THE WIND BLOWETH
Author of "Messer Marco Polo," etc.
Illustrated by George Bellows
New York The Century Co. Copyright, 1922, by The Century Co. Printed in U. S. A.
A DEDICATION: A PRAYER
Whilst I was working on the various problems of "The Wind Bloweth"—problems of wisdom, of color, of phrasing, and trying to capture the elusive, unbearable ache that is the mainspring of humanity, and doing this through the medium of a race I knew best, a race that affirms the divinity of Jesus and yet believes in the little people of the hills, a race that loves its own land, and yet will wander the wide world over, a race that loves battle, and yet always falls—whilst doing this, it seemed to me that I was capturing for an instant a beauty that was dying slowly, imperceptibly, but would soon be gone.
Perhaps it was the lilt of a Gaelic song in these pages that brought a sorrow on me. That very sweet language will be gone soon, if not gone already, and no book learning will revive the suppleness of idiom, that haunting misty loveliness.... It is a very pathetic thing to see a literature and a romance die.
But then, what ever dies? There is only change. For people in the coming times the economist and the expert in politics may have the beauty and wisdom old men have known in poems and strange tales. A mammoth building is as romantic to a new age as were the subtle carvings of Phidias to Greeks of old. For the master of commerce an oil-driven steel ship has the beauty old folk have seen in cloudy pyramids of sail. What we have considered beautiful will be quaint. And their tolerant smile will hurt us under the wind-swept grass.
To whomever this writing of mine may give a moment's thought, a moment's dreaming, I would ask a privilege, to call out of the romantic sunset the memories of Irish writers whom it is deep in my heart to praise, not masters of verse, but those whom in English we call novelists, being too exact in matters of language to name them poets: the Four Masters of Donegal who dedicated their tradition do chum gloire De agus onora na h Eireann,—to the glory of God and the honor of Ireland,—so high their motive was. And Thomas Moore, not as author of Irish ballads or of "Lalla Rookh," but as writer of "The Epicurean." And Lever and Lover. And William Carleton from the County of Tyrone. And gentle Gerald Griffin, dead at his desk. And Michael and John Banim, with their "O'Hara Tales." And Sheridan Le Fanu, and Fitz-James O'Brien, who fell fighting for America. And Charles Kickham, who wrote "Knocknagow." And I was all but forgetting Oliver Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson's friend.
Old fathers, old masters, I will never believe but that you wrote because it sprang from you as the lark sings in the high air. No little sum of money, no great man's patronage, no doffed caps of the populace, could have moved you to strike out or write in one line. Old fathers, let me say aloud your names; it will give me bravery. And, sirs, take this book kindly to you. It is written caring nothing for money, nothing for light acclaim. Its faults are because I cannot write better yet....
I DANCING TOWN 3
II THE WAKE AT ARDEE 57
III THE MOUTH OF HONEY 109
IV THE WRESTLER FROM ALEPPO 169
V THE VALLEY OF THE BLACK PIG 229
VI THE BOLD FENIAN MEN 287
VII THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY 353
Because it was his fourteenth birthday they had allowed him a day off from school, his mother doubtfully, his uncles Alan and Robin with their understanding grin. And because there was none else for him to play with at hurling or foot-ball, the other children now droning in class over Caesar's Gallic War, he had gone up the big glen. It was a very adventurous thing to go up the glen while other boys were droning their Latin like a bagpipe being inflated, while the red-bearded schoolmaster drowsed like a dog. First you went down the graveled path, past the greened sun-dial, then through the gate, then a half-mile or so along the road, green along the edges with the green of spring, and lined with the May hawthorn, white, clean as air, with a fragrance like sustained music, a long rill of rolling white cloud. There was nothing in the world like the hawthorn. First it put out little bluish-green buds firm as elastic, and then came a myriad of white stars. And then the white drift turned a delicate red, dropped, and the scarlet haws came out, a tasteless bread-like fruit you shared with the birds, and the stone of it you could whip through your lips like a bullet....
He left the main road and turned into a loaning that came down the mountain-side, a thing that once might have been a road, if there had been any need for it, or energy to make it. But now it was only a wedge of common land bounded on both sides by a low stone wall. Inside one wall was a path, and inside the other a little rill, and betwixt the two of them were firm moss and stones. And here the moss was yellowish-green and there red as blood. And the rill was edged with ferns and queer blue flowers whose names he did not know in English, and now the water just gurgled over the rounded stones, and now it dropped into a well where it was colorless and cold and fresh as the air itself, and oftentimes at the bottom of a pool like that would be a great green frog with eyes that popped like the schoolmaster's....
And to the left of the loaning as he walked toward the mountain was a plantation of fir-trees, twenty acres or more, the property of the third cousin of his mother's brother-in-law, a melancholy, thin-handed man who lived on the Mediterranean—a Campbell, too, though one would never take him for an Ulster Scot, with his la-di-da ways and his Spanish lady. But the queer thing about the plantation was this, that within, half a mile through the trees, were the ruins of a house, bare walls and bracken and a wee place where there were five graves, two of them children's. A strange thing the lonely graves. In summer the sun would shine through the clearing of the trees, and there was always a bird singing somewhere near. But it was a gey lonely place for five folk to lie there, at all times and seasons, and in the moonlight and in the sunlight, and when the rain dripped from the fir-trees. And all the company they had was the red fox slipping through the trees or the rabbit hopping like a child at play or the hare-wide-eyed in the bracken. They must have been an unsociable folk in life to build a house in the woods, and they were an unsociable folk in death not to go to the common graveyard, where the dead folk were together, warm and kindly lying gently as in their beds....
He turned now from the loaning to the mountain-side, passing through the heather on a little path the sheep made with their sharp cloven hoofs. In single file the sheep would go up the mountain-side, obedient as nuns, following the tinkle of the wether's bell, and they hunting a new pasture they would crop like rabbits. Now was a stunted ash, now a rowan-tree with its red berries—crann caorthainn they call it in Gaidhlig,—and now was a holly bush would have red berries when all the bitter fruit of the rowan-tree was gone and the rolling sleets of winter came over Antrim like a shroud. Everywhere about him now was the heather, the brown, the purple heather with the perfect little flower that people called bells, all shades of red it was, and not often you would come across a sprig of white heather, and white heather brought you luck, just as much luck as a four-leaved shamrock brought, and fairer, more gallant luck.
A very silent place a mountain was, wee Shane Campbell thought, not a lonely but a silent place. A lonely place was a place you might be afraid, as in a wood, but a mountain was only a place apart. Down in the fields were the big brooks, with the willow branches and great trout in the streams; and fat cattle would low with a foolish cry like a man wouldn't be all there, and come home in the evenings to be milked, satisfied and comfortable as a minister; wee calves shy as babies; donkeys with the cross of Christ on their back; goats would butt you and you not looking; hens a-cackle, and cocks strutting like a militiaman and him back from the camp; quiet horses had the strength of twenty men, and scampering colts had legs on them like withes. Up here was nothing, but you never missed them.
The only thing to break the silence up here was the cry of an occasional bird, the plaintive call of the plover, the barking of an eagle, the note of the curlew, a whinny as of a horse of Lilliput, the strange noise a pheasant makes and it rising from the heather: whir-r-r, like a piece of elastic snapping. Barring these you'd hear nothing at all. And barring a mountainy man or woman, and they cutting turf, you'd meet nothing unless it were the sheep.
You'd never hear the sheep, and you coming; you'd turn a wee bluff in the hill, and there they were looking, a long, solemn, grayish-white line, with aloof, cold eyes. You could never faze them. They'd look at you cool as anything, and "What license have you to be here?" you'd think they were saying. Very stupid, but unco dignified, the sheep.
But up to the top of the mountain, where wee Shane was going, you'd find no sheep; too bare and rocky there. There'd be nothing there but a passing bird. On the top of the mountain was a little dark lake into which you couldn't see more than a foot, though they said the depth of it went down to the sea. There were no fish in it, people said, and that was a queer thing, water without fish in it, wee Shane thought, like a country without inhabitants. In the sea were a power of fish, and in the rivers were salmon, long and thick as a man, and pike with snouts and ominous teeth, and furry otters, about which there was great discussion as to whether they were fish or animal ... In the lake in the lowlands—Lochkewn, the Quiet Lake—were trout with red and gold and black speckles; and perch with spiked fins; and dark roach were easy to catch with a worm; and big gray bream were tasty as to bait, needing paste held by sheep's wool; and big eels would put a catch in your breath.
But in the lake on the mountain-top were no fish at all, and that was a strange thing ...
There was another eery thing about the mountain, and a thing wee Shane was slightly afraid of. Oftentimes you'd be sitting by that lake, and sunlight all around you, and you'd turn to come down, and there'd be a cloud beneath you, a cloud that rolled in armfuls of wool that bound the mountain as by a ring; and the lonely call of a bird ... and you'd feel shut off from the kindly earth, as if you were on another planet maybe, or caught up into the air by some flying demon, and you knew the world was spinning like a ball through the treeless fields of space.
