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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XXIII. - Corporal Dick at the Manse


ADAM had received his pension-paper, which required to be signed by the parish minister, as certifying that the claimant was in life. Dick was glad of this opportunity of calling upon the minister to obtain for his friend the required signature. He was known to Mr. Porteous, who had met him once before in Adam's house, and had attacked him rather sharply on his Haldaneite principles, the sect being, as he alleged, an uncalled-for opposition to the regular parish clergy.

A short walk brought Dick to the Manse. After a few words of greeting he presented the Sergeant's paper. Mr. Porteous inquired, with rather a sceptical expression on his countenance - "Is Mr. Mercer really unwell, and unable to come?"

"I have told you the truth, sir," was the Corporal's dignified and short reply.

Mr. Porteous asked what was wrong with him? The Corporal replied that he did not know, but that he was feverish, he thought, and was certainly confined to bed.

"Your friend the Sergeant, as you are probably aware," remarked the minister, signing the paper and returning it to the Corporal, "has greatly surprised and annoyed me. He seems quite a changed man—changed, I fear, for the worse. Oh! yes, Mr. Dick," he continued in reply to a protesting wave of the Corporal's hand, "he is indeed. He has become proud and obstinate—very."

"Meek as a lamb, sir, in time of peace, but brave as a lion in time of war, I can assure you, Mr. Porteous," replied the Corporal.

"I know better! said the minister.

"Not better than me, sir," replied Dick; "for tho' ye have kent him as well as me, perhaps, in peace, yet ye didna ken him at all in war, and a truer, better, nobler sodger than Adam Mercer never raised his arms to fight or to pray, for he did baith—that I'll say before the won', and defy contradiction!"

"Remember, Corporal, you and I belong to different Churches, and we judge men differently. We must have discipline. All churches are not equally pure."

"There's nane o' them pure, wi' your leave, neither yours nor mine!" exclaimed the Corporal. "I'm no' pure mysel', and accordingly wl)en I joined my kirk it was pure nae langer; and, wi' a' respec to you, sir, I'm no' sure if your ain kirk wasna fashed wi' the same diffecculty when ye joined it."

"Discipline, I say, must be maintained—must be," said Mr. Porteous; "and Adam has come under it most deservedly. First pure, then peaceable, you know."

"If ever a man kept discipline in a regiment, he did! My certes!" said Dick, "I wad like to see him that wad raggle the regiment when Adam was in't !"

"I am talking of Church discipline, sir!" said the minister, rather irate. " Church discipline, you observe; which—as I hold yours to be not a properly constituted Church, but a mere self- constituted sect—you cannot have."

"We're a kin' o' volunteers, I suppose?" interrupted Dick with a laugh; "the Haldaneite volunteers, as ye wad Ca' US; but maybe after a' we'll fecht agin the enemy, an' its three corps o' the deevil, the won', and the flesh, as weel as yours."

"You are not the regular army, anyhow," said the minister, "and I do not recognise your Church."

"The mair's the pity," replied the Corporal, "for I consider it a great blin'ness and misfortin' when ae regiment dislikes anither. An army, minister, is no' ae regiment, but rnony. There's cavalry and artillery, light troops and heavy troops, field guns and siege guns in an army, and ilka pairt does its ain wark sae lang as it obeys the commander-in-chief; and fechts for the kingdom. What's the use, then, o' fechtin' agin each ither? In my opinion it's real daft like!"

The minister looked impatiently at his watch, but Dick went on to say—

"In Spain, I can tell ye, we were a hantle the better o' thae wild chiels the guerilas. Aitho' they didna enlist into the 92nd or ony regular drilled regiment, Scotch or English, the Duke himsel' was thankfu' for them. Noo, Mr. Porteous, altho' ye think us a sort o' guerillas, let us alane,—let us alane!—dinna forbid us tho' we dinna follow your flag, but fecht the enemy under oor ain."

"Well, well, Dick, we need not argue about it. My principles are too firm, too long made up, to be shaken at this time of day by the Haldaneites," said Mr. Porteous, rising and looking out of the window.

