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Above the stony beach, where boats lie among the
rocks, is the village street, lined with white cot-
tages ; and beyond, fields of tall grain and good
pasture slope upward to the foot of the low green
hills, whose highest peak rises to the north of the
village, a background for the cathedral. Many of
the cottages are new, others are whitewashed into
comparative cheerfulness. The crops on the lower
ground, the sheep and cattle on the hills, are pleas-
anter to see in an island where men live than end-
less wastes of heather. In lona the civilization of
the monks of the Dark Ages has survived even the
modern sportsman.

It is the fashion among writers of guide and
other books about lona to call it a desolate, lonely
little isle. That it is little I admit ; but you must

On the, Islands. 89

go to the other side of the Sound for the loneliness
and desolation. In proportion to its size, it seemed
to us the most cultivated island of the Hebrides. I
have heard it argued that for the Duke of Argyll
not to forfeit his ownership was a true charity to his
tenants, as if lona was still the desert St. Colurnba
found it. But I think its rental would be found a
fair return for the charity of a landlord. As for the
favorite myth that lona is far out in the Hebridean
Sea, I hardly know how it could have arisen, since
the island is within easy reach of the main-land and
of Mull. There is no history of its old monastery
that does not tell how the pilgrim coming to it
from the Ross of Mull had but to call a summons
from the granite rocks, and the monks would hear
the cry and make ready to meet him in their boats.
If this be true, however, his voice must have been
phenomenal. The modern pilgrim could no more
do this than he could wield the long sword or
pull the cross-bow of men of old. In our time a
steamer comes to lona every day from Oban, and
twice a week another stops on its way to and
from Glasgow and the Outer Hebrides. If lona
lay so near American shores it would long since
have become a Bar Harbor or a Campo Bello. Even
where it is it has its crowds of visitors. The writ-
er who on one page tells you of its loneliness, on
the next mourns its daily desecration when tourists
eat sandwiches among the ruins.


Our Journey to the Hebrides.

These ruins, like everything else in lona, belong
to the Dnke of Argyll. They are kept locked
except when the keeper of the keys opens them
to sight-seers. It may interest his Grace to know
that we trespassed, climbing over the low stone


walls into the cathedral enclosure. While we were
there we were alone, save for black sheep, the
modern successors of the monks. It is a fact that
as we stood with our feet upon Macleod of Mac-
leod's tomb, one of the black sheep probably the
very same which frightened Gertrude White in

On the Islands. 91

the moonlight baaed at us. But the sun was
shining, and we did not screech ; we merely said
shoo to it, and remarked upon its impudence.

If our piety, with Dr. Johnson's, did not grow
warmer among the ruins of lona, at least our way
of seeing them was not unlike Boswell's. Perhaps
this is why we think he showed more common-
sense in lona than elsewhere on his journey. He
did not trouble to investigate minutely, he says,
" but only to receive the general impression of sol-
emn antiquity, and the particular ideas of such
objects as should of themselves strike my atten-
tion." But indeed, unless you have a lifetime to
spend in lona, unless you are an architect or an
archaeologist, there is little need to care where the
exact site of infirmary or refectory or library
may be, or to whom this shrine was set up, that
tombstone laid, or in what year walls were built,
windows opened. It is enough to see how beauti-
ful the monks could make the holy place they
loved, here on this rough northern coast, as in
among the vineyards and olives of the south, as
in English fenland and wooded valley.

But if Boswell's impression was one of disap-
pointment, ours was one of wonder to find the ruins
so much more perfect than we had expected, and so
beautiful, not only with the beauty of impressive-
ness as a whole, but with a grace and refinement
of detail one does not look for in the far north.

92 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

Much early Italian work is not more graceful
than the carving on the capitals, the tracery in the
windows, the door-way leading into the sacristy,
the arches that spring from the cloister walls to
their outer arcade in the monastery and church
founded by St. Colurnba. If, as has been said, no
ivy covers the walls, when we were there yellow
flowers had pushed their way between the stones,
while windows and rounded arches made a frame-
work for the unbroken blue of sea and sky and
pale distant hills. For so long as we were in the
cathedral, the sun shone as if, instead of Hebridean
seas, the Mediterranean lay beyond. True, this did
not last half a morning ; it rained before night ;
but the very breaks in the sunshine, and the way
the clouds came and went, made the day more

It is strange to see this wonderful work of other
days in an island where, owing to their present
masters, men can now scarce support existence.
Centuries of progress or deterioration which is
it ? lie between the cathedral, lovely even in
ruin, and the new ugly kirk close by. And yet
when men had time to make their world beautiful
the harvest was as rich. There was enough to
eat and to spare for the stranger when the Celtic
knots and twists were first carved on the cross
standing by the cathedral door and looking sea-
ward, and on the tombs lying within the chancel.

