Long, long, and fierce were the, feuds between the Craufurds and the Kennedys. Great lords of Kyle, the Craufurds were the powerful in men, and in money, and in influence. They dwelt in the Castles of Kerse, of Lessnorris, of Dronogan: and many a raid was directed thence against their feudal foes of Carrick. The Kennedy’s in the fifteenth and in the earlier part of the sixteenth centuries were not riven by internal dissension. The laird of Bargany had not separated himself from the standard of Cassillis and set up a rival power of his own; and from Cassillis House, hard by the Doon, south as far as the grey towers of Ardstinchar, and thence across the march of the county into Wigtown, the Kennedys came forth as one man to the fray. They were ever ready for the ride into Kyle, whose broad plains were none the less attractive to them that they were tenanted by their hereditary foes, the Craufurds. Many a deed of derring-do was performed in these family struggles. Success now sat upon this shield, and then upon that. Now the Kennedys fled before the Craufurds, and put the Doon between them and their hard-riding, hard-fighting foes; and now the Craufurds retreated before the impetuous onslaughts of the men of Carrick. Tradition says that the Kennedys marched long ago, as early as the thirteenth century, right into the heart of the enemy's domain, and fired the Castle of Loudoun, reducing it to ashes, while it was in the possession and in the occupation of Alexander Craufurd, the hereditary sheriff of the shire. From this redoubted chief sprang Sir Reginald Craufurd, whose murder by the English incited the ire of Sir William Wallace, whose uncle he was, and who so signally avenged his death by setting fire to the Barns of Ayr while they were occupied by the alien soldiery.
Down through three centuries ran the blood feud between the Kennedys and the Craufurds. It was still at its height in the first twenty-five or thirty years of the sixteenth century, and, so far as reliable records go, the Craufurds seem, on the whole, to have had the best of individual enterprises. They marched into Carrick, where the head of the bailiary, Hew, Earl of Eglinton, was holding his Court, and forced him to suspend proceedings. They laid siege to, and captured, the Castle of Loch Doon, then held by Sir David Kennedy; and, to crown their misdeeds, they, in conjunction with their friends and followers, waylaid the Earl of Cassillis as he was riding past Prestwick, and slew him fighting for his life. For these misdeeds they were called to account, but their powerful influence was sufficient to enable them to obtain such terms as did not, in the carrying of them out, impede them in the prosecution of the steady blood feud which occupied their energies, without exhausting them, century upon century. Many are the fruitful incidents of these long years of struggle; many the deed worthy of being commemorated; many the fight and the flight of these troublous times. That which follows is selected because it is unique. It is largely traditional, but the traditions are, distinct and well preserved. They are reliable enough to have satisfied Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, who was connected by marriage with the Craufurd family, and who was not likely to have, accepted the story without reasonably minute investigation.
The century was the fifteenth, and then, as long before, and long after, the rivals on either side of the Doon were watching one another with a bitter intensity which found vent in frequent incursions into one another's territories. The chief of the Craufurds was the old Laird of Kerse. His fighting days were done. Times were when he had led the van in the onset, but the stealing march of time had quenched his. vigour, if it had not tamed the pride of his spirit. He lived anew in his sons, tall, deep-chested, broad shouldered men, as once their sire had himself been. But, though he never now went a-harrying or a fighting, he remained head of the house in truth as well as in seniority, and never an expedition was undertaken without consulting him. The halls of Kerse Castle, were open to his followers.
He held court there, and in the long nights, when the venison haunch smoked on the board and the cheering cup passed down the well-filled tables, he entertained his family and guests with the tales of what had been. He inspired their courage as he told them of the encounters in which he had taken part, and lie stimulated their hatred to their powerful rivals in Carrick as he recounted what evils they had done on the plains of Kyle. The family and the guests alike listened open-mouthed to his stories; and as they gazed upon his once massive, but now shrunken, limbs, they realized that, in the full strength of his manhood, Kerse must have been a leader worthy to follow and to serve.
