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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter III. - The Starling a Disturber of the Peace


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.


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