|Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod||THE BIRDEEN
Some other time I will tell the story of Isla and Morag
Mclan: Isla that was the fosterbrother and chief friend of Ian Mclan the mountain-poet,
known as Ian of the Hills, or simply as Ian Mòr, because of his great height and the
tireless strength that was his. Of Morag, too, there is a story of the Straths, sweet as
honey of the heather, and glad as the breeze that, blowing across it in summer, waves the
purple into white-o'-the-wind and sea-change amethyst.
They were happy, Isla and Morag. Though both were of Strachurmore of Loch Fyne, they lived at a small hill-farm on the west side of the upper fjord of Loch Long, and within sight of Arrochar, where it sits among its mountains. They could not see the fantastic outline of "The Cobbler," because of a near hill that shut them off, though from the loch it was visible and almost upon them. But they could watch the mists on Ben Arthur and Ben Maiseach, and when a flying drift of mackerel-sky spread upward from Ben Lomond, that was but a few miles eastward as the crow flies, they could tell of the good weather that was sure.
Before the end of the first year of their marriage, deep happiness came to them. "The Birdeen" was their noon of joy. When the child came, Morag had one regret only, that a boy was not hers, for she longed to see Isla in the child that was his. But Isla was glad, for now he had two dreams in his life: Morag whom he loved more and more, and the little one whom she had borne to him, and was for him a mystery and joy against the dark hours of the dark days that must be.
They named her Eilidh. One night, in front of the peats, and before her time was come, Morag, sitting with Isla and Ian Mòr, dreamed of the birthing. It was dark, save for the warm redness of the peat-glow. There was no other light, and in the dusky corners obscure velvety things that we call shadows moved and had their own life and were glad. Outside, the hill-wind was still at last, after a long wandering moaning that had not ceased since its westering, for, like a wailing hound, it had followed the sun all day. A soft rain fell. The sound of it was for peace.
Isla sat forward, his chin in his hands and his elbows on his knees. He was dreaming, too. "Morag," "Isla," deep love, deep mystery, the child that was already here, and would soon be against the breast; these were the circuit of his thoughts. Sure, Morag, sweet and dear as she was, was now more dear, more sweet. "Green life to her," he murmured below his breath, "and in her heart, joy by day and peace by night."
Ian sat in the shadow of the ingle, and looked now at one and now at the other, and then mayhap into the peat-flame or among the shadows. He saw what he saw. Who knows what is in a poet's mind? The echo of the wind that was gone was there, and the sound of the rain and the movement and colour of the fire, and something out of the earth and sea and sky, and great pitifulness and tenderness for women and children, and love of men and of birds and beasts, and of the green lives that were to him not less wonderful and intimate. And Ian, thinking, knew that the thoughts of Isla and Morag were drifting through his mind too; so that he smiled with his eyes because of the longing and joy in the life of the man, his friend; and looked through a mist of unshed tears at Morag, because of the other longing that shone in her eyes, and of the thinness of the hands now, and of the coming and going of the breath like a bird tired after a long flight. He was troubled, too, with the fear and the wonder that came to him out of the hidden glooms of her soul.
It was Ian who broke the stillness, though for sure his low words were parts of the peat-rustle and the dripping rain and the wash of the sea-loch, where it twisted like a black adder among the hills, and was now quick with the tide.
"But if the birdeen be after you, Morag, and not after Isla, what will you be for calling it?"
Morag started, glanced at him with her flame-lit eyes, and flushed. Then, with a low laugh, her whispered answer came.
"Now it is a true thing, Ian, that you are a wizard. Isla has often said that you can hear the wooing of the trees and the flowers, but sure I'm thinking you could hear the very stones speak, or at least know what is in their hearts. How did you guess that was the thought I was having?"
"It was for the knowing, lassikin."
Ian, it is a wife you should have, and a child upon your knee to put its lips against yours, and to make your heart melt because of its little wandering hands."
Ian made no sign, though his pulse leaped, for this was ever the longing that lay waiting behind heart and brain, and thrilled each along the wise, knowing nerves-our wise nerves that were attuned long, long ago, and play to us a march against the light, or down into the dark, and we unwitting, and not knowing the ancient rune of the heritage that the blood sings, an ancient, ancient song. Who plays the tune to which our dancing feet are led? It is behind the mist, that antique strain to which the hills rose in flame and marl, and froze slowly into granite silence, and to which the soul of man crept from the things of the slime to the palaces of the brain. It is for the hearing, that; in the shells of the human. Who knows the undersong of the tides in the obscure avenues of the sea? Who knows the immemorial tidal-murmur along the nerves along the nerves even of a new-born child?
Seeing that he was silent, Morag added:
"Ay, Ian dear, it is a wife and a child you must have. Sure no man that has all the loving little names you give to us can do without us!"
"Well, well, Morag-aghray, the hour waits, as they say out in the isles. But you have not given me the answer to what I asked?"
"And it is no answer that I have. Isla! --Isla, if a girl it is to be, you would be for liking the little one to be called Morag, because of me; but that I would not like; no, no, I would not. Is it forgetting, you are, what old Muim' Mary said, that a third Morag in line, like a third Seumas, would be born in the shadow, would have the gloom?"
"For sure, muirnean; it is not you or I that would forget that thing. Well, since there's Morag that was your mother, and Morag, that is you, there can be no third. But it is the same with Muireall that was the name of my mother and of the mother before her. See here now, dear, let Ian have the naming, if a girl it be---for all three of us know that, if a boy it is, his name will be Ian. So now, mo-charaid, what is the name that will be upon the wean?"
"Wean," repeated Ian, puzzled for a moment because of the unfamiliar word in the Gaelic, "ah, sure, yes: well, but it is Morag who knows best."
"No, no, Ian. The naming is to be with you. What names of women do you love best?"
"Ah, you know well that is not a true thing, but only a saying for the saying. Tell me true; what name do you love best?"
"Mona I like, and Lora, and Silis too; and of the old, old names, it's Brigid I am loving, and, too, Dearduil (Darthula) and Malmhin (Malveen) ; but of all names dear to me, and sweet in my ears, it is Eilidh (Ei-lee)."
And so it was. When, in the third week after that night, the child was born, and a woman-child at that, it was called Eilidh. But the first thing that Ian said when he entered the house after the birthing was:
"How is the birdeen?"
And from that day Eilidh was "the birdeen," oftenest---even with Isla and Morag.
Of the many songs that Ian made to Eilidh here is one:
This was for himself, and because of what was in his heart. But he made songs to the Birdeen herself. Some were as simple-mysterious as a wayside flower; others were strange, and with a note in them that all who know the Songs of Ian will recognise. Here is one:
Once more let me give a song of his, this time also, like "Leanabhan-Mo," of those written while Eilidh was still a breast-babe.
But Eilidh was "the Birdeen" not only when she
could be tossed high in the air in Ian's strong arms, or could toddle to him from claar to
stool and from stool to chair; not only when she could go long walks with him upon the
hills above Loch Long; but when, as a grown lass of twenty, she was so fair to see that
the countryside smiled when it saw her, as at the first sunflood swallow, or as at the
first calling across dewy meadows of the cuckoo after long days of gloom.
But still---but still---"What has she done, this Eilidh,
save what other women do?"