(4 November 1872 - 1934 / Scotia, Lake Erie, Ontario)

The Preacher Down At Coles

He was not especially handsome, he was not especially smart,
A great big lumbering fellow with a soft and tender heart.
His eyes were gray and honest, his smile a friendly one,
He wore his parson's suit of black on days of state alone;
At other times he went around in clothes the worse of wear,
A blue cloth cap set jauntily upon his thick gray hair.
He cared so little how he looked, so little how he drest,
That he tired the patience sorely of the ones he loved the best.
For a preacher, so they argued, should be dressed like one, of course,
But in the winter it was tweeds, in summer it was worse;
Ducks and flannels would be grimy, if the sad truth must be told,
For he spaded up the gardens of the people who were old,
And he ran down dusty highways at unministerial rate,
Going errands for the people who really could not wait.
His coat-sleeves would be short an inch, his trousers just the same,
For the washerwoman had them every week that ever came.
He cared so little how he looked, and never paused to think
That linen, duck, and flannel were such awful things to shrink.

His wife, she was the primmest thing, as neat as any doll,
And looked like one when walking by her husband big and tall.
It almost broke her heart that he refused to give a thought
To how he looked, or do the thing, or say the thing he ought.
Sometimes, though well she loved him, quite high her temper ran,
For 'tis hard on any woman to have such a careless man.

Think! when the conference president came visiting the place,
The preacher down at Coles he had a badly battered face-
One eye was black as black could be; he looked, so we've been told,
More like a fierce prize-fighter than a shepherd of the fold.
'How did it happen?' questioned him the visitor so wise,
With hint of laughter on his lips, and in his twinkling eyes.
'Old Betty Brown,' the preacher said-his wife broke in just here,
'A cross-grained spinster of the place who hates him, that is clear;
And never did a woman have a meaner tongue than hers-
The slighting things she says of him, the mischief that she stirs!'
'Fields have we,' said the president, 'in country and in town;
Believe me, Madam, most of them can boast a Betty Brown.'

The preacher stroked his blackened eye, and laughed good-naturedly.
'She doesn't like me very well, but what of that?' said he.
'The other night I found the poor old creature sick in bed,
She 'didn't want no prayin' done,' she very quickly said,
So, seeing that she was so ill and worn she could not stir,
I thought with care and patience I could milk the cow for her.
I stroked old Spot caressingly, and placed my little can,
But Spot she knew, and I came home a sadder, wiser man.'

The preacher down at Coles he was no orator at all,
But sick, and sad, and sinful were glad to have him call.
Not that he ever found a host of happy things to say;
In fact, as far as talking went, he might have stayed away.
But oh, the welcome that he got! I think his big right hand
Gave such a grip that all the rest they seemed to understand.

Some of the congregation would have liked a different man,
He couldn't hope to please them all-few ministers that can.
Once, at the district meeting, the good old farmer Bowles
Stood up and spoke his mind about the preacher down at Coles.

'There's not,' he said, 'you know it, too, a better man than he;
An' you fault-findin', carpin' folk-I say this reverently-
If the Lord 'd take an angel and gently turn him loose
To preach down here, do you suppose he'd please the hull caboose?
Not much! It's human nature to quarrel with what we've got,
An' this man is a better man than we deserve, a lot.'

But he did preach curious sermons, just as dry as they could be,
And the old folks slumbered through them every Sabbath, peacefully;
But they all woke up the moment the singing would begin,
And not an ear was found too dull to drink the music in.
For though the preacher could not boast an orator's smooth tongue,
He could reach the people's heart-strings when he stood up there and sung.

O the wondrous power and sweetness of the voice that filled the place!
Everyone that heard it swelling grew the purer for a space.
And men could not choose but listen to the singer standing there,
Till their worldliness slipped from them, and their selfishness and care.
Mourners turned their eyes all misty from the crosses tall and white
Where their loved ones slumbered softly all the day and all the night;
Listening, faith rose triumphant over sorrow, loss, and pain,
Heaven was not a far-off country, they would meet their own again.
And the white-haired men and women wished the singing need not cease,
For they seemed to see the beauty of the longed for Land of Peace.
Upward soared that voice, and upward, with a sweetness naught could stem,
Till each dim eye caught the glory of the new Jerusalem.

He was such a curious fellow, the preacher down at Coles!
One winter day the word was brought to town by Farmer Bowles
That in a little shanty, in the hollow by the mill,
Were children gaunt with hunger, a mother sad and ill,
The father just a drunkard, a vagabond who left
His family for long, long weeks of love and care bereft.
The squire talked of taking a big subscription up,
And talked, and talked, while in that house was neither bite nor sup.
O, these talking folks! these talking folks! the poor would starve and freeze
If the succoring and caring were done by such as these.

