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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter X. - The Sergeant alone with his Starling


MR. SMELLIE called upon the Sergeant next forenoon. His manner was cold and formal, as that of one who had power, if not right, on his side, and whose pride was flattered by the conviction that his real or supposed opponent was in the wrong. His reception was equally cold, for although Adam had respect for his minister, and also for Mr. Menzies, he had, as we have already said, none whatever for Mr. Smellie.

"Mr. Mercer," said Smellie, "I have called on you, in order first of all to correct a grave error you have committed in regard to Mary Semple, the child boarded by the Kirk Session with Mrs. Craigie."

I'm not aware, Mr. Smellie," replied the Sergeant. "that you are the Kirk Session, or have any richt whatsomever to correct my error, as ye ca't, in this matter."

Smellie smiled sarcastically, and added, "In a friendly way at least, Mr. Mercer. You, of course, ken that the whole expense of the bairn must be borne by yersel', for I don't believe that the Session will pay one farthing to you—not a farthing! - as you have ta'en her from Mrs. Craigie on your ain responsibility."

"I ken a' that; and I ken also that I mean to keep her frae Mrs. Craigie, unless the Session and the law hinder me, and compel me to gie her up; which is no' likely; but if they do, on them be the curse of injuring the orphan. Understan' then that I mean to keep her at my a* in expense, even should the Session offer to pay for her. Anything else, Mr. Smellie?"

"Weel then, Mr. Mercer," said Smellie, "see til't, see til't; for there will be determined opposition to you."

"I have had worse in my day,. Mr. Smellie," drily replied the Sergeant, "and I'm no' feared. In the meantime Mary remains here, and I'm determined she'll never return to Mrs. Craigiethat's settled. An' if the Session kent the woman as I do, and maybe as ye do, they wad be thankfu', as I am, that Mary is wi' me and no' wi' her. Onything mair to complain o' in what ye Ca' a freendly way?"

"Oh, naething, naething!" said Mr. Smellie, with pent-up annoyance, "except that the committee which the Session appointed— that's me and Mr. Menzies—to deal with you about this scandal—a most unpleasant business—mean to Ca' upo' you this evening at six, if that hour will suit."

"As wee!, or as ill, as ony other hour, Mr. Smellie," replied Adam, "for I dinna mean to be dealt wi', either by you or by Mr. Menzies."

"No' to be dealt with, Mr. Mercer! Do ye mean to say that ye won't even receive the committee?" he asked with amazement.

"That's jist exactly what I mean, Mr. Smellie!" replied Adam; "I don't mean to receive your committee, that's plain, and you may tak' a minute o't. If ye wish to ken why, ye had better speer at Mr. Porteous. But ye needna trouble yoursel' wi' me. What I have said I'll stan' to like a man; what I have promised I'll perform like a Christian; and what I canna do, I winna do! If ye need mair explanation, this maybe will suffice:—that I'll no' kill my bird for you, nor for the Session, nor yet for the minister, nor for the hail parish; and tht ye may as well try to kill me wi' blank cartridge, as try yer han' in persuading me to kill the starling. Sae, Mr. Smellie, as far as that business is concerned, ye may gang hame, and no wat yer shoon to come my gait ony mair"

"Sae be't, sae be't!" replied Sniellie, with a cackle of a laugh, as much as to say, "I have him!" He then bowed and departed, walking silently like a cat along the street, but not purring. Yet he seemed to be feeling for something with the long hairs which projected from his whiskers like bristles.

Poor Adam! Now began such a week in his history as he never had experienced before. Oh! it was cold, dark, and dreary! He had to drink the cup of loneliness in the midst of his fellowmen—the bitterest cup which can be tasted by any one who loves his brother. But all his suffering was kept within his own heart, and found "no relief in word, or sigh, or tear."

