The English equivalent of Annir-Choille would be the Wood-nymph. The word Annir is an ancient compound Gaelic word for a maiden.

Washer of the Ford, by Fiona Macleod,
1896 Geddes edition

 

THE ANNIR-CHOILLE

WHEN Cathal mac Art, that was called Cathal Gille-Muire, Cathal the Servant of Mary, walked by the sea, one night of the nights in a green May, there was trouble in his heart.

It was not long since he had left Iona. The good St Colum, in sending the youth to the Isle of Ā-rinn, as it was then called, gave him a writing for St Molios, the holy man who lived in the sea-cave of the small Isle of the Peak, that is in the eastward hollow at the south end of Arran. A sorrow it was to him to leave the fair isle in the west. He had known glad years there---since, in one of the remote isles to the north, he had seen his father slain by a mand of Lochlin, and his mother carried away in a galley oared by fierce yellow-haired men. No kith or kin had he but the old priest, that was the brother of his father, Cathal Gille-Chriosd, Cathal the Servant of Christ.

On Iona he had learned the way of Christ. He had a white robe; and could, with a shaven stick and a thin tuft of seal-fur, or with the feather-quill of a wild swan or a solander, write the holy words upon strained lambskin or parchment, and fill the big letters, that were here and there, with earth-brown and sky-blue and shining green, with scarlet of blood and gold of sun-warm sands. He could sing the long holy hymns, too, that Colum loved to hear, and it was his voice that had the sweetest clear-call of any on the island. He was in the nineteenth year of his years when a Frankish prince, who had come to Iona for the blessing of the Saint, wanted him to go back with him to the Southlands. He promised many things because of that voice. Cathal dreamed often, in the hot drowsy afternoons of the month that followed, of the long white sword that would slay so well; and of the white money that might be his to buy fair apparel with, and a great black stallion accoutred with trappings wrought with gold, and a bed of down; and of white hands, and white breasts, and the white song of youth.

He had not gone with the Frankish prince, nor wished to go. But he dreamed often. It was on a day of dream that he lay on his back in the hot grass upon a dune, near where the cells of the Monks were. The sunglow bathed the isle in a golden haze. The strait was a shimmering dazzle, and the blue wavelets that made curves in the soft white sand seemed to spill gold flakes and change them straightway into little jets of foam or bubbles of rainbow-spray. Cathal had made a song for his delight His pain was less when he had made it. Now, lying there, and dreaming at times of the words of the Frankish prince, and remembering at times the stranger words of the old pagan helot, Neis, who had come' with him out of the north, he felt fire burn in his veins; and he sang:

O where in the north, or where in the south, or where in the east or west
Is she who hath the flower-white hands and the swandown breast ?
O, if she be west, or east she be, or in the north or south,
A sword will leap, a horse will prance, ere I win to Honey-Mouth.
She has great eyes, like the doe on the hill, and warm and sweet she is,
O, come to me, Honey-Mouth, bend to me, Honey-Mouth, give me thy kiss!

White Hands her name is, where she reigns amid the princes fair:
White hands she moves like swimming swans athrough her dusk-wave hair:
White hands she puts about my heart, white hands fan up my breath :
White hands take out the heart of me, and grant me life or death !
White hands make better songs than hymns, white hands are young and sweet:
O, a sword for me, O Honey-Mouth, and a war-horse fleet!

O wild sweet eyes! O glad wild eyes! O mouth, how sweet it is!
O, come to me, Honey-Mouth! bend to me, Honey-Mouth! give me thy kiss!

When he had ceased he saw a shadow fall upon the white sand beyond the dune. He looked up, and beheld Colum the Saint.

"Who taught you that song?" said the white holy one, in a voice hard and stern.

"No one, O Colum."

"Then the Evil One is indeed here. Cathal, I promised that you would be having a holy name soon, but that name I will not be giving you now. You must come to me in sackcloth and with dust upon your head, with pain upon you, and with deep grief in your heart. Then only shall I bless you before the brothers and call you Cathal Gille-Mhoire, Cathal the Servant of Mary."

