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Outer Isles
Chapter IV. The Ceilidh in Tyree


NO account of the Outer Isles in general, nor more especially of Tyree in particular, would be complete without a description of the Ceilidh. It has been my privilege at various times to offer prizes in certain islands for essays written in Gaelic and in English upon this among other such subjects as are most familiar to the young authors. Rather than attempt in the first place any account of the custom of Ceilidh in my own words, I \yill quote from some of the essays sent to me under these circumstances, by boys and girls in the island of Tyree, confident that the inquiring reader will thank me for this glimpse, at first hand, of island life. I wish I could quote from all or almost all that lie before me, for, though many deal with similar details, each writer has something individual in his or her point of view. The first I give word for word as it stands :—

We are here in an island that is not altogether out of the way. Steamers call at it very often and so in this island we are not so ignorant regarding the affairs of the South as people would think. There is nothing more certain than that we are very superstitious throughout all the Western Islands of Scotland, but whether the Lowlanders will believe the tales that the old Highlanders tell, or not, we have reason to believe them.

In this island we have the custom of assembling together during the long winter nights to pass them off in happiness and mirth. We call this “Ceilidh.”

Well then the house in which we generally assemble is that of Hector, son of Donald, a kind-hearted, greyheaded old man who always earns his daily bread with zeal. I should not be acting justly if I did not bring before you his wife, for often did she pleasantly pass the evening with us, telling us her stories, of which she has a great many. She too is not young now and so you will not wonder, though she should have tales about wonderful things.

To show you therefore how the evening is spent in Hector’s house, I will tell you about a certain night I happened to enter myself. Hector and his wife were sitting at the fire and on a bench at the other side of the house was a modest young man that was always one of the “Ceilidh” company. He was named “Red John.” When I entered I began to tell the fright I got, as the night was so dark. I was hearing a most wonderful sound somewhat like the grunting of a pig, but though I searched as best as I could, no pig could I see. Then I got greatly frightened and I thought myself too slow to escape.

Red John: “It was a pig no doubt, but I daresay you will be of the opinion that it was something unearthly.”

I (the Writer): “Indeed, I know not, but I got frightened whatever.”

Hectors Wife: “Are you not foolish, John, if somebody were in his place with the gift of second-sight, it is a wonder to me if he would not see that it was not a pig. If it were a pig could he not have seen it himself? Indeed, there is somebody to die sooner or later and you shall have something to do about him. You may laugh, John, but there is such a thing as second-sight, and the effects of an evil eye, and I would not say but there is witchcraft yet, at least there was such a thing.”

Hector: “No doubt but there is every such thing you mention and I will prove that in part. I remember of a good looking girl in our own township, who stayed near the seashore with her father and mother and there is nothing surer than that she saw a vision. I did not see anything, thanks to the Lord, and I do not wish to see it, but nevertheless she told me that much. She went one night to the well with two pails to fetch water and there she saw the form of a man. She understood that he was not earthly as he did not speak, and being frightened she fled home.”

Hector's Wife: “He was seeking something surely.”

Hector: “Undoubtedly, for in a little time a good-looking young man was killed under a boat, while being launched, and his appearance being ugly on account of the bruise, this young woman covered his face with her shoulder shawl.”

John: “This was what he wanted the night he was at the well ? But who is this coming in? ”

Hector: “Is this you Archibald? Come up and sit near the fire, the night is so cold.”

Archibald: “How are you all here to-night? Who occupies the chair? or who does the talking?”

John: “Well it was Hector the head of the house that was trying to make us believe about second-sight. What do you say to that?”

Archibald: “I indeed believe it, although I never saw anything myself, but I cannot at all believe in the effects of an evil eye, and foolish things of that kind.”

Hectors Wife: “Is not the one thing as possible as the other, at least to one that has only what he hears from others ? Hector already told you about second-sight, and many are the stories that I myself heard about second-sight, and now will you not believe me if I tell you about the effects of an evil eye?”

John: “Do then, it will pass the evening anyway. A story is pleasant though it be even untrue, and often can lies be polished.”

