Peradventure there are few
of our readers who have not heard of "Polwarth on the Green" and the "Polwarth
Thorn." The song bearing the former title is certainly founded upon one of
the most popular traditions on the Borders. Since the commencement of this
publication, we have been many times requested to write a tale upon the
subject, and not less than thrice from different quarters within the last
seven days; and, as we are at all times anxious to meet the wishes of our
readers, we shall now endeavour to fulfil the request which has been made
There are none to whom the
traditions of other days are not interesting. They save from oblivion the
memory, the deeds, and the manners of our fathers. No nation is so sunk in
barbarity as to disregard them: the civilized European, and the Indian
savage, alike cherish them; and the poets of every land have wed them with
song. Yet nowhere are traditions more general or more interesting than
upon the Borders. Every grey ruin has its tale of wonder and of war. The
solitary cairn on the hillside, speaks of one who died for religion, or
for liberty, or belike for both. The very schoolboy passes it with
reverence, and can tell the history of him whose memory it perpetuates.
The hill on which it stands, is a monument of daring deeds, where the
sword was raised against oppression and where heroes sleep. Every castle
hath its legends, its tales of terror and of blood, "of goblin, ghost, or
fairy." The mountain glen, too, hath its records of love and warthere
history has let fall its romantic fragments, and the hills enclose them.
The forest trees whisper of the past; and, beneath the shadow of their
branches, the silent spirit of other years seems to sleep. The ancient
cottage, also, hath its traditions, and recounts
"The short and simple annals
of the poor."
Every family hath its
legends, which record to posterity the actions of their ancestors, when
the sword was law, and even the payment of rent upon the Borders was a
thing which no man understood; but, as Sir Walter Scott saith, "all that
the landlord could gain from those residing upon his estate, was their
personal service in battle, their assistance in labouring the land
retained in his natural possession, some petty quit-rents of a nature
resembling the feudal casualties, and perhaps a share in the spoil which
they acquired by rapine." Many of those traditions are calculated to melt
the maidens heart, to fill age with enthusiasm, and youth with love of
country.But to our story.
In the year 1470, John
Sinclair of Herdmanstone, in East Lothian, who was also Lord of
Kimmerghame and Polwarth, dying without male issue, the estate of
Kimmerghame descended to his daughter Marion, and that of Polwarth to her
sister Margaret. His heir-male was his brother, Sir William Sinclair, to
whom the estate of Herdmanstone fell. Sir William, as the uncle of the
co-heiresses, though not appointed as their guardian by their father, for
they were both well nigh of womans estate when he died, craftily took
upon himself that duty. He whispered to them that their estates were not
managed as they ought to bethat their bondmen did not perform the duty
required of themthat those they had set over their estates as stewards,
did not render them a faithful account of their stewardship. He insinuated
a thousand suspicions into their young minds, until their affairs
gradually fell into his hands, and he at length succeeded in gaining the
entire management of their estates; and he now required only to have the
disposal of their personal freedom. Men of power in those days were not
very scrupulous as to the means which they employed to obtain their
object; he who had a score of retainers, weighed the scales of life and
death in his hands. Nevertheless aware of the rank which his nieces held
in the estimation of his country, Sir William knew that it would not be
safe to venture upon making them prisoners by open violence. He,
therefore, courteously invited them to his house at Herdmanstone, where he
stated that the gayest and proudest company in broad Scotland would be
present to delight them. Marion, who was fond of amusements, was overjoyed
at the invitation; but her sister Margaret, who was of a graver
"Well, sister, I like not
your uncles kindnesssomething sinful seems to laugh in his looks; the
very movement of his lips bespeaks more than it reveals; confide in me,
dear sister, and distrust him. When I was but a child, playing
round our mothers knee, I have heard her say unto my fatherAh, John! I
like not your brother; there is a cunning in his looks, in his very words;
he cannot meet you with the straightforward gaze of an honest man; and
methinks he looks upon me as though he distrusted and hated me; yea, I
have often thought as though he were plotting evil against me. So our
mother was wont to say; and our father would reply Dear Elizabeth, think
not so cruelly of one who is so near and dear to me; trust me, that he
loves you and yours. It may be so, she would reply, but there is that
in his manner which I cannot overcome. Then our father would remain
silent for a time, and addWell, there is a want of frankness in Sir
William which becomes not a brother."
