In common with other parts of the country, Ayrshire was of olden days the scene of not a few miraculous occurrences. When the holy St. Winning, for instance, took up his residence on the banks of the Garnock in the eighth century, he received a visit from a friend, who, fond of fishing cast his line in the pellucid stream whose waters oft refreshed the weary saint. He was an expert angler, but to his chagrin the fish would not respond. They refused to rise to his lure, and charm he never so wisely, not one of the finny denizens of the and the pools would bite. Nettled and irate at his ill-luck, he made complaint to St. Winning, and that holy personage took it upon himself to pronounce a curse on the fiver. The malediction was not long ere it operated. The Garnock left its original channel and sought out another, and from that day to this it has never returned to its primal course.
But, if St. Winning could curse, he could also bless. The tears that ran from his eyes in contemplation of sin and sorrow, and suffering, formed a perennial spring of clear cold water of wondrous medicinal properties. To its healing virtues were brought the maimed and the sick, the halt and the blind, and having partaken of its cooling draught or bathed in its waters, they went their way restored and reinvigorated. Not less wonderful were the portents of the well. When war was approaching it ran with blood. A warning of this description was given in the year 1184, and is vouched for by two ecclesiastical authorities of sanctity and of good repute. For eight days and eight nights the red blood ran, and for nearly as many centuries the tale kept passing on without any satisfactory attempt to explain away the mystery. The possible explanation hardly reflects that credit on the holy men of the monastery that one might desire. "In 1826, when the square, or green, to the west of the monastery, was being levelled, the workmen came upon an old leaden pipe about all inch in diameter which rail from the direction of the building to a fine spring now called Kyles Well. This pipe had a considerable descent could not have been used for the purpose of drawing water from the well to the abbey. Through it, therefore, in all probability, blood, or some liquid resembling it, had been caused to flow into the fountain, and thus the credulity of the people was imposed upon by the appearance of a miracle which served to enhance the fame of the monastery and the power of its priesthood"
The fact, therefore, of the blood flowing may remain, but the portent and the miracle disappear.
It is not often, it must be admitted, that the prince of the powers of darkness does reformation work. Unless he is greatly slandered, his ambition is rather to decoy the sons of men, so that he may take them home with him at the last, than even to frighten them into well-doing. And therefore, when we find a well authenticated case in which good results are found to follow his practical monition, it is just as well that he should have whatever credit we can give him. Satan is not the kind of potentate to do good by stealth and blush to find it fame. The wonder is, none the less, that in the good old days, when he was wont to mingle with men, and when he spent no inconsiderable part of his spare time in appearing to the unwary and half-frightening them out of their wits, they should not have henceforth eschewed evil and learned to do well. It may be that they did, too frequently to suit the taste of the fiend; hence his disappearance from mortal ken during the last few centuries of the Christian era.
In the end of the thirteenth century there lived in Cuninghame a farmer whose name was William. The exact year was 1290; but, apart from the date, the occurrence is distinctly awanting in detail. "Cuninghame" is a large district of country, and " William" is not by any means an uncommon Christian name. However, we must be content with what the historian in the "Chronicle of Lanercost" has left us, and not endeavour to locate William in a given parish or to attempt to identify him with any of the families of the period.
William was wealthy, a farmer to occupation. The world had smiled on him, and he in return smiled on the world. He made a god of his belly. He frequented ale-houses and taverns, and wherever he could get food to eat or liquor to drink, there was William to be found. Nor did heat and drink like ordinary people. Where others ate, he devoured; where others drank, he gulped. He attacked his food as if it was his worst enemy and specially set before him so that he might annihilate it; and when the ale cup was placed on the table he did not need a first, let alone a second, invitation to fall to. He fell to, naturally, and of his own accord. When he could find boon companions to share with him the culinary glories of the field or the fold, he was glad to join their company and to eat in fellowship with them. When they were not to be found, he partook alone. So with the blessings of the brewery or the distillery. He was hail-fellow-well-met with all who would be hail-fellow-well-met with him. But an absence of associates did not slacken his thirst or allay by one jot or tittle his devotion to the rosy god. Men called him a drunken glutton or a gluttonous drunkard, but it was all one to William what they called him. He ate away, and he drank away, just the same.
