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Tales from Scottish Ballads

The following is from Tales from Scottish Ballads by Elizabeth W. Grierson:

The Heir of Linne

"Lithe and listen, gentlemen,
  To sing a song I will beginne;
It is of a lord of faire Scotland,
  Which was the unthrifty heire of Linne."

There was trouble in the ancient Castle of Linne. Upstairs in his low-roofed, oak-panelled chamber the old lord lay dying, and the servants whispered to one another, that, when all was over, and he was gone, there would be many changes at the old place. For he had been a good master, kind and thoughtful to his servants, and generous to the poor. But his only son was a different kind of man, who thought only of his own enjoyment; and John o' the Scales, the steward on the estate, was a hard task-master, and was sure to oppress the poor and helpless when the old lord was no longer there to keep an eye on him.

By the sick man's bedside sat an old nurse, the tears running down her wrinkled face. She had come to the castle long years before, with the fair young mistress who had died when her boy was born. She had taken the child from his dying mother's arms, and had brought him up as if he had been her own, and many a time since he became a man she had mourned, along with his father, over his reckless and sinful ways.

Now she saw nothing before him but ruin, and she shook her head sadly, and muttered to herself as she sat in the darkened room.

"Janet," said the old lord suddenly, "go and tell the lad to speak to me. He loves not to be chided, and of late years I have said but little to him. It did no good, and only angered him. But there are things which must be said, and something warns me that I must make haste to say them."

Noiselessly the old woman left the room, and went to do his bidding, and presently slow, unwilling footsteps sounded on the staircase, and the Lord of Linne's only son entered.

His father's eye rested on him with a fondness which nothing could conceal. For, as is the way with fathers, he loved him still, in spite of all the trouble and sorrow and heartache which he had caused him.

He was a fine-looking young fellow, tall and strong, and debonair, but his face was already beginning to show traces of the wild and reckless life which he was leading.

"I am dying, my son," said his father, "and I have sent for thee to ask thee to make me one promise."

A shadow came over the young man's careless face. He feared that his father might ask him to give up some of his boon companions, or never to touch cards or wine again, and he knew that his will was so weak, that, even if he made the promise, he would break it within a month.

But his father knew this as well as he did, and it was none of these things that he was about to ask, for he knew that to ask them would be useless.

"'Tis but a little promise, lad," he went on, "and one that thou wilt find easy to keep. I am leaving thee a large estate, and plenty of gold, but I know too well that in the days to come thou wilt spend the gold and sell the land. Thou canst not do otherwise, if thou continuest to lead the life thou art leading now. But think not that I sent for thee to chide thee, lad; the day is past for that. Promise only, that when the time I speak of hath come, and thou must needs sell the land, that thou wilt refuse to part with one corner of it. 'Tis the little lodge which stands in the narrow glen far up on the moor. 'Tis a tumble-down old place, and no man would think it worth his while to pay thee a price for it. It would go for an old song wert thou to sell it. Therefore I pray thee to give me thy solemn promise that when thou partest with all the rest, thou wilt still remain master of that. For remember this, lad," and in his eagerness the old man raised himself in his bed, "when all else is lost, and the friends whom thou hast trusted turn their backs and frown on thee, then go to that old lodge, for in it, though thou mayest not think so now, there will always be a trusty friend waiting for thee. Say, wilt thou promise?"

"Of course I will, father," said the young man, much moved; "but I never mean to sell any of the land. I am not so bad as all that. But if it makes thee happier, I swear now in thy presence that I will never part with the old lodge."

With a sigh of satisfaction the old lord fell back on his pillow, and before his son could call for help he was dead.

For the first few weeks after his father's death, the Heir of Linne seemed sobered, and as if he intended to lead a better life; but after a little while he forgot all about it, and began to riot and drink and gamble as hard as ever. He filled the old house with his friends, and wild revelry went on in it from morning till night.

He had always been wild and reckless; he was worse than ever now.

His father's friends shook their heads when they heard of his wild doings. "It cannot go on," they said. "He is doing no work, and he is throwing away his money right and left. Had he all the gold of the Indies, it would soon come to an end at this rate."

And they were right. It could not go on.

