This ballad was communicated to me by Mr Kirkpatrick Sharpe of Hoddom,
who mentions having copied it from an old magazine. Although it has
probably received some modern corrections, the general turn seems to
be ancient, and corresponds with that of a fragment, containing the
following verses, which I have often heard sung in my childhood:—
She set her back against a thorn,
And there she has her young son borne;
"O smile nae sae, my bonny babe!
"An ye smile sae sweet, ye'll smile me dead."
Stories of this nature are very common in the annals of popular
superstition. It is, for example, currently believed in Ettrick Forest,
that a libertine, who had destroyed fifty-six inhabited houses, in order
to throw the possessions of the cottagers into his estate, and who added
to this injury, that of seducing their daughters, was wont to commit, to
a carrier in the neighbourhood, the care of his illegitimate children,
shortly after they were born. His emissary regularly carried them away,
but they were never again heard of. The unjust and cruel gains of the
profligate laird were dissipated by his extravagance, and the ruins of
his house seem to bear witness to the truth of the rhythmical prophecies
denounced against it, and still current among the peasantry. He himself
died an untimely death; but the agent of his amours and crimes survived
to extreme old age. When on his death-bed, he seemed much oppressed in
mind, and sent for a clergyman to speak peace to his departing spirit:
but, before the messenger returned, the man was in his last agony;
and the terrified assistants had fled from his cottage, unanimously
averring, that the wailing of murdered infants had ascended from behind
his couch, and mingled with the groans of the departing sinner.
An' when that lady went to the church,
She spied a naked boy in the porch,
"O bonnie boy, an' ye were mine,
"I'd clead ye in the silks sae fine."
"O mither dear, when I was thine,
"To me ye were na half sae kind."
Fair lady Anne sate in her bower,
Down by the greenwood side,
And the flowers did spring, and the birds did sing,
'Twas the pleasant May-day tide.
But fair lady Anne on sir William call'd,
With the tear grit in her e'e,
"O though thou be fause, may heaven thee guard,
"In the wars ayont the sea!"
Out of the wood came three bonnie boys,
Upon the simmer's morn,
And they did sing, and play at the ba',
As naked as they were born.
"O seven lang year was I sit here,
"Amang the frost and snaw,
"A' to hae but ane o' these bonnie boys,
"A playing at the ba'."
Then up and spake the eldest boy,
"Now listen, thou fair ladie!
"And ponder well the read that I tell,
"Then make ye a choice of the three.
"'Tis I am Peter, and this is Paul,
"And that are, sae fair to see,
"But a twelve-month sinsyne to paradise came,
"To join with our companie."
"O I will hae the snaw-white boy,
"The bonniest of the three."
"And if I were thine, and in thy propine, [A]
"O what wad ye do to me?"
"'Tis I wad clead thee in silk and gowd,
"And nourice thee on my knee."
"O mither! mither! when I was thine,
"Sic kindness I could na see.
"Before the turf, where I now stand,
"The fause nurse buried me;
"Thy cruel penknife sticks still in my heart,
"And I come not back to thee."
Propine—Usually gift, but here the power of giving or