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MEMORIALS OF A TOUR IN SCOTLAND, 1803

XV. THE BLIND HIGHLAND BOY

A TALE TOLD BY THE FIRE-SIDE, AFTER RETURNING TO THE VALE OF GRASMERE

          NOW we are tired of boisterous joy,
          Have romped enough, my little Boy!
          Jane hangs her head upon my breast,
          And you shall bring your stool and rest;
              This corner is your own.

          There! take your seat, and let me see
          That you can listen quietly:
          And, as I promised, I will tell
          That strange adventure which befell
              A poor blind Highland Boy.                              10

          A 'Highland' Boy!--why call him so?
          Because, my Darlings, ye must know
          That, under hills which rise like towers,
          Far higher hills than these of ours!
              He from his birth had lived.

          He ne'er had seen one earthly sight
          The sun, the day; the stars, the night;
          Or tree, or butterfly, or flower,
          Or fish in stream, or bird in bower,
              Or woman, man, or child.                                20

          And yet he neither drooped nor pined,
          Nor had a melancholy mind;
          For God took pity on the Boy,
          And was his friend; and gave him joy
              Of which we nothing know.

          His Mother, too, no doubt, above
          Her other children him did love:
          For, was she here, or was she there,
          She thought of him with constant care,
              And more than mother's love.                            30

          And proud she was of heart, when, clad
          In crimson stockings, tartan plaid,
          And bonnet with a feather gay,
          To Kirk he on the Sabbath day
              Went hand in hand with her.

          A dog too, had he; not for need,
          But one to play with and to feed;
          Which would have led him, if bereft
          Of company or friends, and left
              Without a better guide.                                 40

          And then the bagpipes he could blow--
          And thus from house to house would go;
          And all were pleased to hear and see,
          For none made sweeter melody
              Than did the poor blind Boy.

          Yet he had many a restless dream;
          Both when he heard the eagles scream,
          And when he heard the torrents roar,
          And heard the water beat the shore
              Near which their cottage stood.                         50

          Beside a lake their cottage stood,
          Not small like ours, a peaceful flood;
          But one of mighty size, and strange;
          That, rough or smooth, is full of change,
              And stirring in its bed.

          For to this lake, by night and day,
          The great Sea-water finds its way
          Through long, long windings of the hills
          And drinks up all the pretty rills
              And rivers large and strong:                            60

          Then hurries back the road it came--
          Returns, on errand still the same;
          This did it when the earth was new;
          And this for evermore will do
              As long as earth shall last.

          And, with the coming of the tide,
          Come boats and ships that safely ride
          Between the woods and lofty rocks;
          And to the shepherds with their flocks
              Bring tales of distant lands.                           70

          And of those tales, whate'er they were,
          The blind Boy always had his share;
          Whether of mighty towns, or vales
          With warmer suns and softer gales,
              Or wonders of the Deep.

          Yet more it pleased him, more it stirred,
          When from the water-side he heard
          The shouting, and the jolly cheers;
          The bustle of the mariners
              In stillness or in storm.                               80

          But what do his desires avail?
          For He must never handle sail;
          Nor mount the mast, nor row, nor float
          Ill sailor's ship, or fisher's boat,
              Upon the rocking waves.

          His Mother often thought, and said,
          What sin would be upon her head
          If she should suffer this: "My Son,
          Whate'er you do, leave this undone;
              The danger is so great."                                90

          Thus lived he by Loch Leven's side
          Still sounding with the sounding tide,
          And heard the billows leap and dance,
          Without a shadow of mischance,
              Till he was ten years old.

          When one day (and now mark me well,
          Ye soon shall know how this befell)
          He in a vessel of his own,
          On the swift flood is hurrying down,
              Down to the mighty Sea.                                100

          In such a vessel never more
          May human creature leave the shore!
          If this or that way he should stir,
          Woe to the poor blind Mariner!
              For death will be his doom.

          But say what bears him?--Ye have seen
          The Indian's bow, his arrows keen,
          Rare beasts, and birds with plumage bright;
          Gifts which, for wonder or delight,
              Are brought in ships from far.                         110

          Such gifts had those seafaring men
          Spread round that haven in the glen;
          Each hut, perchance, might have its own;
          And to the Boy they all were known--
              He knew and prized them all.

          The rarest was a Turtle-shell
          Which he, poor Child, had studied well;
          A shell of ample size, and light
          As the pearly car of Amphitrite,
              That sportive dolphins drew.                           120

          And, as a Coracle that braves
          On Vaga's breast the fretful waves,
          This shell upon the deep would swim,
          And gaily lift its fearless brim
              Above the tossing surge.

