The Works of Fiona Macleod, Vol. IV, The Divine Adventure, Part IV
It was about the middle of the afternoon that we moved inland, because of a difficult tract of cliff and bouldered shore. We followed the course of a brown torrent, and were soon under the shadow of the mountain. The ewes and lambs made incessantly that mournful crying, which in mountain solitudes falls from ledge to ledge as though it were no other than the ancient sorrow of the hills.
Thence we emerged, walking among boulders green with moss and grey with lichen, often isled among bracken and shadowed by the wind-wavering birches, or the finger-leafed rowans already heavy with clusters of ruddy fruit. Sometimes we spoke of things which interested us: of the play of light and shadow in the swirling brown torrent along whose banks we walked, and by whose grayling haunted pools we lingered often, to look at the beautiful shadowy unrealities of the perhaps not less shadowy reality which they mirrored: of the solemn dusk of the pines; of the mauve shadows which slanted across the scanty corn that lay in green patches beyond lonely crofts; of the travelling purple phantoms of phantom clouds, to us invisible, over against the mountain-breasts; of a solitary seamew, echoing the wave in that inland stillness.
All these things gave us keen pleasure. The Body often laughed joyously, and talked of chasing the shadow till it should turn and leap into him, and he be a wild creature of the woods again, and be happy, knowing nothing but the incalculable hour. It is an old belief of the Gaelic hillpeople.
"If one yet older be true," said the Will, speaking to the Soul, "you and Shadow are one and the same. Nay, the mystery of the Trinity is symbolised here again--as in us three; for there is an ancient forgotten word of an ancient forgotten people, which means alike the Breath, the Shadow, and the Soul."*
*The Aztec word Ehecall, which signifies alike the Wind (or Breath), Shadow, and Soul.
As we walked onward we became more silent. It was about the sixth hour from noon that we saw a little coast-town lying amid green pastures, overhung, as it seemed, by the tremulous blue band of the sea-line. The Body was glad, for here were friends, and he wearied for his kind. The Will and the Soul, too, were pleased, for now they shared the common lot of mortality, and knew weariness as well as hunger and thirst. So we moved towards the blue smoke of the homes.
"The home of a wild dove, a branch swaying in the wind, is sweet to it; and the green bracken under a granite rock is home to a tired hind; and so we, who are wayfarers idler than these, which blindly obey the law, may well look to yonder village as our home for to-niglit."
So spoke the Soul.
The Body laughed blithely. "Yes," he added, "it is a cheerier home than the green bracken. Tell me, have you ever heard of The Three Companions of Night?"
"The Three Companions of Night? I would take them to be Prayer, and Hope, and Peace."
"So says the Soul--but what do you say, O Will?"
"I would take them to be Dream, and Rest, and Longing."
"We are ever different," replied the Body, with a sigh, "for the Three Companions of whom I speak are Laughter, and Wine, and Love."
"Perhaps we mean the same thing," muttered the Will, with a smile of bitter irony.
We thought much of these words as we passed down a sandy lane hung with honeysuckles, which were full of little birds who made a sweet chattering.
Prayer, and Hope, and Peace; Dream, and Rest, and Longing; Laughter, and Wine, and Love: were these analogues of the Heart's Desire ?
When we left the lane, where we saw a glow-worm emitting a pale fire as he moved through the green dusk in the shadow of the hedge, we came upon a white devious road. A young man stood by a pile of stones. He stopped his labour and looked at us. One of us spoke to him.
"Why is it that a man like yourself, young and strong, should be doing this work, which is for broken men?"
"Why are you breathing?" he asked abruptly.
"We breathe to live," answered the Body, smiling blithely.
"Well, I break stones to live."
"Is it worth it?"
"It's better than death."
"Yes," said the Body slowly, "it is better than death."
"Tell me," asked the Soul, "why is it better than death?"
"Who wants not to want?"
"Ah--it is the need to want, then, that is strongest!"
The stone-breaker looked sullenly at the speaker.
"If you're not anxious to live," he said, "will you give me what money you have? It is a pity good money should be wasted. I know well where I would be spending it this night of the nights," he added abruptly in Gaelic.
