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{Idyls and Legends of Inverburn 1865}






BRIGHT Eyes, Light Eyes! Daughter of a Fay!
I had not been a married wife a twelvemonth and a day,                               [1:2]
I had not nurst my little one a month upon my knee,
When down among the blue-bell banks rose elfins three times three,
They gript me by the raven hair, I could not cry for fear,
They put a hempen rope around my waist and dragg’d me here,
They made me sit and give thee suck as mortal mothers can,
Bright Eyes, Light Eyes! strange and weak and wan!



Dim Face, Grim Face! lie ye there so still?
Thy red red lips are at my breast, and thou may’st suck thy fill;
But know ye, tho’ I hold thee firm, and rock thee to and fro,                        93
’Tis not to soothe thee into sleep, but just to still my woe?
And know ye, when I lean so calm against the wall of stone,
’Tis when I shut my eyes and try to think thou art mine own?
And know ye, tho’ my milk be here, my heart is far away,
Dim Face, Grim Face! Daughter of a Fay!



Gold Hair, Cold Hair! Daughter to a King!
Wrapt in bands of snow-white silk with jewels glittering,
Tiny slippers of the gold upon thy feet so thin,
Silver cradle velvet-lined for thee to slumber in,
Pigmy pages, crimson-hair’d, to serve thee on their knees,
To bring thee toys and greenwood flowers and honey bags of bees,—        [3:6]
I was but a peasant lass, my babe had but the milk,
Gold Hair, Cold Hair! raimented in silk!



Pale Thing, Frail Thing! dumb and weak and thin,
Altho’ thou ne’er dost utter sigh thou’rt shadow’d with a sin;
Thy minnie scorns to suckle thee, thy minnie is an elf,
Upon a bed of rose’s-leaves she lies and fans herself;
And though my heart is aching so for one afar from me,
I often look into thy face and drop a tear for thee,
And I am but a peasant born, a lowly cotter’s wife,
Pale Thing, Frail Thing! sucking at my life!



Weak Thing, Meek Thing! take no blame from me,
Altho’ my babe may fade for lack of what I give to thee;
For though thou art a stranger thing, and though thou art my woe,                [5:3]
To feel thee sucking at my breast is all the joy I know,                                 [5:4]
It soothes me tho’ afar away I hear my daughter call,
My heart were broken if I felt no little lips at all!
If I had none to tend at all, to be its nurse and slave,
Weak Thing, Meek Thing! I should shriek and rave!



Bright Eyes, Light Eyes! lying on my knee!
If soon I be not taken back unto mine own countree,
To feel my own babe’s little lips, as I am feeling thine,
To smooth the golden threads of hair, to see the blue eyes shine,—
I’ll lean my head against the wall and close my weary eyes,
And think my own babe draws the milk with balmy pants and sighs,
And smile and bless my little one and sweetly pass away,
Bright Eyes, Light Eyes! Daughter of a Fay!


Alterations in the 1882 Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour:
Includes the following note: “Founded on the Scottish superstition that the Fairies, when one of their offspring needs unusual care and sustenance, steal away a young mortal mother to suckle it.”
v. 1, l. 2: I had not been a wedded wife a twelvemonth and a day,
v. 3, l. 6: To fan thy face with ferns and bring thee honey bags of bees,—
v. 5, l. 3: For though thou art a faëry child, and though thou art my woe,
v. 5, l. 4: To feel thee sucking at my breast is all the bliss I know; ]





Hugh Baird his name: a farmer well to do,
Who wars against the godly-worldly crew,
Six days works hard and keeps his name from spot,
But on the seventh likes his dinner hot.
One hand imaginary guineas seeks
Deep in the pockets of his tartan breeks,
The other grips his gill, at which he sips
With cordial smiles and smackings of the lips;
Meanwhile, within the sound of Sabbath bells,
He tells this tale, and tipples as he tells.



HERE’S health and better fortune ! . . Houch, ’tis strong!—
But Sandie’s whisky is a drink for kings.

     That minnow of a man is Matthew Bell,
Who holds as high a head at kirk or fair
As stout Sir Walter, Laird of Wimplepen.
The Lord preserve us!—did you mark the look
The Saint vouchsafed the sinners as he pass’d,
[The bona fide sinners, let me say!]
Grown grim as Patience shivering in her sark,                                                97
To see them frighting Truth, the nymph of wells,
From water with a splash of whiskey neat,
And ’tween the hours of kirk on Sabbath day
Chatting in Sandy’s parlour? That’s the note
The bantam crows! From here to John o’ Groat’s
Find me a mannikin who knows so much
About the Book of Books, or half so much
About that mighty work, the Ledger. Rich?
Ay,—as his fields of golden-tassell’d wheat!
Out of his hundred acres year by year
He reaps a bonnetful of yellow gold,
And lives on yonder hill, where silent Hairst
Is lying like an angel yellow-hair’d.

     Langsyne, a child was born to Matthew Bell—
As sweet a child as ever Howdie holds
For sceptre, when she queens it in a house,
And takes the goodman’s easy-chair, and makes
The sinner tremble at his own fireside;
And, when the lass was tall enough to touch
Grim Matthew’s watch-chain with her golden curls,
Her mother died,—whom country tattle said
The farmer’s dismal pictures of the Pit                                                          98
Had frighten’d up to heaven ere her time.
But Maggie—as they named her—lived and grew,
And, Sabbath-mad as Matthew ever was,
He lack’d the power to cloud her infant smiles,
And later, I believe lie lack’d the heart,—
When o’er her mother’s grave she laugh’d and play’d,
Or, seated on her gloomy father’s knee,
Look’d her young sunshine on his sunless eyes.

