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Job Position Open for Choir Director
It was not much of a town, Catherine could tell that. There was a main street, and it stretched for a few yards before ending in a church and farmland as far as the eye could see. People criss-crossed the streets from time to time, but other than them, no one appeared to inhabit the town. That is, no one but the three old men sitting on a front porch beneath a rickety old sign that read General Store. Several other stores appeared dormant and non-living: the dress shop, the pharmacy, the barber. Even the train station she was in was silent.
Catherine stepped out into the street, looking for the boardinghouse. Eventually she saw it; it was a tiny rickety old thing, seeming lopsided. “Obviously,” Catherine muttered quietly, “this is not a very alive town. I’ve never seen something like this. Charleston was so different…”
A woman stepped out of the boardinghouse. She held a large towel and gently slapped it against the porch. One, two, three, the towel tapped a beat. Catherine stepped up to the woman, and the woman glanced up at Catherine. The woman had dark hazel eyes, and her hair shone golden in the fierce sunlight. Her mouth was slightly upturned as was her chin, although her nose slid into a gentle curve. She really was a very pretty lady, Catherine admitted to herself. The woman wore a blue calico dress that looked airy and comfortable in the heat. Catherine herself wore something not quite as light, and she envied the lady for her comfort.
“Name’s Jill,” the woman introduced herself, holding out a free hand. The other held the towel. “Jill Lowe. The owner of this boardinghouse, of course; why else would I be here, rapping this towel by myself along with this other stuff?” She blew out the last word, almost distastefully. Catherine looked momentarily down at the wooden laundry basket full of washed clothes. “My name is Catherine,” she replied politely, “Catherine Barnes. I’m supposed to stay here in this boardinghouse for the time, while I get my affairs sorted out and in order.” Jill stared shrewdly at her new rooming lady. “Come in, then,” she told Catherine. Her feet shuffled quickly in front of Catherine while they walked into the main room inside.
“This is to be your room,” Jill directed Catherine. Catherine glanced quickly around at the sparse furnishings: one bed, one bed table, and one armoire. A washbasin stood on top of the bed table along with a chamber pot. She nodded approvingly. “This is lovely,” Catherine said to Jill. “Thank you for this.” Jill waved it off. She answered, “I had five bedrooms to be filled inside this building; I have two filled for now. You and a man. Silas Garner, I believe his name is. He still needs to give me his dirty laundry, too. Irresponsible, disorganized, room never straight…” Jill walked out into the hallway, fuming about Silas Garner and his room.
Left alone to her own, Catherine opened the window onto the street. A breeze had picked up somewhat again. It was still terribly hot, and yet she could no longer feel the heat when she noticed someone moving on the street below. Two women, who looked to be in their late fifties, had walked out of the General Store and now headed down to the church. Inside the doors they walked, a curious Catherine gazing at the swinging doors. Her gaze drew to the sign just above the double doors: Come join us for a good old time! This coming Sunday, be ready to celebrate to the skies. The singing festival, October 10th from 7 till 8. And then, under this sign was another, smaller one. This one stated simply, written in paint: Looking for a new choir director. Help wanted. If interested, contact Rev. Murray for interview. Thanks.
Raising her eyebrows, Catherine had a brilliant idea. “I’ll get to know the children and town that way,” she murmured, smiling blandly. “Choir director. Excellent job; I do love to sing, after all.”
Reverend John Murray had a situation. None, not one of the 20 families that made up North Platte, wanted to be a person in the position of choir director. No one. Reverend John sat at his desk, one hand to his forehead in frustration. And, on top of it all, the schoolteacher hired for the job in town was not a Presbyterian. She was no less a Baptist, a bloody Baptist from the south. The Reverend was English, a fine convert to the Presbyterian ways, and could stand no decency from other denominations. He was fine with Catholics; quite a few Catholics had been friends of his in Britain, and he was still in contact with many of them. He could stand Anglicans (he grew up as one) and the same with Methodists and Lutherans. However, there was no exception with Baptists. Their talk of evangelizing the Bible strictly alone tired him greatly.
“What has this world come to?” Reverend John muttered to himself. The Church had been working fine. That is, it had been until the choir director up and left for New York City. And now the new teacher on top of that. He had been preaching at Platte Presbyterian for 6 years, and never had they had any Baptists (or, for that matter, the new Mormons) in town. The only other denomination ever stepping foot in the small town had been a Lutheran railroad conductor, who had stayed in North Platte for two nights while he waited to hop onto the next train. His had been robbed of his control by three men.
A knock came at the door. Reverend John glanced up at it. Sighing, he said, “Come in.” The woman stepping in through the doorway held herself with balance and near perfection. Emily Parson originally came from Boston with her proprietary husband in search of a more exciting life; he had died two months later from heatstroke. “I needed to ask you a question, Reverend,” Emily said shortly. The reverend beckoned for her to continue. “You do know that Sunday school this year is in need of supplies.” She paused, looking momentarily miffed when the Reverend groaned. “Well,” said Emily gruffly, “I just wanted to know if we had the money to acquire more chalk and such for the room! If you do not want your children taught…!” “Of course I do,” Reverend John answered wearily. “I just have a bit more on my mind then you do, Ms. Parson.”
