ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{Idyls and Legends of Inverburn 1865}

 

                                                                                                                                                                   140

HUGH SUTHERLAND'S PANSIES.

A FLOWER-PIECE
_____

 

The aged Minister of Inverburn,
A heart of honey under features stern,                                                           [i.2]
Leans in the sunshine on the garden-pale,
Pensive, yet happy, as he tells this tale,—
And he who listens sees the garden lie
Blue as a little patch of fallen sky.

 

“THE lily minds me of a maiden brow,”
Hugh Sutherland would say; “the marigold
Is full and sunny like her yellow hair,
The full-blown rose her lips with honey tipt;                                        [1:4]
But if you seek a likeness to her eye—                                               [1:5]
Go to the pansy, friend, and find it there!”
“Ay, leeze me on the pansies!” Hugh would say—
Hugh Sutherland, the weaver—he who dwelt
Here in the white-wash’d cot you fancy so—
Who knew the learnëd names of all the flowers,
And recognized the lily, tho’ its head                                                   141
Rose in a ditch of dull Latinity!

     Pansies? You praise the ones that grow to-day
Here in the garden: had you seen the place
When Sutherland was living! Here they grew,
From blue to deeper blue, in midst of each
A golden dazzle like a glimmering star,
Each broader, bigger, than a silver crown;
While here the weaver sat, his labour done,
Watching his azure pets and rearing them,
Until they seem’d to know his step and touch,
And stir beneath his smile like living things!
The very sunshine loved them, and would lie
Here happy, coming early, lingering late,
Because they were so fair.

                                           Hugh Sutherland
Was country-bred—I knew him from the time
When on a bed of pain he lost a limb,
And rose at last, a lame and sickly lad,
Apprenticed to the loom—a peevish lad,
Mooning among the shadows by himself.
Among these shadows, with the privilege                                            142
Of one who loved his flock, I sought him out,
And gently as I could I won his heart;
And then, tho’ he was young and I was old,
We soon grew friends. He told his griefs to me,
His joys, his troubles, and I help’d him on;
Yet sought in vain to drive away the cloud
Deep pain had left upon his sickly cheek,
And lure him from the shades that deepen’d it.
Then Heaven took the task upon itself
And sent an angel down among the flowers!
Almost before I knew the work was done,
I found him settled in this but and ben,
Where, with an eye that brighten’d, he had found
The sunshine loved his garden, and begun
To rear his pansies.

                                 Sutherland was poor,
Rude, and untutor’d; peevish, too, when first
The angel in his garden found him out;
But pansy-growing made his heart within
Blow fresh and fragrant. When he came to share
This cottage with a brother of the craft,
Only some poor and sickly bunches bloom’d,                                     143
Vagrant, though fair, among the garden-plots;
And idly, carelessly, he water’d these,
Spread them and train’d them, till they grew and grew
In size and beauty, and the angel thrust
Its bright arms upward thro’ the bright’ning sod,
And clung around the sickly gardener’s heart.
Then Sutherland grew calmer, and the cloud
Was fading from his face. Well, by-and-by,
The country people saw and praised the flowers,
And what at first had been an idle joy
Became a sober serious work for fame.
Next, being won to send a bunch for show,
He won a prize—a sixth or seventh rate,                                            [4:20]
And slowly gath’ring courage, rested not
Till he had won the highest prize of all.
Here in the sunshine and the shade he toil’d
Early and late in joy, and, by-and-by,
Rose high in fame; for not a botanist,
A lover of the flowers, poor man or rich,
Came to the village, but the people said
“Go down the lane to Weaver Sutherland’s,
And see his pansies!”

                                     Thus the summers pass’d,                              144
And Sutherland grew gentler, happier;
The angel God had sent him clung to him:
There grew a rapturous sadness in his tone
When he was gladdest, like the dewiness
That moistens pansies when they bloom the best;
And in his face there dawn’d a gentle light
Like that which softly clings about a flow’r,
And makes you love it. Yet his heart was glad,
More for the pansies’ sakes than for his own:
His eye was like a father’s, moist and bright,
When they were praised; and, as I said, they seem’d
To make themselves as beauteous as they could,
Smiling to please him. Blessings on the flowers!
They were his children! Father never loved
His little darlings more, or for their sakes
Fretted so dumbly! Father never bent
More tenderly above his little ones,
In the still watches of the night, when sleep
Breathes balm upon their eyelids! Night and day
Poor Hugh was careful for the gentle things
Whose presence brought a sunshine to the place
Where sickness dwelt: this one was weak and small,
And needed watching like a sickly child;                                             145
This one so beauteous, that it shamed its mates
And made him angry with its beauteousness.
“I cannot rest!” cried Hughie with a smile,
“I scarcely snatch a moment to myself—
They plague me so!” Part fun, part earnest, this:
He loved the pansies better than he knew.
Ev’n in the shadow of his weaving room
They haunted him and brighten’d on his soul:
Daily while busy working at the loom
The humming-humming seem’d a melody                                            [5:34]
To which the pansies sweetly grew and grew—
A leaf unrolling soft to every note,
A change of colours with the change of sound;
And walking to the door to rest himself,
Still with the humming-humming in his ears,                                        [5:39]
He saw the flowers and heard a melody                                            [5:40]
They made in growing. Pleasure such as this,                                     [5:41]
So exquisite, so lonely, might have pass’d
Into the shadowy restlessness of yore;
But wholesome human contact saved him here,
And kept him fresh and meek. The people came
To stir him with their praise, and he would show
The medals and the prizes he had got—                                              146
As proud and happy as a child who gains
A prize in school.

