Mountain Lovers, by Fiona Macleod, 1895



THE foreheads of the hills were bathed in light. Sheer above all rose the aureoled peaks of Ben Iolair and Tornideon. The lyric rapture of the morning made a sound of rejoicing.  The bleating of the sheep was more rapid and less plaintive, and when the harsh screams of the great eagle, that had its eyrie far above where the mountain-shoulders almost touch, came echoing down the slopes, they were so mellowed at last as to fall through the leagues of sunsea in sharp cadences.

Mists veiled all the slopes, and kid the strath. The mountains seemed thus to be raimented in white and crowned with living gold. On the heights these mists moved with furtive undulations, with an upward wave which ever and again lifted a great mass of vapor columnarly towards the summits.

Beneath they lay like suspended snow, or hung as palls; vast draperies of unrevealed day.

Even though the sunflood broke into these cohorts, and here seemed to suck with thirsty flaming tongues, here to plunge in golden billows among shallows of fading shadow, or here with a giant hand withdrew, rent, swept away, dissipated the ever-dissolving, ever-reforming battalions of rising mist, yet, as the morning advanced, the highland was till swathed.

Sometimes a boulder, at a vast height, would stand disclosed. The wet upon it, from granite boss and yellow lichen, shimmered as though the fairy-folk who weave the rainbows were there at work.  A space below would give way to the sudden leap of the hill-wind; and with a rush the sunlight would stream forward.  Pine after pine would rear a green banner, from which mist-veils would float, or rise and sway like flags of a marching army.  Then the ranks would close in again.  Flying columns would converge from right and left; the pine-banners would vanish, as though in the smoke of battle.  A mighty swaying mass would sweep upward, absorb the sunbeams and splinter their gleaming lances, till boulder after boulder would be captured, and the bastioned heights themselves be environed in the assault.

From the narrow loch at the end of the ravine, in the Pass of Eagles, came the clamor of wild-fowl. Now here, now there, as though a voice swam disembodied in that white sea, the double note of the cuckoo resounded. In a thick sob, the echo of the Linn o’ Mairg came heavily at intervals. The muffled noise of Mairg Water crawled through the caverns of the mist.

Though the two mountain-buttresses at the head of the pass are so close that the legend of a stag having taken the intervening space at a bound is not wholly incredible, it was impossible for one hid in the mist on Maol-Gorm of Iolair to see any one or anything on Maol-Dubh of Tornideon. But through the mist, here suffused with a pole golden light, was audible on both spurs the bleating of travelling sheep and the barking of a dog, with, now and again, the lowing of cows.

Suddenly a voice rang out, strong, dear, and blithe, —

“Mo růn geal, děleas,
    Děeas, děleas,
Mo růn geal, děleas,
Nach till thunall!”

Upon the spring of the last word came back from Iolair a voice as blithe and more sweet, the voice of a woman, with the lilt of a bird in it and all the joy of the sunshine, —

“I go where the sheep go,
With the sheep are my feet:
I go where the kye go,
Their breath is so sweet:

O lover who loves me,
Art thou half so fleet?
Where the sheep climb, the kye go,
There shall we meet!”

There was something so penetratingly sweet and joyous in the song that it stirred every bird on the hillside. The larks rose through the mist till they swam into the sunflood; the linties and shilfas and yellow-yites sent thrilling notes from gorse-bush to gorse-bush and from rowan to rowan. In the birk-shaws, the cries of the merles sounded like shrill flutes.

To and fro went the sweet voices. Now the man's on Tornideon would ring blithely, now the woman's on Iolair respond.

At last, as the cattle moved up the slopes, with the spreading sheep in advance, the shepherding voices fell further apart. Instinct led the kye to the sunlight, for all living things have their joy through the eyes.

“Sorcha, Sorcha, Sorcha!” came ringing through the mist; “Sorcha-mo.ciatach-nionag.”

“Tha, Ailean-a-ghaolach!” came back, with a ripple of laughter, the laughter of joy.1

1“Sorcha, my bonnie lassie:” “Yes, Alan my darling.”

