The Belfast Man
[From Duffy's Fireside Magazine, Vol. 3, No. XXVI, December 1852]
Rathlin - the Ricnia of Pliny, the Ricina of Ptolemy, the Riduna of Antoninus, and Raclinda of Buchanon - is a small island, which lies off the northern coast of Antrim, in north latitude 55° 15'; its extreme length, from east to west, is 51/2 English miles, and its greatest breadth, 11/4.
To use the words of Doctor J. D. Marshall, of Belfast, in his valuable statistics of Rathlin - "The form of the island has been compared, like that of Italy, to a boot;" or as Sir William Petty tells us, "It resembles an Irish stockin', the toe of which pointeth to the main land."
From the toe to the heel of this Island-boot, or stocking - that is, from Rue Point, the most southerly, to Altacarry, at the north-east extremity, the distance is about 41/4 miles; and on the main land, immediately opposite the toe alluded to, from which it is distant 3 miles, stands a magnificent range of basaltic pillars, 283 feet high, which, resting on a base of 548, gives the promontory an altitude of 831 feet above the level of the sea. This glorious pile of nature's own masonry, now Fairhead, was once Benmore, the Robogdium of Ptolemy.
In the neck of our island boot - to use the simile still further - is the usual landing place, which is called Church Bay, and distant 71/2 miles from Ballycastle, a pretty little villagery on the opposite coast.
With the exception of Church Bay, and one or two little harbours of less note in this eastern end of the island, Rathlin rises abruptly from the ocean; presenting its jaggy and perpendicular walls of chalk and basalt, to as wild a waste of waters as ever it was the lot of luckless mariner to traverse. In altitude these walls vary from 447 to 180 feet above the level of the sea; and from the awful voice of the ever ceaseless surges at their base, and the bewildering sublimity of the whole, the visitor who ventures within many feet of the edge possess, we presume, a nerve partaking much less of flesh than of iron.
On the grassy crown of a bold and precipitous rock, at the extreme north-eastern edge of the island, and piercing through the dim distance on the blue hills of Scotia, are perched, like a brown fragment of cloud, the crumbling ruins of an ancient castle. Touching the era of this castle's erection, history is silent; and even the dim lamp of tradition, when suspended in the walls, either vacillates considerably, or becomes totally extinguished. To Robert Bruce, of Scotland, when Baliol sat upon the royal thistles of that kingdom, and the former was compelled to seek a temporary shelter in the isle of Ricina, has the building of the castle frequently been ascribed; and by the name of "Bruce's Castle" it is still known amongst the natives. Antiquarian research, however, has completely trodden down the supposition of its having been erected by Bruce; and, though there is much difference of opinion on the matter, it is generally admitted to have occupied its present position for, at least, six or seven hundred years, and, in the well-supported belief of many, a period considerably longer.
It was in the spring of 18, that, seated on a broad green mound in the vicinity of "Bruce's Castle," we feasted, in spirit, on the sublimity of the surrounding scenery. Our companions were two lovely islanders - sisters - and their father, an old man, a native of the Scottish Highlands, but who, in the capacity of schoolmaster, had long been a dweller in Rathlin. Turning our eyes in the direction of Fairhead, we ventured to remark, that worthy as it was of its name, we could not avoid believing that "Benmore" - the Great Head - the name by which it had been known in past ages, was still more applicable.
"Aye," said the old man, musingly, "but if all yon sun looks down upon were to be known, only by that name which circumstances call for, as the more applicable, what an eternal revolution amongst our human worms and vultures, amongst the great names and titles of the earth, might we not continually hear of and be witnessing. Speaking, though, of Benmore," he added, "it is likely you never heard the reason assigned by tradition for its change of name; and if you desire it, a short and pleasant task will the relating of it be to Mauriad."
He spoke of his youngest daughter, one of those who accompanied us.
