Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Facing His Enemy.
Forty years ago there stood in the lower part of the city of Glasgow a large, plain building which was to hundreds of very intelligent Scotchmen almost sacred ground. It stood among warehouses and factories, and in a very unfashionable quarter; but for all that, it was Dr. William Morrison's kirk. And Dr. Morrison was in every respect a remarkable man--a Scotchman with the old Hebrew fervor and sublimity, who accepted the extremest tenets of his creed with a deep religious faith, and scorned to trim or moderate them in order to suit what he called "a sinfu' latitudinarian age."
Such a man readily found among the solid burghers of Glasgow a large "following" of a very serious kind, douce, dour men, whose strongly-marked features looked as if they had been chiselled out of their native granite--men who settled themselves with a grave kind of enjoyment to listen to a full hour's sermon, and who watched every point their minister made with a critical acumen that seemed more fitting to a synod of divines than a congregation of weavers and traders.
A prominent man in this remarkable church was Deacon John Callendar. He had been one of its first members, and it was everything to his heart that Jerusalem is to the Jew, or Mecca to the Mohammedan. He believed his minister to be the best and wisest of men, though he was by no means inclined to allow himself a lazy confidence in this security. It was the special duty of deacons to keep a strict watch over doctrinal points, and though he had never had occasion to dissent in thirty years' scrutiny, he still kept the watch.
In the temporal affairs of the church it had been different. There was no definite creed for guidance in these matters, and eight or ten men with strong, rugged wills about L, s., d., each thinking highly of his own discretion in monetary affairs, and rather indifferently of the minister's gifts in this direction, were not likely to have always harmonious sessions.
They had had a decidedly inharmonious one early in January of 184-, and Deacon Callendar had spoken his mind with his usual blunt directness. He had been a good deal nettled at the minister's attitude, for, instead of seconding his propositions, Dr. Morrison had sat with a faraway, indifferent look, as if the pending discussion was entirely out of his range of interest. John could have borne contradiction better. An argument would have gratified him. But to have the speech and statistics which he had so carefully prepared fall on the minister's ear without provoking any response was a great trial of his patience. He was inwardly very angry, though outwardly very calm; but Dr. Morrison knew well what a tumult was beneath the dour still face of the deacon as he rose from his chair, put on his plaid, and pulled his bonnet over his brows.
"John," he said kindly, "you are a wise man, and I aye thought so. It takes a Christian to lead passion by the bridle. A Turk is a placid gentleman, John, but he cannot do it."
"Ou, ay! doubtless! There is talk o' the Turk and the Pope, but it is my neighbors that trouble me the maist, minister. Good-night to ye all. If ye vote to-night you can e'en count my vote wi' Dr. Morrison's; it will be as sensible and warld-like as any o' the lave."
With this parting reflection he went out. It had begun to snow, and the still, white solitude made him ashamed of his temper. He looked up at the quiet heavens above him, then at the quiet street before him, and muttered with a spice of satisfaction, "Speaking comes by nature, and silence by understanding. I am thankfu' now I let Deacon Strang hae the last word. I'm saying naught against Strang; he may gie good counsel, but they'll be fools that tak it."
"Hout, Davie! Whatna for are you here?"
"It began to snow, and I thought you would be the better of your cloak and umbrella. You seem vexed, uncle."
"Vexed? Ay. The minister is the maist contrary o' mortals. He kens naething about church government, and he treats gude siller as if it wasna worth the counting; but he's a gude man, and a great man, Davie, and folk canna serve the altar and be money-changers too. I ought to keep that i' mind. It's Deacon Strang, and no the minister."
"Well, uncle, you must just thole it; you know what the New Testament says?"
"Ay, ay; I ken it says if a man be struck on one cheek, he must turn the other; but, Davie, let me tell you that the man who gets the first blow generally deserves the second. It is gude Christian law no to permit the first stroke. That is my interpretation o' the matter."
"I never thought of that."
"Young folk don't think o' everything."
There was something in the tone of this last remark which seemed to fit best into silence, and David Callendar had a particular reason for not further irritating his uncle. The two men without any other remark reached the large, handsome house in Blytheswood Square which was their home. Its warmth and comfort had an immediate effect on the deacon. He looked pleasantly at the blazing fire and the table on the hearthrug, with its basket of oaten cakes, its pitcher of cream, and its whiskey-bottle and toddy glasses. The little brass kettle was simmering before the fire, his slippers were invitingly warm, his loose coat lying over the back of his soft, ample chair, and just as he had put them on, and sank down with a sigh of content, a bright old lady entered with a spicy dish of kippered salmon.
