Ballads

Page 18

Two clans, the Camerons and the Campbells, lay claim to this bracing story; and they do well: the man who preferred his plighted troth to the commands and menaces of the dead is an ancestor worth disputing. But the Campbells must rest content: they have the broad lands and the broad page of history; this appanage must be denied them; for between the name of Cameron and that of Campbell, the muse will never hesitate.

{3a} Mr. Nutt reminds me it was "by my sword and Ben Cruachan" the Cameron swore.

{3b} "A periwig'd lord of London." The first Pitt.

{3c} "Cathay." There must be some omission in General Stewart's charming History of the Highland Regiments, a book that might well be republished and continued; or it scarce appears how our friend could have got to China.

HEATHER ALE A GALLOWAY LEGEND

From the bonny bells of heather They brewed a drink long-syne, Was sweeter far than honey, Was stronger far than wine. They brewed it and they drank it, And lay in a blessed swound For days and days together In their dwellings underground.

There rose a king in Scotland, A fell man to his foes, He smote the Picts in battle, He hunted them like roes. Over miles of the red mountain He hunted as they fled, And strewed the dwarfish bodies Of the dying and the dead.

Summer came in the country, Red was the heather bell; But the manner of the brewing Was none alive to tell. In graves that were like children's On many a mountain head, The Brewsters of the Heather Lay numbered with the dead.

The king in the red moorland Rode on a summer's day; And the bees hummed, and the curlews Cried beside the way. The king rode, and was angry, Black was his brow and pale, To rule in a land of heather And lack the Heather Ale.

It fortuned that his vassals, Riding free on the heath, Came on a stone that was fallen And vermin hid beneath. Rudely plucked from their hiding, Never a word they spoke: A son and his aged father - Last of the dwarfish folk.

The king sat high on his charger, He looked on the little men; And the dwarfish and swarthy couple Looked at the king again. Down by the shore he had them; And there on the giddy brink - "I will give you life, ye vermin, For the secret of the drink."

There stood the son and father And they looked high and low; The heather was red around them, The sea rumbled below. And up and spoke the father, Shrill was his voice to hear: "I have a word in private, A word for the royal ear.

"Life is dear to the aged, And honour a little thing; I would gladly sell the secret," Quoth the Pict to the King. His voice was small as a sparrow's, And shrill and wonderful clear: "I would gladly sell my secret, Only my son I fear.

"For life is a little matter, And death is nought to the young; And I dare not sell my honour Under the eye of my son. Take HIM, O king, and bind him, And cast him far in the deep; And it's I will tell the secret That I have sworn to keep."

They took the son and bound him, Neck and heels in a thong, And a lad took him and swung him, And flung him far and strong, And the sea swallowed his body, Like that of a child of ten; - And there on the cliff stood the father, Last of the dwarfish men.

"True was the word I told you: Only my son I feared; For I doubt the sapling courage That goes without the beard. But now in vain is the torture, Fire shall never avail: Here dies in my bosom The secret of Heather Ale."

NOTE TO HEATHER ALE

Among the curiosities of human nature, this legend claims a high place. It is needless to remind the reader that the Picts were never exterminated, and form to this day a large proportion of the folk of Scotland: occupying the eastern and the central parts, from the Firth of Forth, or perhaps the Lammermoors, upon the south, to the Ord of Caithness on the north. That the blundering guess of a dull chronicler should have inspired men with imaginary loathing for their own ancestors is already strange: that it should have begotten this wild legend seems incredible.

Ballads Page 19

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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