The preacher down at Coles he had not very much to say;
He harnessed up the old roan horse and hitched it to the sleigh,
And piled in so much provisions that his wife said, tearfully,
She didn't have a cake or pie left in the house for tea.
He filled the sleigh with baskets, and with bundles-such a pile!
Heaps of wood, and clothes, and victuals-everybody had to smile
As they watched the old roan canter down the crossroad, o'er the hill,
To the little cheerless shanty in the hollow by the mill.
The preacher built a fire and bade the children warm their toes
While he heard the worn-out mother's tale of miseries and woes.
He brought in a bag of flour, and a turkey big and fat-
His dainty wife had meant to dine the Ladies' Aid on that.
He brought in ham and butter, and potatoes in a sack,
A pie or two, a loaf of cake, and doughnuts, such a stack!
Ah! his wife and her good handmaid had been baking many a day,
For the Ladies' Aid would dine there-he had lugged it all away.
He brought in a pair of blankets, and a heavy woollen quilt;
Betty Brown, who happened in there, said she thought that she would wilt,
For these things the active members of the Missionary Band
Had gathered for the heathen in a far-off foreign land.
'These belong unto the Lord, sir,' Betty said, 'I think you'll find.'
But he answered her quite gently, 'Very well, He will not mind.'
'To see him making tea for the woman in the bed
Made me wish I had been kinder to the preacher,' Betty said.
Though he was so big and clumsy he could step around so light,
And to see him getting dinner to the children's huge delight!
It was not till he had warmed them, and had fed them there, that day,
That he whispered very softly: 'Little children, let us pray.'
Then he gave them to the keeping of a Father kind and wise
In a way that brought the tear-drops into hard old Betty's eyes.
She felt an aching in her throat, and when she cried, 'Amen!'
Other folks might flout the preacher, Betty never would again.

He took up the fresh air movement, but the people down at Coles
Shook their head-a preacher's work, they said, was saving precious souls,
Not worrying lest the waifs and strays that throng the city street
Should pine for want of country air, and country food to eat.
Lawyer Angus, at the meeting, spoke against new-fangled things;
'Seems to me our preacher's bow, friends, has a muckle lot of strings.'
Merchant Jones said trade was failing, rent was high and clerks to pay;
Not a dollar could he give them, he was very grieved to say.
Old Squire Hays was buying timber, needed every cent and more;
Doctor Blake sat coldly smiling-then the farmer took the floor.

'Wish,' he said, 'our hearts were bigger, an' our speeches not so long;
I would move right here the preacher tunes us up a little song.'
Sing? I wish you could have heard him-simple songs of long ago,
Old familiar things that held us-warm that golden voice and low-
Songs of summer in the woodlands, cowslips yellow in the vale;
Songs of summer in the city, and the children wan and pale,
Till we saw the blist'ring pavement pressed by tired little feet,
Heard the baby voices crying for the meadows wide and sweet.

'Now we'll take up the collection,' said the wily farmer Bowles,
And they showered in their money, did the people down at Coles.
'Here's a cheque,' said lawyer Angus, ''tis the best that I can do;
Man, you'd have us in the poorhouse if you sang your sermons through!'

The very careless fellow still goes his cheery way
Unmindful of what people think or of what people say.
Some still are finding fault with him-he doesn't mind it much-
Laughs when they make remarks about his clothes and shoes and such,
Declare his sermons have no point, and quarrel with his text,
As people will, but oh, it makes his pretty wife so vext!
'I think,' she says, 'as much of him as any woman can,
But 'tis most aggravating to have such a careless man.'

There are those who think him perfect, shout his praises with a will.
He has labored for the Master, he is laboring for Him still;
And the grumbling does not move him, nor the praises sung abroad-
Things like these seem only trifles to the man who works for God.
Farmer Bowles summed up the total in his own original way
When he spoke at the Convention that was held the other day.
'Never knew a better worker, never knew a kinder man;
Lots of preachers are more stylish, keep themselves so spic-and-span
You could spot 'em out for preachers if you met 'em walkin' round
Over on the Fejee Islands, silk hat, long coat, I'll be bound.
Our man's different, but, I tell you, when it comes to doing good
There's not one can beat him at it, an' I want this understood.
Ask the sad folks and the sinful, ask the fallen ones he's raised,
Ask the sick folks and the poor folks, if you want to hear him praised.
Orator? Well, maybe not, friends, but in caring for men's souls
There stand few men half so faithful as the preacher down at Coles.'

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