Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter XIII. - Jock
Hall, The Neer Do Weel
WE. must go back for a few days in our
story. During the lonely week which we have but very partially and
inadequately described—for how few would believe that a man with a good
conscience and good sense could suffer so much in SLICII circumstances
!-the Sergeant received a visit from Jock Hall, who has been already
mentioned, and whom Katie described as "a ne'er-do-weel."
Katie's estimate of Jock's character
was that of Drumsylie. Most parishes, indeed, have their quota of
weaklings in intellect and weaklings in morals. Jock belonged to the
latter class. He was a thin, sallow-faced man, of a nervous temperament,
and with lank black hair, and sharp piercing unrestful eyes. He might be
aged thirty, although he looked liker forty. His jacket was made of
fustian, which might have been clean some years before; his corduroy
trousers had ragged endings, beneath which were revealed old boots and
worn-out stockings; while a tattered bonnet covered his capacious head—a
head that, phrenologically, was of a superior type. How Hall lived no one
knew, nor cared to know. His lodging, when under a roof, varied with the
means at his disposal for paying rent. If any unknown householder, in the
unknown recesses of the small towns which Jock visited, permitted him to
sleep gratis on the floor near the fire, it was a secret known and
appreciated by himself only.
Jock had never presumed to enter so
aristocratic a house as Adam's. But now that public report had brought the
Sergeant down somewhat nearer to his own level, and that he had a pair of
boots to mend without having any credit with even the most drunken cobbler
in Drumsylie, Jock thought that, under the whole circumstances of the
case, moral and commercial, he might visit the Sergeant' without any
offence. He did so, te the astonishment of Adam, and much more to that of
his wife. "What do ye want wi' Mr. Mercer?" was her question, as she
opened the door to Jock's knock.
"Business!" was his. short and decided
reply. When tie entered the small but cleanly kitchen, his only remark
was, "Like a new preen!" Looking round with a half-vacant, half-curious
gaze, he fixed his eyes on the Sergeant for a moment, then walking up to
the starling's cage, he muttered, "Deevils!"
This brief exclamation arrested the
attention of Adam, who asked, "What do ye mean, my man? D'ye ken what
"Fine!" replied Jock. "Deevils! again
say I!" The Sergeant rose, tapped him on the shoulder, and pointed to the
"I understan'," said Jock; "ye wad hae
me gang oot. Ye're no' the first that has sent Jock Hall that gait! Maist
folk like to see his back a hantle better than his face. But I'm no' gaun
oot at present, Sergeant That stirlin' o' yours 'll no' let me. I'm fond
o' birds—in fac, they're the only leevin' things I care for. I never liked
canaries, they're ower genteel and ower particklar aboot bein' coodled, to
please a tramp like me that never was in that way mysel'. But our ain
birds— that's maavies, unties, and laverocks, or even gooldies, that can
stan' a' wathers, and sing for a' folk, specially for them that's obleeged
to lie oot in wuds, or on the heather—them's the singers for Jock Hall!
But I'm no weel acquaint xvi' thae stirlin's. I'm telt that yours is no
canny, an' that it speaks like an auld-farrant bairn. Eh?" And Jock turned
to the cage from which his attention had for a moment been diverted; and
while the Sergeant was earnestly studying his strange guest, the guest was
as earnestly studying the strange bird. The starling was singularly still,
and seemed to sympathise with his master in his study of Hall. He then
leaped up to his perch, turned his back to Jock, shook his feathers,
turned round and again looked at his visitor with a steady gaze.
"That's a fearsome bird!" said Hall,
without moving. As sure as I'm leevin, I see'd his ee gettin' bigger and
bigger, till it was like a sax- pence as it glowered at me. I was
frichtened it kent a'thing I was doin' or thinkin' aboot!"
"Let the bird alane!" said the
Sergeant, "and come here to the window if ye hae ony business xvi' me,
Jock obeyed; but twice, between the
cage and the window, he looked over his shoulder at the starling, as if he
was afraid of him.