One afternoon, it was a memorable afternoon in William's experience, he was seated in an ale-house in Cuninghame. The landlord knew him well. William always paid his bills like a man, and the host could afford, therefore, to excuse a good deal in presence of that potent fact. When the farmer entered with hungry eyes and thirsty tongue, he showed him in to his best room. He ransacked the larder and bore its contents thence to gratify the ample appetite of his customer, and he ran out his ale from the generous tap into the very largest measure he could find. William ate as long as he could eat, and he drank until he could drink no more. And then he was happy and as bold as a lion.
And he had need to be. For hardly had he swallowed the last mouthful and drawn the sleeve of his coat across his lips, than he found sitting right opposite him, "the very hideous form of a spirit of the air, with a foul body, a ghastly countenance, and eyes fiery and of a frightful size."
Beside him on the floor sat an open vessel. William fancied there was an unpleasant odour about, and not a self-contained odour either. There was a distinct whiff of brimstone in it, but there was a suggestion of other ingredients which William could not exactly discriminate. His first sensation was one of terror. And no wonder. What mortal man, brought face to face with such an uncouth denizen of the spirit land, could be other than terror-stricken? The demon's face was horrible to behold. Its cheeks were gaunt and wan, "drawn" and twisted in all directions. Its eyes shone with the light of fire and, as they were quite an unusual size, there was quite an unusual quantity of fire in them. The farmer stared. He had never seen anything like this before, and he fervently hoped and prayed he might never see anything like it again. The fiend would have smiled if it could, but fiends do not smile. The very nearest approach to a smile they are possessed of is a horrid leer, and this imp of darkness, wishing to make itself agreeable, leered. William had a good deal of natural courage, and he had, in addition, at this present moment, a good deal that was acquired. So, combining the two, he took a good square look at the demon and nodded his head to it. The demon responded. William took a long sniff.
"Man," he said, finding voice and speaking as boldly as he could, "man, that's an awfu' smell ye've brocht wi' ye." "D'ye not like it?" replied the fiend. "thought it would have been agreeable to you."
"Agreeable!" echoed William. "Agreeable! Ye may ca't agreeable if ye like, but tae my mind its simply disgustin'."
"That's all a matter of taste, William. But really I'm surprised. Never mind, though. I'm glad to see you."
"Are ye? " It's mair than I can say about you, for of a' the ugly, queer looking spirits o' darkness that ever I heard tell o,' I never did hear of ane sae verra plain and ordinar lookin' as yersel’."
The spirit did not seem to take the compliment badly. It leered afresh and then resumed the conversation.
" You seem to enjoy life, William? "
"What for no? Life was given us tae enjoy't. An' even if I dae enjoy't mair than my fellow-mortals, I canna see that it's ony business o'yours. I say, what brocht ye here ? "
"Oh, nothing very particular," replied the leering imp.
"Nothing very particular, William. I was sent here to see you."
"Ye were, were ye ? Ca' ye that naething verra particular? An' noo that ve've seen me, ye can gae awa' again, for I tell ye I dinna like yer company, and 1 can not bear that awfu' smell that ye carry about wi' ye."
"Would you like to know, William, what it is that makes the smell? It's something I've got in this vessel."
"Vessel! Is that what ye ca't? No, I canna be fashed wi' yer vessel. It's bad enouoh tae hae tae smell't owre here wi'oot comin' ony nearer. Besides, tae tell ye the truth, I div not like yer company. Ye hae an unco uncanny look aboot ye."
"Look is like smell, William. It's all a matter of taste. Where I come from I am not re-arded as at all common or bad-looking."
"Maybe no, Mister Deevil"
"No, I am not, I assure you. And, talking of taste, William, what about this way of living of yours? That must be pretty much a matter of taste too? What of your boon companions? What of the bounties you guzzle so continually? What of the drink that you are always swilling?"
"Never fash yer head aboot that. I'd rather tak' a look at what ye ca' yer vessel than hae a moral lecture frae you. Ye're no a verra fittin' body, I'm thinkin’, tae read me or ony ither mortal man a lesson."
