The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

by Lucy Bate

Characters and Scene

Music

Transliterations of Scottish Words

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Waves are heard breaking.

HUSKY-VOICED MAN, singing

Ba lilla ween, ba lilla ween
Ba lee, ba lee, ba lilla ween
Ba lilla ween, tha mi tighinn
Ba lilla lilla lilla ween

The rocking of a cradle is heard.

MARGARET, singing

Ba lilla ween, ba lilla ween
Ba lee, ba lee, ba lilla ween
Ba lilla ween, caidil a ween
Ba lilla lilla lilla ween

(Tenderly.)

My ugly babe, it isn't time to wake.
The sun's asleep, the air is gray with sleep,
And in the town below where I've not lived
Nine months and eight months, the townsmen are asleep;
And on the rocks below where I've not lingered
Nine months and eight months, the silkies are asleep.

A knocking at the door.

Then that's not silkie nor townsman.

The Baby prattles sleepily, hoarsely: "Da-da-da."

And not your dad.

Knocking.  Baby: "Da-da."

It's not your dad. Come in my arms. We'll see.

(She unlatches and opens the door.)

GREGOR

I am a deserter from the army. Let me in.

MARGARET

You can't come in. The people would talk.

He cocks his rifle.

Put your rifle down. You can't come in.

GREGOR

I am desperate!

MARGARET

Not so desperate You'll murder us to get into our house.

Pause. Then he laughs. Then she laughs too.

Go down to the shore. The hunters sail at dawn.
Dougall of the White Hawk will take you on.

(Pause.)

You'd better hurry, soldier.

The door is closed and latched.  Gregor starts to walk away, then comes back, knocks.  The door is opened again.

GREGOR

Dougall's your man?

MARGARET

I have no man except this little one.

GREGOR

Are you in mourning?

MARGARET

I am not a widow.

GREGOR

Then set my place for supper.

MARGARET

Get on with you.

GREGOR

Why, am I ugly?  Madam, I'll bring you a gift.

MARGARET

Hurry, the sky is lightening.  They sail at dawn.

GREGOR

What shall I bring you tonight?

MARGARET

Hurry
      They'll be setting out their lines.

GREGOR

What shall I bring you?

MARGARET

They'll be threading in their sails.

GREGOR

Madam, I cannot wait. Tell me what shall I bring you
When I come for my supper tonight?

MARGARET

Bring the great silkie, soldier.
Slay him and skin him and sponge the salt away.
With him to wrap me in, I'll let you in.

Gregor tramps off.  Margaret closes the door.  The Baby prattles, hoarsely: "Da-da."

It wasn't your daddy, love. It was only a soldier.
"You can't come in," said I, "I've a man of my own."
A husky brownface boy-man, eight months old,
An ugly child. It's all the man I want.
"Bring me the moon," I said, "I'll let you in.
Bring me old George's crown; I'll let you in.
Bring the great silkie, soldier; you can come in."

The harbor. Sails shaking, lines rapping, gulls skud, and so on.

GREGOR, calling

Captain Dougall?

CAPTAIN

Aye.

GREGOR

Let me sail with you.

CAPTAIN

Have you shot the silkies?

GREGOR

I killed a man once at a thousand feet.

JO

When?

GREGOR

Yesterday

JO, admiringly

Ah!

CAPTAIN

Oh, you're a soldier.

GREGOR

Not anymore. (Urgently.) Take me on quickly.

CAPTAIN

Come aboard.

Scuffling, as Gregor climbs awkwardly aboard; laughing.

Ever been on a boat before?

GREGOR

I'm a gunner, Captain. How far's that rock?

CAPTAIN, estimating

Four hundred yards?

Gunshot.

JO

Oh, a beautiful shot!

CAPTAIN

The silkies don't stand still.  Jo, tend your lines.

MARGARET

Come to the window if you will not sleep.
We'll look down on the rocks and watch the hunters
After the brawny silkies.
Dougall has got a new man.

Baby: "Da-da-da."

He's not your dada.
Your dad is big. This chap's a slender one...
There's dust on the scar. Two horses; no, just one.

Baby: "Da-da-da."

No, it's not your daddy.
It's a soldier coming after Dougall's man.

Hoofbeats, approaching at a canter.

CAPTAIN

Loose your line, Jo. Cast away, Jo. Man, watch out.
On your port, your port, your port, the Mary Jane.
Passing you to port, man.

GREGOR

                             Just in time.

HUNTER

A deserter? We're hunters, all of us.  Seen no deserters.

SOLDIER

Sorry to have troubled you.

HUNTER

We'll sing out if we sight your man.

