The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Folk-Lore of Sutherlandshire (September)
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Folk-Lore of Sutherlandshire (September)
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THE FOLK-LORE OF SUTHERLANDSHIRE.
By Miss Dempster.
I GATHERED these tales and sayings from the mouths of the folk in the summer of 1859, and to all the kind friends from whom I got this lore I offer, after many years, my warmest thanks.
Of these stories two were printed by the late Mr. J. F. Campbell in his interesting Collection of the Tales of the West Highlands; the others are added to-day for the first time to that store of old-world knowledge which the Folk-Lore Society is intended to preserve. It was difficult in 1859 to make such a collection, but it would be impossible now to gather them in Sutherland. The measured prose of some of the tales would suggest that at one time they may have been actual compositions, but what is called "reading" has now supplied a substitute for this unwritten literature, which is being further banished by bigoted religious ideas and by modern progress in all its shapes. "Other times" inevitably bring their proverbial "other manners," and the relics of popular antiquity are fast vanishing along with the language, the associations, and the primitive life of the people, who are out of touch with their betters and given over to social and polemical hatreds.
Such as this collection is it was my own introduction to folk-lore, to the forgotten history, and to the past in which is buried in the present of the genuine Highland mind—to that primitive literature, in short, which is at once so like and so unlike the mythology of other primitive races.
During the years that the volume has been in my possession I have amused myself by annotating it with references to parallel superstitions in other lands. I leave the notes, because they would seem to illustrate, without affecting, the folk-lore of the people of Sutherland.
i.—The Death of Sweno.
Once upon a time there was a king in Sweden, and his son Sweno sailed on the sea. Upon a certain day Sweno took ship; he had many men on board and red gold too, in heaps. His stepmother was a wise woman, and she bade him beware of Paraff (Cape Wrath), of Pol-dhu, and of Pol-darrachgawn.
He sailed and he sailed, till he anchored in Porst-an-Stuvanaig (Port of Sweno) as it is now called; but he did not know what land he had made. The men of the place armed themselves, and blackened their faces with soot from their pots. They came out to the ship in boats, and they told him this was Pol-Gawn! Then cried the king's son, "The Lord have mercy upon my soul if this be indeed Polgawn!" He weighed anchor and spread his sail; but, though he made as if to stand out to sea, the men of the isles and of Assynt were too strong for him, and they came on board the ship, and cried to Sweno that he should yield; but the Swedes were stout men, and they fought on deck and below. Then the king's son was wounded, and they put him below, and the fighting went on till a man of Pol-dhu, looking through a hole in the door, saw the king's son lying, and he shot him. Then the Swedes lost heart, and they gave up the treasure, and all that was in the ship, so only they might get away with the vessel, and with their lives. So the islanders began to work with the gold, and to lift it out in their plaids. One man held a plaid on the ship's side, and the other end was made fast in a boat; but the gold was heavy, so the plaid tore in two, and that treasure lies still in Pol-gawn. A year later the man from Pol-dhu, who had shot the king's son, said, "I go fishing to-day in Pol-gawn." While he fished a boat came suddenly over the waters, and in it there was a man with gold on his dress, and with a sword. When the boat came along they saw that the man had the face of Sweno the king's son. Then Sweno shot the fisherman of Glendhu dead—he crying out as he died, "Eh! Mes me hae, es me fuhr!" (If I 'gan it before, ah! I get it now!) The place is called Porst-an-Stuvanaig to this day.—(From J. McLeod.)
[The prince's heart was buried here. His sailors embalmed the body, and took it back to Sweden, to lay it in the king's choir — at least so said a fisherman on the Lax-Fiord who told me this tale, but Pennant gives another version. "Torfaus mentions a bloody battle fought in this firth, at a place called Glendhu, by two pirates; one of them he calls Ordranus Gillius, the other Svenus."—(Pennant, vol. iii. p. 342.)
The fatality of one locality to certain persons has always been maintained. The oracle warned Cambyses that he should die in Eckbatana. The prince determined never to go there; but, on being accidentally wounded in the chase, he asked the name of the spot to which they had brought him to be treated for his wound; he was told that it was called "Eckbatana," and immediately expired.
Twardowsky (the Dr. Faustus or Michael Scott of Lithuania) sold his soul to the devil, with this condition that the fiend could only claim it if they chanced to meet in Rome. The wizard avoided any visit to the city of St. Peter; but in a hamlet of his native land, which chanced to be called "Roma," the devil accosted him, and Twardowsky had difficulty in baffling the fiend.
Henry IV. considered the prophecy that he should die in Jerusalem to be fulfilled by his death in the "Jerusalem Chamber" at Westminster.
The late Emperor Louis Napoleon had been told and he believed that the streets of London would be fatal to him.
Captain Campbell was warned by the ghost of a murdered kinsman that he must render his soul at Ticonderoga. He had never heard of such a place, and the name was quite unknown in Argyllshire. But the war of American Independence broke out, Campbell went to America with his regiment, and, while lying wounded under the walls of Fort-Edward, he learned just before he expired that the Indian name of the spot was "Ticonderoga."]
ii.—The Legends of Donald-Duival McKay, the Wizard of the Reay Country.
Donald-Duival learned the black art in Italy. The devil sat in the professor's chair of that school, and at the end of each term he claimed as his own the last scholar. One day as they broke up there was a regular scramble, for none wished to be the last. Donald-Duival really was so; but, just as Satan snatched at him, Donald-Duival, pointing to his own shadow, which fell behind him, cried, "Take then the hindmost!" and his shadow being seized, he himself escaped. When he returned to Scotland he was never seen to have a shadow.
Donald went one day to meet his old master in the great Cave of Smoo. They had a violent quarrel, and Donald fled: the print of his horse's hoofs may be seen there to this day. But Donald was himself very cruel, and a ring may also be seen to which at low water he fastened his victims, who of course were drowned by the rising tide. He could at any time travel to Italy and back in one night, sometimes alighting covered with the frosts and snows of the high regions which he had traversed on the traditionary broomstick.
Donald could oblige the fairies or "little men" to work for him. One day, when short of straw for his cattle, he begged some of a neighbour, who goodnaturedly replied that, provided he thrashed it himself, he might take as much straw as he liked. Donald went to the barn, flung himself down, and went to sleep. The hinds made a good joke of this, saying, "Donald-Duival's thrashing will be a light one." On their return from dinner they heard a great thumping and beating, and saw straw flying out of the windows in quantities. Donald's voice was heard repeating, "You and me, me and you." Fairy flails were hard at work, and all the straw was soon thrashed oat.
Donald once explored the Cave of Smoo. Having penetrated further than any man had ever gone, he heard a voice cry, "Donald, Donald-Duival I return!" Undaunted, however, he pushed on till he came to a large cask. In this he bored a hole, and out of it, to his surprise, there jumped a little man about an inch and a half long. Surprise grew to terror when this creature gradually assumed colossal proportions, and addressed him as follows: "Donald, did you ever see so great a wonder?" "Never, by my troth," replied the wizard; "but wert thou to shrink again, that would be a bigger wonder still." The giant grinned assent, and, after diminishing to a span, was simple enough to jump into the cask, which Donald closed immediately, and then left the cave much quicker than he had entered it.
Donald was a rich man, having herds and herdsmen. One day his dey (dairywoman) was churning, when a man appeared and asked her for a drink of milk. Her husband, who was present, noticed that the man was followed by a large white and yellow colley, an animal of unusual strength and beauty. He did not like to make an offer for it to a stranger, but was surprised to hear the man mutter as he walked away, "Though I do not give my dog unasked, I might give him to the man who asked me for him." All this was repeated to Donald-Duival. "Is that so?" he said. "Then it is likely the man will be back to-morrow. Bake ye a cake for him to-night; but put the girdle-plate inside the bannock, and set it before him with a stoup of milk, if he comes." The stranger did come, and did eat the bannock through. He again left, saying, "Though the man did not ask for my dog, I might give it to him if he said the word." No word, however, was said, for the dairyman and his wife knew by this time that the visitor was not canny; so they called after him, "If we did not ask for your dog yesterday, we will not take him in a gift to-day." On the following day the man came again, but this time without his dog, nor was he offered milk by the dey. Donald, however, watched him, and presently saw him go off with the best cow. A struggle took place, in which the cow was torn to pieces close to the Cave of Smoo.
