Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GRUACH, by GORDON BOTTOMLEY



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GRUACH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The meat is killed: the veal is blooded: the trout are caught
Last Line: Curtain.
Subject(s): Scotland


PERSONS:

CONAN, Thane of Fortingall.
AN ENVOY of the King of Scotland.
DOMHNAL, a steward.
TWO SERVING-MEN.
A BOY.

MORAG, The Lady of Fortingall, Conan's mother.
FERN, her daughter.
GRUACH, her niece.
MARGET.
TWO YOUNG SERVING-WOMEN.
A KITCHEN-GIRL.

The scene is laid in Scotland in the early Middle-Ages.

SCENE I.

The scene is the hall of a small black stone castle in the North of
Scotland.
In the back wall are round-arched folding doors to the right, above which a
large bell hangs; to the left is a narrow, tall, round-topped doorway of a
staircase that curves upward out of sight. High above these doors an
arcade of
short thin pillars and small, round-topped arches runs from left to right. In
the right wall, toward the back, is a low doorway of a descending stair; along

this wall, from front to back, stands a heavy table with accompanying benches.

In the left wall is a stone fireplace with pillared cowl; a log fire burns on
the hearth, and two lighted torches are set in rings that project from the
wall
above; there is a curtained recess between the fireplace and the back wall.
MORAG, the Lady of Fortingall, a gaunt old woman, sits in a great chair
at the far side of the hearth, warming her hands and listening to DOMHNAL,
her steward, an old man who stands near. CONAN, her son, the Thane of
Fortingall, sits at the near side of the hearth in another chair, averted from

her, whetting a hunting spear with a small stone. In front of the fire, but at

some little distance from it, FERN, her daughter, sits on a stool,
stitching
at a heavy white robe covered with a meandering, close pattern in
gold: the robe
is long and ample and spreads over an empty stool that stands
still further from
the fire.

DOMHNAL.
THE meat is killed: the veal is blooded: the trout are caught.
Lambs are too young to kill, so four were needed.
The mead-vats are well filled.
And now the women make ready to bake all night. ...

MORAG.
Then stop such waste of fire: send to the village
And tell the bonders' wives that every house
Must send a basketful of loaves at dawn
For their lord's wedding-feast. What else is to do?

DOMHNAL.
Before we sleep the stables should be garnished
For the guests' horses: some ride early, and some
Ride earlier: to-morrow will be too late,
And we must work with torches. ...

MORAG.
Waste, waste, and never any forethought is here.
Let one sit up till midnight: then the moon
Will join him and work with him, and save the torch.

DOMHNAL.
The bridal chamber is arrayed and ready;
New rushes mixed with lavender are strewn there;
But Marget bids me say she waits to know
How many chambers for the morrow's guests
She must prepare, and when you will give out
The linen for the beds.

MORAG.
When there is April weather and a moon
Our neighbours will not think of sleeping here.
They will ride home.

FERN.
Mother, we shall be scorned in all the glens
If high-born women are sent out from our gate
To ride in festal clothes put on to grace us
Across Sithchallion on a frosty night,
Or the Black Mountain.

MORAG, to DOMHNAL.
Our guests will all ride home.
Bar the great door for the night when you go down.

DOMHNAL, hesitantly.
The Lady Gruach ...

MORAG.
Is she still out? Then leave it.
DOMHNAL makes an obeisance and goes out by the low doorway in the
right wall.
What kind of half man have I borne and suckled
Who lets his bride upon his wedding-eve
Go out alone and loiter in secret glades
And lonely uplands? Son, will you let your wife
Run wild before the wind of her will like this?

CONAN.
My cousin Gruach, when she first grew tall,
Forbade that I should follow her, or watch
Toward what refuges of forest and sky
Unbearable moods might take her; and she said
She needed that escape from kinsfolk's minds.
So why should I haunt her last free maiden night
More than a hundred nights of other Springs?
When a most beautiful woman can be wearied
And burdened by a girl's dearest delight
Of stitching her wedding-kirtle and with spun gold
Adding glory to glory for her own shoulders,
Will sight of a patient bridegroom bring her ease?

FERN.
She wrought all day, till, when the evening sun
Was in the elder-tree and a thrush sang there,
She asked me if I could sit still for ever,
And said that she must go.
You are not wise, Mother, to marry her now:
Her thoughts are not with us, she is not ours.
Last night, soon after midnight, I awoke
To a sense of light, to a light held in the air:
She stood above me like a chill, pale pillar.
I sat up, but she did not notice me:
Her eyes were fixed on something above my brow.
"Will you not let me alone?" she said so softly
It drew my tears: "I am not yours" she said.
"I shall be taken from you if you persist;
I cannot think myself into your lives
For ever; I cannot breathe your little air.
Where is the door? There must be a way out:
Will you not shew it to me?"
That pitiful, unnatural gentleness
Changed her to something so unlike herself
I shivered and could not stop: and when she left me
I dared not follow or move, for I had heard
That if sleep-walkers are wakened they may die.
I found her lying uncovered on her bed
In the early morning; she knew not why, she said,
For she had never left it in the night.
Disquiet that thus lights up dark places of being
And parts the uneasy body from the mind
Is surely a dreadful force best left unstirred:
Is it not then a cause
That you should more examine what you are doing?
She never wandered in the night before.

MORAG, who has been counting intently on her fingers and
gazing before her.
Can two young women of blood be afraid of marriage?
Her brooding and your shyness are too much fixed
On the occurrences of a single day.
Whatever joy or sorrow the morrow stirs,
The day after to-morrow there will return
This old still life of duty, and Gruach next
Will weep that nothing is changed. Her mother's lands
March with your father's: they must be joined again.
Her father was of dead King Kenneth's breed,
And though her line is dispossessed, she is yet
Royal in some men's minds, heiress of peril
But also of great chance; and this my son
Shall take and make his own.

CONAN.
Yes, mother. My cousin Gruach is my friend:
She knows I shall not be too stern or strict,
And that I understand her uneasy ways
And how to let her alone when she's unhappy.
Since all her hunted kindred were put down
And we have sheltered her, her fief and ours
Have been so fortunately governed as one
That this must be continued. And, sister Fern,
If her fair virginal life is in some danger
From men of the new king's house, is it not wise
She should be covered by our quieter name,
Disguised in our reputed loyalty?
You are too eager in your sympathy
To see my mother's wisdom. ...
The great door opens from without.

MORAG.
Hush, Conan; she is here. Be short with her.
GRUACH enters and closes the door behind her. She is tall and large-
framed, with firm, soft contours and features and a calm
expression: she moves
and speaks with unconscious deliberateness: her thick
sleek yellow hair falls on
each side of her face and is bunched at intervals with knots of green ribbon:
she carries a great tangle of Spring wild flowers in the lap of her green gown

caught up with one hard. MORAG continues.
Girl, you are out too late: look better to it.
Your kirtle is wet: your shoes are clean: you have been barefoot.
A barefoot bride is our shame.

GRUACH.
Will you still chide me? It is my last night.
Yes, yes, chide me once more, tell me my faults,
And satisfy your instinct; for to-morrow
I shall become a wedded woman like you,
And wedded women take each other's part.

FERN.
Supper-time is long past: we did not wait.
Tell Ferdan he may set your supper now.
Where have you been so long?

