Mountain Lovers, by Fiona Macleod, 1895

 

VI.

WHEN the gloaming fell upon the Linn o' Mairg, Anabal stirred. The churr of a fern-owl echoed in ear, and dimly she awoke to where the knowledge that it was late. But where was she? She had dreamed a pleasant dream. Hand in hand, ---even now she thought, hand in hand , ---even now were she and Fergus,— Fergus o long dead, and never to come again to put his lips against the pain in her heart.

After all, was it a dream? Or, rather, was not all that weary past a dream? She would not open her eyes.  She would press the hand that clasped hers, then she would know.

Ah, the joy and the pain of it! It was Fergus indeed! She had moved her hand and pressed his and the pressure had been returned — faintly and slowly, as though in sleep, yet still returned! But where was she? That noise of waters all about her, that ceaseless surge and splash, the smell of the rushing water, the cool spray upon her face, --- was this not indeed the Linn o' Mairg, where, late that afternoon, she had fallen asleep?

Now at last it was clear. Yes, she was at the Lynn o' Mairg. But the time of her mourning was over, and her evil was no more anywhere in the blue sky or in the green earth, for Fergus had come to her.

In this hour of death she must tell him all. She would not open her eyes yet awhile. She, of the living, might not be able to look on that of the dead. And first, moreover, she must speak.

“Fergus!”

No sound came from the sleeper by her side. She imagined that his hand quivered, but the did not know for sure.

“Fergus!”

Ah, now he was awake from his death sleep, for she heard his breath come quick and hard. The hand she held in hers shuddered as with palsy.

“Ah, cold hand of my heart,” she murmured, raising it, chafing it the while, and putting it to her lips at last.

“Ah, cold hand out of the grave! Often have I felt it at my heart! Fergus, dear to me, Fergus, Fergus! Ah, one word to me, one word to me!”

Still no whisper from the man beside her. She could bear the shuddering breath of him. “Fergus. I must speak! If the dead know aught, lang syne you must have known I knew nothing of the evil deed done upon you. But oh, my man, my man. I had loved Torcall before I loved you! Fergus listen! Do not draw away from me! Do not rise! Fergus, Fergus, I must tell you all!”

Speak!

Awe came upon her, as a sudden darkness at noon. The dead had spoken. The life in her body tore at the gateway of the heart. The voice was human, hoarse and low as it was.  Almost she had courage. Once more that low, hoarse mandate came. The sound shuddered through the dark upon her ear.

Speak !

“Be not too hard upon me, Fergus! I loved him, though not as he loved me. I never forgave him because that in his anger he married Marsail. But when I was to marry you, whom I loved as I had never loved him---”

Here the sobbing woman stopped a moment because of the fierce grip upon her hand, then, panting, resumed, ---

“. . .Then, as God knows my soul, I put him out of my heart. But the wild beast in him arose and rent him.  He went to and fro, mad because of his lust of me. Then the day came when, in my weakness and loneliness, he had his will of me. For days after that I did not see him.

Then the spell of the sin fell upon me, and it was sweet — sweet for a brief while was that evil and accursed dream! Then it was that you came back from the fishing among the isles, to this place where your father lived, and where I was, because of the mother that bore me, and is long dead, God be praised! And when you married me. Fergus, the child that is Oona was already within me. God shaping that burden there underneath my heart till every pulse beat heavy with it! And now you know the thing that has eaten at my life all these weary years.”

No sound, save the constrained sobbing breath of him who listened.

Look!” he whispered at last.

Slowly Anabal opened her eyes. In the misty dusk she could see the white sheen of the flying water, but not the face of her beloved. The dark figure was there, clothed as in life. Taller be seemed, and broader; but sure. Fergus - sure, Fergus. Who but he, with those eyes of love and longing burning upon her out of the night!

Anabal!,

O God, the agony of it! The voice was even as the voice of Torcall, the man who had sown her womb with the seed of sin, and had reaped blindness and sorrow all the years of his life. Bitter the mockery of this thing.

“Fergus! Fergus! Heart o' me, husband!”

Anabal!”

With a scream she sprang to her feet. She swayed as one drunken. The man saw it, though he was blind

“Back! back! back!” she cried, groping blankly with outstretched arms. “Back, if you be a phantom out o’ hell! Back. If you be the Fiend himself! Back, Fergus, back, if dead ye be, and are here but to mock me. Back! back! back! Torcall Cameron! Back, man, back! I am gray, gray, withered, gray and old. . . . Ah, my God?

He had leapt upon her as a wolf leaps. She was in his grasp, and the strength in her was as melting snow.

"Anabal! God hears me. I dare not be to you. I, who am blind —"

"Torcal Cameron, as God is my witness, I saw your face in his dead eyes.

The man groaned; then, as though weary, spoke once again.

"I have sworn. I have not lied. Fergus slipped and fell. I not touching him or near him at the time. I tried to catch him as he fell, but the Mairg Water was in spate, and it was useless. He came out at the Kelpies Pool. He was not quite dead, and I looked into his eyes ere the veils came on."

