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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter IV. - The Rev. Daniel Porteous


R. PORTEOUS had been minister of the parish for upwards of thirty years. Previously he had been tutor in the family of a small laird who had political interest in those old times, and through whose influence with the patron of the parish he had obtained the living of Drumsylie. He was a man of unimpeachable character. No one could charge him with any act throughout his whole life inconsistent with the "walk and conversation" becoming his profession. Performed all the duties of his office with the regularity of a well-adjusted, well-oiled machine. He visited the sick, and spoke the right words to the afflicted, the widow, and the orphan, very much in the same calm, regular, and orderly manner in which he addressed the Presbytery or wrote out a minute of Kirk Session. Never did a man possess a larger or better-assorted collection of what he called "principles" in the carefully-locked cabinet of his brain, applicable at any moment to any given ecclesiastical or theological question which was likely to come before him. He made no distinction between "principles" and his own mere opinions. The dixit of truth and the dixit of Porteous were looked upon by him as one. He had, never been accused of. error on any point, however trivial, except on one occasion when, in the Presbytery, a learned clerk of great authority interrupted a speech of his by suggesting that their respected friends was speaking heresy. Mr. Porteous exclaimed, to the satisfaction of all, "I was not aware of it, Moderator! but if such is the opinion of the Presbytery, I have no hesitation in instantly withdrawing my unfortunate and unintentional assertion." His mind ever after was a round, compact ball of logically spun theological worsted, wound up, and "made up." The glacier, clear, cold, and stern, descends into the valley full of human habitations, corn-fields, and vineyards, with flowers and fruit-trees on every side; and though its surface melts occasionally, it remains the glacier still. So it had hitherto been with him. He preached the truth—truth which is the world's life and which stirs the angels----but too often as a telegraphic wire transmits the most momentous intelligence: and he grasped it as a sparrow grasps the wire by which the message is conveyed. The parish looked up to him, obeyed him, feared him, and so respected him that they were hardly conscious of not quite loving him. Nor was he conscious of this blank in their feelings; for feelings and tender affections were in his estimation generally dangerous and always weak commodities,—a species of womanly sentimentalism, and apt sometimes to be rebellious against his "principles,' as the stream will sometimes overflow the rocky sides that hem it in and direct its course. It would be wrong to deny that he possessed his own "fair humanities." He had friends who sympathised with him; and followers who thankfully accepted him as a safe light to guide them, as one stronger than themselves to lean on, and as one whose word was law to them. To all such he could be bland anci courteous; and in their society he would even relax, and indulge in such, anecdotes and laughter as bordered on genuine hilarity. As to what was deepest and truest in the man we know not, but we believe there was real good beneath the wood, hay, and stubble of formalism and pedantry. There was doubtless a kernel within the hard shell, if only the shell could be cracked. Might not this be done? We shall see.

It was this worthy man who, after visiting a sick parishioner, suddenly came round the corner of the street in which the Sergeant lived. He was, as we said, on his way to church, and the bell had not yet begun to ring for morning worship. Before entering the Sergeant's house (to do which, after the scene he had witnessed, was recognised by him to be an important duty), he went up to the cage to make himself acquainted with all the facts of the case, so as to proceed with it regularly. He accordingly put on his spectacles and looked at the bird, and the bird, without any spectacles, returned the inquiring gaze with most wonderful composure. Walking sideways along his perch, until near the minister, he peered at him full in the face, and confessed that he was Charlie's bairn. Then, after a preliminary kic and kirr, as if clearing his throat, he whistled two bars of the air, "Wha'll be king, but Charlie!" and, concluding with his aphorism, "A man's a man for a' that!" he whetted his beak and retired to feed in the presence of the Church dignitary.

"I could not have believed it!" exclaimed the minister, as he walked into the Sergeant's house, with a countenance by no means indicating the sway of amiable feelings.


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