"What do ye want wi' me?" inquired the
"Hoo lang," asked Hall, in a low voice,
if ye had that bird? Hoo auld is he? Whaur did ye get him? What does he
"Never heed the bird," interrupted the
Sergeant: "he's doin' ye nae ill."
"I'm no' sae sure but he could do't if
he took a thraw at me," said Jock; "I'll wager he has seen me afore, an'
kens me—for he's no canny."
"Nonsense!" said Adam.
"If it's nonsense," replied Jock, "what
way has he brocht you into this habble? What for do ye be him sac wed? Why
wad ye gie up, as I hear ye wad, yer verra saul and body for this world
and the neist, for the sake o' the bird? What way do they say he's a
"Haud yer tongue, Hall," said the
"it speak ahoot yer ain business, no'
"My business!" exclaimed Jock; "at yer
service, Mr. Mercer, at yer service!"
"Oot wi't, then, and be done wi't,"
"It's my business, then," said Hall,
"to come here an' abuse a' thae deevils,—Porteous, Smellie; and the
lave—that abused that bird ! that's my business—the chief part o't,"
continued Hall, in rather an excited manner; "an' the bird kens that, I'm
certain,—just see hoo he's glowerin' at me! I'se warrant he has watched me
in the woods afore he was catched; an' if he is a witch, and kens aboot
"Haud yer tongue, Hall, this moment,"
said the Sergeant, with a loud voice of command, "or I'll pit ye oot like
a doug! If ye hae a message to deliver, say it and be aff."
Jock was suddenly quiet, as if arrested
by some strong power. Then in a more natural tone of voice he said, "It's
no' worth the while o' an auld sodger to kick a man like me. But let
sleepin' dougs lie ! Dougs hae teeth, and their bite is bad when mad—when
mad!" Then, after a pause, he vent on, in a laughing mood, "But I hae
business, important business wi' ye, Sergeant; an' afore we proceed to
consider it, ye'll tak' a snuff? It pits brains into a bodie's head ;" and
Jock produced a small tin snuffbox, and opening the lid he looked into it
with an expression of anxiety. "There's twa, I'm sure,—twa snuffs; an' I
consider a man is no' poor wha has ae snuff for himsel' and anither for a
neebor. Sae tak' a snuff!" and he handed the box to the Sergeant, as he
himself leant back in his chair, crossed one leg over another, and
pointing to his boots said, "That's some business, since ye insist on it!
I want to gie ye a job, Mr. Mercer, for I hear ye're idle." Then turning
up the soles of his wretched boots, which looked like a kind of leather
vegetable about to rot into earth mould, he said, "They'll be ill to
patch, or to fit new soles on, but I ken ye're a gude tradesman. Try."
Adam only smiled.
"Ye'll be like the lave," Jock
continued, it prood 'to work for a man like me. I wadna wunner if yc're no
sure o' payment. Sae maybe it's as weel to tell ye, that as far as I ken,
ye'!l never get a bawbee frae me! For Jock Hall is a braw customer to them
that'll ser' him—though, faix, there's no mony o' that kind noo !—but he's
a bad .payer. In fac, he has clean forgot hoo to pay an accoont."
Sorrow softens the hearts of good men;
and if it is in any degree occasioned by unjust treatment, it prompts
charitable sympathies towards others who are condemned as wicked by
society without a fair hearing ever having been afforded them. When the
streams of their affection have been frozen by the cold reception given
where a warm welcome was anticipated, it is a relief to let them flow into
other and dried-up cisterns where in despair, from a long drought, such
blessings were never expected, and are joyfully appreciated.
So Adam felt kindly towards Jock,
though lie only said, "I'll men' your boots for that fine pinch o' snuff,
and they'll cost ye nae mair except guidwill, and that's cheap."
Jock Hall looked rather perplexed, and
cleared out his box with his long finger, pressing his last snuff
vehenently into his nostril. Then resuming, as if with difficulty, his
care1cs manner, he said, ' Hae the boots ready by Friday nicht, as I maun
fish the East Muir water on Saturday."
