Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter XXII. - Corporal Dick
CORPORAL DICK, who lived in the village
of Darnic, several hours' journey by the "Highflyer" coach from Drumsylie,
came at this time to pay his annual visit to the Sergeant.
The Corporal, while serving in the same
regiment with Adam, had been impressed, as we have, already indicated, by
the Christian character of his comrade. Those early impressions had been
deepened shortly after his return home from service. We need not here
record the circumstances in which this decided change in his sentiments
and character had taken place. Many of our Scotch readers, at least, have
heard of the movement in the beginning of this century by the devoted
Haldanes, who, as gentlemen of fortune, and possessing the sincerest and
strongest Christian convictions, broke the formality which was freezing
Christian life in many a district of Scotland. They did the same kind of
work for the Church in the North which Wesley and Whitfield had done for
that in the South, though with less permanent results as far as this world
is concerned. Dick joined the "Haldaneites." Along with all the zeal and
strictness characteristic of a small body, he possessed a large share of
bonhomie, and of the freedom, subdued and regulated, of the old soldier.
At these annual visits the old veterans
fought their battles over again, recalling old comrades and repeating old
stories; neither, however, being old in their affections or their
memories. But never had the Corporal .visited his friend with a more eager
desire to "hear his news" than on the present occasion. He had often asked
people from Drumsylie, whom he happened to meet, what all this disputing
and talk about Adam Mercer meant? And every new reply he received to his
question, whether favourable or unfavourable to the Sergeant, only puzzled
him the more. One thing, however, he never could be persuaded of— that his
friend Adam Mercer would do anything unbecoming to his "superior officer,"
as he called the minister; or "break the Sabbath," an institution which,
like every good Scotchman, he held in peculiar veneration; or be art or
part in any mutiny against the ordinances or principles of true religion.
And yet, how could he account for all that had been told him by "decent
folk" and well-informed persons? The good he heard of the Sergeant was
believed in by the Corporal as a matter of course; but what of the evil,
which seemed to rest upon equally reliable authority?
Dick must himself hear the details of
the "affair," or the battle, as it might turn out.
It was therefore a glad day for both
Adam and the Corporal when they again met;—to both a most pleasant change
of thought—a glad remembrance of a grand old time already invested with
romance—a meeting of men of character, of truth and honour, who could call
each other by the loyal name of Friend.
We must allow the reader to fill up the
outline which alone we can give of the meeting—the hearty greetings
between the two old companions in arms; the minute questions by the one,
the full and candid answers by the other; the smiling Katie ever and anon
filling up the vacancies left in the narrative of ecclesiastical trials by
the Sergeant, from his modesty or want of memory; the joyous satisfaction
of Dick, as he found his faith in his comrade vindicated, and saw how firm
and impregnable he was in his position, without anything to shake any
Christian's confidence in his long-tried integrity, courage, and
singleness of heart.
The Corporal's only regret was to see
his friend wanting in his usual elasticity of spirits. The fire in his eye
was gone, and the quiet yet joyous laugh no longer responded to the old
jokes,—a smile being all he could muster. But the Corporal was determined
to rouse him. The wars" would do it if anything would. And so, when supper
came piping hot, with bubbling half-browned toasted cheese, mutton pie,
tea and toast, followed by a little whisky punch, and all without gluttony
or drunkenness, but with sobriety and thankfulness felt and expressed—then
did the reminiscences begin! And it would be difficult to say how often
the phrase, "Dye mind, Sergeant?" was introduced, as old officers and men,
old jokes and old everything—marches, bivouacs, retreats, charges, sieges,
battles—were recalled, with their anxieties and hardships passed away and
their glory alone remaining.
"Heigho!" the Corporal would say, as he
paused in his excitement, "it's growing a dream already, Adam! There's no'
mony I can speak tae aboot these auld times;—no' auld to you and me.
Folks' heads are taen up wi' naething but getting money oot o' the peace
we helped to get for the kintra: and little thanks for a' we did— little
thanks, little thanks, atweel!" the Corporal would ejaculate in a die-away
But this was not a time to complain,
but to rouse—not to pile arms, but to fire. And so the Corporal said, "Did
I tell ye o' the sang made by Sandie Tamson? Ye'll mind Sandie weel–the
schulemaster that listed? A maist clever chiel!"