One day the young man found that not one penny remained of all the money which his father had left him, and there seemed nothing for it but to sell some of his land. Money must be got somehow, for he was deeply in debt. Besides, he had to live, and he had never been taught to work, and, even if he had, he was too lazy and idle to do it.

So away he went, and told his dilemma to his father's steward, John o' the Scales, who, as I have said, was a hard man, and a rogue into the bargain. He knew far more about money matters than his master's son, and when he heard the story which he had to tell him, his wicked heart gave a throb of joy.

Here, at last, was the very opportunity which he had been looking for: for, while the heir had been wasting his time, and spending his money, instead of looking after his estates, the dishonest steward had been filling his own pockets; and now he would fain turn a country gentleman.

So, with many fair words, and a great show of sympathy, he offered to buy the land for himself.

"Young men would be young men," he said, "and 'twas no wonder that a dashing young fellow, like the Heir of Linne, should wish to see the world, rather than stay quietly at home and look after his land. That was only fit for old men when they were past their prime. So, if he desired to part with the land, he would give him a fair price for it, and then there would be no need for him to trouble any more about money matters."

The foolish young man was quite ready to agree to this. All that he cared about was how to get money to pay his debts, and to enable him to go on gambling and drinking with his companions.

So when John o' the Scales named a price for the land, and drew up an agreement, he signed it readily, never dreaming that the cunning steward was cheating him, and that the land was worth at least three times as much as he was paying for it. There was only one corner of the estate which he refused to sell, and that was the narrow glen, far out on the hillside, where the old tumble-down lodge stood.

For the Heir of Linne was not wholly bad, and he had enough manliness left in him to remember the promise which he had made to his dying father.

So John o' the Scales became Lord of Linne, and a mighty big man he thought himself. He went to live, with his wife Joan, in the old castle, and he turned his back on his former friends, and tried to make everyone forget that up till now he had only been a steward.

Meanwhile the Heir of Linne, as people still called him--though, like Esau, he had sold his birthright--went away quite happily now that his pockets were once more filled with gold, and went on in his old ways, drinking, and gambling, and rioting, with his boon companions, as if he thought that this money would last for ever.

But of course it did not, and one fine day, nearly a year after he had sold his land, he found that his purse was quite empty again, except for a few small coins.

He had no more land to sell, and for the first time in his life he grew thoughtful, and began to wonder what he should do. But he never took the trouble to worry about anything, and he trusted that in the end it would all come right.

"I have no lack of friends," he thought to himself, "and in the past I have entertained them right royally; surely now it is their turn to entertain me, and by and by I shall look for work."

So with a light heart he travelled to Edinburgh, where most of his fine friends lived, never thinking but that they would be ready to receive him with open arms. Alas! he had yet to learn that the people who are most eager to share our prosperity are not always those who are readiest to share our adversity. With all his faults he had ever been open-handed and generous, and had lent his money freely, and he went boldly to their doors, intending to ask them to lend him money in return, now that he was in need of it.

But, to his surprise, instead of being glad to see him, one and all gave him the cold shoulder.

At the first house the servant came to the door with the message that his master was not at home, though the heir could have sworn that a moment before he had seen him peeping through the window.

The master of the next house was at home, but he began to make excuses, and to say how sorry he was, but he had just paid all his bills, and he had no more money by him; while at the third house his friend spoke to him quite sharply, just as if he had been a stranger, and told him that he ought to be ashamed of the way he had wasted his father's money, and sold his land, and that certainly he could not think of lending gold to him, as he would never expect to see it back again.

The poor young man went out into the street, feeling quite dazed with surprise.

"Ah, lack-a-day!" he said to himself bitterly. "So these are the men who called themselves my friends. As long as I was Heir of Linne, and master of my father's lands, they seemed to love me right well. Many a meal have they eaten at my table, and many a pound of mine hath gone into their pockets; and this is how they repay me."

After this things went from bad to worse. He tried to get work, but no one would hire him, and it was not very long before the Heir of Linne, who had been so proud and reckless in his brighter days, was going about in ragged clothes, begging his bread from door to door. No one who saw him now would have known him to be the bright-faced, handsome lad of whom the old lord had been so proud a few years before.