“Ah mo cailin geal, mo nighean donn, duit cíat mhor!”

“DuiI cíat, no runach !”2

2”Ah, my fair one, my dark-haired lass, joy be on you!”---“And joy on you, my loved in secret.”

“The sheep and the kye don't know love, Sorcha, or they would stay here till the mists go, and then we would see each other."

“Let us cry deasiul, and turn thrice sun-ways.

“Ay; and meanwhile the beasts won't stand still! That evil beast of a bull, Dunncha-dhu, who ought to be called Domnuill-dhu**, is leading the way over the shoulder of Maol-Gorm. I must go, Sorcha-mo-ghraidh, or never a sheep will I find again, and as for the kye they'll go smelling the four winds. Sorcha, SorchaI Can you hear?”

Hear came back in a sweet falling echo, the more remote and aerial because of the mist.

"Come down to-night after the milking, and meet me at the Linn. . . . Sorcha, I 'm going to see Mr. Morrison again!"

"'T is no use, Alan. But I'll meet you at the Linn in the late gloaming."



**Infra: Domnuill-dhu instead of Dunncha-dhu: i.e. “should be called Black Donald instead of Black Duncan.” It is a play upon words: for “Black Donald” is the Highland colloquialism for Satan.

Then, fainter and fainter, Sorcha! . . . Alan! And at last no response came when Alan Gilchrist cried, with a prolonged echoing call, the name of his ghaolaiche, his heart's joy.

Soon thereafter the mists began to disperse.

Alan Gilchrist was at the pool, below the Linn o' Mairg, long before Sorcha Cameron came down from Mŕm-Gorm, the hill-farm on Iolair, by the circuitous but secluded way through the pine-glades.

For an hour or more he had lain there, dreaming. The first green breath of May was sweet upon the land; already a warmth as of midsummer was in the air. Pleasant it was to lie and dream by the running water.

When he had first reached the Mairg Water, after his fruitless journey to Inverglas, the village of Strath Iolair, he had thrown him­self down among the fern, in the shadow of a boulder, overlooking the Kelpies Pool. Angry thoughts were in his mind because of the minister's refusal to marry Sorcha and himself. It was a bitter thing, he thought, and unjust.

For that noontide, after he had driven the sheep on to the upper pastures upon Tornideon and had got little Davie Niven, of Cla-chan-nan-Creag, to herd the sheep for him till moonrise, he had gone down by his home at Ardoch-Beag, itself high on the mountain-side, —though he was Iittle there during the summer pasturing on the hills, —to the strath, and so by the road to Inverglas. As he went through the village, there were many who Icooked at him with glad eyes; for wherever he went, Alan found a smile of welcome for him, partly because of the beauty of his tall person and curly yellow hair, which made the strath women call him Alan-aluinn, Alan-fair-to-see, but more perhaps of his own smile that was so sweet out of his blue eyes, and for the grave yet winning way of him. His rival, Duncan Robertson, spoke of him contemptuously as "the man for women and children;" but, as others beside. Duncan Robertson knew well, the womens-man and the children's-man could also be the best man's-man in the strath, when occasion required.

This early afternoon, however, he had no wish to speak with any, and so hurried on, with a visit only to old Morag Niven. Davie the herd-laddie’s grandmother. The small, douce, wizened old woman blessed him for what he brought her, and insisted on telling his fortune again, by the lines in his hands. Laughingly he assured her she had told it to him so often that he was beginning not to believe in her predictions at all.

"That may be," she exclaimed, half pet­tishly; but it 's this I'm telling you, Alan MacFergus, and what's more, it's not only the 'vision' of the love that’s coming to you, but I've had the 'sight' on the lover too!"

The young man flushed, but answered carelessly, ?

"Good for you, Můimé; but sure 't is a risky thing to be seeing too much."

The old woman stared keenly at him for a moment, and then smiled.

