Never before published.
In this ballad the reader will find traces of a singular superstition,
not yet altogether discredited in the wilder parts of Scotland. The
lykewake, or watching a dead body, in itself a melancholy office, is
rendered, in the idea of the assistants, more dismally awful, by the
mysterious horrors of superstition. In the interval betwixt death and
interment, the disembodied spirit is supposed to hover around its mortal
habitation, and, if invoked by certain rites, retains the power of
communicating, through its organs, the cause of its dissolution. Such
enquiries, however are always dangerous, and never to be resorted to
unless the deceased is suspected to have suffered foul play, as it
is called. It is the more unsafe to tamper with this charm, in an
unauthorized manner; because the inhabitants of the infernal regions
are, at such periods, peculiarly active. One of the most potent
ceremonies in the charm, for causing the dead body to speak, is, setting
the door ajar, or half open. On this account, the peasants of Scotland
sedulously avoid leaving the door ajar, while a corpse lies in the
house. The door must either be left wide open, or quite shut; but the
first is always preferred, on account of the exercise of hospitality
usual on such occasions. The attendants must be likewise careful never
to leave the corpse for a moment alone, or, if it is left alone, to
avoid, with a degree of superstitious horror, the first sight of it.
The following story, which is frequently related by the peasants of
Scotland, will illustrate the imaginary danger of leaving the door ajar.
In former times, a man and his wife lived in a solitary cottage, on one
of the extensive border fells. One day, the husband died suddenly; and
his wife, who was equally afraid of staying alone by the corpse, or
leaving the dead body by itself, repeatedly went to the door, and
looked anxiously over the lonely moor, for the sight of some person
approaching. In her confusion and alarm, she accidentally left the door
ajar, when the corpse suddenly started up, and sat in the bed, frowning
and grinning at her frightfully. She sat alone, crying bitterly, unable
to avoid the fascination of the dead man's eye, and too much terrified
to break the sullen silence, till a catholic priest, passing over the
wild, entered the cottage. He first set the door quite open, then put
his little finger in his mouth, and said the paternoster backwards; when
the horrid look of the corpse relaxed, it fell back on the bed, and
behaved itself as a dead man ought to do.
The ballad is given from tradition.
Of a' the maids o' fair Scotland,
The fairest was Marjorie;
And young Benjie was her ae true love,
And a dear true love was he.
And wow! but they were lovers dear,
And loved fu' constantlie;
But ay the mair when they fell out,
The sairer was their plea. [A]
And they hae quarrelled on a day,
Till Marjorie's heart grew wae;
And she said she'd chuse another luve,
And let young Benjie gae.
And he was stout, [B] and proud-hearted,
And thought o't bitterlie;
And he's ga'en by the wan moon-light,
To meet his Marjorie.
"O open, open, my true love,
"O open, and let me in!"
"I dare na open, young Benjie,
"My three brothers are within."
"Ye lied, ye lied, ye bonny burd,
"Sae loud's I hear ye lie;
"As I came by the Lowden banks,
"They bade gude e'en to me.
"But fare ye weel, my ae fause love,
"That I hae loved sae lang!
"It sets [C] ye chuse another love,
"And let young Benjie gang."
Then Marjorie turned her round about,
The tear blinding her ee,—
"I darena, darena, let thee in,
"But I'll come down to thee."
Then saft she smiled, and said to him,
"O what ill hae I done?"
He took her in his armis twa,
And threw her o'er the linn.
The stream was strang, the maid was stout,
And laith laith to be dang, [D]
But, ere she wan the Lowden banks,
Her fair colour was wan.
Then up bespak her eldest brother,
"O see na ye what I see?"
And out then spak her second brother,
"Its our sister Marjorie!"
Out then spak her eldest brother,
"O how shall we her ken?"
And out then spak her youngest brother,
"There's a honey mark on her chin."
Then they've ta'en up the comely corpse,
And laid it on the ground—
"O wha has killed our ae sister,
"And how can he be found?
"The night it is her low lykewake,
"The morn her burial day,
"And we maun watch at mirk midnight,
"And hear what she will say."
Wi' doors ajar, and candle light,
And torches burning clear;
The streikit corpse, till still midnight,
They waked, but naething hear.
About the middle o' the night.
The cocks began to craw;
And at the dead hour o' the night,
The corpse began to thraw.
"O wha has done the wrang, sister,
"Or dared the deadly sin?
"Wha was sae stout, and feared nae dout,
"As thraw ye o'er the linn?"
"Young Benjie was the first ae man
"I laid my love upon;
"He was sae stout and proud-hearted,
"He threw me o'er the linn."
"Sall we young Benjie head, sister,
"Sall we young Benjie hang,
"Or sall we pike out his twa gray een,
"And punish him ere he gang?"
"Ye mauna Benjie head, brothers,
"Ye mauna Benjie hang,
"But ye maun pike out his twa gray een,
"And punish him ere he gang.
"Tie a green gravat round his neck,
"And lead him out and in,
"And the best ae servant about your house
"To wait young Benjie on.
"And ay, at every seven year's end,
"Ye'll tak him to the linn;
"For that's the penance he maun drie,
"To scug [E] his deadly sin."
Plea—Used obliquely for dispute.
Stout—Through this whole ballad, signifies haughty.
Sets ye—Becomes you—ironical.
Scug—shelter or expiate.