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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
Heather Jock, the Gaberlunzie Man


"Heather Jock's noo awa',
Heather Jock's noo awa';
The muircock noo may crousely craw
Since Heather Jock's noo awa'."

HIS NAME WAS WILLIAM BRODIE, BUT over all the westland he was known as Heather Jock. For "Heather Jock" was his favourite song, and there are few towns and villages in the west where it was not known. To suit the action to the song, Jock wore a kenspeckle bonnet all over with feathers and brooches and bonny blooms of heather. The bonnet had been at Waterloo on the head of a gallant Scots Grey, when the brave fellows charged at the gallop against the troops of Bonaparte. And when the trooper came home he tossed his busby to Heather Jock for an old song. Jock decked it out with heather, which he gathered on the Gleniffer Braes. He added tinsel brooches, which for many a day he carried in his wallet for the country lasses to buy; and with the brass strap beneath his chin, and the geegaws shaking and shining among the heathery headgear above, he would toss his head at the women and bairns right gallantly when he was singing his songs.

But Heather Jock had his wand of office too, as large and gorgeous as any bishop's crozier. A long strong stick it was, with a heart-shaped disc fastened on the top,and seven or eight small bells below which he jangled merrily when he sang. On one side of the disc was painted a gamecock crowing, and this was doubtless the symbol of his own song:—

"The muircock noo may crousely craw
Since Heather Jock's noo awa'."

In his bien days Jock wore a long blue coat with flying tails and brass buttons—so with the heather bonnet, the long bell-bedecked stick, and the blue-tailed coat, there was none so gay as he at country fairs or feeing markets.

But Jock himself was far more namely than his dress. A douce, temperate, decent body, well-built and soople, with a face that was a cross betwixt a Roman Emperor and a Red Indian chief's, his clear blue eye could search a crowd like a lantern on a dark night.

Like many another wise-like man, Heather Jock was a Paisley body, born at Seestu in the year 1802. He tried the weaving shop and the calico printing as a laddie, but the gangrel blood was in his veins, so he took to the road with a pack on his back, and joined the ranks of the gaberlunzie men. Like other folk, he fell in love with his own "Bonnie Annie Laurie," and at Brig o' Weir set up his house. His homecoming was aye to the Brig o' Weir until he himself, without any of his oft-repeated play-acting of the part, "lay doun to dee"; and so those of us who were born in the next parish, among the habbies of Kilbarchan, have often seen and heard tell of Heather Jock in the days of long ago.

But the pack failed, because Jock, in his simplicity, was oftener sold than his wee bit wares. He took to the life of a stravaiging singer then, and went the round of all the west-country fairs and markets. He was never a robustious singer, but what he lacked in voice he made up in dress and play-acting, and could suit the action to the word better than most.

I can hear his high-set, weak, quavering voice yet, as the old gaberlunzie, with a group of open-mouthed, wondering bairns round him, would sing the last line of "Annie Laurie," and then lie quietly down with his eyes shut on the dusty road between Johnstone and Kilbarchan, not far from Storey's sweetie shop. Ah, Heather Jock, there were many of us standing round you on the road that thought you were away with it altogether, and we were well pleased when at last you opened your eyes and got on to your feet again! For bairns are believing creatures.

But Heather Jock was at his best when he sang "What do you think o' my lang tail blue?" Then, indeed, the bairns were merry. For, throwing all his humour into the song, Jock would catch up the tail of his own blue coat and make a sign for the nearest bairn to follow suit, singing all the while, "What do you think of my lang tail blue?" Then the children would catch up each other's coats, beginning with the coat of the one who was holding on to Jock's own royal blue tails, till round and round in a circle on the road went a train of merry bairns, with Jock in front, jingling his bells and shaking his glittering heather bonnet, and all together singing the chorus, with a ripple of laughter and glee: "What do you think of my lang tail blue?"

Oh, simple, happy Heather Jock, many a greyhead to-day can mind those happy days of breeks and pinafores when you garred their bairn-eyes greet with your pathos and twinkle again with your fun.

It was perhaps the drollest thing about Heather Jock that, being the simplest and most honest of men himself, he should be nicknamed after a song that records the misdeeds of a thieving rascal.

The Gundy Man

This is the song of "Heather Jock," which the old gaberlunzie made his own:—

"Heather Jock was stark and grim,
Faucht wi' a' would fecht wi' him;
Swank and supple, sharp and thin,
Fine for gaun against the win'.
Tawnie face and tousie hair,
In his cleading unco bare,
Cursed and swore whene'er he spoke,
Nane could equal Heather Jock.

Jock kent ilka bore and bole,
Could creep through a wee bit hole,
Quietly pilfer eggs and cheese,
Dunts o' bacon, skeps o' bees;
Sip the kirn and steal the butter,
Nail the hens without a flutter;
Na! the watchfu' wily cock
Durstna craw for Heather Jock.

Eppie Blaikie lost her goun
She cost sae dear at borough toun:
Sandy Tamson's Sunday wig
Left the hoose to run the rig;
Jenny Baxter's blankets a'
Took a thocht to slip awa';
And a' the weans' bit printed frocks—
Wha was thief but Heather Jock?

Jock was nae religious youth,
For at the priest he thrawed his mooth;
He wadna say a grace nor pray,
He played his pipes on Sabbath day;
Robbed the kirk o' bann and book.
Everything would lift—he took;
He didna lea' the weather-cock,
Sic a thief was Heather Jock.

Nane wi' Jock could draw a tricker,
'Mang the moorfowl he was sicker;
He watched the wild ducks at the springs
And hang'd the hares on hempen strings,
Blass'd the burns and speer'd the fish,
Jock had mony a dainty dish—
The best o' moorfowl and black cock
Aye graced the board o' Heather Jock.

Nane wi' Jock had ony say
At the nieve or cudgel play.
Jock for bolt nor bar e'er staid,
Till ance the jail his courage laid;
Then the judge, without delay,
Sent him aff to Botany Bay,
And bade him mind the laws he broke,
And never mair play Heather Jock.

Heather Jock's noo awa',
Heather Jock's noo awa',
The muircock noo may crousely craw
Since Heather Jock's noo awa'."

But Heather Jock came at last to the end of his own song, and when he was too frail and weak to perform his daft-like tricks or sing his play-acting ballads, he took to the pack again, and pottered round the countryside selling needles and thread, lace and ribbons and stay bones. And last of all he laid down his pack, and in his own bairn's house at Brig o' Weir, in the year of grace 1885, Heather Jock passed along the dark road which kings and cadgers must travel to find the light on the other side, singing "The Land o' the Leal."


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