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Outer Isles
Chapter X. Christian Legends of Eriskay and South Uist


AN Egyptian Pasha, to do honour to a distinguished traveller, arranged that he should visit an unopened tomb, one which had not been robbed for any European museum, nor refurnished from Birmingham for the advantage of Cook’s tourists. The door was unsealed, and Baker entered alone into the silence and solitude of 4,000 years. There, with the surroundings of a civilization which ours can barely comprehend, slept the mighty dead, already forgotten, it may be, when Greece and Rome were yet unborn. But the past called with an appeal even more imperative than this. In the sand at his feet were the footsteps of the last man who went out, and the marks of his broom as he swept his way to the door.

Somehow, the slave who, doing his common task, went out into the sunshine, has a stronger human interest than the great who slumbered in the dark, and one regrets the obliteration of his footsteps more than the decay of lawgivers and priests.

The world has but little space now for sand that holds the footsteps of the past, but for those who know how and where to seek, there are, even for us, some such fields of silence still remaining. In the grey islands of the Outer Hebrides, even in the last few years, I have found some traces of the outgoing footsteps of men who have already turned towards the glare and sunshine of to-day. Proprietors of an alien blood and an alien faith, the School Board, the steamboat, the telegraph, have shut the door upon a past which speaks with other tongues than theirs.

It was in the bare islands of South Uist and Eriskay that the following stories were mainly collected. It is impossible to present them in anything like their original form, and they lose infinitely in translation. The English of the Western Islands is by no means that of Mr. Black’s stories, still less that of other novelists. It has been learnt from books, and is the English of the eighteenth century, almost pedantic in its accuracy and literary uses. But such legends as these are told in the intimacy of private life, and therefore mainly in the native Gaelic. They were a part of the faith and the life of the people, and have no affinity with the long winter evening stories, the lineal descendants of the Saga of Viking times, or the Sgeultachd of the Celtic bard. These, too, we may find even now, with much else of the poetry of life, as did Monro in the sixteenth century, and Martin, a century and a half later. MacCulloch, however, the correspondent of Sir Walter Scott (how the genial Sir Walter must have been bored by so superior a person!), found nothing of what Buchanan, fifty years later, found in abundance. Then, as now, one needed something more than a thirst for information, to be taken to the heart of these most simple, most courteous of Nature’s children.

From a great quantity of folklore collected in these islands I have selected a few stories bearing on the life, especially the childhood, of our Lord, not, as might at first appear, to illustrate the ignorance, but rather the reverence, the natural piety of the islanders, who, though left for generations without books, without teachers, have so taken the pictures of the holy life into their hearts and lives that, while the outline remains in its original purity, the painting has been touched with local colour, and the eastern setting of 2,000 years ago has been translated into terms of the daily life of the simple dwellers of the Outer Hebrides.

To realize this, one must recall the main facts of the history of their faith. The ravages of the Norsemen can have left little material trace of the mission of St. Columba, the St. Columkille of whom they speak to-day, with a friendliness which is something more personal than their reverence for saints. Nevertheless, the work of the Church seems to have been revived within three centuries of the destruction of the settlement on Iona, and a See of the Isles existed from 1113 to 1550 (revived only in 1878). Monro, visiting the islands in 1549, found five parish churches in Uist alone, and Martin speaks of these as still existing in 1695, also of the remains of a monastery and nunnery, and even of one remaining lay Capuchin brother dressed like his Order, but with a tartan plaid about his shoulders. The proprietors were then, of course, of the same blood and faith with their people, and traditions still clinging around sacred spots, ruins, now mere heaps of stones, and even the nomenclature of the Islands are living evidence of the piety of the earlier people.

A very few years of relation with England put an end to the prosperity and patriarchal life of the Hebrides. The works of the earlier Cromwell took a long time to arrive in the Highlands (though Dr. Johnson found something to say as to the reformers when he visited certain ecclesiastical remains), and indeed the old Church still holds her own in at least four of the islands. The later Cromwell, however, had a strong arm of the flesh, and the story of the persecutions in Scotland is too well known to be repeated.

In 1653 provision was made by the Congregation of Propaganda for the establishment of missionaries in the islands, under one William Ballantyne or Bellenden, who was, however, seized by the English, and died after two years’ imprisonment. MacNeill, the chief of Barra, went into exile with his king. Bishop Nicolson, Vicar Apostolic for Scotland, visiting the islands in 1700, says he travelled for days without meeting a single inhabitant. His first station was the island of Eigg, where he found that a number of the inhabitants had been lately martyred by an English pirate, who gave them the choice of death or apostasy. Even Chalmers, not likely to be prejudiced on behalf of Catholicism, say8 that “men, in trying to make each other Episcopalians and Protestants, had almost ceased to be Christians”; even in Edinburgh there was no hospital till 1731.