"Well, and will this, then, be like what you have seen in your dreams, if ever a great oganach like you dreams at all:---

"First, she is beautiful as this May day;

"Second, she is tall and graceful as a young pine, and moves like a hind upon the hills, an' no flower sways in the wind more dainty-sweet than her;

"'Third, she is fair of face, with all the soft skin of her like new milk. But her hair is dark, like the wools at dusk, and fragrant as they;

"Fourth, she lives at a mountain-farm, and all her heart is in a man’s keeping, and all her beauty is his to love, and she is the tallest, and strongest, and sweetest lass in all the strath, or in the big world beyond, and as beautiful as Roscrana that was wife to Fingal of old and mother of Ossian the blind bard. Ay, good as Morna, which is the name of a woman that is beloved by all, and fair-to-see as Fiona, which is the name given of old to a bonnie maid, and lovely as Alona, than whom not woman could be lovelier;

"Fifth, and the man she loves is a poor misguided wastrel who lives on a hill opposite to her, and I'm thinkin' his name will be Alan too, Alan this or Alan that;

''Sixth, 't is Himself only, praise to Him, who knows who this Morna-Fiona Alona may be; but in a dream I had I'm thinkin’ her name is Sorcha;

"And seventh" (This in relapse from Gaelic into the Lowland tongue), "I may be a silly auld wife, Alan my man, but I'm nae sae blind as to fail to see through a split poke, for a' yer havers and blethers!"

With a shamefaced laugh, Alan told her she was an old witch, and was sheer doited at that. Then, suddenly stooping, and kissing her gray hair, he bade her good-by, and went on his way.

But it was an ill faring. Mr. Morrison, the tall, dark-faced minister, gray and lank as an old fox, though a godly man, would have nothing to say to the granting of his request.

"No, no, Alan Gilchrist," he added, in parting, and in a not unkindly tone, " 't is no ill will I am bearing you, my lad. But neither I nor any true minister of God will wed you and Sorcha Cameron, because of the feud between Torcall, her father and Anabel your mother; and of the ban laid by him on her, and by her on you."

"So be it, Mr. Morrison; but as for me I will be putting up with no banning from man or woman, no, not I, nor Sorcha either!"

“That is a wicked thing for you to say. ­ But Sorcha is a good lass if you're not a good lad; and . . . and . . . the long and short of it is I can't and won't wed you and her . . . no, not though your mother and Sorcha s father were to die; and that I avow here sol­emnly, to the stones be it said."

And so it was that the young man went away, wrathful and indignant. Yet, with every mile of his homeward journey he cared less and less. After all, what did it matter to him or Sorcha? Living remote upon the solitary hills, and rarely seeing the people of the strath, what did it avail whether or no he and she were "blessed" by Mr. Morrison? Well, he had done what he could.

He knew, of course, of the heavy weight of a parental ban; how with some, it was a command as sacred and inviolable as those of God. But he did not know all that Mr. Morrison knew, or surmised; wherein, indeed, was the deeper reason of the refusal.

"The child Oona, the child Oona," muttered the minister as he returned to his house, “why was she sent by Anabal, as soon as might be after birth, to Torcall Cameron? And why was he stricken blind, he there alone on Mŕm-Gorm, with Marsail his wife long dead, and only his daughter Sorcha, sweet lass, beside him; stricken of God, blind and desolate for all his days thereafter? Alas, too, what of the doom of Fergus her husband!”

But, lying by the running water of Mairg, Alan, at last oblivious of what had angered him and left in his mind a vague distress, pondered other and nearer things than these.

His heart was full of Sorcha. Already, as indeed for more than a month past, there was upon him that trance of love of which the old Celtic poets speak. Even now he went daily in a dream. Malveen, the widow-mother of Davie the herd-laddie, saw him often as he passed to and fro upon the hillside, as one in a vision, rapt, with shining eyes. At times, too, unknown of either, she caught a glimpse of Alan and Sorcha as they kept tryst in the gloamings. She mothered them with the longing woman's joy in love that had never been hers; they were her dear ones, though rare it was that she had word of either. The youth of youths, the maid of maids: to her at last something more than real and familiar, remote as they were in the glamour that was about then as the Mountain Lovers.

It was in the late gloaming, as she had promised, that Sorcha stole soundlessly from the forest, and was in Alans arms almost before he knew, that the tryst was kept.