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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XX. - Jock Hall's Return

WHEN Jock and Spence returned along the avenue, not a word was spoken for some time. Jock carried a large bundle, with the general contents of which both were acquainted. After a while Spence remarked, as if to break the silence, "Wee!, what do ye think o' his lordship?"

"He looks a fine bit decent 'sponsible bodie," said Jock, as if speaking of a nobody.

"I should think sae!" remarked Hugh, evidently chagrined by the cool criticism of his companion.

"Were ye no' frighted for him?" asked Hugh.

"Wha?—me? " replied Jock. " Frichted for what? He said nethin' tae fricht me. Certes, I was mair frichted when I stood afore him for threshin' the tailors! The man didna molest me, but was unco ceevil, as I was tae him and he gied me siller and claes as I never got frae mortal man afore, no' tae speak o' a lord, Frichted! I was ower prood to be frichted."

"Aweel, aweel," said the keeper, "ye're a queer cratur, Jock! and if ye haena' gowd ye hae brass. I was trimblin' for ye!"

"Nae wunner," said Jock; "ye had somethin' tae lose, but I had naethin'. What could he dae to me but pit me oot o' the hoose? and I was gaun oot mysel'. Jock Ha' is ower far doon for ony mortal man tae pit him doon farther. He may be better, but he canna be waur. Naebody can hurt a dead doug, can they?"

"Tuts, Jock, my puir fallow," said Hugh, "I didna mean to flyte on ye. I ax yer pardon."

"Gae awa, gae awa wi' yer nonsense, Mr. Spence! " replied Jock—"that's what naebody ever did, to ax my pardon, and it's no' for a man like you tae begin. Ye micht as weel ax a rattan's pardon for eatin' a' yer cheese! In troth I'm no gi'en mysel tae that fashion o' axin' pardons, for it wad be a heap o' trouble for folk to grant them. But, man, if I got wark, I would maybe be able to ax pardon o' a decent man, and tae get it tae for the axin'!"

"I'll no' forget ye, I uo assure ye," said Spence, kindly. "You and me if I'm no' mista'en 'ill meet afore lang up the way at the cottage. His lordship is willin' tae gie ye wark, and sac am I and my faither."

Jock could not resist the new emotion which prompted him to seize the keeper's hand and give it a hearty squeeze. On the strength of the renewed friendship, he offered him a snuff.

The keeper, from commands received from his lordship, found that he could not accompany Jock as far on his road as lie had anticipated, but was obliged to part with him where his path to Drumsylie led across the moorland. Here they sat down on a heathery hill, when Spence said, "Afore we part, I wad like tae ken frae yersel, Jock, hoo ye are a freen' tae Adam Mercer?"

"I never said I was a freen' tae Adam Mercer," replied Jock.

Hugh, as if for the first time suspecting Hall of deception, said firmly, "But ye did that! I declare ye did, and my faither believed ye!"

"I never did sic a thing!" said Jock, as firmly, in reply. "For I couldna do't wioot a lee, and that I never telt tae you or yours, although in my day I hae telt ither folk an unco' heap tae ser' Illy turn. What I said was that Adam Mercer was a freen' tae me."

Hugh, not quite perceiving the difference yet, asked, "Hoo was he a freen' tae you?"

"I'll tell ye," said Jock, looking earnestly at Hugh. "Had a man ta'en ye into his hoose, and fed ye whan stervin', and pit shoon on ye whan baretitted, Aad spak' to ye, no' as if ye war a brute beast, and whan naebody on yirth ever did this but himsel', I tak' it ye wad understan' what a freen' was! Mind ye, that I'm no sic a gomeril —bad as I am—or sae wantin' in decency as to even mysel' to he the Sergeant's freen'; but as I said, and wull say till I dee, he was my freen'!"

"What way war ye brocht up that ye cant to be sae puir as to need Adam's assistance or any ither man's? Ye surely had as guid a chance as ony o' yer neebors?