There was a Boke of Magic much consulted by Donald. He once lent it to another wizard, a relation of his own, who returned it by a servant. The man was duly charged not to open its pages by the way; but, curiosity prevailing, the churl opened the leaves, and was instantly surrounded by hundreds of "little men," who cried, "Work, work!" The servant was horribly frightened; but, thinking it safest to keep them employed, he bade them twist ropes of the heather. Quick as light all the heather within sight was coiled up into ropes. Again they cried, "Work, work!" The servant despatched them to the Bay of Tongue, and bade them turn its sand into ropes. With an angry scream at finding the task impossible they plunged into the sea, and Donald-Duival lost his servitors among the little men, though he still remained able at any time to draw rain or snow from the skies by a wave of his hand.—(From J. McLeod.)
[There is a mixture here of the genii in a cask, which is oriental, with a legend about Fingal, and with the book of Michael Scott. Dempster in his Historia Ecclesiasiica says that he had heard in his youth of the existence of such books, which could not be opened without danger.— (Lib. xii. p. 495, 1827.]
A cavern at Salamanca where magic was taught was walled up by Queen Isabella the Catholic.
A celebrated professor in the chair of magic was Maugis d'Aggremont, but all the seven arts of enchantment, as taught by such masters to such scholars as Donald-Duival Mackay, are derived from Hercules. Michael Scott and Heron de Bourdeaux were able like Donald to fly through the air, and there was once a magician named Wade who in his boat Guingelot made fabulous journeys.
A certain Virgilius, whose adventures, as recorded by J. Doesborcke, of Antwerp, are now very rare, had twenty-four unearthly assistants, whose iron flails did great execution, and he had an adventure with the devil in a very small hole, by means of which the "fynde" is imprisoned to this day.—(Montfaucon.) Donald-Duival Mackay is by some persons declared to have been really the first Baron Reay (1628). Part of the legend about the fiendish visitor who ate the iron girdle is to be found in the MSS. of the Highland Society of Scotland.]
Once upon a time a wicked sea captain built a ship in which he sailed the high seas, and hoped to conquer the world. When she was launched and manned he called her "the Rotterdam," and he said, "I now fear nor God nor man." His ship was so large that on her deck there was a garden of fruits and flowers, besides sheep, and milch kine, and provisions of all sorts. He was ignorant of the navigation of the Dornoch Firth, but he tried to enter it, in the hopes of some north-west passage. He ran his ship on the quicksands of the Gizzen Brigs, and there where she sank the fisherman can still see her topgallant, and her bargee, flying and fluttering in the waves. Her crew and her captain must be still alive, for in calm weather they may be heard praying and singing psalms to avert the judgment of the Last Day, when the master of the Rotterdam will be punished.
[This recalls the account of Vanderdecken's attempt to double the Cape, and the legend of the "Flying Dutchman." In Delabouche's poem of "Le Navire Inconnu," the crime of the captain is said to have been his traffic in slaves:—
"On raconte, mon fils,
The bells seem to refer the present story to a superstition about the buried cities, which finds expression in the next tale.]
iv.—The Buried Castle.
Once upon a time there was a strong castle which belonged to a very bad man, and in its court there was a well which supplied the soldiers when their wicked lord had to stand a siege. One night he gave a great ball, at which dancing was kept up to a very late hour. It was Sunday morning, yet the dancing was still going on, when a servant-girl came to tell the master that the well was overflowing. He told her rudely to empty it; but she soon came again, and said that the water came up very fast. He swore at her, and bade her return to her work. The water continued to rise, and to rush out till first the court was filled, and then the castle itself disappeared into the earth, leaving in its place a deep lake. On clear days the chimneys and gables can be seen, and a gentleman who used to fish in the lake frequently remarked them. One day a little mannikin started up from among the reeds of its shore and said to him, "Come no more! You must fish here no more, for there are more mouths here than there are fish to feed them." The mannikin then disappeared; but the fisherman, whenever he heard a reed tremble in the wind, shook also in every limb, lest the creature should appear to him a second time.—(From D. Murray, Skibo.)
[The Folge-Fiord in Norway is said to cover seven parishes which were overwhelmed for their wickedness by snow and ice. Their church bells may be heard ringing, and the peasants of the Hardanger-Fiord expect that the buried villagers will one day be restored to the world.
The Fucine Lake contains a buried city, and Herbadilla disappeared under a lake in Brittany.
The tradition of the sea-covered city, as existing in Germany, suggested Müller's beautiful poem:—
"Aus des Meeres tiefem, tief em Grunde
Tbis is the pathetic side of the legend; its rational origin may well be the lacustrine habitations existing in so many lakes, to say nothing of some geological sinkings of the earth's surface.]
v.—St. Gilbert and the Dragon.
There lived once upon a time, in Sutherland, a great dragon, very fierce and strong. It was this dragon who burnt all the fir-woods in Ross, Sutherland, and the Keay, of which the remains, charred, black, and half decayed, may now be found in every moss. Magnificent forests they must have been, but the dragon set fire to them with his fiery breath, as he rolled over the whole land. Men fled from before his face, and women fainted when his shadow crossed the sky-line. He made the whole land a desert. And it came to pass, that this evil spirit, whom the people called "the Beast," and Dhu guisch (of the black firs), came nigh to Dornoch, as near as to Lochfinn, from whence he could see the town, and the spire of St. Gilbert—his church. "Pity of you, Dornoch!" roared the dragon. "Pity of you, Dornoch!" said St. Gilbert; and taking with him five long and sharp arrows, and a little lad to carry them, he went out to meet the "Beast." When he came over against it he said, "Pity of you!" and drew his bow. The first arrow shot the Beast through the heart. He was buried by the townspeople. Men are alive now who reckoned distance by so or so far from "the stone of the Beast," on the moor between Skibo and Dornoch. The moor is now planted, and a wood called Caermore waves over the ashes of the fir-destroying dragon.—(From Alexander the Coppersmith.)
The dragon killed by St. Gilbert (before-mentioned) must have been a salamander, since it was born from a fire which has lasted seven years. It lived in fire, and its breath burnt all the forests of the Highlands: only a man who should see it before it saw him had power to slay it. St. Gilbert dug a hole and hid himself in it, so as to get the first sight of it.
Gilbert finished his cathedral in Dornoch by witchcraft; he worked at it himself, and he used to fling up the nail to the spot he meant it to occupy, and sent the enchanted hammer after it. They both did their duty, and the hammer then returned to the hands of this "master-mason." He is called "Holy Gilbert," and sometimes "Gilbert Saor."—(From Mrs. McKay.)
[Holy Gilbert was really a bishop of Caithness, surnamed Carthophilax.
"In the time of king Alexander waz mony nobill clerkes: as Hugo— was in his dayes Saint Gilbert, bishop of Catteynes, redemption: ann: M.CCXLIX.
"Gilbert, archdeacon of Moray, a member of the great family of De Moravia, was himself already possessed of great estates in Sutherland by the gift of his kinsman, Hugh Freskyn. He was the son of W. de Moravia, Lord of Strabock and Duffus, and cousin-germ ain of William, Earl of Sutherland. He built the cathedral church of Dornoch at his own expense, and its endowments were procured by him. In the charter-room at Dunrobin is the charter of the constitution of his newly-built cathedral. It is not dated, and its era can only be limited by the period of Gilbert's episcopate: 1223-45."—(Cosmo Innes, Sketches of Scottish History, p. 82.)
So much for the historical value of these legends. As for their mythology, I hear St. Gilbert called in Sutherland the Gobhaìnn Saor, and this epithet connects him as a builder with the fabulous freemason and master-smith to whom seventeen Irish churches are attributed. Gobha means a smith, Saor means free or noble, but the name applies really not to any man but to a class—to those Cuthite builders to whom Ireland owes her round towers. Tradition, however, there affirms that that fabulous Gohha was "a black and lusty youth." It is interesting to see the prehistoric Vulcans and Tubal Cains of Cuthite descent transformed in Sutherland into Holy Gilbert, and in Ireland figuring as St. Gobban and St. Abban.—(See Keane's Irish Temples, and Colgan's Fables of the Irish Saints.)
The tradition of the hammer goes back to the Scandinavian tale of Thor and his hammer.
In his character as a dragon-slayer St. Gilbert forms but one of a goodly company of medieval saints and heroes.
The prowess of certain knights like William de Somervale against the "loathly worm*' gives its name to Ormiston, so-called from the wyrm, or dragon, which perished there. There is a Cheshire legend which goes over the same dangers and the same exploits.
In France there are commemorated:
S. Romain at Rouen, 628.
vii.—The Death of Diarmid; or, the Boar or Ben Laighal.
Once upon a time there was a king in Sutherland whose lands were ravaged by a boar of great size and ferocity. This boar had a den, or cave, in Ben Laighal, and that was full of the bones of cattle and of men.
The king swore a great oath that he would give his daughter to the man who should rid the country of the monster.
