Belike, gentle reader, thou
has often heard the proverb quoted above, that "Every bannock has its maik,
but the bannock o’ Tollishill." The saying hath it origin in a romantic
tradition of the Lammermoors, which I shall relate to thee. Tollishill is
the name of a sheep-farm in Berwickshire, situated in the parish of
Lauder. Formerly, it was divided into three farms, which were occupied by
different tenants; and by way of distinguishing it from the others, that
in which dwelt the subjects of our present story, was generally called
Midside, and our heroine obtained the appellation of Midside Maggy.
Tollishill was the property of John, second Earl, and afterwards Duke of
Lauderdale – a personage whom I shall more than once, in these tales, have
occasion to bring before mine readers, and whose character posterity hath
small cause to hold in veneration. Yet it is a black character, indeed, in
which there is not to be found one streak of sunshine; and the story of
the "Bannock of Tollishill" referreth to such a streak in the history of
John, the Lord of Thirlestane.
Time hath numbered somewhat
more than a hundred and ninety years since Thomas Hardie became tenant of
the principal farm of Tollishill. Now, that the reader may picture Thomas
Hardie as he was, and as tradition hath described him, he or she must
imagine a tall, strong, and fresh-coloured man of fifty; a few hairs of
grey mingling with his brown locks; a countenance expressive of much good
nature and some intelligence; while a Lowland bonnet was drawn over his
brow. The other parts of his dress were of coarse, grey, homespun cloth,
manufactured in Earlston; and across his shoulders, in summer as well as
in winter, he wore the mountain plaid. His principles assimilated to those
held by the men of the Covenant; but Thomas, though a native of the hills,
was not without the worldy prudence which is considered as being more
immediately the characteristic of the buying and selling children of
society. His landlord was no favourer of the Covenant; and, though Thomas
wished well to the cause, he did not see the necessity for making his
laird, the Lord of Lauderdale, his enemy for its sake. He, therefore,
judged it wise to remain a neutral spectator of the religious and
political struggles of the period.
But Thomas was a bachelor.
Half a century had he been in the world, and the eyes of no woman had had
power to throw a spark into his heart. In his single, solitary state he
was happy, or he thought himself happy; and that is much the same thing.
But an accident occurred which led him first to believe, and eventually to
feel, that he was but a solitary and comfortless moorland farmer, toiling
for he knew not what, and laying up treasure he knew not for whom. Yea,
and while others had their wives spinning, carding, knitting, and smiling
before them, and their bairns running, laughing, and sporting round about
them, he was put a poor, deserted creature, with nobody to speak to,
nobody to care for, or to care for him. Every person had some object to
strive for and to make them strive, but Thomas Hardie; or, to use his own
words, he was just in the situation o’ a tewhit that has lost its mate—te-wheet!
te-wheet! it cried, flapping its wings impatiently and forlornly—and
te-wheet! te-wheet! answered vacant echo frae the dreary glens.
Thomas had been to Morpeth
disposing of a part of his hirsels, and he had found a much better market
for them than he anticipated. He returned, therefore, with a heavy purse,
which generally hath a tendency to create a light and merry heart; and he
arrived at Westruther, and went into a hostel, where, three or four times
in the year, he was in the habit of spending a cheerful evening with his
friends. He had called for a queugh of the landlady’s best, and he sat
down at his ease with the liquor before him, for he had but a short way to
travel. He also pulled out his tobacco-box and his pipe, and began to
inhale the fumes of what, up to that period, was almost a forbidden weed.