On the Islands. 93

But, and more's the pity, the same cannot be said
to-day, when tombs are crumbling, and pale green
lichens cover the carving of the cross. You feel
this contrast between past and present still more
in the graveyard by St. Oran's chapel, into which
also we made our way over a stone wall. The
long grass has been cleared from the gray slabs,
where lie the mitred bishops and the men in
armor, or where the intricacy of the Celtic de-
signs makes space for a ship with its sails spread.
They are "only gravestones flat on the earth," as
Boswell says, and now neatly placed in senseless
rows for the benefit of the tourist. But who
would exchange them for the well-polished gran-
ite obelisks of the modern stone-cutter which rise
at their side ?

The old road leads from the cathedral, past
McLean's weather-worn cross which is so thin
you wonder that it still withstands the strong winds
from the sea to the nuns' convent, whose ruins and
tombs show it to have been only less fine than the
monastery. Here the gate was thrown open. A
small steam-yacht, which we could see lying at
anchor in the Sound below, had just let loose a
dozen yachtsmen upon the loneliness of lona, and
they were being personally conducted through the

We trespassed no more, except in fields on the
western side of the island, whither we walked by

94 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

the very road, for all I know, along which St. Co-
lumba was carried in the hour before death, that
he might once more see the monks working on
the land he had reclaimed, and there give them
his last blessing. But if we trespassed, no one ob-
jected. The men whom we met greeted us in
Gaelic, which, when they saw we did not under-
stand, they translated into a pleasant good-day or
directions about our path.

There were many other places we should have
seen. But since the whole island was a proof of
St. Coliimba's wisdom in settling on it, nothing
was to be gained by a visit to the particular spot
where he landed or where he set up a cairn.
And as for the Spouting Cave, we took the guide-
book's word for it ; for as Dr. Johnson would say,
we were never much elevated by the expectation
of any cave. Instead of sight-seeing, we stayed
on the western shore, looking out beyond the low
white and grass-grown sand-dunes and the bowl-
der-made beach to the sea, with its many rocky
isles, the fear of seamen, black upon the waters.
It is just such a coast as Mr. Stevenson has de-
scribed in his " Merry Men." And, indeed, since
I have written this I have read in his " Memoirs
of an Islet " that it is this very coast, though more
to the south of lona, where the Christ-anna and
the Covenant went down to the bottom, there to
rot with the Espirito Santo and her share of the

On the Islands. 95

treasures of the Invincible Armada. When Co-
lumba sailed from Ireland to Hebridean seas the
Merry Men had long since begun their bonny
dance, for they are as old as the rocks against
which they dash, and these rocks are older than
man. When you know the dangers of this coast
you have no little respect for the saint who dared
them. St. Columba and his disciples, who set up
cross and bell on lonely St. Kilda and the far
Faroe Islands, were the Stanleys and Burtons of
their time.

People who have never heard of crofters and
their troubles can tell you all about St. Columba
and his miracles. In lona he interested us chiefly
because all that is left of his and his followers'
work gives the lie to modern landlords. Land in
the Hebrides, they say, is only tit for deer and
grouse. St. Columba showed that it could be
made fit for man as well.

The landlady of St. Columba's Inn is true to
the traditions of the island. She is as unwilling
to turn the stranger from her door as were the
abbots of St. Columba's monastery. In her own
way she performs miracles and finds room for ev-
ery one who comes. At first we thought that her
miracles were worked at our expense. During our
absence the party from Bunessan had arrived. Al-
though their boxes were on the rocks of the Ross
of Mull, awaiting the ferry-man's convenience, by

96 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

their very numbers they had gained the advantage
we feared, and had quietly stepped into the room
in the manse, of which we had neglected to take
possession. We were now quartered in the school-
house. However, to judge from our comfort there,
we lost nothing by the change.

