I have again and again, since my first book Pharais, alluded to Sheumas Macleod: and, as I have shown in the sketch called 'Barabal' and in the dedication of the volume entitled The Divine Adventure, it is to this old highlander, as well as to my Hebridean nurse Barabal, that I owe more than to any other early influences.
Let me tell one other story of him, which I have meant often to tell, but have as often forgotten.
He had gone once to the Long Island, with three fishermen, in their herring-coble. The fish had been sold, and the boat had sailed southward to a Lews haven where Sheumas had a relative. The younger men had 'hanselled' their good bargain overwell, and were laughing and talking freely, as they walked up the white road from the haven. Something was said that displeased Sheumas greatly, and he might have spoken swiftly in reproof; but just then a little naked child ran laughing from a cottage, chased by his smiling mother. Sheumas caught up the child, who was but an infant, and set him in their midst, and then kneeled and said the few words of a Hebirdean hymn begining:-
'Even as a little child
No more was said, but the young man understood; and he who long afterward told me of this episode added that though he had often since acted weakly and spoken foolishly, he had never, since that day, uttered foul words. Another like characteristic anecdote of Sheumas (as the skipper who made his men cease mocking a 'fool') I have told in the tale 'The Amadan' in The Dominion of Dreams.
I remember asking him about the tides, or the weather - what he thought of the elements. And he answered as simply. 'Fire is God's touch,' he said: 'and Light is God himself: and Water is the mother of Life.' I asked him if he thought all the old gods were dead. He asked why. I said that he had just spoken of Water as the mother of Life, and yet he had often told me legends of Manan, the god of the sea.
'No,' he answered, 'they are not all dead. They think we are. They do not change. They are very patient, the old ancient gods. Perhaps it is because they do not care at all, no not a whistle of the wind, for what we think or what we do.'
'But,' he added, 'some have died. And some are very old, and are sleeping, till they get their youth again.'
'And Manan . . . does he live?'
'Ay, for sure. He was here before Christ came. He will see the end of all endings. They say he sleeps in the hollows of great oceans, and sits on mountain-bergs of ice at the Pole, chanting an ancient chant.'
Another time I asked him why he had never married. 'There is only one love,' he said simply, 'and that I gave to the woman of my love. But she died of a fever when I was down with it too. That was in Skye. When I got up, my heart was in her grave. I would be very young, then: but I had too much life put away.' 'And then,' he added, with a smile half whimsical, half wistful, 'to marry a woman for comfort and for peace is only for those who haven't the way of the one or the power to make the other.' I am glad to know another is hardly less indebted to Sheumas Macleod. I am not permitted to mention his name, but a friend and kinsman allows me to tell this: that when he was about sixteen he was on the remote island where Sheumas lived, and on the morrow of his visit came at sunrise upon the old man, standing looking seaward with his bonnet removed from his long white locks; and upon his speaking to Sheumas (when he saw he was not 'at his prayers') was answered, in Gaelic of course, 'Every morning like this I take off my hat to the beauty of the world.'
The untaught islander who could say this had learned an ancient wisdom of more account than wise books, than many philosophies.
I could write much of this revered friend - so shrewd and genial and worldly-wise, for all his lonely life; so blithe in spirit and swiftly humorous; himself a poet, and remembering countless songs and tales of old; strong and daring, on occasion; good with the pipes, as with the nets; seldom angered, but then with a fierce anger, barbaric in its vehemence; a loyal clansman; in all things, good and not so good, a Gael of the Isles.