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The 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 murmur.

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 sangs."

"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 Sterlin's."

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 squares, &c.

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 Tamson."

Then asking Katie to leave him alone for a few moments with the Corporal, the Sergeant said, retaining his hand—

"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 way."

"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 endure hardness."

"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 speak.

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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