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The Collector's Inconsistency by Ian Maclaren

 

There were many capable men in the session of the North Free Kirk, Muirtown—such as Bailie MacCallum, from whom Drumsheugh bought Kate Carnegie's wedding present after a historical tussle—but they were all as nothing beside the Collector, and this was so well known in Muirtown that people spoke freely of the Collector's kirk. When he arrived in Muirtown, it was understood that he sampled six kirks, three Established and three Free—the rumour about the Original Seceders was never authenticated—and that the importance of his visits was thoroughly appreciated. No unseemly fuss was made on his appearance; but an ex-bailie, or the Clerk to the Road Trustees, or some such official person, happened to meet him at the door, and received him into his pew with quiet, unostentatious respect; and when he left, officious deacons did not encompass his exit, rubbing their hands and asking how he liked their place, but an elder journeying in the same direction entered into general conversation and was able to mention with authority next day what the Collector had said. Various reasons were canvassed for his settlement in the North Kirk, where old Dr. Pitten-driegh was then drawing near to the close of his famous exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, published after the Doctor's death, and sold to the extent of fifty-seven copies among the congregation. It was, for one thing, a happy coincidence that on that occasion the Doctor, having taken an off day from Romans, had preached from the text "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," and had paid a high tribute to the character of a faithful servant of the Crown. Some importance, no doubt, also attached to the fact that the Procurator Fiscal sat in the "North Free," austere and mysterious, whose power of detecting crime bordered on the miraculous, and whose ways were veiled in impenetrable darkness, so that any one with a past felt uncomfortable in his presence; and it was almost synonymous with doom to say of a man, "The Fiscal has his eye on him." Perhaps it was not without influence that the Supervisor, who was the Collector's subordinate, with power also of official life and death, had long sat under Dr. Pittendriegh—the Doctor and the Collector were indeed the only persons the Supervisor did sit under. He had admirable opportunities of enlarging to the Collector on the solid and edifying qualities of Dr. Pittendriegh's ministry, and the unfortunate defects in the preaching and pastoral gifts of neighbouring ministers, in the intervals of business, when the two of them were not investigating into the delinquencies of some officer of excise, who had levied a tax on the produce of Dunleith Distillery not only in money but also in kind; or concocting cunning plans for the detection of certain shepherds who were supposed to be running an entirely unlicensed still in the recesses of Glen Urtach. It was at least through this official, himself an elder, that the Collector's decision was intimated to the Doctor and the other authorities of the North Kirk, and they lost no time in giving it proper and irrevocable effect The Supervisor set an example of patriotic sacrifice by surrendering his pew in the centre of the church and retiring to the modest obscurity of the side seats, so that the Collector could be properly housed; for it was not to be thought of for a moment that he should sit anywhere except in the eye of the public, or that ordinary persons—imagine for instance young children—should be put in the same pew with him. So he sat there alone, for he had neither wife nor child, from January to December, except when on his official leave—which he took not for pleasure but from a sense of duty—and he gave a calm, judicial attention to all the statements put before him by the preacher. Very soon after this arrangement the Doctor discovered that the Deacons' Court required strengthening, and, as a man of affairs, the Collector was added at the head of the list; and when a year later a happy necessity compelled an election of elders, the Collector was raised to this higher degree, and thereafter was "thirled" to the North Free, and the history of that kirk and of the Collector became one.

