Ebooks - Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Them - Tons of Free Stories to Read ~ Main Page

 

 

 

A Stiff Condition by Herman Whitaker

 

An Ontario sun shed a pleasant warmth into the clearing where Elder Hector McCakeron sat smoking. His gratified consciousness was pleasantly titillated by sights and sounds of worldly comfort. From the sty behind the house came fat gruntings; in the barn-yard hens were shrilly announcing that eggs would be served with the bacon; moreover, Janet was vigorously agitating a hoe among the potatoes to his left, while his wife performed similarly in the cabbage-garden. And what better could a man wish than to see his women profitably employed?

It was a pause in Janet's labors that gave the elder first warning of an intruder on his peace. A man was coming across the clearing—a short fellow, thick-set and bow-legged in figure, slow and heavy of face. The elder observed him with stony eyes.

“It's the Englisher,” he muttered. “What'll he be wanting wi' me?”

His accent was hostile as his glance. Since, thirty years before, a wave of red-haired Scots inundated western Ontario, no man of Saxon birth had settled in Zorra, the elder's township. That in peculiar had been held sealed as a heritage to the Scot, and when Joshua Timmins bought out Sandy Cruikshanks the township boiled and burned throughout its length and breadth.

Not that it had expected to suffer the contamination. It was simply astounded at the man's impudence. “We'll soon drum him oot!” Elder McCakeron snorted, when he heard of the invasion; to which, on learning that Timmins was also guilty of Methodism, he added, “Wait till the meenister lays claws on the beast.”

It was confidently expected that he would be made into a notable example, a warning to all intruders from beyond the pale; and the first Sunday after his arrival a full congregation turned out to see the minister do the trick. Interest was heightened by the presence of the victim, who, lacking a chapel of his own faith, attended kirk. His entrance caused a sensation. Forgetting its Sabbath manners, the congregation turned bodily and stared till recalled to its duty by the minister's cough. Then it shifted its gaze to him. What thunders were brewing behind that confident front? What lightnings lurked in the depths of those steel-gray eyes? Breathlessly Zorra had waited for the anathema which should wither the hardy intruder and drive him as chaff from a burning wind.

But it waited in vain. By the most liberal interpretation no phrase of his could be construed as a reflection on the stranger. Worse! After kirk-letting the minister hailed Timmins in the door, shook hands in the scandalized face of the congregation, and hoped that he might see him regularly at service.

Scandalous? It was irreligious! But if disappointed in its minister, Zorra had no intention of neglecting its own duty in the premises: the Englisher was not to be let off while memories of Bruce and Bannockburn lived in Scottish hearts. Which way he turned that day and in the months that followed he met dour faces. Excepting Cap'en Donald McKay, a retired mariner, whose native granite had been somewhat disintegrated by exposure to other climates, no man gave him a word;—this, of course, without counting Neil McNab, who called on Timmins three times a week to offer half-price for the farm.

With one exception, too, the women looked askance upon him, wondering, doubtless, how he dared to oppose their men-folks' wishes. Calling the cows of evenings, Janet McCakeron sometimes came on Timmins, whose farm cornered on her father's, and thus a nodding acquaintance arose between them. That she should have so demeaned herself is a matter of reproach with many, but the fair-minded who have sufficiently weighed the merits of her case are slower with their blames. For though Zorra can boast maidens who have hung in the wind till fifty and still, as the vernacular has it, “married on a man,” a girl was counted well on the way to the shelf at forty-five. Janet, be it remembered, lacked but two years of the fatal age. Already chits of thirty-five or seven were generously alluding to her as the prop of her father's age; so small wonder if she simpered instead of passing with a nifty air when Timmins spoke one evening.

His remark was simple in tenor—in effect that her bell-cow was “a wee cat-ham'ed”; but Janet scented its underlying tenderness as a hungry traveller noses a dinner on a wind, and after that drove her cows round by the corner which was conveniently veiled by heavy maple-bush. Indeed, it was to the friendly shadows which shrouded it, day or dark, that Cap'en McKay—a man wise in affairs of the heart by reason of much sailing in and out of foreign ports—afterward attributed the record which Timmins set Zorra in courting.