     Thought Matthew most of Maggie’s golden hair,
Or of his golden wheat and golden wealth?
And did he dream of one whose gleaming locks
Wound round the worms beneath the grass and flowers?
And did he fashion, as a father will,
Pictures of Maggie in her bridal dress,
With a grand tocher and a holy ring?
None knew, none knew; but bonnie Maggie Bell
Grew like a lily in the gloom—a maid
Slim, pale as any lily, when the shades
Of sixteen summers wash’d with twilight dew
The glowworms in her hair, and dark’d her eyes
From blue to deeper blue—as shades of clouds
Pass windily o’er the grass and leave their tints                                              99
Under the lids of pansies wet with rain.

     Hey, poetry!—the whisky is to blame.

     The holy house of Farmer Matthew kept
John Calvin’s Sabbath all the gloomy week;
And morn and night poor Maggie’s head was dinn’d
With Scripture phrases, and the puzzling texts
Interpreted by Mammon on his knees.
To sing, or dance, as other maidens use,
To read a paper or a fairy tale,
To eye her image in the looking-glass,
Was stark damnation, prompted by the Deil.
Weary was Maggie’s lot! Her yellow hair
Was fasten’d up beneath a frowsy net,
And hid beneath a bonnet strange to see
For shape and fashion; and her dress was mean
From head to foot, with no fine-colour’d bows
Such as the purest-hearted lassies love.
This grew and grew to such a pitch at last
That when the lass in secret saved a pound,
And bought herself a bonnet fit to wear,
Her father threw the same upon the fire,                                                       100
And grumbled “Vanity,” and glower’d and gloom’d,
While Maggie wept. Then all her maiden friends
Christen’d her Quaker Maggie! and she mourn’d
In secret that the world miscall’d her so:
Till in her heart she hated Sabbath-day,
And preaching, and the very Book itself,
As things that made her life a life of scorn.
What wonder if she look’d with jealous eyes
At lovely ribbons in another’s cap?
Thought far far less of what the preacher said
Than of the giggling smiles the lassies cast
At her old wear, from every pew around?
And when her father question’d of the text,
Knew just as much about it as a child
Who pastes his nose against a sweetie-shop
Knows of the moon? This kind of thing in time
Made Maggie slightly sour in temper, dull
And peevish as a school-boy in the sulks,
Till, one fine day, the Farmer went his way
And brought another wife to rule thc roast.

     O, holy, holy, as the Pope’s big Toe,
Was Mistress Bell the second! Half a yard                                                  101
Taller than Matthew,—and a widow, Sir!
She was a woman of an ancient house,
And stoop’d, they said, to Matthew’s ploughman blood.
Sir, she was tall and lean as Highland firs,
Sharp-featured like an ancient Virtue vex’d
With influenza and a constant hoast,
Nose like a glowing cinder, sharp-cut mouth
Drawn in and out with thin and oily cheeps,
And small hen’s eyes, whose twinkle seem’d to say,
“O, am I not—confess it—am I not
A credit to Creation?” Day and night
Her cry was, “Vanity, O vanity!”—
And aye she hurl’d the vengeance of the skies
At comely hizzies dimpling in their teens.

     You guess that when she came to Matthew’s house,
And cast her gaze on beauteous Maggie Bell,
She loved the maid no better than a bat
Loves sunshine. There was scolding, there were tears;
This thing was wrong in Maggie, that thing wrong;
And Maggie mourn’d, and could not teach her lips
To call the grey mare “mother”; and for him,
Grim Matthew, haply now and then a thrill                                                    102
Of fellow-feeling made his cankerous heart
Pity his child a wee, but, bless my life!
It was as much as his old ears were worth
To cross the Clishmaclaver lie had wed.
So Maggie Bell began to use her tongue,
To answer back, returning scold for scold,
To utter words that bit like adders’ mouths;
But mind you, she was sorely vex’d and tried.

     Though mortals wrangle, still the sunshine falls;
The earth grows fruitful and the seasons change,
While mortals come and go. Around the farm
The land was spreading on from fence to fence,
Acre on acre, golden rood on rood,
And aye the money rang in Matthew’s pouch;
For spite of all those pious ways of his,
And spite his married troubles in the house,
The canny farmer ne’er forsook the toil
Of making and increasing. Nay, my friend!
O’er-clever was the loon for poor half crops
And business neglected! Year by year,
His bank-books and his ledgers fatter grew
Like o’er-fed leeches; year by year he throve;                                               103
And year by year, the farm that yonder lies,
With slated room and whiten’d doors and walls,
Stood up upon the hill ’mid harvest home
Hid like a pearl in lady’s yellow hair.

     Ere Maggie Bell had enter’d on her teens,
One Robin Anderson, a long-limb’d lad,
With pocket empty as a last year's nest,
Came lounging to the farm and seeking work;
And Matthew set the stranger ’mong the wheat,
Gave him a reaping hook and bade him shear,
And ere the sunset made above the hills
A mimic picture of the hairst, the lad
Had earned a strong man’s hire. Matthew was pleased;
Said little; but he gave the boy a bed
Out in the byre, and there the stranger slept
Alone among the kine. A clever lad!
He wrought and shore, and earn’d both pence and praise,
Strong as a stallion, modest as a mouse;
But hark you, when the Sabbath day came round,
And Matthew cast his eyes around the kirk,
Whom should he spy, a sheep among the flock,
But Robin! . . and the laddie’s looks were cast                                              104
Full modest on his book, his jet-black hair
Was neatly comb’d behind his rabbit-ears,
His poor old clothes were patch’d and cleanly brush’d,
And butter soft seem’d melting in his mouth,—
And when he met his master’s canker’d gaze,
He blush’d like any maid and seem’d ashamed.

