The Heir Of Linne
: Tales From Scottish Ballads
"Lithe and listen, gentlemen,
To sing a song I will beginne;
It is of a lord of faire Scotland,
Which was the unthrifty heire of Linne."
There was trouble in the ancient Castle of Linne. Upstairs in his
low-roofed, oak-panelled chamber the old lord lay dying, and the
servants whispered to one another, that, when all was over, and he was
gone, there would be many
hanges at the old place. For he had been a
good master, kind and thoughtful to his servants, and generous to the
poor. But his only son was a different kind of man, who thought only of
his own enjoyment; and John o' the Scales, the steward on the estate,
was a hard task-master, and was sure to oppress the poor and helpless
when the old lord was no longer there to keep an eye on him.
By the sick man's bedside sat an old nurse, the tears running down her
wrinkled face. She had come to the castle long years before, with the
fair young mistress who had died when her boy was born. She had taken
the child from his dying mother's arms, and had brought him up as if he
had been her own, and many a time since he became a man she had mourned,
along with his father, over his reckless and sinful ways.
Now she saw nothing before him but ruin, and she shook her head sadly,
and muttered to herself as she sat in the darkened room.
"Janet," said the old lord suddenly, "go and tell the lad to speak to
me. He loves not to be chided, and of late years I have said but little
to him. It did no good, and only angered him. But there are things which
must be said, and something warns me that I must make haste to say
Noiselessly the old woman left the room, and went to do his bidding, and
presently slow, unwilling footsteps sounded on the staircase, and the
Lord of Linne's only son entered.
His father's eye rested on him with a fondness which nothing could
conceal. For, as is the way with fathers, he loved him still, in spite
of all the trouble and sorrow and heartache which he had caused him.
He was a fine-looking young fellow, tall and strong, and debonair, but
his face was already beginning to show traces of the wild and reckless
life which he was leading.
"I am dying, my son," said his father, "and I have sent for thee to ask
thee to make me one promise."
A shadow came over the young man's careless face. He feared that his
father might ask him to give up some of his boon companions, or never to
touch cards or wine again, and he knew that his will was so weak, that,
even if he made the promise, he would break it within a month.
But his father knew this as well as he did, and it was none of these
things that he was about to ask, for he knew that to ask them would be
"'Tis but a little promise, lad," he went on, "and one that thou wilt
find easy to keep. I am leaving thee a large estate, and plenty of gold,
but I know too well that in the days to come thou wilt spend the gold
and sell the land. Thou canst not do otherwise, if thou continuest to
lead the life thou art leading now. But think not that I sent for thee
to chide thee, lad; the day is past for that. Promise only, that when
the time I speak of hath come, and thou must needs sell the land, that
thou wilt refuse to part with one corner of it. 'Tis the little lodge
which stands in the narrow glen far up on the moor. 'Tis a tumble-down
old place, and no man would think it worth his while to pay thee a price
for it. It would go for an old song wert thou to sell it. Therefore I
pray thee to give me thy solemn promise that when thou partest with all
the rest, thou wilt still remain master of that. For remember this,
lad," and in his eagerness the old man raised himself in his bed, "when
all else is lost, and the friends whom thou hast trusted turn their
backs and frown on thee, then go to that old lodge, for in it, though
thou mayest not think so now, there will always be a trusty friend
waiting for thee. Say, wilt thou promise?"
"Of course I will, father," said the young man, much moved; "but I never
mean to sell any of the land. I am not so bad as all that. But if it
makes thee happier, I swear now in thy presence that I will never part
with the old lodge."
With a sigh of satisfaction the old lord fell back on his pillow, and
before his son could call for help he was dead.
For the first few weeks after his father's death, the Heir of Linne
seemed sobered, and as if he intended to lead a better life; but after a
little while he forgot all about it, and began to riot and drink and
gamble as hard as ever. He filled the old house with his friends, and
wild revelry went on in it from morning till night.
He had always been wild and reckless; he was worse than ever now.
His father's friends shook their heads when they heard of his wild
doings. "It cannot go on," they said. "He is doing no work, and he is
throwing away his money right and left. Had he all the gold of the
Indies, it would soon come to an end at this rate."
And they were right. It could not go on.
