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around me, I was all alone, Master, I was all alone."

Lord Soulis made no reply. With heavy steps he sought the low dark room
where the great chest stood, with its iron bands, and its three rusty

He shut the door behind him, and then, with clenched fist, he knocked
thrice on the heavy lid. The first time he knocked, and the second time,
such a groan came from the chest that his very blood ran cold; but at
the third knock the locks opened, and the lid began to rise.

Lord Soulis turned away his head as Redcap had told him to do, and stood
listening with all his might. A strange sullen muttering came from the
chest, of which he could only distinguish these mysterious words,
"Beware of a coming tree," and then the lid shut as slowly as it had
opened, and the locks were locked with a jerk, as if by unseen hands.

Meanwhile, over the hills in Teviotdale there had been confusion and
dismay when the young Lord of Buccleuch failed to return, and when news
came by the country folk that he had been seen, bound hand and foot,
being taken to Hermitage by Lord Soulis' men, the anger of the whole
clan knew no bounds. For, as it is to-day, little Annie, so it was then.
The Scotts of Buccleuch were strong and powerful, and held in honour far
and near.

The young lord had one brother, Bold Walter by name. He was a mighty
fighter and a right strong man, who carried a bow that no other man
could bend, and who loved nothing better than to ride on a foray with
all his father's moss-troopers at his back. Methinks Lord Soulis had
forgotten Bold Walter when he meddled with his brother and his bride.

It did not take this brave knight long, when he heard the news, to send
his riders out to North, and South, and East, and West, to call on his
friends and clansmen to ride with him to the fray. And because he had
heard of Old Redcap, and knew that Lord Soulis would be protected by his
charms, he sent all the way to the Tower of Ercildoune for True Thomas,
that wondrous Rhymer, who had been for seven years in Fairyland, and
who, on his return to earth, had gone to the Abbey Church of St Mary, at
Melrose, and had taken Sir Michael Scott's Spae-book from its dread
hiding-place, for its writer had been buried with it in his arms.

So, before the next sun had set, Bold Walter had raised as fair an army
as that which the King in Edinburgh had thought to send to Hermitage.
The news of this army spread like wildfire over the country, ay, and
over the hills to Hermitage, and I ween Lord Soulis' heart sank still
lower when he heard of it, and once more he went for counsel to the
magic chest. Again he knocked, and again the hollow groan rang out; but
as the lid lifted, he forgot in his haste to turn his eyes away, and in
a moment the charm was broken. The spirit spoke indeed, but it spoke
sullenly and angrily.

"Alas," it said, "thou art undone. Thou hast forgotten my warning, and,
instead of turning away thy head, thou hast raised thine eyes to look on
me. Therefore thou must lock the door of this chamber, and give the key
into my keeping, and for seven long years thou must not return, and I
must remain silent."

The wicked may flourish like the green bay tree, little Annie, but
vengeance will always overtake them at last; and I trow that Lord Soulis
felt that vengeance was close on his heels, as he left that mysterious
chamber, and locked the door, and drew the key from the lock, where it
had always rested, in his life-time at least, and threw it over his left
shoulder, which is, men say, the right way to give things to wizards and
witches, and such-like beings.

The key sank in the ground, and there it remains for aught I know, and
'tis said that even to this day, at the end of every seven years, if
anyone cares to listen, they may hear strange and awful sounds coming
from that long-locked chamber.[23]

[Footnote 23: "Somewhere about the autumn of 1806, the Earl of
Dalkeith, being encamped near the Hermitage Castle, for the
amusement of shooting, directed some workmen to clear away the
rubbish from the door of the dungeon in order to ascertain its
ancient dimensions and architecture. To the great astonishment of
the labourers, a rusty iron key of considerable size was found among
the ruins a little way from the dungeon door. The well-known
tradition passed from one to another, and it was generally agreed
that the malevolent demon who had so long retained possession of the
key of the castle dungeon now found himself obliged to resign it to
the heir-apparent of the domain." - Note on "Lord Soulis" in _Leyden's
Life and Works_.]

Yet Lord Soulis' heart was not humbled, and he made up his mind, that,
come what might, young Buccleuch should die. And in the wickedness and
cruelty of his heart he determined that he himself should choose the
manner of it.

