Chapter 3 -- Rev. Shepherd and Mr. Heeler
Pastor Shepherd did not confide in his wife or her friend his greatest fear. Bad as it was that Juanita Jones would be coming for her brother’s funeral, and that she would stay and be a social plague on all Presbyterians in the city of Greenfield, another anxiety dug into a corner of his brain, a thought he could not bring himself to express. “Could it be?” he asked himself. “Is it even possible? Would the church allow it?” These were the unarticulated harpies flitting about in his mind. For Juanita Jones and Willina Hipp were twin sisters of different mothers. Their temperaments, instincts and drives were identical. Together in one town, in one ecclesiastical community, no force could overcome them on any issue. They would hold absolute sway. His churchman’s heart cowered under the thought. We cannot know what first brought the finished idea into his consciousness; perhaps it was the combination of the vacant leather chair in the college president’s office, and the certain knowledge that Miss Jones would want to stay. She would grieve the removal of her brother, and then try to assuage her grief by filling the vacuum he left. Finally, Sam Shepherd realized, she would attempt to grasp the presidency for herself.
A woman like that! On the Hezekiah College throne!
Rev. Shepherd felt this alarm quickly and keenly for, of course, his denominational association with the college and seminary were strong. They were all of the Scottish Northern Association of Reformed Covenanters, the SNARK clan, the small but true, the old line of psalm-singing, simple-worshiping folk. He met his dear wife at Hezekiah College, and cut his theological teeth at Strong Seminary. It mattered little to the big-wigs at Leach Street what happened on these miniscule campuses, but their stones and gargoyles, their squirrels and bushes were dear to his heart. And Sam Shepherd knew that the low and constant grumblings of church feuding that occasionally shook the earth beneath his feet now would be nothing – nothing! – to the conflagrations and fisticuffs that would ring through the halls of both Leach Street and Hezekiah Strong, if Juanita Jones were to join their ranks permanently.
Rev. Shepherd paced out of his yard and passed his church. He ran his hand through his mane of brown locks from front to back, and ended by pulling the hair at the crown of his head in an ardent, earnest tug. This he did usually, when his heart was disturbed. The evening sun, the chattering squirrels, the palmetto bugs popping beneath his soles – all these did not distract him from watching the tips of his shoes as he strode with determination toward town. The seminary’s ancient oak trees had sent their roots deep and far afield, under the iron railings, beneath the sidewalk bricks. The walk was uneven, and the school’s thick-trunked residents often tripped up citizens of Greenfield in this way. Rev. Shepherd, in his musings, stumbled over a dislodged brick on the pavement, but a kind hand prevented him from tumbling to the ground.
“Rev. Shepherd, you are lost in thought.”
An angular hand grasped helpfully under the pastor’s elbow. A lanky frame leaned over the pastor’s head. Reginald Heeler lifted Rev. Shepherd to his feet again, and after a moment and a slight wink from Mr. Heeler to Rev. Shepherd, the two men continued into town together. The wink made Rev. Shepherd wonder if he’d missed a joke. One ministerial brown head and a second, nearly-black head now bent down together, peering at their pointed shoes, as the men paced in lock-step, their hands clasped behind their backs.
“Yes, Reggie. It’s this business at the college. Just when I was hoping things would settle down after the reconciliation. You did hear that Juanita is coming tomorrow? For the funeral?”
“Yes, I heard that we should expect Miss Jones’s arrival.” Mr. Heeler's voice was deep and measured.
“Have you met her? I don’t recall whether you were in Greenfield when she came last time.”
‘No, no,” Mr. Heeler answered. “I have not had the pleasure. I’ve only heard Miss Jones described by friends who’ve known her these many years.”
“You mean that the Cloudees have told you what a terror she is.”
Mr. Heeler cleared his throat. “She sounds like a most interesting woman.”
“Have you talked with Cloudee since Jones’s death? What does he say?”
Mr. Heeler stopped and turned to face his companion. They were nearly eye to eye, but Mr. Heeler had a slight advantage. “He merely told me he had died. Do you have some particular concern?” Mr. Heeler’s interest was now piqued. His left eye flickered.
They had stopped directly in front of the college gate. The campus pecan trees spread their long arms over the shady lawn where Sam and Athena had picnicked on their dates. Squirrels dashed along the branches and leapt to the ground. The library columns shone white in the sun. Sam looked at all this pensively.
“Do you know whether the denomination – your denomination – has found anyone for the post yet?” he asked.
“It’s a bit early! He’s not buried yet,” Reginald objected.
“Yes, I know,” Sam said. “But some people will not be so slow. Some people with closer connections will have already begun the process of filling the office.” He glanced at his friend’s eyes with a pained look.
“Ah.” Mr. Heeler understood. “And why do you tell me?”
“Dr. Cloudee needs to be anticipating this situation, in my opinion. He should be proactive, I believe.”
They continued to walk. Mr. Heeler gazed also at the college grounds. “This is a lovely setting. You attended here, Rev. Shepherd?”
“Yes. Sometimes a smaller campus is more pleasant, more personal. I met my wife here.”
“I can’t help wondering if the college and seminary will remain open, you know. In the larger denominational scheme of things, there hardly seems a need. The campuses could be sold, and we have better facilities in Atlanta. I’m certain Dr. Cloudee and the other members of the Appointments Committee are considering this eventuality.”
“But -- “
“And in light of that, I doubt that Miss Jones’s aspirations matter much, one way or the other,” Mr. Heeler concluded.
“Good day,” he added, and left Rev. Shepherd at the corner of Leach and College streets.
Copyrighted by M.K. Christiansen