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Death And Doctor Hornbook – A True Story
by [?]


Some books are lies frae end to end,
And some great lies were never penn’d:
Ev’n ministers they hae been kenn’d,
In holy rapture,
A rousing whid at times to vend,
And nail’t wi’ Scripture.

But this that I am gaun to tell,
Which lately on a night befell,
Is just as true’s the Deil’s in hell
Or Dublin city:
That e’er he nearer comes oursel’
‘S a muckle pity.

The clachan yill had made me canty,
I was na fou, but just had plenty;
I stacher’d whiles, but yet too tent aye
To free the ditches;
An’ hillocks, stanes, an’ bushes, kenn’d eye
Frae ghaists an’ witches.

The rising moon began to glowre
The distant Cumnock hills out-owre:
To count her horns, wi’ a my pow’r,
I set mysel’;
But whether she had three or four,
I cou’d na tell.

I was come round about the hill,
An’ todlin down on Willie’s mill,
Setting my staff wi’ a’ my skill,
To keep me sicker;
Tho’ leeward whiles, against my will,
I took a bicker.

I there wi’ Something did forgather,
That pat me in an eerie swither;
An’ awfu’ scythe, out-owre ae shouther,
Clear-dangling, hang;
A three-tae’d leister on the ither
Lay, large an’ lang.

Its stature seem’d lang Scotch ells twa,
The queerest shape that e’er I saw,
For fient a wame it had ava;
And then its shanks,
They were as thin, as sharp an’ sma’
As cheeks o’ branks.

“Guid-een,” quo’ I; “Friend! hae ye been mawin,
When ither folk are busy sawin!” [1]
I seem’d to make a kind o’ stan’
But naething spak;
At length, says I, “Friend! whare ye gaun?
Will ye go back?”

It spak right howe,–“My name is Death,
But be na fley’d.”–Quoth I, “Guid faith,
Ye’re maybe come to stap my breath;
But tent me, billie;
I red ye weel, tak care o’ skaith
See, there’s a gully!”

“Gudeman,” quo’ he, “put up your whittle,
I’m no designed to try its mettle;
But if I did, I wad be kittle
To be mislear’d;
I wad na mind it, no that spittle
Out-owre my beard.”

“Weel, weel!” says I, “a bargain be’t;
Come, gie’s your hand, an’ sae we’re gree’t;
We’ll ease our shanks an tak a seat–
Come, gie’s your news;
This while ye hae been mony a gate,
At mony a house.” [2]

“Ay, ay!” quo’ he, an’ shook his head,
“It’s e’en a lang, lang time indeed
Sin’ I began to nick the thread,
An’ choke the breath:
Folk maun do something for their bread,
An’ sae maun Death.

“Sax thousand years are near-hand fled
Sin’ I was to the butching bred,
An’ mony a scheme in vain’s been laid,
To stap or scar me;
Till ane Hornbook’s [3] ta’en up the trade,
And faith! he’ll waur me.

“Ye ken Hornbook i’ the clachan,
Deil mak his king’s-hood in spleuchan!
He’s grown sae weel acquaint wi’ Buchan [4]
And ither chaps,
The weans haud out their fingers laughin,
An’ pouk my hips.

“See, here’s a scythe, an’ there’s dart,
They hae pierc’d mony a gallant heart;
But Doctor Hornbook, wi’ his art
An’ cursed skill,
Has made them baith no worth a f-t,
Damn’d haet they’ll kill!

“‘Twas but yestreen, nae farther gane,
I threw a noble throw at ane;
Wi’ less, I’m sure, I’ve hundreds slain;
But deil-ma-care,
It just play’d dirl on the bane,
But did nae mair.