But we question much, if the royal book of James the Sixth of Scotland and
first of England, which he published against the use of tobacco, ever
found its way into the Lammermoors, though the Indian weed did, and,
therefore Thomas Hardie sat enjoying the glass and his pipe, unconscious
or regardless of the fulminations which he who was king in his boyhood,
had published against the latter. But he had not sat long, when a fair
maiden, an acquaintance of "mine hostess," entered the hostelry, and began
to assist her in the cutting out or fashioning of a crimson kirtle. Her
voice fell upon the ear of Thomas like the "music of sweet sounds." He had
never heard a voice before that not only fell softly on his ear, but left
a lingering murmur in his heart. She too, was a young thing of not more
than eighteen. If ever hair might be called "gowden," it was hers. It was
a light and shining bronze, where the prevalence of the golden hue gave a
colour to the whole. Her face was a thing of beauty, over which health
spread its roseate hue, yet softly, as though the wrestling winds had
caused the leaves of the blushing rose to kiss her cheeks, and leave their
delicate hues and impression behind them. She was of a middle stature, and
her figure was such, although arrayed in homely garments, as would have
commanded the worship of a connoisseur of grace and symmetry. But beyond
all that kindled a flame within the hitherto obdurate heart of Thomas, was
the witching influence of her smile. For a full hour he sat with his eyes
fixed upon her; save at intervals, when he withdrew them to look into the
unwonted agitation of his own breast, and examine the cause.
"Amongst the daughters of
women," thought he unto himself—for he had a sprinkling of the language of
the age about him—"none have I seen so beautiful. Her cheeks bloom bonnier
than the heather on Tollishill, and her bosom seems saft as the new-shorn
fleece. Her smile is like a blink o’ sunshine, and would mak summer to
those on whom it fell a’ the year round."
He also discovered, for the
first time, that "Tollishill was a dull place, especially in the winter
season." When, therefore, the fair damsel had arrayed the fashion of the
kirtle and dep)arted, without once having seemed to observe Thomas, he
said unto the good wife of the hostelry— "And wha, noo, if it be a fair
question, may that bonnie lassie be?"
"She is indeed a bonny
lassie," answered the landlady, "and a guid lassie, too; and I hae nae
doot but, as ye are a single man, Maister Hardie, yer question is fair
enough. Her name is Margaret Lylestone, and she is the only bairn o’ a
puir infirm widow that cam to live here some twa or three years syne. They
cam frae south owre some way, and I am sure they hae seen better days. We
thocht at first that the auld woman had been a Catholic; but I suppose
that isna the case, though they certainly are baith o’ them strong
Episcopawlians, and in nae way favourable to the preachers or the word of
the Covenant; but I maun say for Maggy, that she is a bonny,
sweet-tempered, and obleeging lassie—though puir thing, her mother has
brocht her up in a wrang way."
Many days had not passed
ere Thomas Hardie, arrayed in his Sunday habiliments, paid another visit
to Westruther; and he cautiously asked of the goodwife of the hostel many
questions concerning Margaret, and although she jeered him, and said that
"Maggy would ne’er think o’ a grey-haired carle like him," he brooded over
the fond fancy; and, although on this visit he saw her not, he returned to
Tollishill, thinking of her as his bride. It was a difficult thing for a
man of fifty, who had been the companion of solitude from his youth
upwards, and who had lived in single blessedness amidst the silence of the
hills, without feeling the workings of the heart, or being subjected to
the influence of its passions—I say, it was indeed difficult for such a
one to declare, in the ear of a blooming maiden of eighteen, the tale of
his first affections. But an opportunity arrived which enabled him to
disembosom the burden that pressed upon his heart.
It has been mentioned that
Margaret Lylestone and her mother were poor; and the latter, who had long
been bowed down with infirmities, was supported by the industry of her
daughter. They had also a cow, which was permitted to graze upon the hills
without fee or reward; and, with the milk which it produced, and the
cheese they manufactured together with the poor earnings of Margaret,
positive want was long kept from them. But the old woman became more and
more infirm—the hand of death seemed stretching over her. She required
nourishment, which Margaret could not procure for her; and, that it might
be procured—that her mother might live and not die—the fair maiden sent
the cow to Kelso to be sold, from whence the seller was to bring with him
the restoratives that her parent required.
Now, it so was that Thomas
Hardie, the tenant of Tollishill, was in Kelso market when the cow of
Widow Lylestone was offered for sale; and, as it possessed the
characteristic marks of a good milcher, he inquired to whom it belonged.