A bitter, sad waiting it was for him who had fire in his young blood and was told to weave frost there, and to put silence upon the welling song in his heart. But at the end of the week Cathal was a holy monk and sang the hymns that Colum had taught him.

It was on the eve of the day when Colum blessed him before the brethren, and called him Gille-Muire, that he walked alone, brooding upon the evil of women and the curse they brought, and praying to Mary to save him from the sins of which he scarce knew the meaning. On his way back to his cell he passed old Neis, the helot, who said to him mockingly:

"It is a good thing that sorrow, Cathal mac Art,---and yet, sure, it is true that but for the hot love the slain man your father had for Foam that was your mother, you would not be here to praise your God or serve the woman whom the Arch-Druid yonder says is the Mother of God."

Cathal bade the man eat silence, or it would go ill with him. But the words rankled. That night in his cell he woke, with on his lips his own sinful words:

White hands make better songs than hymns, white hands are young and sweet;
O, a sword for me, O Honey-Mouth, and a war-horse fleet!

On the morrow he went to Colum and told him that the Evil One would not give him peace. That night the Saint bade him make ready to go east to the Isle of Arran---the sole isle, then, where the Pictish folk would let the white robes of the Culdees go scatheless. To the holy Molios he was to go, him that dwelled in the sea-cave of the Isle of the Peak, that men already called the Holy Isle because of the preaching and the miracles of Molios.

"He is a wise man," said Colum to himself, and he was a pagan Cruithne once, and a prince at that, and he knows the sweetness of sin, and will keep Cathal away from the snares that are set. With fasting, and much peril by day and weariness by night, the blood of the youth will forget the songs the Evil One has put into his mind and it will sing holy hymns. Great will be the glory Cathal Gille-Muire will be a holy man while he has yet his youth upon him; and he will be a martyr to the flesh by day and by night and by night and by day, till the heathen put him to death because of the faith that is his."

Thus it was that Cathal was blessed by Colum, and sent east among the wild Picts.

It was with joy that he served Molios. For four months he gave him all he had to give. The old saint passed word to Colum that Cathal was a saint and was assured of the crown of martyrdom, and lovingly he urged that the youth should be sent to the Isle of Mist in the north, the great isle that was ruled by Scathach the Queen. There, at the last Summer-sailing, the pagans had flayed a monk alive. A fair happy end: and Cathal was now worthy---and withal might triumph, and might even convert the heathen queen. "She is wondrous fair to see," he added, "and Cathal is a comely youth."

But Colum had answered that the young monk was to bide where he was, and to seek to win souls in the pagan Isle of Arran, where the Cross was still feared.

But with the coming of May and golden weather, the blood of Cathal grew warm. At times, even, he dreamed of the Frankish prince and the evil sweet words he had said.

Then a day of the days came. Molios and Cathal went to a hill-dUn where the Pict chieftain lived, and converted him and all the people in the dUn and all in the rath that was beyond the dUn. That eve the daughter of the warrior came upon Cathal walking in a solitary place, among the green pines beyond the rath. She was most sweet to look upon: tall and fair, with eyes like the sea in a cloudless noon, and hair like westward wheat turned back upon itself.

"What is the name men call you by, young Druid?" she said. I am Ardanna, the daughter of Ecta."

"Your beauty is sweet to look upon, Ardanna. I am Cathal the son of Art the son of Aodh of the race of Alpein, from the isles of the sea. But I am not a Druid. I am a priest of Christ, a servant of Mary the Mother of God, and a son of God."

Ardanna looked at him. A flush came into his face. In his eyes the same light flamed that was there when the Frankish prince told him of the delights of the world.

"Is it true, O Cathal, that the Druids that the priests of Christ and the two other gods, the white-robed men whom we call Culdees, and of whom you are one, is it true that they will have nought to do with women?"

Cathal looked upon the woman no more, but on the ground at his feet.

"It is true, Ardanna."

The girl laughed. It was a low, sweet, mocking laugh, but it went along Cathal's blood like cloud-fire along the sky. It was to him as though somewhat he had not seen was revealed.

