Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter XII. - Adam
Mercer, Sergeant, But not Elder
NEXT morning the announcement of the
Sergeant's suspension from the eldership was conveyed to him by an
official document from Mr. Mackintosh, the Session clerk and parish
schoolmaster ;a good, discreet man, who did his duty faithfully, loyally
voted always with the minister from an earnest belief that it was right to
do so, and who made it his endeavour as a member of society to meddle with
nobody, in the good hope that nobody would meddle with him. Every man can
find his own place in this wide world.
Katie heard the news, but, strange to
say, was not so disconcerted as Adam anticipated. In proportion as
difficulties gathered round her husband, she became more resolute, and
more disposed to fight for him. She was like many women on their first
voyage, who in calm weather are afraid of a slight breeze and the uneasy
motion. of the ship, yet who, when actual danger threatens, rise up in the
power and dignity of their nature, and become the bravest of the
bravetheir very feeling and fancy, which shrank from danger while it was
unseen, coming to their aid as angels of hope when danger alone is
"Aweel, aweel," remarked Katie; "it's
their ain loss, Adam, no' yours; ye hae naething to charge yersel' wi'."
But she would sometimes relapse into a
meditative mood, as the more painful side of the case revealed itself. "Ay
nooayand they hae suspended ye?that's hanged ye, as I suppose, like a
dog or cat! Bonnie-like Session! my word!and for what? Because ye wadna
kill the bird! Teuch! It micht pit a body daft tae think o't!" And so on.
But this did little good to Adam, who
felt his character, his honour, at stake. Things were daily getting worse
to bear. The news had spread over the town, "Adam Mercer has been rebuked
and suspended by the Kirk Session!" From that moment he became a marked
man. Old customers fell away from him ; not that any openly declared that
they would not employ him as a shoemaker merely because the minister and
Kirk Session were opposed to him: Oh, no! Not a hint was given of that,
or anything approaching to it; but, somehow, new shoes seemed to have gone
out of fashion in Drumsylie.
The cold unfeeling snowball increased
as it rolled along the street in which Adam lived, until it blocked up his
door, so that he could hardly get out. If he did go, it was to be
subjected to constant annoyance. The boys an girls of the lowest class in
his neighbourhood, influenced by all they heard discussed and asserted in
their respective homes, where reserve was not the characteristic of the
inmates, were wont to gather round his window, and to peer into the
interior with an eager gaze, as if anxious to discover some fitting fuel
to enlighten their domestic hearths at night. It was as impossible to
seize them as to catch a flock of sparrows settled down upon a seed plot
in a garden. When the Sergeant therefore ventured to go abroad, the
nickname of "The Starling" was shouted after him by the boys, who adopted
all the various modes of concealing their ringleaders which evidence such
singular dexterity and cunning. The result was that Adam was compelled, as
we have said, t6 keep within doors. He thus began to feel as if he was
alone in the world. Every one seemed changed. Those on whom he had
hitherto relied failed him.
He or the world was worse than he had
ever imagined either to be, and it was little comfort to him to know which
of the two was wrong.
The Sergeant, however, enjoyed much
inward peace though little happiness. For how different is peace from
happiness! Happiness is the result of harmony between our wants as
creatures and the world without: peace is the harmony between us as
spiritual beings and the Father of our spirits. The one is as changeable
as the objects or circumstances on which it for the moment relies; the
other is as unchangeable as the God on whom it eternally rests. We may
thus possess at once real happiness and real peace; yet either may exist
without the other. Nay more, happiness may be destroyed by God in order
that the higher blessing of peace may be possessed; but never will He take
away peace to give happiness! Happiness without peace is temporal, but
peace along with happiness is eternal.
Adam, as we have said, enjoyed little
happiness in the conflict in which he was engaged. but he was kept in
When another Sunday came round, the old
sense of duty induced him to go, as usual, to church. His absence might be
supposed to indicate that he feared the face of man, because fearing the
face of God. Katie accompanied him. Her courage rose to the occasion. Let
not the reader who, moving in a larger sphere of life,, has learned to
measure his annoyances by a larger standard, smile at these simple souls,
or think it an exaggeration thus to picture their burden as having been so
Adam and Katie walked along the street,
knowing all the time that they did so under the gaze of the cold and
criticising eyes of some who were disposed to say to them, "Stand back, I
am holier than thou!" Yet more persons than they themselves were aware of
felt towards them kindness, pity, and respect, mingled with very opposite
feelings to those of the minister and the members of Kirk Session who had
made so much ado about so small an affair. Others forgot the sympathy due
to a suffering, good man, apart from its immediate cause. Many of his
worthy friends said afterwards that they "did not think of it!" Alas! this
not thinking is often the worst form of thought.
Adam and Katie passed Smellie, as he
stood at "the plate," without the slightest recognition on either side.
