My husband and I live along a West Cork boreen. Heather and gorse brocade the fields, and the hedges are heavy with hawthorn and blackthorn. Some evenings, this landscape seems to exhale an almost uncanny light.
We are both in our forties, and work from home. We collaborate on ‘historical romance’ novels. Our pseudonym is Andrea Daniels because my husband’s name is Andrew and mine Danielle. The author photo on our books shows a pretty woman with fair hair and a forthright smile. We have no idea who she is.
We bought our farmhouse from a Dublin man who had refurbished it for a holiday home, but changed his mind and decided to buy property in Spain instead. The house is like a child’s drawing of a house: a rectangle with an accent circumflex on top, a door in the middle, square windows each side, two chimneys. It is perfect for a couple who work together and love West Cork.
In our latest opus, Henry VIII wonders why young Anne Boleyn mesmerises him so. Her face is clever, her complexion sallow: not his usual type at all. Perhaps it’s how her dark eyes look obliquely at him, as if she were full of secrets. It is an appalling breach of protocol to send her king such looks, but he likes them. They make him suspect that, beneath her demure exterior, she is wanton.
I say to Andrew, ‘Our version is extremely unoriginal. It’s just like all the others. I mean, how do we know how they really felt, or what drove them to act as they did?’
‘Do you feel sorry for her?’
‘Well, she must have been terrified, when she began to understand that her unproductive womb would be the death of her. No wonder Elizabeth I never married.’
‘Dani, never mind. Andrea Daniels’s readers don’t care if her version is unoriginal. All they want is sex, death, betrayal and pretty dresses.’
Andrew follows Dermot, our gardener, into the garden. Andrew has a slightly clumsy walk, but the movements of his large hands, touching a flower or plucking brown leaves from the crab-apple tree, are tender. I put on a scarf and go to where they stand beside the hedge. The air is green-smelling and damp. And there is that opalescent sheen on the sky which is the light of Ireland, refracted always by water.
Dermot is discussing beans, peas, cauliflower. Andrew introduces the idea of artichokes. Dermot presses his lips together. He concedes artichokes are pretty, but cannot imagine eating one. Then he surprises us by saying that he loves avocados.
A weather-beaten Englishwoman lives in our village. She cycles around the countryside with a bulging satchel, and now and again halts along a boreen or at the entrance to a farm, and proceeds to paint a sheep, a cow-byre or a hen. After years of this practice, she has at last gathered her work together, and the local gallery is giving her a show. We go to the opening, and afterwards to the pub.
A newcomer is there, not that we aren’t used to newcomers. But this is autumn; the tourists have more or less vanished. Tonight, the pub contains the usual mix of old farmers from the old families of the region, and the expatriate artists and artisans who have wrought the village into a kind of colony. In our familiar midst, the newcomer stands out. He is tall and extremely fair, like a Scandinavian, but speaks with an educated English accent.
While we wait for our drinks, he chats to Andrew and me. ‘I’ve only just arrived from London. Couldn’t bear urban life anymore. So I bought myself a small farm in my ancestral homeland.’
‘A brave thing to do,’ Andrew says neutrally, ‘Changing your life.’
‘Done it before,’ he answers, with a proud shake of the head. ‘I’ve had many incarnations.’ He extends a hand, smiling. The smile seems almost over-confident. There is an air about him – the tousled hair and broad smile – of self-satisfaction. ‘I’m Christopher Quinn,’ he says.
So, in our novel we’ve come to the point where Anne has been favoured, but is beginning to feel afraid. Her ladies are dressing her, fluttering about her ostentatiously, as if moths had been loosed into the room. She can’t think properly, but a sibilant voice in her head repeats: You are just a body to him; you are merely a husk of blood and bone; you are just a vessel for him…
One of her ladies murmurs, ‘Your Majesty looks lovely.’
Anne knows she is not lovely. She knows she has a vixen’s face, but she knows also that there is a certain dark grace about her which is more potent than beauty. And she has resilience. But what if – what if when he finally unclothes her and knows her in the flesh, what if all he feels then is that he has simply bedded a woman; that she is just like any other woman?