GRUACH.
I cannot eat to-night: let that pass too.
I went to lose myself; I found the Spring.
See, how a little sweetness has beguiled me:
These foolish things looked up at me. ...
She spills her lap-full of flowers over FERN'S embroidery.

FERN.
O, cousin, you hurt—your carelessness will not count
How much still love I have put into your gown.
Green sap and petal dust will stain it for ever.
The tissue was pure; look here, and here, and be sorry.

GRUACH, bitterly.
Ah, nothing can mar the gown of a happy bride.
I can only wear it once; it is fresh enough for that;
And yellow and yellow on gold will never show.
I hate all yellow things,
And most the yellowness of Springtide life—
Yellow and yellow, cowslip, crocus and primrose;
Daffodil and jasmine, yellow and yellow.
These commoners of Spring put me in mind
That now the darker flower which matches me
In loneliness, a purple hellebore,
Should also have returned to Glen of Shadows.
I came through Kestrel Wood and over the ridge,
Longing for it as I have longed for a friend;
But, though I have fostered it year after year,
At last it has not come to me with Spring.

FERN.
Will you never, never forget the dreadful flower
Which in our childhood made me sick with fear?
You loved it for that fear.
It is the very colour of poison and sin,
Of bruises and dead men's lips. Why will you seek it?

GRUACH.
For its sullen, angry beauty and evil intent.
I love to feel it would kill me if it could,
And that I need not let it unless I wish.
When a fierce bird is beautiful it is then
More beautiful by its fierceness; and that rare flower
Is thus more beautiful by its wickedness.

MORAG.
Come, bride in the bud, you are in my care to-night;
You must hasten to your chamber and change your skirts,
That are wet half way to the knee, or the wife's new wisdom
Will not preserve you from too much fever tomorrow.

FERN, breaking the thread with which she has been stitching.
Stay, cousin. Your gown is finished; take it with you.

GRUACH.
Sweet cousin, I have been wayward and unkind
To leave you alone to labour on this monotony;
Let it remain a moment until I have changed,
I will finish my side as well.

FERN. It is finished.

GRUACH, kneeling by FERN impulsively.
You darling workfellow and playfellow,
And motherkin and rosy bedfellow
Of long ago, pardon my little hard heart.
You take our frets and burdens on yourself,
And never tell us until we are too late
For everything except to be forgiven.
I wish you could so lighten all my task:
Your love brings strength, and it will be your love
That presses and nestles about me when I wear it.
When I have stript myself to-morrow night
It shall be cherished unblemished for your bridal.

FERN.
To-morrow I follow a bride for the third time;
And "Thrice a bridesmaid and never a bride" say gossips.
GRUACH starts abruptly to her feet, and, stuffing the golden gown
into
a tight bundle under her arm, goes to the staircase.
Wild thing, what have I said to grieve you now?
You are crushing it; you are cruel to crush it; cruel.
It will only look like dirty linen now.

GRUACH, turning at the foot of the stair.
It is too heavy: it is as heavy as fetters:
Its weight will sleek it when I put it on.
And none will want to wear it after me.
She disappears at the turn of the stair: presently she passes from
left
to right within the arcade above.

FERN.
I had better leave my door ajar to-night.

MORAG.
She will lie still to-night: she has tired herself.
It is over: she is spent: she will submit.
She can do nothing more before to-morrow;
And when to-morrow is here she must go forward
From station to station of hallowing and lost hopes,
Checked by the guests' cold eyes if she would double.
And no one will come here who would listen to her.

FERN.
She could only tell of me that I would love her
And be her very sister. But no one will come.
The bell over the door sounds once, a deep sonorous note. The
women look
at each other. Again it sounds once.

MORAG.
Who rides so late?
FERN. Surely wedding guests.

CONAN.
Nay, there is but one horse: I heard its feet:
While Gruach was saying something just now.
DOMHNAL enters by the door on the right and opens the great door.

THE KING'S ENVOY, outside.
I ride in the King's name: in the King's name
I require men's service. Whose is this strong house?

DOMHNAL.
This is the house of the Thane of Fortingall.

ENVOY.
I ride in the King's name on an errand of weight:
I ask the Thane of Fortingall for a man
To find me the speediest road to Inverness.

DOMHNAL.
You are far from any road to Inverness.

ENVOY.
Then bring me to your lord.
DOMHNAL opens the door wider. There enters a handsome
hawk-faced young
man with a fighter's mouth and jaw. He wears a leathern riding-dress: in the
front of his cap a purple flower is fastened.

DOMHNAL, approaching CONAN.
Sir, a man of the King's asks speech with you.
He goes out to the right as CONAN comes forward to meet the
ENVOY.

CONAN.
You are belated, Sir:
Your horse has foundered, or you have missed your way?

ENVOY.
I am an Envoy, Thane, of my great kinsman
Duncan, the King of Scotland, of all Scotland,
To Thorfinn, the Jarl of Caithness, a threatening man.
I ought to be Inverness with dawn,
But twilight overtook me in strange country.

CONAN.
You have ridden a county wide of your straight way;
But every Northerly track will take you there,
And the full moon will serve you many hours
If you push on at once.

ENVOY.
The wind has veered, good Thane, to the North again;
The mounting snow-packs clot in the steely sky;
Your moon is buried; young Spring will die of exposure.
This is no night to ride in, no light to ride in,
When the rider is lost already.
I must desire your courtesy and duty
To lodge my horse and me till morning comes.

CONAN.
I could have wished it so. ... Yet on this eve. ...
Our attention lies elsewhere. ... There are other guests. ...
The occasion is not common. ...

MORAG, who has been watching the ENVOY anxiously.
My son forgets:
When the King asks, it is our right to give.
You come, young sir, on the edge of a bustling hour
Of some festivity, that already checks
Our poor ability and exercise
Of hospitality: at dawn more guests
Need undivided honour, but until then
What we can give is yours.
Is great news in the bud that you ride so hard?
Such urgency might mean some vile revolt
Threatens King Duncan's blessed, heart-easing peace?

ENVOY.
I go to tell Caithness that the King's wife
Has borne a son, and to require of him
An oath of loyalty to the child Malcolm.
His disaffection has not prospered lately,
He is bruised and in recoil, and it is thought
That if he is confirmed in what he holds
He will consent to grant to a helpless child
A word he is too sore to speak for a king.

MORAG.
Do you believe he will?

ENVOY. Not I.

MORAG. Nor I.
Yet this child's weight may hold the King's throne firm.
I trust our lady, the Queen, is well recovered.

ENVOY.
It is all men's grief that she is not recovered.
She lies most piteously indifferent
To life and child: she wastes, she is almost white:
She cannot mount the throne-steps. Her leech says
She cannot safely bear another child.

CONAN, softly to FERN, as she gathers together her embroidery
implements.
Tell Gruach there's a King's man in the house:
Bid her keep to her chamber until he is gone.

MORAG.
I never saw her: she is not one of us.
Her foreign breed is plainly too light and poor
To make a Scotish mother: a Scotish King
Should wed in his own mountains, where the women
Are prideful and hard and quickened. I have heard
She has some beauty and birth; but can a stranger
Bear a right king for us?

ENVOY. She is a most sweet lady,
So excellent in steadfastness and grace
That she is fit to be a Scotish woman
And Queen of Scotish men.

CONAN, softly to FERN. Go: go.

