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The Laird O' Co'

from The Scottish Fairy Book





It was a fine summer morning, and the Laird o' Co' was having a dander
on the green turf outside the Castle walls. His real name was the Laird
o' Colzean, and his descendants to-day bear the proud title of Marquises
of Ailsa, but all up and down Ayrshire nobody called him anything else
than the Laird o' Co'; because of the Co's, or caves, which were to be
found in the rock on which his Castle was built.

He was a kind man, and a courteous, always ready to be interested in the
affairs of his poorer neighbours, and willing to listen to any tale of
woe.

So when a little boy came across the green, carrying a small can in his
hand, and, pulling his forelock, asked him if he might go to the Castle
and get a little ale for his sick mother, the Laird gave his consent at
once, and, patting the little fellow on the head, told him to go to the
kitchen and ask for the butler, and tell him that he, the Laird, had
given orders that his can was to be filled with the best ale that was in
the cellar.

Away the boy went, and found the old butler, who, after listening to
his message, took him down into the cellar, and proceeded to carry out
his Master's orders.

There was one cask of particularly fine ale, which was kept entirely for
the Laird's own use, which had been opened some time before, and which
was now about half full.

"I will fill the bairn's can out o' this," thought the old man to
himself. "'Tis both nourishing and light--the very thing for sick folk."
So, taking the can from the child's hand, he proceeded to draw the ale.

But what was his astonishment to find that, although the ale flowed
freely enough from the barrel, the little can, which could not have held
more than a quarter of a gallon, remained always just half full.

The ale poured into it in a clear amber stream, until the big cask was
quite empty, and still the quantity that was in the little can did not
seem to increase.

The butler could not understand it. He looked at the cask, and then he
looked at the can; then he looked down at the floor at his feet to see
if he had not spilt any.

No, the ale had not disappeared in that way, for the cellar floor was as
white, and dry, and clean, as possible.

"Plague on the can; it must be bewitched," thought the old man, and his
short, stubby hair stood up like porcupine quills round his bald head,
for if there was anything on earth of which he had a mortal dread, it
was Warlocks, and Witches, and such like Bogles.

"I'm not going to broach another barrel," he said gruffly, handing back
the half-filled can to the little lad. "So ye may just go home with what
is there; the Laird's ale is too good to waste on a smatchet like thee."

But the boy stoutly held his ground. A promise was a promise, and the
Laird had both promised, and sent orders to the butler that the can was
to be filled, and he would not go home till it was filled.

It was in vain that the old man first argued, and then grew angry--the
boy would not stir a step.

"The Laird had said that he was to get the ale, and the ale he must
have."

At last the perturbed butler left him standing there, and hurried off to
his master to tell him he was convinced that the can was bewitched, for
it had swallowed up a whole half cask of ale, and after doing so it was
only half full; and to ask if he would come down himself, and order the
lad off the premises.

"Not I," said the genial Laird, "for the little fellow is quite right. I
promised that he should have his can full of ale to take home to his
sick mother, and he shall have it if it takes all the barrels in my
cellar to fill it. So haste thee to the house again, and open another
cask."

The butler dare not disobey; so he reluctantly retraced his steps, but,
as he went, he shook his head sadly, for it seemed to him that not only
the boy with the can, but his master also, was bewitched.

When he reached the cellar he found the bairn waiting patiently where he
had left him, and, without wasting further words, he took the can from
his hand and broached another barrel.

If he had been astonished before, he was more astonished now. Scarce had
a couple of drops fallen from the tap, than the can was full to the
brim.

"Take it, laddie, and begone, with all the speed thou canst," he said,
glad to get the can out of his fingers; and the boy did not wait for a
second bidding. Thanking the butler most earnestly for his trouble, and
paying no attention to the fact that the old man had not been so civil
to him as he might have been, he departed. Nor, though the butler took
pains to ask all round the country-side, could he ever hear of him again,
nor of anyone who knew anything about him, or anything about his sick
mother.

Years passed by, and sore trouble fell upon the House o' Co'. For the
Laird went to fight in the wars in Flanders, and, chancing to be taken
prisoner, he was shut up in prison, and condemned to death. Alone, in a
foreign country, he had no friends to speak for him, and escape seemed
hopeless.

It was the night before his execution, and he was sitting in his lonely
cell, thinking sadly of his wife and children, whom he never expected to
see again. At the thought of them the picture of his home rose clearly
in his mind--the grand old Castle standing on its rock, and the bonnie
daisy-spangled stretch of greensward which lay before its gates, where
he had been wont to take a dander in the sweet summer mornings. Then,
all unbidden, a vision of the little lad carrying the can, who had come
to beg ale for his sick mother, and whom he had long ago forgotten, rose
up before him.



The vision was so clear and distinct that he felt almost as if he were
acting the scene over again, and he rubbed his eyes to get rid of it,
feeling that, if he had to die to-morrow, it was time that he turned
his thoughts to better things.

But as he did so the door of his cell flew noiselessly open, and there,
on the threshold, stood the self-same little lad, looking not a day
older, with his finger on his lip, and a mysterious smile upon his face.

"Laird o' Co',
Rise and go!"

he whispered, beckoning to him to follow him. Needless to say, the Laird
did so, too much amazed to think of asking questions.

Through the long passages of the prison the little lad went, the Laird
close at his heels; and whenever he came to a locked door, he had but to
touch it, and it opened before them, so that in no long time they were
safe outside the walls.

The overjoyed Laird would have overwhelmed his little deliverer with
words of thanks had not the boy held up his hand to stop him. "Get on my
back," he said shortly, "for thou are not safe till thou art out of this
country."

The Laird did as he was bid, and, marvellous as it seems, the boy was
quite able to bear his weight. As soon as he was comfortably seated the
pair set off, over sea and land, and never stopped till, in almost less
time than it takes to tell it, the boy set him down, in the early dawn,
on the daisy-spangled green in front of his Castle, just where he had
spoken first to him so many years before.

Then he turned, and laid his little hand on the Laird's big one:

"Ae gude turn deserves anither,
Tak' ye that for being sae kind to my auld mither,"

he said, and vanished.

And from that day to this he has never been seen again.





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