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The Minister-Emeritus
by [?]

Ho, let the viol’s pleasing swifter grow–

Let Music’s madness fascinate the will,

And all Youth’s pulses with the ardour thrill!

Hast thou, Old Time, e’er seen so brave a show?

Did not the dotard smile as he said “No”?

Pshaw! hang the grey-beard–let him prate his fill;

Men are but dolts who talk of Good and Ill.

These grapes of ours are wondrous sour, I trow!

They sneer because we live for other things,

And think they know The Good. I tell the fools

We have the pleasure–We! Our master flings

Full-measured bliss to all the folk he rules

Nor asks he aught for quit-rent, fee, or tithe–

Ho, Bald-head, wherefore sharpenest thy scythe?

In the winter season the Clint of Drumore is the forlornest spot in God’s universe–twelve miles from anywhere, the roads barred with snowdrift, the great stone dykes which climb the sides of apparently inaccessible mountains sleeked fore and aft with curving banks of white. In the howe of the hill, just where it bends away towards the valley of the Cree, stood a cottage buried up to its eyes in the snow. Originally a low thatch house, it had somewhat incongruously added on half a story, a couple of storm-windows, and a roof of purple Parton slates. There were one or two small office-houses about it devoted to a cow, a Galloway shelty, and a dozen hens. This snowy morning, from the door of the hen-house the lord of these dusky paramours occasionally jerked his head out, to see if anything hopeful had turned up. But mostly he sat forlornly enough, waiting with his comb drooping limply to one side and a foot drawn stiffly up under his feathers.

Within the cottage there was little more comfort. It consisted, as usual, of a “but” and a “ben,” with a little room to the back, in which there were a bed, a chair, and a glass broken at the corner nailed to the wall. In this room a man was kneeling in front of the chair. He was clad in rusty black, with a great white handkerchief about his throat. He prayed long and voicelessly. At last he rose, and, standing stiffly erect, slipped a small yellow photograph which he had been holding in his hand into a worn leather case.

A man of once stalwart frame, now bowed and broken, he walked habitually with the knuckles of one hand in the small of his back, as if he feared that his frail framework might give way at that point; silvery hair straggling about his temples, faded blue eyes, kindly and clouded under white shocks of eyebrow–such was the Reverend Fergus Symington, now for some years minister-emeritus. Once he had been pastor of the little hill congregation of the Bridge of Cairn, where he had faithfully served a scanty flock for thirty years. When he resigned he knew that it was but little that his people could do for him. They were sorry to part with him, and willingly enough accepted the terms which the Presbytery pressed on them, in order to be at liberty to call the man of their choice, a young student from a neighbouring glen, whose powers of fluent speech were thought remarkable in that part of the country. So Mr. Symington left Bridge of Cairn passing rich on thirty pounds a year, and retired with his deaf old housekeeper to the Clints of Drumore. Yet forty years before, the Reverend Fergus Symington was counted the luckiest young minister in the Stewartry; and many were the jokes made in public-house parlours and in private houses about his mercenary motives. He had married money. He had been wedded with much rejoicing to the rich daughter of a Liverpool merchant, who had made a fortune not too tenderly in the West Indian trade. Sophia Sugg was ten years the senior of her husband, and her temper was uncertain, but Fergus Symington honestly loved her. She had a tender and a kindly hearty and he had met her in the houses of the poor near her father’s shooting-lodge in circumstances which did her honour. So he loved her, and told her of it as simply as though she had been a penniless lass from one of the small farms that made up the staple of his congregation. They were married, and it is obvious what the countryside would say, specially as there were many eyes that had looked not scornfully at the handsome young minister.