“He couldna see her bones, nor her his bow-legs,” the mariner phrased it. But be this as it may, whether or no each made love to a voice, Cupid ran a swift course with them, steeplechasing over obstacles that would have taken years for a Zorra lad to plod around. In less than six months they passed from a bare goodnight to the exchange of soul thoughts on butter-making, the raising of calves, fattening of swine, and methods of feeding swedes that they might not taint cow's milk, and so had progressed by such tender paths through gentle dusks to the point where Timmins was ready to declare himself in the light of this present morning.

Assured by one glance that Timmins's courage still hung at the point to which she had screwed it the preceding evening, Janet drooped again to her work.

To his remark that the potatoes were looking fine, however, the elder made no response—unless a gout of tobacco smoke could be so counted. With eyes screwed up and mouth drawn down, he gazed off into space—a Highland sphinx, a Gaelic Rhadamanthus.

His manner, however, made no impression on Timmins's stolidity. The latter's eye followed the elder's in its peregrinations till it came to rest, when, without further preliminaries, he began to unfold his suit, which in matter and essence was such as are usually put forward by those whom love has blinded.

It was really an able plea, lacking perhaps those subtilities of detail with which a Zorra man would have trimmed it, but good enough for a man who labored under the disadvantages which accrue to birth south of the Tweed and Tyne. But it did not stir the elder's sphinxlike calm. “Ha' ye done?” he inquired, without removing his gaze from the clouds; and when Timmins assented, he delivered judgment in a cloud of tobacco smoke. “Weel—ye canna ha' her.” After which he resumed his pipe and smoked placidly, wearing the air of one who has settled a difficult question forever.

But if stolid, Timmins had his fair share of a certain slow pugnacity.

“Why?” he demanded.

The elder smoked on.

“Why?”

“Weel,”—the elder spoke slowly to the clouds,—“I'm no obliged to quote chapter an' verse, but for the sake of argyment—forbye should Janet marry on an Englisher when there's good Scotchmen running loose?”

This was a “poser.” Born to a full realization of the vast gulf which providence has fixed between the Highlands and the rest of the world, Janet recognized it as such. Pausing, she leaned on her hoe, anxiously waiting, while Timmins chewed a straw and the cud of reflection.

“Yes,” he slowly answered, “they've been runnin' from 'er this twenty year.” Nodding confirmation to the brilliant rejoinder, Janet fell again to work.

But the elder was in no wise discomposed. Withdrawing one eye from the clouds, he turned it approvingly upon her hoe practice. “She's young yet,” he said, “an' a lass o' her pairts wull no go til the shelf.”

“Call three-an'-forty young?”

“Christy McDonald,” the elder sententiously replied, “marrit on Neil McNab at fifty. Janet's labor's no going to waste. An' if you were the on'y man i' Zorra, it wad behoove me to conseeder the lassie's prospects i' the next world. Ye're a Methodist.”

“Meanin',” said Timmins, when his mind had grappled with the charge, “as there's no Methodists there?”

Questions of delicacy and certain theological difficulties involved called for reflection, and the elder smoked a full minute on the question before be replied: “No, I wadna go so far as that. It stan's to reason as there's some of 'em there; on'y—I'm no so sure o' their whereaboots.”

Timmins thoughtfully scratched his head ere he came back to the charge. “Meanin' as there's none in 'eaven?”

Again the elder blew a reflective cloud over the merits of the question. “Weel,” he said, delivering himself with slow caution, “if so—it's no on record.”

Again Janet looked up, with defeat perching amid her freckles. “He's got ye this time,” her face said, and the elder's expression of placid satisfaction affirmed the same opinion. But Timmins rose to a sudden inspiration.

“In 'eaven,” he answered, “there's neither marriage nor givin' in marriage.”

“Pish, mon!” the elder snorted. “It's no a question o' marrying; it's a question o' getting theer, an' Janet's no going to do it wi' a Methodist hanging til her skirts.”

Silence fell in the clearing—silence that was broken only by the crash and tinkle of Janet's hoe as she buried Timmins under the clod. A Scotch daughter, she would bide by her father's word. Unaware of his funeral, Timmins himself stood scratching his poll.

“So you'll not give her to me?” he futilely repeated.