Jock's countenance began to assume that excited expression which the vivid recollection of his past life, especially of his youth, seemed always to produce. But he now tried to check himself, when the symptoms of his hysteria began to manifest themselves in the muscles of his throat, by rising and taking a few paces to and fro on the heather, as if resolved to regain his self-possession, and not to leave his newly-acquired friend the keeper under the impression that he was either desperately wicked or incurably insane. A new motive had come into play—a portion of his heart which had lain, as it were, dormant until stimulated by the Sergeant's kindness, had assumed a power which was rapidly, under benign influences, gaining the ascendency. In spite of, or rather perhaps because of, his inward struggle, his face for a moment became deadly pale. His hands were clenched. He seemed as if discharging from every muscle a stream of suddenly-generated electricity. Turning at length to Hugh, he said, with knit brow and keenly-piercing eyes, "What made ye ax me sic a question, Mr. Spence?—What for? I'll no' tell ye, for I canna tell you or ony man hoo I was brocht up!"

But he did tell him—as if forced to do so in order to get rid of the demon—much of what our readers already know of those sad days of misery. "And noo," he added, "had ye been like a wild fox and the hoonds after ye, or nae ulair cared for than a doug wi' a kettle at its tail, hidin' half mad up a close ayont a midden; or a cat nigh staned to death, pechin' its life awa' in a hole; and if ye kent never a man or woman but wha hated ye, and if ye hated them; and, waur than a', if he heard your ain faither and mither cursin' ye frae the time ye war a bairn till they gaed awa' in their coffins, wi' your curses followin' after them,—ye wad ken what it was to hae ae freen' on yirth; and noo I hae mair than ane!" And poor Jock, for the first time probably in his life, sobbed like a child.

Spence said nothing but "Puir fellow!" and whiffed his pipe, which he had just lighted, with more than usual vehemence.

Jock soon resumed his usual calm,

"As one whose brain demoniac frenzy fires
Owes to his fit, in which his soul hath tost,
Profounder quiet, when the fit retires,—
Even so the dire phantasma which had crost
His sense, in sudden vacancy quite lost,
Left his mind still as a deep evening stream."

The keeper, hardly knowing what to say, remarked, "It's ae consolation, that your wicked faither and mither will be weel punished noo for a' their sins. Ye needna curse them! They're beyond ony hairm that ye can do them. They're cursed eneuch, I'se warrant, wi'oot your meddlin' wi' them."

"Guid forbid!" exclaimed Jock. "I houp no'! I houp no'! That wad be maist awfu'!"

"Maybe," said the keeper; "but it's what they deserve frae the han' o' justice. And surely when their ain bairn curses them, he can say naethin' against it."

"I never cursed them, did I?" asked Jock, as if stupified.

"Ye did that, and nae mistak'!" replied the keeper.

"Losh, it was a bad job if I did!" said Jock. "I'm sure I dinna want to hairm them, puir bodies, though they hairmed me. In fac'," he added, after a short pause, during which he kicked the heather vehemently, "I'm willin' tae let byganes be byganes wi' them, and sae maybe their Maker will no' be ower sair on them Ye dinna think, Mr. Spence, that it's possible my faither and mither are baith in the bad place?"

"Whaur else wad they be, if no' there?" asked the keeper.

"It's mair than I can say!" replied Jock, as if in a dream. "I only thocht they were dead in the kirkyard. But—but—ken ye ony road o' gettin' them oot if they're yonner - burnin' ye ken?"

"Ye had better," said Hugh, "gie ower botherin' yersel' to take them oot; rather try, man, to keep yersel' oot."

But I canna help botherin' mysel' aboot my ain folk," replied Jock; "an' maybe they warna sae bad as I mak' them. I've seen them baith greetin' and cryin' tae God for mercy even whan they war fou; an' they aince telt me, after an awfu' thrashin' they gied me, that I wasna for my life tae drink or swear like them. Surely that was guid, Mr. Spence? God forgie them God forgie them!" murmured Jock, covering his face with his hands; "lost sheep! - lost money! —lost ne'er-do-weels an' I'm here and them there there! Hoo comes that aboot? " he asked, in a dreamy mood.

"God's mercy!" answered Hugh; "and we should be mercifu' tae ither folk, as God is mercifu' to oorsel's,"

"That's what I wish thae puir sowls to get oot o' that awfu' jail for! But I'll never curse faither or mither mair," said Jock. "I'll sweer," he added, rising up, muttering the rhyme as solemnly as if before a magistrate:

"If I lee, let death
Cut my breathI"

"Drina fash yersel' ower muckic," said the keeper, "for them that's awa. The Bible says, 'Shall not the Judge o' a' the yirth dae richt? I wad think sac! Let us tak' care o' oorsel's and o' them that's leevin', an' God will do what's richt tae them that's ayont the grave. He has mair wisdom and love than us!"

Jock was engaged outwardly in tearing bits of heather, and twisting them mechanically together; but what his inward work was we know not. At last he said, "I haena heard an aith sin' I left Drumsylie, and that's extraordinar' to me, I can assure you, Mr. Spence!"

The keeper, who, unconsciously, was calmly enjoying the contemplation of his own righteousness, observed that "the kintra was a hantle decenter than the toon." But in a better and more kindly spirit he said to Jock, "I'll stan' yer friend, Hall, especially sin' his lordship wishes me td help you. Ye mae got guid claes in that bundle, I'se warrant—the verra claes, mark ye, that were on himsel'! Pit them on, and jist think what's on ye, and be dacent! Drop a' drinkin', swearin', and sic trash; bend yer back tae yer burden, Ca' yer han' tae yer wark, pay yer way, and keep a ceevil tongue in yer head, and then 'whistle ower the lave o't!' There's my han' to ye. Fareweel, and ye'll hear frae me some day soon, whan I get a place ready for ye aboot mysel' and the dougs."

"God's blessin' be wi' ye!" replied poor Jock.

They then rose and parted. Each after a while looked over his shoulder and waved his hand.

Jock ran back to the keeper when at some distance from him, as if he had lost something. "What's wrang?" asked Spence.

"A's richt noo!" replied Jock, as again he raised his hand and repeated his parting words, "God's blessin' be wi' ye;" and then ran off as if pursued, until concealed by rising ground from the gaze of the keeper, who watched him while in sight, lost in his own meditations.

One of the first things Jock did after thus parting with Hugh was to undo his parcel, and when he did so there was spread before his wondering eyes such a display of clothing of every kind as he had never dreamt of in connexion with his own person. All seemed to his eyes as if fresh from the tailor's hands. Jock looked at his treasures in detail, held them up, turned them over, laid them down, and repeated the process with such a grin on his face and exclamations on his lips as can neither be described nor repeated. After a while his resolution seemed to be taken: for descending to a clear mountain stream, he stripped himself of his usual habiliments, and, though they were old familiar friends, he cast them aside as if in scorn, stuffing them into a hole in the bank. After performing long and careful ablutions, he decked himself in his new rig, and tying up in a bundle his superfluous trappings, emerged on the moorland in appearance and in dignity the very lord of the manor! "Faix," thought Jock, as he paced along," the Sterlin' wasna far wrang when it telt me that 'a man's a man for a' that!'"

Instead of pursuing his way direct to Drumsylie, he diverged to a village half-way between Castle Bennock and his final destination. With his money in his pocket, he put up like a gentleman at a superior lodging-house, where he was received with the respect becoming his appearance. Early in the morning, when few were awake, he entered Drumsylie, with a sheepish feeling and such fear of attracting the attention of its gamins as made him run quickly to the house of an old widow, where he hoped to avoid all impertinent inquiries until he could determine upon his future proceedings. These were materially affected by the information which in due time he received, that Adam Mercer had been suddenly seized with illness on the day after he had left Drumsylie, and was now confined to bed.

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