The clouds lifted slowly from the ridge of the mountains and the dawn-rim appeared. As I stooped low to peer over the frame of the little attic-window I whispered to Rory that it was pitch-dark; and indeed it was far darker than the night before when we had the full moon in the sky. Rory leaned up on one elbow in bed, and asked me if I could hear anything beyond the river.
The damp of the dawn was everywhere that I might look. It softened the lime gable of the outhouse beneath me, it hung over the sodden hay in the barn and, like the fog and mist last night under the blazing moon, it floated over the rumbling river to my right. I could imagine the flow taking strange courses in its flood, swishing in this neither dawn nor day nor dark, through all the alders and the reeds and the rushes and, doubtless, covering the stepping-stones that we hoped would give us an escape to the mountains beyond.
So I whispered to Rory that I could only hear the water falling in the weirs, and tumbling out of his bed he called a curse from Christ on the whore of a river that was holding us here to be plugged by the Tans for a pair of Irish bitches.
As I peered, standing in bare feet on the timber floor, I recalled last night with a shudder. We were retreating from Inchigeela by the back-roads and we two had lost ourselves in the barren and rocky place they call the Rough, a difficult place by day and almost impassable by night. We had tramped up and down and up and down until I felt my eyes closing as I stumbled along, and scarcely had the energy to push back my bandolier when it came sliding around my elbows. Rory, a country fellow, seemed tireless, but my shirt clung to my back with cold sweat. The fog lay like a white quilt under the moon, covering the countryside, and black shadows miles long and miles wide stretched across the land. Up and down we went, the fog growing thicker as we stumbled into boggy valleys, our feet squelching in the sodden turf, and fear hovering round our hearts. Earlier in the evening before the night fell, I heard a noise before us in the lag, and had clicked a bullet in my rifle-breech and fallen flat, but Rory swore at me and asked me in amazement if I meant to fight them? After that I had no guts for anything but to get away from the danger of an encounter, to get across the river and the main road before the dawn, and up to the higher mountain of Ballyvourney beyond. So we trudged on and every natural night sound terrified us, a bird's cry, a barking dog with his double note, bark-bark, and then silence, bark-bark, and like that now and again the whole night long from one mountainside or another. People say the most lonely thing of all is the bark of a dog at night, but to us the most lonely sight was the odd twinkle of a light, miles away, one dot of light and all the rest of the land in darkness, except for the moon in the sky. The little light meant friends, a fireside, words of advice, comfort -- but for us only the squelching and the trudging that seemed never to end, and maybe a bullet in the head before the dawn.
Once only we rested when Rory lost all patience and flung caution to the wind to light a cigarette in the hollow of his palms. I stretched out on the sodden mass -- God, how restful to sleep there for an hour or two -- but Rory muttered to himself, and I tried to keep awake by watching the coming of the red glow in his palm every time he drew in a fresh puff. The moon was a few nights from full roundness, and I thought it looked like a jolly wench laughing at us both and the missing segment like a bonnety tam cocked on the side of her fat head. The devil would look after his own, Rory was saying, blast them, two again' twenty, we couldn't fight them. Rory pulled me up and we went on, and I cursed Rory for not knowing the lay of his own countryside and he cursed me for a city snot that had no business out here in the mountains. Then we heard the cattle plunging in the boggy hollow beneath us, and we plunged ahead ourselves down a sharp descent where the river must have cut its way centuries ago: down we went sliding and running until the heavenly sight of trees broke against the sky and the dark mass of a house against them. Rory knew it for Dan Jamesy's house and we hammered with our rifle butts on the door, anxious only for sleep, and food, and the sight of friends. From an upper window she called to us and Rory spoke his name. Used to this sort of thing, and pitying us, she came down; barefooted, her black hair around her, a black cloak on her shoulders not altogether drawn over her pale breast, a candle blown madly by the wind slanting in her hand.
