From John MacPhie, South Uist, and Donald MacCraw, North Uist.
THERE was a poor fisher's widow in Eirinn, and she had one son; and one day he left his mother with a lump of a horse, and a man met him with a gun, a dog, and a falcon (gunna cu agus seobhag); and he said, "Wilt thou sell me the horse, son of the fisher in Eirinn?" and he said, "What wilt thou give me? Wilt thou give me thy gun and thy dog, and thy falcon?" And he said, "I will give them;" and the bargain was struck; and Iain, the fisher's son, went home. When his mother saw him she was enraged, and she beat him; and in the night he took the gun and went away to be a hunter. 1 He went and he went till he reached the house of a farmer, who was sitting there with his old wife. The farmer said, "It was fortune sent thee here with thy gun; there is a deer that comes every night to eat my corn, and she will not leave a straw." And they engaged Iain the fisherman's son to stay with them, and shoot the deer; and so he stayed; and on the morrow's day he went out, and when he saw the deer he put the gun to his eye to shoot her, and the lock was up; but when he would have fired, he saw the finest woman he ever
saw before him, and he held his hand, and let down the gun, and let down the lock, and there was the deer eating the corn again.
Three times he did this, and then he ran after the deer to try to catch her.
(In the other version, he went out on three successive days. On the first, when he aimed he saw over the sight a woman's face and breast, while the rest remained a deer. "Don't fire at me, widow's son," said the deer; and he did not, and went home and did not tell what had happened. The next day when he aimed, the woman was free to the waist, but the rest was still deer; and on the third she was free; and she told the hunter that she was the king of Lochlin's daughter, enchanted by the old man, and that she would marry the hunter if he came to such a hill.)
The deer ran away, and he followed till they came to a house thatched with heather; and then the deer leaped on the house, and she said, "Go in now, thou fisher's son, and eat thy fill." He went in and there was a table spread with every kind of meat and drink, and no one within; for this was a robber's house, and they were away lifting spoil.
So the fisher's son went in, and as the deer had told him, he sat him down, and ate and drank; and when he had enough he went under a TOGSAID (hogshead).
He had not been long there when the twenty-four robbers came home, and they knew that some one had been at their food, and they began to grumble and dispute. Then the leader said, "Why will you dispute and quarrel? the man that has done this is here under the mouth of this hogshead, take him now, and let four of you go out and kill him."
So they took out Iain, the fisher's son, and four of
them killed him; and then they had their food and slept, and in the morning they went out as usual.
When they had gone the deer came where Iain was, and she shook SOL (wax) from her ear on the dead man, and he was alive and whole as he was before. "Now," said she, "trust me, go in and eat as thou didst yesterday."
So Iain, the fisher's son, went in and ate and drank as he had done; and when he had enough he went in under the mouth of the hogshead; and when the robbers came home, there was more of their food eaten than on the day before, and they had a worse dispute. Then the captain said, "The man that did it is there, go out now with him four of you, and kill him; and let those who went last night be killed also, because he is now alive." So the four robbers were slain, and Iain was killed again; and the rest of the robbers ate and drank, and slept; and on the morrow before dawn they were off again. Then the deer came, and she shook SOL from her right ear on Iain the fisher's son, and he was alive as well as before; in a burst of sweat.
That day Iain ate and drank, and hid as before; and when the robbers came home, the captain ordered the four who had gone out to be slain; and now there were eight dead; and four more killed Iain the fisher's son, and left him there. On the morrow the deer came as before, and Iain was brought alive; and the next day the robbers all killed each other. 1
On that day the deer came, and Iain followed her to the white house of a window, where there lived an old hag, and Gille Caol dubh, a slender dark lad, her son, and the deer said, "Meet me to-morrow at eleven in yonder church," and she left him there.
On the morrow he went, but the carlin stuck a BIOR NIMH, Spike of hurt, in the outside of the door post; and when he came to the church he fell asleep, and the black lad was watching him. Then they heard the sweetest music they ever heard coming, and the finest lady that ever was came and tried to waken him; and when she could not, she wrote her name under his arm, NIGHEAN RIGH RIOGHACHD BAILLE FO' THUINN, the daughter of the king of the kingdom of the town under waves; and she said that she would come to-morrow, and she went away. When she was gone he awoke, and the slim black lad told him what had happened, but did not tell him that her name was written under his arm.
On the next day it was the same, the sweetest of music was heard, and the lady came, and she laid his head on her knee and dressed his hair; and when she could not awaken him, she put a snuff-box in his pocket, and cried, and went away.
On the third day she said she would never come again, and she went away home; and when she was gone he awoke.
("Now, John MacPhie," said I, "did she not come in a chariot with white horses?"
"Do thou put in what I tell thee," said the narrator.
"Did she put the box in his pocket?"
"Yes she did; now, go on, there is no one in Uist who can tell this story as I can; I have known it for more than sixty years.")
(MacCraw had said that the old woman gave the lad a great pin to stick in his coat; that he went to meet the lady on a hill, and then he slept. Then came the lady dressed all in white in a chariot, "CARBAD," drawn by four milk-white steeds; and she laid his head in her lap and dressed his hair, and tried to waken him, but in vain. Then she dragged him down the hill, but he slept on; and she left him, but bid the black rough-skinned lad tell him to be there on the morrow. When she was gone he awoke, and the lad told him. On the morrow he went as before, and the lad stuck the pin in his coat, and be slept; then came the lady with a sorrowful face, and she was dressed all in grey, and her chariot was drawn by grey steeds; and she did as before but could not rouse him. On the next day he would have none of the big pin; but the old wife gave the lad an apple, and when they sat on the hill thirst struck him, and the lad gave him the apple, and he ate it, and slept again. Then came the lady dressed all in black, with four black steeds in her chariot; and she laid his head in her lap and dressed his hair, and she put a ring on his finger, and she wept; and as she went away she said, "He will never see me again, for I must go home.")
When the lad awoke (said John MacPhie), Bha e falbh gus an robh dubhadh air a bhonan, toladh air a chasan, neoil dubha doracha na oidhche a tighinn neoil sithe seamh an latha ga fhagail gus an robh eoin bhega an t-shleibh a gabhail an am bun gach preas a b'fhaisge dhaibh na chéile.
He was going till there was blackening on his soles, holes in his feet, the dark black clouds of the night coming, the quiet peaceful clouds of day leaving him, till the little mountain birds were betaking themselves about the root of each bush that was nearest to them; and he went till he reached the house of a wife, who said, "All hail! son of the great fisher in Eirinn, I know thy journey and thine errand; come in and I will do what I can for thee (and here came in a lot of queer language which I could not catch). So he went in, and on the morrow she said, "I have a sister who dwells on the road; it is a walk of a year and a day, but here are a pair of old brown shoes with holes in them, put them on and thou wilt be there in an instant; and when thou art there, turn their toes to the known, and their heels to the unknown, and they will come home; and so he did.
The second sister did the very same; but she said, "I have a third sister, and she has a son, who is herd to the birds of the air, and sets them asleep, perhaps he can help thee;" and then she gave him another pair of shoes, and he went to the third sister.
The third said she did not know how to help him farther, but perhaps her son might, when he came home; and he, when he came, proposed that the cow should be killed; and after some talk, that was done, and the meat was cooked, and a bag made of the hide, red side out; and John, the fisher's son, was put
in with his son, but he left the dog and the falcon. He had not been long in the bag when the Creveenach 1 came, for she had a nest in an island, and she raised the red bag; but she had not gone far when she dropped it in the sea. Then the other one came, and she gripped to it firmly with her claws; and at last they left the bag on the island, where all the birds of the air were wont to sleep. 2 He came out of the bag; and he was for a day and year living on what he had, and on the birds which he killed with his gun; but at last there was nothing more to eat, and he thought he would die there. Then he searched his pockets for food, and found the box which the lady had put there; he opened it, and three came out, and they said, "Eege gu djeege, 3 master, good, what shall we do?" and he said, "Take me to the realm of the king under the waves;" and in a moment there he was. 4
He went up to the house of a weaver; and after he had been there for some time, the weaver came home with flesh, and other things from the great town; and he gave him both meat and lodging.
