OUTCAST AND ALIEN FROM THE COMMONWEALTH
‘Moreover,’ said the minister—coming in an hour afterwards to take up the interrupted discussion—‘the kirk of the Marrow overrides all considerations of affection or self-interest. If you are to enter the Marrow kirk, you must live for the Marrow, and fight for the Marrow, and, above all, you must wed for the Marrow.’
‘As you did, no doubt,’ said Ralph, somewhat ungenerously.
Ralph had remained sitting in the study where the minister had left him.
‘No, for myself,’ said the minister, with a certain firmness and high civility, which made the young man ashamed of himself, ‘I am no true son of the Marrow. I have indeed served the Marrow kirk in her true and only protesting section for twenty-five years; but I am only kept in my position by the good grace of two men—of your father and of Walter Skirving. And do not think that they keep their mouths sealed by any love for me. Were there only my own life and good name to consider, they would speak instantly, and I should be deposed, without cavil or word spoken in my own defence. Nay, by what I have already spoken, I have put myself in your hands. All that you have to do is simply to rise in your place on the Sabbath morn and tell the congregation what I have told you— that the minister of the Marrow kirk in Dullarg is a man rebuking sin when his own hearthstone is unclean—a man irregularly espoused, who wrongfully christened his own unacknowledged child.’
Allan Welsh laid his brow against the hard wood of the study table as though to cool it.
‘No,’ he continued, looking Ralph in the face, as the midnight hummed around, and the bats softly fluttered like gigantic moths outside, ‘your father is silent for the sake of the good name of the Marrow kirk; but this thing shall never be said of his own son, and the only hope of the Marrow kirk—the lad she has colleged and watched and prayed for—not only the two congregations of Edinburgh and the Dullarg contributing yearly out of their smallest pittances, but the faithful single members and adherents throughout broad Scotland—many of whom are coming to Edinburgh at the time of our oncoming synod, in order to be present at it, and at the communion when I shall assist your father.’
‘But why can not I marry Winsome Charteris, even though she be your daughter, as you say?’ asked Ralph.
‘O young man,’ said the minister, ‘ken ye so little about the kirk o' the Marrow, and the respect for her that your father and myself cherish for the office of her ministry, that ye think that we could permit a probationer, on trials for the highest office within her gift, to connect himself by tie, bond, or engagement with the daughter of an unblest marriage? That would be winking at a new sin, darker even, than the old.’ Then, with a burst of passion— ‘I, even I, would sooner denounce it myself, though it cost me my position! For twenty years I have known that before God I was condemned. You have seen me praying—yes, often—all night, but never did you or mortal man hear me praying for myself.’
Ralph held out his hand in sympathy. Mr. Welsh did not seem to notice it. He went on:
‘I was praying for this poor simple folk—the elect of God—their minister alone a castaway, set beyond the mercy of God by his own act. Have I not prayed that they might never be put to shame by the knowledge of the minister's sin being made a mockery in the courts of Belial? And have I not been answered?’
Here we fear that Mr. Welsh referred to the ecclesiastical surroundings of the Reverend Erasmus Teends.
‘And I prayed for my poor lassie, and for you, when I saw you both in the floods of deep waters. I have wept great and bitter tears for you twain. But I am to receive my answer and reward, for this night you shall give me your word that never more will you pass word of love to Winsome, the daughter of Allan Charteris Welsh. For the sake of the Marrow kirk and the unstained truth delivered to the martyrs, and upheld by your father one great day, you will do this thing.’
‘Mr. Welsh,’ said the young man calmly, ‘I cannot, even though I be willing, do this thing. My heart and life, my honour and word, are too deeply engaged for me to go back. At whatever cost to myself, I must keep tryst and pledge with the girl who has trusted me, and who for me has tonight suffered things whose depths of pain and shame I know not yet.’
‘Then,’ said the minister sternly, ‘you and I must part. My duty is done. If you refuse my appeal, you are no true son of the Marrow kirk, and no candidate that I can recommend for her ministry. Moreover, to keep you longer in my house and at my board were tacitly to encourage you in your folly.’
‘It is quite true,’ replied Ralph, unshaken and undaunted, ‘that I may be as unfit as you say for the office and ministry of the Marrow kirk. It is, indeed, only as I have thought for a long season. If that be so, then it were well that I should withdraw, and leave the place for some one worthier.’
‘I wonder to hear ye, Ralph Peden, your father's son,’ said the minister, ‘you that have been colleged by the shillings and sixpences of the poor hill folk. How will ye do with these?’
‘I will pay them back,’ said Ralph.
‘Hear ye, man: can ye pay back the love that hained and saved to send them to Edinburgh? Can ye pay back the prayers and expectations that followed ye from class to class, rejoicing in your success, praying that the salt of holiness might be put for you into the fountains of earthly learning? Pay back, Ralph Peden?—I wonder sair that ye are not shamed!’
Indeed, Ralph was in a sorrowful quandary. He knew that it was all true, and he saw no way out of it without pain and grief to some. But the thought of Winsome's cry came to him, heard in the lonesome night. That appeal had severed him in a moment from all his old life. He could not, though he were to lose heaven and earth, leave her now to reproach and ignominy. She had claimed him only in her utter need, and he would stand good, lover and friend to be counted on, till the world should end.
‘It is true what you say,’ said Ralph; ‘I mourn for it every word, but I cannot and will not submit my conscience and my heart to the keeping even of the Marrow kirk.’
‘Ye should have thought on that sooner,’ interjected the minister grimly.
‘God gave me my affections as a sacred trust. This also is part of my religion. And I will not, I cannot in any wise give up hope of winning this girl whom I love, and whom you above all others ought surely to love.’
‘Then,’ said the minister, rising solemnly with his hand outstretched as when he pronounced the benediction, ‘I, Allan Welsh, who love you as my son, and who love my daughter more than ten daughters who bear no reproach, tell you, Ralph Peden, that I can no longer company with you. Henceforth I count you as a rebel and a stranger. More than self, more than life, more than child or wife, I, sinner as I am, love the honour and discipline of the kirk of the Marrow. Henceforth you and I are strangers.’
The words fired the young man. He took up his hat, which had fallen upon the floor.
‘If that be so, the sooner that this house is rid of the presence of a stranger and a rebel the better for it, and the happier for you. I thank you for all the kindness you have shown to me, and I bid you, with true affection and respect, farewell!’
So, without waiting even to go upstairs for anything belonging to him, and with no further word on either side, Ralph Peden stepped into the clear, sobering midnight, the chill air meeting him like a wall. The stars had come out and were shining frosty-clear, though it was June.
And as soon as he was gone out the minister fell on his knees, and so continued all the night praying with his face to the earth.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.