Rory had dressed himself while I peered out at the wall of mountain before me, and slinging his equipment over one shoulder he went down to eat something before we faced the river and the road -- both half a mile away now. I followed him in a moment and found the old woman of the house and a little boy seated on the settle, his eyes wide with interest, hers full of uneasiness at our being in her house, a danger to her sons and husband. The young woman who had opened the door the night before stood like a statue before the wide fireplace, her bright arm bare to the elbow, and -- curious gesture -- her hand on the crown of her head as if to keep in position the hair brushed and close-combed around her skull like a black velvet cap shining in the firelight. She smiled at me as I entered, but I was too anxious to reply with more than a wan smile. Rory asked her many questions about the encircling troops, and she replied, looking down at his ruddy earnest face, that some lorries had passed by an hour ago, and when he asked about the river she said that it had risen over the stones and could not be crossed. She stooped down to reach the teapot, keeping one hand on her hip as she poured the tea: before the hour was out I recollected how she looked at me while she poured me out a cupful, and at the recollection I felt just as when I saw the night before an odd, twinkling window-light heading a deserted valley full of moonlight and mist. Stooping again she replaced the pot and went to sit on the other side of the little boy, and laying one hand on his knee spoke to him.
'That fir Tom brought last night has no fire in it.'
'Tis a bad fire, God bless it.'
'Get a good log, now, Jamesy, will you? Will you?' The little fellow looked at us only, and said 'I will,' but he did not stir. The old woman broke in irritably:
'Wisha, Jamesy couldn't.'
'Indeed, Jamesy is a great man, isn't he, Jamesy? Imagine Jamesy not to be able to carry a baulk of fir! Will you, Jamesy?'
But Jamesy sat with dangling legs watching us eat and she rose and with easy steps went out: the old woman stirred the wood fire; one of the sons handled my revolver with dull curiosity, and another fumbled in a rope-loft over Rory's head and replied that another lorry was gone by. We prepared for the river and the road, on our guard, not so afraid as when the night was all around. I went to the door to see if it rained, and stood looking into the dark archway of the stables and at the dark hollows under the thatch -- nowhere else could I see the soft, silent fall. As I looked at the dark archway she appeared in it with an armful of logs and raised her head towards me and smiled once again and then approached pulling her blue apron over he head to protect her from the rain. I saw her smile and it tortured me. But Rory and the old man of the house came out and went towards the stables, arguing about a horse to carry us over the flood, and I followed them, and we came at last to where the river was tearing madly over the drowned stones.
As I sat behind the old fellow on his white mare clasping him firmly about the waist, and trying to keep my eyes from the swirling water that tore the gravel from the unsteady hoofs, I saw from the corners of my eyes the drops that splashed up and flashed in the sun as they fell again on the prancing knees and the brown water. I saw at the identical moment the young woman in the blowing wind of the night, and her looks at me twice, thrice that morning. I longed for an end to this vagabond life, longed for I dared not think what; but there was in it the scent and light of flowers and the scent of woman and her soft caresses. She had looked at me as if we had between us some secret love: not one woman in ten thousand will look so at one man in as many thousand, perhaps not one in all his life, never more than one I would have said a day ago, and now one such had looked at my eyes and I thought at once of the evening glow of the city streets when the sun has gone behind the tallest houses, when the end of the day is near, and the canyon-alleys are suffused with dusk and slow-moving lights: when men waken from the sleep of day and returning in upon themselves think of love, and the darkness where love is, and wander out from the city to the dark fields seeking a secret loneliness for their pain.
Rory had forgotten that he must not look down and he fell sidewise on the horse's back, and when he reached the opposite bank he began talking of his foolishness and never ceased reverting to it the whole day. He looked down, you see, he looked down into the flood, he forgot, man, he looked down, and, by God, if he hadn't looked, but he looked into the water, he knew he shouldn't -- wasn't it I myself was telling you not to look at the flood, but whatever happened I looked down. And Cripes! when I did . . . To stay him and have peace for my own thought I told him that he had but little talk the night before: but he did not heed my jibes, and chattered on, glad of the morning and reckless about the last mile between us and the foothills. He was a little bellied fellow, his mouth like a crack across a potato, his cap distended by a cane hoop just like a plate on the top of his head. He had pinned a coloured miniature of the Virgin to the front of his queer cap, and when in the mood, his talk bubbled from him in anything but a virginal flow. How he had sworn at me yesterday when he sighted the enemy troops, and I could not see at all the tiny khaki figures below us on the lower slopes!