                               The angel still remain’d
In winter, when the garden-plots were bare,
And deep winds piloted the shriven snow:                                           [6:3]
He saw its gleaming in the cottage fire,
While, with a book of botany on his knee,
He sat and hunger’d for the breath of spring.
The angel of the flowers was with him still!
Here beds of roses sweeten’d all the page;
Here lilies whiter than the falling snow
Crept gleaming softly from the printed lines;
Here dewy violets sparkled till the book
Dazzled his eyes with rays of misty blue;
And here, amid a page of Latin names,
All the sweet Scottish flowers together grew
With fragrance of the summer.

                                                 Hugh and I
Were still fast friends, and still I help’d him on;
And often in the pleasant summer-time,
The service over, on the Sabbath day,                                                147
I join’d him in the garden, where we sat
And chatted in the sun. But all at once
It came upon me that the gardener’s hand
Had grown less diligent; for tho’ ’twas June
The garden that had been the village pride
Look’d but the shadow of its former self;
And ere a week was out I saw in church
Two samples fairer far than any blown
In Hughie’s garden—blooming brighter far
In sweeter soil. What wonder that a man,
Loving the pansies as the weaver did—
A skilful judge, moreover—should admire
Sweet Mary Moffat’s sparkling pansy-eyes?

     The truth was out. The weaver play’d the game
(I christen’d it in sport that very day)
Of “Love among the Pansies!” As he spoke,
Telling me all, I saw upon his face
The peevish cloud that it had worn in youth;
I cheer’d him as I could, and bade him hope:
“You both are poor, but, Sutherland, God’s flowers
Are poor as well!” He brighten’d as I spoke,
And answer’d, “It is settled! I have kept                                            148
The secret till the last, lest ‘nay’ should come
And spoil it all; but ‘ay’ has come instead,
And all the help we wait for is your own!”

     Even here, I think, his angel clung to him.
The fairies of his garden haunted him
With similes and sympathies that made
His likes and dislikes, though he knew it not.
Beauty he loved if it was meek and mild,
And like his pansies tender ev’n to tears;
And so he chose a maiden pure and low,
Who, like his garden pets, had love to spare,
Sunshine to cast upon his pallid cheek,
And yet a tender clinging thing, too weak
To bloom uncared for and unsmiled upon.

     Soon Sutherland and she he loved were one,—
And bonnily a moon of honey gleam’d
At night among the flowers! Amid the spring
That follow’d, blossom’d with the other buds
A tiny maiden with her mother’s eyes.
The little garden was itself again,
The sunshine sparkled on the azure beds;                                           149
The angel Heaven had sent to save a soul
Stole from the blooms and took an infant shape;
And wild with pleasure, seeing how the flowers
Had given her their choicest lights and shades,
The father bore his baby to the font
And had her christen’d PANSY.

                                                   After that,
Poor Hugh was happy as the days were long,
Divided in his cares for all his pets,
And proudest of the one he loved the best.
The summer found him merry as a king,
Dancing the little one upon his knee
Here in the garden, while the plots around
Gleam’d in the sun, and seem’d as glad as he.

     But moons of honey wane, and summer suns
Of wedlock set to bring the autumn in!
Hugh Sutherland, with wife and child to feed,
Wrought sore to gain his pittance in a world
His pansies made so fair. Came Poverty
With haggard eyes to dwell within the house;
When first she saw the garden she was glad,                                      150
And, seated on the threshold, smiled and span.
But times grew harder, bread was scarce as gold,
A shadow fell on Pansy and the flowers;
And when the strife was sorest, Hugh received
An office—lighter work and higher pay—
To take a foreman’s place in Edinglass.
’Twas hard, ’twas hard, to leave the little place
He loved so dearly; but the weaver look’d
At Mary, saw the sorrow in her face,
And gave consent,—happy at heart to think
His dear ones would not want. To Edinglass
They went, and settled. Thro’ the winter hours
Bravely the weaver toil’d; his wife and child
Were happy, he was heartsome—tho’ his taste
Was grassy lowlands and the caller air.

     The cottage here remain’d untenanted,
The angel of the flowers forsook the place,
The sunshine faded, and the pansies died.

     Two summers pass’d; and still in Edinglass
The weaver toil’d, and ever when I went
Into the city, to his house I hied—                                                      151
A welcome guest. Now first, I saw a change
Had come to Sutherland: for he was pale
And peevish, had a venom on his tongue,
And hung the under-lip like one that doubts.
Part of the truth I heard, and part I saw—
But knew too late, when all the ill was done!
At first, poor Hugh had shrunk from making friends,
And pored among his books of botany,
And later, in the dull dark nights he sat,
A dismal book upon his knee, and read:
A book no longer full of leaves and flowers,
That glimmer’d on the soul’s sweet consciousness,
Yet seem’d to fill the eye,—a dismal book,—
Big-sounding Latin, English dull and dark,
And not a breath of summer in it all.
The sunshine perish’d in the city’s smoke,
The pansies grew no more to comfort him,
And he began to spend his nights with those
Who waste their substance in the public-house:
The flowers had lent a sparkle to his talk,
Which pleased the muddled wits of idle men;
Sought after, treated, liked by one and all,
He took to drinking; and at last lay down                                            152
Stupid and senseless on a rainy night,
And ere he waken’d caught the flaming fire,
Which gleams to white-heat on the face and burns
Clear crimson in the lungs.