SOLDIER

Na-ah, it's nothing to me. Tell him if you see him. Jack Hare says it's nothing to him.

HUNTER

We won't see him.

Hoofbeats, retreating at a walk.

MARGARET

He's away on the waves like a silkie.

Baby: "Da-da-da."

He's never your dada.
He's just a Scottish soldier deserting King George.

The boat cuts the water, slapping the waves.

GREGOR

Gregor MacGregor's my name, and I'm grateful to meet you, Captain Dougall, young Jo.  I'm a captain myself in the army.

CAPTAIN, dryly

Can you hold a course, Captain MacGregor?

JO, admiringly

No, he's a gunner.  I'll take the tiller.

CAPTAIN

Sit next to him, Captain, and learn.

Tramping and scuffling as they take their seats.

JO

You're a great gunner, Mr. MacGregor.

GREGOR

King George's triumph, they called me.

JO

Did they really?

GREGOR

Me and my buddy Jack Hare.  Not Jack nor I has ever missed a shot.We were so grand together, him and me, they were meaning to send the rest of the army home, and us two, George's triumphs, would draw pay for the whole damn crew.

JO

You're just saying that.

GREGOR

It's a fact, lad.

The Captain snorts.

JO

Captain sneezed.

MARGARET

Except for you, my ugly little son,
I would have let that soldier in my house.
Except for you, my ugly little one,
I wouldn't have a house to let a man in;
And when one knocked—but there'd be no house here—
I would not answer, being here not house Nor I.
But I'd be in my old room thinking of soldiers
Red-haired and handsome knocking at my door
Where no one knocked so early
And soldiers not at all.
And I'd be in my old room wondering
What luck was looking for me, who live now
Surrounded by such plentiful good fortune
Nothing can change my fortunes but for worse.

The boat slaps the waves.

JO

Now I luff off a little.

GREGOR, approvingly

Very good.

JO

The wind changed. Did you notice?

GREGOR, vaguely

Aye, the wind.  Full of variety—just like the army.

JO

Na, wind is wind, for the most part.  Tell about the army.

GREGOR

You'd love it, lad.
It's gaming and laughing all night, and gunning by day.
Nothing is quiet or tedious.  The army's grand.

JO, eagerly

Is it, Gregor?

GREGOR

It's us in our plaids and the English boys in red;
The pipers piping, the sun, and the dirt flying;.
And a skirmish, or none; and then we get the night.
Have you shot pool, Jo?

JO

No.

GREGOR

Or marched to the drums?

JO

No.

GREGOR

Or gone round with the lasses?

JO

I've done that.

GREGOR

With how many lasses, Jo?

JO

Na, just Nancy McClellan.

GREGOR

The ladies love the plaid, Jo. The army's the life.
And me and Jack Hare, we were the army's pride.

The Baby cries, hoarsely.

MARGARET

Wait a bit, love —

It cries again.

— I'll feed you — little husky-voice. (Laughing.)  You can't get milk through a smock ... wait.  There you are.

(Laughing.)

I see you, little brown-eyes. I see you.
Nursing and smiling, you silly little infant.
You can't do both. You can't both suckle and smile.
Silly little hungry little baby
Sip your milk now. We'll play afterwards.

JO

Ready about.

CAPTAIN, agreeing

Ready about.

GREGOR, joining in

Ready—

The boom cracks into him. The Captain and Jo laugh.

JO, apologetically

"Ready about" means the boom's coming over. Boom is that spar.

GREGOR, putting him on

What spar?

JO

The one that hit you on the head.

GREGOR, laughing

Well, it's not the army, Jo.

JO, shyly

Gregor, why did you leave it?

GREGOR

The army?  It's a tale.

JO

Aye, tell it.

GREGOR

Happened in a town called Doone, in the lowland country.  We were passing the night.

JO, eagerly

Aye?

GREGOR

So me and Jack Hare, we put on our boots and go down to the Black Hawk.

JO

Ha, Gregor, and our boat's the White Hawk.

GREGOR

Well, this was the Black Hawk.  And the barmaid there—she won't be the barmaid now—was a girl named Nancy McClellan.

JO

That's not my Nancy.

GREGOR, promptly

No. Annie McClellan, I mean.

CAPTAIN

You, Jo, go forward and coil the anchor line.

JO

Aye, Captain.  Come, Gregor.  The lass was named Annie?

CAPTAIN

Mr. MacGregor will tend the tiller with me.

JO

He was just telling me a story.

CAPTAIN

He was.  Go forward.

MARGARET

All done?  Down on the floor.  Let's see you creep.

