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p. 66



ATERKELPIE was a creature that lived in the deep pools of rivers and streams. He had commonly the form of a black horse. He appeared at night, and often and often have travellers, in passing through fords or over old bridges, heard him go splash, splash through the water. At times he approached the traveller, and by some means or other induced him to mount him. He rushed to his pool, and carried. the unsuspecting victim to his death. At times he would come night after night to a farmsteading or a sheeling, and cause great fear and much annoyance.

He might be caught, and when caught he could be made to do much heavy work. He who was to catch him had to watch for an opportunity of casting over his head a bridle, on which had been made the sign of the cross. When this was done the creature became quite quiet. He was commonly employed in carrying stones to build a mill or a farm-steading; and, when he was again set free, he took his leave, repeating the words--

"Sehr back an sehr behns
Cairrit a’ ------'s stehns."

[paragraph continues] He could be killed. A blacksmith had a small croft. He sent his wife, family, and cow to the sheeling during summer. When the blacksmith was employed in his work, waterkelpie took advantage of his absence, and paid frequent visits to the sheeling, much to the terror and annoyance of the family. At last the wife told the husband. He resolved to kill him. The wife took fright at the proposal, and tried to dissuade him, under the fear that kelpie would carry him off to his pool, but to no purpose. The smith prepared two long, sharp-pointed spits of iron and repaired to the sheeling. He put a large fire on the hearth, and laid the two spits in it. In a short time kelpie made his appearance as usual. The smith waited his opportunity; and with all his might drove the red-hot spits into the creature's sides. It fell a heap of starch, or something like it.

p. 67

A hardy Highlander was returning home on one occasion from a sacrament. He was on horseback. He had charge of a number of horses that were at pasture on the side of a lonely loch. The loch lay in his way home, and he would pass it, and see whether it was all well with the animals. He came upon them all in a huddle, and, to his astonishment, he saw in the midst of them what he thought was a grey horse that did not belong to the herd. He looked, and, in the twinkling of an eye, he saw an old man with long grey hair and a long grey beard. The horse he was riding on immediately started off, and for miles, over rocks and rough road, galloped at full speed till home was reached. 1

In many of the deep pools of the streams and rivers guardian-demons were believed to reside, and it was dangerous to bathe in them. 2

Sometimes, when a castle or mansion was being sacked, a faithful servant or two contrived to rescue the plate-chest, and to cast it into a deep pool in the nearest stream. On one occasion a diver was got to go to the bottom of such a pool to fetch up the plate of the neighbouring castle. He dived, saw the plate-chest, and was preparing to lift it, when the demon ordered him to go to the surface at once, and not to come back. At the same time the demon warned him that, if he did come back, he would forfeit his life. The diver obeyed. When he reached the bank he told what he had seen, and what he had heard. By dint of threats and promises of large reward, he dived again. In a moment or two afterwards his heart and lungs rose and floated on the surface of the water. They had been torn out by the demon of the pool.

It was the common opinion that some rivers and streams were more bloodthirsty than others, and, therefore, seized more victims than their milder companions. When an accident did happen, comparisons of course were drawn between the number that had been drowned in this and the next stream or river, and the stream or river was spoken of with a sort of awe, as if it were bloodthirsty and a living creature.


67:1 Cf. Henderson, pp. 272, 273.

67:2 Songs of the Russian People, pp. 148, 151, 152.

Next: Chapter XIII. Ghosts