OF THE CHRIST CHILD
I WILL tell this Legend as simply but also with what beauty I can, because the words of the old Highland woman, who told it to me, which I recall only as the fluctuating remembrance from a dream and so must translate from the terms of dream into the terms of prose, though simple were beautiful with ancient idiom.
We must go back near twenty hundred years. It was in the last month of the last year of the seven years' silence and peace. When would that be, you ask? Surely what other would it be than the seven holy years when Jesus the Christ was a little lad. Do you not remember the lore of the elders? . . . that in the first seven years of the life of the young Christ there was peace in the world, and that the souls of men were like souls in a dream, and that the hearts of women were at rest. In the second seven years it is said that the world was like an adder that sloughs its skin: for there was everywhere a troubled sense of new things to come. So wide and far and deep was this, that men in remote lands began moving across swamps and hills and deserts; that the wild beasts shifted their lairs and moaned and cried in new forests and upon untrodden plains; that the storks and swallows in their migration wearied theirwings in high, cold, untravelled ways; that the narwhals and great creatures of the deep foamed through unknown seas ; that the grasses of the world wandered and inhabited hills; that many waters murmured in the wilderness and that many waters mysteriously sank from pools and wellsprings. In the third seven years men even on the last ocean-girdled shores were filled with further longing, and it is said that new stars were flung into the skies and ancient stars were whirled away, like dust and small stones beneath the wheels of a chariot. It was at the end of the third seven years that a Face looked out of Heaven, and that from the edges of the world men heard a confused and dreadful sound rising from the Abyss. Though the great and the small are the same, it is the great that withdraws from remembrance and the small that remains, and that may be why men have grown old with time, and have forgotten, and remember only the little things of the common life: as that in these years the Herring became the king of all fishes, because his swift gleaming clan carried the rumour of great tidings to the uttermost places of ocean; as that in these years the little fly became king over lions and panthers and eagles and over all birds and beasts, because it alone of all created things had remained tameless and fearless; as that in these years the wild bees were called the clan of wisdom, because they carried the Word to every flower that grows and spread the rumour on all the winds of as that in these Cuckoo was called the Herald of God, because in his voice are heard the bells of Resurrection.
But, as I was saying, it was in the last month of the last year of the seven years' silence and peace: the seventh year in the mortal life of Jesus the Christ. It was on the twenty-fifth day of that month, the day of His holy birth.
It was a still day. The little white flowers that were called Breaths of Hope and that we now call Stars or Bethlehem were so hushed in quiet that the shadows of moths lay on them like the dark motionless violet in the hearts of pansies. In the long swards of tender grass the multitude of the daisies were white as milk faintly stained with flusht dews fallen from roses. On the meadows of white poppies were long shadows blue as the blue lagoons of the sky among drifting snow-white moors of cloud. Three white aspens on the pastures were in a still sleep: their tremulous leaves made no rustle, though there was a soundless wavering fall of little dusky shadows, as in the dark water of a pool where birches lean in the yellow hour of the frostfire. Upon the pastures were ewes and lambs sleeping, and yearling kids opened and closed their onyx eyes among the garths of white clover.
It was the Sabbath, and Jesus walked alone. When He came to a little rise in the grass He turned and looked back at the house where His parents dwelled. Joseph sat on a bench, with bent shoulders, and was dreaming with fixt gaze into the west, as seamen stare across the interminable wave at the pale green horizons that are like the grassy shores of home. Mary was standing, dressed in long white raiment, white as a lily, with her right hand shading her eyes as she looked to the east, dreaming her dream.
The young Christ sighed, but with the love of all love in His heart. "So shall it be till the day of days," He said aloud; "even so shall the hearts of men dwell among shadows and glories, in the West of passing things: even so shall that which is immortal turn to the East and watch for the coming of Joy through the Gates of Life."
At the sound of His voice He heard a sudden noise as of many birds, and turned and looked beyond the low upland where He stood. A pool of pure water lay in the hollow, fed by a ceaseless wellspring, and round it and over it circled birds whose breasts were grey as pearl and whose necks shone purple and grass-green and rose. The noise was of their wings, for though the birds were beautiful they were voiceless and dumb as flowers.
At the edge of the pool stood two figures, whom He knew to be of the angelic world because of their beauty, but who had on them the illusion of mortality so that the child did not know them. But He saw that one was beautiful as Night, and one beautiful as Morning.
He drew near.
"I have lived seven years," He said, "and I wish to send peace to the far ends of the world."
"Tell your secret to the birds," said one.
"Tell your secret to the birds," said the other.
So Jesus called to the birds.
"Come," He cried; and they came.
Seven came flying from the left, from the side of the angel beautiful as Night. Seven came flying from the right, from the side of the angel beautiful as Morning.
To the first He said: "Look into my heart."
But they wheeled about Him, and with new-found voices mocked, crying, "How could we see into your heart that is hidden " . . . and mocked and derided, crying, "What is Peace! . . . Leave us alone! Leave us alone!"
So Christ said to them:
"I know you for the birds of Ahriman, who is not beautiful but is Evil. Henceforth ye shall be black as night, and be children of the winds."
To the seven other birds which circled about Him, voiceless, and brushing their wings against His arms, He cried :
"Look into my heart."
And they swerved and hung before Him in a maze of wings, and looked into His pure heart: and, as they looked, a soft murmurous sound came from them, drowsy-sweet, full of peace: and as they hung there like a breath in frost they became white as snow.
"Ye are the Doves of the Spirit," said Christ, "and to you I will commit that which ye have seen. Henceforth shall your plumage be white and your voices be the voices of peace."
The young Christ turned, for He heard Mary calling to the sheep and goats, and knew that dayset was come and that in the valleys the gloaming was already rising like smoke from the urns of the twilight. When He looked back He saw by the pool neither the Son of Joy nor the Son of Sorrow, but seven white doves were in the cedar beyond the pool, cooing in low ecstasy of peace and awaiting through sleep and dreams the rose-red path-ways of the dawn. Down the long grey reaches of the ebbing day He saw seven birds rising and falling on the wind, black as black water in caves, black as the darkness of night in old pathless woods.
And that is how the first doves became white, and how the first crows became black and were called by a name that means the clan of darkness, the children of the wind.
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