Ballads

Ballads
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第14章

"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. Is it possible the chronicler's error was merely nominal? that what he told, and what the people proved themselves so ready to receive, about the Picts, was true or partly true of some anterior and perhaps Lappish savages, small of stature, black of hue, dwelling underground - possibly also the distillers of some forgotten spirit? See Mr. Campbell's TALES OF THE WESTHIGHLANDS.

CHRISTMAS AT SEA

THE sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.

We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout, And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread, For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:

So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high, And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;The good red fires were burning bright in every 'longshore home;The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn, And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there, My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves, Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me, Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way, To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.

"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.

"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate, Jackson, cried.

. . . "It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good, And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.

As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night, We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me, As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold, Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

End

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