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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
14.2 (Spring 2014)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, Collected From Oral Tradition
recovered and translated by Rev. James MacDougall
edited with introduction and notes by George Calder
31 GEORGE IV. BRIDGE
Traditional tales may be the best means of introducing young minds to literature. They are certainly the most neglected. Very young readers are delighted by a world wherein the most whimsical fantasies—a voice in the wind, a spirit in the shadows, a dragon’s den in an unknown space—become instant and formidable realities. Older students do well to revisit some of these “bedtime stories” (many of which are too scary for a pre-adolescent’s evening fare) and recognize in them the footprints of cultural evolution. A myth with roots running back thousands of years may underlie the simplest of tales. A wild wind transformed into a banshee may reflect the sort of allegorization that kept ancient myths alive and relevant in some form over those thousands of years, as society in general grew more savvy about the sun, the seasons, and the stars and “demoted” the anthropomorphized Olympians moving them to earthbound nymphs and satyrs.
When the Reverend MacDougall collected these twice-told tales over a century ago, they were already older than the bare highland glens left exposed after centuries of deforestation. The four excerpts chosen for our pages show narrative evolution running in various directions. The first and longest story, “Big Black John”, has many versions throughout the Gaelic world. In the Irish “Johnny Doyle” recorded by Seamus O Duilearga in Sean O Conaill’s Book, the eponymous hero journeys to a frightful kingdom under the earth which is clearly a resonance of the Dead World. The hero in our version makes only a lateral journey, yet the wife whom he finds in seeking his father’s assailant was lost to him a year earlier and might as well be in the grave. We are looking, in a sense, at Orpheus trying to recover Eurydice—and doing so, since her death has now been obscured by the indulgent peripeties of romance.
The adventure of Angus Mor also seems to menace the hero’s wife with death. Here, however, the traditional pattern appears to be more that of “Rumpelstilzchen” than of a mythic Other World Journey. The action remains above ground, but for Angus’s peering into the fairy knoll; and the fairies are, indeed, a much more popularized and manageable version of fearful mythic deities that roll thunder and drape cold shadows. The contest now is not one of braving the dark unknown, but merely of exhibiting the stealth and acuity necessary to crack a tough riddle. This tale belongs more to the quotidian life of surviving in a landscape of hidden valleys and changeable weather.
The fairies again figure in the story of the poor hunchbacked child who is befriended in his misery. Now these pixies are the delivery system for a blunt moralism that might well have been meant as instructive for young listeners. The guiltless sufferer is assisted by his supernatural patrons as if they were the handmaidens of a benign God Almighty, while the rude, brutal child is punished by them in a manner that shows no mercy. A tale to scare youngsters into good behavior and to inspire hope in them during hard times? Quite possibly, that is exactly what we see, and very little more.
Yet the final story of this selection returns the supernatural to its legendary quality—in which capacity a great many adults would have held it as true. The Glastig seems to be a terrifying blend of highland mist, restless poltergeist, and lawless savage wandering the wilderness. The area around Loch Ness to which this tale is ascribed boasts an internationally famous monster, of course. The surrounding landscape is quite as intimidating as the Loch, however, and no doubt had a hand in producing such chilling phantasms in the minds of young men and women forced into these very lonely reaches to seek sustenance. An episode of the “Bear” Grylls series, Man Versus Wild, by the way, features a trek from the surf of the North Atlantic into the heart of this territory, complete with the providential appearance of a bothy. Fortunately, Bear’s various challenges do not include the sudden arrival of a Glastig! The spirit’s announcing of her approach at a great distance and her closing of that distance with a rapidity paralyzing to the listener/victim draws upon several rudiments of insecurity that one may well call archetypal. This legend, and others like it, is the stuff of nightmares. ~ JRH
BIG BLACK JOHN, SON OF THE KING OF SORCHA
There was before now a King of Greece who went with his three sons, Uther, Arthur, and Ulin, to the hunting hill. When they reached the ben they sat down on a pretty little green knoll, behind the wind and before the sun, where they would see every man and no man would see them. The eldest son, as he was sitting on his father’s right hand, and his two brothers on the left, said: “That man who would come and strike a blow at my father, and take a tooth out of the door of his mouth would need to be well able to defend himself.” The youngest son answered: “We never heard mention of any man who would do that unless Big Black John, son of the King of Sorcha.”
