Herd's ghaist, or, The perjured laird's doom

Herd's ghaist, or, The perjured laird's doom (c. 1870–1885)
3276478Herd's ghaist, or, The perjured laird's doomc. 1870–1885











The following Scottish ballad illustrates a tradition having reference to the parish of Pert, now united to that of Logy, in the north-eastern part of Forfarshire; and also embodies some superstitions of the same locality, with respect to the supposed power of conjuring or laying ghosts. It is however becoming obsolete by the removal of many of the old families of the district, and ere long may possibly pass out of memory. By some of the older folks the tale is thus narrated:—A simple herd-boy having excited the ire of the laird of Pert, the latter, a powerful man, flung the unconscious victim of his anger among a cairn of stones, and thereby killed him on the spot. The circumstances having caused judicial inquiry, the laird, to exculpate himself, charged one of his own hinds with the perpetration of the murder, for which, in those days when "might was right," the poor man was hanged. The fact was however traditionally transmitted, and the particulars, as related in the ballad, obtained a general belief among the peasantry, viz., that, till the conjurations of the miller, the boy had wandered under the murky cloud of night, between the kirk of Pert, and an old ford in the river below the North-water bridge.

The old kirk of Pert, so prominent in the ballad, is now a picturesque ruin upon the banks of the North Esk, not unlike that of "auld haunted" Alloway on the Doon, eternised by Robert Burns. The locality has otherwise many attractions, both historical and literary. A few paces south of the Upper North-water bridge, was born in a humble cottage, James Mill, the historian of British India, father of the late J. S. Mill, M. P., the celebrated political economist; while the bridge itself, which was built by Superintendent Erskinene of Dun, was used as a resting place or prison, for the Covenanters when on their way from the South of Scotland to Dunnottar Castle, in 1685.

When’er the gowden sun gade doun,
An’ gloomie ev’nin’ fell;
Frae a fireless flame of azure hue,
By foot o’ Pert’s kirke bell;

Ane winsome boy there wont to come,
With slae black eyne an’ hair;
His cheiks an’ lips were deadlie pale,
An’ head an’ feet wore bare.

Thoch lang atween the kirke an’ furde,
This sprite a-wanderin’ went,
Nae livin’ either heard its tale,
Or cause o’ mourning kent.

But ae dark nichte‘s ane miller chiel’
Had langst the road to gae,
The lad kept rinnin’ by his side,
Lamentin’ o’er his wae

An’ when they reach’d the kirkeyard style,
He cry'd—"O list to me;
An 'set ane harmless murdert boy,
Frae lanelie wand’rin’ free!"

The sturdie miller aft heard tell
That sic a sprite was seen:
Thoch laith to bide ane ghastlie ca’,
At last he’s courage ta’en,

An’ ’bout himsell wi’ hazell staff,
He made ane roundlie score;
Then said—"My lad, in name o’ Gude,[1]
What doe ye wander for?"

The laddie ga’e ane eldritch screech—
Ane wulsome look an’ bauld;
An’ aye's he spak the thunder roll’d,
An’ fire-fiauchts ne’er devaul’d.

"There, there’s the cairn!" the laddie scream’d,
"Whare life was ta’en frae me;
For whilk ane guiltless hireman died
Hie on yon wither’d tree—
Whase life the murd’rer swore awa,
To save’s ain infamie:

"But ho!" mair shrillie cried the boy,
With eye on lordlie grave;
"Come forth thou perjur’d laird o’ Pert,
Thy name it winna save!

"Not all thy gifts to hallie kirke,
Or alms thou didst bestow,
Will lay the clouds o’ sin an’ shame
That round thy mem’ric flow!"

On this ane grizzlie form appear’d,
An’ frae the kirke wa’ hied—
"Ah! there’s the murd’rons laird o’ Pert!"
The laddie tremblin' cried.

The hoarie sprite was mate, au’ fain
Wad flown to whence it came;
But aye’s it near'd the darksome grave,
There rose a smoth’rin’ flame;

An’ by that flame, frae hallie kirk
The laird’s rich gifts were thrown;
While sprites of ancient kith an’ kin,
Thus sang in waefu’ tone—

"Sin’ Heav'n denies thee an’ thy wealth,
Sae surelie too shall we:
For thoch thou be our ain brither,
We hate all perjurie!

