Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich

A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Arthur Hugh Clough


Namque canebat uti——

SO in the golden morning they parted and went to the westward.
And in the cottage with Airlie and Hobbes remained the Tutor;
Reading nine hours a day with the Tutor, Hobbes and Airlie;
One between bathing and breakfast, and six before it was dinner
(Breakfast at eight, at four, after bathing again, the dinner),
Finally, two after walking and tea, from nine to eleven.
Airlie and Adam at evening their quiet stroll together
Took on the terrace-road, with the western hills before them;
Hobbes, only rarely a third, now and then in the cottage remaining,
E’en after dinner, eupeptic, would rush yet again to his reading;
Other times, stung by the œstrum of some swift-working conception,
Ranged, tearing on in his fury, an Io-cow through the mountains,
Heedless of scenery, heedless of bogs, and of perspiration,
On the high peaks, unwitting, the hares and ptarmigan starting.
    And the three weeks past, the three weeks, three days over,
Neither letter had come, nor casual tidings any,
And the pupils grumbled, the Tutor became uneasy,
And in the golden weather they wondered, and watched to the westward.
    There is a stream (I name not its name, lest inquisitive tourist
Hunt it, and make it a lion, and get it at last into guide-books),
Springing far off from a loch unexplored in the folds of great mountains,
Falling two miles through rowan and stunted alder, enveloped
Then for four more in a forest of pine, where broad and ample
Spreads, to convey it, the glen with heathery slopes on both sides
Broad and fair the stream, with occasional falls and narrows;
But, where the glen of its course approaches the vale of the river,
Met and blocked by a huge interposing mass of granite,
Scarce by a channel deep-cut, raging up, and raging onward,
Forces its flood through a passage so narrow a lady would step it.
There, across the great rocky wharves, a wooden bridge goes,
Carrying a path to the forest; below, three hundred yards, say,
Lower in level some twenty-five feet, through flats of shingle,
Stepping-stones and a cart-track cross in the open valley.
    But in the interval here the boiling pent-up water
Frees itself by a final descent, attaining a basin,
Ten feet wide and eighteen long, with whiteness and fury
Occupied partly, but mostly pellucid, pure, a mirror;
Beautiful there for the colour derived from green rocks under;
Beautiful, most of all, where beads of foam uprising
Mingle their clouds of white with the delicate hue of the stillness,
Cliff over cliff for its sides, with rowan and pendent birch boughs,
Here it lies, unthought of above at the bridge and pathway,
Still more enclosed from below by wood and rocky projection.
You are shut in, left alone with yourself and perfection of water,
Hid on all sides, left alone with yourself and the goddess of bathing.
    Here, the pride of the plunger, you stride the fall and clear it;
Here, the delight of the bather, you roll in beaded sparklings,
Here into pure green depth drop down from lofty ledges.
    Hither, a month agone, they had come, and discovered it; hither
(Long a design, but long unaccountably left unaccomplished),
Leaving the well-known bridge and pathway above to the forest,
Turning below from the track of the carts over stone and shingle,
Piercing a wood, and skirting a narrow and natural causeway
Under the rocky wall that hedges the bed of the streamlet,
Rounded a craggy point, and saw on a sudden before them
Slabs of rock, and a tiny beach, and perfection of water,
Picture-like beauty, seclusion sublime, and the goddess of bathing.
There they bathed, of course, and Arthur, the Glory of headers,
Leapt from the ledges with Hope, he twenty feet, he thirty;
There, overbold, great Hobbes from a ten-foot height descended,
Prone, as a quadruped, prone with hands and feet protending;
There in the sparkling champagne, ecstatic, they shrieked and shouted.
    ‘Hobbes’s gutter’ the Piper entitles the spot, profanely,
Hope ‘the Glory’ would have, after Arthur, the glory of headers
But, for before they departed, in shy and fugitive reflex,