There came Ossian, and Fingal, and Oscar, and I know not how many more, but vainly they tried to compass the death of the boar. His bristles were a foot long, his tusks were great and white, and his eyes glowed red like beltane fires.
When Diarmid came he saw the king's daughter. Her robe was white, her eyes were blue, and her long yellow hair fell round her as she stood in the gate. Then Diarmid said to himself that he would have her. Before the dawn of next day he had gone forth. He reached the boar's den and saw the monster lying, like a boat lies on the shore, long and broad and black. Drawing a shot from his bow he killed it on the spot. All the king's servants turned out and dragged the monster home with shouting. The king's daughter stood in the gate, like a May morning, and smiling. But the king's heart was evil, and his face grew dark. Now that the boar was dead he would go back from his word, but he dared not do so openly. So he said to Diaimid that he should not have his daughter to wife till he had measured the body of his foe, by pacing if from snout to tail, and also backwards from tail to snout.
"That," said Diarmid, "will I gladly do, and our wedding shall be on the morn's morning."
He paced the beast from the head to the tail without harm or hindrance, but in measuring it backwards the bristles pierced his bare feet, and in that night Diarmid sickened and died. His grave, beside the boar's den, may be seen in Ben Laighal to this day.
[The death of Diarmid, derived as it is from the older myths of Greece, forms the argument of a well-known Ossianic poem, and is referred to in the Ossian of the Highland Society.
The boar's-head forms the crest both of the Mac-Dermots and of the Campbell family.]
viii.—The Tailor and the Skeleton.
There lived in Dornoch in the olden time a tailor, who did not believe in witches, and who said "there was no ghosts." Now, St. Gilbert—his church—was the place where many were buried in those days that were not of the meaner of the people, and the tailor boasted that he would sew a pair of hose, alone, in that cathedral, in one night. Accordingly he took his seat, cross-legged before the high altar and plied his penetrating needle with wonderful assiduity: when lo! a human skull began to roll towards him, and spoke at last as follows: "Mo cheanna gun fiah, gun fail, aig . . . . ," viz.: "My large head, having neither flesh nor blood, rises, tailor, to you." "I will see that presently, when this is finished," answered the undaunted tailor, sewing away as fast as possible. The skull next said: "My great head, and breast, without flesh or blood, rises, tailor, to thee." "I will see all that when this is done," was the reply; and so it went on, the skeleton rising from the floor, higher and higher, repeating its observation, and the tailor sewing with clammy hands, and giving the same answer. At last the task was completed, and not till then did the tailor venture to look. Lo! the ghastly skeleton stood upright its full length; the damp clay covering only its white and fleshless feet. He started off", the ghost followed, but it did not overtake him till he reached the church-porch, when it slammed the door after his retreating feet with such horrid violence that it caught and lacerated the tailor's heels, leaving him a cripple for life. The spectre had, in closing the door, grasped the posts; its fingers left a mark there, which might be seen any day till the restoration of the cathedral.
[In Inverness-shire the scene of this story is laid at. Beauly. The tailor worked in the ruined abbey, and he had candles, which the ghost blew out.]
ix.—The Legend of the Holy Virgin and the Beetle.
When the Holy Family were on their flight into Egypt they passed through a field where some men were sowing corn. The Holy Virgin spoke to the men, and begged them, should any one ask for tidings of the fugitives, to say that a man, a woman, and a child had indeed passed this way, but only when they were sowing their crop. The labourers promised to obey her, and instantly the corn shot up, first the blade and then the ear, and then the full ripe corn in the ear. The husbandmen began to reap it. While they were thus employed the king's soldiers appeared, and asked them if they had seen a man and a woman leading their ass, and carrying a young child? Obedient to the orders they had received, the men replied that such persons had indeed passed through the field, but that it had been when the corn was being sown, which they were now binding into sheaves. The soldiers were about to turn back, discouraged, when a black beetle lifted up its voice, and said:—"Yesterday, only yesterday, the Son of God passed this way." (An dé! an dé! cha Mac Dhé seachad.)
[This legend, lingering in Sutherland and Inverness-shire, has caused the death of many a beetle. Boys, if they find one, will stamp on it and say,—"Beetle! beetle! you won't see to-morrow:" i.e. live to tell any tales.]
x.—The Lonely Giant of Barra.
Once upon a time a sea captain, who had some horses on board, landed in Barra to get some hay. He wandered about, but he met no one till he came upon a splendid castle in which was a giant, an immense man, old and grey, who was quite alone. This giant said that he had once been with Fingal in Morven; "and ah!" he sighed, "I feel that if I could only fill my hand once more full of Highland earth I should be king again." The captain, having earth for ballast, said he could help him. From a sack full of Highland soil he began to fill the hand of the giant. But the hand was so big that one sack did not suffice, it seemed to be no bigger than a dry pea in that enormous palm. They were both much vexed, and the captain promised in return for the giant's hay to come back to Barra with earth enough to do the business. He did return, but the castle had vanished, and its great grey old man was nowhere to be seen.
xi.—The Three Hunters and their Brides.
Once upon a time there lived at the foot of Ben Mohr of Assynt three young men, who were the sons of one man, and famous hunters. They were fair to see, as kings' sons ought to be: fleet of foot, too, and one of them, the youngest, was skilled in music, and carried a "chaunter" in his quiver. They were promised to three sisters, all daughters of one man, but quite unlike each other. The first had golden locks, the second had lint white (flaxen) hair, and the curls of the youngest were as black as the raven's wing. Their necks and breasts were as white as the swan, the canna (cottongrass), the sea-gull, or the foam on the pools of the shore. It came to pass on a certain day that these three young men went deer-stalking in the corries of Ben Mohr, but Ben Mohr put her cap of cloud on, and they lost their way in the mist. Hours passed. They groped about, and at last they espied a light. On making for it they discovered, to their joy, a bothy with a blazing fire, at which they warmed themselves and roasted some of the venison they had killed. When they had eaten, the piper brother played first piobrachds and then marches and reels. "Ah!" cried the eldest, "if our three sweethearts were but here, we might have a dance." Hardly had he spoken than three beautiful maidens, all dressed in green, appeared, who held out their hands to them, and then led off a merry reel. But the piper lad was the first to see that these girls were all web-footed. He was alarmed, and, turning to his partner, he asked permission to go to the open door so that he might have fresh air before playing for them a second time. She said that he might do so, provided that he did not let go the long green ribbon that was fastened round her slender waist. He took the girdle in his hand, and the fair girl followed him mutely. Quick as light he drew his skenedhu from his stocking, cut the ribbon across, and, shouting his own love's name, he dashed out into the night. The weird damsel, however, followed swift and noiseless, and she gained upon his steps. Some cattle and horses were grazing near, but they scenting the Evil One flew in terror, urging a mad flight down the glen. Only one horse remained. He advanced towards the hunter neighing. The fugitive flung himself upon him; but the noble beast, with head and heels, managed to keep the sorceress at bay. She continued to hurl darts at them till the dawn appeared. Our hunter then made his way to the bothy, which he found reduced to ashes; but bones and fragments enough remained to prove that his two elder brothers had perished in the embraces of their green-robed brides.
[For a legend like this, see the notes to the "Lady of the Lake."
There is a German song in which three fair maidens appear: the one is called Anna, the other Barbara; the third is to be the singer's love; but they all turn into birds, and fly away.]
xii.—The Sleeping Giants.
The giants, it is hoped, are not all dead, but only sleeping in Tigh Mohr na Alba (the Great House of Albyn). A man once entered a cave, and there found many huge men all asleep on the floor. They rested on their elbows: in the centre of the hall there was a stone table, and on it lay a bugle. The man put the bugle to his lips, and blew once. They all stirred. He blew a second blast, and one of the giants, rubbing his eyes, said, "Do not do that again, or you will wake us!" The intruder, who fled in terror, never could find the mouth of that cave again.
[This touches on the myth of the sleeping king or hero which is so widely distributed through the world.
Jeremy the prophet is expected by the Jews. Barbarossa and Charlemagne are only asleep, the one under a mountain, the other not in his vault, but in the Unterberg. Lost King Sebastian of Portugal is another case in point, to say nothing of Balder and of Arthur, "buried by weeping queens in Ascalon"; all heroes for whom the world is waiting. Marko of Servia retreated into a cavern; there in the forest hangs his sword. His horse is eating the grass; and when the sword falls to the ground, Marko will awake and will come forth.—(See Raube's History of Servia p. 85.)]
xiii.—The Demon Angler of Loch Shin.