"Weel, weel!" said Dick. "I'm no' wantin' to shake your principles, but to keep my ain."

At this stage of the conversation Miss Thomasina entered the room, with "I beg pardon," as if searching for something in the press, but yet for no other purpose, in her eager curiosity, than to ascertain what the Corporal was saying, as she knew him to be a friend of the Sergeant's. Her best attention, with her ear placed close to the door, had made out nothing more than that the rather prolonged conversation had something to do with the great ecclesiastical question of the passing hour in Drumsylie.

Almost breathless with indignation that any one, especially a Haldaneite,—for she was quite as "High Church" as her brother,—should presume to take the part of the notorious heretic in the august presence of his great antagonist, she broke in, with what was intended to be a good humoured smile, but was, to ordinary observers, a bad-natured grin, saying, "Eh! Mr. Dick, you to stand up for that man—suspended by the Session, and deservedly so—yes, most deservedly so! Him and his starling, forsooth! It's infidelity at the root."

"It's what ?" asked the Corporal,, with amazement. "Infidelity did you say, my lady?"

The "my lady" rather softened Miss Thomasina, who returned to the charge more softly, saying, "Well, it's pride and stubbornness, and that's as bad. But I hope his illness will be sanctified to the changing of his heart!" she added, with a sigh, intended to express a very deep concern for his spiritual welfare.

"I hope not, wi' your leave!" replied the Corporal.

"Not wish his heart changed?" exclaimed Miss Thomasina.

"No! " said Dick, emphatically, "not changed, for it's a good Christian heart, and, if changed at all, it wad be changed, for the worse."

"A Christian heart, indeed! a heart that would not kill a starling for the sake of the peace of the Session and the Kirk! Wonders will never cease!"

"I hope never," said Dick, "if that's a wonder. Our Lord never killed in judgment man nor beast; and I suppose they were both much about as bad then as now; and His servants should imitate His example, I take it. He was love."

"But," said Mr. Porteous, chiming in, "love is all very well, no doubt, and ought to be, where psible; but justice must be, love or no love. The one is a principle, the other a feeling."

"I tak' it, with all respect to you, sir, and to madam," said Dick, "that love will aye do what's right, and will, therefore, aye do what's just and generous. We may miss fire pointing the gun' wi' the eye o' justice, but never wi' the eye o' love. The sight is then always clearer; anyhow to me. Excuse me, Mr. Porteous, if I presume to preach to you. The Haldaneites do a little in that line, tho' they're no' a' ministers! I'm a plain man that speaks my mind, and sin' ye hae gi'en me liberty to speak, let me ax if ye wad hae killed yon fine bird, that was wee Charlie's, wi' yer ain han', minister?"

"Ay, and all the birds under heaven!" replied Mr. Porteous, "if the law of the Church required it."

"I should think so! and so would I," added Miss Thomasina, walking out of the room.

"It wad be a dreich wan' wi'oot a bird in the wuds or in the lifts!" said the Corporal. "Maybe it's because I'm a Haldaneite, but, wi' a' respect, I think I wad miss the birds mair oot o' the war!' than I wad a' the kirk coorts in the kintra!"

"Drop the subject, drop the subject, Mr. Dick! said the minister, impatiently; "you are getting personal."

The Corporal could not see how that was, but he could see that his presence was not desired. So he rose to depart, saying—"I'm feared I hae been impudent, an' that my gun has got raither het firing, but, in candid truth, I wasna meanin't. But jist let me say ae word mair: ye'!l alloo this, that a fool may gie an advice tae a wise man, and this is my advice tae you, sir— the advice o' an auld sodger and a Haldaneite; no' muckle worth, ye may think :—Dinna hairm Adam Mercer, or ye'll hairm yer best freen', yer best elder, and yer best parishioner. I beg pardon for my freedom sir," he added, with a deferential bow.

The minister returned it stiffly, remarking only that Mr. Dick was ignorant of all the facts and history of the case, or he would have judged otherwise.

Something, however, of what the Corporal had said fell on the heart of the minister, like dew in a cloudy night upon dry ground.


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