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she gave me the go-bye. And as for that d-d methodistical parson- - Mr. Nesbitt did not finish his threat, but walked away whistling into the fields.
The old farmer of Westermains' counsels were not, however, wasted on desert soil. Nesbitt was hard pressed for money. No tradesman in Simonie would execute an order for him without payment in advance, and he was in daily terror of being arrested for his debts in the county town. And as he walked through the fields, smiting the blossoms off the red clover and crushing the pied daisies to earth with the point of his walking stick, he began to revolve his father's advice in his mind, and to consider whether he might not make his silence worth something to himself. The result of his reflections was the following letter:
'Westermains: July 18th.
'Sir,-You are aware, I presume, of the relationship which formerly subsisted between Miss Lyon and myself. I hold in my possession many letters and keepsakes from that young lady, including a promise of marriage. It has occurred to me that you might care to have them, in which case I shall have no objection to treat with you for their delivery. If they remain in my possession I can give no pledge that they may not become public property. Yours faithfully,
Rev. Mr. Sempill, Kirjath.
'P.S.-You will understand that the matter in question is purely a business one, and that sentiment cannot be allowed to interfere with it.'
Nesbitt was rather anxious to know what answer the minister would send back, half expecting that it would take the shape of an indignant denunciation of his conduct, or that perhaps he would treat the communication with silent contempt. He was not, however, left long in suspense, for the same afternoon brought him an answer from Kirjath-jearim. It was as much to the point as Nesbitt could have wished.
'Kirjath Manse: July 18th.
'Sir, I am obliged to you for your letter, and shall be most happy to treat with you for the surrender of the letters in your possession. I suppose the only question between us will be the price you may wish to put upon them. Perhaps we could come to an arrangement with least trouble to ourselves, if you would have the goodness to call here at your early convenience. Yours faithfully,
G. Nesbitt, Esq. 'P.S.-I am quite of your opinion that the bargain should be struck on purely business principles and without any regard to sentiment.'
"Well,' said Nesbitt, as he read the letter, he is a cool hand. I wonder how much I could squeeze out of him for the letters? They say he is rich, and he will get a lot of money with Daisy-the money that should have been mine; confound him! I'll ask five
hundred pounds, and I'm hanged if I don't get that I'll print the letters and send them round the parish, though I should have to go off to America for it. I suppose it must come to that some day.'
WE are clearly called upon to be firm,' said Deacon Lundie, bringing down his hand with forcible emphasis on the table, as he looked round on his colleagues. If this doesn't look like open defiance of the congregation, I should very much like to know what we are to consider it.'
The office-bearers of Kirjath, with the exception of the minister and Mr. Lyon, had met in Mr. Lundie's back-office at that gentleman's invitation; and on the table before them lay two open letters. One was from Mr. Lyon, informing them that his daughter Daisy withdrew her request to be admitted as a member of Kirjath; the other was from the minister, giving them formal notice of his intention to marry Miss Lyon at an early day.
'It is a terrible state of matters,' groaned Mr. Sandison, the chemist; but when people set themselves up to walk independently of the Spirit, what can we expect?'
'It's the want of local knowledge,' sighed Mr. Teape. A man which was connected with the congregation would have known all about the people, and would have never made such a mistake.'
'I knew what it would end in,' said Mr. Dickson, the corn-factor, 'when I saw that Mr. Sempill was setting himself up above his flock. A man always falls into the hands of some clique when he keeps himself reserved from his people.'
The question simply is,' said Deacon Lundie, are we, who are a free congregation, paying our own pastor, to allow Mr. Sempill to disregard the counsel of his office-bearers and to set himself up as an authority over us? He has cared no more for our feelings than if he had been a State-placed clergyman: yes, than if he had been the Pope himself.' And Mr. Lundie again brought his hand down upon the table with an angry rap.
It is very bad, certainly; but what are we to do?' said Mr. Dickson reflectively. It would not be a wise measure to drive away the Lyons; off and on they are worth a good fifty pounds a year to Kirjath.'