They occupied their accustomed seat, but sat alone. Those who ordinarily
filled the pew suffered from cold or conscience, and so were either absent
or seated elsewhere. One may guess what sort of sermon Mr. Porteous
preached from the text, "Beware of evil doers." The personal reference to
the Sergeant was like a theme pervading his overture; or as an idea not so
much directly expressed as indirectly insinuated from first to last. The
argument was a huge soap-bubble of what he called "principle" blown from
his pipe until he could blow no longer, and which when fully developed he
contemplated with admiration, as if it were a glorious globe of thought
that must necessarily be heavenly because reflecting to his eyes the
colours of the rainbow. His picture of the danger of the times in which he
lived was very vivid, and his hopes of any improvement very small. The
history of society seemed but a record of degeneracy since the first
century of the Christian era. But whoever proved a traitor, he himself, he
said, would still earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the
saints;, and his trumpet, at least, should never give an uncertain sound;
and he would hold fast the form of sound words:and so on he went until
his forty-five minutes were ended.
That the preacher was perfectly
sincere, no one could doubt. He was no coward, or make- believe, but was
thoroughly convinced. He would at any time have given up his "all" for his
it and given his body even to be burned for them without fear - yet
possibly "without charity."
We do not condemn Mr. Porteous's
"principles." They. were, most of them, what might be called Christian
truisms, which no one believing in the supreme authority of the Bible, far
less any parish minister, could dispute. But the practical application of
his principles by the minister on certain occasions, as on this one,'
might be questioned. He might also have considered whether there were not
many other Bible and Christian principles of wider import and deeper
spiritual meaning, than those he contended for, and gave such prominence
to, not excluding but including his special favourites, which he required
to know before he could really understand or truly apply those even which
he so- tenaciously held and so frequently expounded. Half truths are
untruths. A man who always tried to stand on his head might be as well
Adam accepted the heavy fire from the
pulpit with calm submission. He knew that very many in the congregation
while listening to the minister were looking at himself; but, knowing also
how much depends in every battle on the steadiness and self-possession of
the non-commissioned officers, he looked the enemy in the face and never
winced. Katie seemed inspired by his example-so far, at least, that she
neither fled nor fainted; and though not daring to gaze on the foe, she
braved his charge as if kneeling in the rear rank, with a calm
countenance, but with eyes cast down to the ground.
Poor Katie! What would Waterloo have
been to her in comparison with that day's mental battle in the kirk! The
one was an honourable conflict; but this was reckoned by those whom she
respected as one of dishonour. In the one was danger of wounds and of
death; but in this were deeper wounds, and danger possibly beyond the
grave! How often did the form of her old "faither" come before herthough
she thought it strange that he did not seem to frown. But she never
communicated her fears or feelings to her husband. "He has eneuch to carry
w'oot me," she said.
As they left the church, more than one
person took an opportunity of addressing the Sergeant, and, to the credit
of all, not one uttered an unkindly word. Some shook him warmly by the
hand, but said nothing. Others added, "God bless ye! Dinna heed, Mr.
Mercer. It'll come a' richt yet." Mr. Gordon and one or two of the elders
were marked in their kindness. It would not have conduced to the comfort
of the minister, though it might have made him doubt how far his people
really sympathised with him or his "principles," had he heard some of the
remarks made after the sermon by the more intelligent and independent of
his congregation. But his ignorance was to him a kind of bliss; and
whatever tended or threatened to disturb his self- satisfaction would have
been recognised by him as folly, not wisdom.
Adam could not shut his ears, but he
could hold his tongue; and he did so.
The worthy couple walked home in
silence, and arm-in-arm too! for the first time probably in their lives.
Mary, whom we forgot to mention, followed them in new shoes, a new bonnet,
a new shawl, with her Bible wrapped up in a clean pocket-handkerchief. As
they entered their home, the starling received them with quite a flutter
of excitement. Shaking his feathers, hopping violently about his cage, or
thrusting his bill, as if for a kiss, between the bars, he welcomed Mary,
as she approached him with some food, and made the room ring with various
declarations as to his being Charlie's bairn, his hopes of being yet a
king, and his belief in genuine manhood.
"I think," quoth the Sergeant, "he is
ane o' the happiest and maist contented bit cratur in the parish."
Mary, as if feeling that it was right
to say something good on Sunday, archly put in, "I mind what ye telt me
aboot the bird."
"What was't, my bairn?" asked Adam.
"It was aboot the fowlsI dinna mind a'
the verse, but a bit o't was, 'Are not ye better than the fowls?'"
"Thank ye for the comfort, Mary dear,"
said Adam, gravely.
From some common instinct of their
hearts, Mr. Porteous' sermon was not spoken of. Was it because Mary was
present? or only because Katie was so anxious to see the cheese well
toasted for their tea? or becauseyet why go on conjecturing! But at
evening worship, which closed the day, Adam, as usual, prayed for his
minister, and for God's blessing on the preacher's word; and he prayed to
be delivered from evildoing, and from fretting at evil-doers, and to be
enabled to put his trust in God and do good. Katie on rising from her
knees did what she never did beforekissed her husband, saying, "God bless
you, my best o' men!"
"Gae awa', gae awa'!" said the
Sergeant; "ye want to gaur me greet like yersel', do ye? But na, lass, I'm
ower auld a sodger for that!" With all his boasting, however, he was very
nearly betrayed into the weakness which he professed to despise. But he
seemed greatly pleased with his good wife's kindness, and he added, "Bless
you, my braw leddy, a' the same. And," in a whisper, "ye needna let on to
Mary that I'm fashed. It micht vex the lassie."
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.