"And is it a true thing that you holy men look at women askance, and as snares of peril and evil?"

"It is true, Ardanna; but not so upon those who are sisters of Christ, and whose eyes are upon heavenly things."

"But what of those who are not sisters of your god, and are only women, fair to look upon, fair to woo, fair to love? "

Cathal again flushed. His eyes were still upon the ground. He made no answer.

Ardanna laughed low.

"Cathal! "

"Yes, fair daughter of Ecta?"

"Is it never longing for love you are?"

"There is but one love for us who have taken the vows of chastity."

"What is chastity?"

Cathal raised his eyes and glanced at Ardanna. Her dark-blue eyes looked at him pure and sweet, though a smile was upon her mouth. He sighed.

"It is the sanctity of the body, Ardanna."

"I do not understand," she said simply.     "But tell me this, poor Cathal ----"

"Why do you call me poor Cathal?"

"Because you have put your manhood from you---and you so young, and strong, and comely---and are not a warrior, and care neither for the sword, nor the chase, nor the harp, nor for women."

Cathal was troubled. He looked again and again at Ardanna. The sunset light was in her yellow hair, which was about her as a glory. He had seen the moon as wondrous pale as her beautiful face. Like lilies her white hands were. He had dreamed of that flamelight in the eyes.

"I care," he said.

She drew nearer, and leaned a little forward, and looked at him.

"You are good to look upon, Cathal---the comeliest youth I have ever seen."

The monk flushed. This was the devil-tongue of which Colum had warned him. But how sweet the words were: like a harp that low voice. Sure, sweeter is a waking dream than a dream in sleep.

"I care," he repeated dully.

"Look, Cathal."

Slowly he raised his eyes. As his gaze moved upward it rested on the white breast which was like sea-foam swelling out of brown sea-weed, for she had a tanned fawn-skin belted and gold-claspt over the white robe she wore, and that had disported for the warm air to play upon her bosom.

It troubled him. He let his eyes fall again. The red was on his face.

"Cathal!"

"Yes, Ardanna."

"And you will never put your kiss upon a woman's lips? Never put your heart upon a woman's heart? Is it of cold sea water you are made-for even the running water in the streams is warmed by the sun? Tell me, Cathal, would you leave Molios the Culdee, --if--"

The monk of Christ suddenly flashed his eyes upon the woman.

"If what, Ardanna?" he asked abruptly; "if what, Ardanna that is so witching fair?"

"If I loved you, Cathal? If I, the daughter of Ecta the chief, loved you, and took you to be my man, and you took me to be your woman, would you be content so?"

He stared at her as one in a dream. Then suddenly all the foolish madness that had been put upon him by Colum fell away. What did these old men, Colum and Molios, know? It is only the young who know what life is. They were old, and their blood was gelid.

He put up his arms, as though in prayer. Then he smiled. Ardanna saw a light in his eyes that sprang into her heart and sang a song there that whirled in her ears and dazzled her eyes and made her feel as though she had fallen over a great height and were still falling.

Cathal was no longer pale. A red flame burned in either cheek. The sunset-light behind him filled his hair with fire. His eyes were beacons.

"Cathal, Cathal!"

"Come, Ardanna!"

That was all. What need to say more. She was in his arms, and her heart throbbing against his that leapt in his body like a wolf fallen in a snare.

He stooped and kissed her. She lifted her eyes, and his brain swung. She kissed him, and he kissed her till she gave a low cry and gently thrust him back. He laughed.

"Why do you laugh, Cathal?"

"I? It is I who laugh now. The old men put a spell upon me. I am no more Cathal Gille-Muire, but Cathal mac Art. Nay, I am Cathal Gille-Ardanna."

With that he plucked the branch of a rowan that grew near. He stripped it of its leaves, and threw them from him north, south, east, and west.

"Why do you that, Cathal-aluinn?" Ardanna asked looking at him with eyes of love, and she like a summer morning there, because of the sunshine in her hair, and the wild roses on her face, and the hill-tarn blue of her eyes.