For the first time the elder looked toward him. “Mon, canna ye see the impossibility o' it? No, ye canna ha' her till—till”—he cast about for the limit of inconceivability—“till ye're an elder i' the Presbyterian Kirk.” He almost cracked a laugh at Timmins's sudden brightening. He had evolved the condition to drive home and clinch the ridiculous impossibility of the other's suit, and here he was, the doddered fule, taking hope! It was difficult to comprehend the workings of such a mind, and though the elder smoked upon it for half an hour after Timmins left the clearing, he failed of realization.

“Yon's a gay fule,” he said to Janet, when she answered his call to hitch the log farther into the cabin. “He was wanting to marry on you.”

“Ay?” she indifferently returned,—adding, without change of feature, “There's no lack o' fules round here.”

Meanwhile Timmins was making his way through the woods to his own place. As he walked along, the brightness gradually faded from his face, and by the time he reached the trysting-corner his mood was more in harmony with his case. His face would have graced a funeral.

Now Cap'en McKay's farm lay cheek by jowl with the elder's, and as the mariner happened to be fixing his fence at the corner, he noted Timmins's signals of distress. “Man!” he greeted, “ye're looking hipped.” Then, alluding to a heifer of Timmins's which had bloated on marsh-grass the day before, he added, “The beastie didna die?” Assured that it was only a wife that Timmins lacked, he sighed relief. “Ah, weel, that's no so bad; they come cheaper. But tell us o't”

“Hecks, lad!” he commented, on Timmins's dole, “I'd advise ye to drive your pigs til anither market.”

“Were?” Timmins asked—“w'ere'll I find one?”

“That's so.” The mariner thoughtfully shaved his jaw with a red forefinger, while his comprehensive glance took in the other's bow-legs. “There isna anither lass i' Zorra that wad touch ye with a ten-foot pole.”

Reddening, Timmins breathed hard, but the mariner met his stare with the serene gaze of one who deals in undiluted truth; so Timmins gulped and went on: “Say! I 'ear that you're mighty clever in these 'ere affairs. Can't you 'elp a feller out?”

The cap'en modestly bowed to reputation, admitting that he had assisted “a sight of couples over the broomstick,” adding, however, that the knack had its drawbacks. There were many door-stones in Zorra that he dared not cross. And he wagged his head over Timmins's case, wisely, as a lawyer ponders over the acceptance of a hopeless brief. Finally he suggested that if Timmins was “no stuck on his Methodisticals,” he might join the kirk.

“You think that would 'elp?”

The cap'en thought that, but he was not prepared to endorse Timmins's following generalization that it didn't much matter what name a man worshipped under. It penetrated down through the aforesaid rubble of disintegration and touched native granite. Stiffly enough he returned that Presbyterianism was good enough for him, but it rested on Timmins to follow the dictates of his own conscience.

Now when bathed in love's elixir conscience becomes very pliable indeed, and as the promptings of Timmins's inner self were all toward Janet, his outer man was not long in making up his mind. But though, following the cap'en's advice, he joined himself to the elect of Zorra, his change of faith brought him only a change of name.

Elder McCakeron officiated at the “christening” which took place in the crowded market the day after Timmins's name had been spread on the kirk register. “An' how is the apoos-tate the morning?” the elder inquired, meeting Timmins. And the name stuck, and he was no more known as the “Englisher.”

“Any letters for the Apoos-tate?” The postmaster would mouth the question, repeating it after Timmins when he called for his mail. Small boys yelled the obnoxious title as he passed the log school on the corner; wee girls gazed after him, fascinated, as upon one destined for a headlong plunge into the lake of fire and brimstone. Summing the situation at the close of his second month's fellowship in the kirk, Timmins confessed to himself that it had brought him only a full realization of the “stiffness” of Elder McCakeron's “condition.” He was no nearer to Janet, and never would have been but for the sudden decease of Elder Tammas Duncan.

In view of what followed, many hold that Elder Tammas made a vital mistake in dying, while a few, less charitable, maintain that his decease was positively sinful.