No sooner had the word gone out of his mouth than Big Black John came like the hunting falcon from the rocky summit, struck the king on the mouth, and took with him a tooth he sent out of the door of his mouth. Then the king’s three sons stood up and vowed that they would not let mire out of brogue or water out of hose until they would find their father’s tooth. Home they stretched, got a vessel ready, and set her course in the direction where they thought Big Black John’s country was situated, and
The vessel was a beauteous sight,
Like bird upon the billows’ height.
The salt sea cleaving wide asunder,
With smoothly-polished, bare prows under:
Her masts, well hewn, and slim and narrow,
As straight and faultless as an arrow.
Bending beneath the white sails’ show
What time the freshening breeze would blow.
After they had sailed for many days, young Ulin ascended the mast to see if he could espy any land in sight. When he got as high as he could go, the rest cried to him if he saw anything at all. He said that he did. “What dost thou see?” said they. “Little it is if an island, and big it is if a bird,” replied he, and then descended. At the end of a good spell he went up again; but as yet he could only say, as he had done already, that what he saw was little if an island, but big if a bird. After a long while he ascended the mast the third time, but, before he reached the top, he cried aloud, “It is land,” and they made straight for it.
As soon as they reached the shore they landed, and travelled onwards to see what should occur to them. They had not gone very far when they came to the edge of a precipice, where they saw standing a little, shrivelled, withered, old manikin, and near him a creel with a long rope tied to it. They enquired of him who he was and what he was doing yonder. He replied that he was the gate-keeper of Big Black John, son of the King of Sorcha, and that no man could go to his castle unless he went down the precipice in the creel. The eldest brother went over to the edge of the precipice and looked down; but, when he saw the depth beneath, he was so filled with horror that he would not take all he ever saw and descend. Then the second brother went over to the edge of the precipice, but, when he looked over, such dread seized him that he would not take the world about which the sun revolves to go down in the creel.
At length noble young Ulin, who was a stranger to fear or panic, went into the creel, and, when going over the edge of the rock, he cried to his brothers: “Return home with the ship, and, if I live, I will reach you soon or late.”
He arrived at the foot of the rock safely, and it was there that the fine place was, with a big castle surrounded by a high rampart at a short distance from him. He made for the castle, and whom did he meet on the way but his own wife, who was stolen from him by Big Black John a year before that time, and whom he had with him in the castle; but he knew not till then who stole her, or where she had been taken.
He wondered greatly to meet her in that place, but not less did she wonder to meet him there. She returned with him to the castle, and, after she had tended him well with meat and drink, she told him that Big Black John and his four warriors were in the hunting ben, and that they would come home in the evening. “But,” said she, “we will shut the gates before them, and, though they are mighty, they cannot enter in spite of us.”
The evening came, and Big Black John and his companions with him. When he found the gates closed before him, he called on the woman to open them for him. But he got not as much as an answer. He cried a second and a third time, but, though he did, it was in vain.
At last he understood that young Ulin had come, and that he was in the castle. With that he cried to him: “Surrender or combat.” “Surrender or combat,” said young Ulin, “ thou shalt not get to-night; but prepare to defend thyself early enough to-morrow.” With the rising of the sun next day young Ulin ascended the rampart and cried: “Shall I get the fair-play of the Feinn ?“ Big Black John replied: “ Thou shalt get a combat with one man, or a combat with two or three men, as it liketh thee.” Young Ulin listened not to more talk, but sprang over the rampart and cried: “I’ll take a combat against one man.”
He got that, and he and the champion of the Red Shield closed with one another. They fought hard the day long; but, as evening was nearing, young Ulin was growing faint and wearied. But, when he remembered that he was far from his friends and near to his foes, he took courage, dealt a bloody blow, and struck the head off the champion of the Red Shield. Then he sprang over the castle rampart; but, before he was barely in, there reached him Big Black John’s defiance — “Surrender or combat.” He replied as he had done on the night before: “Surrender or combat thou shalt not get from me to-night, but make ready to defend thyself early enough to-morrow morning.”
