Robert Edward Knowles.

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hidden fear.

But I must turn from this and tell of the enterprise in whose interest
Margaret and Angus bearded the lions of St. Cuthbert's in their den.
They represented the Young People's Guild, and presented the startling
request that the old kirk should henceforth employ an organ to aid the
service of praise on the Sabbath day. And they further asked for the
introduction of the hymns. This implied a revolution, for St.
Cuthbert's, up to this time, had resolutely resisted all attempts to
hallow such profanities.

For the youthful pair of revolutionists I felt a decided sympathy, such
as pervades every generous heart when it beholds the dauntless approach
of David towards Goliath. Such citadels of orthodoxy, such Gibraltars of
conservatism as Archie was, were almost all the elders of St.
Cuthbert's. And against them all united did Angus and Margaret dare to
turn their poor artillery of persuasion.

The session received them cordially, having all goodwill towards them
personally, hating the sin but loving the sinners, to employ a good old
theological phrase. Angus began, adroitly enough, with a eulogy of the
psalms and paraphrases, defining them as the mountain peaks of song in
all ages and in every tongue.

"In far-distant Scotland my mother is singing them to-night," he said,
"and I catch the glow and the sweetness of the heather when the kirk
rings with their high refrain ilka Sabbath day. But we feel that the
hymns, even if they be inferior, will add richness and variety to the
service of our beloved kirk."

As for the organ, he contended that it was only a means towards an end,
man-made though it was; for these stern men were rigid in their
distinction between things made with hands and things inspired.

Angus quoted Scripture on behalf of the organ plea, recalling David's
use of instrumental music and quoting the Ninety-second Psalm -

"Upon a ten-stringed instrument
And on the psaltery,
Upon the harp with solemn sound
And grave, sweet melody."

I then called upon Margaret, and my heart misgave me as I spoke her
name, for she was full of pathetic hopefulness, and seemed to think that
Angus's argument had settled things beyond appeal. But I knew better
than she what spray could do with frowning rocks. The elders, too,
smiled tenderly upon her, for they were chivalrous in their solemn way,
and besides, she was what you might call the church's first-born child,
the story of which I have already told. But theirs was a kind of
executioners' smile, for they were iron-blooded men, who felt that they
had heard but now the trumpeting of the enemy at the gate.

Margaret timidly expressed the view that she need, and would, add
nothing more, "for," she concluded, "Mr. Strachan has covered the ground
completely." This phrase "covered the ground" I do not believe she had
ever used before, but every true child of the manse and the kirk is born
its legitimate heir. "The previous question" is another matter, and can
be acquired only through laborious years. It takes even a moderator all
his time to explain it; before most Presbyteries quite master it, death
moves it - and then they understand.

Poor Margaret seemed to think that Angus had made out a case which no
elder could successfully assail. She knew not that there are some
matters which Scotch elders consider it impious even to discuss, holding
in scorn the flaccid axiom that there are two sides to every question.

The youthful petitioners withdrew, and the session indulged itself in a
long silence, their usual mode of signifying that important business was
before them.

The first to speak was Ronald M'Gregor: "We'll no' be needin' a motion,"
he said, by way of indicating that there could be no two opinions on
the matter in hand.

"We'll hae to move that the peteetion be rejeckit," said Elder M'Tavish,
nodding his head to signify his agreement with Ronald's main contention.

"The puir bodies mean richt," he added, being distinguished for
Christian charity.

The motion was as good as agreed to, silent consent appearing upon every
face, when Michael Blake arose.

"I move in amendment, that the young people's request be referred to a
committee, with a view to its favourable consideration."

"I second that," said Sandy Grant, the session clerk, "not thereby
committin' masel' to its spirit, but to bring it afore the court in
regular order."

"What for div we need anither motion?" said Thomas Laidlaw, evidently
perplexed. "There's nane o' us gaun to gie in to thae man-made
hymes - an' their kist o' whustles wad be fair redeek'lus."

"Let us hear what they have to say in its behalf," said Mr. Blake.
"Every honest man should be open to conviction."

"We're a' honest men," replied Thomas, "an' we're a' open to conviction,
but I houp nane o' us'll be weak eneuch to be convickit. Oor faithers
wadna hae been convickit."

"It'll dae nae harm to hear the argyments," said Andrew Hogg, the silent
member of the session.

At this juncture, fearing what Saunders M'Tavish had long ago called the
thin edge o' the wedge, Archie M'Cormack, the precentor, came forward in
hot alarm, championing the hosts of orthodoxy.

