From Alexander MacNeill, tenant and fisherman, then at Tangual, Barra.
THERE was a poor widow in Barra, and she had a babe of a son, and Iain was his name. She would be going to the strand to gather shell-fish to feed herself and her babe. When she was on the strand on a day, what did she see but a vessel on the west of Barra. Three of those who were on board put out a boat, and they were not long coming on shore.
She went to the shore and she emptied out the shell-fish beside her. The master of the vessel put a question to her, "What thing was that?" She said that it was strand shell-fish the food that she had. "What little fair lad is this?"--"A son of mine."--"Give him to me and I will give thee gold and silver, and he will get schooling and teaching, and he will be better off than to be herewith thee."--"I had rather suffer death than give the child away."--"Thou art silly. The child and thyself will be well off if thou lettest him (go) with me." With the love of the money she said that she would give him the child. "Come hither, lads, go on board; here's for you the key. Open a press in the cabin, and you will bring me hither a box that you will find in it." They went away, they did that, and they came. He caught the box, he opened
it, he emptied it with a gush (or into her skirt), and he did not count it all, and he took the child with him.
She staid as she was, and when she saw the child going on board she would have given all she ever saw that she had him. He sailed away, and he went to England. He gave schooling and teaching to the boy till he was eighteen years on the vessel. It was Iain Albanach the boy was called at first, he gave him the name of Iain Mac a Maighstir (John, master's son), because he himself was master of the vessel. The "owner" of the vessel had seven ships on sea, and seven shops 1 on shore--each one going to her own shop with her cargo. It happened to the seven ships to be at home together. The owner took with him the seven skippers to the house, "I am growing heavy and aged," said he; "you are there seven masters; I had none altogether that I would rather than thou. I am without a man of clan though I am married; I know not with whom I will leave my goods, and I have a great share; there was none I would rather give it to than thee, but that thou art without clan as I am myself." "I," said the skipper, "have a son eighteen years of age in the ship, who has never been let out of her at all."--"Is not that wonderful for me, and that I did not hear of it!"--"Many a thing might the like of me have, and not tell it to you."--"Go and bring him down hither to me that I may see him." He went and he brought him down, and he set him in order. "Is this thy son?"--"It is," said the skipper. "Whether wouldst thou rather stay with me, or go with thy father on the sea as thou wert before, and that I should make thee an heir for ever Well then, it was ever at sea that I
was raised, and I never got much on shore from my youth; so at sea I would rather be; but as you are determined to keep me, let me stay with yourself."
"I have seven shops on shore, and thou must take thy hand in the seven shops. There are clerks at every one of the shops," said he. "No one of them will hold bad opinion of himself that he is not as good as I. If you insist that I take them, I will take the seventh one of them."
He took the seventh one of the shops, and the first day of his going in he sent word through the town, the thing that was before a pound would be at fifteen shillings; so that everything in the shop was down, and the shop was empty before the ships came. He (the owner) went in, he counted his money, and he said that the shop was empty. "It is not wonderful though it were, when the thing that was before a pound is let down to fifteen shillings."--"And, My OIDE, are you taking that ill? Do you not see that I would put out all in the shop seven times before they could put it out once."--"With that thou must take the rest in hand, and let them out so." Then he took the rest in hand, and he was a master above the other clerks. When the ships came the shops altogether were empty. Then his master said, "Whether wouldst thou rather be master over the shops or go with one of the seven ships? Thou wilt get thy choice of the seven ships."--"It is at sea I was ever raised and I will take a ship." He got a ship. "Come, send hither here to me the seven skippers." The seven skippers came. "Now," said he to the six skippers that were going with Iain, "Iain is going with you, you will set three ships before and three behind, and he will be in the middle, and unless you bring him whole
hither to me, there is but to seize you and hang you."--"Well, then, my adopted father," said Iain, "that is not right. The ships are going together, a storm may come and drive us from each other; let each do as best he may." The ships went, they sailed, and it was a cargo of coal that Iain put in his own. There came on them a great day of storm. They were driven from each other. Where did Iain sail but to Turkey. He took anchorage in Turkey at early day, and he thought to go on shore to take a walk. He was going before him walking; he saw two out of their shirts working, and as though they had two iron flails. What had they but a man's corpse! "What are you doing to the corpse?"--"It was a Christian; we had eight marks against him, and since he did not pay us while he was alive, we will take it out of his corpse with the flails."--"Well then, leave him with me and I will pay you the eight marks." He seized him, he took him from them, he paid them, and he put mould and earth on him. It was soon for him to return till he should see more of the land of the Turk. He went on a bit and what should he see there but a great crowd of men together. He took over where they were. What did he see but a gaping red fire of a great hot fire, and a woman stripped between the fire and them. "What," said he, "are you doing here?" "There are," said they, "two Christian women that the great Turk got; they were caught on the ocean; he has had them from the end of eight years. This one was promising him that she would marry him every year: when the time came to marry him she would not marry him a bit. He ordered herself and the woman that was with her to be burnt. One of them was burnt, and this one is as yet unburnt."
