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When the chapel was filled and every one seated, the usual few minutes of awkwardness indicated that the time had come to open the business of the meeting. Mr. Lundie now turned over his papers, and cast an anxious look round the building as if he would read the mind of the congregation in their faces. The deacons pretended to examine their watches, the women drew themselves up in their pews in an attitude of attention, and the men crossed their legs and folded their arms and prepared to listen patiently to whatever was set before them.
My friends,' said Mr. Lundie, rising with a preparatory hem, 'we scarcely expected the pleasure of Mr. Sempill's company here to-night, but I trust we are always glad to see our minister among us, and as he is here I propose that he open the meeting with prayer.'
Eagerly did Mr. Lundie listen to the petitions that rose from Mr. Sempill's lips to catch if he could any indications of the course that the minister meant to pursue; but his prayer was short, dry, and formal, and Mr. Lundie in his excitement was irritated by the indifference in the minister's tones, which made him more than ever doubtful regarding Mr. Sempill's presence in the meeting.
'I wish to mention,' said Mr. Sempill before he sat down, as in some degree connected with the business of this meeting, that but for Miss Lyon's serious illness she would have attended with her parents to vindicate her reputation against the aspersions which some members of a Christian congregation have cast upon it. The excitement and the pain which have been caused to her by such slanders have brought on an attack of nervous fever, which the doctor, I am glad to say, does not consider dangerous, but which renders it necessary that she should be kept perfectly quiet at present. I do not make this statement with any view to interrupt the business of the meeting, or to influence in any way your decision, but because I thought it well that you should not be ignorant of any circumstance which the world would be likely to take into account in judging your conduct on this occasion.'
'In that case,' said Mr. Dickson, rising, 'I move that the meeting should be adjourned to another evening, with Mr. Sempill's permission; if he is in no hurry to learn the decision of the congregation.'
'I can await your convenience,' said Mr. Sempill coldly.
'My friends,' said Mr. Lundie, hastily rising as he noticed that the news of Daisy's illness was causing a sympathetic reaction in the congregation, what the minister has just told us seems to me a reason why this meeting should not be broken up until we come to an understanding of some kind on the case of Miss Lyon. Nothing can be worse than suspense, either to her or to us; and if any steps have to be taken in consequence of our decision, it would be well to agree on them as speedily as possible.'
A murmur went round the chapel, and heads were laid together
in consultation; but no one offered an opinion on Mr. Lundie's suggestions.
Our minister has given us notice of his intention to get married,' continued Mr. Lundie, gathering courage as he found that he was not to be interrupted. This is usually pleasing news to a congregation, and it is a great pity that there should ever be exceptions. Now among us, who have tasted of the blessed liberty of gospel freedom, and have shaken off the oppressive yoke which State connection imposes upon the life of the Church, it has always been the duty of the office-bearers and the members to carefully consider whether the minister's choice has fallen upon a woman that will increase his influence and usefulness in the Church, or whether he has been guided in his selection by feelings of mere earthly love or self-interest; in which case,' said Mr. Lundie, looking about him with an impressive shake of his head, our duty may be unpleasant, but, in the interests of the Church, it must be done.' A buzz of assent ran round the pews, and Mr. Lundie, warming to his work, continued: The case that we have to deal with to-night is in many respects painful. The person whose marriage we have to consider is our minister; the woman whom he proposes to wed is the daughter of esteemed members of Kirjath. Under these circumstances it would have been agreeable to us if we could have bidden them "God speed," and called down a blessing on their union; but the well-being of the Church must be our first consideration, and however distressing it may be to our private feelings, and however much we may personally prefer to gratify the minister's wish, we must duly consider how such an arrangement will affect Mr. Sempill's usefulness as pastor of Kirjath.'
The attention of the audience deepened as Mr. Lundie proceeded, and Miss Lundie and Miss Powrie composed their features, as if they were heroically resolved that their private feelings at least should not be allowed to carry them away from a due regard for the prosperity of Kirjath.
'One of the first qualities that we require in a minister's wife,' resumed Mr. Lundie, growing confident as he saw that he was carrying the congregation with him, 'is that she should be an example to all the females in the flock. Now Miss Lyon's name has, unfortunately, been spoken of lately in a way that has been apt to bring scandal upon Kirjath in the eyes of less Christian congregations. How far all the stories which have been going about may be correct, I cannot say; but the circumstances, so far as I have been able to inquire into them, are suspicious-I repeat, they are very suspicious,' reiterated Deacon Lundie, giving an emphatic slap to the table before him, and casting a side-glance at the minister. There was a packet of letters which Miss Lyon had written to the reprobate member of another congregation, and it was very desirable that these should have been examined in the interests of Kirjath; but it is rumoured that the letters have been suppressed at a considerable expense. My friends, it is a maxim of our law that no one is asked to criminate himself;
else, as the minister is present, I should have asked him to explain to you what became of these letters.'
'I have not the slightest objection, Mr. Lundie, to your telling the congregation that I purchased the letters in question from Mr. Nesbitt, and that they are now destroyed,' observed the minister in an indifferent voice.