It was at the late supper that we enjoyed the
"dairy produce" of which Miss Gordon Gumming
writes with rapture. It was a simple meal, such
as one might have shared with St. Columba him-
self. The breakfasts and dinners, I should add,
were less saintly, and therefore more substantial.
As for the rest of the island, the fare is regulated
by poverty and the Duke. We make a great to-
do at home over the prohibition question, but in the
Highlands they manage these matters more easily.
Ducal option, we were told, reigns throughout the
island. And yet the people of lona are not grate-
ful for thus being spared the trouble of deciding
for themselves upon a subject whereon so few
men agree. It has been whispered that drunken-
ness is not unknown in the Blessed Isle, and that
natives have been seen by strangers oh, the scan-
dal of it ! reeling under the very shadow of the

A white-haired clergyman, with pleasant old-
fashioned manners and Gladstone collar, presided
at supper. He introduced us at once to his fam-
ily. " My son " and he waved his hand towards

On the Islands. 97

a youth we had seen crossing the fields with his
color-box " my son is an artist ; he is studying
in the Royal Academy. He has already sold a
picture for forty pounds. Not a bad beginning,
is it ? And my daughter," and he lowered his
voice deferentially, "will soon be in the hands of
the critics. She has just made some wonderfully
clever illustrations for an old poem that hit her
fancy !"

It was pleasant to see his fatherly pride. For
his sake we could have wished her in an easier

Evidently, when you have exhausted saintly gos-
sip in lona you are at the end of your resources.
The clergyman and two or three others with him
were as eager to hear where we had been and
where we were going and what we had seen, as if
they had had nothing to talk about for a fortnight.
We had decided to take the Dunara Castle from
Glasgow, and in it to steam to Coll and Tiree and
the Long Island. We had heard of the steamer,
as you hear of everything in the Hebrides, by
chance. And now the old man was all for having
us change our minds. Here we were, safe in lona,
he said ; why should we brave the dangers of the
wild coast ? Another man thought we had better
not go to Harris ; he had arrived there one Satur-
day evening, intending to remain two weeks ; but
the midges would give him no peace, and he had

98 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

left with the steamer on Monday morning. The
only comfort he could give was that they would
feed us well on the Dunara Cattle. It is strange
that in Scotland, no matter what your plans may
be, your fellow-tourists are sure to fall foul of them.

It was after this the clergyman brought out of
his pocket a handful of the new coins, which we
had not then seen.

" It's an ugly face," said J , thinking only

of the coin, though it would have been no libel
had he referred to her gracious Majesty herself.

But the clergyman was down upon him at once.
" I cannot let any one speak disrespectfully of my
queen in my presence," he cried ; " I love her too
dearly to hear a word against her."

And he told us how, that afternoon, he had
climbed to the top of the highest hill in lona;
and standing where Columba had stood so many
hundreds of years ago, and remembering that this
was the Jubilee year of his beloved sovereign, he
dropped a new shilling into the cairn which marks
the spot where the monks first made their home.

And yet I have a friend who, in the pages of
the Atlantic Monthly, has tried to prove that senti-
ment is fast decaying.

Later, when this same sentimentalist told us of
the poverty, hunger, and misery in lona, we
thought that the shilling might have been dropped
to better purpose.

On the Islands. 99

It was on a gray morning that an old Hamisli
rowed us and two other passengers and a load of

freight to the


which had dropped anchor in the middle of the
Sound. On deck we found four young sportsmen
in knickerbockers and ulsters, their backs turned
upon the cathedral, firing at sea-gulls and missing
them very successfully. In fact, I might as well
say here, they kept on firing and missing so long
as they were on the steamer. A man with a wife,
four children, three maids, and a deckful of bag-
gage, was already preparing to get off at Bunessan.
The domestic energy of the Englishman is only
less admirable than his business-like methods of
pleasure. A party of Lowlanders were playing
cards. A man of universal authority was telling a
small group of listeners all about the geology and
religion, the fishing and agriculture, of the islands.
But as we sat in a corner, sheltered from the bit-
ter cold wind, the talk that came to us was mostly
of sport.

