Starling, A Scotch Story Chapter IX. - Charlie's Cot
once more Occupied
As the Sergeant returned home the sun
set, and the whole western sky became full of glory, with golden islands
sleeping on a sea in which it might seem a thousand rainbows had been
dissolved ; while the holy calm of the Sabbath eve was disturbed only by
the "streams unheard by day," and by the last notes of the strong
blackbird and thrush,for all the other birds, wearied with singing since
daybreak, had gone to sleep. The beauty of the landscape, a very gospel of
"glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and goodwill to men," did
not, however, lift the dull weight off Adam's heart. He felt as if he had
no right to share the universal calm.
"Be sure your sin will find you out!"
So his minister had said. Perhaps it was true. He had sinned in his early
poaching days; but he thought he had repented, and become a different man.
Was it indeed so? or was he now suffering for past misconduct, and yet too
blind to see the dealings of a righteous God with him? It is twilight with
Adam as well as with the world.
He expected to meet his small evening
class of about a dozen poor neglected children who assembled every Sunday
evening in his house, and which, all alone, and without saying anything
about it, he had taught for some years, after his own simple and earnest
fashion. He was longing to meet them. It would give him something to
dosomething to occupy his disturbed minda positive good about which
there was no possible doubt; and it would also prevent Katie from seeking
information that would be painful for him to give and for her to receive.
To his astonishment he found one girl
only in attendance. This was Mary Semple, or "Wee Mary," as she was
generally called; a fatherless and motherless orphan without a known
relation on earth, and who was boarded by the Session, as being the only
poor-law guardians in the parish, with a widow in the immediate
neighbourhood, to whom two shillings weekly were paid for her. Adam and
his wife had taken a great fancy to Mary. She was nervous and timid from
constitutional temperament, which was aggravated by her poor upbringing as
an infant, and by the unkind usage, to say the least of it, she often
received from Mrs. Craigie, with whom she lived. Adam had more than once
expostulated with the Kirk Session for boarding Mary with this woman; but
as Mrs. Craigie was patronised by Mr. Smellie, and as no direct charge
against her could be "substantiated on sufficient evidence," such as Mr.
Smellie demanded, Mary was not removed. But she often crept into the
Sergeant's house to warm herself and get a "piece" with Charlie ; for she
was so meek, so kind, so playful, as to have been always welcomed as a fit
companion for the boy. This was, perhaps, the secret of the attachment of
Adam and his wife to her after their boy's death.
But where were the other children of
the class? Mrs. Mercer could not conjecture. Could Mary? She hung her
head, looked at her fingers, and it couldna say," but yet seemed to have
something to say, until at last she confessed, saying: "Mrs. Craigie
flyted on me for wantin' to come to the Sabbath-nicht skule, and said she
wad gie me a thrashing if I left the house when she gaed to the evenin'
sermon; but I ran awa' to the class, and I'm feared to gang hame."
"What for are y' feared, Mary?" asked
"Jist because-," replied Mary, with
her head down.
"Because o' what, bairn?" persistently
asked the Sergeant.
"Because o' the bird," said Mary,
driven to a corner. And being further urged, she went on to tell in her
own way how "a' the weans had been ordered by their folk no' to come to
the class, as"
But Mary hung down her head again, and
"As what, Mary?"
"As----" And she wept as if her heart
"As what, Mary?"
As the Sergeant was an awfu' bad man,"
she added, in her sobs.
"Don't cry, Marybe calm," said Adam.
"But I've com'd, as I kent it was a lee," the child said, looking up to
Mary had faith! But if the Sergeant had
any doubt as to Mary's story, it was soon dispelled by the sudden
appearance of Mrs. Craigie, demanding the child in a very decided tone of
voice, and without making any apology for the sudden intrusion, or
offering any explanation. "Did I no' tell ye to bide at hame, ye
guid-fornothing lassie? Come awa' Wi' me this minute!" she said, advancing
to take hold of Mary.
Mary sprang to the Sergeant and hid
herself behind his back.
"Not so hasty, Mrs. Craigie!" said the
Sergeant, protecting her "not so hasty, if you please. What's wrong?"
"Dinna let her tak' me! Oh, dinna let
her tak' me!" cried Mary, from behind the Sergeant, and holding fast by
his coat-tails. "She struck me black and blue; look at my arm," she
continued, and she showed him her little thin arm, coloured by Mrs.
"Ye lee'in' cuttie!" exclaimed Mrs.
