As night was falling, a September night of the year 1530, there was a gathering of the troopers of Carrick in the court-yard of Cloncaird. Sixty Men and more came riding in.
Some of these from Doonside, some from the Girvan's banks: not common yoemen and men-at-arms, who rode at the beck and call of their chiefs, but nearly all scions of powerful houses. Blairquhan sent its contingent of Kennedys; so, too, did Bargany, and Cassillis, and Guiltree, and when the raiders assembled at Cloncaird, there was a fair representation of every branch of the great family of Carrick. The power of the Kennedys was unbroken over the whole of Ayrshire, from the Doon to the confines of the shire. Their castles sat upon the rising grounds of the woody vale of Stinchar, they graced the haughs of the Girvan, their walls were washed by the murmuring stream which separated Kyle from the free lances of the bailiary, they were found in the thickest of the woodland, in the shelter of the rocks, on the sea-grit coast.
At any time, and at all times, a raid upon their hereditary foes was an attraction. The Craufurds, who kept the frontier, were as ready to reciprocate; and often in the nights of the fall, when the moon shone bright, rival bands crossed from one side of the Doon to the other to sweep the beeves from the lea and drive the sheep from the pen on the hill side. These cattle-lifting raids were periodical. Many a stout conflict they engendered, and many a man went down before the onslaught of the raiders or under the keen blades of the defenders. Retaliation was always in the air. It only needed the word to be passed to bring the horsemen together ; and so, when the message sped from Cloncaird that a raid was forthcoming on the herds and flocks of green Barbieston Glen, the houses and the castles of Carrick sent forth their representatives to shave in the excitement.
The Laird of Cloncaird, Patrick Mure, was connected by marriage with the Kennedys. He followed the fortunes of the Earl of Cassillis. It was at his instigation the raid was promoted, and it was in response to his summons that the Kennedys assembled. From Cloncaird to the southerly bank of the Doon was not a long ride, and it was not until the moon had risen that the raiders set out on their expedition. The villagers of Kirkmichael heard their horse hoofs as they passed. Well they knew their meaning. Such sounds were familiar to thern, and they only shrugged their shoulders as they thought that some of the raiders might return no more to tell the tale of the night's adventure. A nearer way might have been chosen, but Cloneaird intended to keep his own side of the Doon as long as he could; and so he followed the highway until he entered the shades of Cassillis.
They are quiet enough to-day, these shades. The Doon maintains its ceaseless babble, carrying its story onwards as it flows, and rythmically running as if its waters had never borne a secret on their breast. And yet, were the divinities of the river to speak in comprehensible tones, what a tale they could tell ! In that square old peel that sits so placidly there, dwelt a succession of men who held Carrick in a grip of iron. They are all lying peacefully in the churchyard at Maybole; but from the day when the laird of grey Dunure crossed from the coast and wedded the mistress of Cassillis, down through three long centuries, the men who dwelt within the walls of that historic house made a whole country-side subservient to them. By the force of indomitable will they became the recognized chiefs of all southern Ayrshire and of a great part of Galloway, and by the strength of their arms and the valour of their bearing they relentlessly crushed out all opposition to their iron rule. The memories clustered thick around the castle and the branches of the great planes nodded their knowledge of many a wild and lawless deed, even when Cloncaird and his followers rode beneath the shadow of the keep and beneath the branches of the trees. It was a familiar echo that the walls gave back as the raiders passed, holding on their way towards the Kirk of Dalrymple and the river ford close by.