On the morrow the weaver told him that there was to be a horse race in the town; and be bethought him of the box, and opened it; and three came out and said "Eege gu djeege, Master, good, what shall we do?" and he said, "Bring me the finest horse that ever was seen, and the grandest dress, and glass shoes;" and he had them all in a minute. Now he who won the races was to have the king's daughter to wife. Then he went, and won, and the king's daughter saw him; but he never stayed; he went back to the weaver, and threw three "mam" handsfull of gold into his apron, and said that a great gentleman, who won the race, had given him the gold; and then he broke the weaver's loom, and tore the cloth to bits.
Next day there was a dog race; and he got a finer dress, and a splendid dog, by the help of the box, and won, and threw handsfull of gold to the weaver, and did more mischief in his house.
On the third day it was a falcon race, and he did the very same; and he was the man who was to marry the princess, but he was nowhere to be found when the race was over.
Then (as happens in plenty of other stories) the whole kingdom was gathered, and the winner of the prize was nowhere to be found. At last they came to the weaver's house, and the hunter's beard was grown over his face, and he was dirty and travel-stained; and he had given all the gold to the weaver, and smashed everything; and he was so dirty and ugly, and good for nothing, that he was to be hanged. But when he
was under the gallows. he was to make the gallows speech, SEARMOIN NA CROICHE; and he put up his arm, and the king's daughter saw the name which she had written there, and knew him; and she called out, "Hold your hands, for every one in the kingdom shall die if that man is hurt." And then she took him by the hand, and they were to be married.
Then she dressed him grandly, and asked how he had found her out; and he told her; and she asked where he had found the box; and he said, when he was in extremity in the island; and then she took him by the hand before her father, and all the kings, and she said she would marry the fisher's son, for he it was who had freed her from spells. 1
"Oh kings," said she, "if one of you were killed
to-day, the rest would fly; but this man put his trust in me, and had his head cut off three times. Because he has done so much for me, I will marry him rather than any one of the great men who have come to marry me; for many kings have tried to free me from the spells, and none could do it but Iain here, the fisher's son."
Then a great war ship was fitted up, and sent for the old carlin who had done all the evil, and for her black slim son; and seven fiery furnaces were set in order, and they were burnt, and the ashes were let fly with the wind; and a great wedding was made, and "I left them in the realm."
This story was first told to me on the 2d September 1859 by MacCraw, as we walked along the road. He said that he had learned it as a child from an old wife in North Uist, whose cottage was the resort of all the children for miles and miles. He has often gone himself six or seven miles in the snow, and he used to sit with dozens of other bairns about her fire, mute and motionless for the best part of the night. The children brought offerings of tobacco, which they got from older people, as best they could, and for each bit the old woman gave a story. He "never heard her like."
The story lasted for several miles, and my companion said that he had forgotten much of it. He had forgotten nearly all the measured prose phrases with which, as he said, the story was garnished, and he said he had not heard it for many years.
It seemed to resemble the story of Aladdin in some incidents, but my companion said that he had never heard of the Arabian Nights. He said that in Kinross and Perthshire it is the custom for the hinds and farm-labourers to assemble and repeat stories in broad Scotch, which closely resemble those told in the islands, but which are not garnished with measured prose. He thinks that as there are many Highland servants in the country, they tell the heads of their stories, and then others repeat them in Lowland Scotch. This may be, and in like manner the Highland servants may pick up and carry home, and repeat in Gaelic,
scraps of such books as the Arabian Nights. Still, as such stories do resemble books quite beyond the reach of the people, the resemblance which this bore to the Arabian Nights may be due to common origin.