'Do you see them?' he had cried with equal stress on each word after the manner of his dialect. 'Christ, can't you see them?' he had shouted in rage, saying it as if it were spelled in two syllables, Chi-rist. 'Will you look at them, Christ, will you look at them when I tell you?'
I used to wonder at his affection for me in spite of such failures as this. In better mood now he jabbered on while we made our way up against the sprung wind and a hilly place. At last we heard the incessant knocking of a threshing engine on the bald summit in front of us, and we made our way to it. Up here the wind was a storm, and it blew the chaff about the sky like yellow snow blown before the wind. First the blue slate-roof, then the white walls of the house, the yellow stack of corn, the stone-wall fences of the fields, and at last the little black engine jumping like a kettle on the hob, while all the time the men swung their arms to and fro in labour: soon we were amongst them telling one group after another of the night's and day's adventures. Rory gabbled between every pant after his climb, telling about the horse and how I could not see the little grey figures when they came around us the evening before. From where we stood, the Rough looked like a flat plain and the distant mountains like hunchbacks in a row. I watched the whole country change with the shadows of the flying clouds, listening to the engine, with its disyllabic knocking, ceaseless since the dawn, and the wind's cry, and Rory shouting above all.
'There was the bloody mare in the middle of the river, I'm not in the habit of horses, you know, a man that was used to horses wouldn't mind, but I wasn't in the habit of them and I never was, and what did I do and the bloody mare there in the middle of the river, what did I do, what did I do? The thing I did! What should I do, I ask you, but look down at the flood, so look down at the flood I did. I looked down and only for the lad got a grip of me I was down. Cripes, I was. I was! If I would only not look down at the flood, you see, but I looked down, and by Christ!'
Here Rory began to shake in his excitement, too moved to be articulate.
The chaff was always driving away before the wind, and now and again someone would look up and around at the sky and say to the man whose stack was being threshed in this communal fashion of the mountains:
'Maybe, it will hold dry.'
The other would look up and around and say:
'Maybe it will. It might then. It's a strong wind.'
Then they would set to work again, piking and tossing the broken sheaves and we moved down at last to the road.
The road twisted eastward behind the rocks, and nothing but the tops of the telegraph poles showed where it ran after that. It was bare and empty, so we ran for it, crossed it, and in another moment Rory was crying that a lorry was coming around the bend. Heart-leaping, we doubled our pace and fell upon our bellies in the moss, squirming around like legless things to face the road. In a moment more the shots began to whine away over our heads, and I saw two awkward figures firing at us as they ran: I fired wildly in reply until my bolt jammed, and then rolled away into a hollow that by the fortunes of war lay behind me: thereupon I ran through the rocky place, through the bracken and the bog, more madly than ever in my life before, and raced for such a lengthy spell that when at last I fell helpless upon the ground my breath pumped in and out painfully and my heart beat against my side like a thing trying to leave my body. I heard the shots still ringing and the bullets whining high up in the air, flying no doubt in a great parabola so that I fancied that I heard them thud when spent into the soft earth, a rainbow curve completed.
When at last they ceased and our hearts returned to a normal beat we were come to a little lowflung wood of birch and rowan, the silver bark peeling black stripes horizontally from the birch, the red berries of the rowan wind-blown on its delicate branches. Grey rocks covered the interstices of the trees and the sun fell sometimes on the rock to warm the cold colour: a stream twisted through the rough ground and its sound was soft and bass, and up on a sudden promontory silhouetted against the sky was a single figure who was working in a series of vigorous thrusts on a spade. We remained in the little wood for many hours, listening to the bass-viol of the falling water, to the wind pulling at the larchtops and shaking the tender rowan, and sometimes listening with attention to the drumming of a lorry as it passed in and out of earshot in the near distance.
