IT is wonderful how the old names and the old families have clung to Ayrshire. There are a score of estates in the county, big and little, owned by the direct descendants of men and women of the same name as those who possessed them hundreds of years ago; and the names of what are known as the common people are, though perhaps different in spelling, to all intents and purposes the same as those of the clansmen and the feudal retainers who went riding and raiding in the train of their chiefs in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. But while this is indisputable, it is equally true that many ancient families have become extinct, and the broad acres over which they once lorded it have passed into the hands of those who can claim no affinity with their long dead predecessors in possession. These men of a bye-one age were great in their day and generation, but the sponge of virtual oblivion has blotted out their records, and now they only live in the pages of the antiquary or in the genealogical tables of the curious. Who else cares to know anything about them? There were, for example, in the parish of Dalry, the Lynes, vassals of a greater house, that of the De Morvilles, who of old possessed the greater part of Cuninghame. They came, they went, they disappeared. Even their names have become extinct in the county. And yet from a remote time, down to the beginning of the seventeenth century, they played their part, and they left their influence on the countryside wherein they dwelt. Their house stood on the water of Caaf, close by a beautiful natural cascade. or "linn." The little stream is there still, running, on in its rocky channel as fresh and as clear as when it sprung sparkling from the generous hand of the bountiful Giver, but the walls of the strong tower which the Lynes founded for perpetuity have crumbled away, and the story the family lived is all but forgotten.
Dalry parish in the olden times, was a favourite haunt of the denizens of the unseen world, and it had rather more than its share of the warlocks and witches who dwelt upon the earth, but whose nightly rambles were undertaken in the company of the spirits of evil. It had an elf house wherein the fairies abode, a romantic cave overlooking the Caaf. This cavern was a typical abode for the elves. Its chief entrance is right above the stream, which runs some forty feet below. Add to the picturesque surroundings the long, narrow interior, the central chamber, the rocky columns supporting the roof, the heavy, massive roof itself, and the general feeling of solitude and of suggestiveness which such a cave always conveys, and you can quite understand how, in the earlier days of Ayrshire story, the fairies were known to tabernacle within its haunted precincts. Later on there were Covenanters who lodged there ; and no doubt with the incoming of the stern, dour saints of the years of persecution, the elfin train vanished away. Less "canny" than these harmless denizens of the glen and the greenwood were the witches and the warlocks who rode and ran in the train of Satan. Willie Mackie had all interview with them on the Ward Farm, and he had it put in writing so that all men might learn and consider. He was late out that night, and proceeding homewards. Suddenly the sound of the bagpipes filled the air, and then he heard sung by a multitude of voices, to the tune of "O'er the hills and far awa'," one of those doggerel ditties so much affected by the witches of the age. Then, round him came hundreds of men and women, all in white, short dresses, and carrying wands in their hands. They hemmed him about. He rushed hither and thither to break forth from the infernal ring. The sweat poured from him with fear, and the very hair on his head stood up; and it was only after the most desperate exertions that he effected his escape. When he did, however, by the blessing of God, emerge from the legion of the unclean, they disappeared as if by magic. Many of the crew he recognized. One was an elder in the kirk in which he worshipped; and him, on the very next Sabbath, Willie Mackie saw standing at the plate as grave and douce as an elder ought to be. Others were his neighbours, whom he had little suspected of such pranks.
It was in this district that the family of the Lynes resided. Like a high-toned family they had their traditions; and they were even favoured by the reception of premonitory warnings of impending disaster denied to the commoner race of mortals. When one of their number was about to die, his wraith made itself visible to another member of the family. How often these wraiths appeared cannot now be told, but we have the solemn assurance of the balladist and the romancist that they seldom failed in their duty.