On the 5th I asked MacPhie if he knew the story. He did; and I got him to tell it twice over. It was vain to attempt to make him dictate, for he broke down directly he was stopped, or his pace altered; and I could not write Gaelic, at all events, fast enough to do any good; so I took notes in English. The Magic Box was in both versions, but the transport of the castle to a foreign country, and back by the help of the box, was not in old MacPhie's story.
There is a long story about the country of rats, of which I have only heard part as yet.
BIOR NIMH, spike of hurt, and the big pin, may be "the thorn of sleep" referred to in the introduction to Norse Tales, as mentioned in the Volsung Tale.
The town under the waves is common in Gaelic stories; the phrase probably arose from the sinking of bills beneath the horizon as a boat sails away from the shore. In another story it is said, Thog eud Eilean--they "raised an Island"--when they were approaching one.
The bag of skin with the man inside, is remarkably like a tradition of the skin boats in which the old inhabitants of Caledonia used to invade England.
The great birds belong to popular tales of many lands, and are common in Gaelic. I have one story in which the hero is carried into a dragon's nest, and does much the same as this one did.
307:1 MacCraw started him with a big bonnoch and a little one, and his mother's blessing.
309:1 I am sure this has been a numerical puzzle, such as "the shealing of Duan's men." As it now stands there would remain four robbers who had not earned death like the rest, and it must be wrong. Perhaps this is the problem:--
John and 24 robbers
1. John killed by 4 men
= 24 to 0, and has 2d life. p. 310
2. John and the 4 = 5 killed by 4 each = 20 to 4, and has 3d life.
3. The 20 have all earned death, and kill each other, and John remains, having had 2 lives in addition to the 1 which he first had, which makes up the usual mystic number 3. And so 3 lives dispose of 24.
John and 24 robbers
1. John killed once by 4 men
= 24 to 0, and has 2d life.
2. John and the 4 by 2 each, 10 men
= 20 to 4, and has 3d life.
3. There are ten guilty and ten who should kill them; they kill each other, and so the 3 lives dispose of the 24.
This, however, is but a guess.
313:1 This word is unknown to me. It was explained to mean a bird like a large eagle.
313:2 MacCraw skipped all the old women and took him at once to an old man, who was herding a cow, and said he would rather do anything else, but his wife made him do it. He went home with him, and after much chaffering bought the cow for as much gold as would go from her nose to her tail. Then he and all that he had were put into the hide with the meat; and with the wind off the strand (traigh) he had himself thrown into the sea. The great birds pounced on the red bag, and carried him to their nest, where he killed the young ones, and rolled over the rock into the sea. He was lifted again by the birds and landed in Lochlinn.
313:3 The explanation of these sounds was, that it was "as if they were asking." The sounds mean nothing that I know in any language.
313:4 MacCraw said that the box had been given to him by his grandfather. It first appeared in Lochlann; and "he" that was within said, "Good master, good master, what shall 'we' do?" The hunter had then been recognized by the king's daughter; so he ordered a palace to be built.
315:1 Here, according to MacCraw, he built a palace; and one of the rivals stole the magic box, and carried off the princess and the palace to the realm of rats; and when the widow's son saw that the palace was gone he was very sorrowful, and went down to the shore; and there he met with an old man, who took pity on him, and offered to help him. He throw a rod into the sea, and it became a boat; and he said, "Here's for thee a he-cat, and he will sail with thee" and the cat sat at the helm, and they hoisted the three tall towering sails, etc., etc. (The old passage descriptive of the voyage.) When they reached the realm of rats, the first rat that the cat saw he caught; and the rat said, "Thine is my lying down and rising up; let me go and I will serve thee." So the cat let him go; and the man said, "Now steal for me the snuff-box that the man in the castle has." "That," said the rat, "is easy, for it is on the window ledge;" and the rat stole the box. Then the man opened it, and "they" said "Good master, good master, what shall 'we' do?" and he said, "Take me and my wife, and that castle, back to Lochlann; and be knocking each other's heads about till we arrive, for that you brought it here." So they were all carried back to Lochlann, and then the right wedding was held.