What a sinner he had become in the opinion ot many of the respectable inhabitants of Drumsylie! What a double distilled spirit of evil!—far over proof, for no proofs are ever applied to such evil spirits. Drumsylie was all agog about him. He was as interesting as a shipwreck to a seaport town; as a great swindle to a stock exchange; or as a murder to a quiet neighbourhood! What had he done? What had he been guilty of? Some said, or at least heard that some one else had said, that he had insulted the minister and the Kirk Session; others, that he had secretly supported himself as a poacher; others, that he had been heard to declare, that rather than kill the bird, he would, out of mere spite and obstinacy, give up the eldership, the Church, ay, even Christianity itself; others, that he had stolen a child from Mrs. Craigie, whom, though a woman, he, a soldier, had threatened to strike in his own house. He was a terror even to evil doers

Most marvellous is this birth and upbringing of lies! Who lays the first egg? How does it multiply so rapidly? And how singular is the development of each of the many eggs—through all the stages of evil thoughts, suspicious hints, wondering if's and maybe's, perversions, exaggerations, fibs, white lies—until it is fully hatched into out-and-out lies repeated with diligence, malice, and hate! We can give no account of this social phenomenon except the old one, of the devil being first the parent of the whole family, and his then distributing and boarding out each to trustworthy friends to be hatched and trained up in the way it should go in order to please him, its parent.

In Drumsylie, as in other towns, there were some who so indulged the self- easing habit of confessing and mourning over the sins and shortcomings of their neighbours, that they had little time or inclination to confess their own. Some of these confessors might be heard during this week in Adam's history lamenting:-" Oh! it's a dreadfu' place this! Eh! it's eneuch to keep ane sleepless to think o't! Whan a man like Adam Mercer, wi' a' his knowledge and profession, becomes a scoffer, and despises ordinances, and," &c. &c.

But it would be unjust to Drumsylie and the into out-and-out lies repeated with diligence, malice, and hate! We can give no account of this social phenomenon except the old one, of the devil being first the parent of the whole family, and his then distributing and boarding out each to trustworthy friends to be hatched and trained up in the way it should go in order to please him, its parent.

In Drumsylie, as in other towns, there were some who so indulged the self-pleasing habit of confessing and mourning over the sins and shortcomings of their neighbours, that they had little time or inclination to confess their own. Some of these confessors might be heard during this week in Adam's history lamenting:-" Oh! it's a dreadfu' place this! Eh! it's eneuch to keep ane sleepless to think o't! Whan a man like Adam Mercer, wi' a' his knowledge and profession, becomes a scoffer, and despises ordinances, and," &c. &c.

But it would be unjust to Drumsylie and the Sergeant to affirm that this state of public feeling had not very many marked exceptions. Some, chiefly among the poor, truly loved him, and sympathised with him, and openly confessed this. Many protested, in private at least, against his treatment. But such is, alas! the moral cowardice or maybe the thoughtlessness only, of even good men, that few expressed to Adam himself their goodwill towards him, or their confidence in his righteousness. It is indeed remarkable, in a free country of brave men, how very many there are who, before taking any decided part in questions which distract communities, small or great, attentively consider on which side the hangman is, or seems likely to be. The executioner's cord seen in the possession of this or that party has a wonderful influence on the number of its adherents. As far as appearances went, this sign of authority and power was supposed for the time being to be in the possession of the Rev. Daniel Porteous, And so the cautious and prudent consoled themselves by saying: "It is not our business," or "Least said soonest mended," or "Why quarrel with the minister?" or "Why disp1eac my aunt, or my uncle, who are so bigoted and narrow?" or "Mr. Porteous and the majority of Session may be wrong, but that, is their affair, not ours." Such were some of the characteristic sayings of the men who were doubtful as to the side which possessed Caicraft and his cord of office.

Mr. Smellie had communicated Adam Mercer's resolution to Mr. Menzies, and this had deterred him from attempting to follow in the track of expostulation with Adam, which it was evident would lead to nothing. Smellie had failed—who could succeed? Mr. Menzies ought to have tried. Some success by one good man in dealing with another good man, is certain.