The night was still. Not a breath of wind stirred the foliage of the Dalrymple forest. Overhead sailed the moon, bringing out in relief the dense arborial mass, the flat top of the Downans, the interlacing streak of the river, the sleeping hamlets, and the distant hills along the coast and inland. Hitherto the route had been through a friendly country but when the Doon was crossed at the ford and the riders were upon the territory of the Craufurds, there was need for extreme caution. Kerse was a watchful, wary fox. Not once or twice had his followers awaited on the verge of the river the coming of the Kennedys, and driven them back into the stream ere their struggling, horses could obtain a footing on the yielding banks ; and even when the passage of the river had been accomplished, the horsemen of Kyle had been found awaiting the arrival of the cattle-lifters under the dark shadow of the woodland. And when the Craufurds were not out in force, a solitary watchman had been discovered by the clattering of his horse as he rode away across the country towards Kerse, to tell that the Carrick raiders were abroad and to summon the lads of Kyle to the contest. There was need, therefore, for caution, and at the same time for speed. The horses broke into a canter, and across the country they carried their riders towards the glen of Barbieston. The landscape was thickly studded with belts of trees, which cast friendly shadows over the troop. The night was still, and nothing stirred save the sheep on the hillsides and the cattle on the grass. If sounds were heard, they were those of nature, animate and inanimate, the lowing of the kine, the bleating of the flocks, the call of the lapwing, the screeching of the owl, the gentle sighing of the wind in the trees, and the distant rush of the river. On hurried the riders. Well they knew their way. Oft had they ridden across these same fields. Oft harried them of their bovine wealth. It was not a long ride to Barbieston Glen, and they reached it unobserved.
Unobserved? Not quite. The sharp eyes of a solitary watchman had seen them ere they entered the river; and ere they had reached the northern bank of the ford, he was speeding with all the haste he could muster towards Kerse. His steed was fleet, the distance could be accomplished in half an hour, and the miles were rapidly slipping away under the striding gallop of the horse. The warder at Kerse heard him come and threw open the gate to receive him. There was commotion in the castle when he told his tale ; the commotion of excitement, a hasty girding on of swords, of donning of light armour, of snatching the ready hagbuts from their places, of the harnessing of horses in the stalls, of the calling in of the yeomen who lived at hand, of the mustering to repulse the Kennedys. It was an old story, and the Craufurds knew every detail of it by heart.
Meanwhile the Kennedys had entered the glen, and their horsemen were scouring the fields adjacent, for the spoil. Six score oxen fed there, and twelve horses were at the grass in the meadows. Two or three score of sheep completed the number of the live stock. The moon showed where they were, and there was no searching for them; yet it took time ere they were all collected. For it had to be done quietly. The cattle were gathered together in a group, the horses were secured, and the sheep. Every attempt to break away, or to stampede, was checked by the ready riders. The gates were thrown open, the prey was driven out into the open, unenclosed country, and the raiders moved off towards the river.
" Methinks," said Mure of Cloncaird, is they turned their faces to the Doon, "that Kerse has slept over-soundly." "Aye," responded Kennedy of Guiltree, "the old fox has been caught napping for once."
With what speed they could muster, they steadily drove the spoil in front of them. Within an hour they would cross the march of Kyle and re-enter Carrick, and then farewell to the hope of rescue. For Cassillis House was just over there amid the gloom of the trees, and from the rising ground they could all but espy its dark square towers, against the night. An hour! If so, what need to haste?
The night was still serene, and sound traveled far; and from the direction in which the Castle of Kerse stood there fell on their ears an indistinct, undefined noise. Guiltree looked at Cloncaird, and they both reined in their horses and listened. The sound was faint, for it was far off, but, as they listened, it gradually shaped itself into what they could quite well comprehend. It came down more clearly, and more clearly still, until they recognized the rattle of a troop of horsemen across the rough stony road which led from Dalrymple to the hills above Cumnock. There was no need for caution now, and no time to be lost. It could be no other than the Craufurds, hard on their track.
"Drive on the cattle, and reach the ford" shouted Mure of Cloncaird. The Kennedys obeyed. The horsemen spread themselves out fan-like in rear of the booty, whips were applied to the Hanks of the steers, the frightened sheep were driven at a run, and the captive horses required no urging on to hurry from the tumult which rose behind. All the while the sound of the coming Craufurds became more and more distinct. They were making for the ford, and if the Kennedys were to drive off the prey they must reach it before their pursuers. The most strenuous efforts were made, therefore, to accomplish their object; but, unless their expedition was to be bootless, there was a point beyond which they could not force their pace. They could have left the cattle, but as well might they have remained at home. To give them up without a struggle was not one of the contingencies. What they must do was to send a party forward with the booty, and to retain in the rear the service of all who were not thus employed. This they did.
