Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

Sketches Of Village Character In Days

I've aften been thinkin', whan sittin' alane,
Blin', dowie, an' cowerin' upon the hearth stane,
On places an' faces I ken'd o' langsyne;
Lang, lang oot o' e'e sicht, but ne'er oot o' min'.
Sae clear they are written on memory's page,
That nouther the failin's nor frailties o' age
Can score oot the writin', or dicht it awa';
My heart is aye young, tho' my heid's like the snaw.
It's towmonds three-score since my couthie auld man
An' mysel' were made ane, an' we settl't a plan
That aye we hae follow't, an' ne'er sall forget,
To be warkrife, an' honest, an' haud oot o' debt.
An' aft I teuk notes, as I jogit alang
The rough road o' life that a' wark bodies gang,
O' what was gaun on, what was said an' was dune;
An' some o' thae jottin's ye'll hear aboot sune.
Frae the village I've leev'd in maist feck o' my life,
A glaikit wee lassie, a maid, an' a wife;
Some sketches, tho' hamely, yet truthfu' I'll draw
O' the times an' the bodies lang vanish't awa'.
I

An' sae I'll begin wi' the rev'rend John Bouir;
By ilk ane that ken'd him belov'd to this hour:
It's years forty-five since he gade to his rest;
His mem'ry is blessed, he rests wi' the blest.
Oor ain parish minister-forty years lang-
In wark for his Maister aye eident an' thrang;
A workman still richtly dividin' the truth,
As their needs wad require, to age an' to youth.
It wad dune yer heart gude, to see him come thro'
The thrang to the poopit, wi' grace on his broo-
A herald o' mercy, commission'd by God
To point us to heaven, an' guide on the road.
An' aye thro' the parish ilk year he wad gang
In due visitation, nor thocht the road lang,
Whan gaun to examine, exhort, an' reprove,
Or sit by the sick like an angel o' love.
Wi' bairns in his marriage he never was blest;
A young orphan laddie he teuk to his breast,
An' foster'd, an' bred up, wi' faitherly care-
Grew up to his sorrow, a grief an' a snare.
His auntie, the mistress, aft stude him in stead,
An' ne'er said that black was the e'e in his heid;
The minister sairly was troubled in mind,
An' weel it was ken'd hoo he griev'd an' repined.
The end it cam' sune, an' that endin' was ill:
The lad was in something contrair'd in his will:
He ran into his room, an' loudly he swore
That his life he wad tak-an' lockit the door.
The minister tremil't, and shook like a leaf,
An' ran to the door, fu' o' terror an' grief:
Oh! horror! he saw, creepin' oot neath the door,
The red bluid, an' faintin', he fell on the floor!
They liftit him up in a sorrowfu' plicht;
An' the wretch he cried oot, 'I've gien him a fricht;
I think he'll ne'er try to contrair me again:'-
In his arm, wi' a knife, he had open'd a vein.
The gude man cam' roun', but whan gangin' aboot,
His stap it was feeble, his face like a clout;
An' ne'er in the poopit again was he seen-
In less than a towmond his grave it was green.
We never hae had, we may ne'er hae again,
A minister like him-I say it wi' pain;
Noo gude maister Bouir's wi' the weary at rest,
An' the wicked nae mair his peace will molest.
II

There was Willie, the weaver, laigh in degree;
An' puir as a man in his station maun be;
Aye thin in the body, an' bruckle in health-
His hame it held naething that savoured o' wealth.
For there his ae dochter sat at the tambour;
An' there the auld pirn wheel gaed birrin' like stour;
An' there on his loom the gude weaver wad croon,
As it rattl't awa', some holy saum tune.
Yet in that laigh dwallin' the speerit o' grace,
An' sweet human kindness, was seen on ilk face;
An' sympathy true, o' the kindest an' best,
They had aye for the puir, the sick an' distress'd.
An elder in office lang time he had been,
An' weel he fulfill'd a' its duties, I ween;
An' mony that socht him, aneath his ain roof,
Gat counsel an' comfort, advice an' reproof.
Whaure'er there was sickness or death in a house,
They sent for gude Willie, the pious an' douce;
For aye he was ready, by nicht or by day,
To succour the sick, wi' the deein' to pray.
Whan neebors fell oot, an' wad bicker an' flyte;
An' women were fashous wi' clashes and spite;
To rede up their quarrels he mony times gaed,
In meekness an' wisdom peace aften he made.
An' Nannie, his wife-a true helpmeet was she,
Weel fitted gude counsel an' comfort to gi'e;
Weel skill'd in the ailments o' women an' weans,
To soothe them in sickness, an' saften their pains.
A mither in Israel sae truly was she
That het tears doun trickl'd frae mony an e'e
Amang us that sorrowfu' day she was ta'en;
Sae skilfu', sae haunie, an' helpfu' was nane.
The elder he ne'er was the same man again;
Fu' sairly he miss'd her, wha aye wad sustain
An' cheer him in duty whate'er micht betide;
But sune cam' the time whan he lay by her side.
Ye've leuk'd on this picture, noo, leuk ye on that-
I've leuk'd on it aft till I sabbed an' grat-
It's years sixty-four since I open'd my een
On that picture, aye darker the langer it's seen.
Near five hunner bodies dwalt in oor wee toun,
An' five public-houses were 'mang us set doun;
Frae them cam' to us the warst ills that befell;
What cam' to the publican, here I maun tell.
III