Ye may depend on them, Jock! And noo,
as yer business is done, ye may gang." The Sergeant did not wish him to
resume his wild talk, as he had threatened to do.
Jock crossed his arms, and gazed on the
Sergeant as if he would look him through. Then grasping his own throat,
and looking wildly, he said "It's come! it's come! The evil speerit is
chokin' me! He is here like a cannon ball! I maun speak, or my head will
rive! I maun curse Porteous, and the kirk, and religion, and elders, and
Sabbath days, and a' thing guid!" and his eyes flashed fire.
The Sergeant could not make him out, as
they say. He was disposed to think him insane, though he had never heard
Jock's name associated with anything save recklessness of character. He
therefore did nothing but return the gaze of the excited man. Katie,
unwilling to sit in the same room with him, had retired to her bedroom.
Mary sat at the fireside with her book in evident alarm.
"I hate them!" repeated Jock, almost
grinding his teeth.
"What do ye mean, Jock?" asked Adam,
quietly but firmly. "Do you want to quarrel wi' me?"
"I mean," said Jock, bending towards
the Sergeant, "that noo the fingers o' religion are grippin' j'er windpipe
and chokin' ye, as the evil speerit is grippin' and chokin' me—that noo ye
hae ministers an' elders o' religion kicking ye in the glaur, lauchin at
ye, bizzin at ye as a blackguard—that noo when c'en Luckie Craigie an'
Smellie Ca' ye bad, as a' folks hae ca'ed me a' my days—I thocht," he
continued, with a sarcastic grin, "that ye wad like ane waur than yersel'
to speak wi' ye, and, if ye liked, to curse wi' ye! Aha, lad! I'm ready!
Say the word, and Jock Hall's yer man. I ha'e poower noo in me for ony
The Sergeant experienced what is called
in Scotland a grew—the sort of shiver one feels in a nightmare—as if a
real demoniac was in his presere. Fascinated as by a serpent, lie said,
"Say awa', Jock, for I dinna understan' ye."
On this Jock became apparently more
composed. But when with a suppressed vehemence he was again beginning to
speak, it struck the Sergeant to interrupt the current of his passionate
thoughts, on the plea that he wished to hear Mary her lesson. His object
was, not only to calm Jock, but also to get the child out of the room.
"Mary," he said, after having assured
her there was no cause of fear, and placing her between his knees, "wha
should we trust?"
"God! " replied Mary.
"Why?" asked the Sergeant.
"Because His name is Love, and He is
"Richt, Mary; and we ought a' to love
our Faither, for He loves us, and to love our neebour as ourselves. Gang
awa' ben to your mither noo. Ye hae done weel."
When the door of the bedroom was shut,
Jock Hall said, "That's Luckie Craigie's lassie? Fine woman, Luckie!
Kindly bodie! A gude hoose is hers to sen' a puir orphan to. Ha! ha! ha!
Keep us a'!—it's a wand this, far ower guid for me! But Luckie is like the
lave, and Smellie, to do him justice, as he has ruony a time done tae me,
is no waur than Luckie:
'When hungry gledds are screichin', An' huntin' for
their meat. If they grip a bonnie birdie, What needs the birdie
An' ye're to pay yersel' for the
lassie, Smellie says; an' ye're to teach her! A fine lesson yon Ha! ha!
ha! Jock Hall lauchs at baith o' ye!"
The Sergeant was getting angry. Hall
seemed now to be rather a free- -an d-easy blackguard, although there was
a weird gleam in his eye which Adam did not understand; and in spite of
his self-respect, he felt a desire to hear more from Jock. So he only
remarked looking steadily at him, "Jock! tak' care what ye say—tak' care!"
