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The Manse of Lochhead was not a venerable, nor a beautiful house. It had none of the associations which sometimes cluster about an English parsonage. It had not been built above twenty years, and neither its dimensions nor its appearance were in the least manorial. But it was a comfortable square house, quite large enough for the owner’s wants and income, and important enough to represent the dignity of the minister, amid the humble roofs of the village. It was built on a slope of the braes which rose heathery and wild behind, and the prospect from its windows was as soft as if there had been no mountains within a hundred miles. The unequal combination of the great Highland range on one side, with the pastoral loch on the other, which gave a charm to the Glebe Cottage, was lost on this lower elevation.

The minister and the Dominie had dined together on the afternoon preceding an adjourned meeting of the Kirk Session, partly because it was habitual on the Saturday half-holiday, and partly to strengthen each other for the work before them. The hour of their dinner was four o’clock, which was as if you had said eight o’clock to that primitive community. When the meal was over they adjourned to the study to smoke the quiet pipe which was one of their bonds of union. The study was a small room with one window looking into a vast rose-bush, though peeps of the trim kitchen-garden were to be had on one side. You would have supposed that it would be natural for two such men to prefer the other side of the house, where the loch was visible, changing to a hundred opal tints as the shadows pursued the fleeting uncertain sunshine of its bosom. But they were very familiar with the view, and the little study at the back was the legitimate place for the pipe and the consultation.

‘I am always afraid of these violent men,’ said the minister, ‘and then they are so much in earnest. Earnestness is a fine quality, no doubt, but it’s very hard to keep it in bounds; and I cannot let things go{60} on as they are doing. They’ll soon take the very work out of my hands. Already it is not me but Ailie that’s at the head of the parish. And you tell me you’ll give me no help?’

‘It’s against my principles,’ said the Dominie. ‘Let alone, that’s ay my rule. I’m no for meddling with the development of the mind whatever form it takes. You may say it’s a childish way to take up religion; but so far as it’s gone there’s no harm.’

‘No harm! after what I told you of that scene at the Glebe, and the reprobate turned prophet,’ said Mr. Lothian, angrily.

‘You’re very sensitive about the Glebe. If it had been any other house in the parish it would not have gone so much to your heart.’

‘Well,’ said Mr. Lothian, ‘if I am, is it not natural? Two young creatures, so strangely situated, neither ladies, so to speak, nor simple lasses, though ladies in their hearts. And then that saint there is more like Heaven than earth. You need not smile. I do not disguise my feeling for her sister. It’s a mad notion for a man of my years, but I don’t disguise it. And yet it was of Margaret I thought.’

‘By all I hear,’ said the Dominie, ‘she’ll soon be out of all risk of disturbance.’

‘You speak at your ease,’ said the minister, rising in agitation to pace about the little room. ‘When Margaret Diarmid dies it will be like the quenching of a light to me, and more than me. And how can I protect her deathbed but by putting a stop to this? Her deathbed, aye, or her very grave. Have you forgot that they go further and further every day?’

‘I heard they were raising the dead,’ said the Dominie, calmly. ‘It’s the sense o’ power that leads them away.’

‘And they have power,’ said the minister, ‘that is the strangest of all. Wherever it comes from, from God or the devil, they have power in their hands. I cannot deny it—I cannot understand it. Are we to believe what we see in contradiction of every instinct, or are we to hold by reason and common sense, and the truth we understand, and give facts the lie? The thought is too much for me.’

‘And so you would put a stop to it?’ the Dominie said, with a long puff of smoke. ‘But ye’ll have discussion enough before that’s done. I’m more concerned for the two poor things at the Glebe. If Margaret dies, as she must die, what is to become of bonnie Isabel?’

The minister, though he was a man of vigorous frame, gave a momentary shiver, as if the cold had seized him, and then sat down again, and began to turn over his{61} papers, averting his face. ‘You know what would become of her,’ he said, ‘if I had my will.’

‘You would bring the lassie down here to be mistress and mair,’ said Galbraith. ‘I’m no blaming you, though I cannot understand it myself. You and me are more wiselike companions than her and you could ever be. If you had married in your youth, like most men, ye might have had a daughter of your own as old as she is now.’

‘I’ve said all that to myself,’ said the minister, ‘a hundred times over. But it makes no difference. And I can bear whatever may happen—but my heart craves this thing from the Lord, and no other, before I die.’