ENVOY, continuing. She is tall,
And moves as if she walked in her own mountains:
She is gleaming pale, a daughter of snow-lipt seas,
A golden lady. ...
He falters and pauses, his eyes fixed on the staircase arch,
where
GRUACH has appeared. She is wearing the white and gold gown; her hair is
knotted up about her ears and covered with a narrow, white-flowered
veil of gold
tissue held in place by a flashing circlet and falling among the folds of her
train. As she stands on the first step, her eyes fixed on the ENVOY, the
gold of her gown flickers in the wavering torchlight, so that she seems to
hover
in a light of her own by contrast with the moving shadows of the gloomy
hall and
the sombre apparel of the others.
FERN, who has started to her feet at CONAN'S second bidding,
meets her at the foot of the stair.

FERN.
Cousin, what have you done—
You have worn it too soon, you are fey;
You will bring ill-fortune on us. ...

ENVOY.
Lady, I see that I must be unwelcome,
And that you are ready for friends, not strangers, now.
I am urged to this intrusion by my service,
Which is the King's, and the strict terms of it.
Your house-folk have received me; do not rebuke them—
I have laid the King's will heavily on them—
But add your kindness to their tolerance
Of my unpardoned coming.

GRUACH.
My lord, in that you are come, you are well come.
I am not mistress here until to-morrow;
Yet, if I may, I will add my share of grace
To greet you earnestly, as I should for a king.

ENVOY.
Lady, I thank you. I. ...

GRUACH.
I am unfortunate to have missed your entrance:
I have not heard your name.

ENVOY.
I am nephew and next of kin to the Thane of Glamis,
Old Sinel, the King's cousin: Macbeth is my name.

GRUACH, to MORAG.
I knew there was a quality in this knight:
We are required to lodge it suitably.
The chamber-woman is idle and sluggish again;
There is not one guest-room swept or curtained yet,
Although my meinie of maidens should come soon
To change their gowns there. Would it not be well
To put him into the bridal-chamber to-night?
None other is ready, none is fragrant enough:
I have looked at it but now, it is strange and fair.
Marget shall deck it anew ere the feast is over;
And I'll array for church in my old cell.

MORAG, dryly, and bowing curtly to the ENVOY.
A bride must have her way.

CONAN, to the ENVOY.
What have you done with your horse? Where is it now?

ENVOY.
At the ring in your outer gate.

CONAN.
I will send a man to stable it.

ENVOY.
Your pardon: I must go down to my patient friend;
Or his nut-brown eyes will not meet mine to-morrow,
Our journey will be longer.

CONAN.
I'll go with you: you do not know the stable.
Mother, shall I unlock the oat-bin for him?
He takes the torch from one of the rings in the left wall.
I will go before you.
He opens the door.
Will you come with me now?

ENVOY.
I thank you, Thane, and follow.
They go out.

CONAN, outside.
A sudden frost and a hard.
The sweat in your horse's coat will be like chainmail.
What kind of man are you,
To leave a good horse out in a night like this,
And call yourself his friend?
The great door closes behind them.
GRUACH has remained standing motionlessly, facing the place whence
the ENVOY spoke to her, her eyes downcast, her face tranquil as if she is
inwardly absorbed in an entrancing thought.
MORAG approaches her.

MORAG.
The wife of Fortingall will take her place,
Will she? But when she does she shall feel sharply
The wife of Fortingall must keep her place,
And leave her lord to welcome handsome strangers
And dangerous unknown farers in the dark.
A woman wears her wedding-gown but once,
And there's a fate in airing it too soon;
The mocking mischief of your changeling's heart
May well have wrought that when you strip tonight
You strip the pride of being the Lady of Fortingall.
Yet you must doff it now, on the instant: go:
Get you to bed and hide:
The stranger must not see those eyes again.
He does not hunt you, or suspect your birth;
But if he remembers you by seeing too long
Your noticeable clothing and keen gaze
He may ask questions about you. Go, I say.
Turning to FERN.
Daughter, tell Ferdan to bring food and mead—
Not the old mead—for the young knight's evening meal.
But, no; I must go myself or the kitchen-wenches
Will send up wedding-meats to save themselves
The grievance of late work.
She goes out by the low door to the right.

FERN.
Dear cousin, will you not retire
Before she can return?

GRUACH, quietly and unmoving.
Did you speak to me?

FERN.
My mother wishes us to go:
We are up too late even now.
Think of what the dawn will bring.

GRUACH, still quietly.
He is the most beautiful man I have seen in all my life.

FERN.
How can you say such a thing?
How wicked you must be: I am afraid of you.
Think what you owe to Conan: if Conan heard
He might forget the knight is his first guest.

GRUACH, raising her eyes, but still quietly.
Conan could not get near him: he would kill Conan.

FERN.
He is a noble man, and very fair.
I wish he would not go away so soon:
Something rejoices in me while I watch him.

GRUACH.
Well, then, grave gentle Fern, he shall not go.
I'll bid him to my marriage, and maybe
He shall hand you to church.

FERN, stooping.
Look, look; this little flower was in his cap
When he came in; he doffed it to you alone,
It must have fallen then: you never saw it.

GRUACH, suddenly alert.
His flower? It is my colour: give it to me.

FERN, kissing the flower she has picked up.
No.
I do what is asked of me each hour of life,
And you all take all I give, and never notice
That I am ever the one who must stand aside;
And in their turn your children will assume
I am the one who foregoes, who does not count:
I shall have nought of my own when I am old.
But I'll not give you this.

GRUACH, seizing FERN'S wrist and twisting it.
But I will have it.

FERN. O, you hurt, you hurt:
Let me alone.

GRUACH. Not till you throw it away.

FERN.
O! O! Oh! Oh ... h! Soul of a wolf, take it.
She drops the flower: GRUACH releases her and stoops to it.
FERN
returns to her stool by the fire and seats herself with her back to
GRUACH,
chafing her injured wrist and pressing it to her, her shoulders
twitching as
if with insupportable pain.

GRUACH, kissing the flower.
Thou thing of tender substance and silent life,
The spirit of thy softness enters me
When surfaces of lips and fingers meet
Thy filmy stillnesses; I fear to press
My longing to thee lest I interrupt
The life I'ld fix for ever with my touch.
She fastens the flower in the lacing of her bodice below her
throat.
Lie there; move with my life-breath; ah, look up
And breathe again to me his earlier warmth,
As if the vital tremor of his person
Mixed with my heat that veins thy texture now.
Thou hast been set above his brow; sink down,
Bring down to me his head in here, in here.
She presses her hands to her bosom.
The great door opens. CONAN enters with the torch
and, crossing the
hall, replaces it in its ring.

CONAN.
The stable-knaves have waited for no moon:
The stalls are trimmed, the bracken is changed already.

FERN, recovering herself with difficulty.
Where is our guest?

CONAN. He may come whenever he chooses.
The ENVOY enters by the great door and closes it behind him.

GRUACH.
My lord Macbeth, I trust my cousin has found
A lodging for your horse that is to your mind—
One worthy of a life that has your love
And bears a precious burden, a king's message.
Why do you gaze on me so steadfastly,
As if I am not here?

ENVOY. It is your flower:
A spae-wife under a riven, star-lit fir
Gave one to me as I rode out from Scone:
She said it opened from a root of death,
And that it should bring to me some king of fortune.
I flew it in my cap for death to see
And take a challenge from; and then forgot it
Somewhere upon my way. ...