Early next morning young Ulin ascended the rampart of the castle, and again asked the fair play of the Feinn. He got that, and he and the champion of the Green Shield encountered one another. He was getting the better of the champion in the beginning of the day, but, about the going down of the sun in the west, he felt himself growing wearied and faint. But, when he thought that he was far from his friends and near to his foes, he roused himself, and with one bloody stroke he struck the champion’s head off. He then sprang over the rampart, but Big Black John sent a defiance after him as on the preceding night.
On the next day and the day following, everything happened as on the first two days, and he struck the heads off the champion of the White Shield and the champion of the Black Shield. The champions were all dead now, and next morning he had to meet Big Black John himself. He sprang in over the rampart, and that night his wife treated him as well as she could.
Next morning he sprang out as usual, and he and Big Black John drew near each other. They fought first with their swords, but sometimes during the day they came so close to one another that they went into a hard wrestling bout. They would make quagmires of quagmires and knolls of knolls; where it was softest sinking to the eyes, and where it was hardest to the knees, and where it was most intermediate to the thick end of the thigh.
At the going down of the sun young Ulin put Big Black John under him, and struck off his head. When his wife saw this she ran to the gate and opened it, so that her husband required not to leap over the rampart that night. They stayed together in the castle until young Ulin’s wounds were healed. Then they made ready to return home, and they took with them all the gold and silver in the castle. They also took with them Big Black John’s horse, and hound, and hunting falcon, and (what they reckoned more precious than all other things) the tooth of the King of Greece.
The distance was long, and they took a long time on the way. At length they came in sight of the place of the King of Greece. But, instead of going to the castle, they went to the miller’s house, where they purposed staying until they would see how things were going on about the place. They did not let on who they were, and the miller did not recognise them, well acquainted with them though he was before then.
When night came, and they were talking together beside the fire, the miller said to young Ulin: “Thou hast as handsome a horse as I ever saw. To-morrow thou shouldst go with him to the horse-race at the king’s castle.” “I will not go,” said young Ulin, “but thou mayest take him with thee, and go, if thou pleasest.” The miller wanted nothing but the offer, and he accepted it with all his heart. Next day the miller went to the race with the horse. He reached the castle in good time. The horses were drawn up at the end of the racing field, and the order to start was given. With a stride or two the miller’s horse shot out ahead of all others, and left them further behind him with every step he took, until he reached the winning-post. He was then a long distance before the rider next to him, and he got the prize.
The miller returned home in the evening, full of pride because he had won the race. He told young Ulin all the brave things he had done with the horse, and then he said: “A dog race is to be held at the castle to-morrow. Three stags are to be let go before the dogs, and the dog that is fastest and that kills most will get the prize. Thou shouldst go with thy dog.” “I’ll not go,” said young Ulin; “but take thou the dog and go with him.” The miller wanted nothing more, and when the time came he went away with the dog on a leash. He reached the place. The deer were let go, and the dogs after them. But before they had gone very far the miller’s dog killed two deer, and the dog next him one. When the race was over the king came where the miller was and inquired of him where he had found the horse and the dog he had. He replied that he got the loan of them from a man who had come to his house and got permission to stay; and that he had as fine a hunting falcon as any man ever saw. “Go home and tell him that a falcon race will be held here to-morrow,” said the king, “and be sure that thou wilt take with thee himself and his falcon to the race.”
The miller went home, and told the stranger how it fared with him at the race, and the message the king had sent. Next morning young Ulin and the miller went away with the falcon, and in due time reached the castle. Six pigeons were let off, and the falcons after them. But, before the pigeons had gone far, young Ulin’s falcon killed the six. Then the king went where stood the stranger whose it was and whom no one present knew, and said to him: “Wilt thou sell thy horse, dog, and falcon? and I will give thee a handsome price for them.”
The stranger replied that he would not, but that he had another small thing that he would give him for nothing. He then took the tooth out of his pocket and handed it to the king, saying: *’See how that will suit you.”
Immediately the king knew his son, and rejoiced greatly to see him safe and sound. He then praised him for the service he had done him. “I have done as good a service as that. I have taken home my wife who was stolen from me a year before I left home.” “If so, bring her here without delay, that I may see her.”
She was sent for to the miller’s house, and when she arrived the king rejoiced greatly to see her again. She took the tooth and placed it where it first was, in the door of his mouth. Then a great feast was made for all who were at the races, and when the feast was over I went home.
