Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod

THE WELLS OF PEACE

When Ian Mr, of whom elsewhere I have spoken so often, was a man in the midway of life, he sought the Wells of Peace.
All his life long he had desired other things. But when a man has lived deeply he comes at last to long for rest. Beauty, joy, life, these may be his desire: but soon or late he will seek the Wells of Peace.
I speak of a man such as Ian M
r was. There is too vast a concourse of those who herd ignobly among the low levels of desire: of these I do not speak, knowing little of them, for there are stars in my inner life that guide my stumbling feet elsewhere and otherwise.
He has quiet now. There is sleep upon his brain that was so tired. There is balm upon his spirit. He has peace, there, Where lie lies in deep, unheeding rest, under a rowan on a green hillside.
When he was ill with the death-weariness, though none saw signs of that, for it was from within, I asked him once what was the thing he remembered best out of life---who had lived so deeply, and was a poet and dreamer, and had loved with the great love.
He answered me in the Gaelic he loved. It is a saying of the people; but to me never common now, who see in the words the colour of his deep enduring loneliness.
"Deireadh gach comuinn, sgaoileadh; deireadh gach cogaidh, sth"---the end of all meetings, parting: the end of all striving, peace. "Deireadh gach cogaidh, sth': I have slept often to the quiet music of that.
When he was in the midway of life, Ian Mr went deep and far into the dark valley of weariness. The beauty of the world, the mystery of the human soul, the flame-like ecstasy of his dream: these sustained him. And when, at last, the radiance was without mystery, and the mystery without vista; when the loveliness of light and shadow over all the green earth and ancient hills and ever-changeful, unchanging sea, was a mere idle pageant for tired eyes---then was he sustained only by the star of his love. Far away she was. God knows in what unplumbed, fathomless depths of loneliness the following love pursues its quest. Afar off, he loved. Fair star of his redemption: he could always discern that light through the darkness of his homeless heart.
She was of the old heroic mould. "Joy and deep love," he said to her once, "these will be our stars." She smiled gravely in whispering back, "And strength and endurance."
Through how many strange gulfs he had sailed, through what hazardous straits, against what adverse winds and tides, before he set his course for the one haven he had never found; that port which each mariner on the sea of life has heard of, which many have descried across the running wave, which ever and again a few have found and entered: the blue quietudes of the haven of Peace.
I do not remember when it was that Ian Mr went forth upon his quest. He was in the midway of life, that I know; and he arose one day from where he lay upon the hillside, dreaming an old, sweet, impossible dream. It is enough.
He went down the hillside of Ben Maiseach, through the still purpled heather and the goldening bracken. Behind him the slopes rose pale blue, with isles of deeper azure where a few drifting clouds trailed their shadows across the upland moors. Beneath him, and just beyond the Glen of the Willows, the Gorromalt Water made a few shimmering curves of light among the green of hazel-thickets and fern; farther, the low hills broke into a serrated crest, as of a spent and broken billow. Beyond, lay a single, long, suspensive wave, immutable, pale as turquoise, ethereal as blue smoke. It was the sea.
A quiet region. Few crofts lightened the hillsides. Scanty pastures twisted this way and that among the granite boulders and endless green surf of fern.
On that solitary way, from the end of Monanair to where the path of the Glen of the Willows diverges, Ian M
r met no one. In the glen itself he passed a woman, a tinker's wife, dishevelled, with sullen eyes and ignoble mien, carrying wearily a sleeping child. He spoke, but she gave no other answer than a dull stare.
He passed her, dreaming his dream. A redbreast, who had found his fall-o'-the-leaf song, flew before him a while, fluting brief cries.
"Ah, birdeen, birdeen," he cried, "be the bird of the rainbow and lead me to my love."
But the redbreast fluttered idly into a thicket of red-brown bramble, and Ian walked slowly on. Something lay upon his heart.
"Lead me to my love," he muttered over and over.
Suddenly he turned and moved swiftly back. When he came upon the woman he smiled, and said again in the sweet, homely Gaelic, "God be with you, and a quiet night."
The sullen eyes wandered idly over him.
"Let me help you," he asked.
She held out her hand, the hollow palm upward. But when he said simply that he had no money, she cursed him.
"You are weary, poor woman," he added, taking no notice of her bitter words. "Let me carry the child for you a bit. Sure, 'tis a heavy weight at the end o' the day, but not so heavy as the burden o' want and the hand o' sorrow."
The woman looked at Ian suspiciously, but at last she gave him the child.
For a time they walked in silence, side by side.
"Is the child a lass or a boy?" Ian asked after a while.
"A lassie, worse luck."
His heart yearned. He looked into the little one's eyes, for she had wakened, and the last light of day was in those deep-blue pools, so fathomless and quiet.
Ian remembered a song he had made, years and years before, when his life was green as June, and his heart glad as May, and his thought light as April. The memory came running like a freshet over a barren course. Tears welled from his heart into his eyes.
And so, remembering, he sang in a low, murmuring voice:

"Ah, Eilidh, Eilidh, Eilidh, dear to me, dear and sweet,
In dreams I am hearing the sound of your little running feet;
The sound of your running feet that like the sea-hoofs beat
A music by day and night, Eilidh, on the sands of my heart, my sweet.

Eilidh, Eilidh, Eilidh, put off your wee hands from the heart o' me;
It is pain they are making there, where no more pain should be:
For little running feet, an' wee white hands, an' croodlin' as of the sea,
Bring tears to my eyes . . . tears, tears, out O' the heart o' me,
                          Mo lennav-a-chree,
                          Mo lennav-a-chree!"