     A clever lad was Robin Anderson!
A clever, clever lad with fox’s eyes!
A clever, clever lad in lambkin’s gear!
Kirk over, Matthew took him by the arm,
And, with a grim inquisitorial look,
Question’d the trembling lad upon the text,—
And scarce a word the Preacher dropt that day
But Robin had by heart. Then Matthew Bell
Was hugely pleased to see the lad so good—
So grand a worker with the reaping-hook,
And such a pattern at his prayers beside:
“Keep on, my lad,” he said, “as you begin;
You’ll be a wealthy man, before you die
And go to glory.” After that, to kirk
Went Robin, never missing night or morn.
Next, later on, one Sabbath night, the lad                                                     105
Came stumping to the kitchen, in his hand
An old torn Bible, and, with hums and haws,
And mighty fear of giving some offence,
Would have the Farmer open and expound
A text that puzzled sore. Now, nothing pleased
Old Matthew better than the like of this—
A chance of showing off the Grace of God,
And his own Scripture learning, both at once.
He smiled and took the Book, put on his specs,
And read, and as he read expounded all,
With godly-worldly comment of his own,
Till Robin stared in awe, and saw it plain,
And thank’d his teacher with a hungry look,
And with a sigh that seem’d to rend his heart
Wish’d he were half as holy, half as good,
Or half as learn’d, as Matthew. After that,
He came on other errands ben the house,
Hearken’d to Matthew like a hungry sheep,
And grew so pious, holy, and so good,
That when the wheat was shorn and strain’d and put
With golden glitter in the bank in town,
Old Matthew paid the crowd of reapers off,
But kept the creeshie Robin Anderson                                                         106
To do a labourer’s work about the farm.

     A clever chiel was Robin Anderson!
He never spake bad words, ne’er tasted drink,
Nor brake the seventh commandment; he was deep
In knowledge both of figures and the Book;
He taught himself to read and write and sum
While sinners were at play. So day by day
He throve and throve in Matthew Bell’s esteem,
And rose and rose; till, when the house was storm’d
By Mistress Bell the second, he arranged
His cards so well, and seem’d so mild and meek,
And play’d so well on the grey mare’s conceit—
Seeming to think her, not a saint alone,
But a braw woman with a beauteous face—
That Mistress Bell was won to like the man
And tuck him under her maternal wing.
To make the story short, this clever chiel,
By dint of bowing, praying, labouring,
Throve in the holy household, and so well,
That Matthew later made him overseer
O’er all the fields, and ascertain’d in time
The head and hand of Robin Anderson                                                        107
Were needful to his life as meat and drink.

     Meantime, poor Maggie? Year by year the lass
Had waited wearily and work’d and wept,
Seeing her mother’s pitying eyes look down
Among the other stars that lit the sky;
And aye she moan’d, “O mother, art thou there?
And may I come to meet thee, minnie mine?”
But spite of tears, and anger whose blue flame
Burns out the sweetness of a comely face
Sooner than tears, and spite of weary pain,
Maggie was bonnie, bonnie, bonnie!—grew
From bonnier to bonnier year by year!
Against her will, and in her heart’s despite,
Health loved her so that like an ivy’s arm
It clung about her, would forsake her not,
Giving and taking beauty. She was pale,
But ’twas the pallor of a lily flower
Full-blooming, not the pallor of disease.
The passionate appeals made day and night
To one who shone above, put in her eyes
Fresh-colour’d gleams of heaven’s own violet hue;
And aye the sunshine sparkling in her hair                                                     108
Tangled itself like ears of golden wheat;
And aye the tears she shed so often weigh’d
Like dew-drops on a lily’s stem, and gave
Her gentle head a drooping grace more sweet
Than ruddy-featured boldness. Sombre gear,
Old-fashion’d raiment, and the like, but served
To make this beauty plainer, as the night
Shows off the modest moon. All scorn, all arts
To hide her beauteousness and humble her,
Were lost on Maggie Bell!—Darkly they fell,
Coldly and gloomily, as murmuring rain
Tumbles on beds of flowers;—and ’mid it all
The flowers lift up their heads and vainly try
To shake the drops away, and as they toyte
They sparkle with a thousand diamond pearls,
Looking the lovelier for the load they bear!

     So time wore slowly on, till Maggie Bell
Was sweet and twenty. Half the country side
Went wild about her face, the other half
Went wild about her dowry. What of that?
Old Matthew’s canker’d eyes were looking high,
Seeking a man of godliness and wealth                                                        109
To wed his child and multiply his fame;
And Mistress Bell would have no idle loons
Come hanging round the farm—’twas neither right,
Nor safe, nor delicate; and, as it seem’d,
The maid herself cared little for the sport,
The juggling of the eyes and lips and mouth,
Which long ago unpetticoated Eve
First taught to breekless Adam Gardener.

     Strange she should take to Robin Anderson;—
Yet so she did, though Matthew guess’d it not,
And no suspicion of the friendship struck
The Clishmaclaver. Many a kindly turn
Sly Robin did for Maggie; many a time
He screen’d her from the storm!—I knew him well,
And, just when Maggie’s beauty was full-blown,
I noticed that a change came over him:
He went to kirk no less. but it was plain
His thoughts were troublesome and ill at ease;
Often when spoken to, he started, blush’d,
Seem’d shamed like one detected in a theft;
In kirk, forgot to look upon the book,
And glinted nervously aroundabout.                                                             110
This puzzled me;—but Robin Anderson
Was softer hearted than he wish’d to seem—
Had kindliness beneath his sombre gear—
Would smile and place his finger on his lips
If now and then I mock’d his creeshie ways—
And, what was more, was passionate, I knew,
In certain sad and fleshly vanities,
Like other men, from Adam down to me.

