The old people believed
that the devil often assumed a bodily shape, sometimes that of a man
oftener that of an animal, in order to do his work more effectively.
There are many stories to illustrate this belief.
A big wedding took place many years ago at Arisaig, Antigonish County.
Although on such an occasion the whiskey jar was usually guarded by a
very trustworthy man, yet this time the post of honor seems to have been
unworthily filled, and the crowd particularly thirsty. In any case, in a
short time quarrelling and disputes among the men gave evidence of
coming trouble. One old man, who had the “ Second Sight,1” was soon busy
warning the women folk and every man who would heed him to leave the
place as quickly as possible. He told them that he could see a huge dog
under one of the benches whose breath was going like steam throughout
the whole room. The women succeeded pretty well in inducing their
husbands and sons to go home with them. Those who stayed fought so
fiercely that bloodshed was narrowly averted. (Popular tradition).
Another time there was a masquerade ball at Antigonish. A young girl who
was present saw a big serpent wheeling around the room with the dancers.
She got such a fright that she fainted. Ever afterwards masquerade balls
were forbidden there. (Popular tradition).
At Antigonish Harbor, there lived a man who was a confirmed drunkard. On
one occasion he set out for the town of Antigonish accompanied by Dan
Mac . As the roads were then but bridle paths, they went on horseback
along the sunny reaches of the Harbor; up the long hills, from whose
summits a glint of water in the distance revealed the presence of lake
or stream; down the steep,, treacherous North River Hill, amid whose
rough tree-clad slopes ghosts loved to wander when night closed in^
through the level stretches around the Landing; then up the long slope
of Mt. Cameron, until the quiet little town of Antigonish appeared at
their feet like a jewel, in its. circlet of wooded hills. They went down
the hill into the town, where they parted with the promise of meeting'
in the afternoon to go home together.
At home, the day passed and night was coming on, yet they had not
returned. As hour slipped into hour, Dan’s mother got very uneasy.
Something must have happened to them. The horses might be frightened by
"things” on North River hill — then there was Paddy’s Hollow, where they
said more than one strange sight was seen, and it was very near the
burying ground besides. At last she could stand it no longer — so she
sent her nephew, Alex Mac-, to meet them.
Alex, found Dan having a dreadful time to keep his companion on his
horse. Between them they managed to get him along safely. They did not
want to bring the unfortunate man home to his widowed mother, so they
decided to bring him to Alex’s home. Before they reached there, they
noticed a big black dog following them. They tried to drive it away,.,
but could not.
When they reached Alex’s home, they got the drunken man in by the back
door, taking care to close it against the dog; smuggled him up the back
stairs, so that Alex’s, father, who was very much opposed to liquor,
would not hear them, and got him into bed. What was their horror to see
that, notwithstanding their precautions, the big' black dog had passed
through the closed doors. Up stairs he came, making for the room where
the man lay.
But in a room at the head of the stairs, Alexis two little sisters were
sleeping, and the dog could not pass their door.
All night that dog went up and down stairs, and Alex, knelt at the
bed-side of the drunken man and prayed that he might be spared, for
death seemed imminent. His prayer was heard. In the morning the dog
disappeared and the man came to his senses. His friends told him of the
terrible night they had spent and of the great danger he had run. He was
so much affected thereby that he reformed completely and died a good
death some years later. (Story told by the niece of Alex, Mac. He
himself told it to her).
Father Dougall Cameron was called to the bed-side of a dying man. On the
way there, he was met by a man who told him that it was useless for him
to go further as the sick man was already dead. As he did not know the
stranger, he continued on his way, determined to reach the house in any
case. He had not gone far when the same person encountered him, and did
all he could to prevent the priest from getting to the place. More
determined than ever, Father Cameron went on. When he got to the house
he found the sick man still living. He prepared him for death. When he
told of his strange encounter, everyone was convinced that it was the ‘
‘Father of Lies” himself who attempted to keep the priest away. (Story
told by Father Cameron’s brother).
Father Alex. MacLeod was going on a sick call on horseback. When he
reached a certain lonely place on the road his horse refused to go on.
It trembled with apparent terror, and could not be coaxed nor driven
further. At last, men who had been sent out to meet the priest arrived,
and led the animal past whatever frightened it. The priest never got
over the fright he got.
The nervous shock brought on St. Vitus’ dance. (Family tradition).
Hugh N ’s dying eyes were looking their last on the beauty surrounding
his home on Mabou Mountain. The last sun that he was destined to see was
already low in the west, flooding with its golden light the waters of
the Gulf of St. Lawrence. His peace had been made with God, and he was
ready for the dread summons.
As was customary, two of the neighbors, Mr. B- and Mr. MacD, climbed to
the top of the steep hill to spend the night at the bedside of their
dying friend. As they reached the house, they stood in admiration of the
grandeur of the scenery. The subtle odors of the wood came to them from
every side. The regal splendor of autumn crowned all the neighboring
hills, and the water of the Gulf, as if desirous of their beauty, had
crept up as far as it dared to catch in its mirrored surface their
flaming glory. A lone steamer was trailing its tail of smoke over the
clean face of the water, making for the quiet haven by the bridge up the
river. The two men gazed in silence; they needed no words to express
their feeling for nature’s beauty. With solemn mien they at last entered
the house and took up their vigil.