"I mind him fine," said the Sergeant.
"Curious eneuch, it was me that listed him! I hae heard a hantle o' his
"But no' this ane," said Dick, "for he
made it— at least he said sae—for our auld Colonel in Perth. It seems
Sandie, puir fallow, took to drink —or rather ne'er gied it ower—and sae
he cam' beggin' in a kin' o' private genteel way, ye ken, to the Colonel;
and when he got siller he wrote this sang for him. He gied me a copy for
half- a-crown. I'll let ye hear 't—altho' my pipe is no sae guid as yer
As the Corporal cleared his voice, the
Sergeant lifted the nightcap from his ear, and said, "Sing awa'."
Dost thou remember, soldier, old and hoary, The days
we fought and conquered side by side, On fields of battle famous now
in story, Where Britons triumphed, and where Britons died? Dost
thou remember all our old campaigning, O'er many a field in Portugal
and Spain? Of our old comrades few are now remaining— How many sleep
upon the bloody plain! Of our old comrades, &c.
Dost thou remember all those rnarches weary, From
gathering foes, to reach Corunna's shore? Who can forget that
midnight, sad and dreary, When in his grave we laid the noble Moore!
But ere he died our General heard us cheering, And saw us charge
with vict'ry's flag unfurled; And then he slept, without his ever
fearing For British soldiers conquering o'er the world.. And then
he slept, &c.
Rememb'rest thou the blood" Albuera! The deadly
breach in Bad ajoz's walls! Vittoria! Salamanca! Talavera! Till
Roncesvalles echoed to our balls! Ha! how w drove the Frenchmen all
before us, As foam is driven before the stormy breeze! We fought
right en, with conquering banners o'er us, From Torres Vedras to the
Pyrenees. We fought right on, &c.
Post thou remember to the war returning, —'Long will
our enemies remember too! We fought again, our hearts for glory
burning, At Quatre Bras and awful Waterloo We thought of home upon
that Sabbath morning When Cameron's pibroch roused our highland corps,
Then proudly marched, the mighty Emperor scorning, And vowed to die or
conquer as of yore! Then proudly marched, &c.
Rememb'rest thou the old familiar faces Of warriors
nursed in many a stormy fight, Whose lonely graves, which now the
stranger traces, Mark every spot they held from morn till night? In
vain did Cuirassiers in clouds surround them, With cannon thundering as
the tempest raves; They left our squares, oh ! just as they had found
them, Firm as the rocks amidst the ocean's waves! They left our
Those days are past, my soldier, old and hoary, But
still the scars are on thy manly brow; We both have shared the danger
and the glory, Come, let us share the peace and comfort now. Come to
my home, foi thou hast not another, And dry those tears, for thou shalt
beg no more There, take this hand, and let us march together Down
to the grave, where life's campaign is o'er! There, take this hand, &c
While the song was being sung the
Sergeant turned his head on his pillow away from the Corporal. When it was
finished, he said, "Come here, Dick."
The Corporal went to the bed, and
seized the Sergeant's proffered hand.
That sang will do me mair guid than a'
their medicine. The guidwife will gie ye half-a-croon for puir Sandie
Then asking Katie to leave him alone
for a few moments with the Corporal, the Sergeant said, retaining his
"I'm no' dangerously ill, my auld
friend; but I'm no' weel—I'm no' wee!! There's a weight on my mind, and an
oppression aboot my heart that hauds me doun extraordinar'."
"Dinna gie in, Adam—dinna gie in, wi'
the help o' Him that has brocht ye thro' mony a waur fecht," replied the
Corporal as he sat down beside him. "D'ye mind the time when ye followed
Cainsh up the ladder at Badajoz? and d'ye mind wher that glorious fallow
Loyd was kill't at Nivelle! Noo—"
"Ah, Dick! thae days. man, are a' by!
I'm no' what I was," said the Sergeant. "I'm a puir crippled, wounded
veteran, no' fit for ony mair service—no' even as an elder, he added, with
a bitter smile.
