The Seal-catcher's Adventure





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.





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