"Lull your suspicions, my
demure sister," the light-hearted Marion replied; "a thousand times have I
heard him say that no one but the boldest baron in all Scotland should wed
his niece, Marion."
"And he said truly,"
replied Margaret; "for if he have us once within his power, not even the
boldest knight in Scotland will be able to receive our hands, unless he
sue for it with gallant bowmen at his back, and the unsheathed sword to
enforce his suit."
"Oh, then, sister,"
subjoined Marion, "I suppose you have a knight at hand who would delight
in such handiwork; for is not Sir Patrick Hume of Wedderburn reputed to be
the most valorous knight upon the Borders, and withal the humble
worshipper of fair Margaret Sinclair of Polwarth."
And as the maiden spoke she
laughed, and tapped her sister good-naturedly upon the cheek. Margaret
blushed, and playfully replied"Well, sister, is there no valorous knight
at Wedderburn but Sir Patrick? What think ye of George Hume?"
"No more of this," cried
Marion; "let us accept our uncles invitation, and mingle with the gay
company he has invited to meet us."
"If you will have it so,
let it be so," replied Margaret; "but trust me, I fear that good will not
come of it."
On the following day they
set out upon their journey towards Herdmanstone, accompanied with only two
men-servants. Their uncle received them with a show of cordial friendship;
but the guests whom they expected to meet, they saw not, and they had been
but a few minutes beneath his roof, when they found themselves prisoners,
secured by gratings, bolts, and bars. On discovering the situation into
which they had been entrapped, Marion wept aloud, and accused herself of
being the unwitting author of her sisters captivity.
"Fear not," said Margaret;
"our uncle is a stern man, he is a man of blood, but there are as strong
hands as his, that will be raised to deliver the sisters of Kimmerghame
and Polwarth, when their captivity becomes known."
"But how will it be known?"
asked Marion; "for who knows that we are here?"
"Let us trust to Him who is
the orphans father," replied her sister, "and leave all to His good
"Amen," said the other; but
she sobbed bitterly as she spoke.
On the second day of their
imprisonment, their uncle entered the apartment where they were confined.
"Weel, maidens," said he
sternly, "how like ye your abode at Herdmanstone? I have observed the
slightfu een with which baith o you have looked upon your uncle, and now
that ye are in my power, ye shall repent the airs o disdain that ye hae
taken upon you. It becomes nae the blood o Polwarths to assume a
superiority over the house o Sinclair. So choose yethere are twa cousins
who are not very auld, but theyre growing; ye shall hae yer choice to
marry them, or the deepest dungeon in Herdmanstone shall be your doom.
Your destiny is placed in your own handsdecide it as will; but remember
that it is a Sinclair that never broke his word, that wags the finger o
fate over your heads. Eight days! eight days! Remember!" he repeated, and
"Now, you will despise me,
Margaret," said Marion, "for my maiden ambition has led us into this
trouble, yet will I rather be an inmate in our uncles dungeon, than be
the wife of the boy-husband he would assign me. Sister, will you not
"Upbraid you?" said the
calm and gentle Margaret, "stern as is our uncle, deadly as is his wrath,
I fear him not. The other day you spoke to me jeeringly of Sir Patrick
Humein the same strain I answered you respecting his brother George.
Eight days will not pass until Sir Patrick miss me from Polwarth, and
powerful as my uncle may be, bold and desperate as he is, I know that one
stone of Herdmanstone Castle will not be left standing upon another till
we are freed."
"You have a brave heart,
sister," said Marion, but it is small comfort to me, who must look upon
myself as the author of this disaster. And how think ye that Sir Patrick
or his brother George (if ye will speak o him) are to hear of our
confinement? Wot ye not, that they know not where we are; or if they
should know, they will not apprehend that evil could befal us in the house
of our relative!"
"I believe, Marion,"
answered Margaret, "that within the eight days which our uncle has named,
we shall either be at liberty, or have ceased to live. It is our lives
that he seeks, not that we should be the wives of his sons; rather than be
so wed, I will dieso will you. But, if we should die, our deaths would
not be unavenged. He would neither enjoy our estates, nor the triumph of
his guilt. Ye have heard the names of Patrick and George Hume of
Wedderburn spoken of as sounds of terror upon the Borders their swords
have avenged the injured, and released the captive Marion! they will
avenge our wrongsdear sister, be not afraid."
