Moonlight and Whisky
and Reflections on the Water

By Malcolm Laughton

"Good God, this is Nineteen-twenty-two. Who in the world still believes in fairies!"

The orator slammed down his beer mug emphatically on the bar surface of The Old Black Bull. He looked around him accusingly. Some of the men wore full beards, others old-fashioned handlebar moustaches, whilst some of the younger men were clean cut. It seemed, no matter what fashion they followed in facial hair, their fashions in beliefs were antiquated to the absurd in this wee Scottish fishing village. God, if he could only sell up and move to Glasgow.

"Ach, Hughie," piped one of them, "don't say such things. It only invites trouble. They might hear you and plan some mischief."

"Aye," joined in another fool, "there's proof enough of the Wee Folk for those who are daft enough to go looking."

"Mind," started yet another, "the business at the well last year."

"Wheesht man, don't talk of such things."

These were adults, thought Hughie as he stared with a rueful anger into his dark ale. Grown men, all full of the same nonsense. He should leave them be, but these superstitions seemed to be the chains that bound him to the dreary world of fishing and farming. He could sense the pause as they waited for him to continue. It was his turn, and they waited politely and expectantly for him to counter them, loudly, of course. Aye, loudly, with the bitter anger of the sole rational man in the village. But what was the point? He would tirade against them and they would all agree, amongst each other, that they were the wise ones and he the fool. No, he should hold his silence with the pained endurance of a man martyred for science. But then the outrage, as it always did — after a few pints and measures — overflowed.

"Have ye not heard of the Laws of Thermodynamics, whereby the very universe dies in a heat death? Have ye not heard of Charles Darwin, who observed how each species evolves by the principles of natural selection? Have ye not heard of Sigmund Freud, who elucidated the workings of the human mind? Good God, have ye not even heard of Karl Marx?"

"Does he play for one of the big Glasgow football teams?" That was Archie, blowing beer froth from his handlebar as he spoke. Hughie knew the remark was meant to rile him. He had risen to that particular bait many a night before, and he knew it for what it was. He tried a new tack.

"Many's the man here, if he knows not Science, knows his Bible. Well tell me, then, where in that book does it mention fairies? Aye, ye can't say. Nowhere! Aye and even ye must concede, where Science and the Bible agree who are you to gainsay the both of them!"

Hughie, satisfied with delivering this devastating blow against the superstitions of the gathered host of The Old Black Bull, he slugged back on his ale. Now he stood in the happy centre of a silent pub. No one could answer him. He was victorious at last. The debates in The Old Black Bull would never be the same. Oh no, no more having to listen to inane prattling. Happy with his apparent taking of the field, he rashly decided to move in for what he conceived would be the rout.

"Aye, and for all these silly tales, who ever actually observed anything? It's always something far away no one here's actually seen. Who ever saw anything himself?"

"Och, well," started Charlie, "there's many a thing happened with fairies that there's none left here in this world to tell of."

"Aye, and how do you know something as a fact when there's no one left in this world to tell of it?" Why must simpletons take so long to understand they're beaten?

Then Charlie said, "I know it was not the work of the fairies, but there was that incident with Angus Ross but two seasons past."

The inn fell into silence again. Then another said, "Aye, tell the doubter that one."

"I will do. Angus was a fisherman like many of us here. One day, against the Lord's law he took a small boat out onto the firth by himself on the Sabbath. And the reason he did so, though the law of God forbade such, was that it was the stillest of days, and the air was fresh and the waters gentle; and moreover, he thought he saw the glint and turn of silver in the waters as if fish played near the surface, and all in all he took this as an invitation he would not refuse. Now, it is said that whilst God set aside the Sabbath as our day of rest, other creatures, God's elder creations, have it as a day of play, and it is known that then fairies, fawns and nymphs may be stumbled upon in the deepest of woods by a Sabbath-breaker gathering wood, and woe betide him if he comes into trouble by it, for he cannot expect pity. And it is also said that some of the creatures made before Man, but after the beasts, that dwell in the sea come up from the deeps to play and cavort under the beams of the sun, and among these be the mer-people, both maids and men.

"Well, Angus cast about awhile and found no luck. Once or twice he thought his eye glimpsed another turn of silver, but when he cast his nets he found nothing. He was about to row for the shore when he thought he saw another bright turn directly before his boat. He cast down his net and pulled on it suddenly with all his might so that whatever was down there might not escape him. Well, did not something big pull back on him? No shoal of fish, thought he, for it pulls with a single purpose. And it took him all his strength to pull it aboard, and what was it but the loveliest mermaid he might have imagined. And he half fell in love right there and then, even though her long wet hair covered half her pretty face. Angus began to disentangle her from his net. The mermaid, still part caught in the netting, drew her green hair back from her face and Angus fell full in love with her. The mermaid pleaded him to release her back into the waters, but he could not bring himself to lose her so. Instead brought her back to his boat-shed where he filled a boat full of sea water and kept her. And he kept her so, and cared for her as best he could, but after awhile he sorrowed at his own behaviour and begged her forgive him for the kidnap, and he released her back to the sea. And just after she plunged into the waters she raised her head above the surface and looked him in the eyes and said as a reward for his kindness he would never drown. And then she pulled her head under again and he saw her no more."

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