Scottish Poetry Selection
- The Five Shilling Fee

In days gone by, hiring out their children to work for board and lodging and a small wage was a common way for poor families to make ends meet.

The Five Shilling Fee

Ma Mither was wae, for ma faither was deid,
And they threatened tae tak' the auld hoose ower her heid:
Her earnings grew scant, and the meal it grew dear,
I wis the auldest o' five and could whiles see a tear
When she cam' hame at nicht, glistnin' bricht in her een
Half-hid as if it just didna 'want tae be seen.
I spoke nae a word but my wee heart would ache
And I wished I was big for my puir Mither's sake.

There were fairmers aroon' wantin' herds for their kye
And ma Mither had said she had yin that would try.
I mind how I trembled, half fear and half joy
When a maister ca'd on us, for tae look at the boy.
He bade me stand up for he thocht I was wee
But my frank honest face he said pleased his e'e,
He would tak' me and try me for sax months to see,
For a pair o' new shune and a five-shilling fee.

So I set to my wark and I pleased richt weel
Just a word or a wave and I plied ban' and heel
But ma troubles cam' oan, the fences were bad,
And the mid-summer flees gar the cattle run mad,
And in cauld blashy weather sae drenched wi' the rain,
Wee thochts o' leavin'would steal o'er ma brain.
But wi' courage I aye dashed the tear frae ma e'e
When I thocht o' ma shune and ma five-shilling fee.

But the long-looked for Martinmass cam' wi' its store
And proudly I coonted it twenty times o'er,
Though years since have fled in a fortunate train
I never could feel such rapture again.
The sailor just safe o'er the wild breakers steered,
Proud Waterloo's victor when Blucher appeared
Ne'er felt what I felt when I placed on the knee
Of a fond-hearted Mither, ma five-shillin' fee.

Meaning of unusual words:
wae=wretched, sorrowful
five-shilling=equivalent to 25 new pence
ban' and heel=straw and scythe
blashy=drenching shower of rain
Martinmass=legal term day in November when servants changed employment

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