" I played that brute for half an hour !"
" I was fishing with a worm, I think."
"The best thing for shooting rooks is an air-

" He wasn't a particularly good shot."
And all the time the brave sportsmen kept
showing us what particularly bad shots they were.

100 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

Is Tartarin's Chasse de Casquettes really so much
funnier than what is called sport in England ?

Suddenly one of the Scotchmen, leaving his
cards to look about him, gave the talk an unex-
pected literary turn. " That feller, Louis Stev-
verson," he said, "laid one o' the scenes o' his
Keednopped here," and he pointed to the Ross
and Erraid.

" Woo's 'e 'C ' said a cockney.

" 'Arts is trumps," announced a third, and liter-
ature was dropped for more engrossing themes.

Emerson was right. It would be a waste of
time for the literary man to play the swell. Even
the handsome and gentlemanly authors of Boston,
who are praised by Arlo Bates, when they become
known to the world at large may be but " fellers !"

From the Sound we steamed past the great
headland of Gribun, with the caves in its dark
rocks, and into Loch Slach to the pier near Bunes-
san. The sportsmen were the first to alight, and,
with guns over their shoulders, they disappeared
quickly up the hill-side. The father of the family,
like a modern Noah, stood on the pier to count
his wife, children, maid, boxes, bundles, fishing-
rods, and gun-cases, and to see them safely on dry
land. It was fortunate for the original Noah that
he did not have a whole ship's company to fee
when he left the Ark. We were some time put-
ting off and taking on freight. At the last mo-

On the Islands. 101

ment, back ran the four sportsmen, bearing one
bird in triumph. They parted with it sadly and
tenderly. It was pathetic to see their regret after
they had given it to a fisherman, who seemed em-
barrassed by the gift. I think they knew that it
was the last bird they would bring down that day.

Then again we steamed past Gribun. Beyond
it rose Inch-Kenneth and Ulva, really " Ulva dark"
this morning. And one by one we left behind
us, lona, its white sands shining, its cathedral
standing out boldly against the sky ; Staffa, for a
time so near that we could see the entrance to the
great cave with its clustered piers ; Fladda, Lunga,
and the Dutchman's Cap. It was a page from
" Macleod of Dare." And what were the Dim
Harteach men saying now? we could not help
asking. Everywhere we looked were tiny name-
less islands and bits of rock, sometimes sepa-
Vated only by a narrow channel. And now the
snn shone upon us in our corner and made us
warm. And even after the hills of Mull had be-
gun to go down on the horizon, and lona and Staffa
had faded into vague shadows, we could see the
Dutchman, like a great Phrygian cap set upon the

Straight out we went to Tiree, a long, treeless

strip of land with low hills at one end, and a wide,

sandy, Jersey-like beach. A few houses, scattered

here and there, were in sight. There was no pier.


102 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

A large boat, with three men at eacli of the four
long oars, came out to meet the steamer, and into
it were tumbled pell-mell men and women, and
tables, and bags of meal, and loaves of bread, and
boxes. It is another of the Duke of Argyll's isl-
ands. Looking at it from the steamship point of
view, one could not but wonder if as much good
might not be done for people, whose only highway
is the ocean, by the building of a pier as by prohi-
bition laws enforced by a landlord. As in lona,
so in Tiree, no spirits can be bought or sold. It
is one of the anomalies of paternal government that
the men made children turn upon their kind fa-
therly ruler. The crofters of Tiree have given
trouble even as have those of Skye and Lewis.
They are shielded from drunkenness, and yet they
complain that they have been turned from the
land that once was theirs to cultivate, and that
their rents have been for long years so high that
to pay them meant starvation for their families.
Though these complaints are explained by the
Duke as "phenomena of suggestion" to the Com-
missioners, part at least seemed well founded on
fact. Instead of 1251 18*. according to his own
estimate, his Grace, according to that of the Com-
' mission, is now entitled to but 922 10s. from the
island of Tiree.

We had not time to land, but steaming past its
miserable shores, it seemed dreary enough. St.

On the Islands. 105

Columba showed what he thought of it when he
sent penitents there to test their sincerity. The
island of Coll, to which Dr. Johnson and Boswell
were carried in a storm, was as flat and stupid and
dreary. We had come as far as Coll, partly be-
cause of the Doctor's visit. But from this time
until we left the Hebrides we were so much taken
up with what we saw as scarce to give him another
thought. For a while we went many miles astray
from his route.

