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The Seal-catcher's Adventure






Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

There was once upon a time a man who lived upon the northern coasts, not
far from "Taigh Jan Crot Callow" (John-o'-Groat's House), and he gained
his livelihood by catching and killing fish, of all sizes and
denominations. He had a particular liking for the killing of those
wonderful beasts, half dog half fish, called "Roane," or seals, no doubt
because he got a long price for their skins, which are not less curious
than they are valuable. The truth is, that the most of these animals are
neither dogs nor cods, but downright fairies, as this narration will
show; and, indeed, it is easy for any man to convince himself of the fact
by a simple examination of his tobacco-spluichdan, for the dead skins
of those beings are never the same for four-and-twenty hours together.
Sometimes the spluichdan will erect its bristles almost
perpendicularly, while, at other times, it reclines them even down; one
time it resembles a bristly sow, at another time a sleekit cat; and
what dead skin, except itself, could perform such cantrips? Now, it
happened one day, as this notable fisher had returned from the
prosecution of his calling, that he was called upon by a man who seemed a
great stranger, and who said he had been despatched for him by a person
who wished to contract for a quantity of seal-skins, and that the fisher
must accompany him (the stranger) immediately to see the person who
wished to contract for the skins, as it was necessary that he should be
served that evening. Happy in the prospect of making a good bargain, and
never suspecting any duplicity, he instantly complied. They both mounted
a steed belonging to the stranger, and took the road with such velocity
that, although the direction of the wind was towards their backs, yet the
fleetness of their movement made it appear as if it had been in their
faces. On reaching a stupendous precipice which overhung the sea, his
guide told him they had now reached their destination.

"Where is the person you spoke of!" inquired the astonished seal-killer.

"You shall see that presently," replied the guide. With that they
immediately alighted, and, without allowing the seal-killer much time to
indulge the frightful suspicions that began to pervade his mind, the
stranger seized him with irresistible force, and plunged headlong with
him into the sea. After sinking down, down, nobody knows how far, they
at length reached a door, which, being open, led them into a range of
apartments, filled with inhabitants--not people, but seals, who could
nevertheless speak and feel like human folk; and how much was the seal-
killer surprised to find that he himself had been unconsciously
transformed into the like image. If it were not so, he would probably
have died from the want of breath. The nature of the poor fisher's
thoughts may be more easily conceived than described. Looking at the
nature of the quarters into which he had landed, all hopes of escape from
them appeared wholly chimerical, whilst the degree of comfort, and length
of life which the barren scene promised him were far from being
flattering. The "Roane," who all seemed in very low spirits, appeared to
feel for him, and endeavoured to soothe the distress which he evinced by
the amplest assurances of personal safety. Involved in sad meditation on
his evil fate, he was quickly roused from his stupor by his guide's
producing a huge gully or joctaleg, the object of which he supposed was
to put an end to all his earthly cares. Forlorn as was his situation,
however, he did not wish to be killed; and, apprehending instant
destruction, he fell down, and earnestly implored for mercy. The poor
generous animals did not mean him any harm, however much his former
conduct deserved it, and he was accordingly desired to pacify himself,
and cease his cries.

"Did you ever see that knife before?" said the stranger to the fisher.

The latter instantly recognised his own knife, which he had that day
stuck into a seal, and with which it had escaped, and acknowledged it was
formerly his own, for what would be the use of denying it?

"Well," rejoined the guide, "the apparent seal which made away with it is
my father, who has lain dangerously ill ever since, and no means can stay
his fleeting breath without your aid. I have been obliged to resort to
the artifice I have practised to bring you hither, and I trust that my
filial duty to my father will readily excuse me."

Having said this, he led into another apartment the trembling
seal-killer, who expected every minute to be punished for his own ill-
treatment of the father. There he found the identical seal with which he
had had the encounter in the morning, suffering most grievously from a
tremendous cut in its hind-quarter. The seal-killer was then desired,
with his hand, to cicatrise the wound, upon doing which it immediately
healed, and the seal arose from its bed in perfect health. Upon this the
scene changed from mourning to rejoicing--all was mirth and glee. Very
different, however, were the feelings of the unfortunate seal-catcher,
who expected no doubt to be metamorphosed into a seal for the remainder
of his life. However, his late guide accosting him, said--

"Now, sir, you are at liberty to return to your wife and family, to whom
I am about to conduct you; but it is on this express condition, to which
you must bind yourself by a solemn oath, viz. that you will never maim or
kill a seal in all your lifetime hereafter."

To this condition, hard as it was, he joyfully acceded; and the oath
being administered in all due form, he bade his new acquaintance most
heartily and sincerely a long farewell. Taking hold of his guide, they
issued from the place and swam up, till they regained the surface of the
sea, and, landing at the said stupendous pinnacle, they found their
former steed ready for a second canter. The guide breathed upon the
fisher, and they became like men. They mounted their horse, and fleet as
had been their course towards the precipice, their return from it was
doubly swift; and the honest seal-killer was laid down at his own door-
cheek, where his guide made him such a present as would have almost
reconciled him to another similar expedition, such as rendered his loss
of profession, in so far as regarded the seals, a far less intolerable
hardship than he had at first considered it.





Next: The Fairies Of Merlin's Craig

Previous: Fairy Friends



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