"An’ frae our fam’lie tomb for aye,
Thy name it shall be ta’en;
An’ but in page of blude an’ shame,
Nae trace o’ thee’ll be seen!"


Bereft of friends, an’ hopes of peace,
With grief the laird was pain’d;
His sprite flew here, an’ then flew there,
But peace it ne’er obtain’d;

Till frae the Esk ane frichtsome fiend,
With joyful clamour flies;
An’ fondly graspt the Laird, as gin
He’d been its weddit prize!

An’ just’s they fled, a siller cloud
Drew round the guiltless boy,
That bore him frae this land of woe;
To shades of heav’nlie joy!


"In yon little cot by the Borrowstown hill,
Where flutters the merlin an’ wimples the rill,
Where sweet crystal waters peep out now and then
Amang the red heather, an’ rocks o’ the glen.
Out ower frae a’ neebours, an’ pleas’d wi’ her fa’,
By shade o’ the bourtree, an’ bloom o’ the haw
Sits smilin’ an’ spinnin’ frae momin’ to e’en,
The bonniest lassie I ever ha’e seen!
I’d cheerfully wander o’er mountain an’ plain,—
Wad face our bauld faes by the land or the main,
Or toil wi' the slaves that are far o’er the sea,
Gin that bonnie lassie wad smile upo’ me!"

"Weel, weel, do I ken her:—it’s sweet Nancy Bean!
A lassie whase beauties are no easy seen—
For, like a fine beuk, or a picture sae rare,
The aft’ner you see her, ye’ll love her the mair.
But whate’er ye think o’ er ye never should tell,
An’ like a wise man keep your thochts to yersel’;
Nor trust to a frien’, tho’ he vow that he’s sae,
For nearest o’ kin aften proves the warst fae.
Just quietly gang doun i’ the gleamin’ sae gray,
An’ speak o’er the news ye ha’e heard thro’the day–
O’er weddin’s an’ births that ha’e been i’ the glen:
An’ if you’re made welcome—let naebody ken!
Smile aye as ye crack o’er the jokes that you tell,
But never ance speak o’ your neebours or sel’;
An’ mak your tales short, an’as queer as you may—
Ye’ll aiblins be lucky—there’s nae ane can say!

I’ve ken’d Nancy lang, an’ her mither an’ a’,
On whom, could she help it, the blast wadna blaw;
She toils late an’ early to comfort her days—
To humour her freaks, an’ her auld-fashion’d ways.
On Sabbaths, I’m sure, ’twad delight you to see
How kindly an’ slowly they wind o’er the lea,
Amang the wild brakens, an’ down by the Dean
Where stands the auld kirk i’ the meadow sae green—
Around whose brown wa’s their forefathers repose,
Whose half-buried tombs their quiet actions disclose—
Where neebours forgather, and news hear an’ tell,
Till conven’d i’ the kirk by the toll o’ the bell.
You’ll see Nancy there in blue winsey hame-made,
Her mither in poplin, an’ braw scarlet plaid;
A lesson, I trow, for yon dame at Drumlin,
Wha brags an’ abuses her neebours an’ kin,
An’ flees, like a lady, the hail kintra throw,
While her poor mither lives—we daurna say how!
But Nancy was train’d up in Modesty’s ways,
And in paths little kent to the young now-a-days,
Where Truth an’ Religion are sweetly combin’d,
As guides to our actions, an’ lights to our mind!

Should Nancy be frank, as I doubtna she’ll be—
(But that ye may guess by the glance o’ her e’e),
You snould aften gae inwith, an’ speir how she fens—
Ye’ll aiblins be lucky—there’s naebody kens!
Speak aft to her mither in praise o’ the days
She herdit an’ sang ’mang the green cover'd braes,
For, as youngsters delight i’ the warld to shine,
Auld folks smile an’ wonder o’er days o'langsyne.
Sae, Jamie, be tentie, be honest, an’ kind,
An’ do what you can to win Nancy’s sweet mind,
For its weel worth your trouble; an’ this I can tell—
''Gin I were a wanter, I’d court her mysel’!"

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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  1. In the art of "laying ghaists," this is ever an important precautionary proceeding, because it is superstitiously believed, that if the conjuror describe the circle in the name of the Deity, no spirit can enter it; but, if that particular be neglected, the circle is made in vain, and there are then a thousand to one chances o' his being attacked by the spirit, and deprived of life!