"I will give you a good lot of silver and gold if you will leave her with me, and you may say to him that you burnt her." They looked at each other. They said that he would get that. He went and he took her with him on board, and he clothed her in cloth and linen.
"Now," said she, "thou hast saved my life for me; thou must take care of thyself in this place. Thou shalt go up now to yonder change-house. The man of the inn will put a question to thee what cargo thou hast. Say thou a cargo of coal. He will say that would be well worth selling in the place where thou art. Say thou it is for selling it that thou art come; what offer will he make for it. He will say, to-morrow at six o'clock there would be a waggon of gold going down, and a waggon of coal coming up, so that the ship might be kept in the same trim, 1 till six o'clock on the next night. Say thou that thou wilt take that; but unless thou art watchful they will come in the night when every man is asleep, with muskets and pistols; they will set the ship on the ground; they will kill every man, and they will take the gold with them."
He went to the man of the inn, and agreed with him as she had taught him. They began on the morrow, in the morning, to put down the gold, and take up the coal. The skipper had a man standing looking out that the vessel should be in trim. When the coal was out, and the ship was as heavy with the gold as she was with the coal; and when he was on shore, she got an order for the sailors to take her advice till he should come. "Put up," said she, "the sails, and draw the
anchors. Put a rope on shore." They did that. He came on board; the ship sailed away through the night; they heard a shot, but they were out, and they never caught them more.
They sailed till they reached England. Three ships had returned, and the three skippers were in prison till Iain should come back. Iain went up and he reached his adopted father. The gold was taken on shore, and the old man had two thirds and Iain a third. He got chambers for the woman, where she should not be troubled.
"Art thou thinking that thou wilt go yet?" said the woman to him. "I am thinking that I have enough of the world with that same."--"Thou wentest before for thine own will, if thou wouldst be so good as to go now with my will."--"I will do that."--"Come to that shop without; take from it a coat, and a brigis, and a waistcoat; try if thou canst got a cargo of herring and thou shalt go with it to Spain. When the cargo is in, come where I am before thou goest."
When he got the cargo on board he went where she was. "Hast thou got the cargo on board?"--"I have got it."
"There is a dress here, and the first Sunday after thou hast reached the Spain thou wilt put it on, and thou wilt go to the church with it. Here is a whistle, and a ring, and a book. Let there be a horse and a servant with thee. Thou shalt put the ring on thy finger; let the book be in thine hand; thou wilt see in the church three seats, two twisted chairs of gold, and a chair of silver. Thou shalt take hold of the book and be reading it, and the first man that goes out of the church be thou out. Wait not for man alive, unless the King or the Queen meet thee."
