The selkie that deud no' forget
(View the original dialect version here)
A long time ago, Magnus Muir
was gathering limpets on the shore, on the west side of Hacksness
in Sanday, when he was puzzled to hear from some place among the
rocks a very curious sound.
Sometimes it was like a person groaning
with pain; and then it would become a loud sound like the roaring
of a dying cow.
And then again the sound would die away to a low
and most pitiful moan, as if it were a person completely exhausted
after a bout of child-bearing pain.
The sound was so extremely
pitiful that it made Magnus uneasy.
Magnus could see nothing
for a little while, except a large seal quite near the rocks,
thrusting its head above the surface of the water, and looking
with both eyes into an inlet a short distance away.
noticed that the seal was not afraid; it never dived, and never
ceased to gaze at the inlet.
Magnus crossed over a large rock
which lay between him and the place; and there, in a corner of
the inlet, he saw a mother seal lying in the throes of her calving
It was this seal that made all the bitter moaning and loud
bellowing; and the father seal lay in the sea watching his mate
in her trouble.
Magnus stood and watched her too, and he said
it was pitiful to see what the poor dumb animal suffered. And
he stood there, a little way off, until she calved two fine seal
calves, which were no sooner on the rocks than they took hold
of her teats.
Magnus thought to himself that the skins of the
calves would make him a splendid waistcoat; and he ran to where
all three were lying. The poor mother seal rolled over the edge
of the rock into the sea; but the two young seals did not have
the wit to get away.
So Magnus seized them both.
And then it was
wonderful to see the behaviour of the mother seal. She was so
anxious about her young. She rolled round and round in the sea,
and beat herself with her paws, like a thing demented. And then
she would climb with her forepaws on the rock, and gaze into Magnus'
face, with a look so exceedingly pitiful, that to see her would
have melted a heart of stone. The father seal was acting in the
same way, except that he would not come so close to Magnus.
Magnus turned to go away with
the two young seals in his arms - they were sucking his jacket as
if they were at their mother's breast - when he heard the seal mother
give a groan so dismal and hollow, and so like a human being, that
it went straight to his heart, and quite overcame him.
around, and saw the mother seal lying on her side with her head
on the rock, and he saw - as certainly as he ever saw anything on
earth - tears brimming from both her eyes.
To see nature working
so powerfully in the poor dumb creature was more than he could stand.
So he bent down and placed both the young seals on the rock.
The mother took them in her
paws and clasped them to her bosom, just as if she had been a human
mother with a child. And she looked right into Magnus' face; oh,
what a glad look she gave him! It did Magnus good to see her. For
that day the seal did everything but speak.
Magnus was then a young man;
and some time afterward he married.
And a long time after he was
married, when his children had all grown up, he went to stay on
the west side of Eday.
One fine evening, Magnus went to fish for
coal-fish off an outlying rock. It was an isolated rock that was
covered at high tide; you could only walk to it dry-shod at low
The fish wouldn't take for a time; but when the flood tide
began, the fishing became so good that Magnus stood and pulled in
the fish until he had quite filled his creel.
With the fish taking so well,
he forgot in his eagerness for them, the path he had to take. And
when he was ready to go home, he was horrified to discover that
the channel between him and the land was covered by the sea, and
the water was so deep that it would have gone over his head.
shouted again and again, but he was far away from any house, and
no one heard his cries.
The water kept rising, it came above his
knees, then over his hips, then up to his armpits; and many a sore
sigh he gave, as the water came ever higher and higher to his chin.
He shouted until he was hoarse, and could shout no more. And then
he gave up all hope of life, and saw nothing before him but dismal
But just as the sea was coming round his neck, and coming
now and then in little ripples into his mouth; just as he found
the sea beginning to lift him from the rock- something seized him
by the collar of his jacket, and swung him off his feet.
He had no idea what it was,
or where he was, until he found his feet on the bottom, where he
could wade in safety to the shore. And when the creature that had
hold of him let him go, he waded to the dry land.
He looked towards
the place from whence he had come, and saw a large seal swimming
to the rock, where she dived, took up his creel of fish, and swam
with it to the land. He waded out and took the creel full of fish
out of her mouth; and he said with all his heart, 'God bless the
seal that does not forget'.
And she looked at him as if she would
have said, could she have spoken, 'One good turn deserves another.'
She was the same seal that
he had seen calving on Hacksness 40 years before.
He said he would
have known her motherly look among a thousand. But she had grown
very large and old. So that was the seal that did not forget.
I wish everyone would remember
what is good, as well as that seal.