"These are all the hymns that Colum taught me. I give them back. I am knowing them no more. They are idle, foolish songs."

Then the monk took the branch and broke it, and threw the pieces upon the ground and trampled upon them.

"Why do you that, Cathal-aluinn?" asked Ardanna, wondering at him with her home-call eyes.

That is the branch of all the wisdom Colum taught me. Old Neis, the helot, was wise. It is a madness, all that. See, it is gone; it is beneath my feet. I am a man now."

"But O Cathal, Cathal ! this very day of the days, Ecta, my father, has become a man of the Christ-faith, him and his; and he would do what Molios asked now. And Molios would ask your death."

"Death is a dream."

With that Cathal leaned forward and kissed Ardanna upon the lips twice. "A kiss for life that," he said ; "and that a kiss for death."

Ardanna laughed a low laugh. "The monk can kiss," she whispered; "can the monk love?"

He put his arm about her, and they went into the dim dark greenness.

The moon rose slowly, a globe of pale golden fire which spilled unceasingly a yellow flame upon the suspended billows of the forest. Star after star emerged. Deep silence was in the woods, save for the strange, passionate churring of a night-jar, where he leaned low from a pine branch and called to his mate, whose heart throbbed a flight-away amid the dewy shadows.

The wind was still. The white rays of the stars wandered over the moveless, over the shadowless and breathless green lawns of the tree-tops.

"What is that sound?" said Ardanna, a dim shape in the darkness, where she lay in the arms of Cathat.

" I know not," said the youth; for the fevered blood in his veins sang a song against his ears.

" Listen!"

Cathat listened. He heard nothing. His eyes dreamed again into the silence.

"What is that sound?" she whispered against his heart once again. "It is not from the sea, nor is it of the woods."

" It is the moan of Heaven," answered Cathal wearily; "an acain Pharais."

II

They found them there in the twilight of the dawn. For long Ecta looked at them and pondered. Then he glanced at Molios. There were tears in the heart of the holy man, but in his eyes a deep anger.

"Bind him," said Ecta.

Cathal woke with the thongs. His gaze fell upon Molios. He made no sign, and spake never a word; but he smiled.

"What now, O Molios?" asked Ecta.

"Take the woman away. Do with her as you will---spare or slay. It matters not. She is but a woman, and she hath wrought evil upon this man. To slay were well."

"She is my daughter."

"Spare, then, if you will; but take her away. Give her to a man. She shall never see this renegade again."

With that, two men led Ardanna away. She gave a glance at Cathal, who smiled. No tears were in her eyes; but a proud fire was there, and she brooked no man's hand upon her, and walked free.

When she was gone, Molios spake.

"Cathal, that was called Cathal Gille-Muire, why have you done this thing?"

"Because I was weary of vain imaginings, and I am young; and Ardanna is fair, and we loved."

"Such love is death."

"So be it, Molios. Such death is sweet as love."

"No ordinary death shalt thou have, blasphemer. Yet even now I would be merciful if I could. Dost thou call upon God?"

"I call upon the gods of my fathers."

"Fool, they shall not save you."

"Nevertheless, I call. I have nought to do with thy three gods, O Christian."

"Hast thou no fear of hell?"

"I am a warrior, and the son of my father, and of a race of heroes. Why should I fear?"

Molios brooded a while.

"Take him," he said at last, "and bury him alive where his gods perchance will hear his cries and come and save him! Find me a hollow tree."

"There is a great oak near here," said Ecta, wondering, "a great hollow oak whose belly would hold five men, each standing upon the other."

With that he led them to an ancient tree.

"Dost thou repent, Cathal?" Molios asked.

"Ay," the young man answered grimly; "I repent. I repent that I wasted the good days serving you and your three false gods."

"Blaspheme no more. Thou knowest that these three are one God."

Cathal laughed mockingly.

"Hearken to him, Ecta," he cried; "this old Druid would have you believe that two men and a woman make one person! Believe that if you will! As for me, I laugh."

But with that, at a sign from Molios, they lifted and slung him amid the branches of the oak, and let him slide feet foremost into the deep hollow heart of the tree.