Eagerly did we snatch at the old man's offer; and Mauriad, a tall, dark-haired girl, of about nineteen winters' pilgrimage, readily, though, as it were, steeped in blushes, consented to become our senachie.
Mauriad, who, by her sister islanders, had long been associated with the holy name of genius - a true poetess, it was said, and not, we opine, without some reason, commenced her story calmly, and with all the seeming solidity of an old historian. But this manner, it soon became evident, was not her own, for presently she seemed as if not to remember that she sat in the presence of a stranger, while the wild and sportive fire of a true poetic, nature glowed through her every sentence. As well as memory may permit, shall we imitate her manner. Reader, we shall do our best, and should we please not, pardon us the attempt, for in more than her manner of speech was Mauriad worthy of being imitated.
Shortly after the year 973, when the Danes committed their second ravage on the monastery established in Rathlin, by St. Columba, at which period the abbot of the island was put to death, and when those freebooters were being determined on making of Rathlin, not only a kind of stationary store-ship, but a receptacle for their plunder, their raven banner was struck from the Rocks of Raclinda, by the superior prowess of Dudley M'Phie.
M'Phie was the son of a haughty and splenetic chief, who ruled with an iron hand on one of the neighbouring isles. Dudley was, moreover, a younger son, and having selected to himself a bride from the principal family of a rival clan, he had thereby incurred the wrath, not only of his lady's sire, but of his own, by whom he was sentenced to eternal banishment. Dudley, however, by his youth, beauty, and gallant bearing, had so won upon the sympathies and affections of all with whom he had come in contact, that ere the second evening of his being houseless and homeless, he and his bride found themselves by the edge of the blue water, and that of the isle they must tread no longer, surrounded by one hundred stout curraghs, and a formidable contribution of young and choice spirits from almost every sept on the islands. These having sworn fealty to Dudley M'Phie, whom they had unanimously appointed their chief, avowed their determination to live by the strong arm, and to wring, thenceforward, from the bloody grasp of the piratical Dane, a princely sustenance for their chieftain and his lady.
Against the common enemy did Dudley soon signalise himself; he was a valorous youth, and in many a bloody skirmish did the dark raven of the north enrich his victorious curraghs. But he grew weary of a wandering life, and of an ocean home, and his heart yearned after a fitting habitation for his young bride; and, after a more lengthened and undisturbed repose, with her who was withering between the sea and sky, when with her lord, or, on some unfrequented coast, like a stranded sea-flower in his absence - were the prows of Dudley pointed to Raclinda. It was morning when they set forth; a rosy and slender curve upon a Scottish hill was the sun when they departed upon their perilous journey; the battle was short as it was desperate, for before the blue diadem of Knocklayde1 had been gemmed by that sun in passing, the Dane was a crippled fugitive, and M'Phie was lord of Raclinda - of this our - our own beloved Rathlin.
It was a stout and stately castle that sprang up, sudden, as if by magic - sudden, as that of Alladin, on the eastern end of Rathlin, under the superintendence of its new chieftain; and a fair lady, and a fairer infant girt, and a devoted husband and fond father, were its occupants when erected.
Years passed over Dudley M'Phie; his limbs grew stiff, his hair grey, and his daughter became a woman - a young woman, and a miracle of beauty.
Mina M'Phie was tall and slender as a young poplar; she was light and fleet of foot as the wind that flew over her rocky home; her neck and bosom were white as the surges she loved to gaze on; her ringlets like the golden edge of the rainbow; her eyes were blue as heaven, and her lips and cheeks seemed as if touched by the finger that stains the roses: Mina was, indeed, a miracle of beauty.
