From, Historical Tales and Legends of the Highlands, by Alexander Mackenzie (1878):
When Eachainn had finished the last story, he left Gillespie to himself, who was now fast recovering under the kind treatment of Somhairle Dubh and his excellent wife. The host was in the gauger's room as often as he could, relating such stories as he knew; and thus enabled the patient to pass away the time more agreeably. I heard several of them, but the one about the
Each Uisg, Or Water Horse,
is the only one I can at present remember. Somhairle Dubh related it thus:—
When I was a little boy, I would sit for hours by the kitchen fire, listening to my grandfather, who used to while away the long winter evenings by telling us stories about witches and warlocks, ghosts and fairies, of which he had an inexhaustible stock. A very favourite one with me was the tale of the each uisg, or the water horse, a fearful demon in the likeness of a big, black horse, who inhabited Loch-Dorch, and woe to any one who ventured near the loch after nightfall; for the each uisg was always on the watch, and would rise out of the water, seize any intruders, and drag them to the bottom, to be devoured by him at his leisure. Sometimes he would assume other shapes, and try to lure people away to the water. One Hallowe'en night there was a party of young people gathered round the fire in the house of Duncan the weaver, burning nuts and ducking for apples, when Duncan's daughter, bonnie Catriana, proposed to go and dip her sleeve in the burn, to try if her sweetheart was true. None of her companions would go, for fear of the each uisg, and tried in vain to dissuade Catriana from her venturesome purpose, but laughing at their fears, she threw her plaid over her head, and ran off to the burn.
In a little they were startled by hearing a loud wailing shriek, and fearing some accident had happened to their favourite Catriana, rushed out of the house to look after her, but no trace could they find of the poor, wilful lassie. Her father and the lads were searching the whole night, and at the dawn of day they found her plaid at the side of the dreaded Loch-Dorch, and near it, in the clay, the mark of an unearthly hoof, which proved, beyond doubt, that she had fallen a victim to the monster water-horse.
Then there was young Allan Mac Sheumais, who, coming home in the dusk, after spending the day hunting the deer, heard a tramping sound which he soon found to proceed from the water-horse, which he could see rapidly galloping up to him. Poor Allan, though in a dreadful fright, did not lose his presence of mind, and knowing full well that ordinary shot would have no effect upon the demon, he rapidly loaded his gun with a small, crooked silver sixpence—the blessed metal from a cup of which the Saviour drank his last draught on earth—and exclaiming, "The cross be betwixt me and thee," fired with a steady aim, while the cold sweat stood on his brow.
The each uisg gave one yelling neigh, so shrill, so dismal, and unearthly, that the cattle which had lain down to rest on the heath started up in terror; the dogs of the hamlet heard it, and, ceasing their gambol, ran cowering and trembling to the fireside; the roosted cock heard it, and essayed to crow, but could only scream. Never will those who heard that terrific cry forget it; but it had scarcely ceased ere the demon steed had sprung into the midst of Loch-Dorch, and as the water closed over him, a sound, as of a sarcastic, unearthly laugh, was heard from the middle of the loch, and then all was silent:
Yet notwithstanding all this, Lachlan Buachaille, the cow-herd, who was a wild, reckless fellow, would never believe the stories he heard about this dreadful being, and laughingly suggested that Allan had only been frightened by Rorie Mor's gearran broken loose from his tether; and bragged that he had never seen the each uisg, although he had lived for some years near the Raven's Peak, close to the haunted loch.
'And would ye wish to we him?' asked old Janet, as he sat by her fireside one evening; 'would ye really wish to see that fearsome thing, Lachlan?'
'May I never taste oatcake or whisky again!' said Lachlan impetuously, 'but I wish to see the beast, if there's one in it, and, the sooner the better.'
It was a gusty, rainy autumn night. Lachlan sat alone in his bothie, busily employed, in twisting his oat straw siaman, humming to himself, and listening to the sound of the torrent as it dashed over the rooks, the pattering of the heavy rain, and the sheughs of the north-west wind, moaning as it passed along, all of which only served to increase his sense of comfort as he drew his three-legged stool nearer to the bright peat fire.