It was on one of those occasions, when the cup and the "crack " went round, that the warden announced a visitor. " Show in the stranger," said Kerse, " there's wealth enough in our almourie for ten, instead of one." The warden obeyed, and the stranger entered with bold footstep and undaunted air. As he doffed his cap and stood facing the company, revealing, the handsome features of Gilbert Kennedy, a scion of the house of Bargany, Craufurd's sons sprang to their feet and laid their hands upon the hilts of their swords, which they wore even at the festive board, or which were laid close by them for instant use. Kerse turned to the warden "Comes he alone ?" he asked. " He does," replied the warden, " and the gates are shut behind him." " Then," quickly responded Kerse, to his sons, " put by your swords. You are not going to draw them upon the lad." The Craufurds needed no second telling. They laid aside or sheathed their weapons, and waited with a curiosity they did not attempt to hide to hear what Kennedy had to say. " Young man," said Kerse, addressing the representative of the Kennedys, " to what strange fortune do we owe your visit were you not afraid to pass within the gates of Kerse? Kennedy laughed frankly. " Afraid, Kerse; No, not afraid. You would not dare to harm an unarmed man who put himself freely within your power. That is not the way of the Craufurds." " No, lad, it is not," returned Kerse, stroking his beard as he looked admiringly on the stranger. "You are right; it is not their way. But why are You here? Stay, though, a little; you must have refreshment." "Not till I have told my errand," replied Kennedy. " Then, say on," briefly returned the chief of the Craufurds, putting his arms on the table and assuming an attitude of attention.
" I bring defiance from the bold Bargany," said Kennedy.
"When morning breaks on Lammas Day, he will tether a sow upon the lands of Kerse, and deil a man of Kyle shall flit her." Kerse eyed the youth half admiringly, half contemptuously. "Ye're a bauld birkle," he ejaculated, " to bring any such message to these halls. But go back to him who sent you, and say we accept his challenge; and, though the Kennedys gather from the water of Stinchar, over all the plains of Carrick to the river Doon, by the keep of Cassillis, the Craufurds will not say them nay. There shall be no sow tethered upon the lands of Kerse on Lammas morning." "Aye, that there shall," retorted Kennedy, "nor will all your power prevent it." " That remains to be seen, and to be felt," was the response of the old chief, as he struck the table with his heavy hand. " Harkee, lad," continued Kerse, " the road is free and open for you to go; it will be closed ere long so take my advice, and begone!" Kennedy turned to leave. " You are not going to allow him to depart, father asked Kerse's eldest son, the stout Esplin. " Why not?" replied Kerse, " he is but a messenger and a boy. Let him go; and mind, boy," he added addressing Kennedy, " no delay." Gilbert took the hint, and marched proud in bearing and with head erect, from the hall, leaving the Craufurds to discuss the message so boldly conveyed.
It lacked but three days of Lammas, and they were three busy days on both sides of the dividing river. From all quarters the Kennedys called in their men. Their horsemen rode along the valley of the Stinchar, through the quiet pastoral valley which has its outlet at Ballantrae, and is watered by the most pellucid of streams. They startled the dwellers in the sleepy hamlet of Colmonell. Among the hills of Barr, by the moors and mosses beyond Barrhill, they rode, calling, in the retainers, who flocked to the standard of Bargany. Girvan sent its detachment, and Dailly and Kilkerran and Kirkmichael and Kirkoswald.
The steep High Street of grey Maybole resounded to the tread of the gathering feet. And when the messengers had done their errand, and the Kennedys poured into the stretching haugh amid the great plane trees of Cassillis, well mounted, well armed, high in spirits, and eager for the fray, the King of Carrick might well view them with pride. The raid was Bargany's, however, not his ; but he, as the chief of the sept, surveyed his retainers as they stood in front of the peel and gave them counsel for the morrow.
