Across Running Water, by Fiona Macleod
from Sea Magic and Running Water
At a running water, that comes out at a place called Srath-namara, near
the sea-gates of Loch Suibhne, there is a pool called the Pool of the
Changeling. None ever goes that way from choice, for only the crying of
the curlew is heard there, or the querulous wailing lapwing.
It was here that one night, in a September of many storms, a woman stood
staring at the sea. The screaming seamews [Footnote: Seamews: gulls.]
wheeled and sank and circled overhead, and the solanders [Footnote:
Solanders: a kind of wild geese.] rose with heavy wing and hoarse cries,
and the black scarts screeched to the startled guillemots [Footnote:
Guillemots: birds similar to the auks.] or to the foam-white terns
[Footnote: Terns: a species of birds allied to the gulls.] blown before
the wind like froth. The woman looked neither at the seafowl nor at the
burning glens of scarlet flame which stretched dishevelled among the
ruined lands of the sunset.
Between the black flurries of the wind, striking the sea like flails,
came momentary pauses or long silences. In one of these the woman raised
her arms, she the while unheeding the cold tide wash about her feet,
where she stood insecurely on the wet slippery tangle.
Seven years ago this woman had taken the one child she had, that she did
not believe to be her own but a changeling, and had put it on the shore
at the extreme edge of the tide-reach, and had left it for the space of
an hour. When she came back, the child she had left with a numbness on
its face and with the curse of dumbness, was laughing wild, and when she
came near, it put out its arms and gave the cry of the young of birds.
She lifted the "leanav" in her arms and stared into its eyes, but there
was no longer the weary blankness, and the little one yearned with the
petulant laughing and idle whimpering of the children of other mothers.
And that mother there gave a cry of joy, and with a singing heart went
It was in the seventh year after that finding by the sea, that one day,
when a cold wind was blowing from the west, the child Morag came in by
the peat-fire, where her mother was boiling the porridge, and looked at
her without speaking. The mother turned at that, and looked at Morag.
Her heart sank like a pool-lily at shadow, when she saw that Morag had
woven a wreath of brown tangled seaweed into her hair. But that was
nothing to the bite in her breast when the girl began singing a song
that had not a word in it she had ever heard on her own or other lips,
but was wild as the sound of the tide calling in dark nights of cloud
and wind, or as the sudden coming of waves over a quiet sea in the
silence of the black hours of sleep.
"What is it, Morag-mo-run?" she asked, her voice like a reed in the
"It's time," says Morag, with a change in her eyes, and her face shining
with a gleam on it.
"Time for what, Morag?"
"For me to be going back to the place I came from."
"And where will that be?"
"Where would it be but to the place you took me out of, and called
The mother gave a cry and a sob. "Sure, now, Morag-a-ghraidh, you will
be my own lass and no other?"
"Whist, woman," answered the girl; "don't you hear the laughing in the
burn, [Footnote: Burn: a small stream.] and the hoarse voice out in the
"That I do not, O Morag-mo-chridh, and sure it's black sorrow to you and
to me hearing that hoarse voice and that thin laughing."
"Well, sorrow or no sorrow, I'm off now, poor woman. [Footnote: Poor
woman: a friendly term of address in Ireland.] And it's good-bye, and a
good-bye to you I'll be saying to you, poor woman. Sure it's a sorrow to
me to leave you in grief, but if you'll go down to the edge of the
water, at the place you took me from, where the runnin' water falls into
the sea-pool, you'll be having there against your breast in no time the
child of your own that I never was and never could be."
"And why that, and why that, O Morag, lennavanmo?"
"Peace on your sorrow, woman, and good-bye to you now;" and with that
the sea-changeling went laughing out at the door, singing a wave-song
that was so wild and strange the mother's woe was turned to a fear that
rose like chill water in her heart.
When she dared follow—and why she did not go at once she did not
know—she saw at first no sight of Morag or any other on the lonely
shore. In vain she called, with a great sorrowing cry. But as, later,
she stood with her feet in the sea, she became silent of a sudden, and
was still as a rock, with her ragged dress about her like draggled
seaweed. She had heard a thin crying. It was the voice of a
breast-child, and not of a grown lass like Morag.
When a gray heron toiled sullenly from a hollow among the rocks she went
to the place. She was still now, with a frozen sorrow. She knew what she
was going to find. But she did not guess till she lifted that little
frail child she had left upon the shore seven years back, that the
secret people of the sea or those who call across running water could
have the hardness and coldness to give her again the unsmiling dumb
thing she had mothered with so much bitterness of heart.
Morag she never saw again, nor did any other see her, except Padruig
Macrae, the innocent, who on a New Year's eve, that was a Friday, said
that as he was whistling to a seal down by the Pool at Srath-na-mara he
heard someone laughing at him; and when he looked to see who it was he
saw it was no other than Morag—and he had called to her, he said, and
she called back to him, "Come away, Padruig dear," and then had swum off
like a seal, crying the heavy tears of sorrow.
And as for the child she had found again on the place she had left her
own silent breast-babe seven years back; it never gave a cry or made any
sound whatever, but stared with round, strange eyes only, and withered
away in three days, and was hidden by her in a sand-hole at the root of
a stunted thorn that grew there.
At every going down of the sun thereafter, the mother of the changeling
went to the edge of the sea, and stood among the wet tangle of the
wrack, [Footnote: Wrack: coarse seaweed.] and put out her supplicating
hands, but never spoke word nor uttered cry.
But on this night of September, while the gleaming sea-fowl were flying
through the burning glens of scarlet flame in the wide purple wildness
of the sky, with the wind falling and wailing and wailing and falling,
the woman went over to the running water beyond the seapool, and put her
skirt over her head and stepped into the pool, and, hooded thus and thus
patient, waited till the tide came in.
[Footnote: Notice how the author describes the wildness of nature so as
to make it seem in sympathy with the strangeness of the human story.
Pick out words and passages that convey this as: "screaming seamews,"
"screeched," "dishevelled," "black flurries," etc. Have you ever read
any stories or fairy tales that tell about changelings? Among what kind
of people would a story like this be believed? Read Yeats, "The Land of
Hearts' Desire" and compare with this story. Is the story too fantastic
to gain the reader's sympathy?]
Louise de la Ramee