Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The 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 do—something to occupy his disturbed mind—a 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 the Sergeant.

"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 was silent.

"As what, Mary?"

"As----" And she wept as if her heart would break.

"As what, Mary?"

As the Sergeant was an awfu' bad man," she added, in her sobs.

"Don't cry, Mary—be calm," said Adam. "But I've com'd, as I kent it was a lee," the child said, looking up to Adam's face.

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. Craigie.

"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 too—that 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 day."

"I was frichtened for the minister," replied Mary.

"Why were ye frichtened for the good man?"

"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 there.

"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 mither."

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 love—had he not been again overpowered by sleep.

"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 Scriptures—the portion chosen was the 23rd Psalm—the Sergeant prayed, Mary concluding at his request by repeating the Lord's Prayer aloud. They then retired to rest—Charlie's cot once more occupied; and the quiet stars never shone on a more peaceful home.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus