till we hunger nae mair nor thirst ony mair. An' oor bairnies is a' daein' fine: Jamie's a doctor i' Chicago; an' oor Jeanie's mairrit on Allan Sutherland, him as will be the new Reeve o' the coonty; an' Chairlie has a ranch i' Alberta like the Duke o' Roxburgh's estate; an' Willie'll hae oor ain land here, when we sleep aneath it.
"I aften sit an' think we micht hae been aye herdin' sheep on the Dumfries hills, wi' scarce eneuch to eat, wi' this man 'my Laird' an' yon man 'yir Grace' an' oor ain bairns little mair nor slaves. The duke we knelt doon afore in Scotland aften paid mair for a racin' filly nor we paid for a' this bonnie land we ca' oor ain the day. Canada's nae sae guid for earls an' lairds, but it's graun' for puir honest fowk. An' what's mair," continued Mrs. Gavin, "we didna hae the preachin' i' the auld country we hae in Canada—leastwise, no' as graun' as we used to hae i' the time o' Doctor Grant. Div ye ken, sir, the grandest thing I ever heard come oot o' his mooth? No? Weel, it was this. He aye preach't fearfu' lang, as ye've nae doot heard, an' at times the men fowk wad weary an' gang oot, some to tak' a reek wi' their pipes an' mair to gang ower the way an' hae a drap juist to liven the concludin' heids o' the discoorse (for they aye steppit back); but the Doctor didna seem to understaun'. Weel, ae day some o' them was stampin' doon the aisle, an' the Doctor, he juist stoppit an' sat doon, an' then he says, 'Ma freens, we'll bide a wee till the chaff blaws awa'.' Losh, hoo they drappit whaur they stood! There was nae mair gaun oot that day, I tell ye, nor mony a day. But mind ye, 'twas fearsome the time atween when he sat doon in the pulpit an' when he speakit oot like I telt ye; it was clean fearsome."
"The CHILD of The REGIMENT"
My labours in St. Cuthbert's had covered but a few fleeting years (oh, relentless ticking of the clock! at once the harbinger and the echo of eternity), when there came into our lives life's greatest earthly joy. Serene and peaceful our lives had been, every hour garlanded with love and every year festooned by the Hand Unseen.
Trials and difficulties there had been indeed, but they were as billows which carried in their secret bosom the greeting of the harbour and the shore. Even the roots of sorrow had been moistened by the far-off wells of joy. To many a guest of God, disguised in the habiliments of gloom, we had turned a frowning face and had bidden such begone. But such guests heeded not, pressing relentlessly in upon our trembling hearth, when lo! the passing days revealed their mission; we saw the face hidden beneath the sombre hood, and prayed the new-discovered guest to abide with us unto the end. For God loveth the masquerade, and doth use it everywhere.
The way to hell appeareth glorious oftentimes, but the pathway unto life is robed in shadows and its sign-post is the cross—which things are a masquerade and to be witnessed every day; for in one single day all God's great drama is rehearsed in miniature.
Our manse was a pleasant place, and its site had been selected by some one with the nursery-heart. Spacious and genial was the old homely house, with its impartial square. Rooms there were, and halls, waiting to echo back some voice uncoarsened by the clang of time and uncorroded by the salt of tears. Rich terraces flowed in velvet waves down to the waiting river, murmuring its trysting joy; a full-robed choir of oak and elm and maple kept their eternal places in a grander loft than man could build them, while pine and spruce and cedar, disrobing never, but snatching their bridal garments from the winter storm, swelled the sylvan harmony.
Here came the crocuses and the snowdrops, trembling like the waifs of winter, and hither came the violet and the dandelion to reassure these daring pioneers; later on, the pansy and the rose utterly convinced them that they had not lost their way, but had been guided by the pilgrims' Friend.
But no child's voice had waked these sombre echoes, no child's gentle feet had pressed this velvet sward; no radiant shadow such as childhood alone can cast had flitted here and there beneath these lonely trees, nor had these flowers felt their life's great and only thrill in the touch of a baby's dimpled hand. But that golden door at last swung gently open. That hour of ecstasy and anguish brought us life's crown and joy, and the hills of time, erstwhile green and beautiful, were now radiant with a light kindled from afar.
St. Cuthbert's rejoiced exceedingly when our little Margaret was given unto us, but we knew it not at first, for Scotch joy is a deep and silent thing, a fermentation at the centre rather than an effervescence at the surface. For our Margaret was as one born out of due time, the first child whose infant cry had awakened the echoes of their ancient manse, though seventy long years had flown since their first minister had come among them. Thus she became the child of the regiment and they silently exulted. Jubilant, one hour after this new star had swung into the firmament, I hoisted the Union Jack to the topmost notch of our towering flag-pole, and never has it flaunted its triumph more jubilantly since.