     At last, the lily-flower on Maggie’s cheek
Grew sickly, and an icy glitter struck
The sweetness from her eyes; she answer’d back,
To them that chid her, with an angry tongue;
And hollow, hollow, up and down the house,
With mixtie-maxtie echoes plump’d the foot
That once had fall’n as soft as flakes of snow.
Her father watch’d her with his yellow eye;
The Clishmaclaver shrugg’d her thin old back
And sneer’d and mutter’d, daring not to speak
Out loudly, for the lassie’s fiend was up;
And Robin Anderson, with oily grace,
Strove hard to make the sunder’d house agree,
But vainly. By and by ’twas plain to see                                                       111
That Maggie wander’d in a kind of mist,
Confused and lost, for when you spake, and loud,
She listen’d dreamily like one who hears
The hollow chiming of a far-off bell;
And now the maiden who, though sorely tried,
Had aye a pattern been of cleanly ways,
Was heedless of the judgment of the world
As nettles running ragged in a lane.

     This could not last for long. Came harvest-time,
And reapers flock’d with hooks to Matthew’s farm;
And round the farm, around, above, below,
The fields rose thick and yellow with the grain;
And o’er the fields the buzzing murmur sped;
And o’er the fields the shadows of the clouds
Pass’d dark, in patches, in their own soft wind.
Ne’er had the moon’s moist horn been fill’d so high
With ripeness, gold, and fragrance. So the heart
Of Matthew crow’d, as loud as any cock.
But on the Sabbath day, the first of hairst,
The Farmer and his wife sat ben the house
With Robin Overseer, and crack’d and talk’d
Of holy matters spiced with thoughts of gain,                                                112
Till time for prayers; and when the time was come,
And all the house was summon’d, Matthew cried,
“Where’s Maggie?”—but no Maggie heard the cry;
And Mistress Bell went flyting thro’ the farm,
From room to room; while from the house the call
For Maggie pass’d into the fields and byres:
But Maggie came not; at the last upran
A cotter’s lass, barefooted, pale to see,
Who cried with many a stammer, many a pause,
“O mem! O Mistress Bell! O Mister Bell!
You’re looking oot for Maggie, are you no’?
But Maggie’s gane!” “Gone!” screech’d the quire, “gone where?”
“O mem, to Edinglass,” the lassie cried.
“I met her down the lawlan all her lane,
And she was greeting sair, and when I look’d
She stay’d and tellt me a’, and bade me gie
This message to her faither—‘Tell him, Meg,’
Says she, ‘I’m gaun awa,’ says she, ‘for gude,
Ne’er to return, but that I pray the Lord
May ne’er be hard wi’ him as him wi’ me,
Nor bring him to as sair a shamefu’ end;’
And then wi’ pale, pale face she slipt awa’,                                                   113
Afore I kenn’d her meaning, and was gane!”

     Sir, so it was. There was a wild to-do,
Old Matthew glared and gloom’d like one gone wild,
The Clishmaclaver fainted. Far and near
The reapers search’d and search’d, along the roads,
And down the village; but they sought in vain.
Yet Maggie reach’d not Edinglass that night,~
Nor the next night, nor many a night to come;
For as she ran beneath the moon, a swoon
Struck her like blinding moonshine, and her limbs
Just served to bear her to a cotter’s door,
And there, with clenching teeth and hands, she fell.
The cotter’s wife, who knew her, bare her in;
And there she lay; and ere the pallid dawn
Stared in upon her with its dead man’s eyes,
There came the fitful crying of a child,
And Maggie, white and shuddering, shriek’d to hear.

     Such news spreads quickly. Ere the day was done,
Poor Maggie’s shame was common whisper’d talk
O’er all the country-side—at cottage hearths,
And in the harvest fields. The black news came                                           114
To Matthew, where he wrought with hook himself
(So eager was he for the harvest gain)
Among the reapers; and he call’d a curse
On Maggie and her child, clenching his fists
To scream his godly thunder; lastly cried
To Robin Anderson, whose eyes droop’d down:
“Go to the lassie—go—and go at once—
And tell her, if she cross my path again,
I draw my fist across her shameless face
And tread her under foot; and tell her, too,
That, day or night, be ’t sawing or be ’t hairst,
My prayers will call a curse upon her head!”
And Robin strode away without a word,
As grim and gloomy as a thunder-cloud;
And ere an hour came back into the field,
And told his master he had done his will;
“What said she?” ask’d the Farmer, frowning fierce,
And ground his heel upon the stubbly soil—
“Nought!” answer’d Robin, short,—and turn’d away,
Biting his lips and scowling on the ground,
And wrought in silence till the sun was set.