The Body looked at him with curious eyes.
"And where would you be spending it?" he asked, in the same language.
"This is the night of the marriage of John Macdonald, the rich man from America, who has come back to his own town, and is giving a big night of it to all his friends, and his friends' friends."
"Is that the John Macdonald who is marrying Elsie Cameron?" demanded the Body eagerly.
"Ay, the same; though it may be the other daughter of Alastair Rua, the girl Morag."
A flush rose to the face of the Body. His eyes sparkled.
"It is Elsie," he said to the man.
"Belike," the stone-breaker muttered indifferently.
"Do you know where Alastair Rua and his daughters are?"
"Yes, at Beann Marsanta Macdonald's big house of the One-Ash Farm."
"Can you show me the way?"
"I'm going that way."
Thereat the Body turned to his comrades:
"I love her," he said simply; "I love Morag Cameron."
"She is not for your loving," answered the Will sharply; "for she has given troth to old Archibald Sinclair."
The Body laughed.
"Love is love," he said lightly.
"Come," interrupted the Soul wearily; "we have loitered long enough. Let us go."
We stood looking at the stone-breaker, who was gazing curiously at us. Suddenly he laughed.
"Why do you laugh?" asked the Soul.
"Well, I'm not for knowing that. But I'll tell you this: if you two wish to go into the town, you have only to follow this road. And if you want to come to One-Ash Farm, then you must come this other way with me."
"Do not go," whispered the Soul.
But the Body, with an impatient gesture, drew aside. "Leave me," he added: "I wish to go with this man. I will meet you to-morrow morning at the first bridge to the westward of the little town yonder, just where the stream slackens over the pebbles."
With reluctant eyes the two companions saw their comrade leave. For a long time the Will watched him with a bitter smile. Redeeming love was in the longing eyes of the Soul.
When the Body and the stone-breaker were alone, as they walked towards the distant farm-steading, where already were lights, and whence came a lowing of kye in the byres, for it was the milking hour, they spoke at intervals.
"Who were those with you?" asked the man.
"Friends. We have come away together."
"Well, as you would say, to see the world."
"To see the world?" The man laughed.
"To see the world! Have you money?"
"Enough for our needs."
"Then you will see nothing. The world gives to them that already have, an' more than have."
"What do you hope for to-night ?
"To be drunk."
"That is a poor thing to hope for. Better to think of the laugh and the joke by the fireside; and of food and drink, too, if you will: of the pipes, and dancing, and pretty girls."
"Do as you like. As for me, I hope to be drunk."
"Why? Because I'll be another man then. I'll have forgotten all that I now remember from sunrise to sundown. Can you think what it is to break a hope in your heart each time you crack a stone on the roadside?"
"That's what I am, a stone-breaker, an' I crack stones inside as well as outside. It's a stony place my heart, God knows."
"You are young to speak like that, and you speak like a man who has known better days."
"Oh, I'm ancient enough," said the man, with a short laugh.
"What meaning does that have?"
"What meaning? Well, it just means this, that I'm as old as the Bible. For there's mention o' me there. Only there I'm herding swine, an' here I'm breaking stones."
"And is your father living?"
"Ay, he curses me o' Sabbaths."
"Then it's not the same as the old story that is in the Bible?"
"Oh, nothing's the same an' everything's the same--except when you're drunk, an' then it's only the same turned outside in. But see, yonder's the farm. Take my advice, an' drink. It's better than the fireside, it's better than food, it's better than kisses, ay it's better than love, it's as good as hate, an' it's the only thing you can drown in except despair."
Soon after this the Body entered the house of the Beann Marsanta Macdonald, and with laughter and delight met Morag Cameron, and others whom his heart leaped to see.
At midnight, the Will sat in a room in a little inn, and read out of two books, now out of one, now out of the other. The one was the Gaelic Bible, the other was in English and was called The One Hope.
He rose, as the village clock struck twelve, and went to the window. A salt breath, pungent with tide-stranded seaweed, reached him. In the little harbour, thin shadowy masts ascended like smoke and melted. A green lantern swung from one. The howling of a dog rose and fell. A faint lapping of water was audible. On a big fishing-coble some men were laughing and cursing.
