Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1215
As a young man just out of divinity school at the University of Glasgow and recently accepted for the ministry, the Reverend Micah Balwhidder was appointed to the charge of the established Presbyterian Church in the village of Dalmailing in western Scotland. Because he had been appointed by a great landowner, without their approval, the people of Dalmailing tried to prevent Mr. Balwhidder from taking his post. On the Sunday Mr. Balwhidder was installed, the officiating ministers had to enter the church through a window, because the door had been nailed fast. Nor did they try to go to the church without a guard of soldiers.
Immediately after being installed, Mr. Balwhidder began a series of visits to his parishioners, as he believed a good Calvinistic clergyman should do. He was rebuffed at door after door, until Thomas Thorl, the minister’s most outspoken opponent, relented and accepted him. The rest of the parish followed within a matter of weeks. Soon after the excitement died down, Mr. Balwhidder married his first wife Betty Lanshaw, a cousin with whom he had grown up; he believed strongly that a minister should be married to accomplish his best work.
During the first few years of his ministry in the 1760’s, Mr. Balwhidder fought earnestly against two habits among his parishioners, smuggling and drinking. He felt that both were sinful. In the end, however, he became reconciled to tea as a beverage, for he thought it better for his people to drink that instead of spirituous liquors. His main objection to smuggling was that it encouraged lawlessness among his people and resulted in the appearance of illegitimate children.
One of the chief problems in Dalmailing, so far as the minister was concerned, was the Malcolm family, composed of Mrs. Malcolm, a widow, and her five children. The minister always tried to help them succeed, for they were hardworking folk who had known better days. The first ray of success for them came when Charles Malcolm was made an officer in the merchant marine, an event which gladdened Mr. Balwhidder’s heart. In that same year, the first Mrs. Balwhidder died. Her death saddened the whole parish, for everyone had come to love her.
In the following year, 1764, Mr. Balwhidder tried to write a doctrinal book. He found, however, that he had too much to do to keep his house and servants in order and decided to look about for another wife; this decision was none too soon, for one of his maidservants was pregnant. Some of the village gossips blamed the minister, although the actual father admitted his part in the affair. As soon as a year and a day had passed after his first wife’s death, Mr. Balwhidder married Lizy Kibbock, the daughter of a very successful farmer in the parish.
The second Mrs. Balwhidder immediately set out to augment her husband’s stipend. She purchased cattle and hogs and set up a regular dairy. Within a year, she had sufficient income from her projects so that the minister’s pay could be put into the bank. Her husband approved heartily of her industry, not only because he himself was made comfortable but because the industry of his wife encouraged greater efforts on the part of other women in the parish. In that year, three coal mines were opened in the parish, bringing new prosperity to the people.
In 1767, a great event occurred in the village’s history. Lord Eaglesham, after being thrown in a muddy road that ran through the village, resolved to have a fine highway built to prevent a second occurrence. The new road made transportation much easier for the villagers. The event also caused the lord and Mr. Balwhidder to become friends, for at the time of the accident the clergyman had lent Lord Eaglesham some dry clothes. Through the nobleman’s influence, Mr. Balwhidder was on many occasions able to help the people of his village.
Scandal threatened the pulpit in 1772, when a visitor from another parish, Mr. Heckletext, was invited to speak. Shortly after his sermon, the church session learned that he was the father of an illegitimate child by one of the village girls. It was a bitter lesson for Mr. Balwhidder, who resolved never again to permit a man to speak from his pulpit until he had thoroughly investigated the stranger’s habits and character.
The 1770’s were disturbing times for the minister of Dalmailing. Mr. Balwhidder was a peace-loving man who hated to see his young parishioners enlist to fight against the rebellious colonists in America. He especially hated to hear of the battles in which some of them were killed. The greatest blow given him by the war was the death of the widow Malcolm’s son, who died a hero in a naval battle with the French. Mr. Balwhidder, who looked upon the fatherless Malcolm family as his charge, grieved as much as if the boy had been his own son.
He was also in difficulties with Lady MacAdam, an older woman who had been at court in England and France in her youth. A spirited woman who wanted to have a good time in life and to dictate to other people, she was distraught when she learned that her son, an officer in the Royal Scots regiment, was in love with the oldest Malcolm girl. She mistreated the girl shamefully, refusing even to listen to the minister’s remonstrations. Using his own judgment, he finally had to marry the young people against her wishes. She soon became reconciled, however, after the marriage had taken place.
After the close of the American Revolution, a loyal American who had returned to Britain settled in Dalmailing. This man, Mr. Cayenne, had a temper as fiery as his name. The weaving mill he set up near the village brought prosperity to the parish, but it also brought troubles. During the 1790’s, the weavers who settled there were in favor of the French Revolution, while Mr. Balwhidder and his more conservative parishioners were all opposed to it. Aside from their political differences, the weavers also belonged to different faiths, a fact which gave the minister grave concern, for he disliked any other church to set itself up as long as the Presbyterian Church was the official church of the land. He fought a lengthy but losing battle against churches which preached other doctrines than his own. It was the one problem which he felt he could not solve, for the tide of history was against him.
In 1796, Mr. Balwhidder again became a widower. Still of the opinion that to serve his people best he ought to be a married man, he took another wife a year later. His third wife was Mrs. Nugent, a widow of good reputation.
As the years passed, the minister’s two children, a son and a daughter, grew up and were married. Finally, in 1810, the church authorities decided that Mr. Balwhidder, who had served his parish for fifty years, should have some help; but he had become so deaf and so forgetful that he himself decided to retire. He preached a farewell sermon to his crowded church and then began to write into a book the annals of the parish he had served so long.
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