                                           But it was long,
Ere any knew poor Hughie’s plight; and, ere
He saw his danger, on the mother’s breast
Lay Pansy withering—tho’ the dewy breath
Of spring was floating like a misty rain
Down from the mountains. Then the tiny flower
Folded its leaves in silence, and the sleep
That dwells in winter on the pansy-beds                                              [15:8]
Fell on the weaver’s house. At that sad hour
I enter’d, scarcely welcomed with a word
Of greeting: by the hearth the woman sat
Weeping full sore, her apron o’er a face
Haggard with midnight watching, while the man
Cover’d his bloodshot eyes and cursed himself.
Then leaning o’er, my hand on his, I said—
“She could not bear the smoke of cities, Hugh!
God to His Garden has transplanted her,
Where summer dwells for ever and the air                                           153
Is fresh and pure!” But Hughie did not speak;
I saw full plainly that he blamed himself;
And ere the day was out he bent above
His little sleeping flower, and wept, and said:
“Ay, sir! she wither’d, wither’d like the rest,
Neglected!” and I saw his heart was full.
When Pansy slept beneath the churchyard grass
Poor Hughie’s angel had return’d to Heaven,
And all his heart was dark. His ways grew strange,
Peevish, and sullen; often he would sit
And drink alone; the wife and he grew cold,
And harsh to one another; till at last
A stern physician put an end to all,
And told him he must die.

                                           No bitter cry,
No sound of wailing rose within the house
After the Doctor spoke, but Mary mourn’d
In silence, Hughie smoked his pipe and set
His teeth together, at the ingleside.
Days pass’d; the only token of a change
Was Hughie’s face—the peevish cloud of care
Seem’d melting to a tender gentleness.                                               154
After a time, the wife forgot her grief,
Or could at times forget it, in the care
Her husband’s sickness brought. I went to them
As often as I could, for Sutherland
Was dear to me, and dearer for his sin.
Weak as he was he did his best to toil,
But it was weary work! By slow degrees,
When May was breathing on the sickly bunch
Of mignonette upon the window-sill,
I saw his smile was softly wearing round
To what it used to be, when here he sat
Rearing his flowers; altho’ his brow at times
Grew cloudy, and he gnaw’d his under lip.
At last I found him seated by the hearth,
Trying to read: I led his mind to themes
Of old langsyne, and saw his eyes grow dim:
“O sir,” he cried, “I cannot, cannot rest!
Something I long for, and I know not what,
Torments me night and day!” I saw it all,
And sparkling with the brilliance of the thought,
Look’d in his eyes and caught his hand, and cried,
“Hugh, it’s the pansies! Spring has come again,
The sunshine breathes its gold upon the air                                          155
And threads it through the petals of the flowers,
Yet here you linger in the dark!” I ceased
And watch’d him. Then he trembled as he said,
“I see it now, for as I read the book
The lines and words, the Latin seem’d to bud,
And they peep’d thro’.” He smiled, like one ashamed,
Adding in a low voice, “I long to see
The pansies ere I die!”

                                     What heart of stone
Could throb on coldly, Sir, at words like those?
Not mine, not mine! Within a week poor Hugh
Had left the smoke of Edinglass behind,
And felt the wind that runs along the lanes,
Spreading a carpet of the grass and flowers
For June the sunny-hair’d to walk upon.
In the old cottage here he dwelt again:
The place was wilder than it once had been,
But buds were blowing green around about,
And with the glad return of Sutherland
The angel of the flowers came back again.
The end was near, and Hugh was wearied out,
And like a flower was closing up his leaves                                          156
Under the dropping of the gloaming dews.

     And daily, in the summer afternoon,
I found him seated on the threshold there,
Watching his flowers, and all the place, I thought,
Brighten’d when he was nigh. Now first I talk’d
Of heavenly hopes unto him, and I knew
The angel help’d me. On the day he died
The pain had put its shadow on his face,
The words of doubt were on his tremulous lips:
“Ah, Hughie, life is easy!” I exclaim’d,
“Easier, better, than we know ourselves:
’Tis pansy-growing on a mighty scale,
And God above us is the gardener.
The fairest win the prizes, that is just,
But all the flowers are dear to God the Lord:
The Gardener loves them all, He loves them all!”
He saw the sunshine on the pansy-beds
And brighten’d. Then by slow degrees he grew
Cheerful and meek as dying man could be,
And as I spoke there came from far-away
The faint sweet melody of Sabbath bells.
And “Hugh,” I said, “if God the Gardener                                           157
Neglected those he rears as you have done
Your pansies and your Pansy, it were ill
For we who blossom in His garden. Night
And morning He is busy at His work.
He smiles to give us sunshine, and we live:
He stoops to pluck us softly, and our hearts
Tremble to see the darkness, knowing not
It is the shadow He, in stooping, casts.
He pluckt your Pansy so, and it was well.
But, Hugh, though some be beautiful and grand,
Some sickly, like yourself, and mean and poor,
He loves them all, the Gardener loves them all!”
Then later, when no longer he could sit                                              [18:34]
Out on the threshold, and the end was near,
We set a plate of pansies by his bed
To cheer him. “He is coming near,” I said,
“Great is the garden, but the Gardener
Is coming to the corner where you bloom
So sickly!” And he smiled, and moan’d, “I hear!”
And sank upon his pillow wearily.
His hollow eyes no longer bore the light,
The darkness gather’d round him as I said,
“The Gardener is standing at your side,                                              158
His shade is on you and you cannot see:
O Lord, that lovest both the strong and weak,
Pluck him and wear him!” Even as I pray’d,
I felt the shadow there and hid my face;
But when I look’d again the flower was pluck’d,
The shadow gone: the sunshine thro’ the blind
Gleam’d faintly, and the widow’d woman wept.