And if the Kennedys were ready, so were the Craufurds. They did not come from such a vast stretch of country as did their foes, but still many of them had a long day's ride ere they halted in front of the Castle of Kerse. They gathered from where Ayrshire is typical, along the upper reaches of the water of Ayr; from the plains of Mauchline and of Dreghorn and Tarbolton, and from the cold upper lands of Muirkirk, of Galston, and of Cumnock, Cairntable and Wardlaw and Blacksideend saw not a few of them as they rode past the bases crowned by their dark summits: and other riders pricked their way through the moss-hags where, later in the world's history, the Covenanters were lulled to rest by the eerie cry of the swamp birds. Wherever they came from, they came all the same; and, with rattle of helmet and sheen of breast-plate, with sword and spear and dagger, with large-handled, wide-mouthed pistols at their saddle-bows, and hagbuts slung across their backs, in many a guise, by many a path, they reached the halls of Kerse. The venerable chief came down and moved about among them. Fain would he have accompanied them on the morrow; but his tottering limbs and his grey locks forbade such a possibility. He inspired them by his presence, by his few simple words of incitement to duty and to daring and by his prediction that ere the morning sun had risen over the tree tops, the forces of the Kennedys would be riding home broken and beaten through the forest of Dalrymple. Craufurd's eldest son, Esplin, was leader of the band; and the Lairds of Drongan and of Loudoun and of Lessnorris, in addition to his younger brother, formed what may be called his staff. As the Kennedys did at Cassillis, so did the Craufurds at Kerse, they lay down to sleep on the ground like men ready for the fray. Long ere the sun showed above the horizon, the rival forces were on the march. Their destination was in the vicinity of the village of Dalrymple, the scene of other conflicts than this. Neither of the rival companies had far to march, for Kerse is in the parish of Dalrymple, and Cassillis House is not far removed from it, but both were anxious to be early on the scene. The veteran chief of the Craufurds, regretful that he could not accompany his men, watched them as far as his eyesight could carry him; and when the last horse hoof had died away in the distance, and the troop had swept swiftly beyond ken, he sat him down on a rude oaken bench in front of the keep, and permitted himself in fancy to go with them.
What a longing possessed the old man for a return of the strength of his, younger days, if only for this one morning! But the insurmountable barriers of failing nature had long interposed their veto, and he could naught but sit, and think, and long for the tidings of the fray. He watched the morning sun casting up his beams like streaks of gold athwart the pale green and blue sky, and he knew that ere the luminary himself should unfold the full glories of his beauteous disc, the Craufurds. would be within easy hail of the Kirk of Dalrymple, past the haughs of Skeldon, and in full view of the Carrick yeomen, as they emerged from the shadows of the pine and oak trees of the Dalrymple forest. He saw it all, the spreading haughs, the river shining like a streak of silver as it placidly flowed past, the background of the forest, the expectant, ready Kennedys, and his own impetuous followers longing for the conflict. Then he heard the ringing shouts of the leaders, the clatter of the horses hoofs as they sped across the intervening between the combatants, the cheers of the Craufurd's as they swung high their battle-axes, the groans, the cries of the hand-to-hand conflict, the ring of steel upon steel, and the rattle of the firearms. And as the scene brightened, he saw in his mental vision the rushing together of the combatants, the spurting of the red blood, men unhorsed horses flying, the wounded creeping and crawling out of the Gehenna, the dying and the dead. The scene came and went, once and again. At times the mental exhaustion induced physical, and he succumbed to the weariness, which accompanies old age and failing energies, but he ever rallied anew, and anew he brought the strife within his ken. And there he sat looking out over the loch of Kerse until the news came.
Meanwhile the conflict was raging. The Kennedys were there in waiting with the obnoxious, sow in the keeping of a swine herd. They had crossed the Doon on the upper side of Dalrymple, and had chosen as the scene of the struggle one of the holms of Skeldon. Behind them ran the river, fringed with its margin of trees, and before them stretched the grassy sward, green in its early autumnal beauty. Kennedy of Bargany himself was there, the bold Bargany from Girvan side, a tried warrior in the feudal strife, strong of soul and of body, and hardened to the fray ; and with him were a score of gentlemen representing branches of the great Carrick clan ; some of them from keeps and castles nestling in the fertile plains of the bailiary ; some from peels backed by the fortalice of the hills which rise on the confines of the shire ; and some whose slumbers at home were soothed by the monotone of the waves and the sighing of the wind on the main. There was no lack of courage or of enthusiasm, or of determination to have the challenge realised. The nature of the challenge had stung the haughty hearts of the Craufurds, and steeled them to dour, determined hostility; and as they gathered behind their leader, Esplin the brave, there was not a man among them who was not prepared to stake his life rather than that the honour of the name that leader bore, should be sullied or tarnished.