Far and near over the isles travelled the fame of M'Phie's daughter; and the walls, days, and nights, of Rathlin Castle grew more and more vocal with suitors and festivity. Many a haughty knee and forehead were bent and bared before "The Swan of the Rock," which became an appendance to the name of Mina, and a battle-cry among rival chieftains. She was called, moreover, the Bride of the Water, from the strange prophecy of a weird woman, who said that she was betrothed from her cradle to the Spirit of the Surges; and, that he and the sun, having mutually agreed to make her beautiful - the first, by his snowy whiteness, and the last, by his essence abiding in her eyes and ringlets, the twain should contend with each other, even when her death should be accomplished, for the last kiss of her lips, and for the last sight of her loveliness. This strange prophesy added, that in the absence of the Sun, the Surge should be victorious, inasmuch as her last sigh should be uttered on his bosom; but when the next golden arrow of morning should have pierced the white waters, the victor should be vanquished, and his restoration of the maiden to the young prince of light, should render her name immortal as the pillars of heaven.
Though often and earnestly sought was the hand of Mina, she was chary of her smiles; she had discovered that he on whom, in this hour, fell the light of her eyes, in even ordinary kindness, was obliged, in the next, to atone for his good fortune, by proving whether the axe and the arm of his neighbour or those of himself were the better.
After this manner was the prowess of many a chieftain tested and withered. But there was one arm, and one axe, whose trials of power became few and fewer, till there was none found to oppose them; they ever conquered; they were those of Con-a-goll O'Cahan. O'Cahan was the chief of his name, and the Lord of Dungiven; the main land, therefore, was his home and birth-place, that is to say his home, when not at Rathlin Castle, where, at least by one, he was ever a welcome visitor. Con-a-goll was the flower of manly beauty and of Irish chivalry; the tallest kerne, or gallowglass, who wielded weapon at his command, was little else than a withered wand within the angry grasp of his chieftain. His arrow and skean were the longest on or off the isles, and his axe the heaviest. His coolun, or locks, floated from his shoulders in an inky cloud; his foot was firm, and his step was graceful; his eye blazed in the light of a hero's pride, and in that of intellect and feeling. Little wonder was it that the soul of Mina M'Phee became devoted to Con-a-goll O'Cahan. But, in Mahon M'Kaye, a chieftain of Cantyre, and a kinsman to the mother of Mina, the O'Cahan had a rival to be dreaded. Mahon was unpleasant to look on, and had a heart and soul that were full of darkness: nevertheless, he was a favourite at Rathlin Castle, for the parents of Mina adhered to their kinsfolk, and taught their daughter, that the blood in their veins, and in hers, should never be mingled with that of a stranger. Little for such teaching! Mina could not be induced to look with delight or satisfaction in the eyes, or on the person of M'Kaye, but well she loved to gaze upon the feet of Gillie Dubh, his henchman; for, save her own, there was no other in all the isles that could deliver to the ear, as they wrung from the sward, such a fleet and faithful echo of the minstrel's lightning numbers; none, but the lady herself, dared to dance with the henchman of Mahon. But, though she often deigned a figure on the grass with the follower of her mother's kinsman, the whiteness of her love for Con-a-goll was never crossed by a shadow from the touch of a human finger.
About this time there were daily and nightly wailings and heart-burnings in the isle of Rathlin: A fearful monster had arisen from a cave in the ocean, and made its dwelling amongst the rocks, and amongst the people. It was tall as is an ox, - powerful as a tempest - insatiate as the billows, and sheathed in a natural armour, that neither arrow nor axe could enter. Daily, sometimes hourly, it demanded a human victim; and days passed, and on it went, increasing in ravening and in strength, till many a giant-hearted warrior had fallen or flown before it; and Mahon M'Kaye, the latter. Con-a-goll O'Cahan for many days had not been at Rathlin, he had been summoned to the chase by his kinsman of Dunseveric,2 but hearing of the affliction that had arisen amongst the people of his beloved, he consulted an aged and cunning man, the husband of his nurse, and repaired to battle with the monster. Much did Mina weep, and much did she endeavour to prevent the idol of her heart putting his life in jeopardy; her kindred, she said, would leave the island; she herself would induce them; induce them! yea, and to wander wherever the wild winds of heaven might carry them, rather than one hair of her beloved should lose its lustre. The O'Cahan smiled his non-agreement; he kissed the hand and cheek of the lady, whispered comfort in her ear, and departed to prepare for a meeting with the hideous destroyer.