Craigie; "I'll mak' ye that ye'll no clipe fibs on me!" shaking her
clenched fist at the unseen Mary. Then, looking the Sergeant in the face,
with arms akimbo, she said, "I'll mak' you answer for this, ye hypocrite!
that hae tried, as I ken, mony a time to beguile Mary frae me. But I hae
freens, ay, hae I, freens that wull see justice dune to me, and to you
toothat wull they, faix! Black and blue! She fell running frae your ain
wicked bird, whan ye were corrupting the young on this verra Sabbath
morning. And I said to Mr. Smellie at the kirk-door in the afternoon, when
the Session was by, 'Mr. Smellie,' says I, 'ye gied me a bairn to keep,'
says I, 'and to be brncht up in the fear o' religion,' says 1; 'but it's
ill to do that,' says I, beside yon Sergeant,' says I. I did that, that
did I; and Mr. Smellie telt me he wad see justice dune m,e, and dune you,
and that ye war afore the Session, and I'm thankfu' to a kind Providence
that's what I never was. Gie me my bairn, I say!" and she made another
pounce at Mary, followed by another cry from the child for protection.
Katie had retired to the bedroom and
shut the door.
The Sergeant said, "I'll keep Mary.
Gang hame, Mrs. Craigie. I'll answer to the Session for you. Nae mair
scauldin' here." And he pressed forward with outstretched arms, gently
compelling Mrs. Craigie to retreat towards the door, until she finally
vanished with exclamations, and protestations, and vows of vengeance,
which need not be here repeated.
"Sirs me!" ejaculated Katie, as she
came out of her retreat; "that's awfu'!"
"Dinna be frichtened, my wee woman,"
said the Sergeant, as he led Mary to the fire side. "Warm yer bit feet,
and get yer supper, and I'll gie ye a lesson afore ye gang to yer bed."
Mary blew her nose, dried her eyes, and
did as she was bid.
The Sergeant motioned to his wife to
come to the bedroom. He shut the door, and said, "I'll never pairt xvi'
Mary, come what may. My heart tells me this. Get Charlie's bed ready for
her; she'll lie there, and be our bairn. God has sent her."
"I was thinking that mysel'," said
Katie; "I aye liked the wee thing, and sae did Charlie."
The Sergeant's lesson was a very simple
one, as, indeed, most of his were. He took the child on his knee, and
putting on his spectacles, made her read one or two simple verses of
Scripture. This night he selected, from some inner connexion, the verse
from the Sermon on the Mount:- " Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow
not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father
feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"
And he said, "Mary, dear, did you come
and hear my bird whistle?"
"Oo, ay," replied Mary. "It was real
bonnie; and I thocht a' the time o' wee Charlie."
"But why did ye run awa' and mak' a
noise on the Sabbath morning? Ye shouldna hae been sporting on the Lord's
"I was frichtened for the minister,"
"Why were ye frichtened for the good
"I dinna ken," said Mary; "but the boys
ran, and I ran, and Archy Walker fell ower me and hurted me. I wasna
meaning ony ill;" and Mary threatened to give way again.
"Whisht, Mary," said the Sergeant. "I
wasna blaming you; but ye ken I didna hang Charlie's bird oot to harm you,
or mak' sport, but only because he wasna wee!."
"What was wrang wi' him?" asked Mary.
"There's an awfu' heap o' measles gaun aboot."
"Not that," said the Sergeant, smiling;
"but it was to mak' him weel, no' to mak' you play, that I pit him oot.
But ye see God kens aboot the bird, and it was Him that made him, and that
feeds him; and see hoo he sleeps ower your new bed,for that's' whaur
Charlie used to sleep; and ye'll sleep there, dear, and bide xvi' me; and
God, that takes care o' the wee birds, will tak' care o' you."
Mary said nothing, but turned her face
and hid it in the Sergeant's bosom, next his heart; and he was more than
ever persuaded that his heart was not wrong in wishing the orphan to lie
"Mary," the Sergeant whispered' to her
after a while, "ye maun aye Ca' me faither."
Mary lay closer to his heart.
Katie, who had been sitting in the same
armchair which she had occupied in the morning, heard her husband's words,
and rising, bent over the child, and added, "And, Mary, ye maun aye Ca' me
The starling, who was asleep, suddenly
awoke, as if startled, shook himself, elevated his yellow bill above the
round ball of feathers, turned his head and looked at the group with his
full bright eye, and although too drowsy to say "I'm Charlie's bairn," he
evidently remembered the relationship, and would have expressed it too
partly from jealousy, partly from lovehad he not been again overpowered
"We'll hae worship," said the Sergeant,
as he put Mary down, and placed her in a little chair which had never been
occupied since his boy died. After reading the Scripturesthe portion
chosen was the 23rd Psalmthe Sergeant prayed, Mary concluding at his
request by repeating the Lord's Prayer aloud. They then retired to
restCharlie's cot once more occupied; and the quiet stars never shone on
a more peaceful home.
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