The Moon Endureth
IX. The Rime Of True Thomas
THE TALE OF THE RESPECTABLE WHAUP AND THE GREAT GODLY MAN
This is a story that I heard from the King of the Numidians, who with his tattered retinue
encamps behind the peat-ricks. If you ask me where and when it happened I fear that I am
scarce ready with an answer. But I will vouch my honour for its truth; and if any one seek
further proof, let him go east the town and west the town and over the fields of No mans
land to the Long Muir, and if he find not the King there among the peat-ricks, and get not
a courteous answer to his question, then times have changed in that part of the country,
and he must continue the quest to his Majesty's castle in Spain.
Once upon a time, says the tale, there was a Great Godly Man, a shepherd to trade, who
lived in a cottage among heather. If you looked east in the morning, you saw miles of
moor running wide to the flames of sunrise, and if you turned your eyes west in the
evening, you saw a great confusion of dim peaks with the dying eye of the sun set in a
crevice. If you looked north, too, in the afternoon, when the life of the day is near its end
and the world grows wise, you might have seen a country of low hills and haughlands
with many waters running sweet among meadows. But if you looked south in the dusty
forenoon or at hot midday, you saw the far-off glimmer of a white road, the roofs of the
ugly little clachan of Kilmaclavers, and the rigging of the fine new kirk of Threepdaidle.
It was a Sabbath afternoon in the hot weather, and the man had been to kirk all the
morning. He had heard a grand sermon from the minister (or it may have been the priest,
for I am not sure of the date and the King told the story quickly)--a fine discourse with
fifteen heads and three parentheses. He held all the parentheses and fourteen of the heads
in his memory, but he had forgotten the fifteenth; so for the purpose of recollecting it, and
also for the sake of a walk, he went forth in the afternoon into the open heather.
The whaups were crying everywhere, making the air hum like the twanging of a bow.
Poo-eelie, Poo-eelie, they cried, Kirlew, Kirlew, Whaup, Wha-up. Sometimes they came
low, all but brushing him, till they drove settled thoughts from his head. Often had he
been on the moors, but never had he seen such a stramash among the feathered clan. The
wailing iteration vexed him, and he shoo'd the birds away with his arms. But they seemed
to mock him and whistle in his very face, and at the flaff of their wings his heart grew
sore. He waved his great stick; he picked up bits of loose moor-rock and flung them
wildly; but the godless crew paid never a grain of heed. The morning's sermon was still in
his head, and the grave words of the minister still rattled in his ear, but he could get no
comfort for this intolerable piping. At last his patience failed him and he swore
unchristian words. "Deil rax the birds' thrapples," he cried. At this all the noise was
hushed and in a twinkling the moor was empty. Only one bird was left, standing on tall
legs before him with its head bowed upon its breast, and its beak touching the heather.
Then the man repented his words and stared at the thing in the moss. "What bird are ye?"
he asked thrawnly.