Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod

MORAG OF THE GLEN

II

That night the wind had a dreadful soughing in its voice---a mournful voice that came along the rain-wet face of the hills, with a prolonged moaning and sobbing.
Down in the big room, that was kitchen and sitting-room in one, where Gorromalt sat---for he had risen from his bed, for all that he was so weak and giddy-there was darkness. His wife had pleaded for the oil-lamp, because the shadows within and the wild wind withoutthough, I am thinking most the shadows within her brain-filled her with dread; but he would not have it, no, not a candle even. The peats glowed, red-hot; above them the small narrow pine-logs crackled in a scarlet and yellow blaze.
Hour after hour went by in silence. There were but the three of us. Morag? Ah, did Gorromalt think she would stay at Teenabrae, and Muireall near by, and in the clutch of the death-frost, and she, her sister dear, not go to her? He had put the ban upon us, soon as the blood was out of his brain, and he could half rise from his pillow. No one was to go to see her, no one was to send word to her, no one was to speak of her.
At that, Aunt Elspeth had fallen on her knees beside the bed, and prayed to him to show pity. The tears rained upon the relentless, heavy hand she held and kissed. "At the least," she moaned, "at the least, let some one go to her, Archibald; at least a word, only one word!"
"Not a word, woman, not a word. She has sinned, but that's the way o' women o' that kind. Let her be. The wind'll blow her soul against God's heavy hand, this very night o' the nights. It's not for you nor for me. But I'm saying this, I am: curse her, ay, curse her again and again, for that she let the son of the stranger, the son of our enemy, who would drive us out of the home we have, the home of our fathers, ay, back to the time when no English foot ever trod the heather of Argyll, that she would let him do her this shame and disgrace, her and me, an' you too, ay, and all of our blood, and the Strath too, for that---ay, by God, and the clan, the whole clan!"
But though Gorromalt's word was law there, there was one who had the tide coming in at one ear and going out at the other. As soon as the rainy gloom deepened into dark, she slipped from the house; I wanted to go with her, but she whispered to me to stay. It was well I did. I was able to keep back from him, all night, the story of Morag's going. He thought she was in her bed. So bitter on the man was his wrath, that, ill as he was, he would have risen, and ridden or driven over to Kilbrennan, had he known Morag was gone there.
Angus Macallum, Gorromalt's chief man, was with the horses in the stable. He tried to prevent Morag taking out Gealcas, the mare, she that went faster and surer than any there. He even put hand upon the lass, and said a rough word. But she laughed, I am told; and I am thinking that whoever heard Morag laugh, when she was "strange," for all that she was so white and soft, she with her hair o' sunlight, and the blue, blue eyes o' her !---whoever heard that would not be for standing in her way.
So Angus had stood back, sullenly giving no help, but no longer daring to interfere. She mounted Gealcas, and rode away into the dark, rainy night where the wind went louping to and fro among the crags on the braes as though it were mad with fear or pain, and complaining wild, wild---the lamentable cry of the hills.
Hour after hour we sat there. We could hear the roaring sound of Gorromalt Water as it whirled itself over the linn. The stream was in spate, and would be boiling black, with livid clots of foam flung here and there on the dripping heather overhanging the torrent. The wind's endless sough came into the house, and wailed in the keyholes and the chinks. Rory, the blind collie, lay on a mat near the door, and the long hair of his felt was blown upward, and this way and that, by the ground-draught.
Once or twice Aunt Elspeth rose, and stirred the porridge that seethed and bubbled in the pot. Her husband took no notice. He was in a daze, and sat in his flanked leathern armchair, with his arms laid along the sides, and his down-clasping hands catching the red gleam of the peats, and his face, white and set, like that of a dead man looking out of a grated prison.
Once or twice, an hour or so before, when she had begun to croon some hymn, he had harshly checked her. But now when she hummed, and at last openly sang the Gaelic version of "The Lord's my Shepherd," he paid no heed. He was not hearing that, or anything she did. I could make nothing of the cold bitterness that was on his face. He brooded, I doubt not, upon doom for the man, and the son of the man, who had wrought him this evil.
His wife saw this, and so had her will at last. She took down the great Gaelic Bible, and read Christ's words about little children. The rain slashed against the window-panes. Beyond, the wind moaned, and soughed, and moaned. From the kennel behind the byre a mournful howling rose and fell; but Gorromalt did not stir.
Aunt Elspeth looked at me despairingly. Poor old woman; ah, the misery and pain of it, the weariness and long pain of starved hearts and barren hopes. Suddenly an idea came to her. She rose again, and went over to the fire. Twice she passed in front of her husband. He made no sign.
"He hates those things," she muttered to me, her eyes wet with pain, and with something of shame, too, for admitting that she believed in incantations. And why not, poor old woman? Sure there are stranger things than sian or rosad, charm or spell; and who can say that the secret old wisdom is mere foam o' thought. "He hates those things, but I am for saving my poor lass if I can. I will be saying that old ancient eolas, that is called the Eolas an t-Snaithnean."
"What is that, Aunt Elspeth? What are the three threads?"
"That eolas killed the mother of my mother, dearie; she that was a woman out of the isle of Benbecula."
"Killed her!" I repeated awe-struck.
" Ay; 'tis a charm for the doing away of bewitchment, and sure it is my poor Muireall who has been bewitched. But my mother's mother used the eolas for the taking away of a curse upon a cow that would not give milk. She was saying the incantation for the third time, and winding the triple thread round the beast's tail, when in a moment all the ill that was in the cow came forth and settled upon her, so that she went back to her house quaking and sick with the blight, and died of it next day, because there was no one to take it from her in turn by that or any other eolas."
I listened in silence. The thing seemed terrible to me then; no, no, not then only, but now, too, whenever I think of it.
"Say it then, Aunt Elspeth," I whispered; it say it, in the name of the Holy Three."
With that she went on her knees, and leaned against her chair, though with her face toward her husband, because of the fear that was ever in her. Then in a low voice, choked with sobs, she said this old eolas, after she had first uttered the holy words of the "Pater Noster":

