(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 1215 words.)