Young Lord Lyne had gone hunting on the muir of dark Macharnoch in his goodly company. With the rising of the sun he had summoned his friends and his followers to the chase, and high in spirits, and with their sense of pleasurable anticipation whetted, they had cantered off down the glen and out into the open country. Lady Lyne, the mother of the young nobleman, watched them as they trooped away. A pleasant spectacle, indeed! The merry horns awoke the echoes as the light-hearted huntsmen waved their adieux. Beside them trotted the gaunt, lithe, wiry-haired staghounds, quick to understand whither they were going. The country was well wooded, and in the recesses of the forest browsed the red deer and the fallow. The monarchs of the chase, high-antlered, would soon hear the cheering halloo and the baying of the dogs; and as the prospect filled the minds of the riders, they inhaled the fresh air of the morning with that sense of enjoyment which makes the blood course the faster in the veins of the careless and the free.
The pageant passed from the sight of Lady Lyne. The morning was pure, the air crisp and bracing, the glen hung in sun-begotten diamonds of dew, the green foliage rustled in the air, the little wild flowers raised their petals gently from the grass, and the dancing, shining waters of the stream gave back to the onlooker their heaven-begotten beauty. Tumbling over the linn the Caaf foamed down into its pools, and the rising spray rose like a summer's cloud to give added freshness to the scene. Lady Lyne took her way down the dell, sauntering on in placid admiration of the morning glories. Well she knew the spot, each winding turn, each babbling leap of the rivulet. The trees nodded friendly to her as she passed beneath them. The little birds hardly for a moment forbore their trill as they carolled amid the leaves. She sat down to enjoy the glen. Her mind reverted occasionally to her son and his companions now on their way to the muir of Macharnoch. He was her hope, her pride, a dutiful son and an obedient, with the future before him, his life yet young and full of happy promise.
While Lady Lyne thus sat in the glen she suddenly realized that she was not alone in it. There was Something there besides her. She saw nothing for a while, she heard nothing, but that oppressive sense of communion with the unknown, and yet not the unknown, possessed her. The unseen world was about her, and out from its impalpable shades came upon the lady that oppressive sense which indicated to one so much akin with nature and so susceptible to the comings from the shadow-land, that she was about to be the solitary witness of a revelation. She gazed around her, and from far down the glen there broke upon her vision a company of horsemen. In front of the train rode her son. The dogs were in full chase, but not in full cry. Not a sound escaped them as they ran. As the hunt drew nearer, the lady noted that even the rattling hoofs of the horses were inaudible, and there was neither cheery cry nor blast of horn from the huntsmen. It was a grim chase, and a silent. On they came, the young lord in front. There was no stop nor stay. Natural obstacles were overcome as lightly as if there were none. It mattered not to the leader of the chase whether his horse careered along the winding banks of the stream or forged its away ahead up the bed of the rivulet.
Rocks and boulders were as nothing. On swept the chase, the driven deer in front, and nearer and nearer approached the spot where the lady sat enchained with the strange spectacle. Right against her rose a cliff, craggy and impossible to mortal to scale, and straight towards this came the bounding stag, fleeing for his life. The dogs were in hot pursuit, and impetuous on their heels carne Lord Lyne and his comrades. And then, as they drew near the cliffs, there was a wondrous scene. All noiseless ran the deer and the dogs, all soundless followed the huntsmen, yet all as eager on the chase as if the stag was the king of the Macharnoch Muir and the riders veritable horsemen begotten of women. But they were shadowy and unsubstantial, a troop of ghosts sent thither by the guardian spirit of the. Lynes to warn the lady of a coming misfortune. She knew it, she felt it, and yet she could not but watch the ghosts as they sped. Right up to the cliffs came the stag, and with mighty bound he scaled the beetling summit and went on his way. Right up to the cliffs came the gaunt dogs, thirsting for their prey, and, without pausing for a moment, they undeviating took the aerial path and resumed the chase. Right up to the cliffs came the horsemen, Lord Lyne in front, and like arrow sped from bow they drove on in hard pursuit of the dogs. And all were gone. They vanished like a dream. The lady listened, but no sound was there save the voices of Nature. The hunt had swept by, and there was not a trace left of their presence.
