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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XII. - Adam Mercer, Sergeant, But not Elder

NEXT morning the announcement of the Sergeant's suspension from the eldership was conveyed to him by an official document from Mr. Mackintosh, the Session clerk and parish schoolmaster ;—a good, discreet man, who did his duty faithfully, loyally voted always with the minister from an earnest belief that it was right to do so, and who made it his endeavour as a member of society to meddle with nobody, in the good hope that nobody would meddle with him. Every man can find his own place in this wide world.

Katie heard the news, but, strange to say, was not so disconcerted as Adam anticipated. In proportion as difficulties gathered round her husband, she became more resolute, and more disposed to fight for him. She was like many women on their first voyage, who in calm weather are afraid of a slight breeze and the uneasy motion. of the ship, yet who, when actual danger threatens, rise up in the power and dignity of their nature, and become the bravest of the brave—their very feeling and fancy, which shrank from danger while it was unseen, coming to their aid as angels of hope when danger alone is visible.

"Aweel, aweel," remarked Katie; "it's their ain loss, Adam, no' yours; ye hae naething to charge yersel' wi'."

But she would sometimes relapse into a meditative mood, as the more painful side of the case revealed itself. "Ay noo—ay—and they hae suspended ye?—that's hanged ye, as I suppose, like a dog or cat! Bonnie-like Session! —my word!—and for what? Because ye wadna kill the bird! Teuch! It micht pit a body daft tae think o't!" And so on.

But this did little good to Adam, who felt his character, his honour, at stake. Things were daily getting worse to bear. The news had spread over the town, "Adam Mercer has been rebuked and suspended by the Kirk Session!" From that moment he became a marked man. Old customers fell away from him ; not that any openly declared that they would not employ him as a shoemaker merely because the minister and Kirk Session were opposed to him: —Oh, no! Not a hint was given of that, or anything approaching to it; but, somehow, new shoes seemed to have gone out of fashion in Drumsylie.

The cold unfeeling snowball increased as it rolled along the street in which Adam lived, until it blocked up his door, so that he could hardly get out. If he did go, it was to be subjected to constant annoyance. The boys an girls of the lowest class in his neighbourhood, influenced by all they heard discussed and asserted in their respective homes, where reserve was not the characteristic of the inmates, were wont to gather round his window, and to peer into the interior with an eager gaze, as if anxious to discover some fitting fuel to enlighten their domestic hearths at night. It was as impossible to seize them as to catch a flock of sparrows settled down upon a seed plot in a garden. When the Sergeant therefore ventured to go abroad, the nickname of "The Starling" was shouted after him by the boys, who adopted all the various modes of concealing their ringleaders which evidence such singular dexterity and cunning. The result was that Adam was compelled, as we have said, t6 keep within doors. He thus began to feel as if he was alone in the world. Every one seemed changed. Those on whom he had hitherto relied failed him.

He or the world was worse than he had ever imagined either to be, and it was little comfort to him to know which of the two was wrong.

The Sergeant, however, enjoyed much inward peace though little happiness. For how different is peace from happiness! Happiness is the result of harmony between our wants as creatures and the world without: peace is the harmony between us as spiritual beings and the Father of our spirits. The one is as changeable as the objects or circumstances on which it for the moment relies; the other is as unchangeable as the God on whom it eternally rests. We may thus possess at once real happiness and real peace; yet either may exist without the other. Nay more, happiness may be destroyed by God in order that the higher blessing of peace may be possessed; but never will He take away peace to give happiness! Happiness without peace is temporal, but peace along with happiness is eternal.

Adam, as we have said, enjoyed little happiness in the conflict in which he was engaged. but he was kept in "perfect peace."

When another Sunday came round, the old sense of duty induced him to go, as usual, to church. His absence might be supposed to indicate that he feared the face of man, because fearing the face of God. Katie accompanied him. Her courage rose to the occasion. Let not the reader who, moving in a larger sphere of life,, has learned to measure his annoyances by a larger standard, smile at these simple souls, or think it an exaggeration thus to picture their burden as having been so heavy.

Adam and Katie walked along the street, knowing all the time that they did so under the gaze of the cold and criticising eyes of some who were disposed to say to them, "Stand back, I am holier than thou!" Yet more persons than they themselves were aware of felt towards them kindness, pity, and respect, mingled with very opposite feelings to those of the minister and the members of Kirk Session who had made so much ado about so small an affair. Others forgot the sympathy due to a suffering, good man, apart from its immediate cause. Many of his worthy friends said afterwards that they "did not think of it!" Alas! this not thinking is often the worst form of thought.