The beadle reported to me afterwards that the other churches were mightily jealous of our late autumn bloom, and one of their devotees, an Episcopalian, had asked him sneeringly—
"What's that flag doing there?"
"It's blawin' i' the wind," retorted my diplomatic beadle.
"It's nothing to be so joyful over," urged the Episcopalian brother.
"It's mair nor ever happened in yon kirk o' yours; an' it's mair nor could happen to the Pope o' Rome, wha's a true freen o' yours, I'm jalousin'," snorted my beadle back triumphantly; for William was uncharitable, and despaired of all ritualists, the iron of covenanting protest running hot within his blood.
Nor were these the only swords that flashed above our Margaret's cradle; for a Methodist mother in Israel, hopeful of a sympathetic response from Elsie M'Phatter (the non-churchgoing one), ventured the comment that similar events in her own brilliant maternal record had provoked no unseemly joy; to which Elsie responded tartly—
"I ken that fine, and it's very nat'ral, for ye've had mair nor maist; but gin ye hadna had ane for a maitter o' seventy year or mair, like us, wad ye no' hae been clean daft aboot it?" and the field thereafter was Elsie's own.
* * * * *
The Sabbath morning after Margaret's dawn St. Cuthbert's was full to overflowing, as seemed to be every heart, especially every aged heart, finding its morning anew in the life of a little child. For the morning and the evening are wondrously alike. In summer especially, the sun-bathed mountains, the pendant dewdrop, the melodious silences—all these belong so much to both alike that I find it hard to distinguish the matins and the vespers of God's cathedral days.
My voice trembled just a little as I gave out the psalm—
"Such pity as a father hath Unto his children dear,"
but we sang it to the tune of "Dunfermline," and soon I was borne out to sea upon its far-flung billows; for of a truth these old Scottish tunes have the swing of eternity in them, and seem to grandly overlap the bourne of time and space. And when we prayed the only liturgy which Presbyterians will own, I could not forbear to say "Our Father" twice, and lo! a strange thing happened unto me. For a great light seemed to shine upon the words, and that little helpless life at home within the manse, and its thrice-blessed cry, and its yearning look of wonder, and its hand whose only prowess was to lie in some stronger hand of love—all these became a commentary, illustrating God, and in their cordial light I beheld Him as mother, or professor, or minister had never shown Him to me before, bending over the souls of men, otherwise orphaned evermore. That vision has tarried with me ever since, and my people have been the better of it; for he alone can caress his people's souls who has felt the caress of His father's love. God's tenderness is the great contagion for the healing of life's long disease.
"A NEW FOOT on The FLOOR"
When our daughter (are there any two other words so well-wed as these? What music their union makes!) was only about ten years old, her mother, which is my wife writ large and heavenly, and I were taking tea at Inglewood, which my long-suffering readers will remember as the home which first welcomed me to New Jedboro and the residence of Mr. Michael Blake. When our meal was over, Mr. Blake and I were enjoying a quiet game of billiards, which was a game I loved. But I may have more to say about this later on, for so had some of my pious people, though I am inclined to think that they objected not so much because they thought the game was wrong as because they feared I was enjoying it. For, to some truly good Scotch folk the measure of enjoyableness is the measure of sin, and a thing needeth no greater fault than to be guilty of deliciousness. But the converse of this they also hold as true, namely, that what maketh miserable is of God, and to be wretched is to be pious at the heart. For which reason, I have observed oftentimes, they deem that to be a truly well-spent Sabbath day which had banished all possible happiness from their children's lives, bringing them to its close limp and cramped and sore, but catechism-full and with a good mark in the book of life for every weary hour.
Was it Johnson who ventured the opinion that the Puritans put bear-baiting under the ban, not because it was painful to the bears but because it was pleasant to the people? Whether it was or no, I shall not discuss it. Neither shall I discuss the ethics of billiards, unless it be to say this much, that if there be games in heaven, I do not doubt it will have an honoured place, for it is an ivory game and truthful, abhorring vagrant luck and scoring only by eternal laws which Euclid made his own. And I make no doubt that many a hand hath plied the billiard cue which long ere this hath touched with its finger-tips the ivory gates and golden.
