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The Database of Ornament

Of the seven Achannas— sons of Robert Achanna of Achanna
in Galloway, self-exiled in the far North because of a bitter feud
with his kindred— who lived upon Eilanmhor in the Summer
Isles, there was not one who was not, in more or less degree,
or at some time or other, fey.

Doubtless I shall have occasion to allude to them again, and
almost certainly to the two youngest; for they were the strangest
folk I have known or met anywhere in the Celtic lands, from
the sea-pastures of the Solway to the wrack-strewn beaches of
Lewis. Upon James, the seventh son, the doom of his people
fell last and most heavily. Some day I may tell the full story
of his strange life and tragic undoing, and of his piteous end.
As it happened, I knew best the eldest and youngest of the
brothers, Alasdair and James. Of the others, Robert, Allan,
William, Marcus, and Gloom, none save the last-named sur-
vives— if peradventure he does— or has been seen of man for
many years past. Of Gloom— strange and accountable name,
which used to terrify me, the more so as by the whim of fate it
was the name of all names suitable for Robert Achanna’s sixth
son— I have long known nothing beyond the fact that ten
years or more ago he was a Jesuit priest in Rome, a bird of
passage, whence come and whither bound no inquiries of
mine could discover. Two years ago a relative told me that
Gloom was dead, that he had been slain by some Mexican
noble in an old Spanish city beyond the seas. Doubtless

the news was founded on truth, though I have ever a vague
unrest when I think of Gloom, as though he were travelling
hitherward, as though his feet, on some urgent errand, were
already white with the dust of the road that leads to my house.
But now I wish to speak only of Alasdair Achanna. He was a
friend whom I loved, though he was a man of close on forty,
and I a girl less than half his years. We had much in common,
and I never knew any one more companionable ; for all that he
was called ‘Silent Allie.’ He was tall, gaunt, loosely built. His
eyes were of that misty blue which smoke takes when it rises
in the woods. I used to think them like the tarns that lay
amid the canna-whitened swamps in Uist, where I was wont
to dream as a child.

I had often noticed the light on his face when he smiled, a
light of such serene joy as young mothers have sometimes over
the cradles of their first-born. But, for some inscrutable
reason, I had never wondered about it, not even when I heard
and understood the half-contemptuous, half-reverent mockery,
with which not only Alasdair’s brothers, but even his father at
times used towards him. Once, I remember, I was puzzled
when, on a bleak day in a stormy August, I overheard Gloom
say, angrily and scofifingly,’ There goes the Anointed Man!’

I looked, but all I could see was, that despite the dreary
cold, despite the ruined harvest, despite the rotting potato
crop, Alasdair walked slowly onward, smiling, with glad eyes
brooding upon the grey lands around and beyond him.

It was nearly a year thereafter— I remember the date, because
it was that of my last visit to Eilanmhor— that I understood
more fully. I was walking westward with Alasdair, towards the
end of the day. The light was upon his face as though it came
from within; and indeed, when I looked again, half in awe, I
saw there was no glamour out of the West, for the evening was
dull and threatening rain. He was in sorrow. Three months
before, his brothers Allan and William had been drowned; a
month later, his brother Robert had sickened, and now sat in

ingle from morning till the covering of the peats, a skeleton
almost, shivering, and morosely silent, with large staring eyes.
On the large bed in the room above the kitchen, old Robert
Achanna lay, stricken with paralysis. It would have been
unendurable for me, but for Alasdair and James, and, above all,
for my loved girl-friend, Anne Gillespie, Achanna’s niece, and
the sunshine of his gloomy household.

As I walked with Alasdair I was conscious of a well-nigh in-
tolerable depression. The house we had left was so mournful ;
the bleak, sodden pastures were so mournful ; so mournful was
the stony place we were crossing, silent but for the thin crying
of curlews ; and above all so mournful was the sound of the sea,
as, unseen, it moved sobbing around the isle ; so beyond words
distressing was all this to me that I stopped abruptly, meaning
to go no further, but to return to the house, where, at least,
there was warmth, and where Anna could sing for me as she

But when I looked up into my companion’s face I saw in truth
the light that shone from within. His eyes were upon a for-
bidding stretch of ground, where the blighted potatoes rotted
among a wilderness of round skull-white stones. I remember
them still, these strange far-blue eyes, lamps of quiet joy, lamps
of peace, they seemed to me.