Excited by danger, and by the beauty of this calm place, the falling stream beside me, the trees moving all around, I began to think again of the young woman in the black cloak who had become aware that I too lived just as much as anyone she had hitherto known at church or fair. I saw her always as she had come to us in the night, her black cloak hanging heavily against her skin as she led us to the quiet kitchen and the dead embers on the hearth. Surely life had a less miser purpose in this encounter than in the thousand of thousands of meetings when men cross and recross in towns and country places? Time and again they had appeared barren and futile, but rather than believe them fruitless, rather than feel as a spool revolving in a shuttle, I had lived instead in the unrest of a chessman fingered by a hesitant player. Now sloth of mind, as sometimes before, drew down my heart to the beauty of this life, and in this little birdless wood, I began to dream. When the stream had carved itself a majesty, passing barges and lights on the barges would ride the brown smoke of the evening air, each crossing the scurrying wake of waves from swifter hulls to disappear slowly through the dusk while men sat on each deck and smoked in content with life, and recalled all the dead among my acquaintances who have suffered too willingly the futility of life. There is an owl in the Celtic fable who had seen each rowan as a seed upon a tree, and its length seven times fallen to the earth and seven times over raised in leaf; it had seen the men whose bones were washed from these boulders when the rain was rounding them to pebbles from seven hundred times their height this dropping evening; it had seen the men for whom the promontory above me was a bottomless valley and the hollow place where Rory and I sat was a high mountain before the Flood. Such an owl called out of the dusk at me and its cry filled me with age and the peace that comes when we feel the wheels of the passing years turn so slowly it is almost complete rest. I dozed as I lay -- life stopped for me while my eyes swayed and fell.
But Rory, his mind whirling, sang of passionate life. He sang of the old Newgate murderer, the song found scrawled upon his Newgate cell after they hanged him and buried him: how eerie to see him ghosting like this in Ireland, his disjointed spine rattling . . . Rory, not aware that before the night had fallen death would have got him, too -- his body plugged full of English lead -- sang cheerily: --
My name is Samuel Hall, Samuel Hall,
My name is Samuel Hall, Samuel Hall,
My name is Samuel Hall,
. . . .
Here's my curse upon you all,
God damn your eyes!
I killed a man 'tis said, so 'tis said,
I killed a man 'tis said, so 'tis said,
I hit him on the head,
With a bloody lump of lead,
And I laid the b -- dead,
God damn his eyes!
I did not heed the words, but the sense, entering my mind, broke my drowsy dream in part. Looking up I saw the West grow cold and saffron as if the threshers of the morn, reduplicated in valley after valley, had blown a storm of corn-sheaves against the falling cape of night. A score of birds fulfilling their ancient ritual flew homeward in formation; as they passed into the blazing sun I dropped my eyes again to the stream, but while I had turned away it had changed to silver against the dark stones. Night was dropping upon us secretly and we must move onward to some house where we could sit before the flames and doze before a chimney-wall browned with soot and old invading rain and sleep quietly while the night passed by.
We tramped ahead, keeping to the backroads still, but quite without fear now that we were so many miles from the enemy, and at last, high up among the hills, walking in the reaches of the wind we came to the little roadside house that was shop and post office in one, and we sat there wearily by the fire.
