|Photo by Darja Vorontsova, Dreamstime.com|
Scottish whisky had surpassed hard ale as the drink of choice in the better public houses. It was also the preferred offering served to clients who visited Daisy Kirkcaldy’s drawing room. Her frequent foreign guests had taken to calling it Scotch.
Unfortunately, her present visitor would have considered a Highland single malt inelegant and sinful. According to the stories she had been told, even Knox had not been quite as rigid as the woman perched on the edge of her settee.
She was entertaining her cousin Elizabeth Melville who was touted as Scotland’s first published female poet by a Calvinist readership which refused to acknowledge Lady Mary Maitland’s lesbian love poem XLIX. Mary Maitland had surreptitiously hidden her poem among the less controversial works in her poet laureate father Sir Richard Maitland’s Quattro or it never would have been published. The only hint she was its author was her scribbling in the margin notes. Her family’s efforts to suppress it came too late.
Daisy’s cousin Elizabeth’s verses suffered no need of censorship by the kirk. Her latest poetry would be quoted from the pulpit at Saint Giles by Parson Craig, and Elizabeth would treat it as her personal passport into heaven. That did not mean Daisy would bother reading it.
Dame Elizabeth Melville was Daisy’s second cousin on her father’s side --the oldest daughter of the man Daisy called Uncle Melville. He was the youngest brother of the grandmother long dead before Daisy was born, the redoubtable Janet Melville, Lady Grange, who had been the last hostess to entertain King James V, when he stopped at Halyards on his way to his hunting lodge in Falkland where he went to die.
Most of what Daisy knew of her family history she had heard from Uncle Melville. She loved the old man fiercely but she could not say as much for his daughter. Even when they were children, Elizabeth had treated Daisy with disdain because of her bastardy, as if it had been her personal choice. Her unannounced visit that afternoon was as surprising as a visitation from the dying Elizabeth of England would have been. It also was far less welcome. Daisy had twice met the English queen and had been more at ease in the presence of Gloriana than she was under Elizabeth Melville’s appraising stare.
“I must say, Marguerite, considering all of your handicaps, you have made out rather well for yourself.”
Daisy, who rarely answered to the French version of her Christian name, recognized her cousin’s comment as a mean-spirited reference to the circumstances of her birth, made even more exasperating
it had been disguised as a compliment coming from a woman who did not know her
well enough to call her by the name used by her friends. It only irritated
Daisy all the more. She had been in the
middle of a project when Elizabeth arrived and was anxious to get back to it.
|Darja Vorontsova, Dreamstime|
For that reason, she did not bother responding to Elizabeth’s slight. The sooner the woman said her piece, the sooner Daisy would be rid of her. She had a good idea of why Elizabeth had come knocking at her door.
“But Cousin Elizabeth, I am not all that exceptional. There are many widow women in this part of Scotland who have learned tae fend for themselves.”
Daisy knew her widowhood was not the handicap to which Elizabeth had alluded but she had no intention of inviting the woman to elaborate. She was pleased when her crisp response shut her cousin’s maw. She had no intention of apologizing for her mother’s common origins and her own bastardy or sharing a bed with Will Hepburn before they married. She had suffered through that diatribe before. And that was not the sum of it. More than one of her business acquaintances in Canongate had run to her to tattle tales of her supercilious cousin’s slights, but rarely had they been so prettily packaged. Obviously Elizabeth was attempting to soften her up before coming the point and had no idea of how insulting she had been.
Daisy was prepared to overlook the stiff-necked woman’s disapproval because she, not Elizabeth, held the upper hand. The only reason why the Elizabeth Melvilles of Scotland came calling on Canongate’s notorious wadwife was to borrow money.
Daisy refilled the cups.
“You should have a charwoman to do that,” Elizabeth remarked.
“When I am unable tae pour ale intae a drinking vessel, Elizabeth, I’ll stop entertaining my relatives and take tae my bed.”
The awkward silence which followed suited Daisy just fine. She wished her cousin would get to the point of her visit and leave her to her endeavors in the gallery where her half-brother Gilbert Cockie ran his shop.
“I have written a new poem,” Elizabeth proclaimed as if she were announcing the recovery of the Stone of Destiny from the English or the Second Coming of Christ. Daisy had no interest whatsoever in religious poetry, and did not bother to feign astonishment.
She spared the courtesy of a nod and reached for a slice of Irish cheddar.
Then she sat back and nibbled, waiting for the pitch she knew was coming.
“Mister Charteris wishes to publish it.”
“How lovely, Elizabeth,” Daisy said sweetly.
“He also plans to have it translated into English, and a proper translator does not work for a petty fee. Naturally, he would like me to help bear the costs of printing. ”
Now the pig was out of the poke and Daisy saw no reason to chase it around the parlor.
“And ye are here because ye would like me tae underwrite yer project-- How much do ya wish to borrow?”
Elizabeth choked on her biscuit and it took her a few seconds to recover.
“I was thinking more in terms of a sponsorship, Marguerite.”
Daisy produced her most credible sigh.
“I think the word which alludes you, Elizabeth, is gift, ” she managed to say without sounding too put out.
Now she understood why Uncle Melville had exited with such alacrity. Elizabeth had wanted the money but she had no intention of repaying it. .
“If I were tae do so, every poet in Scotland woulds be knockin’ at ma door. But since we are cousins of the second degree, I’ll be waivin’ the usual collateral, and lowerin’ the rate to seven percent a’ whate’er you choose tae borrow, all out ‘a the love I hold in ma heart for Uncle Melville.”
For him, not ye, ye offensive twit.
She hoped Elizabeth could read her mind.
Daisy wondered how long it would take Cousin Elizabeth to close her mouth. When she finally spoke, she was obviously taken aback, but not enough to refuse the offer. All of the other moneylenders were charging their parents and their children ten percent.
“It is called Ane Godlie Dream. I am dedicating it to Mister Knox. Shall I have Mister Charteris set aside a copy?”
Daisy thanked her politely. Any poem dedicated to John Knox would be unlikely to hold her interest, but there was no sense provoking Elizabeth. She could put it on display when her brother Gilbert’s Presbyterian friends came to meetings in the gallery.
She bit her tongue to keep it from wagging on the topic of the Reformer least it prompt her overly pious kinswoman to spiel a sermon on the seven deadly sins. Elizabeth had them memorized.
She had personified each with examples drawn from Edinburgh’s new merchant class. She insisted Greed had been modeled on the late wadwife Janet Fockart, but Daisy suspected Elizabeth had used her own bastard cousin as her model. God’s Elbow, but she was anxious to see her cousin’s skirts rustling out the door so she could get back to work.
“Faither says the Episcopalians will hate it,” Elizabeth continued, as if it would enhance her poem’s value.
“Mayhap ye should exercise discretion and forego dedicating it to Knox. In spite of the behavior of his disciples, he is quite dead and unless he resurrects, he will never know the difference. Besides, if what I am hearing is true, this is not a good time to be offending those who follow the Episcopal model. If the rumors which reach my ears serve me, we may all be reading from the English common prayer book soon.”Thankfully Daisy’s reference to Knox and religion were enough to get Elizabeth back on her feet and headed for the door. When she had cleared the stoop, Daisy quickly closed the door and latched it. She emptied her mug of ale into a flower vase and filled it up with whisky from the Meldrum stills. She carried the cup with her and headed to the gallery to finished carving the wax for Queen Anna’s last brooch. The thought of her cousin’s retreating rump improved her mood.
|Coming in winter 2014-2015, God Willing|
(photo by Darja Vorontsova, Drreamstime.com.)