One day the young man found that not one penny remained of all the money
which his father had left him, and there seemed nothing for it but to
sell some of his land. Money must be got somehow, for he was deeply in
debt. Besides, he had to live, and he had never been taught to work,
and, even if he had, he was too lazy and idle to do it.
So away he went, and told his dilemma to his father's steward, John o'
the Scales, who, as I have said, was a hard man, and a rogue into the
bargain. He knew far more about money matters than his master's son, and
when he heard the story which he had to tell him, his wicked heart gave
a throb of joy.
Here, at last, was the very opportunity which he had been looking for:
for, while the heir had been wasting his time, and spending his money,
instead of looking after his estates, the dishonest steward had been
filling his own pockets; and now he would fain turn a country gentleman.
So, with many fair words, and a great show of sympathy, he offered to
buy the land for himself.
"Young men would be young men," he said, "and 'twas no wonder that a
dashing young fellow, like the Heir of Linne, should wish to see the
world, rather than stay quietly at home and look after his land. That
was only fit for old men when they were past their prime. So, if he
desired to part with the land, he would give him a fair price for it,
and then there would be no need for him to trouble any more about money
The foolish young man was quite ready to agree to this. All that he
cared about was how to get money to pay his debts, and to enable him to
go on gambling and drinking with his companions.
So when John o' the Scales named a price for the land, and drew up an
agreement, he signed it readily, never dreaming that the cunning steward
was cheating him, and that the land was worth at least three times as
much as he was paying for it. There was only one corner of the estate
which he refused to sell, and that was the narrow glen, far out on the
hillside, where the old tumble-down lodge stood.
For the Heir of Linne was not wholly bad, and he had enough manliness
left in him to remember the promise which he had made to his dying
So John o' the Scales became Lord of Linne, and a mighty big man he
thought himself. He went to live, with his wife Joan, in the old castle,
and he turned his back on his former friends, and tried to make everyone
forget that up till now he had only been a steward.
Meanwhile the Heir of Linne, as people still called him--though, like
Esau, he had sold his birthright--went away quite happily now that his
pockets were once more filled with gold, and went on in his old ways,
drinking, and gambling, and rioting, with his boon companions, as if he
thought that this money would last for ever.
But of course it did not, and one fine day, nearly a year after he had
sold his land, he found that his purse was quite empty again, except for
a few small coins.
He had no more land to sell, and for the first time in his life he grew
thoughtful, and began to wonder what he should do. But he never took the
trouble to worry about anything, and he trusted that in the end it would
all come right.
"I have no lack of friends," he thought to himself, "and in the past I
have entertained them right royally; surely now it is their turn to
entertain me, and by and by I shall look for work."
So with a light heart he travelled to Edinburgh, where most of his fine
friends lived, never thinking but that they would be ready to receive
him with open arms. Alas! he had yet to learn that the people who are
most eager to share our prosperity are not always those who are readiest
to share our adversity. With all his faults he had ever been open-handed
and generous, and had lent his money freely, and he went boldly to their
doors, intending to ask them to lend him money in return, now that he
was in need of it.
But, to his surprise, instead of being glad to see him, one and all gave
him the cold shoulder.
At the first house the servant came to the door with the message that
his master was not at home, though the heir could have sworn that a
moment before he had seen him peeping through the window.
The master of the next house was at home, but he began to make excuses,
and to say how sorry he was, but he had just paid all his bills, and he
had no more money by him; while at the third house his friend spoke to
him quite sharply, just as if he had been a stranger, and told him that
he ought to be ashamed of the way he had wasted his father's money, and
sold his land, and that certainly he could not think of lending gold to
him, as he would never expect to see it back again.
The poor young man went out into the street, feeling quite dazed with
"Ah, lack-a-day!" he said to himself bitterly. "So these are the men who
called themselves my friends. As long as I was Heir of Linne, and master
of my father's lands, they seemed to love me right well. Many a meal
have they eaten at my table, and many a pound of mine hath gone into
their pockets; and this is how they repay me."
After this things went from bad to worse. He tried to get work, but no
one would hire him, and it was not very long before the Heir of Linne,
who had been so proud and reckless in his brighter days, was going about
in ragged clothes, begging his bread from door to door. No one who saw
him now would have known him to be the bright-faced, handsome lad of
whom the old lord had been so proud a few years before.
