14 March, 2017 by katelaity
We decided to take a boat around the coast to Aberdeen. For some reason Tansy thought Aberdeen sounded like a good destination. ‘Sometimes we must simply go on instinct.’
I was not so certain. ‘Could we not go to the islands where they make the whisky? I understand it is a fascinating process.’
‘Your desire to drink the Scottish elixir uisge-beatha is quite transparent, my friend,’ Tansy said with a laugh which was rather unkind and somehow wounded my pride more when she was in her womanly guise. There are few things that quail a man’s courage quite like a woman’s scorn. Or perhaps, as my Uncle Edmond has suggested on more than a few occasions, it is only the failing of a man like me who has not been through the crucible of war.
I may lament my lack of experience in that regard, though I can’t say I lament it much for war seems an unnecessary and vulgar process that could be better settled in civilized circumstances. Doubtless such negotiations would be much helped by the calming influence of a little uisge-beatha, too.
We soon sailed away from the port in Stromness, leaving that curiously flat land behind us and sailing around its sister island, Hoy. The sister being wilder, there was much to entertain the eye as we journeyed past. Curious birds that for some reason put me in mind of penguins but with more colourful beaks gazed upon us from afar as if we entertained them as much as they did us, before diving under the icy waters to find a mouthful of little fishes.
As we got back toward the mainland there was less to see—at least there was less that entertained my eye. Tansy can seem utterly fascinated by any new landscape however seemingly uneventful it might be so I wandered about to talk to the other passengers to see who it was we found ourselves amongst.
The majority were off visiting family members, I discovered, when I was able to pry more than a sentence or two out of them. I must say I had expected the Scottish to be like the Irishmen I had met before, voluble and cheeky, always ready to tell a tale of the old country they had presumably seen at least when they were children.
The Scots were quite different altogether. Although we had had good stories from them on our voyage seeking knowledge, there was a distinct lack of interest in simply chatting for entertainment. I began to feel as if my own yammering were a bit of a faux pas on the deck, which left me rather nonplussed.
Perhaps it was simply the newness of the experience that persuaded me to be so energetic. The others who had made the circuit before on the tidy ship had long ago worn away all the novelty of the voyage. I was despairing of finding any congenial soul to entertain me when I discovered an old man in the galley bar who quickly warmed to me when I offered to stand him a round.
His name as William Dunbar, ‘Like the poet!’ he said with pride. I affected to know who he meant but as I would be hard put to name many poets besides, Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare, I was not the least surprised to be ill informed about Scottish poets—or makars as he corrected me. When I told him the purpose of my journey (wondering all the while where Tansy had disappeared to), he rocked back on his heels a moment and then smiled.
He was a curious man. Dressed all in tweed of an olive sort of colour, his shirt under it was a fine French fabric but he wore the native Highland costume of a kilt with a pouch hung before that he explained to be a sporran. There was some other technical details of the ensemble that I forget, for I leave matters of clothing in the capable hands of my tailor, the pride of Savile Row. It was his face I chiefly recall. Like many an older face it bore the marks of time and tide—literally for he had been a sailor for some time—but there was such a sparkling warmth in his brown eyes that I was ready to trust him with my life in no time.
‘D’ye ken the tale of Isobel Gowdie?’ he asked. When I shook my head, Dunbar suggested we take some seats. I had the feeling at once that I was in for an excellent yarn.