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Wilson's Border Tales
The Recollections of the Village Patriarch

Chapter 3

The Minister

A more excellent, worthy, and sincere man than Mr. Anderson, never entered a pulpit, or preached words of hope and consolation to sinners. He was not a flowery orator, or a fashionable preacher; but he was plain, simple, nervous, earnest. His homeliness and anxious sincerity, rivetted the attention of the most thoughtless; and, as a poet says—

‘They who came to scoff, remained to pray.’

I remember when he was first placed amongst us as minister of the parish, he was a mere youngster, but as primitive in his manners as if he had just come from the plough jests of a college. His faither was a farm steward upon the estate of the then member for the county; and the patronage being in the crown—as it is called—it was through the interest of the member that he got the kirk. About twelve months after he was placed, he took a wife, and his marriage gave great satisfaction to the whole congregation, at least to the poor and middle classes, who, of course, were the great majority. And the reason why his marriage gave such satisfacth was, that his wife was the daughter of a poor hind, that he had taken a liking to, when he was but a laddie and her a lassie; and he had promised her, when they came from the harvest field together (for while he was at the college, he always wrought in the harvest time), that, if he lived, and was spared to be a minister, she should be his wife. I am sorry to say that such promises are owre often neglected by young people, when either the one or the other of them happens to get their head up in the world. But our minister thereby showed that his heart was actuated by right principle and that he preferred happiness to every mercenary consideration. It showed, that he was desirous of domestic comfort and not ambitious of worldly aggrandisement. She was a bonny, quiet, discreet creature; and, if she hadna what ye may call the manners of a leddy, yet her modesty and good nature lent an air of politeness to everything she did. Her constant desire to please, far more than counterbalanced for her want of being what is called weel-bred; and if she had not gentility, she had what is of more importance in a minister’s wife—a pious mind, a cheerful and charitable dispositie and a meek spirit; and whatever she was ignorant of, there was one thing she was acquainted with—she

‘Knew her Bible true.’

But, after their marriage, he took great pains in instructing her in various branches of learning; and in that she made great proficiency, I am qualified to give evidence—for, when I have been present at the dinners after the sacrament occasions, I have heard her dispute wi’ the ministers upon point of divinity, history, and other matters, and maintain her ground very manfully, if I may say it.

I believe that a happier couple were not to be found in Great Britain. She bore unto him fourteen children, but of these, all, save two, a boy and a girl, died in infancy; and in giving birth to the last, the mother perished. It was on Sunday that she died; and I remember that, on the following Sabbath, her widowed husband entered the pulpit to preach her funeral sermon. His text was—‘Why should we mourn as those who have no hope?’ He proceeded with his discourse, but every few minutes he paused, he sobbed—the big tears ran down his cheeks, and all the congregation wept with him. At last he quoted the words—‘In the morning I preached to the people, and in the evening my wife died!’ His heart filled—the tears gushed from his eyes—he could say no more—he sank down on the seat, and covered his face with his hands. Two of the elders went up to the pulpit, and led him to the Manse; and the precentor of his own accord, giving out a psalm, the congregation sang it and dispersed.

I have mentioned to ye his two surviving bairns—the name of the laddie was Edward, and of the lassie, Esther. Edward was several years older than his sister; and from his youth upwards, he was a bold, sprightly, fearless callant. Often have I observed him playing the part of a captain and drilling the laddies of the village into squares and lines, like a little army; and as often have I heard him say that he would be nothing but a sodger. His faither (as every Christian ought to do) regarded war as a great wickedness and as an abomination that disgraced the earth; he, therefore, was grieved to see the military bent of his son’s inclination, and did everything in his power to break him from it. He believed and correctly too, that Edward had too much pride to enter the army as a common soldier, where he would be little better than a slave, and have to lift his hat to every puppy that wore an epaulette on his shoulder or a sash round his waist. The minister, therefore, was resolved that he would not advance the money to buy his son a commission.