"Dinna fash yer thoomb, Adam, aboot
that business," said Dick. "Ye deserved to hae been drummed oot o' the
regiment—I mean the kirk— no' your kirk for mine, but the kirk o' a'
honest and sensible folk, gif ye had swithered ahoot that bird. I hae had
a crack wi' the cratur, and it's jist extraordinar' sensible like sae
crouse and canty, it wad be like murder tae thraw a neck like that! In fac',
a bird is mair than a bird, I consider, when it can speak and sing yon
"Thank ye, Corporal," said Adam.
"It's some glamour has come ower the
minister," said Dick, "just like what cam' ower oor Colonel, when he made
us charge twa thousand at Busaco, and had, in coorse, tae fa' back on his
supports in disgrace—no' jist in disgrace, for we never cam' tae that, nor
never wull, I hope—but in confusion!"
"God's wull be done, auld comrade!"
replied Adam; "but it's His wull, I think, that I maun fa' on the field,
and if so, I'm no' feared—na, na! Like a guid sodger, I wad like tae
"Ye're speakin' ower muckle,"
interrupted Dick, and wearyin' yerseh"
"I maun hae my say oot, Corporal, afore
the forlorn hope marches," continued the Sergeant; "and as I was remarkin',
and because I dinna want tae be interrupted wi' the affairs o' this life,
so as to please Him wha has ca'd me to be a sodger—I maun mak' my last
wull and testament noo or never, and I trust you, Dick, mair than a' the
lawyers and law papers i' the worl', tae see't carried oot." And he held
out his feverish hand to the Corporal, who gave it a responsive squeeze.
"Ye see, Corporal," said the Sergeant,
"I ha nae fortun' to leave; but I hae laid by something for my Katie—and
what she has been tae me, God alane kens!" He paused. "And then there's
wee Mary, that I luve amaist as weel as my Charlie; and then there's the
bird. Na, Corporal, dinna blame me for speakin' aboot the bird I The
Apostle, when aboot to be offered up, spak' aboot his cloak, and nae dead
cloak was ever dearer to him than the leevin' bird is tae me, because it
was, as ye ken, dear tae the wee fallow that was my ain flesh and bluid,
wha's waiting for me. Duve ye mind Charlie?
"Mind Charlie!" exclaimed the Corporal.
"Wait awee, Adam!" and he drew out an old pocket-book from his
breast-pocket, from which he took a bit of paper, and, unfolding it, held
up a lock of silken hair. The Sergeant suddenly seized the relic and
kissed it, and then returned it to the Corporal, who, without saying a
word, restored it to its old place of safety.
But Dick now began to see that the
Sergeant seemed to be rather excited, and no longer able to talk in his
usual slow and measured manner; and so he said to him—
"Wait till the morn, Adam, and we'll
put a' richt to yer satisfaction."
"Na, na, Corporal!" replied Adam, "I
never like pittin' aff—no' a fecht even. What ought to be dune, should be
dune when it can—sac listen to me .—Ye'll help Katie tae gaither her
siller and gear thegither—it's no' muckle atweel!—and see that she and
Mary, wi' the bird, are pit in a bit hoose near yersel'. They can fen' on
what I'll lea' them, xvi' their ain wark tae -help. Yell stan' their freen'—I
ken, I ken ye wull! And oh, man, when ye hear folk abuse me, dinna say a
word in my defence! Let gowans grow frae my grave, and birds sing ower't,
and God's sun shine on't, but let nae angry word, against even an enemy,
ever be heard frae't, or be conneckit wi' my memory!"
Dick was silent. He felt too much to
The Sergeant continued—"Gie a' my boots
and shoon tae Jock Hall. Katie wull tell ye aboot him."
After a pause, he said—"I ask
forgiveness o' the minister, if I hae wranged him in ignorance. But as to
Srellie—" and the Sergeant turned his head away. "The heart, Corporal," he
added, "is hard! I'm no' fit for that yet. God forgie me! but I canna
wi'oot hypocrisy say—"
"I'll no' let ye speak another word,
Adam!" said Dick. "Trust me as to yer will. I'll be faithfu' unto death !"
and he drew himself up, and saluted the Sergeant, soldier fashion.
There was not a bit of the consciously
dramatic in this; but he wished to accept the trust given him in due form,
as became a soldier receiving important orders from a dying, friend.
Adam did not like to confess it; but-he
was so wearied that he could speak no more without pain, and so thanking
the Corporal, he turned round to sleep.
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