And what could a wee fellow do up there then but sit quiet and cry and be terribly afraid? And your cry would be heard no more than the whinnying of the curlew.... Or you might venture down through it, and that was more terrible still, for the strange host of the air had their domicile in the clouds, and there they held cruel congress, speaking in their speechless tongue, and out of the clouds they took shape and substance ... their cold, malevolent eyes, their smoky antennae of hands ... and nothing to turn to for company, not even the moody badger or the unfriendly sheep. There was no going down. You must stay there by the lake, and even then the cloud might creep upward until it capped mountain and lake, and enveloped a wee fellow scared out of his wits....
Nevertheless, he was going to the top of that mountain, clouds or no clouds. For he had heard it said that the mirage of Portcausey was being seen again—the Devil's Troopers, and the Oilean-gan-talamh-ar-bith, the Isle of No Land At All, and the Swinging City, and they were to be seen in the blue heat haze over the sea from the Mountain of Fionn....
And wee Shane was going to see it, clouds or no clouds, host or no host of the air.
He had won half-ways up the mountain now, and from the brae of heather he could see the glen stretch like a furrow to the sea. The Irish Channel they called it on the maps in school, but Struth na Maoile it was to every one in the country-side, the waters of Moyle. Very green, very near, very gentle they seemed to-day, but often they roared like giants in frenzy, fanned to fury by the winds of the nine glens, as a bellows livens a fire. But to-day it was like a lake, so gentle.... And there was purple Scotland, hardly, you'd think, a stone's throw from the shore—the Mull of Cantyre, a resounding name, like a line in a poem. It was from Mull that Moyle came, maol in Gaidhlig, bald or bluff ... a moyley was a cow without horns. The Lowlanders were coming into the Mull now, and the Highlanders being pushed north to Argyll, and westward to the islands, like Oran and Islay. He knew the Islay men, great rugged fishers with immense hands and their feet small as a girl's. They sang the saddest sea-chanty in the world:
'S tric mi sealltuinn o'n chnoc a's airde, Dh' fheuch am faic mi fear a'bhata; An tig thu'n aniugh, no'n tig thu amaireach, 'S mur tig thu idir, gur truagh a ta mi.
"From the highest hilltop I watched to see my boatman," went the sense of it. "Will you come to-day or will you come to-morrow? And if you never come—O God! help me!"
And there was a chorus to it that was like a keening for the dead:
Fhir a' bhata na horo eile! Fhir a' bhata na horo eile! Fhir a' bhata na horo eile! Mo shoraidh slan leat, fhir a' bhata!
My heart's good-by to you, O man of the boat!
But nearer than Islay was their own Raghery—Rathlin Island the maps had it—he could see it now to the north. A strange little world of its own, with great caves where the wind howled like a starving wolf, and the black divers went into the water like a bullet. It was in the caves of Raghery that the Bruce took refuge, and it was there he saw the spider of Scots legend.... Rathlin was queer and queer.... There were many women with the second sight, it was told, and the men were very big, very shy, very gentle, except when the drink was in them, and then they would rage like the sea.
A strange, mystical water, the Moyle, to have two isles in it like Islay of the pipers and Raghery of the black caves. It was over Moyle that Columkill went in his little coracle to be a hermit in Iona, the gentlest saint that Ireland ever knew. And it was over the Moyle that Patrick came, landing whilst the Druids turned their cursing stones and could not prevail against him. And it was on the Moyle that the Children of Lir swam and they turned into three white swans, with their great white wings like sails and their black feet like sweeps.... And in the night-time they sang a strange, sad music, and the echoes of it were still in the nine glens....
And northerly again were the pillars of the Giant's Causeway, blue-black against the sun. They were made so that the Finn MacCool, the champion of the giants, could take a running jump over to Scotland and he going deer-hunting in the forests of Argyll. So the country folk said, but wee Shane thought different, knew different. The Druids had made it for their own occult designs, the Druids, that terrible, powerful clan with their magic batons, and their sinister cursing-stones, and their long, white, benevolent beards....
And there, green and well kept as a duke's garden, was the Royal Links of Portrush. And the Irish golfers said that it was harder than St. Andrew's in Scotland and better kept. There King James had played a game before he went down to the defeat of the Boyne Water.
"And if he golfed as well as he fought," Shane's Uncle Robin used to laugh, "they s'ould never have let him tee up a ball on the course!"
Eigh! how wonderful it all was! wee Shane felt: Raghery and the waters of Moyle; Portrush and the Giant's Causeway; the nine glens with the purple heather, and the streams that sang as they cantered to the sea; the crowing grouse and the whinnying curlew, and the eagles barking on the cliffs; the trout that rose in the summer's evening, and the red berries of the rowan; the cold, clear lakes, and the braes where the blueberries grow. He could well understand the stories they told of Napper Tandy, and the great rebel in the gardens of Versailles. Napoleon had found him weeping amid all that beauty.
"Don't be afraid, Napper Tandy. I shall keep my word and send General Hoche to Ireland."
"It's not that, sir; it's not that." And Tandy could not keep the tears back. "Och, County Antrim, it's far I'm from you now!"
He had reached the cairn of round stones that marks the town land of Drimsleive, and was turning the brae when a voice called to him:
"Eh, wee fellow, is it mitching from school you are?"
An old woman in a plaid shawl was coming slowly down the hillside. He recognized her for Bridget Roe MacFarlane of Cushendhu, a cotter tenant of his Uncle Alan's.
"No, cummer," he told her; "I'm not mitching. I got the day off."
"For God's sake! if it isn't wee Shane Campbell! And what are doing up the mountain, wee Shane?"
"Ah, just dandering."
"I was up mysel'," she went on, "to the top of it, because I heard tell there was a cure for sore eyes in the bit lake on the top. Not that I put much store in such cures, but there's no use letting anything by. I got a pair of specs from a peddling man of Ballymena," said she, "but they don't seem to do me much good. I'm queer and afeared about my eyes, hinny. It would be a hard thing for me to go blind and none about the wee bit house but mysel'."
"Ay! I should think it would be a terrible thing to be a dark person," wee Shane nodded.
"Och, it wouldn't be so bad if you were born that way, for you'd know no different. And if you went blind and you young, there's things you could take up to take the strain from your head like a man takes up piping. When you're old it's gey hard. If you're an old man itself, it's not so bad, for there'll always be a soft woman to take care of you. But if you're an old cummer, without chick or child, it's hard, agra vig. My little love, it's hard."
"Maybe it's in your head, Bridget Roe. My Uncle Robin says there's a lot of sickness that's just in your head."
"I trust to my God so, and maybe your Uncle Robin's right, for there does be a lot in my head, and it going around like a spinning-wheel. I'm a experienced woman, wee Shane, too experienced, and that's the trouble. You've no' heard because you're too young and you would no' understand. I was away from here for twenty years," she said, "for more nor twenty. And I knew a power of men in my time, big men, were needful of me. And a power of trouble I raised, too, and it does be coming back to me and me in my old days.... But you'll be wanting to be getting on?"
"Och, no, Bridgeen Roe; there's no hurry."
"It does me good to have a wee crack, the folk I see are so few ... Aye! There was a power of trouble. There were two men killed themselves and families broken up all by reason of me. I meant no harm, wee Shane, but it happened, and it does be troubling me in my old days. And I sit there afeared by the peat fire, and when I've thought too much on it, I get up and go to the half-door. And I look out on the Moyle, wee Shane, and I think: that's been roaring since the first tick of time, and I see the stars so many of them, and the moon that never changed its shape or size, and it comes to me that nothing matters in the long run, that the killed men were no more nor caught trout, and the rent families no more nor birds' nests fallen from a tree.... None of us are big enough that anything we do matters.... And then another feeling comes on me, that God is around, and that He'll be dreadful hard.... And a wee bit of luck comes my way. The hens, maybe, are laying well, and there's a high price on the eggs, and I think, sure He's the Kindly Man, after all.... But if my eyes leave me, Shane Beg, what will I do? Sure, I won't have the moon or the stars or the waters of Moyle to put things in their place. And there'll be no luck about me, so as I'll know Himself is the Unforgiving Man."
"But some one will take care of you, Bridget Roe."
"And who, agra? 'Tis not me to go to the poorhouse, and take charity like a cold potato. And my name is MacFarlane, wee Shane, and they're a clan that fights till it dies, that never gives in. And it isn't to the big ones I knew I'd be writing for help.... Sure I see them now, what's left alive of them, sitting by their firesides, figuring out their life, and tired with the puzzle of it; and then they'll remember me for an instant, and a wee joy will come to them in the dim twilight. They'll remember as you'd remember an old song you hadn't rightly got the air of. But you knew it was sweet and there was a grand swing to it.... Aye, they'll remember me, and they looking into the heart of the fire.... And you wouldn't have me write them now and tell them I'm only an old cailleach in a cabin on the mountain-side, and my eyes, that they'll remember, are dull like marbles.... You wouldn't understand, wee Shane.... But I'm blethering too much about myself. And where is it you were going, my little jo? Where is it?"
"I heard tell the Dancers were to be seen from the mountain-top over the sea, and I thought maybe I'd go up and gi'e them a look, cummer ... just a look."
"So you would, wee Shane, so you would. You wouldn't be your father's son or your uncles' nephew if you were to let a marvel like that pass by. It's after adventure you are, and you only four and ten years old. 'T is early you begin, the Campbells of Cosnamara.