The Baby creeps; a shuffling sound.

Oh, but you're clumsy, dragging on the boards,
And slow; and patient; and you get there, love.
Oh, not the fish!  It's nasty!  No!  It's raw!

The Baby cries hoarsely.

Here, here, have a bit.
It's nasty, isn't it? What? More? You will be sick.

The Baby cries.

You will be sick. You will be sick.  Oh, have it...
And now he sucks his nails to get the juice.
Aren't you the strange one?  Babies are queer little things.

The boat slaps the waves.

GREGOR

Who lives in that stony house, by itself on the peak?

CAPTAIN

You cannot see it now. We've come too far.

GREGOR

That's the house.

CAPTAIN

It's Margaret MacLinn and her bairn.

GREGOR

I met her on my way.  She's a beauty, Captain.  The baby's ugly, but the mam's a beauty.

CAPTAIN

Margaret keeps to herself nowadays.  They say she's turned slattern.  The bairn has got no dad.

GREGOR

She must be lonely, all alone up there.  I told her I'd come back tonight.

CAPTAIN, dryly

And what said she?

GREGOR

She asked what I wanted for supper.  She promised to set me a place.

JO

Margaret didn't, did she, Gregor? — My line's coiled, Captain.  Margaret didn't ask you.  But if she did, you'd not do well to enter.  Her house was built in a night.  None knows who built it.

GREGOR

Built in a night?

JO

Aye, it was passing weird.

MARGARET

That's enough nasty fish. I'll tell you a story.
I'll tell you the story about your daddy, my love;
Not that you'll understand; but I will tell it.
It was a moonless night in spring I met your dad,
The first warm night,
And I was walking barefoot on the rocks
Because of the pleasant night. And I cut my foot.
Then a big brown man came up at the ocean edge,
Saying, "Seaweed will salve you." His voice was queer and harsh
Like waves on the sand, or like the silkies braying.
He pulled me a clump of seaweed and salved my foot.
I was sitting on the rocks and he was kneeling.
After my foot was salved, he said to me, "Margaret,
What can I do for you?"
How did he know my name I do not know,
But that was the second word he said to me.
The first was, "Seaweed will salve you."  The second was, "Margaret,
What can I do for you?"  I had a room
In town in those days, like the other girls,
So I answered, to be silly, "Build me a house."
Then he lifted stones and took them up the peak,
And I waited on the rocks while he built my house
Here on the peak where storms have beat on it
But never it's shaken nor fallen. I said,
"You're a powerful man to build a house in a night."
Then we went into this house before the dawn
And he did croon to me and it was like
The silkies' murmuring and it was like
Your prattling.  Never a word he said to me,
And his crooning was like sand, but gentler.
After, he said:
"If the babe's a girl, name her Margaret for yourself.
But if it's a boy, he'll have no use for a name."
And that was his third saying.
I watched his back from my window in the dawnlight
And I saw he was a clumsy man walking, but quick.
But I never saw his face because it was dark in the house
And I slept all day in the house he had made me
And I never saw him again.
When you were born they came to christen you.
I let them name you Peter because your father
Came up by the ocean edge. And that day since
We have not been to the kirk.  And I've not called you
By that name because your dad said no.

The waves, slapping the boat.

GREGOR

There's no such creature, Jo.

JO

Oh, Gregor, there is.
The silkies aren't so many nowadays.
That's why we haven't seen them.  Captain says
They're smarter too.  Old days, my dad would say,
Silkies were everywhere.

GREGOR

Captain's not your dad?

The Captain snorts.

JO

It's five years that my dad is dead. Great silkie
Slew him.

GREGOR

Oh, is the great silkie fierce?

JO, surprised and pleased

                        Gregor,
You've not heard of him.

GREGOR, ad libbing

He's the fame of the border Countries.
But I never heard he was fierce.

JO

Aye, my dad went after him out on the rocks
We're heading for, but my dad he went too close,
And silkie leaped and chewed and slaughtered him.
I'm quicker than my dad. I'll kill the great silkie.

GREGOR

Because he killed your dad?

JO

   Oh, Gregor, no;
Because of his excellent pelt.

Pause. The boat slapping the waves.

GREGOR, softly

Jo, tell me something in private.

JO, eagerly

Aye?

GREGOR

What is a silkie?

JO

You know what a silkie is.

GREGOR

Would I ask if I knew?

JO

Silkie—silkie's a great brown beast with sleeky skin
That suns ashore and takes the fish from the sea.
On the rocks he drags himself like a poor cripple,
Shuffling and shifting and pulling himself on slow;
But he cleaves the waves like a whip.
It's for his pelt we hunt the beast, but not
The pelt that cleaves the waves and dries in the sun.
Under the sleeky pelt is a furry pelt
That's soft as feathers but not so tumblesome.

