On, that last day in Lucknow fort!
We knew that it was the last;
That the enemy's lines crept surely on,
And the end was coming fast.
To yield to that foe meant worse than death;
And the men and we all worked on;
It was one day more of smoke and roar,
And then it would all be done.
There was one of us, a corporal's wife,
A fair, young, gentle thing,
Wasted with fever in the siege,
And her mind was wandering.
She lay on the ground, in her Scottish plaid,
And I took her head on my knee;
"When my father comes hame frae the pleugh," she said,
"Oh, then please waken me."
She slept like a child on her father's floor,
In the flecking of woodbine shade,
When the house-dog sprawls by the open door,
And the mother's wheel is stayed.
It was smoke and roar and powder-stench,
And hopeless waiting for death;
And the soldier's wife, like a full-tired child,
Seemed scarce to draw her breath.
I sank to sleep, and I had my dream
Of an English village-lane,
And wall and garden; -- but one wild scream
Brought me back to the roar again.
There Jessie Brown stood listening
Till a sudden gladness broke
All over her face; and she caught my hand
And drew me near as she spoke: --
"The Hielanders! Oh, dinna ye hear
The slogan far away
The McGregor's. Oh! I ken it week
It 's the grandest o' them a'!
"God bless the bonny Hielanders !
We're saved! we 're saved! " she cried;
And fell on her knees; and thanks to God
Flowed forth like a full flood-tide.
Along the battery line her cry
Had fallen among the men,
And they started back; -- they were there to
But was life so near them, then?
They listened for life; the rattling fire
Far off, and that far-off roar,
Were all, and the colonel shook his head,
And they turned to their guns once more.
But Jessie said, "The slogan 's done;
But winna ye hear it noo?
'The Campbells are coming'? It's no a
Our succors hae broken through!"
We heard the roar and the rattle afar,
But the pipes we could not hear;
So the men plied their work of hopeless war,
And knew that the end was near.
It was not long ere it made its way,
A thrilling, ceaseless sound:
It was no noise from the strife afar,
Or the sappers under ground.
It was the pipes of the Highlanders!
And now they played "Auld Lang Syne."
It came to our men like the voice of God,
And they shouted along the line.
And they wept, and shook one another's hands,
And the women sobbed in a crowd;
And every one knelt down where he stood,
And we all thanked God aloud.
That happy time, when we welcomed them,
Our men put Jessie first;
And the general gave her his hand, and cheers
Like a storm from the soldiers burst.
And the pipers' ribbons and tartan streamed,
Marching round and round our line;
And our joyful cheers were broken with tears,
As the pipes played "Auld Lang Syne."