Hectors Wife: “You do nothing but talk about lies. Well then I tell you if more would believe in an evil eye, sickness that cannot be understood would not be so often amongst men and beasts. I remember of a fine grey mare my grandfather had, and her equal was not in the near townships. She was strong as horse that ever was stabled. One day however, as she was ploughing, in the twinkling of an eye she fell and stretched her head and neck, and nothing could be done to her but to give her a drop of good whisky that my grandmother brewed. Then a certain man in the township who was nicknamed the ‘Lord’ advised us to send for a healing bottle to Flora, daughter of Peter, and said that it was a wonder if it would not prove of great use. The mare seemed to be lost anyhow, and so they sent for the bottle. It was got and sprinkled on the beast, and immediately she rose, shook herself, and was whole.” John: “Perhaps if your grandfather himself had put the water on her she would be all right. It was just weakness that was wrong with her.”

Hector 8 Wife: “Oh ! how content you are in being foolish. Don’t you see that there was no use in the water unless the good woman had put some charm into it to do good ? Understand, that it was some one who would not wish good luck for my grandfather, that brought that on the mare by evil powers. Powers given to evil people are the charms properly. You know there are many charms, such as a charm to produce unlawful love, a charm to make a cow allow the calf of another to suck her, a charm to drown a foe, and a charm to do evil to a person.”

Archibald: “It is there now the wonders come in. What is the charm? Whether do you say about the one that harmed the mare that she had an evil eye or that she was a witch?”

Hectors Wife: “She had an evil eye, but you can almost call it witchcraft itself. Those that knew witchcraft troubled people in various ways, by ruining their properties, bringing death into their families and such troubles. Some say that this is only a revenge for something done by the ancestors of the man though it were by his great grandfather.

John: “I can hardly believe it although you put so much light on it for me. And yet I am somewhat afraid to go home alone.”

Hector: “Throughout all the Highlands this sort of superstition is believed, and the stories are told and that often by those that saw or felt something in some way, and do you yourself think that they would all tell lies? To-day the Lowlander spurns them, but if it is truth that they tell, and I believe it is, why need they care?”

John: “It is now late. Good night.”

Hector: “ Good night, and may you go home safe.”

The next writer too, deserves to be quoted without curtailment, if only for the picture he draws of everyday Highland life.

Tyree, at its best, is not a very cheery place, especially in winter. One of the greatest difficulties which meet the young men is “How to spend the long winter nights.” This, however, should present no difficulty to them, for it has been a custom in Tyree from very early times for the young men of each village to come together into one house and spend the time in various conversation—story-telling in particular. This gathering together we call “Ceilidh.”

A welcome always awaits the young men no matter into whose house they go. They always have one who acts as spokesman, and he, as soon as they all have seats, stands up and says “The first story, we expect, comes from the man of the house, and we ourselves undertake to fill up the rest of the time by each of us telling a story in turn.” The next to him then gets up and says, “I and my friends agree to that. Let the stories begin with the man of the house and pass on to the next till the last gives his own story.” In this manner many stories are told.

One night last winter I and a friend went to “Ceilidh” to the house of an old man who was known to be a good story-teller. He was a man who firmly believed in ghosts and everything connected with the supernatural.

We were not long seated when we asked the old man to tell us a story. This he consented to do on condition that each of us would give another story when he finished. We agreed, and then the old man began the following story:—

“In my younger days I was a shepherd and I passed many a lonely day while thus occupied. I had to go at a certain time of the year (lambing season) from the house in which I was staying to another one, the reason being that it was more suitable for my work. This house to which I was sent was situated in a very picturesque but lonely place. The inmates of it consisted of an elderly woman and her daughter ; they had come to this house only the previous year; they were a respectable, God-fearing pair, but there was something about them which did not agree with them (of this you shall hear later on).

“There were three apartments in this house — a kitchen, room and bedroom. I slept in a bed in the room.

“I was one day kept busier than usual and on coming home I felt more inclined for rest than for meat. However, I took a light supper and immediately after retired to the room with the intention of going into bed at once, but as there was a good fire bn, and a comfortable chair standing in front of it, I thought I would sit down for a while. I sat down and, as might be expected, soon fell asleep.

