Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter XX. - Jock Hall's Return
WHEN Jock and Spence returned along the
avenue, not a word was spoken for some time. Jock carried a large bundle,
with the general contents of which both were acquainted. After a while
Spence remarked, as if to break the silence, "Wee!, what do ye think o'
"He looks a fine bit decent 'sponsible
bodie," said Jock, as if speaking of a nobody.
"I should think sae!" remarked Hugh,
evidently chagrined by the cool criticism of his companion.
"Were ye no' frighted for him?" asked
"Wha?me? " replied Jock. " Frichted
for what? He said nethin' tae fricht me. Certes, I was mair frichted when
I stood afore him for threshin' the tailors! The man didna molest me, but
was unco ceevil, as I was tae him and he gied me siller and claes as I
never got frae mortal man afore, no' tae speak o' a lord, Frichted! I was
ower prood to be frichted."
"Aweel, aweel," said the keeper, "ye're
a queer cratur, Jock! and if ye haena' gowd ye hae brass. I was trimblin'
"Nae wunner," said Jock; "ye had
somethin' tae lose, but I had naethin'. What could he dae to me but pit me
oot o' the hoose? and I was gaun oot mysel'. Jock Ha' is ower far doon for
ony mortal man tae pit him doon farther. He may be better, but he canna be
waur. Naebody can hurt a dead doug, can they?"
"Tuts, Jock, my puir fallow," said
Hugh, "I didna mean to flyte on ye. I ax yer pardon."
"Gae awa, gae awa wi' yer nonsense, Mr.
Spence! " replied Jock"that's what naebody ever did, to ax my pardon, and
it's no' for a man like you tae begin. Ye micht as weel ax a rattan's
pardon for eatin' a' yer cheese! In troth I'm no gi'en mysel tae that
fashion o' axin' pardons, for it wad be a heap o' trouble for folk to
grant them. But, man, if I got wark, I would maybe be able to ax pardon o'
a decent man, and tae get it tae for the axin'!"
"I'll no' forget ye, I uo assure ye,"
said Spence, kindly. "You and me if I'm no' mista'en 'ill meet afore lang
up the way at the cottage. His lordship is willin' tae gie ye wark, and
sac am I and my faither."
Jock could not resist the new emotion
which prompted him to seize the keeper's hand and give it a hearty
squeeze. On the strength of the renewed friendship, he offered him a
The keeper, from commands received from
his lordship, found that he could not accompany Jock as far on his road as
lie had anticipated, but was obliged to part with him where his path to
Drumsylie led across the moorland. Here they sat down on a heathery hill,
when Spence said, "Afore we part, I wad like tae ken frae yersel, Jock,
hoo ye are a freen' tae Adam Mercer?"
"I never said I was a freen' tae Adam
Mercer," replied Jock.
Hugh, as if for the first time
suspecting Hall of deception, said firmly, "But ye did that! I declare ye
did, and my faither believed ye!"
"I never did sic a thing!" said Jock,
as firmly, in reply. "For I couldna do't wioot a lee, and that I never
telt tae you or yours, although in my day I hae telt ither folk an unco'
heap tae ser' Illy turn. What I said was that Adam Mercer was a freen' tae
Hugh, not quite perceiving the
difference yet, asked, "Hoo was he a freen' tae you?"
"I'll tell ye," said Jock, looking
earnestly at Hugh. "Had a man ta'en ye into his hoose, and fed ye whan
stervin', and pit shoon on ye whan baretitted, Aad spak' to ye, no' as if
ye war a brute beast, and whan naebody on yirth ever did this but himsel',
I tak' it ye wad understan' what a freen' was! Mind ye, that I'm no sic a
gomeril bad as I amor sae wantin' in decency as to even mysel' to he the
Sergeant's freen'; but as I said, and wull say till I dee, he was my freen'!"
"What way war ye brocht up that ye cant
to be sae puir as to need Adam's assistance or any ither man's? Ye surely
had as guid a chance as ony o' yer neebors?