     O bitter, bitter was the Farmer’s heart,
And all his pleasure of the Hairst was sour’d!
But when the Clishmaclaver, giving tongue,
Began that night to rail on Maggie’s shame,
Grim Matthew sharply bade her hold her peace,
Nor mention Maggie more; and Mistress Bell,
Knowing the man was fierce to have his way,
Stopt short and lookt as sour as buttermilk.
Then all was dreary silence in the house;
And Matthew took the Book, put on his specs,
And tried to read, but aye the spew grew dim
With moisture from his eyes; till, with a cry,
Almost a curse, he closed the Book and rush’d
Forth to the outer darkness. Who could sound
The Farmer’s thoughts? and were they something sad
And did pale Conscience put her mourning on?
I know not; but for long and weary hours                                                     116
He wander’d out among the wheat; near dawn
Saw the moist stars that loosen’d one by one
From Night’s grey robe like jewels from a dress;
And at the break of day return’d—with eyes
Crimson, and not thro’ weeping, with his cheeks
As pale as frost upon a cold grey pane,
But cats’-claws at the edges of the lips
To show a selfish fiend was uppermost.

     You guess the neighbours, both the rich and poor,
Were little loath to see so taken down
The Farmer’s pride and Mistress Bell’s conceit.
Clang, clang, went Scandal, sounding like a chime
From cottage unto cottage, till the place
Was jingling like a belfry out of tune.
Then, with the cruel clangour in her ears,
Poor Maggie clasp’d her child and fled away
To Edinglass; and in that cloud of life
She faded like a brownie in a mist.
The Clishmaclaver, though she made a fuss,
Was strong in constitution, and her heart
Not apt to break so easily: poor lamb,
She bore her trouble like a saint in stone.                                                      117
But Matthew went about with mildew’d heart,
Ne’er wept, and wrought as hard as any horse;
But he was absent, and his wandering eyes
Dropt from your honest look to seek the ground;
His shoulders caught a trick of stooping—so!
And when a lassie or a lad went wrong
His voice was not so loud in stern rebuke,
Among the gumlie Elders, as of old.

     The pious reaper, Robin Anderson,
Seem’d also burden’d with a bitter load;
Shame weigh’d upon him; once or twice, when vext
At trifles, he was plainly heard to swear;
And when the harvest store was gather’d in,
He came as from a funeral. The nights
Grew long and cold, and so the winter pass’d;
And in the middle winter came a cry
Which swept as crimson fire on Matthew’s face,—
That Maggie lived in Edinglass the life
Of thousands dead to dying. When the news
One gusty gloaming reach’d the ingleside,
The Farmer fairly fell on Robin’s breast,
And to the whistling of a winter wind                                                            118
Scream’d Maggie’s mother’s name and moan’d aloud.

     But ere the azure eyes of May, suffused
With dewy rapture, open’d to behold
A rainbow sowing flowers upon the spot
Where winter buried lay, old Matthew Bell
Forgot his shame and sorrow in a joy
Just on the edge of finish, like a kiss
That hangs in honey on a dewy lip,
Melting in incompletion. For the stars
Were smiling on the lap of Mistress Bell,
Who promised brawly to obey the text,—
“Be fruitful, multiply, replenish earth!”—
In decent manner. So indeed it was!
When May with neck as white as curds and cream
Peept blushing up ’mong roses white and red,
And when the laverock resting on her wrist
Went warbling up till it became a speck
Of sunshine (O the whisky!),—round the neck
Of cankerous Mistress Bell there hung a babe,
As plump as ever cuddled mother’s breast,
A tiny stumpie-stowsie clutch’d with pride.

     O Matthew’s heart was high! his aged lungs                                            119
Were rax’d like chanticleer’s! and in his joy
He could have hugg’d the Howdie, had she been
Less notable for snappishness and sneesh!
Great bliss he felt to have a son and heir,
To keep his mem’ry holy in the land
And multiply the siller. One there was
In all the farm who seem’d to welcome not
The little one—the gladness and the hope.
’Twas Robin Anderson. At twenty-eight,
Sly Robin was a man of pith and power,
Full six-feet high, with whiskers like a fox,
And eyes set deep ’neath mathematic brows.
And Robin ever loudly vow’d himself
(Though I, for one, knew better, as I said)
Above all corporal lusts and vanities:
He marry?—nay! to buy a kiss in Kirk,
Then strangle Freedom with an apron string,
And waste his substance on a noisy pack
Of tapsileeries ranged from big to small
Like polisht pots within a public-house!

     And when his joy was fullest, Robin came
But little ben the farm; and when in mirth                                                       120
They brought the chittering infant to his seat
Beside the glowing kitchen fire, he gazed,
And snigger’d out a feeble idiot smile,
And with his great fore-finger touch’d the child
As one inspects a curious kind of fish,
Seem’d half afraid ’twould bite, and, sorely push’d,
Confess’d ’twas bonnie, with a long-drawn sigh,
As if the bonnieness was sad to see.
And ever after that, do all he could,
And clever tho’ he was to act a part,
He never show’d a liking for the child;
Though what was stirring in his heart of hearts
The Father knew, He who for gracious ends
Decrees his children shall be fathers too.
He better could have dealt with one full-grown
Than with a fretful, feckless, restless thing
He lack’d the art to handle. So at last
He fairly threw aside the slippery sham,
And kept away as if the child had been
A biting cankerous cur. All this, be sure,
Pleased Matthew little, and the mother less,
And she grew high, and Matthew he grew stiff,
And both grew colder as the year wore on.                                                  121

     This bother’d Robin sore. He spake few words,
Toil’d stoutly, late and early, went to work,
Blacken’d in sanctity to the finger-tips,
And often rode to Edinglass to spend
Whole day with country cousins, as he said.
But oft, when none were near him, Robin heard,
A weakly moaning voice among the wheat;
A tearful sobbing, sobbing, fill’d his ear,
When mistily, sadly, fell the autumn rain;
And in his soul the image of a child
Battled with fiends. I plainly saw the man
Hated himself, and some cold snake that shed
Its slime upon his heart; and more than once
I made a guess, which after-days proved true.