Once upon a time a man lived on Loch Shin side. He had flocks and herds in plenty, and he went up with his two sons to the shieling, for it was summer-time, and his cows were in the upland pasture. Well, that was good to him; and in his house by Loch Shin side there was nobody left but a little lassie and a neighbour's son, a bit laddie that played with her all the week long. The lassie had a wild dove's nest in an old tree, and first she would not show the nest, and syne she would. So they two went together, and they climbed to see the eggs that were in it. They were wandering home, their lone, when they saw a man fishing off a stone, with a yellow dog beside him. The man's back was turned to them, and the lassie was keen to know who he was, and the bit laddie to know if he had fish. "Call ye to him," she said, "and ask him if he has trout, and if he will give us one to our supper?" At first they feared to do this, but at last the laddie crept up to him. "Have ye got fish?" said he; and then the girlie said, "And will ye give us a trout to our supper, for my father is in the hill?" Up rose the man; but it was not a man, but a fire, which blazed up to the sky. The heather taking fire rolled flames up to the children's feet, who were crying with fright before they got home.
"And what was it?"
"Ou, just the Mischief."— (W. Ross, stalker.)
xiv.— The Mermaid of Lochinver.
A mermaid fell in love with a fisherman of Lochinver. Her lover was enamoured, but he had heard how youths ensnared by mermaids had found a watery grave.
It became necessary then to make his own terms, and to arrange matters so as to secure himself. To rule a mermaid it is necessary to possess yourself, not of her person, but of the pouch and belt which mermaids wear. This carries the glass, comb, and other articles wellknown to be indispensable to the lady's comfort, but also as a sort of life-preserver helps them to swim.
By fair means or foul this cautious swain got hold of the pouch, and the mermaid became in consequence his bride and his bondswoman. There was little happiness in such a union for the poor little wife. She wearied of a husband, who, to tell the truth, thought more of himself than of her. He never took her out in his boat when the sun danced on the sea, but left her at home with the cows, and on a croft which was to her a sort of prison. Her silky hair grew tangled. The dogs teased her. Her tail was really in the way. She wept incessantly while rude people mocked at her. Nor was there any prospect of escape after nine months of this wretched life. Her powers of swimming depended on her pouch, and that was lost. What was more, she now suspected the fisherman of having cozened her out of it.
One day the fisherman was absent, and the labourers were pulling down a stack of corn. The poor mermaid watched them weeping, when to her great joy she espied her precious pouch and belt, which had been built in and buried among the sheaves. She caught it, and leapt into the sea, there to enjoy a delicious freedom.—(J. MacLeod, Laxford.)
xv. — A Wild Night's Vision.
After the ruin of kingcraft and prelacy in Scotland many gentlemen found the country but little to their taste.
Captain William Ross, of Invercarron, in common with "Sir Randal," and with many more good soldiers, went to push their fortunes in the wars of "the high Germanic." This laird of Invercarron was a tall and very muscular man, and legends about his strength and his courage long lingered in Strathcarron. People thought it a pity that so pretty a fellow as had been their soldier-laird should ever have shed his blood on foreign soil. Captain William Ross fell at last in action, but his fame did not die with him; and many generations later a young Mr. Ross, of Invercarron, felt no little envy of his legendary reputation for strength, size, and beauty. This young man would fain have been declared the tallest, fairest, and strongest man that the family had ever produced; but there were old people in the glen who told him that so far was this from being the case that he would not reach up to the shoulder of the captain who fell on a German battle-field. "That," replied the young man, "remains to be proved." "That you can never prove," was the retort, and at last the boaster determined by fair means or foul to convince himself of his superiority.
At Langwell, on the Oikel, there lived a wizard, and to him young Mr. Ross applied for help. "Could he see his ancestor? Could he measure himself against him?" The wise man undertook to exhibit the dead soldier to his descendant's inquisitive gaze: only Mr. Ross must promise obedience and silence.
They accordingly repaired that night to a flat meadow near the Oikel, where the enchanter, drawing a large circle on the turf, bade our hero take his stand beside a white stone in the centre of it. He engaged, under peril of his life, not to stir from this spot, and not to touch or handle anything he might see. "And," quoth his guide, "there are many that must pass before you this night. As each lot passes before your eyes, ask only, 'Is Captain William Ross here?'"
The wizard now returned to his hut. The harvest-moon was at the full, and assuredly its mellow light never fell upon a stranger sight than was now presented to the gaze of a young man who half-repented of his rashness, as at midnight a large spectral army, drawn up to his right, began to move towards the bed of the Oikel. Company after company, regiment after regiment, this host defiled before him. All was silent as the grave, for the tread of these armed men fell noiselessly on the turf. The whole ghostly army unrolled itself, and of each company he demanded in a hoarse whisper, "Is Captain William Ross here?" "No; but he is coming," at length replied an officer at the head of one of the companies. Hours seemed to have elapsed, and still these foreign legions, in the strange uniforms, new colours, and strange eagles, succeeded others. There came men of fierce aspect; hordes of Tilly and Mérode, ragged and worn, but all silent; and each brigade vanished as its predecessor had done. The waters of the Oikel, lapsing softly by woods and hills to its junction with the North Sea, seemed to swallow them up, along with the uncouth field-pieces that had been dragged slowly across the verge of the magic circle. Young Mr. Ross still asked the same question, and at intervals he received the same answer. At last a company appeared, and an officer walked conspicuous, for in his great height he towered a Saul among the people, a head and shoulder above the stoutest corporal. "Is Captain William Ross here?" asked our hero. "He is," replied the corporal, and saluted. At that moment the tall officer, to whose shoulder the boastful young laird of Invercarron hardly reached, stepped out, and advanced within the circle. He greeted his young kinsman by name, and asked to shake hands with him. But our hero had been instructed not to touch or handle anything that he saw, so he refrained himself. The late soldier next pressed him to march a little way with them, but this also young Ross explained that he was unable to do. "Then," said Captain William Ross, "I must not linger here." And after bidding good evening, the gigantic officer strode on, rejoined his company, and along with it vanished into the swift-running liver. Then the vision ended. The crestfallen young boaster had to stand at his charmed post till the sun rose in the sky —till the kine began to low in the meadows, and faint cock-crows came from the distant cottages. He was so vexed that he threatened to have the wizard burnt for his unholy practices; but as the story made against himself, he thought better of it. The result of his moonlight expedition could only, if made known, raise a laugh at his expense, so young Ross never put his threat against the wise man into execution; and, what was better, he never boasted any more among the beaux and belles of Ross-shire of his strength or of his stature.— (W. Graham, Cuthil.)
xvi.— The Assynt Man's Mistakes.
The Assynt man's wife once asked him to take her spinning-wheel to be mended. The wind catching the wheel set it turning, so he threw it down, and said, "Go home, then, and welcome!" He then struck across the hill, and on arriving asked his wife if her wheel had got home yet? "No," she replied. "Well, I thought not, for I took care to take the short cut. It will be here presently."
A traveller stopping one day at his house asked the hour. The Assyindach, lifting a large sun-dial from its stand, put it in the stranger's lap that he might see for himself.
Seeing a four-wheeled carriage, he exclaimed, "Well done the little wheels! the two big ones wont overtake them to-day."
He took his child to be baptised. The minister, who knew him, said he doubted if he were fit to hold the child for baptism. "Oh, to be sure I am, tho' he is as heavy as a stirk." This answer showing but little wit, the minister then asked him how many commandments there wore? The Assynt man boldly replied twenty. "Oh, that will never do. Go home first, and learn your questions" (catechism). On his way back the Assynt man fell in with a neighbour. "But how many commandments are there? There must be a great many, for the minister would not be content with twenty." When set right on this point he went back to the minister, and to keep the baby wann he slipped it into his coat-sleeve, tying up the mouth of the sleeve with a string. But as he walked the string came off, the baby fell out, and slipped into a snow-wreath. Not till he was in church did the Assynt man discover his mistake. "I am very sorry," he said, "but not a bit of Kenneth have I got now."—(N.B. No wise person names an unbaptised infant; it is unlucky, and this infant died in the snow.)
The Assynt man once went as far as Tain to buy meal. A man overtaking him asked him what o'clock it was. "Well, last time it was twelve; but if it is striking still it must be nearly twenty."
He carried two bags full of cheese to market one day. One bag broke, and the cheese rolling fast down hill testified to a power of locomotion on their part which he was sorry not to have found out sooner, as they were very heavy. He, therefore, opened the second bag, and sent its contents after the first ones, walking on himself to market. He was surprised, as he said, not to find his cheeses. He waited all day, and then consulted his mother, who advised him to look for them at the bottom of the hill. There, to his great joy, he found them all.
On seeing a hare for the first time he took it for a witch, and while repeating the Lord's Prayer he backed from it. Unluckily he backed into a pond, and there, but for his wife's help, he must have been drowned.