There was Lang Willie Gairner, an' Luckie, his wife,
An' Jean, the ae dochter, the pride o' their life;
They're the first on my leet in the publican line;
They lang hae been yirded, an' lang oot o' min'.
Whan first they began, they were fast makin' gear-
Had maist o' the custom an' maist o' the steer;
Whan dances or sprees were gat up in the toun,
It was to Lang Willie's the youngsters gaed doun.
Whan big penny weddin's were held in the hoose,
O! then Luckie Gairner grew cantie an' crouse;
She dish'd up the kail, wi' the tatties an' beef;
An' 'mang toddy brewers she aye was the chief.
Then the chiels wad begin to thump wi' their heels
On the floor-cryin' oot, 'Mak' room for the reels;'
An' they heez'd the blin' fiddler up to his stance-
'Play up,' was the cry, as they boun' to the dance.
Sae fast an' sae dinsome the dancin' gaed on;
The fiddle wad scream, an' the floor it wad groan,
Wi' jumpin' an' thumpin' o' merry gaun feet-
Then hey for the toddy, their whistles to weet!
The sun an' the lav'rock were baith in the lift
E're they thocht it was time their quarters to shift;
Then Luckie was ca'd, an' the lawin' was settl't,
Tho' aften the siller was mair than they ettl't.
Noo, Luckie, some time, had been layin' her lugs
In whisky, an' drank it in tumblers an' jugs;
An' sae ye may ken that her life was sune sped-
Ae morning they found her cauld deid in her bed.
Syne Willie grew donnert wi' sorrow an' drink;
In poortith an' pain to the grave he did sink;
An' Jean, the ae dochter, had gane a grey-gate,
An naebody cared to speer after her fate.
IV

The neist that I ha'e on the publican's leet
Ne'er dream'd in a beuk wi' the public to meet;
Tho' keepin' a public, his wits he had tint
At thocht o' himsel' an' his public in print.
A bardie wee bodie was Sandie M'Craw,
Wi' his stowsie gudewife, weel dinkit an' braw;
Their public was stockit wi' a' kin's o' drink-
They turn'd a gude penny, as weel ye may think.
Their hoose was aye countit the best in the line;
The tod-huntin' gentry aft cam' there to dine:
Wi' eatin' an' drinkin' they rais't sic a splore,
The hale hoose was ringin' wi' riot an' roar.
The weavin' was brisk, an' the prices were high;
Whan wabs they were oot, an' the weavers were dry,
They slocken'd their drouth wi' a stoupie or twa-
An' the stoups were aft' fill'd by Sandie M'Craw.
The brothers Masonic, an' farmers sae gash,
An' a' that had pouches weel plenish't wi' cash,
Cam' swarmin' an' bummin' like bees to a byke;
An' neebors were fash'd wi' the bizzin' an' fyke.
But thro' a' the habble, the steer, an' stramash,
Frien' Sandie was gath'rin' an' bankin' the cash;
The sale o' the whisky was aye growin' mair-
An' that's the maist feck o' the publican's care!
Wi' fire in your bosom, you're sure to be burn'd;
The fire it was beetit, the tide it was turn'd-
For Sandie had ta'en to the drinkin' himsel';
An' what was the ootcome o' that I maun tell:-
Ae mornin' the word ran like fire thro' the toun,
His gawsie gudewife in a fit had faun doun;
Whan they liftit her up, an' on to the bed,
The breath it was gane, an' the speerit had fled.
Noo Sandie, wha aye thro' his hale wedded life
Had stude in some fear o' his managing wife,
Gaed a' to the bad; an' he swill'd an' he drank,
Till sune in the grave o' the drunkard he sank.
V

We come to the third on oor leet, Johnnie Gibb,
Wi' his wife, snuffie Jean, sae bardie an' glib;
They keepit a public some years in oor toun,
Till their heels gaed up, an' the public gaed doun.
Whan Jock an' his wife were dementit wi' drink?
They wad quarrel an' strike, an', what wad ye think,
Wi' shoolfu's o' fire, on the loan they wad chase
Ilk-ither-unheeding the shame an' disgrace.
They had four bits o' bairns; the ill-tentit things
Were fu' o' the ills that sic parentage brings;
They wad fill their wee juggies wi' whisky an swill,
An' stoiter aboot till they fell an' lay still.
Twa dochters were married-waesucks for the men!
Wi' drink they began, an' in drink they did en';
An' Jock, their ae brither, a vogie young chiel,
Wi' drink was owrecome an' left deid on the fiel'.
VI

