Page images

verses which have made it so widely known; but nevertheless, although only in a slight degree associated with his name, visitors come from all quarters and gaze with a kind of reverence upon it and the humble thatch-covered cots by its side. From the elevated position, I descended to the main road which sweeps round the base of the hill, and toddled down to Willie's Mill, passing on my way the spot where Burns and Death are supposed to have "eased their shanks and held the memorable conversation about “Jock Hornbook i' the Clachan,” and the means he employed to foil the dread spectre of his prey. The seats are situated about halfway between the hill and the mill, and consist of a portion of rock which juts out from beneath a high hedge by the wayside, but whether it is due to enthusiastic visitors sitting down or the exertions of the boys that inould is prevented from gathering and grass growing on them I am not prepared to say, but I am a little suspicious that it is owing to the latter that they are so well preserved.

At the foot of the brae a small stream of water foamed from beneath the road and surged onward to a waterwheel laboriously revolving behind the mill a short distance off. Passing a byre and a thatch-covered dwelling-house I entered the mill, and found the miller and his man busy among sacks of grain ; but in answer to the question, anything connected with Burns here ?” they at once left off their labour and entered into conversation. 6 We have a barrow that was about the place when the friend of Burns leev'd in't," said a dusty denizen as he produced an oldfashioned two-wheeled hurly, whose moth-eaten spokes and trindles bespoke the tear and wear of former years.

“ In what way is it connected with Burns ?" said I. “Atweel, I dinna ken," was the reply, “but there's little doubt that Burns has often had it in his hand.” “O yes," added the miller, "an' a lady frae America wanted to buy it, an' gin I'd selt it she'd taen it hame wi' her." “ And what on earth would she have done with it?" I enquired. “0, she said that she would place the poet's portrait in't.” “ What!" I exclaimed, * place the portrait of the bard in a wheelbarrow!" and I laughed at the absurdity of the proposal. The miller proved racy of speech and very obliging. After pointing out that the mill was not wholly rebuilt as supposed, and showing

- Have you

me the water wheel, he accompanied me to the road and bade me a cordial good-bye.

The parish mill of Tarbolton-or“ Willie's Mill," as it is called—was for many years tenanted by Mr. William Muir, an intimate friend of the Burns family. The poet frequented it when residing in the neighbourhood, and on many occasions assisted his friend in the mill, and doubtless often used the barrow referred to in the laborious operation of shifting sacks from place to place. In fact, this is borne out by the interesting gleanings of the Rev. Hately Waddel, for, in referring to his gift of eloquence and story-telling, he says:“When assisting at the mill at 'hand-sifting' of the meal in trough, all hands got so absorbed in listening, that no sifting could proceed; in consequence of which the machinery in producing overtook the folks in removing, and a general block-up took place.”

“The late Mrs. Grannie Hay, aged 94 in 1866,” he also states, was servant at · Willie's Mill' at the age of 14 to 15. Her sister also followed her in the same place and situation. She remembered Burns distinctly as a tall, swarthy, and at that time rather spare young man, with long black hair on his shoulders, accustomed to ride to Tarbolton from Lochlea or Mossgiel on Freemason lodge nights or other special occasions. He rode booted ; he used to stable his horse at the mill ; was remarkably kind, pleasant, and affable, and 'straiket her head wi' his hand on the last occasion when she was there.' Her mistress, Mrs. Muir, was a superior woman; could read, write, and cipher easily; and was fit to maintain discourse with Burns on all topics, even on poems occasionally rehearsed by him at the tea-table at the mill : aye took his tea when he cani' about four hours.' He was a great frequenter o' kirks and preachings, baith at Tarbolton and round about, on which occasions he was often, almost invariably, accompanied by the miller himsel',' who had a taste for pulpit oratory, and was an unco judge o' doctrine.'

· Burns would speir in for him as he gaed by, and the gaed awa thegither.' On one special occasion Grannie Hay remembered well that Burns complained to the mistress of not being able to finish some song that had occurred to him on a Sabbath morning, in consequence of which he was afraid he could not attend church that day—' it wouldna be richt; he couldna hearken when he was fashed.' In despair, he rambled out by some dykeside, where he strolled alone 'till he got the sang a' right,' when he repaired to church as usual with the cheerfulness of relief and of a good conscience. This difficulty and deliverance, it appears, he related in Mrs. Hay's hearing with the simplicity of a boy that very mornin' at the mill afore they gaed up to the kirk !' One would give much to know what very song that was. His conversation then and always was cheerful, entertaining, and correctly


When the result of Jean Armour's second intimacy with the poet was discovered, she was driven from the dwelling of her incensed parents, and was left in a manner friendless and destitute. Finding her, says Burns in a letter to Mrs. Dunlop,

literally and truly cast out to the mercy of the naked elements," he took her under his charge, and, according to the writer from whom the above is quoted, secretly conveyed her to Tarbolton Mill, where she gave birth to twins under the superintendence and care of his friend and admirer, the miller's wife. She was a kind, motherly woman; and when Jean's marriage was made public went to Ellisland to “ brew the first peck o' maut” for the family and celebrate the home-coming