"Here I must notice Johnny Grippy, who had never been kenned to perform a generous action in the whole course of his existence. He was a man that, if he had parted wi’ a bawbee, to save a fellow-creature from starvation, wadna, through vexation, have sleeped again for a week. If ony body had pleaded poverty to him, he would have asked them—‘What right they had to be poor?’ It would hae been more difficult for him to answer—‘What right he had to be rich?’ Johnny never forgave Mr Anderson for prohibiting him from being made an elder; and in his own quiet, but cruel way, he said he would see that he got satisfaction, to the last plack, for the insult. Now what do ye think the miser did? He absolutely offered young Maister Edward money to buy an ensign’s commission, at the moderate interest of ten per cent., and on the understanding that he would gie him four years’ credit for the interest and that he wadna request the principal until he was made a captain. This proposal was made for the sole and individual purpose of grieving and afflicting Mr. Anderson, and of being revenged on him. The silly laddie, dazzled wi’ the bright sword, and the gold-laced coat of an officer, and thinking it a grand thing to be a soldier—fancying himself a general a hero a conqueror in a hundred fights—swallowed the temptation, took the offered money on the conditions agreed to; and through the assistance of a college acquaintance, the son of a member of parliament, purchased a commission in a foot-regiment. All this was done without his father’s knowledge; and when John Grippy witnessed the good man’s tears as he parted with his son, his cold heart rejoiced that his revenge had been so far successful, and for once he regretted not having parted with his money without a sure bond being made doubly sure.

In a very few weeks after Edward Anderson joined his regiment, he accompanied it abroad; and twelve months had not passed, when the public papers contained an account of his having been promoted to the rank of lieutenant on the field, on account of his bravery.

But, listen, sir, to what follows.—It was on our fast-day, that the news arrived concerning a great victory in the Indies. We were all interested in the tidings, and the more particularly as we knew that our minister’s son was at the battle. His faither and his sister were in a state of great anxiety concerning him, for whether he was dead or living, they could not tell. The weather was remarkably fine, and as a great preacher was to serve some of the tables, and preach during the afternoon’s service, the kirk was crowded almost to suffocation, and it was found necessary to perform the ordinances in the open air. A green plot in front of the Manse, was chosen for the occasion, and which was capable of accommodating two or three thousand people. It was a grand sight to see such a multitude sitting on the green sward, singing the praises of their Maker; wi’ the great heavens aboon them for a canopy! its very glory and immensity rendering them incanable of appreciating its unspeakable magnificence, and rendering as less than the dust in the balance the temples of men’s hands. It reminded me of the days of the Covenant, when the pulpit was a mountain side, and its covering a cloud. Mr Anderson was a man whose very existence seemed linked with affection for his family. He had had great affection in it, and every death seemed to transfer the love that he had borne for the dead, in a stronger degree towards those that were left. His soul was built up in them. All the congregation observed that he was greatly agitated various times during his discourse. It was evident to all, that apprehensions for the fate of his son were forcing themselves upon his thoughts.

The postman at that time brought the letters from the next town every day about one o’clock. Mr. Anderson was serving the first table, and his face was towards the Manse, when the postman, approaching the door, waved his hand towards Miss Esther, who sat near it, as much as to say that he had a letter from her brother. The faither’s voice failed through agitation and anxiety, as he saw the letter in the postman’s hand, and abruptly concluding his exhortation, he sat down trembling, while his eyes remained as if fixed upon the letter. I, myself, observed as the postman passed me wi’ it in his hand, that it was sealed wi’ black. I regarded it as a fatal omen, and I at first looked towards the minister to see whether he had observed it; but I believe that his eyes were so blinded wi’ tears that he could not perceive it; and I then turned round towards Miss Esther, who I observed hastening to take the letter in her hand. At the sight of the black seal, she almost fainted upon the ground; and I saw the poor thing shaking as a leaf that quivers in the wind. But when, wi’ a hurried and trembling hand, she had broken the seal, she hadna read three lines until the letter dropped upon the ground, and, clasping her hands together, wi’ a wild, heart-piercing scream, that sounded wildly through the worship of the people, she exclaimed—‘My brother!—my brother!’ and fell wi’ her face upon the ground. The spectators raised her in their arms. Her father’s heart could hold no longer. He rushed through the multitude—he snatched up the fatal letter. It bore the postmark of Bengal, but it was not the handwriting of his son. He, too, seemed to read but a line, when he smote his hand upon his forehead, and exclaimed in agony—‘My son! my son!—my poor Edward!’

His gallant boy was one of those who were slain and buried upon the field; and the letter, which was from his colonel, recorded his courage, his virtues, and his death! All the people rose, and sorrow and sympathy seemed on every countenance save one—and that was the face of the auld miser and hypocrite, Johnny Grippy. The body seemed actually to glut, wi’ a malicious delight, over the misery and affliction of which he, in a measure, had been the cause; and, though he did try to screw his mouth into a form of pity or compassion, and squeezed his een together to make them water, I more than once observed the twittering streak of satisfaction and delight pass owre his cheeks, just as ye have seen the shadow of a swift cloud pass owre a field of waving grain. I hated the auld miser for his very looks and his attempted hypocrisy; and, forgive me for saying so, but I believe, if at that moment it had been in my power to have annihiliated him, I would have done it. The man who does the work of iniquity openly or through error, I would pray for; but he that does it beneath the mask of virtue or religion, I would exterminate.

