The Height of Absurdity: Aberdeen 7.2
21 March, 2017 by katelaity
Dunbar waved a hand toward the shore. ‘Down that way is Moray Firth that we’re sailing past now. And not far from these shores is where the strange events surrounding Isobel Gowdie all happened.’
‘Was this a recent occurrence?’ I sensed the time-honoured techniques of a master storyteller preparing his tale, so the question was no more than a chance to get him off to a good start as we say at the races.
Dunbar laughed. ‘No, lad. It was back in the long ago days. More than two hundred years ago. We didn’t have all these modern conveniences and communication was a much more complicated business, too.’
‘I should have to live back in those days,’ I said with a certain satisfaction whilst I sipped my whisky. ‘I prefer modern conveniences.’
Dunbar laughed and pointed to a little table in the corner where we might more congenially enjoy our tale telling. A window to the grey day suggested we were not missing much on deck. I rather wondered at Tansy wandering about. Perhaps she had decided to take shelter below decks.
‘We are much wiser now,’ Dunbar said meditating over his glass. ‘We use religion for comfort and moral guidance, but back in the day it was just as likely to be used as a kind of hammer to beat the prevailing ideas into those who might beg to differ.’
‘There are those who continue to use it in that manner, particularly to subjugate people of other nations,’ a familiar voice offered.
I hopped up. ‘Tansy, please join us. Mr Dunbar, my friend Tansy Popkin. Do sit down, my dear,’ I repeated rather foolishly while the two shook hands. I could see they were sizing one another up. Tansy was wearing one of those rather daunting suits that made her look rather like an explorer. To be fair, we were rather in the way of being explorers I suppose. But there was no need to look quite so bohemian in such a remote location.
Mr Dunbar, however, took her ensemble in stride. Perhaps it was his own Scottish get up or perhaps he merely assumed it was what the Ton wore down in the capital at present. His expression made it plain that he thought her most fetching even without a lot of lace trimmings and a corset. I experienced once more that disconcerting emotion of annoyance when a strange gentleman showed a little too much pleasure in my friend’s appearance. It is not jealousy, I assure you, for Tansy was my friend, at least he was when he was he.
When he was she, it was more difficult to define our connection.
Fortunately, Dunbar returned to his tale at once. ‘We are pulling into the port of Nairn. Just beyond it is the town of Auldearn, which formed around the castle of William of Lyon. It was there these adventures unfurled.’
‘A woman, Isobel…thingee? What was the name?’ I had forgotten already the proper name. Tansy raised an eyebrow at me but it was no use. I was hopeless with names, dates and places. How I had ever passed my History exams was a mystery to me.
‘Isobel Gowdie. She was a farmer’s wife though from a merchant family. She may have thought she had not married quite well enough in marrying John Gilbert, though he was prosperous enough at the time.’
‘Perhaps he was unkind,’ Tansy offered.
Dunbar seemed to take this into consideration. ‘Aye, that’s possible. The poor lass felt bad enough to confess without even any torture, so it’s not as if she were hard-hearted. But her crimes were bad. Witchcraft is a serious business.’
Tansy laughed. ‘But there’s no such thing!’
Dunbar sipped from his glass looking her in the eye. I could not begin to describe his expression. Though there was amusement in his kindly face, it was not as if he were joking with us. Something else was afoot. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Miss Tansy, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Are you not on a strange journey yourself?’
‘But with a scientific purpose.’ Tansy’s face showed doubt however, which seemed amazing enough to me.
‘Did she meet the devil?’ I could not resist asking. ‘Isn’t that what they always claimed?’
‘Oh, she didn’t just meet the devil,’ Dunbar said, setting down his empty glass. ‘She became his lover!’