LATTO in his Memoir of Hew Ainslie, gives the following account of Hew’s visit to Burn’s widow. When Hew landed at the cottage, Mrs. Burns “was overrun with visitors, but the stranger introducing himself, she received him in her kindly, motherly way. His manner was very winning when not oppressed by a sense of condescending patronage, and of that Jean had none. They got ‘unco pack and thick thegither’ in less time than it takes to tell it, and, of course, the dead poet formed the staple of the ‘twa-handed crack.’ She communicated to him a good deal that has now passed from a usually retentive memory.
‘Four oors’ was just approaching, and the venerable dame, proceeding to ‘mask’ her tea, courteously invited him to stay and take with her a refreshing cup. They talked of relic-hunters, and she professed herself utterly a-weary of them and their pertinacity. She spoke almost cheerily of the ‘roup’ of their furniture after the great man’s death, and of the ‘awfu’ ’ prices realized by the eight-day clock, dilapidated ‘chairs, pans, griddles, &c.’
‘But oh!’ she said, jokingly, ‘if they were to be sell’t now, they wad bring twenty times mair.’
Hew wanted to take a short walk in some of the bard’s haunts, and she immediately looked for a shawl to accompany him.
‘I’m thinkin’,’ remarked our young man, ‘that can hardly be the shawl ye got frae George Thomson?’
‘No quite,’ was her simple reply, ‘that wad need to ha’e been weel hained to last sae lang. It’s sax-an’-thretty years sin’ he made me that present.’
They walked together to Lincluden Abbey, I think – at anyrate to a ruin – and she stood for a moment on a certain sheltered and lovely spot.
‘It was just here,’ she observed, ‘that my man aften paused, and, I believe, made up mony a poem an’ sang ere he cam’ in to write it down. He was never fractious – aye gude-natured and kind baith to the bairns and to me.’
Hew felt then, as he did long afterwards, that Jean, of all the women in the world, was the one specially fitted to be the poet’s life-long companion. She was indulgent, patient, affectionate, gentle, good, and, above all, most forgiving. When they returned from the trip, Ainslie proposed taking his immediate departure, but, before leaving, grasping her hand, he said –
‘I wad like weel, ere I gae, if ye wad permit me, to kiss the cheek of Burns’s faithfu’ Jean, to be a reminder to me o’ this meetin’ when I am far awa’.’
She laughed, held up her face to him, an’ said – ‘Aye, lad, an’ welcome.’ So he printed a kiss on her still unwithered lips, and that was the last he saw of Jean Armour.’