The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.10

2 August, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

But maybe it was my apprehension of doctors that was at fault.

‘So you were a medical doctor and chose to head to the colonies? Did you always have such a spirit of adventure?’

Rae chuckled. ‘I admit there is something of a restless nature in my spirit, but the simple answer is that my father was an agent of the Hudson Bay Company, representing their interests in Orkney. Of course we Orcadians are well known as iconoclasts in general. There’s just something about island life that encourages a certain amount of pluck.’

‘So were you always intended to join the explorers?’ Tansy asked. He had that feverish glow of excitement that talk of adventures always engendered and which I personally found rather dangerous. I hoped that Tansy would not be thinking of setting us off across the Atlantic. That might be a step too far for me.

‘I mostly followed my own inclinations, at least until I became a doctor.’ Rae refilled our glasses and then leaned back. The hide draped over the back of his chair looked to be something wilder and larger than the beaver. Perhaps we would learn of its origin as he told his tale. I was getting accustomed a little more to the strange people we were encountering but even so, there was something unreal about the quiet of this house here at the fringes of civilization. Yet this little study, as the room seemed to be, was filled with books and charts and maps. It brought to mind the gruff old Captain Pengelly, who had proved the source of much surprising in Penzance.

Were we in for such oddness here?

‘How did becoming a doctor change that?’ Tansy asked with furrowed brow.

‘It became boring.’ Rae laughed with a hearty noise.

‘Medicine? Boring!’ I couldn’t believe he was serious.

‘Oh, not medicine. The business of medicine.’ He chuckled again, shaking his head. ‘Most of my colleagues were setting up offices and going into debt and planning years in advance. Instead I turned to my father and said I was ready to put my skills to a more thrilling test: a shipboard doctor to the Hudson Bay.’

‘And did he agree to this?’

‘Oh aye. He was pleased I wanted to be part of the Company as it was called. Stromness was the last supply point before ships headed across the Atlantic. The town continues to be a port of call for adventure. Many people come and go, many return again and again. You’ll find as wide a variety of population as you will in your London.’

‘That’s exciting to hear,’ Tansy said. I could tell he was already eager for more stories, though I admit my stomach was wondering when we might have a meal. I was fearing my stomach might rumble and give me away. ‘We have met some rather interesting characters along the way on our quest.’

Rae perked up at the mention of our search. ‘Now tell me what this mysterious quest is. Hogan was a little unclear.’

‘How did he tell you we were coming?’ I couldn’t help asking.

It was Tansy’s turn to chuckle. ‘My friend fears magic or conspiracy.’

‘Not true!’

Rae laughed. ‘I would try to tell you it was a message sent by owls, but you’d never believe that. Simple: we do have the telegraph up here, you know.’

We all laughed at that. Just then Mrs Browne knocked and rolled in a tea trolley. ‘I thought you gentlemen could use a little bite with your spirits.’ The tray was laden with cakes and biscuits as well as small sandwiches, all of which made my mouth water at once.

She handed round the plates and quickly filled them with a variety of tasty bits, waving away any demurrals with a tut. ‘There’s tea if you need it after the whisky. Though the good doctor’s tales may be enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.’

We stuffed our mouths like schoolboys on holiday, I am not ashamed to say. It certainly made me look forward to a proper meal from Mrs Browne’s skilled hands. When we had eaten our fill, we sat back smiling with satisfaction. Rae filled a pipe and after a few puffs seemed satisfied with the smoke and made himself more comfortable.

‘The ship was called the Prince of Wales,’ he began. Outside the rain began to fall, but neither Tansy nor I paid it any attention now.


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