     Then once again came harvest, reapers reapt,
And all was rich and yellow with the grain.

     O yellow, yellow waved the wealthy ears,
And yellow, yellow thro’ the misty stalks
The sunshine drew its threads of liquid gold;
Hairst nodded, nodded, with a deep-drawn breath,                                       122
The sun-tann’d reapers reapt, the golden showers
Fell like a garment rustling to the knees
Of beauty, and from fence to fence the shout
Of reapers ran, and in among the sheaves
Bare-footed gleaners douk’d with brimming hands.
O yellow, yellow waved the wealthy ears!
But in a field half-reap’d, and brightly paved
With sparkling stubble, Robin work’d alone—
His colour’d handkerchief about his loins,
And on his head a broad-brimm’d hat of straw.

     When sunny Noon was steaming, from the house
Came Mistress Bell, and in her hands the babe,
And down among the harvest-home she walk’d
Raising the little one to see the fields,
The reapers reaping, and the sun above;
And aye the mannock crow’d and waved his hands,
And blink’d his azure eyes against the sun,
And smiled and shone and leapt—for all the world,
Like a stray sunbeam flickering about
The mother’s bosom. As the stars arranged,
Down to the very spot where Robin wrought,
Down-bending ’neath the yellow as she came,                                              123
Walk’d the goodwife—whom love, and joy, and pride
Of happy hairst, and fatness in the bud,
Made almost bonnie. In the neighbouring field
Just then arose a clamor as of men
In loud and fierce contention; half surprised,
Half curious, she placed the child with care
Upon a cosey heap of fallen wheat,
And hasten’d, fast as her old legs could run,
To gaze and question o’er the low green hedge.
As Fortune plann’d it, she had laid the bairn
Close to the spot where Robin bound the sheaves;
And peeping underneath the sheaves of wheat
The child (too wee to harbor malice!) saw
The reaper, laugh’d, and blink’d its azure eyes,
Stretch’d out its plump pink arms and cried aloud,
And would have tumbled from its yellow bed
Had Anderson not thrown his tools aside
And ran to help it. “Now,” the reaper thought,
“I’ll watch the child till Mistress Bell returns,
And this may help to heal the old offence!”
And while he thought, the mannikin lay still
Blinking full sage as if it knew the doubt
Of him, the gloomy man, whose hollow eyes                                                124
Lookt at it half afraid. With that the Lord
Bade His bright sunshine and His Harvest-home,
His merry sights and sounds, His happy light,
His peace and plenteousness of autumn gifts,
Mix with the smiling of the little child
And swim in vision on the reaper’s heart.
A gush like mother's milk fill’d Robin's heart,
Warming that heart until it leapt for fun,
And with the harvest dazzling on his eyes
The reaper laugh’d aloud and colour’d red.
Still Mistress Bell stay’d cracking at the hedge
With one she knew, and part forgot her charge
And part was dimly conscious it was safe.
Was Robin daft, or drunk, or both at once?
For with a wheaten straw of feathery end
He tickled, tantled, at the infant’s throat,
And poked the honied dimples of its chin,
Until the child crow’d loud and kick’d and scream’d.
And flung its arms about, and jump’d for fun;
Till, fairly madden’d with a reckless glee,
This holy man, this clever clever chiel,
This big-boned reaper, Robin Anderson,
Caught up the wean, and tost it in the air,                                                      125
And rock’d it in his arms and tousled it,
And not a mother in her teens could be
More glad, more tender. In the midst of all,
Back came the mistress: Robin saw her not,
But laugh’d, and test the wean, and tousled it;
Till suddenly he turn’d and caught her eye:
“What, Robin!”—and the reaper held the babe
Between his hands, blushing with heat and shame,
And eyed his little load with sheepish look
As doubting whether he should hold it fast,
Or let it tumble,—scraping with his feet;
Till, gasping, gaping, like a startled hen,
She took the infant, gave him one long gaze,
And walkt away as stupefied and dumb
As if the very Deil had stolen up
And wrought a miracle beneath her nose!

     Hey! Robin was as shamed as shamed could be,
And bound the sheaves all day, with gloomy eyes
That sought the ground. Then gloaming powder’d heaven
With stars that floated silver in the air,
And ’neath the stars Hairst sighing fell to sleep                                              126
With misty breath and audible golden wings,
And all the weary reapers reap’d no more.
Long time stay’d Robin in the dark without,
Grumbling, delaying, shamed, afraid to meet
The eyes of women in the farm within;
But partly hunger moved and partly pride,
And with a big defiant lounge he strode
Into the kitchen, where the labourers,
Women and men, with spoons of season’d wood,
Were dipping at the smoking porridge-bowl.
And there, between a strapping maiden’s knees,
Was Master Matthew Bell, the son and heir!
No Mistress Bell was there; but when the child
Saw Robin Anderson, he crow’d aloud,
Kicking and laughing, tumbling on the knee,—
And Robin, ere he knew, was at his side,
Tickling and tousling him,—like one indeed
That partly sported to defy the voice
That said he could not sport, and casting round
His quick defiant glances now and then,
But with a secret honiedness of heart.
All stared—none spoke a word; but laughing eyes
Sparkled, and looks of wonder pass’d about,                                              127
While Robin’s frenzy brighten’d, grew and grew,
Till the wee treble and the big haw, haw!
Like a grand giant and a wee wee gnome,
Rang merry, merry, merry!