What exactly the great man collected, or what functions and powers might be included in his office, were not matters Muirtown pretended to define or dared to pry into. It was enough that he was, in the highest and final sense of the word, Collector—no mere petty official of a local body, but the representative of the Imperial Government and the commissioned servant of Her Majesty the Queen, raised above principalities and powers in the shape of bailies and provosts, and owning no authority save, as was supposed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For any one to confound him with the collector of, say, water rates was either abysmal ignorance or, it might be, although one hoped not, a piece of Radical insolence and a despising of dignities. It was good manners to call him by his title—many would have had difficulty in mentioning his private name, which was, I believe, Thomas Richard Thome, just as the Queen's, I believe, is Guelph—and it was pleasing to hear a porter at the station shout, amid a crowd of tourists going to the Kilspindie Arms, "Collector's cab"; or Bailie MacCallum on the street, "Fine morning, Collector"; and one did not wonder that the session of the "North Free" exalted its head when this kind of thing went on at its meetings: "Moderator, with your permission, I would like to have the mind of the Collector"; and then in reply, "Moderator, my views practically coincide with those of the Fiscal" And there were dinner tables, such as old Peter MacCash's, the manager of the Muirtown Bank, where conversation reached a very high level of decoration, and nothing could be heard save "Sheriff," "Provost," "Collector," "Town Clerk," "Fiscal," "Banker," "Doctor," "Dean of Guild," and such like, till an untitled person hardly dared to defend his most cherished opinion.

As the movements of Government officials were always mysterious, no one could tell whence the Collector had come, but it was known to a few that he was not really of Scots blood, and had not been bred in the Presbyterian Kirk. When his hand in the way of Church rule was heavy on the "North Free" and certain sought anxiously for grounds of revolt, they were apt to whisper that, after all, this man, who laid down the ecclesiastical law with such pedantic accuracy and such inflexible severity, was but a Gentile who had established himself in the true fold, or at most a proselyte of the gate. They even dared to ask what, in the matter of churches, he had been before he was appointed to Muirtown; and so unscrupulous and virulent are the mongers of sedition, as every student of history knows, that some insinuated that the Collector had been a Nonconformist; while others, considering that this violence could only overreach itself, contented themselves with allusions to Swedenborg. Most of his brethren treated him as if he had been within the covenant from the beginning, and had been granted the responsible privilege of Scots birth either because in course of time they had forgotten the fact of alien origin in face of every appearance to the contrary, or because, as we all need mercy, it is not wise to search too curiously into the dark chapters of a man's past.

Upon his part the Collector had wonderfully adapted himself to the new environment, and it defied the keenest critic to find in him any trace of a former home. It is true that he did not use the Scots dialect, merely employing a peculiarly felicitous word at a time for purposes of effect, but he had stretched his vowels to the orthodox breadth, and could roll off the letter "r" with a sense of power. "Dour" he could say in a way that deceived even the elect Sometimes he startled the Presbytery with a sound like "Yah, yah," which indicates the shallow sharpness of the English, instead of "He-e-er, he-e-er," which reveals as in a symbol the solidity of the Scot; but then one cannot live in London for years—as an official must—and be quite unscathed; and an acute observer might mark a subdued smartness in dress—white tie instead of stock on sacrament Sabbaths—which was not indigenous; but then it must be allowed that one in his position was obliged to be, to a certain degree, a man of the world. No one ever caught him quoting a clause from the Prayer-Book on the rare occasions when he was heard at his family devotions, or breaking into a riotous "Hallelujah" in the midst of a sermon. If misfortune had thrown him into Episcopalian or Methodist folds in earlier years, he had since been thoroughly purged and cleansed. He had a way of alluding to "the Disruption principles laid down in 1843," or "my younger brethren will allow me to say that the Disruption," which was very convincing; and on the solitary occasion when he made a set speech in public—for his strength lay in silence rather than eloquence—he had a peroration on our "covenanted forefathers" which left an indelible impression. It was understood that he spent his holidays in visiting remote districts of the Highlands where the people took strong peppermints in church without scruple or apology, and preserved the primeval simplicity of Presbyterian worship entire; and it was supposed that he was looking for a birthplace which would finally establish his position as an elder of the Kirk.

What gave the Collector his supreme influence in the session of the Free North, and extended his sphere of ecclesiastical influence to the Presbytery of Muirtown, was an amazing knowledge of Church law and a devouring love for order. The latter may have been the natural outcome of his professional training, wherein red-tape has been raised to a science, but the former was an acquired accomplishment Dr. Pittendriegh remembered almost painfully that on the day of his election to the eldership the Collector enquired the names of the most reliable authorities on Church law, and that he (Dr. Pittendriegh) had not only given him a list, but had urged him to their study, judging from past experience that no man was likely to go too far in the pursuit of this branch of knowledge. For a while the Collector sat silent and observant at the meetings of Session, and then suddenly one evening, and in the quietest manner, he inquired whether a certain proceeding was in order.

"Well, at any rate, that is how we have done here for twenty years," said the Doctor, with just a flavour of indignation, and the startled Fiscal confirmed the statement.

"That may be so, Moderator, and I am obliged to Mr. Fiscal for his assurance, but you will pardon me for saying, with much respect, that the point is not whether this action has been the custom, but whether it is legal. On that, Moderator, I should like your deliverance."

He took the opportunity, however, of showing that only one deliverance could be given by long quotations from Church law, supported by references which extended back to the seventeenth century. Every one knew that, unlike his distinguished colleague in Muirtown Dr. Dowbiggin, the minister of the Free North was more at home in Romans than in Canon Law; but, like every true Scot, he loved a legal point, and he not only announced at next Session meeting that the Collector was quite right, but expressed his satisfaction that they had such a valuable addition to their number in the Collector. His position from that evening was assured beyond dispute; and when the Clerk of Session resigned on the ground of long service, but really through terror that there might be a weak place in his minutes, the Collector succeeded, and made the proceedings of the Free North Session to be a wonder unto many. It was a disappointment to some that, when the Collector was sent to the Presbytery, he took no part for several meetings; but others boldly declared that even in that high place he was only biding his time, which came when the Presbytery debated for one hour and ten minutes whether a certain meeting had been pro re nata or in hunc effectum, while the learned Clerk listened with delight as one watches the young people at play.

"Moderator," said the Collector, "I have given the most careful attention to the arguments on both sides, and I venture to suggest that the meeting was neither pro re nata nor in hunc effectum, but was a meeting per saltum"; and, after referring to Pardovan's Institutes, he sat down amid a silence which might be felt Several ministers openly confessed their ignorance one to another with manifest chagrin, and one young minister laughed aloud: "Per saltum, I declare—what next?" as if it were a subject for jesting.

"The Collector is quite right, Moderator," said the Clerk with his unspeakable air of authority; "the meeting referred to was undoubtedly per saltum, but I did not wish to interfere prematurely with the debate"; and from that date the Clerk, who used to address his more recondite deliverances to Dr. Dowbiggin as the only competent audience, was careful to include the Collector in a very marked and flattering fashion.

While it was only human that his congregation should be proud of the Collector, and while there is no question that he led them in the paths of order, they sometimes grumbled—in corners—and grew impatient under his rule. He was not only not a man given to change himself, but he bitterly resented and resisted to the uttermost any proposal of change on the part of other people. What was in the Free North, when he, so to say, mounted the throne, was right, and any departure therefrom he scented afar off and opposed as folly and mischief. There are men whom you can convince by argument; there are others whom you can talk round on trifles; but whether the matter were great or small—from Biblical criticism, on which the Collector took a liberal line, to the printing of the congregational report, where he would not allow a change of type—once his mind was made up he remained unchangeable and inaccessible. He prevented the introduction of hymns for ten years, and never consented to the innovation on the ground of the hold which the metrical psalms had upon Presbyterians from their earliest days, and he did succeed in retaining that remarkable custom of the Scots Kirk by which a communicant cannot receive the Sacrament without first presenting a leaden token, and his argument was again the sacred associations of the past He did certainly agree to the recovering of the pulpit cushions, which the exposition of Romans had worn bare, only however on the assurance of Bailie MacCallum, given officially, that he had the same cloth in store; but a scheme for a ventilating chamber in the roof—an improvement greatly needed in a church which was supposed to have retained the very air of the Disruption—he denounced as an irresponsible fad.