At last, one day when his courage was almost gone, the words which his
father had spoken on his death-bed, and which he had forgotten up till
now, flashed into his mind.
"He said that I would find a faithful friend in the little lodge up in
the glen, when all my other friends had forsaken me," he said to
himself. "I cannot think what he meant, but surely now is the time to
test his words, for surely no man could be more forsaken than I am."
So he turned his face from the city, and wended his way over hill and
dale, moor and river, till he came to the little lodge, standing in the
lonely glen, high up on the moors near the Castle of Linne.
He had hardly seen the tumble-down old place since he was a boy, and
somehow, from his father's words, he expected to find someone living in
it--his good old nurse, perhaps. He was so worn out and miserable that
the tears came into his eyes at the mere thought of seeing her kindly
face. But the old building was quite deserted, and, when he forced open
the rusty lock, and entered, he found nothing but a low, dark,
comfortless room. The walls were bare and damp, and the little window
was so overgrown with ivy that scarcely any light could get in. There
was not even a chair or a table in it, nothing but a long rope with a
noose at the end of it, which hung dangling down from the ceiling.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he noticed that on the
rafter above the rope there was written in large letters--
"Ah, graceless wretch, I knew that thou wouldst soon spoil all, and
bring thyself to poverty. So, to hide thy shame, and bring thy sorrows
to an end, I left this rope, which will prove thy best friend."
"So my father knew the straits which my foolishness would bring me to,
and he thought of this way of ending my life," said the poor young man
to himself, and he felt so heart-broken, and so hopeless, that he put
his head in the noose and tried to hang himself.
But this was not the end of which his father had been thinking when he
wrote the words; he had only meant to give his son a lesson, which he
hoped would be a warning to him. So, when he put his head in the noose,
and took hold of the rope, the beam that it was fastened to gave way,
and the whole ceiling came tumbling down on top of him.
For a long time he lay stunned on the floor, and when at last he came to
himself, he could hardly remember what had happened. At last his eye
fell on a packet, which had fallen down with the wood and the mortar,
and was lying quite close to him.
He picked it up and opened it.
Inside there was a golden key, and a letter, which told him, that, if he
would climb up through the hole in the ceiling, he would find a hidden
room under the roof, and there, built into the wall, he would see three
great chests standing together.
Wondering greatly to himself, he climbed up among the broken rafters,
and he found that what the letter said was true. Sure enough there was a
little dark room hidden under the roof, which no one had known of
before, and there, standing side by side in the wall, were three
There was something written above them, as there had been something
written above the rope, but this time the words filled him with hope.
They ran thus:--
"Once more, my son, I set thee free;
Amend thy Life and follies past:
For if thou dost not amend thy life,
This rope will be thy end at last."
With trembling hands the Heir of Linne fitted the golden key into the
lock of one of the chests. It opened it easily, and when he raised the
lid, what was his joy to find that the chest was full of bags of good
red gold. There was enough of it to buy back his father's land, and when
he saw it he hid his face in his hands, and sobbed for very
The key opened the other two chests as well, and he found that one of
them was also full of gold, while the other was full of silver.
It was plain that his father had known how recklessly he would spend his
money, and had stored up these chests for him here in this hidden place,
where no one was likely to find them, so that when he was penniless, and
had learned how wicked and stupid he had been, he might get another
chance if he liked to take it.
He had indeed learned a lesson.
With outstretched hands he vowed a vow that he would follow his father's
advice and mend his ways, and that from henceforth he would try to be a
better man, and lead a worthier life, and use this money in a better
Then he lifted out three bags of gold, and hid them in his ragged cloak,
and locked up the chests again, and took his way down the hill to his
When he arrived, he peeped in at one of the windows, and there he saw
John o' the Scales, fat and prosperous-looking, sitting with his wife
Joan at the head of the table, and beside them three gentlemen who lived
in the neighbourhood. They were laughing, and feasting, and pledging
each other in glasses of wine, and, as he looked at them, he wondered
how he had ever allowed the sleek, cunning-looking steward to become
Lord of Linne in his father's place.
With something of his old pride he knocked at the door, and demanded
haughtily to speak with the master of the castle. He was taken straight
to the dining-hall, and when John o' the Scales saw him standing in his
rags he broke into a rude laugh.