                                             After that,
No better friends could dwell in Christendie
Than Robin and the wean; and, stranger still,
After that night the art of pleasing it,
And holding it, and hushing it in arms,
Seem’d dull no longer, but so easy now,
That Robin wonder’d how he came to deem
Such things so hard to learn. The bridge once pass’d,
Pons Asinorum, as I said at school,
Robin cared little what he did or said.
Beneath the very eyes of Mistress Bell
And Matthew he would sport the child, and feel
As little shame as any new-yean’d lamb;
And Matthew and the Mistress they were pleased;
And the ice thaw’d, and so the time wore on
Till Hairst was shorn of every golden lock.

     But ah! big Robin’s heart was ill at ease:                                                  128
The secret snake still nestled there, and soil’d
His very tongue with venom. Oftener,
He took his journeys into Edinglass;
At home, he only brighten’d when his friend
Was by to cheer him: then, and only then,
He sported; for on Sabbath he was first
At kirk, with gloomy face and soot-black gear.

     But when the Hairst again had heavenward flown,
An angel leaving gentle gifts behind,
The child of Matthew’s age fell sick, and all
Was silence in the farm. Then doctors came
And whisper’d learnëd difference to the ticks
Of learnëd watches; and a yaumer weak
Was heard throughout the night. Matthew was mad,
And Mistress Bell all tears; but none paid heed
To Robin,—who would sit beside the fire,
Glower at the coal, and heark with hungry ear
To those that tiptoe stole about the house
And whisper’d. Once, on silent shoeless feet,
He crept into the little sleeping room,
And saw the pale, pale babe on mother’s lap:
He look’d and could not speak—a scalding heat                                          129
Grew in his throat—he stammer’d, blush’d, and stared;
But when he turn’d away his face was white
With ghastly pain more terrible than tears.
What felt he, thought he? Is it fair to guess?
Perchance his thought was something like to this:
“If wedded, I had such another child
As lies before me, and the child should die
For lack of such a love as I could give,
Would all the gold and silver in the world
Wipe from my soul that piteous baby-face?
Would twenty thousand prayers, pray’d day and night,
Drown in the hearing of the Lord my God
The cry my babe had utter’d as it died?”

     And when the little one was fall’n asleep,
Drest in its Sabbath clothes of white to keep
Eternities of Sabbath in the grave,
Old Matthew, groaning, stump’d about the house,
Sour Elder though he was; and Mistress Bell
Wept low and bitter, with an eldritch grief,
To which the woman’s quaint uncomely face
Gave double solemness;—for aye she kiss’d
The frosty lips, and aye with tender care                                                      130
Sorted the clothes upon the white, white limbs,
To make them look the sweeter, weeping sore.
But in the silent hush of noon, one crept
On tiptoe to the chamber where the child
Lay, tiny, breathless,—like a lily flower
Under the thinly dropping misty dews
Of gloaming, making where it lay in shade
A faint and glow-worm glamour of its own.

     ’Twas Robin; and he touch’d the tiny hands,
And look’d upon the baby face that Death
Had fill’d with shadows ancient as the leaves
That shaded Adam’s garden; and he gazed
As one fresh-landed after years at sea
Might gaze upon a flower reminding him
Of meadows where he gamboll’d when a boy.

     He shed no tears. Around his eyes there swam
Two dewy rings, the mist of tears unshed,
And in a dream, he heark’d, and seem’d to hear
An infant cry from far away, and see
Two hands uplifted from beneath his knees
To draw him down and kiss him on the mouth;                                            131
And so he crept away, unseen, unheard,
Hating the silence of the mourning house,
Longing to break the silence with a shriek.

     Seven days the child had slumber’d under grass,
And now the snow was falling in a mist
And sowing snow-drops on the little grave,
When Robin rode away to Edinglass
On business of his own. Four days he stay’d;
And Matthew, in his sorrow, scarce took heed.

     But standing at the threshold of the farm,
One morning, Matthew saw a farmer’s gig,
Drawn by a piebald pony of his own,
Come trotting up the road; and in it sat
A woman and a man. Up came the gig,
And halted at the farm; and with a cry
Of wonder, even fear, the farmer saw
That he who drove was Robin Anderson,
And she that sat beside him—with a child
Tuck’d softly underneath her Paisley shawl—
His sinful daughter, Maggie. Both were pale,
And dropt their eyes; but Robin’s teeth were set                                           132
Together. Not a word could Matthew speak,
But Robin help’d the lassie to the ground,
And led her to the door; and Matthew Bell
Gave way, walk’d ben and backwards, stared and gasp’d,
“What’s this? What’s this? And is it daft ye are?
And have you both forgotten?” and his eyes
Glitter’d on Maggie with a ghastly pain;
But Robin took him by the shoulder-blade,
And push’d him ben the kitchen. “Wheesht a while!”
Said Robin; “wheesht a while, and hear me out:
May Clootie grip me, Matthew, I have been
A hypocrite and villain,—both in kirk
And here, as friend and servant, in the farm.
’Twas me brought Meg to sorrow and to shame—
But here I stand—to take the shame myself—
And Meg’s my wife!” The Farmer stared and gasp’d,
Clutch’d at the empty air with eager hand,
And spoke not. “Father!” Maggie moan’d aloud;
At that he eyed her with a hungry look,
As he would wither her, and answer’d nought.
Then Robin said, “I take the shame myself,—
And Meg’s my honest wife; and if your heart
Is shut against us both, the world is wide,                                                      133
And we can go away, and we can work;
But if you care or sorrow for the lamb
You late have laid beneath the kirkyard sod,
Forgive poor Maggie for the bairnie’s sake:—
Come, here am I, to take the shame myself,
And Meg’s my wife!” Then Maggie cried again,
“Father!”—and as she spake drew back her shawl,
And show’d her child asleep upon her breast,
A picture of the other child asleep,
And as she spake, it waken’d, gave a cry,
And kick’d to run upon its rosy feet.

