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Book of Scottish Story
Choosing a Minister


By John Galt

The Rev. Dr Swapkirk having had an apoplexy, the magistrates were obligated to get Mr Pittle to be his helper. Whether it was that, by our being used to Mr Pittle, we had ceased to have a right respect for his parts and talents, or that in reality he was but a weak brother, I cannot in conscience take it on me to say ; but the certainty is, that when the Doctor departed this life, there was hardly one of the bearers who thought Mr Pittle would ever be their placed minister, and it was as far at first from the unanimous mind of the magistrates, who are the patrons of the parish, as anything could well be, for he was a man of no smeddum in discourse. In verity, as Mrs Pawkie, my wife, said, his sermons in the warm summer afternoons were just a perfect hushabaa, that no mortal could hearken to without sleeping. Moreover, he had a sorning way with him, that the genteeler sort couldna abide, for he was for ever going from house to house about tea-time, to save his ain canister. As for the young ladies, they couldna endure him at all, for he had aye the sough and sound of love in his mouth, and a round-about ceremonial of joking concerning the same, that was just a fasherie to them to hear. The commonality, however, were his greatest adversaries; for he was, notwithstanding the spareness of his abilities, a prideful creature, taking no interest in their hamely affairs, and seldom visiting the aged or the sick among them.

Shortly, however, before the death of the Doctor, Mr Pittle had been very attentive to my wife’s full cousin, Miss Lizzie Pinkie,—I’ll no say on account of the legacy of seven hundred pounds left her by an uncle, that made his money in foreign parts, and died at Portsmouth of the liver complaint, when he was coming home to enjoy himself ; and Mrs Pawkie told me, that as soon as Mr Pittle could get a kirk, I needna be surprised if I heard o’ a marriage between him and Miss Lizzie.

Had I been a sordid and interested man, this news could never have given me the satisfaction it did, for Miss Lizzie was very fond of my bairns, and it was thought that Peter would have been her heir; but so far from being concerned at what I heard, I rejoiced thereat, and resolved in secret thought, whenever a vacancy happened (Dr Swapkirk being then fast wearing away), to exert the best of my ability to get the kirk for Mr Pittle,—not, however, unless he was previously married to Miss Lizzie; for, to speak out, she was beginning to stand in need of a protector, and both me and Mrs Pawkie had our fears that she might outlive her income, and in her old age become a cess upon us. And it couldna be said that this was any groundless fear ; for Miss Lizzie, living a lonely maiden life by herself, with only a bit lassie to run her errands, and no being naturally of an active or eydent turn, aften wearied, and to keep up her spirits, gaed, maybe, now and then, oftener to the gardevin than was just necessar, by which, as we thought, she had a tavert look. Howsoever, as Mr Pittle had taken a notion of her, and she pleased his fancy, it was far from our hand to misliken one that was sib to us ; on the contrary, it was a duty laid on me by the ties of blood and relationship to do all in my power to further their mutual affection into matrimonial fruition; and what I did towards that end is the burden of this narrative.

Dr Swapkirk, in whom the spark of life was long fading, closed his eyes, and it went utterly out, as to this world, on a Saturday night, between the hours of eleven and twelve. We had that afternoon got an inkling that he was drawing near to his end. At the latest, Mrs Pawkie herself went over to the manse, and stayed till she saw him die.

"It was a pleasant end,” she said, for he was a godly, patient man ; and we were both sorely grieved, though it was a thing for which we had been long pre-pared, and, indeed, to his family and connections, except for the loss of the stipend, it was a very gentle dispensation, for he had been long a heavy handful, having been for years but, as it were, a breathing lump of mortality, groosy and oozy, and doozy, his faculties being shut up and locked in by a dumb palsy.

Having had this early intimation of the Doctor’s removal to a better world, on the Sabbath morning when I went to join the magistrates in the council-chamber, as the usage is, to go to the laft, with the town-officers carrying their halberts before us, according to the ancient custom of all royal burghs, my mind was in a degree prepared to speak to them anent the successor. Little, however, passed at that time, and it so happened that, by some wonder of inspiration (there were, however, folk that said it was taken out of a book of sermons, by one Barrow, an English divine), Mr Pittle that forenoon preached a discourse that made an impression, insomuch that, on our way back to the council-chamber, I said to Provost Vintner that then was----

"Really, Mr Pittle seems, if he would exert himself, to have a nerve. I could not have thought it was in the power of his capacity to have given us such a sermon.”

