Nestled between picturesque jade hills that cocoon a small harbour, the village of Portbal* on the Scottish coast, presents a sleepy countenance. Approachable by a slim road that hugs the supple curves of the hillside, the entire landscape is dotted with sheep grazing sunlit patches of grass that embanks the gentle, rolling braes*.
Here, the church, ministered by Reverend McDougall is a charming stone building with an expanse of grassy meadows surrounding it. The reverend, a bachelor, cuts a rather dashing figure that reduces the buxom village women to coy blubber. At a palm span over six feet; his lithe muscular frame can often be spotted striding about the village.
Everyone loves him. Why? Well because his jovial self is always available to all. Be it squabbling couples, wayward children, petulant lovers or sinners with more serious transgressions, the reverend counsels them all. In short, he is everyone’s agony aunt, err…..uncle. And, it is probably this role of his that has driven him to drink for the poor soul can many a times be spotted at ‘The Thirsty Crow’, the local watering hole.
Now, on a beautiful spring forenoon the reverend was to conduct the McGreggor and McIntosh wedding. The week before had overflowed with confessions, commiserations and counsel and the weary reverend had hit the ale hard, the previous night. To minister the wedding he appeared cassock askew, hair dishevelled and hung-over.
“The ‘everend looks ‘ungover, aye,” whispered the bride’s father, scowling.
“Yer aff yer heid*! ‘Ee would nev’r do that,” hissed the bride’s mum, a buxom woman.
Apprehensive but duly chastised the father looked at the groom and bride standing at the altar. The church brimmed over with villagers in their finery. The sweet scent of roses wafted and bagpipes played in the background. It was perfect.
The ceremony began.
“Dearly beloved,” began the reverend, “we are gathered today….hic! hic!…”
The congregation gasped.
Aghast at his infraction, the reverend hastily gulped some water and resumed. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered…hic! hic! hic!”
“Aye, ‘ee be drunk as a skunk,” concluded the bride’s father, grumpily. “St. Andrew* ‘ave mercy on me lass*.”
But, nothing could be done. Only the reverend could marry the couple.
“Here to witness…hic! hic!, in sight of God…hic!, and unite this couple in holy…hic! hic!..matrimony.”
“The codger’s wasted, all’ight,” said someone from the back.
The bride’s father cradled his head in his hands. “The weddin’s doomed,” he moaned.
“Keenan McIntosh,” the reverend continued addressing the now pale faced groom, “do you…” only to stop midsentence. His face turned green, as he gagged on his words. Lickety-split he clutched his hands to his mouth, his eyes darting, desperately searching for someone in the congregation.
Dr. Abernathy, the village GP nimbly stepped forward and asked, “Hello! Is it me you’re looking for?”
And that is how on that day Reverend McDougall received something that he always dispensed to the villagers– sage counsel. The wedding was finally conducted by his sober self, later in the afternoon.
AUTHOR’S NOTE – this story is a work of fiction. The characters and their traits are purely fictitious and a figment of the author’s imagination. The attempt is not to malign any community, country or its peoples.
Portbal – A fictitious name given to a village. However, in Gaelic the word ‘bal’ pronounced “baile” means a village
Braes – Scottish for slopes
Yer aff yer heid – a Scottish saying meaning ‘you’re off your head or you’re crazy’.
St. Andrew – Patron saint of Scotland
Lass – Scottish for girl.
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