"Oo ay," said Hall. "I'm lang eneuch in
the wand to ken that advice! But what care I for the advice o' you or ony
man? It was for me, nae doot, ye intended that lesson? I'm as glad as a
fish rising to a flee! The lassock said we should love our faither! Hoo
daur you or ony man say that tae me?" Then, leaning forward with staring
eyes and clenched fist, he said, "I hated my faither! I hated my mither!
They hated me. My faither was a Gospel man he gaed to the kirk on Sabbath—wha
but him! and he drank when he could get it the rest o' the week; an' he
threshed my mither and us time aboot— me warst o' a', as I was the
youngest. I focht mony a laddie for lauchin' at him and for ca'in him
names when he was fou, and mony a bluidy nose I got; but he threshed me
the mair. My mither, tae, gaed to the kirk, and begged claes for me and my
brithers and sisters frae guid folk, and said that my faither wasna weel
and couldna work. Oh, mony a lee I telt for them baith! And she drank, as
weel, and focht wi' my faither and us time aboot. And syne they selt a'
their claes and a' their blankets, and left us wi' toom stomachs and toom
hearts, cowerin' aboot a toom grate wi' cauld cinders. I never was at
skule, but was cuffed and kickit like a doug; and my wee brithers and
sisters a' dee'd—I dinna ken hoo: but they were starved and threshed, puir
things! But they were waik, and I was strang. Sae I leeved - waes me! I
leeved! I hae sat oot in the plantin' mony it nicht greetin' for my bither
Jamie, for he had a sair cough and dwined awa', naked and starved. He aye
gied me his bit bread that he stealt or beggit"—and Jock cleared his
throat and wiped his forehead with a scrap of a ragged handkerchief. "But
my faither and mither dee'd, thank God! I hate them noo, and they hated
me—they hated me, they did "—and he fell into a sort of dream. His
vehemence sank into a whisper ; and he spoke as one in sleep—"An' a' folks
hate me—hate me. An' what for no'? I hate them!—God forgive me! Na, na!
I'll no' say Eluit. There's nae God! But I believe in the Deevil—that I
Jock sank back in his chair, as if very
wearied, and closed his eyes, his chest heaving. Then opening his eyes, he
said in a low tone, "The bird kens that! Wha' telt him?" and his eyes were
"Jock, my man," said the Sergeant,
perplexed, yet kindly, "I dinna hate ye."
But Jock went on as in a dream. "I hac
led an awfu' life o't! I hae starved and stealt; I hae poached and robbed;
I hae cursed and drank; I hae 'listed and deserted; I hae lain oot on
muirs and in mosses. I'm Jock Hall! a'body kens me, and a' hate me as I do
them! And what guid did yer ministers and elders, yer Sabbath days and yer
preachings, do for me? Curse them a', I say! what's Jock Hall's saul
worth! It's no' worth the burnin'! What care I?
'Cock-a-Bendy's lying sick, Guess what'll mend him?
Hang the blackguard by the throat, And that'll soon end him! '"
"Be quiet, my puir fellow," said the
Sergeant, "and listen to me. I never harmed you, Jock; I couldna harm you!
I never wull harm you. I'll feed ye noo; I'll gie ye shoon; I'll stan' yer
Jock looked up, and in a calm tone
said, "My head is spinnin' and my heart is sick! I havena eaten a bit
since yesterday. Dinna flyte on me e'enoo, I'm no mysel'; wait a wee, Mr.
Mercer, and then ye can abuse me, or kick me." With still greater calm he
added in a few seconds, and looking round like one waking up more and more
into life, "I hac been dreaming or raving! Man, Mercer, I think I tak'
fits sometimes—especially when I'm lang wi'oot meat. What was I saying
"Naething particular," said Adam,
wishing not to rouse him, but to feed him; "never heed, Jock. But bide a
wee, I'll gie ye a nice cup of tea and a smoke after it, and we'll hae a
crack, and ye'll comfort me in yer ain way, and I'll comfort you in mine."