          And this the little blind Boy knew:
          And he a story strange yet true
          Had heard, how in a shell like this
          An English Boy, O thought of bliss!
              Had stoutly launched from shore;                       130

          Launched from the margin of a bay
          Among the Indian isles, where lay
          His father's ship, and had sailed far--
          To join that gallant ship of war,
              In his delightful shell.

          Our Highland Boy oft visited
          The house that held this prize; and, led
          By choice or chance, did thither come
          One day when no one was at home,
              And found the door unbarred.                           140

          While there he sate, alone and blind,
          That story flashed upon his mind;--
          A bold thought roused him, and he took
          The shell from out its secret nook,
              And bore it on his head.

          He launched his vessel,--and in pride
          Of spirit, from Loch Leven's side,
          Stepped into it--his thoughts all free
          As the light breezes that with glee
              Sang through the adventurer's hair.                    150

          A while he stood upon his feet;
          He felt the motion--took his seat;
          Still better pleased as more and more
          The tide retreated from the shore,
              And sucked, and sucked him in.

          And there he is in face of Heaven.
          How rapidly the Child is driven!
          The fourth part of a mile, I ween,
          He thus had gone, ere he was seen
              By any human eye.                                      160

          But when he was first seen, oh me
          What shrieking and what misery!
          For many saw; among the rest
          His Mother, she who loved him best,
              She saw her poor blind Boy.

          But for the child, the sightless Boy,
          It is the triumph of his joy!
          The bravest traveller in balloon,
          Mounting as if to reach the moon,
              Was never half so blessed.                             170

          And let him, let him go his way,
          Alone, and innocent, and gay!
          For, if good Angels love to wait
          On the forlorn unfortunate,
              This Child will take no harm.

          But now the passionate lament,
          Which from the crowd on shore was sent,
          The cries which broke from old and young
          In Gaelic, or the English tongue,
              Are stifled--all is still.                             180

          And quickly with a silent crew
          A boat is ready to pursue;
          And from the shore their course they take,
          And swiftly down the running lake
              They follow the blind Boy.

          But soon they move with softer pace;
          So have ye seen the fowler chase
          On Grasmere's clear unruffled breast
          A youngling of the wild-duck's nest
              With deftly-lifted oar;                                190

          Or as the wily sailors crept
          To seize (while on the Deep it slept)
          The hapless creature which did dwell
          Erewhile within the dancing shell,
              They steal upon their prey.

          With sound the least that can be made,
          They follow, more and more afraid,
          More cautious as they draw more near;
          But in his darkness he can hear,
              And guesses their intent.                              200

          "Lei-gha--Lei-gha"--he then cried out,
          "Lei-gha--Lei-gha"--with eager shout;
          Thus did he cry, and thus did pray,
          And what he meant was, "Keep away,
              And leave me to myself!"

          Alas! and when he felt their hands----
          You've often heard of magic wands,
          That with a motion overthrow
          A palace of the proudest show,
              Or melt it into air:                                   210

          So all his dreams--that inward light
          With which his soul had shone so bright--
          All vanished;--'twas a heartfelt cross
          To him, a heavy, bitter loss,
              As he had ever known.

          But hark! a gratulating voice,
          With which the very hills rejoice:
          'Tis from the crowd, who tremblingly
          Have watched the event, and now can see
              That he is safe at last.                               220

          And then, when he was brought to land,
          Full sure they were a happy band,
          Which, gathering round, did on the banks
          Of that great Water give God thanks,
              And welcomed the poor Child.

          And in the general joy of heart
          The blind Boy's little dog took part;
          He leapt about, and oft did kiss
          His master's hands in sign of bliss,
              With sound like lamentation.                           230

          But most of all, his Mother dear,
          She who had fainted with her fear,
          Rejoiced when waking she espies
          The Child; when she can trust her eyes,
              And touches the blind Boy.

          She led him home, and wept amain,
          When he was in the house again:
          Tears flowed in torrents from her eyes;
          She kissed him--how could she chastise?
              She was too happy far.                                 240

          Thus, after he had fondly braved
          The perilous Deep, the Boy was saved;
          And, though his fancies had been wild,
          Yet he was pleased and reconciled
              To live in peace on shore.

          And in the lonely Highland dell
          Still do they keep the Turtle-shell
          And long the story will repeat
          Of the blind Boy's adventurous feat,
              And how he was preserved.                              250


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