He gave much watchful attention to the Sabbath schools—"Sunday" was a word he abhorred—and between the Collector and the younger people engaged in that work there was almost constant conflict, which extended to every detail, and came to a head over the matter of entertainments. It was their belief that once a year it was necessary for the success and well-being of a Sabbath school that the children should be gathered on an evening and fed with tea and buns, and afterwards elevated by magic slides representing various amusing situations in life and concluding with a vivid picture of rats disappearing into a gaping man's mouth, which opened to receive them with a jerk. The fact that this festivity was opened and closed with a hymn in no way sanctified it in the eyes of the Collector, who declared it to be without any Scripture warrant and injurious to true religion, as well as—and this was hardly less important—quite without sanction by the laws of the Kirk. By sheer force of will—the weight of a silent, obstinate uncompromising nature, he brought the "treats"—very modest, innocent, if not particularly refined efforts to give some brightness to the life of the poor children in Muirtown—to an end, and in place thereof he provided, at his own expense, views of the mission stations of the world, with a gratuitous distribution of missionary literature. This was endured for three years with much discontent and with sudden and disorderly demands for the rats in place of the interesting although somewhat monotonous faces of Chinese Christians, and then the rebellion was organized which had so unexpected and felicitous a result The party of the Juniors, some of them approaching forty years of age, took a covenant that they would stand by one another, and they made their plan that upon a certain evening in March they would gather together their corps of Muirtown Arabs and feed them with dainties even unto the extent of raisins and oranges. They were not unconscious that oranges, on account of their pronounced colour, would be an offence to the Collector, and that that estimable man had already referred to this fruit, as a refreshment at a religious meeting, in terms of deep contempt; and there would not only be a magic lantern with scenes of war and sport, to say nothing of amusement, but also a sacred cantata to be sung by the children. When the Collector heard of the programme, he grasped the situation at once, and knew that in the coming battle quarter could not be given—that the "Reds" would be completely reduced to subordination, or that a severely constitutional monarchy would be finally closed. This was indeed the general opinion; and when the Juniors appeared before the Session to present their ultimatum, nothing but a sense of decency prevented the Free North attending in a body, and Bailie MacCallum took a gloomy view of the issue.

"Oranges and the what-ye-call-it," alluding to the cantata, "the Collector 'll never stand, and ye couldna expect him."

Dr. Pittendriegh was now emeritus3, which means that he had retired from the active duty of the ministry and was engaged in criticising those who were still in the yoke; and many pitied young Mr. Rutherford, brother of Rutherford of Glasgow, who had to preside over so critical a meeting. His prayer was, however, favourably received by both sides, and his few remarks before calling on the leader of the "Reds" were full of tact and peace. As for that intrepid man—grocer by trade and full of affability, but a Radical in politics and indifferent to the past—he discharged a difficult duty with considerable ability. For himself and his friends he disclaimed all desire to offend any one, and least of all one whom every one respected so much for his services both to Church and State—both the Bailie and Fiscal felt bound to say "hear, hear," and the Collector bowed stiffly—but they must put the work they had carried on in the Vennel before any individual: they were dealing with a poor and neglected class of children very different from the children in grand houses—this with some teethiness. They must make religion attractive, and show that they were interested in the children's lives as well as their souls. None of them could see anything wrong in a cup of tea or a bit of music; and if the Session was to forbid this small pleasure, he and his friends would respectfully resign the position they had held for many years, and allow the elders to carry on the work on any plan they pleased.

There was a faint rustle; the Bailie gave a low whistle, and then the Collector rose from the table, where he sat as clerk, removed the gold eyeglass from his nose with much deliberation, coughed slightly, and waving his eyeglass gently with his left hand, gave his deliverance. He acknowledged with somewhat cold courtesy the generous expressions regarding any slight services he had been allowed to render in his dual capacity, and he desired to express his profound sense of the devotion with which his friends on the other side, if he might just for the occasion speak of sides, carried on their important work. His difficulty, however, was this—and he feared that it was insuperable—Christian work must be carried on in accordance with sound principles, by the example of the Bible and according to the spirit of the Scots Kirk. He was convinced that the entertainments in question, with the accompaniments to which he would not further allude in this place, were quite contrary to the sound and solid traditions which were very dear to some of them, and from which he ventured to hope the Free North Church of Muirtown would never depart. If the Session should take another view than that of his humble judgment, then nothing would remain for him but to resign his position as Session Clerk and Elder. There was general consternation on the faces of his brethren, and even the Juniors looked uncomfortable, and the Moderator did wisely in adjourning the meeting for a week.