It was about daybreak on
the fourth day after their imprisonment, that a musician, who played upon
the Union or Northumbrian pipe of those days, approached beneath the
window of their apartment, and softly playing an air, accompanied it with
his voice, as follows:
Myheart is divided between
I dinna ken which I wad hae;
Right willing my heart I wad gie them
But how can I gie it to twa?
Theres Meggy, a fairer or better
Im certain there couldna weel be;
Dumfounderd the first time I met her,
What was sweet Marion to me!
Yet Marion is gentle and bonny,
I liked her ere Meggy I saw,
And they say it is sinfv. for ony
Man upon earth to like twa,
My heart it is ruggd and tormented,
Id live wi or die for them baith;
Ive dune what Ive often repented,
To baith I have plighted my faith.
And oft when Im walking with Meggy,
Ill say "Dear Marion," and start;
While fearfu shell say, "Weel, I ken ye
Hae ithers mair dear to your heart."
Was ever a man sae confounded?
I dinna ken what will be dune.
Baith sides o my bosom are wounded,
And theyll be the death o me sune.
"Hark!" said Marion, as she
listened to the strain of the minstrel, "itis the song of the
Egyptian thief, Johnny Faa, Mind ye since he sang it beneath our window at
"I remember it weel,"
replied Margaret; "but dinna call him thief, sister; for, be Johnny a king
or no a king, he is one that King James is glad to lift his bonnet to; and
I am sure that he means weel to us at present. Wheesht ye, Marion, and I
will whisper to him a low chaunt over the window." And in a low voice, she
Oh, saw ye my laddie comin, Johnny?
Oh, saw ye my laddie comin?
If yeve no seen him, tell him frae me,
That Im a wofu woman.
We here are sisters twa, Johnny,
Confined within this tower;
And ilka time the sun gaes down
It points to our death hour.
"I heard it rumoured, gentle
maiden," said the gipsy, gazing eagerly towards the window from whence
they looked, "that no good was intended ye in this place; and though it be
not in the power of Johnny Faa to bring to ye the assistance of his own
men, yet it strikes me there is ane, if no twa, maidens,
that I could bring to your rescue, and that wad make a clap o thunder
wring through the deepest cell in Herdmanstone."
"Thank ye, Johnny," replied
Margaret; "yere kind yere very kind; and if ye wad carry a bit scrap o
paper to Wedderburn Castle, greatly would ye aid a distressed damsel."
"I thank ye, my doo for relying on
the word and promise o John, king and lord o little Egypt. Little do
they ken me, and less is their knowledge o our race, who thinks that we
would look upon those who are wronged without seeing them righted. How I
heard of your imprisonment, or the wrong intended ye, never fash your
thumb; though a bird waffed it in my lugs wi its wings, though it chirped
it in them as it chirmed past me, it is enough that I ken of your wrongs,
and that I will assist ye. Trust me, maidens."
"I will trust ye," answered
"Dinna trust him, sister," said
Marion; "he may be some spy of our uncles."
"Of being a spy," cried the other,
"I dinna believe him capable. Stop, Johnny, or king, or whatever ye be,"
she added, "and I will throw ye a word or two to carry to Sir Patrick Hume
She addressed to him a few words,
and threw the paper which contained them into the hands of the gipsy.
"Bless ye for your confidence, my
bonny lassie!" said. Johnny Faa; "and before the sun gae down, Sir Patrick
Hume shall ken that theres ane that likes him pining in a captives
prison, wi none but ane that his brother likes to bear her company."
The gipsy king was mounted on an
active pony, and although it was without a saddle, and reined only by a
hempen bridle, he dashed off with it, at the pace of a fleet racer, and
directed his course towards the Lammermoors.
It was not noon when he arrived at
the Castle of Wedderburn. The porter at the gate retreated in terror as he
beheld him, for the name of the Faa king had become terrible on the
Borders, and even the king had been glad to grant him terms on his own
choosing. On being admitted to the presence of the knight"What is it, ye
vagrant loon," asked Sir Patrick, "that brings ye to venture within the
roof o honest men?"
