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As a matter of course, M'Comie Mor did not expect that the Earl of Athole would quietly submit to this fresh indignity. An unforeseen event, however, brought the matter to a more friendly termination than could otherwise have been looked for. Shortly after the unsuccessful attempt to carry off M'Comie Mor to Athole, a professional champion swordsman, or bully as he was called, a gigantic Italian, made his appearance at Blair Athole, and as usual challenged the best man the Earl of Athole could produce to fight ; and in the event of no one accepting his challenge, or any one accepting it and being beaten, he would claim, as a right, a sum of money, as a sort of tribute earned by his prowess. The payment of the money was a less source of annoyance to one in the position of the Earl of Athole than the thought that in all the wide district of which he was superior, he could not find a man of sufficient strength and courage to successfully cope with this foreign bravo. And in proportion also to the disgrace of having no man in Athole a match for him, would be the glory to the Earl and his vassals if he could produce an Athole champion able to conquer such a redoubted hero. In the present instance, disgrace instead of honour appeared likely to fall on Athole and Athole men ; for a sight of the foreigner, who was of immense size and fierce aspect, together with the no- toriety of his extraordinary skill as a swords- man, proved sufficient to deter the strongest and bravest of the Athole men from risking life and limb in a fight with him. In this emergency, the Earl at last reflected that M'Comie Mor, who had recently lowered the prestige of the Athole men as their opponent, was the very man to raise it again as their champion.
We can easily understand that at a time when personal prowess was of such account, the Earl's displeasure at the double indignity offered to his immediate retainers was tempered with a feeling of satisfaction that he had amongst his vassals a man possessed of such unusual strength, courage, and sagacity. It was evident, also, to a prudent man, that it would be a more satisfactory termination to the present quarrel that M'Comie Mor should give satisfaction to the Earl's offended dignity by rendering a personal service to him, than that so brave a man should be subdued by mere force of numbers. Accordingly, a trusted retainer was dispatched to Finnegand, who was to explain to M'Comie Mor that if he would come to Blair Castle, and there render a personal service to the Earl of an honorable nature, that in that case the Earl would look on this as making full amends for the indignities inflicted on his retainers on their last two visits.
For some time M'Comie Mor was in great doubt as to this intimation being made in good faith, and had a strong suspicion that it was merely a ruse to get him quietly into Athole, where satisfaction would be required of him for the affair of the kain- gatherers, and his outwitting the second expedition. Assured at length that the Earl's invitation was made in good faith, he set out with the messenger, and arrived at Blair Castle. But here a fresh difficulty arose. On being confronted with the Italian champion, and the purpose for which he had been summoned explained to him, he flatly refused to fight with any man with whom he had no quarrel. At this the hopes of the Athole men, which had been raised to a great height, from the account given by the kain-gatherers of his extraordinary strength and courage, and from his magnificent personal appearance, received a rude fall. In vain the Earl urged and entreated him, in vain some of the Athole men began audibly to hint that the redoubted M'Comie Mor's courage had vanished like their own at the sight of the fierce and stalwart Italian. This latter worthy's behavior soon brought about the desired result. On learning that the man who was expected to fight with him refused to do so on the plea that there was no quarrel between them, and therefore no occasion to fight, he at once attributed this 'to cowardice, and began to indulge in much high-sounding bravado. This having no effect, he next proceeded to personal indignity, and approaching his apparently imperturbable oppon- ent, he with one hand lifted his kilt, and with the other - horresco referens - bestowed a sounding whack on the astounded chiefs posteriors. In an instant, with the peculiarly graceful sweep that always marked the drawing of his sword - a peculiarity which afterwards stood him in good stead on another occasion - his sword was out of its scabbard. The Italian immediately sprang back, and put himself in position. The Athole men now silent, in breathless suspense watched the two gigantic opponents, for there was that on the face of M'Comie Mor that showed it was to be a battle. Nor were the spectators held long in suspense as to the result. A few careful parries, and almost before they could comprehend or believe what they saw, M'Comie Mor's blade, with lightning-like rapidity and extraordinary force, was through the Italian's guard, and his fighting career in this world was for ever ended.
Another incident of his life while at Finnegand marks both the proud spirit of M'Comie Mor and his determination not to put up with any slight to himself or family, and also shows the lawlessness 1 of the time, and the little regard for human life. One day on coming home to Finnegand, he found his wife and the female servants in a very excited state, and on inquiry found that a big strong caird had called, and finding no man about the place, had behaved very rudely to his wife. Ascertaining that the caird had gone up the glen, he took two swords with him, and immediately followed in pursuit. Coming up with him opposite Broughdearg, he gave him his choice of the swords, and the result of the fight that followed between them was the slaughter of the caird, who was buried where he fell, and the place is still known as Imir-a-Chaird, the Caird's ridge or field. 2 After obtaining the wadset of the barony of Forter, and building the mansion-house at Cran dart, M'Comie Mor left Finnegand and resided at Crandart, the house of which was built in 1660. By the time he came to reside there he was past his prime, and had become less desirous of exert- ing his personal strength, it is therefore probable that his famous feat with the stone, which since then has been known as M'Comie Mor's putting stone, was performed while he was yet a young man at Finnegand. The place where the feat was performed, and the stone itself, and the stance are all remarkable. The source of the Prosen, a right-bank tributary of the South Esk, is at the west end of the slope that reaches back from the summit of the Mayar, 3043 feet, whose eastern side rises abruptly over Glen Prosen. At the west end of this slope, in two slight depressions which spread out like a V, are gathered the head- waters of the Prosen, a short distance from the source of the Cally, a left-bank tributary of the Isla. Between the two depressions is a comparatively level meadow of short grass, and from the surface of this meadow the upper edge of an earthfast stone, about 4 or 5 feet long, projects for about 6 inches above the surface. This projecting edge of the boulder forms the stance, and about 26 feet beyond this stance is embedded, in a round hole in the ground, a round -shaped rough -surfaced stone of about 35 lb. in weight, and local tradition for over two hundred years has handed down the hole, in which the stone lies embedded to about half its diameter, as the mark to which M'Comie Mor putted the stone from the stone stance. On many of the surrounding heights, pieces of ground as smooth and level may be got; but so good a natural stance and natural putting-stone is extremely rare, if not altogether unique, on a mountaintop. It is easy to understand that all the conditions and materials being found so handy, for such a national pastime as putting the stone, by the young men of the surrounding glens, when on hunting expeditions or looking after their flocks, the place would soon become well known ; the marks of noted throwers would be pointed out, and every noted putter would be anxious to put a best on record down if possible. There is nothing improbable, therefore, in believing that the mark put in over two hundred years ago by admiring contemporaries, and kept fresh by succeeding generations, points out the exact spot to which M'Comie Mor putted the present stone from the present stance. Many athletes of the present day have made a pilgrimage to it when passing between Clova and Glenisla, and to both them and their forefathers' stance, stone, and mark have ever remained the same. What renders it still more probable is, that the same stone could be putted the same distance by one or two of the leading athletes of the present time. Most traditionary putting- stones of bygone heroes are of a weight, or have been putted a distance, that at once stamps the accounts given as absurd nonsense.