"I thought I wad bring ye a bit relish wi' your toddy, deacon. Talking is hungry wark. I think a man might find easier pleasuring than going to a kirk session through a snowstorm."
"A man might, Jenny. They'd suit women-folk wonderfu'; there's plenty o' talk and little wark."
"Then I dinna see ony call to mak a change, deacon."
"Now, Jenny, you've had the last word, sae ye can go to bed wi' an easy mind. And, Jenny, woman, dinna let your quarrel wi' Maggie Launder come between you and honest sleep. I think that will settle her," he observed with a pawky smile, as his housekeeper shut the door with unnecessary haste.
Half an hour afterwards, David, mixing another glass of toddy, drew his chair closer to the fire, and said, "Uncle John, I want to speak to you."
"Speak on, laddie;" but David noticed that even with the permission, cautious curves settled round his uncle's eyes, and his face assumed that business-like immobility which defied his scrutiny.
"I have had a very serious talk with Robert Leslie; he is thinking of buying Alexander Hastie out."
"Why not think o' buying out Robert Napier, or Gavin Campbell, or Clydeside Woolen Works? A body might as weel think o' a thousand spindles as think o' fifty."
"But he means business. An aunt, who has lately died in Galloway, has left him L2,000."
"That isna capital enough to run Sandy Hastie's mill."
"He wants me to join him."
"And how will that help matters? Twa thousand pounds added to Davie Callendar will be just L2,000."
"I felt sure you would lend me L2,000; and in that case it would be a great chance for me. I am very anxious to be--"
"Your ain maister."
"Not that altogether, uncle, although you know well the Callendars come of a kind that do not like to serve. I want to have a chance to make money."
"How much of your salary have you saved?"
"I have never tried to save anything yet, uncle, but I am going to begin."
The old man sat silent for a few moments, and then said, "I wont do it, Davie."
"It is only L2,000, Uncle John."
"Only L2,000! Hear the lad! Did ye ever mak L2,000? Did ye ever save L2,000? When ye hae done that ye'll ne'er put in the adverb, Davie. Only L2,000, indeed!"
"I thought you loved me, uncle."
"I love no human creature better than you. Whatna for should I not love you? You are the only thing left to me o' the bonnie brave brother who wrapped his colors round him in the Afghan Pass, the brave-hearted lad who died fighting twenty to one. And you are whiles sae like him that I'm tempted--na, na, that is a' byganes. I will not let you hae the L2,000, that is the business in hand."
"If you will hear the truth, that second glass o' whiskey is reason plenty. I hae taken my ane glass every night for forty years, and I hae ne'er made the ane twa, except New Year's tide."
"That is fair nonsense, Uncle John. There are plenty of men whom you trust for more than L2,000 who can take four glasses for their nightcap always."
"That may be; I'm no denying it; but what is lawfu' in some men is sinfu' in others."
"I do not see that at all."
"Do you mind last summer, when we were up in Argyleshire, how your cousin, Roy Callendar, walked, with ne'er the wink o' an eyelash, on a mantel-shelf hanging over a three-hundred-feet precipice? Roy had the trained eyesight and the steady nerve which made it lawfu' for him; for you or me it had been suicide--naething less sinfu'. Three or four glasses o' whiskey are safer for some men than twa for you. I hae been feeling it my duty to tell you this for some time. Never look sae glum, Davie, or I'll be thinking it is my siller and no mysel' you were caring for the night when ye thought o' my cloak and umbrella."
The young man rose in a perfect blaze of passion.
"Sit down, sit down," said his uncle. "One would think you were your grandfather, Evan Callendar, and that some English red-coat had trod on your tartan. Hout! What's the use o' a temper like that to folk wha hae taken to the spindle instead o' the claymore?"
"I am a Callendar for all that."
"Sae am I, sae am I, and vera proud o' it fore-bye. We are a' kin, Davie; blood is thicker than water, and we wont quarrel."
David put down his unfinished glass of toddy. He could not trust himself to discuss the matter any farther, but as he left the room he paused, with the open door in his hand, and said,
"If you are afraid I am going to be a drunkard, why did you not care for the fear before it became a question of L2,000? And if I ever do become one, remember this, Uncle John--you mixed my first glass for me!"