"Honest!" said the gipsy"ha! ha!
ha! I daresay your honesty and mine is muckle about a par. Between us two
it is, take who can. Ye hae the bit land, Sir Patrick, but ye havena a
stronger or a more cunning hand, nor yet a sharper sword than the lord o
little Egypt. Therefore, speak at evens with me, lest ye rue it."
"And wherefore should I speak at
evens," answered Hume, "with the like o you, who are at best but the king
o gaberlunzie men."
"The mischief light on ye!" said the
gipsy; "ye have provoked me sair, and I have tholed wi your slights and
taunting; but try me not wi another word, lest ye rue it, Sir Patrick
Hume, and your brother rue it, and every Hume o the house o Wedderburn
shall be brought to cry dool, for refusing to listen to the words o
"And what wad ye say if ye had your
will, ye braggart knave?"cried the knight.
"Merely," retorted the gipsy, "that
there is a bonny lassie, ane who is owre guid to be the bride o sic
uncivil an individual as yoursel, now lying in durance, wi death or
perpetual imprisonment before her, while ye havena the courage to lift
your hand to her rescue."
"Of whom speak ye?" vociferated the
laird of Wedderburn.
"Who," rejoined the gipsy, slily,
"is nearest to your heart?who nearest to your door? Have you seen her
within these four days?"
"What!" exclaimed Sir Patrick,
"speak ye of my Margaret?"
"Of whom does your heart tell you
that I speak?" said Faa.
"It is then to her that you allude?"
cried Sir Patrick.
"Ay, it is to her," was the reply;
"and what knight are ye that would remain here idly within your castle,
while death threatens the maiden of your love?"
"Pardon me, stranger," said Sir
Patrick; "tell me where she is."
"Ye asked me to pardon ye now,"
answered the gipsy proudly; "ye knew me before, when the insult was
offered, ye know me still. It is not because ye bear a name powerful in
arms, nor yet that I have heard of your deeds of war that I come to you;
but it is because of the maiden who loves you as the Mayfly does the
summer sun. Margaret Sinclair and her sister are the prisoners of their
uncle, Sir William Sinclair of Herdmanstone. He has looked with an eye of
covetousness upon their estateshe longs to possess them; and, if they be
not yielded to him, the life of the fair owners now in his power must pay
The knight clasped the hand of the
gipsy. "Thank ye, thank ye," he cried; "I will reward ye for this act of
"You reward me!" shouted the gipsy
king, disdainfully, "think ye that when the king of Little Egypt does an
act of humanity or generosity, he is to be rewarded for it by a Scottish
knight! Away with ye, man! I spurn your thanks! I am as far above them as
the moon is above the glow-worm that glimmers on the grounday, as the sun
above the foetid matter from which it draws life. Know, then, that
Margaret Sinclair and her sister will die unless ye have courage to
release them, and that before another Sabbath shine a holiday to you."
Wedderburn held his hand in
thankfulness. "Forgive me, forgive me," he cried; "I have spoken unjustly
to one that has a soul within him, and who has sympathised for those in
whom my happiness is bound up. Again, I say, forgive me."
"Ye are forgiven," said the Faa;
"and if assistance be needed in the hour of peril, ye shall find willing
hands ready to help ye, though ye deserve it not."
So saying, the Faa beckoned his
hand, and withdrew from the presence of Hume. Sir Patrick bore the tidings
instantly to his brother; and, within two hours, a hundred of their
retainers stood armed around Wedderburn Castle. "To Herdmanstone!" was the
cry; "and the rescue of the lady love of the Lord of Wedderburn!"
"Ay, and for Marion, the maid of
Kimmerghame!" cried George, the brother of Sir Patrick; "and the Sinclairs
shall wear stout bucklers and belts to boot, that this sword pierce not."
The party being marshalled,
they took their way across the Lammermoors with the brothers Sir Patrick
and George Hume at their head. It was shortly after daybreak when they
appeared before Herdmanstone Castle; and the Lady Margaret was the first
to perceive their approach.
"Sister!" she cried;
"see! see! aid is at handthe banner of the Humes is waving over the
fields of Herdmanstone."
"Ye dream, sister!" said
Marion, starting from her couch.