She knew what the vision portended, and that dark fate was about to spread its wings over her dwelling. Her heart went out to her son, and hurrying, homewards sho called her page. Taking her ring from her finger she bade him convey it with all the haste he could to Lord Lyne, and tell him that she was wearily waiting his return. The page put the ring in his breast. Light of foot, he sped away to Macharnoch Muir, but the sun was setting behind Caerwinning Hill ere he reached the hunt. It had been a glorious day for sport. They had roused the red deer from his lair, and over many a mile they had pursued him nor ceased until the dogs had brought him to bay and to death; and now they were resting preparatory to setting out again for home. The page accosted Lord Lyne. He handed him the circlet of gold which he knew so well, and gave him his mother's message.
Lord Lyne laughed at her anxiety, but, lest his prolonged absence should give her fresh cause for uneasiness, he at once set out for home. On his arrival lie sought the chamber where his mother sat waiting, and, hastening to her side, asked the cause of her solicitude. "Well might she be solicitous," she replied, and then, without keeping back ought, she told him of the spectral vision that had passed before her in the glen. He listened in wonder, yet not without uneasiness, but when she had finished her recital with an account of the hunt vanishing from sight right up the face of a beetling cliff, he laughed airily and rallied her on her powers of imagination. But she was not to be coaxed or rallied out of her gloom. The wraith had never appeared in vain to the family of Lyne, and it was not for nothing now that the warning had passed before her eyes.
" It was your wraith I saw, my son," she said, " prepare yourself to die." " I am ready to go," he replied, " whenever God calls me but, mother, I am strong and well, so take heart of grace. Besides," he added, " wraiths sometimes betoken good fortune." " Not the wraiths of the house of Lyne," was the response.
The young chief kissed his mother good-night, and, though not without a foreboding in his heart, betook himself to sociality, and then to rest.
With the golden flush of daylight Lord Lyne sprang from his couch. Whatever depressing thoughts had weighed him down the preceding night he discarded with the incoming of the rosy dawn, and dressing himself, he wandered forth to breathe the morning air in the glen, Nature had charms to him as she had to his mother. He loved her in all her haunts of solitude, and in all her accompaniments, animate and inanimate. As he came within view of the rocks where Lady Lyne had witnessed the wondrous scene of yestermorn he remembered her warning, but be dismissed it from his mind and gave himself up to the enjoyment of the morning.
Lady Lyne had spent an anxious, wakeful night. Her vision was ever before her. It hung above her head like the sword of Damocles, and she waited to see where and when it should fall. Her morning exercises over, she descended to the breakfast room, and there waited on the coming of her son. He was long in coming. Where had he gone? She sent her page to see whether he had yet left his bed. The lad returned to say that his bed was untenanted, and that, with the rising of the sun, he had left the house to enjoy a walk in the glen. Then he would return ere long; and Lady Lyne waited. She looked out of the window, she busied herself with little household duties, she began to grow anxious. She called her page a second time, and, in response to her orders, he ran down the glen, only to find no traces of his young master. He must have gone further afield; and Lady Lyne waited again, and the longer she waited the more perturbed she became. She could stand the anxiety no longer. The servants in the house were despatched to make careful search ; and search they did. They called Lord Lyne's name aloud, till the rocks gave back the echo. They wandered by unfrequented pathways and by sylvan nooks without finding trace. And then they searched the bed of the stream and every little pool, because, like their mistress, they entertained a suspicion that something was wrong. They too felt the influence of the unknown upon them, and with feverish haste they pursued the path of the rivulet, looking for their secret in its rippling waters.
And they found it. In a deep pool, close by the fall, lay all that remained of the gallant young lord. Death had sought him. The plain, matter-of-fact man would have said that he accidentally stumbled and fell, and that, landing in a state of insensibility in the water, he was drowned without having recovered sufficient consciousness to make one struggle for life; but Lady Lyne knew otherwise. It was Death that had met him. It was his Fate he had encountered, the fate which she herself had seen foreshadowed when the spectral steed, with her son's wraith on its back, followed hard in the track of the ghostly stag and the wild dogs of hell.