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The Queen Who Sought a Drink From A Certain Well
(A Scottish Tale)

From Mrs. MacTavish, Port Ellen, Islay.

THERE was before now, a queen who was sick, and she had three daughters. Said she to the one who was eldest, "Go to the well of true water, and bring to me a drink to heal me."

The daughter went, and she reached the well. A losgann (frog or toad) came up to ask her if she would wed him, if she should get a drink for her mother. "I will not wed thee, hideous creature! on any account," said she. "Well then," said he, "thou shalt not get the water."

She went away home, and her mother sent away her sister that was nearest to her, to seek a drink of the water. She reached the well, and the toad came up and asked her if she would marry him if she should get the water. "I won't marry thee, hideous creature!" said she. "Thou shalt not get the water then," said he.

She went home, and her sister that was youngest went to seek the water. When she reached the well the toad came up as he used, and asked her if she would marry him if she should get the water. "If I have no other way to get healing for my mother, I will marry thee," said she; and she got the water, and she healed her mother.

They had betaken themselves to rest in the night when the toad came to the door saying:

A chaomhag, a chaomhag,
An cuimhneach leat
An gealladh beag
A thug thu aig
An tobar dhomh?
A ghaoil, a ghaoil!

(Gentle one, gentle one,
Rememberest thou
The little pledge
Thou gavest me
Beside the well?
My love, my love!)

When he was ceaselessly saying this, the girl rose and took him in, and put him behind the door, and she went to bed; but she was not long laid down, when he began again saying, everlastingly:

A hàovaig, a hàovaig,
An cuineach leat
An geallug beag
A hoog oo aig
An tobar gaw,
A géule, a géule.

Then she got up and she put him under a noggin. That kept him quiet a while. But she was not long laid down when he began again, saying:

A hàovaig, a hàovaig,
An cuineach leat
An geallug beag
A hoog oo aig
An tobar gaw,
A géule, a géule.

She rose again, and she made him a little bed at the fireside. But he was not pleased, and he began saying, "A chaoimheag, a chaoimheag, an cuimhneach leat an gealladh beag a thug thu aig an tobar dhomh, a ghaoil, a ghaoil." Then she got up and made him a bed beside her own bed. But he was without ceasing, saying, "A chaoimheag, a chaoimheag, an cuimhneach leat an gealladh beag a thug thu aig an tobar dhomh, a ghaoil, a ghaoil." But she took no notice of his complaining, till he said to her, "There is an old rusted glave behind thy bed, with which thou hadst better take off my head than be holding me longer in torture."

She took the glave and cut the head off him. When the steel touched him, he grew a handsome youth; and he gave many thanks to the young wife, who had been the means of putting off him the spells under which he had endured for a long time. Then he got his kingdom, for he was a king; and he married the princess, and they were long alive and merry together.

Campbell's Notes

The lady who has been so kind as to write down this, and other stories, is one of my oldest friends. She has brought up a large family, and her excellent memory now enables her to remember tales, which she had gathered during a long life passed in the West Highlands, where her husband was a respected minister. The story is evidently a Celtic version of the "Wearie Well at the Warldis End," of which Chambers has published one Scotch version, to which Grimm refers in notes "Der Froschkönig," in his third volume. There are many versions still current in Scotland, told in broad Scots; and it can be traced back to 1548. According to Grimm it belongs to the oldest in Germany. This version clearly belongs to the Gaelic language, for the speech of the frog is an imitation of the gurgling and quarking of spring frogs in a pond, which I have vainly endeavored to convey to an English reader by English letters; but which is absurdly like, when repeated in Gaelic with this intention. The persevering, obstinate repetition of the same sounds is also exceedingly like the habit of frogs, when disturbed, but not much frightened. Let anyone try the experiment of throwing a stone into the midst of a frog concert, and he will hear the songsters, after a moment of stillness, begin again. First a half-smothered guark guark; then another begins, half under water, with a gurgle, and then more and more join in till the pond is in full chorus once again. Guark, guark, gooill gooark gooill.

Holy healing wells are common all over the Highlands; and people still leave offerings of pins and nails, and bits of rag, though few would confess it. There is a well in Islay where I myself have, after drinking, deposited copper caps amongst a board of pins and buttons, and similar gear, placed in chinks in the rocks and trees at the edge of the "Witches' Well." There is another well with similar offerings, freshly place beside it in an island in Loch Maree in Ross-shire; and similar wells are to be found in many other places in Scotland. For example, I learn from Sutherland, that "a well in the black Isle of Cromarty near Rosehaugh has miraculous healing powers. A country woman tells me that about forty years ago she remembers it being surrounded by a crowd of people every first Tuesday in June who bathed or drank of it before sunrise. Each patient tied a string or rag to one of the trees that overhung it before leaving. It was sovereign for headaches. Mr. __ remembers to have seen a well here called Mary's Well, hung round with votive rags."

Well worship is mentioned by Martin. The custom in his day, in the Hebrides, was to walk south about round the well.

Sir William Betham in his Gael and Cymbiri (Dublin: W. Curry, jun., & Co., 1834), says at page 235, "The Celtæ were much addicted to the worship of fountains and rivers as divinities. They had a deity called Divona, or the river god."

Divona Celtarum lingua fons addite Divii (Ausonius).

He quotes from "The Book of Armagh, a MS. of the seventh century," --"And he (St. Patrick) came to Fina Malge, which is called Slane, because it was intimated to him that the Magi honoured this fountain, and made donations to it as gifts to a god." For they sacrificed gifts to the fountain, and worshipped it like a god.

The learned author explains how wells are now venerated in Ireland, and traces their worship back to remote ages; and to the East, by way of Spain, Carthage, and Egypt, Tyre and Sidon, Arabia, Chaldea, and Persia, where men still hang bits of rag on trees near wells. Baal, according to some of the authorities quoted, is mixed up with the well worship of the Irish Sceligs. Divona, the river god, or Baal, may therefore have degenerated into a toad; and the princess who married him may once have been a Celtic divinity, whose story survives as a popular tale in Germany and in Scotland.

The following story [XXXIV. The Origin of Loch Ness] bears on the same subject, and may explain why gifts were left when a drink was taken from a well. The story was told to me long ago, while seated under shelter of a big stone waiting for ducks on the shore. It was told in Gaelic, and the pun upon the name of the lake is lost in any other language. The meaning of the name might be the weasel lake, or the lake of the falls; or perhaps the lake of the island; but the legend gives a meaning, which the sound of the name will bear, and it ought to be right if it is not.

Campbell, J. F. Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected. London: Alexander Gardner, 1890-1893. v. 2, p. 141. (Reprint available from Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1969.)
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