To my mind a very suspicious circumstance,' said Mr. Lundie, casting a triumphant look about him, as he noticed several members shaking their heads. If these letters were innocent communications, I see no reason why they should not have been laid before us. We ought to be all as one family of elect Christians in Kirjath, and to have no secrets from each other. Now there have been many ugly rumours, and no one on the other side has said a single word in refutation of them. I am far from wishing to judge harshly, but you must think with me that Miss Lyon's illness has occurred at a very unfortunate time; for her presence here would have enabled us to see our way much more clearly, and there are many questions that we have to put to her.'
'I am here; what have you to ask of me?' cried a clear voice from the far end of the chapel; and while the congregation turned round with a start of amazement, Daisy Lyon glided noiselessly up their midst and stood with hands folded looking inquiringly into Mr. Lundie's face. The wild light of delirium played in the girl's eyes, and two bright red spots glowed upon her cheeks, while a grey pallor was spread over the rest of her face. Her long brown hair hung down her shoulders, sparkling with the evening dews as if it had been powdered with diamond-dust. She had thrown a loose black cloak over her white dressing-gown, and the wet clover blades and petals of the wild daisies had stuck to her bare feet and delicate ankles, as she had come through the fields. Her neck was bare except where her hair twined about it, and her shapely arms were naked from the elbows. 'What is it you have to ask me?' she repeated impatiently, while her sparkling eyes were never removed from Mr. Lundie's face. you afraid that I will not make a proper wife to Mr. Sempill? I am but young; your daughter is twice my age, Mr. Lundie, but I will do my best, indeed I will, for God knows I love him dearly;' and poor Daisy covered her face with her hands and sobbed bitterly.
'For God's sake!' cried Mr. Sempill, springing to his feet,' will none of the ladies remove her to the vestry? Don't you hear that she is raving? She must have come away without the knowledge of her friends.'
Mrs. Teape and Mrs. Dickson, and some of the other female mem-bers of Kirjath, were by this time hastening to Daisy's assistance, while Miss Lundie whispered "Quite theatrical' in a voice that was audible to half the congregation, and Miss Powrie responded, 'Very effectively got up--very effectively, indeed!' in similar tones.
'Who says that there was aught wrong between George Nesbitt and me?' cried Daisy, pushing back the woman with the strength of mad
ness. 'Was it you, Jane Lundie, or you Kate Powrie? I was foolish-I was foolish, but then I was so young. But God knows that my heart is pure, and by Him will I be judged,' and with a shriek she fell forward motionless in front of the table at which the deacons sat.
The members of Kirjath sat appalled at the scene, hardly daring to whisper to each other, while one or two of the women bore Daisy into the little vestry. Mr. Lundie still stood where he had been speaking, looking nervously before him, and not knowing whether to go on or to stop. In this awkward pause the quick clatter of a horse's hoof was heard outside, and John Lyon, of Broomknowes, rushed up the middle of the chapel.
Is she here?' he cried; and as they silently pointed towards the vestry, he shook his riding whip furiously in Deacon Lundie's face. "You scoundrel, you d-d scoundrel; this is what you have done with your "dealing" and your discipline. I don't know what keeps me from flogging the bad, lying soul out of your body. And you call yourselves Christians, and Church members,' continued he, turning round upon the congregation, who sat cowed and abashed before the righteous anger of a man whom they had never seen before except with a smile on his face. You are worse than the worst scourings of heathendom. Take your cursed Kirjath off my property in four-and-twenty hours, or I shan't leave a single stone standing upon another,' and he passed into the vestry where his daughter was still lying senseless.
Then ensued a silence which no one dared to break, until Mr. Sempill rose to his feet, and in impassioned tones poured forth a fervent prayer for the forgiveness of their sins, and for that spirit of Christian charity which thinketh no evil; and when he had said "Amen,' the meeting hurriedly broke up, and the members went silently to their homes, hardly daring to speak to one another of what had occurred.
Daisy Lyon never rallied, and, after lingering two or three days in high fever and delirium, she died, killed, as the doctors said, by the excitement and by brain fever.
There was never another sermon preached at Kirjath. Early on the morning after the funeral the farmer of Broomknowes, with about a score of workmen, was at the Kirjath manse before Mr. Sempill was aroused. The blow had completely changed Daisy's father. His face looked old and worn, and his once hearty tones were husky and stern. Come out of this place,' he said to Mr. Sempill; 'come to Broomknowes and be a son to us. No one can fill her place so well as you; and as for this den of iniquity, I am determined to root it out from the very foundation.'
The neighbourhood of Kirjath was no place for Mr. Sempill, and he felt that in hard work in some new locality lay his only chance of healing the sore wound that had been left in his heart. He was firm in resisting Mr. Lyon's entreaties, and, without condescending to say
a word to his late congregation, he packed up his boxes and took the train to town. But before he left it was a satisfaction to see the work of demolition going on, at both the chapel and the manse, under the active supervision of Mr. Lyon. Mr. Lundie blustered and talked of damages, but the rest of the congregation, glad to make him the scapegoat of the odium which Daisy Lyon's case had brought upon them, refused to give him any countenance, and Mr. Lyon was allowed to wreak his vengeance unmolested. The congregation soon became absorbed in other churches, and the name of Kirjath-jearim chapel only remains associated with a sad tale of scandal and its consequences.