Grannie Hay had a vivid recollection of the circumstance, and informed the writer quoted above that “the visit was protracted for a fortnight, and was the cause of much offence to the old miller, who did not know of his wife's departure, and threatened to ding her wi' a stick when she cam hame. Na, he keepit his stick by the chimla-lug for twa or three days on purpose, but when he saw her coming down the road his han' trummilt, and he set by the stick, and didna ken what to do wi' her when she cam ben. But she was angry when he spiered at her afterhin' what,

way she gaed awa without telling him or asking his leave, and

mair angry words cam on baith han’s, and she wadna speak to him ony mair that night; but she spak' to me, and they war never sic guid friends after.' The miller, in fact, was much older than his wife, and her conduct in undertaking such a visit without his knowledge or permission was decidedly reprehensible. She left the mill, it appears, one afternoon when the old gentleman was asleep on the deas,' 'for fear he wad hinder her frae gangin' if he


waukenit.' Grannie Hay, who was an accomplice in the mistress's manoeuvre, was charged with the responsibility of appeasing his wrath when he awoke, and 'had ill doin' o't'!"

Burns kept up correspondence with Mrs Muir after his settlement in Ellisland, and, in recognition of her kindness to his Jean, presented her with a pair of silver sugar tongs, which she long treasured. On her death-bed, she gave them to Mrs Humphrey of Tarbolton. They afterwards came into the possession of her niece, Miss Ann Humphrey, but for a consideration she was induced to part with them, and they are now the property of Mr J. S. Gregory, Kilmarnock. Having had the pleasure of seeing them and hearing their history narrated, I may add that they are of plain make, and of the ordinary size. Over the bow the Poet's name is engraved in fac-simile of his hand-writing, and on each blade the names of the several possessors; and the dates on which the relic changed hands are inscribed in the same manner.

Upon returning to the village, I entered the Crown Inn for the purpose of recruiting my energies and enquiring about the memorabilia in possession of the brethren of St James' lodge. Here I was shown the chair Burns occupied when DeputeMaster, and also the minute book in which his bold signature repeatedly occurs as such. The jewel, or badge to which he alludes in his “Farewell” to the lodge, was put into my hand, as also another interesting relic in the shape of an autograph letter, dated Edinburgh, August 23rd, 1787. These, with a flag and a mallet, I think constitute the whole of the Burns relics in the possession of this lodge, and the brethren are justly proud of them, as they have every right to be.

After a rest, “a crack” (well, I may as well write it down), and a toothful of good malt liquor, I thanked the brethren in attendance for their courtesy, bade them good-bye, and crossed over to the Churchyard.

Like most places in the locality it has undergone a great change since the days of Burns. The dingy little building in which he worshipped is wholly removed, and a neat modern edifice, with an elegant spire and clock, erected in its stead. In pensive mood I wandered among the grassy hillocks and read semi-obliterated memorials of the now forgotten dead, for many of the tombstones are old and not a few bear curious and interesting devices. One near the church door deserves

more than passing notice, because it testifies that Tarbolton, like other districts in Ayrshire, shared in the perils of the Persecution. It bears the following inscription :

“ HERE LYS WILLIAM SHILLAW WHO WAS SHOT AT WOODHEAD BY LIEUT. LAUDER FOR HIS ADHEREANCE TO THE WORD OF GOD AND SCOTLAND'S COVENANTED WORK OF REFORMATION. 1688. ERECTED 1729. RENEWED, 1810, BY WILLIAM DRINNING.” Shillaw's name occurs in a list of Lieutenant Lauder's victims in the appendix to “The Cloud of Witnesses,” but in no other work to which I have had access is it mentioned, and curious enough, the circumstances of the martyr's death appear to have entirely worn out of the traditional mind.

Upon leaving the churchyard I commenced my homeward journey, but had not proceeded far when the ringing tones of an anvil smote my ear, and brought to mind the wellknown lines of the poet

“ When Vulcan gies the bellows breath,

And ploughmen gather wi' their graith." Being anxious to see if this village blacksmith was aught like the one Wordsworth describes, I looked in at the open door. He lifted his dusky visage, and with several onlookers glanced enquiringly at me.

“Is this the smithy where Burns got his. plough irons sharpened?” Ijocularly enquired. “Deed is't,” he replied, “an' he made a poem sittin' on that hearth there, an' wrote it on the slate on which my grandfather marked his jobs.” This was an unexpected discovery. “Do you know the name of that poem ?”. “Deed I dinna, though I should hae a copy o't somewhere; but the way it was, my father was for opening a shop, an' he askit Burns to make him twa or three lines mentioning the things he was gaun to sell, so that he might get them set owre his door, for it was customary in thae days to hae a verse o' poetry on a body's sign—so he sat doon an' wrote him aff a screed in which was named maist everything you could think on.”

Aye,” broke in a friend of the smith, * an' there's a poet here that's maist as guid as Burns himsel'." “ As Burns !" said I, “then I'd go a good way to see that chap-Where is he?" “O, he leeves about a mile

up that road; gin ye gang up you'll likely fin' him-he aye carries a pickle o' his poetry i'e his pouch.” After some further con

« PreviousContinue »