Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Jean-Pierre Ohl's The Lairds of Cromarty

Krook shrugged. ‘I really don't know why I'm telling you all this.’

He was clearly annoyed with himself, but why? Because he was talking too much or because he couldn't take his eyes off my knees?

‘And I presume your mother's second passion is you?’

He gave a caustic little laugh. ‘Oh, no. It's Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty.’

It was the first time I'd heard the name and I was far from suspecting the importance it was to have in my life. Later on, when I read that extraordinary passage in the Ekskubalauron in which Urquhart talks of what a word ought to be if language were to play its role properly — ‘There is not a word utterable by the mouth of man, which in this language hath not a peculiar signification by itself… for the denomination of the fixed stars it offereth the most significant way imaginary: for by the single word alone which represents the star you shall know the magnitude, together with the longitude and latitude… if a General according to the rules thereof will give new names to his souldiers… he shall be able, at the first hearing of the word that represents the name of a souldier, to know of what Brigade, Regiment, Troop, Company, Squadron or Division he is’ — I recalled the moment when the name Urquhart of Cromarty first emerged from the void, already decked out in its harsh, howling consonants like a baby dressed from head to toe as it came out of its mother's womb. A linguistic symphony of its own, the drum-roll of the r's, the grotesquely questioning q. A man contained in his own name.

But at that moment I was more interested in the lips from which it came. ‘Who's that?’

‘An obscure poetaster from the time of the Civil War. The author of four or five abstruse disquisitions with unpronounceable names. A Royalist, of course. Died from laughing when he heard of the restoration of the Stuarts… She claims we're related to him…’