So he had him brought before him. "What wouldst thou do, young Scott, if
thou hadst me as I have thee?" he asked, in his cruel mocking voice.

"I would take thee to the good greenwood," answered Buccleuch haughtily,
"and I would hang thee there, and I would make thine own hand wale[24]
the tree."

[Footnote 24: Choose.]

"Good," answered Lord Soulis; "then thou shalt do as thou hast said, and
if bonnie May refuse to marry me, then she shall hang on a bush beside

So they led him out to a wood full of tall trees, far up on whose upper
branches sat hooded crows, looking down on them in solemn silence.

The first tree that Lord Soulis made his men halt under was a fir.

"Say, wilt thou hang on a fir tree, and let the hooded crows pick thy
bones?" he asked roughly.

Young Buccleuch shook his head. "Nay, not so, my Lord of Soulis," he
answered in mock humility, "for on windy nights at Branksome, the fir
trees rock by the old towers, and the fir cones come pattering to the
ground like rain. I heard them when I was a bairn, as I lay awake at
night in my cot. Thou surely wouldst not have the heart to hang me on a
tree which I have loved all my life."

Then Soulis told his men to pass on, and as they went through the wood
their prisoner kept peeping and peering from side to side, and muttering
to himself, as if he were looking for something. The men-at-arms could
not hear what he was saying, and methinks they would have been much
astonished if they had. For he knew the spirit that his brother was of,
and he knew that he would not let him hang without an attempt at rescue,
and he was saying over and over again to himself, "This death is no' for
me, this death is no' for me."

At last they halted again under an aspen tree, whose leaves were
quivering mournfully in the wind. Lord Soulis was growing impatient.

"Choose, and choose quickly," he cried, "or methinks I must choose for

But again Buccleuch shook his head. "Not on an aspen tree, my lord, not
on an aspen tree. I love its gray leaves better than any other, for it
was under their shade that May o' Gorranberry and I first plighted our

So on they went, and still the young man peered and looked, first in
this direction, then in that, until at last he saw what seemed to be a
bank of hazel branches pressing through the trees towards them. Then he
gave a great shout, and leaped high in the air. "Methinks I spy a coming
tree," he cried, and at the words Lord Soulis' face grew pale, for they
recalled to him Redcap's warning, and he feared that his hour had come.

Everyone soon saw what the strange thing was which was coming towards
them. It was Bold Walter of Buccleuch and his men, and each of them had
stuck a branch of witch's hazel in his basnet, for 'tis said that a twig
of hazel protects its wearer from the arts of magic, and they had no
mind to be bewitched by the Lord of Hermitage.

So this was the coming tree that Redcap had warned Lord Soulis to beware
of, and it had come in right earnest.

But Soulis remembered the charmed life that he bore, and he tried to
shake fear from his heart.

"Ay, many may come, but few shall go back," he cried defiantly;
"besides, ye come on a bootless errand. There is not a man in broad
Scotland who hath the power to wound me."

"By my troth," replied Bold Walter, "but we shall soon prove that," and,
drawing his bow, he sent an arrow straight in Lord Soulis' face.

Sure enough it fell harmless to the ground, and there was not even a
scratch on the wicked lord's skin, and for a moment Buccleuch was

But Thomas of Ercildoune stepped forward. "He is bewitched, Sire," he
said, "and protected by the charms of Redcap. No steel can break that
charm, but mayhap if thy men bore him down with their lances, he might
be taken."

In vain the spearmen crowded round, and struck him to the earth. The
lances glanced harmlessly off his body, and never left so much as a mark
on him.

Then they bound him hand and foot with hempen ropes, but, to their
amazement, he burst them as if they had been threads of wool. Then
someone brought chains of forged steel, and they bound those round his
limbs, thinking that now they surely had him in their power; but he
burst them as easily as if they had been made of tow.

At this everyone was daunted, and would have let him go, but Thomas of
Ercildoune cried cheerily, "We'll bind him yet, lads, whatever betide."

As he spoke, he drew out from his bosom a little black leather-covered
book, and at the sight of it all the spearmen fell back in awe. For it
was Sir Michael Scott's "Book of Might," and, as I have said, Sir
Michael was a wizard himself, and knew all about warlocks and witches,
with their charms and spells, and he could undo everyone of them, and he
had written all this knowledge down in his black Spae-book. When he
died, the book had been buried deep in his grave in the Abbey at
Melrose, and True Thomas had gone there, and recovered it, and he had
brought it with him to aid Bold Walter of Buccleuch in rescuing his

He turned over the leaves, and at last he found the place where Sir
Michael had told how it was possible to bind a charmed man.