GRUACH.
I found it in the rushes on the floor.
Its colour spoke to my heart, I put it on:
But let me be your spae-wife and bring you fortune.
She loosens the flower.

ENVOY.
My flower has found its fortune: let it remain.

GRUACH.
I have no fortune; I come of a root of death,
Like would kill like; you must take your fortune from me.
CONAN has been watching uneasily for an opportunity to intervene.
GRUACH holds out the flower to the ENVOY: as their hands meet and linger

on it MORAG enters from the right, followed by a serving-man bearing a
plate
of food, utensils, a cup and a flagon.

MORAG, pointing to the table.
Put it down there: hasten your fellows to bed.
He obeys and goes out to the right. MORAG turns to the ENVOY.
It is late, young lord; my house and I are ashamed
You have stood so long in our gates without rest or food:
If you will partake such food as the hour affords,
It is set here for you to honour us.
You must pardon us that we do not sit with you:
A long and toilsome day of happiness
Begins for us ere daylight; and my slow hands
Must minister to the bride before she sleeps.
A bride who overslept would be a jest,
When more new things than a girl has had in a lifetime
Are there, to be had for the putting on; so now
We must withdraw too soon for courtesy.
Dear niece, go you before, and I will bring
My neck-chains, brooches and pins, the linen, the shoes,
And a cloak to outshine your gown.

GRUACH.
I give you good night, my lord.
I am to be made a bride tomorrow, my lord:
A bride claims happiness from every quarter,
And I shall be the happier
If you will tarry among my bridal guests,
And follow me to church, and return here.
My husband will go hunting after the service. ...

CONAN.
Nay, cousin, the day after.

GRUACH.
I ask your pardon, my lord, the day after;
That is a day the better
If you abide with us and ride with him.
He has whetted his spears and paunchers all this day,
And offers them for the courtesy of your usage. ...

CONAN.
Cousin, not the old spear with the bronze blade.

GRUACH.
If you can well endure our wilding pleasures.

ENVOY.
I could not slight the hospitality
Of such a day: I thank you for your leave
To ride with you to church.
I shall delay so far. ...
A slight pause.

GRUACH.
You are good, my lord. Good-night.

ENVOY.
God find you a fair awakening.
GRUACH passes out of sight up the stair.
DOMHNAL enters from the right, fastens the great door, crosses
at the
back to the foot of the stair, and stands at the far side of it. He is
followed
by two serving-men, a boy, an old woman (MARGET), and two sturdy young
women; they move quickly and ascend the stair in turn. When the last has
disappeared a lanky girl enters in the wake of the others, moving
awkwardly in
slatternly outgrown clothes, rubbing her eyes, and snivelling. DOMHNAL
motions to her to hasten: she stumbles up the stair. The whole
train is seen
to pass behind the high arcade from left to right. DOMHNAL turns to
follow.

MORAG.
Steward, two hours before the first false light
The men must set the long hall-tables up,
The women must have the seething-pots in steam.

DOMHNAL, making a reverence.
Our lady's will shall be done.
He passes out of sight up the stair.

MORAG, to the ENVOY.
A bride has privileges, lord Macbeth,
To be much considered, and even more indulged:
We should accept her wishes at this time,
And I am grieved there is no chamber arrayed
For any guest yet, and that there is no place
Unspoken for at the bride's board to-morrow.
We must, with true unwillingness, leave you here
Until the time for your going; the house is yours
In our intention; let not our imperfection—
That is of the hour, not of our hearts—obscure
Our watchful duty done to our King.

ENVOY.
I thank the Lady of Fortingall for much.
A chair by her hearth and my cloak about me will serve
Until I can take the road. If I have your leave
I will open both hall-door and stable-door,
Let down the drawbridge and ride out and away
Into the North by the moon, nor call your housefolk
Still earlier than your needs.

MORAG, at the stair-foot.
If your high duty sends you to horse so soon
We shall not see you again:
I trust your journey will prosper and be speedy.
She passes out of sight up the stair.

FERN.
The hall grows colder after the turn of midnight;
There are logs in the corner, and, if the frost should deepen,
You will find furs behind the curtain there.
May you rest well.

ENVOY. I thank your gentle thought.
FERN passes out of sight up the stair.

CONAN.
Have you saddled a horse before in the King's yard?
Do you know the way of the bit?

ENVOY.
A noble woman is handed to you to-morrow:
No one need wish you joy, you receive its cause.
Such breeding as hers should never be shut up
In these harsh walls and mountains and hard cold minds;
If you will ride with your matchless wife to Scone
When I return, the King shall hear of you
And take you into his house;
There you shall savour unguessed wonders in life
And come to advancement too.

CONAN.
Will you return this way?
I cannot leave the justicing of my fiefs
That has lately come upon me:
The wolves beyond Sithchallion would increase
If they were left one season.

ENVOY.
Would you hunt wolves when you can hunt men, fierce men?

CONAN.
I thought that courtiers only hunted women.

ENVOY.
I am your guest, Thane, and would be your friend.
Have you no home to give a shrinking woman
Beside this threatening prison?

CONAN.
I have a hunting-lodge on the Black Mountain.

ENVOY.
Carry her thither from church, alone and free:
A woman does not wed to gain a mother,
Nor does a man to acquire another sister.

CONAN.
Are you a wedded man?

ENVOY. No.

CONAN. Then come to me
For good advice upon your wedding-eve,
And I will talk of what I know. Good-night.
He passes up the stair out of sight: when he reaches the arcade he
puts out his head between two pillars, and watches the ENVOY a moment with
a
face of mistrust and dislike; then he with-draws and disappears.
The ENVOY goes to CONAN's chair after watching him mount the
stair, turns it away from the fire so that is commands doorway and staircase,
and seats himself.

ENVOY.
Shall I return this way? I shall return,
As a ghost walks who has left a thing undone.
I shall eat this green oaf's salt and be his guest,
His comrade, his sworn friend, his counsellor,
And sack his bed for him.
The mother bee, that shall out-top her fellows,
Is straitened in a blind and deepy cell
As in this tower of darkness is this woman.
A spirit of power that shakes my mind is here
In this resourceful woman: she is as still
As the white heat of a straight, half wrought sword
That does not palpitate yet along its edge
Lives quiveringly; she can indeed conceive
Its sudden and brief concentration of anger
In icy tempering, by her sharp life here;
But stillness is her operative condition.
Nothing falters in her; nothing shrinks.
She came to me with her eyes as if she made
Decision, and her nearness of approach
Was more immediate than tenderness:
She came as close to me with her intention
As an unexpected and convincing thought.
If I could add her even force to mine
We could increase life's grasp.
He takes the flower from his jerkin.
Dark, unregarded bud of opening fate,
What is there now to do?
Bring to me no more fortune: all is here.
Deliver me from continuing chance: stand still
In the unfolding.
Now is my fortune manifested; dissolve,
Turn thou to fire and spirit and permeation,
And fix it here for ever.
He kisses the flower, then drops it deliberately into the fire.
Dark tableau curtains fall, but remain closed only long enough for a
brief orchestral nocturne to be played.

SCENE II.

The same. The torches have burnt out: the glow of the fire is still great
enough to illumine the lower part of the hall, but the upper part and the
arcade
are lost in darkness. The ENVOY is asleep in the chair by the fire,
his head
on his hand.

