The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.9

26 July, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

‘Here we are,’ Rae said as we drew rein on a lane before what seemed to me a rather modest house. ‘This is the Hall of Clestrain, where I was born. In need of a bit of upkeep these days, but it was once more grand.’

Tansy and I took in the sight. The house seemed rather small, accustomed as we were to the grand houses of London and Sussex. It was grey stone that looked to have been hewn locally, with a steep roof likely to encourage the ceaseless wind and frequent rain to depart as quickly as possible. The surrounding farm had both cattle and sheep, which seemed a bit odd. I’d seldom seen farmers to mix the two though the sum of what I knew about animal husbandry could no doubt have fit into a small hat. The cattle were not the wild and woolly coos of the Highlands. They looked softer and more earthy which I thought odd given the harshness of the island life.

I asked Rae about them as he bad us to sit on the comfortable overstuffed chairs in his sitting room while his housekeeper prepared some tea. ‘You’ll take a wee drop to fight off the cold, will you not?’

‘Of course,’ Tansy agreed at once, though I was a bit timid after our host Hogan had persuaded us to indulge a bit more than was wise the night before. Cajoled into having my share, I felt a happy sensation of fire in my chest as I sipped the elixir, though it was more like a gentle bank of coals than a burning conflagration, so I relaxed.

‘These cows you have here, they’re not like those wild Highland beasts, are they?’

Rae shook his head and smiled. ‘Ours need to be hardy but no quite so fierce as that. They were bred from Aberdeen Angus and you’ll not find a finer cow anywhere for the island rain gives them a bonny freshness that’s without compare. You’ll find that out for yourselves this evening, I’ll wager, for Mrs. Browne will want to show off her culinary skills to a couple of lads from London.’

‘So you have always lived on the island?’ Tansy asked, his curiosity evident. ‘What a life that must be.’

‘Oh it’s nothing compared to life on the Hudson Bay,’ Rae said carelessly.

‘The Hudson Bay!’ Tansy’s eyes glowed with such excitement that I thought they might well set fire to the man’s beard. ‘You have spent time there?’

‘Oh aye,’ Rae said, smiling as he nodded. Clearly he was pleased to have an eager audience. ‘You’re sitting on a beaver skin that’s come all the way from that distant outpost.’

Tansy sat up surprise, then stroked the fur on which he sat. ‘So you went to the wilds of Hudson Bay to trap furs?’

Rae laughed. ‘I went to be a doctor.’

‘A doctor?’ I couldn’t help my outburst, though I am not certain why I was so surprised. ‘When Hogan said you were a doctor, I thought perhaps it was some…philosophical degree.’

He and Tansy both laughed at me, which irked me more than I would want admit.

Having dealt with a wide variety of doctors in my time, I could not say there was a one on Harley Street that looked even remotely like this man.

It wasn’t so much the beard—many of them have beards—but there was an air of, what shall I say? Grit, I suppose. A quality that suggested much more of a man battling forces of nature in the frozen North than wrestling with apothecaries in the city.


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