"But sure that isn't adventure, cummer, to be seeing the Dancers in the heat haze of the day. Adventures are robbers and fighting Indians and things like in Sir Walter Scott."
"Oh, sure everything's adventure, hinny, every time you go looking for something queer and strange, and something with a fine shape and color to it. Adventure isn't in the quick fist and the nimble foot; it's in the hungry heart and the itching mind. Isn't it myself that knows, that was a wild and wilful girl, and went out into the world for more nor twenty years, and came back the like of an old bitch fox, harried by hunting, and looking for and mindful of the burrow where she was thrown?... As we're made, we're made, wee fellow; you're either a salmon that hungers for the sea, or a cunning old trout that kens its own pool and is content.... Adventures! Hech aye!"
"Well, I hope your eyes get better, cummer. I do so."
"I know you mean it, Shaneen Beg, and maybe your wish will help them, maybe it will."
"Well, I'll be going on my way, Bridget Roe."
"And I'll be finishing mines, wee Shane Campbell. And I hope to my God you're better off at the end nor me—me that once talked to earls and barons, and now clucks to a wheen o' hens; me that once had my coach and pair, and now have only an ass with a creel o' turf; and no care of money once on me, and now all I have is my spinning-wheel, and the flax not what it used to be, but getting coarser. And my eyes going out, that were the delight of many ... I hope you're better off nor me at the end of the hard and dusty road, wee Shane. I hope to my God so...."
He thought hard of what the cummer of Cushendhu had said about his family, and he on the last leg of the mountain. That he was his father's son puzzled him more than that he was his uncles' nephew, for there was little mention of his father in the house. At the dead man's name his prim Huguenot mother from Nantes pursed her mouth, and in her presence even his uncles were uncomfortable, those great, gallant men. All he knew was that his father, Colquitto Campbell, had been a great Gaelic poet, and that his father and mother had not quite been good friends. Once his Uncle Robin had stopped before a ballad-singer in Ballycastle when the man was striking up a tune:
On the deck of this lonely ship to America bound, A husk in my throat and a mist of tears in my eyes—
His Uncle Robin had given the man a guinea.
"Why for did you give the singing man a golden piece, Uncle Robin?"
"For the sake of an old song, laddie, an old and sad song.... A song your father made.... It was like seeing his ghost...."
"But my father, Uncle Robin—"
"Your father was the heart of corn, wee Shane, for all they say against him.... I never knew a higher, cleaner heart, but he was easy discourag't.... Aye, easy thrown down and easy led away.... I was fond of him.... Am ... always, and no matter.... However ... shall we go and see the racing boats, wee fellow?"
And that was all he ever got from Uncle Robin. But he knew some of his father's songs that were sung in the country-side ...
Is truagh, a ghradh, gan me agas thu im Bla chliath! No air an traigh bhain an ait nach robh duine riamh, Seachd oidhche, seachd la, gan tamh, gan chodal, gan bhiadh, Ach thusa bhi 'm ghraidh's lamh geal thardam gu fial!
"O God! my loved one, that you and I were in Dublin town! Or on a white strand, where no foot ever touched before. Day in, night in, without food or sleep, what mattered it? But you to be loving me and your white arm around me so generously!"
He couldn't understand the song, though the lilt of the words captured him. What should people accept being without food or sleep? And what good was a white arm generously around one? However, that was love, and it was a mystery.... But that song could not have been to his mother. He could not imagine her being generous with even a white arm. And none would want to be with her on a strand without food or sleep; that he instinctively felt. She was a high, proud cliff, stern and proud and beautiful, and that song was a song of May-time and the green rushes....
And other songs of his father's were sung: "Maidne Fhoghmhair—Autumn Mornings," and "In Uir-chill an Chreagain—In the Green Graveyard of Creggan...."
A queer thing that all that should be left of his father was a chill silence and a song a man might raise at the rising of the moon....
Silent he was in his grave, dumb as a stone, and all his uncles were silent, too, barring the little smile at the corners of their mouths, that was but the murmuring of the soul.... There were paintings of them all and they young in the house, their high heads, their hawks' eyes, Alan and Robin and Mungo.... And Mungo, too, was dead with Wellington in the Peninsula. He and three of his men were all left of the Antrim company. "Christ! have I lost this fight, too?" He laughed and a French ball took him in the gullet. "Be damned to that!" He coughed. "He might have got me in a cleaner place!" And that was the end of Mungo....
And Alan had gone with Sir John Franklin to the polar seas, and come back with the twisted grin. "'T was a grand thing you did, Alan, to live through and come back from the wasted lands." "'T was a grand thing they did, to find the channel o' trade. But me, I went to find the north pole, with the white bear by the side of it, like you see in the story-books. And I never got within the length of Ireland o' 't! Trade, aye; but what's trade to me? It's a unco place, the world!"
His father he could imagine: "Poor Colquitto Campbell! He wanted to bark like an eagle, and he made a wee sweet sound, like a canary-bird! Ah, well, give the bottle the sunwise turn, man o' the house, and come closer to me, a bheilin tana nan bpog, O slender mouth of the kisses!" His father, wee Shane thought, must have worn the twisted grin, too.
He knew what the twisted grin meant. It meant defeat. He had seen it on his Uncle Alan's face when he lost the championship of Ireland on the golf links of Portrush. And that morning he had been so confident! "'T is the grand golf I'll play the day, and the life tingling in my finger-tips!" And great golf he did play, with his ripping passionate shots, but a thirty-foot putt on the home green beat him. All through the match his face had been dour, but now came the outstretched hand and the smile at the corner of the mouth:
"Congratulations, sir! 'T is yourself has the grand eye for the hard putt on the tricky green!"
The wee grin meant that Alan had been beaten.
And Uncle Robin, too, the wisest and oldest of them all, who had been to Arabia and had been all through Europe and was Goethe's friend, he had the twisted grin of the beaten man. Only occasionally you could get past the grin of Uncle Robin, as he had gotten past it the day Uncle Robin had spoken of his brother, Shane's father. And sometimes when a great hush was on the mountains and the Moyle was silent, Uncle Robin would murmer a verse of his great poet friend's:
Ueber allen Gipfeln Ist Ruh, In allen Wipfeln Spuerest du Kaum einen Hauch; Die Voegelein schweigen im Walde. Warte nur, balde Ruhest du auch.
The sharp u's and heavy gutturals were so like Gaidhlig, it seemed queer wee Shane could not understand the poem; but Uncle Robin translated it into Gaidhlig:
Os cionn na morbheanna Ta sith—
And the melody of it was like the plucking of a harper's strings. So much in so little, and every note counted, and the last line like a dim quaint bar:
Beidh sith agad fein! "You will rest, too!"
A queer thing, the men who were beaten and smiled. A queer thing the men who, beaten, were more gallant than the winners. A queer thing for the cummer of Cushendhu to say, she who was so wise after the hot foolishness of youth, that he was his uncles' nephew and his father's son. A queer thing that. A queer, dark, and secret thing.
The memory of his Uncle Robin stuck in his mind and he going up the mountain. His Uncle Robin knew all there was to be known in the world, the immense learned man. When he was spoken to of anything strange, he had always an explanation for it. When the mirage off Portrush was mentioned, he could talk at length of strange African mirages that the travelers see in the desert at the close of day, oases and palm-trees and minarets, so you would think you were near to a town or a green pasture and you miles and miles away. And there was a sight to be seen off Sicily that the ignorant Italian people thought was the work of Morgan le Fay. And in the Alps was a horror men spoke of and called the Specter of the Brocken.
All these strange occurrences were as simple as the alphabet to Uncle Robin. He would explain it as a sight reflected on the cloud and thrown on a sea of mist or a desert as on a screen, using difficult words, like "refraction," and words from Euclid, like "angles." But Uncle Alan would object, Uncle Alan mistrusting difficult words and words from Euclid. Alan would raise his head from splicing a fishing-rod or cleaning the lock of a gun or polishing a snaffle:
"You were ay the one for explanations, Robin. Maybe you've got an explanation for the gift?" By the gift Uncle Alan meant the second sight.
"Ah, sure; 't is only mind reading and sympathy."
"O my God! Now listen, Robin. You ken when you dragged me from the horse-show the last time we were in Dublin, to the library of the What-you-may-call-him—Archaeological Society or so'thin'. You ken the book you showed me about Antrim, and what was seen off the cliffs one time. There was a great black arm in the air, and a hand to the wrist of it, and to the shoulder a crosspiece with a ring, like one end of an anchor. And that disappeared. And then immediately there showed a ship, with the masts and sails and tackles and men, and it sailed stern foremost and it sank stern foremost, all in the red sky. And then there was a fort with a castle on the top of it and there were fire and smoke coming out of it, as if a grand fight was on. And the fort divided into two ships, that chased each other, and then sank. Then there was a chariot with two horses, and chasing that was a strange thing like a serpent, a snake's head at one end, and a bulk at the other like a snail's house. And it gained on the chariot and gave it a blow. And out of the chariot came a bull, and after it came a dog, and the bull and the dog fought as in a gaming-pit. And then suddenly all was clear, no cloud or mist or anything in the northern air. Am I right or am n't I? Wasn't that in the book, Robin More?"