ENVOY, awakening and sitting up.
Yes. Who is that? ...
Disquiet that is not sound wakes me again.
I watch becalmed on a dark tide of sleep
That has no murmurs; yet when its small motion
Withdraws me from myself I hear each time
A voice that has no substance.
Too many men have died in this old fastness;
Or else the spirits of its living cannot
Suspend their eager operation and sleep,
As bodies that waste must sleep.
I would pray to sleep if I could dream of her,
And to sleep long.
I lose myself in her with every thought;
Yet when I lose myself in drifts of sleep
She never comes as I could come to her;
I only hear behind a shaking curtain
An unknown presence wrapt with rumourings
Of urgency, quick flame and wilful wreck.
It seems she does not turn to me in sleep;
So I'll not sleep again.
A small light passes slowly from right to left along the
high arcade.
The ENVOY shifts in his chair and handles his dagger.
A light? A light? Though light is honesty,
Yet light at midnight oftenest shines on knaves,
And deeds of darkness sometimes seek a glimmer
To bud and open in.
Is this the oaf that comes to spy or stab?
GRUACH descends the stair, walking in her sleep and
bearing a small
and lighted night-lamp; she is in her night-clothes, and
tumbled, tangled masses
of hair that escape from her night-cap fall about her like a golden shawl.

ENVOY, half rising and huskily.
Lady, how did you know?
She is unconscious of him, and, as she emerges from the arch, turns
from him toward the place where he stood at their first meeting: she moves
slowly and uncertainly, and in bearing and demeanour reproduces FERN'S
description of her appearance on the previous night.

GRUACH, speaking always in a veiled hesitating tone.
Beautiful stranger, why are you here?
I did but change my gown,
And in a moment you come
From empty valleys.
O me, if I had missed you, my lord.
You are so kingly made,
Fair and desireable,
I am drowned in flushes of gladness.
I would cover you with my being like a veil
To hide you from women;
I would pour out my being over you
Like faint moonlight that is yet universal
And enfolds kings and their kingdoms.
Will you take me? Will you not?

ENVOY, simulating her tone, but with repressed eagerness.
Ay.

GRUACH, as before.
The light is going fast.
I cannot see you plainly now.
O, where, where are you?

ENVOY. Here.

GRUACH.
Say it again. Tell me once more, blest spirit.
Repeat thyself: be thine own mirror
And shew me twice thy heart.
When wilt thou take me?

ENVOY. Now.

GRUACH.
You have gone farther off. Will you leave me?
Whence do you speak to me?

ENVOY. Out of the darkness.
I shall not leave you until you bid me go.
Am I a stranger now?
I to myself am strange; I do not know
My voice, my stumbling senses, or my will.
But there is nothing strange in you, white lady;
As in a welcome dream nothing is strange
When newly come delight seems in a moment
To have been ours for life.
I have believed that you were on the earth,
As some believe in gods they cannot see.
In this first hour love is not born in me:
I recognize; I remember; I possess:
I am here to take my own.

GRUACH.
Yes; yes. O, do not cease.
You utter many words; I am tired,
I catch in vain at them as they gleam past;
But in your voice is truth,
And truth, that oftenest means unkindness,
This once is joy.

ENVOY.
Men have too many words: but there's a word
That holds all others, as you hold for me
The provocation of all disquieting women:
This love is to strike deep, and when you awake
You shall be sure of me, you shall devote
Fire of your brain, fire of your heart, to me.

GRUACH.
Where? Where? Your voice sounds close below me.
You must not kneel to me.
Come, come to me: I would bend down
And clasp you into my breath,
But creeping palsies hold me;
My arms and things are heavy things
That will not move for me.
You know she binds me:
You can loose me: you dare not act.

ENVOY, in a clear, natural voice as he starts to his feet and approaches
GRUACH.
Falter no more in the dim passages
That in the outer walls of life's house burrow
And endlessly return upon themselves.
A wake and with me dare. Awake! Awake!
GRUACH, awaking, loosens her hold of her lamp, which goes out in
falling: she stares, startled; then, with a plaintive, long sigh, reels and
sinks: the ENVOY reaches her barely in time to receive her in his arms.
Have I broken the bird's wings to catch the bird?
Have I shattered the door of her mind to enter there?
This ruin is done in me; I have unbuilt
The only hallowed place where I can worship.
A slight pause.
Her heart begins anew;
And nascent life is trembling everywhere.
He kisses her.
Not any words shall peril her again
By sudden occurrence; I'll use a quieter means,
And through a more unwary sense infuse
My life into her sources, into her thought.
He kisses her repeatedly.

GRUACH.
Where am I? What have I done?
Some distillation lately touched my lips:
A freshness that awoke me lingers there.
What will you do with me, beautiful stranger?
Why are you here? Who are you? Go from my chamber.
Loose me. Leave me. Loose me. Let me go.
She first seizes his shoulders to push him from her, then slips her
arms about his waist and wrestles with him. Her onset almost over throws him,
and he only continues with difficulty to hold his own.

ENVOY.
Listen. ... I am the same Macbeth. ...
It was the distillation of my soul. ...

GRUACH, unheedingly.
Thieves are men of the night: murderers
Are men of the night. You have the stoat's and foumart's
Passion for throats in the dark: you are not one
Who kills in the open, you would kill in sleep and
In the vile safety of a private room.
Faugh, you foul treacherous beast. ... Aha, aha,
My hand is on your dagger: let go your hold,
Or I'll drive it down the side of your neck.

ENVOY. Strike.
Her bare arm shoots up to bring the dagger down with force: he
catches
her wrist in the air.
Lately I heard your spirit take a voice
And from outside our earth-taught reticence
Speak: sure and clear and deathless and afar,
Like the first half-waked bird in Spring's first dawn,
Its darkling dewy murmurs then gave up
Your mind to me, your being to me.
Would you undo it in a waking dream?

GRUACH.
You! You! O, dangerous knife.
What thoughts have you pressed into its haft of old?
Not many breaths ago its touch lit in me
Conceptions of destroying unknown lit in me:
My mind was ready, and I did intend
To strike you down and desolate my years.
The dagger falls from her hand.
Speak softly, my lord; but speak.
How have you found my chamber?

ENVOY. Look about you.

GRUACH.
Why have you brought me here?

ENVOY. You came alone.

GRUACH.
Were you here before me?

ENVOY. Surely.

GRUACH. But why? But why?

ENVOY.
I have slept here.

GRUACH. Had you, then, thought to meet me?

ENVOY.
We might have met no more.

GRUACH. Did you not care?

ENVOY.
I cared to do your wish more than my duty:
I was cheated of choice. Your elder kinswoman
Denied to me your offered bridal bed
(I would have lain beside it on the floor),
Deprived me of the kneeling room you gave
Near to your feet at the altar, and of the seat
Upon your bench at the board; and left me nothing
But leave to ride away before you rose.

GRUACH.
I am sick in my limbs and my mind to learn so late
I might have lost you while I dreamed of you—
For I have dreamed of you to-night, my lord,
In the security of a sweet to-morrow:
I am sick in my reins and my compassionate body
To feel each time you speak that I have meant
To tear your flesh with a sharpened piece of iron.
You know what it means to me, do you not?
And yet I do not know why I am here.

ENVOY.
You sought in sleep the stations of our meeting,
As holy women the stations of the Cross
To act again life's chosen, passionate hour.

