Hector MacNeill Poems >>
Scotland's Scaith, Or, The History O' Will And Jean. Owre True A Tale. In Two Parts

Wha was ance like Willie Gairlace,
  Wha in neeboring town or farm?
Beauty's bloom shone in his fair face,
  Deadly strength was in his arm!

Wha wi' Will could rin, or wrastle?
  Throw the sledge, or toss the bar?
Hap what would, he stood a castle,
  Or for safety, or for war:

Warm his heart, and mild as manfu',
  Wi' the bauld he bauld could be;
But to friends wha had their handfu'
  Purse and service aye ware free.

Whan he first saw Jeanie Miller,
  Wha wi' Jeanie could compare?--
Thousands had mair braws and siller,
  But ware ony half sae fair?

Saft her smile raise like Mary morning,
  Glinting owre Demait's brow:
Sweet! wi' opening charms adorning
  Strevlin's lovely plain below!

Kind and gentle was her nature;
  At ilk place she bare the bell ;--
Sic a bloom, and shape, and stature!--
  But her look nae tongue can tell!

Sic was Jean, whan Will first mawing,
  Spied her on a thraward beast;
Flew like fire, and just when fa'ing
  Kept her on his manly breast.

Light he bare her, pale as ashes,
  Cross the meadow, fragrant, green!
Plac'd her on the new-mawn rashes,
  Watching sad her opening ee.

Sic was Will, whan poor Jean fainting
  Drapt into a lover's arms;
Waken'd to his saft lamenting;
  Sigh'd, and blush'd a thousand charms:

Soon they loo'd, and soon ware buckled;
  Nane took time to think and rue--
Youth and worth and beauty cuppled;
  Luve had never less to do.

Three short years flew by fu' canty,
  Jean and Will thought them but ane;
Ilka day brought joy and plenty,
  Ilka year a dainty wean;

Will wrought sair, but aye with pleasure;
  Jean the hale day span and sang;
Will and weans her constant treasure,
  Blest wi' them nae day seem'd lang;

Trig her house, and oh! to busk aye
  Ilk sweet bairn was a' her pride!--
But at this time News and Whiskey
  Sprang nae up at ilk road-side.

Luckless was the hour whan Willie
  Hame returning frae the fair,
Ow'r-took Tam, a neebor billie,
  Sax miles frae their hame and mair;

Simmer's heat had lost its fury;
  Calmly smil'd the sober e'en;
Lasses on the bleachfield hurry
  Skelping bare-fit owre the green;

Labour rang wi' laugh and clatter,
  Canty Hairst was just begun,
And on mountain, tree, and water
  Glinted saft the setting sun.

Will and Tam wi' hearts a' lowpin
  Mark'd the hale, but could nae bide;
Far frae hame, nae time for stoppin,
  Baith wish'd for their ain fire side:

On they travell'd warm and drouthy,
  Cracking owre the news in town;
The mair they crack'd, the mair ilk youthy
  Pray'd for drink to wash news down.

Fortune, wha but seldom listens
  To poor merit's modest pray'r;
And on fools heaps needless blessins,
  Harken'd to our drouthy pair;

In a howm, wha's bonnie burnie
  Whimperin row'd its crystal flood,
Near the road, whar trav'llers turn aye,
  Near and bield a cot-house stood;

White the wa's, wi' roof new theckit,
  Window broads just painted red;
Lown 'mang trees and braes it reckit,
  Haflins seen and halfins hid;

Up the gravel end thick spreading
  Crap the clasping ivy green,
Back owre, firs the high craigs cleading,
  Rais'd a' round a cozy screen;

Down below, a flowery meadow
  Join'd the burnie's rambling line;--
Here it was, that Howe the Widow
  This sam day set up her sign.

Brattling down the brae, and near its
  Bottom, Will first marvelin sees
'Porter, Ale, and British Spirits,'
  Painted bright between twa trees.

'Godsake! Tam, here's walth for drinking;
  Wha can this new comer be?'
'Hoot! quo' Tam, there's drouth in thinking;
  Let's in, Will, and syne we'll see.'

Nae mair time they took to speak or
  Think o' ought but reaming jugs;
Till three times in humming liquor
  Ilk had deeply laid his lugs.

Slocken'd now, refresh'd and talking,
  In came Meg (weel skill'd to please)
'Sirs! ye're surely tyr'd wi' walking;--
  Ye maun taste my bread and cheese.'

'Thanks, quo' Will ;-- I canna tarry,
  Pick mirk night is setting in,
Jean, poor thing's! her lane and eery--
  I maun to the road and rin.'

Hoot! quo' Tam, what's a' the hurry?
  Hame's now scarce a mile o' gaet--
Come! sit down -- Jean winna wearie:
  Lord! I'm sure it's no sae late!

Will, o'ercome wi' Tam's oration,
  Baith fell to and ate their fill--
'Tam!' quo' Will, 'in mere discretion,
  We maun hae the Widow's gill.'

After ae gill cam anither--
  Meg sat cracking 'tween them twa,
Bang! cam in Mat Smith and's brither,
  Geordie Brown and Sandie Shaw.

Neebors wha ne'er thought to meet here,
  Now sat down wi' double glee,
Ilka gill grew sweet and sweeter!--
  Will gat hame 'tween twa and three.

Jean, poor thing! had lang been greetin;
  Will, neist morning, blam'd Tam Lowes,
But ere lang, an owkly meetin
  Was set up at Maggie Howe's.

PART II.

Maist things hae a sma' beginnin',
  But wha kens how things will end?
Owkly clubs are nae great sinniu,
  Gin folk hae enough to spend.

But nae man o' sober thinkin
  E'er will say that things can thrive,
If there's spent in owkly drinkin
  Wha keeps wife and weans alive.

Drink maun aye hae conversation,
  Ilka social soul allows;
But, in this reformin nation,
  Wha can speak without the news?

News, first meant for state physicians,
  Deeply skill'd in courtly drugs;
Now whan a' are politicians,
  Just to set folks by the lugs.

Maggie's club, wha could get nae light
  On some things that should be clear,
Found ere lang the fau't, and ae night
  Clubb'd and gat the Gazetteer.

Twice a week to Maggie's cot-house,
  Swith! by post the papers fled!
Thoughts spring up like plants in hot-house,
  Every time the news are read.

Ilk ane's wiser than anither,--
  'Things are no ga'en right,' quo' Tam,
'Let us aftener meet thegither;
  Twice a owk's no worth a d----n.'

See them now in grave convention
  To mak a' things 'square and even;'
Or at least wi' firm intention
   To drink sax nights out o' seven.

Mid this sitting up and drinkin,
  Gatherin a' the news that fell;
Will, wha was nae yet past thinking,
  Had some battles wi' himsell.

On ae hand, drink's deadly poison
  Bare ilk firm resolve awa;
On the ither, Jean's condition
  Rave his very heart in twa.

Weel he saw her smother'd sorrow!
  Weel he saw her bleaching cheek!
Mark'd the smile she strave to borrow,
  Whan, poor thing, she could nae speak!

Jean, at first, took little heed o'
  Owkly clubs mang three or four,
Thought, kind soul! that Will had need o'
  Heartsome hours whan wark was owre.

But whan now that nightly meetings
  Sat and drank frae sax till twa;
Whan she fand that hard-earn'd gettings
  Now on drink ware thrown awa;

Saw her Will, wha ance sae cheerie
  Raise ilk morning wi' the lark,
Now grown mauchless, dowf and sweer aye
  To look near his farm or wark;

Saw him tyne his manly spirit,
   Healthy bloom, and sprightly ee;
And o' luve and hame grown wearit,
  Nightly frae his family flee:

Wha could blame her heart's complaining?
  Wha condemn her sorrows meek?
Or the tears that now ilk e'ening
  Bleach'd her lately crimson'd cheek!

Will, wha lang had rued and swither'd
  (Aye asham'd o' past disgrace)
Mark'd the roses as they wither'd
  Fast on Jeanie's lovely face!

Mark'd, -- and felt wi' inward rackin
  A' the wyte lay wi' himsel,--
Swore neist night he'd mak a breakin,--
  D--n'd the club and news to hell!

But alas! whan habit's rooted,
  Few hae pith the root to pu';
Will's resolves were aye nonsuited,
  Promis'd aye, but aye gat fou;

Aye at first at the convening
  Moraliz'd on what was right,--
Yet on clavers entertaining
  Doz'd and drank till brade day light.

Things at length draw near an ending,
  Cash rins out; Jean quite unhappy
Sees that Will is now past mending,
  Tynes a' heart, and taks a -- drappy!

Ilka drink deserves a poesy;
  Port maks men rude, claret civil;
Beer maks Britons stout and rosy,
  Whisky maks ilk wife -- a devil.

Jean, wha lately bare affliction
  Wi' sae meek and mild an air,
School'd by whisky, learns new tricks soon,
  Flyts, and storms, and rugs Will's hair.

Jean, so late the tenderest mither,
  Fond o' ilk dear dauted wean!
Now, heart harden'd a' thegither,
  Skelps them round frae morn till e'en.

Jean, wha vogie, loo'd to busk aye
  In her hame-spun, thrifty wark;
Now sells a' her braws for whisky
  To her last gown, coat, and sark!

Robin Burns, in mony a ditty,
  Loudly sings in whisky's praise;
Sweet his sang! -- the mair's the pity
  E'er on it he war'd sic lays.

O' a' the ills poor Caledonia
  E'er yet pree'd, or e'er will taste,
Brew'd in hell's black Pandemonia,
  Whisky's ill will scaith her maist!

'Wha was ance like Willie Gairlace?
  Wha in neeboring town or farm?
Beauty's bloom shone in his fair face,
  Deadly strength was in his arm!

'Whan he first saw Jeanie Miller,
  Wha wi' Jeanie could compare?
Thousands had mair braws and siller,
  But ware ony half sae fair?'

See them now -- how chang'd wi' drinking!
  A' their youthfu' beauty gane!--
Daver'd, doited, daiz'd and blinking,
  Worn to perfect skin and bane!

In the cauld month o' November,
  (Claise, and cash, and credit out)
Cowring owre a dying ember,
  Wi' ilk face as white's a clout;

Bond and bill, and debts a' stoppit,
  Ilka sheaf selt on the bent;
Cattle, beds, and blankets roupit
  Now to pay the laird his rent.

No anither night to lodge here!
  No a friend their cause to plead!
He ta'en on to be a sodger,
  She wi' weans to beg her bread!

'O' a' the ills poor Caledonia
  E'er yet pree'd, or e'er will taste,
Brew'd in hell's black Pandemonia,
  Whisky's ill will scaith her maist!'