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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter XIX. — Rambles in the North

page 129

Chapter XIX.
Rambles in the North.

Early in 1879 Dr Stuart's condition of health hampered his activities, and was a source of disquietude to his friends, and, to aggravate the case, he had a fall from his horse, which bruised him a good deal, and fractured a rib. The horse took fright, and bolted with him, and as he fell his foot slipped out of the stirrup-iron, otherwise the accident might have resulted more seriously than it did. His enfeebled powers forced him at moments to contemplate a partial retirement from some of the onerous public offices which he filled. "I have not been very well for a fortnight," he wrote to his Oakleigh friends, "but I am now looking up. I begin to feel that I have too many irons in the fire, and the work of watching them and striking them when hot, is causing too great a strain on my nature. I must take time to see which irons I shall hand over to younger and stronger men to watch and work. I fear I have something of the temper of Mrs Ferguson—loving work, I am reluctant to give it up." Again, on 5th August, 1879, he wrote: "The Deacons' Court wishes me to take a prolonged holiday, and visit the Old Country. I confess that I am not greatly uplifted about it. I feel that my place is to do the work of my calling, while it is clay. Still I think much of the offer."

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On 31st December of the same year he wrote to Mrs Ferguson: "..I am now verging on my three score years, and have, of course, proof upon proof that my work for Christ and His Kingdom can only be for a short space—a circumstance which should stir me up to greater diligence during the days which still remain. In recalling the past, I often say, 'If I had life to go over again, I would show more purpose and more faith.' But daily experience convinces me that this is a delusion. For, with the experience of the past, I am not sure that in the service of the Gospel I show as much purpose and faith now as I did in the days of hot youth."

On the 9th October, 1880, he left home on a month's furlough, and took train to Christchurch, making stages at all the ecclesiastical centres on the Canterbury Plain—occasionally conducting anniversary services, and giving a speech at the inevitable soiree. At Christchurch he found Mr McKee, formerly of Regent Square, Dublin—a man of rare ability, who had been recently settled in the North Belt charge, "sick unto death," and contrary to the advice of his own medical adviser, the Doctor consented to conduct the Sabbath services for him. After the funeral, he visited the Institution for Deaf Mutes, at Sumner, and was greatly gratified with the nature of the work done there to ameliorate the condition of the afflicted children. At Wellington he was the guest of three Ministers of the Crown—all old acquaintances. In quest of quiet he went down to a country district known as the Hutt, where he spent some days, and preached on the Sabbath evening page 131after a Communion service, which he greatly enjoyed.

From Wellington he went overland to Napier, through dense Native bush and across the Wairarapa Plains, past the Lake, and on to Greytown, where he halted for the night. At Masterton he was the guest of the minister—Mr McKee—whose wife is a grand-daughter of the late General Stewart, of Garth—a remote Highland cousin of the Doctor's lather. She played for him Highland Marches, which carried his heart away back to the bonnie Perthshire Glens, and at parting she sang for him a Gaelic song, which kindled a soft light in his eye and put a tingle of patriotic ardour in his veins. His next stage was Waipukurau, where he found "the houses embowered in gardens, and the churches in clumps of wood." There he had most pleasant social intercourse with the Rev. R. Fraser, "a good scholar and preacher," with whom he had a delightful ramble to Mount Herbert, the home station of the Hon. Henry Russell—pausing on their way to look at the grave, "lovely in its picturesqueness," of the last great Chief of the Maori tribe which had owned for generations the hills and woods that lay around, and hard by lay the dust of the warriors who had once acknowledged his rule. The Doctor lingered day after day in that quiet and pleasant retreat, and found it, he said, hard to tear himself away from that charming solitude which was so sweet to him, "where he could read and think and dream for hours at a stretch without disturbance."

In December he was back at work again, as busy as ever, and troubled with a persistent cough. The page 132Session now began to consider whether they should advise the congregation to give him a colleague—the Doctor to take the position of Pastor and the assistant that of Preacher; but the question of expense bulked out before many minds. He left with entire trustfulness the whole matter in the hand of God.

Old familiar faces were now vanishing, one after the other, below the horizon of his mortal life. Another of the links which had bound him to the old Falstone home was now broken. Thirteen years had passed since Miss Robertson had been removed from her place in the Dunedin Manse to join her sister in the Home above. In 1867, while on a visit to her brother at Deniliquin, in the Colony of New South Wales, she was stricken with fever, from which she seemed to have fully recovered on her return to Dunedin. But her health shortly after that failed, and she sank into a decline, from which she died on 29th May, 1868, deeply lamented by the Doctor and his family, to whom her death was a very grevious loss. And now, on the 13th December, 1881, Margaret Hedley died. Strongly attached to the family, she had come with them to Dunedin at her own private expense. Some failings were unhappily developed in her in later years, which caused keen distress to the Doctor, who was always ready to cover them with the mantle of charity. He could not find it in his heart to withhold forgivenesses from one who had shown such rare devotion, and rendered such long and faithful service to his house.

In August, 1881, he had to mourn the death of the Rev. Wm. Johnstone, of Port Chalmers, who had page 133been one of his earliest and most intimate friends in Otago—one whose ministry had been without ostentation and noise, but who had endeared himself to his people by his diligence, faithfulness, meekness, and noble Christian manliness, and had obtained the confidence and respect of the sister Churches and of the entire community. The Doctor had a strong affection for him, which Mr Johnstone warmly reciprocated. "He asked me to kiss him," he said to us, with a tearful tenderness in his voice, "when after prayer and some talk on the high themes of Christian experience, we were about to part, and I kissed him on the brow." From the Doctor's pen, we believe, came the biographical sketch of Mr Johnstone's life and ministry, which appears in the "Story of the Otago Church and Settlement."

He seemed to throw himself now with increased energy into his work, never declining calls for help, but always busy, as he sometimes said, to "distraction and weariness;" and even in the winter of 1882, when the persistent cough and hoarseness from which he suffered, led to some renewed talk of securing an assistant for him, we find him facing the rough, blustering climate of Southland, conducting opening services in the newly erected church at Riverton, rendering important aid to congregations on all sides of him, and spending his energies unsparingly in advancing the interests of the Redeemer's Kingdom.

His state of health continued to be a source of anxiety to his office-bearers. On 19th June, 1881, he wrote to his Oakleigh friends: "A committee was appointed, but I daresay we shall hear nothing more page 134about it. The fact is that an assistant would not reduce my work in any appreciable degree. My own notion is to retire when I am not able to do the work, and give my successor a fair field. I have no doubt, Providence, in answer to prayer, will open up the way, and His way is perfect."