"And now, Robin, my man, wasn't that signed by respectable people: Mr. Allye, a minister, and a Lieutenant Dunsterville and a Lieutenant Dwine and Mr. Bates and twelve others, all of whom saw it near or around the time of the Boyne Water? Wasn't it signed by the decent people?"
"And what explanation have you got for that, you and your master of arts of Trinity College!"
"They were daft—gone in the head. Daft or drunk."
"My song! And maybe John was daft when he saw the vision of Patmos!"
"I would no' be surprised."
"Na, Robin More; you would not be surprised if you saw a trout that cantered or a horse that flew. You'd have an explanation. You're the queer hard man to live with, Robin, with your explanations."
Willie John Boyd, the servant boy, removed his cutty pipe and hazarded a suggestion.
"Queer things happened in the auld days."
"If there were queerer things nor you in the auld days," Alan laughed, "it must have been like a circus."
But mightn't they both be right? wee Shane thought, and he trudging up the mountain-side. His Uncle Alan knew an awful lot. There was none could coax a trout from a glass-clear pool with a dry fly like Alan Campbell. He knew the weather, when it would storm and when it would clear, and from what point the wind would blow to-morrow. He could nurse along the difficult flax and knew the lair of the otter and had a great eye for hunting fox and a better eye for a horse than a Gipsy. Might there not be things in nature, as he said, that none knew of? And mightn't there be explanations for them, as Uncle Robin, who had read every book, claimed there were? Mightn't they both be right, who thought each other wrong, and they arguing by the red fire, fighting and snarling like dogs and loving each other with the strange soft love of lovers when the trees are a-rustle and the moon high?
He had thought to come up to the top of the mountain where the cairn was, and the dark and deepest lake, and to sit down in the heather and wait half an hour maybe while the curlew called, and then have Dancing Town take form and color before his eyes, hold it until every detail was visible, and then fade gently out as twilight fades into night. He had thought to be prepared and receptive.
But suddenly it was upon him, in the air, over the waters of Moyle....
A sweep of fear ran over him, and he grew cold, so strange it was, so against nature. Clear and high, as in some old print, and white and green, the town and shore came to him. The May afternoon was in it, hot and golden, but the town itself was in morning sunlight. A clutter of great houses and little houses, all white, a great church, and a squat dun fort, and about it and in it were green spaces and palm-trees that swayed to a ghostly breeze. And the green ran down to a white beach, and on the beach foamy waves curled like a man's beard. And in the air the town quivered and danced, as imaged trees seem to dance on running water....
On one side was Ireland, and on one side was Scotland, and high in the air between them was Dancing Town....
No one was in the streets that wee Shane could see, and yet the town was lifeful, some tropical city where the green jalousies were closed in the heat of the midday sun, and where no one was on the streets, barring some unseen old beggar or peddling woman drowsing in the shade. The town was sleeping not with the sleep of Scotland, that is the sleep of dead majestic, melancholy kings, nor with the sleep of Ireland, that is tired and harassed and old. It was not as lonely as sleeping lakes are where the bittern booms like a drum.... It slept as a child sleeps, lips apart and chubby fingers uncurled, and happy.... And all the time it quivered in the clear air....
In the morning, wee Shane thought, it woke to bright happiness, the green parrakeets chattered, the monkeys whistled, the lizards basked in the sun. And the generation of the town came out and gossiped and worked merrily, until the heat of the sun began to strike with the strokes of a mallet, and then they went into the cool, dark houses and slept as children sleep. And then came blue twilight, and lamps were lit in the green spaces, and into the odorous night would come the golden rounded women with smiles like honey, and the graceful feline men.... A woman's laughter, a man's song.... And the moon rising on tropic seas, while a guitar hummed with a deep vibrant note.... And the perfume of strange tropic trees....
But meantime the town danced in the clear air.... And—
"It's gone!" said wee Shane.
One moment it was there, and the next there were only Ireland and Scotland and the waters of Moyle, and a ship going drowsily for the Clyde.
And for a long time he waited, thinking Dancing Town might come again. But it did not come. The schooner off the Mull lay over, and the Moyle awoke. A breeze rambled up the mountain, and the heather tinkled its strange dry tinkle. And afar off a curlew called, and a grouse crowed in defiance.
The moment of magic was by, and wee Shane went down the mountain.
As he went down the mountain he tried to puzzle out the why and wherefore of Dancing Town.
Of course there were things you could not explain, like the banshee; or the Naked Hangman, who strides through the valleys on midsummer's eve with his gallows under his arm; or the Death Coach, with its headless horses and its headless driver. There was no use bringing these matters up to Uncle Robin. Uncle Robin would only laugh and shout: "Havers, bairn! Wha's been filling your wee head with nonsense?" But you could no more deny their existence than you could that of Apollyon, whom you read about in "Pilgrim's Progress," and who wandered up and down the world and to and fro in it; or of the fairies, whose sweet little piping many heard at night as they passed the forts of the little people; or of the tiny cobbling leprechawns, who knew where the Danes had hid their store of gold in crocks such as hold butter.... Of these there was no explanation but the Act of God. And Uncle Robin was queer. He put no store in the Act of God.
Now, if it had been an angel he had seen in the high air, it would have been the Act—or the banshee, and her crooning and keening by the riverside, with her white cloak, her red, burnished hair.... But it was an island he had seen, a dancing town, with his own hard wee Scots-Irish eyes. And that was not an Act of God; it was a fact, and so outside his Uncle Alan's bailiwick and within his Uncle Robin's. His Uncle Robin would say it was the reflected image of some place in the world. Aye, he'd take his Uncle Robin's word for that. But where was it? Surely, as yet, it was undiscovered. It had the quiet of a June evening, that land had, and a grand shimmering beauty.... And if it was known where it was, wouldn't the mountainy folk be leaving their cabins, and the strong farmers their plowed lands, and the whining tinkers be hoofing the road for it? If it was known where that land was....
It occurred to him it must have been that land his father meant and he writing his poem of the Green Graveyard of Creggan. While he was sleeping under the weeping yew-trees the young queen had touched the sleeping poet on the shoulder.
"A shiolaigh charthannaigh," she said, "O kindly kinsman, na caithtear thusa ins na nealtaibh broin, let you not be thrown under the clouds of sorrow! Acht eirigh in do sheasamh, but rise in your standing, agas gluais liomsa siar' sa' rod, and travel with me westward in the road. Go Tir Dheas na Meala, to the shimmering land of honey where the foreigner has not the sway. And you will find pleasantry in white halls persuading me to the strains of music."
Surely his father, too, had seen Dancing Town!
And it was an old story that Oisin had found it, when he rode with the princess over the waves on a white horse whose hoofs never touched water, and he abode with her in Tir nan Og, in the Land of Them Who are Young, for a thousand years or more, until the great homesickness for Ireland took him, that takes the strongest, and he came for a visit on the white horse; but the girths of the saddle broke, and he fell to the ground, and the horse flew away. And he who had been strong and young and beautiful became old and bald and blind, and Patrick of the Bells and Crosses took him, and put him with the groaning penitents, who beat their breasts under the fear of hell. And he, who had known Tir nan Og and the Silver Woman, was a drooling ancient with a wee lad to lead him.... But that was just a winter's tale with no sense to it.
But there were other things in books that had the ring of truth to them. There was the voyage of Maeldun, who had set out in his coracle, and visited strange islands. The Island of Huge Ants was one, and wee Shane had seen in his geography book pictures of armadillos, and he shrewdly surmised that Maeldun had been to South America. And there was the Island of Red-Hot Animals, but that was a poser. Still and all, the rhinoceros had armor like an old knight's, and that would surely get red-hot under the suns of the equator. It would explain, too, why the rhinoceros favored the water, like a cow in July.... Sure that was it: Maeldun had been to Africa. And Maeldun, too, had found the Fortunate Isle. Brendan, too, had known it. Wasn't it in old charts—St. Brendan's Isle? He said he found it, and surely a saint of God wouldn't lie....
Och, it was there somewhere, but people were different from what they were in the ancient days. They didn't bother. If they had told his father about it, sure all Colquitto would have done was to call for pen and paper.
"Mo bhron air an fhairrge," he would have written: "My grief on the sea—how it comes between me and the land where my mind might be easy—" And then he'd have lain back and chanted it. "'Avourneen, did you ever in all your life hear a poem as good as my poem? Sure old Homer's jealous in the black clouds. Was there ever a Greek poet the equal of a Gaelic one? Anois, teacht an Earraigh—now the moment spring comes in, 't is I will hoist sail, inneosad mo sheol...."
And Alan Donn might have started to find it, but at the first golf links he'd stop, "to take the conceit out of the local people, and to give them something to talk of, and they old men," or to match his coursing greyhound against any dog in the world for a ten-pound note, or to deluther some red-cheeked likely woman....
And Uncle Robin might hear of it, and he'd sit down and write a book, saying where it probably was, and how you might get there, and what the people were like, and whom they were probably descended from.... And the book would be in all the libraries of the world, and people would be writing him telling him what a great head was on him, and he'd mutter: "Nonsense! Nonsense! All nonsense!" and stroke his great red beard....