While he sang, low as it was, the woman trudged on seemingly unhearing. When he ceased she spoke, with choking words and a gasp in her throat.
"Sing those last lines over again."
Ian glanced at her. Putting the child over into the hollow of his right arm, he slipped his hand into that of the tattered, dishevelled woman, as she tramped wearily on, her sullen eyes now red. He sang low:

"For little running feet, an' wee white hands,  an'   croodlin' as of the sea,
Bring tears to my eyes . . . tears, tears, out o' the heart o'me,
                              Mo lennav-a-chree,
                              Mo lennav-a-chree!"

"Why is there weeping upon you, poor woman?" he asked of her, in the kindly idiom of those who have the Gaelic.
Suddenly she stopped, and leaned against a birch; her breast shook with sobs.
For long she sobbed with bitter tears. Gently Ian soothed her out of the deep, warm pity that was ever in his heart for poor, sorrowful women. Soon she told him. The child he carried was not hers, but that of the woman her tinker-husband had taken to himself when, she, his wife, proved barren.
"An' I've only one hope," she cried, "an' only one dream, an' that's to feel the wee white hands, an' to hear the running feet, and to hear the croodlin as of the sea, of my own, own bairn."
Looking upon the poor vagrant, Ian's heart melted in pity. Deep, wonderful love of the mother, that could court hunger and privation and misery and all else as dross only for the kiss of little lips, the light in little eyes, the mothering touch. The poor, uncomely wench he thought: for sure, for sure, Mary, the Mother of All, called to her from afar off, with sister-sweet whispering and deep compassionate love.
They talked no more till they came to the little inn at the far end of the Glen of the Willows. The man there knew Ian M
r, and so promised readily to give the woman shelter and food for that day, and the morrow, which was the Sabbath.
At the rising of the moon Ian left her. She had no speech, but she stammered piteous, ungracious words. Peradventure he understood right well. When he kissed the child, she put her little arms round his neck, and clung to him like a white butterfly against a bole of pine.
As he left the last birches of the Glen of the Willows, and heard the vague, inland rumour of the sea echoing through a gully in the shoreward hills, another wayfarer joined him. It was Art, the son of Mary Gilchrist, he who as a little lad had been found, weary, in that very place, by a stranger who had taken him to a forest booth and shown him the mystery of the Twelve Weavers, who every day of the days meet at the Last Supper---for with them who are immortal there is no last or first.
For a brief while they spoke of one another.
Then Ian told Art his frieind that his weariness had become a burden too great to be borne; and that, tired even of hope---he had come forth to seek the Wells of Peace.
"And Art," he added, "if you will tell me where I may find these, you will have all the healing love that is in my heart."
"There are seven Wells of Peace, Ian Mr. Four you found long since, blind dreamer; and of one you had the sweet, cool water a brief while ago; and the other is where your hour waits; and the seventh is under the rainbow.
Ian Mr turned his eager, weary eyes upon the speaker.
"The Wells of Peace," he muttered, "which I have dreamed or---which I have dreamed of through tears and longing, and old, familiar pain, and sorrow too deep for words."
"Even so, Ian. Poet and dreamer, you too have been blind, for all your seeing eyes and wonder-woven brain and passionate dream."
"Tell me! What are the four Wells of Peace I have already passed and drunken of and not known?"
"They are called 'Love,' 'Beauty,' 'Dream,' and 'Endurance.'
Ian bowed he head. Tears dimmed his eyes.
"Art," he whispered. "Art, bitter, bitter waters were those that I drank in that fourth Well of Peace. For I know not the waters were sweet, then. And even now, even now, my heart faints at that shadowy well."
"It is the Well of Strength, Ian, and its waters rise out of that of Love, which you found so passing sweet."
"And what is that of which I drank a brief while ago?"
"It was in the Glen of the Willows. Your felt its cool breath when you turned and went back to that poor, outcast woman, and saw her sorrow, and looked into the eyes of the little one. And you drank of it when you gave the woman peace. It is the well where the Son of God sits forever, dreaming His dream. It is called 'Compassion.'"
And so, Ian thought, he had been at the Well of Peace that is called Commpassion, and not known it.
"Tell me, Art, whar are the sixth snd seventh?"
The sixth is where your hour waits. It is the Well of Rest; deep, deep sleep; deep, deep rest; balm for the weary brain, the weary heart, the spirit that hath had weariness for comrade and loneliness as a bride. It is a small well that, and shunned of men, for its portals are those of the grave, and the soft breath of it steals up through brown earth and the ancient, dreadful quiet of the underworld."
"And the seventh? That which is under the rainbow in the West?"
"Ian, you know the old, ancient tales. Once, years ago, I heard you tell that of Ulad the Lonely. Do you remember what was the word on the lips of his dream when, after long years, he saw her again when both met at last under the rainbow?"
"Ay, for sure. It was the word of triumph, of joy, the whisper of peace: "There is but one love.'"
" When you hear that, Ian, and from the lips of her whom you have loved and love, then you shall be standing by the Seventh Well."
They spoke no more, but moved slowly onward through the dusk. The sound of the sea deepened. The inland breath rose, as on a vast wing, but waned, and passed like perishing smoke against the starry regions in the gulfs above.
When the moon sank behind the ridge-set pines of Benallan, and darkness oozed out of every thicket and shadowy place, and drowned the black-green boughs and branches in a massed obscurity, Ian turned.
His quest was over. Not beyond those crested hills, nor by the running wave on the shore, whose voice filled the night as though it were the dark whorl of a mighty shell: not there, nor in this nor that far place, were the Wells of Peace.
Love, Beauty, Dream, Endurance, Compassion, Rest, Love-Fulfilled; for sure the Wells of Peace were not far from home.
So Ian M
r went back to his loneliness and his pain and his longing.

CONTENTS