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Michael Scott

Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

In the early part of Michael Scott's life he was in the habit of
emigrating annually to the Scottish metropolis, for the purpose of being
employed in his capacity of mason. One time as he and two companions
were journeying to the place of their destination for a similar object,
they had occasion to pass over a high hill, the name of which is not
mentioned, but which is supposed to have been one of the Grampians, and
being fatigued with climbing, they sat down to rest themselves. They had
no sooner done so than they were warned to take to their heels by the
hissing of a large serpent, which they observed revolving itself towards
them with great velocity. Terrified at the sight, Michael's two
companions fled, while he, on the contrary, resolved to encounter the
reptile. The appalling monster approached Michael Scott with distended
mouth and forked tongue; and, throwing itself into a coil at his feet,
was raising its head to inflict a mortal sting, when Michael, with one
stroke of his stick, severed its body into three pieces. Having rejoined
his affrighted comrades, they resumed their journey; and, on arriving at
the next public-house, it being late, and the travellers being weary,
they took up their quarters at it for the night. In the course of the
night's conversation, reference was naturally made to Michael's recent
exploit with the serpent, when the landlady of the house, who was
remarkable for her "arts," happened to be present. Her curiosity
appeared much excited by the conversation; and, after making some
inquiries regarding the colour of the serpent, which she was told was
white, she offered any of them that would procure her the middle piece
such a tempting reward, as induced one of the party instantly to go for
it. The distance was not very great; and on reaching the spot, he found
the middle and tail piece in the place where Michael left them, but the
head piece was gone.

The landlady on receiving the piece, which still vibrated with life,
seemed highly gratified at her acquisition; and, over and above the
promised reward, regaled her lodgers very plentifully with the choicest
dainties in her house. Fired with curiosity to know the purpose for
which the serpent was intended, the wily Michael Scott was immediately
seized with a severe fit of indisposition, which caused him to prefer the
request that he might be allowed to sleep beside the fire, the warmth of
which, he affirmed, was in the highest degree beneficial to him.

Never suspecting Michael Scott's hypocrisy, and naturally supposing that
a person so severely indisposed would feel very little curiosity about
the contents of any cooking utensils which might lie around the fire, the
landlady allowed his request. As soon as the other inmates of the house
were retired to bed, the landlady resorted to her darling occupation;
and, in his feigned state of indisposition, Michael had a favourable
opportunity of watching most scrupulously all her actions through the
keyhole of a door leading to the next apartment where she was. He could
see the rites and ceremonies with which the serpent was put into the
oven, along with many mysterious ingredients. After which the
unsuspicious landlady placed the dish by the fireside, where lay the
distressed traveller, to stove till the morning.

Once or twice in the course of the night the "wife of the change-house,"
under the pretence of inquiring for her sick lodger, and administering to
him some renovating cordials, the beneficial effects of which he
gratefully acknowledged, took occasion to dip her finger in her saucepan,
upon which the cock, perched on his roost, crowed aloud. All Michael's
sickness could not prevent him considering very inquisitively the
landlady's cantrips, and particularly the influence of the sauce upon the
crowing of the cock. Nor could he dissipate some inward desires he felt
to follow her example. At the same time, he suspected that Satan had a
hand in the pie, yet he thought he would like very much to be at the
bottom of the concern; and thus his reason and his curiosity clashed
against each other for the space of several hours. At length passion, as
is too often the case, became the conqueror. Michael, too, dipped his
finger in the sauce, and applied it to the tip of his tongue, and
immediately the cock perched on the spardan announced the circumstance
in a mournful clarion. Instantly his mind received a new light to which
he was formerly a stranger, and the astonished dupe of a landlady now
found it her interest to admit her sagacious lodger into a knowledge of
the remainder of her secrets.

Endowed with the knowledge of "good and evil," and all the "second
sights" that can be acquired, Michael left his lodgings in the morning,
with the philosopher's stone in his pocket. By daily perfecting his
supernatural attainments, by new series of discoveries, he became more

than a match for Satan himself. Having seduced some thousands of Satan's
best workmen into his employment, he trained them up so successfully to
the architective business, and inspired them with such industrious
habits, that he was more than sufficient for all the architectural work
of the empire. To establish this assertion, we need only refer to some
remains of his workmanship still existing north of the Grampians, some of
them, stupendous bridges built by him in one short night, with no other
visible agents than two or three workmen.

On one occasion work was getting scarce, as might have been naturally
expected, and his workmen, as they were wont, flocked to his doors,
perpetually exclaiming, "Work! work! work!" Continually annoyed by their
incessant entreaties, he called out to them in derision to go and make a
dry road from Fortrose to Arderseir, over the Moray Firth. Immediately
their cry ceased, and as Scott supposed it wholly impossible for them to
execute his order, he retired to rest, laughing most heartily at the
chimerical sort of employment he had given to his industrious workmen.
Early in the morning, however, he got up and took a walk at the break of
day down to the shore to divert himself at the fruitless labours of his
zealous workmen. But on reaching the spot, what was his astonishment to
find the formidable piece of work allotted to them only a few hours
before already nearly finished. Seeing the great damage the commercial
class of the community would sustain from the operation, he ordered the
workmen to demolish the most part of their work; leaving, however, the
point of Fortrose to show the traveller to this day the wonderful exploit
of Michael Scott's fairies.

On being thus again thrown out of employment, their former clamour was
resumed, nor could Michael Scott, with all his sagacity, devise a plan to
keep them in innocent employment. He at length discovered one. "Go,"
says he, "and manufacture me ropes that will carry me to the back of the
moon, of these materials--miller's-sudds and sea-sand." Michael Scott
here obtained rest from his active operators; for, when other work failed
them, he always despatched them to their rope manufactory. But though
these agents could never make proper ropes of those materials, their
efforts to that effect are far from being contemptible, for some of their
ropes are seen by the sea-side to this day.

We shall close our notice of Michael Scott by reciting one anecdote of
him in the latter part of his life.

In consequence of a violent quarrel which Michael Scott once had with a
person whom he conceived to have caused him some injury, he resolved, as
the highest punishment he could inflict upon him, to send his adversary
to that evil place designed only for Satan and his black companions. He
accordingly, by means of his supernatural machinations, sent the poor
unfortunate man thither; and had he been sent by any other means than
those of Michael Scott, he would no doubt have met with a warm reception.
Out of pure spite to Michael, however, when Satan learned who was his
billet-master, he would no more receive him than he would receive the
Wife of Beth; and instead of treating the unfortunate man with the
harshness characteristic of him, he showed him considerable civilities.
Introducing him to his "Ben Taigh," he directed her to show the stranger
any curiosities he might wish to see, hinting very significantly that he
had provided some accommodation for their mutual friend, Michael Scott,
the sight of which might afford him some gratification. The polite
housekeeper accordingly conducted the stranger through the principal
apartments in the house, where he saw fearful sights. But the bed of
Michael Scott!--his greatest enemy could not but feel satiated with
revenge at the sight of it. It was a place too horrid to be described,
filled promiscuously with all the awful brutes imaginable. Toads and
lions, lizards and leeches, and, amongst the rest, not the least
conspicuous, a large serpent gaping for Michael Scott, with its mouth
wide open. This last sight having satisfied the stranger's curiosity, he
was led to the outer gate, and came away. He reached his friends, and,
among other pieces of news touching his travels, he was not backward in
relating the entertainment that awaited his friend Michael Scott, as soon
as he would "stretch his foot" for the other world. But Michael did not
at all appear disconcerted at his friend's intelligence. He affirmed
that he would disappoint all his enemies in their expectations--in proof
of which he gave the following signs: "When I am just dead," says he,
"open my breast and extract my heart. Carry it to some place where the
public may see the result. You will then transfix it upon a long pole,
and if Satan will have my soul, he will come in the likeness of a black
raven and carry it off; and if my soul will be saved it will be carried
off by a white dove."

His friends faithfully obeyed his instructions. Having exhibited his
heart in the manner directed, a large black raven was observed to come
from the east with great fleetness, while a white dove came from the west
with equal velocity. The raven made a furious dash at the heart, missing
which, it was unable to curb its force, till it was considerably past it;
and the dove, reaching the spot at the same time, carried off the heart
amidst the rejoicing and ejaculations of the spectators.

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