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
Introductory verse: l. 2: A mild heart hidden under features stern,
v. 1, l. 4: The full-blown rose her lips with sweetness tipt;
v. 1, l. 5: But if you seek a likeness to her eyes—
v. 4, l. 20: He gained a prize—a sixth or seventh rate,
v. 5, l. 34: The humming seem’d a mystic melody
v. 5, l. 39: Still with the pleasant murmur in his ears,
v. 5, l. 40: He saw the flowers and heard the melody
v. 5, l. 41: They make in growing! Pleasure such as this,
v. 6, l. 3: And deep winds piloted the wandering snow:
v. 15, l. 8: That dwells in winter on the flower-beds
v. 18, l. 34: Then later, when he could no longer sit ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 159

THE LEGEND OF THE STEPMOTHER.
_____

 

I.

AS I lay asleep, as I lay asleep,
Under the grass as I lay so deep,
As I lay asleep in my cotton serk                                                        [1:3]
Under the shade of Our Lady’s Kirk,
I waken’d up in the dead of night,
I waken’d up in my death-serk white,                                                 [1:6]
And I heard a cry from far away,
And I knew the voice of my daughter May:
“Mother, mother, come hither to me!
Mother, mother, come hither and see!
Mother, mother, mother dear,
Another mother is sitting here:
My body is bruised, and in pain I cry,                                                 [1:13]

On straw in the dark afraid I lie,                                                         [1:14]
I thirst and hunger for drink and meat,                                                160
And mother, mother, to sleep were sweet!”
I heard the cry, though my grave was deep,
And awoke from sleep, and awoke from sleep.

 

II.

I awoke from sleep, I awoke from sleep,
Up I rose from my grave so deep!
The earth was black, but overhead
The stars were yellow, the moon was red;
And I walk’d along all white and thin,
And lifted the latch and enter’d in,
And reach’d the chamber as dark as night,                                        [2:7]
And though it was dark my face was white:
“Mother, mother, I look on thee!
Mother, mother, you frighten me!
For your cheeks are thin and your hair is grey!”
But I smiled, and kiss’d her fears away,
I smooth’d her hair and I sang a song,
And on my knee I rock’d her long:
“O mother, mother, sing low to me—
I am sleepy now, and I cannot see!”
I kiss’d her, but I could not weep,                                                      161
And she went to sleep, she went to sleep.

 

III.

As we lay asleep, as we lay asleep,
My May and I, in our grave so deep,
As we lay asleep in the midnight mirk,
Under the shade of our Lady’s Kirk,
I waken’d up in the dead of night,
Though May my daughter lay warm and white,
And I heard the cry of a little one,
And I knew ’twas the voice of Hugh my son:
“Mother, mother, come hither to me!
Mother, mother, come hither and see!
Mother, mother, mother dear,
Another mother is sitting here:
My body is bruised and my heart is sad,
But I speak my mind and call them bad;
I thirst and hunger night and day,
And were I strong I would fly away!”
I heard the cry, though my grave was deep,
And awoke from sleep, and awoke from sleep!

                                                                                                         162

IV.

I awoke from sleep, I awoke from sleep,
Up I rose from my grave so deep,
The earth was black, but overhead
The stars were yellow, the moon was red;
And I walk’d along all white and thin,
And lifted the latch and enter’d in.
“Mother, mother, and art thou here?
I know your face, and I feel no fear;
Raise me, mother, and kiss my cheek,
For oh I am weary and sore and weak.”
I smooth’d his hair with a mother’s joy,
And he laugh’d aloud, my own brave boy;
I raised and held him on my breast,
Sang him a song, and bade him rest.
“Mother, mother, sing low to me—
I am sleepy now and I cannot see!”
I kiss’d him, and I could not weep,
As he went to sleep, as he went to sleep.

 

V.

As I lay asleep, as I lay asleep,
With my girl and boy in my grave so deep,
As I lay asleep, I awoke in fear,                                                          163
Awoke, but awoke not my children dear,
And heard a cry so low and weak
From a tiny voice that could not speak;
I heard the cry of a little one,
My bairn that could neither talk nor run,
My little, little one, uncaress’d,
Starving for lack of the milk of the breast;
And I rose from sleep and enter’d in,
And found my little one pinch’d and thin,
And croon’d a song and hush’d its moan,
And put its lips to my white breast-bone;
And the red, red moon that lit the place
Went white to look at the little face,
And I kiss’d and kiss’d, and I could not weep,
As it went to sleep, as it went to sleep.

 

VI.

As it lay asleep, as it lay asleep,
I set it down in the darkness deep,
Smooth’d its limbs and laid it out,
And drew the curtains around about;
Then into the dark, dark room I hied                                                 164
Where he lay awake at the woman’s side,                                          [6:6]
And though the chamber was black as night,
He saw my face, for it was so white;
I gazed in his eyes, and he shriek’d in pain,
And I knew he would never sleep again,
And back to my grave went silently,                                                  [6:11]
And soon my baby was brought to me;
My son and daughter beside me rest,
My little baby is on my breast;
Our bed is warm and our grave is deep,
But he cannot sleep, he cannot sleep!

 

[Notes:
The title was changed to ‘The Dead Mother’ in The Poetical Works Vol. 1 (London: H. S. King & Co., 1874. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1874) and all subsequent collected editions.
Alterations in the 1874 King edition of The Poetical Works and the 1882 Selected Poems:
v. 1, l. 3: As I lay asleep in my white death-serk
v. 1, l. 6: I waken’d up in my shroud o’ white,
v. 1, l. 13: My body is bruised, in pain I cry,
v. 1, l. 14: All night long on the straw I lie,
v. 2, l. 7: I reach’d the chamber as dark as night,
v. 6, l. 6: Where awake lay he at the woman’s side;
Additional alterarions in the 1882 Selected Poems only:
v. 6, l. 6: Where awake he lay, at the woman’s side;
v. 6, l. 11: And back to my grave crept silently, ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 165

THE WIDOW MYSIE.