But to return. We were in the very midst of our game, of which I remember very little, often and often though I have tried to recall every feature of that eventful night. But I do recall that we spoke about our Margaret, and there was a deep strain of wistful envy in Mr. Blake's voice. I remember well his saying that God's richest earthly gift was that of wife and child and hearth.
"Though I speak," he added almost bitterly, "as I might speak of distant stars, for I have no one of the three," and his lips closed tightly while he drove his ball with a savage hand.
"You have not wife or child," I said, "but no man who has been sheltered by your friendship can agree with you about your hearth. It has warmed my heart too many times when that heart was cold."
"There is no hearth where there is neither wife nor child," he answered almost passionately. "Hearths are not built with hands. Do you not know, sir, that if a man would have a fireside he must begin to kindle it when youth is still throbbing in his heart? From boyhood up he is preparing it, or else he is quenching it in darkness. Do you know, sir, if I were a preacher I would burn that into young men's hearts till they would feel that heaven or hell were all bound up with how they reverence or despise their future fireside. I would tell them that no man can lay his hearth in ashes in the hot days of youth, and then build it up again in the rainy days of age.
"I would tell every wastrel, and every man who is rehearsing hell with his youthful follies, that he cannot eat his cake and have it. For hearth and wife and child are not for him. I would tell him that he cannot breed a cancer in his heart while he is young and cure it with some pious perfume brewed by the hand of age. I would tell them that till my lips blistered, and then they should hear of the grace of God till those same lips were rosy with its healing."
Amazed, I stood and gazed at him, for there was a fearful fascination in his face. The face of a saint it was, with that warlike peace which only a battling and victorious life can give, but it had for the time the half-hunted look of one who trembles at the sound of footsteps he had hoped were forever still, of one whose soul was overstormed by surging waves of memory. There is sometimes a dread ghastliness in the thought that out of the abundance of a man's heart his mouth is speaking, though he declares it not. It is like the procession of a naked soul; or, to change the figure, it is like beholding a man unearth some very corpse he had long sought to hide.
It was his turn to play—ah me! the grim variety of life—and his ball failed but narrowly of a delicate ambition.
"If I could but have it back and play it over," I heard him rather sigh than say, whereat I bethought myself of the high allegory of a game.
Musing still, I stood apart, gazing as one gazes at a fire, which in very truth I was.
"It is your shot, sir," he said, in a voice as passionless as when I first heard it years before.
My ball had but left my cue when the door opened and a servant said—
"There's a young man doon the stair, sir, and he says he wants to speak wi' the minister."
I descended, hearing as I went a rattling fusilade of ivory, which I knew was the echo of a soul's thunder-storm.
* * * * *
How often do we meet new faces, little recking their relation to coming years! Yet many an unfading light and many an incurable eclipse has come with a transient meeting such as this! How many a woman of Samaria goes to draw water from the well, and sees—the Lord! For I met only a boy, or better, a laddie—boyhood-breathing word!—about sixteen years of age, openly poor but pathetically decent. His clothes were coarse and cheap and even darned, bearing here and there the signatures of poverty and motherhood.
I advanced and took his hand; for that is an easy masonry, and its exercise need never be regretted even if it never be repeated. My wife once spent a plaintive day because she had wasted a hand-shake upon a caller whom she took to be an applicant for matrimony, whose emoluments were hers, but who turned out to be an agent for Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, whose emoluments were his own. Nevertheless I have always held that no true hand-shake is unrecorded in the book of life.
"And what can I do for you, my lad?" I said.
"I dinna ken, sir," he answered, in a voice that suggested a sea voyage, for it was redolent of what lies only beyond the sea.
"What is your name?"
"Angus Strachan, sir, and I come frae Ettrick, and I hae my lines frae the minister o' the Free Kirk."
"And when did you land, Mr. Strachan?"
"Ca' me Angus, sir, if ye please. Naebody has ca'd me by that name sin' my mither pairted wi' me at the stage coach road, and she was fair chokit wi' cryin', and when I cudna see her mair for the bush aboon the burn, I could aye hear her bleatin' like a lamb—an' it was the gloamin'. An' I can fair hear her yet. Will ye no' ca' me Angus?"
Accursed be the heart which has no opening door for the immigrant's weary feet, and thrice accursed be the heart which remembers strangerhood against some mother's homeless boy. Such malediction, thank God, my soul has never won, for if there be one sight which more than another fills me with hopeful pity, it is the spectacle of some peasant lad making the great venture of an untried shore, pressing in to those who were also foreigners one far-back cheerless day, and asking if this Western land may harbour still another exile from the poverty he seeks to flee. Especially is this true of Scottish laddies; for upon their faces seems to be written: "I ask for but a chance such as thou hadst thyself," which was the plea of Tom Carlyle when he first knocked at London's mighty door.
