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Ewen Of The Little Head

Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

About three hundred years ago, Ewen Maclaine of Lochbuy, in the island of
Mull, having been engaged in a quarrel with a neighbouring chief, a day
was fixed for determining the affair by the sword. Lochbuy, before the
day arrived, consulted a celebrated witch as to the result of the feud.
The witch declared that if Lochbuy's wife should on the morning of that
day give him and his men food unasked, he would be victorious, but if
not, the result would be the reverse. This was a disheartening response
for the unhappy votary, his wife being a noted shrew.

The fatal morning arrived, and the hour for meeting the enemy approached,
but there appeared no symptoms of refreshment for Lochbuy and his men. At
length the unfortunate man was compelled to ask his wife to supply them
with food. She set down before them curds, but without spoons. When the
husband inquired how they were to eat them, she replied they should
assume the bills of hens. The men ate the curds, as well as they could,
with their hands; but Lochbuy himself ate none. After behaving with the
greatest bravery in the bloody conflict which ensued, he fell covered
with wounds, leaving his wife to the execration of the people. She is
still known in that district under the appellation of Corr-dhu, or the
Black Crane.

But the miseries brought on the luckless Lochbuy by his wife did not end
with his life, for he died fasting, and his ghost is frequently seen to
this day riding the very horse on which he was mounted when he was
killed. It was a small, but very neat and active pony, dun or
mouse-coloured, to which the Laird was much attached, and on which he had
ridden for many years before his death. Its appearance is as accurately
described in the island of Mull as any steed is at Newmarket. The prints
of its shoes are discerned by connoisseurs, and the rattling of its curb
is recognised in the darkest night. It is not particular with regard to
roads, for it goes up hill and down dale with equal velocity. Its hard-
fated rider still wears the same green cloak which covered him in his
last battle; and he is particularly distinguished by the small size of
his head, a peculiarity which, we suspect, the learned disciples of
Spurzheim have never yet had the sagacity to discover as indicative of an
extraordinary talent and incomparable perseverance in horsemanship.

It is now above three hundred years since Ewen-a-chin-vig (Anglice,
Hugh of the Little Head) fell in the field of honour; but neither the
vigour of the horse nor of the rider is yet diminished. His mournful
duty has always been to attend the dying moments of every member of his
own tribe, and to escort the departed spirit on its long and arduous
journey. He has been seen in the remotest of the Hebrides; and he has
found his way to Ireland on these occasions long before steam navigation
was invented. About a century ago he took a fancy for a young man of his
own race, and frequently did him the honour of placing him behind himself
on horseback. He entered into conversation with him, and foretold many
circumstances connected with the fate of his successors, which have
undoubtedly since come to pass.

Many a long winter night have I listened to the feats of Ewen-a-chin-vig,
the faithful and indefatigable guardian of his ancient family, in the
hour of their last and greatest trial, affording an example worthy the
imitation of every chief,--perhaps not beneath the notice of Glengarry

About a dozen years since some symptoms of Ewen's decay gave very general
alarm to his friends. He accosted one of his own people (indeed he never
has been known to notice any other), and, shaking him cordially by the
hand, he attempted to place him on the saddle behind him, but the
uncourteous dog declined the honour. Ewen struggled hard, but the clown
was a great, strong, clumsy fellow, and stuck to the earth with all his
might. He candidly acknowledged, however, that his chief would have
prevailed, had it not been for a birch-tree which stood by, and which he
got within the fold of his left arm. The contest became very warm
indeed, and the tree was certainly twisted like an osier, as thousands
can testify who saw it as well as myself. At length, however, Ewen lost
his seat for the first time, and the instant the pony found he was his
own master, he set off with the fleetness of lightning. Ewen immediately
pursued his steed, and the wearied rustic sped his way homeward. It was
the general opinion that Ewen found considerable difficulty in catching
the horse; but I am happy to learn that he has been lately seen riding
the old mouse-coloured pony without the least change in either the horse
or the rider. Long may he continue to do so!

Those who from motives of piety or curiosity have visited the sacred
island of Iona, must remember to have seen the guide point out the tomb
of Ewen, with his figure on horseback, very elegantly sculptured in alto-
relievo, and many of the above facts are on such occasions related.

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