From Donald MacIntyre, Benbecula.
THERE was once a farmer, and he was very well off, but he had never cast an eye on the women, though he was old enough to be married. So one day he took the horse and saddle, and rode to the house of another farmer, who bad a daughter, to see if she would suit him for a wife, and when he got there the farmer asked him to come in, and gave him food and drink, and he saw the daughter, and he thought she would suit him well. So he said to the father, "I am thinking it is time for me to be married, I am going to look for a wife"--(here there was along conversation, which I forget). So the man told his wife what the other had said, and she told her daughter to make haste and set the house in order, for that such a man was come and he was looking for a wife, and she had better show how handy she was. Well never mind, the daughter was willing enough, so she began to set the house in order, and the first thing she thought of was to make up the fire, so she ran out of the house to the peat-stack. Well, while she was bent down filling her apron with peats, what should fall but a great heap from the top of the stack on her head and shoulders. So she thought to herself, "Oh, now, if I were married to that man, and about to be a mother, and all these peats fallen on my head, I should now be finished and all my posterity;" and she gave a great burst of
weeping, and sat down lamenting and bewailing. The mother was longing for her daughter to come back, so she went out and found her sitting crying in the end of the peat-stack, and she said, "What is on thee?" and the daughter said, "Oh, mother, the peat-stack fell on my head, and I thought if I were now married to that man, and about to be a mother, I was done, and all my posterity;" and the mother said, "That is true for thee, my daughter; that is true, indeed," and she sat down and cried too. Then the father was getting cold, so he too went out, wondering what kept the women, and when he found them, they told him what happened, and he said, "That would have been unfortunate indeed," and he began to roar and cry too. The wooer at last came out himself, and found them all crying in the end of the peat-stack, and when they had told him why they were lamenting, he said, "Never you mind. It may be that this may never happen at all. Go you in-doors, and cry no more." Then he took his horse and saddle, and rode home; and as he went, he thought, "What a fool I am to be stopping here all my life. Here I sit, and know no more of the world than a stock. I know how to grow corn, and that is all I know. I will go and see the world, and I will never come home till I find thee as wise as those were foolish whom I left crying in the peat-stack." And so when he got home, he set everything in order, and took the horse and went away. And he travelled the Gældom and the Galldom Highlands and strange lands for many a day, and got much knowledge. At last, one fine evening he came to a pretty plot of green ground in a glen, by a river; and on it there were three men standing. They were like each other, and dressed alike. Their dress was a long coat with short
brigis, and a broad belt about the middle, and caps on their heads. (What dress is that? That is the dress they used to wear here. I remember my father well; he always wore it.) So he put Failte on them (saluted them). The three men never answered a word. They looked at him, and then they bent their heads slowly towards each other--(here the narrator bent his own head, and spoke solemnly)-and there they staid with their heads bowed for ten minutes. Then they raised their heads, and one said, "If I had without what I have within, I would give thee a night's share;" the second said, "If I had done what is undone, I would give thee a night's share;" and the third said, "I have nothing more than usual, come with me." So the farmer followed the old man to his house, wondering what all this should mean. When they had gone in and sat down, he wondered still more, for his host never offered him a drink till he had told him all about his journey. Then he said, "Quicker is a drink than a tale;" and the old man gave a laugh, and struck the board, and a fine woman came and gave him a great cup of ale, and that was good. And he drank it, and thought to himself, "if I had that woman for my wife, she would be better than the one I left weeping in the peat-stack." The old man laughed again, and he said, "If two were willing that might be." The farmer wondered that this old man should know his thoughts, and answer them, but he held his tongue. Then the old man struck the board, and a girl came in, and he thought, "If I had that one for my wife, she would be better than the girl I left howling in the peat-stack." The old man gave another little laugh, and he said, "If three were willing that might be too," and the girl set a small pot on the fire. The farmer looked at it,
and thought, "This man must have a small company." "Ah," said the man, "it will go about."
"Now," said the farmer, "I must know what all this means. I will neither eat nor drink in this house unless you tell me. I saluted you, and you bent your heads, and never answered for ten minutes. When you did speak, I could not understand you, and now you seem to understand my thoughts." Then the old man said, "Sit down, and I will explain it all. Our father was a very wise man. We never knew how wise he was till long after he went away. We are three brothers, and on the bed of death our father left us this pretty place, and we have it amongst us, and plenty besides. Our father made us swear that we would never talk on important matters but in whispers. When thou camest, we bent our heads and whispered, as we always do, for men cannot dispute in a whisper, and we never quarrel. My first brother had the corpse of his mother-in-law within; he was unwilling to ask a stranger to a house of sorrow. She is to be buried to-morrow--If that were out which he had within, he had given thee a night's share. My second brother has a wife who will do nothing till she gets three blows of a stick. Then she is like other women, and a good wife; he did not like a stranger to see the blows given, and he knew she would do nothing without them--If he had done what was undone, he had given thee a night's share. I had nothing to do more than usual. Thou didst tell thy news, and when my wife came in, I knew thy thought. If I were dead, and thou and she were willing, you might be married. So if I, and thou, and my daughter were willing, you might be married too. Now, then, said the old man, sit and eat. The little pot will go about; it will serve for us. My company eat without." On
the morrow, the old man said, "I must go to the funeral to my brother's house, do thou stay here." But he said, "I will not stay in any man's house when he is away. I will go with you to the funeral." When came back he staid some time in the old man's house. He married the daughter, and got a good share of the property. And, now, was not that a lucky peat-stack for the farmer.
This story and No. 19 were told to me on the 6th of September 1859, in the inn at the Sound of Benbecula, by a man whose name would sound to Saxon ears like Dolicolichyarlich; a Celt would know it for Donald MacDonald MacCharles, and his surname is MacIntyre; he is a cotter, and lives in Benbecula.
Donald is known as a good teller of tales, so I walked six miles to his house and heard him tell a long version of the tale of Conal Gulbanach.
It lasted an hour, and I hope to get it written some day; I have other versions of the same incidents. There was an audience of all the people of the village who were within reach, including Mr. Torrie, who lives there near Baile nan Cailleach, which is probably so called from an old nunnery. After the story, the same man recited a fragment of a poem about Fionn and his companions. A man returning from battle with a vast number of heads on a withy, meets a lady who questions him, he recites the history of the heads, and how their owners died. The poem was given rapidly and fluently. The story was partly told in measured prose; but it was very much spun out, and would have gained by condensation.
I told the old man that he had too many leaves on his tree, which he acknowledged to be a fair criticism. He followed me to the inn afterwards, and told me other stories; the household being assembled about the door, and in the room, and taking a warm interest in the proceedings. After a couple of glasses of hot whisky and water, my friend, who was well up in years, walked off home in the dark; and I noted down the heads of his stories in English, because my education, as respects Gaelic writing, was never completed. They are given as I got them, condensed, but unaltered. Donald says he has many more of the same kind.