The idea was some kind of compromise; but no one was particularly hopeful, and the first essays were not very encouraging. It was laid on the Bailie to deal with the leader of the insurgents, for the sound reason that, as every class has its own freemasonry, one tradesman was likely to know how to deal with another. No man had a more plausible tongue, as was well known in municipal circles, and the Bailie plied the grocer with the arguments of expediency: that the Collector was an ornament to the Free North; that any disruption in their congregation would be a sport to the Philistines; that if you offended the Collector, you touched the Fiscal and the other professional dignitaries; that it would be possible to go a good way in the direction that the insurgents desired without attracting any notice; and that the Collector... "Well, ye see, Councillor"—for the grocer had so far attained—"there's bound to be changes; we maun be prepared for that. He's failin' a wee, an' there's nae use counterin' him." So, with many shrugs and suggestions, the astute politician advised that the insurgents should make a nominal submission and wait their time. Then the Councillor informed the Bailie that he would fight the battle to the end, although the Collector should join the Established Kirk, and Bailie MacCallum knew that his labour had been all in vain.

It was the Fiscal who approached the Collector, as was most meet, and he considered that the best time was after dinner, and when the two were discussing their second glass of port "That's a sound wine, Collector, and a credit to a Muirtown firm. Remarkable man, old Sandeman; established a good port in Scotland and invented a new denomination, when to save my life I couldn't have thought of another."

"So far as I can judge, I do not think that Sandemanianism is any credit to Muirtown. How any Scots Kirkman can sink down into that kind of thing passes me. But the wine is unexceptionable, and I never tasted any but good wine at your table; yet I suppose young men would prefer claret—not the rich claret Scots gentlemen used to drink, but that feeble Gladstone stuff," and the Collector wagged his head in sorrow over the decadent taste of the day.

"I quite agree with you, Collector, but you know de gustibus; and when the young fellows do me the honour of dining with me, I let them have their claret: there must be give and take between the seniors and juniors, eh, Collector?"—this with some adroitness.

"There I venture to disagree with you, Fiscal," and the Collector's face hardened at once. "It is the young who ought to yield to the old; I see no reason why the old should give in to the young; if they do, the end will be anarchy in Church and State."

"There is a great deal in what you say, Collector; but have you never been afraid that if we of the old school refuse to make any concessions, we shall simply lose our influence, and things will be done foolishly, which, with our help, might have been done wisely?"

"If there be one word I detest, it is 'concessions'; they are ruinous, both in the Civil Service and in the Church; and it just comes to this, Fiscal: if you yield an inch, you must yield a yard. Nothing will preserve order save resistance from the beginning, obsta principiis, yes, obsta principiis.."

The Fiscal recognised the expression on the Collector's face, and knew that it was useless to continue the subject, and so his labour was also in vain.

