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Animal Lore

Pigs. St. Monans
The inhabitants of the Nethertown entertained a most deadly hatred towards swine as ominous of evil, insomuch that not one was kept amongst them; and if their eyes haplessly lighted upon one in any other quarter, they abandoned their mission and fled from it as they would from a lion, and their occupation was suspended till the ebbing and flowing of the tide had effectually removed the spell. These same devils were kept, however, in the Uppertown, frequently affording much annoyance to their neighbours below, on account of their casual intrusions, and producing much damage by suspension of labour. At last, becoming quite exasperated, the decision of their oracle was, to go in a body and destroy, not the animals (for they dared not hurt them), but all who bred and fostered such demons, looking on them, too, with a jealous eye, on account of their traffic. Armed with boat hooks, they ascended the hill in formidable procession, and dreadful had been the consequence had they not been discovered. But the Uppertown, profiting by previous remonstrance, immediately set loose their swine, whose grunt and squeak chilled the most heroic blood of the enemy, who, on beholding them, turned and fled down the hill with tenfold speed, more exasperated than ever, secreting themselves till the flux and reflux of the tide had undone the enchantment. But this hostile state of matters could not long exist, incendiarism was threatened, and life and property were in constant jeopardy. The lord of the manor was applied to by the inhabitants of the Uppertown, who endeavoured to remonstrate with his vassals in the Nethertown on the impropriety of their conduct, by showing that the evil complained of was altogether imaginary; but their experience of the baleful influence of the long-nosed fraternity was too great to admit of any conviction to the contrary. Through their power they had suffered much in the success of their calling, besides making hairbreadth escapes from the dangers of the sea, and of late a whole boat’s crew perished in consequence of having looked on one of the ominous brutes.

Remonstance was wholly vain, so the feudal baron had no alternative left but to put forth his absolute edict decreeing the total extermination of the swine; and, according to the most authentic tradition, not an animal of the kind existed in the whole territories of St. Monance for nearly a century; and, even at the present day, though they are fed and eaten, they are extremely averse to looking on them or speaking of them by that name; but, when necessitated to mention the
animal, it is called “the beast” or “the brute,” and in case the real name of the animal should accidentally be mentioned, the spell is undone by a less tedious process, the exclamation of “cauld iron” by the person affected being perfectly sufficient to counteract the evil influence. Jack, pp. 5-7.

A clergyman, totally unacquainted with the foibles of the people (i.e. their aversion to swine) was inducted to the parochial charge, and as a new besom sweeps clean, multitudes were drawn to the church by the irresistible principle of curiosity, who were not usually in the habit of resorting thither. But unfortunately, he murdered his popularity in the very vestibule of his ministerial career. Having selected the parable of the Prodigal as the subject of lecture, these words, of course, came in his way, “And he sent him into the fields to feed swine,” at which “Cauld iron!” in a strong whisper, burst simultaneously from a hundred mouths, accompanied with a desperate stretching of necks, arms, and eyes, to discover nail-heads in the nearest vicinity, on which they might place the points of their digits. The parson paused, and stared in astonishment, being utterly unable to divine what could possibly be the cause of such a strange ebullition. At length, conjecture favoured him with a hint that such might be the manner of giving their amen; and he resumed, taking up the member of the same sentence at which he broke off, "Well, to feed swine."At this unlucky termination, the unseemly disorder was renewed with redoubled vehemence, ” Cauld iron ! “, not now in suppressed whispers, but in wide-mouthed, united clamour, rang through the nave and remote aisles of the sacred edifice, and rebounded from the vaulted roof with astounding reverberation. The parson, again suspended on the horns of a dire dilemma, assumed the appearance of a petrified statue, while he looked unutterable things. Conjecture, however, was again at his elbow, suggesting that, as the Kirk had already brooked the ravages of three centuries, something might probably be giving way, which produced the sudden confusion and outcry; but observing no apparent danger, and having burst the trammels of his panic, he proceeded a little farther, pronouncing emphatically these words, “The husks that the swine did eat.” Unable to sustain the third shock upon their feelings, with one simultaneous rush, like a sweeping torrent, they bolted from the pews and leaped from the galleries; and with rent garments, peeled noses, and shattered shins, the church, in one instant, was cleared of the whole seafaring population, and many of their descendants, up to the present day, never see more than the outside of it.

