William Yeats.

John Sherman and Dhoya



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Once he asked, “How old are you?”

“A thousand years, for I am young.”

“I am so little to you,” he went on, “and you are so much to me – dawn, and sunset, tranquility, and speech, and solitude.”

“Am I so much?” she said; “say it many times!” and her eyes seemed to brighten and her breast heaved with joy.

Often he would bring her the beautiful skins of animals, and she would walk to and fro on them, laughing to feel their softness under her feet. Sometimes she would pause and ask suddenly, “Will you weep for me when we have parted?” and he would answer, “I will die then;” and she would go on rubbing her feet to and fro in the soft skin.

And so Dhoya grew tranquil and gentle, and Change seemed still to have forgotten them, having so much on her hands. The stars rose and set watching them smiling together, and the tides ebbed and flowed, bringing mutability to all save them. But always everything changes, save only the fear of Change.

III

One evening as they sat in the inner portion of the cave, watching through the opening the paling of the sky and the darkening of the leaves, and counting the budding stars, Dhoya suddenly saw stand before him the dark outline of him he fought on the lake sand, and heard at the same instant his companion sigh.

The stranger approached a little, and said, “Dhoya we have fought heretofore, and now I have come to play chess against thee, for well thou knowest, dear to the perfect warrior after war is chess.”

“I know it,” answered Dhoya.

“And when we have played, Dhoya, we will name the stake.”

“Do not play,” whispered his companion at his side.

But Dhoya, being filled with his anger fit at the sight of his enemy, answered, “I will play, and I know well the stake you mean, and I name this for mine, that I may again have my knee on your chest and my hands on your throat, and that you will not again change into a bundle of wet reeds.” His companion lay down on a skin and began to cry a little.

Dhoya felt sure of winning. He had often played in his boyhood, before the time of his anger fits, with his masters of the galley; and besides, he could always return to his hands and his weapons once more.

Now the floor of the cave was of smooth, white sand, brought from the sea-shore in his great Fomorian pitcher, to make it soft for his beloved to walk upon; before it had been, as it now is, of rough clay. On this sand the red-capped stranger marked out with his spear-point a chess-board, and marked with rushes, crossed and recrossed each alternate square, fixing each end of the rush in the sand, until a complete board was finished of white and green squares, and then drew from a bag large chess-men of mingled wood and silver. Two or three would have made an armful for a child. Standing each at his end they began to play. The game did not last long. No matter how carefully Dhoya played, each move went against him.

At last, leaping back from the board he cried, “I have lost!” The two spirits were standing together at the entrance. Dhoya seized his spear, but slowly the figures began to fade, first a star and then the leaves showed through their forms. Soon all had vanished away.

Then, realizing his loss, he threw himself on the ground, and rolling hither and thither, roared like a wild beast. All night long he lay on the ground, and all the next day till nightfall. He had crumbled his staff unconsciously between his fingers into small pieces, and now, full of dull rage, arose and went forth westward. In a ravine of the northern mountain he came on the tracks of wild horses. Soon one passed him fearlessly, knowing nothing of man. The pointed end of his staff he still carried. He drove it deep in the flank, making a long wound, sending the horse rushing with short screams down the mountain. Other horses passed him one by one, driven southward by a cold wind laden with mist, arisen in the night-time. Towards the end of the ravine stood one black and huge, the leader of the herd. Dhoya leaped on his back with a loud cry that sent a raven circling from the neighbouring cliff, and the horse, after vainly seeking to throw him, rushed off towards the north-west, over the heights of the mountains where the mists floated. The moon, clear sometimes of the flying clouds, from low down in the south-east, cast a pale and mutable light, making their shadow rise before them on the mists, as though they pursued some colossal demon, sombre on his black charger. Then leaving the heights they rushed wildly down that valley where, in far later times, Dermot hid in a deep cavern his Grania, and passed the stream where Muadhan, their savage servant, caught fish for them on a hook baited with a quicken berry. On over the plains, on northward, mile after mile, the wild gigantic horse leaping cliff and chasm in his terrible race; on until the mountains of what is now Donegal rose before them – over these among the clouds, driving rain blowing in their faces from the sea, Dhoya knowing not whither he went, or why he rode. On – the stones loosened by the hoofs rumbling down into the valleys – till far in the distance he saw the sea, a thousand feet below him; then, fixing his eyes thereon, and using the spear-point as a goad, he roused his black horse into redoubled speed, and with a wild leap horse and rider plunged headlong into the Western Sea.

Sometimes the cotters on the mountains of Donegal hear on windy nights a sudden sound of horses’ hoofs, and say to each other, “There goes Dhoya.” And at the same hour men say if any be abroad in the valleys they see a huge shadow rushing along the mountain.

THE END

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