'I'm astonished at you, Dickson,' said Deacon Lundie severely; 'you're as bad as Simon Magus. I never thought to hear a deacon of Kirjath acknowledge that considerations of money weighed with him in comparison with the interests of the Church.'
"That is all very well,' retorted Mr. Dickson, 'but when there is a deficit at the end of the year and the office-bearers have to make good the minister's salary, you will be sorry that you were so particular. You ought to remember, too, that Kirjath stands on Mr.
Lyon's land, and that we have never got any titles to the building. What I would advise is this, that we admit Miss Lyon without any more fuss, and that, as we can't hinder the minister from marrying her, we submit to it with a good grace.'
'What?' exclaimed Mr. Lundie, allow our minister to marry a girl whose name has been the talk of Simonie, and Drywells to boot, for the last six months? Wasn't the way she carried on with young Nesbitt a scandal to us all? Doesn't he carry about her letters with him, and hasn't he got a promise of marriage from her? We look to the minister's wife to be an example to all the women in the congregation, and a pretty example they would get from Miss Lyon. I move that a committee be appointed to deal with Miss Lyon's case, and to consider whether Mr. Sempill, if he persists in marrying her, can be allowed to continue his ministrations in Kirjath.'
After some ineffectual opposition from Mr. Dickson, who wanted to keep in the Lyons' good graces, Deacon Lundie's motion was carried, and he himself and Mr. Teape were to institute a full inquiry into the conduct of Daisy Lyon, to endeavour to obtain an interview with Nesbitt, and to give in their report at an early meeting of the whole congregation, which was to be especially called to consider the minister's marriage.
In both parishes of Simonie and Drywells there was nothing talked of but Daisy Lyon's case. With their usual charity people were as a rule disposed to put the worst construction on her flirtation with Nesbitt, and to give ready credence to the dark hints which the young man threw out of having a hold on her. The ladies of the congregation in particular were disposed to be hard on both Daisy and the minister. Mrs. Lyon had always been severe upon the shortcomings of those of her own sex who were members of Kirjath; and these were not sorry to have an opportunity of paying her back old scores. Others had cast their eyes with favour on Mr. Sempill himself, and were disposed to envy Daisy's preferment. For one reason or another the bulk of the ladies of Kirjath had been prepared to vote against Miss Lyon's admission into the congregation, and now that her name was withdrawn, they were determined to veto the minister's marriage as the next readiest way of getting out their spite. Miss Lundie and Miss Powrie took good care that such zeal for the purity of Kirjath should not be allowed to cool, and kept the ferment alive by repeating the old stories and adding new insinuations to the impeachment already drawn up against Daisy.
And how did Miss Lyon and her parents bear all this? The girl, at first conscious of her own purity, and unable in her innocence to realise the evil colouring which slander could give to her indiscreet conduct, thought little at first of the commotion that the people of Kirjath were raising. It was all the malice of Miss Lundie and Miss Powrie, poor dear old things, who never had any chance of getting husbands themselves, and could not bear to see other people
made happy. Nor did she feel vexed at her mother's irritation, for Mrs. Lyon was too sanctimonious and censorious to have stirred up much affection even in her daughter's breast; and she had always made so much of Kirjath and exalted its people so high above those of any other denomination that Daisy felt tempted almost to rejoice that they had turned against her. But when she saw that her father's face, usually so open and hearty, was growing overcast, and that the minister's tenderness was mixed with a pitying expression, of which he was perhaps unconscious, but which she keenly felt, the girl began to realise her position. She had no difficulty in learning from the servants what people were saying about her, even if her mother, in the daily upbraidings to which Daisy was subjected, had allowed her to remain in ignorance.
'What need I care for this tattle!' demanded Daisy indignantly. 'Everyone knows that Miss Lundie and Kate Powrie are the greatest gossips in the whole parish, and that they never stick to the truth when they have a character to take to bits. Besides, I am sure, mother, I have heard you say a hundred times that the revilings of the world were the tribute which the wicked paid to righteousness,' added Daisy, with just as much of sarcasm in her tones as was sufficient to send the shaft home.