But if Elder Tammas be not held altogether blameless in the premises, what must be said of Saunders McClellan, who loaded himself with corn-juice and thereby sold himself to the fates? Saunders was a bachelor of fifty and a misogynist by repute. Twenty years back he had paid a compliment to Jean Ross, who afterward married on Rab Murray. It was not a flowery effort; simply to the effect that he, Saunders, would rather sit by her, Jean, than sup oatmeal brose. But though he did not soar into the realms of metaphor, the compliment seems to have been a strain on Saunders's intellect, to have sapped his being of tenderness; for after paying it he reached for his hat and fled, and never again placed himself in such jeopardy.

“Man!” he would exclaim, when, at threshing or logging bees, hairbreadth escapes from matrimony cropped up in the conversation,—“man! but I was near done for yon time!” And yet, all told, Saunders's dry bachelorhood seems to have been caused by an interruption in the flow rather than a drying up of his wells of feeling, as was proven by his conduct coming home from market the evening he overloaded with “corn-juice.”

For as he drove by Elder McCakeron's milk-yard, which lay within easy hailing distance of the gravel road, Saunders bellowed to Janet: “Hoots, there! Come awa, my bonnie bride! Come awa to the meenister!” In front of her mother and Sib Sanderson, the cattle-buyer—who was pricing a fat cow,—Saunders thus committed himself, then drove on, chuckling over his own daring.

“Ye're a deevil! man, ye're a deevil!” he told himself, giving his hat a rakish cock. “Ye're a deevil wi' the weemen, a sair deceever.”

He did feel that way—just then. But when, next morning, memory disentangled itself from a splitting headache, Saunders's red hair bristled at the thought of his indiscretion. It was terrible! He, Saunders, the despair of the girls for thirty years, had fallen into a pit of his own digging! He could but hope it a nightmare; but as doubt was more horrible than certainty, he dressed and walked down the line to McCakeron's.

Once again he found Janet at the milking; or rather, she had just turned the cows into the pasture, and as she waited for him by the bars, Saunders thought he had never seen her at worse advantage. The sharp morning air had blued her nose, and he was dimly conscious that the color did not suit her freckles.

“Why, no!” she said, answering his question as to whether or no he had not acted a bit foolish the night before. “You just speired me to marry on you. Said I'd been in your eye this thirty years.”

In a sense this was true. He had cleared from her path like a bolting rabbit, but gallantry forbade that manifest explanation. “'Twas the whuskey talking,” he pleaded. “Ye'll no hold me til a drunken promise?”

But he saw, even before she spoke, that she would.

“'Deed but I will!” she exclaimed, tossing her head. “An' them says ye were drunken will ha' to deal wi' me. Ye were sober as a sermon.”

Though disheartened, Saunders tried another tack. “Janet,” he said, solemnly, “I dinna think as a well-brought lass like you wad care to marry on a man like me. I'm terrible i' the drink. I might beat ye.”

Janet complacently surveyed an arm that was thick as a club from heavy choring. “I'll tak chances o' that.”

Saunders's heart sank into his boots; but, wiping the sweat from his brow, he made one last desperate effort: “But ye're promised to the—the—Apoos-tate.”

“I am no. Father broke that off.”

Saunders shot his last bolt. “I believe I'm fickle, Janet. There'll be a sair heart for the lass that marries me. I wouldna wonder if I jilted ye.”

“Then,” she calmly replied, “I'll haul ye into the justice coort for breach o' promise.”

With this terrible ultimatum dinging in his ears Saunders fled. Zorra juries were notoriously tender with the woman in the case, and he saw himself stripped of his worldly goods or tied to the apron of the homeliest girl in Zorra. One single ray illumined the dark prospect. That evening be called on Timmins, whom he much astonished by the extent and quality of his advice and encouragement. He even went so far as to invite the Englisher to his own cabin, thereby greatly scandalizing his housekeeper—a maiden sister of fifty-two, who had forestalled fate by declaring for the shelf at forty-nine.

“What'll he be doing here?” the maiden demanded, indicating Timmins with accusatory finger on the occasion of his first visit. But his meekness and the propitiatory manner in which he sat on the very edge of his chair, hat gripped between his knees, mollified her so much that she presently produced a bowl of red-cheeked apples for his refreshment.

But her thawing did not save Saunders after the guest was gone. “There's always a fule in every family,” she cried, when he had explained his predicament, “an' you drained the pitcher.”

