MRS. MERCER received her visitor very
coldly. She associated his name with what she called "the conspiracy," and
felt aggrieved that he had never visited her husband during those previous
weeks of trial. He was, as she expressed it, "a sicht for sair een." Mr.
Menzies made the best excuse he could, and described the circumstances in
which he had been placed towards Adam as the reason why he had not visited
her sooner. He said, also, that however painful it was to him, he had
nevertheless been obliged by his ordination vows to do his duty as a
member of Session, and he hoped not in vain, as he might now be the means
of making peace between his friend, Mr. Mercer, and the minister.
"I'm Charlie's bairn," said the
starling, just as Menzies had given a preliminary cough, and was about to
approach the question which had chiefly brought him to the cottage. "I'm
Charlie's bairn—a man's a man—kick, kurwhitt, whitt."
The starling seemed unable or unwilling
to end the sentence; at last it came out clear and distinct—"a man's a man
for a' that."
Mr. Menzies did not feel comfortable.
"I dinna wunner, Mrs. Mercer," at last
he said, "at you and Adam likin' that bird! He is really enticing, and by
ordinar, I maun confess."
"There's naething wrang wi' the bird,"
said Katie, examining the seam of her apron, adding in an indifferent tone
of voice, "If folk wad only let it alane, it's discreet, and wad hairm
"I'm sure, Mrs. Mercer," he said, "I'm
real sorry about the hale business; and I'm resolved, if possible, to get
Adam oot o' the han's o the Session, and bring peace atween a' parties."
Katie shook her foot, twirled her
thumbs, but said nothing.
"It's a pity indeed," the elder
continued, "that a bird should come atween an office-bearer like Adam and
his minister and the Session! It's no richt—it's no richt; and yet neither
you nor Adam could pit it awa, e'en at the request o' the Session, wi' ain
haun's. Na, na—that was askin' ower muckle."
"Ye ken best, nae doot," said Katie,
with a touch of sarcasm in her voice. "You and the Session hae made a
bonnie job o' the guidman nooI"
"I'm real vexed he's no' weel," said
Menzies; but to be candid, Mrs. Mercer, it wasna a' the faut o' the
Session at the warst, but pairtly his ain. He was ower stiff, and was
neither to haud nor bin."
"A bairn could haud him noo, and bin'
him tae," said Katie.
"There's a chasteesement in 't,"
remarked Menzies, becoming slightly annoyed at Katie's cool reception of
him. "He should hear the voice in the rod. Afflictions dinna come wi'oot a
reason. They spring not from the grun'. They're sent for a purpose; and ye
should examine and search yer heart, Mrs. Mercer, in a' sincerity and
humility, to ken why this affliction has come, and at this time,"
emphatically added Mr. Menzies.
"Nae doot," said Katie, returning to
the hem of her apron.
The way seemed marvellously opened to
Mr. Menzies, as he thought he saw Katie humbled and alive to the
Sergeant's greater share of wrong in causing the schism. He bega to feel
the starling in his hand,—a fact of which the bird seemed ignorant, as he
whistled, "Wha'll be king but Charlie?"
Mr. Menzies continued—" If I could be
ony help to ye, Mrs. Mercer, I wad be prood and thankfu' to bring aboot
freen'ship atween Adam and Mr. Porteous; and thus gie peace to puir Adam."
"Peace tae Adam?" exclaimed Katie,
looking up to the elder's face.
"Ay, peace tae Adam," said Mr. Menzies,
encouraged to open up his plan; "but, I fear, as lang as that bird is in
the cage, peace wull never be."
Katie dropped her apron, and stared at
Mr. Menzies as if she was petrified, and asked what he meant.
"Dinna think, dinna think," said Mr.
Menzies, "that I propose kiln' the bit thing "—Katie dropped her eyes
again on her apron—"but." he continued, "I canna see what hairm it wad do,
and I think it wad do a hantle o' guid, if ye wad let me tak' oot the
cage, and let the bird flee twa' tae sing wi' the hive o' birds. In this
way, ye see—"
Katie rose up, her face pale with—dare
we say it?—suppressed passion. This call of Menzies was to give strength
and comfort, forsooth, to her in her affliction! She seized the elder by
his arm, drew him gently to the door of the bedroom, which was so far open
as to enable him to see Adam asleep. One arm Of the Sergeant was extended
over the bed, his face was towards them, his grey locks escaped from under
his night-cap, and his expression was calm and composed. Katie said
nothing, but pointed to her husband and looked sternly at Menzies. She
then led him to the street door, and whispered in his ear—
"Ae word afore we pairt:—I wadna gie
that man, in health or sickness, life or death, for a' the Session! If
lie's no' a Christian, an' if he hasna God's blessing, wae's me for the
wan'! I daur ony o' ye to come here again, and speak ill o' him, as if he
was in a faut! I daur ony p' ye to touch his bird! Tell that to Smellie -
tell't to the parish, and lee me alane wi' my ain heart, wi' my ain
guidman, and wi' my am Saviour, to live or dee as the Almighty wills!"
Katie turned back into her kitchen,
while poor Menzies walked out into the street, feeling no anger but much
pain, and more than ever convinced that he had been made a tool of by
Smellie, contrary to his own common-sense and better feeling.
Menzies made a very short report of the
scene to the draper, saying that he would wash his hands clean of the
whole business; to which Smellie only said to himself thoughtfully, as
Menzies left his shop, "I wish I could do the same—but I'll try!"