It was yet morning when the monster, having newly issued from his cavern, was proceeding along the island, bellowing in rage and hunger, and entering even the habitations of the people, many of which were deserted, seeking for a victim.
The O'Cahan donned a curious armour; it was made from the tough skins of oxen, and thickly covered with spikes of steel, strong, sharp, and bristling. He carried no weapon but his skean and thus, with his buckler, which was also spiked upon his arm, and followed by many a weeping eye especially by those of Mina, he threw himself on the earth in the path of the devourer. With the wild fire of savage joy burning fiercely in its eyes the gigantic animal bestrided the prostrate hero and, seizing in its mouth both shield and bosom it essayed to bring its yawning jaws together; but the pointed steel entering the fleshy parts of the mouth, this remained unclosed, and emitting a fearful howl, with a mass of blood and foam, the extended jaws wandered wildly in every direction. Bye and bye there came a bellow that shook the island, till the rocks almost rattled against each other; and then there was a convulsive bound of the animal and then there was a sudden and heavy shock upon the earth; and then there was a slighter one: the first was the wounding - the second the prostration of the monster, and the last was the springing to his feet of the O'Cahan. His good skean was red and dripping, and, while yet so, he seized in one hand a fore paw of the writhing animal, and forcing the limb apart, discovered beneath the shoulder, and on the inner side, the only point of entrance to its seat of life; a gaping wound was there, by which the steel of the hero once more forcing a passage to the heart, the next moment the Rathlin monster was lifeless. Loud and warm was the greeting received by O'Cahan from the grateful islanders. M'Phie called him the deliverer of his people, and Mina, in her excess of joy, swooned upon his bosom.
"Take her, O'Cahan," said the venerable chief, I know she loves you, and I know she loves not him whom I would have had her love; why should the father of Mina seek to make Mina miserable? And what is the blood of kindred, without kindred affection? Truly, virtue and heroism are the more honourable relatives; let us look for them hence-forth, in the offspring of the M'Phie and the O'Cahan."
On that night there were happy bosoms in Rathlin Castle. Mina agreed to surrender her hand, within one month, to the eternal keeping of him for whom the maiden herself, with a miser's care, so long had kept it.
"Yes, my Con-a-goll," exclaimed the virgin, in the joyous enthusiasm of a young and unsophisticated heart, "my soul hath become a song of happiness, my eyes are feasted with pleasant visions; and yet, on the clear blue sky of my imagination, I know not how or why, there arises a speck - a small, but a dark, dark speck. Ah! if heaven in its mercy would remove it;" and the eyes of the maiden, passing from the rich love-light in those of her bethrothed, fell upon a curled lip and on a scowling brow; they were worn by a kinsman of M'Kaye, who looked his fiercest, and retired. Mina shuddered; the O'Cahan started.
"Core of my heart," he whispered, "pardon my inattention, I have been dreaming; and yet, my own pure light of the world, not dreaming was I, but travelling through a rich reality, cushioning with love every golden step in the rainbow path of my Mina's future. Oh! even below there's a heaven of happiness, and this day hath the key thereof been placed in O'Cahan's bosom. What saith my ocean flower, my white Swan of the Rock, surely my Mina meaneth not to be sorrowful."
"Not sorrowful, my Con-a-goll, but thoughtful; my heart tells me of a dark idea in the soul of Mahon M'Kaye, if his hand dared to fashion therefrom an action. But I would be in the evening air, could not the O'Cahan be pleased with the moon, while his Mina looks upon the surges?"