'Oh, to be sure, scoff now,' retorted Mrs. Lyon. When a girl takes to frequenting the company of unconverted young men, it is only to be expected that she will learn to sneer at religion. I should think, when you remember what occasion you have given the profane to point their finger at God's people, you would hold your tongue.'
What harm have I done?' pleaded Daisy. 'I did not know that Nesbitt was wicked, and he never said a wrong word to me. And it is a shame of Jane Lundie to make up stories about me, for she is double my age if she is a day old.'
'If you had kept within doors you might have let them say their say,' pursued her mother relentlessly; and there is that fellow going about with a whole pocketful of your letters, which he reads in the alehouse for the entertainment of all his dissolute associates. And now you have not only brought your parents to shame, but you are going to bring discredit on the gospel by marrying one of its ministers.'
'If Mr. Sempill thinks he is disgraced in marrying me,' sobbed Daisy, why doesn't he say so? I am sure, rather than do anything that would lower him in people's eyes, I would run away to the ends of the earth, though I do love him so well. Oh, mother dear! do say that you were not in earnest when you told me that Mr. Sempill would be discredited by marrying me.'
'Let him speak for himself, dear Daisy,' said the minister, entering the room with Mr. Lyon. Mr. Sempill has faith enough in the world to feel sure that it will only envy him the love of one so good and pure as you; and if there are ill-conditioned people whose tongues delight in seeking to sully whoever is better than they
themselves, we should rather pity this unhappy state of mind than trouble ourselves about the slanders that their malevolence suggests.' Ay, ay,' chimed in Mr. Lyon, men's tongues, and women's too, which are longer, will only get a certain length unless you pull them out by your own doings. You can always live down slander, and scandalmongers are never so severely punished as when they see that their lies don't do you any harm.'
See here, Daisy,' said Mr. Sempill, taking her hand, I have brought you a little present. Here is a packet into which I have not looked, although I know well I might have done so without any danger of loving you less.'
"Why, it's-it's my letters to-to Mr. Nesbitt,' stammered Daisy, as her face flushed over and she endeavoured to push the packet back into the minister's hand. 'I-I don't want them-I mean, thank you ever so much.'
In that case,' said the minister, we may, with Mrs. Lyon's permission, dispose of them,' and stooping down he placed the letters in the fire and silently watched them until every page was reduced to ashes.
THE chapel at Kirjath had never been better filled with members than on the night appointed for the consideration of what Mr. Lundie had denominated Miss Lyon's case. For although Daisy no longer sought to be admitted to the congregation, her father and Mr. Sempill, judging it better to withhold from the malice that was evidently at work so good an opportunity of gratifying itself, there still remained Mr. Sempill's notice of his marriage to be dealt with; and the decision on this point, as Mr. Lundie had already pointed out, must turn upon the truth of the stories that were afloat regarding her courtship with young Nesbitt. And accordingly every lady who was a member of Kirjath was to be found at her post in her own pew, anxious to hear whatever items of scandal were to be brought forward. The deacons' seats were all filled, except the one usually occupied by the farmer of Broomknowes; and Mr. Lundie, with a face full of importance, placed a pile of papers and letters before him, and proceeded to arrange them in order, taking notes all the while with an air of judicial solemnity. In the front pew side by side sat Miss Lundie and Miss Powrie, hardly able to conceal their exultation beneath the serious aspect the occasion demanded, and who giggled and smiled significantly to each other as Mr. Sempill quietly walked into the chapel and took his seat among the deacons in the place usually occupied by John Lyon. A keen observer would have noticed a shade of anxiety pass across Mr. Lundie's face as the minister came in, for the deacon had made sure that he would stay away on this occasion, and he more than suspected that Mr. Sempill had attended with some intention of making an attack upon himself.