[Assynt is spoken of in Sutherland as Beotia was spoken of in Thebes. But the Greeks had a tale of a stupid man who, when asked if his house was a good one, brought one of its stones as a sample.
In Germany a certain "Kördel" and "Michel" are remarkable for their stupidity, and make just such mistakes as the Assynt man perpetrated.]
xvii.—The Last Giant, and he Blind.
The last of the giants lived among the Fearn hills, Ross-shire, and within sight of the windows of Skibo. He had an only daughter, married, not to a giant, but to a common man. His son-in-law did not always treat him well, for he was sometimes very hungry, so hungry that he had to wear a hunger belt.
One day, at dinner, his son-in-law said to him, "Did you ever, among the giants, eat so good beef, or from so large an ox!" "Among us," said the last of the giants, "the legs of the birds were heavier than the hindquarters of your ox." They laughed him to scorn, and said it was because he was blind that he made such mistakes. So he called to a servant, and bid him bring him his bow and three arrows, and lead him by the hand to a corrie which he named in the Balnagowan forest. "Now," he said, "do you see such and such a rock?" "Yes," said the servant. "Are there rushes at the foot of it?" "Yes," said the servant. "And is there a step in the face of it?" "Yes." "Then take me to the steps, and put me on the first of them." The servant did so. "Look now, and tell me what comes." "I see birds," said the fellow. "Are they bigger than common?" "No, no bigger than in Feam," said the servant. A little after, "What do you see now?" "Birds still," said the servant. "And are they bigger than usual?" "They are three times bigger than eagles." A little later, "Do you see any more birds?" said the giant. "Yes; that the air is black with them, and the biggest is three times as big as an ox." "Then guide my hand on the bow," said the blind giant. And the lad guided him so well that the biggest bird fell at the foot of the rock among the rushes. "Take home a hindquarter," said the giant, and they carried it home between them. When they came to the house of his son-in-law he walked in with it, and aimed a tremendous blow at the place where his son-in-law usually sat. Being blind, he did not see that the chair was empty. It was broken to atoms. But the son-in-law lived to repent, and to treat the blind giant better.—(Rev. Niel Mackinnon, Creich.)
[This tale is known in the Hebrides. The giant was Ossian.
There is an Irish version of the legend, in which the blackbirds are called deer, or elks."]
xviii.—The Tree taken to Witness.
Once upon a time there were two men travelling together on foot along Spey side. The elder one of the two grew weary, and they sat down to rest under a tree, having drank of a little stream that ran below them. The wearied man soon fell asleep, and his companion sat watching the larks singing above the furze-bushes, and the dimpling and purling of the burn. He heard his fellow-traveller groaning and muttering in a restless sleep, and he soon after saw creep out of his mouth an insect like a bee, only wanting its wings. This bee crawled along the man's clothes, and down on the sod, till it came to the brook, which it could neither fly over nor swim. It aye turned back and back, and aye tried it again, till the waking man, letting it creep on his sword, helped it across. It then went on two hundred yards, or more, and disappeared in a small cairn. Presently the sleeper came to himself, and told his friend that he had had a strange dream: a "wee, wee crayterie, no bigger nor a bee," had told him of a hidden treasure, and had promised to show it to him. It had seemed to him as if the creature came out of his mouth, had crossed the burn by his comrade's help, and had gone out of sight in a cairn. The watcher (who had had time to follow the bee to the cairn just hid by a rising ground, and not more than two hundred yards off) laughed at the story, but the elder man said that it must be true, and declared his mind to seek the cairn and its contents. High words followed, and the younger, drawing his sword, slew the man who had dreamt the dream of gold. The victim with his last breath upbraided the other with treachery, and took the tree, under which he had slept and now lay, to witness that he had been foully murdered. The murderer dug out the cairn and found the treasure, gold and silver and silver armour-pieces, and became a gay, rich man, but "aye where he went men saw a tree abune him and behind him, aye walking where he walked, and staying where he stayed. An' for all his gear he never got a friend to bide wi' him, nor a lass to marry him. At last he was over weary of it all, and went to the priest, and telled him the way of it, and made a restitution to the dead man's folk, and that was good to him whatever: but he did na live lang syne."—(Rev. W. Forsyth, Dornoch.)
xix.—The unjust Sentence.
Once upon a time two men went salmon-fishing in the Shin, and one of them happened to fall into the linn pool, a very deep place indeed. The other pulled him out with the gaff, but in doing so blinded him of one eye. Well, what did this man do, but sue his friend for the loss of the eye. They went before the magistrate, and the magistrate was so foolish as to decide that the one must pay the other damages for the loss of his sight. All the country talked about the sentence, and said that the man had "had a bad justice," and that the next man who fell into the falls of Shin must be left to drown at this rate, as no man could afford to save another's life at the risk of his own, and to pay a fine into the bargain. A few days after the magistrate was out walking, and at his right-hand side was a green mound, on which some little girls were playing. They were ranged in rows, one sat at the top, and two stood before her. "Now," said the little girl, "I am the unjust judge, and you are to be the man that lost his eye," and so on they went, and the magistrate stood to listen to them. They talked for a long time, and at last the judge got up and said, "My sentence is, let the man go into the pool again, and give him his choice there to drown if he can't help himself out, or to lose his eye in being lifted; if he chooses the last, he is never to say another word, but go home and be thankful."
The magistrate was so much struck that he went home, summoned the men, revoked the sentence, and ordered the grumbler a beating for his pains.—(D. K. Stack.)
[There is a legend in H. Hurwitz's Collection of Jewish Tales (1826) which is something like this.]
xx.—Drochaid-na-Vouha, or, The Kelpie's Bridge,
(A legend of the Gissen Brigs).
It is said that the kelpies were tired of crossing the Dornoch Firth at its mouth in cockle-shells, so they resolved to build a bridge. This was a magnificent work, the piers and the piles were all headed with pure gold. Unfortunately a countryman went by, and, lifting up his hands, bade "God bless the workmen and the work." At the sound of the Divine Name the workmen vanished and the work sank beneath the waves. The sand accumulating round it forms a dangerous bar across the entrance to the Dornoch Firth to this day.—(D. Murray, Skibo.)
[Froissart tells how in 1381, when the Duke of Anjou was besieging a strong castle on the coast of Naples, a necromancer built a bridge which carried ten soldiers abreast, until any that passed on the bridge made "the sign of the crosse on hym, then all went to nought, and they that were on the bridge fell into the sea."]—Vol. i. p. 391.
xxi.—The Romance of Gille na Cochlan Crackenach.
It happened to the Righ na Lirriach, after his marriage, to lose his way in the hills, while on a hunting expedition. He wandered long, and at last discovered a hut, and entered it, to be hospitably received by the Ben-ee (an enchantress, a fairy of the mountains), its only occupant. Here, under spell, he lived for twelve months; and not till the Ben-ee had given birth to a son did she set him free to return to the palace. There he found that in the first months of his absence the queen had also given birth to a son, over which he rejoiced, while the people rejoiced to see again the Righ na Lirriach. Not long after he went again to hunt on the hills. Now the henwife was one skilled in enchantment, and she came to the queen, and declared to her that the king had another son, and that that son's mother was the great Ben-ee. In order to get the king to return the queen feigned herself sick, and sent to tell him that she lay a-dying, and that, to see her ahve, he must come instantly. On receiving the message, the king hastened home, and to his wife's chamber, where he asked her if nothing would do her good? "One thing," she said, might, but he would have to vow to give it to her before she revealed what it was; so he swore that he would do it. "Then," she said, "bring me here the son of the Ben-ee." To this he replied that the thing grieved him, and, had he not vowed, he would not perform it—however, now he must and would. He started for the hut of the Ben-ee, and had to remain long with her before he could obtain her consent; but at last he brought the boy to the palace, and the queen, receiving him kindly, ordered him to be brought up with her own son. The boys grew up together. One day, as they were amusing themselves together, there passed by them a man, greyheaded and old, who said thus to them: "You seem to be very happy together, but one of you shall yet kill the other." They both answered, "That shall never happen"; and, in order to falsify the prediction of the old man, Fach-Mòhr-mac-Righ-na-Lirriach (the son of the Ben-ee, and so called in his father's palace) took his departure, and went from his father's house to push his fortunes in some other land. Wandering about, as he was, in search of some employment, and being weary of the way, he sat down and fell asleep under a tree. When he awoke and looked up he observed a man standing over him, who spoke kindly to him, inquiring whither he was going, to which Fach-Mòhr replied that he sought a master to give him work. The stranger asked his name. "Gillie-na-Cochlan Crackenach," replied the lad, but said not that he was a king's son. "Since I have given you my name," said the young man, "tell me now yours." "Then," said the stranger, "I am Ossian-Righ-na-Faen" (king of the Picts). So Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach agreed to enter the service of the king, and went home with him to be introduced to the other servants in the castle. But that very night the son of the Ben-ee quarrelled with them and killed half of their number. So the king's counsellors advised the king to turn out Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach, or else he would destroy all his subjects in Faen. "Where shall we send him to?" said the king, "To Eillan Phir Mohr" (Isle of the Giants), they said, "and let him bring from thence the corn chearach" (drinking-cup). Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach set out for the island, and there found a great and enchanted castle. Round it stood a guard armed with iron flails. He took hold by the legs of the man of them who had the biggest head, and with this flail killed the whole of the guard. He then walked into the castle; there sat the king and the giants his companions, and the corn chearach was before them on the table. After saluting the king he asked for a drink. They desired him to drink from the cup on the table; he took it up, drank it out, and, putting it under his arm, he walked out, the king heeding it not, for he thought that the robber would be slain by the guard in going out of the castle with the cup. Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach returned to the Righ-na-Faen. Men were much surprised. "And now," said the king's counsellor, "now that this man has returned from Eillen-Phir-Mòhr your subjects are all dead men. "What now will we do with him ?" cried the king. "Let us order him," said the counsellor, "to leap twelve times backwards and forwards over the ditch, twelve feet broad, which surrounds the castle, and cause him to be shot at with arrows from both banks," and the gillie leapt, but, leaping, caught the arrows with his hands before they touched him.