GRUACH.
I am not a sapless girl to walk in sleep:
I can control my force.

ENVOY. You came to me:
You told me all I know.

GRUACH. I did not speak:
I dreamed I heard your voice, but not my own.
A slight pause.
If women spoke in sleep they would awake,
They have suspicious ears.
A slight pause.
What have I said?

ENVOY.
The things you felt last night, heart-shaking things
That timid men teach women to wait to hear;
The truth of your live spirit loosed unaware,
That, rising suddenly from ancient darkness,
Took on its wings the light of the next dawn
Before the lonely night below was past.
The rapture of presence; the offering of love;
The radiance of surrender: of these you spoke.

GRUACH.
All, all is true. What more have I said? What else?

ENVOY.
You uttered no more but love.

GRUACH.
It was well said. I could not say it now,
Conscious that you would hear. I am glad it is done.
And you? I dreamed your voice, but not your words.

ENVOY.
The rapture of presence; the offering of love;
A sense of strange remembrance: I told of these.

GRUACH.
I knew it all last night: What will you do?
Time and men's rules will part us quickly now,
And nothing will be left.
My father's race is ruined, my mother's kin
Hems me in here in grim solicitude;
My cousin and his mother demand my hand;
They mean my land. I cannot stand alone:
Even the trees and mountains in this wildness
Huddle together against the blasts of time
And planetary tempests: What should I do?
This is my hour of fate, this is the time
When I must break the blind restricted seed
That I am now, move with the winds of life
And yield my mental issue to them again,
Or in this present burial rot and change.
Is your love strength or weakness? What will you do?
Help me, and now.

ENVOY.
I shall not ride away as I was bidden;
I shall remain.
When Fortingall has all his guests about him
I will declare our love and, by the weight
Of Duncan's kinship insisting on obedience,
Forbid your marriage until I come again,
My errand to Caithness done, and claim your troth,
Marry you here and carry you to Scone.

GRUACH.
You will not get away from them alive:
There are no King's men here.
And if the King sends men to look for you
They will not know which rock in this rough valley
Was chosen for your grave-stone.
You must not ride now as you were bidden. And yet
You must not ride from me: take me to Scone:
I should be here no more if you returned.

ENVOY.
That will not much commend us to the King.

GRUACH.
Then I'll to Caithness too; but now, now, now.
You must ride now; and I must go with you.

ENVOY.
But shall we not be followed?

GRUACH. To the death.

ENVOY.
Why must I risk your life?

GRUACH. The chance is good.
Conan can only think one thought at once:
His hunt will storm to Inverness, while we
Ride North by East until we are far from here.

ENVOY.
And wed in Caithness' church?

GRUACH. And swiftlier wed
In the first church we come to when we are clear.

ENVOY.
Ride with me: let us go.

GRUACH.
Sir, are you sure of me? Before you take me
You should be told I was born your enemy:
I am of a more ancient house of kings
Than you: King kenneth was among my fathers.

ENVOY.
Then with your love
You bring a power over many minds
That, if we are added truly to each other,
Can set us higher than either house has stood.

GRUACH.
You can be great if you are so great-hearted.
You are my redeemer, you shall have my faith;
Service, and I can serve you with men's truth;
Devotion, and I could wreck myself, my world,
To reach its end, your good.
One thing is mordant in me at thought of you;
When we fought body to body you overcame.
I must undo it; let us strive again.
Come, let me grasp you.
She holds out her arms to him.
He takes her hands and draws her toward him; with a low cry she feigns

to faint, and he catches her to him; she lays her head on his shoulder, and
laughs lightly and gently.

ENVOY.
Circling each other so in soft enclosure,
Loosening our folds with mutual-moving breath,
Our wreathing seems to rustle and expand,
As crushed, unwrinkling petals in a bud
Widen together in unbroken touch,
Begin a blossom's effluence, concede
A blossom's trembling welcome to the night
That fills it, and that it believes it fills.

GRUACH.
Beloved, we are foolish: we should ride.

ENVOY, loosing her.
Put on your clothes: I go to saddle horses.

GRUACH.
I have no clothes: all that I ever had
Are in my chamber under the tower roof:
I dare not fetch them, I might rouse many sleepers.
Everything I have worn since my hair grew long
Was spun and woven and stitched in Fortingall:
My kin shall feel my cloths flung back at them
If I go out with nothing. I can endure it:
I have gone barefoot in snow before to-night,
And there is now no snow.

ENVOY.
You cannot live against the rushing sharpness
If we push North to-night.
Going to the curtained recess.
There are furs here;
You shall be wrapt in them.
He brings furs piled on his arm, and throws them down before her.

GRUACH. No, not the white one
The white bear-skin is Fern's from Norroway;
She was born cold and bloodless; she is soon chilled,
She needs it. Bring the wolf-cloak. Put it round me.

ENVOY.
Your thin white feet are far too cold already
To start on such a journey. Are there no shoes?

GRUACH.
Ay, in the tower: but shoes in the air are useless.
We shall find old brogues in the stable.

ENVOY.
What horse shall I saddle for you?

GRUACH.
Saddle no horse for me: I must ride with you:
Two tracks would tell our tale more certainly.

ENVOY, unbarring the door.
Will you mount black Fingal here?

GRUACH.
His hoofs would sound on the stones.
Halter him to the ring at the outer gate:
I will shortly join you there.

ENVOY, having opened the door.
Snow: there is snow.
O, tranquil, dreadful calm: O, deadly peace.
We are shut back into the cast-off life
By pale, relentless, softly closing gates
That no man ever opened.
We may not ride to-night: your fate has fallen.
Or is it mine that hurts you?
He throws open both doors: the ground is seen to sink sharply away
from the threshold to a narrow white valley among white mountains. A faintness

in the sky permeates a dense mist of lightly falling snow.

GRUACH.
O, joyful silence; soundlessly dropping curtains
About the secret chamber of the earth
That shall contain our bridal bed. O, sleep,
The bride's white hush is in me; I will part
The soundless curtains, and meet what is within—
Either continuing sleep, that can withdraw me
From this dead life with love my latest hope,
Or delicate, wildering waking in some pale room
To find my love with me.
Will you not come, my lord?
The snow is but a salting yet: I go,
For in an hour the breeding, feeding storm
Will cover our foot-prints, stifle all pursuit.
We can point straight for Inverness untracked,
And thread the perilous pass ere drifts are deep.

ENVOY.
Know you the roads?

GRUACH. I know them.

ENVOY. I am ready.

GRUACH.
If the storm clears, our dark shapes will be seen
Afar in the sharp air.
She steps to the pile of furs, throwing off her cloak as she goes.
Wear Conan's sheepskin coat. Help me to don
Fern's bear-skin cloak; lift up the hood ... Stay, stay;
I must put my hair up first.
She tears off her nightcap and throws it into the sinking fire.
I have no pins.
Where is your little dagger?

ENVOY, stooping where the dagger lies.
It fell in the rushes.

GRUACH, holding her upcoiled hair with one hand.
Give it to me.
She thrusts it through the coil of hair.
Cover my head with the hood.
Is your horse dark like you?

ENVOY. He is black as smoke.

GRUACH.
You can abandon him.
Conan's white battle-horse will serve us better:
Few men can see him moving against new snow.

