The Works of Fiona Macleod, Vol. IV, The Divine Adventure, Part VIII

VIII

Towards sundown we came upon a hamlet, set among the hills. Our hearts had beat quicker as we drew near, for with the glory of light gathered above the west the mountains had taken upon them a bloom soft and wonderful, and we thought that at last we were upon the gates of the hills towards which we had journeyed so eagerly. But when we reached the last pines on the ridge we saw the wild doves flying far westward. Beyond us, under a pale star, dimly visible in a waste of rose, were the Hills of Dream.

The Soul wished to go to them at once, for now they seemed so near to us that we might well reach them with the rising of the moon. But the others were tired, nor did the Hills seem so near to them. So we sat down by the peat-fire in a shepherd's cottage, and ate of milk and porridge, and talked with the man about the ways of that district, and the hills, and how best to reach them. "If you want work," he said, "you should go away south, where the towns are, an' not to these lonely hills. They are so barren, that even the goatherds no longer wander their beasts there."

"It's said they're haunted," added the Body, seeing that the others did not speak.

"Ay, sure enough. That's well known, master. An' for the matter o' that, there's a wood down there to the right where for three nights past I have seen figures and the gleaming of fire. But there isn't a soul in that wood--no, not a wandering tinker. I took my dogs through it to-day, an' there wasn't the sign even of a last-year's gypsy. As for the low bare hill beyond it, not a man, let alone a woman or child, would go near it in the dark. In the Gaelic it's called Maol Dè, that is to say, the Hill of God."

For a long time we sat talking with the shepherd, for he told us of many things that were strange, and some that were beautiful, and some that were wild and terrible. One of his own brothers, after an evil life, had become mad, and even now lived in caves among the higher hills, going ever on hands and feet, and cursing by day and night because he was made as one of the wild swine, that know only hunger and rage and savage sleep. He himself tended lovingly his old father, who was too frail to work, and often could not sleep at nights because of the pleasant but wearying noise the fairies made as they met on the dancing-lawns among the bracken. Our friend had not himself heard the simple people, and in a whisper confided to us that he thought the old man was a bit mazed, and that what he heard was only the solitary playing of the Amadan-Dhu, who, it was known to all, roamed the shadows between the two dusks.  "Keep away from the river in the hollow," he said at another moment, "for it's there, on a night like this, just before the full moon got up, that, when I was a boy, I saw the Aonaran.  An' to this day, if I saw you or any one standing by the water, it 'ud be all I could do not to thrust you into it and drown you: ay, I'd have to throw myself on my face, an' bite the grass, an' pray till my soul shook the murder out at my throat. For that's the Aonaran's doing."

Later, he showed us, when we noticed it, a bit of smooth coral that hung by a coarse leathern thong from his neck.
"Is that an amulet?" one of us asked.
"No: it's my lassie's."
We looked at the man inquiringly.
"The bairn's dead thirty years agone."

In the silence that followed, one of us rose, and went with the shepherd into the little room behind. When the man came back it was with a wonderful light in his face. Our comrade did not return . . . but when we glanced sidelong, lo, the Soul was there, as though he had not moved. Then, of a sudden, we knew what he had done, what he had said, and were glad.

When we left (the shepherd wanted us to stay the night, but we would not), the stars had come. The night was full of solemn beauty.

We went down by the wood of which the shepherd had spoken, and came upon it as the moon rose.  But as a path bordered it, we followed that little winding white gleam, somewhat impatient now to reach those far hills where each of us believed he would find his heart's desire, or, at the least, have that vision of absolute Truth, of absolute Beauty, which we had set out to find.

We had not gone a third of the way when the Body abruptly turned, waving to us a warning hand. When we stood together silent, motionless, we saw that we were upon a secret garden. We were among ilex, and beyond were tall cypresses, like dark flames of the earth, their hither sides lit rising out the hill with wavering moonfire. Far away foxes barked. Somewhere near us in the dusk an owl hooted. The nested wild doves were silent. Once, the faint churr of a distant fern-owl sent a vibrant dissonance, that was yet strangely soothing, through the darkness and the silence.

"Look!" whispered the Body.

We saw, on a mossy slope, under seven great cypresses, a man lying on the ground, asleep. The moonshine reached him as we looked, and revealed a face of so much beauty and of so great a sorrow that the heart ached.  Nevertheless, there was so infinite a peace there, that, merely gazing upon it, our lives, stood still. The moonbeam slowly passed from that divine face.  I felt my breath rising and falling, like a feather before the mystery of the wind is come. Then, the further surprised, we saw that the sleeper was not alone. About him were eleven others, who also slept, but of these one sat upright, as though the watchman of that hour, slumbering at his post.

While the Body stooped, whispering, we caught sight of the white face of yet another, behind the great bole of a tree. This man, the twelfth of that company which was gathered about the sleeper in its midst, stared, with uplifted hand. In his other hand, and lowered to the ground, was a torch. He stared upon the Sleeper.

Slowly I moved forward. But whether in so doing, or by so doing, we broke some, subtle spell, which had again made us as one, I know not.  Suddenly three stood in that solitary place, with none beside us, neither sleeping nor watching, neither quick nor dead.  Far off the hill-foxes barked. Among the cypress boughs an owl hooted, and was still.

"Have we dreamed?" each asked the other. Then the Body told what he had seen, and what heard; and it was much as is written here, only that the sleepers seemed to him worn and poor men, ill-clad, weary, and that behind the white face of the twelfth, who hid behind a tree, was a company of evil men with savage faces, and fierce eyes, and drawn swords.

"I have seen nothing of all this," said the Will harshly, "but only a fire drowning in its own ashes, round which a maze of leaves circled this way and that, blown by idle winds."
The Soul looked at the speaker. He sighed.
"Though God were to sow living fires about you, O Will," he said, "you would not believe."
The Will answered dully: "I have but one dream, one hope, and that is to believe. Do not mock me." The Soul leaned and kissed him lovingly on the brow.
"Look," he said; "what I saw was this: I beheld, asleep, the Divine Love; not sleeping, as mortals sleep, but in a holy quiet, brooding upon infinite peace, and in commune with the Eternal joy. Around him were the Nine Angels, the Crois nan Aingeal of our prayers, and two Seraphs--the Eleven Powers and Dominions of the World. And One stared upon them, and upon Him, out of the dark wood, with a face white with despair, that great and terrible Lord of Shadow whom some call Evil and some Death, and some Fear, and some the Unknown God.  Behind him was a throng of demons and demoniac creatures: and all died continually.  And the wood itself--it was an infinite forest; a forest of human souls awaiting God."

The Will listened, with eyes strangely ashine. Suddenly he fell upon his knees, and prayed. We saw tears falling from his eyes.
"I am blind and deaf," he whispered in the ear of the Body, as he rose; "but, lest I forget, tell me where I am, in what place we are."
"It is a garden called Gethsemane," answered the other--though I know not how he knew--I--we--as we walked onward in silence through the dusk of moon and star, and saw the gossamer-webs whiten as they became myriad, and hang heavy with the pale glister of the dews of dawn.


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