ANGUS MÒR OF TOMNAHURICH AND THE FAIRIES
Angus Mòr was a shepherd on a farm near Tomnahurich, in Inverness. On a wet, misty evening, as he was returning from compassing the hill, he thought he heard, coming out of a rock beside the path on which he was travelling, a voice like that of a young maiden whom he was going to marry that very night. He stood and listened, expecting to hear the same voice again. He heard the voice, but saw no appearance of the woman, or of a place in the face of the rock, where she could be in hiding. Thinking, then, it was echo’s voice he had heard, he held on his way until he went round a point of the rock. Before him was a pretty green knoll; and as soon as he came in sight of it, he beheld the door open, and issuing thence a light like the light of day in brightness, and he heard the sweetest music that has been or will be, and the sound of dancing within. He crept towards the door, thrust his dirk into the side post, and peeped into the Fairy Knoll.
It was there that the sight was. Fairy men and women, in a circle in the middle of the floor, wheeling and dancing with mad energy. But not a bit of the maiden was to be seen. He stood where he was, until a fairy came forth, and went to a brook, a short distance off. When she was returning he went to meet her, and stood in the path before her. “Let me pass, Angus Mòr,” said she.
“No,” replied Angus, “until thou tell me who the woman was whom I heard calling before I came in sight of the Fairy Knoll?”
“I’ll not tell thee that; I may not,” said she.
“If thou do not, thou shalt not get leave to pass,” said he.
“If not with thy good will, I will in spite of thee,” said she; and she shot past him like lightning.
Angus held in his hand a crook with an iron spike in one end of it, and he threw the crook after the fairy, and struck her in the houghs. She fell to the ground, and before she had time to get up, he had hold of her between his arms, and the crook laid across her breast.
“Tell me now,” said he, “what woman was calling in the Fairy Knoll before I came in sight of it?“
“Angus Mòr,” said she, “ if thou canst tell the secret of our Queen on the Bridge of Easan Dubh a week from to-night, thy wife and son will be thine.”
Angus wondered greatly at these words, but he allowed the fairy to go, and he went home, and married after his arrival.
Another evening, as he was returning from the hill, he reached the rock from which he last heard the voice. He stood still at the end of it, and listened for a while, but not a syllable did he hear. He then went forward, until he came in sight of the Fairy Knoll. On looking the way of the door, he beheld a light shining inside, but he heard not a sound of music or dancing, so he turned away; but before he had gone far on his way, he saw the fairy returning from the brook, and in passing she called to him as she had done the first night: “Angus Mòr, thy wife and son are thine, if thou canst tell the secret of our Queen on the Bridge of Easan Dubh on the evening of next Friday.”
The warning, which he thus got the second time, caused Angus some anxiety, especially as he knew not what might be the outcome. He reached the house, and his wife met him at the door. She noticed that something was troubling his mind, so she asked him the cause, and he told her everything he had seen and heard at the Fairy Knoll.
“Angus, dearest of men,” said his wife, “let none of these things make thee anxious. We have married before the year has run out, so do not let me cause thee anxiety any longer.”
“Wife, I do not understand thee,” said Angus.
Then she said: “About a year ago a faintness came over me as I was passing the Fairy Knoll. I sat down on the Knoll, and, in a short time, fell asleep. When I awoke I was in the finest place I ever beheld, and surrounded by men and women busy dancing. I tried to go out, but whichever way I took, the fairies — for it was they— would be before me. At last one of them, who seemed to be chief over the rest, said: ‘Brown-haired maiden of the laughing eyes, thou wilt get out if thou promise to be my wife, unless thou get thy chosen love in marriage before the end of the year from this night.’ I was so eager to get away that I gave him my promise. But, Angus, thou wert my choice of the men of the Universe; and since I have got thee before the time ran out, I am free from the promise I gave him.”
On Friday evening Angus Mòr was once more returning from the hill, and when he arrived at the Bridge of Easan Dubh, he remembered it was there he was to tell the secret of the Queen of the Fairies. He stood a while on the top of the Bridge, but he was not long there when he heard in the brook under him the very sweetest voice he ever listened to. He gave a peep over the parapet of the Bridge, and whom did he see cleaning and rubbing clothes on a stone in the water, but the Queen, and this was the song she was singing:—
Horin O Ro
Horin O is na Hooriv oho,
Horin O Ro Hooriv Horo.