"What now?" said the king to the counsellor. "Make him try a race with Cuillie" (swift as the wind, and brother of the king). And the gillie ran; but, before starting, he bid Cuillie start, saying he should himself wait for a little to rest. This set the whole court laughing. When Cuillie was halfway over the course, and scarce halfway up the hill, the gillie set off, overtook him, and, striking him with the hand on the shoulder, changed him into a white deer. After this he left the country of the Faen, and went to visit the Ben-ee. He remained with her for a year, till one day he told her that he wished to return to the country of the Faen to free Cuillie from the enchantment. He did so, and he returned with Cuillie to the castle, where the king joyfully received him, but shortly after informed Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach that he had had that day a letter from the queen of Eillen-na-Muick but could not go to her, nor to her country, unless Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach went with him. "Through the world," said he, "I will go with the king, but not to one place, and that place is Eillen-na-Muick." The king would take no refusal, upon which Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach said that, if the king could get the consent of the Ben-ee, his mother, he would then gladly go. The king then asked where the Ben-ee was to be found. "On the hill by the sea, combing her hair, you will find my mother." The king went and found the Ben-ee, as her son had said. He caught her by the hair. Winding the long locks round his hand, he swore to her that he would not let her go till she gave leave for her son to go with him to Eillen-na-Muick. "Let him go then," she said; "but, if you bring my son home alive, let the sails you hoist up as you sail in the bay be red; if not, let them be black in your vessels." The king swore it to her, and they sailed for Eillen-na-Muick. They came at last into the bay below the castle, and the queen stood with her twelve maids and looked from the windows; and, seeing a vessel in the bay, she laid the whole crew under a spell, except Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach. Upon this Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach laid one on the queen and on her twelve maids, and they changed into twelve white stags that could not draw their heads back into the windows because of the width of their branching cabers (horns). The queen cried, "Fach-Mòhr-mac-Righ-na-Lirriach, remove the enchantment." "Nay," he replied, "remove yours first, because it was the first laid on." She did so, and Ossian Righ-na-Faen knew now for the first time that his strong servant was the son of the Righ-na-Lirriach. Now the queen called a second time, "Remove the enchantment." Said Fach-Mòhr to the queen, "I like well that you should look at us so; but where am I and my master and his servants to find a lodging to-night?" "There is a big barn here," she said, "it is close by, and will hold the whole of you." When they saw the bam, lo! it consisted of seven couples, and seven miles between each, full of giants. So Fach-Mòhr looked round, and took by the legs the one who had the biggest head, and with him he slew the whole of them. He then bade the servants to go in and clean out the bam. They began, but every spadeful they threw flew into their faces. "Be off! be off!" he said, and, setting to, cleaned the whole out in a few minutes. He then went to the queen and said they needed fuel and fire. "There is a large stack of peats hard by," said the queen; "take from it as much as you please." So the men went, but every peat they took flew back and hit them in the face. They went and told this to Fach-Mòhr, who came out, lifted the stack in his arms, and carried it into the barn. Then Fach-Mòhr went again to the queen and said, "Where are provisions for me, for my master, and for his men?" Said the queen, "There is a bull in the park below, take him and kill him for your use." The men went out to take the bull, but dared not come near it for the flames of fire it vomited forth out of its mouth. This they told to Fach-Mòhr. "I do not know," cried Fach-Mòhr, "what to think of a crew like this that can do nothing," and, catching the bull by the horns, with one wrench tore him in half. The carcase was hauled up to the barn, and they feasted there that night. When darkness came on, Fach-Mòhr said to them all, "We must watch. Choose you the first part of the night or the last?" They said they were ready to take the first watch, but Fach-Mòhr replied, "He now thought he would take the first, and they should have the latter watch, and so they might now go to bed." About midnight the mother of all the giants he had slain in the barn came home with provisions for her sons, and, seeing Fach-Mòhr, a battle began between them. He got the great mother down, when she cried, "Spare my life, and I will give you what will bring the dead to life and cure all manner of disease." "Where is it?" "Under the flag of the hearthstone," she said. "And how do you call it?" "Flaggan Fiacallach." As soon as she had said this ho put her to death. In the morning they all went down to the bay, and got on board their vessel. "Now," cried the queen, "Fach-Mòhr, remove all your enchantments." "I like well, queen, that you should look at us so till we go out of sight." They had now got some way from Eillen-na-Muick, when Fach-Mòhr said to his master and to the crew, "I will now make war in the sky, and you will not see me for six days and six nights, except as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire." At the end of that time he said they would see him coming down, when they must hold up the blunt end of a spear, on which he might alight. They were overjoyed when the storm was over and they saw him coming down; but they had held up the points of their spears, and on them Fach-Mòhr-mac-Righ-na-Lirriach falling was slain. They were sorry for the death of their champion, and, as ordered by the king, they hoisted black sails, that the Ben-ee might see that her son was dead. Soon after they landed, and the Ben-ee met them. To the king of the Faen she said, "I knew how it would be and how it is—my son is dead. It is not willingly that you slew him, else none of you had ever reached the land," and, taking her son in her arms, she carried him to the hills; she found on his body the Flaggan Fiacallach, and rubbing some of the oil into the corpse brought him to life again. She then brought him to her hut, and there he lived till he heard that his brother, the son of the king of the Lirriach, was ill and dying. All the physicians of the land had been called, but they could not cure him; when they failed, their heads were cut off, and nailed round the castle. At last came Fach-Mòhr, and brought with him the "Flaggan Fiacallach"; with the oil he anointed the body of his brother, and restored him to health. Great was the joy of the Righ-na-Lirriach, and he commanded that when he died his kingdom should be equally divided between the two sons.—(Mrs. Young, Lairg.)
[The romance of Gillie-na-Cochlan-Crackenach is a specimen of the long-winded stories still told, the unwritten novels of the western highlands and islands. It is a wonderful fumble of many mythologies. Thor, Arthur, Theseus, Circe, Hercules, may all be traced, to say nothing of scriptural allusions.]
xxi.—Mr. Alexander Fraser's Pilgrimage.
(This story was told by a field labourer. It had been repeated to her by another woman, who said that it had never been written, but that she had heard it repeated by four generations.—Peggy Munroe, Achlach.]
Mr. Alexander Fraser was the priest of a hill parish in Invernessshire. A tall, grave man, he was feared and not much loved; but he had become moodier than ever, and men ceased to speak well of him in the last year of his residence among his flock. He had broken the vow of celibacy, and had implicated in his guilt one of his humblest parishioners. The evil tale got wind; but it was in an agony of remorse that this man bid his love farewell, and fell on his knees on the hill-side, where they had parted for the last time, vowing that he would neither shave his beard nor wear shoes till he had expiated his guilt, and obtained remission of his sin at the Sepulchre of our blessed Lord. He took leave of his sister and of his aged mother, who was blind, bidding her bless him, as he went on a needful errand. "Is it an errand of mercy, my son?" said the aged woman. "It is an errand of necessity, mother, and may God have mercy upon it." So Alexander Fraser went out barefoot across the Inverness-shire hills. The mother did not long survive the shock and the obloquy cast on her son's name, and they laid her head under the shadow of his deserted church.