On the west side of the westmost arm of the V, the strongest spring that there gushes out is known as M'Comie Mor's well. From the top of the Mayar, looking north, the top of Benachie, beyond the vale of Alford, may be seen through a gap, as it were, among the intervening mountains. Perhaps it was a glimpse of distant Benachie from this point that led young Donald M'Combie in after-years, when the fortunes of his family were on the wane in Forfarshire, to seek his fortune in the Vale of Alford. Besides that of the well-known putting-stone, other tradi- tions exist of M'Comie Mor's great personal strength. Two stones used to be pointed out in Canlochan, with which he performed feats altogether beyond the power of ordinary men. He is also said to have become possessed of a bull in the Stormont district, which had become unmanageable from its fierce temper, on very easy terms from his point of view. M'Comie Mor hearing the owner of the bull saying he would have to destroy him, as he was become unmanageable and unsafe, laughed at the idea of a man being beat by a bull. The owner, said to have been Mercer of Meikleour, nettled at being laughed at, said that if M'Comie Mor could manage the bull unaided, he would get him home with him as a present. This offer being accepted, they proceeded to the enclosure where the fierce brute was confined, which no sooner saw them than he rushed bellowing to the side of the fence. M'Comie Mor, reaching over the fence, with his left hand seized the bull's right horn, then vaulting over the fence, seized his other horn with his right hand, and in a moment had the now infuriated brute on his back. Then allowing him to regain his feet, he immediately overthrew him a second time, and this he repeated till he was thoroughly subdued, when he was afterwards taken home in triumph by his conqueror.
In an age when witches were still believed in by ministers of the Gospel, and duly punished or exorcised, and the black art had its schools of learning, it is quite natural that several incidents in M'Comie Mors life should contain supernatural elements. There is still pointed out a large stone forming the lintel of the limekiln at Crandart, which, after baffling the efforts of the old chief and his sons, was placed there by one man. The story goes that this man, Knox Baxter, alias Colin M'Kenzie, by name, who was suspected of being possessed of black art, came to Crandart as M'Comie and his sons were trying ineffectually to get the stone into its place. Sitting down a little apart, he viewed unconcernedly the efforts put forth, without volunteering a helping hand. By-and-by the dinner hour came, without the stone having been got into position. Having excused himself from accepting the invitation given him to dinner, the stranger was left sitting by the kiln-side, where he was found when they returned to continue their work at the kiln, but the stone was now in the place where the united efforts of M'Comie Mor and his sons had failed to place it! It is said the old chief made no comment on this startling feat, but quietly divesting himself of his coat with its silver buttons, he handed it to Knox Baxter as a tacit acknowledgment of the estimation he had of his powers. The old chief knew that no man unaided could have done what had been done, and deemed it prudent to propitiate his uncanny visitor.
But a still more exciting and uncanny adventure awaited him. In going through the forest of Can lochan one day he came upon no less a being than the water kelpie's wife, in the weird and secluded Glascorrie. Taken unawares, this redoubted fairy or elf had not time to escape to the water before M'Comie Mor had her firmly in his grasp. But how to get her to Crandart ? He knew that if he crossed running water with her she would escape from him, do what he might. He therefore set out on a long and difficult route homewards, around the head-waters of the Brighty, along the summits of Craig Leacach, Cairn Aighe, Black Hill, and Monamenach, then cautiously threading the mountain - side above Crandart, and nearly losing his precious capture while incautiously stepping over an almost invisible streamlet, he at length landed her safely at Crandart. Arrived there, his unwilling visitor had to bargain for her release, the condition being that the chief should have some circumstance relating to the time, place, or manner of his death foretold him. Thereupon the fairy, taking him to the face of the hill above Crandart, pointed out a large stone, and told him he would die with his head above it. Having now acquired her liberty, she departed to her own haunts again, and we may be sure was careful never to be so incautious in her future wanderings in Canlochan. M'Comie Mor took prudent precautions that dying with his head above the stone pointed out by the fairy should prove more convenient than its then position warranted. He therefore caused the stone to be removed from the hillside, and built into the wall of his house at Crandart, so that the head of the stone was under the head of his bed, whereon many years after he died, with his head above the stone, as the fairy foretold.