The Goodman o' Wastness
Goodman o' Wastness was a handsome, well-to-do young fellow.
Strong, well-liked and with a profitable
farm, it will come as no surprise to learn that many of the unmarried
local girls had their sights on him.
However, despite their ample attentions
the Goodman was a man who was simply not interested in marriage.
Their advances spurned, the local
girls soon began to treat the Goodman with contempt.
him as "an old, young man" and "old before his time"
in their eyes he was committing the unpardonable sin of celibacy.
The Goodman, however, paid these
malicious creatures little heed and as is more often the case, the
gossips soon turned their attentions elsewhere. When questioned
by his friends as to the reason he would not take himself a wife,
the Goodman would smile and simply explain:
"Weemin ir lik minny
ither tings in dis weary wurld, only sent fur a trial tae man an'
I hae trials aplenty withoot bein' tried be a wife. If yin owld
fool Adam hiddno been bewitched be his wife, he might still be in
the Gerdeen o' Eden the day."
Women are like many other things
in this weary world, only sent as a trial to men and I have enough
trials without being tried by a wife. If that old fool Adam had
not been bewitched by his wife, he might still be in the Garden
of Eden to this day
One old woman who heard this oft-repeated
"Tak thoo heed theesel,
fur thou'll mibbe be yursel' bewitched wan day."
what you say, you will maybe be bewitched yourself one day
"Aye," replied the Goodman,
laughing. "That'll be when thou waaks dry-shod fae the Alters
o' Seenie tae da Boar o' Papey"
That will be when you walk
from the Alters o' Seenie to the Boar o' Papa [Orkney placenames]
without wetting your feet
So it came to pass that one fine
day the Goodman was down on the ebb when he saw, a short distance
away, a number of selkie-folk lying out on a flat rock.
Some of these selkie-folk were sunning
themselves in the afternoon warmth while others jumped and played
in the clear water. All were naked with unblemished skins as white
as snow. Their enchanted seal-skins lay strewn carelessly on the
sand and rocks around them.
The Goodman crept closer to their
As he neared the place the selkie-folk
played, the Goodman leapt to his feet and ran towards them for all
he was worth. With a shriek the selkie-folk snatched up their seal
skins and quickly retreated to the safety of the sea. However, swift
as they were, the Goodman was quicker and he managed to seize a
skin belonging to one beautiful seal-maiden.
In the hasty rush to safety this
poor creature had forgotten to retrieve her skin.
The selkie-folk swam out a little
distance and turned to gaze mournfully at the Goodman. He stared
back and realised that all, save one, had taken the shape of seals.
Grinning, he put the captured seal-skin under his arm. Whistling
a merry tune he set out for home.
No sooner had he left the ebb than
he heard the most sorrowful wailing and weeping coming from behind
him. Turning, he saw a fair woman following him. She was a most
pitiful sight. Sobbing and howling in grief, she held her arms out
and pled to have her skin returned. Huge tears ran from her large
dark eyes and trickled down her ivory cheeks.
Falling to her knees, she cried:
"O bonnie man! If thur's
inny mercy in thee human breest, gae me back me ain selkie skin!
I cinno live in da sea withoot it. I cinno bide amung me ain folk
waythoot me selkie-skin."
Oh handsome man, if there is any
mercy in your human breast give me back my seal-skin. I can not
live in the sea without it. I cannot live among my own people without
The Goodman was not a soft-hearted
man but he could not help but pity the poor creature. Pity, however,
was not the only emotion he felt. With the pity came the softer
and sweeter passion of love.
The icy heart that had yet to love
a mortal woman was soon melted by this seal-maiden's beauty.
Eventually the Goodman managed to
wring from the Selkie Wife a reluctant consent to remain with him
as his wife. She had little choice in the matter for as you all
Orcadian know, she could not return to her kin in the sea without
So the sea-maiden went with the Goodman
and stayed with him for many a day. She turned out to be a thrifty,
frugal and kindly wife and although she was a creature of the sea
the Goodman had a happy life with her.
The Selkie Wife bore the Goodman
Four boys and three girls came from
their union and it was said that there were no children as beautiful
as them in all the isles. And all the while the sea-wife, and her
human husband, seemed content and merry.
But all was not as it seemed - there
was a weight in the Selkie Wife's heart. Many was the time that
she was seen to gaze longingly out to the sea. The sea that was
her true home.
So to all the islanders and to the
Goodman himself all seemed well with his family. But as is always
the case in these tales, the bliss was not to last.
One fine day, the Goodman and his
four sons were out fishing in their boat. With the menfolk out of
the house, the Selkie Wife sent three of the girls down to the ebb
to gather limpets and whelks for their tea. The youngest girl had
to remain at home because she had hurt her foot climbing on the
sharp rocks by the shore. As usual, as soon as the house emptied,
the selkie wife set to looking for her long-lost seal-skin.
She searched high and she searched
low. She searched "but" and she searched "ben".
She searched out and she searched in but to no avail.
She could not find the skin.
The time passed and the sun swung
to the west, lengthening the shadows. The peedie lass, seated in
a straw-backed chair with her sore feet on the creepie, watched
her mother carry out the frantic hunt.
"Mam, whit ir thoo luckin' fur?"
Mother, what are you looking for?
"O' bairn, dinna tell, bit ah'm
luckin' fur a bonnie skin tae mak a rivlin dat wid sort thee sore
fit." replied the Selkie Wife.
Oh child, don't tell but I'm looking
for a pretty skin to make a shoe that would cure your sore feet
"Bit Mam, " said the bairn.
"I ken fine whar hid is. Wan day when ye war oot and me Fither
thowt I wis sleepin' i' the bed, he teen a bonnie skin doon, gloured
at hid for cheust a peedie meenit, then foldit hid an' laid hid
up under dae aisins abeun da bed."
But Mother, I know where it is.
One day when you were out and my Father thought I was asleep in
bed, he took a pretty skin down, glowered at it for a short time,
then folded it and put it away in the aisins over the bed
When the Selkie Wife heard this she
clapped for joy and rushed to the place where her long-concealed
"Fare thee weel, peedie buddo,"
she said to her child as she ran from the house.
Rushing to the shore she threw on
her skin and with a wild cry of joy plunged into the sea. Shifting
again into her selkie form she swam out through the waves where
a selkie man was waiting for her and greeted her with delight.
All the while, the Goodman was rowing
home and happened to see these two selkies from his little boat.
His wife uncovered her beautiful face and cried out to him.
"Fare thee weel. Goodman o'
Wastness. Farewell tae thee. I liked thee weel enough fur thoo war
geud tae me bit I love better me man o' the sea."
Farewell Goodman of Wastness.
Farewell to you. I liked you because you were good
to me but I love my husband from the sea more.
That was the last the Goodman ever
saw of his sea-wife.
Often though, in the twilight of
his years, he could be seen wandering on the empty sea-shore, hoping
once again to meet his lost love.
But never again did he look upon
her fair face.