Dominion of Dreams, by Fiona Macleod


The "vision," or second-sight, is more common in the Western Isles than in the Highlands; now at least, when all things sacred to the Celtic race, from the ancient language to the degenerate and indeed all but vanished Beltane and Samhain rites, are smiled at by the gentle and mocked by the vulgar. A day will come when men will lament more what is irrevocable than ever a nation mourned for lapsed dominion. It is a bitter, cruel thing that strangers must rule the hearts and brains, as well as the poor fortunes, of the mountaineers and islanders. Yet, in doing their best to thrust Celtic life and speech and thought into the sea, they are working a sore hurt for themselves that they shall discern in the day of adversity. We of the passing race know this thing---that in a day to come the sheep-runs shall not be in the isles and the Highlands only; for we see the forests moving south, and there will be lack, then, not of deer and of sheep, but of hunters and shepherds.
That which follows is only a memento of what was told me last summer by a fisherman of Iona. If I were to write all I have heard about what is called second-sight, it would be a volume and not a few pages I should want. The "sight" has been a reality to me almost from the cradle, for my Highland nurse had the faculty, and I have the memory of more than one of her trances.
There is an old man on the island named Daibhidh (David) Macarthur.
It was Ivor McLean, my boatman friend, who took me to him. He is a fine old man, though "heavy" a little---with years, perhaps, for his head is white as the crest of a wave. He is one of the very few of Iona, perhaps, of the two or three at most, who do not speak any English.
"No," he told me, "he had never had the sight himself. Ivor was wrong in saying that he had."
This, I imagine, was shyness, or, rather, that innate reticence of the Celt in all profoundly intimate and spiritual matters; for, from what Ivor told me, I am convinced that old Macarthur had more than once proved himself a seer.
As there are several Macarthurs on Iona, I may say that the old man I allude to was not so named. Out of courtesy I disguise his name, though since the above was written he is no more.
But he admitted that his wife had "it."
We were seated on an old upturned boat on the rocky little promontory, where once were first laid the innumerable dead, brought for burial to the sacred soil of Iona. For a time Macarthur spoke slowly about this and that; then, abruptly and without preamble, he told me this:
The Christmas before last, Mary, his wife, had seen a man who was not on the island. "And that is true, by St Martin's Cross," he added.
They were, he said, sitting before the fire, when, after a long silence, he looked up to see his wife staring into the shadow in the ingle. He thought that she was brooding over the barren womb that had been her life-long sorrow, and now in her old age had become a strange and gnawing grief, and so he turned his gaze upon the red coals again.
But suddenly she exclaimed, "Cait am bheil thu dol?" (Where are you going?)
He looked up, but saw no one in the room beside themselves.
"What has come to you?" he asked. "What do you see?"
But she took no notice.
"Cuine tha thu falbh?" (When are you going?) she muttered, with the same strained voice and frozen eyes. And then, once again, "C'uine thig thu rithisdf?" (When will you come again?) And with that she bowed her head, and the thin backs of her hands upon her knees were wet with falling tears.
For the fourth of an hour thereafter she would say nothing except moan, "Tha an amhuinn domhain; tha an amhuinn domhain; fuar, fuar; domhain, domhain!" (Deep, deep is the river; cold and deep; cold and deep!)
And the man she saw, added Macarthur, was her nephew, Luthais, in Cape Breton, of Nova Scotia, who, as they learned before Easter, was drowned that Christmas-tide. He was the last of his mother's race, and had been the foster-child of Mary.