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Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales, by George Douglas, [1901], at


"SOME time since, when calling at the house of one of my oldest parishioners, who had been a handloom weaver, he fell to speak of other days; and, amongst other things, he told me of the disappearance, some years back, on a fine summer's evening, of a web of linen which had been laid to bleach by the riverside at the foot of the glebe. The fishermen, it seems, were 'burning the water' 2 in the Skerry, and the man who had charge of the web went off to see the salmon 'leistered,' and on his return the web was gone. Of course there was a sensation. The story was soon in everybody's mouth, with abundant suspicions of as many persons as there were yards in the web of linen.

"The web belonged to a very important personage, no less than the howdie, or old village midwife, who was not disposed to sit down quietly under her loss. So she called in the aid of a wise man from Leitholm,

p. 236

and next day told her friend the weaver, my informant, that she had found the thief, for the wise man had turned the key. The weaver being anxious to see something of diablerie, the howdie brought the wise man to his house; and the door being locked on all within (four in number), the magician proceeded as follows. He took a small key, and attached it to a string, which he tied into the family Bible at a particular place, leaving the key hanging out. Next he read two chapters from the Bible, one of which was the history of Saul and the witch of Endor; he then directed the howdie and another person to support the key between them, on the tips of their forefingers, and in that attitude the former was told to repeat the names of all the suspected parties.

Many persons were named, but the key still hung between the fingers, when the wise man cried out, 'Why don't you say Jock Wilson?' This was accordingly done, and immediately the key dropped, i.e., turned off the finger-ends. So the news spread far and wide that the thief was discovered, for the key had been turned and Jock Wilson was the man! He proved, however, not to be the man to stand such imputations, and being without doubt an honest fellow, he declared 'he wudna be made a thief by the deevil.' So he went to consult a lawyer, but after many long discussions the matter died away; and my authority, the weaver, says it was believed the lawyer was bribed; 'for he aye likit a dram.'"


235:1 W. Henderson, Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (from the narrative of the Rev. R. O. Bromfield, of Sprouston).

235:2 Spearing, or "leistering," salmon by torch-light.

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