Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter VI. - The Starling on his Trial
ADAM was left alone with his wife. His
only remark as he sat down opposite to her was: "Mr. Porteous has forgot
hirnsel', and was too quick;" adding, "nevertheless it is our duty to gang
to the kirk."
"Kirk!" exclaimed Katie, walking about
in an excited manner, "that's a' ower! Kirk! pity me! hoo can you or me
gang to the kirk? Hoo can we be glowered at and made a speculation o', and
be the sang o' the parish? The kirk! waes me; that's a' by! I never, never
thocht it wad come to this wi' me or you, Adam! I think it wad hae kilt my
faither. It's an awfu' chasteesement."
"For what?" quietly asked the Sergeant.
"Ye needna speer, ye ken weel eneuch
it's for that bird. I aye telt ye that ye were ower fond o't, and noo!I'm
real sorry for ye, Adam. It's for you, for you, and no' for mysel', I'm
sorry. Sirs me, what a misfortun'!"
"What are ye sae sorry for?" meekly
"For everything!" replied Katie,
groaning "for the stramash amang the weans; for the dish-clash o' the
neeboors; for you and me helping to break the Sabbath; for the minister
being sae angry, and that nae doubt, for he kens best, for crude reasons;
and, aboon a', for you, Adam, my bonnie man, an elder o' the kirk, brocht
into a' this habble for naething better than a bit bird!" And Katie threw
herself into the chair, covering her face with her hands.
The Sergeant said nothing, but rose and
went outside to bring in the cage. There were signs of considerable
excitement in the immediate ncilibourhood. The long visit of the minister
in such circumstances ciuld mean only a conflict with Adam, which would be
full of interest to those miserable gossips, who never thought of
attending church except on rare occasions, and who were glad of something
to occupy their idle time on Sunday morning. Sundry heads were thrust from
upper windows, directing their gaze to the Sergeant's house. Some of the
boys reclined on the grass at a little distance, thus occupying a sale
position, and commanding an excellent retreat should they be pursued by
parson or parents. The cage was the centre of attraction to all.
The Sergeant at a glance saw how the
enemy lay, but without appearing to pay any attention to the besiegers, he
retired with the cage into the house and fixed it in its accustomed place
over his boy's empty cot. When the cage was adjusted, the starling
scratched the back of his head, as if something annoyed him ; he then
cleaned his bill on each side of the perch, as if present duties must be
attended to; after this lie hopped down and began to describe figures with
his open bill on the sanded floor of the cage, as if for innocent
recreation. Being refreshed by these varied exercises, he concluded by
repeating his confession and testimony with a precision and vigour never
Katie still occupied the arm-chair,
blowing her nose with her Sunday pocket-handkerchief. The Sergeant sat
down beside her.
"It's time to gang to the kirk,
gudewife," he remarked, although, from the bells having stopped ringing,
and from the agitated state of his wife's feelings, he more than suspected
that, for the first time during many years, he would be obliged to absent
himself from morning worshipa fact which would form another subject of
conversation for his watchful and thoughtful neighbours.
"Hoo can we gang to the kirk, Adam, wi'
this on our conscience?" muttered Katie.
"I hae naething on 'my conscience,
Katie, to disturb it," said her husband; "and I'm sorry if onything I hae
done should disturb yours. What can I do to lighten 't?"
Katie was silent.
"If ye mean," said the Sergeant, "that
the bird should be killed, by a' means let it be done. I'll do onything to
please you, though Mr. Porteous has, in my opinion, nae richt whatever to
insist on my doin't to please him; for he kens naething aboot the cratur.
But if you, that kens as weel as me a' the bird has been to us baith, but
speak the word, the deed will be allooed by me. I'll never say no."
"Do yer duty, Adam!" said his wife.
"That is, my duty to you, mind, for I
owe it to nane else I ken o'. But that duty shall be doneso ye've my full
leave and leeberty tae kill the bird. Here he is! Tak him oot o' the cage,
and finish him. I'll no interfere, nor even look on, cost what it may."
And the Sergeant took down the cage, and held it near his wife. But she
said nothing, and did nothing.
"I'm Charlie's bairn!" exclaimed the
"Dinna tell me, Adam, tae kill the
bird! It's not me, but you, should do sic wark. Ye're a man and a sodger,
and it was you teached him, and got us into this trouble."
"Sac be't !" said the Sergeant "I've
done mair bluidy jobs in my day, and needna fear tae spill, for the sake
o' peace, the wee drap bluid o' the puir hairmless thing. What way wad ye
like it kilt?"