‘Your Majesty is pale,’ observes another of her ladies, ‘Would you like a cup of water?’
‘No,’ she answers abruptly. ‘I would like you to stop hovering. I need some air. I do not want to be touched!’
As a body, they draw back, but Anne sees the looks they give to one another. They know she is afraid.
In the pub, Christopher Quinn pontificates (that is the word which springs to my mind) on the merits of West Cork poitin. He is not Irish, and has lived here only a month, but he seems to know everything there is to know about poitin, or Irish moonshine: how it is made; the pubs or houses where it can be bought; the variations in its quality.
‘I got some really filthy stuff from Diarmuid Barry,’ he says, using the Irish version of Dermot’s name. This is unsettling: I have never known Dermot to call himself anything but Dermot.
‘Actually, I concoct a bit of poitin myself,’ he continues, one elbow on the bar. ‘I marinate it in sloes so it’s gentle, like an eau de vie. Perhaps you’d like to come over and try some?’
I do not know why I instantly dislike Christopher Quinn. He is handsome, with an easy smile and a strong, graceful body. He is well-spoken and friendly. Perhaps I bristle at his gratuitous use of Irish, since I suspect he has no real command of it and is merely showing off, but especially because that Diarmuid is a violation of Dermot’s name, and name are sacred. Nor do I like how he disparages Dermot’s moonshine-making abilities, though I have never sampled Dermot’s pot liquor myself. Or perhaps my vanity is wounded because he seems indifferent to me, not a flicker of interest, no acknowledgement of the charge that exists between people even when they don’t know one another – or perhaps especially when they don’t know one another. On the other hand, he is like that with everyone in the pub, not really seeing them. Or so I feel.
But Andrew takes a shine to Christopher Quinn. I can tell he finds the man a bit romantic, like a character in an Andrea Daniels novel. At home, while I put on the kettle, he confirms this. ‘Interesting character, your man Quinn. I wonder what he did before he came here, and what he will do now. He must have money. What age do you think he is?’
I pour out the tea. ‘About our age. And he may have money. Enough, anyway, to leave one place and buy property in another, without any prospects that I can see. He may be a remittance man.’
In addition to painters, sculptors, craftspeople, a British theatre director and one film star, our region boasts quite a few remittance people, mostly men but also some women, whose families pay them to keep away because they disgraced themselves in one way or other at home. They might be political mavericks or wastrels or the gay child of reactionary parents. They live in nineteenth century farmhouses, like our own, or in one of the villages. Many make a good life here, in the arts, or as farmers because they love the land. But they are considered black sheep, and their money comes from elsewhere.
‘He told me he’s written a novel,’ Andrew says.
‘Oh God. Does he know we’re Andrea Daniels?’
‘He must know. Everyone in the village knows.’
This is true. They know, and yet they don’t. They want to believe that the smiling lady on the back cover is Andrea Daniels, and so they do believe it. Kind of.
Andrew smiles. ‘He says it’s a literary novel.’
‘That lets us off the hook. Nobody could accuse Andrea of writing literary novels.’
‘Still, he would like us to read it.’
‘And you said yes?’
He busies himself with teapot and milk jug. ‘Well, I did find him interesting. Striking. I’d be curious to see what he’s produced. Wouldn’t you?’
I am not curious. I know his novel will be lousy, and Andrew and I are busy enough writing our own lousy novels. And the man is so insinuating… but I falter. I cannot judge. I have only just met him.
‘I suppose so. Have you two worked out how we are to obtain a copy of this masterpiece?’
Andrew looks chagrined. ‘Well… I told him he could drop by tomorrow at teatime. I hope you don’t mind.’
The next section of our book is told from Henry’s perspective. Actually, despite his hunger for a son, he is not displeased by his new daughter, who has inherited his red hair. Even though just a baby, she is graceful and alert; she looks not like a pudding as most babies do, but like a real person, with eyes that are already dark as her mother’s. Henry is in good humour that day, regarding Anne where she reposes on a window seat with the child in her arms.
‘Your Majesty, may I?’ murmurs a lady-in-waiting, extending a cushion for his sore leg.
‘You may indeed. What is your name?’
