In the afternoon
the sun came out and the swiftly moving clouds cast their running shadows over
gorse and moor; the blue-and-purple highlands of the Scottish mainland across
The Minch seemed so close that you felt you could almost toss an apple over
into Applecross. It was an exuberant and vital afternoon and it became more so
when I turned a corner and met Ilsa rushing along, sweatered, in a short
flannel skirt, and carrying under her arm a tennis racket.
along," she said. "I'm playing tennis with the Sassenachs." These
were Englishmen in Stornoway to establish a navy mine-sweeping base.
There was hardly
anything I would rather have done, so I turned and we stepped right along up
the cobble street between the rows of severe stone houses. At the top of the
hill was the tennis club, simple, a single court with not enough room behind
the base line.
I met Commander
Reggie Onslow and Lieutenants "Nobby" Clark, Jack Pierce and Jim Emery,
all Sassenachs from London. They were warmhearted and interested to find a Yank
on the island. They wanted me to play and offered me gear, but Onslow and I sat
on the side line and girl-watched Ilsa. It was worth it, for besides being the
best player on the court she was a delightful, unself-conscious girl, a little
on the large side, which gave a sense of weight in space to her movements, like
one of those old-time ballerinas before the dancers got skinny. She had a
modified voluptuousness, more Mediterranean than Hebridean, which I found
attractive and most engaging.
That night I went
to a party at the house of Millicent MacLeod, who was Ilsa's first cousin, and
present were a comely lot of young persons, most of whom had been to a
university in Scotland: Edinburgh, Glasgow or St. Andrews. I was impressed with
their fine looks and their gaiety and kindliness, not only to me but to each
other. It was like something from long ago, from a more graceful time than that
to which I was accustomed.
We danced to the
squeeze box of Murdo MacDonald and to records. I recall that I might have
danced more with Ilsa except that a fine-looking young doctor was attentive to
her. So I danced mostly with Millicent.
About midnight we
went to David Tolmie's tweed shop, a tradition, and pairing off, we made
ourselves comfortable among the bales and by the light of the peat fire, and we
had a doch-an-dorris, and I listened to them sing the wonderful sad island
songs in Gaelic. They asked me to sing, and they liked very much Booker Red and
They asked Ilsa
to say a poem much beloved by all of them. She said it in a fine lilting voice
that held us spellbound. It began:
From the lone
sheiling of the misty island
Mountains divide its, and the waste of seas—
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.
Millicent's head on my shoulder, and we nuzzled gently, but my mind was on