ENVOY.
He saved me in a clenched, stark river-fight,
When armoured men went down a falling spate
And heavier horses under them: again
He saved me from a murderer in the night
By crying out in his stall across a garth:
When I shall enter the stable presently
He will speak to me before I am in his sight,
He will stamp until I speak to him, and touch.
I cannot leave him here.

GRUACH.
You set me in more danger.
Although you should devote your life to him
You cannot keep him more than a dozen years.
Do you put a horse before me? Speak. Be sure.

ENVOY.
The King could send a rout of men-at-arms
To claim him later—soon—in his own name.
Turning to the door.
Which is the horse?

GRUACH. White Uthal is near the door.

ENVOY. Shall I return for you?

GRUACH. I would first write
This life's last things: I cannot forego it now.
Give me some leaf to write on, I have nothing;
Her scrivening-skins are locked away.

ENVOY. I have nothing.

GRUACH.
What is there in your wallet?

ENVOY. Nothing is there,
Save my King's letter to the Caithness Jarl.

GRUACH.
The margin of that will serve.

ENVOY.
We must not touch it, lady. The King's hand
Is hallowed, the King's seal is inviolable:
With it I lose my life.

GRUACH.
Your life is not your own: it is now mine.
Shew me the letter.

ENVOY. Beloved, it must not be.

GRUACH, laying one hand on his shoulder, and taking the letter from his
wallet
with the other.
It must; it is my pride that it shall be.
She breaks the seal and opens the letter.

ENVOY.
Your dear hands are soon cruel.

GRUACH. Look, it is well;
This piece is bare save for a superscription.

ENVOY.
And half of the King's name within the fold. ...
It is too thick to tear.

GRUACH. Not for the teeth.
She bites the edge, then tears off one portion of the letter.
Keep this. It is enough. I have not hurt you.
There is still more left than the Jarl will care to read.

ENVOY.
I must blame some serving-man for this.
It is not wise for a well-born man to say
He has been so familiar with a menial
That such a letter could come into base hands.

GRUACH.
Dearest and dearer, pardon me for the sake
Of the true words I shall write on it to my kin.

ENVOY.
You have no pen.

GRUACH. searching among the ashes on the hearth.
A wood-coal twig writes well.
Beloved, you loiter long: hasten, and ever more hasten:
The bridal dawn is near, my enemies awake.

ENVOY, as he goes out by the great door.
I serve you for ever, white spouse.

GRUACH. I shall be ready ere you.
He disappears downward to the right.. GRUACH lays the
fragment of
the letter on the table to the right and stoops over it to write.
Is it so soon? What, shall I suddenly
Believe this life is done and I can go?
I am not foolish yet: in my deep places
I know it is not so. I know the way
In which hope gutters out in a cold draught,
And life is seen to be a habit, heavy
To put down courage, vision and eagerness.
The marvel of this night being perfect now,
Some meagre unexpected chance can soon
Flaw and disperse it in a long, sick moment,
Perfection being momentary of nature;
And when, the kind, deceitful darkness over,
Impoverishing daylight shews to me
The dead life here, I shall be here alone.
O, let me dream anew, and in a dream
Of uttered scorn sting vivid life to spring
Back to my sinking heart.
She writes.
To The Lady of Fortingall.
I am not of your blood to obey you; I will not mother your blood.
I would live,
so I leave you. For your lodging and nurture take the Bride of Fortingall's
clothes in payment; you will find a doll to fit them who will sit where you put

her. I have given away my lands; keep your hands and feet from them.
She writes.
To The Heir of Fortingall.
If you would be married, choose your wife for yourself. I have gone away with
a
man, and you will not see me again.
She writes.
To Fern.
I leave you my love with my wisdom. When you meet a proper man, take him
before
another woman can. You will not come to life until you cross your own
threshold
and sit by your own hearth.
Gruach.
It is an aged woman's hand.
I cannot write to-night.
The hand may waver, the flanks shake, the limbs
Tremble, as mine do now, and yet the heart
May hold its firm and steadfast course untouched,
Being nearer to the mind;
But here the immediate substance of my heart
Slackens and shivers, my mental force withdrawn;
I have no strength to continue this delay.
He is too long.
Why should a fair, strange man regard my lot,
Or reverence my will? He need not do it.
He will not come again; and this is all.
I'll go to him.
Is that a sound? A door upstairs; a footfall?
She runs to the stair-foot and listens.
Nothing. A gown trailing? Nothing. Nothing.

ENVOY, as he approaches the doorway from the right.
The outer gate is locked.

GRUACH. The key is here.
She disappears through the low doorway to the right and returns
instantly with a large, long key.
We can lock the door outside and ride away with it.
She laughs softly.

ENVOY.
As we go down and pass the stable-door,
Do not ask me to speak. Fingal would hear.

GRUACH.
Let me go first; step then upon my footprints
And wipe them off my kindred's soil for ever.

ENVOY.
Before our life begins,
Before we go, tell in this hallowed place
The name I have not heard; whose sound I await
As waking, eager birds await the light:
Your name, my light, your name.

GRUACH.
Within the dark immuring womb a blind
And unseen child is nameless, and I too,
Unliving and immured, will have no name
In my subjection; this white waif of night
Shall have no name for you.
The altar-priest shall speak it first to you.
Before we leave this iron-coloured prison,
Vow you to me that, when you have the weight
In the King's mind to do a lawless thing,
You will return and tumble down these walls
Into a cairn of stones, and burn the stones
To ashen dust wherein no weed will strike.

ENVOY.
This is a holy house for me; the hands
I lay on it would turn to hands of blessing.
The husk that has shed you is still a shrine
Which in my old age I shall seek again.
We cannot burn the past; it would stand yet
In you, in me. Then let it stand for me.

GRUACH.
Lift up your hand and vow, for love of me.

ENVOY.
I will do all that any man can do,
For love of you.

GRUACH, going to the hearth, and gathering a handful of wood-ash.
It shall go down, or like a broken tree
Whiten and crumble to a hollow bone;
The moon shall soften it to a cowering dread,
And shapeless noises shall inhabit it.
She moves slowly from the hearth to the great door, scattering the
ash
with a sower's motion as she goes.
I sow and I sow the chaff of the seed of fire:
The waving, barren harvest of wilding flame
Shall here spring up, nourished by stormy air.
Come ruin, ruin and grief upon this old
Dwelling of sorrow and my captivity.
My mother died of grief; it is not ill
Her hard, unfaithful race should die of grief.
Come, ruin, down upon their greedy life,
Destruction and unseating of the mind;
Woe, be embodied to their unclosing eyes
While brackish tears run down and lodge in their lips,
And all they have flies up in flakes of flame,
To fall as now these ashes.
With the last words she reaches the threshold, where she turns to
the ENVOY.
Come, Macbeth.
She goes out by the great doorand, descending to the right, quickly
disappears. The ENVOY follows her.
After a short pause an owl cries twice with a long retreating sound,
as
if disturbed and flying away.
A light passes from right to left of the high arcade: DOMHNAL
descends the stair, a lamp in his hand.

