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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XIX. - Extremes Meet

IN a short time Hugh was conducting Jock towards the Castle. After they passed the lodge, and were walking along the beautiful avenue and beneath the fine old trees, with the splendid park sweeping around, and the turrets of the Castle in sight, Hugh said, "Now, Hall, dinna speak to onybody unless they speak to you, and gie a discreet answer. Dae my biddin'; for I'm takin' a great responsibility in bringin' ye in here. His lordship maybe wadna be pleased to see a trampin' chiel like you here. But I'll tak' care he doesna see ye, nor if possible hear tell o' ye."

"Never fear me," said Jock; "I'll be as quaet as a dead rabbit. But, Hugh man, I hae seen his lordship afore."

"Whaur?" asked Hugh, with an expression of astonishment.

"He ance tried me, as a maugistrat'," replied Jock, equally placid.

"Tried ye!" exclaimed Hugh, pausing in his walk as if he had got into one scrape and was about to enter a second—"tried ye for what?"

"Oh, never heed," said Jock; "dinna be ower particular. It was a job that ended in a drucken habble I got into wi' twa tailor chappies that struck me, and my head and e'e were bun' wi' a bluidy napkin at the trial, and his lordship wull no' mind on me; tho' faix! I mind on him, for he sent me tae jail."

"Was that a'?" carelessly remarked Hugh. "Ye micht hae thrashed nine tailors and no' got yersel' hurt; I gripped three o' them mysel' when poachin'."

But Jock did not tell the whole history of one of his own poaching affrays along with the tailors.

Hugh ensconced Jock in the shrubbery until he ascertained from one of the servants that his lordship had gone out to walk in the grounds, that the ladies were taking an airing in the carriage, and that it was quite possible to get a peep into the great hail and the public rooms opening from it, without being discovered. As Hugh, accompanied by Jock, crept almost noiselessly along the passages, he directed with under-breath Jock's attention to the noble apartments, the arms and suits of mail hung round the wall of the great entrance-hall, the stags' heads, the stuffed birds, and one or two fine paintings of boar-hunts. But when the drawing-room door was opened, and there flashed upon Jock's eyes all the splendour of colour reflected from large mirrors, in which he saw, for the first time, his own odd figure from crown to toe, making him start back as if he had seen a ghost, and when through the windows he beheld all the beauty of flowers that filled the parterres, dotted with jets d'eaux, white statues and urns, and surrounded by bowery foliage, a vision presented itself which was as new to him as if he had passed into Eden from the lodgings of Mrs. Craigie.

He did not speak a word, but only remarked it was "nae doubt unco braw, and wad hae cost a heap o' siller." But, as they were retreating, suddenly the inner door of the hail opened, and his lordship stood before them!

"Heeven be aboot us!" ejaculated Spence, and in a lower voice added, "Dune for,—dune for life!" He looked around him, as if for some means of concealing himself, but in vain. The door by which they had entered was closed. There was no mode of exit. Jock, seeing only plain-looking little gentleman in a Glengarry bonnet and tweed suit, never imagined that this could be a lord, and was accordingly quite composed. Spence, with his eyes fixed on the ground and his face flushed to the roots of his hair, seemed speechless.

His lordship was a slight-built man, of about forty, with pleasing hazel eyes and large moustache. He had retired from the army, and was much liked for his frank manner and good humour. Seeing his keeper in such perplexity, accompanied by so disreputable-looking a person, he said, "Hello, Spence! whom have you got here? I hope not a poacher, eh?"

"I humbly beg your lordship's pardon; but, my lord, the fac' is-" stammered Hugh.

"Is that his lordship?" whispered Jock.

"Haud yer tongue!" replied Hugh in an undertone of intense vehemence. Then addressing his lordship, he said, "He's no poacher, my lord; no, no, but only--"

"Oh! an acquaintance, I suppose."

No' that either, no' that either," interrupted Hugh, as his dignity was flying on account of his companion, whom he wished a hundred miles away, "but an acqua'ntance o' an acqua'ntance o' my faither's lang syne—a maist respectable man —Sergeant Mercer, in Drumsylie, and I took the leeberty, thinking yer lordship was oot, to—"

"To show him the house. Quite right, Spence; quite right; glad you did so." Then addressing Jock, he said, "Never here before, I suppose?"