He sailed till he reached the Spain; he took anchorage, and he went up to the change-house. He asked for a dinner to be set in order. The dinner was set on the board. They went about to seek him. A trencher was set on the board, and a cover on it, and the housewife said to him--"There is meat and drink enough on the board before you, take enough, but do not lift the cover that is on the top of the trencher." She drew the door with her. He began at his dinner. He thought to himself, though it were its fill of gold that were in the trencher, or a fill of "daoimean," 1 nothing ever went on board that he might not pay. He lifted the cover of the trencher, and what was on the trencher but a couple of herring. "If this be the thing she was hiding from me she need not," and he ate one herring and the one side of the other. 'When the housewife saw that the herring was eaten,--"Mo chreach mhor! my great ruin" said she; "how it has fallen out! Was I never a day that I could not keep the people of the realm till to-day?"--"What has befallen thee?"--"It is, that I never was a day that I might not put a herring before them till to-day."--"What wouldst thou give for a barrel of herrings?"--"Twenty Saxon pounds."--"What wouldst thou give for a ship load?"--"That is a thing that I could not buy."--"Well, then, I will give thee two hundred herring for the two herring, and I wish the ship were away and the herrings sold."
On the first Sunday he got a horse with a bridle and saddle, 2 and a gillie. He went to the church; he saw the three chairs. The queen sat on the right hand of the king, and he himself sat on the left; he took the book out of his pocket, and he began reading.
[paragraph continues] It was not on the sermon that the king's looks were, nor the queen's, but raining tears. When the sermon skailed he went out. There were three nobles after him, shouting that the king had a matter for him. He would not return. He betook himself to the change-house that night. He staid as he was till the next Sunday, and he went to sermon; he would not stay for any one, and he returned to the change-house. The third Sunday he went to the church. In the middle of the sermon the king and queen came out; they stood at each side of the (bridle) rein. When the king saw him coming out he let go the rein; he took his hat off to the ground, and he made manners at him. "By your leave; you needn't make such manners at me. It is I that should make them to yourself."--"If it were your will that you should go with me to the palace to take dinner."--"Ud! Ud! it is a man below you with whom I would go to dinner." They reached the palace. Food was set in the place of eating, drink in the place of drinking, music in the place of hearing. They were plying the feast and the company with joy and gladness, 1 because they had hopes that they would get news of their daughter. "Oh, skipper of the ship," said the queen, hide not from me a thing that I am going to ask thee." Any thing that I have that I can tell I will not hide it from you." "And hide not from me that a woman's hand set that dress about your back, your coat, your brigis, and your waistcoat, and gave you the ring about your finger, and the book that was in your hand,, and the whistle that you were playing." "I will not hide it.
[paragraph continues] With a woman's right hand every whit of them was reached to me." "And where didst thou find her? Tis a daughter of mine that is there." "I know not to whom she is daughter. I found her in Turkey about to be burned in a great gaping fire." "Sawest thou a woman along with her?" "I did not see her; she was burned before I arrived. I bought her with gold and silver. I took her with me, and I have got her in a chamber in England." "The king had a great general," said the queen, "and what should he do but fall in love with her. Her father was asking her to marry him, and she would not marry him. She went away herself and the daughter of her father's brother with a vessel, to try if he would forget her. They went over to Turkey; the Turk caught them, and we had not hope to see her alive for ever."
If it be your pleasure, and that you yourself are willing, I will set a ship with you to seek her; you will get herself to marry, half the realm so long as the king lives, and the whole realm when he is dead." "I scorn to do that; but send a ship and a skipper away, and I will take her home; and if that be her own will, perhaps I will not be against it."
A ship was made ready; what should the general do but pay a lad to have him taken on board unknown to the skipper; he got himself hidden in a barrel. They sailed far; short time they were in reaching England. They took her on board, and they sailed back for Spain. In the midst of the sea, on a fine day, he and she came up on deck, and what should he see but an island beyond him; it was pretty calm at the time. "Lads, take me to the island for a while to hunt, till there comes on us the likeness of a breeze." "We will." They set him on shore on the island; when
they left him on the island the boat returned. When the general saw that he was on the island, he promised more wages to the skipper and to the crew, for that they should leave him there; and they left Iain on the island.
When she perceived that they had left Iain on the island, she went mad, and they were forced to bind her. They sailed to Spain. They sent word to the king that his daughter had grown silly, as it seemed, for the loss of the form of her husband and lover. The king betook himself to sorrow, to black melancholy, and to woe, and to heart-breaking, because of what had arisen; and (because) he had but her of son or daughter.