“But you'll talk Janet to him,” Saunders urged, “an' him to her? She's that hard put to it for a man that wi' a bit steering she'll consent to an eelopement.”

But, bridling, Jeannie tossed a high head. “'Deed, then, an' I'll no do ither folk's love-making.”

“Then,” Saunders groaned, “I'll ha' the pair of ye in this hoose.”

This uncomfortable truth gave Jeannie pause. The position of maiden sister carried with it more chores than easements, and Jeannie was not minded to relinquish her present powers. For a while she seriously studied the stove, then her face cleared; she started as one who suddenly sees her clear path, and giving Saunders a queer look, she said: “Ah, weel, you're my brother, after all. I'll do my best wi' both. Tell the Englisher as I'll be pleased to see him any time in the evening.”

Matters were at this stage when Elder McCakeron's cows committed their dire trespass on Neil McNab's turnips.

Who would imagine that such unlike events as Saunders McClellan's lapse from sobriety, the death of Elder Duncan, and the trespass of McCakeron's cows could have any bearing upon one another? Yet from their concurrence was born the most astounding hap in the Zorra chronicles. Even if Elder McCakeron had paid Neil's bill of damage instead of remarking that he “didna see as the turnips had hurt his cows,” the thing would have addled in the egg; and his recalcitrancy, so necessary to the hatching, has caused many a wise pow to shake over the inscrutability of Providence. But the elder did not pay, and in revenge Neil placed Peter Dunlop, the elder's ancient enemy, in nomination for Tammas Duncan's eldership.

It was Saunders McClellan who carried the news to the McCakeron homestead. According to her promise, Jeannie had visited early and late with Janet; and dropping in one evening to check up her report of progress, Saunders found the elder perched on a stump.

Saunders discharged him of his news, which dissipated the elder's calm as thunder shatters silence.

“What?” he roared. “Yon scunner? Imph! I'd as lief ... as lief ... elect”—the devil quivered back of his teeth, but as that savored of irreverence, he substituted “the Apoostate!”

Right here a devil entered in unto Saunders McClellan—the mocking devil whose mission it was to abase Zorra to the dust. But it did not make its presence known until, next day, Saunders carried the news of Elder McCakeron's retaliation to Cap'en McKay's pig-killing.

“He's going,” Saunders informed the cap'en and Neil McNab between pigs,—“he's going to run Sandy 'Twenty-One' against your candidate.”

Now between Neil and Sandy lay a feud which had its beginnings what time the latter doctored a spavined mare and sold her for a price to the former's cousin Rab.

“Yon scunner?” Neil exclaimed, using the very form of the elder's words, “yon scunner? I'd as lief ... as lief ... elect ...”

“... the Apoos-tate,” said the Devil, though Neil thought that Saunders was talking.

“Ay, the Apoos-tate,” he agreed.

“It wad be a fine joke,” the Devil went on by the mouth of Saunders, “to run the Apoos-tate agin' his candidate. McCakeron canna thole the man.”

“But what if he was elected?” the mariner objected.

The Devil was charged with glib argument. “We couldna very weel. It's to be a three-cornered fight, an' Robert Duncan, brother to Tammas, has it sure.”

“'Twad be a good one on McCakeron,” Neil mused. “To talk up Dunlop, who doesna care a cent for the eldership, an' then spring the Apoos-tate on him.”

“'Twould be bitter on 'Twenty-One,'“ the cap'en added. He had been diddled by Sandy on a deal of seed-wheat.

“It wad hit the pair of 'em,” McNab chuckled, and with that word the Devil conquered.

So far, as aforesaid, Saunders had been unconscious of the Devil, but going home the latter revealed himself in a heart-to-heart talk. “Ye're no pretty to look at,” Saunders said. “I'm minded to throw ye oot!”

The Devil chuckled. “Janet's so bonny. Fancy her on the pillow beside, ye—scraggy—bones—freckles. Hoots, man! a nightmare!”

Shuddering, Saunders reconsidered proceedings of ejectment. “But the thing is no posseeble?”

“You know your men,” the Devil answered. “Close in the mouth as they are in the fist. McCakeron will never get wind o' the business till they spring it on him in meeting.”