On being answered, he turned round for a few moments, and stood
thoughtful; but again turning to the individual who had been. intrusted to
dispose of it, he inquired—
"And wherefore is she
"Really, Maister Hardie,"
replied the other, "I could not positively say, but I hae little doot it
is for want—absolute necessity. The auld woman’s very frail and very ill—I
hae to tak a’ sort o’ things oot to her the nicht frae the doctor’s after
selling the cow, and it’s no in the power o’ things that her dochter,
industrious as she is, should be able to get them for her otherwise."
Thomas again turned aside,
and drew his sleeve across his eyes. Having inquired the price sought for
the cow, he handed the money to the seller, and gave the animal in charge
to one of his herdsmen. He left the market earlier than usual, and
directed his servant that the cow should be taken to Westruther.
It was drawing towards
gloaming before Thomas approached the habitation of the widow; and before
he could summon courage to enter it for the first time, he sauntered for
several minutes, backward and forward on the moor, by the side of the
Blackadder, which there silently wends its way, as a dull and simple burn,
through the moss. He felt all the awkwardness of an old man struggling
beneath the influence of a young feeling. He thought of what he should
say, how he should act, and how he would be received. At length he had
composed a short introductory and explanatory speech which pleased him. He
thought it contained both feeling and delicacy (according to his notions
of the latter) in their proportions, and after repeating it three or four
times over by the side of the Blackadder, he proceeded towards the
cottage, still repeating it to himself as he went. But when he raised his
hand and knocked at the door, his heart gave a similar knock upon his
bosom, as though it mimicked him; and every idea, every word of the
introductory speech which he had studied and repeated again and again,
short though it was, was knocked from his memory. The door was opened by
Margaret, who invited him to enter. She was beautiful as when he first
beheld her—he thought more beautiful—for she now spoke to him. Her mother
sat in an arm-chair, by the side of the peat fire, and was supported by
pillows. He took off his bonnet, and performed an awkward, but his best
"I beg your pardon," said
he, hesitatingly, "for the liberty I have taken in calling upon you. But—I
was in Kelso the day—and"—He paused, and turned his bonnet once or twice
in his hands. "And," he resumed, "I observed, or rather I should say, I
learned that ye intended to sell your cow; but I also heard that ye was
very ill, and"—Here he made another pause. "I say I heard that ye was very
ill, and I thocht it would be a hardship for ye to part wi’ crummie, and
especially at a time when ye are sure to stand maist in need o’ every
help. So I bought the cow— but, as I say, it would be a very great
hardship for ye to be without the milk, and what the cheese may bring, at
a time like this; and, therefore, I hae ordered her to be brocht back to
ye, and ane o’ my men will bring her hame presently. Never consider the
cow as mine, for a bachelor farmer like me can better afford to want the
siller, than ye can to want yer cow; and I micht hae spent it far mair
foolishly, and with less satisfaction. Indeed, if ye only but think that
good I’ve dune, I’m mair than paid."
"Maister Hardie," said the
widow, "what have I, a stranger widow woman, done to deserve this kindness
at your hands? Or how is it in the power o’ words for me to thank ye? HE
who provideth for the widow and the fatherless will not permit you to go
unrewarded, though I cannot. O Margaret, hinny," added she, "thank our
benefactor as we ought to thank him, for I cannot."
Fair Margaret’s thanks were
a flood of tears.
"Oh, dinna greet!" said
Thomas; "I would ten times owre rather no hae bocht the cow, but hae lost
the siller, than I would hae been the cause o’ a single tear rowin down
yer bonny cheeks."
"O sir," answered the
widow, "but they are tears o’ gratitude that distress my bairn, and nae
tears are mair precious."
I might tell how Thomas sat
down by the peat fire between the widow and her daughter, and how he took
the hand of the latter, and entreated her to dry up her tears, saying that
his chief happiness would be to be thought their friend, and to deserve
their esteem. The cow was brought back to the widow’s, and Thomas returned
to Tollishill with the herdsman. But, from that night, he became almost a
daily visitor at the house of Mrs. Lylestone. He provided whatever she
required—all that was ordered for her. He spoke not of love to Margaret,
but he wooed her through his kindness to her mother. It was, perhaps, the
most direct avenue to her affections. Yet, it was not because Thomas
thought so that he pursued this course, but because he wanted confidence
to make his appeal in a manner more formal or direct.
