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Chapter 30

THE MEETING FOR RAIN.


Meanwhile the Auld Lichts were in church, waiting for their
minister, and it was a full meeting, because nearly every well in
Thrums had been scooped dry by anxious palms. Yet not all were
there to ask God's rain for themselves. Old Charles Yuill was in
his pew, after dreaming thrice that he would break up with the
drought; and Bell Christison had come, though her man lay dead at
home, and she thought it could matter no more to her how things
went in the world.

You, who do not love that little congregation, would have said
that they were waiting placidly. But probably so simple a woman as
Meggy Rattray could have deceived you into believing that because
her eyes were downcast she did not notice who put the three-penny-
bit in the plate. A few men were unaware that the bell was working
overtime, most of them farmers with their eyes on the windows, but
all the women at least were wondering. They knew better, however,
than to bring their thoughts to their faces, and none sought to
catch another's eye. The men-folk looked heavily at their hats in
the seats in front. Even when Hendry Munn, instead of marching to
the pulpit with the big Bible in his hands, came as far as the
plate and signed to Peter Tosh, elder, that he was wanted in the
vestry, you could not have guessed how every woman there, except
Bell Christison, wished she was Peter Tosh. Peter was so taken
aback that he merely gaped at Hendry, until suddenly he knew that
his five daughters were furious with him, when he dived for his
hat and staggered to the vestry with his mouth open. His boots
cheeped all the way, but no one looked up.

"I hadna noticed the minister was lang in coming," Waster Lunny
told me afterward, "but Elspeth noticed it, and with a quickness
that baffles me she saw I was thinking o' other things. So she let
out her foot at me. I gae a low cough to let her ken I wasna
sleeping, but in a minute out goes her foot again. Ay, syne I
thocht I micht hae dropped my hanky into Snecky Hobart's pew, but
no, it was in my tails. Yet her hand was on the board, and she was
working her fingers in a way that I kent meant she would like to
shake me. Next I looked to see if I was sitting on her frock, the
which tries a woman sair, but I wasna, 'Does she want to change
Bibles wi' me?' I wondered; 'or is she sliding yont a peppermint
to me?' It was neither, so I edged as far frae her as I could
gang. Weel, would you credit it, I saw her body coming nearer me
inch by inch, though she was looking straucht afore her, till she
was within kick o' me, and then out again goes her foot. At that,
dominie, I lost patience, and I whispered, fierce-like, 'Keep your
foot to yoursel', you limmer!' Ay, her intent, you see, was to
waken me to what was gaen on, but I couldna be expected to ken
that."

In the vestry Hendry Munn was now holding counsel with three
elders, of whom the chief was Lang Tammas.

"The laddie I sent to the manse," Hendry said, "canna be back this
five minutes, and the question is how we're to fill up that time.
I'll ring no langer, for the bell has been in a passion ever since
a quarter-past eight. It's as sweer to clang past the quarter as a
horse to gallop by its stable."

"You could gang to your box and gie out a psalm, Tammas,"
suggested John Spens.

"And would a psalm sung wi' sic an object," retorted the
precentor, "mount higher, think you, than a bairn's kite? I'll
insult the Almighty to screen no minister."

"You're screening him better by standing whaur you are," said the
imperturbable Hendry; "for as lang as you dinna show your face
they'll think it may be you that's missing instead o' Mr.
Dishart."

Indeed, Gavin's appearance in church without the precentor would
have been as surprising as Tammas's without the minister. As
certainly as the shutting of a money-box is followed by the
turning of the key, did the precentor walk stiffly from the vestry
to his box a toll of the bell in front of the minister. Tammas's
halfpenny rang in the plate as Gavin passed T'nowhead's pew, and
Gavin's sixpence with the snapping-to of the precentor's door. The
two men might have been connected by a string that tightened at
ten yards.

"The congregation ken me ower weel," Tammas said, "to believe I
would keep the Lord waiting."

"And they are as sure o' Mr. Dishart," rejoined Spens, with
spirit, though he feared the precentor on Sabbaths and at prayer-
meetings. "You're a hard man."

"I speak the blunt truth," Whamond answered.

"Ay," said Spens, "and to tak' credit for that may be like blawing
that you're ower honest to wear claethes."

Hendry, who had gone to the door, returned now with the
information that Mr. Dishart had left the manse two hours ago to
pay visits, meaning to come to the prayer-meeting before he
returned home.

"There's a quirk in this, Hendry," said Tosh. "Was it Mistress
Dishart the laddie saw?"

"No," Hendry replied. "It was Jean. She canna get to the meeting
because the mistress is nervous in the manse by herself; and Jean
didna like to tell her that he's missing, for fear o' alarming
her. What are we to do now?"

"He's an unfaithful shepherd," cried the precentor, while Hendry
again went out. "I see it written on the walls."

"I dinna," said Spens doggedly.

"Because," retorted Tammas, "having eyes you see not."

"Tammas, I aye thocht you was fond o' Mr. Dishart."

"If my right eye were to offend me," answered the precentor. "I
would pluck it out. I suppose you think, and baith o' you farmers
too, that there's no necessity for praying for rain the nicht?
You'll be content, will ye, if Mr. Dishart just drops in to the
kirk some day, accidental-like, and offers up a bit prayer?"