The Session met on the next Sunday after Adam's quarrel with his minister, or rather of his minister with him. The court was, as usual, it by prayer." But whether the spirit of prayer constitutes the spirit of every meeting opened by it, may, without offence, be questioned. It is unnecessary to condense the debates—for debates there were at this meeting. Adam, with a soldier's gentlemanly feeling, did not attend, lest it might be supposed that he wished to influence the court. Smellie, in spite of some opposing murmurs of dissent, ascribed his absence to "contumacious pride," and the minister did not contradict him.

Mr. Porteous addressed the court. He asked whether it was possible for them to stop proceedings in the case of Mr. Mercer without stultifying themselves? Had they not taken the very mildest and most judicious course, and considered both what was due to themselves and also to their erring brother? Yet they had not only failed to obtain the slightest concession from him, but he had gone so far as even to refuse to receive or confer with their own committee! The case was no doubt most distressing to them all, but, as far as he could see, it would bring well-merited ridicule on all Church discipline if they dropped it at this stage. To appoint another deputation would be disrespectful to the dignity of the court; and as for himself, he had done all he could since their last meeting to bring about an amicable settlement: for, on the previous Sabbath evening, he had had a private interview in the manse with Mr. Mercer, whch had terminated, he grieved to say, in a most unsatisfactory manner.

Such was the general tenor of the minister's harangue. Mr. Gordon, backed by William Simpson, farmer, of Greenfield, and Andrew Grainger, watchmaker, argued against the minister—the latter declaring that the Session were putting back the hands of the clock, and falling behind time. But all in vain! Adam, by the casting vote of the Moderator, was "suspended" from the eldership; that is, deprived for a time of his official position. Mr. Gordon and the two elders who supported him, vehemently protested against what they called the "tyrannical proceeding of the majority." Most fortunately for the cause of justice, the Rev. Daniel was not a bishop who could rule his parish presbyters as his "Principles," whims, or—pardon the irreverent insinuation- indigestion, might dictate. There was a higher court, and there was the law of the land, higher than the court, to curb the minister's will, or as he always called it when in a passion—his conscience. The sentence of the Session might be, as was confidently anticipated, reversed by the Presbytery, though the district was notoriously narrow and prejudiced, and some of the clergy fancied that moving straws showed how the winds of heaven blew, when they were only stirred by their own breath.

When Adam returned on that Sunday afternoon from church, he fortunately did not know,' though he more than suspected, what the decision of the Kirk Session had been. He knew certainly that his case must not only have come before the court, but must also, from its nature, have caused such a division of opinion as would make his position as an elder one of remark, of suspicion, and, to him, of personal pain. It was a temporary comfort, however, that he had no certain bad news to communicate to Katie, and that he could say, as he did with truth, "It wasna for me to be present, or to interfere. They have done their duty nae doot, an' I have done mine as far as I could."

When his humble Sunday meal was over, and before sunset, Adam went to visit one or two of the sick, infirm, or bedridden, who were on his list to attend to as an elder. Not until he was on his way to their homes did he realize the fact that, for the present at least, he was probably no longer an elder. But as he never had formed the habit of visiting the sick as a mere official, but had made his office only a better means. given him in God's providence, for gratifying his benevolent and Christian feelings, he vent, as he was wont to do, with a peaceful spirit and loving heart. The poor and suffering whom he visited received him with their usual kindness and gratitude. They felt that Adam could not be a bad or false man; that in him was love—love in its meekness, calmness, self- possession. sympathy, and forgiveness of others. They could not, perhaps, explain the grounds of their perfect and unreserved confidence in him, yet they could not—it was impossible----entertain. any doubts of his Christian character which could hinder their hearts from feeling what they in many cases expressed with their lips, that "A real guid man is Adam Mercer! It's me that should say't, for he has been aye kind and guid to me. I'm no saying wha's richt or wrang; I ken this only, that I'll stan' by Adam! I wish we had mair like him!"


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