Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
 
89. Johnie Armstrong
 
 
I

SUM speiks of lords, sum speiks of lairds,
  And sick lyke men of hie degrie;
Of a gentleman I sing a sang,
  Sum tyme called Laird of Gilnockie.
 
II

The King he wrytes a luving letter,
        5
  With his ain hand sae tenderly,
And he hath sent it to Johnie Armstrang,
  To cum and speik with him speedily.
 
III

The Eliots and Armstrangs did convene;
  They were a gallant cumpanie—        10
‘We’ll ride and meit our lawful King,
  And bring him safe to Gilnockie.’
 
IV

‘Make kinnen and capon ready, then,
  And venison in great plentie;
We’ll wellcum here our royal King;        15
  I hope he’ll dine at Gilnockie!’—
 
V

They ran their horse on the Langholme howm,
  And brak their spears wi’ mickle main;
The ladies lukit frae their loft windows—
  ‘God bring our men weel hame agen!’        20
 
VI

When Johnie cam’ before the King,
  Wi’ a’ his men sae brave to see,
The King he movit his bonnet to him;
  He ween’d he was King as weel as he.
 
VII

‘May I find grace, my sovereign liege,
        25
  Grace for my loyal men and me?
For my name it is Johnie Armstrang,
  And a subject of yours, my liege,’ said he.
 
VIII

‘Away, away, thou traitor strang!
  Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!        30
I grantit never a traitor’s life,
  And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.’—
 
IX

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
  And a bonny gift I’ll gie to thee:
Full four-and-twenty milk-white steids,        35
  Were a’ foal’d in ae yeir to me.
 
X

‘I’ll gie thee a’ these milk-white steids,
  That prance and nicker at a speir;
And as mickle gude Inglish gilt,
  As four o’ their braid backs dow bear.’—        40
 
XI

‘Away, away, thou traitor strang!
  Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!
I grantit never a traitor’s life,
  And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee!’—
 
XII

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
        45
  And a bonny gift I’ll gie to thee:
Gude four-and-twenty ganging mills,
  That gang thro’ a’ the yeir to me.
 
XIII

‘These four-and-twenty mills complete
  Sall gang for thee thro’ a’ the yeir;        50
And as mickle of gude reid wheit,
  As a’ thair happers dow to bear.’—
 
XIV

‘Away, away, thou traitor strang!
  Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!
I grantit never a traitor’s life,        55
  And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.’—
 
XV

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
  And a great great gift I’ll gie to thee:
Bauld four-and-twenty sisters’ sons,
  Sall for thee fetch, tho’ a’ should flee!’—        60
 
XVI

‘Away, away, thou traitor strang!
  Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!
I grantit never a traitor’s life,
  And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.’—
 
XVII

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
        65
  And a brave gift I’ll gie to thee:
All between heir and Newcastle town
  Sall pay their yeirly rent to thee.’—
 
XVIII

‘Away, away, thou traitor strang!
  Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!        70
I grantit never a traitor’s life,
  And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.’—
 
XIX

‘Ye lied, ye lied, now, King,’ he says,
  ‘Altho’ a King and Prince ye be!
For I’ve luved naething in my life,        75
  I weel dare say it, but honesty:
 
XX

‘Save a fat horse, and a fair woman,
  Twa bonny dogs to kill a deir;
But England suld have found me meal and mault,
  Gif I had lived this hundred yeir!        80
 
XXI

‘She suld have found me meal and mault,
  And beef and mutton in a’ plentie;
But never a Scots wyfe could have said
  That e’er I skaith’d her a puir flee.
 
XXII

‘To seik het water beneith cauld ice,
        85
  Surely it is a greit folie—
I have asked grace at a graceless face,
  But there is nane for my men and me!
 
XXIII

‘But had I kenn’d ere I cam’ frae hame,
  How thou unkind wadst been to me!        90
I wad have keepit the Border side,
  In spite of all thy force and thee.
 
XXIV

‘Wist England’s King that I was ta’en,
  O gin a blythe man he wad be!
For anes I slew his sister’s son,        95
  And on his breist bane brak a trie.’
 
XXV

John wore a girdle about his middle,
  Imbroider’d owre wi’ burning gold,
Bespangled wi’ the same metal,
  Maist beautiful was to behold.        100
 
XXVI

There hung nine targats at Johnie’s hat,
  And ilk ane worth three hundred pound—
‘What wants that knave that a King suld have,
  But the sword of honour and the crown?
 
XXVII

‘O where got thou these targats, Johnie,
        105
  That blink sae brawlie abune thy brie?’—
‘I gat them in the field fechting,
  Where, cruel King, thou durst not be.
 
XXVIII

‘Had I my horse, and harness gude,
  And riding as I wont to be,        110
It suld have been tauld this hundred yeir,
  The meeting of my King and me!
 
XXIX

‘God be with thee, Kirsty, my brother,
  Lang live thou Laird of Mangertoun!
Lang mayst thou live on the Border syde,        115
  Ere thou see thy brother ride up and doun!
 
XXX

‘And God be with thee, Kirsty, my son,
  Where thou sits on thy nurse’s knee!
But an thou live this hundred yeir,
  Thy father’s better thou’lt never be.        120
 
XXXI

‘Farewell! my bonny Gilnock hall,
  Where on Esk side thou standest stout!
Gif I had lived but seven yeirs mair,
  I wad hae gilt thee round about.’
 
XXXII

John murder’d was at Carlinrigg,
        125
  And all his gallant companie;
But Scotland’s heart was ne’er sae wae,
  To see sae mony brave men die—
 
XXXIII

Because they saved their country deir
  Frae Englishmen! Nane were sa bauld,        130
Whyle Johnie lived on the Border syde,
  Nane of them durst cum neir his hauld.
 
GLOSS:  haik ye up] hold you in suspense.  settle ye by] keep you waiting aside.  kinnen] rabbits.  nicker] neigh.  gilt] gold.  dow] are able to.  ganging] going.  happers] mill-hoppers.  skaith’d] hurt, wronged.  targats] round ornaments.  blink sae brawlie] glance so bravely.  brie] brow.
 

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