AN IDYL OF LOVE AND WHISKY.
_____

 

Tom Love, a man “prepared for friend or foe,
Whisker’d, well-featured, tight from top to toe.”

 

O WIDOW MYSIE, smiling, soft, and sweet!
O Mysie, buxom as a sheaf of wheat!
O Mysie, Widow Mysie, late Monroe,
Foul fall the traitor-face that served me so!
O Mysie Love, a second time a bride,
I pity him who tosses at your side—
Who took, by honied smiles and speech misled,
A beauteous bush of brambles to his bed!                                         [1:8]

You saw her at the ploughing match, you ken,
Ogling the whisky and the handsome men:
The smiling woman in the Paisley shawl,
Plump as a partridge, and as broad as tall,
With ribbons, bows, and jewels fair to see,                                        166
Bursting to blossom like an apple-tree,                                              [2:6]
Ay, that was Mysie,—now two score and ten,
Now Madam Love of Bungo in the Glen!                                           [2:8]
Ay, that was Mysie, tho’ her looks no more
Dazzle with beams of brightness as of yore!—
The tiny imps that nested in her eyes,
Winning alike the wanton and the wise,
Have ta’en the flame that made my heart forlorn
Back to the nameless place where they were born.

O years roll on, and fair things fade and pine!—
Twelve sowings since and I was twenty-nine:
With ploughman’s coat on back, and plough in hand,
I wrought at Bungo on my father’s land,
And all the neighbour-lassies, stale or fair,
Tried hard to net my father’s son and heir.
My heart was lightsome, cares I had but few,
I climb’d the mountains, drank the mountain dew,
Could sit a mare as mettlesome as fire,
Could put the stone with any in the shire,
Had been to college, and had learn’d to dance,                                   167
Could blether thro’ my nose like folks in France,
And stood erect, prepared for friend or foe,
Whisker’d, well-featured, tight from top to toe.

“A marriageable man, for every claim
Of lawful wedlock fitted,” you exclaim?
But, sir, of all that men enjoy or treasure,                                           [4:3]
Wedlock, I fancied, was the driest pleasure.
True; seated at some pretty peasant’s side,
Under the slanted sheaves I loved to hide,
Lilting the burthen of a Scottish tune,
To sit, and kiss perchance, and watch the moon,
Pillow’d on breasts like beds of lilies white
Heaving and falling in the pale moonlight;
But rather would have sat with crimson face
Upon the cutty-stool with Jean or Grace,
Than buy in kirk a partner with the power
To turn the mountain dew of Freedom sour.                                        [4:14]

I loved a comely face, as I have said,
But sharply watch’d the maids who wish’d to wed,—
I knew their arts, was not so cheaply won,
They loved my father’s Siller, not his Son.                                          168
Still, laughing in my sleeve, I here and there
Took liberties allow’d my father’s heir,
Stole kisses from the comeliest of the crew,
And smiled upon the virgin nettles too.
So might the game have daunder’d on till this,
And lasted till my father went to bliss,—
But Widow Mysie came, as sly as sin,
And settled in the “William Wallace” Inn.

The Inn had gone to rack and loss complete
Since Simpson drown’d himself in whisky neat;
And poor Jock Watt, who follow’d in his shoes,
Back’d by the sourest, gumliest of shrews,                                         [6:4]
(The whisky vile, the water never hot,
The very sugar sour’d by Mistress Watt,)
Had found the gossips, grumbling, groaning, stray
To Sandie Kirkson’s, half a mile away.
But hey! at Widow Mysie’s rosy face,
A change came o’er the spirits of the place,
The fire blazed high, the shining pewter smiled,
The glasses glitter’d bright, the water boil’d,
Grand was the whisky, Highland born and fine,
And Mysie, Widow Mysie, was divine!                                              169

O sweet was Widow Mysie, sweet and sleek!
The peach’s blush and down were on her cheek,
And there were dimples in her tender chin
For Cupids small to hunt for honey in;                                                 [7:4]
Dark-glossy were her ringlets, each a prize,
And wicked, wicked were her beaded eyes;
Plump was her figure, rounded and complete,
And tender were her tiny tinkling feet!
All this was nothing to the warmth and light
That seem’d to hover o’er her day and night;—
Where’er she moved, she seem’d to soothe and please
With honied murmurs as of honied bees;                                             [7:12]
Her small plump hands on public missions flew
Like snow-white doves that flying crow and coo;                                [7:14]
Her feet fell patter, cheep, like little mice;
Her breath was soft with sugar and with spice;
And when her finger – so!—your hand would press,
You tingled to the toes with loveliness,
While her dark eyes, with lessening zone in zone,
Flasht sunlight on the mirrors of your own,
Dazzling your spirit with a wicked sense
That seem’d more innocent than innocence!                                  170 [7:22]

Sure one so beauteous and so sweet had graced
And cheer’d the scene, where’er by Fortune placed;
But with a background of the pewter bright,
Whereon the fire cast gleams of rosy light,
With jingling glasses round her, and a scent
Of spice and lemon-peel where’er she went,
What wonder she should to the cronies seem
An angel in a cloud of toddy steam?
What wonder, while I sipt my glass one day,
She, and the whisky, stole my heart away?

She was not loath!—for, while her comely face
Shone full on other haunters of the place,
From me she turn’d her head and peep’d full sly
With just the corner of her roguish eye,
And blush’d so bright my toddy seem’d to glow
Beneath the rosy blush and sweeter grow;
And once, at my request, she took a sip,
And honied all the liquor with her lip.                                                  [9:8]
“Take heed! for Widow Mysie’s game is plain,”                                  [9:10]
The gossips cried, but warn’d me all in vain:
Like sugar melting at the toddy’s kiss,                                            171 [9:12]
My very caution was dissolved in bliss,
Fear died for ever with a mocking laugh,
And Mysie’s kisses made his epitaph.