‘Jane Seymour,’ she answers, and looks upwards. She is not comely, but her diffidence makes a pleasant contrast to Anne’s sharpness. Henry cries across the chamber, ‘Regard, Madam, how your lady cossets me. You must follow her example.’
Anne looks up from Elizabeth’s face, and her eyes move slowly from Jane Seymour to Henry. She does not smile.
I bake scones for our tea with Christopher Quinn. God knows why. I suppose I feel guilty for disliking him without any real cause. Also I am aware of an obscure impulse to appease him. But why should I feel I must appease him?
Christopher Quinn arrives punctually and makes himself at home, settling in an armchair and extending his long legs towards the Rayburn. I put his red scarf and hefty manuscript on the kitchen table.
I have not been able to shake off the impulse to placate him. I fuss over the teapot, pamper him with china plates and Devonshire cream. Absurd, since I find myself loathing him anew the very moment I re-see him.
He speaks freely about the relief he felt on escaping his crabbed life in Putney. His father, a tobacconist, ‘wears those awful spectacles that dangle from the neck and collect crumbs,’ and his mother ‘is a nutter, a raging hypochondriac’. Yet despite their oppressive influence, he made something of himself, went to university and embarked on a promising career as a junior solicitor.
‘But I’ve left all that behind,’ he declares, waving a hand. ‘It’s back to the earth for me. And to writing. I always wanted to write a novel about a fishmonger, and now I’ve done it.’
‘A fishmonger?’ Andrew asks politely.
Christopher Quinn puts his plate with its half-eaten scone on the table. ‘I’ve often wondered what it would feel like, to be a fishmonger.’
I say, ‘What happens to the fishmonger, in your novel?’
Christopher Quinn has been gazing at Andrew in a wide-eyed, innocent way. He does not look at me. ‘My fishmonger starts an affair with a married woman. He is tormented. He has the equipment and the know-how to kill her husband and dispose of the corpse. But of course his conscience troubles him. So that’s the thing: does he or doesn’t he?’
We are silent, and at that moment I find myself not merely discomfited but once again stiff with dislike, and at last can locate its source. I am feeling protective towards Andrew, because Andrew is susceptible. Aspirants, suppliants, the lost and broken – such people wring his heart: he sees himself in them. And I believe he is right to do so, that it is compassion which compels him.
But I believe as well that we are all merely ourselves; we haven’t the power to redeem other people. Yet sometimes Andrew can’t quite fathom that. And it seems to me Christopher Quinn, by some shrewd instinct, has ferreted out this weakness in Andrew, and intends to exploit it.
Christopher Quinn continues, ‘So you see it’s an existential novel, but with sex thrown in.’
‘Along with a few mackerel heads?’ I say tightly.
He laughs. ‘We’ll see. I’m not giving away the end.’
We’ve reached the really gloomy bit, with Anne in the tower, realising that she has always known. She has known because she is not a princess from another country, like her predecessor Catherine. No distant king will dispatch an army to protect her. She is merely Henry’s subject.
Her own family, also his subjects, will not help her.
Rats scuttle in the corner. How cold it is, and how silent. She touches her neck, which he loved, once. In fact, just before their first meeting, he had asked her uncle, ‘Who is that lady with the neck of a swan?’
She gives a desperate laugh. She is thinking, At least the French swordsman will find it easy to cut through my swan’s neck.
Andrew and I start to read the novel that night, over glasses of whiskey at the kitchen table. He reads a page before silently passing it across to me. At first, we both make notes on the margins. Until we don’t.
Our eyes meet. ‘Well, my dear. I am afraid you were right.’
‘Hang on,’ I say, ‘I’m engrossed in the bit where he practises by dissecting a cat.’
Andrew smiles, bleakly.
I rise to put away the whiskey bottle. My head hurts. I feel like going for a walk, but am more strongly inclined to stay in the lighted house.
We learn from Nora, our favourite publican and source of all reliable village gossip, that Christopher Quinn is not a tobacconist’s son, but heir to a shoe manufacturing fortune. Nora learnt this by overhearing an exchange between Mr Quinn and another man while serving them each a pint of stout. The other man, who also spoke with an English accent, wore a moustache and was clearly a lawyer.