“That is so,” Saunders acknowledged. “'Tis surely so-a.”

“Then why,” the Devil urged,—“then why not rig the same game on him?”

“Bosh! He wouldna think o't.”

“Loving Dunlop as himself?” The Devil was apt at paraphrasing Scripture. “Imph!”

“It would let me out?” Saunders mused.

“Ye can but fail,” argued the Devil. “Try it.”

“I wull.”

“This very night!” It is a wonder that the sparks did not fly, the Devil struck so hard on the hot iron. “To-night! Ye ken the election comes off next week.”

“To-night,” Saunders agreed.

Throughout that week the din of contending factions resounded beneath brazen harvest skies; for if there was a wink behind the clamor of any faction, it made no difference in the volume of its noise. Wherever two men foregathered, there the spirit of strife was in their midst; the burr of hot Scot's speech travelled like the murmur of robbed bees along the Side Lines, up the Concession roads, and even raised an echo in the hallowed seclusion of the minister's study. And harking back to certain eldership elections in which the breaking of heads had taken the place of “anointing with oil,” Elder McIntosh quietly evolved a plan whereby the turmoil should be left outside the kirk on election night.

But while it lasted no voice rang louder than that of Saunders McClellan's devil. Not a bit particular in choice of candidates, he roared against Dunlop, Duncan, or “Twenty-One” according to the company which Saunders kept. “Ye havna the ghaist of a show!” he assured Cap'en McKay, chief of the Dunlopers. “McCakeron drew three mair to him last night.” While to the elder he exclaimed the same day: “Yon crazy sailorman's got all the Duncanites o' the run. He has ye spanked, Elder. Scunner the deil!” So the Devil blew, hot and cold, with Saunders's mouth, until the very night before the election.

The morning of the election the sun heaved up on a brassy sky. It was intensely hot through the day, but towards evening gray clouds scudded out of the east, veiling the sun with their twisting masses; at twilight heavy rain-blots were splashing the dust. At eight o'clock, meeting-time, rain flew in glistening sheets against the kirk windows and forced its way under the floor. There was but a scant attendance—twoscore men, perhaps, and half a dozen women, who sat, in decent Scotch fashion, apart from the men—that is, apart from all but Joshua Timmins. Not having been raised in the decencies as observed in Zorra, he had drifted over to the woman's side and sat with Janet McCakeron and Jean McClellan, one on either side.

But if few in number, the gathering was decidedly formidable in appearance. As the rain had weeded out the feeble, infirm, and pacifically inclined, it was distinctly belligerent in character. Grim, dour, silent, it waited for the beginning of hostilities.

Nor did the service of praise which preceded the election induce a milder spirit. When the precentor led off, “Howl, ye Sinners, Howl! Let the Heathen Rage and Cry!” each man's look told that he knew well whom the psalmist was hitting at; and when the minister invoked the “blind, stubborn, and stony-hearted” to “depart from the midst,” one-half of his hearers looked their astonishment that the other half did not immediately step out in the rain. A heavy inspiration, a hard sigh, told that all were bracing for battle when the minister stepped down from the pulpit, and noting it, he congratulated himself on his precautions against disturbance.

“For greater convenience in voting,” he said, reaching paper slips and a box of pencils from behind the communion rail, “we will depart from the oral method and elect by written ballot”

He had expected a protest against such a radical departure from ancestral precedent, but in some mysterious way the innovation seemed to jibe with the people's inclination.

“Saunders McClellan,” the minister went on, “will distribute and collect balloting-papers on the other aisle.”

“Give it to him, Cap'en!” Saunders whispered, as he handed him a slip. “He's glowering at ye.”

The elder was indeed surveying the mariner, McNab, and Dunlop with a glance of comprehensive hostility over the top of his ballot. “See what I'm aboot!” his look said, as he folded the paper and tossed it into Saunders's hat.

“The auld deevil!” McNab whispered, as the minister unfolded the first ballot. “He'll soon slacken his gills.”

“That'll be one of oor ballots,” the cap'en hoarsely confided.

The minister was vigorously rubbing his glasses for a second perusal of the ballot, but when the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth were added to the first, his face became a study in astonishment. And presently his surprise was reflected by the congregation. For whereas three candidates were in nomination, the ballots were forming but two piles.