The penitent kept his vow, and reached the Sepulchre, where he fell down on his face, praying for pardon and forgiveness. Suddenly a light filled the place, and he lifted his face, streaming with tears, to hear a voice say, "I am Mary, and thy sins are forgiven of God; go in peace." And Alexander Fraser arose, and rested not till his foot trod again the hills of Lochaber. He was a sore altered man when he came by the old place again; grey was his beard, and his clothes hanging in rents, as he slouched and stooped in his gait. The house where his mother had lived he entered last. He had begged a trifling alms first in many others, aye asking who was the priest of the parish. "Their minister," they said, "had fallen in with the Evil One, and for five years had not been seen." A glance at his old house showed him that it was in a state of commotion; he entered it by the kitchen door an eldritch-looking beggar, whom the serving-maids ordered out. They were preparing a wedding-feast. Their old mistress was dead, and their young one was to wed, on the morrow's morn, a certain Patrick Morrison. "Tell your mistress that there is a wanderer that wants word of her," and the maid went ben to Miss Betty's chamber, where she was sewing the wedding-clothes.
"Tell the gaberlunzie that I cannot come for any but one, I am that busy in the house; but give him," she added, "a glass of wine to drink our health and luck." The wine was served to the beggar, who, when he had drunk it, slipped off a ring he wore into the glass, and returned that to Miss Betty's message. At the sight of the ring Miss Betty fainted. When she came to herself, she ran to the kitchen, where the ragged strange man sat. "The mischief! the mischief!" she cried; "that took off my brother; put him out!" "Keep quiet, and you will, maybe, see your brother yet," he said. He told her what his errand had been and now was. Then he went upstairs and washed and shaved himself, and came down and sat with her, and put it all before her; and that he had forgiveness given him at our Lord's grave. And syne he made the marriage between Miss Betty Fraser and Patrick Morrison, and they lived happily all their days.
[There is a trace here of the Indian legend of "Sakouthala."]
xxii.—The Lost Wedding-Ring.
It fell out once that in a little farmhouse one day the mistress and the maid were sifting meal in the morning, and that in the evening at supper the former perceived that her wedding-ring was missing. After due and unavailing search, she accused the lass of having stolen it, upbraiding her with the theft before the other servant, a farm lad who had long been courting her, and with whom she was (as my authority expresses it) "on terms of marriage." The ring could not be found. Appearances were against the girl. She lost her place, and well-nigh her lover, "for the word was that hard against her" that he felt unwilling to have his banns proclaimed with a thief. Perplexed and unhappy, he went for counsel to a wise or spae woman. She bid him be of good cheer, and go to bed in his house, and to sleep "till she got word of the ring." To bed he went, but not to sleep. An hour after, when she supposed him to be sound, the wise woman rose from her chair by the hearth, and began turning over the clothes he had taken off. After searching the pockets, which were empty, she took up the brace, or band for supporting his trews, and left the hut, quick as thought and unseen. The young man followed her to a flat beside the river, where "with words I cannot say, she fetched Him I dare not name." "Well, what is it now?" said he, "and he was just the Muscheef (mischief), my dear." "Well," she said, and told how the lad was ill at ease after the ring, and the poor lassie set by as a thief, "an' what do you say about the ring?" "I say, that the ring is just in the meal-gurnel; it fell in while they were sifting in the morning. Let them sift it again." So far, so good, thought the lover; but the wise woman and her friend had not finished their say. "An' what will I get for this?" said the mischief. "You will get him that is the fill of this" (or that this holds), showing him the waistband. . . . . .
The ring was found as predicted, and the girl's character cleared, but the last sentences rung in her betrothed's ears; and this time he selected for his adviser a wise man. "Au! what can I do to be rid of the ill thing?" he asked, eyeing the band askance. "Take you the brace," quoth the wizard, "and go back to the river side; tie it round a tree, and cut a cross in the tree, then kneel you down, and say, 'May the Lord God Almighty bless me, and make me free of the ill word and the ill thing.'" He did as he was bid, and next morning the tree, split open, lay by the water side. The curse had passed on to it, and the couple, who were married the next week, lived long and happily all their lives.—(Peggy Munroe.)
xxiii.—An Erse Version of Jack the Giant Killer, called The Giant and the Little Herd.
The giant appeared to the little herd-boy, and threatened to kill him; but the boy gave him to understand he had better not, as he was, though small, very strong, and an enchanter, and that if the giant ate him he would make him very ill. The giant did not quite believe him, and taking up a stone which he ground to powder by closing his hand on it, bid the herd do the same, or he would make short work with him. Our little friend had a lump of curds in his pocket, which he contrived to roll in dust, till it looked like a stone; pressing it between his fingers, a stream of whey run out through them. The next trial was with the heavy hammer, which the giant threw to an immense distance, telling the would-be enchanter that unless he could match that he would blow his brains out. "I suppose," said the boy, "you have no regard for the hammer, and don't care whether you ever see it again or not?" "What do you mean?" growled the giant. "I mean that if I take up the hammer it goes out of sight in the twinkling of an eye, and into the sea." "I beg you will let the hammer alone, then, for it was my great-grandfather's hammer," replied the giant, and they were both pleased with the bargain. Then followed the hasty-pudding feat (called brose and brochen here), and the experiment with the black-pudding, which the boy had inside his jacket, and which ran blood when he pierced it. The giant, trying to imitate him, plunged a knife into himself and died, as may be seen in all carefully compiled books for the use of young persons.—(D. Murray, Skibo.)
[The opening of the tale, and the deaths of Comoran and Blunderbore, as told in our children's books, are all unknown here, and the whole thing as found in Sutherland more nearly resembles the Scandinavian story of "The Giant and the Herd Boy," given in Thorpe's Yule Tide Stories (Bohn's library edition), but, as will be seen, it incorporates with that some of the features of our Jack.]
xxiv.—The Herds of Glen Guar.
A wild and romantic glen in Strath Carron is called Glen Craig. It was through this that a woman was once passing, carrying an infant wrapped in her plaid. Below the path, overhung with weeping birches, and nearly opposite, ran a very deep ravine known as Glen Ouar, or the Dun Glen. The child, not yet a year old, and which had not yet spoken, or attempted to speak, suddenly addressed her thus:—
"I' leanvar vo mhoal ouar
"(Many is the dun hummel cow, each having a calf.)
The good woman, terrified and grieved, flung down child and plaid, and ran home, where, to her great joy, her baby lay smiling in his cradle. Some frolicsome spirit had j)laycd her the trick, and returned the infant to the cottage.—(D. Murray, Skibo.)
xxvi.—The Unwelcome Guest.
(Told on a New Year's Eve thirty-six years ago, to D. M., in Gaelic.)
In the good old times the New Year's festivities were kept up for eleven days together. A long time ago a funeral took place in the churchyard of Dornoch, on a New Year's day. In the churchyard it was, therefore, that on this occasion invitations were given and received. It happened that they were so by all the men attending the funeral, with the exception of one, who was left, when the others moved off, standing alone and crest-fallen among the green graves of his forbears. His attention was attracted to a human skull, lying blackening on the surface of "the strangers' burying-ground." He went up to it, and, hitting it with his staff, addressed it thus:—"Thou seemest to be forsaken and uncared for, like myself. I have been hidden by none, neither have I invited any—I now invite thee." The poor man then walked home, where he arrived as the long mid-winter's night closed in, and found his wife on the look-out for him and for any guests he might have brought with him. Soon after they had sat down to dinner, a venerable old man, dressed in greyish clothes, entered the room in the most perfect silence, took his seat at the table and his share of the viands under which it groaned; indeed, it was amply spread with the food used in the good old times,—mutton, venison, kippered salmon, and oat-bannocks, which had been baked on a red-hot flag-stone, and mixed with eggs, caraway seeds, &c., made from barley-malt. After the meal, the old man, rising, departed without having spoken a word. In the same way he repeated his visits for six nights. At last the host became alarmed and uneasy; as he had been indeed from the beginning convinced that the stranger belonged to the other world. He accordingly asked the priest's advice as to how he was to get rid of the unwelcome guest. The reverend father bade him, in laying the bannocks in the basket for the seventh day's supper, reverse the last-baked one. This, he assured him, would induce the old man to speak.
That night the old grey man perceived it on entering. He did not sit down, as usual, but said as follows:—"I now see, oh, friend I that o2 you are tired of me, before the end of the New Year's festival. I now invite you to spend the remainder of it with me in the kirk-yard. I go before you, and will await your coming: on your peril do not fall."