He was just thinking of retiring for the night, when he heard a gentle knocking at the door. 'Who is there at this time of night?' asked he, to which a feeble voice replied, 'I am a poor old woman who lost my way this wild night; pray let me in, or I shall perish with cold and fatigue.' Lachlan muttered anything but blessings on the old body's head for thus disturbing him, for he had a particular objection to old women. 'Bad luck to her; were it a young one, or even an old man, I should not care,' he grumbled; 'but an old hag to come sorning on me, as I was about to step into my quiet bed.' Then raising his voice, he said, 'Wait, wait, carlin, I'll be with you directly, let me wind up my siaman first; the diabhul take you, have more patience, and don't keep croaking there with your ill-omened voice;' and, unfastening the latch, he continued, 'There, enter now, and curses on you.' However, with all his roughness, Lachlan was not a bad-natured fellow, and regretted his inhospitality, when he saw stepping in a poor, wretched, little, old woman, bent double with age and misery. She wore a dun cloak drawn tightly round her figure, with a kind of red hood attached to it, marked w1th strange characters, which quite covered her head, and shaded her face. She gave no salutation, good or bad, and as she crawled rather than walked up to the fire, it emitted a vivid spark, which hissed as it fell on the dripping clothes of the old hag; a hen on the roost crowed discordantly, and a little mouse poked its head out of a hole and squeaked loudly. The old woman, noticing this, gave a queer kind of laugh, so grating in its sound that Lachlan turned quickly round and stared at her; but she met his gaze sharply, and with a peculiarity of expression which Lachlan felt, without knowing why, to be very unpleasant.
'Old grannie,' said he, 'will you take something?'
'No,' she gruffly replied.
'There's a little left of the bread and fish I had for supper,' said Lachlan.
'I always have plenty of fish,' answered she, sharply.
'Perhaps you like flesh better, then?'
'Yes,' she replied, in the same uncivil manner, while a strange, sneering smile flickered round her lips.
'Will you have anything to drink, then?' continued Lachlan.
'No,' abruptly answered the carlin.
'What! woman; nothing to eat or drink! Then I suppose you have had your supper; but it must have been with the fairies, for I warrant you could have got none elsewhere between this and Beinnard, and that is a good many miles off.'
'Perhaps,' muttered the old hag.
'Perhaps what, cailleach?' questioned Lachlan; and, after a pause, finding she gave no answer, 'Perhaps! I am afraid, you will catch cold, unless you throw off those wet clothes; and though I have no woman's gear, you can have my great-coat, and I can spare you a blanket besides.'
'I need none of your coats or blankets,' answered the crone, in the same ungracious tones as before, 'for water can never hurt me.'
'Leeze me on the hag,' muttered Lachlan, to himself, 'but she is easily maintained at any rate, and yet I would rather have a more expensive and social guest.'
The fire burned down, and Lachlan, as he occasionally glanced at the old cailleach, sitting on the opposite side of the hearth, could not help thinking that there was something altogether repulsive, if not uncanny, about her. There was a strange restlessness in her manner; her hard, dark eyes seemed to look everywhere and nowhere at the same time; while she sat rocking backwards and forwards over the ashes, and her long, crooked fingers twitched about her dun cloak in an odd and unpleasant manner. Lachlan threw another peat on the fire, and, by the reviving light, he thought the carlin's eye had acquired a wilder and sterner expression, while a grim smile played round the corners of her ugly mouth. He rubbed his eyes and looked again, she seemed to have really grown larger in stature and more erect since he first saw her. Rousing himself, he kicked off his boots, lay down on his bed, which was only a few steps from the fire, and settled himself down to repose for the night.
Lachlan, however, could not sleep, and turned from one side to another, courting in vain the drowsy god. Glancing at his unwelcome visitor, he saw, with a feeling akin to dread, the old creature sitting more and more erect; and, rubbing his eyes, as if he felt that he was under the influence of a dream, he was exceedingly startled to find that it was no delusion, but that she was really growing, as it were, rapidly larger and sterner, under his very eyes. 'Hout! carlin,' he exclaimed, raising himself on his elbow, 'you are waxing large.'