But wouldn't it be the funny thing, the queer and funny thing, if he himself, wee Shane Campbell, were to go out and discover that island, and to own it, and to have it marked in the maps and charts, "Wee Shane Campbell's Island," for all to read and see?...
"Decent wee fellow, is it about here somewhere the house of the McFees?"
Shane had turned into the main road that ran along the sea-shore on the way homeward when the voice hailed him. It was a great black-bearded man, sitting on the ditch, holding his shoes in his hand. His face was tanned to mahogany, and in his ears were little gold rings. He wore clothes that were obviously new, obviously uncomfortable.
"If you keep on the road about a half a mile and then turn to the left, and keep on there until you come to a loaning near a well with a hawthorn-bush couching over it, and turn to the left down that loaning, you'll come to it. It's a wee thatched house, needing a coat of whitewash. It's got a byre with a slate roof, and a rowan-tree near it. You canna' miss it."
"Now isn't that the queer thing," the big man said, "me that thought I knew every art and part of this country, and that could find my way in the dark from Java Head to Poplar Parish, can't remember the place where I was born and reared? Forty years of traveling on the main ocean and thinking long for this place, and now when I come back I know no more about it than a fish does of dry land." He stood up painfully. "And me that thought I would come back leaping like a hare am now killed entirely with the soreness of my feet."
"You're not accustomed to walking, then, honest man?"
"'Deed, and you may say I'm not, decent wee fellow. I'm a sailorman, and aboard ship there's very little use for the feet. You've got to be quick as a fish with the hands, and have great strength in the arms of you. And you must have toes to grip, and thighs to brace you against the heeling timbers. But to be walking somewhere for long, hitting the road with your feet like you'd be hitting a wall with your head, it's unnatural to a sailing man. A half a mile, did you say?"
"Honest man," said wee Shane, troubled, "are you looking for any one in the house of the McFees?"
"For a woman that bore me and put me to her breast. An old woman now, decent wee fellow."
"You'll no' find her, honest man."
"I saw her with the pennies on her eyes not two months gone."
"So my mother's dead," said the big man. "So my mother's dead. Ah, well, all her troubles are over. It's forty years since I saw her, and she the strapping woman. And in forty years she must have had a power of trouble."
"She looked unco peaceful, honest man."
"The dead are always peaceful, decent wee fellow. So my mother's dead. Well, that alters things."
"You'll be staying at home then, honest man?"
"I'll be going back to sea, decent wee fellow. I had intended to stay at home and be with the old woman in her last days, the like of a pilot that brings a ship in, as you might say. But it would have been queer and hard. Herself, now, had no word of English?"
"Old Annapla McFee spoke only the Gaidhlig."
"And the Gaidhlig is gone from me, as the flower goes from the fruit-tree. And there could have been little conversation betwixt us, she remembering fairs and dances and patterns in the Gaidhlig, and me thinking of strange foreign ports in the English tongue. Poor company I'd have been for an old woman and she making her last mooring. I'd have been little assistance. Forty years between us—strange ports and deep soundings. Oh, we'd have been making strange."
"Ah, maybe not, honest man."
"How could it have been any other way, decent wee lad? She'd have been the strange, pitiful old cummer to me, who minded her the strapping woman, and I'd have been a queer bearded man to her, who minded me only as a wee fellow, the terror of the glen. People change every day, and there's a lot of change in forty years.
"And, besides, it would have been gey hard on me, wee lad. The grape and spade would be clumsy to my hands, there being no life to them after the swinging spars. And my fingers, used to splicing rope, would not have the touch for milking a cow. And I'd feel lost, wee fellow, some day and me plowing a field, to see a fine ship on the waters, out of Glasgow port for the Plate maybe, and to think of it off the Brazils, and the pampero coming quick as a thrown knife, and me not aboard to help shorten sail or take a trick at the wheel. And it might have made me ugly toward the old woman. And I wouldn't have had that at all, at all.... But she's finished the voyage, poor cummer.... And it's a high ship and a capstan shanty for me again ... all's well...."
"It's a wonder, honest man, you wouldn't stay on land at peace and you forty years at sea."
"Well, it's a queer thing, decent wee fellow, but once you get the salt water in your blood you're gone. A queer itching is in your veins. It's like a disease. It is so. It spoils you for the fire on winter nights and for the hay-fields in the month o' June. And it puts a great bar between you and the folk o' dry land, such as there is between a fighting man and a cowardly fellow. It's the salt in the blood, I think; but you'd have to ask a doctor about that.
"I'm not saying it's a good life. It's a dog's life. It is so. And when you're at sea you say: 'Wasn't I the fool to ever leave dry land; and if I get back and get a job,' says you, 'you'll never see me leave it again. It's a wee farm for me,' you'll say. And then somehow you'll find yourself back aboard ship. And you'll be off the Horn, up aloft, fighting a sail like you'd fight a man for your life, or you'll be in the horse latitudes, as they call them, and no breeze stirring, and not a damned thing to do but holystone decks, the like of an old pauper that does be scrubbing a poorhouse floor. And you say: 'Sure I'd rather be a tinker traveling the roads, with his ass and cart and dog and woman, nor a galley-slave to this bastard of a mate that has no more feeling for a poor sailorman nor a hound has for a rabbit. It's a dog's life,' you say, 'and when we make port I'm finished.'
"But you make port and you stay awhile, and you find that the woman you've been thinking of as Queen of Sheba is no more nor a common drab. And the publican you thought of as the grand generous fellow has no more use for you and your bit silver gone. It's a queer thing, but they on land think of nothing but money. And one day you think, and the woman beside you is pastier nor dough, and the man of the public house is no more nor a cheap trickster, and you're listening to the conversation of the timid urban people, and the house you're in is filthier nor a pig's sty. And you say: 'Is this me that minds the golden women of the islands, and they with red flowers in their hair? Is this me that fought side by side with good shipmates in Callao? Am I listening to the chatter of these mild people, me that's heard grand stories in the forecastle of how this man was marooned in the Bahamas, and that man was married to a Maori queen, by God? Me, the hero that dowsed skysails, and they cracking like guns. Is this lousy room a place for me that's used to a ship as clean as a cat from stem to stern?' And you stand up bravely, and you look the man of the public house square in the shifty eyes, and you say: 'Listen, bastard! Do you ken e'er a master wants a sailing man? A sailor as knows his trade, crafty in trouble, and a wildcat in danger, and as peaceful as a hare in the long grass?' And you're off again on the old trade and the old road, where the next port is the best port, and the morrow is a braver day.... So it's so long, decent wee fellow! I'm off on it again. It's a dog's life, that's what it is, the life of a sailing man. But you couldn't change. I suppose it's the salt in the blood."
"You're off, honest man?"
"Aye, I'm off, wee fellow. And thank you kindly for what you told me, and for telling me especially the old woman looked so peaceful and her with the pennies on her eyes."
"But aren't you going up to see the house?"
"I don't think I will, wee lad. I've had a picture in my mind for forty years of the big house was in it, and the coolth of the well. And maybe it isn't so at all. I'd rather not know the difference. I'll keep my picture."
"But the house is yours," wee Shane urged him. "You're not going to leave it as it is. Aren't you going to sell it and take the money?"
"Och, to hell with that! I've no time," said the sailing man, and he limped painfully back down the road.
His Uncle Robin had gone off to discuss with some Belfast crony the strange things he used to discuss, like the origin of the Round Tower of Ireland or the cryptic dialect of the Gaelic masons or whether the Scots came to Scotland from Ireland or to Ireland from Scotland, all very important for a member of the Royal Irish Academy. And his mother had gone off shopping to buy linen for the house at Cushendhu, poplin for dresses, delft from Holland for the kitchen and glass from Waterford for the sideboard in the dining-room. And because he was to go to the boarding-school that night and thereafter would be harsh discipline, and because his Uncle Robin had known he was on the point of crying, he had been allowed to wander around Belfast by himself for a few hours with a silver shilling in his pocket. And wee Shane had made for the quays....
The four of them had sat in a cold, precise room that morning, his Uncle Robin, his mother, wee Shane, and the principal, a fat, gray-eyed, insincere Southerner, with a belly like a Chinese god's, dewlaps like a hunting hound's, cold, stubby, and very clean hands, and a gown that gave him a grotesque dignity. And he had eyed wee Shane unctuously. And wee Shane did not like fat, unctuous men. He liked them lean and active, as glensmen are.
And the principal had spoken in stilted French to his mother, who had responded in French that cracked like a whip. And the principal had licked the ground before Uncle Robin. It was "Yes, Dr. Campbell!" And, "No, Dr. Campbell!" where the meanest glensman would have said "Aye, maybe you're right, Robin More," or, "Na, na, you're out there, Robin Campbell."
"The old hypocrite!" It was the only word wee Shane could describe the master by, a favorite word of his Uncle Alan's.
And in the corridors he had met some of the scholars, white-faced fellows; and the masters—they had mean eyes, like the eyes of badgers.
"I dinna want to go!" He blurted out on the quays of Belfast.
"Where dinna you want to go, wee laddie?" A black, curly-headed man with gray eyes and a laugh like a girl's stopped short. He had blue clothes and brass buttons and stepped lightly as a cat.
"I dinna want to go to school."