Kisses? Ay, faith, they follow’d score on score,
After the first I stole behind the door,
And linger’d softly on these lips of mine
Like Massic whisky drunk by bards divine.                                        [10:4]
But O! the glow, the rapture, and the glee,
That night she let me draw her on my knee—
When bliss thrill’d from her to my finger-tips,
Then eddied wildly to my burning lips,
From which she drank it back with kisses fain,
Then blush’d and glow’d and breathed it back again—
Till, madden’d with the ecstasy divine,
I clasp’d her close and craved her to be mine,
And thrilling, panting, struggling up to fly,
She breathed a spicy “Yes” with glistening eye,
And while my veins grew bright, my heart went wild,                          [10:15]
Fell like a sunbeam on my heart, and smiled!

The deed thus done, I hied me home, you say,
And rued my folly when I woke next day?                                          172
Nay! all my business was to crave and cry
That Heaven would haste the holy knot to tie,
Though “Mysie lass,” I said, “my gold and gear
Are small, and will be small for many a year,
Since father is but fifty years and three,
And tough as cobbler’s wax, though spare and wee!”
“Ah, Tam,” she sigh’d, “there’s nothing there to rue—
The gold, the gear, that Mysie wants is you!”
And brightly clad, with kisses thrilling through me,
Clung like a branch of trembling blossoms to me.

I found my father making up his books,
With yellow eyes and penny-hunting looks.
“Father,” I said, “I’m sick of single life,
And will, if you are willing, take a wife.”
“Humph,” snapt my father, “(six and four are ten,
And ten are twenty)—Marry? who? and when?”
“Mistress Monroe,” I said, “that keeps the inn.”
At that he shrugg’d his shoulders with a grin:
“I guess’d as much! the tale has gone the round!
Ye might have stay’d till I was underground!
But please yourself—I’ve nothing to refuse,
Choose where you will—you’re old enough to choose;                       173
But mind,” he added, blinking yellow eye,
“I’ll handle my own guineas till I die!
Frankly I own, you might have chosen worse,
Since you have little siller in your purse—
The Inn is thriving, if report be true,
And Widow Mysie has enough for two!”

“And if we wait till he has gone his way,
Why, Mysie, I’ll be bald, and you’ll be gray,”
I said to Mysie, laughing at her side.
“Oh, let him keep his riches,” she replied,
“He’s right! there’s plenty here for you and I!                                      [13:5]
May he live long; and happy may he die!”                                           [13:6]
“O Mysie, you’re an angel,” I return’d,
With eye that glisten’d dewily and yearn’d.
Then running off she mix’d, with tender glee,
A glass of comfort—sat her on my knee—
“Come, Tam!” she cried, “who cares a fig for wealth—
Ay, let him keep it all, and here’s his health!”
And added, shining brightly on my breast,
“Ah, Tam, the siller’s worthless—Love is best!”

O Widow Mysie, wert thou first sincere,                                            174
When tender accents trembled on mine ear,
Like bees that o’er a flower will float and fleet,
And ere they light make murmurs honey-sweet?                                 [14:4]
Or was the light that render’d me unwise,
Guile’s—the sweet Quaker with the downcast eyes?                           [14:6]
O Widow Mysie, not at once are we
Taught the false scripture of Hypocrisy;
Even pink Selfishness has times, I know,
When thro’ his fat a patriot’s feelings glow;
Falsehood first learns her nature with a sigh,
And puts on mourning for her first-born Lie.                                       [14:12]

Days pass’d; and I began, to my amaze,
To see a colder light in Mysie’s gaze;
Once when, with arm about her softly wound,
I snatch’d a kiss, she snapt and flusht and frown’d;
But oftener her face a shadow wore,
Such as had never darken’d it before;
I spoke of this, I begg’d her to explain,—
She tapt my cheek, and smiled, and mused again.
But, in the middle of my love-alarm,
The Leech’s watch went “tick” at Bungo Farm;
My father sicken’d, and his features cold                                            175
Retain’d the hue, without the gleam, of gold.

Then Mysie soften’d, sadden’d, and would speak
Of father’s sickness with a dewy cheek;
When to the Inn I wander’d, unto me,
Lightly, as if she walk’d on wool, came she,
And “Is he better?” “Is he changed at all?”
And “Heaven help him!” tenderly would call.
“So old—so ill—untended and alone!
He is your father, Tom,—and seems my own!”                                   [16:8]
And musing stood, one little hand of snow
Nestling and fluttering on my shoulder—so!
But father sicken’d on, and then one night,
When we were sitting in the ingle-light,
“O Tom,” she cried, “I have it!—I should ne’er                                 [16:13]
Forgive myself for staying idly here,
While he, your father, lack’d in his distress
The love, the care, a daughter’s hands possess—
He knows our troth—he will not say me nay;
But let me nurse him as a daughter may,
And he may live, for darker cases mend,
To bless us and to join us in the end!”
“But, Mysie——” “Not a word, the thing is plann’d,”                         176
She said, and stopt my mouth with warm white hand.
She went with gentle eyes that very night,
Stole to the chamber like a moonbeam white;
My father scowl’d at first, but soon was won—
The keep was carried, and the deed was done.

