Volume VII ~Poems & Dramas by Fiona Macleod

 

THE IMMORTAL HOUR

ACT 1

SCENE III.-The rude interior of the cabin of the huntsman, MÁNUS. He is sitting, clad in deerskin, with strapped sandals, before a fire of pine-logs. Long unkempt, black hair falls about his face. His wife, MAIVE, a worn woman with a scared look, stands at the back, plucking feathers from a dead cockerel. At the other side of the hearth, ETAIN sits.

MÁNUS

I've seen that man before who came to-night.

[He has addressed no one, and no one answers.

I say I have seen that man before.

MAIVE

Hush Mánus

Beware of what you say. How can we tell
Who comes, who goes? And, too, good man,
you've had
Three golden pieces.

MÁNUS

Aye, they are put by,

That comforts me: for gold is ever gold.

MAIVE

One was for her who stays with us to-night
And shares our scanty fare.

[Making a curtsey

Right welcome, too:
The other was for any who might come,
Asking for bite or sup, for fireside warmth.
The third. . . .

MÁNUS

Yes, woman, yes, I know: for silence. Hush!

[A moan of wind is heard

There comes the rain.

ETAIN

[Rising and going to the left doorway,
pulls back the hide. Shuddering,
she thrusts it crosswise again, and
returns

It was so beautiful,

So still, with not a breath of wind, and now
The hill-wind moans, the night is filled with tears
Of bitter rain. Good people, have you seen
Such quiet eves fall into stormy nights
Before?

MÁNUS

Who knows the wild way of the wind:

The wild way of the rain? They come, and go:
We stay. We wait. We listen. Not for us
To ask, to wonder.

MAIVE

They're more great than we.

They are so old, the wind and rain, so old,
They know all things, Grey Feathers and Blind Eyes!

ETAIN

Who? . . . Who?

MÁNUS

. . . the woman speaks of Wind and Rain
Blind Eyes, the dreadful one whom none has seen,
Whose voice we hear: Grey Feathers, his pale love,
Who flies before or follows, grey in rains,
Fierce blue in hail, death-white in whirling snows.

ETAIN

Does any ever come to you by night?
. . . lost woodlander, stray wayfarer from the hills,
Merchant or warrior from the far-off plains?

MÁNUS

None.

MAIVE

We are so far away: so far, I think
Sometimes, we must be close upon the edge
Of the green earth, there where the old tales say
The bramble-bushes and the heather make
A hollow tangle over the abyss.

ETAIN

But sometimes . . . sometimes. . . . Tell me:
have you heard,
By dusk or moonset have you never heard
Sweet voices, delicate music? . . . never seen
The passage of the lordly beautiful ones
Men call the Shee?

MÁNUS

[Rising abruptly

We do not speak of them.

MAIVE

Hark!

[A stronger blast strikes the house.
MÁNUS throws more logs on the fire

MAIVE

Hark! a second time I've heard a cry!

[All listen. Suddenly a loud knock is
heard.
MAIVE covers her head,
and cowers beside the fire, behind
ETAIN, who rises. MÁNUS seizes
a spear, and stands waiting. The
heavy knock is repeated

A VOICE

Open, good folk!

MÁNUS

There is no door to ope:
Thrust back the skins from off the post.

[The ox-fell is thrust aside, and EOCHAIDH
enters. He stops at the threshold,
staring at
ETAIN

EOCHAIDH

Good folk,

I give you greeting. . . . . . . . . [A Pause
Lady, I bow my knee.

[ETAIN bows slowly in return.
EOCHAIDH comes a few steps forward,
stops, and looks fixedly at
ETAIN. He says
slowly--

You have great beauty.

[A pause

I have never seen

Beauty so great, so wonderful. In dreams,
In dreams alone such beauty have I seen,
A star above my dusk.

ETAIN

Sir, I pray you

Draw near the fire.This bitter wind and rain
Must sure have chilled you.

[She points to her vacant three-legged
stool. As EOCHAIDH slowly passes
her, MÁNUS slides his hand
over his shoulder and back

MÁNUS

[With a strange look at MAIVE

He is not wet. The driving rains have left
No single drop!

MAIVE

[Piteously

Good Sir! brave lord! good sir!

Have pity on us: Sir, have pity!
We are poor, and all alone, and have no wile
To save ourselves from great ones, or from those
Who dwell in secret places on the hills
Or wander where they will in shadow clothed.

MÁNUS

Hush, woman! Name no names: and speak no word
Of them who come unbidden and unknown.
Good, Sir, you are most welcome. I am Mánus,
And this poor woman is Maive, my childless wife,
And this is a great lady of the land
Who shelters here to-night. Her name is Etain.

EOCHAIDH

Tell me, good Mánus: who else is here, or
whom
You may expect?