     Then, some say Matthew thought him of a slip
Himself had made when he was warm and young;
Some that he knew full well ’twould cost him dear
To part with Robin; others, that the wean,
When Maggie set him down, ran toddling o’er,
Peep’d in the Farmer’s face, and laugh’d for fun,
Pull’d at his watch-chain boldly with a cry,
And did it all. But when the Farmer’s wife
Came creeping to the kitchen, with a scream
Saw Maggie, lifted up her hands and groan’d,
Old Matthew sharply turn’d and cut her short,                                              134
And never looking at poor Maggie’s face,
Bade Robin seat himself and talk it o’er.

     That’s all, sir!—for a child might guess the rest;
Matthew came round, and Mistress Bell was forced
To give a doubtful nod,—and all was done.
Robin had saved and scraped; he bought a piece
Of Matthew’s land, where Maggie and her boy
Were settled down for good. That tale was false
Of Maggie’s evil life in Edinglass!
But, sir, it is a truth that Robin’s heart,
In spite of all the cunning of his head,
Gushing the milk of human kindness up,
Drown’d the wee deil, Hypocrisy, therein;
That Robin’s comely wife and Mistress Bell
Meet every Sabbath, dying to be friends,
And quarrel every Sabbath day for good.
But ah! to see the dreadful change that years
Have wrought in Robin! He is well-to-do,
Has other weans beside the elbow-slip,—
That’s nothing singular!—But, sir, he’s fat!
He has been known to go to sleep in kirk!
And oft, within this very parlour here,                                                          135
’Twould give your heart a thrill to hear him sing
“Corn Rigs,” or “Tullochgorum!”

                                                     Such a change
Can stolen sweets and fleshly vanities,
Children and women, work in holy men,
E’en clever lads like Robin! . . Well, I’ve done—
No more, unless you wish to see me fu’:
I’ve far to walk,—and ’tis the Sabbath day.


‘The Two Babes’ is not included in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan.]






RING, sing! ring, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
Rhyme, ring! chime, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, sing! rhyme, ring! over fields and fells!

And I gallop’d and I gallop’d on my palfrey white as milk,
My robe was of the sea-green woof, my serk was of the silk;
My hair was golden yellow, and it floated to my shoe,
My eyes were like two harebells bathed in little drops of dew;                       [2:4]
My palfrey, never stopping, made a music sweetly blent
With the leaves of autumn dropping all around me as I went;
And I heard the bells, grown fainter, far behind me peal and play,                 137
Fainter, fainter, fainter, fainter, till they seem’d to die away;
And beside a silver runnel, on a little heap of sand,                                        [2:9]
I saw the green Gnome sitting, with his cheek upon his hand;
Then he started up to see me, and he ran with cry and bound,
And drew me from my palfrey white, and set me on the ground:
O crimson, crimson, were his locks, his face was green to see,
But he cried, “O light-hair’d lassie, you are bound to marry me!”
He claspt me round the middle small, he kissed me on the cheek,
He kissed me once, he kissed me twice—I could not stir or speak;               [2:16]
He kissed me twice, he kissed me thrice—but when he kissed again,
I called aloud upon the name of Him who died for men!

Ring, sing! ring, sing; pleasant Sabbath bells!                                                138
Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! thorough dales and dells!                                [3:2]
Rhyme, ring! chime, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, sing! rhyme, ring! over fields and fells!

O faintly, faintly, faintly, calling men and maids to pray,
So faintly, faintly, faintly, rang the bells afar away;
And as I named the Blessed Name, as in our need we can,
The ugly green green Gnome became a tall and comely man!
His hands were white, his beard was gold, his eyes were black as sloes,
His tunic was of scarlet woof, and silken were his hose;
A pensive light from Faëryland still linger’d on his cheek,
His voice was like the running brook, when he began to speak:
“O you have cast away the charm my step-dame put on me,
Seven years I dwelt in Faëryland, and you have set me free!
O I will mount thy palfrey white, and ride to kirk with thee,
And by those little dewy eyes, we twain will wedded be!”                             [4:12]
Back we gallop’d, never stopping, he before and I behind,                            139
And the autumn leaves were dropping, red and yellow, in the wind,
And the sun was shining clearer, and my heart was high and proud,
As nearer, nearer, nearer, rang the kirk-bells sweet and loud,
And we saw the kirk before us, as we trotted down the fells,
And nearer, clearer, o’er us, rang the welcome of the bells!

Ring, sing! ring, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! thorough dales and dells!                                [5:2]
Rhyme, ring! chime, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells!
Chime, sing! rhyme, ring! over fields and fells!


Alterations in the 1882 Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour:
v. 2, l. 16: He kissed me once, he kissed me twice—I could not breathe or speak;
v. 3, l. 2: Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
v. 5, l. 2: Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 2, l. 4: My eyes were like two harebells bathed in shining drops of dew;
v. 2, l. 9: And beside a silver runnel, on a lonely heap of sand,
v. 3, l. 2: Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells!
v. 4, l. 12: And by those sweetly shining eyes, we twain will wedded be!’ [followed by verse break]
v. 5, l. 2: Chime, rhyme! chime, rhyme! through the dales and dells! ]



Idyls and Legends of Inverburn continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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