GREGOR

It's seals your silkies are.  I can shoot seals.

JO

Great silkie's the king of the silkies.  He's not like the others.
Great silkie's always the fast one, even on land.
Men's tried for fifteen years to kill that silkie.

GREGOR

I'll kill him, Jo.

CAPTAIN, very much amused

Will you now, soldier?

GREGOR

I Will.
And you'll be witness.
I'll slay him and skin him and sponge the salt away
And I'll carry his pelt to the beautiful Margaret MacLinn.
For she promised to set my place, Jo.  I've only
To slay her that silkie.  I'll do it by suppertime.

The Captain laughs, greatly amused.

JO

She was guying you, Gregor.

GREGOR, tolerantly

She was.

MARGARET

Go on the ground now.

The Baby cries, hoarsely.

Well, well, stay in my arms.
Oh, what a smile!  Oh, doesn't he know what he wants.
And he gets it too, little penny-nose, pointy-nose.
Your nose is your daddy's, I'll bet you.  Who's your daddy?
Tell me that and I'll bake you a cake.

(Tapping out the rhythm.)

Eight months old and eating a cake.
Two big teeth and eating a cake.
Penny-nose, needle-nose, eating a cake.

The Baby squeals, hoarsely.

But who is your daddy, little husky-voice?
And where is he walking? And who is he walking with?

GREGOR

Great silkie, ho!  Ho, king of the silkie seals!

JO

Hush, Gregor, you'll scare them.

GREGOR

No, I was challenging them.  Not that it's worth the breath.  There isn't a seal here for a hundred miles.

JO

Aye, but there is. Not far now.

GREGOR

The great seal, will we see him?

JO

He's crafty, great silkie. You seldom come on him.

GREGOR

Well, look for him, Jo.  I vowed to slay him by suppertime.

JO

Vows are vowed and broken.  It's the way of things.

MARGARET

You have the fiercest face I ever saw
That was so small. Your nose is queer and sharp,
Your teeth are sharp, your hair is harsh as bristle,
Your cheeks are long, and your head's too small for you.

The Baby prates.

And when you prate it is like pebbles spilling.
And when you creep on the floor, you're clumsy, love.
So I love clumsiness and disproportion.
And when you put your paw upon my cheek

It’s like dry salt.  Therefore I love the salt
And say to honey things, "I pity you.
You are unlike my babe." And when you smile
It's like the sunlight falling on Sule Skerry.

The Baby laughs.

Your laughter's like a cup, my ugly babe.

JO

This is Sule Skerry, that's the silkies' home.

GREGOR

It's a pitiful home; just rocks.

JO

The silkie needs no trees.  Sea's full of shade.  There's other silkies bide at Sule Alee.  And other silkies bide on Mara Rocks.

GREGOR

Maybe they've all moved away to Mara Rocks.

JO, amused

No, Gregor, they're just hiding.

GREGOR

Why should they hide?

JO, surprised at the question

Gregor, we've come to slay them. Silkie is smart.

GREGOR

Suppose we don't find any seals?

JO

We go home without.

GREGOR

Does that happen often?

JO

Aye—but not today! Silkie to starboard, Captain! I can get him.

CAPTAIN, over the shaking of the sails

Na, let the soldier shoot.  (Pause.)  To starboard, soldier.  To your right, man.  Shoot.  (Pause.)  Aye, with your gun, soldier.  Take up your gun, man.  Shoot.  (Pause.)  George's triumph, are you?  Pride of the gunners?  Did you never hold a gun in the air before?

A hoarse cry, from a distance.  Gunshot.

GREGOR

Oh, well shot.

CAPTAIN

Aye, soldier; shooting's what guns are for.

JO, deprecatingly

The silkie's small.

CAPTAIN, dryly

He's the biggest we've seen today.

JO

I'll fetch him in the dinghy.  (He climbs into the dinghy.)

The plashing of oars.

GREGOR

Well, Captain, you're wondering why I didn't shoot the beast.  Your boy had him covered.  "Jo's a good lad," thinks I.  "Let him do what he can. No need for me to waste shot....  Jo's got him covered," thinks I.  "No need to show off.  The lad's a little slow, but he'll kill the beast."  And right I was, and a very neat job he did; though he took his time I thought. —Eh, was I wrong?  I think he did a good job.

The Captain snorts.

