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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XIV. - Jock Hall's Conspiracy


ON the Sunday, when the Sergeant went to church, as we have already described, Jock Hall was quartered for the day with Mrs. Craigie. To do Smellie justice, he did not probably know how very worthless this woman was, far less did the Kirk Session. She was cunning and plausible enough to deceive both. Her occasional attendance at church was sufficient tt keep up appearance. The custom of boarding out pauper children with widows, except when these are not respectable, has on the whole worked well, and is infinitely superior to the workhouse system. Mrs. Craigie belonged to the exceptional cases. She accommodated any lodger who might turn up.

Jock and Mrs. Craigie were at the window, a second storey one, criticising the passers-by to church, as one has seen the loungers at a club window do the ordinary passers-by on week-days. The Sergeant and his wife, with Mary following them, suddenly attracted their attention.

"The auld hypocrite!" exclaimed Mrs. Craigie; "there he gangs, as prood as a peacock, haudin' his head up when it should be bowed doon wi' shame to the dust! An' his wife, tae!—eh! what a bannet!—sic a goon! Sirs me! Baith are the waur o' the wear. Ha! ha! ha! And Mary! as I declare, wi' new shoon, a new bannet, and new shawl! The impudent hizzy that she is! It's a' to spite me, for I see'd her keekin' up to the window. But stealt bairns can come to nae guid; confoond them a' !—though I shouldna say't on the Sabbath day."

Hall stood behind her, and watched the group over her shoulder. "Ye're richt, Luckie," he said, "he is an auld hypocrite. But they are a' that - like minister, like man. 'Confoond them,' ye say; 'Amen,' / say; but what d'ye mean by stealt bairns?

Ah, Jock, art thou not also a hypocrite!

Mrs. Craigie had left the window, and sat down beside the fire, the church-goers having passed, and the church bell having ceased to ring. Jock then lighted his pipe opposite Mrs. Craigie. "What d'ye mean," he asked again, "by stealt bairns?"

"I mean this," replied she, "that yon auld hypocrite, sodger, and poacher, Adam Mercer, stealt Mary Semple frae me!" and she looked at Hall with an expression which said, "What do you think of that?" Then having been invited by Hall to tell him all about the theft, she did so, continuing her narrative up to the moment when she was ordered out of the house by Adam; saying now as on that occasion, "But I hae freen's, and I'll pit Smellie to smash him yet' I'll get my revenge oot o' him, the auld bitin' brock that he is. Smellie is my freen', and he has mair power, far, than Adam wi' the minister." So thought Mrs. Craigie.

"Is Sinellie yer freen'?" asked Hall, without taking his pipe out of his mouth, "and does he hate Adam? and does he want Mary back tae you?"

"That does he," replied Mrs. Craigie; "and he wad gie onything to get Mary back tae me."

"Then, my certes, Smellie has pooèr! nae doot o' that," remarked Hall, with a grim smile; "for he has helpit to pit me mony a time into the jail. Wad it obleege him muckle tae get Mary back frae the Sergeant? Wad he befrccn' me if I helped him ?" asked Jock confidentially.

"It wad be a real treat till him!" exclaimed Mrs. Craigie; "and he wad befreen' ye a' yer life! An', Hall-"

"But," asked Jock, interrupting her, "what did ye say aboot poachin'? Was Adam in that line?"

"Him!" exclaimed Mrs. Craigie; "Ise warrant he was—notorious!"

"Hoo d'y ken?" inquired Jock.

"Smellie telt me! but mind ye, he said I was to keep it quait till he gied me the wink, ye ken;" and Mrs. Craigie gave a knowing wink. She did not know that Smellie had already peached. "For hoo Smellie kent was this, that he had some sort o' business in the place whaur Mercer leeved—that's north in Bennock parish—afore he was a sodger; and Smellie picked up a' the story o' his poachin, for Smellie is awfu' shairp; but he wad never tell't till he could pit it like a gag into the prood mouth o' Adam; and Smellie says he'll pit it in noo, and let Adam crunch his theeth on't," said Mr'. Craigie, gnashing the few she had herself.

Hall manifested a singular inquisitivness to know as much as possible about those poaching days, and their locality, until at last being satisfied, and having learned that the old keeper of Lord Bennock was still alive, though, as Mrs. Craigie said, "clean superannuat," and that he was, moreover, Adam's cousin, Jock said, "What an awfu' blackguard Adam maun be! If I had kent what I ken noo, I never wad hae gi'en him my boots to men'."

