The Laird of Changue is one of the notables of the Barr hills; and if it be true, as deponeth the ballad, that be made, compact with the deil, and then thrashed the deil when he came to demand that the compact should be finally sealed, his great achievement deserves to be recorded in the annals of history. When the Laird lived it would not be very easy to say. It must have been long ago. But that he did live, we have on the authentic story of the Poet Laureate of the hills of southern Carrick.
Barr is the most mountainous parish of the shire. The greater part of its surface consists of hills; and what is not hilly is, in the main, the valleys caused by the sudden and precipitous descent of the crags on the level haughs of the Stinchar, the Cree, and the Water of Minnoch. The highest of the mountain tops is that of Shalloch on Minnoch, which towers to an altitude of 2,520 feet ; next comes Polmaddie, and after it Shalloch, and Haggis and Rowantree, and Eldrick, and Blackhill, and half a dozen more, all rising to the south of the Stinchar; while dominating the river on the north are Whiterow, Scaurs, Lennie, the Tappins, Jedbrugh, Auchensoul, with a few companions, all rather bald and bare, but presenting in combination and in grouping, scenes of Highland beauty which have no counterpart elsewhere in all Ayrshire. Across the border into Galloway the hills stretch on and away, bigger, more massive, and not less rugged, until they culminate in Kirriereoch and Minnigaff, the latter of which pierces the blue at an elevation of 2,764 feet above the level of the sea.
You cannot travel at all in Barr without feeling that you are far removed from the haunts of men. There is a cloudland and a muirland air about it. The wind whistles cold and shrill through its glens. In winter the rivers come down full to the brim, roaring in their rocky beds and spreading afar on the low-lying plains adjacent. The patient shepherd with his dogs, trailing along the hill-sides; the black faces feeding on the scanty verdure; the rocks scattered hither and thither by the forces of nature; the lonely farm houses by the steep waysides; the little village lying deep down in seclusion, shut out from the busy world; the belts of trees which here and there oppose themselves to the wandering winds; the sharp curved paths, all tell the same story.
Rugged as are the mountains, and long as are the miles, the natives of Barr are proud of their parish and of its associations. They recall many a story, many a reminiscence of the good old days when the Fair of Kirkdamdie was held, and when all the country-side from far and near gathered in to barter and to sport, and to fight with all the ardour of the boys of Donnybrook; and they tell tales of the smuggling days when the illicit stills sent their quiet smoke up into the clouds, and when, revenue officers to the contrary, large quantities of peat-scented whisky, the wine of the country, were smuggled out of the neighbourhood into the lower lying and more populous parts of Galloway. In some respects the glory has departed. Kirkdamdie is only a memory now, though it was a noted fair in its day; and the last of the smugglers has given up the contest with the officers of the excise.
The Laird of Changue was a noted smuggler, and as bold and desperate as he was notorious. He cared for neither man nor devil. Amid the quiet of the hills he distilled his liquor, and then he set forth by the hidden paths and the most unfrequented routes to dispose of it. He was a good customer at his own still, and wherever he went he was hail-fellow-well-met with those with whom he trafficked.
At Kirkdamdie Fair he was not less known than feared. His courage was high, and his physical strength was in proportion to his courage; and when he laid about him with his cudgel or drew his long sword, there were very few of the roystering lads who centred at Barr while the fun was at its height, who cared to oppose themselves to him. When he lived the glory of the fair was in the zenith. It was the one market in the parish for the year, and worthy were the preparations made to receive the travelling merchants who came, on foot and on horseback, across the hills, to dispose of their wares. There were from thirty to forty tents or booths erected. On the evening preceding the fair the country folks gathered in from all quarters, full of fun in prospective, and with pockets well-lined with money. There was abundant store of liquor there were spae wives and fortune tellers ; there were ballad singers and wandering minstrels; farmers and their wives, farm servants, male and female, all gathered on the one spot, full of the common intent. The fair proper began at early morn. The earlier hours of the day were given up to legitimate trading, to the sale of sheep, to the buying, selling, and bartering of wool, and to the laying in of stores for the winter months. This concluded, the pipers and the fiddlers tuned their instruments ; the lads and lasses footed it unwearily on the sward; the booths resounded with song and clatter. By-and-bye the pugilistic tendencies awoke, as they were intended and expected to awake, and free fights were the order of the day and of the night. The scene became riotous. Many a stiff "clout" was given and returned , there was many a broken head; pitched battles were a characteristic of the fair; and it was not until the long twilight had died out on the hill tops and left the mountain giants' black reflected against the deep sombre blue of night, that the revellers retired from the scene of their mirth. The Laird of Changue had no compeers, and his prowess in the encounters was something to remember and to talk about.
The Laird had capacity enough to make money; he had a double capacity to spend it; and consequently, whatever riches he secured took wings and flew away, even as the eagle sped over the hills of Barr. He was alternately wealthy and poor, beyond the reach of care and in the direst financial difficulties. Now, it is a well known fact that, in these olden days, there was one special way of making money. All else might fall, but the special way never could and never did fail. There were few who cared to risk the compact which it involved ; and there were almost none who failed to regret to their dying day, and long after it, that they had entered into the unholy alliance which it was necessary to make, in order to obtain a constant supply of wealth and worldly gear. For the compact was with the deil himself. On the one hand, the purchase price which he exacted was the immortal soul ; on the other, he gave in return wealth galore.