"Well, Spendthrift," he cried, "and what may thine errand be?"
The heir wondered if this man, who, in the old days had flattered and
fawned upon him, had any pity left, and he determined to try him.
"Good John o' the Scales," he said, "I have come hither to crave thy
help. I pray thee to lend me forty pence."
It was not a large sum. John o' the Scales had often had twice as much
from him, but the churlish fellow started up in a rage.
"Begone, thou thriftless loon," he cried; "thou needst not come hither
to beg. I swear that not one penny wilt thou get from me. I know too
well how thou squandered thy father's gold."
Then the heir turned to John o' the Scales' wife Joan. She was a woman;
perhaps she would be more merciful.
"Sweet madam," he said, "for the sake of blessed charity, bestow some
alms on a poor wayfarer."
But Joan o' the Scales was a hard woman, and she had never loved her
master's son, so she answered rudely, "Nay, by my troth, but thou shalt
get no alms from me. Thou art little better than a vagabond; if we had a
law to punish such, right gladly would I see thee get thy deserts."
Now one of the guests who sat at the board with this rich and prosperous
couple was a knight called Sir Ned Agnew. He was not rich, but he was a
gentleman, and he had been a friend of the old lord, and had known the
Heir when he was a boy, and now, when he saw him standing, ragged and
hungry, in the hall that had once been his own, he could not bear that
he should be driven away with hard and cruel words. Besides, he felt
very indignant with John o' the Scales, for he knew that he had bought
the land far too cheaply. He had not much money to lend, but he could
always spare a little.
"Come back, come back," he cried hastily, as he saw the Heir turn as if
to leave the house. "Whatever thou art now, thou wert once a right good
fellow, and thou wert always ready to part with thy money to anyone who
needed it. I am a poor man myself, but I can lend thee forty pence at
least; in fact I think that I could lend thee eighty, if thou art in
sore want." Then, turning to his host, he added, "The Heir of Linne is a
friend of mine, and I will count it a favour if thou wilt let him have a
seat at thy table. I think it is as little as thou canst do, seeing that
thou hadst the best of the bargain about his land."
John o' the Scales was very angry, but he dare not say much, for he knew
in his heart that what the knight said was true, and, moreover, he did
not want to quarrel with him, for he liked to be able to go to market,
where people were apt to think of him still as the castle steward, and
boast about "my friend, Sir Ned."
"Nay, thou knowest 'tis false," he blustered, "and I'll take my vow
that, far from making a good bargain, I lost money over that matter,
and, to prove what I say, I am willing to offer this young man, in the
presence of you all, his lands back again, for a hundred merks less than
I gave for them."
"'Tis done," cried the Heir of Linne, and before the astonished John o'
the Scales could speak, he had thrown down a piece of money on the table
"'Tis a God's-penny," cried the guests in amazement, for when anyone
threw down a piece of money in that way, it meant that they had accepted
the bargain, and that the other man could not draw back.
Then the Heir pulled out the three bags of gold from under his cloak,
and threw them down on the table before John o' the Scales, who began to
look very grave. He had never dreamt, when he offered to let the young
man buy back the land, that he would ever be able to do it. He had meant
it as a joke, and the joke was very much like turning into a reality.
His face grew longer and longer as the Heir emptied out the good red
gold in a heap.
"Count it," he cried triumphantly. "It is all there, and honest money.
It is thine, and the land is mine, and once more I am the Lord of
Both John o' the Scales and his wife were very much taken aback; but
there was nothing to be done but to count the money and to gather it up.
John would fain have asked to be taken back as steward again, but the
young lord knew now how dishonest he had been, and would not hear of
such a thing.
"No, no," he said, "it is honest men whom I want now, and men who will
be my friends when I am poor, as well as when I am rich. I think I have
found such a man here," and he turned to Sir Ned Agnew. "If thou wilt
accept the post, I shall be glad to have thee for my steward, and for
the keeper of my forests, and my deer, as well. And for everyone of the
pence which thou wert willing to lend me, I will pay thee a full pound."
So once more the rightful lord reigned in the Castle of Linne, and to
everyone's surprise he settled down, and grew so like his father, that
strangers who came to the neighbourhood would not believe the stories
which people told them of the wild things which he had done in his