Robert Edward Knowles.

St. Cuthbert's; a novel online

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_New York Chicago Toronto_
_London and Edinburgh_

Copyright, 1905, by

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_



































_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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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

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."



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

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

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



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

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

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Online LibraryRobert Edward KnowlesSt. Cuthbert's; a novel → online text (page 1 of 17)