             "Chi suil thu,
               Labhraidh bial thu;
               Smuainichidh cridhe thu.
              Tha Fear an righthighe
              Gad' choisreagahd,
An t- A thair, am Mac, 's an Spiorad Naomh.

             "Ceathrar a rinn do chron---
               Fear agus bean,
              Gille agus nighen.
              Co tha gu sin a thilleadh?
Tri Pearsannan no Trianaid ro-naomh,
An t-A thair, am Mac, 's an Spioraid Naomh.

"Tha mi 'cur fianuis gu Moire, agus gu Brighde,
  Ma 's e duine rinn do chron,
              Le drocli run,
             No le drock shuil,
            No le droch chridhe,
Gu'm bi thusa, Muireall gu math,
Ri linn so a chur mu'n cuairt ort.
An ainm an A thar, a' Mhic, 's an Spioraid Naomh!"

("An eye will see you,
Tongue will speak of you,
Heart will think of you,
The Man of Heaven
Blesses you---
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

"Four caused your hurt---
Man and Wife,
Young man, and maiden.
Who is to frustrate that?
The three Persons of the most Holy Trinity,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

"I call the Virgin Mary and St. Briget to witness
     That if your hurt was caused by man,
             Through ill-will,
             Or the evil eye,
             Or a wicked heart,
     That you, Muireall, my daughter, maybe whole---
And this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!)

