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NIGHT IN ARRAN

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The Database of Ornament

EIGHT o’clock, and the dusk of the Summer night
had begun to gather in the little Shisken valley.
One after another lights began to shine amid the
shadow of the hillside opposite; and down to the
right, where the valley opens on Kilbrannan Sound,
a thicker cluster of them marked the fisher hamlet
of Blackwaterfoot.

The scene was familiar enough to Hector Mackenzie as he
looked on it from the road under Drumadoon, for every night as
the darkness fell, for the first fifteen years of his life, from the
window of his father’s sheiling of Torbeg he had seen these
yellow lights shine out. Each one of them he knew by name,
and each brought to him some separate picture of thatched
bigging and upland croft, whose mossy dyke-sides and straw-
strewn shed or barn had been the haunt of long Summer Satur-
days in school-time. How well, too, he knew the murmur of
the bum over its pebbles, which came up now faintly, the only
sound amid the darkness. Many a night, in his little low-
roofed attic under the thatch, it had lulled him to sleep with
its quiet tune. Had he not, all his early days, breathed the
bracing air of these hills, understood the homely fragrance
of the peat-reek, and been familiar with the drifting scent of the
white clover in the meadows?



                                          138

Sixteen years, however, had somehow made a difference—six
years in the grey university class-rooms, and ten in the labora-
tory of the grey scientist, reverenced and loved as the greatest
of the modern seers. It was not for nothing that the Arran
boy had seen the lightning bridled, and the universes weighed;
had looked on at achievements, chemical and mechanical, which
outstripped a thousand times the utmost dreams of mediaeval
magicians and astrologers. In his blood ran the Celtic fire,
quick with the hidden memories and imaginings of seventy
generations of the most emotional and spiritual race in the
world; and who knows what long-forgotten instincts of heredity
may suddenly waken again to consciousness in the blood at the
touch of their mysterious affinity?

At any rate, this night, when he stood again on the hillside
under Drumadoon, in the little Arran valley, he seemed to look
around him with opened eyes and a keener sense. The dusk
as it gathered and deepened, the breath of the meadow clover,
and the quiet murmur of the bum water, seemed, like music,
emotions in a primaeval language of their own, understood
silently by the heart. These inner meanings the poets here
and there have tried to translate and place on record, but the
cumbersome machinery of human speech proves but ill fitted
to reproduce so subtle a thing. More truly has this been done
by the great religions of the past; for the greatest of all the
poets have been prophets and priests, and for the stirrings they
felt at the movements of sun and sap, at the quickening of life,
the flash of lightning and the roar of the sea, they invented a
word, and spoke of communion with Bel or Jah.

Mackenzie walked along the hillside eastward. No sound of
wheels or footsteps was to be heard on the road, either behind
or in front, and the shoulder of Drumadoon rising on his left,
and the dip of the valley on his right, were alike now dark.
Before him, inland, no lights were to be seen; only, overhead
in the dark heaven, twinkled and flashed and burned a myriad
jewel-points of fire. Presently, below and in front of him, as the
road trended away to his left, spread the wild heath of Tor-

                                          139
more; and from the spot where he stood, looking out over its
expanse, he could imagine, if he did not see, the grey stone
circles of the Druids. Familiar to him from his boyhood, yet
looked on always with a traditional awe, these grey memorials,
in their vast theatre of the hills, seemed now, amid the darkness
and the living silence, to waken the aspirations of some half-
forgotten dream. Suddenly he remembered it was Beltane
Eve, the first of May.

The spot is a quiet one, and the night was warm and dry. He
seated himself under the side of a great boulder, on a bank of
wild thyme, and gave himself up to picturing the pageants and
mysterious rites of a forgotten age to which the worn stone
circles on the moor below him had been silent witnesses.

The hours must have passed unconsciously, and it must have
been after midnight when he became aware that the moon was
rising. A thin crescent of clear and lovely fire, she rose slowly
from behind the dark mountain edge opposite, and stood pre-
sently, shining, radiant, serene, in a clear space of the eastern
heaven. The fact dawned on Mackenzie at the same time that
the moor below was no longer either forsaken or entirely
silent. Round the stone circles there shadowy figures were
moving, and once and again there rose and died away on the
stillness of the night a passionate murmur as of adoration. ‘It
is the worship of the goddess,’ he said to himself with awe, and
at that moment he felt his own heart move within him with a
wonder of wild memory and emotion. What could be more
worthy to be worshipped than that ethereal splendour in heaven?
what more enamouring to the heart than that pure presence
walking the star spaces, drawing after her with a mighty pas-
sion even the great bosom of the sea? Strangely, then, he
remembered the names under which she had been loved and
worshipped by various races in succeeding times—Istar, Ash-
taroth, Astarte, Aphrodite—ever the same goddess drawing
after her by a nameless magic the inexpressible longing of men.
Was not she the ruler, indeed, of all earthly loves, the controller
of the birth-times of all living, the mysterious measurer to man

                                          140
and beast and flower, of the weeks of bringing forth? Well
advised, truly, were those priests among the Arran menhirs, and
their kindred in Chaldea, Moab, and Greece, to reverence so
lovely a presence, possessed of so absolute a control over the
hearts and lives of living things and over the movements of the
wind and the deep.

As he watched and worshipped and remembered, the night
must have flown, for presently he began to notice a paleness
spreading in the eastern sky. Higher and higher rose the blue
dawn, putting out the stars. Then a yellow radiance began to
strike upward from the mountain’s edge, growing brighter
every moment, while a clear light spread along the hills. At
last, suddenly, there appeared a point of dazzling Are, too shin-
ing to look upon; and the first rays touched the grey stones
on Tormore. At that moment on the moor there rose a cry,
and from the eastern stone shot up a tongue of flame. ‘Baal
has risen,’ said Mackenzie; ‘it is the Bel-tein, the Baal-fire!’
Then the crowd of shadowy forms about the stone circles began
to move, and he saw, as it were, men and children, cattle and
sheep, passing between two fires—the fire on the menhir and
another on the ground. ‘They are the Devoted,’ said the
watcher, ‘passing through the fires to Bel, blessed by the god
for another year.’ And as he looked at the happy folk and the
grey figures of the priests, the reverence and reason of their
worship came upon him. Their god, who else? was the
source of all light, the giver of all life. He who made the seeds
to spring, the leaves to break forth, and the Summer to blossom,
the fountain and upholder of all law, the origin of the earth
itself and the other planets, who held the worlds still in his
control in their dizzy sweep through space: what more glorious
was there for the eye to see or for thought to master? All
these things, as their stone memorials tell, these worshippers
knew. It may be that they knew more, for the same priests who
were aware of the indestructibility of matter and energy, taught
also, it is recorded, the immortality of the spirit of man. Time,
at any rate, has proved their teaching true. The soul of the

                                          141
Druid lives to-day in all the higher faiths of the world; and
whether or not he dreamt of a mightier behind Bel, his face,
as he looked to the rising sun, was at least turned towards
God.

Mackenzie woke with a start The sunlight fell warm on the
moor. The sheep that had lain all night in the shelter of the
great menhirs were beginning to move among them and feed;
  and under their feet, he knew, lay the empty graves of
     Celtic priest and chief, not dead, but alive to-day,
         dust and spirit, in the beating hearts of men.

                     GEORGE EYRE-TODD.

MLA citation:

Eyre-Todd, George. “Night in Arran.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 3, Summer 1896, pp. 137-141. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv3_duncan_water/ https://1890s.ca/egv3_eyre-todd_arran/