The Ballad of Sir James the Ross


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"An ancient historical ballad" regarding Sir James the Ross which was printed in the Edinburgh Amusement in October of 1770.

Sir James the Ross

Of all the Scottish northern chiefs,
Of high warlike name.
The bravest was Sir James the Ross.
A knight of meikle fame.

His growth was as the tufted fir
Which crowns yon mountains brow.
And, waving o'er his shoulders broad.
His locks of yellow flew.

The chieftain of the brave clan Ross,
A firm undaunted band,
Five hundred warriors drew their swords
Beneath his high command.

Thrice he had stood the bloody fight
Against the English keen.
Ere two-and-twenty opening springs
His blooming youth had seen.

The fair Matilda dear he loved,
A maid of beauty rare;
Even Margaret on the Scottish throne
Was never half so fair.

Lang he had woo'd, lang she refused.
With seeming scorn and pride ;
Yet aft her eyes confess-'d the love
Her faithless words deny'd.

At last she bless'd, his well-tired faith,
Allow'd his tender claim;
She vow'd to him her virgin heart.
And own'd an equal flame.

Her father, Buchan's cruel lord,
Her passion disapproved,
And bade her wed Sir John the Grahame,
And leave the youth she loved.

At night they met, as they were wont,         
             Deep in a shady wood,                              
Where on a bank, beside a burn,               
A blooming saugh tree stood.                  

Conceal'd among the underwood
The crafty Donald lay,
The brother of Sir John the Grahame,
To hear what they might say.

When thus the maid began; My Sire
Your passion disapproves.
And bids me wed Sir John the Graham;
So here must end our loves!

My father's will must be obey'd.
Nought boots me to withstand:
Some fairer maid, in beauty's bloom,
Must bless you with her hand.

Matilda soon shall be forgot.
And from thy mind deffac'd:
But may that happiness be thine,
Which I can never taste.

What do I hear? Is this thy vow?
Sir James the Ross replied;
And will Matilda wed the Graham?
Though sworn to be my bride.

His sword shall sooner pierce my heart,
Than 'reave me of these charms!
Then clasp'd her to his beating breast,
Fast lock'd her in his arms.

I spake to try thy love!" said she,
I'll ne'er wed man but thee:
The grave shall be my bridal bed,
Ere Grahame my husband be.

Take then, dear youth, this faithful kiss,
In witness of my troth;
And every plague become my lot,
That day I break my oath.

They parted thus, the sun was set.
Up hasty Donald flies.
And, Turn thee, turn thee, beardless youth!
He loud insulting cries.

Soon turn'd about the fearless chief,
And soon his sword he drew:
For Donald's blade, before his breast.
Had pierced his tartans through.

This for my brother's slighted love!
His wrongs sit on my arm;
Three paces back the youth retired.
To save himself from harm.

Returning swift, his hand he rear'd
From Donald's head above.
And through his brains and crashing bones
His sharp-edged weapon drove.

He stagger'd,  reel'd, then tumbled down
A lump of breathless clay;
So fall my foes! quoth valiant Ross,
And stately rode away.

Through the green wood he quickly hy'd
Unto Lord Buchan's hall.
And at Matilda's widow stood,
And thus began to call:

Art thon asleep. Matilda dear?
Awake! my love, awake!
Thy luckless lover calls on thee,
A long farewell to take.

For I have slain fierce Donald Graham,
His blood is on my sword?
And distant are my faithful men,
Non can assist their lord.

To Skye I'll now direct my way,
Where my two brothers bide.
And raise the valiant of the Isles
To combat on my side.

O do not so! the maid replied,
With me till morning stay;
For dark and dreary is the road,
And dangerous is the way.

All night I'll watch you in the park?
My faithful page I'll send.
To run and raise the Ross's clan,
Their master to defend.

Beneath a bush, she laid him down.
And wrapt him in his plaid;
While, trembling for, her lover's fate.
At distance stood the maid.

Swift ran the page o'er hill and dale.
Till, in a lowly glen,
He met the furious Sir John Graham.
With twenty of his. men.

Where goest thou, little page? said he,
So late who did thee send?
I go to raise the Ross's clan.
Their master to defend;

For he has slain fierce Donald Graham,
His blood is on his sword,
And far far distant are his men.
that should assist their lord.

And has he slain my brother dear?
The furious Grahame replies;
Dishonour blast my name! but he
By me ere morning dies!

Tell me where is Sir James the Ross?
I will thee well reward
He sleeps into Lord Buchan's park?
Matilda is his guard.

They prick'd their steeds in furious mood,
And scour'd along the lea.
And reach'd unto Lord Buchan'n lofty towers
By dawning of the day.

Matilda stood without the gate.
To whom thus Graham did say:
Saw ye Sir James the Ross last night,
Or did he pass this way?

Last day at noon, Matilda said,
Sir James the Ross pass'd by;
He furious prick'd his sweaty steed,
And onward fast did hy:

By this time he's at Edinburgh Cross.
If man and horse hold good.
Your page then lied, who said he was
Now sleeping in your wood.

She wrung her hands, she tore her hair.
'Brave Ross thou art betray'd,
And ruin'd by those means,
From whence I hoped thine aid.

By this the valiant knight awoke.
The virgin's shrieks he heard.
And up he rose and drew his sword,
Where the fierce band appear'd.

Your sword last night my brother slow,
His blood yet dims its shine,
But before the rising of the sun
Your blood shall reek on mine.

You word it well. the chief return'd,
But deeds approve the man;
Set by your men and hand to hand,
We'll try what valour can.

Oft boasting hides a coward's heart,
My trusty sword you fear,
Which shone in front at Floddeu-Field,
While yours kept in the rear.

With dauntless step he forward strode,
And dared him to the fight:
The Graham gave back and he fear'd his arm,
For well he knew its might.

Four of his men, the bravest four,
Sank down beneath his sword;
Yet still he scorn the poor revenge,
And fought their haughty lord.

Behind him basely came the Grahame,
And wounded him in the side;
Out spouting came the purple tide.
And all his garments dyed.

But yet his sword quit not the grip,
Nor dropt he to the ground,
Till through his hateful enemy's heart his stell
Has forced a mortal wound.

Graham like a tree by wind o'erthrown.
Fell lifeless on the clay;
While down beside him sank the Ross,
And faint and dying lay.

The sad! Matilda saw him fall.
Oh spare his life! she cried;
Lord Buchan's daughter begs his life;
Let, her not be denied.

Her well-known voice the hero heard,
And raised his death-closed eyes;
Then fix'd them on the weeping maid,
And weakly thus replies:

In vain Matilda begs a life
By death's arrest deny'd:
My race is run: Adieu! he cried,
Then closed his eyes and dy'd.

The sword yet warm from his left side
With frantic hand she drew;
I come, Sir James the Ross, she cried,
I come to follow you.

She lean'd the hilt against the ground,
And bared her snowy breast;
Then fell upon her lover's face.
And sank to endless rest.