The Laird and the Man of Peace by Juliana Horatia Ewing
In the Highlands of Scotland there once lived a Laird of Brockburn, who would not believe in fairies. Although his sixth cousin on the mother's side, as he returned one night from a wedding, had seen the Men of Peace hunting on the sides of Ben Muich Dhui, dressed in green, and with silver-mounted bridles to their horses which jingled as they rode; and though Rory the fiddler having gone to play at a christening did never come home, but crossing a hill near Brockburn in a mist was seduced into a Shian or fairy turret, where, as all decent bodies well believe, he is playing still&emdash;in spite, I say, of the wise saws and experience of all his neighbours, Brockburn remained obstinately incredulous.
Not that he bore any ill-will to the Good People, or spoke uncivilly of them; indeed he always disavowed any feeling of disrespect towards them if they existed, saying that he was a man of peace himself, and anxious to live peaceably with whatever neighbours he had, but that till he had seen one of the Daoine Shi he could not believe in them.
Now one afternoon, between Hallowmas and Yule, it chanced that the Laird, being out on the hills looking for some cattle, got parted from his men and dogs and was overtaken by a mist, in which, familiar as the country was to him, he lost his way.
In vain he raised his voice high, and listened low, no sound of man or beast came back to him through the thickening vapour.
Then night fell, and darkness was added to the fog, so that Brockburn needed to sound every step with his rung before he took it.
Suddenly light footsteps pattered beside him, then Something rubbed against him, then It ran between his legs. The delighted Laird made sure that his favourite collie had found him once more.
"Wow, Jock, man!" he cried; "but ye needna throw me on my face. What's got ye the night, that you should lose your way in a bit mist?"
To this a voice from the level of his elbow replied, in piping but patronizing tones;
"Never did I lose my way in a mist since the night that Finn crossed over to Ireland in the Dawn of History. Eh, Laird! I'm weel acquaint with every bit path on the hill-side these hundreds of years, and I'll guide ye safe hame, never fear!"
The hairs on Brockburn's head stood on end till they lifted his broad bonnet, and a damp chill broke out over him that was not the fog. But, for all that, he stoutly resisted the evidence of his senses, and only felt about him for the collie's head to pat, crying:
"Bark! Jock, my mannie, bark! Then I'll recognize your voice, ye ken. It's no canny to hear ye speak like a Christian, my wee doggie."
"I'm nae your doggie, I'm a Man of Peace," was the reply. "Dinna miscall your betters, Brockburn: why will ye not credit our existence, man?"
"Seein's believin'," said the Laird, stubbornly; "but the mist's ower thick for seein' the night, ye ken."
"Turn roun' to your left, man, and ye'll see," said the Dwarf, and catching Brockburn by the arm, he twisted him swiftly round three times, when a sudden blaze of light poured through the mist, and revealed a crag of the mountain well known to the Laird, and which he now saw to be a kind of turret, or tower.
Lights shone gaily through the crevices or windows of the Shian, and sounds of revelry came forth, among which fiddling was conspicuous. The tune played at that moment was "Delvyn-side."
Blinded by the light, and amazed at what he saw, the Laird staggered, and was silent.
"Keep to your feet, man&emdash;keep to your feet!" said the Dwarf, laughing. "I doubt ye're fou, Brockburn!"
"I'm nae fou," said the Laird, slowly, his rung grasped firmly in his hand, and his bonnet set back from his face, which was deadly pale. "But&emdash;man-is yon Rory? I'd know his fiddle in a thousand."
"Ask no questions, and ye'll be tellt no lees," said the Dwarf. Then stepping up to the door of the Shian, he stood so that the light from within fell full upon him, and the astonished Laird saw a tiny but well-proportioned man, with delicate features, and golden hair flowing over his shoulders. He wore a cloak of green cloth, lined with daisies, and had silver shoes. His beautiful face quivered with amusement, and he cried triumphantly, "D'ye see me?&emdash;d'ye see me noo, Brockburn?"
"Aye, aye," said the Laird; "and seein's believin'."
"Then roun' wi' ye!" shouted the Man of Peace; and once more seizing the Laird by the arm, he turned him swiftly round&emdash;this time, to the right&emdash;and at the third turn the light vanished, and Brockburn and the Man of Peace were once more alone together in the mist.
"Aweel, Brockburn," said the Man of Peace, "I'll alloo ye're candid, and have a convincible mind. I'm no ill disposit to ye, and yese get safe hame, man."
As he spoke he stooped down, and picking up half-a-dozen big stones from the mountain-side, he gave them to the Laird, saying, "If the gudewife asks ye about the bit stanes, say ye got them in a compliment."
Brockburn put them into his pocket, briefly saying, "I'm obleeged to ye;" but as he followed the Man of Peace down the hill-side, he found the obligation so heavy, that from time to time he threw a stone away, unobserved, as he hoped, by his companion. When the first stone fell, the Man of Peace looked sharply round, saying:
"It'll be me striking my rung upon the ground," said the Laird.
"You're mad," said the Man of Peace, and Brockburn felt sure that he knew the truth, and was displeased. But as they went on, the stones were so heavy, and bumped the Laird's side so hard, that he threw away a second, dropping it as gently as he could. But the sound of its fall did not escape the ears of the Man of Peace, who cried as before:
"It's jest a nasty hoast that I have," said the Laird.
"Man, you're daft," said the Dwarf, contemptuously; "that's what ails ye."