"Sure, all wee caddies go to school."
"I ken that. But I don't want to go to school with a bunch of whey-faced gets, and masters lean and mean as rats, and a principal puffed out like a setting hen."
"Oh, for God's sake! is that the way you feel about it? Laddie, you don't talk like a townsman. Where are you from?"
"I'm from the Glens of Antrim. From Cushendhu."
"I'm a Raghery man myself. Tha an Gaidhlig agad?
"Tha, go direach!"
"So you've got the Gaidhlig too? Who are your people, wee laddie?"
"I'm a Campbell of Cushendhu."
"For God's sake! you're no' a relation of Alan Campbell's, wha sailed with Sir John Franklin for the pole?"
"I'm his nephew."
"I've sailed under your Uncle Alan. He's the heart o' corn. And so they're going to make a scholar out of you, like your Uncle Robin. Oh, well, oh, well. Would you like to come around with me and see the ships?"
"I'd like fine to see the ships."
"You'll see all manner of ships here. Square-riggers, fore-and-afters, hermaphrodites. You'll see Indiamen and packets from Boston. You'll see ships that do be going to Germany, and some for the Mediterranean ports. You'll see a whaler that's put in for repairs. You'll see fighting ships. You'll see fishers of the Dogger Banks, and boats that go to Newfoundland, where the cod do feed. All manner of sloops and schooners, barkantines and brigs, but the bonniest of them all lies off Carrickfergus."
"And who's she, Raghery man?"
"The Antrim Maid is her nomination."
"And do you sail her?"
"I sail in her, laddie. Sail and sail in her. Mine from truck to keelson she is, and I'm master of her. Father and mother and brother to her, and husband, too. I'm proud of her." The Rathliner laughed. "You may notice."
"And why for shouldn't you be? She must be the grand boat surely, man who sailed with my Uncle Alan."
"Raghery man, you who've sailed the high seas and the low seas, did you ever put into an island that has great coolth to it and great sunshine, a town quiet as a mouse, a strip of sand like silver, the waves turning with a curl and chime?"
"Where did you hear tell of that island, wee laddie? Was it in the books you do be reading at school?"
"I saw it, and it dancing in the sun. From Slievenambanderg I saw it, and it over the waters of Moyle."
The Rathliner sat on a mooring bitt on the quay and filled his pipe.
"I ken that island," he said. "I ken it well."
"And what name is on it, Raghery man?"
"The name that's on it is Fiddlers' Green."
"Were you ever there, Raghery man?" There was a sinking in wee Shane's heart.
"I was never there, laddie, never there. Oftentimes I thought I'd raised it, but it was never there, wee laddie, never there. There's men as says they've been there, but I could hardly believe them, though there's queer things past belief on the sea. There's a sea called Sargasso, and if I told you half the things about it, you'd think me daft. And there's the ghost of ships at sea, and that's past thinking. And there's the great serpent, that I've seen with my own eyes....
"Aye, Fiddlers' Green! Where is it, and how do you get there? The sailormen would give all their years to know."
"Why for do they call it Fiddlers' Green?"
"It's Fiddlers' Green, laddie, because it's the place you come to at the cool of the day, when the bats are out, and the cummers put by their spinning. And there's nou't there but sport and music. A lawn like a golf green, drink that is not ugly, women would wander with you on to the heather when the moon's rising, and never a thought in their mind of the money in your pocket, but their eyes melting at you, and they thinking you're the champion hero of the world.... And all the fiddlers fiddling the finest of dance music: hornpipes like 'The Birds among the Trees' and 'The Green Fields of America'; reels like 'The Swallow-tail Coat' and 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley'; slip-jigs would make a cripple agile as a hare.... And you go asleep with no mate to wake you in a blow, but the sound of an old piper crooning to you as a cummer croons. And the birds will wake you with their douce singing.... Aye, Fiddlers' Green...."
And they were silent for a minute in the soft Ulster sunshine.
"Would you have any use for a lad like myself aboard your ship, Raghery man?"
"Och, sure, what would you do with the sea, wee fellow?"
"I ken it well already, Raghery man. And I'm no clumsy in a boat. I can sail a sloop with any man. On a reach or full and by, I'll keep her there. With the breeze biting her weather bow, I'll hold her snout into it. Or with the wind behind me, I'll ride her like you'd canter a horse."
"I might take you to learn you seamanship and navigation, but you'd be no use as a sailor, wee laddie, and it's not for a Campbell to be a cabin-boy."
"Take me to learn the trade, then. Take me now."
"I'd like fine, wee fellow, but I couldn't do it. You might be cut out for a scholar for all you think you're not. Or it might be a soldier you're meant for. I couldn't interfere with your life. It's an unco responsibility, interfering with a destiny, a terrible thing."
"Will you talk to my Uncle Robin? Will you?"
"Och, now, how could I talk to your Uncle Robin, him that's written books, and is counted one of the seven learned men of Ireland? Sure, I wouldn't understand what he'd be saying, and he'd have no ear for a common sailing man. If it was your Uncle Alan, now—"
"There's not a person in the world but has the ear of my Uncle Robin. And there's none easier to talk to, not even the apple woman at the corner of the quay. Will you come with me and talk to him?"
"I couldn't, laddie. Your Uncle Alan, now—"
"I'll do the talking, then; but will you come?"
"Och, wee fellow, it would be foolish."
"You wouldn't have me think hard of a man of Raghery?"
"No, I wouldn't have any one think hard of the folk of Raghery, so I suppose I'll have to come. I don't know what your Uncle Robin will say to me for putting notions in your head. It's awful foolish. But I'll come."
"So there'd never be the making of a scholar in me, Uncle Robin. A ship on the sea or a new strange person would be always more to me nor a book. I can read and write and figure; what more do I want? And, och, sir, the school would be a prison to me, the scholars droning and ink on their fingers, and the hard-faced masters at the desk. I'd be woe for the outside, for the sunshine and the water and the bellying winds—"
His Uncle Robin tapped the window-pane of the club and thought hard. The Rathlin sailor stood by, puzzled.
"But, childeen asthore, sure you don't know now what you want. Your career, laddie! Think a bit! The church, for instance—"
"Och, Uncle Robin, is it me in the church that must say my prayers by my lee lone, so loath am I to let the people see what's in me? I'd be the queer minister, dumb as a fish—"
"You once had a notion for the army, laddie."
"So I had, sir, and fine I'd like the uniforms and the swords and the horses, but I wouldn't have the heart to kill a man, and me never seeing him before. If a man did me a wrong, I'd kill him quick as I'd wash my hands, but never seeing him before, I could na, I just could na—"
"It's a clean thing, the sea," the Raghery man ventured.
"He's so very young," objected Uncle Robin.
"There's nothing but that or the books for me, Uncle Robin. A sailor or a scholar—and I don't think I'd make out well with the books."
"The books aren't all they're cracked up to be, wee Shane. I've written books myself, and who reads them but a wheen of graybeards, and they drowsing by the fire? Knowledge, laddie, I have that.... And it isn't even wisdom. Knowledge is like dry twigs you collect with care to make a bit fire you can warm your shins at, and wisdom is the gift of God that's like the blossom on the gorse. I've searched books and taken out the marrow of dead men's brains, and after all, even all my knowledge may be wrong.... Your father's name will be remembered as long as the Gaidhlig lasts, for songs that came to him as easily as a woman's kiss. And your Uncle Alan's footprints are near the pole. And Mungo is remembered forever because he died with a laugh. Not that I'm saying anything against them, wee Shane; better men will never be seen. But Daniel Donelly's name is remembered because he beat Cooper in a fight, and songs were made about it. And I'll be remembered only when some old librarian dusts a forgotten book. And I was supposed to be the wise pup o' the litter, with my books and my study. And all I have now is a troubled mind in my latter days. Aye, the books!..."
"Shall I go to sea, sir?"
"Is it up to me? And how about your mother, laddie?"
"Oh, there's little warmth within her for me, sir. She's a bitter woman. She does na like my father's breed."
"Are you your father's breed through, wee caddie? Are you Campbell all? Here, gi' us a look at your face. Aye, the eyes, the nose, the proud throw to the head of you. I'm afeared there's little of your mother in you, laddie; afeared there's none at all."
"I'm no' ashamed o' my kind, sir."
"And you're set on going to sea?"
"I'd like it fine, sir."
"And if it does na turn out the way you thought it would, you're not going to cry or turn sour?"
"I thought you knew me better nor that, Uncle Robin."
"I do." The big man laid his hand on the boy's shoulder and smiled at the shipmaster. "Take him, Raghery man!"
Though all was wonder to wee Shane, there was so much of it that it flicked through his head like a dream: the hazy September afternoon; the long, lean vessel like a greyhound; the sails white as a swan's wing; the cordage that rattled like wood; the bare-footed, bearded sailors; the town of Carrickfergus in the offing; the lap-lap-lap of water; the silent man at the wheel; the sudden transition of the friendly Raghery man into a firm, authoritative figure, quick as a cat, rapping out commands like a sergeant-major.
The town of Carrickfergus began to slip by as if drawn by horses. The mate ran up the ladder of the poop.
"Topsails, McCafferty!" the Raghery man ordered.