“I might have passed the night comfortable enough in this ludicrous position had not circumstance willed otherwise. I slept in a chair for about four hours, when, strange to say, I woke up. (You may be sure it must have been some unusual thing that roused me from such a deep sleep.) I was not, as is generally the case, in the least drowsy on wakening; I rather felt in a nervous and excited mood—such a feeling as often follows the hearing of bad news. As I thus sat looking into the almost extinguished fire I heard a most weird and unnatural sound coming from somewhere in the room, but I could not exactly tell whence it came. The sound was not loud but was piercing.

“Strange to say, I can never recall that night to mind, but I hear as plain as ever the somewhat inarticulate sound. If it belonged to any language it was Gaelic and was like the word ‘Mathair* (mother).

“For a short time I lived in the hope that it was my own imagination that had bodied forth the form of the thing unknown, but I soon thought otherwise, for shortly after hearing the sound, the woman of the house came into the room, ghastly pale, and asked me if I was well.

I told her there was nothing wrong with me further than a little curiosity to know what was the meaning of the sound I heard. She was surprised on hearing that I only heard it once; she seemed to have heard the selfsame sound twice.

“I concluded from what she told me that it must have been the first sound that wakened me. I asked her if she heard such a sound at any other time; she replied she did not but said she had seen a little incident or two during the night which she thought had better never be repeated, and do what I could she would reveal nothing. (So you see, my friends, a most interesting part of the story died with the woman ; she ended her days not far from there in a peaceful and happy manner.)

“I asked her if she and her daughter slept together, and she replied that she had just left her quietly sleeping. After a little further talk we bade each other goodnight.

“I was up early in the morning, having passed a very wretched and uneasy night. As usual I went up to the kitchen to have a cup of tea before taking my usual turn round the hill. The blinds were still down on the windows and all was still. At length I heard some one speaking in the bedroom and I thought that, as usual, one of the women was rising to get the tea ready for me. I heard the mother say ‘A Mhairi eirich ’ (Mary get up). This sentence was repeated several times; at length a dead silence ensued. The next thing I heard was *John, come here, quick, come here, quick!’ I ran over to the bedroom and on entering it, I saw the mother ghastly pale sitting by the bedside. She made no attempt to speak but pointed to the bed, and when I approached it, she burst into a flood of tears. It never dawned upon me till now what might have happened. The mother had a hold of her daughter s hand, which was stiff and cold as ice. I looked into the youthful face that had been, the night before, o’erspread with innocent smiles and I saw that that which was, could be no more. The young girl was dead.

“The sound I heard through the night came from the trumpet of the Unseen; its warning notes sound but on very rqre occasions, but blessed are we that such sounds are heard ; they are unaccountable, *but their beauty lies in this.”

The old man’s story pleased us very much and we heartily thanked him for telling it.

My companion, seeing his own turn had come, then began:—

“Well, my friends, my story is not very long but it is quite true, for I myself played a prominent part in it. I was only a young man of eighteen years when I attended the Mull Market (at Sdlen) for the first time, but till the end of my days I shall remember the dreadful night I passed there.

“I got the horse, which was sent with me, sold in the early part of the day, and since I had nothing more to do I thought I would take a look round the place. I walked for about eight miles down the country and when I came back I was very tired.

“Night was now approaching and I felt very hungry as well as tired. Being a stranger I knew not where to seek lodgings. I saw a dark-looking house, not far away, which was not very inviting, but one will go anywhere when hungry, so up I went and knocked at the door. A nice-looking woman answered the knock, and when I told her how matters were, she said that I was welcome to spend the night there. She told me to go in and sit at the fire till she would get something ready for me.

“The people were very kind to me, and I spent a very happy evening with them. When bedtime came I was shown to my room. Before leaving they told me I would have a companion sleeping in the same room. I said it was all right. When I went into the room I found there were two beds—mine was the nearer to the door. What surprised me most on entering was to see my companion lying asleep on the bed with all his clothes on. I thought nothing more of him, but soon undressed and went to bed, taking care beforehand to put my waistcoat, which contained all my money, under my pillow.

