The hero of this ballad appears to have been an outlaw and deer-stealer — probably one of the broken men residing upon the border. There are several different copies, in one of which the principal personage is called Johnie of Cockielaw. The stanzas of greatest merit have been selected from each copy. It is sometimes said, that this outlaw possessed the old castle of Morton, in Dumfries-shire, now ruinous:—“Near to this castle there was a park, built by Sir Thomas Randolph, on the face of a very great and high hill; so artificially, that, by the advantage of the hill, all wild beasts, such as deers, harts, and roes, and hares, did easily leap in, but could not get out again; and if any other cattle, such as cows, sheep, or goats, did voluntarily leap in, or were forced to do it, it is doubted if their owners were permitted to get them out again.”—Account of Presbytery of Penpont, apud Macfarlane’s MSS. Such a park would form a convenient domain to an outlaw’s castle, and the mention of Durrisdeer, a neighbouring parish, adds weight to the tradition. I have seen, on a mountain near Callendar, a sort of pinfold, composed of immense rocks, piled upon each other, which, I was told, was anciently constructed for the above-mentioned purpose. The mountain is thence called Uah var, or the Cove of the Giant.
Johnie rose up in a May morning,
Called for water to wash his hands —
“Gar loose to me the gude graie dogs
“That are bound wi’ iron bands,”
When Johnie’s mother gat word o’ that,
Her hands for dule she wrang —
“O Johnie! for my benison,
“To the grenewood dinna gang!
“Eneugh ye hae o’ the gude wheat bread,
“And eneugh o’ the blude-red wine;
“And, therefore, for nae venison, Johnie,
“I pray ye, stir frae hame.”
But Johnie’s busk’t up his gude bend bow,
His arrows, ane by ane;
And he has gane to Durrisdeer
To hunt the dun deer down.
As he came down by Merriemass,
And in by the benty line,
There has he espied a deer lying
Aneath a bush of ling.305
Johnie he shot, and the dun deer lap,
And he wounded her on the side;
But, atween the water and the brae,
His hounds they laid her pride.
And Johnie has bryttled306 the deer sae weel,
That he’s had out her liver and lungs;
And wi’ these he has feasted his bludy hounds,
As if they had been erl’s sons.
They eat sae much o’ the venison,
And drank sae much o’ the blude,
That Johnie and a’ his bludy hounds
Fell asleep, as they had been dead.
And by there came a silly auld carle,
An ill death mote he die!
For he’s awa to Hislinton,
Where the Seven Foresters did lie.
“What news, what news, ye gray-headed carle,
“What news bring ye to me?”
“I bring nae news,” said the gray-headed carle,
“Save what these eves did see.
“As I came down by Merriemass,
“And down amang the scroggs,307
“The bonniest childe that ever I saw
“Lay sleeping amang his dogs.
“The shirt that was upon his back
“Was o’ the Holland fine;
“The doublet which was over that
“Was o’ the lincome twine.
“The buttons that were on his sleeve
“Were o’ the goud sae gude;
“The gude graie hounds he lay amang,
“Their months were dyed wi’ blude.”
Then out and spak the First Forester,
The held man ower them a’—
If this be Johnie o’ Breadislee,
“Nae nearer will we draw.”
But up and spak the Sixth Forester,
(His sister’s son was he)
“If this be Johnie o’ Breadislee,
“We soon snall gar him die!”
The first flight of arrows the Foresters shot,
They wounded him on the knee;
And out and spak the Seventh Forester,
“The next will gar him die.”
Johnie’s set his back against an aik,
His fute against a stane;
And he has slain the Seven Foresters,
He has slam them a’ but ane.
He has broke three ribs in that ane’s side,
But and his collar bane;
He’s laid him twa-fald ower his steed,
Bade him cany the tidings hame.
“O is there na a bonnie bird,
“Can sing as I can say;
“Could flee away to my mother’s bower,
“And tell to fetch Johnie away?”
The starling flew to his mother’s window stane,
It whistled and it sang;
And aye the ower word o’ the tune
Was —“Johnie tarries lang!”
They made a rod o the hazel bush,
Another o’ the slae-thorn tree,
And mony mony were the men
At fetching our Johnie.
Then out and spak his auld mother,
And fast her tears did fa’—
“Ye wad nae be warned, my son Johnie,
“Frae the hunting to bide awa.
“Aft hae I brought to Breadislee,
“The less gear308 and the mair,
“But I ne’er brought to Breadislee,
“What grieved my heart sae sair!
“But wae betyde that silly auld carle!
“An ill death shall he die!
“For the highest tree in Merriemass
“Shall be his morning’s fee.”
Now Johnie’s gude bend bow is broke,
And his gude graie dogs are slain;
And his body lies dead in Durrisdeer,
And his hunting it is done.
305 Ling— Heath.]
306 Brytlled— To cut up venison. See the ancient ballad of Chevy Chace, v. 8.]
307 Scroggs— Stunted trees.]
308 Gear— Usually signifies goods, but here spoil.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00