It only now remained that the minister should try his hand upon this inflexible man, and one of the urgent duties of his pastoral office hindered him until the evening before the meeting. During the last few days Rutherford had been trying to get the key to this type of character, and had been touched by the Collector's loneliness. Without wife or child, engaged in routine year by year, moving in a narrow set of officials or ecclesiastics, he had withered and contracted till he had become a mere pedant. People spoke of his narrowness and obstinacy. They were angry with him, and would not be sorry to teach him a lesson. The minister's heart was full of pity and charity; and, so optimistic is youth, he believed that there must be springs of emotion and romance in the old man; but this faith he did not mention to the Bailie or the Fiscal, considering, with some reason, that they would put it down as a foolish dream, and be inwardly much amused. As he stood before the Collector's residence, as it was called in the Muirtown Advertiser, his pity deepened, and he seemed to be confirmed in his compassion. The Collector did not live in rooms or in a small "house as did other bachelors, for this would be unworthy of his position, and a reflection on the State; but he must needs live in a house on the North Meadow. The large drawing-room lay unused and empty, since no ladies came to the house; and of the bedrooms only three were furnished—one for his servants, one for himself, and another a guest-room, which was never occupied save by some Government official from London on inspection, or a minister attending the Presbytery. The Collector was eager to secure Rabbi Saunderson, but that learned man, of absent mind, was apt to forget that he had been invited. The dining-room was a bare, sombre room, where the Collector took his meals in solitary state and entertained half a dozen men to simple but well-cooked dinners, after which the tablecloth was removed from the polished dark mahogany, and the sound old port coasted round in silver slides. As the minister entered the dimly lit lobby everything seemed to him significant and eloquent: the middle-aged housekeeper with her air of severe propriety; the hat-stand, with no careless, unkempt exuberance of undress hats, shooting caps country sticks, but with two silk hats only—one for good weather and Sundays, one for bad and funerals; a bamboo cane, with an ivory and silver head of straight and unadorned pattern; and two coats—one for cold, one for milder temperature. His sitting-room, where he spent his unofficial time, seemed to the minister that evening the very embodiment of the man—a physical shape, as it were, revealing his character. There was no comfortable disorder of papers, books, pipes, which sets one at ease in some rooms. Everything had its place; and the daily paper, after having been read, was sent down to the kitchen, unless there was some news of an unedifying description, in which case it was burned. Instead of a couch whereon one could lie and meditate after dinner on the problems of existence, there were two straight-backed armchairs, one on each side of the fireplace. The bookcase had glass doors, and one could read the titles on one shelf: The Incidence of the Income Tax, The Abolition of the Malt Duty, Rules for the Collectors of H.M. Inland Revenue, Practice of the Free Church of Scotland, Abstract of the Acts of Assembly 1700 to 1840, and The Elders Manual. The Collector was reading another book of the same genial and exhilarating class, and the minister noticed its contents with some dismay, The Authority of Kirk Sessions; but the Collector was quite cordial (for him).

"I am much pleased to see you, Mr. Rutherford, and should be gratified if your onerous duties allowed you to call more frequently; but I never forget that while our hours in the service of the Queen are, as a rule, fixed, yours, in a higher service, have no limit Do not, I pray you, sit there; that is in the draught between the door and the fire: here, if you will be so good, opposite me. Well, sir, how is your work prospering?"

The minister explained that he had intended to call sooner, but had been occupied with various cases of sickness, one of which had touched him closely. The people were not in the Collector's district; but perhaps he might have noticed them: they sat before him in church.

"Do you refer to a couple who have come quite recently, within a year, and who, as I judge, are newly married; they are interesting young people, it seemed to me, and most attentive, as I can testify to their religious duties."

"Yes, the same. They were engaged for many years—a love affair of childhood, and they have been married less than eight months. They have a beautiful little home at Craigie, and they simply lived one for another."

"I can believe that, Mr. Rutherford; for I may mention that on one occasion, when you touched on love in appropriate and... somewhat moving terms, I happened to notice, without espionage I trust, that the wife slipped her hand into her husband's, and so they sat until the close of the sermon. Has trouble come to them?" and the Collector looked anxiously at the minister over his spectacles.

"Very dangerous and sudden trouble, I am sorry to say. Last Monday Mrs. Fortune was prematurely confined, and I... don't understand about these things; but the doctor considered it a very bad case."

"There had been complications, I fear; that sometimes happens, and, I don't know why, often with those whose lives are most precious. How is she? I earnestly hope that she... that he has not lost his bride." And Rutherford was struck by the anxiety and sadness in the Collector's voice.

"It was feared he might, and I have never seen any man so utterly broken down; and yet he kept calm for her sake. On Wednesday I stayed with him all the afternoon, and then I returned for the night after the prayer meeting."

"You were never more needed, be sure of that, sir; and is there hope of her recovery? I pray God, if it be His will, that the young wife be spared. Sitting before me has given me... an interest in the case." The Collector felt as if he must apologise for his unusual emotion.