‘You’re taking up their phraseology, for all your objections to them,’ said the Dominie, with a little disdain.

‘It’s the phraseology of all that yearn,’ cried the minister. ‘Why should I not ask it of the Lord? It’s a lawful thing I crave. God do so to me and more also if I would not cherish her like Christ His Church. I am old enough to be her father, as you say; but I never loved woman till now, and that is the youth of the heart. The boy there is fond of her in his way—but what sort of a way? a fancy of the moment for her sweet face. And you’ll say it’s more natural. But I tell you, Galbraith, there is no nature in it,’ he said, once more rising in his excitement, ‘to link that creature’s pure soul to a hardened, heathen, self-seeking man of the world. I know the lad; he is near her in age, but in nothing else. She makes a God of him in her imagination; and when her eyes were opened, and she saw the loathly creature by her side, what would become of my Isabel? She would break her heart, and she would die.’

‘Her eyes might never be opened,’ said the Dominie, reflectively. ‘There’s no bounds to a woman’s power of deceiving herself. She might make a hero of him all her days, though he was but a demon to the rest of the world. And the lad is maybe not so ill as ye say.’

‘That would be worst of all—for then he would drag her down to his level, and blind her eyes to good and evil. No more,’ said the minister, with a trembling voice; ‘you mean, well, Galbraith, but you don’t know how hard all this is to bear.’

‘Maybe no—maybe no,’ was the answer; ‘but she might stay still at the Glebe for all I can see, as long as Jean Campbell is there to take care of her. Jean Campbell is a very decent woman. Margaret knows the worth of her, but no yon hasty lassie of an Isabel. As long as she is there there’s no such desperate necessity for a change.{62}’

‘And Margaret is living, and may live,’ said Mr. Lothian, sinking back into his easy chair.

The Dominie shook his head. ‘If one life could stand for another, I would be sore tempted to give her mine,’ he said; ‘it’s so little good to a man like me. I’ve had all that life can give. Ye may say it was a niggardly portion—daily bread and little more—no comfort to speak of, nothing like what you call success—no love beyond my mother’s when I was a lad. And yet, though there’s so little, I’ll have all the trouble of old age and death at the hinder end. Poor thing, she would be very welcome to my life if there was any possibility of a transfer. But ye must put away your profane thoughts, and get out your books, for yonder is Andrew White coming down the brae.’

Half an hour after the Kirk Session had met. The minister took his place at the head of the table, and Mr. Galbraith, with his book of minutes opened before him, prepared to fulfil his office of Session clerk. ‘I give no opinion,’ he had said to the other members of the court, ‘but I’m Session clerk, and I’ll not neglect my duty.’ There was a prayer to begin with, said by the minister, while they all stood up round the table, some with wide-open eyes and restless looks, some with bowed heads and reverence. And then the Dominie read the minutes of the last meeting, and the present one was constituted.

‘To appoint the Rev. the Moderator, Mr. Andrew White, and Mr. William Diarmid to inquire into the effect of the recent movement in the parish, with power to act against all presuming and schismatical persons that may be taking authority into their own hands.’

‘I have to ask the Moderator,’ said the Dominie, ‘if he is ready to present his report.’

‘I have to make an explanation instead,’ said the minister. ‘We were not agreed. What William Diarmid and myself found to be unreasonable and bordering upon enthusiasm. Andrew approved of with all his heart. I will give you the result of my own inquiries without prejudice to other members of the court. In the first place, there are two or three women who, contrary to all the rules of the church, and to the Apostle’s order, take upon them to speak and lead the prayers of the congregation——’

‘Wi’ a’ respect to the minister,’ said Andrew White, ‘I’ve ae small remark to make. If it had been contrary to the order of the Apostles, wherefore does St. Paul speak of the prophetesses that were to have a veil upon their heads? There’s plenty of passages I could quote to that——’

‘There’s ane that’s decisive to my way o’ thinking,{63} said William Diarmid. ‘That women are no to speak in the church.’

‘A law’s one thing,’ said Samuel of Ardintore. ‘But an institution that’s actually existing is mair to be remembered than ae mention of a rule against it, that might be nae law.’

‘We can leave that point,’ said the minister. ‘I say it is not for edification, that Ailie Macfarlane, though I have not a word to say against her, should be led away by her zeal to take up such a position in the parish. By custom and use, if by nothing else, such things are forbidden. I have not finished. I have to object further that persons holding no office in the church, neither ministers, nor licentiates, nor elders, have likewise taken a leading part, and prayed, and exhorted, and held meetings, that so far as I can see they had no authority for. If it is sanctioned by the Kirk Session, that is a different matter. But the fact is that there are meetings taking place in every quarter of the parish without the authority of the Kirk Session, or so much as a sanction either from the elders or from me.’