The provost thought as I did; so I replied--

"We canna, I think, do better than keep him among us. It would, indeed, provost, no be doing justice to the young man to pass another over his head.”

I could see that the provost wasna quite sure of what I had been saying; for he replied, that it was a matter that needed consideration.

When we separated at the council-chamber, I threw myself in the way of Bailie Weezle, and walked home with him, our talk being on the subject of the vacancy; and I rehearsed to him what had passed between me and the provost, saying, that the provost had made no objection to prefer Mr Pittle, which was the truth.

Bailie Weezle was a man no overladen with worldly wisdom, and had been chosen into the council principally on account of being easily managed. In his business, he was originally by trade a baker in Glasgow, where he made a little money, and came to settle among us with his wife, who was a native of the town, and had her relations here. Being. therefore, an idle man, living on his money, and of a soft and quiet nature, he was, for the reason aforesaid, chosen into the council, where he always voted on the provost’s side ; for in controverted questions every one is beholden to take a part, and he thought it his duty to side with the chief magistrate.

Having convinced the bailie that Mr Pittle had already, as it were, a sort of infeffment in the kirk, I called in the evening on my old predecessor in the guildry, Bailie M‘Lucre, who was not a hand to be so easily dealt with; but I knew his inclinations, and therefore I resolved to go roundly to work with him. So I asked him out to take a walk, and I led him towards the town moor, conversing loosely about one thing and another, and touching softly here and there on the vacancy.

When we were well on into the middle of the moor, I stopped, and, looking round me, said,-

"Bailie, surely it’s• a great neglec’ of the magistrates and council to let this braw broad piece of land, so near the town, lie in a state o’ nature, and giving pasturage to only twa-three of the poor folks’ cows. I wonder you, that’s now a rich man, and with een worth pearls and diamonds,—that ye dinna think of asking a tack of this land ; ye might make a great thing o’t."

The fish nibbled, and told me that he had for some time entertained a thought - on the subject ; but he was afraid that I would be over extortionate.

"I wonder to hear you, bailie,” said I; "I trust and hope no one will ever find me out of the way of justice; and to convince you that I can do a friendly turn, I’ll no objec’ to gie you a’ my influence free gratis, if ye’ll gie Mr Pittle a lift into the kirk; for, to be plain with you, the worthy young man, who, as ye heard to-day, is no without an ability, has long been fond of Mrs Pawkie’s cousin, Miss Lizzie Pinkie; and I would fain do all that lies in my power to help on the match.

The bailie was well pleased with my frankness, and before returning home, we came to a satisfactory understanding ; so that the next thing I had to do was to see Mr Pittle himself on the subject, Accordingly, in the gloaming, I went over to where he stayed : it was with Miss Jenny Killfuddy, an elderly maiden lady, whose father was the minister of Braehill, and the same that is spoken of in the chronicle of Dalmailing, as having had his eye almost put out by a clash of glaur, at the stormy placing of Mr Balwhidder.

"Mr Pittle,” said I, as soon as I was in, and the door closed, "I’m come to you as a friend. Both Mrs Pawkie and me have long discerned that ye have had a look more than common towards our friend Miss Lizzie, and we think it our duty to inquire your intents, before matters gang to greater length."

He looked a little dumfoundered at this salutation, and was at a loss for an answer; so I continued--

"If your designs be honourable, and no doubt they are, now’s your time; —strike while the iron’s hot. By the death of the Doctor, the kirk’s vacant, the town-council have the patronage; and if ye marry Miss Lizzie, my interest and influence shall not be slack in helping you into the poopit.”

In short, out of what passed that night, on the Monday following, Mr Pittle and Miss Lizzie were married; and by my dexterity, together with the able help I had in Bailie M'Lucre, he was in due season placed and settled in the parish; and the next year, more than fifty acres of the town-moor were inclosed, on a nine hundred and ninety-nine years’ tack, at an easy rate, between me and the bailie, he paying the half of the expense of the ditching and rooting out of the whins; and it was acknowledged, by every one that saw it, that there had not been a greater improvement for many years in all the countryside. But to the best actions there will be adverse and discontented spirits; and, on this occasion, there were not wanting persons naturally of a disloyal opposition temper, who complained of the inclosure as a usurpation of the rights and property of the poorer burghers. Such revilings, however, are what all persons in authority must suffer ; and they had émaly the effect of making me button my coat, and look out the crooser to the blast. — “The Provost.”


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