The widow lingered many
months; and all that lay within the power of human means he caused to be
done for her, to restore her to health and strength, or at least to smooth
her dying pillow. But the last was all that could be done. Where death
spreadeth the shadow of his wing, there is no escape from sinking beneath
the baneful influence of its shade. Mrs. Lylestone, finding that the hour
of her departure drew near, took the hand of her benefactor, and when she
had thanked him for all the kindness which he had shown towards her she
"But, O sir, there is one
thing that makes the hand of death heavy. When the sod is cauld upon my
breast, who will look after my puir orphan—my bonny faitherless and
motherless Margaret? Where will she find a hame?"
"O Mem," said Thomas, "if
the like o’ me durst say it she needna hae far to gang, to find a hame and
a heart, too. Would she only be mine, I would be her protector—a’ that I
have should be hers."
A gleam of joy brightened
in the eyes of the dying widow. "Margaret!" she exclaimed faintly; and
Margaret laid her face upon the bed and wept. "O my bairn! my puir bairn!"
continued her mother, "shall I see ye protected and provided for, before I
am ‘where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest,’
which canna be lang noo?"
glistened in his eyes—he held his breath in suspense. The moment of trial,
of condemnation or acquittal, of happiness or misery, had arrived. With an
eager impatience he waited to hear her answer. But Margaret’s heart was
prepared for his proposal. He had first touched it with gratitude—he had
obtained her esteem; and where these sentiments prevail in the bosom of a
woman, whose affections have not been bestowed upon another, love is not
far distant—if it be not between them, and a part of both.
"Did ever I disobey you,
mother?" sobbed Margaret, raising her parent’s hand to her lips.
"No, my bairn, no!"
answered the widow. And raising herself in the bed, she took her
daughter’s hand and placed it in the hand of Thomas Hardie.
"Oh!" said he, "is this
possible? Does my bonny Margaret really consent to mak me the happiest man
on earth? Shall I hae a gem at Tollishill that I wadna exchange for a
It is sufficient to say
that the young and lovely Margaret Lylestone became Mrs. Hardie of
Tollishill; or, as she was generally called, "Midside Maggy."
Her mother died within three months after their marriage, but died in
peace, having, as she said, "seen her dear bairn blessed wi’ a leal and a
kind guidman, and ane that was weel to do."
For two years after their
marriage, and not a happier couple than Thomas and Midside Maggie was not
to be found on all the long Lammermoors, in the Merse, nor yet in the
broad Lothians. They saw the broom and the heather bloom in their season,
and they heard the mavis sing before their dwelling; yea, they beheld the
snow falling on the mountains, and the drift sweeping down the glens; but
while the former delighted, the latter harmed them not, and from all they
drew mutual joy and happiness. Thomas said that "Maggy was a matchless
wife; " and she, that "he was a kind, kind husband."
But the third winter was
one of terror among the hills. It was near the new year, the snow began to
fall on a Saturday, and when the following Friday came, the storm had not
ceased. It was accompanied by frost and a fierce wind, and the drift swept
and whirled like awful pillars of alabaster, down the hills, and along the
"Sweeping the flocks and
Fearful was the wrath of
the tempest on the Lammermoors. Many farmers suffered severely, but none
more severely than Thomas Hardie of Tollishill. Hundreds of his sheep had
perished in a single night. He was brought from prosperity to the brink of
But another winter came
round. It commenced with a severity scarce inferior to that which had
preceded it, and again scores of his sheep were buried in the snow. But
February had not passed, and scarce had the sun entered what is
represented as the astronomical sign of the two fish in the
heavens, when the genial influence of spring fell with almost summer
warmth upon the earth. During the night, the dews came heavily on the
ground, and the sun sucked it up in a vapour. But the herbage grew
rapidly, and the flocks ate of it greedily, and licked the dew ere the sun
rose to dry it up. It brought the murrain amongst them; they died by
hundreds; and those that even fattened, but did not die, no man would
purchase; or, if purchased, it was only upon the understanding that the
money should be returned if the animals were found unsound. These
misfortunes were too much for Thomas Hardie. Within two years he found
himself a ruined man. But he grieved not for the loss of his flocks, nor
yet for his own sake, but for that of his fair young wife, whom he loved
as the apple of his eye. Many, when they heard of his misfortunes, said
that they were sorry for bonny Midside Maggy.