Nora lowers her voice to tell us that this lawyer did not call Christopher Quinn Christopher Quinn but addressed him by another name, Michael or Martin, something like that. Over two rounds of drink, the two men discussed Michael or Martin’s father and his shoe empire in the North of England. The father was paying his son an allowance, and had sent the lawyer to Ireland to find out how it was being spent.
A remittance man, after all.
Nora says she has told no one what she overheard other than Andrew and me, because we are writers and take a professional interest in people. But we know she has spilled the same beans to everyone in the village.
When Christopher Quinn returns to retrieve his manuscript, Andrew says, ‘You have a lot of vigour.’
A warm day. I have put a table on the lawn, beside the blue rhododendron, and laid it with a yellow cloth and the tea things and a carrot cake because, yet again, I am feeling obliged to appease Christopher Quinn.
Andrew clears his throat. ‘But you don’t breathe enough life into the characters.’
There is a silence. I try to help out. ‘Of course, our characters, I mean Andrea Daniels’ characters, aren’t really life-like. They are historical clichés. But we try to… to embody them, to give them the thoughts and feelings they might have thought and felt.’
Christopher Quinn looks only at Andrew: that pale guileless gaze. Andrew says, ‘Actually, this reads less like a novel and more like an idea for a film. Have you ever considered writing a film treatment?’
Another silence. Bees blunder in the hedge. A tractor clanks along the boreen. Andrew turns to Christopher Quinn. ‘Why have you been lying about your background?’
One of the many things I love in Andrew is his forthrightness. He does not realise how brave he is. No one insists on the pith of things like Andrew. No one I know other than Andrew would have dared put that question outright.
Christopher Quinn looks down at his plate. ‘Mind if I smoke?’
‘No,’ we reply in unison, and he produces a tobacco pouch and papers, and rolls himself a cigarette. I pass him my saucer for his ashes. He says, ‘My name is Malcolm Christopher Quinn. All I did was drop the “Malcolm” which I never liked, anyway.’
I ask, ‘And the tobacconist in Putney? The hypochondriac mother?’
He grimaces. ‘I invented them. My real parents are rich, and rich people are fucked-up. You know, the pair of you; you write about people with money.’
‘We write about the olden days,’ Andrew says.
‘Nothing has changed as far as the rich are concerned. My father sacked half his staff because it was cheaper to buy leather from China. People who had worked with him for decades and had sick children or were ill themselves. Just threw them out on the street. He divorced my mother for someone younger, and divorced her for someone younger still, while he was steadily getting older and more dissipated. And my mother and her brother schemed to deprive their younger sister, my aunt, of her inheritance. She was a bit on the simple side so they knew they could deceive her. That kind of thing was my daily life. Corruption. Stupidity. Cruelty.’
I dislike Christopher Quinn less, because for once he has been honest, or at least I presume he has been honest. Suddenly he seems less like some jerk admiring himself in a mirror and more like a genuinely confused real person. I say, ‘Why don’t you write about your family? Why write about a murderous fishmonger when you have such interesting material to work with from your own life?’
I can feel the swagger come over him again, even though he hasn’t risen from his chair. ‘I don’t want to write about them. I want to escape them. That’s why I’m here.’
So, we’re back to heartless Henry. It is a day of mild sun and new growth. He feels unashamedly light-hearted. Picturing biddable Jane, he nearly laughs out loud with pleasure. In just a few moments, Anne, the witch, will be put to death. He steadies his horse, and his men cluster round. He jokes to them of this and that, and if they notice his high colour or too-brilliant eyes, they do not mention it.
And then, as he instructed, the trumpet blows. The sound carries clearly from the heights of the Tower, startling the horses. His courtiers look expectantly at him, perhaps wondering if they should bless themselves or at least remove their hats. But Henry gives a shout of pleasure. It is done.
One day, Christopher Quinn calls while Andrew is out, visiting Farmer Coughlan across the road. As usual, I feel obliged to offer him tea and something to eat. The previous owner had installed an American-style counter in our kitchen, and I propose to Christopher Quinn that we stand there with our cups, because I hope this will encourage him to leave promptly. But he seems ready to launch into another monologue. And now that he must look at me, I am even more unnerved by his flat childlike gaze.