Just as she finished, and as she was lingering on the line, "G'um bi thusa, Muireall gu math," Rory, the blind collie, rose, whimpered, and stood with snarling jaws.
Strangely enough, Gorromalt heard this, though his ears had been deaf to all else, or so it seemed, at least.
"Down, Rory! down, beast!" he exclaimed, in a voice strangely shrill and weak.
But the dog would not be still. His sullen fear grew worse. Suddenly he sidled and lay on his belly, now snarling, now howling, his blind'eyes distended, his nostrils quivering, his flanks quaking. My uncle rose and stared at the dog.
"What ails the beast?" he asked angrily, looking now at Rory, now at us. "Has any one come in? Has any one been at the door?"
"No one, Archibald."
"What have you been doing, Elspeth?"
"Nothing."
"Woman, I heard your voice droning at your prayers. Ah, I see--- you have been at some of your sians and eolais again. Sure, now, one would be thinking you would have less foolishness, and you with the greyness upon your years. What colas did she say, lass?"
I told him. "Aw, silly woman that she is, the eolas an t-Snaithnean! madness and folly! . . . Where is Morag?"
"In bed." I said this with truth in my eyes. God's forgiveness for that good lie!
"And it's time you were there also, and you, too, Elspeth. Come now, no more of this foolishness. We have nothing to wait for. Why are we waiting here?"
At that moment Rory became worse than ever. I thought the poor blind beast would take some dreadful fit. Foam was on his jaws ; his hair bristled. He had sidled forward, and crouched low. We saw him look again and again toward the blank space to his right, as if, blind though he was, he saw some one there, some one that gave him fear, but no longer a fierce terror. Nay, more than once we saw him swish his tail, and sniff as though recognisingly. But when he turned his head toward the door his sullen fury grew, and terror shook upon every limb. It was now that Gorromalt was speaking.
Suddenly the dog made a leap forward---a terrible bristling wolf he seemed to me, though no wolf had I ever seen, or imagined any more fearsome, than Rory, now.
He dashed himself against the door, snarling and mouthing, with his snout nosing the narrow slip at the bottom.
Aunt Elspeth and I shook with fear. My uncle was death-white, but stood strangely brooding. He had his right elbow upon his breast, and supported it with his left arm, while with his right hand he plucked at his beard.
"For sure," he said at last, with an effort to seem at ease; "for sure the dog is fy with his age and his blindness." Then, more slowly still, "And if that were not so, it might look as though he had the fear on him, because of some one who strove to come in."
"It is Muireall," I whispered, scarce above my breath.
"No," said Aunt Elspeth, and the voice of her now was as though it had come out of the granite all about us, cold and hard as that. "No! Muireall is already in the room."
We both turned and looked at her. She sat quite still, on the chair betwixt the fire and the table. Her face was rigid, ghastly, but her eyes were large and wild.
A look first of fear, then almost of tenderness, came into her husband's face.
"Hush, Elspeth," he said, " that is foolishness."
"It is not foolishness, Archibald," she resumed in the same hard, unemotional voice, but with a terrible intensity. "Man, man, because ye are blind, is there no sight for those who can see?"
"There is no one here but ourselves."
But now Aunt Elspeth half rose, with suppplicating arms:
"Muireall! Muireall! Muireall. O muirnean, muirnean!"
I saw Archibald Campbell shaking as though he were a child and no strong man. "Will you be telling us this, Elspeth," he began in a hoarse voice---"will you be telling me this: if Muireall is in the room, beyond Rory there, who will be at the door? Who is trying to come in at the door?"
"It is a man. I do not know the man. It is a man. It is Death, maybe. I do not know the man. "O Muirnean, mo muirnean!"
But now the great, gaunt black dog---terrible in his seeing blindness he was to me---began again his savage snarling, his bristling insensate fury. He had ceased a moment while our voices filled the room, and had sidled a little way toward the place where Aunt Elspeth saw Muireall, whining low as he did so, and swishing his tail furtively along the whitewashed flagstones.