Mine host went again and craved the priest's advice, whose counsel was to proceed. This he did, with a trembling step, while from every pore a cold sweat distilled. On reaching the churchyard, he there saw a great house, illuminated in its many windows, while sounds of music and dancing met his ears. The savoury odours issuing from the kitchen soon reminded him that he had had no dinner that day: his fears vanished, and he felt hungry. The grey old man received him at the door, led him into a large room, beautifully decorated, where a numerous company was assembled. The old man, disappearing then, left him to enjoy himself for the evening, which he did—eating, drinking, piping and dancing. After a short time the grey master of the house entered, and said to him that the entertainment was at an end, and that he must make the best of his way back. "Surely not yet. I have been but for a few hours, and I kept you for days." The other replied: "Hasten home, or your wife will be married to another; in parting, let me give you this advice: never take liberties, using disrespectful words or actions to the remains of the dead." Having said so, the grey old man, the guests, the house, and all that it contained, vanished, leaving our hero standing alone in the churchyard-grass, and so fatigued that he could hardly crawl back in the moonshine.
When he neared his own house he again heard the sound of music and dancing; and, on opening the door, the first thing that met his sight was his wife, in a bride's dress. She swooned away immediately; the piper flung down his pipes and bolted through the window; the would-be bridegroom scrambled up the chimney; the wedding-guests made for the door, or hid under the bed, and the husband and wife—called back from her faint,—were left alone to make their mutual explanations. It seemed he had been away a year and a day; and that is the time within which widows are restricted from making a second marriage.
It was some time before the man recovered from the fatigue of a year spent in dancing, or the wife wholly got over her fright; but I am assured they lived happily ever after; saw their great-great-grandchildren; and that their descendants are scattered through the country to this day.—(D. M., gamekeeper.)
xxvii.—The Stupid Boy.
Part I.—The Nine Yards.
There lived once on a time in Sutherland a widow, who had one son, and he was a very stupid boy; so stupid that he could not be trusted out of sight, and that he had no idea how to buy or sell. One day his mother had nine yards of home-spun to sell; and there was a market within a few miles of her, at which she wished to show it for sale; but she could not go herself, and had no one to send but her son, and she thought a great deal how she was to prevent him doing something stupid with it, and being cheated. At last she thought that as the fair lasted three days she might send him every day with three yards, and that he could not go far wrong in getting a price for so small a quantity. So she sent him off with the first three, and charged him to bring it home if he did not get plenty of bidders and a long price for it. Nobody at the fair noticed the stupid boy and his little bundle; and he was turning to go home when a butcher met him, and asked him if he would sell the three yards of cloth. The boy said it was for sale, if he could get anything for it. "I will give you the two best things you ever saw in your life," said the butcher, and pulled out of his pocket a mouse and a bee. Presently the bee began to fiddle, and the mouse to dance, and they were the strangest pair you ever saw. "Done," cried the stupid boy, and hastened home to his mother with the mouse and the bee. When she saw for what he sold her stuff she was so angry that she flogged him soundly. Next day, however, she told him to take the next three yards and sell them better than the first, or that she would give him a terrible thrashing, and bread and water for a week.
Our stupid boy came to the fair, and began looking about for the butcher again, like a goose that he was. Very soon he saw him poming. "Have you any more homespun to sell to-day, my little friend?" said he. Then the boy let him have the three yards more, for what do you think?—for a long, leather string, that would tie of its own accord, and a stick ("plochan") used for stirring brose, that beat of its own accord. "They will do to serve my mother out," said the stupid boy. When he got home, she began to be very angry at being cheated for the second time, but the tie soon held her, and the stick gave her such a thrashing that she was too ill and frightened to say another word.
Part II.—The Stupid Boy and the Three Laughs.
Now there lived in those days a rich man, who had an only daughter, and she was a very stupid girl; so stupid that she sat like a lump and thought, and never had laughed in her life. And the father said he would not give her in marriage to any one unless the bridegroom could make her laugh three times.
And it came to pass, when the stupid boy, who had grown to be a man, heard that, he asked his mother's leave to go and try if he could not make the stupid girl laugh. She said he might try, for the girl was to be rich, and he was stupid enough to make the cat laugh in the fire-comer. "Well, we will see that," and he went to the house where the girl lived. Soon after he came in he put the mouse and the bee down on the table, and whistled to them till the one began to pipe, and the other to dance, and when the grave girl (who was very pretty, with snow-white skin and eyes like sloes) saw them she clapped her hands and laughed for a quarter of an hour. Her father clapped his hands and cried, "Well done," and "Do it again."
Now, you must know, that though her father was vexed all his life to see her sit like a stone, her mother—who was rather a dull woman too—did not mind it, and was very anxious that she should marry a rich, fat old man, whom her father thought as stupid as the boy and the girl put together.
So it was, that next night, when the boy came to the house, he found the other lover sitting at the table, and the mother filling him with bread and cheese and fine words, and the girl sitting by like a stone. When our stupid boy saw him, he pulled the leather string and the "plochan" out of his pocket; and the string tied the fat man, and the porridge-stick beat him, till he roared for mercy. Then the girl clapped her hands and laughed till her sides ached.
Next morning the mother sent for both the lovers. She told the boy that he was a rogue, and would come to be hung, as he deserved, and that he should never have her daughter; but she said to the old man that he might have the girl, and that the wedding should be that very evening.
But the stupid boy was determined not to be beat, so he came to the window quietly, and put the bee in. The bee stung the man in the face, so that he ran about, holding his hands to his head, and the girl sat opposite him and laughed till the tears ran down her face; and every time she looked at the fat old man's swelled nose, and eyes she began again. Her father heard the noise, and came in, when he saw her not able to speak for laughing. He was so delighted that he said no one should have her but the stupid boy that had made her laugh three times. So they were married next day, and lived happily all their lives after.—(D. R., forester, Loch Stack Lodge.)
[Of this story a very similar version is told in Argyllshire.]
xxviii.—The Master Thief.
[This was twenty or thirty years ago a common school-boy's tale. I have tried in vain to get it written down in Gaelic, but they tell it with all that is in the Norwegian version, and more besides, such as the theft of some rabbits (how performed I cannot hear), and that of a lot of calves. The master thief stole these for the robbers by imitating in the woods and upland pastures the cry of their milky mothers.]
xxix. — A Legend of Loch Spynie.
There was a gentleman in Morayshire, at one time, who had learnt witchcraft in the school of black art in Italy. On one occasion he ordered his coachman to drive him, in his carriage and four horses, across Loch Spynie, on the ice of one night's frost. Loch Spynie was very deep at that time. The wizard charged a pair of pistols in the coachman's presence, telling him that he would be shot dead if he looked back when on the ice.
On they went, on the thin ice, and as soon as the leaders had their fore-feet on dry land the coachman looked back, and saw "twa black craws" on the front of the coach. The ice immediately gave way, and down went the carriage and wheelers; but the leaders, being very powerful animals, dragged them all to land.
The powder in the pistols got wet, and would not bum, which saved the coachman's life.
The crows were two familiar imps or devils.—(J. Rose, Skibo.)
xxx.—The Bogie Koschan, or Robin-Goodfellow.
There is a sprite, who is very easy and good-natured to those that are civil to him.
Once upon a time, in the middle of winter, a man was walking from Tain to Assynt with a basket on his back, which was full of bottles of wine. At a bridge he meets the sprite, who offers to carry the basket for him. Well, they walked on together till they came to Loch Assynt, where the sprite says they had better sit down at the side of the loch. This they did, and the bogie began to take out the bottles of wine, and roll them one after the other over the ice for mischief, because the ice was only of two nights' frost; and though it carried the bottles, would not bear a man's weight. Says the man then to the hobgoblin, "Since you have sent out the bottles, you will have to get them back, or I shall be in trouble."
"Since you are so good-natured about it, I will do that same," said the sprite, and he gathered all the bottles into the creel again, and the two men went on their way. The man soon asked the hobgoblin if he ever did any harm, saying that he seemed very obliging. "Well," said the other, "since you have asked me, I will tell you all the harm that ever I did. At Tallachie there was a servant lass that angered me with aye saying she had seen me, and telling lies on me, and she never saw me but once, and that once I broke her leg for her pains." "And did you ever do any more tricks?" "I thrashed a thief once that had stolen a pack-saddle, and I whipped him all the way back with it." "And anything more?" "There was a dog at a bothie that I killed, for he barked at me, and would not let me lie in the stack, but that is the truth (fenina), and all the ill I have done since I came to this place."
( To be continued. )
- "He was so dark that you might have taken him for a smith."—Hurwitz's Jewish Tales.
- Isle of the Pig
- In an Icelandic legend the mysterious phial appears. An old woman in a bine cloak, with a glass phial, goes over the corpses after a battle. She anoints them with the ointment, and life is restored.—Legends of Iceland, by Powell and Magnusson, p. 159.
- Some pronounce it like Baderroschan.