"Ye cannot bind a wizard with ropes," he read, "unless they be ropes of
sifted sand."

"Where can we get some sifted sand?" he asked, and everyone looked round
in dismay, for there was no sand there, under the trees.

"Come to the Nine-stane Rig," cried a man; "there is a burn[25] runs
past the bottom of it, and we will find plenty of sand there."

[Footnote 25: Stream.]

Thou knowest the Nine-stane Rig, little Annie, the hill that slopes down
to Hermitage Water, with the circle of great stones standing on it,
which, 'tis said, were placed there by wild and heathen men, hundreds of
years ago. Well, they carried Lord Soulis there, and hurried him down to
the burn, and they shaped ropes out of the sand that lies smooth and
clean by the water-side.

But, shape the ropes as they might, they would neither twist nor twine;
the dry sand just ran through their fingers, and once again they were
baffled. Once more True Thomas turned to the spae-book, and this time he
found that the sand would twist more easily if it were mixed with barley
chaff, and the men of Teviotdale ran down the valley until they came to
a field of growing barley. They pulled the ripe grain and beat it in
their hands, and it was not long ere they returned with a napkin full of
chaff. They mixed nine handfuls of it with the sand, for it was thus the
"Book of Might" directed, and once more they tried to twist the ropes,
but once more they failed.

"This is some of the wee man's work," muttered the country folk, who
were standing looking on; and they were right. Old Redcap had not
deserted his master, although the spell which caused the magic chest to
open was broken, and he was at hand, doing his utmost to save him,
though unseen by mortal eyes.

Again True Thomas turned over the leaves of Sir Michael's book, in the
hope of finding something which would break even the most powerful
spell, and at last he came to a page where it told how, if all else
failed, the wizard must be boiled in lead.

Ay, thou mayst well shudder, little Annie, and hide thy face in my gown.

'Twas a terrible thing to do, but they did it.

They kindled a fire on the Nine-stane Rig, in the middle of the old
Druid stones, and there they placed the great brass cauldron. They
heated it red hot, and some of them hasted to Hermitage Castle, and
stripped a sheet of lead from the roof, and they wrapped the wicked lord
in it, and plunged him in, and stood round in solemn silence till the
contents of that awful pot melted - lead, and bones, and all - and nought
remained but a seething sea of molten metal.

So came the sinful man by his end, and to this day the cauldron remains,
as thou knowest, child. It was brought over to the Skelf-hill, and there
it stands, a fearful warning to evil-doers, while, on the spot where it
was boiled, within the circle of stones on the Nine-stane Rig, the
ground lies bare and fallow, for the very grass refuses to grow where
such a terrible deed was done.


"There came a strange wight to our town en',
An' the fient a body did him ken;
He twirled na' lang, but he glided ben,
Wi' a weary, dreary hum.

His face did glow like the glow o' the West,
When the drumly cloud had it half o'ercast;
Or the struggling moon when she's sair distrest.
O, Sirs! it was Aiken-Drum."

Did you ever hear how a Brownie came to our village of Blednock, and was
frightened away again by a silly young wife, who thought she was
cleverer than anyone else, but who did us the worst turn that she ever
did anybody in her life, when she made the queer, funny, useful little
man disappear?

Well, it was one November evening, in the gloaming, just when the
milking was done, and before the bairns were put to bed, and everyone
was standing on their doorsteps, having a crack about the bad harvest,
and the turnips, and what chances there were of good prices for the
stirks[26] at the Martinmas Fair, when the queerest humming noise
started down by the river.

[Footnote 26: Bullocks.]

It came nearer and nearer, and everyone stopped their clavers[27] and
began to look down the road. And, 'deed, it was no wonder that they
stared, for there, coming up the middle of the highway, was the
strangest, most frightsome-looking creature that human eyes had ever

[Footnote 27: Idle talk.]

He looked like a little wee, wee man, and yet he looked almost like a
beast, for he was covered with hair from head to foot, and he wore no
clothing except a little kilt of green rashes which hung round his
waist. His hair was matted, and his head hung forward on his breast, and
he had a long blue beard, which almost touched the ground.

