Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod


I had heard of Mānus Macleod before I met him, a year or more ago, in the South Isles. He had a tragic history. The younger fiųran of the younger branch of a noble family, he was born and bred in poverty. At twenty he was studying for the priesthood; nearly two years later he met Margred Colquhoun; when he was twenty-two he was ordained; in his twenty-third year love carried him away on a strong and bitter tide; the next, he was unfrocked; the next again, Margred was dead, and her child too, and Mānus was a wandering broken man.
After some years, wherein he made a living none knows how, he joined a band of gypsies. They were not tinkers, but of the Romany clan, the Treubh-Siubhail or Wandering Race. He married a girl of that people, who was drowned while crossing the great ford of Uist; for she fell in the dusk, and was not seen, and the incoming tide took her while a swoon held her life below the heart. It was about this time that he became known as M
ānus-am-Bard, Manus the poet, because of his songs, and his Cruit-Spānteach or guitar, which had belonged to the girl, and upon which she had taught him to play fantastic savage airs out of the East.
He must have been about forty when he became an outcast from the Romanies. I do not know the reason, but one account seems not improbable: that, in a drunken fit, he had tried to kill and had blinded Gillanders Caird, the brother of the girl whom he had lost.
Thereafter he became an idle and homeless tramp, a suspect even, but sometimes welcome because of his songs and music. A few years later he was known as Father Mā
nus, head of a dirty, wandering tribe of tinkers. He lived in the open, slept in a smoky, ill-smelling tent, had a handsome, evil, dishevelled woman as his mate, and three brown, otter-eyed offspring of his casual love.
It was at this period that a lawyer from Inveraray sought him out, and told him that because of several deaths he had become heir to the earldom of Hydallan: and asked if he would give up his vagrant life and make ready for the great change of estate which was now before him.
ānus Macleod took the short, black cutty out of his mouth. "Come here, Dougal," he cried to one of his staring boys. The boy had a dead cockerel in his hands, and was plucking it. "Tell the gentleman, Dougal, where you got that."
The boy answered sullenly that it was one o' dad's fowls.
"You lie," said his father; "speak out, or I'll slit your tongue for you."
"Well, then, for sure, I lifted it from Farmer Jamieson's henyard; an' by the same token you ca'ed me to do it."
ānus looked at the lawyer.
"Now, you've seen me, an' you've seen my eldest brat. Go back an' tell my Lord Hydallan what you've seen. If he dies, I'll be Earl of Hydallan, an' that evil-eyed thief there would be master of Carndhu, an' my heir, if only he wasn't the bastard he is. An' neither now nor then will I change my way of life. Hydallan Chase will make fine camping-ground, an' with its fishings and shootings will give me an' my folk all we need, till I'm tired o' them, when others can have them; I mean others of our kind. As for the money . . . well, I will be seeing to that in my own way, Mr. What's-your-name. . . . Finlay, are you for saying? . . . Well, then, good-day to you, Mr. Finlay, an' you can let me know when my uncle's dead."
I suppose it was about a year after this that I found one day at a friend's house a little book of poems bearing my own surname, with Mānus before it as that of the author. The imprint showed that the book had been issued by a publisher in Edinburgh some twenty years back. It was the one achievement of Mā
nus, for whom all his kin had once so high hopes, and much of it seems to have been written when he was at the Scots College in Rome. I copied two of the poems. One was called "Cantilena Mundi," the other "The Star of Beauty." quote the one I can remember:

It dwells not in the skies,
                 My Star of Beauty!
'Twas made of her sighs,
Her tears and agonies,
The fire in her eyes,
                 My Star of Beauty!

Lovely and delicate,
                 My Star of Beauty!
How could she master Fate,
Although she gave back hate
Great as my love was great,
                  My Star of Beauty!

I loved, she hated, well,
                  My Star of Beauty!
Soon, soon the passing bell:
She rose, and I fell:
Soft shines in deeps of hell
                  My Star of Beauty!