The land was cold and windswept here, and the few elms that stood outside, landmark for many miles around, were torn by the wind and being blown to pieces like the clouds in the sky. Rory was to stay here for the night, but I must move further on, and I sat by the fire waiting impatiently for the cart that was to carry me part of the last few miles to a supper and a safe bed. At the end of the kitchen the old carter was whispering across the little counter with the woman of the house; the young daughter of the house stood beside them lighting an oil-lamp that hung from a beam overhead, and presently the two grey pates were lit from above. The light fell in a warm glow on the unpainted counter, plain as when its planks first arrived from the town of Macroom twenty miles away and were flung on the kitchen floor for the admiration of the little fat woman with her little fat baby. The glow fell on the soiled and mutilated bank-notes, on the silver and copper coins and on the blue sugar-bags and the dun surfaces of the remainder of Saturday night's groceries. I waited while they talked in a secretive whisper, perhaps over the account, perhaps about their old wives' gossip of the countryside. Perhaps they were wishing us wandering guerillas farther on and wishing the fighting at an end lest their barns be burnt over their hay or their thatch over their heads. Outside in the windy night the old horse was tethered to an elm, its head bent low and its eyes heavy with sleep like a Buddha's. Thinking of it I sat by the fire and raked in the ashes with the muzzle of my rifle. I felt it would rain heavily to-night though the wind was getting stronger, and once again I thought of the girl in the black cloak; but already she had slipped many miles into the things of the past, and in another day she would have slipped wholly from my mind not to be recalled unless in some odd place at some odd time when I would wonder about our strange encounter, and in sentimental mood wonder if she ever asked a comrade where I had gone, saying that I was a nice boy, perhaps more than that. She had been at such a door as this in her mother's arms and would as her mother had done stand there again in one, two, three years' time bidding farewell to the very last mocking couple of her bridal party, and looking at the sky with her young husband, see the coming of the rain and lock the latch the door upon it, and returning to the dying fire would hear the first drops fall on the warm core, and the rising howl strip the elms; he would draw her toward him and she, feeling her youth passed for ever, would weep softly and secretly in the dark and then smile for her first ungirdling. What sad weavings the old Weaver of life can think of, as if all will not fray away and moths rise from the eyes of his dears, and all his storms crumble at the end in dust.
I heard Rory chant some passage from a hedge-school memory, and turning I saw the young girl of the house watching him, ready for a burst of laughter at the end.
'This,' chanted Rory, 'is a man, the beauty of whose eloquence and the wisdom of whose conversation is balanced only by the impeccability of his character and the noble qualities of the mind wherewith God has endowed him, for it is abundantly clear to me,' continued the emperor in a graver tone, 'that wherever the original refulgence of the human mind is neither adumbrated in its infancy nor adulterated in its maturity, the unique powers of the will of man must inevitably produce in every individual, no matter in what clime he has been born, nor under what star he has first seen the light of day, if only he be true to what is right and turn from what is wrong, the genius of an Alexander, the oratory of a Cicero, the wisdom of a Solomon, or the sublime skill of a Leonardo da Vinci, as the case may befall.'
The little bellied fellow finished with a breathless rush, and turning to the girl clapped his hands and clapped her hands in applause at his own performance.
I found that this child was to accompany me a little way on the road and we snuggled into the back of the cart and sat shouting our farewells as it jolted away from the two yellow squares of light and from the figures crowding the open door. Then as we entered the spacious dark, silence fell on us three. I stretched back on the floor of the cart listening to the braggart storm. I felt young and wilful under its breath; I loved to hear its impotent whine: off behind the ridge of mountain through which a pass had been cut maybe five centuries ago by roadmakers rotted in the grave there came the great spreading light of the moon. We were following the direction of the racing clouds, they flying beyond us in the sky. My eyes were beginning to close with the rough swaying of the cart when suddenly the child clasping my hand said:
'Are you afraid of the pookas? I am!'
And fell upon my breast and laid her head by mine and I put an arm around her and we lay so, jolting along under the stars and the driving fleeces overhead. But as suddenly, when about a mile had passed, she pressed nearer and swiftly kissed me. Then she rolled away from me to the other side of the cart, though still grasping my coat-sleeve in terror of the black night all around.
Presently I left them, and the old cart was soon out of earshot. Jogging on through the dark, my thoughts wandered at will. I pictured the bed where I would sleep -- I had slept in so many hundreds that it might be any size or shape, but I chose from my set of images one bed most suitable to the stormy night. It was the marriage bed of the peasants, made of plain wood, closed on back, side and top, and but only the front left open, and that sometimes covered by a curtain on a string: it was like a beehive with a flat crown and sloping roofs, shallow at head and foot, so that a man could stand in comfort only in the middle of the bed. The storm might howl for all I cared, the rain might drench the stooks and fill the yards with pools of dung; the windows might rattle -- I would sleep the night through and wake to find the skies clearing in the morning. I was hungry for food and sleep, and in this bed I would lie for a while thinking over the day's happenings, trying to find a scheme for things in the true dreamer's way, a scheme into which everyone would fit as by nature, the woman of the cloak, the little girl, myself, the dead husband, the carter, the crowds that meet and remeet, as it seemed aimlessly, blindly -- and all these would jumble in my mind and quaint combinations occur and confuse me, and my reasoning fall under the sway of interweaving images and sleep come secretly with her hood.