Neglected in one century, persecuted in the next, the people nevertheless were true to the main outlines of their faith. Cardinal Rospigliosi8 wrote, in 1669, what probably remained true for nearly another century and a half:

“The natives of the islands . . . can, as a general rule, be properly called neither Catholics nor heretics. They abhor heresy by nature, but they listen to the preachers by necessity. They go wrong in matters of faith through ignorance, caused by the want of priests to instruct them in religion. If a Catholic priest comes to their island they call him by the name of "the tonsured one,’ and show much greater veneration and affection for him than for the preachers. They sign their foreheads with the sign of the Holy Cross, they invoke the Saints, recite Litanies, and use holy water. They themselves baptize their own children when the ministers make any difficulty as to administering the Sacrament on the pretence that it is not essential for eternal salvation.”

Martin’s evidence is practically to the same effect. Discussing certain superstitions, he writes (in 1695):

“I inquired if their priest had preached or argued against this superstitious custom. They told me he knew better things, and would not be guilty of dissuading them from doing their duty, which they doubted not he judged this to be. . . . The Protestant minister hath often endeavoured to undeceive them, but in vain, because of an implicit faith they have in their priest, and when the topics of persuasion, though never so urgent, come from one they believe to be a heretic, there is little hope of success.”

The causes of this influence may be a matter of opinion, but observers seem to have agreed as to its extent. Even the superior MacCulloch writes as to his experience:

“The appointments of the priests are very scanty, but they are remarkable for their good conduct and attention to their charges, not only in matters of religion but in the ordinary concerns of life.”

These words might have been written yesterday instead of close on a century ago, so literally true is each statement, as is also his further evidence as to the entire harmony of the Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, no proselytism being attempted on either side.

Even the establishment of Presbyterianism seems, however, to have brought but limited advantages, for in the Agricultural Survey of 1811 we learn that in 1808 not a single school existed south of Baileloch in North Uist, a district of 200 square miles and 7,000 inhabitants. “Barray and Uist contain, indeed, a large proportion of Roman Catholic inhabitants,” says the historian, “but that is no reason why they should not have churches and schools. The Catholic inhabitants are as good citizens and as much inclined to give their children the advantages of education as Protestants, but both are at present unhappily excluded.”

Such being the history of their religious life, one wonders, not that their sacred traditions should be changed into apocrypha, but that religious traditions should have been kept alive at all. One must remember, moreover, that they had practically no written language; that to this day, owing to unaccountable neglect in the schools, in which one constantly finds only English-speaking teachers, a large proportion are unable to read or write in Gaelic.

That stories transmitted orally for generations, corrected neither by teachers nor books, should nevertheless maintain the life of the original, though adapted as to the vehicle of instruction, says much for the people’s grasp of the Gospel spirit. To love God and one’s neighbour, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world; not only to give, but to share ; to entertain strangers and show respect to man and reverence to God—this is the uniform teaching of all the legends.

That for the country “over whose acres walked those blessed feet” they should substitute their own island home, grey and treeless, hung about with mists of the Atlantic and exposed to storms of wind and water, shows mainly, I venture to think, how much they had realized the presence of the Master in their midst. With all their Celtic faculty of visualization, they had realized His life on earth as a Man of Sorrows; like themselves, poor and cold and storm-beaten and hungry, and the background of that sacred Life had been their own poor homes. For Him, too, had been the turf-thatched cottage, built of unhewn stone, the hearth in the middle of the floor, the iron pot—the only cooking utensil—suspended over it by a chain, a cottage of a but and a ben, the family beds at one end, the cattle at the other. He had been homeless, and the poor had given him of their store; a little meal, a drink of milk, a shelter from the driving storm. It is only by realizing their point of view that one perceives what there is of beautiful in such stories as the following, which I give, as far as possible, in the words of the narrators, who used mainly the colloquial Gaelic, but sometimes quoted fragments of old rhythmical versions, and now and then one or two of them, sailors for the most part, translating into their quaint, imperfect English.