DOMHNAL.
The stranger is not here. He has gone, maybe.
That would be well; we want no King's men here
Among the annoyances of a day of rejoicing.
How cold the house has grown.
Both doors left open? He has certainly gone.
He must be highly born to be so careless.
Snow, snow, snow.
It is the last injustice of the order of things
For snow to be added to the burdens of a feastday.
Men will tread it in, and out, and in again;
Fine ladies will tread it upstairs and downstairs,
And spread it with their skirts until the bride's chamber
Is like the track to the cowsheds in a wet Autumn.
I can but shut it out a while.
He turns to go out by the low door, then he sees GRUACH'S
letter
on the table.
A letter? This is the stranger's courtesies:
He is not graceless, though an upstart's man.
"Gruach." What have I here?
The young man has truly gone, and with what he could carry.
The new King's men are all reivers and robbers.
"I will not mother your blood ... I have given away my lands ...
I have gone away with a man ... You will not see me again ..."
Oho, Oho; here are great things to do.
But which is first?
He stands in deep consideration, the letter in his hand.
A sound of scuffling and women's voices wrangling comes from the high
arcade. Presently one of the young women hurries down the stair, pulling the
girl after her by the arm and followed by the other young woman, who thrusts
the
girl forward from behind. The girl stands sobbing and rubbing her eyes; she' is

only half dressed, and carries the rest of her clothes under one arm.

FIRST YOUNG WOMAN.
Come on, Onion-Peeler, Grease-Skimmer, Rancid Rags;
You shall learn not to lie in bed like an earl's daughter.

GIRL.
I will not go: I will not.

SECOND YOUNG WOMAN.
Lig-a-bed, you are to be up first. (Pinching her.) Will you remember?
If you are not down in time to kindle my fires,
You shall be pinched all over, all over, all over,
Until you are like a bush of ripe blackberries.
So. (GIRL. O!) And so. (GIRL. O!) And so. (GIRL. O!)

GIRL.
I'll not bear it. I'll not stay, you murderers.
My mother told me to go straight home to her
If the kitchen-ladies at the Castle were unkind to me.

FIRST YOUNG WOMAN.
Go home to her now: she will be glad to see you,
And gladder still to see old Marget after you.

GIRL.
I cannot help it: I cannot: indeed I cannot.
When I am with you by day I only see what is there;
But every night when I am alone the Sight comes on me.
It will not let me sleep until the dawn begins:
Then I am heavy and sick. Let me lie down.
Pity, pity me.

FIRST, YOUNG WOMAN.
What do you see, you mole, when the Sight is on you?

GIRL.
I see the Lady Gruach.
Both women laugh.

SECOND YOUNG WOMAN.
We all see the Lady Gruach
More than we choose; but she never keeps us awake.

FIRST YOUNG WOMAN.
Nor do we call it second sight when she appears.

GIRL, desperately.
I tell you I see the Lady Gruach every night.
She is covered from shoulder to foot with a trailing, spreading cloak
That is not red like blood, nor blue like the deep lake,
Yet gleams of both in the folds: it is covered with green, bright eyes.
There are large green lights in her hair over both her ears.
She wears a golden crown as if she is a queen.
Her pitiless face alarms, yet I must look and look:
Her gaze is hard to me, yet when we meet by day
She holds no memory of me in those cold eyes.
Nightly she bears a dagger. ...

FIRST YOUNG WOMAN. Shivering liar,
That finds you out: you have neither sight nor truth:
Queens carry sceptres, they are not seen with daggers.

SECOND YOUNG WOMAN.
And how can Gruach ever become a queen?
She is to wed long Conan after sunrise.

GIRL.
She bears a dagger, a red dagger. ...

FIRST YOUNG WOMAN, seizing a tangle of the GIRL'S dangling hair.
Come on.
Your second sight is not worth waiting for:
You had better see your own ghost lighting fires,
For that is all you are worth. Come on.

SECOND YOUNG WOMAN, seizing the GIRL'S hanging hair on the other side.
Come down:
Come down, you shall draw me the water.

GIRL. O, no, no!
They hurry the GIRL by her hair out through the low doorway to
the right: she sobs and protests inarticulately and struggles as they go.
The BOY descends the stair quickly, and follows the women out.
MARGET follows the BOY down the stair.

MARGET.
The women are too noisy.

DOMHNAL. Let them alone:
The girl from the clachan has been marred at home,
She needs rough teasing.

MARGET. They are not too rough,
They are too noisy: they must be spoken to.

DOMHNAL.
Let them alone: there is a graver thing
To speak of now.
The man who yester-eve knocked at our gate
Has carried off young Gruach in the night.
Go down and stop the roasting and the boiling:
I go to raise the house and the whole township,
To send out riders to hunt the naughty child,
And others to meet the wedding-guests who ride
And turn them home again.

MARGET.
How have you heard of it?

DOMHNAL. By Gruach's hand:
I found this writing on the table here.
MARGET takes the letter, turns it about all ways, and throws it on
the table.

MARGET.
Leave it for others to find. All shall go on.
Again, old friend, you are about to be
A foolish, vain, officious, blind old man.
What have you to do with it? What have I?
Morag is ageing: when the old devil dies
We do not want a ferret-eyed young mistress
To keep us still uneasy. Let her go:
Fern is mild: Conan will follow her.
And let the feast go on: Conan would feast
If Gruach were dead, and welcome the event
That brought him many guests: he will not miss
A bride he feared, if he may eat. Come down;
I'll lift the crust of the lamb pie for you.
She goes out by the low door.

DOMHNAL.
Elderly women believe they are always right:
But this one may be now.
He follows MARGET out.
The two SERVING-MEN descend the stair; one supports the other.

FIRST MAN.
You are drunk.

SECOND MAN. I am not drunk.

FIRST MAN. I say you are drunk.

SECOND MAN.
I am not drunk: I was comfortable last night,
But now I have slept it off. You can see for yourself.

FIRST MAN.
You have not had the time to sleep it off:
We are fetched out of bed at an immoral hour.

SECOND MAN.
A most unhealthy hour; an immodest hour.
But all will be well to-morrow in the morning.
The new young mistress, the pink and coy young mistress.
Will not forsake her bed to-morrow morn
At the unwise hours ordained by the old mistress.

FIRST MAN.
That is deep wisdom. You are drunk, nevertheless.

SECOND MAN.
I say I am not drunk.
They go out together affectionately by the low door.
CONAN descends the stair stealthily, peeping round the corner
mistrustfully as he comes. He is in his shirt and cross-gartered braccae, and
barefooted; he holds a sword out of sight at his side.

CONAN.
The disquieting stranger has gone. He has truly gone.
I could have slept again had I believed it.
He has not finished here: he will return:
He shall not pass my outer gate again.
But he is gone: I should be easy now,
If this were not my wedding-day.
The Thane of Ardven's daughters will look at me,
To watch with mocking eyes what I shall do;
And Gruach will not look at me, nor seem
To know I stand or kneel or sit by her.
But that's no grief; when she does look at me
She brims me with discomfort. She is not fit
To be a wife: she follows her own will.
I had liefer wed the bridge-end blacksmith's daughter:
She fills her clothes as well as my lady cousin,
And her lips bring thoughts of dew on rosy plums.
I am not afraid to touch her. If I touch Gruach
I feel her body go hard beneath my hand,
And danger crouching there: if she does nothing,
She makes me feel outside her.
I would not wed her if she had no land:
The inconvenient wisdom of my mother
Is not to be avoided; land is land.
The knightly stranger shall not imperil it.
He has gone. It is early. I'll get to bed again,
And sleep till I am called.
He turns to ascend the stair.

CURTAIN.






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