At last, one day when his courage was almost gone, the words which his father had spoken on his death-bed, and which he had forgotten up till now, flashed into his mind.

"He said that I would find a faithful friend in the little lodge up in the glen, when all my other friends had forsaken me," he said to himself. "I cannot think what he meant, but surely now is the time to test his words, for surely no man could be more forsaken than I am."

So he turned his face from the city, and wended his way over hill and dale, moor and river, till he came to the little lodge, standing in the lonely glen, high up on the moors near the Castle of Linne.

He had hardly seen the tumble-down old place since he was a boy, and somehow, from his father's words, he expected to find someone living in it--his good old nurse, perhaps. He was so worn out and miserable that the tears came into his eyes at the mere thought of seeing her kindly face. But the old building was quite deserted, and, when he forced open the rusty lock, and entered, he found nothing but a low, dark, comfortless room. The walls were bare and damp, and the little window was so overgrown with ivy that scarcely any light could get in. There was not even a chair or a table in it, nothing but a long rope with a noose at the end of it, which hung dangling down from the ceiling.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he noticed that on the rafter above the rope there was written in large letters--

"Ah, graceless wretch, I knew that thou wouldst soon spoil all, and bring thyself to poverty. So, to hide thy shame, and bring thy sorrows to an end, I left this rope, which will prove thy best friend."

"So my father knew the straits which my foolishness would bring me to, and he thought of this way of ending my life," said the poor young man to himself, and he felt so heart-broken, and so hopeless, that he put his head in the noose and tried to hang himself.

But this was not the end of which his father had been thinking when he wrote the words; he had only meant to give his son a lesson, which he hoped would be a warning to him. So, when he put his head in the noose, and took hold of the rope, the beam that it was fastened to gave way, and the whole ceiling came tumbling down on top of him.

For a long time he lay stunned on the floor, and when at last he came to himself, he could hardly remember what had happened. At last his eye fell on a packet, which had fallen down with the wood and the mortar, and was lying quite close to him.

He picked it up and opened it.

Inside there was a golden key, and a letter, which told him, that, if he would climb up through the hole in the ceiling, he would find a hidden room under the roof, and there, built into the wall, he would see three great chests standing together.

Wondering greatly to himself, he climbed up among the broken rafters, and he found that what the letter said was true. Sure enough there was a little dark room hidden under the roof, which no one had known of before, and there, standing side by side in the wall, were three iron-bound chests.

There was something written above them, as there had been something written above the rope, but this time the words filled him with hope. They ran thus:--

"Once more, my son, I set thee free;
  Amend thy Life and follies past:
For if thou dost not amend thy life,
  This rope will be thy end at last

With trembling hands the Heir of Linne fitted the golden key into the lock of one of the chests. It opened it easily, and when he raised the lid, what was his joy to find that the chest was full of bags of good red gold. There was enough of it to buy back his father's land, and when he saw it he hid his face in his hands, and sobbed for very thankfulness.

The key opened the other two chests as well, and he found that one of them was also full of gold, while the other was full of silver.

It was plain that his father had known how recklessly he would spend his money, and had stored up these chests for him here in this hidden place, where no one was likely to find them, so that when he was penniless, and had learned how wicked and stupid he had been, he might get another chance if he liked to take it.

He had indeed learned a lesson.

With outstretched hands he vowed a vow that he would follow his father's advice and mend his ways, and that from henceforth he would try to be a better man, and lead a worthier life, and use this money in a better way.

Then he lifted out three bags of gold, and hid them in his ragged cloak, and locked up the chests again, and took his way down the hill to his father's castle.

When he arrived, he peeped in at one of the windows, and there he saw John o' the Scales, fat and prosperous-looking, sitting with his wife Joan at the head of the table, and beside them three gentlemen who lived in the neighbourhood. They were laughing, and feasting, and pledging each other in glasses of wine, and, as he looked at them, he wondered how he had ever allowed the sleek, cunning-looking steward to become Lord of Linne in his father's place.

With something of his old pride he knocked at the door, and demanded haughtily to speak with the master of the castle. He was taken straight to the dining-hall, and when John o' the Scales saw him standing in his rags he broke into a rude laugh.