It was many weeks before Mr. Anderson was able to resume his place in the pulpit again; and his daughter, also, took the death of her brother greatly to heart. The whole parish sought to condole wi’ them, not even excepting young Laird Cochrane of the Ha’, who had not then come to the estate. I firmly believe, sir, that he was a predestinated villain from his cradle, for he showed symptoms of the most disgusting depravity more early than ever laddie did. The aulder he grew, when he was in the country, he went the more about the Manse, and Esther was nearly about his own age. She a lassie that I would call the very perfection of loveliness—simple, artless, confiding, but not without a sprinkling of woman’s vanity. There was a laddie, the son of Thomas Elliot, or Neer-do-weel Tam, as he was commonly called, that was very fond of her; he was a fine, deserving callant, and all the town thought that she was fond of him. But the young laird put himself forward as his rival, and the one was rich and the other poor. The laird of the Ha’ sent daily presents of geese, turkies, and all sorts of game in their season to the Manse; and he also presented rings, trinkets, and other fine things to Esther; while the other, who was considered a sort of poet in the neighbourhood, could only say, as a sang that I hear them singing now-a-days, says—

‘My heart and lute are all my store, And these I bring to thee.’

The laird was also an adept in flattery, in its most cunningly devised forms. Now, sir, it is amazing what an effect the use of such means will ultimately produce on the best regulated minds. They are like the constant dropping that weareth away a stone. Though unconscious of it herself, Esther, who was but a young thing, began to listen with more patience, to the addresses of the heir of the Ha’; and she occasionally exhibited something like dryness and petulance in the presence of poor Alexander Elliot—for such was his name. At the very first shadow of change upon her countenance, his spirit became bitter wi’ jealousy, and he rashly charged her wi’ deserting him for the sake of the young laird and the estate to which he was heir. This was a tearing assunder of the silken cords, that for years had held their hearts together. He was proud, and so was she—they became distrustful of each other, and at length they quarrelled, and parted never to meet again. I have heard it said, that it was partly to be revenged on Alexander, that Esther gave an ear to the addresses of the laird: but that is a subject on which I offer no opinion. All that I know is, that Alexander enlisted, and went out to join his regiment in the West Indies. The laird followed Esther like her shadow; and every one, save myself, said that there would be a marriage between them. Even her worthy faither seemed to dream in the golden delusion; and, I am sorry to say, that I believe he was in no small degree the cause of finally breaking off the intimacy between her and Alexander Elliot. She was, as I have informed ye, a sensitive, confiding lassie and the laird, who had a honied tongue, succeeded not only, in the long run, in gaining her affections, but in making her to believe in his very looks; for being incapable of falsehood herself, she did not suspect it in others, and least of all in those who had obtained a place in her heart.

The young villain went so far as, in her presence to ask her faither’s consent to their marriage; and the auld laird being then dead, the minister agreed. It was not long after this, that the scapegrace went to London, and Esther began to droop like a flower nipped wi’ a frost. Half a dozen times in the day her faither found her in tears, and he endeavoured to comfort and to cheer her; but his efforts were unavailing. It pained his heart, which had already been sorely chastened by affliction, to behold the youngling and last of his flock, pining away before him. The young laird neither returned nor wrote, and he suspected not the cause of his daughter’s grief. The first hint he got of it, was from his elders assembled in session. The old man in agony, fell back—he gasped, he smote his breast, and tore his grey hairs. In his agony he cried, that his Maker had forsaken him. The elders sought to condole wi’ him, but it was in vain; he was carried to the Manse, and he never preached more. His heart was broken, and, before a month passed, the thread of life snapped also.

Wi’ the weight of her own shame and sorrow, and her faither’s death, poor Esther became dementit. About nine weeks after her faither’s funeral, she gave birth to a stillborn child; and it was a happy thing, that the infant and its mother were buried at the same time, in the same grave.

Such, sir, is all that is necessary for me to inform ye concerning our late worthy minister; and, of the young laird, ye shall hear more presently, in the history of---

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