Adam and Katie passed Smellie, as he stood at "the plate," without the slightest recognition on either side. They occupied their accustomed seat, but sat alone. Those who ordinarily filled the pew suffered from cold or conscience, and so were either absent or seated elsewhere. One may guess what sort of sermon Mr. Porteous preached from the text, "Beware of evil doers." The personal reference to the Sergeant was like a theme pervading his overture; or as an idea not so much directly expressed as indirectly insinuated from first to last. The argument was a huge soap-bubble of what he called "principle" blown from his pipe until he could blow no longer, and which when fully developed he contemplated with admiration, as if it were a glorious globe of thought that must necessarily be heavenly because reflecting to his eyes the colours of the rainbow. His picture of the danger of the times in which he lived was very vivid, and his hopes of any improvement very small. The history of society seemed but a record of degeneracy since the first century of the Christian era. But whoever proved a traitor, he himself, he said, would still earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints;, and his trumpet, at least, should never give an uncertain sound; and he would hold fast the form of sound words:—and so on he went until his forty-five minutes were ended.

That the preacher was perfectly sincere, no one could doubt. He was no coward, or make- believe, but was thoroughly convinced. He would at any time have given up his "all" for his it and given his body even to be burned for them without fear - yet possibly "without charity."

We do not condemn Mr. Porteous's "principles." They. were, most of them, what might be called Christian truisms, which no one believing in the supreme authority of the Bible, far less any parish minister, could dispute. But the practical application of his principles by the minister on certain occasions, as on this one,' might be questioned. He might also have considered whether there were not many other Bible and Christian principles of wider import and deeper spiritual meaning, than those he contended for, and gave such prominence to, not excluding but including his special favourites, which he required to know before he could really understand or truly apply those even which he so- tenaciously held and so frequently expounded. Half truths are untruths. A man who always tried to stand on his head might be as well without one.

Adam accepted the heavy fire from the pulpit with calm submission. He knew that very many in the congregation while listening to the minister were looking at himself; but, knowing also how much depends in every battle on the steadiness and self-possession of the non-commissioned officers, he looked the enemy in the face and never winced. Katie seemed inspired by his example-so far, at least, that she neither fled nor fainted; and though not daring to gaze on the foe, she braved his charge as if kneeling in the rear rank, with a calm countenance, but with eyes cast down to the ground.

Poor Katie! What would Waterloo have been to her in comparison with that day's mental battle in the kirk! The one was an honourable conflict; but this was reckoned by those whom she respected as one of dishonour. In the one was danger of wounds and of death; but in this were deeper wounds, and danger possibly beyond the grave! How often did the form of her old "faither" come before her—though she thought it strange that he did not seem to frown. But she never communicated her fears or feelings to her husband. "He has eneuch to carry w'oot me," she said.

As they left the church, more than one person took an opportunity of addressing the Sergeant, and, to the credit of all, not one uttered an unkindly word. Some shook him warmly by the hand, but said nothing. Others added, "God bless ye! Dinna heed, Mr. Mercer. It'll come a' richt yet." Mr. Gordon and one or two of the elders were marked in their kindness. It would not have conduced to the comfort of the minister, though it might have made him doubt how far his people really sympathised with him or his "principles," had he heard some of the remarks made after the sermon by the more intelligent and independent of his congregation. But his ignorance was to him a kind of bliss; and whatever tended or threatened to disturb his self- satisfaction would have been recognised by him as folly, not wisdom.

Adam could not shut his ears, but he could hold his tongue; and he did so.

The worthy couple walked home in silence, and arm-in-arm too! for the first time probably in their lives. Mary, whom we forgot to mention, followed them in new shoes, a new bonnet, a new shawl, with her Bible wrapped up in a clean pocket-handkerchief. As they entered their home, the starling received them with quite a flutter of excitement. Shaking his feathers, hopping violently about his cage, or thrusting his bill, as if for a kiss, between the bars, he welcomed Mary, as she approached him with some food, and made the room ring with various declarations as to his being Charlie's bairn, his hopes of being yet a king, and his belief in genuine manhood.

"I think," quoth the Sergeant, "he is ane o' the happiest and maist contented bit cratur in the parish."

Mary, as if feeling that it was right to say something good on Sunday, archly put in, "I mind what ye telt me aboot the bird."

"What was't, my bairn?" asked Adam.

"It was aboot the fowls—I dinna mind a' the verse, but a bit o't was, 'Are not ye better than the fowls?'"

"Thank ye for the comfort, Mary dear," said Adam, gravely.

From some common instinct of their hearts, Mr. Porteous' sermon was not spoken of. Was it because Mary was present? or only because Katie was so anxious to see the cheese well toasted for their tea? or because—yet why go on conjecturing! But at evening worship, which closed the day, Adam, as usual, prayed for his minister, and for God's blessing on the preacher's word; and he prayed to be delivered from evildoing, and from fretting at evil-doers, and to be enabled to put his trust in God and do good. Katie on rising from her knees did what she never did before—kissed her husband, saying, "God bless you, my best o' men!"

"Gae awa', gae awa'!" said the Sergeant; "ye want to gaur me greet like yersel', do ye? But na, lass, I'm ower auld a sodger for that!" With all his boasting, however, he was very nearly betrayed into the weakness which he professed to despise. But he seemed greatly pleased with his good wife's kindness, and he added, "Bless you, my braw leddy, a' the same. And," in a whisper, "ye needna let on to Mary that I'm fashed. It micht vex the lassie."

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