It's threescore o' towmonds, an' maybe it's mair,
Since first I set een on an' auld fashion'd pair,
Wha keepit a public lang years in oor toun;
They teuk to the drinkin' an' drank themsel's doun.
The man he was ill, but the wife she was waur,
On her wizen'd-like face was mony a scar,
For they focht like twa cocks, an' aft she was seen
Gaun stoiten aboot wi' a pair o' black een.
Whan the barrels were toom the sign was taen doun;
The wife gaed deleerit an' frichtet the toun,
An' never was heard sic a din an' deray
As rang through the publican's dwallin' that day.
The crystal an' crockery she dang a' to smash,
The jars an' the bottles gaed doun wi' a crash;
An' the stoups, big an' wee, she ran thro' the fire,
An' brak' a' the lozens afore she wad tire.
Whan she cou'd dae nae mair she fell an' lay still;
An' the man, hoo he swore her bluid he wad spill;
But the neebors cam' in frae murder to 'fend:
I've tauld hoo they leev'd, ye may guess at their end.
VII

An' there was Tam Wilson, and Mysie his wife-
Wi' heids growin' grey, on the dounhill o' life;
They're the fifth an' the last that staun' on my leet;
An' wow but I'm tir'd till the count is complete.
The feck o' Tam's whisky cam' thro' the wee stell;
But Mysie was aye sae auld farrant an' snell,
She cheatit the gauger, and laughed in his face;
Her drink it was countit the best in the place.
The couple had ne'er ony bairns o' their ain;
An' that was a blessing-wi' sorrow an' pain
I think o' the lessons the public-hoose bairn
Is aften sae able and willin' to learn.
They had a bit grun', an' they keepit a coo,
An' it wasna lang time till a' was gane thro';
For Mysie aft liftit her haun' to her mouth,
An' nocht but the whisky wad slocken Tam's drouth.
They gaed fast doun the hill, their custom fell aff;
Their hoose it was haunted by a' the riff-raff,
Wha watch'd weel the time whan Mysie was fou;
An' mony a lawin' her haun' never drew.
Syne Tam teuk his deid-ill, an' whan he was gane,
Auld Mysie was left in the hoose a' her lane,
But sune she gaed after-ae grave hauds them baith:
My leet noo is endit, and sae I'll tak' breath.
Like Bunyan's first pilgrim, maist chokin' for breath,
Thro' the noisome valley an' shadow o' death,
I seem to hae gane, in the coorse o' my leet;
The flames aften scaith'd me an' blister'd my feet.
The bairn that is burn'd will ha'e dread o' the fire;
An' oh! gin I had my ain will and desire,
There's a fire I wad droon an' quench evermair-
A fire that has burn'd me richt aften an' sair.
That fire is the spirit that rins frae the stell;
An' what it consumes there's nae mortal can tell:
Like the fire that's neer quench'd, the worm that neer dies,
There's weepin' an' wailin' whare'er it may rise.
Let naebody think that I coudna sae mair,
Whan rivin' the rags aff oor muckle plague-sair,
That eats like a cancer, an' poisons oor blood,
Mak's rags o' oor cleedin', an' preys on oor food.
Oh, mony a lazy an' drucken young loon,
'Mang weavers, wha aye were the bulk o' oor toun,
Teuk the shillin', an' march'd wi' the sodgers awa'-
To fecht wi' auld Bony whaur mony did fa'.
The war it was endit, the weavin' grew scant,
The puir weaver bodies were aften in want,
Sae sma' were their win'in's, wi' bairns an' a wife,
It pinched them richt sairly to haud in their life.
Cou'd wives in the present see what I hae seen,
They wad get a lesson richt needfu', I ween;
Nocht ken they o' hainin' the meat an' the siller,
In strong tea an' toddy ne'er droonin' the miller.
A drap parritch an' milk, wi' tatties an' saut-
Wi' that the puir weaver ne'er faund muckle faut,
A coarse cutty coat, wi' a short-goon an' brat,
Was a' the wife's cleedin', an' thankfu' for that.
As the weavin' grew waur, the shops they wad toom,
An' the weavers in scores gaed aff frae the loom
To seek ither wark; they were tired in the strife
O' strugglin' an' starvin' the hale o' their life.
An' noo ye may gang thro' the length o' oor toun,
The loom ye'll ne'er hear, in a name or a soun';
The men o' the furnace, the forge, an' the mine,
Tak' the place o' the weavers in days o' langsyne.
Amang a' the changes oor toun has gane thro',
There's nae change in ae thing, that's drinkin', I trow;
We drink, but our drouth is ne'er slocken'd; I think,
The higher the wages the deeper we drink.
Wi' woe an' wi' wailin' I send up a cry,
That enters the ears o' the Holy an' High:
Oh save my ain Scotlan', oh stem the dark flood,
That droons her an' a' that is holy an' gude!
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