Across the way from me, a highland ball is going on. I hear the music, and I think: I’ll take the dogs out for a look.
I put my hat on. Obviously. This is no moment to forget one’s hat.
We stand quietly, secretly, in front the of the open French windows, watching the dancing. I can never remember the names of the dances, even though I know how to do some of them. This is the one where the gentleman, in very courtly fashion, introduces the lady to another gentleman, does a little bow, then turns and dances with the lady behind him.
Darwin and Stanley are bewitched.
I am bewitched.
There are the ones who have clearly been dancing these dances since they were old enough to walk. There are the ones who have been dancing together since they were five years old and know each other's every move. There are the ones who like to swagger and sway and showboat. There are the ones who are patently the Best in Show, but are so confident in their brilliance that they contain it, do no whirling or whooping, but simply live the dance. I think those are the ones I love the best.
And then there are the ones who have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They go the wrong way, hit the wrong beat, laugh all over their faces as they charge towards the wrong partner. I smile a twisted smile. I was once one of those, being gently and politely guided by the good dancers who knew what they were doing.
I was so lost in watching that I was caught by surprise when the music stopped and the crowd spilled out to embrace the cool night air.
Darwin the Dog went mad. HUMANS!!! IN KILTS!!! WHOM I HAVE NEVER MET BEFORE!!!!
I tried to calm him but that ship had sailed merrily out to sea.
The very lovely thing about the kind of people who go to highland dances is that they are dog people. They, like me, are stuck on Dog Island with no chance of a ferry home. They clustered around the beautiful boy and gentled him and kindly subdued his leaps of joy. ‘What is he?’ they said. ‘Is he a lurcher? Are you going to work him? Oh, how bonny he is.’
Stanley the Manly, who is not so certain of crowds, stood back, by my side, letting his compadre get the attention. Darwin the Dog danced into the spotlight, adoring every moment.
One fine man cast aside all thoughts of the party and hunkered down on his knees, talking to D the D as if he were a Best Beloved, stroking his head, admiring his athletic physique. That, I thought, is a proper person.
‘He’s half Lab, half lurcher,’ I said, smiling and laughing, to two particularly charming gentlemen. They squared their shoulders and swished their kilts and grinned all over their happy faces. ‘Look at him,’ they said. ' All over the place. We know the feeling.'
Darwin gazed up at them with slavish admiration. He knew a proper highland pair. 'He is an English dog,' I said. 'This is his first Scottish dance.'
One of the fine highland men clapped his friend on the shoulder, and gave him a look of ineffable fondness. ‘Tail up,' he said, 'just like you.’
Happy boys, I thought. Grand Scottish boys. ‘Ah,’ I said. ‘That’s friendship for you. You know how to pay a compliment. Tail up.’
And then we all laughed at each other in the black Scottish night and I tipped my hat to them and walked back home.
People say, after all this time, because I am still, in their minds, a soft southern girl: what are you doing all the way up there? This is what I am doing.