MARGARET

When you are grown you'll be a mighty hunter.
All the townschildren will flock after you
And touch your legs and clamor after you
And call you master hunter, and on a day
You'll kill the silkie king and bring him home.
Then you will strut in a cloak of the silkie skin
Your wife will cut for you, and hat and boots,
And I'll look out of my window and watch you pass.
Or you'll come sup with me and throw your coat
Carelessly over the chair, that I'll hang up
And scold you, and your little bairns will laugh
How I lash out at you, and you six feet tall.
And your wife will be the prettiest little lady
That ever kept house.

The plashing of oars. The dinghy bumps the boat.

CAPTAIN

Come aboard, Jo.  Good lad.  Give us a hand.

They pull. the seal aboard.

Aye, she's a sleek one.  Steer us home, lad.

JO

Who'll skin the silkie?

CAPTAIN, sarcastically

Captain MacGregor, can you skin a silkie?

GREGOR

Indeed I can.  It's shaped like a pear, but bigger.  I was champion at potatoes in the army.

CAPTAIN

Well, can you steer us home?

GREGOR

I'll be glad to do that.

JO

Take the tiller like I showed you, Gregor.

GREGOR

I've got it, lad.

Pause.

JO

Luff off a little.

GREGOR

I was just going to.

Crash as the boom goes over.

JO

Luffing's the other way.

GREGOR

Aye. (As an afterthought.) Ready about.

CAPTAIN

It's a handy sailor you are, Captain MacGregor.  Give me the tiller.  You can watch Jo skin his silkie.

MARGARET

This morning I said to that soldier, "Bring the great
Silkie," and that was to keep him away.  Because
It's you one day will do the silkie's death,
It's you who'll be his death, and you're still small.

Baby: "Da-da."

What, "da-da"?  That soldier's not your dad.
Your daddy's a king—or a thief.

Baby: "Da-da."

Your dad's a king,
And you are the prince—the prince— the prince of Sule Skerry,
Prince of Sule Skerry rocks, where nobody lives,
Prince of Sule Skerry rocks, just eight months old.
But don't swim off to your princedom.  Stay with me.

GREGOR

Then Jack my buddy and me go up the hill
And the four of them are riding after us.
So Jack he names them.  "One, two, three, and four."
"I get the even," Jack says.  "Take the odd."
"Here's one," I say, "from the backboard."  That's a joke.
"Here's two," says he.  "Here's three with English."  "Four."

JO

Give me the sharp knife, Gregor.  The other one.

GREGOR

Take all of them, my boy.  "Here's three."  "Here's four."
And we touch the lot, and the lot of them fall to the ground.
And never a hair of their horses we hit,
And the horses run into the wood.

JO

Then I nick the fins.

GREGOR

Very tidy, lad.
And that's how we worked together, Jack and I.
King George's triumphs they called us.  It was a grand game.

JO

Gregor?

GREGOR

Thread, lad?  Knife?

JO

Gregor—it's true what Captain says, you never used a gun before?

GREGOR

You saw me at the pier, how I struck the rock?

JO

It was no lucky shot?

GREGOR

Lad, you know better.

JO

Then, Gregor, if it was no lucky shot, and if you've used a gun, and for the king, why didn't you shoot the silkie?

GREGOR

You had him covered.

JO

Na, Gregor.

CAPTAIN

What the lad means. Captain, why did you quit the army, Captain MacGregor?

GREGOR

I was meaning to tell you a tale.

CAPTAIN

Aye, you were.

GREGOR

About a dark alley and all, and pretty young girls,
And brawling and all, and a slight that cut to the heart.
Something to cheer up young Jo.

CAPTAIN

Aye, that you were.

GREGOR

What happened, you know, I lost my heart for it.
Gunning was bonny, how I took my aim
And men would fall; and then it was not bonny.
Like when I was a boy, I ate salt herring.
Supper and dinner, herring for me it was;
First in the morning, herring; last at night.
My mother stares, and the eggs get cold on my plate;
Herring, salt herring. One day I turn against it.
I never can touch it again. So I tell Jack Hare,
"I'll not kill a man again." And Jack tells me,
"What a man's to kill, he'll kill."  I say, "Talk sense,
Jack," and I leave the camp. I laugh inside
At Jack for playing prophet, and laugh out loud
And call him Mother Hare, and leave the camp.
"I'll not kill a man again," say I to Jack.
Your beast was standing high upon a rock,
And he was far away across the water.
"What a man's to kill, he'll kill," says Jack to me.
Your beast was far away across the water,
His chest was broad and black, his arms were down,
The sun was glaring, and his head was small.
I thought he was a man.