"Their own doctor took a gloomy view, but they called in Dr. Manley. If there's real danger of death in Muirtown, or a radius of twenty miles, people must have Manley. And when he came into the parlour—you know his brusque, decided way—Manley turned to poor Fortune, who couldn't say one word, only look."

"It is, Mr. Rutherford, I will dare to say, the bitterest hour in all human sorrow"—the Collector spoke with strong feeling—"and Dr. Manley said?"

"'You thought you were going to lose your wife. No wonder; very bad case; but you're not, please God you're not. Dr. Gellatly knows his business. Mrs. Fortune will get better with care, mark me, immense care.' That's his way, you know, Collector; then Fortune... well, lost command of himself. So Manley went on,—'with care and skill; and Gellatly will see to that.'"

"God be praised!" exclaimed the Collector. "How many Dr. Manley has comforted in Muirtown! yet all medical skill is of no avail sometimes. But you have said nothing of the child."

"Manley was very doubtful about it—a girl, I think—and that is the only danger now with Mrs. Fortune. She is always asking for the child, which she has not seen; and so long as the news are good she is satisfied; but if the baby dies, it will go hard with the mother. Collector," cried Rutherford suddenly, "what mothers suffer, and how they love!"

The Collector took off his spectacles and examined them carefully, and then he wiped his eyes.

"When can the doctors be certain about the child, Mr. Rutherford?"

"Dr. Manley is going again this evening, and we hope he will be able to give a good report I intended to call after seeing you; for if all be well, we would return thanks to God; and if... the child is not to live, there will be the more need of prayer. You will excuse me, Collector?"

"Go at once, sir, and... do you mind me going with you—just to the door, you know? I would sleep better to-night if I knew mother and child were safe." And the Collector was already moving to the door as one in haste.

"It is very good of you, Collector, and Fortune will value your sympathy; but there is something I called to talk about and in my concern about Mrs. Fortune I... quite forgot it. It's about that unfortunate Sabbath-school entertainment."

"It's of no importance beside this trial—none whatever. Let us not delay, and I'll hear you on the other matter as we cross the South Meadow."

So Rutherford was hustled out of the house in growing amazement.

"Let me say, first of all, Collector, that we are all much concerned...

"Who could be otherwise, my good sir, if he had a heart in his bosom—only eight months married, and in danger of being separated. Mother and child taken, and the husband... left desolate... desolate for life!"

"If you could see your way," resumed Rutherford, after a respectful pause, and still harking back to the dispute, "to do anything..."

"Why did you not say that before? Only tell me; and if it be in my power, it shall be done. May I undertake the doctor's fees, or arrange with the nurse—through you of course, and in any way that will be in keeping with their feelings? Command me; I shall count it more than a privilege—a duty of pity and... love."

"It was not the Fortunes I was thinking of," said Rutherford; "but that can be left over. It is kind of you to offer help; they are not, however, in need of pecuniary assistance. Fortune has a good post in the railway. He's a first-rate engineer and a rising man. But if you cared to send flowers..."

"I am obliged to you for the hint, and I'll attend to this to-morrow morning." (The invalid had a fresh bouquet every day for a month.) "No, I will not go in. Just present my compliments and sympathy to Mr. Fortune. Here is my card, and... I'll just wait for the bulletin, if you would be so good as to come with it to the door."

"Baby's going to live too, and Manley says she will be a thumping big child in a few months!"

"Thank God, Mr. Rutherford! You cannot imagine how this incident has affected me. I'll go home now, and as I cross through the dark-ness of the Meadow my humble thanksgiving will mingle with yours, that in this home it has been God's pleasure to turn the darkness... into light." The voice of the Collector was charged with emotion, and Rutherford was confirmed in his romantic belief, although it seemed as if he had laboured in vain in the affair of the Sabbath school.

