Poem about the Red Book of Appin

IT’S a far, far cry to Appin,

But worth your while to go

If ye would learn the secrets

That Highland witches know:

They’re written in a red book

Concealed within a rock;

Its iron bands keep reiving hands

From meddling wi’ the lock.

There still are folk in Appin

Who ken the story fine,

Of how a witchy gentleman

With features aquiline

Walked over a big mountain

And stepped into the glen

Where Ian dubh with collie true

Watched o’er his cattle-pen.

‘Good evening,’ spoke the traveller.

‘To you the same,’ said Ian,

Raising his gun from off the moss

And loosening his skian:

For many a man came past that hill

To lift his neighbour’s cattle:

Wherefor the herd, with never a word

The more, prepared for battle.

‘Put down your arms,’ the stranger cried:

‘Is this a Highland greeting:

To take me for a common thief

The first time that we’re meeting?

I’m wanting neither cows nor ewes

From any of your clan;

But well content, if ye’d consent

To be my serving-man.

‘Be sure ye’d muckle wages get,

And twa’ braw suits of tweed,

With food and drink in plenty,

And a’thing else ye need.

And holidays whene’er ye wish

For every fast and fair:

Dinna say nay, but come away

And leave your beasties there.’

‘Not me for one,’ the lad replied,

‘For all your muckle wage

And promises of cloth and food;

To you I’ll not engage

Before the laird is made acquaint

With all ye’ve said to me;

Now I’m awa, and thank ye for Your generosity.’

The traveller stole an evil glance

At brave young Ian dubh:

He took a red book from his pouch

And scanned the pages through.

Then in the dark he made a mark:

‘Write here your name,’ he said:

‘That I’ll remember how ye’re called,’

But Ian shook his head.

‘Good-night then-till tomorrow’s e’

The stranger made reply;

‘And at the setting of the sun,

We’ll meet here-you and I.’

Young Ian clambered up the brae

Straight to his home, and told

His laird what curious happenings

Befel him at the fold.

‘God’s mercy, lad; my heart is glad

Ye heeded not his guile:

He’s known abroad on every road

From Renfrew to Argyll.

But ye shall keep your tryst wi’ him,

And it shall cost him sore;

His knees will quake when once ye take

Your iron-shod claymore.

‘For iron is the witches’ bane:

Its power brings to naught

Foul incantations, shapes and spells

Which from the deil they bought.

Go! Wave your sword above your head,

Nor heed the warlock’s yelling;

Take no alarm nor fear of harm,

But listen what I’m telling:

‘Within a circle space ye’ stand

Upon Saint Andrew’s cross,

And call upon the Trinity

To save your soul from loss.

There wait the coming of the fiend,

Your feet and body stark,

To guard that consecrated cairn

Nor move beyond the mark.

‘He’ll try to wile ye from your stance

By all the powers of evil:

Ye’ll hear him out, and then ye’ll shout

“Saint Andrew scorns the Devil”.

Ye’ll point your iron at his breast

And bid the man begone;

Or, by the rood, ye’ll have his blood

Before the sun is down.

And so it was, as just foretold

By Ian’s trusty laird:

He took his post upon the cross

Within the zone prepared;

He called upon the Trinity

And held his claymore bared.

Out from the shade that twilight made

Stepped forth the mountain-ranger;

His twisted smile bewrayed his guile,

But Ian knew no danger.

Firmly he stood all unafraid

Within the mystic mark:

‘Halt there,’ he said, ‘Ye renegade

From God, and mind your sark.’

Ripped from his plaid, the iron blade

Leapt out and, at its sight,

The witch-man fell upon his knees

In miserable plight.

‘Spare me my life, brave herd,’ cried he

As from his pouch he took

And gave into young Ian’s hands

That little red-bound book.

‘Ye’ve tested me, ye’ve bested me,

And here’s the prize of war;

Had ye fared worst, ye had been curst

And mine for evermore.

Read, mark and learn its dark content

Which no man knew before;

‘us our black bible, and the key

To all our wizard lore.’

Then, swifter than the lightning,

A dark misshapen fiend

Caught up the beaten warlock

And fled upon the wind.

Young Ian sped him homeward,

Fast as his soles could run,

And offered for his laird’s pleasance

The book that he had won.

‘Take you it, laird and master,

And hide the book away:

For I’ve nae time to fash my head

About what witches say.’

‘Right willingly I’ll take it,

My clansman, good and true;

And write a screed to praise the deed

Of faithful Ian dubh.’

It’s a far, far cry to Appin,

But worth your while to go

If ye would learn the secrets

That Highland witches know:

They’re written in a red book

Concealed within a rock;

Its iron bands keep relying hands

From meddling wi’ the lock.


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