Wild glen of Fruid, and Oliver
Set on a rocky steep,
High Tinnies, massive Neidpath grey,
Quaint relics of a long gone day –
What memories ye keep!
With you back runs our thought beyond
Queen Mary’s hapless morn;
And Flodden’s dule by sluggish Till,
The darkest day of Scotland’s ill,
And peerless Otterbourne:
When the calm moon from heavenly height
Leant down with gentle face,
Saw fierce strife rage beneath her light,
Yet spread o’er helm of outstretched knight
A weird unearthly grace!
‘Yond luckless hill of Halidon,
And sacred Bannocknurn,
That dim and light with shade and gleam
Old Scottish story’s moving stream,
Through many a chequered turn.
Back to that February morn,
When hearted as the free,
The patriot lord of Neidpath poured,
With flashing spear and gleam of sword
Tweed’s sons on Roslin Lee.
The Southern King, hard-purposed, stern,
Had stretched a ruthless hand,
Beyond the Cheviots’ barrier high
To Maiden’s Tower against the sky,
And grasped the Scottish land!
“From South to North one kingdom all,
Until the restless sea,
That sounds my power from the shores of Gaul,
Shall bear my name ‘mid wild birds’ call,
Round storm-girt Orcady.
“I who have awed fierce Saracen,
The pride of France laid low,
Shall I be baulked by rude Scotsmen,
Rough peasants of the mountain glen,
Disloyal rabble foe?”
Three leopards on his banner shone,
Of fine gold set in red,
In aspect haughty, fierce, and fast,
Unfeeling as the biting blast,
On cruel purpose sped.
‘Twas fate of men both true and good,
To feel the savage rage;
The ladies high of royal blood
Knew well the beast’s ferocious mood,
Each barred in iron cage.
By Wallace, Seaton, Nigel Bruce,
The slakeless thirst was fed,
And oft in simple hamlet lay
A gory sight to shame the day,
And none to earth was dead!
Fierce through the prostate land he passed,
Burnt village, town, and farm;
The lead from old church roof he tore,
Spared covering o’er the alter floor,
Too pious it to harm!
Much recked he flag of mild St. John,
From Beverley’s old Fane,
That aye ‘fore English host had shone
When Scotland’s soil was trampled on,
Since days of Athelstane!
God help the land, was many a prayer,
From Heaven-bannered host!
Caerlaverock’s fate proclaimed the truth,
As for the weak he had no ruth,
The brave he hated most!
With Hirelings base the land was filled,
Who knew no law but will;
All lived in shade of tyrant fear,
No man was safe, knight, churl, or peer,
Nor wife, nor maid, from ill.
Each pleasant thing, horse, hawk, or hound
That gave a simple joy,
Or sweetness lent life’s daily round,
Some base pretext was read found
To seize or to destroy.
Thus long and looming shadow lay
Dark on the saddened time;
The memory of the Good King’s day
When there were gamyn, glee, and play,
Fell like regretful chime.
Ah! Tinselled Lord, puissant, cold,
Why recked ye not your plan
Of mere mechanic sway and mould
Is death of kingship, treason bold
To sacred cause of man?
While the white flower of sovereign power
Blooms fair, spontaneous, free,
In sun or gloom unchanged still;
The outcome of a people’s will,
Heart growth of loyalty!
Oft rode through Neidpath’s court-yard door,
A knight of Norman name;
Strawberry flower on shield he bore,
What was a lovely bloom before,
Uplifted into fame!
Of ancient line he came, yet knew
Lot chequered as a dream;
Had seen our Scottish story’s morn,
Had watched its darkened noon forlorn,
As cloud glooms sunny stream.
He fought beside Dunbar’s sea-Keep,
When one noble lady, bold,
Stood firm against proud Edward’s power,
‘Gainst King and husband held in the tower,
As stout as Earl of old!
For she had heard the rumour dire
Of Berwick’s bloody morn;
A wife, but yet a woman more;
That mother’s face gashed in its gore,
And her gashed child new born.
That lay upon the Berwick brae,
Beneath the open sky,
Had waked the pathos of her heart,
Had stirred her to a stern, strong part,
‘Twere better far to die!
Fraser was ta’en to that old tower,
To English prison sent;
Where Flemish fields were red with blood,
By Edward’s side unwilling stood,
To Edward’s fealty bent!
Lord of the Forest now he roamed,
All life to him was fair,
He need not quench his noble heart,
He need but take the baser part,
That hath no cross to bear!
“My oath! But do I bear a bond?
I’ve sworn but to his might;
I’ve bartered ‘gainst my country’s weal
My life, estate, ignoble seal,
Prized Self above the Right!
“What get I by my oath but this,
I shall ignobly be?
What if the law of sacrifice
Now calls me above self to rise,
That this poor land be free?
“Life cycles in the years that pass,
And richer fruit they bring;
I, what am I, ‘mid passing cries?
And does not every leaf that dies
But make a fuller spring?”
From moorland chase, with trophies strung,
Of glancing spear and bow;
‘Mid wondering looks of vassal band,
Who did his best with ready hand,
He rode, desponding, low.
Wrapt in his thoughts he communed still:
“Is all this strength of arm
The blood of simple deer to spill?
For creatures straying wild, this will
To do them deadly harm?
“All purposeless this life I lead,
Outlet of impulse blind,
Mere aimless energy of deed,
No guiding end or noble need,
More than the passing wind;
“Or rushing burn that leaps the fall,
And joyous fills its pool;
Yet there are weak to aid, and call
Of injured to redress, and all
The land knows cruel rule.
“The winter wind I’ve known to tear
And rave across the lee,
All through the spring, the ruthless bear
The benty locks of lint white hair
As spray upon the sea.
“Seemed windy sweep the power supreme,
Yet lowly on the earth,
Unwatched a grassy blade would gleam,
Down in the nook of mountain stream,
The new time’s sacred birth:
“So in my heart I seem to feel
Young purpose silent grow,
Spring-omen of my country’s weal,
To English tyrant forced to kneel,
‘Neath wasting storm laid low.
“If slight as growth ‘neath withering wind,
Yet from the mute dull earth
That yearns for life, I lesson find –
That mere brute force long cannot bind
The soul that feels its worth.”
In action prompt, in friendship true,
In wary counsel learned;
The burgher’s hearts unto him grew,
The muirmen of the forest through
All to him longed and yearned.
Not fearing peril, life, estate,
Heart-touched by public wrong,
At length he cast his lot and fate
Against proud Edward’s power, and hate
Deep, unrelenting, strong.
Veitch. J. 1893. The History and Poetry of the Scottish Border: Their Main Features and Relations. Volume 1. William Blackwood & Sons.