I know Ben More in Mull,
I know the top of Scuir Kigg,
I know the cat that was in Ulv.
With its tail turned to tlie fire.
There is music in the hall of my dear,
There is gold in the land of Mackay;
But there is a song in Inverness
Which shall never be known.
When she ended the song, Big Angus cried from the top of the Bridge: ’In spite of thee, woman, thou art wrong. I have now every word of thy song, and thy secret with it.”
At these words the Queen started, and uttered a scream. She then lifted up her head, and when she beheld Angus on the Bridge, she said: “Thou hast foiled me. Thy wife and son are now thine own.”
After saying this she went out of sight, and he saw her no more.
THE HUNCHBACK OF THE WILLOW BRAKE
Little Hunchback was but a poor, melancholy creature, an object of pity to the compassionate, and a laughing-stock to the thoughtless and foolish. He was deformed from the day of his birth, with his weak knees that bent under him, and a large lump between his shoulders. When he reached boyhood, he was uglier and more deformed than he had been even in his child-hood. He never went out of doors but a crowd of naughty children followed, laughing at him and mocking him. Their cruel conduct made him so shy and unsociable that he avoided their company, and he passed his time day after day alone in the Willow Brake, which stood at a short distance from his mother’s house. His neighbours noticed where he was accustomed to go, and nicknamed him the Hunchback of the Willow Brake.
On a certain evening, after suffering much ridicule from the children of the town where he lived, he fled with a sore heart and weeping eyes to the Willow Brake for shelter. He had not gone far into the wood, when he was met by the very prettiest little baby he had ever seen. The baby was a fairy woman, but he could not afterwards give a full description of her appearance, nor had he any recollection of her attire, beyond this, that about her shoulders was a green mantle, which was bound with a golden girdle about her waist, and that on her head was a green cap, with a tuft of silver feathers waving from its crown.
“Where are you going?“ said the fairy.
“I am going to pass the evening in the Willow Brake,” replied Hunchback.
“Have you no companion at all with whom you can play?” said she then.
“No; none will keep company with me, since I am not like other children,” said Hunchback.
At last she asked his name, and he told her it was Hunchback.
“Hunchback!” she exclaimed. “It is long since we expected to meet you. I am Play of Sunbeam, and my joy is making the world merry. Come with me, my people are expecting you, and pass the night with us, and in the morning you will have neither disability nor defect.”
He went cheerfully with her, until they arrived at the back of the Big Fairy Knoll. “ Shut your eyes, and give me your hand,” said the fairy.
He did as she told him, and presently they were in the very grandest mansion he had ever seen. She dragged him up through the midst of the company, singing merrily: “Silence, all ye ! Sunbeam’s back hither. Hunchback and she have come together.”
“Success and happiness attend Play of Sunbeam!” said a handsome maiden, who was more finely dressed than the rest, and who wore on her head a gold crown full of jewels. “What does she wish us to do for poor Hunchback?”
“For pain to give him lustihead. And, good man’s wish, a thriving trade. And Play of Sunbeam will be merry and glad.”
And then away she went dancing, and without casting another look on Hunchback.
“When is Play of Sunbeam otherwise?” said the Queen, “and according to her request let it be.”
The other fairies seized him, and when he thought that they had pulled him to pieces among them they let him go, and he was as straight and active as he behoved to be. Then he heard the sweetest music he had ever listened to, and joy filled his heart, and he began to dance with the little people that were on the floor, and stopped not until he fell, unable to stand with fatigue.
He had not lain but a short time on the floor, till sleep crept over him, and he felt the fairies carrying him away through the air, and the soft, sad music receding further and further from him. At length he awoke, and on looking round, he found himself lying in the Willow Brake. He rose, and returned home. He had been away a year and a day; and in that time so great a change had come over him that it was with difficulty that his own mother knew him. She rejoiced at his coming, and after that found him a great help, for now he had a hand for every trade.
Among the youngsters who used to mock at him was a boy that bore the nickname of Punchy. Punchy was a little ugly creature, with hands and feet like the paws of a frog, and a big hump between his shoulders. When he saw how Hunchback had returned, as straight as a rush and as gay as a calf-herd, he made friends with him, and rested not until Hunchback had told him everything that had happened, from the evening he went to the Willow Brake, till he came back again. He laid a vow, however, on Punchy, not to tell it to a living being, because he himself was under a promise to the fairies to keep it secret. Punchy promised to do as was requested of him.
