The Works of Fiona Macleod, Vol. IV, Studies in Spiritual History

THE WHITE FEVER

One night, before the peats, I was told this thing by old Cairstine Macdonald, in the isle of Benbecula. It is in her words that I give it:

In the spring of the year that my boy Tormaid died, the moon-daisies were as thick as a woven shroud over the place where Giorsal,, the daughter of Ian, the son of Ian MacLeod of Baille 'n Bad-a-sgailich, slept night and day.╣

All that March the cormorants screamed, famished. There were few fish in the sea, and no kelp-weed was washed up by the high tides. In the island and in the near isles, ay, and far north through the mainland, the blight lay. Many sickened. I knew young mothers who had no milk.

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Baille 'n Bad-a-sgailich: the Farm of the Shadowy Clump of Trees. Cairstine, or Cairistine, is the Gaelic for Christina (for Christian), as Torntaid is for Norman, and Giorsal for Grace. "The quiet havens" is the beautiful island phrase for graves. Here, also, a swift and fatal consumption that falls upon the doomed is called "The White Fever." By "the mainland," Harris and the Lewis are meant.
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There are green mounds in Carnan kirkyard that will be telling you of what this meant. Here and there are little green mounds, each so small that you might cuddle it in your arm under your plaid.

Tormaid sickened. A bad day was that for him when he came home, weary with the sea, and drenched to the skin, because of a gale that caught him and his mates off Barra Head. When the March winds tore down the Minch, and leaped out from over the Cuchullins, and came west, and lay against our homes, where the peats were sodden and there was little food, the minister told me that my lad would be in the quiet havens before long. This was because of the white fever. It was of that same that Giorsa waned, and went out like a thin flame in sunlight.

The son of my man (years ago weary no more) said little ever. He ate nothing almost, even of the next to nothing we had. At nights he couldna sleep because of his cough. The coming of May lifted him awhile. I hoped he would see the autumn; and that if he did, and the herring came, and the harvest was had, and what wi' this and what wi' that, he would forget his Giorsal that lay i' the mools in the quiet place yonder. Maybe then, I thought, the sorrow would go, and take its shadow with it.

One gloaming he came in with all the whiteness of his wasted body in his face. His heart was out of its shell; and mine, too, at the sight of him.

This was the season of the hanging of the dog's mouth.

"What is it, Tormaid-a-ghaolach?" I asked, with the sob that was in my throat.

"Thraisg mo chridhe," he muttered (My heart is parched). Then, feeling the asking in my eyes, he said, "I have seen her."

I knew he meant Giorsal. My heart sank. But I wore my nails into the palms of my hands. Then I said this thing, that is an old saying in the isles: "Those who are in the quiet havens hear neither the wind nor the sea." He was so weak he could not lie down in the bed. He was in the big chair before the peats, with his feet on a claar.

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A cockall a' chridhe: his heart out of its shell--a phrase often used to express sudden derangement from any shock. The ensuing phrase means the month from the 15th of July to the 15th of August, Mios crochaidh nan con, so called as it is supposed to be the hottest, if not the most waterless, month in the isles. The word claar used below, is the name given a small wooden tub, into which the potatoes are turned when boiled.
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When the wind was still I read him the Word. A little warm milk was all he would take. I could hear the blood in his lungs sobbing like the ebb-tide in the sea-weed. This was the thing that he said to me:

"She came to me, like a grey mist, beyond the dyke of the green place, near the road. The face of her was grey as a grey dawn, but the voice was hers, though I heard it under a wave, so dull and far was it. And these are her words to me, and mine to her--and the first speaking was mine, for the silence wore me:

Am bheil thu' falbh,
   O mo ghraidh?
      B'idh mi falbh,
        M¨rnean!

C"uin a thilleas tu,
    O mo gliraidh?

Cha till mi an rathad so;
Tha an't ait e cumhann--
       O M¨rnean, M¨rnean!
B'idh mi falbh an dr¨gh
Am tigh Pharais,
          M¨rnean!

SŔol dhomh an rathad,
    Mo ghraidh!
        Thig an so, M¨rnean-mo,
          Thig an so!

 

Are you going,
   My dear one?
      Yea, now I am going,
          Dearest.

When will you come again,
   My dear one?
   I will not return this way;
   The place is narrow
--
        O my Darling!
   I will be going to Paradise,
       Dear, my dear one!

Show me the way,
   Heart of my heart!
   Come hither, dearest, come hither,
         Come with me!

"And then I saw that it was a mist, and that I was alone. But now this night it is that I feel the breath on the soles of my feet."

And with that I knew there was no hope.

"Ma tha si an dÓn! . . . if that be ordained," was all that rose to my lips. It was that night he died. I fell asleep in the second hour. When I woke in the grey dawn, his face was greyer than that, and more cold.

 


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