The hero arose: "Yes, love, we shall look upon the moon; but M'Kaye," he whispered, with a haughty smile, as turning aside the corner of his mantle, displaying his girdle, and pointing to the steel that it supported, he added, "there hangs his master. More to M'Kaye, in his troubled visions, than the vengeance of heaven, is the arm of an angry O'Cahan, why then should the bride of the water be thoughtful?"
"Yes," after a considerable pause, whispered the maiden to her heart, "not baseless were the fears of Mina." She had been hanging, like a slender and snowy cloud, for the last few moments, over a beetling cliff at the southern wing of the castle; and her eyes, having been wandering, had fallen upon the waters, where a broad and continuous stream of moonlight, turning the troubled mass into living silver, discovered thereon a dark and departing speck, of which full well she knew the meaning. It was the curragh of a M'Kaye, and it pointed towards Cantyre.
Joy cannot sleep more than sorrow, when its seat is in the soul; that night, though one of extatic thought to the O'Cahan, was not to him a night of rest; neither did the first ray of morning find him at Rathlin Castle, but it met him on the blue waters hastening to Dungiven - hastening to share amongst his people his new-born happiness.
Three days had the monster, slain by Con-a-goll, withered on the rocks of Rathlin; - for the M'Phie had said, "let my people look upon it, that their children may hear, and that in after generations they may learn to bless the deliverer of their parents." Three days had it lain thus, but the fourth came, and it was missing. Three days more came and passed; and the fourth evening brought a strange apparition upon the waters. The islanders said it was the spirit of the slain monster; such, too, it seemed; for in all its former hideousness did the animal glide, like a shadow, upon the waves, beneath the cliffs, and around the island. Many times did it appear - never in the light of day, but in that of the moon; and though to no living thing it offered violence, the heart of Rathlin was breaking by its presence.
The moon over Benmore was wading through a desert of black; and yet it was a soothing evening, when Mina and her maidens were seated on a rock gazing with wild eyes and heaving bosoms on the beastly spectre.
"Before heaven I am a sinner," said Mina, "and yet, methinks, my soul is not so dark as yonder gliding mystery; why then should I fear it? I will to the little bay, and question the horrid spirit why thus it troubles us."
She went, and the spectre drew near her; they talked, and a loud shriek was heard; the apparition gliding eastwards over the water, became invisible. Mina returned not; and when they sought her, she could not be found.
That night sat the M'Phie upon a naked rock, his soul divided between heaven and despair, and his long grey locks twisted and torn by the wild blast that ever lives on Rathlin. Around him sat his people, and at his right hand the mother of Mina. She looked upon the waters; her lips were white, and her eyes were fiery. She wept not, but sang - fearfully sang the soft wild song that Reason sometimes sings when expiring; and, when that song ceased, she, at intervals, looked upon the moon, and said, in a low, sighing voice - "God made the moon, and God made Mina - the moon of the sky and the moon of the rock, but the last He made the fairest."
That night were six curraghs of the O'Cahan dancing westward from one of the Scottish isles, whither the chieftain had been on a friendly visit with an ally. Con-a-goll sat in the prow of the foremost boat, chanting a song of the chase, and peering wistfully over the moonlit waters for the tall turrets of Rathlin. He started - something met his eye that filled his heart with a momentary horror: it was the hideous spectre that had troubled the people of Mina. Steadily and straightforward did the monster skim the waves, till, having approached within half a bow-shot of the curraghs, it wheeled to the right, and seemed as if bent on endeavouring to avoid the meeting, for which it had previously appeared desirous.
"Mortal or demon," cried the O'Cahan, dropping on his knee, and fixing an arrow in a bow, the sound of whose string was ever little less than a death-knell, "Mortal or demon, I command thee to return. The skean of Con-a-goll, known to thee already, was neither keener nor more sure than is his arrow; hitherward, and say the reason of life's return to that horrid shape, and of this thy midnight wandering."
There was no answer to the chieftain. The next instant his strong arrow, smiting the dusky side of the bristled spectre, dropped in fragments to the water.