A minute later there came the mate's voice from amidships:
"Sheet home the topsails—and put your backs into it!"
Patter of feet. An accordion began to whine like a tinker. Creak and strain. Faster lapping of water. A song raised in chorus:
As I came a-tacking down Paradise Street— Yo-ho! Blow the man down! As I came a-tacking down Paradise Street— Give us some time till we blow the man down!
A trim little bumboat I chanced for to meet! Blow, bullies, blow the man down! A trim little bumboat I chanced for to meet! Give us some time till we blow the man down!
She was round in the counter and bluff in the bows! Yo-ho! Blow the man down! She was round in the counter and bluff in the bows! Give us some time till we blow the man down. Blow the man down! Blow, bullies! Blow the man down!
THE WAKE AT ARDEE
The feeling that was uppermost in him as he sat outside the thatched cottage in the moonlight, while the wake was within, was not grief at his wife's death; not a shattered mind that his life, so carefully laid out not twelve months before, was disoriented; not any self-pity; not any grievance against God, such as little men might have: but a strange dumb wonder. There she lay within, in her habit of a Dominican lay sister, her hands waxy, her face waxy, her eyelids closed. And six guttering candles were about her, and women droned their prayers with a droning as of bees. There she lay with her hands clasped on a wooden crucifix. And no more would the robins wake her, and they fussing in the great hawthorn-tree over the coming of dawn. No longer would she rake the ash from the peat and blow the red of it to a little blaze. No longer would she beat his dog out of the house with the handle of the broom. No longer would she forgather with the neighbors over a pot of tea for a pleasant vindictive chat. No longer would she look out to sea for him with her half-loving, half-inimical eyes. No longer in her sharpish voice would she recite her rosary and go to bed.
And to-morrow they would bury her—there would be rain to-morrow: the wind was sou'east,—they would lower her, gently as though she were alive, into a rectangular slot in the ground, mutter alien prayers in an alien tongue with business of white magic, pat the mound over as a child pats his castle of sand on the sea-shore, and leave her there in the rain.
A month from now they would say a mass for her, a year from now another, but to-morrow, to-day, yesterday even, she was finished with all of life: with the fussy, excited robins of dawn; with the old dog that wanted to drowse by the fire; with the young husband who was either too much or too little of a man for her; with the clicking beads she would tell in her sharpish voice; with each thing; with everything.
And here was the wonder of it, the strange dumb wonder, that the snapping of her life meant less in reality to him than the snapping of a stay aboard ship. The day after to-morrow he would mount the deck of Patrick Russell's boat, and after a few crisp orders would set out on the eternal sea, as though she were still alive in her cottage, as though indeed she had never even lived, and northward he would go past the purple Mull of Cantyre; past the Clyde, where the Ayrshire sloops danced like bobbins on the water; past the isles, where overhead drove the wedges of the wild swans, trumpeting as on a battle-field; past the Hebrides, where strange arctic birds whined like hurt dogs; northward still to where the northern lights sprang like dancers in the black winter nights; eastward and southward to where the swell of the Dogger Bank rose, where the fish grazed like kine. Over the great sea he would go as though nothing had happened, not even the snapping of a stay—down to the sea, where the crisp winds of dawn were, and the playful, stupid, short-sighted porpoises; the treacherous sliding icebergs; and the gulls that cried with the sea's immense melancholy; and the great plum-colored whales....
To his nostrils, sterilized as they were by the salt air of the sea, the rich scents of Louth came in a rushing profusion. The wild roses of June were like the high notes of a violin, and there was clover, and mown hay. In the southeast the clouds were banking, but still the moon rose high, and the cottage was clear as in daylight, clearer even in the mind's eye—the whitewashed walls, the thatch like silver, the swallows' nests beneath the eaves. The hard round sea-cobbles beneath his feet were clear and individual, and to where he sat in the haggard came a girl's song from down the road:
"Oh, Holland is a wondrous place and in it grows much green. It's a wild inhabitation for my young love to be in. There the sugar-cane grows plentiful, and leaves on every tree, But the low, lowlands of Holland are between my love and me."
He listened with a cocked ear, and smiled as he thought how easy it would be to stroll down the road to where the singing girl was, and accost her pleasantly: "So he's in Holland, is he? That's the queer and foolish place for him to be, and I here!" There would be banter, quick and smart as a whip, a scuffle, a clumsily placed kiss, laughter, another scuffle, and a kiss that found its mark somehow, then a saunter together down the scented loaning while the June moon rode high and the crickets sang.
O my God! here he was thinking about love, and his wife lay inside and she dead!
And a new light wonder sprang up and whirled within the big dumb wonder that was on him: that here was he, a lad not yet twenty-two, with a dead wife on his hands, while his shipmates were off with the laughter of young women in their ears after the silent and tense watches of the sea. His captain had gone home to Newry to where his wife awaited him, the tall, graceful woman with the hair like black silk and the black eyes and the black ear-rings and the slim, white, enigmatic hands. And the first mate had gone to Rostrevor with a blond, giggling girl, and the crew were at Sally Bishop's in Dundalk, draining the pints of frothy porter and making crude material love to Sally Bishop's blowsy brown girls, some chucking their silver out with a laugh—the laugh of men who had fought hurricanes, and some bargaining shrewdly.... But here he was, home, with his wife, and her dead. And if she hadn't been dead, she would have been half loving, half inimical toward him, her arms and bosom open, but a great stranger.... He couldn't understand. Well, she was dead, and ... he didn't know....
A bent, fattish figure in a shawl came toward him through the haggard, his wife's mother. There was the sweetish, acrid odor of whisky.
"Shane avick, are you there all alone, mourning for the pleasant, beautiful one who's gone?"
"I was just sitting down."
"You wouldn't like a wee drop of consolation?"
"Whisky? No, thanks."
"Just the least taste?"
"And I after bringing it out to you in a naggin bottle. Just the wetting of your lips, agra, would cheer you up, and you down to the ground."
The old woman sat on the stone ditch beside him and began swaying backward and forward, and the keening note came into her voice:
"Is it gone? Is it gone you are, Moyra a sthore? Sure, 't was the kindly daughter you were to me, and me old and not worth my salt, a broken cailleach hobbling on a stick. Never did you refuse me the cup o' tea so strong a mouse could walk on it. And the butcher's meat o' Christmas, sure your old ma must have a taste, too. And many's the brown egg you let me have, and they bringing a high price on the Wednesday market. And the ha'porth o' snuff—sure you never came home without it, and you at Dundalk fair. Kindly you were as the rains of April, and my heart is ashes now you're gone...."
Shane paced off through the haggard. There was the glug-glug of a bottle, and again the sweetish, acrid odor of whisky. He turned back.
"Only to one were you kinder nor to myself and that was to the lad here, whose heart is broken for you. Dumb with grief he is, now you're gone. And all you did for him! You might have married a strong farmer would have a dozen cows, horses would pull a cart or plow, hens by the dozen, and flitches of bacon hanging in the kitchen. Or you might have married a man had a shop and sat at your ease in the back room, like a lady born. Or you might have married a gager and gone to Dublin and mixed with the grand quality. And your mother would have a black silk dress, and shoes with buttons on them. But you married this young fellow goes to sea, so much was the great love on you for him. Love came to you like a thunder-storm, and left you trembling like a leaf, and now you're dead—ochanee! ochanee! ochanee o!"
Her voice changed from the shrill keen to a shrewd whine:
"You'll be leaving me something to remember her by, Shane Oge, and her a fathom deep beneath me in the cold ground. And a trinket or two, or a dress, maybe, or a bangle would keep my heart warm?"
"You can have them all."
"All is it? Ah, sure, it's the grand big heart is in you, lad o' the North. And are they all to be mine, the silver brooch you bought her from the Dutch city, and the ring with the pearl in it, and the dresses of silk from France, and the shoes that have buckles? Are they for me, hinny?"
"Yes, yes. Take them."
"And the wee furnishings of the house, the feather-bed is soft to lie on, and the dresser with the delft, and the creepy stool beside the fire, the noble chairs? You wouldn't be selling them to the stranger, Shane Oge?"
"No, you can have those, too."
"And the house, too? Young noble fellow, where is your wife's mother to lay her gray hairs? Couldn't you fix the house, too?"
"The house is not mine, and I can't afford to buy it."
"But 't is you you are the rich Protestant family. Your uncles and your mother, hinny. Rotten with gold they are, and me just a poor old cailleach that gave you the white lamb o' the flock."
"We'll look after you. My uncle Alan Campbell will be here in a day or so and fix everything. But I'm afraid the house is out of the question."
"Oh, sure it would be a noble thing to have the house, and they around me dying with envy of my state and grandeur. At fair or at wake great respect they would pay me, and the priests of God would be always calling. The house, fine lad, give me the house!"
"You'll have to speak to my Uncle Alan."
"Alan Campbell is a hard Northern man."
"Nevertheless, you'll have to speak to him."
"A mhic mheirdrighe!" Her mouth hissed. "O son of a harlot!"
Shane wheeled like a sloop coming about.
"You forget I've got the Gaelic myself, old woman."