Here in the eddies and there did the splendour of Jupiter glimmer;
Adam adjudged it the name of Hesperus, star of the evening.
    Hither, to Hesperus, now, the star of evening above them,
Come in their lonelier walk the pupils twain and Tutor;
Turned from the track of the carts, and passing the stone and shingle,
Piercing the wood, and skirting the stream by the natural causeway,
Rounded the craggy point, and now at their ease looked up; and
Lo, on the rocky ledge, regardant, the Glory of headers,
Lo, on the beach, expecting the plunge, not cigarless, the Piper,—
    And they looked, and wondered, incredulous, looking yet once more.
Yes, it was he, on the ledge, bare-limbed, an Apollo, down-gazing,
Eyeing one moment the beauty, the life, ere he flung himself in it,
Eyeing through eddying green waters the green-tinting floor underneath them,
Eyeing the bead on the surface, the bead, like a cloud, rising to it,
Drinking-in, deep in his soul, the beautiful hue and the clearness,
Arthur, the shapely, the brave, the unboasting, the Glory of headers;
Yes, and with fragrant weed, by his knapsack, spectator and critic,
Seated on slab by the margin, the Piper, the Cloud-compeller.
    Yes, they were come; were restored to the party, its grace and its gladness,
Yes, were here, as of old; the light-giving orb of the household,
Arthur, the shapely, the tranquil, the strength-and-contentment diffusing,
In the pure presence of whom none could quarrel long, nor be pettish,
And, the gay fountain of mirth, their dearly beloved of Pipers;
Yes, they were come, were here: but Hewson and Hope—where they then?
Are they behind, travel-sore, or ahead, going straight, by the pathway?
    And from his seat and cigar spoke the Piper, the Cloud-compeller.
Hope with the uncle abideth for shooting. Ah me, were I with him!
Ah, good boy that I am, to have stuck to my word and my reading!
Good, good boy to be here, far away, who might be at Balloch!
Only one day to have stayed who might have been welcome for seven,
Seven whole days in castle and forest—gay in the mazy
Moving, imbibing the rosy, and pointing a gun at the horny!
    And the Tutor impatient, expectant, interrupted,
Hope with the uncle, and Hewson—with him? or where have you left him?
And from his seat and cigar spoke the Piper, the Cloud-compeller.
Hope with the uncle, and Hewson—Why, Hewson we left in Rannoch,
By the lochside and the pines, in a farmer’s house,—reflecting—
Helping to shear,1 and dry clothes, and bring in peat from the peat-stack.
    And the Tutor’s countenance fell; perplexed, dumb foundered
Stood he,—slow and with pain disengaging jest from earnest.
He is not far from home, said Arthur from the water,
He will be with us to-morrow, at latest, or the next day.
And he was even more reassured by the Piper’s rejoinder.
Can he have come by the mail, and have got to the cottage before us?
    So to the cottage they went, and Philip was not at the cottage;
But by the mail was a letter from Hope, who himself was to follow.
    Two whole days and nights succeeding brought not Philip,
Two whole days and nights exhausted not question and story.
    For it was told, the Piper narrating, corrected of Arthur,
Often by word corrected, more often by smile and motion,
How they had been to Iona, to Staffa, to Skye, to Culloden,
Seen Loch Awe, Loch Tay, Loch Fyne, Loch Ness, Loch Arkaig,
Been up Ben-nevis, Ben-more, Ben-cruachan, Ben-muick-dhui;
How they had walked, and eaten, and drunken, and slept in kitchens,
Slept upon floors of kitchens, and tasted the real Glen-livat,
Walked up perpendicular hills, and also down them,
Hither and thither had been, and this and that had witnessed,
Left not a thing to be done, and had not a copper remaining.
    For it was told withal, he telling, and he correcting,
How in the race they had run, and beaten the gillies of Rannoch,
How in forbidden glens, in Mar and midmost Athol,
Philip insisting hotly, and Arthur and Hope compliant,
They had defied the keepers; the Piper alone protesting,
Liking the fun, it was plain, in his heart, but tender of game-law
Yea, too, in Mealy glen, the heart of Lochiel’s fair forest,
Where Scotch firs are darkest and amplest, and intermingle
Grandly with rowan and ash—in Mar you have no ashes,