Jock drew himself up, placed his hands down his sides, heels in, toes out, and gave the military salute.

"Been in the army? In what regiment? Have you seen service?"

"Yes, sir—yes, my lord," replied Jock; "as yer honour says, I hae seen service."

This was information to Spence, who breathed more freely on hearing such unexpected evidence of Jock's respectability.

"Where?" inquired his lordship, seating himself on one of the lobby chairs, and folding his arms.

In the berrick-yaird o' Stirlin', yer honour," replied Jock; "but in what regiment I dinna mind. It was a first, second, or third something or anither; but I hae clean forgotten the name and number."

"The barrack-yard?" said his lordship, laughing; "pray how long did you serve his Majesty in that severe campaign?"

"Aboot a fortnicht," said Jock.

"What!" exclaimed his lordship; "a fortnight only? And what after that?"

"I ran aff as fast as I could," said Jock; and never ran faster a' my days, till I reached Drumsylie."

Hugh turned his back as if also to run away, with sundry half-muttered exclamations of horror and alarm. His lordship burst into a fit of 'aughter, and said,—"On my honour, you're a candid fellow!" But he evidently assumed that Jock was probably a half-witted character, who did not comprehend the full meaning of his admission. He was confirmed in his supposition by Jock going on to give a history of his military life in the most easy and simple fashion,—

"I 'listed when I was fou'; and though I had nae objections at ony time to fire a gun at a bird or a Frenchman, or tae fecht them that wad fecht me, yet the sodjers at Stirlin' made a fule o' me, and keepit me walkin' and trampin' back and forrid for twa weeks in the yaird, as if they were breakin' a horse; and I could dae naething, neither fish, nor e'en shoot craws, wi'oot the leave o' an ill-tongued corporal. I couldna thole that, could I? It wasna in the bargain, and sae I left, and they didna think it worth their while to speer after me."

"Egad!" said his lordship, laughing, "I dare say not, I dare say not! Do you know what they might have done to you if they had taught you, my man?" asked his lordship.

"Shot me, I expec'," said Jock; "but I wasna worth the pooder; and, tae tell the truth, I wad raither be shot like a gled for harryin' a paitrick's nest, than be kept a' my days like a gowk in a cage o' a berricks at Stirlin'! But I didna heed atweel whether they shot me or no'," added Jock, looking round him, and stroking his chin as if in a half dream,

"The black dog tak' ye!" said Spence, who lost his temper. "My lord, I declare--"

"Never mind, Spence, never mind; let him speak to me; and go you to the servants' hail until I send for you."

Spence bowed and retired, thankful to be released from his present agony. His lordship, who had a passion for characters which the keeper could not comprehend, gave a sign to Jock to remain, and then went on with the following catechism.

"What did your parents do?"

"Little guid and mickle ill."

"Were you at school?"

'No' that I mind o'."

"How have you lived?"

"Guid kens!"

"What have you been?"

"A ne'er-do-weel--a kin' o' cheat-the-widdie. Sae folk tell me, and I suppose they're richt."

"Are you married?"

"That's no' a bad ane, efter a'!" said Jock with a quiet laugh, turning his head away.

"A bad what?" asked his lordship, perplexed by the reply.

"I jist thocht," said Jock, "yer honour was jokin', to think that ony wumman wad marry me! He! he! Lassies wad be cheaper than cast-awa shoon afore ony o' them wad tak' Jock Ha'— unless," he added, in a lower tone, with a laugh, "ane like Luckie Craigie. But yer lordship 'ill no ken her, I'se warrant?"

"I have not that honour," said his lordship, with a smile. "But I must admit that you don't give yourself a good character, anyhow."

"I hae nane to gie," said Jock, with the same impassible look,

"On my word," added his lordship, "I think you're honest!"

"It's mair," said Jock, "than onybody else thinks. But if I had wark, I'm no' sure but I wad be honest."