"The session'll mebbe listen to me, for I've been yir precentor these
mony years. We'll hae nae mair o' thae havers. Wha wants their hymes?
Naebody excep' a wheen o' gigglin' birkies. Gie them the hymes, an'
we'll hear Martyrdom nae mair, an' Coleshill an' Duke Street'll be by.
For what did oor faithers dee if it wasna for the psalms o' Dauvit? An'
they dee'd to the tunes I've named to ye."

"But Mr. M'Cormack will admit," said Mr. Blake, "that many of God's
people worship to profit with the hymns. There is the Episcopal church
across the way. Last Sabbath I am told their soprano sang 'Lead, kindly
Light,' and it was well received."

"Wha receivit it?" thundered Archie. "Tell me that, sir. Wha receivit
it? Was it Almichty God, or was it the itchin' lugs o' deein' men, aye
hearkenin' to thae skirlin' birkies wi' their men-made hymes?"

"Mr. M'Cormack is severe," replied Michael Blake serenely, "but I think
he is unnecessarily alarmed; we must keep our service up to date. As the
session knows, I have always been in favour, for instance, of the
modern fashion of special services at Christmas, Eastertide, and kindred
seasons. And at such times we ought to have a little special music."

"Up to date!" retorted Archie scornfully; "it's a sair date an' a deein'
ane. It'll dee the nicht, an' there'll be a new ane the morn, an' wha
ever heard tell o' an Easter Sabbath in the Kirk o' Scotland? It'll dae
weel eneuch for thae dissentin' bodies, wi' their prayer-books, but what
hae we, wi' the psalm-buik, an' a regular ministry, an' a regular kirk,
to dae wi' siclike follies? Ilka Sabbath day is Easter day, I'm tellin'
ye. Is oor Lord no' aye risin' frae the dead? Gin a soul braks intil new
life, or a deein' man pillows his weary heid on Him, or the heavy-herted
staun' up in His michty strength, ye hae yir Easter Sabbath; an' that's
ilka Sabbath, I'm sayin'. Nane o' yir enawmelled bit toys for
Presbyterian fowk."

"I do not want to interfere with the good old Presbyterian ways,"
responded Mr. Blake; for the elders seemed to have committed the entire
debate to those two representatives of the old school and the new. "But
it seems to me the whole Christian religion is a religion of change," he
continued; "the new path, the new and living way, the new covenant, the
new name, the new song - and the new heart," he concluded fervently.
Then a moment later he added, "Thank God for that!" and the elders
looked at him in astonishment, for his face bore again that look of
anguish and remorse to which I have referred before, the oft-recurring
evidence of some bitter secret, deep hidden in his heart.

"We understaun' fine," the session clerk appended. "Mr. Blake is only
contending that there are two sides to every question."

"Twa sides!" shouted the precentor, now on his feet again, "there's mair
nor twa. There's three sides to ilka question: there's yir ain side, an'
there's my side, an' there's God's side," he added almost fiercely; "an'
when I ken God's side, there's nae ither side ava."

The debate was not continued long, and closed with the compromise that
Mr. Blake's motion should prevail, the whole matter to be referred to a
committee composed of Mr. Blake, the precentor, the moderator, and the
clerk, no report to be made to the kirk session unless the committee was
unanimous in its finding. This committee was instructed to meet and
confer with the representatives of the Young People's Guild.

While this resolution was being recorded, Archie was still indulging in
smothered protests, the dying voice of the thunder-storm; and as the
session dispersed he was heard to say, "Committee or no committee, as
lang as I'm in the kirk they'll sing the psalms o' Dauvit - an' the tunes
o' Dauvit tae."

The next evening I informed Angus of the session's action, and told him
the names of the committee. When I mentioned that of Mr. Blake, his eyes
flashed fire, and in bitter tones he said, "I will meet no committee of
which that man is one. I hate him, sir. I would as lief confer with the
devil as with him."

This staggered me. I knew no cause for an outburst so passionate, nor
any provocation for a resentment so savage and so evidently real. My
attempt to question him concerning either met with an abrupt but final
refusal. Concerning these things I said nothing to Margaret or her
mother, but kept them all and pondered them in my heart.




XVI

_GEORDIE'S OOT-TURN_


It was Geordie Lorimer who first taught me to curl. This I still reckon
a great kindness, for I have gone from strength to strength till I am
now upon the verge of tankard skiphood. Besides, Geordie's besetting sin
still clinging close, I had hoped in this social way the more readily to
win his friendship, with a view to his deliverance.

Some of the old elders looked askance at my frivolity, for Sanderson's
"Mountain Dew" flowed freely at every bonspiel, and it was generally
understood that all bigoted teetotalism was justly suspended till the
ice vanished in the spring. These aforesaid elders had no sympathy with
men who tasted standing up, or who took their "Mountain Dew" unwarmed.

