PURGING AND RESTORATION
It was the Lord's day in Edinburgh town. The silence in the early morning was something which could be felt—not a footstep, not a rolling wheel. Window-blinds were mostly down—on the windows provided with them. Even in Bell's Wynd there was not the noise of the week. Only a tinker family squabbled over the remains of the deep drinking of the night before. But then, what could Bell's Wynd expect—to harbour such?
It was yet early dawn when John Bairdieson, kirk officer to the little company of the faithful to assemble there later in the day, went up the steps and opened the great door with his key. He went all round the church with his hat on. It was a Popish idea to take off the head covering within stone walls, yet John Bairdieson was that morning possessed with the fullest reverence for the house of God and the highest sense of his responsibility as the keeper of it.
He was wont to sing: ‘Rather in My God's house would I keep a door, Than dwell in tents of sin.’
That was the retort which he flung across at Taminas Laidlay, the beadle of the Established Kirk opposite, with all that scorn in the application which was due from one in John Bairdieson's position to one in that of Tammas Laidlay.
But this morning John had no spirit for the encounter. He hurried in and sat down by himself in the minister's vestry. Here he sat for a long season in deep and solemn thought.
‘I'll do it!’ he said at last.
It was near the time when the minister usually came to enter into his vestry, there to prepare himself by meditation and prayer for the services of the sanctuary. John Bairdieson posted himself on the top step of the stairs which led from the street, to wait for him. At last, after a good many passers-by, all single and all in black, walking very fast, had hurried by, John's neck craning after every one, the minister appeared, walking solemnly down the street with his head in the air. His neckcloth was crumpled and soiled—a fact which was not lost on John.
The minister came up the steps and made as though he would pass John by without speaking to him; but that guardian of the sanctuary held out his arms as though he were wearing sheep.
‘Na, na, minister, ye come na into this Kirk this day as minister till ye be lawfully restored. There are nae ministers o' the kirk o' the Marrow the noo; we're a body without a heid. I thocht that the Kirk was at an end, but the Lord has revealed to me that the Marrow Kirk canna end while the world lasts. In the nicht season he telled me what to do.’
The minister stood transfixed. If his faithful serving-man of so many years had turned against him, surely the world was at an end. But it was not so.
John Bairdieson went on, standing with his hat in his hand, and the hairs of his head erect with the excitement of unflinching justice.
‘I see it clear. Ye are no minister o' this kirk. Mr. Welsh is no minister o' the Dullarg. I, John Bairdieson, am the only officer of the seenod left; therefore I stand atween the people and you this day, till ye hae gane intil the seenod hall, that we ca' on ordinary days the vestry, and there, takkin' till ye the elders that remain, ye be solemnly ordainit ower again and set apairt for the office o' the meenistry.’
‘But I am your minister, and need nothing of the sort!’ said Gilbert Peden. ‘I command you to let me pass!’
‘Command me nae commands! John Bairdieson kens better nor that. Ye are naither minister nor ruler; ye are but an elder, like mysel'— equal among your equals; an' ye maun sit amang us this day and help to vote for a teachin' elder, first among his equals, to be set solemnly apairt.’
The minister, logical to the verge of hardness, could not gainsay the admirable and even-handed justice of John Bairdieson's position. More than that, he knew that every man in the congregation of the Marrow Kirk of Bell's Wynd would inevitably take the same view.
Without another word he went into the session-house, where in due time he sat down and opened the Bible.
He had not to wait long, when there joined him Gavin MacFadzean, the cobbler, from the foot of Leith Walk, and Alexander Taylour, carriage-builder, elders in the kirk of the Marrow; these, forewarned by John Bairdieson, took their places in silence. To them entered Allan Welsh. Then, last of all, John Bairdieson came in and took his own place. The five elders of the Marrow kirk were met for the first time on an equal platform. John Bairdieson opened with prayer. Then he stated the case. The two ex-ministers sat calm and silent, as though listening to a chapter in the Acts of the Apostles. It was a strange scene of equality, only possible and actual in Scotland.
‘But mind ye,’ said John Bairdieson, ‘this was dune hastily, and not of set purpose—for ministers are but men—even ministers of the Marrow kirk. Therefore shall we, as elders of the kirk, in full standing, set apairt two of our number as teaching elders, for the fulfilling of ordinances and the edification of them that believe. Have you anything to say? If not, then let us proceed to set apairt and ordain Gilbert Peden and Allan Welsh.’
But before any progress could be made, Allan Welsh rose. John Bairdieson had been afraid of this.
‘The less that's said, the better,’ he said hastily, ‘an' it's gottin' near kirk-time. We maun get it a' by or then.’
‘This only I have to say,’ said Allan Welsh, ‘I recognize the justice of my deposition. I have been a sinful and erring man, and I am not worthy to teach in the pulpit any more. Also, my life is done. I shall soon lay it down and depart to the Father whose word I, hopeless and castaway, have yet tried faithfully to preach.’
Then uprose Gilbert Peden. His voice was husky with emotion. ‘Hasty and ill-advised, and of such a character as to bring dishonour on the only true Kirk in Scotland, has such an action been. I confess myself a hasty man, a man of wrath, and that wrath unto sin. I have sinned the sin of anger and presumption against a brother. Long ere now I would have taken it back, but it is the law of God that deeds once done cannot be undone; though we seek repentance carefully with tears, we cannot put the past away.’
Thus, with the consecration and the humility of confession Gilbert Peden purged himself from the sin of hasty anger.
‘Like Uzzah at the threshing-floor of Nachon,’ he went on, ‘I have sinned the sin of the Israelite who set his hand to the ox-cart to stay the ark of God. It is of the Lord's mercy that I am not consumed, like the men of Beth-shemesh.’
So Gilbert Peden was restored, but Allan Welsh would not accept any restoration.
‘I am not a man accepted of God,’ he said. And even Gilbert Peden said no word.
‘Noo,’ said John Bairdieson, ‘afore this meetin' scales, there is juist yae word that I hae to say. There's nane o' us haes wives, but an' except Alexander Taylour, carriage- maker. Noo, the proceedings this mornin' are never to be jince named in the congregation. If, then, there be ony soond of this in the time to come, mind you Alexander Taylour, that it's you that'll hae to bear the weight o't!’
This was felt to be fair, even by Alexander Taylour, carriage- maker.
The meeting now broke up, and John Bairdieson went to reprove Margate Truepenny for knocking with her crutch on the door of the house of God on the Sabbath morning.
‘D'ye think,’ he said, ‘that the fowk knockit wi' their staves on the door o' the temple in Jerusalem?’
‘Aiblins,’ retorted Margate, ‘they had feller doorkeepers in thae days nor you, John Bairdieson.’
The morning service was past. Gilbert Peden had preached from the text, 'Greater is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.’
‘Oor minister is yin that looks deep intil the workings o' his ain heart,’ said Margate, as she hirpled homeward.
But when the church was empty and all gone home, in the little vestry two men sat together, and the door was shut. Between them they held a miniature, the picture of a girl with a flush of rose on her cheek and a laughing light in her eyes. There was silence, but for a quick catch in the stronger man's breathing, which sounded like a sob. Gilbert Peden, who had only lost and never won, and Allan Welsh, who had both won and lost, were forever at one. There was silence between them, as they looked with eyes of deathless love at the picture which spoke to them of long ago.
Walter Skirving's message, which Winsome had brought to the manse of Dullarg, had united the hearts estranged for twenty years. Winsome had builded better than she knew.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.