When the law was done, Molios bade all near kneel in a circle round the oak. Then he prayed for the soul of the doomed man. As he ended this prayer, a laugh flew up among the high wind-swayed leaves. It was as though an invisible bird were there, mocking like a jay.

One by one, with bowed heads, Molios and Ecta and those with him withdrew, all save two young men who were bidden to stay, Upon these was bond laid, that they would not stir from that place for three days. They were to let none draw nigh: and no food was to be given to the victim : and if he cried to them, they were to take no heed, nay, not though he called upon God or the Mother of God or upon the White Christ.

All that day there was no sound from the hollow tree. At the setting of the sun a blackbird lit upon a small branch that drooped over the aperture, and sang a brave lilt. Then the dark came, and the moon rose, and the stars glimmered through the dew.

At midnight the moon was overhead. A flood of pale gold rays lit up the branches of the oak, and turned the leaves into a lustrous bronze. The watchers heard a voice singing in the silence of the night---a voice muffled and obscure, as from one in a pit, or as that of a shepherd straying in a narrow corrie. Words they caught, though not all; and this was what they heard:*

O yellow lamp of Ioua that is having a cold pale flame there,
Put thy honey-sheen upon me who am close-caverned with Death:
Sure it is nought I see now who have seen too much and too little:
O moon, thy breast is softer and whiter than hers who burneth the day.

Put thy white light on the grave where the dead man my father is,
                   And waken him, waken him, wake!
And put thy soft shining on the breast of the woman my mother,
So that she stir in her sleep and say to the Viking beside her,
"Take up thy sword, and let it lap blood, for it thirsts with long thirst."

And O Ioua, be as the sea-calm upon the hot heart of Ardanna, the girl:
Tell her that Cathal loves her, and that memory is sweeter than life.
I list her heart beating here in the dark and the silence,
And it is not lonely I am, because of that, and remembrance.

O yellow flame of Ioua, be a spilling of blood out of the heart of Ecta,
So that he fall dead, inglorious, slain from within, as a grey-beard .
And light a . fire in the brain of Molios, so that he shall go moonstruck,
And men will jeer at him, and he will die at the last, idly laughing.

For lo, I worship thee, Ioua ; and if you can give my message to Neis,---
Neis the helot out of Aoidū who is in Iona, bondman to Colum,---
Tell him I hail you as Bandia, as god---queen and mighty,
And that he had the wisdom and I was a fool with trickling ears of moss.

But grant me this, O goddess, a bitter moon-drinking for Colum!
May he have the moonsong in his brain, and in his heart tire moonfire;
Flame burn him in heart of flame, and may he wane as wax at the furnace,
And his soul drown in tears, and his body be a nothingness upon the sands!

The watchers looked at each other, but said no word. On the pale face of each was fear and awe. What if this new god-teaching were false, and if Cathal was right, and the old gods were the lords of life and death? The moonlight fell upon them, and they saw doubt in the eyes of each other. Neither looked at the white fire. Out of the radiance, cold eyes might stare upon them: when at that, sure they would leap to the woods, laughing wild, and be as the beasts of the forest.

While it was still dark, an hour before the dawn, one of the twain awoke from a brief slumber. His gaze wandered from vague tree to tree. Thrice he thought he saw dim shapes glide from bole to bole or from thicket to thicket. Suddenly he discerned a tall figure, silent as a shadow, standing at the verge of the glade.

His low cry aroused his companion. "What is it, Mūrta? " the young man asked in a whisper.

" A woman."

When they looked again she was gone.

"It was one of the Hidden People," said Mūrta, with restless eyes roaming from dusk to dusk.

"How are you for knowing that, Mūrta?"

"She was all in green, just like a green shadow she was, and I saw the green fire in her eyes."

"Have you not thought of one that it might be?"

"Who? "

"Ardanna."

With that the young man rose and ran swiftly to the place where he had seen the figure. But he could see no one. Looking at the ground he was troubled: for in the moonshine-dew he descried the imprint of small feet.