His legs were twisted, and knocked together as he walked, and his arms
were so long that his hands trailed in the mud.

He seemed to be humming something over and over again, and, as he came
near us we could just make out the words, "Hae ye wark for Aiken-Drum?"

Eh, but I can tell you the folk were scared. If it had been the Evil One
himself who had come to our quiet little village, I doubt if he would
have caused more stir.[28] The bairns screamed, and hid their faces in
their mothers' gown-tails; while the lassies, idle huzzies that they
were, threw down the pails of milk, which should have been in the
milkhouse long ago, if they had not been so busy gossiping; and the very
dogs crept in behind their masters, whining, and hiding their tails
between their legs. The grown men, who should have known better, and who
were not frightened to look the wee man in the face, laughed and hooted
at him.

[Footnote 28: Excitement.]

"Did ye ever see such eyes?" cried one.

"His mouth is so big, he could swallow the moon," said another.

"Hech, sirs, but did ye ever see such a creature?" cried a third.

And still the poor little man went slowly up the street, crying
wistfully, "Hae ye wark for Aiken-Drum? Any wark for Aiken-Drum?"

Some of us tried to speak to him, but our tongues seemed to be tied, and
the words died away on our lips, and we could only stand and watch him
with frightened glances, as if we were bewitched.

Old Grannie Duncan, the oldest, and the kindest woman in the village,
was the first to come to her senses. "He may be a ghost, or a bogle, or
a wraith," she said; "or he may only be a harmless Brownie. It is beyond
me to say; but this I know, that if he be an evil spirit, he will not
dare to look on the Holy Book." And with that she ran into her cottage,
and brought out the great leather-bound Bible which aye lay on her
little table by the window.

She stood on the road, and held it out, right in front of the creature,
but he took no more heed of it than if it had been an old song-book, and
went slowly on, with his weary cry for work.

"He's just a Brownie," cried Grannie Duncan in triumph, "a simple,
kindly Brownie. I've heard tell of such folk before, and many a long
day's work will they do for the people who treat them well."

Gathering courage from her words, we all crowded round the wee man, and
now that we were close to him, we saw that his hairy face was kind and
gentle, and his tiny eyes had a merry twinkle in them.

"Save us, and help us, creature!" said an old man reprovingly, "but can
ye no speak, and tell us what ye want, and where ye come from?"

For answer the Brownie looked all round him, and gave such a groan, that
we scattered and ran in all directions, and it was full five minutes
before we could pluck up our courage and go close to him again.

But Grannie Duncan stood her ground, like a brave old woman that she
was, and it was to her that the creature spoke.

"I cannot tell thee from whence I come," he said. "'Tis a nameless land,
and 'tis very different from this land of thine. For there we all learn
to serve, while here everyone wishes to be served. And when there is no
work for us to do at home, then we sometimes set out to visit thy land,
to see if there is any work which we may do there. I must seem strange
to human eyes, that I know; but if thou wilt, I will stay in this place
awhile. I need not that any should wait on me, for I seek neither wages,
nor clothes, nor bedding. All I ask for is the corner of a barn to sleep
in, and a cogful of brose set down on the floor at bedtime; and if no
one meddles with me, I will be ready to help anyone who needs me. I'll
gather your sheep betimes on the hill; I'll take in your harvest by
moonlight. I'll sing the bairns to sleep in their cradles, and, though I
doubt you'll not believe it, you'll find that the babes will love me.
I'll kirn your kirns[29] for you, goodwives, and I'll bake your bread on
a busy day; while, as for the men folk, they may find me useful when
there is corn to thrash, or untamed colts in the stables, or when the
waters are out in flood."

[Footnote 29: A churn.]

No one quite knew what to say in answer to the creature's strange
request. It was an unheard-of thing for anyone to come and offer their
services for nothing, and the men began to whisper among themselves, and
to say that it was not canny, and 'twere better to have nothing to do
with him.

But up spoke old Grannie Duncan again. "'Tis but a Brownie, I tell you,"
she repeated, "a poor, harmless Brownie, and many a story have I heard
in my young days about the work that a Brownie can do, if he be well
treated and let alone. Have we not been complaining all summer about bad
times, and scant wages, and a lack of workmen to work the work? And now,
when a workman comes ready to your hand, ye will have none of him, just
because he is not bonnie to look on."