Iain was in the island, hair and beard grown over him; the hair of his head down between his two shoulders, his shoes worn to pulp, without a thread of clothes on that was not gone to rags; without a bite of flesh on him, his bones but sticking together.
On a night of nights, what should he hear but the rowing of a boat coming to the island. "Art thou there, Iain Albanich?" said the one in the boat. Though he was, he answered not. He would rather find death at the side of a hill than be killed.
"I know that thou hearest me, and answer; it is just as well for thee to answer me, as that I should go up and take thee down by force." He went, and he took himself down. "Art thou willing to go out of the island?" "Well, then, I am; it is I that am that, if I could get myself taken out of it." "What wouldst thou give to a man that would take thee out of this?" "There was a time when I might give something to a man that would take me out of this; but to day I have not a thing." "Wouldst thou give
one half of thy wife to a man that would take thee out of this?" "I have not that." "I do not say if thou hadst, that thou wouldst give her away." "I would give her." "Wouldst thou give half thy children to a man that would take thee out of this." "I would give them." "Down hither; sit in the stern of the boat." He sat in the stern of the boat. "Whether wouldst thou rather go to England or Spain?" "To Spain." He went with him, and before the day came he was in Spain.
He went up to the change-house; the housewife knew him in a moment. "Is this Iain!" said she. "It is the sheath of all that there was of him that is here."
"Poorly has it befallen thee!" said she. She went and she sent a message to a barber's booth, and he was cleansed; and word to a tailor's booth, and clothes were got for him; she sent word to a shoemaker's booth, and shoes were got for him. On the morrow when he was properly cleansed and arrayed, he went to the palace of the king, and he played the whistle. When the king's daughter heard the whistle she gave a spring, and she broke the third part of the cord that bound her. They asked her to keep still, and they tied more cords on her. On the morrow he gave a blast on the whistle, and she broke two parts of all that were on her. On the third day when she heard his whistle, she broke three quarters; on the fourth day she broke what was on her altogether. She rose and she went out to meet him, and there never was a woman more sane than she. Word was sent up to the king of Spain, that there never was a girl more sane than she; and that the bodily presence of her husband and lover had come to her.
A "coach " was sent to fetch Iain; the king and his great gentles were with him; he was taken up on the deadly points. 1 Music was raised, and lament laid down; meat was set in the place of eating, drink in the place of drinking, music in the place for hearing; a cheery, hearty, jolly wedding was made. Iain got one half of the realm; after the king's death he got it altogether. The general was seized; he was torn amongst horses; he was burned amongst fires; and the ashes were let (fly) with the wind.
After the death of the king and queen, Iain was king over Spain. Three sons were born to him. On a night he heard a knocking in the door. "The asker is come," said he. Who was there but the very man that took him out of the island. "Art thou for keeping thy promise?" said the one who came, "I am," said Iain. "Thine own be thy realm, and thy children and my blessing! Dost thou remember when thou didst pay eight merks for the corpse of a man in Turkey; that was my body; health be thine; thou wilt see me no more.
Got this tale from Alexander MacNeill, tenant and fisherman, then at Tangval, Barra. Heard his father, Roderick MacNeill, often recite it. Roderick MacNeill died about twenty years ago, about the age of eighty years. Heard it from many other old men in youth, and says it was pretty common then.
The landscape, and the ways of the poor of Barra, are painted from nature: the flat strand, the shell-fish, the ship in the offing, the boat at the edge of the sea. Then comes the popular romance, in which the poor man is to become a prince. The life of shops and ships, dimly seen, but evident enough. Turkey and Spain fairly lost in a distant haze. The commercial principle laid down, that small profits make quick returns; and that men should buy in the cheapest, and sell in the dearest market; and all this woven with a love story, and mixed up with an old tale which Grimm found in Germany, and which Hans Andersen has made the foundation of one of his best tales. Alas! why did not the King of Spain send for the Barra widow to make it complete.
122:1 Buthanan, Booths.
127:2 All riders have not these luxuries.
128:1 This passage is one common to many reciters, and spoiled by translation.
132:1 This I take to be a phrase wrongly used; an old phrase, meaning that the personage was raised on spears. The passage is common.