Thereafter they saw or heard nought, save the sights and sounds of the woodland.

At sunrise the two youths rose. Mūrta lifted up his arms, then sank upon his knees with bowed head.

"Why do you do that forbidden thing?" said Diarmid, that was his companion. "Have you forgotten Cathal the monk that is up there alone with death? If Molios the holy one saw you worshipping the Light he would do unto you as he has done unto Cathal."

But before Mūrta answered they heard the voice of Cathal once more---hoarse and dry it was, but scarce weaker than when it thrilled them at the rising of the moon.

This was what he chanted in his muffled voice out of his grave there in the hollow oak:

O hot yellow fire that streams out of the sky, sword-white and golden,
Be a flame upon the monks who are praying in their cells in Ioua!
Be a fire in the veins of Colum, and the hell that be preacheth be his,
And be a torch to the men of Lochlin that they discover the isle and destroy it!

For I see this thing, that the old gods are the gods that die not :
All else is a seeming, a dream, a madness, a tide ever ebbing.
Glory to thee, O Grian, lord of life, first of the gods Allfather,
Swords and spears are thy beams, thy breath a fire that consumeth.

And upon this isle of Ā-rinn send sorrow and death and disaster,
Upon one and all save Ardanna, who gave me her bosom,
Upon one and all send death, the curse of a death slow and swordless,
From Molios of the Cave to Mūrta
and Diarmid my doomsmen!

At that Mūrta moved close to the oak.

" Hail, O Cathal!" he cried. There was silence.

"Art thou a living man still, or is it the death of thee that is singing there in the hollow oak?"

"My limbs perish, but I die not yet," answered the muffled voice that had greeted the sun.

"I am Mūrta mac Mūrta mac Neisa, and my heart is sore for thee, Cathal!

There was no word to this. A thrush upon a branch overhead lifted its wings, sang a wild sweet note, and swooped arrowly through the greengloom of the leaves.

"Cathal, that wert a monk, which is the true thing? Is it Christ, or the gods of our fathers?"

Silence. Three oaks away a woodpecker thrust its beak into the soft bark, tap-tapping, tap-tapping.

Cathal, is it death you are having, there in the dark and the silence?

Mūrta strained his ears, but he could hear no sound. Over the woodlands a voice floated, drowsy-warm and breast-white---the voice of a cuckoo calling a love-note from cool green shadow to shadow across a league of windless blaze.

Then Mūrta that was a singer, went to where the bulrushes grew by a little tarn that was in the moss an arrow-flight away. He plucked a last-year reed, straight and brown, and with his knife cut seven holes in it. With a thinner reed he scooped the hollow clean.

Thereupon he returned to the oak. Diarmid, who had begun to eat of the food that had been left with them, sat still, with his eyes upon him.

Mūrta put his hollow reed to his lips, and he played. It was a forlorn, sweet air that he had heard from a shepherding woman upon the hills. Then he played a burying-song of the islanders, wherein the wash of the sea and the rippling of the waves upon the shore was heard. Then he played the song of love, and the beating of hearts was heard, and sighs, and a voice like a distant bird-song rose and fell.

When he ceased, a voice came out of the hollow oak---

"Play me a death-song, Mūrta mac Mūrta mac Neisa."

Mūrta smiled, and he played again the song of love.

After that there was silence for a brief while. Then Mūrta played upon his reed for the time it takes a heron to mount her seventh spiral. Then he ceased, and threw away the reed, and stood erect, staring into the greenness. In his eyes was a strange shine. He sang:

Out of the wild hills I am hearing a voice, O Cathal!
And I am thinking it is the voice of a bleeding sword.
Whose is that sword? I know it well: it is the sword of the Slayer---
Him that is called Death, and the song that it sings I know:---
0 where is Cathal mac Art, that is the cup for the thirst of my lips?

Out of the cold greyness of the sea I am hearing, O Cathal,
I am hearing a wave-muffled voice, as of one who drowns in the depths:
Whose is that voice ? I know it well: it is the voice of the Shadow---
Her that is called the Grave, and the song that she sings I know:---
0 where is Cathal mac Art, he has warmth for the chill that I have?

