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Behold the Hebrides
O're the Moor to Eishken

DOMHNUL MAC MHATHAIN, the Son of the Wolf, is his name. For untold generations his ancestors—all of them the sons and daughters of wolves— have inhabited that quiet hillside at the head of Loch Odhairn, where for eons the tall, weather-denuded mountain crags, that frown angrily on every side, have thrown their dark, unfleeting shadows into the deep, silent loch that lies some hundreds of feet below. But Donald, though also the Son of the Wolf; is by nature as unlike a wolf as anyone you ever cast eyes upon.

Wild days had fallen on Loch Odhairn: the fierce, pitiless gales of a March equinox had sorely distressed the crofting township of Ghrabhair. Owing to their violence the drystane gable of his home had begun to take on a list in an outward direction; while the cow, his aged mother’s only unfailing source of sustenance, had developed a severe cold through undue exposure.

You see, the thatch of the byre was so sadly in need of attention that the poor creature was being constantly soaked by the ‘black rains,’ which came pouring through the roof, that in places lay open to the dull, leaden sky.

However, when Donald returned home to Loch Odhairn on vacation, he set to and repaired both the thatch of the byre and the sloping gable of his mother’s dwelling-house in preparation for the severities of a Hebridean winter; but, clever as he was, for the cow’s cough he could suggest no remedy.

At length it was arranged that the advice of one, Murchadh Mor, would be sought. Now Murchadh lived at Eishken, a lodge that is situated near the western shore of Loch Shell, and can only be reached by a ten-mile track that leads up among airy mountains and through heathery and bracken-shaggy glens, until it loses itself in an almost limitless moor, whose network of lakes and ponds have earned for the parish the appropriate name of Lochs.

And, so, with a guide in the person of a local herdboy, who, like the lawless MacGregors at the time of the proscription, was nameless by day (having oft-times poached on the hills over against ‘Harris), Donald and I set out across the moors for Eishken one glorious summer afternoon. Oh, that I could really describe to you our journey, as we tramped for hours through long heather and among cairns and screes and erratic boulders, only occasionally finding traces of an elfin track here and there, or, maybe, the telltale spoor of the fawns that concealed themselves in the inaccessible fastnessed of the mountain crags, until we had passed beyond the ken of their scent!

At times our guide, expert though he was in the evasive art of intruding upon what are wrongly held to be the private preserves of others, blundered severely. On two occasions we found ourselves knee-deep in the midst of a perilous bog; and once we ascended a knoll to find that below us a long, narrow loch stretched for half a mile to the right and to the left of us. Had it not been for the gille, whom we caught poaching salmon, and who took us to be the fishing-tenants, we certainly should have been denied the use of his flat-bottomed coble as a ready means of transport to the other side of this loch.

On our arrival at Eishken we were met by Murchadh Mor, the general factotum of the lodge and an authority on all ailments appertaining to cows. An abrupt conversation in Gaelic ensued, as the result of which Murdo left us, and returned shortly afterwards with a bottle containing a home-made admixture that had never failed to cure the cough of an Eishken cow.

‘Cha ghabh mi luach—I will take no value!’ interjected Murdo, when he observed Donald fumbling in his pockets for some coins, which the latter had really as little intention of giving in payment for the dose as Murdo had of accepting.

It was now late in the afternoon; and before leaving Eishken we were ushered into a room in the ‘big house,’ where a sumptuous meal of scones and tea and venison was prepared for us. You can imagine our embarrassment when, having devoured about a pound of venison each, a shy kitchen-maid appeared on the scene with a second supply! Our young herdboy had never in all his days eaten so much food at a single sitting. Nor indeed had I!

By this time, we were just a little fearful lest darkness should fall ere we had re-discovered the elfin track and the tell-tale spoor, that had led us over many a hill and dale to Eishken.

And, as we came away, we paused momentarily on the old, rustic bridge which spanned an impetuous brook, that we might take a farewell glance at Eishken.

The tide was low in Loch Shell, where on a rocky, wrack-covered reef a couple of gray seals, that glistened before the setting sun, anxiously watched the slow movements of a lugsail that, as it were, hung limply in the very centre of the windless loch.

And, as we stepped out in the direction of home, far behind us we left the Clisham bathed in the clear, piercing rays of a spilling sunset that gave to the eyried Mountains of Harris a semblance like unto the rose-red city of Petra.

At dusk we again found ourselves on the elfin track. And we could hear the cooing of the rock-pigeons, and the whisperings of the hill-wind, and the murmurings of the waters that crept into Loch Seaforth—that blue lagoon, where everything was encircled by the sweet poetry of a falling day and of a rising moon.

No living thing crossed our heathery path, except the homing bees that were laden at eventide, and the startled chaffinches and yellow-hammer; whose downy breasts were full of the sleepy softness of night.

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