On one occasion when the Laird was in deepest difficulties and knew nut what to do, Satan put in an appearance. The Laird was in no wise daunted, for lie feared neither man nor devil. He was anxious to be rid of financial depression and he cared not a boddle at what price he purchased relief from his cares. The appearance of the devil would have affrighted most men ; not so the Laird. He struck the desired bargain without a qualm or if perchance his conscience rose in momentary revolt against the deed he was about to do, he forced it to slumber. The deil was lavish in his promises, The Laird was to have money; the work of his hands was to prosper; whatever he touched was to turn out remunerative. In return the deil was to have his soul, that was all. If all stories are true concerning the Laird of Changue, it is clear that the deil did not evince much wisdom in the compact. Had he only let Changue alone, he might have had him without any bargain. But perhaps he wished to make doubly sure; and hence his anxiety to gain so redoubtable a spirit as that of the doughty smuggler.
The bargain struck, the devil went his way, and a new chapter opened out in the history of the Laird. The,, world frowned no more on him. In his smuggling expeditions he was invariably successful. The excisemen hunted for him and after him in vain. He eluded their prying eyes; and look and gaze and stare as they might, they never detected the curling smoke of his still rising into the clear, cold air of the hills. He spent money, but he made it faster than he spent it. Nobody ever took him in, and none of his speculations went awry. He added house to house, and field to field. The impecunious man disappeared, and in his place, was the wealthy, well-favoured Laird, with his barns full, and no evil or ill-luck befalling him. If he ever thought of the fulfilling of the compact it did not vex him, for his heart remained stout and his arm strong, and he felt in his inmost soul that the deil would have all his work cut out for him ere he carried him off to his infernal den. And as the years rolled on, the memories of the meeting with the Father of Evil became fainter and fainter. Because the deil never came, Changue reasoned with himself that, he never would come ; and he went on his way rejoicing, drinking and trading and smuggling and making money, all careless of what the future had in store for him.
But the deil was neither asleep nor forgetful; he was only biding his time. And when he thought he had given the Laird a sufficiently long spell of life and of wealth, he resolved to take him home with him. Little reckoned he the character of the man with whom he had to cope. After the most approved fashion, however, he appeared on a lone spot to the Laird of Changue and told him that his time had come. The Laird stoutly replied that, time or no time, he meant to abide where he was, and he roundly condemned the deil to his own hot domains. This was more than the deil could stand; so he informed the Laird that if he would not come willingly, he must take him by force. "By force then be it," was what Changue in substance replied. After the style of the foul fiend in the Pilgrim's Progress, the adversary of mankind approached the smuggler who drew on him at once with his keen bladed sword, and dared him to mortal combat. Before beginning the fray, however, he drew a circle round about the spot whereon they stood, with the point of his sword ; and then, without appeal to either saint or scripture, he set about to work out his own salvation. The deil's tactics were uncommonly like those of a man. When he saw that he could not carry the Laird off without a severe tussle, he tried various means to drive him out of the ring in which they stood. Satan comprehended quite well what that ring was for. If he could put Changue without its magic circle then was the victory his, and away to the deepest depths of Gehenna he would carry the Laird; if, on the other hand. he failed in his purpose, or if he was driven outside the circle himself, then must he betake himself to his own dark domains without his prey. There was every inducement to the Laird to make a life and death struggle. It was nothing short of that for him, for victory to the deil meant death eternal as well as temporal to the Laird of Changue.
First of all Satan tried with all his might and main to kick the Laird out of the circle. But he kicked neither wisely nor well, for the Laird struck at his cloven hoof such a blow that he enlarged the natural slit by several inches. This made him the more savage and he resorted to his second line of attack; he brought his tail into play. In the tip of the tail was a deadly sting and if he could but insert that in the body of the Laird, the death of the latter was certain. Changue knew this, and as the tail with its envenomed point swung round, he let drive at it with his sword, and so deftly he smote it that down to the ground fell the sting, fatal no longer. This nerved the Laird to greater courage, and verily he required it; for Satan, the more angry grown, turned upon him the horrid horns which grew out of his head. With these he expected to gore him to death; but a third time he failed of his purpose. Changue's sword, grown into his hand and moving like lightning, fell on the horns, and both these formidable weapons dropped to the earth. Things were getting desperate with the inexorable Prince of Darkness ; but as one part of his infernal armoury was rendered useless after another, he developed more terrible weapons. Give way he would not and neither would the Laird.
There was a breathing space for a moment. The deil eyed Changue, and Changue in return eyed the deil. Both were panting heavily, but both had plenty of reserve force left, and the will to use it as well. The brief respite closed, Satan again pressed home. It would have terrified any ordinary mortal to have seen how he spread out his two expansive wings, which sprung from his shoulders, and how, as he rose from the ground so as to crush his opponent, the fire flew from his mouth ; and though Changue was no ordinary mortal, it must be confessed the gruesome aspect of the foe well-nigh set him a-quaking. But he recovered his courage in an instant and nerved himself for the onslaught. Satan made at him, and he at Satan, and at it they went. The good brand again proved true. With one powerful sweep it descended on the very joints of the wings, where, they were fastened on to the dell's shoulders. Down to the earth fell the Adversary. Satan roared with pain ; but jumping up again he sprang at the Laird with all the cataract force still left him, in one final attempt to hurl the hero from the circle. This was his last effort, and it was a futile one, for Changue, collecting all his energies, and cheered by the prospect of the coming victory, hit him on the mouth with the sharp steel so deadly a blow that he sent him spinning, howling with rage and pain, to the outside of the sword-drawn circle. The deil had had enough of it and he fled the scene, leaving the Laird of Changue master of the situation.
How it fared with the Laird afterwards tradition doth not depone ; but it may be taken for granted that the deil troubled him no more.