At last the bright square of window-light slid into view, quartered by the crucifix framework, and I found the causeway to the door and groped my way to it after the window vanished in its own recess: I played blindman's buff with the door and at last with outstretched hands I stumbled against it and grasped the latch. Fire-flames, a settle, and maybe a white cloth and something to eat other than dry bread and tea with goat's milk. I lifted the latch and looked in: a young woman stood with her back to me stiffened in a posture of surprise as when I first fumbled at the door, but relaxing and turning when I spoke, touched her soft hair and bade me enter: it was the young woman of the morning.
'Is there e'er a wake here?' I asked seeing the lone kitchen, my voice trembling as I spoke.
'Devil a wake then!' She was smiling at me again.
'Yeer very quiet then,' I said, looking around at the clean-swept kitchen, and then at her skin like a boy's under its first white down.
''Tis quiet, wisha,' she answered making way for me as I moved to the settle. I asked if there would be room for the night, and she said there would be and welcome.
'And a bit to eat for a hungry man?'
'Surely, if you don't mind waiting for just a moment or two.' I wanted to ask how she came before me to the hither side of the country twelve long miles away from her last night's hostel. I flung aside my bandolier and raincoat: I laid my rifle and pack and belt in a corner. She went to the end of the kitchen and I heard the splash of water and the paddling of hands, and when she returned to me by the fire, wiping her fingers, they were rosy when the apron fell. She half knelt before the fire to blow it with a hand-bellows, and as she worked her body formed a single curve, one breast on one knee, and her arms circling the knee while she worked lustily at the bellows. I could see the little wrinkles at each corner of her lips -- laughter wrinkles, maybe?
'Are the old people in bed?' I asked.
'Yes.' Her voice trembled, I thought.
'And the rest? Where's the rest from you?'
'There's nobody else. Tom, my brother, is on the run in Kerry.'
I leaned back on the settle and the flames crackled into life.
'Well, you must be very lonely here all alone.'
'I have got used to it,' she answered, patting her hair with the fingers of her hands: how soft it looked! Then she stood up and began to spread a white cloth on the white table, and then to lay a milk jug, a cup and saucer, a sugar basin, a pot of jam.
'Do you live here?'
'But you're not always as desolate as this -- surely?'
'Desolate, just as you say; this is a lonely district, you know.'
'Well, it's not so bad at all now,' said I. 'I shouldn't mind if I lived here -- the mountains and the valleys. . . .'
She halted in her step and faced me: the little mouth was gathered into a hard white button of flesh.
'You would soon tire of these mountains! The city, though, that's where I'd like to live. There's company there, and sport and educated people, and a chance to live whatever life you choose!'
She had put two eggs into a little black pot of boiling water, and the water bubbled and leaped around them with a hissing. A blast of wind came down the chimney and drove a cloud of firesmoke into the kitchen. We sat silent and presently went to the table and she poured me red tea to drink and I cut the brown loaf and plastered it with butter and jam, and ate greedily. She sat before the fire, and I asked her why she did not like the district, but she only looked at me and said nothing. I asked again, pleading that I wished to know, really and truly. She answered:
'Because this farm is bare and high. The land is poor. And this downland has a northern aspect.'
A heavy drop of rain fell on the fire -- the storm was howling. I saw the sea of discontent and unrest that these words were born of, saw the drizzling rain and no sun shining on it, saw her looks steal round her to this farm and to that and back from them to her own home. Another gust of wind blew the smoke around her and she turned away from it and clasped my knee to prevent herself from falling from the low stool.
'You'll be choked,' said I, and her eyebrows stirred and she smiled at me. I laid my palm on her hand and thought of the whole livelong day I had spent, the rick that must be threshed before the wind fell, the carter jogging through the wet night, the sea of darkness outside the door. How many days could I live without a complete revolt! I spoke earnestly.
