Page images
PDF
EPUB

opportunities of a noontide walk that a country life affords her laborious sons, he spent on the banks of the river, or in the woods, in the neighbourhood of Stair, a situation peculiarly adapted to the genius of a rural bard. Some book he always carried and read when not otherwise employed.”

The main artery of the village possesses a very rural appearance, being lined on either side with unassuming dwellings, most of which are of one storey and thatch-roofed. At the Cross—a rather confined place of the kind—there is an old-fashioned two-storied house that to all appearance has seen better days. The signboard above its door intimates that James M-Connachie retails spirits, porter, and ales in the interior ; but there is something of a deeper interest associated with it. It was the principal inn in the village when our Poet resided in the farm of Lochlea, and was kept by John Richard, who was an intimate friend of the bard.

In a hall attached to this house Burns often “presided o'er the sons of light,” and “spent the festive night” with the “ brethren of the mystic tie.” In it he took his tearful farewell of the fraternity, and bade them "a heart-warm fond adieu ” when about to proceed to Jamaica. When Robert Chambers visited Tarbolton he conversed with a shoemaker named John Lees, who recollected the parting. Burns,"

came in buckskin breeks, out of which he would always pull the other shilling for the other bowl, till it was five in the morning. An awfu' night that."

The debating club and dancing school in which Burns took an active part were also held in this house. In the “History of the rise, proceedings, and regulations” of the club, I find that the first meeting was held in the house of John Richard, upon the evening of the 11th of November, 1780, commonly called Hallowe'en, and that Robert Burns was chosen president for the night.

The club met every fourth Monday night to debate questions raised by the mem

and as no one was allowed to spend more than threepence at one sitting, the potations must have been scant indeed. The poet and his brother Gilbert continued members till they left the parish.

When attending the dancing school, Burns made sad havoc among “the Tarbolton lasses,” or rather they made sad havoc of him. To one reigning predominant in his affections at the

he said,

bers ;

time, he addressed the beautiful song of “Mary Morison.”

“ Yestreen when to the trembling string,

The dance gaed through the lighted ha',
To thee my fancy took its wing-

I sat, but neither heard nor saw.
Though this was fair, and that was braw,

And yon the toast of a' the town,
I sighed, and said amang them a'

Ye are na Mary Morison." Mrs Begg, the poet's sister, had a vivid recollection of the dancing school. Robert Chambers says : “ There could not well be any objection on his father's part to his acquiring this accomplishment (dancing), for Gilbert and the two eldest sisters, Agnes and Annabella, besides their ploughman, Willie Miller, all attended likewise.

On a practising ball occurring, Burns paid Willie's expenses, that he might have Janet Brown as a partner, so as to enable the bard to have as his partner some other lass who was then reigning in his affections.

Being anxious to see the interior of this humble hostel, I entered, and was cordially received by the landlady, a lively little Irishwoman, but learned nothing beyond the fact that she had heard that Burns frequented the house “in oulden times," and that he attended the Lodge St. James when it met in a room up stairs. The information was meagre indeed, but I felt gratified to be in a place where he had been, and perhaps this caused me to linger longer in the little low-roofed apartment into which I was shown than I otherwise would have done.

Upon leaving the hostel, I sought the back of the premises, ascended an outside stair, and tapped gently at a porched door. It was opened by a neatly dressed woman, who invited me in, with all the frankness of an old acquaintance, the instant the name of a Kilmarnock friend was mentioned. “So this is the old dancing hall,” said I, by way of introduction. “ 'Deed is't, and but little altered since Rabbie danced in't,” said she ; “but to make it habitable, a partition was run through it, as you see, an' noo it serves for baith room an' kitchen.” “Ănd a comfortable one, too, to all appearance," I rejoined ; “but what proof have you that Burns danced on this floor and presided over the sons of light

within these walls ?” “Plenty o'proof,” she replied, smiling -“my great grandfather, John Richard, kept the inn in the front there, in the time of Burns, an’ was weel acquaint wi' him. Besides, my grandfather, William Dick, ran wi' Rabbie, and the only wonder is that he's no mentioned in ony o' his poems, for he blackfitted him to Highland Mary an' a lass in the Bennels ca'd Leezie Paton, who had a wean to him, and to whom he addressed the sang beginning

• From thee, Eliza, I must go,

And from my native shore;
The cruel fates between us throw

A boundless ocean's roar. “Really!" I replied, “but the heroine of that song is supposed to have borne the name of Betty Miller-she figured as one of the Mauchline belles." “ That may be," she sharply answered, “ but her name was Paton.” And Paton my friend stuck to, and perhaps she is right after all, for, according to Motherwell, some discrepancy of opinion exists as to the heroine of the song. Cunninghame affirms that she was an Elizabeth Black, who early became acquainted with Burns and made no small impression on his heart, and possessed several love epistles he had addressed to her. Despite this, I have more faith in family tradition than in any printed statement. During the time I remained in the old hall, my friend entertained me with many anecdotes of “ Rabbie," and showed me a flagstaff which the lodge St. James owned when Burns took an active part in it, and also the Bible of her great grandfather, a curiosity in its way. It bears the following :-“ John Richard, his book. God gave him

grace to make a good use of it.” I spent a pleasant hour in the snug dwelling, and will not readily forget the hospitality and kindness of the good lady.

