I recall one whom I knew, a fisherman of the little green island: and I tell this story of Coll here, for it is to me more than the story of a dreaming islander. One night, lying upon the hillock that is called Cnoc-nan-Aingeal, because it is here that St. Colum was wont to hold converse with an angel out of heaven, he watched the moonlight move like a slow fin through the sea: and in his heart were desires as infinite as the waves of the sea, the moving homes of the dead.
Arid while he lay and dreamed, his thoughts idly adrift as a net in deep waters, he closed his eyes, muttering the Gaelic words of an
In the Isle of Dreams God shall yet fulfil Himself anew.
Hearing a footfall, he stirred. A man stood beside him. He did not know the man, who was young, and had eyes dark as hill-tarns, with hair light and soft as thistledown; and moved light as a shadow, delicately treading the grass as the wind treads it. In his hair he had twined the fantastic leaf of the horn-poppy.
The islander did not move or speak: it was as though a spell were upon him.
“God be with you,” he said at last, uttering the common salutation.
“And with you. Coll mac Coll,” answered the stranger. Coll looked at him. Who was this man, with the sea-poppy in his hair, who, unknown, knew him by name? He had heard of one whom he did not wish to meet, the Green Harper: also of a grey man of the sea whom islesmen seldom alluded to by name: again, there was the Amadan Dhu . . . but at that name Coll made the sign of the cross, and remembering what Father Allan had told him in South Uist, muttered a holy exorcism of the Trinity.
The man smiled.
“You need have no fear, Coll mac Coll,” he said quietly.
“You that know my name so well are welcome, but if you in turn would tell me your name I should be glad.”
“I have no name that I can tell you,” answered the stranger gravely; “but I am not of those who are unfriendly. And because you can see me and speak to me, I will help you to whatsoever you may wish.”
“Neither you nor any man can do that. For now that I have neither father nor mother, nor brother nor sister, and my lass too is dead, I wish neither for sheep nor cattle, nor for new nets and a fine boat, nor a big house, nor as much money as MacCailein Mòr has in the bank at Inveraora.”
“What then do you wish for, Coll mac Coll?”
“I do not wish for what cannot be, or I would wish to see again the dear face of Morag, my lass. But I wish for all the glory and wonder and power there is in the world, and to have it all at my feet, and to know everything that the Holy Father himself knows, and have kings coming to me as the
crofters come to MacCailein Mòr’s factor.”
“You can have that, Coll mac Coll,” said the Green Harper, and he waved a withe of hazel he had in his hand.
“What is that for?” said Coll.
“It is to open a door that is in the air. And now, Coll, if that is your wish of all wishes, and you will give up all other wishes for that wish, you can have the sovereignty of the world. Ay, and more than that: you shall have the sun like a golden jewel in the hollow of your right hand, and all the stars as pearls in your left, and have the moon as a white shining opal above your brows, with all knowledge behind the sun, within the moon,
and beyond the stars.”
Coll’s face shone. He stood, waiting. Just then he heard a familiar sound in the dusk. The tears came into his eyes.
“Give me instead,” he cried, “give me a warm breast-feather from that grey dove of the woods that is winging home to her young.” He looked as one moon-dazed. None stood beside him. He was alone. Was it a dream, he wondered? But a weight was lifted from his heart. Peace fell upon him as dew upon grey pastures. Slowly he walked homeward. Once, glancing back, he saw a white figure upon the knoll, with a face noble and beautiful. Was it Colum himself come again? he mused: or that white angel with whom the Saint was wont to discourse, and who brought him intimacies of God? or was it but the wave-fire of his dreaming mind, as lonely and cold and unreal as that which the wind of the south makes upon the wandering hearths of the sea?
— Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp), The Works of “Fiona MacLeod” (Uniform Edition), Volume IV, arranged by Mrs. William Sharp, London, William Heinemann, 1912.