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The 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 inquired Adam.

"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 surpassed.

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 worship—a 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 done—so 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 starling.

"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 tae—Never heed—I'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 conscience—both at peace. and both whistling, each after its own fashion.


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