MARGARET

Nights in a dream I think that you are lost.
I comfort myself; I say, "Well, it's as well.
Children are trials and troubles, and this one was ugly."
And day after day in the dream I weep for my babe.
Saying, "Well, it's as well," and the tears streaming down like rain,
And looking for my lost one everywhere,
Saying, "Have you seen him?" Saying "Where has my baby gone?"
Saying, "Well, it's as well," and the tears streaming down like rain.
And you're not even weaned yet; you can't walk
You are so small. Dreams are just dreams. I'll close
My eyes to them, and when I open them—
Up, up in the, air, way high, high in the air, high—

The Baby laughs, hoarsely.

And I open my eyes.

JO

They look like men, the silkies, when you see them
Over the water, but they're only beasts.
They tell the children different. Some folks say
Silkies are men at midnight; that's to keep
The children in their bed. And some folks say
It's on Allhallows Eve silkies are men
And come for wicked children and dandle them
Down in the waves and drown them;
And that's to keep them good. And some folks say
The silkies are the spirits of dead hunters;
And that's to comfort widows, and it's not true:
I've looked for my dad; none of them beasts is him.
Some say the silkies are men when as they like
And some they're men when as they walk on the land
And some say only great silkie turns into a man.
It's all untrue because if we should doubt
Who is a man and who is not, we'd soon
Be looking slyly at each other: "Is he
A silkie really?" You see it's nonsense, Gregor.
Give me the sharp knife again.  Aye, that's the one.

Suppose the silkie were a man sometimes,
He would be a silkie still.
Men don't change into beasts: silkie's no man.
Silkie dwells in the Sules where nothing grows.
He swims the sea, but men go out in boats.
Men kill with guns, but silkie slew my dad
With his sharp teeth.
But silkie's eerie, all the same.  Some nights
I hear them crooning on the rocks. I think,
If I could listen rightly I'd get the words.
I listen and listen, but never get the words.
It's not like my dad.  My dad was a good plain speaker.
There, she's skinned, the little one.  I'll make
A scarf of her belly. Captain gets the rest.

MARGARET

Yes, yes, it's dinnertime. Come in my arms,
And then you'll sleep. The men are on the sea,
Slaying and sailing, but I have milk for my babe.
The door is latched and I will nourish you
And strangers will not enter.
And never a traveling soldier will toss you up;
And never a red-haired deserter will come to your crib.
The door is latched.
I saw a baby once whose mam went off
And day and night it wept, even in its sleep,
Until it did forget her.  Our door is latched.
And sometimes it would creep into the closet
And sometimes it would creep among the cushions
Seeking its mam. You've only to open your eyes
And I am here. Na, shut them, nothing's to waken,
Nothing's to bring us unease. The door is latched.
Our house was built in a night and we are safe
From all the sorrows of the day and night;
Can none of them come in. The door is latched.

JO

Gregor, will you come home with me for supper tonight?

GREGOR

Thank you, Jo, but I'm dining with Margaret MacLinn.

JO

Na, Gregor, don't joke. My mam would welcome you, she likes the soldiers. Margaret MacLinn will never let you in.

GREGOR

Oh, but she will.

JO

What, with the great silkie?  We won't find him today.

GREGOR

The day's not over.

JO

The Sules are far behind us. Come home with me.

GREGOR

What a man's to kill, he'll kill, says Jack.  I'll kill the great silkie.

MARGARET

The world lives all on cliffedge. You and I
Are the only inland dwellers.  We are sure
In one another until the years are over
And you are grown and gone to your own home.
That's fifteen years or twenty, no trouble of ours.
Then am I no worse off than I was before,
Living in doubt from day to day; or somebody's wife,
Doubting and quarreling with him,
Our bairns latecomers, the man first in the house;
The elder child uneasy, and the young ones
Ill at ease; and all of them shy of the man,
And him of them.
Ours is an inland place, away from rocks.
I rock you in my arms and shelter you
And look down from our stronghold while you sleep
To where the sea falls forth like a coverlet
And the summer sun lies bright on every stone.

The breaking of waves.

HUSKY_VOICED MAN, singing

And it will happen on a summer's day
When the sun lies bright on every stane
That I will come for my young son
And teach him how to swim the faem.

MARGARET

Then sleep, my son, and I will sleep in the sun,
Mother and baby, and the door is latched.

(Sleepily.)
And never a traveling soldier will toss you up.
And never a red-haired deserter will come to your cradle.
The door is latched. Nothing will trouble us.

The breaking of waves.

HUSKY_VOICED MAN, singing

He came one day to her dwelling
And a grumly guest I'm sure was he
Saying, "Here am I, your bairn's father,
Although I be not comely."