"Nay, I dream not,"
retorted Margaret. "Arise; through the grey light I perceive the plume of
Sir Patrick Hume, and the gay jack which my sister wrought for his
Marion sprang forward to
the window where her sister stood; they thrust their hands from the
window, to encourage their deliverers to the rescue, while Sir Patrick and
his brother answered them back, crying"We come! we come! The haughty and
cruel Sinclair shall repent in blood."
The trumpets of the Humes
sounded; and, as if prepared for the approaching conflict, within a few
minutes, more than fifty retainers of Sir William Sinclair were in arms.
Ignorant of the number of their foes, they rushed forth to meet them, hand
to hand, and sword to sword. Long the strife was desperateit was even
doubtful; but, at length, superiority of numbers, on the part of the Humes,
prevailed; the retainers of Sir William were routed in all directions, and
his castle was assailed, even to its threshold. "To the rescue of the fair
maidens!" shouted the Humes. Independent of the immediate retainers of Sir
William Sinclair, however, his neighbours came to his aid, and although
they were, at first, as two to one, the conflict had not lasted long when
the Humes became the weaker party. The battle raged keenlyswords were
broken in the grasp of their ownersthe strong warhorse kicked upon the
ground, in the agony of death, indenting the earth with its hoofs as it
died, leaving the impression of its agonytheir wounded men grappled with,
and reviled each other, as though they had been foreigners or
aliensspears were broken, and shields clanked against each otherwhile
the war-shout and the dying groan mingled together. Victory seemed still
to be doubtful; for though the Humes fought bravely, and their leaders led
them on as with the heroism of despair, yet every minute the numbers of
their adversaries increased, while theirs, if the expression might be
used, became fewer and more few.
Yet there were two
spectators of the conflict who beheld it with feelings that may not, that
cannot be described. Now the one beheld the plume which she had adorned
for her betrothed husband, severed by the sword of an enemy; while the
other saw the gay jerkin, which she had weaved tarnished with blood. They
perceived, also what we might term the ebbing and the flowing of the
deadly feudthe retreating and the driving back; and they were spectators
also of the wounded, the dying, and the dead. They saw the party in whom
their hopes were fixed, gradually over-poweredthey beheld them fall back
beneath the swords of their opponents, disputing inch by inch as they
retired, and their hearts fell within them. When hope, fear, and anxiety
were wrought to their highest point of endurance, and the party in whom
their trust lay seemed to be vanquished, andwere driven back, at
that period, Johnny Faa, and a number of his followers rushed to their
"Hurra!" exclaimed the
wanderers, "for the braw lasses o Polwarth and Kimmerghame! Fight, ye
Humes! Fight! There is a prize before ye worthy a clour on the crown, or
even a stab through the brasket."
The approach of the Faa
king turned the tide of victory, and his followers shouted"The bonny
lasses o Polwarth and Kimmerghame shall be free!"
"For ever, ay, and a day
after it," cried Sir William, "shall the man inherit a cows mailing, and
a cow to boot, upon the Lands o Herdmanstone, who this day brings me upon
his sword, the head o one o the birkies o Wedderburn." Sir William,
however, became a suppliant for mercy beneath the red sword of Patrick
Hume; and his life being granted, the Sinclairs gave their arms into the
hands of their opponents. The young brothers each rushed into the house,
to the rescue of the captive damsels; and Margaret and Marion each fell
upon the neck of the man she loved.
On arriving at Polwarth,
they were met by the glad villagers with whom the fair ladies joined
hands, and they danced together in gleeful joy around a thorn tree, upon
the village green.
In a few weeks, each of the
maidens gave her hand to her delivererMargaret to Sir Patrick, and Marion
to his brother George. On their marriage-day, the dance around the thorn
upon the green was resumed, and a festive crowd tripped joyously around
it, blessing the bride of Polwarth and her fair sister, Marion of
Kimmerghame; and the music to which they that day danced, proceeded from
the pipes of king Johnny Faa, who, with half-a-dozen of his people, sat
each with a pair of union pipes beneath his arm, and discoursing "most
eloquent music," without "fee, favour, or reward," save that they were
partakers of the good things which were that day plentifully circulated
upon Polwarth green.
In concluding this account
of the co-heiresses of Polwarth and Kimmerghame, it is only necessary to
add that, from her union with Hume of Wedderburn, the fair Margaret became
the progenitor of the future Earls of Marchmont.
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