"Yer boots to men'!" exclaimed Mrs. Craigie, with astonishment; "what for did ye do that?"

"He had nae wark."

"Ser' him richt! " said Mrs. Craigie.

"And I patroneesed him," continued Jock.

"Ha! ha! It was far ower guid o' ye, Jock, tae patroneese him," said Mrs. Craigie. "Ye'll no pay him, I houp? But he's sic a greedy fallow, that he micht expec' even a puir sowl like you tae pay."

"Me pay him!" said Jock, with a laugh, "maybe—when I hae paid the debt o' natur; no till then."

"But, Jock," asked Mrs. Craigie, almost in a whisper, "did ye see Mary, the wee slut?"

"I did that," replied Jock, "an' it wad hae broken yer feelin' heart. Luckie, had ye seen her!—no lying as a puir orphan paid for by the Session ocht to lie, on a shake-doon, wi' a blanket ower her,—my certes, guid eneuch for the like o' her, and for the bawbees paid for her—"

"Guid ?—ower guid!" interpolated Mrs. Craigie.

"But," continued Hall, with a leer, "she was mair like a leddy, wi' a bed till hersel', an' curtains on't; and sitting in a chair, wi' stockin's and shoon, afore the fire--learning her lesson, too, and coddled and coodled by Adam and his wife. What say ye to that, Luckie? what say ye to that?"

"Dinna' rnak' me daft!" exclaimed Mrs. Craigie; "it's eneuch to mak' a bodie swear e'en on the Sabbath day!"

"Swear awa' !" said Hall; "the day maks nae difference to me. Sae ca' awa', woman, if it wuli dae ye ony guid, or gie ye ony comfort."

Mrs. Craigie, instead of accepting the advice of her "ne'er-do-weel" lodger, fell into a meditative mood. What could she be thinking about? Her Sabbath thoughts came to this, in their practical results—a proposal to Jock Flail to seize Mary as she was returning from church, and to bring her again under the protection of her dear old motherly friend. She could not, indeed, as yet take her from under the Sergeant's roof by force, but could the Sergeant retake her if by any means She were brought back under her roof?

Jock, after some consideration, entertained the proposal, discussed it, and then came to terms. "What wull ye gie me?" he at last asked.

"A glass o' whuskey and a saxpence!" said Mrs. Craigie.

"Ba! ba!" said Jock; "I'm nae bairn, but gleg and canny, like a moudievart! Saxpence! Ye ken as weel as I do that if the Shirra - for, losh me! I ken baith him an' the law ower weel!—if he heard ye were plottin' an plannin' to grip a bairn that way on the Sabbath, and payin' me for helpin' ye—my word! you and me wad be pit in jail; and though this micht be a comfort tae me—lodgings and vittals for naething, ye ken, and a visit to an auld hame—it wadna dae for a Christian woman like you, Luckie! Eh, lass? it wad never dae! What wad the minister and Smellie say? no' t speak o' the Sergeant ? —hoo he wad craw! Sae unless ye keep it as quait as death, an' gie me half-a-crown, I'll no' pit my han' on the bairn."

"The bargain's made!" said Mrs. Craigie. But ye maun wait till I get a shilling rnair frae Mrs. D'rymple, as I've nae change."

"Tell her to come ben," said Jock. "Can ye trust her wi' the secret? Ye should get her tae help ye, and tae swear, if it comes tae a trial, that the bairn cam' tae ye o' her ain free consent, mind. I'm ready, for half-a-crown mair, to ge my aith to the same effec'."

"Ye're no far wrang; that's the plan!" said Mrs. Craigie. "I can trust Peggy like steel. An' I'm sure Mary does want to come tae me. That's the truth and nae lee. Sae you and Peggy D'rymple may sweer a' that wi' a guid conscience."

But my conscience," said Jock, "is no sae guid as yours or Peggy's, an' it'll be the better o' anither half-crown, in case I hae to sweer, to keep it frae botherin' me. But I'll gie ye credit for the money, an' ye'll gie me credit for what I awe ye for my meat and lodgin' sin' Monday."

A' richt, a' richt, Jock; sae be't," replied Mrs. Craigie, as she went to fetch her neighbour, who lived on the same flat.