‘Are you looking at Achnacarn?’ (as the tract was called),
I asked, in what I am sure was a whisper.

‘Yes,’ replied Alasdair slowly;’ I am looking. It is beautiful —
beautiful. O God, how beautiful is this lovely world!’

I know not what made me act so, but I threw myself on a heathery
ridge close by, and broke into convulsive sobbings.

Alasdair stooped, lifted me in his strong arms, and soothed me
with soft caressing touches and quieting words.

‘Tell me, my fawn, what is it? What is the trouble?’ he asked
again and again.

‘It is you, it is you, Alasdair,’ I managed to say coherently at
last.’ It terrifies me to hear you speak as you did a little ago.

You must be fey. Why, why do you call that hateful, hideous
field beautiful— on this dreary day, and— and, after all that has
happened ? O Alasdair!’

At this, I remember, he took his plaid and put it upon the wet
heather, and then drew me thither, and seated himself and me
beside him. ‘Is it not beautiful, my fawn?’ he asked, with
tears in his eyes. Then, without waiting for my answer, he
said quietly: ‘Listen, dear, and I will tell you.’

He was strangely still, breathless he seemed to me, for a
minute or more. Then he spoke.

‘I was little more than a child, a boy just in my ‘teens, when
something happened, something that came down the Rainbow
Arches of Caer-Shee.’ He paused here, perhaps to see if I
followed, which I did, familiar as I was with all faerie-lore. ‘I
was out upon the heather, in the time when the honey oozes
in the bells and cups. I had always loved the island and the
sea. Perhaps I was foolish, but I was so glad with my joy
that golden day, that I threw myself on the ground, and kissed
the hot sweet ling, and put my hands and arms into it, sobbing
the while with a vague strange yearning. At last I lay still,
nerveless, with my eyes closed. Suddenly I knew that two
tiny hands had come up through the spires of the heather, and
were pressing something soft and fragrant upon my eyelids.
When I opened them I could see nothing unfamiliar. No one was
visible. But I heard a whisper: ‘Arise and go away from this
place at once. And this night do not venture out, lest evil
befall you.’ So I rose trembling and went home. Thereafter
I was the same, and yet not the same. Never could I see
as they saw, what my father or brothers or the isle-folk
looked upon as ugly and dreary. My father was wroth
with me many times, and called me a fool. Whenever
my eyes fell upon those waste and desolated spots they
seemed to me passing fair. At last my father grew so bitter
that, mocking me the while, he bade me go to the towns, and
see there the squalor and sordid hideousness wherein man
dwelled. But thus it was with me: in the places they call

slums, and among the smoke of the factories and the grime
of destitution, I could see all that other men saw only as
vanishing shadows. What I saw was lovely, beautiful with
strange glory, and the faces of men and women were sweet
and pure, and their souls were white. So, weary and be-
wildered with my unwilling quest, I came back to Eilanmhor.
And on the day of my home-coming, Morag was there— Morag
of the Falls. She turned to my father, and called him blind
and foolish. ‘He has the white light upon his brows,’ she
said of me ; ‘I can see it, like the flicker-light in a wave when
the wind ‘s from the south in thunder-weather. He has been
touched with the Fairy Ointment. The Guid Folk know him.
It will be thus with him till the day of his death, if a duin’shee
can die, being already a man dead yet born anew. He upon
whom the Fairy Ointment has been laid must see all that is
hideous and ugly and dreary and bitter through a glamour of
beauty. Thus it hath been since the Mhic-Alpein ruled from
sea to sea, and thus is it with the man Alasdair your son.’
‘That is all, my fawn, and that is why my brothers when they
are angry sometimes call me the Anointed Man.’

‘That is all.’ Yes, perhaps. But O Alasdair Achanna, how
often have I thought of that most precious treasure you found
in the heather, when the bells were sweet with honey ooze!
Did the wild bees know of it? Would that I could hear the
soft hum of their wandering wings!

Who of us would not barter the best of all our possessions—
and some there are who would surrender all— to have one touch
laid upon the eyelids, one touch of the Fairy Ointment ? But,
  alas ! the place is far and the hour is hidden. No man may
    seek that for which there can be no quest. Only the
      wild bees know of it, but I think they must be
        the bees of Magh-Mell; and there no man
          that liveth may wayfare yet.

                                                                                                FIONA MACLEOD.


MLA citation:

Macleod, Fiona. “The Anointed Man.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1, Spring 1895, pp. 101-105. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.