"Well, Spendthrift," he cried, "and what may thine errand be?"

The heir wondered if this man, who, in the old days had flattered and fawned upon him, had any pity left, and he determined to try him.

"Good John o' the Scales," he said, "I have come hither to crave thy help. I pray thee to lend me forty pence."

It was not a large sum. John o' the Scales had often had twice as much from him, but the churlish fellow started up in a rage.

"Begone, thou thriftless loon," he cried; "thou needst not come hither to beg. I swear that not one penny wilt thou get from me. I know too well how thou squandered thy father's gold."

Then the heir turned to John o' the Scales' wife Joan. She was a woman; perhaps she would be more merciful.

"Sweet madam," he said, "for the sake of blessed charity, bestow some alms on a poor wayfarer."

But Joan o' the Scales was a hard woman, and she had never loved her master's son, so she answered rudely, "Nay, by my troth, but thou shalt get no alms from me. Thou art little better than a vagabond; if we had a law to punish such, right gladly would I see thee get thy deserts."

Now one of the guests who sat at the board with this rich and prosperous couple was a knight called Sir Ned Agnew. He was not rich, but he was a gentleman, and he had been a friend of the old lord, and had known the Heir when he was a boy, and now, when he saw him standing, ragged and hungry, in the hall that had once been his own, he could not bear that he should be driven away with hard and cruel words. Besides, he felt very indignant with John o' the Scales, for he knew that he had bought the land far too cheaply. He had not much money to lend, but he could always spare a little.

"'Tis a god's-penny,' cried the guests in amazement."

"Come back, come back," he cried hastily, as he saw the Heir turn as if to leave the house. "Whatever thou art now, thou wert once a right good fellow, and thou wert always ready to part with thy money to anyone who needed it. I am a poor man myself, but I can lend thee forty pence at least; in fact I think that I could lend thee eighty, if thou art in sore want." Then, turning to his host, he added, "The Heir of Linne is a friend of mine, and I will count it a favour if thou wilt let him have a seat at thy table. I think it is as little as thou canst do, seeing that thou hadst the best of the bargain about his land."

John o' the Scales was very angry, but he dare not say much, for he knew in his heart that what the knight said was true, and, moreover, he did not want to quarrel with him, for he liked to be able to go to market, where people were apt to think of him still as the castle steward, and boast about "my friend, Sir Ned."

"Nay, thou knowest 'tis false," he blustered, "and I'll take my vow that, far from making a good bargain, I lost money over that matter, and, to prove what I say, I am willing to offer this young man, in the presence of you all, his lands back again, for a hundred merks less than I gave for them."

"'Tis done," cried the Heir of Linne, and before the astonished John o' the Scales could speak, he had thrown down a piece of money on the table before him.

"'Tis a God's-penny," cried the guests in amazement, for when anyone threw down a piece of money in that way, it meant that they had accepted the bargain, and that the other man could not draw back.

Then the Heir pulled out the three bags of gold from under his cloak, and threw them down on the table before John o' the Scales, who began to look very grave. He had never dreamt, when he offered to let the young man buy back the land, that he would ever be able to do it. He had meant it as a joke, and the joke was very much like turning into a reality. His face grew longer and longer as the Heir emptied out the good red gold in a heap.

"Count it," he cried triumphantly. "It is all there, and honest money.  It is thine, and the land is mine, and once more I am the Lord ofLinne."

Both John o' the Scales and his wife were very much taken aback; but there was nothing to be done but to count the money and to gather it up. John would fain have asked to be taken back as steward again, but the young lord knew now how dishonest he had been, and would not hear of such a thing.

"No, no," he said, "it is honest men whom I want now, and men who will be my friends when I am poor, as well as when I am rich. I think I have found such a man here," and he turned to Sir Ned Agnew. "If thou wilt accept the post, I shall be glad to have thee for my steward, and for the keeper of my forests, and my deer, as well. And for everyone of the pence which thou wert willing to lend me, I will pay thee a full pound."

So once more the rightful lord reigned in the Castle of Linne, and to everyone's surprise he settled down, and grew so like his father, that strangers who came to the neighbourhood would not believe the stories which people told them of the wild things which he had done in his youth.

Black Agnace of Dunbar

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