Overhead was an oppressive solemnity. The myriad stars were as the incalculable notes of a stilled music, become visible in silence. It was a relief to look into unlighted deeps.
"These idle lances of God pierce the mind, slay the spirit," the Will murmured, staring with dull anger at the white multitude.
"If the Soul were here," he added bitterly, "he would look at these glittering mockeries as though they were harbingers of eternal hope. To me they are whited sepulchres. They say we live, to those who die; they say God endures, to Man that perisheth; they whisper the immortal Hope to Mortality." Turning, he went back to where he had left the books. He lifted one, and read:--
"Have we not the word of God Himself that Time and Chance happeneth to all: that soon or late we shall all be caught in a net, we whom Chance hath for his idle sport, and upon whom Time trampleth with impatient feet? Verily, the rainbow is not more frail, nor fleeting, than this drear audacity."
With a sigh he put the book down, and lifted the other. Having found the page he sought, be read slowly aloud :--
" . . , but Time and Chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.."
He went to the window again, brooding darkly. A slight sound caught his ear. He saw a yellow light run out, leap across the pavement and pass like a fan of outblown flame. Then the door closed, and we heard, a step on the stone flags. He looked down. The Soul was there.
"Are you restless? Can you not sleep?" he asked.
"No, dear friend. But my heart is weary because of the Body. Yet before I go, let me bid you read that which follows upon what you have just read. It is not only Time and Chance upon which to dwell; but upon this, that God knows that which He does, and the hour and the way, and sees the end in the beginning."
And while the Soul moved softly down the little windy street, the Will opened the Book again, and read as the Soul had bidden.
"It may be so," he muttered, "it may be that the dreamer may yet wake to behold his dream-- 'As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, even so thou knowest not the work of God Who doeth all?'"
With that he sighed wearily, and then, afraid to look again at the bitter eloquence of the stars, lit a candle as he lay down on his bed, and watched the warm companionable flame till sleep came upon him, and he dreamed no more of the rue and cypress, but plucked amaranths in the moonshine.
Meanwhile the Soul walked swiftly to the outskirts of the little town, and out by the grassy links where clusters of white geese huddled in sleep, and across the windy common where a tethered ass stood, with drooping head, his long, twitching ears now motionless. In the moonlight, the shadow of the weary animal stretched to fantastic lengths, and at one point, when the startled Soul looked at it, he beheld the shadow of the Cross.
When he neared One-Ash Farm he heard a loud uproar from within. Many couples were still dancing, and the pipes and a shrill flute added to the tumult. Others sang and laughed, or laughed and shouted, or cursed hoarsely. Through the fumes of smoke and drink rippled women's laughter.
He looked in at a window, with sad eyes. The first glance revealed to him the Body, his blue eyes aflame, his face flushed with wine, his left arm holding close to his heart a bright winsome lass, with hair dishevelled, and wild eyes, but with a wonderful laughing eagerness of joy.
In vain he called. His voice was suddenlv grown faint. But what the ear could not hear, the heart heard. The Body rose abruptly.
"I will drink no more," he said.
A loud insensate laugh resounded near him. The stone-breaker lounged heavily from a bench, upon the servant's table.
"I am drunk now, my friend," the man cried with flaming eyes. "I am drunk, an' now I am as reckless as a king, an' as serene as the Pope, an' as heedless as God."
The Soul turned his gaze and looked at him. He saw a red flame rising from grey ashes. The ashes were his heart. The flame was his impotent, perishing life.
Stricken with sorrow, the Soul went to the door, and entered. He went straight to the stone-breaker, who was now lying with head and arms prone on the deal table.
He whispered in the drunkard's ear. The man lifted his head, and stared with red, brutish eyes.
"What is that?" he cried.
"Your mother was pure and holy. She died to give you her life. What will it be like on the day she asks for it again?"
The man raised an averting arm. There was a stare of horror in his eyes.
"I know you, you devil. Your name is Conscience."