This tradition, like many others, may to a stranger savour powerfully of romance; but not more so than a circumstance which occurred in the presently existing generation. A sow in the neighbourhood happening to produce a dead litter, some wag, under the cloud of night, distributed the pigs amongst the line skulls or baskets of a boat’s crew who were particularly under the enslaving influence of the strange superstition, carefully secreting them amongst the folds or coils of the fishing-tackle, and inserting a hook into the mouth of each. No discovery of this trick was made till the boat was at sea, and the skipper began to draw his line from the basket, when the semi-devil presented its ominous grunkle full in his view. Seized with dread astonishment, he exclaimed “God preserve us—what’s that ?—cauld iron!” An awful pause succeeded, till the rest of the crew, making a similar discovery, gave vent to similar exclamations. Then laying the oars to their boat, and having shot no lines, they returned with all possible speed to the harbour; nor did they again venture to sea till the diurnal wheels of time had accomplished seven revolutions twice told. Jack, pp. 35-37.

It was customary in those days as yet, to effect the transference of pigs by putting them into close bags and carrying them to the place of destination. It unluckily happened, however, upon one occasion, that the pig, having gnawed a hole in the bag, made its escape, and took leg-bail in the direction of the Nethertown, closely pursued by its owner; and it as unluckily happened that a fisherman with a net on his shoulder was ascending the hill at the very identical instant, who, on perceiving the fell fiend of Satanic origin, abandoned his mission, disencumbered himself of his burden, and retraced his steps with tenfold velocity, whilst every hair on his head became more inflexible than the bristles which covered the bugbear. Like a hard-hunted hare, his vision was all behind his ears, observing every motion of the obnoxious animal, and indulging the terrific apprehension that [he] himself was the devoted object of its pursuit; and thus panic-struck, he ran his reckless race, till a headlong plunge from the extremity of the pier concluded the fatal catastrophe.

As the gruesome, grunting, grizzly [sic] terror pervaded the principal thoroughfare of the town before it could be intercepted and seized, many were the hapless eyes destined to behold it. And perceiving the oracle take t6 his heels, numerous was the body that followed him, not knowing whither they fled; and arriving at the Kirk-stile, their leader grasping the latch with his hand, thrice called out the name of Saint Monan, which effectually dissolved the spell; and the whole retinue, following his example, returned to their duty in a state of perfect composure. This oracular discovery had been previously made in consequence of hishaving accidentally come into contact with a salmon, the name of which being still odious, it is invariably designated a scaly brute. The wife of the oracle having likewise caught a glimpse of the ominous quadruped, and, being in a most interesting condition, was sefzed with nervous convulsions and premature labour.

St. Monans
In some instances the ettercap or spider is still favourably looked upon, and, in consequence, is permitted to spin her attenuated threads and weave her silken tapestries without molestation.

Unlucky to mention while at sea.

Skate. Crail
Some of the fishers here, I found, had been lately much alarmed by a wonderful skate they had caught, a lusus naturee. This fish having been brought on shore, lay quiet; but when they began to cut it, and prepare it for the market, it leaped from the table, bit and wounded many of them, and the pieces they had cut off leaped from place to place into the street. Amazement and terror seized every beholder, and they ran from it; but one of them who was an elder of the Kirk, venturing to return, the rest in crowds followed him. At length they collected the pieces, which, by being put together, seemed to collect new life; and having provided a decent coffin, they buried the fish, though not in the churchyard, yet as near the churchyard-wall as possible. As it was enormously large, they all supposed that it had fed upon some human body at the bottom of the sea, and had, with the flesh, imbibed some part of the nature and feelings of man.

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