They would gravely quote the scriptural admonition that all things
should be done decently and in order, adding the exposition, logically
deduced, that the more important the transaction, the more imperative
that order and decency should be observed. For which reason they took
their whisky hot, and hallowed by the gentler name of "toddy." At
eventide they took it, within the sacred precincts of their own
firesides, and immediately after family worship. Many a time and oft the
very lips which fervently sang the psalm -

"Like Hermon's dew, the dew that doth,"

were the same that sampled Sanderson's with solemn satisfaction.

The session clerk once presented to the court a letter from a worthy but
wandering temperance orator, craving permission to give his celebrated
"dog talk" in St. Cuthbert's on a Sabbath afternoon.

"I move that the kirk be no' granted," said Archie M'Cormack. "He'll be
revilin' the ways o' men far abune him. Ma faither aye took a drappy
ilka nicht, haudin' his bonnet in his haun' the while. He wad drink the
health o' Her Majesty ('God bless her,' he aye said), and mebbe ane to
the auld kirk in bonnie Scotland, an' mebbe ane to the laddies wha used
to rin wi' him aboot the braes, an' mebbe then he wad hae jist ane mair
to Her Majesty, for ma faither was aye uncommon loyal at the hinner end.
But atween him an' ma mither he aye kent fine when to stop.

"An' a' oor faithers tasted afore they gaed to bed, an' they a' dee'd
wi' their faces to the licht; an' I wadna gie ane o' them for a wheen o'
yir temperance haverers wi' their dog talks on the Sabbath day."

"I second that," said Ronald M'Gregor. "The injudeecious use o'
speerits, or o' ony ither needcessity, is no' to be commendit, but the
Sabbath he's askin' 'll be the sacrament, and that's no day for dog
talkin', I'm thinkin'" - and the motion carried unanimously.

* * * * *

"How's the ice to-day?" I asked Thomas Laidlaw, one winter's afternoon.

"Fair graun'," replied the solemn Thomas. "Ye'll never throw a stane on
better till ye draw by yir last gaird; 'twad dae fine for the New
Jerusalem."

"You don't think there'll be curling there, Thomas?" I said.

"I dinna ken," he answered, "but I'm no' despairin'. They aye speak o't
as a land where everlasting spring abides; but I hae ma doots. There'll
be times when the ice'll hold, I'm thinkin'. Yon crystal river's no' for
naethin'."

Geordie Lorimer was my skip that day, and soon the armoured floor was
echoing to the "roarin' game," the largest, noblest, brotherliest game
known to mortal men. The laird and the cottar were there, the homely
shepherd and the village snab who cobbled his shoes, the banker and the
carter, the manufacturer and the mechanic - all on that oft-quoted
platform which is built alone of curlers' ice.

"Lay me a pat-lid richt here, man. Soop her up - soop, soop, man. Get her
by the gaird. Let her be. I'm wrang, bring her ben the hoose.
Stop - stop, I'm tellin' ye. Noo, soop, soop her in, man."

"Noo, minister, be up this time," cries Geordie. "Soop, soop her up.
That's a graun' yin, minister. Shake ye yir ain haun'. Gin yir sermons
were deleevered like yir stanes, there wadna be an empty seat i' the
kirk. Lat her dee, she's ower fiery. That'll dae fine for a gaird, an'
Tam'll be fashed to get roun' ye."

Thus roared the game along, and at its close Geordie and I were putting
our stones away together, flushed with victory. The occasion seemed
favourable for the moral influence which it was my constant aim to
exercise.

"By the way, Geordie," I began, "I have not seen you in the kirk of
late."

"What's that?" said Geordie, his invariable challenge, securing time to
adjust himself for the encounter.

"I have missed you nearly all winter from the church on the Sabbath
day," I replied, leaving no room for further uncertainty.

Geordie capitulated slowly: "I'll grant ye I've no' been by-ord'nar
regglar," he admitted, "but I hae a guid excuse. I haena been ower weel.
Ma knee's been sair. To tell ye the truth, minister, half the time
'twas a' I could dae to get doon to curl."

I sighed heavily and said no more, for Geordie was hopelessly sincere in
his idea of first things first.

The very next night I was sitting quietly in my study, talking to
Margaret and Angus, though I was beginning to suspect already that they
had come to endure my absence with heroic fortitude.

About eleven o'clock the door-bell rang, and I answered it myself. It
was Geordie's distracted wife. Leading her to the drawing-room, I asked
her mission, though her pale and care-rung face left little room for
doubt.