On that very evening Punchy went to the Willow Brake, expecting to meet one of the fairies who would heal him as Hunchback was healed: but he saw none. Evening after evening he continued going to the same place, until at last he saw a small manikin, sitting at the root of a holly bush, and gazing with a mocking smile on his countenance.
“Are you Play of Sunbeam?“ said Punchy.
“I am not, but I am Never-mind-who,“ replied the manikin: “What is your business with Play of Sunbeam?“
“O, that she will take this hump off me, as she took the hunch off Hunchback,” said Punchy. “Will you take me to the place where she dwells?”
“I will do that,” said Never-mind-who, “but you will get leave to come out of it as you like.”
“I do not care how I get out, if I get in, and if this ugly hump is taken off me.”
The little manikin gave a loud laugh, and then went away with Punchy to the Big Fairy Knoll, and took him in, as Hunchback was taken.
“Who is this come to us without invitation or tryst?” cried the Queen, looking sternly at Punchy.
“It is a toad named Punchy whom Hunchback has sent on a chance journey, in the hope that his hump will be taken off him,” replied Never-mind-who.
“Did Hunchback break his vow and his promise, that never of his own accord would he tell any one how it fared with him here?“ said the Queen, turning towards Punchy with wrath in her countenance.
“No,” replied Punchy, “for he told me nothing until I first prayed and entreated him.”
“You impudent fellow,” said she, “you will get your deserts,” and immediately she cried to the other fairies : “Throw the hunch on the hump, and the one load will take them home.”
“The hunch on the hump, the hunch on the hump,” screamed all the fairies; and then they laid hold of Punchy by his hands and his feet, and tossed him up and down, to this side and that, till he lost all consciousness.
When he came to himself, he lay in the Willow Brake, the hump twice its former size, and his bones so tired and bruised that he could scarcely move. With a great effort he got to his feet, and then crept home; but to the day of his death he told no one except Hunchback what happened to him in the Big Fairy Knoll.
THE STRATH DEARN HUNTER AND THE WITCH
In days gone by, a famous hunter dwelt in Strath Dearn, on the south side of Loch Ness. When the time of hunting arrived, he went with his two dogs to Crò-Clach, in the upper end of the Glen; and, after he had passed the day pursuing the deer, he betook himself to a shieling bothy to spend the night. He reached the bothy in the evening; and, after kindling a fire, prepared supper. When he had taken supper and placed more fuel on the fire, he threw himself on a heap of rushes in a corner of the bothy. His two dogs followed him, and laid themselves down at his back.
In a short time a hen entered and rested herself on one side on the hearth, while she kept the other side to the fire. She was not long in that position when she began to swell and to swell. In a while she rose, and turned the side under her to the fire; and if she swelled before, she now swelled seven times more. At last she became a woman, and stood up on the floor before the hunter. As soon as the dogs noticed her they assumed an angry look, and sprang over on the floor to be at her.
“Keep back thy dogs,” said the carlin.
“I cannot,” answered the hunter.
She pulled a hair from her head, and when she was reaching the hair to him, she said: “Tie them with that.”
He pretended that he was tying the dogs with the hair, but he put one of his own garters on them instead.
As soon as the carlin thought that the dogs were tied, she sprang over to the corner, and laid hold of the hunter. The dogs then sprang to seize her: “Tighten hair,” she now said. “Slacken garter,” he replied.
At last the dogs got loose, and fastened on the hag. She now let the hunter go, and went back-foremost out at the door. The dogs followed her until they drove her down the slope of a brae which was before the door. When they arrived at its foot, there began between them and her a hard fight which lasted a long time. But the fight came to an end at last.
The dogs returned to their master, much bemired and mangled, and the carlin went away, saying: “If the young dog’s tusk had been in the old dog’s mouth, or the old dog’s sense in the young dog’s head, I would not have escaped from them.”
Next day the hunter went home; and when he arrived at the house, he met his wife going in a hurry to the house of a neighbour, who was in great pain, and, to all appearance, at the point of death. He prevailed on her to return home; and after taking a bite of food, he himself went to the sick woman’s house. When she heard that he was coming, she cried to those with her in the house to shut and bar the door. They did as she told them. But as soon as the hunter came near enough, he drove the door in before him, and entered. He went straight to the bed and threw the clothes down off the woman’s breast.