Slowly the hours ticked away. The breathing of the dying man became ever
more and more labored. Suddenly, he sat up in bed and cried: “Get me a
priest; all the sins of my life are here before me.” Now, the nearest
priest was several miles away, so the two men volunteered to go on
horseback to get him.
The road ran through the woods, and was dark and dangerous at best. But,
do what they would., neither man could keep his horse on the road; at
every attempt to do so the horses would shy and bolt into the woods. The
whole distance, then, had to be covered by painfully picking a footing
through the underbrush.
On their return with the priest, the same thing happened. The horses
were evidently frightened by something that their riders could not see.
The priest began to pray; then he struck with his whip, and said:
“Begone, Satan!” There followed what seemed to be an explosion,
accompanied by an odor so terrible that Mr. B said he would remember it
to his dying day.
“You dirty beast,” said the priest. ‘‘Did you think you were going to
keep me from that soul?”
There was no further trouble with the horses. The priest reached the
sick man in time to administer the Last Sacraments. (Story told by Mr. B
’s daughter, who often heard her father tell this experience).
It was believed that when the devil assumed the form of a man he still
retained his hoofs. These stories are somewhat similar to those of the
kelpies that come from the old country.
A number of young men were playing cards at a house in Cregnish,
Inverness Co. They were noisy and quarrelsome. In the midst of their
disputing a fine-looking, well dressed young man entered, and took his
place at the card table on the side of the losers in the game. These
soon began to gain, much to the discontent of the other side. At last
one dropped a card. When he bent down to get it, he perceived, to his
dismay, that the stranger had hoofs. The individual, on being thus
discovered, disappeared in a ball of fire, and the terror-stricken card
players were forcibly brought to their senses. (Popular tradition).
A young woman in another part of Cape Breton was anxious to go to a
dance, but she did not consider that the shoes she had were suitable.
She kept wishing that she might get a new pair, but did not see how she
was going to manage it. One day, a fine-looking young man came to the
door and handed the girl a parcel, telling her that it contained dancing
shoes. She remained talking to him for some time, and found him very
much to her taste. In the course of the conversation she let her
handkerchief drop, and as she stooped to pick it up she fainted away,
horror-stricken to see hoofs on her charming benefactor. When she came
to herself he had disappeared. She lost no time in committing to the
flames the parcel containing the shoes. (Popular tradition).
Mary Maclnnis, an elderly woman, told a story that was current in her
youth in East Bay, Cape Breton Co., and thereabout. One night a man was
walking to his home a long distance away. As he was very tired, he
earnestly wished to have a horse, but his wishing was not done in the
right way, for he used strong language as he talked to himself.
At a turn in the road, a fine white horse appeared in answer to his
wish. He determined to mount it, but before doing so he picked up a
stick from the side of the road to use on the animal should it become
The horse went on at a satisfactory trot for some time, then it began to
slow up. The man hit it with his stick. The horse resounded to the blow
just as if iron had been struck; then it grew and grew, getting nearer
and nearer to the sky. The man on its back was terrified. He saw that
his only chance of escape was to jump off. He did so and fell heavily,
breaking some of his bones. The horse went off into space in flames.
How the Big Rock Got Into the Gulch at Boularderie.
A man was walking to his home on Boularderie Island one fine night when
he met at a bad bridge over a gulch a very affable man. who entered into
conversation with him. As he was in a hurry to get home, he shook hands
with the stranger and said good-night; but the latter insisted on
walking on with him. When they came quite near the first man’s house the
stranger said: “Promise that you will meet me to-morrow night at the
same bridge alone.” “That I will,” said the man, and they parted. By the
time the man reached his house he began to feel that there was something
uncanny about this stranger, and that he had done wrong in promising to
meet him the next night. In his anxiety, he determined to get the advice
of his parish priest at Boisdale; so he got a friend to go with him, and
they rowed across to the mainland. The priest told him that he would
have to keep his promise, but to take with him several trusty men, whom
he was to leave at the house just near the bridge. Then he should go
alone to the place, stay only a few minutes, and hurry back to his
The next night the man went with his companions as he had been advised.
Leaving them at the neighboring house, he went alone to keep his
promise. It was a gloomy place. The bridge spanned a deep, dark gulch.,
and a cliff loomed ominously above him. To his joy, there was no one
waiting for him on the bridge; so he hastened as fast as he could back
to the house.
He was not very long there, when a man came on horseback to the door and
asked for him. So powerful did the call seem, that if his friends did
not hold him back by force, and reason with him, he would have gone. For
hours the rider kept racing around the house, stopping every little
while at the door to demand his man. But, thanks to the faithful
friends, the demands went unanswered. At last he rode away with terrible
noise and uproar. In the morning the cliff overhanging the gulch was
found torn up, and in the bottom of the gulch, where it can still be
seen, was a huge rock, which had been hurled from the side of the cliff.