Page images
PDF
EPUB

versation with the smith about the verses composed on the hearth, I bade him goodbye, and set out to make the acquaintance of the man that promised to be “maist as good's Burns." Having held along the road indicated, in due time I arrived at the farm-steading of Torrcross, and found my man on the top of a stack filling a cart with sheaves of grain. Having accused him of “committing the sin of rhyme," he frankly admitted the charge, and in proof of his guilt handed me a copy of the Freemasons' Journal containing one of his pieces, which, I must say, flowed smoothly, but to give the reader an idea of John Campbell's poetic abilities, the following masonic song, which was composed for and sung in the lodge St. James, is subjoined :

BROTHER BURNS.

" If e'er there was an honoured name

To Masonry and Scotia dear,'
'Twas his who gave our lodge to fame,

And oft has worn the ‘jewel' here.
Then surely 'tis our duty here,

Whene'er his natal day returns,
To pledge his memory with a tear'-

The memory of Robert Burns.
“On Coila's plains he first drew breath,

'Twas Coila's maids he loved and sung,
He won the bard's immortal wreath,

Lone wand'ring Coila's woods among.
And Coila's sons shall honour now-

For sadiy still old Scotland mourns-
The mighty minstrel of the plough,

The gifted mason, Brother Burns.
“ His songs are sung on Ganges’ side,

Zambezi's banks his strains have heard,
Siberian forests wild and wide

Have echoed strains of Scotia's bard.
The broad St. Lawrence hears his voice-

Where'er the Scottish wanderer turns,
His name can make the heart rejoice-

The deathless name of Brother Burns.
“ But here within our native vale,

On every glen and flowery brae,
On classic Ayr and winding Fail

His fame hath shed a brilliant ray-
And here shall reign his glorious name

Until the grave its dead unurns,
· For every craftsman here can claim

Reflected fame from Brother Burne,

“ Then brethren of the lodge St. James,

And sister lodges gathered here,
One silent round his memory claims-

The round requested with a tear.'
Let's be upstanding to the call

Of him, the bard whom Scotia mourns,
To pledge in solemn silence all-

The memory of Brother Burns." Upon taking leave of my poetic friend, I struck through the fields and steered my course to Fail Toll. It is situated on the Kilmarnock road about a mile distant from Tarbolton, at the entrance of a little village-if it may be dignified by that name—and near to the ruins of what is locally termed Fail Castle, but which is nothing more than the remains of the manor house of Fail monastery-founded and dedicated to Saint Mathurine in 1252. It was inhabited by a tribe of monks, styled “Fathers of Redemption,” who wore a white habit with a red and blue cross upon the shoulder, and religiously devoted themselves to the humane task of redeeming captives from slavery; but, notwithstanding their sanctity, they appear to have been a merry lot, who knew what was good for them—that is, if there be any truth in the following traditional rhymes :

" The Friars of Fail
Gat never owre hard eggs, or owre thin kail,
For they made their eggs thin wi' butter,
And their kail thick wi' bread;
An' the Friars of Fail they made good kail

On Fridays when they fasted,
An' they never wanted gear enough

As lang as their neighbours' lasted.”

“The Friars of Fail drank berry-brown ale,

The best that ever was tasted ;
The Monks of Fail they made gude kail

On Fridays when they fasted." However, the jolly fathers have passed away, and no portion of their house now remains save the shattered gable and sidewall of the residence of the prior or chief minister. word may be said regarding its last occupant-a notorious warlock laird—who was said to possess an evil eye, and to have the faculty of charming milk from cows, butter from the churn, cheese from the dairy tub; and to be able not only to

But a

fortell future events, but to control human actions—spreading disease and death among men and cattle by the simple exercise of his will. One of his acts is made the subject of the following ballad :

THE WARLOCK LAIRD OF FAIL.

As Craigie's knight was a hunting one day

Along with the Laird of Fail,
They came to a house, wherein the gudewife

Was brewing the shearers' ale.
“ Sir Thomas alighted at the door

Before the Laird of Fail,
• And will ye gi'e me, goodwife,' quo he,

* A drink of your shearers' ale ?
" "I will gi'e thee, Sir Thomas,' quo she,

• A drink of my shearers' ale ;
But gude be here how I sweat and fear

At sight of the Laird of Fail !'
"• What sees auld lucky the Laird about

That may not be seen on me?
His beard so long, so bushy, and strong,

Sure need not affrighten thee !'
"Tho' all his face were cover'd with hair,

It never would daunten me ;
But young and old oft have heard it told

That a warlock knight is he.
6. He caused the death o' my braw milk cow,

And did not his blasting e'e
Bewitch my barn, cowp many a kirn,

And gaur my auld doggie die ?!” Sir Thomas tells the laird of the goodwife's tremor and asks him to “put in the merry pin.” This is agreed to, and the result is somewhat ludicrous.