“I was very drowsy, but do what I would I could not sleep. I was about two hours in bed when I heard my companion in the other bed moving, but I could not make out whether he was getting up or not, as that side of the room was rather dark. Soon, however, I saw him slowly approach the window with something in his hand which he was examining. When ho reached the window, he took hold of a belt that was hanging there, and then I heard sounds like those the razor makes when getting stropped. I concluded at once he was getting his razor ready for some dark work, but I could not say whether it was for myself or not. I was terrified, however, and began to move restlessly in bed. When he heard me moving he stopped, but as soon as all was quiet he again began. This went on for some time.

“At last I saw him approach my bed. Matters were quite clear now. He meant to take my life, for I saw the glitter of the razor in his hand. I sat up in bed, and when he saw this he hastily retreated, thinking perhaps I would lie down again, but I could not stay any longer. I seized my waistcoat, and without taking the rest of my clothes, ran from the room as quickly as my legs could carry me. I wakened the people and told them everything, but they didn’t believe me, it seems, for they did all in their power to get me back to bed again. I was obstinate and would not go back.

“I told them to get my clothes for me, for I would not enter that room again for anything. When I dressed, I left the house and spent the rest of the night in the open air.

“In the morning I told some of those who were at the market of my experience, but they only shook their heads and would (perhaps they could) give no explanation.

“I have been at the market every year since, but 1 have neither seen nor heard anything about my would-be assassin or those in whose house I slept that night. You may easily guess that I have no wish to meet either of them.”

This story surprised us very much. We never thought that such an attempt to take a man’s life would be made in the Highlands. We congratulated him for having escaped. My turn now came. I told them I had no story about myself, but that I would give them one I heard from an old man.  gave it in his own words which were as follows :—

“In my younger days people thought me a very wild and reckless fellow. I possessed the faculty of second-sight. Everything I saw I told at once, and whatever I told turned out to be true. It was on account of having this power, I believe, that people classed me among the bad.

“There was one man in particular who always made fun of me and my ghost stories. He would not believe them. He even went so far as to say that such a thing as second-sight did not exist. I did not argue with him, but I determined to convince him of it, and in the end I was successful.

“One day, I remember it well, he met me and asked me his usual question, ‘Well, my lad, have you any ghost-story to-day?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I saw a funeral to-day for the third time at the same place. I recognised every man there except one. You walked in front with another man, whom I did not know.’ At this he only laughed, and told mo I was foolish to believe in such a thing. I then told him that if he would meet me next day, at the same hour and at the same place, I would prove to him it was quite true. He readily promised to do so, for he thought that he could prove I was mistaken.

“We reached the place at the same time and we were not long there till I saw the funeral coming up the road. I asked him if he saw it, but he, after looking about him, replied he did not. I then placed my hand upon his shoulder (it is believed that, if a person gifted with second-sight touches another on the shoulder, that person acquires the same power) and again asked him if he saw it. This time he said he did.

“I told him to study the men as they passed, and tell me if he knew them all. Just as the two in front were passing us he said, ‘I see you there in front with another man who is a stranger to me. Do you know him?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘for he is no other than yourself.’

“He said it was all an illusion and that he would not believe it. In a fortnight, however, both of us attended a funeral. We had to pass the very spot where we met that day, and as we passed it we were together in front, just as we saw before. I drew his attention to this, and it was then and not till then, that he believed in second-sight; and till his dying day he was never heard to say anything against it.”

The night was now far advanced, and since we had a good distance to go, we thought it time to set out for home. The old man made us promise, before leaving, that we would be back again soon. It was late when we reached home, but we were quite happy. We enjoyed our “Ceilidh” very much.

“I was one night on Ceilidh in Big John’s house, and there were others also, and they had the following talk: Alastar Mor began to speak about the weather and the good days there were to-day and yesterday.

“Good days,” said Lachlan, turning to Alastar Mor, “if you were out, not sitting there at the fire, you would not say to me that there are good days.”

Then poor Alastar shut his mouth when he saw that he was checked, and did not say a word all the night. But that silence did not last long, when Big John himself began to speak about another matter, and he said :—

“I think it is a good thing they are doing in putting up that Post Office, for many is the time I would be going to send away a letter, and the long distance I was from the other Post Office, I would not send it away, but now I may go with it any time I like, I will only have to pay a Id. for a letter going to any place in Britain.”