There the pine is alone, or relieved by the birch and the alder—
How in Meäly glen, while stags were starting before, they
Made the watcher believe they were guests from Achna-carry.
    And there was told moreover, he telling, the other correcting,
Often by word, more often by mute significant motion,
Much of the Cambridge coach and his pupils at Inverary,
Huge barbarian pupils, Expanded in Infinite Series,
Firing-off signal guns (great scandal) from window to window
(For they were lodging perforce in distant and numerous houses),
Signals, when, one retiring, another should go to the Tutor:—
Much too of Kitcat, of course, and the party at Drumnadrochet,
Mainwaring, Foley, and Fraser, their idleness horrid and dog-cart;
Drumnadrochet was seedy, Glenmorison adequate, but at
Castleton, high in Braemar, were the clippingest places for bathing;
One by the bridge in the village, indecent, the Town-Hall christened,
Where had Lauder howbeit been bathing, and Harrison also,
Harrison even, the Tutor; another like Hesperus here, and
Up to the water of Eye half-a-dozen at least, all stunners.
    And it was told, the Piper narrating and Arthur correcting,
Colouring he, dilating, magniloquent, glorying in picture,
He to a matter-of-fact still softening, paring, abating,
He to the great might-have-been upsoaring, sublime and ideal,
He to the merest it-was restricting, diminishing, dwarfing,
River to streamlet reducing, and fall to slope subduing
So was it told, the Piper narrating, corrected of Arthur,
How under Linn of Dee, where over rocks, between rocks,
Freed from prison the river comes, pouring, rolling, rushing,
Then at a sudden descent goes sliding, gliding, unbroken,
Falling, sliding, gliding, in narrow space collected,
Save for a ripple at last, a sheeted descent unbroken,—
How to the element offering their bodies, downshooting the fall, they
Mingled themselves with the flood and the force of imperious water.
    And it was told too, Arthur narrating, the Piper correcting,
How, as one comes. to the level, the weight of the downward impulse
Carries the head under water, delightful, unspeakable; how the
Piper, here ducked and blinded, got stray, and borne-off by the current
Wounded his lily-white thighs, below, at the craggy corner.
And it was told, the Piper resuming, corrected of Arthur,
More by word than motion, change ominous, noted of Adam,
How at the floating-bridge of Laggan, one morning at sunrise,
Came, in default of the ferryman, out of her bed a brave lassie;
And as Philip and she together were turning the handles,
Winding the chain by which the boat works over the water,
Hands intermingled with hands, and at last, as they stepped from the boatie,
Turning about, they saw lips also mingle with lips; but
That was flatly denied and loudly exclaimed at by Arthur:
How at the General’s hut, the Inn by the Foyers Fall, where
Over the loch looks at you the summit of Méalfourvónie,
How here too he was hunted at morning, and found in the kitchen
Watching the porridge being made, pronouncing them smoked for certain,
Watching the porridge being made, and asking the lassie that made them
What was the Gaelic for girl, and what was the Gaelic for pretty;
How in confusion he shouldered his knapsack, yet blushingly stammered,
Waving a hand to the lassie, that blushingly bent o’er the porridge,
Something outlandish—Slan-something, Slan leat, he believed, Caleg Looach
That was the Gaelic, it seemed, for ‘I bid you good-bye, bonnie lassie;’
Arthur admitted it true, not of Philip, but of the Piper.
    And it was told by the Piper, while Arthur looked out at the window,
How in thunder and in rain—it is wetter far to the west-ward—
Thunder and rain and wind, losing heart and road, they were welcomed,
Welcomed, and three days detained at a farm by the lochside of Rannoch;
How in the three days’ detention was Philip observed to be smitten,
Smitten by golden-haired Katie, the youngest and comeliest daughter;
Was he not seen, even Arthur observed it, from breakfast to bedtime,
Following her motions with eyes ever brightening, softening ever?
Did he not fume, fret, and fidget to find her stand waiting at table?
Was he not one mere St. Vitus’ dance, when he saw her at nightfall