Williams courage had risen into familiarity. For the deil, for this deil any way, he cared not a bodkin; and rising from his seat, he neared his strange companion and the vessel from which continued to arise the horrible exhalations.
"Before we look at it," observed the farmer, pausing,
"I'm thinkin' we'd be nane the waur o' a gless o' speerits, just tae keep the stamach straight"
"I never drink," responded the demon.
" That's queer," replied William; "but whether ye drink or no, I dae"
So he poured out a reaming draught of the liquor and quaffed it.
"Noo, I think I can stan' yer vessel. an awfu' smell! "
Well fortified, William approached and looked into the vessel. What it contained he was not very sure. Its contents were a curious mixture of what appeared to be half-digested food and drink of all kinds, fermented, sour, and with a sickening odour, which, as the farmer afterwards declared, "was enough tae ding a pig doun."
"Guid save us! " ejaculated William," what's that?
said the minister of evil, "which thou seest, I have collected from the
vomiting of thy boon companions in your convivial meetings."*(1)
" Preserve us a'! Is't as bad is that ? " inquired the farmer.
" Just as you see it. That is the condition of your stomach at this present moment, and that will be its condition until the close of the chapter."
I'm no sae sure aboot that," gasped William, relapsing into his seat and struggling to keep down the feeling of squeamishness that was creeping over him.
The demon rolled his fiery eyes around, and then fixed their piercing, intense glare on the pale face of the inebriate. Those eyes, they seemed to annihilate the few feet of space that intervened between the two, and they burned into the very soul of the affrighted farmer. He thought his time was come, and falling back on the only talisman he could think of, he made the sign of the Cross, and then fainted away.
When William came to himself, he was lying on the floor of the ale house. He glanced, and then gazed fearfully around. He was all alone. The little demon with the shining orbs had vanished, and save that there was still hanging about the apartment the mingled smell of brimstone and of the contents of the vessel, he had disappeared without a trace of his presence. William was a thankful man. But he was also a badly scared man; and he made haste to join the landlord in the kitchen, so that he might not again have to face such an interview, should the spirit return, in solitariness.
"Man," said the landlord, " but ye're lookin' sick an glum."
"Aye," replied William, "an' you'd look sick in' glum tae if ye had been in my shoon for the last quarter o' all 'oor. What for did ye, let him in?"
"Let wha in ? "
"That wee, wizened, ill-faured lookin' deevil that was in the room wi' me. Ye maun hae seen him as he cam ben. Sic een as he had in his, heid! "
"Ye're dreamin' surely! " said mine host. "There's been, nae wee, wizened lookin' object through this kitchen this blessed day. Ye maun hae been asleep an' dream't it."
"No, I wasna sleepin'," retorted William somewhat angrily; "an ye maun hae seen him. Dinna think tae play yer pranks on me, for I'll hae nane o' them."
The landlord solemnly assured the bewildered guest that he had seen nobody enter and nobody leave the house.
"Weel then," retorted William, "if ye did na see him, ye could na help srnellin' him ony way, an' his infernal vessel, as he ca't it. The verra thocht o't gars me bock."
"An infernal vessel! " the landlord said in astonishment.
" Aye, an infernal vessel," replied William emphatically, "if ye had smell't it like me ye wad na need tae speir twice aboot it, for o' a' the smells that ever yet entered into the heart o' man tae conceive there was never ane, nor seven o' them combined for that matter o't, that could haud a can'le tae yon."
Again the host protested himself in complete ignorance of the strange visitor, and William, fain to believe him, went his way, musing and moralizing on the strange adventure through which he had passed.
But from that day on, a change came over him. The days of his riot and debauchery were it an end. He could still stand up manfully to a generous meal, but he ceased to eat as if the one great and only business in life was the consumption of victuals. He did not sign the pledge probably because there was no pledge to sign, but if he did indulge occasionally in the wine of the country, he did it in such a way that he came to be regarded and recognized as a moderate drinker, as one who had the most complete control of his tastes and his appetite. He devoted himself to good works, became altogether an altered man, and, until the day that he died, remained true to the better life.
The fiend must have been disappointed with the result, but nobody can be disposed to pity him, even if his feelings were hurt a little.