"Onward! onward with the axe," shouted the hero of Dungiven; and, on the word, the six leathern sea-boats were sweeping abreast, while the battle-cry of the O'Cahans, ringing mid-heaven, and a dark quivering furrow, marked on either side by a line of snowy foam, in the wake of every vessel, told to the delighted ear and eye of the chieftain, that amongst his followers neither soul nor muscle was wanting.
"Heaven in behalf of the less evil!" burst from the lips of Con-a-goll, as his broad axe bounded from the head of the monster, the polished steel all bloodless and unstained, save by the moonbeams. But a female shriek arose upon the hero's ear, as if from within that strange figure, which, beneath the blow, rocked and curvetted like a stricken sea-bird; - and that shriek - "oh, for the might of ten in every sinew!" and it was almost as O'Cahan desired: scarcely had the breath in which that cry was uttered grown cold between the elements, till the Swan of the Rock was hanging on the bosom of her betrothed, - till that monster lay a shapeless mass, - a few shivered wands which had late been semicircular and the harmless skin of the previously slaughtered animal. These lay upon a curragh, within which two men knelt for mercy; one was Gilb Dhu, henchman of the M'Kaye, and the other that chieftain's gilliemore.3
"Mercy!" said the O'Cahan, while a cutting smile wrestled proudly with the curl upon his lip; "yes, miserable curs, that bark or bite only as ye are bidden, you shall have mercy; get you to your dog's lair, and tell that slave your master - him in whose craven heart such treachery as this could root and blossom - tell him that the O'Cahan's good steel, though never so thirsty, loathes a baser stream than that in his own bosom."
Then did the spectre-curragh, divested of its beastly mask, which had become the conqueror's trophy, turn towards Cantyre; while those of the O'Cahan, dancing lightly to the song of the green waters, pointed towards the rocks of Rathlin.
Wrapped in the mantle of her betrothed, Mina slumbered sweetly on the bosom of her spirit's chosen, till the stars had disappeared, the moon become a sickly shade, and the dark locks of night were thickly sprinkled with the gray of morning; Rathlin was in view; the M'Phie still sat upon the rocks, and the wail of his people travelled, like a troubled spirit, towards the east, where the maidens of Mina beheld the spectre vanish.
Fain would the M'Phie have gone in pursuit of his Mina; but whither was he to go? The pathways of the air were not to be trodden by feet of flesh, and over these, it was said, his darling had been taken. Terror was a god - a creator in the imaginative world of that night in Rathlin.
But Mina! Ha! Mina is amongst her people. She has pressed the bosom of her father, and she has kissed the forehead of her mother; the first heaves as it heaved beneath the first embrace of her infancy, and the last is cooled, calmed, and comforted.
Three days more of the most unmingled happiness visited Rathlin Castle, and the heart of the O'Cahan; but, on the evening of the third day, the soul of Mina became unaccountably sorrowful. She sat upon the rocks with her beloved, and looked, as was her wont, upon the surges. Her eyes became fixed and filled with a strange light; her countenance radiant as a harvest moon, but, in expression, thoughtful and woe-stricken. Her lips moved, but they uttered no sound, and her whole being seemed to be absorbed in the contemplation of some fearful mystery.
"Pearl of my soul!" whispered Con-a-goll, taking her by the hand, "what trouble is this that seemeth to be upon thee?"
She spoke not for many minutes, but frequently groaned from the depths of her spirit; she at length heaved a deep sigh, and appeared as if waking from a terrible vision. "Fashitaraugh,"4 she exclaimed, "has been upon me, but its figures are ever dark to the mind of Mina; and yet I know that Time is on the eve of giving birth to a strange event. Why is the blue sky veiled by your broad wings, ye clamorous birds of flesh? Why do the raven and the eagle make hideous the fairest spots of Rathlin? The rocks are red, and the clash of angry weapons shakes my spirit in its tenement. Anon, we have merry music, light laughs and lighter feet; anon, the warrior Surge arises with a bloody helmet, sighs, and recedes. And now there's a young white Spirit clasped to the broad bosom of the dark shadow that sleeps at the feet of Benmore? God only knoweth. But oh! if heaven, in its anger, visit us, pray that it may be merciful!"