The Soul looked at the Speaker. "I do not know," he answered simply; "but I believe in God."
"In the love of God?"
"In the love of God."
"He dwells everywhere?"
"Then I will find Him, I will find His love, here"--and with that the man raised the deathly spirit to his lips again, and again drank. Then, laughing and cursing, he threw the remainder at the feet of his unknown friend.
"Farewell!" he shouted hoarsely, so that those about him stared at him and at the newcomer.
The Soul turned sadly, and looked for his strayed comrade, but he was nowhere to be seen. In a room upstairs that friend whom he loved was whispering eager vows of sand and wind; and the girl Morag, clinging close to him, tempted him as she herself was tempted, so that both stood in that sand, and in the intertangled hair of each that wind blew.
The Soul saw, and understood. None spoke to him, a stranger, as he went slowly from the house, though all were relieved when that silent, sad-eyed foreigner withdrew.
Outside, the cool sea-wind fell freshly upon him. He heard a corncrake calling harshly to his mate, where the corn was yellowing in a little stone-dyked field; and a night-jar creening forward on a juniper, uttering his whirring love-note; and he blessed their sweet, innocent lust. Then, looking upward, he watched for a while the white procession of the stars. They were to him the symbolic signs of the mystery of God. He bowed his head. "Dust of the world," he :muttered humbly, "dust of the world."
Moving slowly by the house--so doubly noisy, so harshly discordant, against the large, serene, nocturnal life--he came against the gable of an open window. On the ledge lay a violin, doubtless discarded by some reveller. The Soul lifted it, and held it up to the night-wind. When it was purified, and the vibrant wood was as a nerve in that fragrant darkness, he laid it on his shoulder and played softly.
What was it that he played? Many heard it, but none knew what the strain was, or whence it came. The Soul remembered, and played. It is enough.
The soft playing stole into the house as though it were the cool sea-wind, as though it were the flowing dusk. Beautiful, unfamiliar sounds, and sudden silences passing sweet, filled the rooms. The last guests left hurriedly, hushed, strangely disquieted. The dwellers in the farmstead furtively bade good-night, and slipt away.
For an hour, till the sinking of the moon, the Soul played. He played the Song of Dreams, the Song of Peace, the three Songs of Mystery. The evil that was in the house ebbed. Everywhere, at his playing, the secret obscure life awoke. Nimble aerial creatures swung, invisibly passive, in the quiet dark. From the brown earth, from hidden sanctuaries in rocks and trees, green and grey lives slid, and stood intent. Out of the hillside came those of old. There were many eager voices, like leaves lapping in a wind. The wild-fox lay down, with red tongue lolling idly: the stag rose from the fern, with dilated nostrils; the night-jar ceased, the corncrake ceased, the moon-wakeful thrushes made no single thrilling note. The silence deepened. Sleep came stealing softly out of the obscure, swimming dusk. There was not a swaying reed, a movingleaf. The strange company of shadows stood breathless. Among the tree-tops the loosened stars shone terribly--lonely fires of silence.
The Soul played. Once he thought of the stone-breaker. He played into his heart. The man stirred, and tears oozed between his heavy lids. It was his mother's voice that he heard, singing-low a cradle-sweet song, and putting back her white hair that she might look earthward to her love. "Grey sweetheart, grey sweetheart," he moaned. Then his heart lightened, and a moonlight of peace hallowed that solitary waste place.
Again, at the last, the Soul thought of his comrade, heavy with wine in the room overhead, drunken with desire. And to him he played the imperishable beauty of Beauty, the Immortal Love, so that, afterwards, he should remember the glory rather than the shame of his poor frailty. What he played to the girl's heart only those women know who hear the w ispering words of Mary the Mother in sleep, when a second life breathes beneath each breath.
When he ceased, deep slumber was a balm upon all. He fell upon his knees and prayed.
"Beauty of all Beauty," he prayed, "let none perish without thee."
It was thus that we three, who were one, realised how Prayer and Hope and Peace, how Dream and Rest and Longing, how Laughter and Wine and Love, are in truth but shadowy analogues of the Heart's Desire.
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