"Wad ye think it bold o' me, sir, gin I was to ask you to find Geordie
an' fetch him hame? He's off sin' yestere'en."

"Why, it was only yesterday evening I saw him on the ice."

"Ay, sir, but he winned the game, an' that's aye a loss for Geordie; he
aye tak's himsel' to the tavern when he wins. Oh, sir, ma hairt's fair
broken; it's a twalmonth this verra nicht sin' oor wee Jessie dee'd, an'
I was aye lippenin' to that to bring him till himsel'; but he seems waur
nor ever - he seeks to droon his sorrow wi' the drink."

I had often marvelled at this; for Geordie's last word to his little
daughter had been a promise to meet her in the land o' the leal. But it
is not chains alone that make a slave.

After a little further conversation, I sent the poor woman home,
assuring her that I would do the best I could for Geordie. Which promise
I proceeded to fulfill. Two or three of his well-known resorts had been
visited with fruitless quest, when I repaired to the Maple Leaf, a
notoriously sunken hole, which thus blasphemed the name of the fairest
emblem of the nations. I observed a few sorry wastrels leaning in
maudlin helplessness upon the bar as I pressed in, still cleaving to
their trough - but Geordie was not among them. I was about to withdraw,
when I heard a familiar voice, above the noise of a phonograph, from one
of the rooms just above the bar. It was Geordie's.

"Gie us 'Nearer, my God, to Thee,'" I heard him cry, with drunken
unction. "Gin ye haena ane o' the psalms o' Dauvit i' yir kist o' tunes,
mak' the creetur play 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.'"

Here was Geordie's evil genius in evidence again, his profligacy and his
piety hand in hand. Ascending the stairs, I reached the door just in
time to see the landlord, manipulator of the musical machine, forcing
Geordie to the door, one hand gripping his throat, the other buffeting
the helpless wretch in the face. Two or three of his unspeakable
kindred were applauding him.

"Get out of here, you beast," he muttered savagely, "and let decent folk
enjoy themselves. You'll not get no music nor no whisky either, hangin'
round an honest man's house without a penny in your pocket - get out, you
brute." And he struck him full in the face again.

It were wrong to say that I forgot I was a minister; I think I recalled
that very thing, and it gave more power to my arm, for I knew the
poverty amid which Geordie's poor wife strove to keep their home
together; and the pitiful bareness of wee Jessie's death-chamber flashed
before me. This well-nourished vampire had sucked the life-blood from
them all, and remembering this, I rushed into the unequal conflict and
smote the vampire between his greedy eyes with such fervour that he fell
where he stood. In a moment he was on his feet again, but my ministry
with him was not complete, and I seized him where he had gripped his own
victim, by the throat.

"Let me be. Remember you're a minister," he gasped.

"God forbid I should forget," I thundered back, for my blood was hot. I
remembered just then that wee Jessie had been dependent on charity for
the little delicacies that go with death; "and if God helps me you
won't forget it either," with which addition I hurled him down the
stairs, his final arrival signalled back by the sulphurous aroma of
bruised and battered maledictions.

It may be incidentally inserted here that this unclerical encounter of
mine was afterwards referred to at a meeting of St. Cuthbert's session.
One of the elders, never very friendly to me, preferred the charge of
conduct unbecoming a minister. Only two of his colleagues noticed the
indictment, and they both were elders of the old Scotch school.

"Oor minister's fine at the castin' doon o' the strongholds o' Satan,"
said the one; "it minds me o' what the beasts got i' the temple."

"It's mebbe no' Solomon's exact words, but it's gey like them: 'A time
to pit on the goon an' a time to tak' aff the coat' - an' it's the yae
kin' o' proheebeetion that's ony guid forbye," said the other.

The groaning landlord was soon removed by the loving hands of his wife
and the hostler; and as I convoyed Geordie out past their family
sitting-room, tenderly so called, the phonograph breathed out the last
expiring strains of "Wull ye no' come back again?" which the aforesaid
landlord had selected in preference to Geordie's pious choice.

Measures for the sufferer's relief had been swift; the air was already
rich with the fumes of high wines, the versatile healer of internal
griefs and external wounds alike.

When Geordie and I were well upon the street a new difficulty presented
itself.

"It's a sair shock, an' it'll kill the wife," I heard him muttering
beneath his breath.

This gave me some little hope, for I detected in it the beauty of
penitence.

"Your wife will forgive you, Geordie," I began; "and if this will only
teach - - "

But he stopped me; his face showed that he had been sorely
misunderstood.

"Forgie me - forgie me! It's no' me she'll hae till forgie. Are ye no'
the minister o' St. Cuthbert's? Ah, ye canna deny that. I ken that fine.
I kent ye as sune as ye cam' slippin' ben the taivern. It'll fair kill
the wife."