I recalled this poem when, in Colonsay, I met Mānus Macleod, and remembered his story.
He was old and ragged. He had deserted, or been deserted by, his tinker herd; and wandered now, grey and dishevelled, from hamlet to hamlet, from parish to parish, from isle to isle. It was late October, and a premature cold had set in. The wind had shifted some of the snow on the mountains of Skye and Mull, and some had fallen among the old black ruins on Oronsay and along the Colonsay dunes of sand and salt bent. Mānus was in the inn kitchen, staring into the fire, and singing an old Gaelic song below his breath.
When my name was spoken, he looked up quickly.
An instinct made me say this:
"I can give you song for song, Mānus mac Tormod."
"How do you know that my father's name was Norman?" he asked in English.
"How do I know that as Tormod mhic Leoid's son, son of Tormod of Arrasay, you are heir to his brother Hydallan?"
Mānus frowned. Then he leaned over the fire, warming his thin, gaunt hands. I could see the flame-flush in them.
"What song can you give me for my song---which, for sure, is not mine at all, at all, but the old sorrowful song by Donull mac Donull of Uist, 'The Broken Heart?'"
"It is called 'The Star of Beauty'" I said, and quoted the first verse.
He rose and stooped over the fire. Abruptly he turned, and in swift silence walked front he room. His face was clay-white, and glistened with the streaming wet of tears.
The innkeeper's wife looked after him. "Abad evil wastrel that," she said; "these tinkers are ill folk at the best and Mānus Macleod is one o' the worst o' them." For sure, now, why should you be speaking to the man at all, at all? A dirty, ignorant man he is, with never a thought to him but his pipe an' drink an' other people's goods.
The following afternoon I heard that Mā
nus was still in the loft, where he had been allowed to rest. He was on death's lips, I was told.
I went to him. He smiled when he saw me. He seemed years and years younger, and not ill at all but for the leaf of flame on his white face and the wild shine in his great black eyes.
"Give me a wish," he whispered.
"Peace," I said.
He looked long at me.
"I have seen The Red Shepherd," he said.
I knew what he meant, and did not answer.
"And the dark flock of birds," he added "And last night, as I came here out of Oronsay, I saw a white hound running before me till I came here.
There was silence for a time.
"And I have written this," he muttered hoarsely. "It all I have written in all these years since she died whom I loved. You can put in the little book you know of if you have it" He gave me an old leathern case. In it was a dirty, folded sheet. He died that night. By the dancing yellow flame of the peats, while the wind screamed among the rocks, and the sea's gathering voices were more and more lamentaable and dreadful, I read what he had given me. But in paraphrasing his simpler and finer Gaelic, I may also alter his title of "Whisperings (or secret Whisperings) in the Darkness" to "The Secrets of the Night" because the old Gaelic saying, "The Red Shepherd, the White Hound and the Dark Flock of Birds; the Three Secrets (or secret terrors) of the Night:"

In the great darkness where the shimmering stars
  Are as the dazzle of the liminous wave
Moveth the shadow of the end of wars:
  But mightly arises, as out of a bloddy grave,
The Red Swineherd, he who has no name,
But who is gaunt, terrible, an awful flame
  Fed upon blood and perishing lives and tears;
  His feet are heavy with the bewildering years
Trodden dim bygone ages, and his eyes
Are black and vast and void as midnight skies.

Beware of the White Hound whose baying no man hears,
  Though it is the wind that shakes the unsteady stars:
  It is the Hound seen of men in old forlorn wars:
It is the Hound that hunts the stricken years.
  Pale souls in the ultimate shadows see it gleam
  Like a long lance o' the moon, and as a moon-white beam
It comes, and the soul is as blown dust within the wood
Wherein the White Hound moves where timeless shadows brood.

Have heed, too, of the flock of birds from twilight places,
  The desolate haunted ways of ancient wars
Bewildered, terrible, winged, and shadowy faces
  Of homeless souls adrift 'neath drifting stars.
But this thing surely I know, that he, the Red Flame,
  And the White Hound, and the Dark Flock of Birds,
    Appal me no more, who never, never again
    Through all the rise and set and set and rise of pain
  Shall hear the lips of her whom I loved uttering words,
Or hear my own lips in her shadowy hair naming her name.