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A Skye Kitchen

The shepherds, the shepherds’ dogs, and the domestic servants, dined in the large kitchen. The kitchen was the most picturesque apartment in the house. There was a huge dresser near the small dusty window; in a dark corner stood a great cupboard in which crockery was stowed away. The walls and rafters were black with peat smoke. Dogs were continually sleeping on the floor with their heads resting on their outstretched paws; and from a frequent start and whine, you knew that in dream they were chasing a flock of sheep along the steep hill-side, their masters shouting out orders to them from the valley beneath. The fleeces of sheep which had been found dead on the mountain were nailed on the walls to dry.

Braxy hams were suspended from the roof; strings of fish were hanging above the fire-place. The door was almost continually open, for by the door light mainly entered. Amid a savoury steam of broth and potatoes, the shepherds and domestic servants drew in long backless forms to the table, and dined, innocent of knife and fork, the dogs snapping and snarling among their legs; and when the meal was over, the dogs licked the platters. Macara, who was something of a poet, would, on his
occasional visits, translate Gaelic poems for me. On one occasion, after one of these translations had been read, I made the remark that a similar set of ideas occurred in one of the songs of Burns. His gray eyes immediately blazed up; he rushed into a Gaelic recitation of considerable length; and, at its close, snapping defiant fingers in my face, demanded, “Can you produce anything out of your Shakespeare or your Burns equal to that? Of course, I could not; and I fear I aggravated my original offence by suggesting that in all likelihood my main inability to produce a passage of corresponding excellence from the southern authors arose from my
entire ignorance of the language of the native bard. When Peter came with his violin, the kitchen was cleared after nightfall; the forms were taken away, candles stuck into the battered tin sconces, the dogs unceremoniously kicked out, and a somewhat ample ball room was the rresult.
Alexander Smith (1830-67)


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