“That is true,” said Ewan; “but I remember a time when I would have to pay Id. for a letter that would be going to Glasgow.”

“You and yours,” said Big John. “If you would say another Id. along with that, you would be more like the thing, for I remember a time I sent a letter to Mary to Glasgow, and it cost me a Is., and you say it only cost you of!”

Then Ewan, getting angry, said:—

“I only paid 1d. for it, though you would pay a £1.”

Then Big John got so angry that he threatened to send Ewan out of the house unless he would stop arguing with him like that. Then when Donald Ban heard this, he rose up and told them “ to stop their gabbling,” and that it was better for them to be quiet and to speak about something else. Then they stopped, and no one said a word about the Post Office all that night. Then Donald Ban himself began to speak about the “ steamboat and how very often she was now coming to the island, that he himself remembered a time when she would only come once in three weeks.”

“I remember,” said Big John, putting in a word once more, “a time when there was no steamboat at all coming here, but only small smacks that would be leaving here in the beginning of summer, and perhaps they would only be back here about the beginning of winter.”

“That is true,” said Hector; “for I remember a time that I went to Glasgow with fish in young Lachlan’s boat, and we took a month to go there and six weeks to come back.”

‘*How, how would we be if there was no steamboat coming here at all?” said Charles.

“We would be well enough off, though we would never see the steamboat,” said Hector.

“Yes, indeed we would,” said Finlay; “for our fathers were well enough off, and they would not know a steamboat from a bull's foot, and they were alive as well as us.”

“That was a living indeed,” said Big John, “when they would not get anything of what we now enjoy, but were going from place to place like the Red Indians.”

Then they stopped speaking about the steamboat, and every one gave his own opinion about Turkey.

“I was reading in the paper,” said Duncan, “about the fearful massacre committed by the Turks in Armenia, where a great number of good men were killed.”

“That is dreadful,” said Big John, “for Britain to be allowing the like of that.”

“You and the like may be saying so, but if you were looking before you as the rulers of this kingdom do you would not say so,” said Duncan.

“I would only care a little to be reading everything like, if I was thinking that I could overcome him,” said Hector.

“Oh, what would you do if you were to march face to face with your enemies?” said Duncan.

“Would I not do as much as you would?” said Hector.

“No, nor three in your township,” said Duncan. “What great work have you done?” said Hector; “when three could not do it.”

“If you have seen so much of the world as I did, you would have reason to be boasting,” said Duncan.

“What have you seen?” said Hector. “Is it because you were for a little time in America you are boasting?”

“You were not there itself,” said Duncan, getting angry; and said to Hector “not to be so stupid as to think that he was a fool.”

“What else are you but a fool?” said Hector.

Then they began to quarrel and gabble, but no one said nothing to them, till they stopped at their own free will, and nothing more was said about the Turk.

Then one would begin to talk of America, another one would be telling stories about India, and so on, till at last every one was gnawing a bone for himself. One would say, “ that is not true.” Another one would say, “better be quiet with your nonsense,” till at last every one was against each other. But who came in while they were thus disputing but Calum, and when he heard them he told them to stop their mumbling, that it was better for them to speak about a thing they know, or that an old story will no be the worse. But every one said “that he had not an old story to tell,” but that Calum himself might tell one.

“I may do so,” said Calum. “And I will tell you a story that I heard from my grandfather, and it is as follows :—

“Once upon a time, long, long ago, there were elves living in Corn-Bray, and people would be alway hearing them playing the bag-pipe and dancing. My grandfather was one night coming home from Ceilidh, and when he was passing Corn-Bray, he heard the elves playing and dancing. He said to himself that he would go over to hear the music. Then he went over and sat on the side of the Bray, and the music was so delightful to him that he was willing to rise up to dance.

“While he was sitting there for a time, he looked at the top of the Bray, and saw a small red light there. And it happened when he saw it that he was amazed, his knees were trembling, and he could not leave the place where he was. But having regained his strength he said to himself that he would go up to where he saw the light, though he would never come down.