MÁNUS

No one, fair lord. The wild

Gray stormy seas are doors that shut the world
From us poor island-folk. . . .

MAIVE

We are alone

We're all alone, fair Sir: there is none here
But whom you see. Gray Feathers and Blind Eyes
Are all we know without.

EOCHAIDH

Who are these others?

MÁNUS

The woman speaks, Sir, of the Wind and Rain.
These unknown gods are as all gods that are,
And do not love to have their sacred names
Used lightly.: so we speak of him who lifts
A ceaseless wing across all lands and seas,
Moaning or glad, and flieth all unseeing
From darkness into, darkness, as Blind Eyes:
And her, his lovely bride, for he is deaf and so
Veers this way and that for ever. seeing not
His love who breaks in tears beneath his wings
Or falls in snows before his frosty breath
Her we name thus Grey Feathers.

MAIVE

As for us,

We are poor lonely folk, and mean no wrong.
Sir, sir, if you are of the nameless ones,
The noble nameless ones, do us no ill!

EOCHAIDH

Good folk, I mean no ill. Nor am I made
Of other clay than yours. I am a man.
Let me have shelter here to-night: to-morrow
I will go hence.

MÁNUS

You are most welcome, sir.

EOCHAIDH

And you, fair Etain, is it with your will
That I be sheltered from the wind and rain?

ETAIN

How could I grudge you that ungrudged to me?

[MÁNUS and MAIVE withdraw into the background. The light wanes, as the logs give less flame.
EOCHAIDH speaks in a low, strained voice

Etain, fair beautiful love, at last I know
Why dreams have led me hither. All these years
These eyes like stars have led me: all these years
This love that dwells like moonlight in your face
Has been the wind that moved my idle wave.
Forgive presumptuous words. I mean no ill.
I am a king, and kingly. Ard-Righ, I am,
Ard-Righ of Eiré.

ETAIN

And your name, fair lord?

EOCHAIDH

Eocliaidh Airenih.

ETAIN

And I am Etain called,

Daughter of lordly ones, of princely line,
But more I cannot say, for on my mind
A strange forgetful cloud bewilders me,
And I have memory only of those things
Of which I cannot speak, being under bond
To keep the silence of my lordly folk.
How I came here, or to what end, or why
I am left here, I know not.

EOCHAIDH

Truly, I

[Taking her hand in his

Now know full well.
Etain, dear love, my dreams
Come true. I have seen this dim pale face it, dreams
For days and months and years; till at the last
Too great a spell of beauty held my hours.

My kingdom was no more to me than sand,
Or a green palace built of August leaves
Already yellowing, waiting for the wind
To scatter them to north and south and east.
I have forgotten all that men hold dear,
And given my kinghood to the wheeling crows,
The trampling desert hinds, the snarling fox.
I have no thought, no dream, no hope, but this--

[Kissing her upon the brow

To call you love, to take you hence, my Queen--
Queen of my Heart, my Queen, my Dream,
my Queen!

ETAIN

[Looking into his face, with thrown-back head

I too, I too, am lifted with the breath
Of a tumultous wind. My lord and king,
I too am lit with fire, which fills my heart
And lifts it like a flame to burn with thine:
To pass and be at one and flame in thine,
My lord, my king! My lord, my lord, my king!

EOCHAIDH

The years, the bitter years of all the world
Are now no more. We have gained that which stands
Above the trampling feet of hurrying years.

[A brief burst of mocking laughter is heard

EOCHAIDH

[Turning angrily, and looking into the
shadowy background where are
MÁNUS and MAIVE

Who laughed? What means that laughter?

MÁNUS

[Sullenly

No one laughed.

EOCHAIDH

Who laughed? Who laughed?

MAIVE

Grey Feathers and Blind Eyes.

ETAIN

[Wearily

None laughed. It was the hooting of an owl.
Dear lord, sit here. I am weary.

[MÁNUS and MAIVE withdraw, and lie
down.
EOCHAIDH and ETAIN sit
before the smouldering fire. The
room darkens. Suddenly
EOCHAIDH
leans forward, and whispers

EOCHAIDH

Etain!

Etain, dear love!

ETAIN

[Not looking at him, and slowly swaying
as she sings

How beautiful they are,
The lordly ones
Who dwell in the hills,
In the hollow hills.

They have faces like flowers
And their breath is wind
That blows over grass
Filled with dewy clover.

Their limbs are more white
Than shafts of moonshine:
They are more fleet
Than the March wind.

They laugh and are glad
And are terrible:
When their lances shake
Every green reed quivers.

How beautiful they are
How beautiful
They lordly ones
In the hollow hills.

[Darkness, save for the red flame in
the heart of the fire.

END OF ACT I

The Immortal Hour, Act II Scene 1

Contents: Dramas