So I drew nearer to him, and my heart flowed through my voice as I said again—
"When did you land, Angus lad? and tell me all about yourself. I have heard that mother's cry before." For I was thinking of my own mother's parting blessing, save that hers was wondrously exultant as becometh one who calls back from the unseen Chariot of God.
"I landed yesterday at Montreal, and I cam' ower on the Lake Ontario. And I hae but little to tell, and it wunna tak' me lang. Ma mither weaves in Ettrick, and I herded sheep upon the hills sin' I was able. But I was aye hame at nicht, and she aye keepit a licht in the window when the nicht was dark and her shadow fell upon it, for she aye cam' oot to meet me when she heard me lilt the sang. And she lilted tae, and we baith sang it thegither till we met, and then we gaed ben thegither and gaed na mair oot till the mirk was by."
I detected the serious and lofty figure in his words, and the vision of Scotland's lowly altars and thatched cathedrals rose before me. No man could mistake the ritual of which that strain was bred.
"And why came you here, Angus?"
"I cam' here," he answered, "to better masel'. I heard tell o' Canada sin' I was a bairn, and they a' spak' it fair for a land whaur an honest man micht mak' an honest leevin'—and mair tae," he added, true to the Scotch afterthought of an extra.
"And what line do you propose to follow? What work do you intend to do?"
"Ilka line that's straight, an' ony wark that willna soil the soul even gin it may soil the hands," he answered quickly.
My soul went out to the lad, for I saw that his heart's roots were deep in the best heart-soil the world hath known, and that the Atlantic's billows had not quenched the light of his mother's cottage fire.
"Your father is dead, is he, Angus?" was the next step in my examination for discovery, as the lawyers say.
"No, he's no' deid, he's alive," replied the lad, with the exactitude which marks his race; "but I dinna care to speak aboot him."
"Very well, very well, boy," I rejoined hastily; "spends his time and his money and your mother's money, when he can get it, at the Red Cow, or the Cock and Hens, a drunken wastrel and cruel too; for I have been enough in Scotland to know that such hens lay deadly eggs and such red cows' milk is red with blood." All this latter part, of course, I said to myself, but no word of it to the lad before me, for no honest youth can bear any lips to miscall his father save his own.
"You will come to the manse with us and stay the night; it is too late to seek other lodging now."
"Thank ye kindly, sir, but I hae a wee pickle siller in my pocket," he replied, with modest independence. I verily believe that in heaven all Scotsmen (and even Scotch Freemasons) will be found wi' a wee pickle siller in their pockets when they receive that great degree.
But I insisted, and I won; for he who wages the campaign of hospitality hath God for his ally, and no heart can finally resist that siege.
I presented him to my wife and to my host, whose cordiality was worthy of his wealth and his success. Perhaps he was thinking of an hour like unto this when, so many long years before, he too had reached New Jedboro by night, friendless and poor, also craving work, beginning that steady climb which had brought him to the dizzy heights of wealth and influence.
For memories of poverty, like poor relations, should not be thrust out at wealth's back gate, but should have a choice room in the mansion at whose door the sated heart will often knock, seeking rest.
My wife has frequently told me that she liked Angus from the start because he seemed so robed in health and draped in a kind of pathetic modesty, with eyes whose colour she was certain would not fade. How women do love the metaphors of millinery! How better than the sage of Chelsea they understand the philosophy of clothes! But she also added that she was charmed by the way he spoke his mother's name, for in his tone she caught the flavour of a quick caress; and woman is more facile far than man in her translation of these Hebraic breathings. Besides all this, he held the gate open as she passed through into our manse estate; she still remarks that this was a little thing, but contends that he did it in a great way.
We showed the tired stranger to his room. Distinguished guests we have had beneath the roof of St. Cuthbert's manse. We once had Major Pond, the great cicerone of great lecturers; he had brought Ian Maclaren to our town, who in turn brought the spring to all of us, beguiling moisture even from long-sullen clouds.
He had stayed with Mr. Blake, which was but fair, for these are wealth's real prerogatives; but the genial Major stayed with us. We were greatly charmed, for he charmed us till two o'clock in the morning; and my wife, fearful that she might stampede him to his bed, rose at intervals and hid her face in the geranium window when she had to yawn. But it was the clock and not the Major that provoked these mild convulsions. He rehearsed to us his glorious achievements with his "stars." Some few plaints he had, wherein he "wept o'er his wounds," but almost all his tales were "tales of valour done." He told the number of his "stars," vividly described how he held them in his right hand, pointed out to us how one "star" differeth from another "star" in glory, and went to bed at last with the air of a man who had gilded the Pleiades, brushed up Castor and Pollux, and house-cleaned the heavens generally.