'It's a cruel country to have to live in.'
She spoke kindly to me then.
'I think you are honest,' she said.
'Do you think that?'
'I think you are honest. Really honest,' she said again.
Looking at her soft eyes, and at her soft hair my eyes wandered down to the first shadows of her breasts: she caught my glance and looked down at her warm bosom and then at me and she smiled. As I moved to her I saw the little broken corner of her tooth; I had no word to say; so I sat beside her before the leaping flames and put my arms around her and felt in the cup of my hollow palm the firm casque of her breast. Smiling at me as a sick woman might smile upon a doctor who brought her her ease from pain, she slipped my hand beneath her blouse to where I felt the warmth of her skin and her warm protruding nipple, and I leaned to her for a kiss.
A rush of feet came to the door and the little girl from the roadside house flung it wide with a cry to me to run, to run; Rory was shot dead; they were coming West for me! I bundled up my equipment, ran in a flash through the open door into the dark night, and raced on and on -- stumbling and falling and going I cared not where but away from the flashing lights to the North. When I fell into a panting walk I was like a man who has been listening to music the livelong day and after it his mind is full of strange chords, and ill-recollected they torture him with a sense of something lost. On my bare head the rain fell heavily and aslant, now and again it was blown into my face by the wind, and the clouds totally blotted out the moon. Full of terror for such a death as I knew Rory's was I filled every house with armed men, fierce men to whom killing was a little thing and torture but little more, and my imagination and the stories I had heard drove me blindly on through the sodden night. I trudged a way through the pathless bogs and tore through briery dikes: all that night I found no shelter from the lashing rain and I met not a single tree in leaf: long after midnight I saw a little glinting window leap suddenly out of the dark about a mile away, and as I thrust away from it, away to safety, into the rain, the memory of its light tortured me as the memory of cool winds must torture the damned of hell.
At last I came upon a lonely ruin upon the mountain, three walls, and I lay on the lee side of it while the rain dripped on me from the remnants of its eaves. When I awoke a dim radiance lit the falling haze, but whether it was the dawn or the sinking moon or any hour past three or before three I could not say. No sound was to be heard: no living thing moved; no bird stirred the wet air: the falling haze made no sound. I rose chattering and trembling, and my feet plashed through the wet earth and the drowned grass, and when I halted there was quiet. I crossed a little stone wall and one of the stones fell with a mighty sound. I might have been the last human creature to crawl to the last summit of the world waiting until the deluge and the fortieth night of rain would strain him upwards on his toes while the water licked his stretched neck. Yet everywhere they slept sound abed, my dark woman curling her warm body beneath the bedclothes, the warmer for the wet fall without, thinking if she turned and heard the dripping eaves -- that the winter was at last come
Cold till doom!
The storm has spread.
A river is each furrow on the slope,
Each ford is a full pool.
Each lake is a great tidal sea,
Each pool is a great lake,
Horses cannot cross the ford,
Nor two feet.
The fish of Ireland are wandering,
There is no strand upon which the waves do not pound.
Not a town is in the land,
Not a bell, not a crane's whining cry.
The wolves in the wood of Cuan cannot rest,
They cannot sleep in their lair:
Even the little wren cannot shelter
In her tiny nest on the side of Lon.
Keen wind and cold ice
Have burst upon the little world of birds.
The blackbird cannot shelter its side
In the wood of Cuan.
Cosy was our pot upon the nook,
In the crazy hut on the slope of Lon:
The snow has crushed the wood,
And toilsome is the climb to Ben-bo.
The ancient bird of Glenn Rye
Is grieved by the cold wind:
Her misery and her pain are great,
The ice will get into her throat.
From flock and from down to rise
Were folly for thee! Take it to heart.
Ice heaped on every ford,
Wherefore I say 'cold till doom.'
Down below me in the valley I heard an early cart; the morning wind, light and bitter, sang occasionally in the key of the flooded streams. The dawn moved along the rim of the mountains, and as I went down the hill I felt the new day come up around me and felt life begin once more its ancient, ceaseless gyre.