When you steam from Tiree and Coll, a broad
stretch of the Atlantic lies between you and the
Long Island. If I had my choice, I would rather
cross the Channel from Newhaven to Dieppe, and
that is saying the worst that can be said. The
sunshine for the day came to an end. It was
cruelly cold. The sportsmen fell prone upon the
deck, and the intervals between their now languid
shots were long. The man of authority shut him-
self up in his state-room, the best on the steamer.
The card-players sat sad and silent. We, for our
part, could only think of our folly in coming, and
wonder if we too must be sick. Surely walking
could not be greater misery than this. Though in
these seas you are never quite out of sight of land,
and never clear of the big and little rocks cropping
up all around you, it was not until late in the after-
noon that we came again close to large islands.
They were wild and desolate, with hardly a house

106 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

and but few cattle and sheep on their rocky shores.
One or two boats, with brown sails raised, were
jumping and pitching over the waves.

The gray wretchedness of the afternoon was a
fit prelude to Barra. When we came to Castle
Bay, rain was falling upon its waters, on the bat-
tlemented castle perched upon a rocky, sea-weed-
covered islet, and on the town, set against a back-
ground of high bare hills. But the steamer stopped,
and we went ashore to look about us. A few ugly
new houses, shops with plate-glass windows, often
cited as proofs of the island's prosperity, and then
the real Barra: a group of black cottages com-
pared to which those of Mull were mansions, those
of Kilchrennan palaces running up and down the
rocky hill-side. Only by a polite figure of speech
can the stone pile in which the Hebridean crofter
makes his home be called a cottage. It is, as it
was described many years ago, but " a heavy
thatched roof thrown over a few rudely put to-
gether stones." The long low walls are built of
loose stones blackened by constant rain. The
thatched roof, almost as black, is held in place
without by a net-work of ropes, within by rafters
of drift-wood. The crofter has no wood save that
which the sea yields, and yet in some districts he
must pay for picking up the beams and spars
washed up on his wild shores, just as he must for
the grass and heather he cuts from the wilder

On the Islands. 107

moorland when he makes his roof. Not until you
come close to the rough stone heap can you see
that it is a house, with an opening for door-way,
one tiny hole for window. From a distance there
is but its smoke to distinguish it from the rocks


strewn around it.

At Castle Bay, where many of these "scenes
of misery," as Pennant called them one hundred
years ago, were grouped together, there was not
even the pretence of a street, but just the rock,
rough, ragged, and broken, as God made it. The
people who live here are almost all fishermen, and,
as if in token of their calling, they have fashioned
the thatch of their roofs into the shape of boats ;
one cottage, indeed, is topped with a genuine boat.
There were a few chimneys, but smoke came pour-
ing from the doors, from holes in the thatch and
walls. Many of the roofs bore a luxuriant growth
of grass, with here and there a clump of daisies or
of the yellow flowers which give color to High-
land roads. But this was all the green we saw on
their hill-side of rock and mud.

Through open door-ways we had glimpses of
dark, gloomy interiors, dense with smoke. We
did not cross a threshold, however; to seek ad-
mittance seemed not unlike making a show of the
people's misery. The women and girls who passed
in and out, and stood to stare at us, looked strong
and healthy. Theirs is a life which must either kill

108 Our Journey to the Hebrides.

or harden. Many were handsome, with strangely
foreign, gypsy-like faces, and so were the bonnet-
ed men at work on the pier. It may be that there
is truth in the story which gives a touch of Span-
ish blood to the people of the Outer Hebrides.
If the ships of the Armada went down with all
their treasure, it is said that their crews survived,
and lived and took unto themselves wives in the
islands, from which chance of deliverance was
small. We heard only Gaelic spoken while we
were at Castle Bay. The people of Great Brit-
ain need not go abroad in search of foreign parts ;
but an Englishman who only wants to see the
misery and wrongs of nations foreign in name as
well as in reality, would find little pleasure in

When we left the steamer the four sportsmen
were getting off with their baggage, of which there
was no small quantity. When we returned, hours
later, they were getting in again. The one hotel

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