"As for the rain," Spens said, triumphantly, "I wouldna wonder
though it's here afore the minister. You canna deny, Peter Tosh,
that there's been a smell o' rain in the air this twa hours back."

"John," Peter said agitatedly, "dinna speak so confidently. I've
kent it," he whispered, "since the day turned; but it wants to
tak' us by surprise, lad, and so I'm no letting on."

"See that you dinna make an idol o' the rain," thundered Whamond.
"Your thochts is no wi' Him, but wi' the clouds; and, whaur your
thochts are, there will your prayers stick also."

"If you saw my lambs," Tosh began; and then, ashamed of himself,
said, looking upward, "He holds the rain in the hollow of His
hand."

"And He's closing His neive ticht on't again," said the precentor
solemnly. "Hearken to the wind rising!"

"God help me!" cried Tosh, wringing his hands. "Is it fair, think
you," he said, passionately addressing the sky, "to show your
wrath wi' Mr. Dishart by ruining my neeps?"

"You were richt, Tammas Whamond," Spens said, growing hard as he
listened to the wind, "the sanctuary o' the Lord has been profaned
this nicht by him wha should be the chief pillar o' the building."

They were lowering brows that greeted Hendry when he returned to
say that Mr. Dishart had been seen last on the hill with the Glen
Quharity dominie.

"Some thinks," said the kirk officer, "that he's awa hunting for
Rob Dow."

"Nothing'll excuse him," replied Spens, "short o' his having
fallen over the quarry."

Hendry's was usually a blank face, but it must have looked
troubled now, for Tosh was about to say, "Hendry, you're keeping
something back," when the precentor said it before him.

"Wi' that story o' Mr. Dishart's murder, no many hours auld yet,"
the kirk officer replied evasively, "we should be wary o' trusting
gossip."

"What hae you heard?"

"It's through the town," Hendry answered, "that a woman was wi'
the dominie."

"A woman!" cried Tosh, "The woman there's been sic talk about in
connection wi' the minister? Whaur are they now?"

"It's no kent, but--the dominie was seen goin' hame by himsel'."

"Leaving the minister and her thegither!" cried the three men at
once.

"Hendry Munn," Tammas said sternly, "there's mair about this; wha
is the woman?"

"They are liars," Hendry answered, and shut his mouth tight.

"Gie her a name, I say," the precentor ordered, "or, as chief
elder of this kirk, supported by mair than half o' the Session, I
command you to lift your hat and go."

Hendry gave an appealing look to Tosh and Spens, but the
precentor's solemnity had cowed them.

"They say, then," he answered sullenly, "that it's the Egyptian.
Yes, and I believe they ken."

The two farmers drew back from this statement incredulously; but
Tammas Whamond jumped at the kirk officer's throat, and some who
were in the church that night say they heard Hendry scream. Then
the precentor's fingers relaxed their grip, and he tottered into
the middle of the room.

"Hendry," he pleaded, holding out his arms pathetically, "tak'
back these words. Oh, man, have pity, and tak' them back!"

But Hendry would not, and then Lang Tammas's mouth worked
convulsively, and he sobbed, crying, "Nobody kent it, but mair
than mortal son, O God, I did love the lad!"

So seldom in a lifetime had any one seen into this man's heart
that Spens said, amazed:

"Tammas, Tammas Whamond, it's no like you to break down."

The rusty door of Whamond's heart swung to.

"Who broke down?" he asked fiercely. "Let no member of this
Session dare to break down till his work be done."

"What work?" Tosh said uneasily. "We canna interfere."

"I would rather resign," Spens said, but shook when Whamond hurled
these words at him:

"'And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the
plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"

"It mayna be true," Hendry said eagerly.

"We'll soon see."

"He would gie her up," said Tosh.

"Peter Tosh," answered Whamond sternly, "I call upon you to
dismiss the congregation."

"Should we no rather haud the meeting oursel's?"

"We have other work afore us," replied the precentor.

"But what can I say?" Tosh asked nervously, "Should I offer up a
prayer?"

"I warn you all," broke in Hendry, "that though the congregation
is sitting there quietly, they'll be tigers for the meaning o'
this as soon as they're in the street."

"Let no ontruth be telled them," said the precentor. "Peter Tosh,
do your duty. John Spens, remain wi' me."

The church emptied silently, but a buzz of excitement arose
outside. Many persons tried to enter the vestry, but were ordered
away, and when Tosh joined his fellow-elders the people were
collecting in animated groups in the square, or scattering through
the wynds for news.

"And now," said the precentor, "I call upon the three o' you to
come wi' me. Hendry Munn, you gang first."

"I maun bide ahint," Hendry said, with a sudden fear, "to lock up
the kirk."

"I'll lock up the kirk," Whamond answered harshly.

"You maun gie me the keys, though," entreated the kirk officer.

"I'll take care o' the keys," said Whamond.

"I maun hae them," Hendry said, "to open the kirk on Sabbath."

The precentor locked the doors, and buttoned up the keys in his
trousers pockets.

"Wha kens," he said, in a voice of steel, "that the kirk'll be
open next Sabbath?"

"Hae some mercy on him, Tamtnas," Spens implored. "He's no twa-
and-twenty."

"Wha kens," continued the precentor, "but that the next time this
kirk is opened will be to preach it toom?"

"What road do we tak'?"

"The road to the hill, whaur he was seen last."

James M. Barrie