Go through the rain to fetch peat, through beating rain to the peat-stack?
How too a dance, as it happened, was given by Grant of Glenurchie,
And with the farmer they went as the farmer’s guests to attend it;
Philip stayed dancing till daylight,—and evermore with Katie;
How the whole next afternoon he was with her away in the shearing,2
And the next morning ensuing was found in the ingle beside her
Kneeling, picking the peats from her apron,—blowing together,
Both, between laughing, with lips distended, to kindle the embers;
Lips were so near to lips, one living cheek to another,—
Though, it was true, he was shy, very shy,—yet it wasn’t in nature,
Wasn’t in nature, the Piper averred, there shouldn’t be kissing;
So when at noon they had packed up the things, and proposed to be starting,
Philip professed he was lame, would leave in the morning and follow;
Follow he did not; do burns, when you go up a glen, follow after?
Follow, he had not, nor left; do needles leave the load-stone?
Nay, they had turned after starting, and looked through the trees at the comer,
Lo, on the rocks by the lake there he was, the lassie beside him,
Lo, there he was, stooping by her, and helping with stones from the water
Safe in the wind to keep down the clothes she would spread for the drying.
There they had left him, and there, if Katie was there, was Philip,
There drying clothes, making fires, making love, getting on too by this time,
Though he was shy, so exceedingly shy.
                                                You may say so, said Arthur,
For the first time they had known with a peevish intonation,—
Did not the Piper himself flirt more in a single evening,
Namely, with Janet the elder, than Philip in all our sojourn?
Philip had stayed, it was true; the Piper was loth to depart too,
Harder his parting from Janet than e’en from the keeper at Balloch;
And it was certain that Philip was lame.
                                                        Yes, in his excuses,
Answered the Piper, indeed!—
                                    But tell me, said Hobbes interposing,
Did you not say she was seen every day in her beauty and bedgown
Doing plain household work, as washing, cooking, scouring?
How could he help but love her? nor lacked there perhaps the attraction
That, in a blue cotton print tucked up over striped linsey-woolsey,
Barefoot, barelegged, he beheld her, with arms bare up to the elbows,
Bending with fork in her hand in a garden uprooting potatoes?
Is not Katie as Rachel, and is not Philip a Jacob?
Truly Jacob, supplanting a hairy Highland Esau?
Shall he not, love-entertained, feed sheep for the Laban of Rannoch?
Patriarch happier he, the long servitude ended of wooing,
If when he wake in the morning he find not a Leah beside him!
    But the Tutor enquired, who had bit his lip to bleeding,
How far off is the place? who will guide me thither to-morrow?

    But by the mail, ere the morrow, came Hope, and brought new tidings;
Round by Rannoch had come, and Philip was not at Rannoch;
He had left that noon, an hour ago.
                                                                With the lassie?
With her? the Piper exclaimed. Undoubtedly! By great Jingo!
And upon that he arose, slapping both his thighs like a hero,
Partly for emphasis only, to mark his conviction, but also
Part in delight at the fun, and the joy of eventful living.
    Hope couldn’t tell him, of course, but thought it improbable wholly;
Janet, the Piper’s friend, he had seen, and she didn’t say so,
Though she asked a good deal about Philip, and where he was gone to:
One odd thing, by the bye, he continued, befell me while with her;
Standing beside her, I saw a girl pass; I thought I had seen her,
Somewhat remarkable-looking, elsewhere; and asked what her name was;
Elspie Mackaye, was the answer, the daughter of David! she’s stopping
Just above here, with her uncle. And David Mackaye, where lives he?
It’s away west, she said; they call it Tober-na-vuolich.

1. Reap    [back]

2. Reaping    [back]

The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich - IV

Poems and Prose Remains vol II - Contents

Back    |    Words Home    |    Arthur Hugh Clough Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback