The Gentle Folk – A Short Story

Please note: This is a Romantic Fiction that differs in
many ways from the real Fairy Tradition of the British Isles.

~ Also: ~
This is Part 1 of a performance set called “Beltaine 2022 Script”.
The blog post for Part 2: “Journey To The West” is .. {-Here-}
The post for Part 3: “Shamanic Vision Dance” is .. {-Here-}
And you can get a Pdf of the entire script .. {-Here-}
~ Thank you. ~

“The Lovers” from Spirit Hill Tarot

We begin:

It was 1968, and an old Scots mechanic – John McGrath by name – was the very last person in the U.S.A. who really knew the Gentle Folk are real.

And his was no charming childlike thought, but knowledge from experience, for when he was a comely Scottish High­lands youth, a Fairy maid had allured him, and striven to bring him away into her realm.

There, she promised, he would abide carefree in crystal mansions, dine with jolly company on dainty fare and live a hundred years for every ten he might in his native land. But he fled to Ohio instead.

It was sure an unusual wisdom in the youth that young John did manage to demur.

The fair strange maid appeared in his little room in his family’s country cottage every night for weeks; .. Persuaded, entreat­ed, slept with him and all else, cares­sed far gentler than human fingers can, pro­fessing love in whispers in his ear. .. Still he greatly feared saying “aye” though his heart would not say “nay”.

So then suddenly all in one day he sold what he could, gave away what was left, signed onto a freighter in Perth and was gone, then didn’t stop till he walked in the door of kin they had in Perth County, Ohio.

Yes, but mark this: In the falling twilight of that day our boy left, the eldest sister he had, walking the road to their home, was thinking of the lad, and when sister turned a bend, she found an unknown woman by a tree at the road­side alone, a strange maid whose sad Gaelic song I translate thus:

“Oh what can a forsaken lady do, when a fickle lover’s gone beyond the rolling blue?” For it is well known that the Folk do not cross waters.

All right, it’s 1968 again, and it’s noon in front of a modest red brick house out on the edge of town, in the town of Lochland, Perth County, Ohio.

A girl and boy have telephoned and stopped in – or it’s better said a young woman and man, for they’re first-year students at the local college – and they have brought a tape recorder.

It’s one of those big heavy machines with big spools like people had then, and the boy’s doing his Her­cules imitation lugging it in, to benefit the girl’s opinion of him, as they come up McGrath’s front walk.

They’re studying Folklore and they’ve come to hear old man McGrath tell all about the Gentle Folk, as he always called them, and a little about himself. College students had just begun doing that kind of thing in those days, you know.

So old John McGrath is sitting in his lumpy thread­bare easy chair on the back porch, with them sitting close round a rickety little table. He’s holding court with a big silly grin, and leaning toward the micro­phone like a TV star. He really loves it.

First thing after they switched it on, the boy had asked if he lived alone and old John answered:

.. “Ah yeah, my dear wife’s been gone twenty years now. I warned her she’d work herself to death.” And he chuckled at their old private sexual joke.

The boy brought the microphone back toward him­self and said, “Looking around your place here, Mr. McGrath, one might get an impression you work pretty hard too.”

The kid was really working this project, trying hard to get enough of the atmosphere onto tape like his pro­fessor said. Looking around the yard, for pos­terity, the boy recorded, ..

“You’ve got about a half-acre operation, I guess. Appears very well maintained. Nice garden, what looks like squash and carrots. A bit of wood lot. Nice shade trees here out back. I see you’re painting a fence. Do you keep any livestock?”

“Nay. I tried keeping rabbits for a time but I could na’ stand locking ’em up.”

The girl jumped in, “Do you have any children?”

Old Johnny hesitated for a long moment as if in doubt, but the girl didn’t see the joke so he eventually answered, “None that I know of.”

In truth though, it had been his secret heartache the luck of life had him marry a fine woman who, the doctors said, was barren.

Let me tell you how these students came there.

A neighbor child was in that professor’s class the year before. That neighbor girl had heard McGrath say one thing or another about the Gentle Folk, from time to time, her whole life long.

So she wrote about those memories for that class, which the professor read in class this year.

And of course that professor had been seeing “Scot­land” one thing and “Scotland” something else around that corner of Ohio his whole life.

Countless Scots had settled around there, so not only were there place names in plenty, but people had “Scotch Craftsman” hardware stores, “Thrifty” grocery stores and on and on, with always some plaid painted on their signs and store fronts, and window curtains here and there, et cetera.

Of course the school teams were “Celtic Warriors”. There was a bagpipe band in town parades.

But it was America and 1968. So that pro­fessor was just delighted that apparently some actual living person out there actually believed in Fairies.

To tell the truth, this girl and boy that professor sent had talked it over and agreed old McGrath was crazy or a liar. But they decided to politely keep their mouths shut on their “scientific” conclusion.

Still, they really did want to record whatever he said and he was a charming fellow. I guess they warmed up to him as the afternoon went along.

The night before in bed though, approach­ing sleep but still not quite, he saw her face. He heard her voice too and he had not heard her speak for a long time.

With a hard sharp edge to her musical voice she said, “Don’t you speak ill of me Johnny. You’d be no gentleman speaking ill of me!”

And he answered most sincerely, “Never have I done and never shall!” Then he sat bolt upright and sweating.

It was a very long afternoon with that damn tape recorder. The fun wore off. It must have done some­thing to his brain. Into that microphone he poured every detail he knew about them.

He repeated some old beliefs he himself thought non­sense – that Fairies steal babies, blight crops, sink ships, wither men, such as that, charms against Fairies, silly things – he thought it only fair passing foolish­ness along as foolishness. But he did allow he didn’t know for certain knowledge none of it is true.

Some things he mentioned firmly as his own exper­ience, that the Folk live in hills and ancient barrows and do not cross running water, guard old places and come out to dance on certain nights.

He mentioned that Folk and humans fall in love some­times, but the students didn’t take that up.

So, a little further on he returned to it, ventured a thought Folk and humans hold opposite opinions on this thing of love. It’s not a bolt out of the sky to them, but a thing a person chooses, and to be responsible for conse­quences.

Still, perhaps for the best, the interviewers showed no interest in this bit of dire philosophy.

Mainly he passed on the realistic things about them people in the old country in his generation said they knew, everything he’d ever heard his more reliable neighbors intimate they knew.

That whole strange afternoon with that damn buz­zing tape recorder did affect his brain somehow. He was sure he felt some mysterious sensation afterward that didn’t wear off. Then when he sat up sweating after another vision in the night, definitely there was that damned buzzing in his ears.

In that night, starting from this second vision of her face, but this time silent, at first he thought there was a horse fly or mosquito in the house attacking. In his deep distraction from the vision still half-seen in the dark he swatted at it several times but then quieted and listened.

He was hearing it in both ears equally and con­stantly, unchanging. It definitely was the busy hum that damn machine had made the whole damn afternoon. Or maybe not.

Maybe it was like the ocean sounds sometimes when you lie in a bunk close by the hull in an iron ship and you listen carefully, a deep liquid humming echoing sound full of distance, full of beings far away.

Or maybe not; maybe it was a blood vessel burst­ing in his brain or a stroke or a tumor; maybe it was a fly of death after all buzzing in his ears.

When morning and a decent hour came he rushed out to the doctor’s office. The dawning sun had brought him no relief, nor had a cup of coffee nor the morning news nor half a breakfast.

In fact, by now he was a bit light-headed and def­initely queasy. The buzzing in his ears was unabated and by the time he reached the center of town he’d fancied a dozen equally plausible medical causes for it and fancied quite a few likenesses for the sound.

It was like the car motor in middle gear. It was like the radio hum between frequencies. It was like the background sound when he stepped outside his door in the daytime, the background whisper of all distant creatures going about their business.

The doctor examined him quite thoroughly as the doctor always did. He’d always seemed to be a curious chap.

This time, though, the fellow did a lot more look­ing in his ears and throat then testing reflexes – having him walk about the room and stand in different poses while half naked, things like that.

And furthermore, the doctor went to fetch some books that he looked in several times. At the end of this commotion, Johnny dressed again, they sat together in chairs in the examining room and talked.

The fellow told him, “I hope this won’t alarm you but I don’t know what it is.”

McGrath interjected, “But is it serious?”

The doctor answered,
“I don’t know.
.. If you were younger I’d say go home, go about your business and see if it goes away.
.. Many people get buzzing in the ears and it vanishes with no ill effect, and we don’t know why.
.. The brain’s so complica­ted.
.. Then there’s an unlucky few who get buzzing for years with no ill effect, except it drives them crazy.
.. Other hand some­times it means some­thing coming, a precursor.
.. Can I send you to Cincinnati for hospital observation, where they might save you if the worst happens?”

“Something like a stroke?” Johnny asked.

“No, maybe like an aneurysm. .. Or nothing.”

So Johnny pondered. He rubbed one hand across his face and through his hair, and then the other hand across his face and through his hair.

He closed his eyes and reached in deep inside, reaching for the in-most clock spring of this fear.

Yes, he could feel something coming for sure. But without doubt he knew the doctor’s plan was wrong. So he asked the fellow, “If I were a younger man you’d let me go?”

“Yes. But, see, with you in such good health as you’ve always been … well, sometimes with someone as healthy as you have been for so many years, some­times suddenly there is a major problem.”

So that’s all it was. The fellow was just afraid for him; that’s all. He asked,
.. “So you think the whole rig’s going to collapse at once? All the tires will blow and the engine will throw its rods all simultaneously and the gas tank will spring a leak?”

The doctor smiled and shook his head a little and relaxed.
.. “Well, it happens that way sometimes.”

The fellow pondered a moment, deciding what to say, and then went on,
.. “Look here, John, your file says you were born in eighteen ninety-six but you look to me more like a man of forty-five or so. I’ve read about your kind of case but you’re the only one I’ve seen.”

The good doctor pointed to a mirror across the room where they saw themselves sitting side by side.
.. “The first time I saw you I was young and now I’m middle-aged but you’re the same. To outward appear­ances pretty much the same hair, same skin, same teeth, same eyes.
.. You’ve come in here for a check-up every year, you broke your arm one time, had that concus­sion once and you got a cyst removed. That’s all.
.. But I’m afraid because I know it can’t go on forever.”

Johnny spoke with a quaver in his voice:
.. “No, it can’t go on forever, I know that.
..”You’re right that some­thing’s coming too, sure as anything, just around the bend. .. But something’s always coming.
.. You know, now to speak on it, I bet that’s why we’re here with our feet on this flat ground at all; to see what’s coming.”

Well, he wasn’t going to Cincinnati just to make the doctor feel better. What he really had to do was get home and relax.

He decided he very badly needed to calm down. He determined at all costs on a pot of cham­omile tea.

But then on walking out into the street he realized with great surprise that the buzzing had been soft while they sat and talked. Suddenly it was loud again.

So he drove from the doctor’s office slowly, thinking furiously, and turned the wrong way at the light.

He experimented inside his head a while and yes indeed the sound depended on how he listened to it.

When he turned his thoughts away, yet gave some little corner of attention, there was a great lessening of volume and rhythm, like a cello playing softly.

Lost in thought, he kept driving quite a while.

Actually for a moment he noticed he wasn’t going home but it didn’t matter; he could have driven those roads around there in his sleep.

When he gave the buzzing full attention that was different too, for he discerned several notes in concert, and some of these seemed intriguing.

In a way, of course, he was asleep doing this but then woke up suddenly with a start, the car quite still and his foot pressed firmly down on the brake.

Cars were stopped in the road. This was a back road but there were several cars all stopped. People were turning off onto the roadside and getting out and talking with each other and walking off into the woods. It was a bright sunny summer nearly noon.

The barber’s wife, Mary McCutchen walked up to Johnny where he sat there in his car stopped in the road and Mary said, “What do you think?”

He shook his head vaguely. It was surprising that the music didn’t change from shaking his head but only from his thoughts.

He stammered at the good woman half a minute, utterly lost, but finally made out one end of his tongue from the other. “What in the world is going on?” he asked her.

And she laughed at that; “What in the world? That’s a good one. What world do you mean?” And she slapped him on the shoulder and she walked away, back off with the others into the woods.

So he pulled over too and got out. Coming through, he saw it was just a little copse and out beyond these trees, beyond the people where they stood, there was a big pasture they were staring at and pointing.

Johnny came up on little Bill Cahoon, the little hardware man, who was holding a paper – a drawing cut from a magazine – that people came and looked at though no one seemed to want to touch it.

Bill was saying;
.. “A big round thing with lights just like a saucer, like this picture, and it landed right there and left that big circular mark.
.. I was stand­ing exactly here when it landed.
.. I’d seen the light driving by so came to see and here it was landing, then it took off and left.
.. Eleven-seventeen p.m. last night and I don’t give a damn if you believe me.”

So Johnny looked out where the little hardware man was pointing and suddenly in his mind’s eye could see his home.

He could swear that ring in that Ohio pasture was where the Gentle Folk had danced one of their reels in the knee high grass of Scotland.

You know, U.S. Private Johnathan McGrath had been to war, World War One. He’d simply been a truck mechanic behind the line over in France, but the horror found him nonetheless.

He was close enough to the shooting that big artil­lery rounds could come in where his lot stayed, and one night one of these big bombs came out of nowhere, shattering a quiet night.

You see, it was the first shot of an enemy offensive. That happened. There was a great explosion among his service battalion’s tents, and then confusion.

As luck would have it, he’d walked out across the road to see the stars, and though he fell face down from the blast, felt the wind of shrapnel zipping past, and al­though his ears were deaf awhile, he was safe.

Now the same comprehension over­flowed his heart: gratitude and relief. And he began to look about with different eyes, beholding these innocent mortal once-born folk whom he had known so long.

“What fools these mortals be.”

The line from Shakespeare curled around his con­scious­ness among a curving rise and fall of woodwind melody that now pervaded all his thoughts.

But that word “fool” was lush and green with pity in his mind, pity for all these folk with their innocent silly vision of saucer machines from space, with all their lives so penned in by false horizons.

And still he knew himself as mortal too. Still he knew that he had chosen to be mortal and he knew the outcome of that choice was coming due.

He waited up that night, you may be sure. He had no food, no drink but water and that pot of tea. After a great deal of reverie and puzzling it all about, he thought what he might do.

He took a tin whistle that he had for many years, the good old Scots kind, and sat out on the back porch in that ancient easy chair and tried to play along with the melody he heard.

He was long since out of practice but picked it up again easily enough. Soon his fingers were simply prancing on the little instrument.

Immediately it seemed so right. The melody would wait for him sometimes, then whirl away a bit and then come back at last to let him lead again.

Sometimes he and the melody even let the singing crickets lead and for a little while an owl. You may be sure that it was marvelous. You may be sure, although he did not dance, it was a dance.

And then at length, in the kingdom of clocks, the hour eleven-seventeen came round. John saw the fiddler then at last, across the grass up in the branches of a tree, sawing furiously on a glowing nut-brown instrument he held the old way in the crook of his arm.

The fiddler was tall, young, gently swaying with the night’s gentle breeze as though perhaps a tree branch himself, tapping his foot up there – and he looked right down at John and grinned.

John suddenly knew and certainly knew, and yet did not believe, who this fiddler boy was. Joy, hope, gratitude, regret and fear wrestled in his breast. This was his son.

They two kept playing but the rhythm changed. By some trick the laddie now seemed to focus differ­ently. It was no longer just a dance they played, but a coaxing conjuration. Just like they’d been playing toward each other, they now played toward others some­where else.

By glances and posture and the music, the fiddler drew the human man’s attention to a spot on the open lawn before the trees, where some strange phenom­enon was happening.

Something strange was opening or unfolding inside the air.

With his heart risen up and firmly stuck inside his throat, John played a skirl upon his small tin flute, a whirl of notes to liven whatever it may be and beckon, then another skirl and another and another.

If he had known no better, John might well have thought that something was arriving from the distant stars above – or equally that something was emerging from the earth – for some kind of dark yet brilliant dazzle glowed all round about in a way that seemed to shine both up and down.

And there was a whirling movement.

This was not all totally new to Johnny McGrath.

Long ago, when the woman of his dreams would come to the little cottage room, it was always with his back turned.

First she would speak to him and tell him turn his back, and then she’d appear. But there had always been this same fantastic glowing painting the white­washed chamber walls.

It suddenly struck him what the throbbing whirl­ing opening movement was. A heartbeat. His mind’s eye focused within. And his vision whirled in a surging current through the tough muscular chambers of his own heart.

Then it struck him how weary that muscle was. Then he was struck with all these years’ lonely heart­ache. Then he was struck and struck again by a pulse of overwhelming light. Then all was still.

A number of them stood there in the ring before the hawthorn tree. One was she herself, another was their son, but there were more.

Johnny stood, lightly now, stepped down lightly from the porch, but then he just stood still. To her he said, “I’m very sorry to have left you.”

“Aye,” she retorted with some vehemence, “and ye’ve been gone long enough! Yer little voyage is done. Ye know that don’t ye?”

Deeply despairing, he hung his head, but then looked across into her flaming eyes, but then did not speak a single word.

So then she softened. She stepped out toward him, floating over the grass, her glowing gown swirling around her youthful form.

“Look, look,” she said, stopping in arm’s reach but not yet touching. “I’ve brought the whole family! The aunties and uncles. There’s me mum. They’ve come to dance with ye, my Love.”

Still he stared, but now with a dawning of aston­ished hope. “Fair Love,” he whispered, gazing deep into her gleaming eyes, “can it ever be as it was?”

And so she touched his arm.

Her fingers laid light on his forearm for a moment then caressed his hungry skin more gently than human fingers can.

“Oh, aye, aye;” she sighed, “it’s just ye tried me patience, Dear. I doubted what was in yer heart.”

“Oh, Lovey, Lovey,” he replied, embracing her at last, “I was just a cowardly youth and I was afraid but if you truly love me all is right!”

And so the fiddler, stepping to the circle’s center, began again, slowly but then fast.

She and he, their bodies already swaying to the deepening rhythm, she drawing him by their clasp­ing hands above the grass into the ring, only one time he glancing back into the other world.

There were the lonely house, the empty human form upon the threadbare chair.

Of course we cannot follow farther, for Johnny McGrath has left our realm of clocks. But let me just assure you friends, that our hero’s fate where he now dwells is good.

If you would doubt a human man could live and love and prosper in the finest ways in such a land where he has gone to dwell, then gently calm your fears.

He is just a man but still a man is much.

Indeed, just realize: we Human Things have lived a great variety of lives, done a great many different deeds in different ways, envisioned countless visions, thought many thoughts.

We have played many tunes.

(-We’ve found the end of this tale.-)

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