‘I must protest,’ Moderator, said Samuel Diarmid. ‘I cannot allow that the freedom of the subject is to be sae confined, that a man canna praise God with his neighbours without authority from the minister; that I canna allow.’

‘Ye may enter your protest,’ said the Dominie, ‘but the Moderator must say out his say.’

‘And now I come to what is most serious of all,’ said Mr. Lothian. ‘It is my opinion that these continual meetings, held by unauthorised persons, are doing harm and not good to the devout in this parish. I say nothing about the wonders that have attended the movement. These may have been delusion; but far be it from me to say that there’s been deception——’

‘There can be nae deception,’ said Andrew White, ‘in the work of the Lord.’

‘Whisht, man!’ said Samuel; ‘the question the minister puts, if no in as many words, is, If it is the work of the Lord?’

‘For my part,’ said Mr. William, ‘I’ve no objection to meetings now and then. It’s a good way of keeping the folk alive, and keeping up their interest; and I wouldna say that Ailie Macfarlane should be put to silence. I canna think but the Spirit in her comes from above; and we a’ know that she was raised up by a miracle. I wouldna put a stop to nothing. I would only give them rules to guide them, and appoint the meetings oursels; and let none take place without the minister and an elder, or one of the neighbour ministers; or if{64} that canna be, then twa elders, to see that things are done decently in order. That would be my proposition. No to let the parish go into ranting and violence; and at the same time, so far as it’s His doing, no to strive against the Lord.’

‘And are ye to dictate to the Lord what day He shall come and what day He shall bide?’ said Andrew. ‘If He gives a word of instruction to His servants, is the voice to be silenced by the Kirk Session? I’ll never give in to that. If it’s the work of man, let it come to an end; but dinna put your straw bands on the flame o’ the Spirit o’ God.’

‘That’s a’ very true,’ said Mr. Smeaton; ‘but if the word o’ the Lord was to come in the middle of the nicht, when the parish was sleeping, ye wouldna have the prophet rise up and ca’ the honest folk out of their beds? And if they can wait till the morning—or rather till the night after, for they’re a’ at night these prayer-meetings—what’s to hinder them to wait till anither day?’

‘It’s awfu’ carnal reasoning,’ said Samuel Diarmid; ‘but it’s no without meaning for them that ken no better. I wouldna object to William’s proposition mysel; but I canna answer for them that feel the word burning within them that they can bide for your set days.’

‘Your sawbaths and your new moons,’ said Andrew. ‘Na, ye might as well leemit the sun in his shining and the dew in its falling—they’ll speak in season and out of season. It was for that they were sent.’

But Mr. William’s conciliatory motion was at last carried after much more discussion. And the struggle did not break the bonds of amity which united the little assembly: Samuel Diarmid volunteered not only his advice, but a cart of guano to a certain field on the glebe, which, in his opinion, was not producing such a crop as it ought. ‘You’re no a married man yoursel, and it’s of less importance to ye,’ Samuel said, ‘but I canna bide to see land lying idle no more than men.’ And Andrew White announced the intention of the mistress to send the minister a skep of honey from the hills. ‘Ye keep nae bees yoursel, which is a pity,’ said the elder, always with that gentle touch of admonition with which the rural Scotch personage naturally addresses his clergyman. They parted in the soft gloaming, while still there was light enough to guide them on their respective ways. Mr. Smeaton, the stock farmer, had his horse waiting at John Macwhirter’s; and the others dropped in there on their homeward way to fight the battle over once more; all but Samuel and Andrew, who climbed the hill together to the mill, where the former was to take a bed for the night, his house being at the furthest limits of the parish, on the other side of ‘the braes.’

‘Yon was grand about the minister’s sermons, to his face,’ said Mr. Smeaton, as they went over the whole discussion in the smithy.

‘Ay, man; did they gang into that subject? I’m real glad o’t,’ said John Macwhirter; ‘he’s a learned man and a clever man, but he’s as fu’ of doctrines as an egg’s fu’ of meat. He’s no half practical enough for me.’

Thus it will be seen opinions differed widely even on the primitive shores of the Loch.


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