“Therefore, having crawled up on his knees, he sat near the light, and having looked down through it, saw how things were going on in the Bray. The piper was sitting on the bench with his back against the wall.

“The good wife of the house was grinding corn with the little mill, and four were dancing on the floor with pretty good spirits. When he saw this he longed to be with them, and he thought lie would call, to try if he would get in. Then he cried to them to let him in, but when the elves heard this, they told the piper to cease playing. Then he stopped, but they heard nothing more.

“My grandfather was seeing everything that was going on, but at last he saw them arranging in order of battle, and every one putting his sword into the scabbard, though they were not higher than bottles. But let that be as it might, he fled as quickly as he could and made for home.

“But he was not far, far away when he saw the small host coming after him. Then he ran as fast as he could. But though he would run, they would fly, till at last he was wearied out and could not go further, but remained where he was. Then they came and gathered around him, and 200 of them took hold of him and put him on their shoulders. But he was not long there when they began to fall under their burden, but the more of them that would fall the more he would laugh. For he was thinking to himself if they would all tire out, he might get off without punishment, and above that, that he would get all the valuables of the Bray.

“And that was so, for every one of them was tired out, and my grandfather got off, and away he went to the Bray. But when he reached it the black cat was grinding com with the little mill, with a bad turn in his nose, and therefore he came home.

“That is now my story,” said Calum, “and it is now time for us to go home, and let Big John take his supper.”

Therefore, we came home after we heard Calum’s story, every one to his own home.

The next gives a good specimen of the kind of conversation that may be supposed to take place.

Dougald the fisherman’s house is naturally near the seashore, and it is a great resort for Ceilidh in that part of the island. Every winter night excepting Sunday nights it is crowded with young and old telling stories, and often a sharp dispute arises among them. It was in this particular house that the following conversation took place.

Having entered Dougald’s house, I found him sitting on a chair by the fireside leisurely smoking his pipe. As soon as he saw me, he asked me to come forward to the fire. I did so, but I was not long talking to the good old man when John the tailor, Hugh the smith, Lachlan MacCallum and a lot of boys who came with them to hear the stories which were sure to be told, entered the house unceremoniously. When they were all seated around the fire, and when the old men lighted their pipes, John the tailor said to Dougald, “Have you been a-fishing to-day?”

Dougald: “Yes, but I was not much the better of that. It would be the same to me supposing I went up to the top of the house and began fishing there.”

John the tailor: “Well, I think that it was a very good fishing day to-day.”

Dougald: “Certainly it was; but when I was leaving my house, who met me but Mary Cameron, and I might be sure that I would catch nothing.”

John the tailor: “Did she inquire of you whether you minded your hook, Dougald?”

Dougald; “No, nor whether I had my line. She never opened her mouth, and, believe me, it was better for her that she didn’t at that moment; but she cast a glance towards me over her shoulder, which meant that I would as well remain at home.”

John the tailor: “And why did you not say to her that you would give her a fish or two if you would be lucky?”

Dougald: “I would rather be ploughing the ‘Northern Sea’ for a week in vain than do that.”

Then one of the young lads that were in lifted up his head (he was fishing that day with Dougald) and said, “By Jove, Dougald, you were in the blues when you were smashing the dog-fish against the boat. You nearly knocked out my brains twice when you were swinging one of them around your head to make sure of its death.”

Dougald: “Indeed, I was very angry, my lad ; but that is no wonder, for, whenever I would let down my line, no sooner did it reach the ground than I felt a splendid hug; but when I drew it up to the surface, it would be a dog-fish, or worse, a king-fish, and very often they would cut the line and go away with the hook; but, believe me, every one that came within my grip would hardly cut a line any more.”

The boy: “But I don’t think, Dougald, that you were at the height of your rage until Donald the shoemaker flung the anchor of the boat out into the sea, and when we looked, it had not been fastened to the boat at all, but had only a small bit of rope attached to it.”

Dougald: “Everything was going right against me. I nearly lost my senses.”

Hugh the smith: “Did you really lose the anchor, Dougald?”