A horrible sight was now revealed to him: the breasts of the woman were torn from their places. He understood the cause. She it was who last night met him and his dogs in the shieling bothy; and so he drew his sword and put her to death as a witch.
Donald MacIan was cow-herd with the tenantry of Achantore in Lochaber. When summer came round, he went with the cattle on the farm to the summer pastures of Ben Breck, on the north side of the Blackwater. One day, as he sat on the meadow at the foot of the Ben, and the cattle were lying round about him, he heard a small voice far away; and immediately he looked in the direction whence it came. What did he behold, coming with great speed and making straight for the place where he was sitting, but a Glastig?
Without a moment’s delay, he drew out of her way and tried to hide himself in a bush of bog-myrtle. But if he did, it was not without being observed by her. She turned the way he went, and, in the twinkling of an eye, was standing by his side. She then began to leap forward and back again over his body, clapping her hands, and repeating the following words: —
“Do you see the wee colt of the sweet gale
Lying in the midst of the kine?
A stroke he would strike between two strokes,
And a stroke between two blows,
In the meadow between two groves,
In the grove between two meadows.”
When she grew tired of that work, she went away with a light, playful spring, singing the following lilt: —
“Friskier am I than the great eagle,
Friskier am I than the young eagle,
Friskier am I than the calf of two cows,
Friskier am I than a kid in a fold;
and going with such speed that poor Donald, the herd, who was half dead with fear, could not see her feet moving on the ground. She kept on at this rate, stooping and pulling with her teeth tufts of grass from the earth, until she went out of sight.
The same Donald Maclan went with the Achantore cattle to Ben Breck another summer. He reached the shelling bothy at Ruighe-na-cloiche, beside Ciaran Water, about evening. On the way he gathered an armful of fuel and took it with him to the bothy. He set the fuel in order on the hearth-stone, seized the fire implements, and, after striking fire, began to kindle the fuel.
In the midst of this work he thought he heard a strange cry, far off at first, and soon after much nearer. At length he heard the same voice outside the house, saying : “Heigh! Ho! Hal! Has this man over the way left yet ?“
Scarcely had he turned his eye the way the voice came, when the door opened, and a Glastig stood before him in the opening. She cried aloud: “Donald Maclan, I was on the Uralich when you put the first spark in the tinder, and in the Woodpecker’s Corrie when the wisp took fire; and here I am now as the fuel is beginning to kindle.”
“Thou hast walked well, poor creature,” said Donald Maclan.
She now attempted to come in; but if she did, Dergan, the herd’s dog, attacked her.
“Stop Dergan, Donald Maclan,” said she.
Donald Maclan pretended to stop the dog, but that he could not.
“Tie thy dog, Donald Maclan,” said she then.
“I have nothing to tie him with,” answered the herd.
She pulled a grey hair out of her head, and handed it to him, saying: “Tie him with that.”
The herd pretended to do what he was told, but put his own garter on the dog instead of the Glastig’s hair. As soon as she thought that the dog was tied, she flew at the herd; but if she did, Dergan flew at her. She then cried: “Tighten and choke, hair! Tighten and choke, hair!“ But the herd threw the hair in the fire, and it crackled and crackled until it flew out through the roof of the bothy.
No sooner was that over than the dog got loose, and fastened on the Glastig. She cried at the pitch of her voice: “Take the dog off me, Donald Maclan, and I will give thee no more trouble.” The herd did as she told him, and then she said to him: “Go to Ben Breck early to-morrow, Donald Maclan, and thou wilt find the White Hind which thou hast been hunting for many a day, but which thou hast not yet caught.” After she had said this, she made for the door.
Early next day the herd took with him his bow and arrows and went to Ben Breck. When he reached the Ben, he saw the Glastig coming to meet him, with a herd of deer before her, and the White Hind at their head. He took aim at the Hind, and let go the arrow. But before the arrow left the bend of the yew, he heard the Glastig crying, in a spiteful tone: “Stick in the stomach, arrow. Stick in the stomach.”
The arrow did stick in the White Hind’s stomach, and Donald Maclan got it home with him, as was promised him.