To which she replied in a hollow voice, 'Umph, umph; omhagraich, 's mi 'g eiridh ris a bhlath's' (Itomies and atomies—expanding to the warmth!)
Getting very drowsy, Lachlan again lay down to sleep, but presently was disturbed by a mouse coming out of a hole in the wall, and running squeaking into and across his bed, almost touching his chin. He again raised himself on his elbow, was struck with the increased proportions of the strange hag, and again exclaimed, 'Hout, Carlin! you are getting larger!'
She again replied, but in a louder and harsher tone than before, 'Umph, umph; omhagraich, 's mi 'g eiridh ris a bhlath's' (Itomies and atomies—expanding to the warmth!)
The fire was now nearly out, the light growing gradually less, and Lachlan became more and more sleepy. At length he began to snore gently, when all at once a spark flew out of the fire and alighted smartingly on his face. Irritated by the stinging sensation, he started, opened his eyes, and became thoroughly roused by again hearing the old hen on the cross beam above him giving a most discordant crow, though the cock uttered not a sound. He sat upright in his bed, and, in the gloom, dimly saw the strange figure extended to fearfully gigantic proportions, while her eyes no longer retained a. trace of human expression, but glared upon him with preternatural brilliance and malignity.
It was now with a feeling as if his blood were ice, as if his flesh had been turned into creeping and crawling things, and as if his hair all stood on end, that Lachlan, in a tone which fear rendered nearly inaudible, said for the third time, 'Indeed and indeed, carlin, but you have waxed very large!'
'Umph, umph; omhagraich, 's mi 'g eiridh ris a bhlath's' (Itomies and atomies—expanding to the warmth!) shrieked the demon in a voice so terrible that it actually frightened the very ravens in the neighbouring rocks, who flew croaking away. 'Umph, umph; omhagraich 's mi 'g eiridh ris a bhlath's' (Itomies and atomies—expanding to the warmth); and the fearful creature stood erect. She gave a horrible laugh, a snort, and a neigh of terrific sound, while her features underwent a still more appalling change. The dark-grey locks that had peeped from under her red hood, now waved a snaky mane. On the forehead of the monster was a star-like mark of bright scarlet, quivering like burning fire; the nostrils breathed, as it were, flame, whilst the eyes flashed on poor Lachlan like lightning.
His knees smote together with terror, he saw that his hour was come, and that the fearful creature, the idea of whose existence he had laughed to scorn, now stood before him. He felt that at last he did indeed behold the each uisg.
Quicker than thought Lachlan had found himself snatched up in the jaws of the monster. The door flew open of itself, and at one bound the steed of Ifrinn was on the top of the dizzy precipice—the Raven's Peak. At another he dashed down the torrent fall of Rowan Linn. The cold spray of the cascade falling on his face, now for the first time recalled Lachlan to consciousness; and as the demon gave one gigantic rear, previous to that spring which would have engulphed him and his victim in the unfathomable depths of Loch-Dorch, Lachlan remembered and pronounced aloud the Name of names that was engraved on the breast-plate of the High Priest of Israel. The shrill clarion of the cock was now heard, the demon lost all further power over his victim, and letting him drop with a mighty shudder and a neighing yell, instantly plunged into the loch, the waters of which, for a long time after, boiled and bubbled as if it were a gigantic huntsman's kettle of the kind in which he dresseth the haunch of the red-deer in the corrie.
Some people passing that way early in the morning found Lachlan, bruised and insensible, on a shelf of the rock, at the bottom of the Raven's Peak, at the very edge of the water. They tried to rouse him, and after a short time he opened his eyes, sat up, and said, 'Where am I?' and recollecting everything that had passed, he at once exclaimed, in broken accents, 'Blessed be His name, safe, safe!'
They carried him to Clachan-nan-cno, where he lived for many years, a wiser and a better man, but he never again heard the each uisg mentioned without devoutly expressing the Name that saved him, and no wonder that neither he, nor any one else, has ventured ever since to sleep a night in the cottage near Rowan Linn.