O Heaven! in what strange Enchanter’s den,
Learnt she the spells wherewith she conquer’d men?
When to that chamber she had won her way,
The old man’s cheek grew brighter every day;
She smooth’d the pillows underneath his head,
She brought sweet music roundabout his bed,
She made the very mustard-blisters glow
With fire as soft as youthful lovers know,
The very physic bottles lost their gloom
And seem’d like little fairies in the room,
The very physic, charm’d by her, grew fine,
Rhubarb was honey, castor-oil was wine.                                          [17:12]
Half darkly, dimly, yet with secret flame
That titillated up and down his frame,
The grim old man lay still, with hungry eye
Watching her thro’ the room on tiptoe fly;—
She turn’d her back—his cheek grew dull and dim!                           177
She turn’d her face—its sunshine fell on him!
Better and better every day grew he,
Colder and colder grew his nurse to me,
Till up he leapt, with fresher life astir,                                                 [17:21]
And only sank again—to kneel to her.

“Mysie!” I cried, with flushing face, too late
Stung by the pois’nous things whose names I hate,
Which in so many household fires flit free,
The salamanders, Doubt and Jealousy,—
“Mysie!”—and then, in accents fierce and bold,
Demanded why her looks had grown so cold?
She trembled, flush’d, a tear was in her eye,
She dropt her gaze, and heaved a balmy sigh,
Then spoke with tender pauses low and sad:
Had I a heart? I frankly own’d I had.                                                  [18:10]
Could I without a conscience-qualm behold
My white-hair’d father, weak, untended, old,
Who had so very short a time to live,
Reft of the peace a woman’s hands can give?                                      [18:14]
“Mysie!” I shriek’d, with heart that seem’d to rend,
With glaring eyes, and every hair on end.
Clasping her little hands, “O Tam,” she cried,                                     178
“But for my help your father would have died;                                    [18:18]
Bliss! to have saved your filial heart that sorrow!
But for my help, why, he may die to-morrow.
Go, Tom!—this weak warm heart I cannot trust                                 [18:21]
To utter more—be generous! be just!                                                [18:22]
I long have felt—I say it in humility—
A sort of—kind of—incompatibility!
Go, Tam! Be happy! Bless you! Wed another!—
Ah, I shall ever love you—as a mother!”                                            [18:26]

Sir, so it was. Stunn’d, thunder-stricken, wild,                                     [19:1]
I raved, while father trembled, Mysie smiled;
O’er all the country-side the scandal rang,
And ere I knew, the bells began to clang;—
And shutting eyes and stopping ears, as red
As ricks on fire, I blushing turn’d and fled.
Twelve years have pass’d since I escaped the net,
And father, tough as leather, lingers yet,
A grey mare rules, the laugh has come to me,
I sport, and thank my stars that I am free!                                          [19:10]
If Mysie likes her bargain ill or well,
Only the Deil, who won it her, can tell;
But she, who could so well his arts pursue,                                          179
May learn a trick to cheat her Teacher too.

 

[Notes:
A revised version of ‘The Widow Mysie’ was published in the 1874, King edition of the Poetical Works. For the 1884, Chatto & Windus Poetical Works, Buchanan reverted to the original version, making a few more changes. The alterations in the two revisions are detailed below:

Alterations in the 1874 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
Subtitle changed to ‘(SCOTTISH LOWLANDS)’.
v. 1, l. 8: Grief to his hearth, Dalilah to his bed!
v. 2, l. 6: The following lines are inserted after line 6:

And every ribbon, bow, and jewel fine
Perfumed like apple blossoms dipt in wine.

v. 2, l. 8: The next six lines are omitted.
v. 4, l. 3: —Of all that mortal men enjoy or treasure,
v. 4, l. 14: To turn the mountain milk of Freedom sour.
v. 6, l. 4: Wived with the sourest, gumliest of shrews,
v. 7, l. 4: For Cupids small to hunt for kisses in;
v. 7, l. 12: With pleasant murmurs as of humble-bees;
v. 7, l. 14: Like snow-white doves that flying croon and coo;
v. 9, l. 8: And sweeten’d all the liquor with her lip.
v. 9, l. 10: ‘Take heed! for Widow Mysie’s plans are plain
v. 9, l. 12: Like sugar melting at the whisky’s kiss,
v. 10, l. 4: Like Massic liquor drunk by bards divine.
v. 13, l. 5: ‘He’s right! there’s plenty here for you and me!
v. 13, l. 6: May he live long; and happy may he be!’
v. 14, l. 4: And ere they light make murmurs soft and sweet?
v. 14, l. 12: And nurses bitterly her first-born Lie.
v. 16, l. 8: He is your father, Tam,—and seems my own!’
v. 16, l. 13: ‘O Tam,’ she cried, ‘I have it!—I should ne’er
v. 17, l. 12: Rhubarb was nectar, castor-oil was wine.
v. 17, l. 21: Till up he leapt, with fresh new life astir,
v. 18, l. 10: Had I a human heart? I hoped I had.
v. 18, l. 14: Reft of the peace a woman’s hands could give?
v. 18, l. 21: Go, Tam!—this weak warm heart I cannot trust
v. 18, l. 22: The next two lines are omitted.
v. 18, l. 26: And I shall ever love you!—as a mother!’
v. 19, l. 1: Ev’n so it was. Stunn’d, thunder-stricken, wild,
v. 19, l. 10: The last four lines are omitted.

Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 4, l. 14: To turn the mother-milk of Freedom sour.
v. 7, l. 4: For Cupids small to hunt for kisses in;
v. 7, l. 12: With pleasant murmurs as of humble-bees;
v. 7, l. 14: Like snow-white doves that flying croon and coo;
v. 7, l. 22: That seem’d more heavenly-born than innocence!
v. 9, l. 8: And nectar’d all the liquor with her lip.
v. 10, l. 15: And while my veins grew fire, my heart went wild,
v. 13, l. 5: ‘He’s right! there’s plenty here for you and me!
v. 13, l. 6: May he live long; and happy may he be!’
v. 14, l. 4: And ere they light make murmurs soft and sweet?
v. 14, l. 6: Guile’s—the sly Quaker with the downcast eyes?
v. 14, l. 12: And nurses bitterly her first-born Lie!
v. 16, l. 8: He is your father, Tam,—and seems my own!’
v. 16, l. 13: ‘O Tam,’ she cried, ‘I have it!—I should ne’er
v. 17, l. 12: Rhubarb was nectar, castor-oil was wine.
v. 17, l. 21: Till up he leapt, with fresher new life astir,
v. 18, l. 10: Had I a heart? She knew full well I had.
v. 18, l. 18: ‘Save for my help your father would have died;
v. 18, l. 21: Go, Tam!—this weak warm heart I cannot trust
v. 18, l. 26: And I shall ever love you!—as a mother!’ ]

 

                                                                                                                                                                 180

THE MINISTER AND THE ELFIN.
_____

 

I.

“O WHO among ye will win for me                                                      [1:1]
The soul of the Preacher of Woodilee?
For he prays, he preaches, he labours sore,
He cheats me alike of rich and poor,
And his cheek is pale with a thought divine,
And I would, I would, that he were mine!”                                          [1:6]
“O surely I will win for thee
The Minister of Woodilee;
Round and around the elfin tree,
Where we are fleeting in company,
The Minister of Woodilee,
Laughing aloud, shall dance with me!”

 

II.

The Minister rode in the white moonshine,
His face was pale with his thought divine,
And he saw beneath the greenwood tree                                            181
As sweet a maiden as well could be:
My hair of gold to my feet fell bright,
My eyes were blue, and my brow was white,
My limbs were fresh as the curds of lime                                             [2:7]
Mingled with drops of the red red wine,                                              [2:8]
And they shone thro’ my dress o’ the silk with gleam                           [2:9]
Like a lover’s face thro’ a thin light dream;
But the sickness of death was in mine ee,
And my face was pallid and sad to see,
And I moan’d aloud as he came near,                                                [2:13]
And I heard him mutter a prayer in fear!

 

III.

But the Minister, when he look’d on me,
Leapt down and set my head on his knee,
Wet my lips with the running stream,
And I open’d my eyes as in a dream,
I open’d my eyes and look’d on him,
And his head whirl’d round and his cheek grew dim,
I kiss’d him twice, I kiss’d him thrice,
Till he kiss’d again with lips of ice,
Till he kiss’d again with lips of stone,
And clasp’d me close to his cold breast-bone;                                    182
And tho’ his face was weary and sad,
He laugh’d aloud and seem’d mad, seem’d mad.                               [3:12]
Then up to my feet I leapt in glee,
And round and round and around went we,
Under the moonlit greenwood tree.

 

IV.

He leapt on his steed and home rode he,
The Minister of Woodilee;
And when at the door of the manse he rein’d,
With blood his lips were damp’d and stain’d,
And he pray’d a prayer for his shame and sin,
And dropt a tear as he enter’d in,
But the smile divine from his face had fled,
When he laid him down on his dying bed.

 

V.

“O thanks, for thou hast won for me
The Minister of Woodilee,
Who nevermore, O nevermore,
Shall preach and pray and labour sore,
And cheat me alike of rich and poor,
For the smile divine no more wears he—                                             183
Hasten and bring his soul to me!”

 

VI.

Oh, off I ran his soul to win,
And the grey grey manse I enter’d in,
And I saw him lying on his bed,
With salt and candle at his head;                                                        [6:4]
But when he turn’d him weary and weak,
A smile and a tear were on his cheek,
And he took my hand and kiss’d it thrice
Tho’ his lips were clammy cold as ice.
“O wherefore, wherefore, kiss thou sae                                               [6:9]
One who has stolen thy life away?”                                                     [6:10]
Then over his face sae pale with pain                                                  [6:11]
The thought divine came back again,
And “I love thee more for the shame,” he said,
“I love thee more on my dying bed,
And I cannot, cannot love thee less,
Tho’ my heart is wae for its wickedness;
I love thee better, I love thee best,
Sweet Spirit that errest and wanderest;
Colder and colder my blood doth run,
I pray for thee, pray for thee, little one!”                                             184
Then I heard the bell for the dying toll,
And I reach’d out hands to seize his soul,
But I trembled and shriek’d to see as he died
An angel in white at his bedside,                                                        [6:24]
And I fled away to the greenwood tree,
Where the elves were fleeting in company,
And I hate my immortality,
And ’twere better to be a man and dee!

 

[Notes:
Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 1, l. 1: ‘O WHO among you will win for me
v. 1, l. 6: And I would, I would that he were mine?’
v. 2, l. 7: My cheeks were fresh as the milk of kine
v. 2, l. 8: Mingled with drops of red red wine,
v. 2, l. 9: And they shone thro’ my veil o’ the silk with gleam
v. 2, l. 13: And I moaned aloud as the man came near,
v. 3, l. 12: He laugh’d aloud and seem’d mad, so mad.
v. 6, l. 4: With book and candle at his head;
v. 6, l. 9: ‘O wherefore, wherefore, dost thou [typo: ‘kiss’ omitted]
v. 6, l. 10: One who has stolen thy soul from bliss?’
v. 6, l. 11: Then over his face so pale with pain
v. 6, l. 24: An angel in white at his bedside!
The poem was also included in the 1882 collection, Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour, which included the following alterations:
v. 2, l. 7: My skin was fresh as the milk of kine
v. 6, l. 10: One who has stolen thy soul away?” ]

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