About a dozen yeomen were accordingly instructed to drive the, flocks on towards the Doon, and to make the passage with all available speed; the remainder took up their position on the path as it ran through between two belts of trees, and there awaited the inevitable conflict.
The Craufurds came full sixty strong, and thus had rather the advantage in numbers. There was nothing to delay or to stay their progress save the living barrier of Kennedys under the peaceful shadow of the woodland, and this barrier they must force at all hazards, unless they were to return to Kerse to tell the grey-haired chief whom they had left behind them that they had failed in their object, As the Kennedys saw them enter between the stretching plantations, they raised a shout of defiance. The Craufurds gave it back, and rode on ready for the shock. Each man held sword or battle-axe in hand, and all were eager for the fray. The quiet night air, which so shortly before was vocal only with the congenial voices of Nature, was filled with contending cries. These were but the prelude to the rushing of the yeomen, the rattling of steel upon steel, the, prancing of the horses, and the groans of the wounded. Right stoutly did the Kennedys oppose the men of Kyle. They met them man to man and hand to hand stubbornly, tenaciously contesting every inch of ground. Saddles were emptied of their riders, wounded horses fled across the country, wounded men crept under the shelter of the plantations. But thee Craufurds pressed on and would not be denied. All down the path resounded the echoes of the fray, until the clashing of the armour and the cries of the struggling horsemen awoke, the sleepers in Dalrymple hamlet, and bade them wonder and cower because of the strange, wild medley of the sounds.
The fight was now a running one. Yonder, not two-hundred yards ahead, were the advance guard of the Kennedys, driving on with whip and yell the affrighted flocks. The ford was within sight. The nearer the Craufurds drew, the more desperate were the Kennedys to stay their progress. Who would reach the ford first? Already some of the oxen had stampeded, and solved the question so far as they were concerned, but the larger portion of the drove was still under control, and might yet be secured. The haughs of Cassillis were but over there, could they be won ere the men of Kerse should intervene and get between the cattle and the river.
The banks of the Doon were reached, and there the affray was decided. Craufurds and Kennedys were mingled in struggling confusion, fighting on the haughs by the stream, and in the river's bed the oxen, bewildered, terrified, ran hither and thither in their fright, plunging into the cooling waters, or scattering in all directions across the country. Part of the booty was secured, part was not, and the echoes of the struggle died away in the silence of the night. By common consent the combatants drew off, arid attended to their wounded. There were some who needed no attention. The battle-axe or the sharp sword-thrust had for ever put them beyond the need for further care. But many there were with cruel wounds, and these were sought out all along the long line of the contest; the flowing blood was staunched, and they were put upon the backs of the horses and taken, the Kennedys across the Doon to where Cassillis opened its portals to receive them; the Craufurds back by the way over which they had come, to the friendly walls of Kerse.
When the dead had been interred and the wounded healed, Kerse lodged information with the criminal authorities against those concerned in the raid of Barbieston. Kennedy of Guiltree, Kennedy of Blairquhan, Mure of Cloncaird, and fifty-seven others, were accordingly brought to book for their misdemeanour. They were sent from the Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh for trial to Ayr, where the leaders became surety for one another, and bound themselves to settle all lawful claims made by the Craufurds for the loss of the cattle lifted. As for the men slain, these were not scheduled in the indictment; and as for the, wounds inflicted, these were a necessity of the situation, a natural outcome of the struggle which went on between the lords of Kyle and of Carrick. The number of cattle, of sheep, and of horses was duly paraded before the Judge, and the Kennedys had to pay accordingly.