The O'Cahan became troubled; caught his beloved to his bosom; and, sitting in silence, drew fearful pictures on the tablets of Fancy; gazed upon them with such interest and such agony, that he knew not he had wept, till the snowy hand of Mina, glowing with a fallen tear, was raised to the weeper, half reproachfully. Mina presently became calm, happy, cheerful. She clambered the crag on the arm of her beloved; she sang to him many a wild, sweet, and hope-creating melody; or plucked from the green brow of some rarely-trodden cliff, the slender sea-pink for her lover's girdle. That night they were both happy.
It was morn at Rathlin: the M'Phie stood upon a grey crag southward of the castle; he had been summoned by the warder, and around him were skeans, arrows, and axes; and the kernes, who were light of foot, and the gallow-glasses, heavy of arms and armour. Beneath him were the waters, glancing and quivering under the yellow shafts of the East, and upon them were thickly sprinkled the lengthy curraghs of Cantyre.
"Ho! kinsman," said the white-haired father of Mina, "what means this goodly company? Hast thou come to soothe us in our grief, or, with a heart heaving in the holy vengeance of a hero, to seek the pirate Spirit that spoliated us of our child? Truly, such a coming were worthy of our lady's kinsman; and warm be the welcome of M'Kaye."
"Proud chieftain of the cormorant and the sea-mew," returned the dark-browed Mahon, "dost thou first deceive thy master and then mock him? Hath the M'Phie grown blind? or hath his reason flown in pursuit of the tint that left his locks when his spear became harmless? Doth he not behold in every curragh the red brow of wounded Pride, and the fiery eye of an indignant Spirit? Ha, ha! hoary deceiver; believest thou that the mushroom heads of thy base kernes are better tempered than the axes of Cantyre? Believe it, then, and perish; for this day, by love or by slaughter, shall the Swan of the Rock be the bride of the M'Kaye."
" Welcome! welcome! princely art thou in person, as in spirit and in speech - truly welcome art thou; for, by my harmless spear and my tint-pursuing Reason, the M'Kaye speaketh like a hero and a kinsman. But," continued the M'Phie, "come, thou all-powerful commander - yea, constructor of disembodied spirits, - thou, who hast discovered that it is easier to appropriate the skin of a dead monster than that of a living one, - come, continue the miracle and the discovery; and if this spear be not harmless, as thou hast said, thou and the remains of thy brother monster, this night, in one grave shall sleep, beneath a short epitaph, 'They differed but in form and power.'"
There is a piercing cry at the inner gate of Rathlin Castle, where a white-lipped lady clings to the bosom of a tall warrior: these are Mina and the O'Cahan. She had blessed his axe, girded on his blade and quiver; but her Spirit groaned, and her lips became white at the meeting of their lips; he pressed her hand; she felt that it was the signal of separation; the Spirit of the moment whispered "Perhaps it is for ever;" and the touch of her chosen's finger slew the pulses in her arm. The eyes of Mina became closed; her white brow, heavy; and her broad ringlets, having parted with her starry snood, were scattered like evening light over the warrior's buckler. Again he kissed the lips that moved not; and, when Mina awoke, she was with her mother and with her maidens, but the O'Cahan had vanished.
That was a fearful day in Rathlin; and far from being harmless was the spear of its grey-haired lord: a wounded spirit recalled the force and fire of its youth; from the curved columns of Doon to the beetling brow of Altacarry, swept that steel, fleetly and red as the midnight lightning, a wrathful liberator of many spirits. But who shall describe the mien and miracles of the O'Cahan? Like a towering pine, he stood upon a knoll, apart, till ten long arrows, winging from his bow, sought each a living quiver, and left it lifeless. Then, where the thickening and contending mass was crossed, tossed, and locked together, like the brown wealth of an autumn field when trodden by the whirlwind, came, with the deadly axe, the deadly reaper, hewing and strewing around the living, dead, and dying, till every rock.in Urket reeked and rung with the gore of a fallen foe, and the groans of others falling.
