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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XXVI. - The Starling again in Danger


MRS. MERCER received her visitor very coldly. She associated his name with what she called "the conspiracy," and felt aggrieved that he had never visited her husband during those previous weeks of trial. He was, as she expressed it, "a sicht for sair een." Mr. Menzies made the best excuse he could, and described the circumstances in which he had been placed towards Adam as the reason why he had not visited her sooner. He said, also, that however painful it was to him, he had nevertheless been obliged by his ordination vows to do his duty as a member of Session, and he hoped not in vain, as he might now be the means of making peace between his friend, Mr. Mercer, and the minister.

"I'm Charlie's bairn," said the starling, just as Menzies had given a preliminary cough, and was about to approach the question which had chiefly brought him to the cottage. "I'm Charlie's bairn—a man's a man—kick, kurwhitt, whitt."

The starling seemed unable or unwilling to end the sentence; at last it came out clear and distinct—"a man's a man for a' that."

Mr. Menzies did not feel comfortable.

"I dinna wunner, Mrs. Mercer," at last he said, "at you and Adam likin' that bird! He is really enticing, and by ordinar, I maun confess."

"There's naething wrang wi' the bird," said Katie, examining the seam of her apron, adding in an indifferent tone of voice, "If folk wad only let it alane, it's discreet, and wad hairm naebody."

"I'm sure, Mrs. Mercer," he said, "I'm real sorry about the hale business; and I'm resolved, if possible, to get Adam oot o' the han's o the Session, and bring peace atween a' parties."

Katie shook her foot, twirled her thumbs, but said nothing.

"It's a pity indeed," the elder continued, "that a bird should come atween an office-bearer like Adam and his minister and the Session! It's no richt—it's no richt; and yet neither you nor Adam could pit it awa, e'en at the request o' the Session, wi' ain haun's. Na, na—that was askin' ower muckle."

"Ye ken best, nae doot," said Katie, with a touch of sarcasm in her voice. "You and the Session hae made a bonnie job o' the guidman nooI"

"I'm real vexed he's no' weel," said Menzies; but to be candid, Mrs. Mercer, it wasna a' the faut o' the Session at the warst, but pairtly his ain. He was ower stiff, and was neither to haud nor bin."

"A bairn could haud him noo, and bin' him tae," said Katie.

"There's a chasteesement in 't," remarked Menzies, becoming slightly annoyed at Katie's cool reception of him. "He should hear the voice in the rod. Afflictions dinna come wi'oot a reason. They spring not from the grun'. They're sent for a purpose; and ye should examine and search yer heart, Mrs. Mercer, in a' sincerity and humility, to ken why this affliction has come, and at this time," emphatically added Mr. Menzies.

"Nae doot," said Katie, returning to the hem of her apron.

The way seemed marvellously opened to Mr. Menzies, as he thought he saw Katie humbled and alive to the Sergeant's greater share of wrong in causing the schism. He bega to feel the starling in his hand,—a fact of which the bird seemed ignorant, as he whistled, "Wha'll be king but Charlie?"

Mr. Menzies continued—" If I could be ony help to ye, Mrs. Mercer, I wad be prood and thankfu' to bring aboot freen'ship atween Adam and Mr. Porteous; and thus gie peace to puir Adam."

"Peace tae Adam?" exclaimed Katie, looking up to the elder's face.

"Ay, peace tae Adam," said Mr. Menzies, encouraged to open up his plan; "but, I fear, as lang as that bird is in the cage, peace wull never be."

Katie dropped her apron, and stared at Mr. Menzies as if she was petrified, and asked what he meant.

"Dinna think, dinna think," said Mr. Menzies, "that I propose kiln' the bit thing "—Katie dropped her eyes again on her apron—"but." he continued, "I canna see what hairm it wad do, and I think it wad do a hantle o' guid, if ye wad let me tak' oot the cage, and let the bird flee twa' tae sing wi' the hive o' birds. In this way, ye see—"

Katie rose up, her face pale with—dare we say it?—suppressed passion. This call of Menzies was to give strength and comfort, forsooth, to her in her affliction! She seized the elder by his arm, drew him gently to the door of the bedroom, which was so far open as to enable him to see Adam asleep. One arm Of the Sergeant was extended over the bed, his face was towards them, his grey locks escaped from under his night-cap, and his expression was calm and composed. Katie said nothing, but pointed to her husband and looked sternly at Menzies. She then led him to the street door, and whispered in his ear—

"Ae word afore we pairt:—I wadna gie that man, in health or sickness, life or death, for a' the Session! If lie's no' a Christian, an' if he hasna God's blessing, wae's me for the wan'! I daur ony o' ye to come here again, and speak ill o' him, as if he was in a faut! I daur ony p' ye to touch his bird! Tell that to Smellie - tell't to the parish, and lee me alane wi' my ain heart, wi' my ain guidman, and wi' my am Saviour, to live or dee as the Almighty wills!"

Katie turned back into her kitchen, while poor Menzies walked out into the street, feeling no anger but much pain, and more than ever convinced that he had been made a tool of by Smellie, contrary to his own common-sense and better feeling.

Menzies made a very short report of the scene to the draper, saying that he would wash his hands clean of the whole business; to which Smellie only said to himself thoughtfully, as Menzies left his shop, "I wish I could do the same—but I'll try!"


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