Stanley, Farrar, Beecher, and a score of others filtered through him as he sat by our humble fire, turning his telescope this way and that as a sportsman turns his gun, while the very clock ticked slow to listen. My wife became quite confused, probably sun-struck, for she has since affirmed that the Major claimed to have been present at the birth of every one of these famous men on whom he early resolved to confer immortality. My recollection of his night's autobiography is rather that of a lane of dazzling light, in which there stood now one and now another giant, but all alike clinging to the Major's hand.
But this does not exhaust our list of the famous men whose ponderous heads have pressed the pillow whereon the exiled Angus now laid his own to rest. For we once had the Moderator. The Moderator of what? some unsophisticated gentile will wish to know. Of the General Assembly, of course, for that is the Westminster Assembly of Divines in recurring resurrection, and it hath its unadjourning court in heaven, as the ambushed correspondent of the Hebrews doth inform us. Which proves, my precentor tells me, that the New Jerusalem is a Presbyterian city and singeth nothing but the psalms.
The Moderator, as I have already said, abode with us over night, and we almost begrudged the sleeping hours, for, if you will waste sleep upon a Moderator, let it be when he is preaching and not when he is filling your house with dignity and smoke. For the Moderator loved his pipe, and so did I, and together we revelled in those clouds before which all other clouds retreat. What a great leveller is that democrat, tobacco. For while we smoked we were both moderators, and even an Assembly clerk could not have told which was which. Twice, too, the Moderator filled from my pouch, with no air of patronage, and I shall never forget it of him. When he went to his bed, still redolent of Virginia, he asked me for a little soda water, very little, he said emphatically. I brought it to him, and passing by his door a moment later, I heard a low gurgling sound like that of an infant brook, then silence, then an honest smack—soon after there emerged a festive flavour, a healing aroma, sweetly distilling. As I went back to our room, I said to my wife, "What a fine spirit a Moderator can shed through a house," in which opinion she agreed, though she knew not what I said. I was all but asleep when she aroused me with—
"Tom, why is a Moderator called a Moderator?"
"Because he takes it moderately, dear," I answered, being only in the twilight of intelligence.
"Takes what, Tom?" she asked.
"His honours, sweetheart—go to sleep."
But although we have had great guests like these, I do not know that I was ever more glad with the thought of a sleeping stranger than with the knowledge that this homeless lad was beneath our roof that night. For he who homes the honest poor has borrowed the guests of God, and a mother's wandering son is His peculiar care.
I knew that the great Executor of all praying mothers leaves them not long indebted to any man; He Himself shall speak with their creditors in the gate.
My PIOUS PROFLIGATE
My wandering but faithful pen, whose every child, though homely, is its legitimate own, must now forsake Angus and his fortunes for a season. It shall again return to him, if it be spared. For the good folk of St. Cuthbert's have taught me to insert this phrase at every seasonable opening—indeed, they deem it fitting for every season, and the very first marriage in New Jedboro at which I officiated afforded a vivid proof of this.
The young couple were just emerging from the heavenly operation, still somewhat under the celestial chloroform, when Ronald M'Gregor admonished them. His admonition was after a fashion almost ministerial, for Ronald had once culled himself from out the common herd as meant for a minister, and had abandoned his pursuit only when he found that he had every qualification except the gifts.
"Ye maun bear in mind," he said, "that ye're nae mair twa, but ae flesh; an' ye'll bide wi' ane anither till deith shall ye pairt—that is, gin ye're spared."
Meantime, this friendly pen must record this news of Angus, that the very morning he left St. Cuthbert's manse he entered upon his apprentice term in the great iron manufactory of which Mr. Blake was the head and the propelling power; for behind every engine is the ingenuity, not of many men, but of one.
And leaving him there to ply his fortune and to confront that unseen antagonist against whom every ambitious man plays move and move about, I betake myself again to the records of St. Cuthbert's.
Yet I find it hard to dismiss the lad, for his is a besetting face, and besides, it stubbornly appears above the main current of all the story I have yet to tell.
My fortunes with these strange Scotch folk must be recorded, and chief among my handiwork I think of Geordie Lorimer. For he was a typical Scot, and supremely so in this, that he could be both very religious and very bad. Of which the remarkable thing lies here, that he was both of these at one and the self-same time.