But worse of all, the
rent-day of Thomas Hardie drew near, and, for the first time since he had
held a farm, he was unable to meet his landlord with the money in his
hand. Margaret beheld the agony of his spirit, and she knew its cause. She
put on her Sunday hood and kirtle; and professing to her husband that she
wished to go to Lauder, she took her way to Thirlestane Castle, the
residence of their proud landlord, before whom every tenant in arrear
trembled. With a shaking hand she knocked at the hall door, and with much
perseverance and entreaty, was admitted into the presence of the haughty
Earl. She curtsied low before him.
"Well, what want ye, my
bonny lass?" said Lauderdale, eyeing her significantly.
"May it please yer
Lordship," replied Margaret, "I am the wife o’ yer tenant Thomas Hardie o’
Tollishill; an’ a guid tenant he has been to yer Lordship for twenty years
and mair, as yer Lordship maun weel ken."
"He has been my tenant for
more than twenty years, say ye?" interrupted Lauderdale; "and ye say ye
are his wife, why, looking on thy bonny face, I should say that the
heather hasna bloomed twenty times on the knowes o’ Tollishill since thy
mother bore thee. Yet ye say ye are his wife! Beshrew me, but Thomas
Hardie is a man of taste. Arena ye his daughter?"
"No, my Lord; his first,
his only, an’ his lawfu’ wife— an’ I would only say, that to ye an’ yer
faither before ye, for mair than twenty years, he has paid his rent
regularly an’ faithfully; but the seasons hae visited us sairly, very
sairly, for two years successively, my Lord, an’ the drift has destroyed
an’ the rot rooted oot oor flocks, sae that we are hardly able to haud up
oor heads amang oor neebors, an’ to meet yer Lordship at yer rent-day is
oot o’ oor power; therefore, hae I come to ye to implore ye that we may
hae time to gather oor feet, an’ to gie yer Lordship an’ every man his
due? when it is in oor power."
"Hear me guidwife,"
rejoined the Earl; "were I to listen to such stories as yours, I might
have every farmer’s wife on my estates coming whimpering and whinging,
till I was left to shake a purse wi’ naething in’t, and allowing others
the benefit o’ my lands. But it is not every day that a face like yours
comes in the shape o’ sorrow before me, and, for a kiss o’ your cherry mou’,
(and ye may take my compliments to your auld man for his taste), ye shall
have a discharge for your half-year’s rent, and see if that may set your
husband on his feet again."
"Na, yer Lordship, na!"
replied Margaret; "it would ill become ony woman in my situation o’ life,
an’ especially a married ane, to be daffin wi’ sic as yer Lordship. I am
the wife o’ Thomas Hardie, wha is a guid guidman to me, an’ I cam here
this day to entreat ye to deal kindly wi’ him in the day o’ his
Lauderdale, who could feel the force of virtue in others, though he did
not always practice it in his own person—"I hae heard o’ the blossom o’
Tollishill before, and a bonny flower ye are to blossom in an auld man’s
bower, but I find ye modest as ye are bonny, an’ upon one condition will I
grant yer request. Ye hae tauld me o’ yer hirsels being buried wi’ the
drift, an’ that the snaw has covered the May primrose on Leader braes; now
it is Martinmas, an’ if in June, ye bring me a snowball, not only shall ye
be quit o’ yer back rent, but ye shall sit free in Tollishill until
Martinmas next. But see that in June ye bring me the snowball or the