“Still searching for a choir director?” Emily asked understandingly. “Yes, yes, I have been searching for one as well. The children need someone to mentor them in the hymns. Not that I can’t do that,” Emily added hastily, “although someone else would be nice to help with the load. You understand.” “Obviously,” Reverend John murmured. He closed his eyes temporarily, trying to think the load of the church away from him for a few moments. “I’ll try to see what we can do with the supplies. If we don’t have enough for that, we’ll just use some from the school. I’m sure the board won’t mind…” “That new teacher might,” Emily put in. “She’s a-” “Baptist, I know,” finished Reverend John. “The board will make her. But, I mean, it’s just chalk. Surely she cannot be bloodthirsty.” Emily sniffed mildly. “Thank you for your kind suggestion,” she said stiffly.
“If that will be all,” the reverend said, “I really must get back to-” “Just one more thing,” said Emily. “My daughter has had a baby boy. It was born only three weeks ago, and my daughter and her husband live a few miles south of here. They live in Iver, you see, and they would prefer their baby to be baptized in the Presbyterian Church. Since they live in a Methodist community, would you mind doing the work?” “Not at all,” replied Reverend John, smiling weakly. “It is always a joy to watch a baby being saved by the Lord, especially when you are the one doing the work.”
Emily beamed. “That’s what I thought you would say. My daughter’s husband was born a Methodist…he still is, but he encourages his baby to be born into the waters of Life in this denomination. Do you not think that is a sign of absolute love?” Before the reverend could answer, she went on: “But of course, this must mean that the husband would like to be converted to this church as well. My daughter and I certainly like to think so, and what a wonder it would be if he would begin to come here. That would mean that they would almost for certain move up here! Don’t you think this wonderful, Reverend?” He could not get in a word edgewise about getting back to work and yes, this was wonderful, for Emily continued, “I must be going now. I shall go on with my endeavor to find a choir director. I would say my daughter, but she is tone deaf. Well, good bye!”
The door swung behind Emily like a whirlwind. Reverend John wiped a hand across his now sweating forehead. “She’s a whip, that one,” he said to himself quietly. “And this heat doesn’t help either.” He got back to the stack of paper on his desk, all forms from each family about their wishes and hopes in the church for the coming year. He was sure to find some papers with criticism on them; ah, well, the reverend thought, we get at least three of those every year. And they aren’t bad, considering.
Another knock came at the door just as the reverend had taken down one of the papers. His exasperated sigh came out long and loud while he groaned, “Come in, but do be quick about your business, please!” A young lady with sapphire eyes entered the room this time, and she was so unlike Emily Parson or any other woman the reverend had seen that he jumped a bit in his chair when he noticed her. “Oh,” the lady said, “I’m terribly sorry if I surprised you, but I am here to volunteer for the choir director’s job.”
Reverend John’s eyes widened delightfully. “You are?” He asked, clapping his hands together. “That’s very good! Very good indeed. No one else has stepped up to do it yet,” he added humbly as the lady’s eyes glittered with amusement. “If I could just get your name, Miss…” He trailed off, pen on paper. “I’m new to town,” answered the lady. “My name is Catherine Barnes. I am the new schoolteacher.” Just as the reverend was about to say what a lovely name that was, he nearly dropped out of the chair. “You say you are the new schoolteacher?” He spluttered.
Catherine blinked. “Of course,” she replied cautiously. “Why?” “Are the rumors true?” Reverend John demanded. Catherine looked mortified, saying, “I’m not sure what you-” “Are you a Baptist, Miss Barnes?” He asked. Catherine paused for a moment. Her mouth pursed. “What does it matter?” She inquired of the reverend. “Why should it matter? This is a Christian church; surely we all are Christians here!” “Yes,” Reverend John answered impatiently, “but we are, unfortunately, Presbyterian. That being said, you are Baptist and we are Presbyterian. We simply cannot accept a person of a different faith than us as director of our hymns and songs to the Lord!”
Catherine reeled. Never had this happened before to her. Shoulders held high, she asked calmly but firmly, “Just as I said, this is a Christian church. Why, all of us are Christians. It should be a neighborly thing to do. But, if you think Baptists are so…so beneath you, why would I bother wasting my time with the position of choir director?” She turned toward the door, sniffing loudly, when the reverend harrumphed said, “Alright! If we have no other takers, you will be director. Does that suit you?” Catherine sniffed but nodded her head all the same. Then, walking swiftly, she headed out the door, ready to leave the church behind to go have a look at the school.
Once she was gone, the Reverend John’s anger turned to an almost maniacal calm. “This will be interesting,” he said hysterically, nearly laughing with the whole predicament. “I’ll be finished. A Baptist will be taking over the choir, and I shall be standing at the pulpit, an absolute disgrace for allowing it.” He slammed his head onto the desk.