A Legend of Mull

The following is from the 1875 edition of Good Words (Edited by Norman MacLeod):


DARK, with shrouds of mist surrounded,
Rise the mountains from the shore,
Where the galleys of the Islemen
Stand updrawn, their voyage o’er.

Horns this morn are hoarsely sounding
From Loch Buy’s ancient wall,
While for chase the guests and vassals
Gather in the court and hall.

Hounds, whose voices could give warning
From far moors of stags at bay,
Quiver in each iron muscle,
Howl, impatient of delay.

Henchmen, waiting for the signal,
At their chiefs imperious word,
Start, to drive from hill and correi,
To the Pass, the watchful herd.

Closed were paths, as with a netting,
Vain high courage, speed, or scent;
Every mesh, a man in ambush,
Ready, with the crossbow bent.

“Eachan, guard that glade and copsewood,
At your peril, let none by,”
Cries the chief, while in the heather
Silently the huntsmen lie.

Shouting by the green morasses,
Where the fairies dance at night,
Yelling ‘mid the oak and birches,
Come the beaters into sight.

And before them, rushing wildly,
Is the driven herd of deer,
Whose wide antlers toss like branches
In the winter of the year.

Useless was the vassal’s effort
To arrest the living flow;
And it passed by Eachan’s passage,
Spite of hound, and shout, and blow.

“Dog, through you our sport is barren;
Why allowed you them to pass?
Back—no answer—hark, men, hither;
Take his staff, and bind him fast.”

Hearing was with them obeying,
And the hunter’s strong limbs lie,
Bound with thongs from tawny oxen,
‘Neath the chieftain’s cruel eye.

“More than twoscore stags have passed him;
Mark the number on his flesh,
With red stripes of that good ashwood:
Mend me thus this broken mesh!”

Ah, Loch Buy, faint and sullen
Beats the heart once leal and free,
That had yielded life, exulting
If it bled for thine and thee.

Deem’st thou that no honour liveth
Save in haughty breasts like thine?
Think’st thou, men, like hounds in spirit,
At such blows but wince and whine?

Often in the dangerous tempest,
When the winds before the blast
Surging, charged, like crested horsemen,
Over helm, and plank, and mast,

He, and all his kin before him,
Well have kept the clansman’s faith,—
Serving thee in every danger,
Shielding thee from harm and scaith.

‘Mid the glens and hills; in combats
Where the blades of swordsmen meet,
Has he fought with thee the Campbells,
Mingling glory with defeat.

But, as waters round Eorsa
Darken deep, then blanch in foam,
When the winds Ben More has harboured
Burst in thunder from their home:

So the brow fear never clouded
Blackens now ‘neath Anger’s pall,
And the lips, to speak disdaining,
Whiten at Revenge’s call!

Part Second
Late, when many years had passed him,
And the chiefs old age begun,
Seemed his youth again to blossom
With the birth of his fair son. Late, when all his days had hardened
Into flint his nature wild,
Seem’d it softer grown, and kinder,
For the sake of that one child.

And again a hunting morning
Saw Loch Buy and his men,
With his boy, his guests and kinsmen,
Hidden o’er a coppiced glen.

Deep within its oaken thickets
Ran its waters to the sea:
On the hill the chief lay, careless,
While the child watched eagerly.

‘Neath them, on the shining ocean,
Island beyond Island lay,
Where the peaks of Jura’s bosom
Rose o’er holy Oronsay:

Where the greener fields of Islay
Pointed to the far Kintyre,—
Fruitful lands of after ages,—
Wasted then with sword and fire.

For the spell that once had gathered
All the chiefs beneath the sway
Of the ancient royal sceptre
Of the Isles, had passed away.

Once, from Rathrin, to the southward,
Westward to the low Tyree,
Northward past the Alps of Cuchullin,
Somerled ruled land and sea:

Colonsay, Lismore and Scarba,
Bute and Cumrae, Mull and Skye,
Arran, Jura, Lew’s and Islay,
Shouted then one battle cry.

But those Isles, that still united,
Fought at Harlaw Scotland’s might,
Broken by their fierce contentions,
Singly waged disastrous fight.

And the teaching of Forgiveness-
Grey Iona’s creed—became
Not a sign for men to reverence,
But a burning brand of shame.

Still, among the names that Ruin
Had not numbered in her train,
Lived the great clan, proud as ever,
Of the race of strong MacLaine.

And his boy, like her he wedded,
Though of nature like the dove,
Showed the eagle spirit, flashing
Through her heritage of love.

Heir of all the vassals’ homage
Rendered to the grisly sire,
He had grown his people’s treasure,
Fostered as their heart’s desire.

Surely Safety guards his footsteps;
Enmity he hath not sown:
Yet,—who is it who glides near him—
Whose the arm thus round him thrown?

It is Eachan! who has, wolflike,
Seized upon a helpless prey!
Furiously and fast he bears him
Where a cliff o’erhangs the bay.

There, while sea-birds scream around them.
Holding by his throat the boy,
Eachan turns, and to the father,
Shouts in scorn, and mocking joy:

“Take the punishment thou gavest—
Give before all there a pledge
For my freedom, or thy darling,
Dying, falls from yonder ledge!

“Take the strokes in even number,
As thou gavest—blow for blow-
Then, dishonoured, on thine honour
Swear, to let me freely go!”

Silent, in his powerless anger,
Stood the chief, with all his folk;
And before them all the ransom
Was exacted, stroke for stroke.

Then again the voice of vengeance
Pealed from Eachan’s lips in hate:
“Childless and dishonoured villain,
Expiation comes too late!

“My revenge is not completed:”
And they saw, in dumb despair,
How he hurl’d his victim downward,
Headlong, through the empty air!

Then they heard a yell of laughter,
As they turned away the eye;
And they gazed again, where nothing
Met their sight but cliff and sky.

For the murderer dared to follow
Where the youthful spirit fled,
To the throne of The Avenger,—
To The Judge of quick and dead.