Dougald: “Certainly; the very anchor that you yourself made for me a few days ago. That stupid fellow, the shoemaker, flung it out of the boat while the rope that was bound to it was not fastened to the boat at all. But what crowned my annoyance was the thought that all my misfortunes happened to me on account of Mary Cameron.”

John the tailor: “And do you really believe, Dougald, that all these calamities happened to you on account of meeting that poor old creature, Mary Cameron?”

Dougald: “Certainly I do. Do you not believe it yourself?”

John the tailor: “Indeed, I do not.”

Dougald: “Do you believe the Bible, then?”

John the tailoi': “Every word of it.”

Dougald: “Well, if you believe every word of the Bible, you must admit that witches existed at one time, for the Bible plainly shows us that they existed in the time of King Saul. And how now were they done away with?”

John the tailor: “Saul himself did away with them all except one.”

Dougald: “That is true as far as the kingdom of Israel was concerned; but I believe that they were in other kingdoms as well as in Israel.”

John the tailor: “That may be true, but they don’t exist now.”

Dougald: “Do they not? When did they leave the world?”

John the tailor: “I cannot say, indeed, but, for myself, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a witch in existence.”

Dougald: “I fully believe that there is some supernatural power or other in Mary Cameron’s eye, for if that were not the case, she could not have spoiled my fishing three times in succession ; and, supposing there was no other witch on the face of the earth, as long as Mary Cameron lives I will not deny my faith in witches, and I will believe as long as I live that it will be far better for any poor fisherman who chances to meet her when he goes a-fishing to return to his house for that day, anyway.”

John the tailor: “Seemingly, Dougald, there is no use in arguing with you about her.”

Dougald: “No, as long as you do not admit that she has an evil eye.”

Hugh the smith: “Now, tailor, do you believe the wonderful things that happened in Janies Henderson’s house about half a century or at least forty years ago?”

John the tailor: “I was not in this island at all at that time nor a long while after it, and therefore I did not see these things myself, on which account I cannot be certain of their truth, and I always like to be very sure of anything before I believe it.”

Hugh the smith: “Well, you need not doubt their truth, for I saw them with my eyes.”

John the tailor: “Well, Hugh, you can tell us some of the astounding things that you saw.”

The boys were greatly delighted with the conversation of the old men, and when they heard that Hugh was about to tell these wonderful things they closed in nearer him, so that they would catch every word he would say.

Hugh the smith: “Well, you all know the deserted place in which James Henderson’s house was built, and as it was thus out-of-the-way, there weren’t many going to Ceilidh in it; but it began to be rumoured that miraculous things were happening in it, and indeed, I did not believe them at first myself; but as my companions kept telling me that they themselves saw unnatural things, I thought that I would go also and see for myself if such things were true, and accordingly, on a certain night I and a friend of mine—who is dead long ago—set off for James’ house. On going in, James himself asked us to come forward near the fire, a request to which we readily complied. James’ wife and her servant were washing, while another lass was holding fast a large bed-cover on the top of the clothes that were washed for fear that they would disappear ; but in spite of the big bed-cover and the efforts of the girl, when the clothes were counted, a blanket was missing. A search for the blanket began at once, but when they could not find it by any means, it came with a vehement sweep from the ceiling, as black as soot, and mixed with the other washed clothes until it dirtied the whole lot of them, leaving the washerwomen no other alternative but to begin to wash the clothes a second time. My friend and I were thunderstruck with amazement; but what horrified us the most was the following affair. James Henderson’s walking-stick was in a corner of the house among other things. I heard some rumbling noise in the corner, and on turning round, behold, the walking-stick was hopping about in the corner; but it did not stop there: it began to advance from the corner to the middle of the floor, and danced and leaped fearfully all over the house. I was never in my life so dreadfully frightened, and my friend was quite as bad. Not one soul inside the house had the courage to take hold of the stick and stop its antics, but when Fortune saw it fit, after a quarter of an hour’s dancing and manoeuvring, the walking-stick returned to the corner whence it came, and stood steady with one end naturally inclined to the wall.”

John the tailor: “Ha, ha ! the walking-stick was only giving you a reel.”

