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   Chapter 21 THE OLD FAR WEST AND THE NEW

The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 12289

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Presently Marjory jumped up and said:

"Now you must get your wheel and come over to Crom. I am burning to show it to you!" We crossed the little isthmus and climbed the rocks above the Reivie o' Pircappies. As we topped the steep path I almost fell back with the start I gave.

There sat Gormala MacNiel, fixed and immovable as though she were of stone. She looked so unconcerned that I began to suspect her. At first she seemed not to notice us; but I could see that she was looking at us under her eyelashes. I was anxious to find out how long she had been there, so I said, mentioning her name in order that Marjory might know who she was:

"Why, Gormala, what has become of you? I thought you were off again to the Islands. We haven't seen you for a long time." She replied in her usual uncompromising way:

"I hae nae doot that ye thocht me far, gin ye did na see me. Aye! Aye! the time has been lang; but I could wait: I could wait!"

"What were you waiting for?" Marjory's voice seemed almost as that of a being from another world. It was so fresh, so true, so independent that it seemed at variance with Gormala and her whole existence. As a man beside two women, I felt more as a spectator than as a participant, and my first general impression was that the New World was speaking to the Old. Gormala seemed to me absolutely flabbergasted. She stared, and looked in a dazed way, at the girl, standing up as she did so with the instinctive habit, ingrained through centuries of custom, of an inferior to a superior. Then she moved her hand across her forehead, as though to clear her brain, before she replied:

"What was I waitin' for? I'll tell ye, an ye will. I was waitin' for the fulfillment o' the Doom. The Voices hae spoken; and what they hae said, will be. There be them that would stand in the way o' Fate, and would try to hinder the comin' that must be. But they will fail; they will fail! They can no more block the river o' time wi' ony deeds o' mon, than they can dam the spate wi' a bairn's playtoy." Again came Marjory's searching question, with all the mystery-dispelling freshness of her unfettered youth; and indeed it seemed as if the Old-world mystery could not hold its dignity in the face of overt, direct questioning:

"By the way, what was it that the Doom said? Was it anything that an American girl can understand?" Gormala gazed at her in manifest wonder. To her, reared in the atmosphere of the Old Far West, this product of the New Far West seemed like a being of another world. Had Marjory been less sweet in her manner than she was, or less fair to look upon, less dignified, or less grave, the old woman would probably have shown hostility at once. But it seemed to me impossible that even a witch-woman could be hostile to Marjory to-day. She looked so sweet, and kind and happy; so bright and joyous; so much like the incarnation of ideal girlhood, that criticism was disarmed, and hostility could not force a way into the charmed circle of that radiant presence. To me, her attitude towards Gormala was incomprehensible. She knew Gormala, for I had told her of who and what the Seer was, and of the prophecies and warnings that she had already uttered; and yet from her manner she appeared ignorant of all concerning both her and them. She was not conciliatory after the manner of the young who wish to please the old, or to ingratiate themselves with them. She was not hostile, as would be one who had determined on opposition. About her or her manner there was nothing hard, or frivolous or contradictory. And yet it was apparent to me that she had some fixed, determined purpose of her own; and it became before long apparent to me also, that the other woman knew, or at any rate suspected, such an existence, though she could neither comprehend nor locate it. Gormala seemed once, twice, as though she were about to speak, but hesitated; at last with an effort she spoke out:

"The Voice o' the Doom no sounds in words such as mortals can hear. It is spoken in sounds that are heard of the inner ear. What matter the words, when the ear that hearkens can understan'!"

"But," said Marjory, "could I not be told the words, or if there were no actual words, could you not give me in your own words what the sounds uttered seemed to you to mean?" To anyone but a Seer such a request would seem reasonable enough; but visionaries who have a receptive power of their own, and who learn by means whose methods are unconscious to them, can hardly undertake to translate the dim, wide-stretching purpose of the powers of the Unknown into bald, narrow, human speech. Gormala's brows wrinkled up in thought; then a scowl of disappointment swept over her face. In an angry tone she turned to me and said:

"Wha be yon lassie that questions so blithely the truth o' the Voice that is kent by ye an' me? Why dinna ye tak her awa' before she mocks me, an' in me the Doom; an' I speak oot to her?" Marjory spoke up for herself.

"Please do not think it a liberty to ask you; but I should like so much to know exactly what was said. It is so easy for people to confuse ideas when words are loosely used. Don't you find it so?" I do not think Gormala MacNiel had any humour at all; if she had, I had certainly never seen any trace of it. Had it been there it would have surely saved her from anger; for there was something delicious in the way in which Marjory put her question, as though to one of her own kind and holding the same views as herself on general matters. Gormala did not like it. Though there was a blank in her mind as to the existence of humour, she must have felt conscious of the blank. She could not understand the other woman; and for a little while sought refuge in a silence composed of about equal parts of sulk and dignity. But Marjory was not content with silence; she pressed home her question in the most polite but most matter of fact way, till I could see the Witch-woman mentally writhe. I should have interfered, for I did not want any unpleasant scene in which Marjory must have a part; but I felt that the girl had some purposeful meaning in her persisten

ce. Had Gormala had a pause in the attack she would, I felt, have gone away and bided her time: but in such a pushing of the matter as Marjory braced herself to, there could be no withdrawal, unless under defeat. Gormala looked round now and again, as one, man or animal, does when hunted; but each time she restrained herself by an effort. At last her temper began to rise; her face flushed, and the veins, of passion stood out on her forehead. Her eyes flashed, and white marks began to come and go about the face, especially round the nose. I could see from the leap of fire in Marjory's eyes that this was what she was waiting for. She lowered her voice, and the tone of her speaking, till both matter and manner were icily chill; but all the time she persisted in her matter-of-fact questioning.