The Laird now resolved to be prudent, but the inconvenience of his burden was so great that after a while he resolved to risk the displeasure of the Man of Peace once more, and gently slipped a third stone to the ground.
"Third time's lucky," he thought. But the proverb failed him, for the Dwarf turned as before, shouting: "What's yon?"
"It'll be my new brogues that ye hear bumpin' Upon the muckle stanes," said the Laird.
"Ye're fou, Brockburn, I tellt ye so. Ye're fou!" growled the Man of Peace, angrily, and the Laird dared not drop any more of the Dwarfs gifts. After a while his companion's good-humour seemed to return, and he became talkative and generous.
"I mind your great-grandfather weel, Brockburn. He was a hamely man, I found his sheep for him one nicht on this verra hill-side. Mair by token, ye'll find your beasties at hame, and the men and the dogs forebye."
The Laird thanked him heartily, and after a while the Dwarf became more liberal-spirited still.
"Yese no have to say that ye've been with the Daoine Shi and are no the better for it," he said. "I'm thinking I'll grant ye three wushes. But choose wisely, man, and dinna throw them away. I hae my fears that ye're no without a bee in your bonnet, Brockburn."
Incensed by this insinuation, the Laird defended his own sagacity at some length, and retorted on his companion with doubts of the power of the Daoine Shi to grant wishes.
"The proof of the pudding's in the eating o't," said the Man of Peace. "Wush away, Brockburn, and mak the nut as hard to crack as ye will."
The Laird at once began to cast about in his mind for three wishes sufficiently comprehensive to secure his lifelong prosperity; but the more he beat his brains the less could he satisfy himself.
How many miles he wandered thus, the Dwarf keeping silently beside him, he never knew, before he sank exhausted on the ground, saying:
"I'm thinking, man, that if ye could bring hame to me, in place of bringing me hame, I'd misdoubt your powers nae mair. It's a far cry to Loch Awe, ye ken, and it's a weary long road to Brockburn."
"Is this your wush?" asked the Man of Peace.
"This is my wush," said the Laird, striking his rung upon the ground.
The words had scarcely passed his lips when the whole homestead of Brockburn, house and farm buildings, was planted upon the bleak hill-side.
The astonished Laird now began to bewail the rash wish which had removed his home from the sheltered and fertile valley where it originally stood to the barren side of a bleak mountain.
The Man of Peace, however, would not take any hints as to undoing his work of his own accord. All he said was:
"If ye wush it away, so it'll be. But then ye'll only have one wush left. Ye've small discretion the nicht, Brockburn, I'm feared."
"To leave the steading in sic a spot is no to be thought on," sighed the Laird, as he spent his second wish in undoing his first. But he cannily added the provision:
"And ye may tak me wi' it."
The words were no sooner spoken than the homestead was back in its place, and Brockburn himself was lying in his own bed, Jock, his favourite collie, barking and licking his face by turns for joy.
"Whisht, whisht, Jock!" said the Laird. "Ye wouldna bark when I begged of ye, so ye may hand your peace noo."
And pushing the collie from him, he sat up in bed and looked anxiously but vainly round the chamber for the Man of Peace.
"Lie doun, lie doun," cried the gudewife from beside him. "Ye're surely out o' your wuts, Brockburn. Would ye gang stravaging about the country again the nicht?"
"Where is he?" cried the Laird.
"There's not a soul here but your lawful wife and your ain dear doggie. Was there ae body that ye expected?" asked his wife.
"The Man o' Peace, woman!" cried Brockburn. "I've ane o' my wushes to get, and I maun hae't."
"The man's mad!" was the gudewife's comment. "Ye've surely forgotten yoursel, Brockburn. Ye never believed in the Daoine Shi before."
"Seein's believin'," said the Laird. "I forgathered with a Man o' Peace the nicht on the hill, and I wush I just saw him again."
As the Laird spoke the window of the chamber was lit up from without, and the Man of Peace appeared sitting on the window-ledge in his daisy-lined cloak, his feet hanging down into the room, the silver shoes glittering as they dangled.
"I'm here, Brockburn!" he cried. "But eh, man! ye've had your last wush."
And even as the stupefied Laird gazed, the light slowly died away, and the Man of Peace vanished also.
On the following morning the Laird was roused from sleep by loud cries of surprise and admiration.
The good wife had been stirring for some hours, and in emptying the pockets of her good man's coat she had found three huge cairngorms of exquisite tint and lustre. Brockburn thus discovered the value of the gifts, half of which he had thrown away.
But no subsequent visits to the hill-side led to their recovery. Many a time did the Laird bring home a heavy pocketful of stones, at the thrifty gudewife's bidding, but they only proved to be the common stones of the mountain-side. The Shian could never be distinguished from any other crag, and the Daoine Shi were visible no more.
Yet it is said that the Laird of Brockburn prospered and throve thereafter, in acre, stall, and steading, as those seldom prosper who have not the good word of the People of Peace.
[Footnote 1: Shian, a Gaelic name for fairy towers, which by day are not to be told from mountain crags.]
[Footnote 2: Daoine Shi (pronounced Dheener Shee) = Men of Peace.]
[Footnote 3: Rung = a thick stick.]
[Footnote 4: "In a compliment" = "as a present."]
[Footnote 5: "Hoast" = cough.]
[Footnote 6: "Brogues" = shoes.]
[Footnote 7: "It's a far cry to Loch Awe."&emdash;Scotch Proverb.]