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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XXIX. - The Minister Pure and Peaceable


As the minister walked along the street, with the old umbrella, his inseparable companion in all kinds of weather, wet or dry, under his arm, and with his head rather bent as if in thought, he was met by Mrs. Craigie, who suddenly darted out—for she had been watching his coming— from the "close" in which she lived, and curtsied humbly before him.

"Beg pardon, sir," she said, "it's a fine day—I houp ye're wee!. Ye'll excuse me, sir."

What is it? what is it?" asked Mr. Porteous, in rather a sharp tone of voice, disliking the interruption at such a time from such a person "Wee!," she said, cracking her fingers as if in a puzzle, "I just thocht if my dear wee Mary was in ony danger frae the fivver at the Sergeant's, I wad be willint—oo ay, real willint—for freendship's sake, ye ken, tae tak' her back tae mysel.'"

"Very possibly you would," replied Mr. Porteous, drily; "but my decided opinion at present is, that in all probability she won't need your kindness."

"Thank ye, sir," said the meek Craigie, whose expression need not be analysed as she looked after Mr. Porteous, passing on with his usual step to Mr. Smellie's shop.

No sooner had he entered the "mercantile establishment" of this distinguished draper, than with a nod he asked its worthy master to follow him up to the sanctum. The boy was charged to let no one interrupt them.

When both were seated in the confidential retreat,—the scene of many a small parish plot and plan,—Mr. Porteous said, "I have just conic from visiting our friend, Adam Mercer."

"Indeed!" replied Smellie, as he looked rather anxious and drew his chair away. "I'm teilt the fever is maist dangerous and deadly."

Are you afraid? An elder? Mr. Smellie!"

"Me! I'm not frightened," replied the elder. drawing his chair back to its former position near the minister. "I wasna thinking what,I was doing. How did ye find the worthy man? for worthy he is, in spite o' his great fauts.—in fact, I might say, his sins."

"I need not, Mr. Smellie," said Mr. Porteous, now tell you all I heard and witnessed, but I may say in general that I was touched—very much touched by the sight of that home of deep sorrow. Poor people!" and Mr. Porteous seemed disposed to fall into a reverie.

If there is anything which can touch the heart and draw it forth into brotherly sympathy towards one who has from any cause been an object of suspicion or dislike, it is the coming into personal contact with him when suffering from causes beyond his will. The sense is awakened of the presence of a higher power dealing with him, and thus averting our arm if disposed to strike. Who dare smite one thus in the hands of God? It kindles in us a feeling of our own dependence on the same omnipotent Power, and quickens the consciousness of our own deserts were we dealt with according to our sins. There is in all affliction a shadow of the cross, which must harden or soften—lead us upward or drag us downward. If it awakens the feeling of pity only in those who in pride stand afar off, it opens up the life-springs of sympathy in those who from good-will draw nigh.

Mr. Smellie was so far off from the Sergeant that he had neither pity nor sympathy: the minister's better nature had been suddenly but deeply touched; and he now possessed both.

"I hope," said Smellie, "ye will condescend to adopt my plan of charity with him. Ye ken, sir, I aye stand by you. I recognise you as my teacher and guide, and it's not my part to lead, but to follow. Yet if ye could see—oh, if ye could see your way, in consistency, of course, with principle—ye understan', sir ?_to restore Adam afore he dees, I wad be unco' prood—I hope I do not offend. I'm for peace."

And if Adam should recover, Mr. Smellie, thy charity might induce him to think well of thee. Is that thy plan?

The fever," said Mr. Porteous, with a sigh, "is strong. He is feeble."

"Maybe, then, it might be as well to say nothing about this business until, in Providence, it is determined whether he lives or dies?" inquired the elder.

Did he now think that if the Sergeant died he would be freed from all difficulty, as far as Adam was concerned? Ah, thou art an unstable because a double-minded man, Mr. Smellie!

"I have been thinking," Mr. Porteous went on to say, "that, as it is a principle of mine to meet as far as possible the wishes of my people—as far as possible, observe; that is, in consistency with higher principles - I am quite willing to meet your wishes, and those of the Session, should they agree with yours, and to recognise in the Sergeant's great affliction the hand of a chastening Providence, and as such to accept it. And instead, therefore, of our demanding, as we had a full right to do in our then imperfect knowledge of the case, any personal sacrifice on' the part of the poor Sergeant—a sacrifice, moreover, which I now feel would be—But we need' not discuss again the painful question, or open it up; it is so far res judicala. But if you feel yourself free at our first meeting of Session to move the withdrawal of the whole case, for the several reasons I have hinted at, and which I shall more fully explain to the Session, and if our friend Mr. Menzies is disposed to second your motion, I won't object."

Mr. Smellie was thankful, for reasons known to the reader, to accept Mr. Porteous' suggesi tion. He perceived at once how his being the originator of such a well-attested and official movement as was proposed, on behalf of the Sergeant, would be such a testimonial in his favour as would satisfy John Spence should the Sergeant die; and also have the same good results with all parties, as far as his own personal safety was concerned, should the Sergeant live.

With this understanding they parted.

Next day in church Mr. Porteous offered up a very earnest prayer for "one of our members, and an office-bearer of the congregation, who is in great distress," adding the petition that his invaluable life might be spared, and his wife comforted in her great distress. One might hear a pin fall while these words were being uttered; and never did the hearts of the congregation respond with a truer " Amen" to their minister's supplications.

At the next meeting of Session, Mr. Smellie brought forward his motion in most becoming and feeling terms. Indeed, no man could have appeared more feeling, more humble, or more charitable. Mr. Menzies seconded the motion with real good-will. Mr. Porteous then rose and expressed his regret that duty, principle, and faithfulness to all parties had compelled him to act as he had hitherto done; but from the interview he had had with Mrs. Mercer, and the explanations she had given him,—from the scene of solemn and afflicting chastisement he had witnessed in the Sergeant's house—and from his desire always to meet, as far as possible, the wishes of the Kirk Session, he was disposed to recommend Mr. Smellie's motion to their most favourable consideration. He also added that his own feelings had been much touched by all he had seen and heard, and that it would be a gratification to himself to forget and forgive the past.

Let us not inquire whether Mr. Porteous was consistent with his former self, but be thankful rather if he was not. Harmony with the true implies discord with the false. Inconsistency with our past self, when in the wrong, is a condition of progress, and consistency with what is right can alone secure it.

The motion was received with equal surprise and pleasure by the minority. Mr. Gordon, in his own name, and in the name of those who had hitherto supported him, thanked their Moderator for the kind and Christian manner in which he had acted. All protests and appeals to the Presbytery were withdrawn, and a minute to that effect was prepared with care by the minister, in which his "principles" were not compromised, while his "feelings" were cordially expressed. And so the matter "took end" by the restoration of Adam to his position as an elder.

No one was happier at the conclusion come to by the Session than the watchmaker. He said:—that he took the leeberty o' just makin' a remark to the effect that he thocht they wad a' be the better o' what had happened; for it was his opinion that even the best Kirk coorts, like the best toon clocks, whiles gaed wrang. Stoor dried up the ile and stopped the wheels till they gaed ower slow and dreich, far ahint the richt time. An' sae it was that baith coorts and clocks were therefore a hantle the better o' bein' scoored. He was quite sure that the Session wad gang fine and smooth after this repair. He also thanked the minister for his motion, without insinuating that he had caused the dust, but rather giving him credit for having cleared it away, and for once more oiling the machine. In this sense the compliment was evidently understood and accepted by Mr. Porteous. Even the solemn Mr. Smellie smiled graciously.


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