Jock, like a man worn out with some
great exertion, sat with his head bent down between his hands—the veins of
his forehead swollen. The Sergeant, after some private explanation with
Katie, got tea and wholesome food ready for Jock; and. that he might take
it in peace, Adam said that he had to give Mary another lesson in the
Hall was thus left alone with the food,
of which he ate sparingly. When Adam again entered the kitchen, Jock was
calm. The Sergeant soon engaged him in conversation after his own method,
beginning by telling some of his soldier stories, and then bit by bit
unfolding the Gospel of Peace to the poor man, and seeking to drop a few
loving words from his own softened heart to soften the heart of the
The only remark Jock made was, "I wish
I'd been in a battle, and been shot, or dee'd wi' oor Jamie! But what for
did I tell you a' this? I never spak' this way to mortal man! It's that
bird, I tell ye. What's wrang wi't?"
Naething!" replied the Sergeant; "it's
a' nonsense ye're talking. I'll let ye see the cratur, to convince ye that
he is jist as natural and nice as a mavis or laverock,"
"Stop!" said Jock, "I dinna like him.
He is ower guid for me! I tell ye I'm a deevil! But bad as I am—and I'll
never be better, nor ever do ae haun's turn o' guid in this world— never,
The Sergeant rose and took down the
cage, placing it before Hall, saying, "Jist look at his speckled breest
and bDnnie Ce! Gie him this bit bread yersel', and he'll be cheerie, and
mak' us a' cheerie."
Jock took the bread and offered it to
Charlie, who, seeing the gift, declared "A man's a man for a' that!" "Guid
be aboot us!" said Hal!, starting back; "hear what he says to me ! If
that's no' a witch, there's nane on yirth! I said I was a deevil, he says
I'm a man!"
"And sae ye are a man for a' that, and
no sic a bad ane as ye think. Cheer up, JockI" said Adam, extending his
hand to him.
Jock took the proffered hand, and said,
"I dinna understan' a' this—but—but—I was gaun to say, God bless ye! But
it's no' for me to say that; for I never was in a decent hoose afore—but
only in jails, and amang tramps and ne'er-do-weels like mysel'. I'm no' up
tae menners, Sergeant—ye maun excuse me."
Jock rose to depart. Before doing so he
looked again round the comfortable clean room—at the nice fire and
polished grate-.---at Charlie's bed with its white curtains—and at the
bird, so happy in its cage—then, as if struck by his own ragged clothes
and old boots, he exclaimed, "It wasna for me to hae been in a hoose like
this." Passing the bedroom door, he waved his hand, saying, "Fareweel,
mistress; fareweel, Mary," and turning to the Sergeant, he added, "and as
for you, Sergeant--" There he stopped—but ending with a special farewell
to the starling, he went to the door.
"Come back soon and see me," said the
Sergeant. "I'll be yer freen', Jock. I hae 'listed ye this day, and I'll
mak' a sodger o' ye yet,' an' a better ane, I hope, than mysel'."
"Whisht, whisht!" said Jock. "I have
mair respec' for ye than to let ye be my freen'. But for a' that, mind,
I'm no gaun to pay ye for my boots—and ye'!l hae them ready 'gin Friday
nicht, for Saturday's fishin'—fareweel !"
"A' richt, Jock," said Adam.
No sooner had Hall left the house than
the Sergeant said to himself, "God have mercy on me! I to be unhappy after
that! I wi' Katie and Mary! I wi' mercies temporal and spiritual mair than
can be numbered! Waes me! what have I done? Starling, indeed! that's
surely no' the question—but starvation, ignorance, cruelty, hate, despair,
hell, at our verra doors! God help puir Jock Hall, and may He forgive Adam
Jock got his boots on Friday night,
well repaired. He said nothing but "Thank ye," and "Ye'!! get naething
frae me." But on Saturday evening a fine basket of trout was brought by
him to the Sergeant's door. Jock said, "There's beauties! Never saw better
trout! splendid day!" But when the Sergeant thanked him, and offered him a
sixpence, Jock looked with wonder, saying, "Dinna insult a bodiel"
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