Jock's countenance began to assume that
excited expression which the vivid recollection of his past life,
especially of his youth, seemed always to produce. But he now tried to
check himself, when the symptoms of his hysteria began to manifest
themselves in the muscles of his throat, by rising and taking a few paces
to and fro on the heather, as if resolved to regain his self-possession,
and not to leave his newly-acquired friend the keeper under the impression
that he was either desperately wicked or incurably insane. A new motive
had come into playa portion of his heart which had lain, as it were,
dormant until stimulated by the Sergeant's kindness, had assumed a power
which was rapidly, under benign influences, gaining the ascendency. In
spite of, or rather perhaps because of, his inward struggle, his face for
a moment became deadly pale. His hands were clenched. He seemed as if
discharging from every muscle a stream of suddenly-generated electricity.
Turning at length to Hugh, he said, with knit brow and keenly-piercing
eyes, "What made ye ax me sic a question, Mr. Spence?What for? I'll no'
tell ye, for I canna tell you or ony man hoo I was brocht up!"
But he did tell himas if forced to do
so in order to get rid of the demonmuch of what our readers already know
of those sad days of misery. "And noo," he added, "had ye been like a wild
fox and the hoonds after ye, or nae ulair cared for than a doug wi' a
kettle at its tail, hidin' half mad up a close ayont a midden; or a cat
nigh staned to death, pechin' its life awa' in a hole; and if ye kent
never a man or woman but wha hated ye, and if ye hated them; and, waur
than a', if he heard your ain faither and mither cursin' ye frae the time
ye war a bairn till they gaed awa' in their coffins, wi' your curses
followin' after them,ye wad ken what it was to hae ae freen' on yirth;
and noo I hae mair than ane!" And poor Jock, for the first time probably
in his life, sobbed like a child.
Spence said nothing but "Puir fellow!"
and whiffed his pipe, which he had just lighted, with more than usual
Jock soon resumed his usual calm,
"As one whose brain demoniac frenzy fires Owes to
his fit, in which his soul hath tost, Profounder quiet, when the fit
retires, Even so the dire phantasma which had crost His sense, in
sudden vacancy quite lost, Left his mind still as a deep evening
The keeper, hardly knowing what to say,
remarked, "It's ae consolation, that your wicked faither and mither will
be weel punished noo for a' their sins. Ye needna curse them! They're
beyond ony hairm that ye can do them. They're cursed eneuch, I'se warrant,
wi'oot your meddlin' wi' them."
"Guid forbid!" exclaimed Jock. "I houp
no'! I houp no'! That wad be maist awfu'!"
"Maybe," said the keeper; "but it's
what they deserve frae the han' o' justice. And surely when their ain
bairn curses them, he can say naethin' against it."
"I never cursed them, did I?" asked
Jock, as if stupified.
"Ye did that, and nae mistak'!" replied
"Losh, it was a bad job if I did!" said
Jock. "I'm sure I dinna want to hairm them, puir bodies, though they
hairmed me. In fac'," he added, after a short pause, during which he
kicked the heather vehemently, "I'm willin' tae let byganes be byganes wi'
them, and sae maybe their Maker will no' be ower sair on them Ye dinna
think, Mr. Spence, that it's possible my faither and mither are baith in
the bad place?"
"Whaur else wad they be, if no' there?"
asked the keeper.
"It's mair than I can say!" replied
Jock, as if in a dream. "I only thocht they were dead in the kirkyard.
Butbutken ye ony road o' gettin' them oot if they're yonner - burnin' ye
"Ye had better," said Hugh, "gie ower
botherin' yersel' to take them oot; rather try, man, to keep yersel' oot."
But I canna help botherin' mysel' aboot
my ain folk," replied Jock; "an' maybe they warna sae bad as I mak' them.
I've seen them baith greetin' and cryin' tae God for mercy even whan they
war fou; an' they aince telt me, after an awfu' thrashin' they gied me,
that I wasna for my life tae drink or swear like them. Surely that was
guid, Mr. Spence? God forgie them God forgie them!" murmured Jock,
covering his face with his hands; "lost sheep! - lost money! lost
ne'er-do-weels an' I'm here and them there there! Hoo comes that aboot? "
he asked, in a dreamy mood.