"What are you talking about?" I said testily.

"To think I wad live to see my ain minister slippin' by intil a taivern
at sic a time o' nicht," he groaned despondingly.

Then he turned upon me, his voice full of sad reproof: "I'm no' what I
micht be masel', but I dinna mak' no profession; but to think I'd catch
my ain minister hangin' roon' a taivern at this time o' nicht. It'll
kill the wife. She thocht the warld o' ye."

What the man was driving at was slowly borne in upon me.

"But you do not understand, Geordie," I began.

He stopped me again: "Dinna mak' it waur wi' yir explanations. I
un'erstaun' fine. I un'erstaun' noo why they ca' ye a feenished
preacher - ye're damn weel feenished for me an' Betsy. An' gin I tell hoo
I fun' ye oot (which I'm no' sayin' I'll dae), ilka sate i' the kirk
will be empty the comin' Sabbath day. Ye're a wolf in sheep's claes, an'
I'm sair at hairt the nicht."

I saw the uselessness of any attempt to enlighten him, for he was
evidently sincere in his illusion, and the spirit of real grief could be
detected, mingling with another which poisoned the air at every breath.
Whereupon I left him to himself as we walked along, Geordie swaying
gently, overcome by the experiences of the departed hour.

"It maun hae a fearfu' haud o' ye when ye cam' oot at sic an oor," he
said at length, half to himself. "But it clean spiled a graun' nicht for
me to see ye slippin' ben. It was a graun' nicht up till that. I canna
jist mind if it was a funeral or a weddin' - but it was fair graun'. We
drinkit the health o' ane anither till there wasna ache or pain amangst
us, but this spiles it a' for me. An' it'll kill the wife."

"You will see it differently," I could not help but say; "you know well
how I have tried to help you and tried to comfort your poor wife."

"That's what I aye thocht till noo," he responded plaintively. "I was
sayin' that same thing this verra nicht to ane o' my freens at the
taivern afore ye cam'. It was auld Tam Rutherford, wha's gaun to be
mairrit again, and him mair nor auchty years o' age. I warnt him against
it, an' I telt him his ither wumman was deid but sax months. But Tam
said as hoo a buddy at his age canna afford to wait ower lang, an' I
didna ken what answer to gie to that."

Then Geordie stopped, evidently resuming the quest for an appropriate
reply; for Scotch wit is usually posthumous, their responses serial and
their arguments continued in their next.

I was naturally curious as to what part I could have had in this
discussion, and since Geordie seemed to have forgotten the original
subject, I asked, "What has that to do with my trying to help or comfort
anybody?"

"Ou ay," he resumed. "Tam was sayin' as hoo he'd no' hae yirsel' to
mairry them, for he said ye're ower affectionate wi' the brides. But I
stuck up for you. I telt him yir sympathies was braid, but ye didna pick
oot the lassies for it a'. I was at Wullie Lee's the nicht Wullie dee'd;
an' I was fair scunnert at the elders. There was twa o' them, an' they
prayed turn aboot.

"When Wullie slippit awa, at midnight his twa dochters, Kirsty an' Ann,
took on redeek'lus, an' the auld wumman was waur. But the twa elders sat
an oor, comfortin' the twa lassies, ane to ilka ane, an' baith o' them
no' bad to luik at. They comfortit them muckle the same as I comfortit
Betsy when we did oor coortin', but the puir auld buddy was left her
lane wi' naebody to comfort her ava. I did it masel' a wee while. That's
what I telt Tam, an' I pinted oot the difference atween you an' the
elders. I said as hoo ye wad hae pickit oot the auld buddy first - - But
to think ma ain een saw ye comin' ben the taivern ayont twal o'clock at
nicht."

With such varied discourse did Geordie beguile our homeward way, which
at last brought us to his dwelling-place.

"I want ye to promise me ae thing afore we pairt," said Geordie. "It's
for yir ain guid I'm askin' it."

"What is it?" I asked curiously.

"I want ye to sign the pledge," he responded, with a tearful voice, "for
it maun hae a sair hand o' ye or ye wadna be prowlin' aboot a taivern at
sic a time o' nicht."

"I will talk to you some other time about that."

"Weel, weel, jist as ye wull - it'll dae again - but man, hoo'll ye
square it wi' the wife when ye gang hame to the manse the nicht? We'll
baith hae oor ain times, I'm dootin'. Here's a sweetie for ye; it's a
peppermint lozenge, an' it's a graun' help. Guid-nicht."

I had taken but forty steps or so when a solicitous voice called out,


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