It was known before the meeting of that evening that no compromise had been effected; and when the Collector rose to speak, his face and manner charged with solemnity, it was felt that a crisis in the Free North had arrived. He began by saying that the subject of last meeting had never been long out of his thoughts, and that he had now arrived at a decision which commended itself to his judgment, and which he would submit with all brevity.

"Moderator"—for the Collector's historical utterance must be given in his own words—"if a man lives alone for many years, through the providence of God, and has come almost to the limit of ordinary human life as set down by the Psalmist, he is apt to become censorious and to be out of sympathy with young people; and if I have erred in this respect, you will kindly assign it to the habits of my life, not to the feelings of my heart."

There was so much gracious tenderness and unaffected humility in the Collector's tone that the grocer—unless roused, himself the most generous of men—wished to rise and withdraw the oranges instantly, and to leave the other details of tea and cantata absolutely to the Collector's decision, but was checked by the Moderator.

"So far, therefore, as I am concerned, I beg, Moderator, to withdraw all opposition to the programme of my excellent friends, and I do so with all my heart; but, with your permission, I must annex one condition, which I hope my good friends will see their way to grant."

"Whatever the Collector wants shall be done!" burst in the Councillor, with chorus of applause from his side.

"Mr. Councillor must not be too rash lest he be caught in a snare," resumed the Collector facetiously, "for I am contemplating an innovation. However agreeable an evening entertainment in winter may be to the Vennel children, it appears to me that it would be even better for them to go to the country and admire the works of the Creator. There is a beautiful spot, only some twelve miles from here, which few Muirtown people have seen. I refer to the Tochty woods, where are the graves of Bessie Bell and Mary Gray, and my condition is that in the height of summer our poor Muirtown children be driven there and spend a long summer's day on the grass and by the river. I have only to add that if this proposal should meet with my friends' and my colleagues' approval, I shall count it a privilege and, er... honour to defray the cost." And for the first time in his public life the Collector sat down covered with confusion as with a garment The Tochty excursion came off on midsummer day, and is now a chapter of ancient history, to which what remains of the "Old Guard" turn back with fond recollection; for though the things reported were almost incredible in Muirtown, yet were they all less than true. How there had been preparation in the unsavoury homes of the Vennel for weeks before, with the result that the children appeared in such spotless cleanliness and varied gaiety of attire that the Councillor was filled with pride, and the Collector declared that they looked like ladies and gentlemen. How the Collector was himself dressed in a light-grey summer suit, with a blue tie and a soft hat—this was never believed in his "Collection," but could any one have invented it?—and received many compliments on his appearance from all sides. How he had provided a barouche from the Kilspindie Arms for the Councillor and his wife, as chiefs of the school, and for his guests the Fortunes, whose baby crowed triumphantly half the way, and smiled in her sleep the other half; but the Collector travelled on the box-seat of the first break with the children—I tremble while I write—through the main streets of Muirtown. How the Collector had arranged with Bumbrae, the Free Kirk elder of Drumtochty, to supply every one on arrival with a pint of sweet, fresh milk; and how a quarrel arose in the end of the days between the town and country elders because Bumbrae gave the bairns a pint and a half at the price of a pint, and was never brought to a state of repentance. How almost every game known to children in ancient and modern times was played that day in Tochty woods, and the Collector patronised them all, from "tig" to "jingo-ring," with great access of popularity, if not conspicuous proficiency. How they all gathered together in front of the Lodge before leaving, and the Councillor—he has since risen to be Lord Provost—made the great speech of his life in proposing a vote of thanks to the Collector; and the Collector, to save himself from breaking down, called for three cheers in honour of the Councillor, and led them himself. And how they drove back past Kilbogie in the pleasant evening-time, and at the dispersing half the children of the Vennel shook hands with H.M. Collector of Inland Revenue for Muirtown.

The Collector returned home, his heart full of peace, and went to a certain closet of his bedroom, wherein was a box he had not opened for forty years. Within it lay a bridal dress, and an unfinished set of baby clothes, with a needle still fastened in the hem of a garment And the Collector wept; but his tears were half sorrow and half joy, and he did not sorrow as one who had no hope.