Still no word. Only that dread silence.

“Anabal!”

“Anabail! Let all this misery be at an end.  Sorrow has aged us both. But I have loved you ever. I love you now. Woman, woman, you were mine, all of you, all of you, mine to the leaping body, to the beating heart, to the shaking soul ! — mine —mine — before ever he touched you!  Mine you were before ever I put my sin upon you; mine you have been ever since, and ever sh—”

“Torcall !”

“Who brought you hither, this night of all nights?”

“Oona.”

No sooner had he spoken the name than a cry escaped his lips, mate of that which burst from hers.

“Go. Go! Man, devil, murderer, madman, go, go!” and, screaming thus, with a fierce struggle Anabal Gilchrist strove to escape from the grip that held her.

“Anabal! Anabal! At least do not send me to my death! I am blind. Lead me home. Put me hence, and through the wood. I am blind, and the night lives with terrors for me!”

For a moment the woman was about to yield. A long tress of her gray-brown hair fell upon his hand, and he grasped it as a drowning man at a rope. Then she saw, or believed that she saw, a look in his face that maddened her.

Never, so help me God!”

Without a word, he was upon her. He had her in his arms, and was laughing low, horribly, mirthlessly.

“I will never let you go, Anabal! . . . I have waited long. . . . You are mine, and no one else's. . . . Mine you were, mine you are, mine you’ll be till the Last Day and forevermore.”

She felt one arm slacken, and his hand seek hers. Before she realized what he did, he had snatched the wedding-ring from her finger and thrown it into the Linn.

Once more he laughed.

“Anabal! Anabal! . . . Anabal, my Joy! I love you. . . . I love you . . . I love you. All the youth of my life is upon me again. I am blind, but I see you as on the day when you quickened with new life. Dear, O my dear, heart of me, joy of me! Anabal, listen! I am Torcall! All is forgotten; all the weary years are gone. Sweetheart, this is my heart against your heart! Ah—h—h!

He had seized her, and the flares of his kisses scorched her face. Between his parting, sobbing cries, and her choking breath, he buried his face in her hair, heedless of the gray blight upon that yellow corn, and bruised that quiver­ing body, whose flesh was still so warm, so firm, young long after the breath of age on the hair, in the eyes.

Then she gathered the strength that was in her. With a fierce blow she made him reel, so that he nigh slipped and fell

“ Murderer!”

A blank silence came upon them. Around, the rush of the water: swift-sighing it seethed beyond, with hollow roar and surge, in the Linn below where they stood. Over the forest lay a faint yellow bloom, the moon shining upon it from behind Ben Iolair. A fern-owl charred its love-cry through the swarm fragrant night. A thin, impalpable mist obscured the few stars that shone, but the splintered lance-rays of them glistered this faint exhalation of the earth.

When the man spoke, his voice was as though frozen.

“It is a lie.”

“No lie is it, Torcall Cameron; for I see the naked truth in your soul.”

“It is a lie.”

"Where is my man, where is my man Fergus, whom you slew?"

“I slew him not.”

“Liar! liar! Even here, on this very spot, on this very night years agone, He came upon his death at your hand !”

“Listen! I heard you; now hearken to me. . . . On that night, but before it was dark, we met, here. It is true. True also that there was fear and hate between us. But as God hears me, as God sees me, as God hath stricken me blind and gloomed the bitter life of me, I did not put his death upon him.”

“Anabal!”

Her breath came hot against his face.

“Anabal!”

No word, no sign. He knew by the passage of her breath that she looked now this way and now that: behind him, beside, beyond.

She saw that they were standing now on the extreme of the slippery ledge that overhung the seething depths. No longer did she make any attempt to resist him. Death called out of the pool. She made no effort to save either him or herself.

“Anabal!”

Mechanically she moved her arms as though to free herself. She felt his hold slacken.

“Anabal! Do you yield?”

“I yield.”

Mechanically, again, she leaned forward and kissed him on the breast. The next moment his foot slipped, he reeled, staggered wildly.

Anabal snatched her arm away.

Again he slipped and fell forward. He was now on the very edge of the ledge. His hand fell upon one of her feet. She stooped to push aside his arm. He raised it, caught at something, gave a wild cry, and shot into the dark, with heavy plunge and splash.

In the moonshine.—for the yellow bloom had now expanded into a flood of rippling gold — she saw the black mass of his body whirled to and fro. Once the white face was turned to her, — a blank disk. Twice, thrice, she saw the black arms move above the seething cauldron in a strange fantastic dance.

Then, in a moment, as from a bolt, the body was shot into the deep pool beyond the outer fanglike rocks of the Linn.

Anabal Gilchrist turned, the foam on the water not more wan than her white face.

With slow steps she regained the heathy ground. She did not look back once, then, or as she clomb the long slope to her home.

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