The conflict was not one for firearms. The hagbut, and even the pistol at short range, was, but a dubious and uncertain weapon ; and though at the outset, ere they charged, volleys were exchanged, it was not until the hagbuts had been thrown away and the ranks opened out, so as, to give the individual riders free play to their right arms, that the stern joy of the warrior was, experienced. The distance was short, the steeds were swift, the ardour of the combatants high ; and on they came like two surcharged clouds towards the thunder of battle. Shouts rent the air, cries of defiance and of encouragement ; and the struggle raged with fury and with fire. Down went horses and men, Kennedys and Craufurds in common misfortune. Esplin rode in the van, his giant form towering above those of his followers, and every blow he struck was that of a hero. He rode hither and thither, and wherever the Craufurds were beset, or hard bestead, he was by them to cheer them on and to swing his battle-axe, death-dealing as it fell. He saw his brother John go down a corpse, his head cleft open from forehead to chill ; and, bounding on the man who had struck the fatal blow, he sent his, spirit after that of his brother ere he could lift his hand to stay the stroke of doom. Nor was Bargany sparing of his valour ; but stand right, grimly though he did, the impetuosity of the Craufurds bore him and his steadily back to the brink of the river. On and still on the Kerse men pressed, without stop or stay, until, with one grand rally they forced the Kennedys over the embankment and into the river, whose limpid waters now ran discoloured to the sea. Fate was sore upon the sons of Carrick that morning, and ere the orb of day had risen well above the tree tops the Craufurds halted on the brink of the Doon and counted the slain. The ground was covered with the dead and the dying; but amid the ghastly scene the Craufurds raised high their shouts of victory ere they turned to succour the wounded and to count their losses. No sooner was the short, sharp conflict o'er, than Esplin despatched a messenger to tell his sire how the fight had gone.
The old chief, sitting under shadow of his own grey halls, was the prey of contending emotions. It is easier to many men to face danger than to wait tidings of import that may be fatal from the scene of danger. And so it was with Craufurd. Like the tides, his hopes and fears ebbed and flowed. He knew the stern chances of conflict; he knew the Kennedys were valorous; and he realized the possibility that victory might fall to their banners and not to his. He tried to battle down his fears, and succeeded after a fashion, but they were ever there, lying like a dark background, and casting their lurid shadows across his hopes. Time sped all too slowly. The sun was high above the tree tops, and yet there were no tidings. Was Carrick down? Was Kyle up? Was Esplin of the brawny frame and the lion heart dealing death blows among the Kennedys, or were the Kennedys establishing their foothold on the Kyle banks of the Doon? But above all these, and beyond them, of greater importance than they, was the sow flitted? That was the crucial thing. Was the insult in word and in threat to be established in deed and in truth, or were the challengers to disgrace for ever the name of Craufurd by tethering the sow on the lands of Kerse?
As thus he sat, his anxious gaze roamed over the country. Time and again he fancied he detected a messenger riding towards him, but time and again his vision played him false. Still, he must come, he could not be far away, he could not be long. Oh the slow lapsing minutes of the Lammas morn:
At length, as he gazed, he did see, slow riding across the country, the bearer of tidings which he longed to hear. There was no mistake about it this time it was indeed the courier. Why did he not in, greater haste? Why did he ride so heavily? If he bore good new surely he would Spur his horse to its utmost speed. But then, mused Kerse, the horse must be tired. Like the rider, it had come through a hard contest; besides, the country was heavy, and it was possible the animal might it have sustained a wound. As thus he reasoned, and thought, and wearied, the horseman drew nearer and nearer. The old chief's excitement could bear the strain no longer; and he arose from the seat on which he had awaited the issue, and advanced to a point overlooking the plain, across which the rider was still advancing steadily. Raising his voice ere yet the messenger was well within hail, Kerse cried, full loud and clear,
"is the sow flitted?"
The horseman raised his hand to indicate that he was making all the haste he could ; and Kerse saw that the horse on which he rode was jaded, and that its sides were white with foam, while, the breath issued from its, nostrils in hot, steaming exhalations. It was an anxious moment for the veteran.
Is the sow flitted? he cried again. "Tell me, loon, is, the sow flitted?"
The courier reined lip in front of' the castle, and doffed his cap.
"Alas, alas! " he said, " your son John is dead, he fell ere we could save him, but Esplin "
"Tell me, tell me," impatiently demanded the chief, "tell me what I ask. Is the sow flitted"
"Ay, sir, the sow's flitted, and five score Kennedys are drowned in the Doon."
"My thumb for Jock!" shouted the old man gleefully, snapping his fingers as he realized that victory was theirs, " My Thumb for Jock! The Sow's Flitted".