Mrs. Dalrymple was made a member of the privy council which met in a few minutes in Mrs. Craigie's room, the door being bolted.

"I'm nae hypocrite," confessed Jock. "I scorn to be ane, as ye do; for ye dinna preten' to be unco guid, and better than ither folk, like Adam Mercer, or that godly man Smellie. I tell ye, then, I'm up to onything for money or drink. I'll Eteal, I'll rob, I'll murder, I'll—"

"Whisht, whisht, Jock! Dinna speak that wild way an' frichten folk!—Be canny, man, be canny, or the neebours 'll hear ye," said the prudent Mrs. Craigie, who forthwith explained her plan to her confidential and trustworthy friend, who highly approved of it as an act of justice to Mrs. Craigie, to Mary, and the Kirk Session. Half-a-crown was to be Mrs. Dalrymple's pay for her valued aid. Hall arranged that the moment the women saw the Sergeant coming from church, they were to give him a sign; and then they—leaving the window, and retiring behind the door—were to be ready to receive Mary and hold her fast when brought to the house. To enable Hall to execute the plot more easily, Mrs. Craigie gave him, at his own suggestion, in order to entice Mary, a few spring flowers she had got the evening before from a neighbour's garden, as a posey" for the church—which she had not, however, attended, being deprived of the priviege, as she meant to assure Smellie, by illness. Jock had already accepted of a glass of whisky. But as the exciting moment approached, and as the two women had helped themselves to a cheerer, as they called it, he got a second gla:s to strengthen his courage. His courage, however, did not seem to fail him, for he once or twice whistled and hummed some song—to the great horror of his good friends; and, strange to say, he also fell into a fit of uncontrollable laughter— at the thought, so he said, of how the old hypocrite and his wife would look when Mary was missed and found to be with Mrs. Craigie I Much warty sympathy was expressed with his strange humour.

The service in the "auld kirk," as the parish church is called, being over, the congregation were walking home. One or two of its members had already passed the window where sat the eager and expectant conspirators. Jock Hall, with a bunch of flowers, was ready to run down-stairs, to the close mouth, the moment the appointed signal was given. Very soon the Sergeant and his wfe made their appearance a little way off, while Mary—how fortunate for the plotters!— followed at some distance. No sooner were they discovered, than the two women retired from the window, and gave the signal to Hall to "be off!" They then ensconced themselves, as previously arranged, at the back of the door, with eager and palpitating hearts.

Jock sprang out, shutting the door after him, and rattling down-stairs reached the street just as Mary was within a few yards. When she was passing the close, he stepped out, and with a kind voice said, "I hae a message for your faither, Mary dear! Jist speak to me aff the 'treet." Mary, no longer associating Hall with the thought of a wild man, but of one who had been a guest of the Sergeant's, entered the close. Jock Hall gave her the flowers and said: "Gie this posey to your mither, for the gran' tea she made for me; and gie this half-croon to yer faither for the braw boots he patched for me. Noo run awa', my bonnie lassie, and be guid, and do whatever yer faither and mither bid ye, or Jock Hall wull be angry wi' ye--run!"

Mrs. Craigie, in her excitement and curiosity, could not resist the temptation of going again to the window, and no sooner had she seen Mary enter the close than she ran to her retreat behind the door, whispering joyfully to Mrs. Dalrymple, The wee deevil is catched, and coming!"

In a moment Jock was at the door, and while he firmly held the key outside, he opened it so far as to let in his head. Then addressing the women, he said in an under-breath, or rather hiss: "Whisht! dinna speak! I catched her." I gied her the posey for Mrs. Mercer—I gied her the half-croon to pay Mr. Mercer for my boots!—. and she's hame!—an' ye'll never get her!—You twa limmers are cheated! If ye cheep, I'll tell the Shirra. Jock Hall is nae hypocrite! Deil tak' ye baith, and Smellie likewise! I'm aff!" and before a word could be spoken by the astonished conspirators, Jock locked the door upon them, and flinging the key along the passage he sprang down-stairs and fled no one knew whither!

Mary gave the bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Mercer, whose only remark was: "Wha wad hae thocht it !" and she gave the half-crown to Adam, who said: "I never hae been as thankfu' for a day's wage! Pit it in the drawer, and keep it for Jock. I'm no feared but wi' God's help I'll mak' a sodger o' him yet! For as Charlie's bairn, wee! remarks: 'A man's a man for a' that,'"


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