IT was a beautiful Sunday morning in
spring. The dew was glittering on every blade of grass; the trees were
bursting into buds for coming leaves, or into flower for coming fruit; the
birds were "busy in the wood" building their nests, and singing jubilate;
the streams were flashing to the sea; the clouds, moisture laden, were
moving across the blue heavens, guided by the winds; and signs of life,
activity, and joy filled the earth and sky.
The Sergeant hung out Charlie in his
cage to enjoy the air and sunlight. He had not of late been so lively as
usual; his confession as to his parentage was more hesitating; and when
giving his testimony as to a man being a man, or as to the excIusive right
of Charlie to be king, he often paused as if in doubt. All his utterances
were accompanied by a spasmodic chirp and jerk, evidencing a great
indifference to humanity. A glimpse of nature might possibly recover him.
And so it did; for he had not been long outside before he began to spread
his wings and tail feathers to the warm sun, and to pour out more
confessions and testimonies than had been heard for weeks.
Charlie soon gathered round him a crowd
of young children with rosy faces and tattered garments who had clattered
down from lanes and garrets to listen to his performances. Every face in
the group became a picture of wonder and delight, as intelligible sounds
were heard coming from a hard bill; and any one of the crowd would have
sold all he had on earth—not a great sacrifice after all, perhaps a penny—
to possess such a bird. "D'ye hear it, Archy?" a boy would say, lifting up
his little brother on his shoulder, to be near the cage. Another would
repeat the words uttered by the distinguished speaker, and direct
attention to them. Then, when all were hushed into silent and eager
expectancy awaiting the next oracular statement, and the starling repeated
"I'm Charlie's bairn!" and whistled "Wha'll be king but Charlie?" a shout
of joyous merriment followed, with sundry imitations of the bird's
peculiar guttural and rather rude pronunciation. "It's a witch, I'll
wager!" one boy exclaimed. "Dinna say that," replied another, "for wee
Charlie's dead." Yet it would be difficult to trace any logical
contradiction between the supposed and the real fact.
This audience about the cage was
disturbed by the sudden and unexpected appearance from round the corner,
of a rather portly man, dressed in black clothes; his head erect ; his
face intensely grave; an umbrella, handle foremost, under his right arm ;
his left arm swinging like a pendulum a pair of black spats covering broad
flit feet, that advanced with the regular beat of slow music, and seemed
to impress the pavement with their weight. This was the Rev. Daniel
Porteous, the parish minister.
No sooner did he see the crowd of
children at the elder's door than he paused for a moment, as if he had
unexpectedly come across the execution of a criminal; and no sooner did
the children see him, than with a terrified shout of "There's the
minister!" they ran off as if they had seen a wild beast, leaving one or
two of the younger ones sprawling and bawling on the road, their natural
protectors being far too intent on saving their own lives, to think of
those of their nearest relatives.
The sudden dispersion of these lambs by
the shepherd soon attracted the attention of their parents; and
accordingly several half-clad, slatternly women rushed from their
respective it Flying to the rescue of their children, they carried some
and dragged others to their several corners within the dark caves. But
while rescuing their wicked cubs, they religiously beat them, and
manifested their zeal by many stripes, and not a few admonitions:-" Tak'
that —and that—and that—ye bad—bad—wicked wean! Hoo daur ye! I'll gie ye
yer pay! I'll mak' ye! I'se warrant ye!" &c. &c. These were some of the
motherly teachings to the terrified babes; while cries of "Archie!"
"Peter!" "Jamie!" with threatening shakes of the fist, and commands to
come home "immeditly," were addressed to the elder ones, who had run off
to a safe distance. One tall woman, whose dusty brown hair escaped from
beneath a cap black enough to give one the impression that she had been
humbling herself in sackcloth and ashes, proved the strength of her
convictions by complaining very vehemently to Mr. Porteous of the Sergeant
for having thrown such a temptation as the starling in the way of her
children, whom she loved so tenderly and wished to bring up so piously.
All the time she held a child firmly by the hand, who attempted to hide
its face and tears from the minister. Her zeal we must assume was very
real, since her boy had clattered off from the cage on shoes made by the
Sergeant, which his mother had never paid for, nor was likely to do now,
for conscience' sake, on account of this bad conduct of the shoemaker. We
do not affirm that Mrs. Dalrymple never liquidated her debts, but she did
so after her own fashion.
It was edifying to hear other mothers
declare their belief that their children had been at the morning Sabbath
School, and express their wonder and anger at discovering for the first
time their absence from it; more especially as this—the only day, of
course, on which it had occurred—should be the day that the minister
accidentally passed to church along their street!
The minister listened to the story of
their good intentions, and of the ill doings of his elder with an uneasy
look, but promised speedy redress.