Whispers ran through the kirk; the cap'en nudged McNab.

“McCakeron must ha' swung all the Duncanites?”

“Ah,” Neil muttered. “An' that wad account for the stiff look o' the reptile. See the glare o't.”

They would have stiffened in astonishment could they have translated the “glare.” “Got the Duncanites, did ye?” the elder was thinking. “Bide a wee, bide a wee! He laughs best that laughs last.”

Saunders McClellan and his Devil alone sensed the inwardness of those two piles, and they held modest communion over it in the back of the kirk. “You may be ugly, but ye've served me well,” Saunders began.

The Devil answered with extreme politeness: “You are welcome to all ye get through me. If no honored, ye are at least aboot to become famous in your ain country.”

“Infamous, I doobt, ye mean,” Saunders corrected. Then, glancing uneasily toward the door, he added, “I think as we'd better be leaving.”

“Pish!” the Devil snorted. “They are undone by their ain malignancy. See it oot.”

“That's so,” Saunders agreed. “That is surely so-a. Hist! The meenister's risen. Man, but he's tickled to death over the result. His face is fair shining.”

The minister did indeed look pleased. Stepping down to the floor that he might be closer to these his people, he beamed benevolently upon them while he made a little speech. “People of Scottish birth,” he said, closing, “are often accused of being hard and uncharitable to the stranger in their gates, but this can never be said of you who have extended the highest honor in your gift to a stranger; who have elected Brother Joshua Timmins elder in your kirk by a two-thirds majority.”

The benediction dissolved the paralysis which held all but Saunders McClellan; but stupefaction remained. Astounding crises are generally attended with little fuss, from the inability of the human intellect to grasp their enormous significance. As John “Death” McKay afterward put it, “Man, 'twas so extraordin'ry as to seem ordin'ry.” Of course neither Dunlopers nor “Twenty-One's” were in a position to challenge the election, and if the Duncanites growled as they pawed over the ballots, their grumbling was presently silenced by a greater astonishment.

For out of such evenings history is made. While the minister had held forth on the rights and duties of eldership, Saunders McClellan's gaze had wandered over to Margaret McDonald—a healthy, red-cheeked girl—and he had done a little moralizing on his own account. In the presence of such an enterprising spinsterhood, bachelorhood had become an exceedingly hazardous existence, and if a man must marry, be might as weel ha' something young an' fresh! Margaret, too, was reputed industrious as pretty! Of Janet's decision, Saunders had no doubts. Between himself and Jeannie, and Timmins—meek, mild, and unencumbered—there could be no choice. Still there was nothing like certainty; 'twas always best to be off wi' the old, an' so forth!

Rising, he headed for Janet, who, with her father, Jeannie, Timmins, and the minister, stood talking at the vestry door. As he made his way forward, he reaped a portion of the Devil's promised fame. As they filed sheepishly down the aisle, the Dunlopers gave him the cold shoulder, and when he joined the group, Elder McCakeron returned a stony stare to his greeting.

“But ye needna mind that,” the Devil encouraged. “He daurna tell, for his own share i' the business.”

So Saunders brazened it out. “Ye ha' my congratulations, Mr. McCakeron. I hear you're to get a son-in-law oot o' this?”

If Elder McCakeron had given Saunders the tempter the glare which he now bestowed on Saunders the successfully wicked, he had not been in such lamentable case.

“Why, what is this?” the minister exclaimed. “Cause for further congratulation, Brother Timmins?”

Saunders now shone as Cupid's assistant. “He was to ha' Janet on condeetion that he made the eldership,” he fulsomely explained.

The minister's glance questioned the elder.

“Well,” he growled, “I'm no going back on my word.”

Saunders glowed all over, and in exuberance of spirit actually winked at Margaret McDonald across the kirk. Man, but she was pretty!

“It's to your credit, Mr. McCakeron, that you should hold til a promise,” Jeannie was saying. “But ye'll no be held. A man may change his mind, and since you refused Joshua, he's decided to marry on me.”

Saunders blenched. He half turned to flee, but Janet's strong fingers closed on his sleeve; and as her lips moved to claim him before minister and meeting, he thought that he heard the Devil chuckling, a great way off.