At last Gormala's temper broke, and she turned on the girl in such a fury that for a few seconds I thought she was going to attack her physically. I stood ready to hold her off if necessary. At the first moment the passion in her was so great that she spoke in Gaelic; blind, white-hot fury will not allow a choice of tongues. The savage in her was speaking, and it spoke in the tongue it knew best. Of course neither of us could understand it, and we only stood smiling. Marjory smiled deliberately as though to exasperate her; I smiled because Marjory was smiling. Presently, through the tumult of her passion, Gormala began to realise that we did not understand her; and, with an effort which shook her, began to speak in English. With the English which she had, came intention and the restraint which it implies. Her phrases were not common curses, but rather a picturesque half prophecy with a basis of hate. The gravamen of her charge was that Marjory had scoffed against the Doom and Fate and the Voices. To me, who had suffered the knowledge to which she appealed, the attack was painful. What was charged was a sort of natural sacrilege; and it wounded me and angered me to see Marjory made the subject of any attack. I was about to interfere, when with a gesture, which the Witch-woman did not see, she warned me to silence. She struck into the furious woman's harangue with quiet, incisive, cultured voice which made the other pause:

"Indeed you do me a wrong; I scoffed at nothing. I should not scoff at your religion any more than I should at my own. I only asked you a few questions as to facts which seemed to touch a friend of mine." The point of this speech which, strange to say, affected the woman most was regarding her religion:

"Wha be ye, ye hizzie, that wad daur to misca' me that is a Christian woman all my days. What be your releegion, that ye try to shame me wi' mine." Marjory said deliberately, but with all the outward appearance of courtesy:

"But I did not know that in the scheme of the Christian belief there were such things as the Doom and the Voice and Fate!" The old woman towered up; for a moment she was all Seer and Prophet. Her words thrilled through me; and I could see through Marjory also. Though she held herself proudly, her lips grew pale:

"Then learn while ye may that there be lesser powers as well as greater in the scheme o' God's warld, and o' His working o' the wonders therein. Ye may scoff at me wha' am after all but an aud wife; though one to whom are Visions given, and in whose ears the Voice has spoken. Ye may pride yersel' that yer ignorance is mair than the knowledge o' ithers. Ye may doot the truths that hae been garnered oot o' centuries o' dour experience, an' tak' the cloak o' yer ignorance as an answer to a' the mysteries that be. But mark me weel! the day will come-it is no far aff the noo-when ye will wring yer honds, and pray wi' all the power an' bitter grief o' yer soul for some licht to guide ye that ye no hae had yet!" She paused and stood in a sort of trance, stiffening all over like a pointer at mark. Then she raised one hand high over her head, so that the long arm seemed to extend her gaunt form to an indefinite length. With a far-away solemn voice she spoke:

"I see ye too, though no by yer lanes, in the wild tide-race amang the rocks in the dark nicht, mid leaping waves. An' lo! o'er the waste o' foam is a floatin' shrood!" Then she stopped, and in a few seconds came back to herself. In the meantime Marjory, whose lips had grown white as death, though she never lost her proud bearing, groped blindly for my hand and held it hard. She never for a moment took her eyes off the other.

When Gormala was quite her own woman again, she turned without a word and walked away in her gaunt, stately manner, feeling I am sure, as we did, that she did not go without the honours of war. Marjory continued to watch her until she had passed up the track, and had disappeared behind the curve of the hill.

Then, all at once, she seemed to collapse in a faint; and had I not held her hand, and so was able to draw her into my arms, she must have fallen to the ground.

In a wonderfully short time she recovered her senses, and then with a great effort stood up; though she still had to steady herself by my hand. When she was all right again she said to me:

"I suppose you wonder why I attacked her like that. Oh! yes, I did attack her; I meant to," for she saw the question in my eyes. "It was because she was so hostile to you. What right had she to force you to do anything? She is harmful to you, Archie. I know it! I know it! I know it! and I determined not to let her have her way. And besides,"-this with a shy loving look at me, "as she is hostile to you she must be to me also. I want to be with you, even in the range of the hate and the love of others. That is to be one; and as we are to fight together I must share your lot in all!" I took her in my arms, and for some divine moments, our hearts beat together.

In those moments my mind was made up as to the wishes of Adams. How could I refuse in any way to fight the battle, as she might wish it fought, of a girl who so loyally shared my lot!

Then we arranged that I should go home for my bicycle, and meet Marjory at the bridge by the Parish Church.

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