"God's mercy!" answered Hugh; "and we
should be mercifu' tae ither folk, as God is mercifu' to oorsel's,"
"That's what I wish thae puir sowls to
get oot o' that awfu' jail for! But I'll never curse faither or mither
mair," said Jock. "I'll sweer," he added, rising up, muttering the rhyme
as solemnly as if before a magistrate:
"If I lee, let death Cut my breathI"
"Drina fash yersel' ower muckic," said
the keeper, "for them that's awa. The Bible says, 'Shall not the Judge o'
a' the yirth dae richt? I wad think sac! Let us tak' care o' oorsel's and
o' them that's leevin', an' God will do what's richt tae them that's ayont
the grave. He has mair wisdom and love than us!"
Jock was engaged outwardly in tearing
bits of heather, and twisting them mechanically together; but what his
inward work was we know not. At last he said, "I haena heard an aith sin'
I left Drumsylie, and that's extraordinar' to me, I can assure you, Mr.
The keeper, who, unconsciously, was
calmly enjoying the contemplation of his own righteousness, observed that
"the kintra was a hantle decenter than the toon." But in a better and more
kindly spirit he said to Jock, "I'll stan' yer friend, Hall, especially
sin' his lordship wishes me td help you. Ye mae got guid claes in that
bundle, I'se warrantthe verra claes, mark ye, that were on himsel'! Pit
them on, and jist think what's on ye, and be dacent! Drop a' drinkin',
swearin', and sic trash; bend yer back tae yer burden, Ca' yer han' tae
yer wark, pay yer way, and keep a ceevil tongue in yer head, and then
'whistle ower the lave o't!' There's my han' to ye. Fareweel, and ye'll
hear frae me some day soon, whan I get a place ready for ye aboot mysel'
and the dougs."
"God's blessin' be wi' ye!" replied
They then rose and parted. Each after a
while looked over his shoulder and waved his hand.
Jock ran back to the keeper when at
some distance from him, as if he had lost something. "What's wrang?" asked
"A's richt noo!" replied Jock, as again
he raised his hand and repeated his parting words, "God's blessin' be wi'
ye;" and then ran off as if pursued, until concealed by rising ground from
the gaze of the keeper, who watched him while in sight, lost in his own
One of the first things Jock did after
thus parting with Hugh was to undo his parcel, and when he did so there
was spread before his wondering eyes such a display of clothing of every
kind as he had never dreamt of in connexion with his own person. All
seemed to his eyes as if fresh from the tailor's hands. Jock looked at his
treasures in detail, held them up, turned them over, laid them down, and
repeated the process with such a grin on his face and exclamations on his
lips as can neither be described nor repeated. After a while his
resolution seemed to be taken: for descending to a clear mountain stream,
he stripped himself of his usual habiliments, and, though they were old
familiar friends, he cast them aside as if in scorn, stuffing them into a
hole in the bank. After performing long and careful ablutions, he decked
himself in his new rig, and tying up in a bundle his superfluous
trappings, emerged on the moorland in appearance and in dignity the very
lord of the manor! "Faix," thought Jock, as he paced along," the Sterlin'
wasna far wrang when it telt me that 'a man's a man for a' that!'"
Instead of pursuing his way direct to
Drumsylie, he diverged to a village half-way between Castle Bennock and
his final destination. With his money in his pocket, he put up like a
gentleman at a superior lodging-house, where he was received with the
respect becoming his appearance. Early in the morning, when few were
awake, he entered Drumsylie, with a sheepish feeling and such fear of
attracting the attention of its gamins as made him run quickly to the
house of an old widow, where he hoped to avoid all impertinent inquiries
until he could determine upon his future proceedings. These were
materially affected by the information which in due time he received, that
Adam Mercer had been suddenly seized with illness on the day after he had
left Drumsylie, and was now confined to bed.
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