CHAPTER XII.

HOODSHILL-AN ANCIENT CUSTOM—THE SCENE OF DEATH AND DR.

HORNBOOK "_" WILLIE'S MILL”-GRANNIE HAY'S RECOLLEC-
TIONS OF BURNS AND THE MILLER'S WIFE-A SOUVENIR OF

THEIR TRIENDSHIP-TARBOLTON CHURCH AND CHURCHYARD

THE VILLAGE SMITHY

-A

WALK TO TORRCROSS AND ITS овJECT — BROTHER BURNS -FAIL CASTLE-THE FRIARS-THE WARLOCK LAIRD AND HIS CANTRIPS-ADAM HILL-HOME AGAIN,

Few streets are more intimately associated with the memory of Robert Burns than that which branches off Tarbolton Cross. It very appropriately bears his name, and was often traversed by him when residing at Lochlea and Mossgiel. In fact, it was and still is the direct line of communication between these farms and the clachan, which, as we have seen, was a favourite resort of his when residing in the neighbourhood. Being aware that the poet toddled down it when returning from the Masonic meeting at which he had the famous dispute with the village pedagogue that provoked the satire of “Death and Dr. Hornbook," I did the

same,

and soon arrived at a humble thatched cottage which stands at the right hand corner of its extremity. It is now occupied as a dwelling-house, but it was at one time a portion of a noted inn, and is now memorable as the house wherein the brethren of St. David's lodge of Freemasons held their meetings and initiated the bard into the mysteries of their craft. Mr. Neil Murchy, who is in possession of the chair, toddy ladle, and drinking glass of this the mother lodge of Robert Burns, kindly allowed me to inspect the old minutebook of the society, and from it the following interesting extract is taken:-“Sederunt for July 4th (1781) -Robert Burns, in Lochly, was entered an apprentice.-Signed, Joseph Nor

“Sederunt, October 1st, 1781. -Robert Burns, in Lochly, was passed and raised, Henry Cowan being master,

man."

[ocr errors]

James Humphrey being senior warden, and Alexander Smith, junior; and Robert Wodrow, secretary; and F. Manson, treasurer ; and John Tannock, James Taylor, and others of the brethren being present.-Joseph Norman, W.M.”

At the cot referred to, a road turns abruptly to the right and winds round the base of a lofty green mound from which the village takes its name. Paterson affirms in his history of the county that it was used as a place of Pagan worship long before the era of Christianity, and goes on to say that it would seem, from the remains of trenches, that it had been used as an encampment, probably by the ancient Britons, or during the Scoto-Irish wars. It is more certain, however, that it was the hill on which the open Courts of Justice, or Justice-aires of the district, were regularly held, and that fire worship was practised on it is probable from the immemorial custom of the annual kindling of bonfires near its summit.

On the evening preceding the Tarbolton June Fair a piece of fuel is demanded [by the boys of the village] at each house, and is invariably given by the poorest inhabitant. The fuel so collected is carried to a particular part of the hill where there is an altar or circular fire-place of turf about three feet in height, and is placed upon the altar.

A huge bonfire is kindled, and many of the inhabitants, old and young, men and women, assemble on the hill and remain for hours apparently chiefly occupied with observing a feat performed by the youths who are to be seen leaping with inde fatigable zeal upon the altar or turf wall enclosing the ashes of former fires and supporting the present one.”+ Instead of going “round about the hill,” as Burns tells us he did when he had the imaginary interview with Death, I turned into a path fronting a row of unpretentious dwellings and ascended to the top of the mound, for from it an excellent view of Willie's Mill and its surroundings is obtained. This celebrated building stands in a vale on the banks of the Fail and is little more than three hundred yards from the village, but, saving the name, it is wholly changed since the days of the poet, and I suppose no more like the place he frequented than the farm-steading is where he dwelt and composed the

* Tor, or Thor-Bol-ton, or town, is the Town at Baal's hill, i.e, the town at the hill where Baal was worshipped.-New Statistical Account.

of Ibid.

« PreviousContinue »