It was only when the shadows of afternoon began to lengthen and the sun’s rays to strike obliquely through the stately trees of the Grove, that they were able to gather there and listen to the voice of the missionary. He had so far succeeded in his work, as to be able to draw the people together, from a considerable distance around, and their number increased daily.
On the opposite bank of the river, half way up a slight eminence, stood a small stone chapel. Tasteful and elegant in its proportions, it presented a picturesque and attractive appearance. There, once on each Sunday, the service of the Church of England was read, together with a brief discourse by a clergyman of that order.
Behind the chapel, and near the top of the hill, was a large stone cottage surrounded by pretty grounds and with ample stable conveniences. It was the Rectory.
The Chapel and Rectory had been built and the clergyman was sustained, at a somewhat large cost, by the Establishment, for the purpose of enlightening and Christianizing the population of the parish of ——.
Unfortunately, the incumbent was not the self-sacrificing person needed to elevate such a community. Though ministering at the altar of God, he had no true religious feeling, no disinterested love for men. He was simply a man of the world, a bon vivant, a horse jockey and sportsman, who consoled himself in the summer and autumn for his exile in that barbarous region, by filling his house with provincial friends, who helped him while away the time in fishing, hunting, and racing. The winter months, he usually spent at Fredericton, and during that interval no service was held in the chapel. Of late, the few, who were in the habit of attending the formal worship there, had forsaken it for the more animating services held in the Grove.
Not only the habitual church-goers, but the people of the parish at large, began to feel the magnetizing influence, and were drawn towards the same spot. For a week or more past, late in the afternoons on which the meetings were held, little skiffs might have been seen putting off from the opposite shore, freighted with men, women, and children, crossing over to hear the wonderful preachings of the missionary.
What attracted them thither? Not surely the love of the truth.
Most of them disliked it in their hearts, and had not even began to think of practising it in their lives. They were interested in the man. They were, in some sort, compelled by the magical power he held over them, to listen to entreaties and counsels, similar to those to which they had often hitherto turned a deaf ear.
Mr. Norton spent much of the time with them, going from house to house, partaking of their rude fare, sympathizing in their joys and sorrows, occasionally lending them a helping hand in their toils, and aiding them sometimes by his ingenuity and skill as an artisan. They found in him a hearty, genial, and unselfish friend. Hence when he appeared among them at the Grove, their personal interest in him secured a certain degree of order and decorum, and caused them to listen to him respectfully.