JO

There's our pier now, Gregor.

GREGOR

What, that spot?

JO

It's not so far.  Gregor, we won't find great silkie today.  Come home with me.

GREGOR

I told you, lad, I'm dining with Margaret MacLinn.

JO

You haven't got the silkie.

GREGOR

What's an old sealskin?  I'll go up the cliff and rap on her door like this (knocking) with the butt of my gun.  (He knocks again.)

JO

You're rocking us.

Gregor knocks.

Hoo, Gregor, stop, you'll spill us.

The knocking continues.

GREGOR

I'll knock on her door. Ho, Margaret MacLinn, I'll say.
It's Gregor MacGregor, the triumph of George's army.
Open up, Margaret. Gregor MacGregor is here.
Gregor MacGregor, the pride of King George's gunners,
Has come for his dinner. Margaret, open the door.

He knocks energetically. He and Jo laugh.  The knocking becomes softer; then loud again, but measured, in sets of three.

MARGARET

You cannot come in.

Three knocks.

The bairn's asleep. You'll wake him.

Three knocks.

Go away, soldier.

Three knocks.

You'll only bring me trouble. Go away.

Three knocks.

I am cradling my baby. I will not let you in.

The door is unlatched and opened, slowly.

The door was latched and locked, and it was bolted.

The door is closed.

How did you open the door that I had latched?

The Guest steps forward, heavily.

Ah, you're a fierce-looking man.  The babe is sleeping.

The Baby cries, hoarsely.

Hush, lovey, it's your daddy.

The crying stops.

He's come to see you.

Baby: "Da-da."

Yes, it's your dada.

Baby: "Da-da, da-da, da-da."

Don't hold out your arms to him, sir. You'll frighten him.

The Baby cries again.

(Defensively, over the crying.) He's doing well.  He'll do well if you go away. He seldom cries, except you frighten him.

GUEST, in a husky voice

Put down my young son, Margaret, on the floor.

The Baby's crying continues for a moment, then stops abruptly. Shuffling, as it creeps.

MARGARET

He's clumsy creeping. He drags himself along.
It's not to you he's going. He's only creeping
Aimlessly.

Heavy footsteps as the Guest steps forward.

(Sharply.)

Don't pick him up. He cries
When strangers take him.

The shuffling continues for a while.

Why don't you go to him, sir,
And pick him up?  Creeping's so hard for him.

Heavy footsteps.

GUEST

Come.

The Baby laughs.

Sit on my shoulder.

The Baby laughs again. The Guest croons, hoarsely.

MARGARET

What did you say to him?

The Guest croons again, sounding more like words, but still not comprehensible.

What did you say to make him smile like that?

GUEST, crooning:

Falbh do'n tigh, mo ghraidh.  Falbh do'n tigh.
Falbh do'n tigh, mo ghraidh.  Come home with me.
The rocks are cold until the bone.  The waves
Are cold until the heart.  Come home with me.
Falbh do'n tigh, mo ghraidh.  Falbh, mo ghaoil.
The fish are slippery and their bitter guts
Are all the young ones get.  Come home with me.
The seaweed's dank and is not fit to eat.
Then scavenge like a snail.  Falbh do'n tigh.
Come home with me, mo ghaoil.  Come home, my son.
And you shall be prince of the Sules, but never their king.

The crooning dies away.

MARGARET

You've come too soon.  Our son cannot walk yet.

GUEST

It's swimming he'll want now, and I will teach him.

MARGARET

You've come too soon. Our son is not weaned yet.

GUEST

It's fish he'll dine on now. You took good care
Of him. Here is your fee.

The ringing of coins. Since she does not reply:

They use gold nowadays.

Since she does not reply:

Your man will want it.

MARGARET

I have no man except my little one.

GUEST

Oh, you will marry.
And you will marry a bold gunner, the best of gunners.
And you may quite forget my son and me.

(He walks heavily to the door and opens it.)

MARGARET

Put down my baby.

GUEST

It's far for him to creep.

MARGARET

Put down my baby, silkie.

GUEST

Go on the ground, little son.

Baby: "Da-da."

Go where you will.

Baby: "Da-da, da-da."

MARGARET

He's little.  He doesn't understand.

GUEST

I'll take him up again.

MARGARET

No doubt you will.
Or he would turn from you.

GUEST

The child must go.

MARGARET

He must go, if you steal him.

GUEST

Very well.
Very well.  Very well.  Come, son, beside me.

Baby: "Da-da."

I will not take you up. Come on your own.

The Guest and the Baby start down the cliff.

MARGARET

I'll say goodbye to him.