Still the men hesitated, and the silly young wenches screwed their
faces, and pulled their mouths. "But, Grannie," cried they, "that is all
very well, but if we keep such a creature in our village, no one will
come near it, and then what shall we do for sweethearts?"

"Shame on ye," cried Grannie impatiently, "and on all you men for
encouraging the silly things in their whimsies. It's time that ye were
thinking o' other things than bonnie faces and sweethearts. 'Handsome is
that handsome does,' is a good old saying; and what about the corn that
stands rotting in the fields, an' it past Hallowe'en already? I've heard
that a Brownie can stack a whole ten-acre field in a single night."

That settled the matter. The miller offered the creature the corner of
his barn to sleep in, and Grannie promised to boil the cogful of brose,
and send her grandchild, wee Jeannie, down with it every evening, and
then we all said good-night, and went into our houses, looking over our
shoulders as we did so, for fear that the strange little man was
following us.

But if we were afraid of him that night, we had a very different song to
sing before a week was over. Whatever he was, or wherever he came from,
he was the most wonderful worker that men had ever known. And the
strange thing was that he did most of it at night. He had the corn safe
into the stackyards, and the stacks thatched, in the clap of a hand, as
the old folk say.

The village became the talk of the countryside, and folk came from all
parts to see if they could catch a glimpse of our queer, hairy little
visitor; but they were always unsuccessful, for he was never to be seen
when one looked for him. One might go into the miller's barn twenty
times a day, and twenty times a day find nothing but a heap of straw;
and although the cog of brose was aye empty in the morning, no one knew
when he came home, or when he supped it.

But wherever there was work to be done, whether it was a sickly bairn to
be sung to, or a house to be tidied up; a kirn that would not kirn, or a
batch of bread that would not rise; a flock of sheep to be gathered
together on a stormy night, or a bundle to be carried home by some weary
labourer; Aiken-Drum, as we learned to call him, always got to know of
it, and appeared in the nick of time. It looked as if we had all got
wishing-caps, for we had just to wish, and the work was done.

Many a time, some poor mother, who had been up with a crying babe all
night, would sit down with it in her lap, in front of the fire, in the
morning, and fall fast asleep, and when she awoke, she would find that
Aiken-Drum had paid her a visit, for the floor would be washed, and the
dishes too, and the fire made up, and the kettle put on to boil; but the
little man would have slipped away, as if he were frightened of being

The bairns were the only ones who ever saw him idle, and oh, how they
loved him! In the gloaming, or when the school was out, one could see
them away down in some corner by the burn[30]-side, crowding round the
little dark brown figure, with its kilt of rushes, and one would hear
the sound of wondrous low sweet singing, for he knew all the songs that
the little ones loved.

[Footnote 30: Stream.]

So by and by the name of Aiken-Drum came to be a household word amongst
us, and although we so seldom saw him near at hand, we loved him like
one of our ain folk.

And he might have been here still, had it not been for a silly,
senseless young wife who thought she knew better than everyone else, and
who took some idle notion into her empty head that it was not right to
make the little man work, and give him no wage.

She dinned[31] this into our heads, morning, noon, and night, and she
would not believe us when we told her that Aiken-Drum worked for love,
and love only.

[Footnote 31: Impressed this upon us.]

Poor thing, she could not understand anyone doing that, so she made up
her mind that she, at least, would do what was right, and set us all an

"She did not mean any harm," she said afterwards, when the miller took
her to task for it; but although she might not mean to do any harm, she
did plenty, as senseless folk are apt to do when they cannot bear to
take other people's advice, for she took a pair of her husband's old,
mouldy, worn-out breeches, and laid them down one night beside the
cogful of brose.

By my faith, if the village folk had not remembered so well what
Aiken-Drum had said about wanting no wages, they would have found
something better to give him than a pair of worn-out breeks.

Be that as it may, the long and the short of it was, that the dear wee
man's feelings were hurt because we would not take his services for
nothing, and he vanished in the night, as Brownies are apt to do, so
Grannie Duncan says, if anyone tries to pay them, and we have never seen
him from that day to this, although the bairns declare that they
sometimes hear him singing down by the mill, as they pass it in the

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Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonTales From Scottish Ballads → online text (page 12 of 17)