In Sutherland the fairy creed is much the same as elsewhere in Scotland, but there is a generic term for supernatural beings, which is rarely used in West Country Gaelic. Here are a few of a large and very good collection of Sutherland stories.
1. Duncan, surnamed More, a respectable farmer in Badenoch, states as follows:--"A matter of thirty summers ago, when I was cutting peats on the hill, my old mother that was, was keeping the house. It was
sowens she had in her hand for our supper, when a little woman walked in and begged a lippie of meal of her. My mother, not knowing her face, said, 'And where do you come from?' 'I come from my own place and am short of meal.' My mother, who had plenty by her in the house, spoke her civil, and bound her meal on her back, following her a few steps from the door. She noticed that a little kiln in the hill side was smoking. The wife saw this too, and said, 'Take back your meal, we shall soon have meal of our own.' My mother pressed ours on her; but she left the pock lying; and when she came to the running burn went out of sight; and my mother just judged it was a fairy."
2. Once upon a time there was a tailor and his wife, who owned a small croft or farm, and were well to do in the world; but had only one son, a child, that was more pain than pleasure to them, for it cried incessantly and was so cross that nothing could be done with it. One day the tailor and his helpmeet meant to go to a place some miles distant and after giving the child its breakfast, they put it to bed in the kitchen, and bid their farm servant look to it from time to time; desiring him also to thrash out a small quantity of straw in the barn before their return. The lad was late of setting to work, but recollected before going off to the barn, that he must see if the child wanted for anything. "What are you going to do now?" said the bairn sharply to Donald, as he opened the kitchen door. "Thrash out a pickle of straw for your father; lie still and do not girr, like a good bairn." But the bairn got out of bed, and insisted then and there in being allowed to accompany the servant. "Go east, Donald," said the little master, authoritatively, "Go east, and when ye come to the big brae, chap ye (anglicè rap) three times; and when they
come, say ye are seeking Johnnie's flail." The astonished Donald did as he was bid, and by rapping three times, called up a fairy ("little man") who, giving him the flail, sent him off with it in an unenviable state of terror.
Johnny set to with a will, and in an hour's time, he and Donald had thrashed the whole of the straw in the barn; he then sent Donald back to the brae, where the flail was restored with the same ceremony, and went quietly back to bed. At dusk the parents returned; and the admiration of the tailor at the quantity and quality of the work done, was so great, that he questioned Donald as to which of the neighbours had helped him to thrash out so much straw. Donald, trembling, confessed the truth; and it became painfully evident to the tailor and his wife that the child was none of theirs. They agreed to dislodge it as soon as possible, and chose as the best and quickest way of doing so, to put it into a creel (open basket), and set it on the fire. No sooner said than done; but no sooner had the child felt the fire, than starting from the creel, it vanished up the chimney. A low crying noise at the door attracted their attention; they opened, and a bonny little bairn (which the mother recognised by its frock to be her own), stood shivering outside. It was welcomed with rapture from its sojourn among "the little people," and grew up to be a douse and wise-like lad, says my informant.
3. The burn of Invernauld, and the hill of Durchâ, on the estate of Rosehall, are still believed to be haunted by the fairies, who once chased a man into the sea, and destroyed a new mill, because the earth for the embankment of the mill-dam had been dug from the side of their hill. The hill of Durchâ is also the locality assigned for the following tale:--
4. A man, whose wife had just been delivered of her first-born, set off with a friend to the town of Lairg, to have the child's birth entered in the session-books, and to buy a cask of whisky for the christening fête. As they returned, weary with a day's walk, or as it is called in the Highlands "travelling," they sat down to rest at the foot of this hill, near a large hole, from which they were, ere long, astonished to hear a sound of piping and dancing. The father feeling very curious, entered the cavern, went a few steps in and disappeared. The story of his fate sounded less improbable then than it would now; but his companion was severely animadverted on; and when a week elapsed, and the baptism was over, and still no signs of the lost one's return, he was accused of having murdered his friend. He denied it, and again and again repeated the tale of his friend's disappearance down the cavern's mouth. He begged a year and a day's law to vindicate himself, if possible; and used to repair at dusk to the fatal spot, and call and pray. The term allowed him had but one more day to run, and as usual, he sat in the gloaming by the cavern, when, what seemed his friend's shadow, passed within it. He went down, heard reel tunes and pipes, and suddenly descried the missing man tripping merrily him, and pulled him out. "Bless me! why could you not let me finish my reel, Sandy?" "Bless me!" rejoined Sandy, have you not had enough of reeling this last twelvemonth?" "Last twelvemonth!" cried the other, in amazement; nor would he believe the truth concerning himself till he found his wife sitting by the door with a yearling child in her arms, so quickly does time pass in the company of THE "good people."
5. Of the Drocht na Vougha or Fuoah--the bridge of
the fairies or kelpies, now called the Gissen Briggs, a bar across the mouth of the Dornoch Firth--it is said that the Voughas being tired of crossing the estuary in cockle shells, resolved to build a bridge across its mouth. It was a work of great magnificence, the piers and posts, and all the piles being headed and mounted with pure gold. Unfortunately, a passer by lifted up his hands and blessed the workmen and the work; the former vanished; the latter sank beneath the green waves, where the sand accumulating, formed the dangerous quicksands which are there to this day.
6. The Highlanders distinguish between the water and land or dressed fairies. I have given one story which shows that they are supposed to be "spirits in prison;" it is not the only legend of the kind. In a Ross-shire narrative, a beautiful green lady is represented as appearing to an old man reading the Bible, and seeking to know, if for such as her, Holy Scripture held out any hope of salvation. The old man spoke kindly to her; but said, that in these pages there was no mention of salvation for any but the sinful sons of Adam. She flung her arms over her head, screamed, and plunged into the sea. They will not steal a baptized child; and "Bless you!" said to an unbaptized one, is a charm with the fairies. He caught him by the sleeve, stopped against them. A woman out shearing had laid her baby down under a hedge, and went back from time to time to look at it. She was going once to give it suck, when it began to yell and cry in such a frightful way that she was quite alarmed. "Lay it down and leave it, as you value your child," said a man reaping near her; half an hour later she came back, and finding the child apparently in its right mind again, she gave it the breast. The man smiled, told her that he had seen her own infant carried off by the "good people," and a fairy
changeling left in its place. When the "folk" saw that their screaming little imp was not noticed, and got nothing, they thought it best to take it back and replace the little boy.
As fairies are represented as having always food, and riches, and power, and merriment at command, it cannot be temporal advantages that they seek for their children, probably some spiritual ones are hoped for by adoption or marriage with human beings, as in the romantic legend of Undine; and that this tempts them to foist their evil disposed little ones on us. They never maltreat those whom they carry away.