Our Lord and His Mother were one day going through the country when a storm of snow and wind set in. They came to a little house and entered it for shelter. The goodwife was alone, and she hastily prepared a meal and set it before the travellers, afraid of being blamed if her husband should come in and find her giving away food. When he appeared, he just ate his supper, never speaking to the strangers, and then slunk off to bed, without making any provision for them for the night. The goodwife followed him, and asked if she should make them up a bed, the night being so wild. “Tell them to lie down on a bundle of lint (flax) straw,” he said, and they did so. During the night, Our Lady was awakened by cries from the other end of the house, and she awakened her Son. The cries came from the churl, who was suffering intense internal pain, while his wife was getting ready hot plates and hot boards to relieve him. Our Lady asked her Son to help him. “Not yet, not yet,” He replied, but on her further intercession, He took a handful of the prickly lint straw, which had been their bed, and rubbed it three times with the grain and against the grain, and said certain words which are still, it is said, used as a charm for colic, but I have not been able to recover them.

A variant of the story is that it was the goodwife that was taken ill, and was relieved in her suffering by the Virgin Mother, whose words on the occasion are still used as a charm by midwives.

The Blessed Virgin, before the birth of Our Lord, had an intense desire for some fruit, and asked St. Joseph to get her some, but he only answered that the father of her child was the proper person to give her what she was craving for. Thereupon the trees bent down of themselves and she gathered what she needed, and so he was satisfied of the Divine paternity. The story is told in rhyme, but the Rev. Allan Macdonald is of opinion that the story, obviously the same as the English “Cherry Tree” carol, is older than the poem, for he has traced it back to a certain catechist, a saintly and scholarly man, who had what was then the rare knowledge of writing in Gaelic, and some of whose verses are still repeated among the islanders.

Another day, the holy wanderers met a poor orphan girl who was working in hard drudgery. In the original this part of the story is in rhyme, and her labours are described with much detail. Our Lady asked her Son to help her, and He put it into the mind of a miller, who was also a carpenter (a common combination in the Hebrides), to marry the girl, who soon forgot her poverty and gave herself great airs; and when the Mother and Son came to see her she hardly spoke to them, but gave them a place far from the fire, and went on fussing about her housework. At last they rose to go, and all she gave them was a ladleful of grain. Then they went to the mill and asked the miller to grind it for them, but he said there was so little of it that it would break the quern (mill-stones). “It is food for the needy,” said Christ, “and no harm will arise if you grind it.” So the miller gave the stones a turn or two, and then went on with his carpentering. After a little while God put it into his heart to look to the grist, and he found that the ladleful of grain had filled the chest with meal of the finest quality. The travellers took part, and went on their way, and the miller went into the house to ask if any one had called “the day.” His wife said there was no day but people called, and that she was wearied and annoyed with beggars such as had come that very day. (This part of the story is also in verso.) Then he told her of the miracle that had been done, and she was filled with shame and hastened after the Mother and Son, and said she had not known them. “When you saw My poor did you not see Me?” said Our Lord. “I saw you an orphan and I gave you plenty,” and ever after that she was good to the poor.

On one occasion they entered a house where there was porridge boiling and asked for some. The goodwife refused, saying there was little enough for those who were out ploughing. When they had gone she took off the pot, and began to pour out the porridge, but though there had been plenty, there were now not two bowlfuls left. [It is still believed that this is the reason why porridge shrinks one-third in cooling. One variant relates that being startled she ran after Our Lord, who, turning to her said, “I give as a leaving for it [i.e. as a peculiarity] that no drop will ever be made that the third part will not be lost.]

The moral of these stories does not vary greatly; here is another to the same effect.

One day they came to a house where were an old woman and a young one. “Give them something to eat, they are so cold,” said the old one. (One is generally either cold or wet, or both, in these Islands.) The young one paid no heed. The old one was not glad, and said, “Rise and give them something.” The other answered, “You were never saying anything but "Give away*; do you know who is to give yourself anything?” “Give the boy something, at least,” said the old one. The other was beginning to knead bread, for it was near dinner-time, and she contemptuously cut off a lump of dough, and threw it to the Child. “If I had it I would make a cake for the boy,” said the old woman.

The Holy Mother took the dough, and put it into a hole in the middle of the fire, and they went their way. They had scarcely gone when there sprang out of the fire a tree, and the women were much startled. (To realize this to the full, one has to remember that wood in any form is a very precious possession to the islanders, and that many of them have never even seen a tree.) The old woman observed that “Long it was since she had heard that Our Saviour would be going about pitiable and poor,” and she added to the other, “You have committed your own misfortune.” The young one ran after the travellers, and called, “If Thou be the Son of God, turn towards me, a sinner.” And He turned towards her and answered, “Never keep your hand so empty again.”

The only loan that should not be repaid is a loan of salt. The salt is a blessed thing, and “the eye should not go after it”—i.e. we should give it without measure or grudging.

Our Lord and His Mother came for alms to the house of a woman who was rich, but who gave them nothing but a handful of meal, and that with a grudge. Her eye teas after it. When they had gone she went to the meal chest to see how much less it looked after the gift, and she found it full of unknown beasts. She knew at once who her visitor must have been, as she had heard that the Son of God was going about among the people, and she hastened after Him, beseeching pardon, and saying, “Thou gavest me worldly substance, but not a kind heart in proportion,” and He gave her pardon and a changed heart, and created a cat to drive away the rats.

There is another version of the origin of the cat.

As Our Lord went about relieving the poor, there was an artful woman who pretended she had nothing in the world, while all the time she possessed a sow and a litter of pigs, which were concealed under an upturned tub, while she went to plead her poverty to Our Lord. She could not move Him with her false tale, and after some time she found it was in vain, and went off to feed her pigs. When she raised the tub, she found to her horror that the little pigs were changed into some unknown animals of a vicious kind [i.e. rats], who rushed forth and began to gnaw all they could find, and would have destroyed the world if Our Lord in His mercy had not at once created the cat to check their ravages.

One version of this story describes the woman as penitent, and as following Our Lord to beg forgiveness, and then it was that He opened His closed hand towards her, and in His hand was a little cat. The mystic lore of Egypt, with its rites of Isis and Horus and Pasht, has not penetrated to the Outer Islands. The cat, however, plays a considerable part in their traditions and nomenclature.

A poor woman went to Our Lady to beg for wool to finish the cloth she had in the loom. Mary had none, but gave her a lock of her hair from the left side of her head, and the cloth was finished. No one should ever refuse wool or thread for the Inneadh (a deficiency of thread when the web is in the loom), and, as a matter of fact, it is always given cheerfully. It is to remind them of this, that the hair of women is thinner on the left side than on the right. Whether this peculiarity really exists in the Hebrides I know not, but I never heard of it elsewhere.

One day, with another poor woman, Mary was gleaning in a field of corn. The other woman took a handful from a sheaf, but Our Lady reproved her, and she repented and opened her apron to put it back, but because she repented so quickly she found in her lap no com, but a loaf of bread freshly baked.

Variants of this story are, of course, very common in the lives of the Saints.

It is “crossed”—i.e. unlucky—to put the peats on the fire the wrong way. Our Lord was one day passing a house, and He said there was either a corpse in it or a peat broadwise on the fire. It is also “crossed”— such is the literal wording of all such precepts—to turn the red side of a peat outwards, and the black inwards. It is a stupid thing to do in either case. The interpretation given to the story is that Our Lord wishes things to be cheerful and liberal, and it is a churlish thing to economize the peats thus, so as to give neither warmth nor light.

Here is the story of Martha of Bethany told with local colour:

Our Lord had an appointment with the goodman of a certain house. When he arrived the man was not there, and the wife, who was baking, said, “He is out watering the land.” Our Lord asked for a lump of dough, kneaded it and put it to the fire, when lo! there grew from it a bunch of ears of com, in the very midst of the fire. This was to show that from the very driest of places God could make corn grow for those who sought His kingdom first. The man was seeking worldly advantage when he might have been talking with Christ.

As Our Lord was one day passing along with His Mother, they came to a township where the people were rich and had many cattle. No one asked them to take food, except one poor widow, who had but one cow, and she pressed them to take a drink of milk. After bidding her farewell, Our Lady asked her Son what blessing He would bestow on the poor widow, who had been the only one to show them kindness. “That her cow die this night,” He answered. “But that would surely be hard,” said His Mother. “Yet so would she be richer possessing God alone,” He replied. It is curious and interesting to find that the islanders hold, with Francis Bacon, that “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, but Adversity of the New.”

Another story, however, tells of a more conventional and evident reward.

A woman was going to milk the fold when Mary met her. Our Lady was exhausted with travelling, and asked the woman to take the Child into her arms for a moment, which she rudely refused to do. Mary then passed on, and met a woman who was going to milk a larger fold, and asked the same of her. She at once took the Child, and after Mary had rested and taken back Our Lord into her arms, she went on to milk the cows, and was finished before the churlish one.

Our Lord once came to a house where a mother was going to crack a nut, every young one clamouring for a share of it. “It is too small to divide,” said the mother; I shall keep it myself.” But the clamour growing louder, Our Lord took the little nut, and gave to each a handful of the kernel, saying, “Sharing should reach to the kernel of the nut,” which is still a common saying among the people.

An old woman had a sick cow, and she went to ask Our Lord, as He passed by, to make a charm for the cow. But He returned with her, and, when He came to the beast, touched it with His staff, saying certain words. The cow was healed, and Our Lord went His way. Soon after, “a priest, or some other great person,” came by, for whom the woman had a special regard, and he was ill of a quinsy. The old woman struck him with her staff and repeated the charm, but he only laughed at its absurdity. However, the laugh was his cure, for the quinsy burst.

The sequel to the story has so very modem a tone that it is quoted mainly for the sake of adding that the old woman who told it said she knew of no other case of Our Lord healing animals. It was always St. Columcille who did that. There are, in fact, an immense number of stories, some very quaint, as to the healing-miracles of St. Columba.

It is said that Christ blessed the duck more than He did the hen. This is why He gave the duck a covering which protects it from the rain, while the hen is miserable in the wet—a serious matter for a dweller in the Outer Islands. Our Lord once sought shelter in a bam, where He lay down among some straw scattered over grain. The hen scratched away the straw, but the duck covered Him up again. A matter-of-fact comment on this is the assertion in the Islands— elsewhere for aught I know — that a hen always scratches from the top of .a heap, but the duck from the bottom or edge.

The Son of God came one day to a stream that was swollen with heavy rain. There was a goat by the bank; He asked it to take Him across, but it refused. Then there came a sheep, which at once took up the sacred burden. Hence the goat is cursed and the sheep blessed.

A very similar story is told of the horse and the ass, to account for the ass being a blessed animal— contrary to the tradition of some countries, probably to the experience of the poor beast.

The soldiers of Herod, pursuing the Holy Child, came to a certain house where there was a fowl boiling in a pot over the fire. When they entered to make their search the fowl rose from the pot, and, “hooking its claws into the chain over the fire, crew at the prompting of the King of Virtues,” How this produced the desired effect, whether by driving away the soldiers, or by convincing them of the miraculous powers of the Holy Child, is not told.

The story occurs in a fragment of verse.

Another version of the cock-story was given by a very old woman. When Our Lord was lying in the tomb, two girls, who were cooking a fowl, were talking together as to whether He would really rise again as He said. “It is no more likely,” said one, “than that that fowl will rise again.” Whereupon the cock crew.

The blackbeetle is universally detested and trampled upon, but the sharded beetle, called Ceardobhan, is a favourite. The blackbeetle tried to betray Our Lord in His flight to Egypt. Herod’s men were in pursuit of Him, and came to Egypt, and were inquiring of the people if they had seen the Holy Family pass that way. The person particularly addressed said he had observed just the party described; and on being asked when he had seen them, he said it was when the corn, which was now yellow in the field, had been sown. The seed had been sown only the previous day, but a miracle was wrought in favour of the owner of the field on account of some kindness shown to the Holy Family. As the soldiers were departing a blackbeetle crept across the path, and said, “Yesterday, yesterday, the Son of God passed.” The large sharded beetle, however, called out, “Whisht, you imp, a year from yesterday the Son of God passed,” and so put the pursuers off the scent.

Beetles are seen everywhere during Lent, and it is believed that they are specially restless at this sacred time on account of the curse upon them. The stone with which they are crushed should always be left upon the remains, otherwise they may get into a child’s ear at night.

Because the dove came back to Noah he is next blessed to a cock, and he has, as a reward, three grains of barley wherever he alights, were it even on the top of a lone mountain; also he has a brood every month.

The reason, by the way, that the raven did not come back to the Ark was that he was eating the floating carcases. The knowing of the whereabouts of a dead body is hence called: “raven’s knowledge.” A child can be initiated into this by giving him to drink out of the dry skull of a raven. He would ever after be able to find where any missing beast was lying down to die.

There are many stories, possibly imported by Irish missionaries, of St. Bridget or Bride. One associated with Our Lord was told as follows by an old woman, as explaining her assertion that St. Bride was the first who took the infant Christ into her arms:

“There dwelt an innkeeper at Bethlehem of the name —I forget it now. He had a servant called Bride. There happened a great drought in the country, and it was necessary for the innkeeper to go to a distance with carts to draw the water. Before leaving home he gave Bride strict orders not to take any person into his house during his absence, and he left one precious bottle of water in her charge.

He had been gone but a few days when there came to the door an old grey-headed man and a young and beautiful lady. They were tired with travel, and parched with thirst. Bride was very sorry for them, and said how gladly she would have taken them in, but her master had forbidden her to admit any stranger; the old man then asked for a mouthful of water for himself and the lady, and Bride gave them willingly out of her little store, and, strange to say, when she took back the bottle after they had drunk, it was quite full; and then they went away to seek shelter, and Bride cast a pitying eye after them.

At nightfall the innkeeper returned with his waggon and the water. As soon as he entered the house he heard a sound as of rushing waters, and he and Bride knew that the hour of their deliverance had come, for there was an old prophecy that after the drought there would come abundance of water, and the Messiah would be born. Then he asked her if she had seen any strangers in the place, and she told him what had happened, and that she had seen that the beautiful lady would soon have a mother’s cares, and how, after they had drunk from the bottle, it was still full.

So they were hurrying off to seek for the holy strangers when Bride perceived an unwonted light through the stable wall. She pushed open the door and found Joseph and Mary with the Holy Child, whom she lifted in her arms and tenderly embraced.”

Another narrator of the same story makes St. Bride housekeeper to her father, and not a servant. The sound of rushing water was of a miraculous stream, which still flows at the back of the house, as a reward for their kindness.

This suggests the recollection of another story.

On the night that Our Lord was to be born all the water in the streams would be warm. One incredulous woman would not believe this, and on the blessed night she went out to prove herself right but did not return. Her friends going to seek her, found her dead by the side of the stream.

To return, however, to St. Bride. It is said that she spread a bed for the Child Jesus, and on St. Bride’s Eve, February 1, it was, till lately, the custom to make a point of spreading a bed for any strangers or homeless persons who might be passing by. The old people speak of a custom of “spreading the bed of Bride,” of which the details are now forgotten. The version of it given by Martin in 1703 sounds like a Pagan survival adapted to Christian tradition, like so many other relics of former custom.

“The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women’s apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Briid’s bed; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, ‘Briid is come; Briid is welcome.’ They do this just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Briid’s club there, which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen.”

Martin’s imperfect knowledge of Gaelic has probably betraved him into confusion of two different ceremonies. The word lory stands for club and for footstep, and it is the footstep of the Saint which is looked for, in token that she has been in the house.]

There is a curious method of divination, long in use in the islands, known as the Frith, which is analogous to many practised in all parts of the world. It consists of the skilled observation of natural objects and their interpretation in relation to some special problem, most frequently as to the welfare of friends at a distance. The frithear, or Seer, says a “Hail, Mary,” and then—such is the medley of Christianity and Paganism—he walks dessil, or sunwards, round the house, his eyes being closed till he reaches the door-sill, when he opens them, and, looking through a circle made of his finger and thumb, judges of the general character of the omen by the first object on which his eyes rest. If this should be a sacred symbol of any kind—if only two straws crossing each other—all will be well. He then proceeds to detail, and delivers judgment accordingly. A man standing is a sign of a recovery, a woman standing is a bad sign, and so on. The Frith, says an old woman of ninety who has been a noted Seeress in her day, is a blessed thing, and was first practised by Joseph and Mary when looking for the Holy Child. St. Bride was employed to look through the circle made by the fingers of the Virgin herself. Parts of the story were told in a quaint rhythmical form, probably very ancient, but where her verbal memory failed she was confused as to certain points. St. Bride, she declared, was a sister of Our Lady, and “was married to the man who washed his hands when Christ was condemned, and who was influenced by a dream she had had! ”

It would be easy to multiply these stories, but I have, perhaps, quoted enough for all purposes but those of folklore. They belong to a past in which to-day has little share. For the Englishman who thinks that the Long Island is off the coast of New York and who calls the Highlanders “Scotch,” for Scots even, such as MacCulloch, that past has been dead for centuries, even though the trail of Saxon or Lowlander has not yet greatly affected the islands of which I write. His bicycle would be buried in the sand, his yacht would find no harbour, his Times would be of the week before last. The attractions of brown trout may induce him to “rough it,” as he imagines, at Loch Maddy or Loch Boisdale, but it is not within hail of a frequent steamer, or within roach of fresh beef and “loaf-bread” that one finds a people who cherish folklore, and refuse a “tip.”

Armed with his instrument of toil, that slave of old went out into the cheerful day, but we who would find his footsteps must turn backward to the dark, and there, as elsewhere, wherever our sympathy is real, human, we shall find some traces of the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.


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