Baby: "Da-da."

          Say mama, love.

Baby: "Da-da."

It isn't talking that he does, you know.
It's only syllables.  Say mama, love.

Baby: "Da-da."

Say mama, love.

Baby: "Da-da. Da-da."

The Guest and the Baby start down the cliff.

GUEST, stopping

The best of gunners, Margaret, the very best.
And he will be a bold man on the waters
And he will be a legend in the Sules
And he will slay both me and my young son.

They go down the cliff.

MARGARET

How you are clumsy, silkie, on the land,
But not so clumsy as my little son
Creeping at your side. Ah, take him up;
I see he will not turn.  Take him up, silkie.
You cannot hear me now. You'll have him creep
The whole rough way because I taunted you,
Over the sharp little stones, my ugly baby,
All on his own, over the broken shells.
My ugly little love, but I am sorry—
How far it is, and how you will be tired
When you reach the sea; and still the long swim home.

The harbor: gulls skua, sails shaking.

CAPTAIN, calling

What luck, the Mary Jane?

FIRST HUNTER, calling

No luck today. What luck. White Hawk?

CAPTAIN, calling

We got a small one. My boy Jo killed her.

JO, calling

I'm making a scarf of her belly.

FIRST HUNTER, calling

Nancy likes scarves, eh?

JO, sheepishly

Ohhh ... Silkie to port bow, Captain!

SECOND HUNTER

Silkie ahead!

THIRD HUNTER

Silkie, sir, silkie, coming down the rocks.

Pause.

JO, awed

It's the great silkie, Captain.

SECOND HUNTER

Great silkie!

THIRD HUNTER

Great silkie!

FIRST HUNGER

Let Jo of the White Hawk shoot first.  He's slayed Jo's dad.

JO

Na, something's not right with him.  He's coming so slowly.  Great silkie is always the fast one.

GREGOR

Is it really the great silkie, Jo?  Jo, didn't I tell you?!

JO

Aye—you slay him, Gregor; for he's coming down so slow.

GREGOR

For Margaret MacLinn!

Gunshot.

HUNTERS

Hurrah!

SECOND HUNTER

Hurrah for Jo Bain of the White Hawk!

THIRD HUNTER

Hurrah for young Jo Bain!  He slayed the great silkie.

JO, calling

It was Gregor MacGregor who slew him, a bold gunner. It was Gregor MacGregor, not me.

MARGARET

You're stopping, silkie. Is it to take my baby?
You're bending over him.  Yes, carry him.
I never meant that he should pull himself
So far.... Is that a sail?  The men are coming.
The sun is in my eyes.  It's hard to see....
It is a sail. Take care when you reach the shore.

CAPTAIN

Coming in to dock.

JO

Tom, catch our line.

TOM

You're cleated down, sir.  Jo, that was a shot.

JO, jumping to shore

It was Gregor here who slayed him.

TOM

On the first shot!

JO

Give Gregor a hand, Tom.

Scramble as Gregor goes ashore.

Come up the cliff with us, Tom. We'll see the silkie.

They climb. After a moment:

TOM, breathless from climbing

Men's been after that silkie for years.

GREGOR, catching his breath

I vowed to slay him.  Tell him, Jo, how I vowed to slay him.

JO

Aye. Tom, he did. (After a pause, while they climb.) What was he doing so far inland, I wonder?

TOM, jokingly

He was visiting Margaret MacLinn.

They laugh. Pause.

JO

He's just around this spur.

Pause.

TOM

Aye.  He's a big one.

GREGOR

Strip him down quick for me, Jo.  It's suppertime nearly.

JO

Help me to turn him.

GREGOR, grunting

The-e-ere—he goes!'

A brief pause.

JO, surprised, almost frightened

Look.

TOM

Oh, look.

JO

It's a little one.  You can make a bunting of him.  You slayed them both, Gregor, with your one shot.

Pause. Then the other hunters come up after them.

TOM

Two silkies slain!  Two with a single shot!

HUNTERS

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah for Gregor MacGregorl

GREGOR

Hurrah for Gregor MacGregor who slayed the great silkie!
The triumph of George's gunners, hurrah for him!
Strip them down quickly, Jo.  All of you, help him.
Sponge the skins. Give me them. Thank you, all. Margaret!

(As he knocks on her door.)

Margaret MacLinn, Margaret MacLinn,
Gregor MacGregor has slain the great silkie.
I've stripped his skin and I've sponged his hide
And I've brought you his wee one to wrap up your baby.
The pride of the army has slain the great silkie.
Open the door to me, Margaret MacLinn.

End