Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter VII. -
The Sergeant on his Trial
THE Sergeant went to church in the
afternoon, but he went alone. Katie was unable to accompany him. "She
didna like," she said. But this excuse being not quite satisfactory to her
conscience, she had recourse to that accommodating malady which comes to
the rescue of universal Christendom when in perplexity —a headache. In her
case it really existed as a fact, for she suffered from a genuine pain
which she had not sufficient knowledge or fashion to call " nervous," but
which, more than likely, really came under that designation. Her symptoms,
as described by herself, were that "her head was bizzin' and bummin' like
a bees' skep."
As the Sergeant marched to church, with
his accustomed regular pace and modest look, lie could, without seeming to
remark it, observe an interest taken in his short journey never manifested
before. An extra number of faces filled the windows near his house, and
looked at him with half smile, half sneer.
There was nothing in the sermon of Mr
Porteous which indicated any wish to "preach to the times,"—a temptation
which is often too strong for preachers to resist who have nothing else
ready or more interesting to preach about. Many in a congregation who may
be deaf and blind to the Gospel, are wide-awake and attentive to gossip,
from the pulp,. The good roan delivered himself of an excellent sermon,
which, as usual, was sound in doctrine and excellent in arrangement, with
suitable introduction, "heads of discourse," and practical conclusion. His
hearers, as a whole, were not of a character likely either to blame or
praise the teaching, far less to be materially influenced by it. They were
far too respectable and well-informed for that. They had "done the' right
thing" in coming to church as usual, and were satisfied. There was one
remark often made in the minister's praise, that he was singularly exact
in preaching forty-five minutes, and in dismissing the congregation at the
hour and a half.
But there were evident signs of life in
the announcement which he made at the end of this day's service. He
"particularly requested a meeting of Kirk Session in the vestry after the
benediction, and expressed a hope that all the elders would, if possible,
Adam Mercer snuffed the battle from
afar; but as it was his "duty" to obey the summons, he obeyed accordingly.
The Kirk Session, in spite of defects
which attend all human institutions, including the House of Lords, with
its Bench of Bishops, is one of the most useful courts in Scotland, and
has contributed immensely in very many ways to improve the moral and
physical condition of the people. Its members, as a rule, are the strength
and comfort of the minister, and it is, generally speaking, his own fault
if they are not. In the parish of Drumsylie the Session consisted of seven
elders, with the Minister as "Moderator." These elders represented very
fairly, on the whole, the sentiments of the congregation and parish on
most questions which could come before them.
As all meetings of Kirk Session are
held in private, reporters and lawyers being alike excluded, we shall not
pretend to give any account of what passed at this one. The parish rumours
were to the effect that the "Moderator," after having given a narrative of
the occurrences of the morning, explained how many most important
principles were involved in the case as it now stood—principles affecting
the duty and powers of Kirk Sessions; the social economy of the parish ;
the liberties and influence of the Church, and the cause of Christian
truth; and concluded by suggesting the appointment of two members, Mr.
Smellie and Mr. Menzies, to "deal" with Mr. Mercer, and to report to the
next meeting of Session. This led to a sharp discussion, in which Mr.
Gordon, a proprietor in the neighbourhood, protested against any matter
which "he presumed to characterise as trifling and unworthy of their grave
attention," being brought before them at all. He also appealed the whole
case to the next meeting of Presbytery, which unfortunately was not to
take place for two months.
The Sergeant, strange to say, lost his
temper when, having declared "upon his honour as a soldier" that he meant
no harm, and could therefore make no apology, he was called to order by
the Moderator for using such a word as "honour" in a Church court.
Thinking his honour itself called in question, Adam abruptly left the
meeting. Mr. Gordon, it was alleged, had been seen returning home, at one
moment laughing, and the next eidently crying because of these
proceedings; and more than one of the elders, it was rumoured, were
disposed to join him, but were afraid of offending Mr. Porteous—a fear not
unfrequently experienced in the case of many of his parishioners. The
minister, it may be remarked, was fond of quoting the text, "first pure,
then peaceable." But he never seemed to have attained the "first" in
theory, if one might judge from his neglect of the second in practice.