His lordship said nothing, but stared at Hall as if measuring him from head to foot. Jock returned his gaze. It was as if two different portions of a broken-up world had met. His lordship felt uncertain whether to deal with Jock as a fool or as a reprobate. He still inclined to the opinion that he had "a want," and accordingly continued his catechism, asking,—

"What would you like to have?"

"It's no' for me tae say," replied Jock; "beggars shouldna be choosers."

"Perhaps you would have no objection to have this fine house—eh?" asked his lordship, with a smile.

"I'll no' say that I wad," replied Jock.

"And what would you make of it?"

"I wad," replied Jock, "f'ill't fu' wi' puir ne'erdo-weel faitherless and mitherless bairns, and pit Sergeant Mercer and his wife ower them —.that's Mr. Spence's cousin, ye ken,"

"Hub!" said his lordship, "that would make a large party! And what would you do with them, when here assembled, my man?"

"I wad feed them," said Jock, "wi' the sheep and nowt in the park, and the birds frae the heather, and the fish frae the burns, and gie them the flowers aboot the doors—and schule them weel, and learn them trades: and shoot them or hang them, if they didna dae weel efter hin."

"Ha! ha! ha! And what would you do with me and my wife and daughters?" asked his lordship.

"I wad mak' you their faither, and them their mither and sisters. Ye never wad be idle or want pleasure, yer honour, among sic a hantle o' fine lads and lasses."

"Never idle—never idle! I should think not. But as to the pleasure! Ha! ha! ha!" And his lordship laughed with much glee at the idea of his being master of such an establishment.

"Eh! sir," said Jock, with fire in his eyes, "ye dinna ken what poverty is! Ye never lay trimblin' on a stair-head on a snawy nicht; nor got a spoonfu' or twa o' cauld parritch in the mornin' tae cool ye, wi' curses and kicks tae warm ye, for no' stealin' yer ain meat; nor see'd yer wee brithers an' sisters deein' like troots, openin' their mooths wi' naethin' to pit in them; or faix ye wad be thankfu' tae help mitherless and faitherless bairns, and instead o' sendin' young craturs like them tae the jail, ye wad sen' aulder folk that ill-used and neglected them; ay, and maybe some rich folk, and some ministers and elders as weel, for helpin' naebody but themsel's!"

His lordship looked in silence with wide-open eyes at Jock; and for a moment, amidst his case and luxury, his fits of ennui and difficulty in killing time, his sense of the shallowness and emptiness of much of his life, with the selfishness of idle society, there flashed upon his naturally kind heart a gleam of noble duties yet to perform, and noble privileges yet to enjoy, though not perhaps in the exact form suggested by Jock Hall. But this was not the time to discuss these. So he only said, "You are not a bad fellow—not at all. Wiser men have said more foolish things," he added, as if thinking to himself; and then approaching Jock with a kindly smile, offered him some money.

"Na! na!" said Jock, "I didna come here to beg; I'll no' tak' onything"

"Come! come!" said his lordship, "you wont disoblige me, will you?" and he thrust the money into Jock's hand; and ringing a bell, he ordered the servant who appeared in reply to it to take Jock to the servants' ha!!, and to send Hugh Spence to the business room.

Jock made a low bow and salaam, and retired.

"William," said his lordship to another servant, who happened to be passing, "go to the old clothes-press, and select a complete suit for that poor fellow. Be kind to him: see that he has some food and a glass of beer."

When Hugh was summoned into the presence of his lordship, he had sad misgivings as to the object of the interview, and had carefully prepared a long apologetic speech, which however he had hardly begun when he was cut short by his lordship saying, "You have picked up a rare character, Spence, upon my honour! But I like the fellow. He is an original, and has something good in him. I can't quite make him out."

"Nor me either, my lord, I do assure you,' interrupted Spence.

But I have taken rather a fancy to him," continued his lordship. "He is neither knave nor fool; but seems to have been ill-used, and to have had a hard time of it. There is something about him which takes me, and if any friend of your father's has an interest in him, I shan't object— quite the reverse—to your getting him something to do about the kennels. I really would like it. So look to him."

Hugh having made a low bow and remained discreetly silent, according to his own prudential aphorism of "least said being soonest mended," his lordship conversed on some business matters connected with the game, with which we have nothing to do, and then dismissed him.

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