"Ye should ken best yersel', gudeman;
kiln' is no woman's wark," said Katie, in a low voice, as she turned her
head away and looked at the wall.
"Aweel then, since ye leave it to me,"
replied Adam, "I'll gie him a sodger's death. It's the maist honourable,
and the bit mannie deserves a' honour frae our hands, for he has done his
duty pleasantly, in fair and foul, in simmer and winter, to us baith, and
taeNever heedI'll shoot him at dawn o' day, afore he begins whistlin'
for his breakfast; and he'll be buried decently. You and Mr. Porteous will
no' be bothered xvi' him lang. Sae as that's settled and determined, we
may gang to the kirk wi' a guid conscience."
Adam rose, as if to enter his bedroom.
"What's your hurry, Adam?" asked Katie,
in a half-peevish tone of voice. "Sit doon and let a body speak."
The Sergeant resumed his seat.
"I'm jist thinking," said Katie, "that
we'll maybe no' get onybody to gie ye a gun for sic a cruel job; and if ye
did, the noise sae early in the morning wad frichten folk, and mak' an
awfu' clash arnang neeboors, and luik dreadfu' daft in an elder."
"Jock Hall has a gun I could get. But
noo that I think o't, Jock himsel' will do the job, for he's fit for
onything, and up tae everything except wvhat's guid. I'll send him Charlie
and the cage in the morning, afore ye rise; sae keep your mind easy," said
the Sergeant, carelessly.
"I wadna trust Charlie into Jock Hall's
power the cruel ne'er-do-weel that he is! Na, na; whatever has to be done
maun be done decently by yersel', gudeman," protested Katie.
"Ye said, gudewife, to Mr. Porteous,"
replied Adam, "that ye kent I wad do onything to please him and to gie
satisfaction for this misforturi', as ye ca'ed it; and sin' you and him
agree that the bird is to be kilt, I suppose I maun kill him to please ye
baith; I see but ae way left o' finishing him."
"What way is that?" asked Katie,
"To thraw his bit neck."
" Doonricht cruelty," suggested Katie,
"to thraw the neck o a wee thing like that! Fie on ye, gudeman! Ye're no
like yersel' the day."
"It's the only way left, unless we burn
him so I'll no' argue mair about it. There's nae use of pittin' t aff ony
langer; the better day, the better deed. Sae here goes! It will be a' ower
wi' him in a minute; and sync ye'll get peace"
The Sergeant rose and placed the cage
on a table near the window where the bird was accustomed to be fed.
Charlie, in expectation of receiving food, was in a high state of
excitement, and seemed anxious to please his master by repeating all his
lessons as rapidly and correctly as possible. The Sergeant rolled up his
white shirtsleeves, to keep them from being soiled by the work in which he
was about to be engaged. Being thus prepared, he opened the door of the
cage, thrust in his hand, and seized the bird, saying, "Bid fareweel to
yer mistress, my wee Charlie."
Katie sprang from her chair, and with a
loud voice commanded the Sergeant to "haud his han' and let the bird alane!"
"What's wrang?" asked the Sergeant, as
he shut the door of the cage and went towards his wife, who again sank
back in het chair, and covered her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief.
"Oh Adam!" she said, "I'm a waik, waik
woman. My nerves are a' gane; my head and heart are baith sair. A kind o'
glamour, a temptation has come ower me, and I dinna ken what's richt or
what's wrang. I wuss I may be forgie'n if I'm wrang, for the heart I ken
is deceitfu' ahoon a' things and desperately wicked :but, richt or wrang,
neither by you nor by ony ither body can I let that bird be kilt! I canna
thole't! for I just thocht e'enoo that I seed plainly afore me our ain wee
bairn that's awa'an' oh, Adam!-"
Katie burst into a fit of weeping, and
could say no more. The Sergeant hung up the cage in its old place; then
going to his wife, he gently clapped her shoulder, and bending over her
whispered in her ear, "Dinna ye fear, Katie, aboot Charlie's bairn!
Katie clasped her hands round his neck
and drew his grey head to her cheek, patting it fondly.
"Dry yer een, wifie," said Adam. "and
feed the cratur, and syne we'll gang to the kirk in the afternoon."
He then retired to the bedroom, shut
the door, and left Katie alone with her starling and her conscienceboth
at peace. and both whistling, each after its own fashion.
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