“He put then a pin aboon the door

And said some mysterious thing, And instantly the auld wife she

Began to dance and sing"O

good Sir Thomas of Craigie tak'

The warlock laird of Fail Awa frae me, for he never shall

A drap of our shearers' ale ! “ The Laird he cried on the auld gudeman

And sought a drink of his beer ; Atweel, quo he, “kind sir you shall be

Welcome to all that is here.'

pree

“ But just as he passed under the pin,

He roared out-'Warlock Fail,
Awa frae me, for you never shall pree

A drap of our shearers' ale.'" The laird and the knight watch the sport, and as the reapers drop into dinner, they are asked for a drink of the ale, but they no sooner pass under the merry pin than they take up the strain of the goodwife and join in the dance, and, according to the poet,

They would have sung the same till yet

Had not the Laird of Fail
Drawn out the pin before he went in

To drink of the shearers' ale." The laird does not appear to have been very malicious, for many of his cantrips are of a humorous cast. “One day a man leading an ass laden with crockery ware happened to pass the castle. The laird, who had a friend with him, offered for a wager to make the man break his little stock in pieces. The bet was taken, and immediately the earthenware dealer, stopping and unloading the ass, smashed the whole into fragments. When asked how he had acted so foolishly; he declared he saw the head of a large black dog growling out of each of the dishes ready to devour him. The spot where this is said to have occurred is still called “Pig's Bush.' On another occasion, the laird looked out of the upper south window of the castle. There was in sight twenty going ploughs. He undertook upon a large wager to make them all stand still. Momentarily eighteen of them ploughs, ploughmen, horses, and gadmen--stood motionless. Two, however, continued to work. One of them was ploughing the Tarbolton croft. It was found out afterwards that these two ploughs carried each a piece of rowan-tree-mountain ash-proverbial for its antiwarlock properties.

• Rowan-tree and red thread

Keep the devils frae their speed.' In what

year

the death of the warlock took place is unknown ; but circumstances lead us to believe that it must have been near the close of the seventeenth century. When about to depart, he warned those around him not to remain in the castle after his body was carried out; and it being autumn, he further recommended them not to bury him

until the harvest was completed, because on the day of his interment a fearful storm would ensue. He was accordingly kept as long as the state of his remains admitted. Still the harvest was not above half-finished. True as the laird's prediction, the moment the body, on the funeral day, had cleared the doorway, a loud crash was heard—the castle roof had fallen in. The wind rose with unexampled fury, the sheaves of corn were scattered like chaff, and much damage was sustained all over the land. *

Passing Fail Mill I held along the road, and after a long walk reached a spot where two ways meet. The one to the left

t-as the milestone states-leads to Kilmarnock and the other to Galston. Although anxious enough to reach home, I decided upon a circuitous approach, and held along the Galston highway. The country in this district is almost wholly under cultivation, and the pedestrian as he trudges onwards finds little to engage his attention beyond the chirping birdies that flit in the hedges and the wild flowers whose fragrance is wafted on the wings of the wind. After a mile of weary thoughtful plodding, I reached the avenue leading to the farmhouse of Adamhill, which occupies a rather romantic situation, being planted near to a stripe of woodland and close to a row of stately trees, whose arms, in all probability, have often shaded Robert Burns when he came to visit the “rough, rude, ready-witted Rankine" of poetic memory, who had his residence here. According to Chambers," he was a prince of boon companions and mingled a good deal in the society of the neighbouring gentry, but was too free a liver to be on good terms with the stricter order of the clergy. Burns and he had taken to each other no doubt in consequence of their community of feeling and thinking on many points. The youngest daughter of Rankine had a recollection of the poet's first visit to their house at Adamhill, and related that on his coming into the parlour he made a circuit to avoid a small carpet in the centre, having probably at that time no acquaintance with carpets, and too great a veneration for them to tread upon them with his ploughman's shoes." The farmhouse is well built, and the present occupant, Mr. A. G. Parker, is well known for his genial hospitality.

This ballad and some very interesting information regarding the monastery and the Warlock Laird will be found in “Songs and ballads of Ayrshire.” From

this excellent but scarce work the above anecdotes are taken.

« PreviousContinue »