An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 102Persons who sell themselves to the Devil are met with in the popular fiction of all European countries; but the legend of the 'Warlock Laird' of Leith, or its dénouement at least, so closely resembles the Faust story that we can hardly help ascribing a common origin to them.
In that part of Leith once known as the Lees quarter resided a person known as the Warlock Laird. His house was dissimilar from those which surrounded it, for although the portion which served as a dwelling was only one story in[Pg 229] height, from the back of it rose a tall, circular tower about fifty feet high, enriched with curious little turrets and lit with many strange windows. For what purpose the tower had been erected is not known, and although it had been built for many years when Gordon first took up residence in the cottage attached to it, it was locally understood that he had erected it for the convenience of private consultations with the enemy of mankind. In popular romance a magician usually does business in a tower; ergo, a magician must have a tower; or is it necessary that every tower should have its magician? However that may be, Gordon, not a native, and well past middle age when he came to reside in Leith, specially selected this house as most suitable to his requirements, whatever those requirements were.
He gave out that he had spent many years at sea. When he first came his resources were slender, and he was glad to accept the situation of a labourer in a cooper's yard for a very small weekly stipend. When he had been for some months in this employment, he requested leave of absence for a week. On his return at the termination of that period it was remarked that he appeared to be better off than before: he looked sleeker, wore good clothes, and had money to spend; but he continued his work, and matters took their normal course until, a year later, he asked for another holiday. At the expiry of this vacation a still more marked change was visible in his circumstances: he purchased a ruinous old house and gave more for it than was considered fair value. Suspicion began to be aroused among his neighbours. He spent his money freely, and this in itself may have suggested that he must have come by it lightly. It was even whispered that he had been a pirate, and that he was drawing gold from some hidden hoard as necessity arose. Once more he demanded a holiday, and his request was granted as usual, but this time he was not permitted to go away without a watch being set upon his movements. Those who had resolved to observe his actions while on holiday were rather disappointed, as on the first day of his leave he remained at home all the time. But on the following day he took ship for Kirkcaldy,[Pg 230] on the sands of which he landed without any suspicions that he was being watched by a person, disguised as an elderly woman, sitting next him in the boat.
When Gordon landed he made straight for an inn, where he ordered a copious supply of liquor. After a brief exit he returned with half a dozen boatmen dressed in their best, and commenced a drinking-bout which lasted until two o'clock next morning. For two successive days after this he loafed about the town and the shore, chatting with the boatmen, much to the annoyance of the person who was engaged to watch his movements. Two days only remained now, and on the morning of the sixth day of his holiday he was seen to embark in a ferryman's boat, in which he proceeded down the Firth alone. His follower found some difficulty in hiring a craft, and by the time he had procured one Gordon's little vessel was concealed behind the huge bulk of Inchkeith. The boatman who hired out the vessel to the spy insisted on accompanying him, and he had perforce to assent to this. After they had passed Inchkeith, Gordon's boat was seen far in advance and close inshore on the Midlothian side of the river. On the right, near North Berwick, Gordon steered his craft inside of the rocky islet known as the Lamb, nearly opposite to where the picturesque village of Dirleton now stands. Here the Leith man shipped his oars, and gazing ahead fancied that he saw two gigantic figures moving to and fro, busily engaged in digging. At this point the boatman refused to approach any farther, rowed his passenger back, and landed him at Prestonpans, whence he made his way home.