It was after this meeting of Session
that Mr. Smellie remarked to Mr. Menzies, as we have already recorded,
that "the man was aince a poacher!" a fact which, by the way, he had
communicated to Mr. Porteous also for the sake of "edification." Mr.
Smellie bore a grudge towards the Sergeant, who had somehow unwittingly
ruffled his vanity or excited his jealousy. He was smooth as a cat; and,
like a cat, could purr, fawn, see in the dark, glide noiselessly, or make
a sudden spring on his prey. The Sergeant, from certain circumstances
which shall be hereafter noticed, understood his character as few in the
parish did. Mr. Menzies was a different, and therefore better man, his
only fault being that he believed in Srnellie.
The Sergeant was later than usual in
returning home. It was impossible to conceal from the inquiring and
suspicious look of his wife that something was out of joint, to the extent
at least of making it allowable and natural on her part to ask, "What's
wrang noo, Adam?"
"Nothing particular, except wi' my
honour," was the Sergeant's cool reply.
"Yer honour! What's wrang wi' that?"
The minister," said the Sergeant, "doots
it, and he tells me that it was wrang to speak aboot it."
On this, Katie, who did not quite
comprehend his meaning, begged to know what had taken place. "What did
they say? What did they do?
Wha spak'?" And she poured out a number
of questions which could not speedily be answered. We hope it will not
diminish the reader's interest in this excellent woman if we admit that
for a moment she, too, became the slave of gossip. We deny that this
prostration of the heart and head to a mean idol is peculiar to woman--
this craving for small personal talk, this love of knowledge regarding
one's neighbours in those points especially which are not to their credit,
or which at least are naturally desired by them to be kept secret from the
world. Weak, idle, and especially vain men are as great traffickers as
women in this dissocial intercourse. Like small insects, they use their
small stings for annoyance, and are flattered when they make strong men
Katie's fit was but momentary, and in
the whole circumstances of the case excusable.
The Sergeant told her of his pass at
arms, and ended with an indignant protest about his honour, "What do they
mak'," partly asserted, partly inquired Katie, "o' 'Honour to whom honour?
'and 'Honour all men?'—and 'Honour the king?' —and 'Honour faither and
mither?.'—what I did a' my life ! I'll maintain the word is Scriptoral!"
But the Sergeant, not being critical or
controversial, did not wish to contend with his wife on the connexion
which, as she supposed, existed between the word honour, and his word of
honour. His mind was becoming perplexed and filled with painful thoughts.
This antagonism into which he had been driven with those whom he had
hitherto respected and followed with un, hesitating confidence, was
growing rapidly into a form and shape which was beyond his
experience—alien to his quiet and unobtrusive disposition, and contrary to
his whole purpose of life. He sat down by the fireside, and went over all
the events of the day. He questioned himself as to what he had said or
done to give offence to mortal man. He recalled the history of his
relationship to the starling, to see, if possible, any wrong-doing in it.
He reviewed the scene in the Kirk Session; and his conclusion, on the one
hand, was a stone blindness as to the existence of any guilt on his part,
and on the other, a strong suspicion that his minister could not do him a
wrong—could not be so displeased upon unjust, ignorant, or unrighteous
grounds, and that consequently there was a something—though what it was he
could neither discover nor guess—which Mr. Porteous had misunderstood and
had been misled by. He went over and over again the several items of this
long account of debit and credit, without being able to charge aught
against himself, except. possibly his concealment from his minister of the
reason why the 4tarling was so much beloved, and also the fact perhaps of
his having taken offence, without adequate cause, at the meeting of
Session. The result of all these complex cogitations between himself and
the red embers in the grate, was a resolution to go that evening to the
Manse, and by a frank explanation put an end to all misunderstanding. In
his pure heart the minister was reflected as a man of righteousness, love,
and peace. He almost became annoyed with the poor starling especially as
it seemed to enjoy perfect ease and comfort on its perch, where it had
settled for the night.
By and by he proceeded to call upon the
minister, but did not confide the secret to Katie.
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