Out of the hot greenness of the wood I am hearing, O Cathal,
I am hearing a rustling step, as of one stumbling blind.
Whose is that rustling step? I know it well: the rustling walk of the Blind One---
She that is called Silence, and the song that she sings I know:---
0 where is Cathal mac.Art, that has tears to water my stillness?

After that there was silence. Mūrta moved away. When he sat by Diarmid and ate, there was no word spoken. Diarmid did not look at him, for he had sung a song of death, and the shadow was upon him. He kept his gaze upon the moss: if he raised his eyes might he not see the Slayer, or the Shadow, or the Blind One?

Noon came. None drew nigh: not a face was seen shadowily afar off. Sometimes the hoofs of the deer rustled among the bracken. The snarling of young foxes in an oak-root hollow was like a red pulse in the heat. At times, in the sheer abyss of blue sky to the north, a hawk suspended: in the white-blaze southerly a blotch like swirled foam appeared for a moment at long intervals, as a gannet swung from invisible pinnacles of air to the invisible sea.

The afternoon drowsed through the sun-flood. The green leaves grew golden, saturated with light. At sundown a flight of wild doves rose out of the pines, wheeled against the shine of the west and flashed out of sight, flames of purple and rose, of foamwhite and pink.

The gloaming came, silverly. The dew glistened on the fronds of the ferns, in the cups of the moss. From glade to glade the cuckoos called. The stars emerged delicately, as the eyes of fawns shining through the greengloom of the forest. Once more the moon snowed the caster frondage of the pines and oaks.

No one came nigh. Not a sound had sighed from the oak since Mūrta had sung at the goldening of the day. At sunset Mūrta had risen, to lean, intent, against the vast bole. His keen ears caught the jar of a beetle burrowing beneath the bark. There was no other sound.

At the fall of dark the watchers heard the confused far noise of a festival. It waned as a lost wind. Dim veils of cloud obscured the moon; a low rainy darkness suspended over the earth.

Thus went the second day and the second night.

When, after the weary vigil of the hours, dawn came at last, Marta rose and struck the oak with a stone.

"Cathal!" he cried, "Cathal!"

There was no sound: not a stir, not a sigh.

"Cathal! Cathal!"

Mūrta looked at Diarmid. Then, seeing his own thought in the eyes of his friend he returned to his side.

"The Blind One has been here," said Diarmid in a low voice.

At noon there was thunder, and great heat.

The noise of rustling wings filled the under-wood.

Diarmid fell into a deep sleep. When the thunder had travelled into the hills, and a soft rain fell, Mūrta climbed into the branches of the oak. He stared down into the hollow, but could see nothing save a green dusk that became brown shadow, and brown shadow that grew into a blackness.

"Cathal!" he whispered.

Not a breath of sound ascended like smoke.

"Cathal! Cathal!"

The slow drip of the rain slipped and pattered among the leaves. The cry of a sea-bird flying inland came mournfully across the woods. A distant clang, as of a stricken anvil, iterated from the barren mountain beyond the forest.

"Cathal! Cathal! "

Mūrta broke a straight branch, stripped it of the leaves, and, forcing the thicker end downward, let it fall sheer.

It struck with a dull, soft thud. He listened: there was not a sound.

"A quiet sleep to you, monk," he whispered, and slipped down through the boughs, and was beside Diarmid again.

At dusk the rain ceased. A cool green freshness came into the air. The stars were as wind-whirled fruit blown upward from the tree-tops. The moon, full-orbed and with a pulse of flame, led a tide of soft light across the brown shores of the world,

The vigils of the watchers were over. Morta and Diarmid rose. Without a word they moved across the glade : the faint rustle of their feet stirred the bracken : then they left the undergrowth, and were among the pines. Their shadows lapsed into the obscure wilderness, a doe, heavy with fawn, lay down among the dewy fern, and was at peace there.

NEXT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Ioua was one of the early Celtic names of the moon. The allusion (in the fourth line) to the sun, in the feminine, is in accordance with ancient usage.