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The Seal Catcher
This old story from Scotland is about a man who makes his living by killing seals and selling their skins. He does not really think about whether or not the animals he hunts have feelings, until one day he has a chance to get to know one.
Read by Natasha. Length 7.18
There was once a man who lived not far from John O’Groat’s house, at the very north of Scotland. He made his living by catching fish of all sizes and types, but he had a particular liking for killing those wonderful beasts, half-dog, half-fish, called Seals. No doubt he liked killing the seals so much because he got a fancy price for their skins. The truth is, that most of these animals were neither dogs nor cods, but downright fairies as this story shall tell.
Now one day the fisherman stabbed a seal with his hunting knife, but he failed to kill it outright, for the seal let out a loud cry of pain and slipped off the rocks and into the sea, taking the knife with it.
Later that night, after the fisherman had returned home his cottage, a stranger came to visit him. The man said that he had been sent by his master who wanted to buy a large number of seal furs. The fisherman was pleased to hear this news. The two men both mounted the stranger’s horse, and rode off at great speed, their faces cutting through the sharp, salty air. Finally they reached a great cliff that overhung the sea, and the stranger told the fisherman that they had arrived.
“But where is the person you spoke of?” asked the astonished seal-killer.
“Soon you shall see!” replied his stranger, and with that the stranger seized the fisherman with irresistible force, and they both plunged over the cliff and headlong down into the sea. After sinking down down, nobody knows how far, they at last reached a pearly gate which opened onto a palace. The rooms of the palace were filled not with people, but with seals who could speak and feel like human folk. And the seal-killer was astonished to find that he himself had been changed into the form of a seal.
“Am I to spend the rest of my days here, like this?” he asked in great distress.
“Your suffering need not last much longer,” replied his stranger, and so saying he produced a huge knife. The fisherman, who thought he was about to be killed begged for mercy, but the creatures of the deep gathered round and assured him that he would meet with no harm.
“Did you ever see that knife before?” asked the stranger. The fisherman looked at the weapon again and recognised it as the knife that he had lost in the back of a seal.
“Why it is my own,” he admitted.
“Well sir,” said the stranger, “The seal that made away with it is my father, and these past hours he has laid dangerously ill from his wound. Only your healing hand can save him.”
The fisherman was led into another room, in which he found the stricken seal. He was asked to pass his hand over the wound, which he did, and to his surprise it immediately healed. The seal rose from his bed in perfect health, and the mood of the sea-creatures all around changed from mourning to rejoicing.
The seal-catcher thought that he would remain under water as a seal for the rest of his life, but the stranger told him that he could return home on one condition – that he took an oath that he would never harm another seal again so long as he lived. To this, the seal-catcher readily agreed.
And then they swam out of the gates of the palace, and up to the surface of the sea. From there they made their way onto land, and up to the top of the cliff where the horse was waiting for them. By now they had regained human form, and they rode back to the cottage where they had begun their wondrous journey. The seal-cather had already begin to wonder how he would make his living in future – but he need not have worried – for the stranger made him a gift. He presented him with a heavy bag which he carried into his cottage and placed on the table. And when he opened it, he discovered that it was filled with gold.
And that’s the story of The Seal Catcher. And Bertie says that seals aren’t really half dog, half fish, even though they might look a bit like that. They are of course mammals that have flippers instead of feet and powerful tales for swimming.