I know not what awful thing would have happened. It seemed to me that Death was coming to all of us.
But at that moment we all heard the sound of a galloping horse. There was a lull in the wind, and the rain lashed no more like a streaming whistling whip. Even Rory crouched silent, his nostrils quivering, his curled snout showing his fangs.
Gorromalt stood, listening intently.
"By the living God," he exclaimed suddenly, his eyes like a goaded bull's---"I know that horse. Only one horse runs like that at the gallop. 'Tis the grey stallion I sold three months ago to the man at Drumdoon---ay, ay, for the son of the man at Drumdoon! A horse to ride for the shooting---good horse for the hills---that was what he wanted! Ay, ay, by God, a horse for the son of the man at Drumdoon! It's the grey stallion: no other horse in the Straths runs like that---d'ye hear? d'ye hear? Elspeth, woman, is there hearing upon you for that? Hey, tlot-a-tlot, tlot-a-tlot, tlot-tiot-tiot-tlot, tlot-a-tlot, tlot-tlot-tiot! I tell you, woman, it's the grey stallion I sold to Drumdoon: it's that and no other! Ay,by the Sorrow, it's Drumdoon's son that will be riding here!"
By this time the horse was close by. We heard his hoofs clang above the flagstones round the well at the side of the house. Then there was a noise as of scattered stones, and a long, scraping sound: then silence.
Gorromalt turned and put his hand to the door. There was murder in his eyes, for all the smile, a grim, terrible smile, that had come to his lips.
Aunt Elspeth rose and ran to him, holding him back. The door shook. Rory the hound tore at the splinters at the base of the door, his fell again bristling, his snarling savagery horrible to hear. The pine-logs had fallen into a smouldering ash. The room was full of gloom, though the red, sullen eye of the peatglow stared through the obscurity.
"Don't be opening the door! Don't be opening the door!" she cried, in a thin, screaming voice.
"What for no, woman? Let me go! Hell upon this dog---out o' the way, Rory---get back! Down wi'ye!"
"No, no, Archibald! Wait! Wait!"
Then a strange thing happened.
Rory ceased, sullenly listened, and then retreated, but no longer snarling and bristling.
Gorromalt suddenly staggered.
"Who touched me just now?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.
No one answered.
"Who touched me just now? Who passed? Who slid past me?" His voice rose almost to a scream.
Then, shaking off his wife, he swung the door open.
There was no one there. Outside could be heard a strange sniffling and whinnying. It was the grey stallion.
Gorromalt strode across the threshold.
Scarcely had I time to prevent Aunt Elspeth from falling against the lintel in a corner, yet in a moment's interval I saw that the stallion was riderless.
"Archibald!" wailed his wife faintly out of her weakness. "Archibald, come back! Come back!"
But there was no need to call. Archibald Campbell was not the man to fly in the face of God. He knew that no mortal rider rode that horse to its death that night. Even before he closed the door we heard the rapid, sliding, catching gallop. The horse had gone: rider or riderless I know not.
He was ashy-grey. Suddenly he had grown quite still. He lifted his wife, and helped her to her own big leathern arm-chair at the other side of the ingle.
"Light the lamp, lass," he said to me, in a hushed, strange voice. Then he stooped and threw some small pine-logs on the peats, and stirred the blaze till it caught tered edges. the dry splintered edges.
Rory, poor blind beast, came wearily and with a low whine to his side, and then lay down before the warm blaze.
"Bring the Book," he said to me.
I brought the great leather-bound Gaelic Bible, and laid it on his knees.
He placed his hand in it, and opened at random.
"With Himself be the word," he said.
"Is it Peace?" asked Aunt Elspeth in a tremulous whisper.
"It is Peace," he answered, his voice gentle, his face stern as a graven rock. And what he was this, where his eye chanced upon as read he opened at the place where is the Book of the Vision of Nahum the Elkoshite:

"What do ye imagine against the Lord? He will make a full end."

After that there was a silence. Then he rose, and told me to go and lie down and sleep; for, on the morrow, after dawn, I was to go with him to where Muireall was.
I saw Aunt Elspeth rise and put her arms about him. They had peace. I went to my room, but after a brief while returned, and sat,
in the quietness there, by the glowing peats, till dawn.
The greyness came at last; with it, the rain ceased. The wind still soughed and wailed among the corries and upon the rocky braes; with low moans sighing along the flanks of the near hills, and above the stony watercourse where the Gorromalt surged with swirling foam and loud and louder tumult.
My eyes had closed in my weariness, when I heard Rory give a low growl, followed by a contented whimper. Almost at the same moment the door opened. I looked up, startled.
It was Morag.
She was so white, it is scarce to be wondered at that I took her at first for a wraith.
Then I saw how drenched she was, chilled to the bone too. She did not speak as I led her in, and made her stand before the fire, while I took off her soaked dress and shoes. In silence she made all the necessary changes, and in silence drank the tea I brewed for her.
"Come to my room with me," she whispered, as with quiet feet we crossed the stone flags and went up the wooden stair that led to her room.
When she was in bed she bade me put out the light and lie down beside her. Still silent, we lay there in the darkness, for at that side of the house the hill-gloom prevailed, and moreover the blind was down-drawn. I thought the weary moaning of the wind would make my very heart sob.
Then, suddenly, Morag put her arms about me, and the tears streamed warm about my neck.
Hush, Morag-aghray, hush, mo-rn," I whispered in her ear. "Tell me what it is, dear! Tell me what it is! "
"Oh, and I loved him so! I loved him!"
"I know it, dear; I knew it all along."
I thought her sobs would never cease till her heart was broken, so I questioned her again.
"Yes," she said, gaspingly, "yes, I loved him when Muireall and I were in the South together. I met him a month or more before ever she saw him. He loved me, and I promised to marry him: but I would not go away with him as he wished: for he said his father would never agree. And then he was angry, and we quarrelled. And I---Oh! I was glad, too, for I did not wish to marry an Englishman or to live in a dreary city; but . . . but . . . and then he and Muireall met, and he gave all his thought to her; and she her love to him."
" And now?"
"Now? . . . Now Muireall is dead."
"Dead? O Morag, dead? Oh, poor Muireall that we loved so! But did you see her? Was she alive when you reached her?
"No, but she was alone. And now, listen. Here is a thing I have to tell you. When Ealasaid Cameron, that was my mother's mother, was a girl, she had a cruel sorrow. She had two sisters whom she loved with all her heart. They were twins, Silis and Morag. One day an English officer at Fort William took Silis away with him as his wife; but when her child was heavy within her she discovered that she was no wife, for the man was already wedded to a woman in the South. She left him that night. It was bitter weather, and midwinter. She reached home through a wild snowdrift. It killed her; but before she died she said to Morag, 'He has killed me and the child.' And Morag understood. So it was that before any wind of spring blew upon that snow, the man was dead."
When Morag stopped here, and said no more, I did not at first realise what she meant to tell me. Then it flashed upon me.
"O Morag, Morag!" I exclaimed, terrified. "But, Morag, you do not    . . . you will not. . . ."
"Will not?" she repeated, with a catch in her voice.
"Listen," she resumed suddenly after a long, strained silence. "While I lay beside my darling Muireall, weeping and moaning over her, and she so fair, with such silence where the laughter had always been, I heard the door open. I looked up: it was Jasper Morgan.
" 'You are too late,' I said. I stared at the man who had brought her, and me, this sorrow. There was no light about him at all, as I had always thought. He was only a man as other men are, but with a cold, selfish heart and loveless eyes.
" 'She sent for me to come back to her,' he answered, though I saw his face grow ashy-grey as he looked at Muireall and saw that she was dead.
" 'She is dead, Jasper Morgan.'
" 'Dead . . . Dead?'
" 'Ay, dead. It is upon you, her death. Her you have slain, as though with your sword that you carry: her, and the child she bore within her, and that was yours.'
"At that he bit his lip till the blood came.
" 'It is a lie,' he cried. 'It is a lie, Morag. If she said that thing, she lied."
"I laughed.
" 'Why do you laugh, Morag?' he asked, in a swift anger.
"Once more I laughed.
" 'Why do you laugh like that, girl?'
"But I did not answer. 'Come,' I said, 'come with me. I have something to say to you. You can do no good here now. She has taken poison, because of the shame and the sorrow.'
" 'Poison!' he cried, in horror; and also, I could see in the poor, cowardly mind of him, in a sudden sick fear.
"But when I rose to leave the room he made ready to follow me. I kissed Muireall for the last time. The man approached, as though to do likewise. I lifted my riding-whip. He bowed his head, with a deep flush on his face, and came out behind me.
"I told the inn-folk that my father would be over in the morning. Then I rode slowly away. Jasper Morgan followed on his horse, a grey stallion that Muireall and I had often ridden, for he was from Teenabrae farm.
"When we left the village it was into a deep darkness. The rain and the wind made the way almost impassable at times. But at last we came to the ford. The water was in spate, and the rushing sound terrified my horse. I dismounted, and fastened Gealcas to a tree. The man did the same.
" 'What is it, Morag?' he asked in a quiet, steady voice---'Death?'
" 'Yes,' I said. 'Death.'
"Then he suddenly fell forward, and snatched my hand, and begged me to forgive him, swearing that he had loved me and me only, and imploring me to believe him, to love him, to . . . Ah, the hound!
" But all I said was this:
" 'Jasper Morgan, soon or late I would kill you, because of this cruel wrong you did to her. But there is one way: best for her . . . best for me . . . best for you.'
" 'What is that?' he said hoarsely, though I think he knew now. The roar of the Gorromalt Water filled the night.
" 'There is one way. It is the only way . . . Go!'
"He gave a deep, quavering sigh. Then without word he turned, and walked straight into the darkness."
Morag paused here. Then, in answer to my frightened whisper, she added simply:
"They will find his body in the shallows, down by Drumdoon. The spate will carry it there."
After that we lay in silence. The rain had begun to fall again, and slid with a soft, stealthy sound athwart the window. A dull light grew indiscernibly into the room. Then we heard someone move downstairs. In the yard, Angus, the stableman, began to pump water. A cow lowed, and the cluttering of hens was audible.
I moved gently from Morag's side. As I rose, Maisie passed beneath the window on her way to the byre. As her wont was, poor wild wildered lass, she was singing fitfully. It was the same ballad again. But we heard a single verse only.

"For I have killed a man," she said,
"A better man than you to wed:
I slew him when he clasped my head,
And now he sleepeth with the dead."

Then the voice was lost in the byre, and in he sweet, familiar lowing of the kine. The new day was come.

CONTENTS