It is evening: the curraghs of Cantyre still float in the bay of Rathlin; but the silence of death is upon them. Where are their warriors? Where are the lusty limbs, the brawny muscles that urged them on their foamy path, when the light of yon setting sun was stealing upon the waters? Where are the lips that then pealed forth the fiery chant of a fierce and joyous spirit? Ask the cold and gory rocks of Rathlin - there do they lie.
The sun has gone down on a silent group at the outer gates of the castle, and on the green bosom of Altacarry. There sits the M'Phie, weary, but unwounded. There rests a dying chieftain on the bosom of his unscathed henchman; - :these are the M'Kaye and Gille Dubh. There, also, sits the O'Cahan; and by him, the Bride of the Water, so soon to be his own; and with them the mother of Mina.
There was sorrow in every eye: the eagle was at his flesh, and the chieftain had prayed to die in peace; - he had been conquered, and his prayer was not denied him. The kneeling O'Cahan was wiping the dew of death from the forehead of the warrior, when thus whispered the M'Kaye: -
"Oh! for the minstrel and a merry air. Why should it be said that the M'Kaye died like a maiden!"
Forth came the minstrel, and, when he played, the dying chieftain arose upon his arm, and said: - "Now, my henchman, good and true, here, upon this sward shalt thou play me three springs of thy lightning feet, such as I used to love; and who knoweth but the Swan of the Rock may pleasure the heart of a dying kinsman by suffering his eyes to close - to close this last upon her fair form floating, as it was wont to float, before him?"
It was the request of a passing spirit; and it was granted.
Lightly and truthfully did the feet of the dancers whisper to the sward the minstrel's rushing numbers; lightly and fearlessly did their aeriel limbs bound and quiver on the almost outer edge of the terrible precipice. Again - again, and yet again they approach it. And now are the half-glazed eyes of the dying man fixed horribly upon those of his henchman.
"It is enough," groaned the lord of Cantyre; and then his follower waved his hand like a friend at parting.
The dancers are on the cliff - its highest crown; the henchman's arm encircles the lady's waist: - "Vengeance for the M'Kaye!" struggles from the chieftain's lips; - "Vengeance for Cantyre," from those of the henchman; when a wrestle, a bound, and a piercing shriek - and the dancers - where are they?
Oh! then was there a wild wail in Rathlin - but what were wails? They rush to the fearful crag; the father, the mother, and the lover of Mina. The jagged rocks are gory, and the tall white surge soareth up and frowneth in the face of each, from beneath a bloody helmet. The father, the mother, and the lover of Mina see these, but nothing more; nothing more of Mina - of the destroyed, or the destroyer.
Again are the rich rubies of morning sparkling amongst the white locks of the Rathlin surges; and now, Benmore looks down upon a sorrowing multitude. In the midst of the mourners is a fair figure, a gift from the retiring waters. It is the body of Mina. Her beauteous ringlets are still dripping, and her head is reclined upon a stone, - a grey pentagonal fragment of the mighty mass above it. The mourners say "It is a Fair Head," little thinking that the saying is immortal.
In that hour Benmore renounced its name - a name it had borne for ages - and received a new one. It was no longer called Benmore, but "Fair Head;" and the Spirit of Ulster's sorrow and the tears of the islands were the officiating priest and the water of baptism.
1 A tall mountain south of Rathlin.
2 Dunseveric Castle, now a ruin, but a goodly one, stands by the sea-side, upon an isolated rock, a few miles west of Rathlin.
4 Spirit of prophecy, or second-sight.