Hugh proceeds: “You needn’t mock me, tailor, for it was a dreadful thing. My friend and I stayed some time longer, and then we proceeded homeward with our hearts almost leaping out of their places with fear. When that dread left us a week afterwards, we proposed to go there a second time. Suiting the action to the word, we went, and, on sitting down, we saw James’ wife, who was knitting a stocking, with blood trickling down from a red gash that was on her head. We asked of those that were in before us what was the reason of this. They told us that, a little while before we went in, she was baking, and when she was finished, that the griddle sprang up and struck her in the head, thus cutting her. I was staring at the woman on account of my astonishment at what had happened, and as sure as death, I tell you that one of the knitting-pins which she was using, sprang out of her hand and struck up in the ceiling, and fell down on the floor twisted like a hair-pin. That is not all I saw. No sooner had this happened than an ember from the fire glanced past us and went among the bedclothes, and probably the house would have been on fire had clever lads not been in, who stopped it. After the fire had been put out, and when nothing of importance was happening, we were about to leave for our homes, but we were abruptly stopped. One lad was sitting on a low stool, and, by Jove, a bowl that was on the table came with incredible speed and broke in atoms between his feet, but not harming him in the least. That was scarcely over when a peat came whizzing through the kitchen door and struck in the fire, scattering it in all directions through the house. It was also said that that night a vessel containing a considerable quantity of cream overturned of itself all of a sudden. However, we went home, and we would imagine that peats were chasing us through the fields, but we came off unhurt.

“James Henderson was always thinking that this ‘evil’ was following either himself or his wife, and to prove this suspicion he said to his wife one day, ‘We will go away from home to-day and travel in different directions, and we shall see which of us this evil follows.’ *Quite so. I have to go home with Mrs. Hugh Brown’s spinning wheel,’ said his wife. After a short while James left his house and went one way, and his wife left and went another way, having Mrs. Brown’s spinning wheel on her shoulder. She did not go very far when the sickle which she herself placed at the back of the barn door came whizzing through the air and cut off a part of the wheel of the spinning apparatus, but spared herself. She at once returned home and her husband also, but nothing met him. So it seemed that the evil followed his wife, and not James.

“These things were going on for some time afterwards, but I do not at present mind of any more of them, only that it was rumoured that James' wife’s father’s ghost was seen about the house by some gifted with second-sight, and to keep him in the grave that they had to fasten and cross and recross chains over it. Do you believe that, tailor?”

But the tailor did not find it such an easy matter to believe these things as the smith imagined, and accordingly he said, “You, smith, can tell a story so pleasantly and so real-looking that you almost persuade me to believe those things. I do not indeed doubt that they happened, but I doubt and disbelieve that their author was an ‘evil spirit,’ as you believe, and, to throw some light on the matter, I will tell you a story which I believe has a great affinity to the story which you have told about James Henderson’s house.”

I do not quote the story, which, however, possesses for the folk-lorist the special interest of being a local adaptation, with nearly all the incidents complete, of the “Big Claus and Little Claus,” well known to all readers of Hans Andersen and Grimm. A consciousness of its foreign element is displayed in the fact that the story is located “on the Mainland.”

These few specimens go further than any mere second-hand description to make one realize the Ceilidh. At certain times of the year there is work to be finished, and, like the frequenters of “a Bee” in America, those gathered at Ceilidh will take their share in mending nets, patching sails, twisting heather ropes, or whatever occupation may be to the fore. The Ceilidh is the substitute for the newspaper, the library and the public-house. It is for Ceilidh that the rhymes of old time were made, as in Greece for the festivals of the gods and heroes, which keep alive for us even now the contemporary accounts of island history. It was at Ceilidh that the bards of bid recited their poems and satires; it is Ceilidh that has preserved the tales of Ossian, so that to this day one may listen to endless stories of Fingal and Graine and Cuchullin. It is for Ceilidh that for centuries past the people have strung together the legends of their island homes, so that every hill and loch and glen and shealing has its own traditions. Whole sheaves of them lie before me written down at first hand. Many collected by Campbell of Islay, many by Campbell of Tyree, have been published and are dear to all students of Highland folklore, but many more have never yet seen the light, full as they are of interest to the historian and anthropologist alike.


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