Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

Grannie's Tale: A Ballad O'Memorie

The days o' langsyne, O! the days o' langsyne,
Sweet thochts o' the bygane, I never sall tyne;
Tho' darklin' I sit in my muckle arm chair,
Aul' places, aul' faces, I see them a' there.
O, lanely Blackhill! nae sun-picture can gi'e
Sae faithfu' a likeness as I ha'e o' thee:
It was ta'en whan the sun o' young memorie was bricht,
An' set in my heart in a crystal o' licht.
In the lang winter nichts, whan a bairn, I wad sit
Wi' my taes in the ase at grannie's wheel-fit,
An' the croon o' her sang, an' the birr o' her wheel,
I ne'er heard the music I likit sae weel.
She sang o' Gill Morice, an' young Gregor's ghost,
The twa bonnie babes in the wud that were lost,
An' Bothwell's fair dochter, the young Leddy Jean,
That was droon'd in the Clyde ae weird hallowe'en.
Sae waesome, sae saft, an' sae sweet was the strain,
That I kenn'd na if maist it was pleasure or pain
That moisten'd my een, an' dirled my heart,
But noo, whan I think on't, they baith had a pairt.
My grannie believed in nae cantrip or spell;
'Bout ghaist, witch, or fairy, nae tale wad she tell;
Sic things by douce bodies, she said, were ne'er seen,
An' they hae little gumption that trow them, I ween.
She had heard, she had seen, an' thocht for hersel',
An' sae she had mony true stories to tell;
But ane she aye tauld wi' the tear in her e'e,
That story I'll min' till the day that I dee.
Said grannie, 'Whan I was a lass in my teens,
Ne'er thinkin' what pinchin' or poverty means,
There leev'd, within cry o' my ain faither's door,
A cottar, his wife, wi' their young bairnies four.
On a saxpence a day, in times o' dear meal,
Sax bodies, ye ken, coudna fen unco weel,
But the mither, the best an' the maist o't wad mak',
Tho' whiles the poor bairnies a mealtith wad lack.
Aye patient, an hopefu', an' cheerfu', the wife
Wad never be beat in the battle o' life;
But the man he wud murmur, an' say in his min'
That Providence never to him had been kin'.
An sae whan the fifth ane, a sweet lassie bairn,
Was laid in his arms, he was sairly forfairn;
Nae kin' kiss o' welcome he offer'd to gi'e,
Tho' the puir mither watch'd wi' the tear in her e'e.
The very neist day their aul' laddie, wee Tam,
Wi the caul' an' the weet whan biggin' a dam
Across a bit syke, took a stoppin' o' breath,
On the fourth day was laid in the caul' arms o' death.
An' syne the neist brither, the cantie wee Rabbie,
The mither's ain pet, aye sae steerin an' gabbie,
Was droon'd in the burn; he was waidin' alane
Whaur naebody saw till the life it was gane.
The neist were twin lassies; the sma'-pox had gane
Roun' the hale kintra-side, the twasum were ta'en;
It was muckle they dree'd, but three days atween,
Frae ae bed to ae grave were carried, I ween.
But oh, the puir mither! hoo fen'd she the while?
She was worn oot wi' watchin', wi' sorrow, an' toil;
For want o' things needfu' her bosom was dry,
An' the wee greetin' wean gat little supply.
She lay on the bed that she rose frae nae mair,
The heart-stricken faither leuk'd roun' in despair;
His bairnies were gane, an' the mither wad gang,
An' lie doon beside them before it was lang.
He sat by her bed, an' he sat a' alane,
Her caul' haun in his, till the breath it was gane,
Whan grannie cam' in: she had aften been there
To help them, an' tend them, an' cheer their despair.
Frae the dead mither's side he lifted the wean;
On its face an' wee haunies the tears fell like rain:
God bless thee an' spare thee, my mitherless bairn;
A gude, but sair lesson, thou'st gi'en me to learn.
'Oh, Jenny!' he said, 'I hae something to say,
That I never ha'e tauld till this sorrowfu' day;
O' the gudeness o' God a while I had doot-
In this I hae sinn'd, an' my sin's faund me oot.
Whan I first saw this bairnie the nicht she cam' hame,
I said in my heart, to my sin an' my shame,
Whan the cravin' wee mouthie it open'd to greet,
Anither mouth sent me, but whaur is the meat?
But, oh! I am punish'd richt sune an' richt sair,
My bairns are a' gane, an' the mither lies there,
Nane left but this wee cravin' mouthie to eat.
Oh! whaur are the mouths noo, for there is the meat?'
Wi' her e'en fu' o' tears, an' heart fu' o' wae,
My grannie stood still till the man had his say;
She keek'd in the bed wi' a face like a clout,
Syne ran for some neibours, wha laid the corse oot.
A kin' wifie cam', an' said, 'Gi'e me the wean,
I'll think I hae twins, for I've ane o' my ain.'
An' the mitherless lamb at her bosom was fed,
An' like her ain bairnie was cared for an' clad.
Lang years afterhen, on the gowanie sward,
That happit a grave in Cam'nethan kirkyard,
There sat an aul' man-he was seen ilka year-
In that grave lay his wife an' four bairnies dear.'
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