"Oh, sure, what did I say, fine lad, but avick machree, son of my heart? Avick machree, I said. O son of my heart, that's what you are. You wouldn't take wrong meaning from what an old woman said, and her with her teeth gone, and under the black clouds of sorrow!"
A glint in the moonlight caught Shane's eyes. He gripped her right hand.
"Is that Moyra's wedding-ring you have on? Did you—did you—take it—from her hand?"
"Oh, sure, what use would she have for it, and she in the sods of Ballymaroo? And the grand Australian gold is in it, worth a mint of money. And what use would you have for it, and you in strange parts, where a passionate foreign woman would be giving you love, maybe? The fine lad you are, will draw the heart of many. But it's drawing back coldly they'd be, and they seeing that on your finger, or on a ribbon around your neck. Drawing back they'd be, and giving the love was yours to another fellow. A sin to waste the fine Australian gold it is. And you wouldn't begrudge me the price of a couple o' heifers would grow into grand cows? You wouldn't, fine lad—"
He flung her hand from him so savagely that she fell, and he went swiftly toward the house where the dead woman was. Back of him in the haggard came the glug-glug of the naggin bottle, and from down the loaning came the rich, untrained contralto of the singing girl:
"Nor shoe nor stocking will I put on, nor comb go in my hair. And neither coal nor candle-light shine in my chamber fair. Nor will I wed with any young man until the day I die, Since the low lowlands of Holland are between my love and me."
As he paused at the half-door, the laughter and the chatter in the kitchen ceased, and he was aware of the blur of faces around the room, white faces of men and women and alien eyes. Over the peat fire—there was a fire even in June—the great black kettle sang on the crane, to make tea for the mourners. Here and there were bunches of new clay pipes scattered, and long rolls of twisted tobacco, for the men to smoke, and saucers full of snuff for both men and women. A great paraffin lamp threw broad, opaque shadows, making the whole a strange blur in the kitchen, while in the bedroom opening off it, where the tense, dead woman lay, was a glare of candles as from footlights, and there gathered the old women of the neighborhood, discussing everything in hushed, vindictive whispers—the price of cows, morbid diseases, the new wife some man had, and whether such a girl was with child.... And the dead woman, who had loved talk such as this, as a drunkard loves the glass, gave no heed.... Strange!... And every hour or so they would flash to their knees, like some quick instinctive movement of birds, and now carelessly, now over-solemnly they would say a rosary for the dead woman's soul:
"Ar n-Athair, ta ar neamh—" they would gabble. "Our Father, Who art in Heaven—" and then a long suspiration: "'Se do bheatha, 'Mhuire!" "Hail, Mary! Full of grace!"
But in the kitchen they would be laughing, chatting, playing crude forfeits, telling grotesque stories, giving riddles, and now, to the muted sound of a melodeon, a man would dance a hornpipe.... And men would sneak out to the byre in twos and threes for a surreptitious glass of whisky.... And suddenly they would rush in and join in the rosary:
"Ar n-Athair, ta ar neamh.... Se do bheatha, 'Mhuire! ..."
It was all so grotesque, so empty, so play-actor-like—so inharmonious with Death! Death was very terrible or very peaceful, thought Shane Campbell of the sea and the Antrim Glens. "Down from your horse when Death or the King goes by," went the Antrim old word. But here the house of death was a booth of Punchinello.
More aware even than of the indignity of it all was he of the hatred about him. They hated him for his alien race, his alien faith. Not one of the men but would have killed him had they had courage, because his head was high, his step firm. The women hated him because he had chosen one from among them and given her honor and gifts. And his wife's mother hated him with the venomous, nauseous hatred that old women bear. And yet they'd have loved him if he'd given way to hysterical, unprofound grief, or become ... drunk! They'd have understood him. But all they had for him was hatred now. Even the dead woman on the bed hated him.... Ah, well, only a day or so more, and he'd come about. A leg to leeward, and he'd shake them off as a great ship leaves behind it the troublesome traders' bumboats.
There came to him the shrill keening of the old woman as some one brought her toward the house:
"Ochanee! Ochanee! Ochanee o! the Shepherd's lamb! She's gone from us! The high branch on the pleasant little tree! And what's to become of me in my latter days! Me that thought I'd have the beautiful house to live in, and a horse and cart, and a wake would be the envy of many, and not the curate, but the parish priest himself, to be at the head of the funeral. And now I'm to be thrown against the great cruelty of the harsh Northern men! Nine black curses against them and theirs, and on my bare knees I say it. Och, white gull o' the harbor, why did you die? Ochanee! Ochanee!"
The gabbled rosary, the low laughter in the kitchen, the clink of glasses, the howling of the cailleach—all these noises repulsed him like a forefront of battle. So he did not go into the house, but took his hand from the half-door and returned to the haggard, to the grave, understanding silence of the moon.
Because he was so young, and thought he knew so much when in reality he knew so little, young Shane had thought, when he met Moyra Dolan, that he had discovered the morning star. Five and a half years at sea, as apprentice and navigator, had shown his eyes much and his heart little. He knew Bermuda and the harbor of Kingston. He had beaten up the China Seas. He had seen the clouds over Table Mountain. He knew Baltimore. He had seen the bowsprits of the great Indiamen thrust over the quays of Poplar parish like muskets leveled over a barricade. And to him it was just a wonder, a strange spectacle. The streets were strange as in a dream, and the folk were strange as in a play. One wandered down an avenue, seeing the queer commodities in the shops and booths. One wandered to the right. One wandered to the left. And there was great delight to finding a street one had seen before, maybe only five minutes ago, and one felt one was getting somewhere, was understanding the new country.
But one never did understand the new country. All the people were strange. One could not imagine them about the daily business of life, waking, eating, buying, and selling. Black men and ocher-colored folk. There seemed to be a mystery somewhere. One imagined them gathering at night in secret to begin their real un-understood life. At times it seemed impossible that it was the same world. Surely the sun that struck like a hammer in Jamaica could not be the gracious warm planet that gilded the gorse of the Antrim glens. And up the Baltic in mid-winter it was bleak as a candle, and even then in Antrim it had a great kindliness. Nor were the winds the same. The hot puffs of the Indian Ocean, the drunken, lurching flaws of Biscay Bay, the trades that worked steadily as ants, had not the human quality of the winds of the Nine Glens, that were now angry as an angry man, now gentle as a gentle woman.
Only one thing was constant, and that was the women whom sailors know in ports. And they wore masks. The same easily forced laughter, the same crude flattery, the complacent arms, the eternal eager hand....
And then one day the new port palled, like a book one has read too often, or a picture one has looked at over-long. And it was sheet home the royals and off to a new port, where there were new strange people, and streets laid another way, and other things in the merchants' booths, and a new language to pick up a phrase or two of.
But in the end all palled for a time, the aphrodisiac tropic smell; the coral waters, clear as well water at home; the white houses with the green jalousies; the lush, coarse green. And the melancholic drums of the East palled. And palled the grimness of the North. And the unceasing processional of strange secret faces wearied the eye and the mind. And the angular spiritual edges of shipmates wore toward one through the uniform of flesh, became annoying, sometimes unbearable.
And then an immense yearning would come over young Shane for the beloved faces in the lamplight, for the white road over the purple heather, for the garden where the greened sun-dial was, with its long motto in the Irish letter:
Is mairg a baidhtear in am an anaithe Na tig an ghrian in dhiaidh na fearthainne—
as if anybody didn't know that, that it was a pity to be drowned in time of storm, for the sun shines brightly when the rain goes!
But the sun-dial was mirrored in his heart, and the purple mountain and the great dun house. The winds he sniffed as a hunting dog does, and each tack to port or starboard either thrilled or cast him down.... When would he get there? Would it be cool of the evening, when the bats were out? Or would it be in the sunshine of the morning, when a great smell was from the heather? And who would hear the wicket-gate click as the latch was lifted, and put a welcome before him with a great shout, uncles Alan or Robin, or a servant girl or boy, or the bent old gardener who kept the lawn true as a bowling-green?... Or would it be his mother?
Aboard ship the young apprentices had their problems, problems of conduct, or of girls at home, or of money in port, but for young Shane there was always the problem of his mother.
At home he had regarded as a matter of fact that she should come and go in her hard, efficient French way. It had not seemed strange to him that her mouth was tight, her eyes hard as diamonds. It was to him one with his Uncle Robin's solemnity and Alan Donn's gruff sportsmanship. But away from home he thought of it, brooded over it. Her letters to him were so curt, so cut and dried! She wrote of the birth of another child to young Queen Victoria,—as if that mattered a tinker's curse!—or how her Holland bulbs, which she had bought at Belfast, had withered and died. She directed him "to pray God to keep him pure in mind and body, your affectionate mother, Louise de Damery Campbell." Alan Donn's letters had the grand smell of harness about them. "You'll mind the brown gelding we bought at Ballymena. He disgraced us at Dublin in the jumping competitions. You know he can jump his own height, but he got the gate after three tries. I could have graet like a bairn. Well, this will be all from your loving Uncle Alan. P.S. I caught the white trout in Johnson's Brae burn. I was after him, and he was dodging me for six years. Your loving Uncle Alan, P.P.S. The championship is at Newcastle this year, and I think I've a grand chance. If you're home, you can caddy for me. Your loving Uncle Alan."