He says, ‘Andrew gave me a great idea. About writing for the cinema.’
‘That’s good. Perhaps you should take a film writing course?’ I regret those words immediately. He will resent my condescension and become even more insufferable, whereas all I want is for him to get out of my house. I wonder why he makes me so nervous. I feel no sexual menace in him. In fact, if I feel anything, it is a kind of absence, a deadness in him. He could be gay, he could be straight, he could be single or married or in love. But he seems indifferent to love. Only I cannot explain what I mean by this, even to myself.
Those bland eyes look me up and down. He says, ‘I’m going to ask Andrew to collaborate with me. He has an instinctive understanding of my work. Together we could write a fantastic screenplay.’
For a moment, I feel overcome. I force myself to meet his placid eyes. ‘It’s time for you to go, Christopher. I’m busy.’
So, Jane Seymour has died, and Henry surveys her body on its bier. Always, he thinks, one feels a certain awe in the presence of the dead.
The candles flutter. He sighs. Awe or no awe, his leg is troubling him and he wants to lie down. He closes his eyes in a show of piety but does not pray. He is reflecting that perhaps it wasn’t so untimely, Jane’s death. She performed her duty, gave him a son at last, and in truth he was growing tired of her. If he were honest, he’d have to admit that he had preferred Anne the tiger to Jane the mouse.
But what to do next? What foreign princess would wed him now?
‘Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you,’ I say to Andrew.
‘No, Dani. It’s good you told me. That’s what we do, you and I. We tell each other.’
I walk to the front window, and look out at the garden. It is getting dark. For the first time, I regret that Donal Coughlan is our only close neighbour. He is seventy-seven, and a bachelor. He would be no help if… I shake myself, and turn back to Andrew, who says, ‘Quinn has no boundaries. I know that’s a stupid fashionable word, but stupid fashionable words can be useful at times. He has no boundaries.’
‘But lots of people are intrusive. Surely he’s not actually sinister?’ Andrew is silent and I laugh. ‘We seem to be reversing roles, darling. I was the one with misgivings.’
‘Well, you were right. I didn’t catch on, even after that disgusting book.’ He shakes his head. ‘I feel very bad about putting you in danger.’
‘I thought you were in danger. I thought you were too uncritical of him, and he would try and manipulate you.’
I realise suddenly that Andrew and I are both in danger. Christopher Quinn wants to wrap himself around Andrew and take his shape from Andrew’s shape, and he regards me as an annoyance that must be got out of the way. His relatives eliminated impediments: the redundant employees; the simple-minded aunt. Quinn wants to do the same with me, push me to the side and take my place. I recall his homicidal fishmonger, and feel sick.
Christopher Quinn scrawled his address on the title page of his manuscript. Andrew reads out the name of the farmhouse, the townland. ‘About four miles away? I should pay him a visit.’
‘Andrew – no. He’s crazy. He— he drinks poitin. We don’t know why he’s really here, what he might have done in the past. Stay away from him.’
‘But he didn’t leave a phone number.’
‘He has no phone, remember? No phone, no email. It’s part of his return to the land thing. He rings from Nora’s pub.’ I touch his arm. ‘Andrew, don’t feel guilty. You haven’t put me in danger. Let’s just withdraw from him. No more tea. We’ll tell him we’re working too hard. He’ll leave us alone.’
We return his manuscript by post, along with a card telling him we are too busy to meet because we are absorbed in a new project – which is true. Our publisher has decided people are fed up with the Tudors. Henry VIII, readers have decided, was a bloodthirsty buffoon, and Elizabeth I was too perfect. So Andrea Daniels is writing a novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, which pleases me because I think Mary was brave but ill-used, brought up to be Queen of France but sent instead as a mere adolescent to Edinburgh, where her no-good courtiers had it in for her. A Catholic queen of a Calvinist country, regarded with jealousy and suspicion by her powerful cousin, Elizabeth. Plus John Knox in his misogynist fury, condemning ‘the monstrous regiment of women’. Good stuff.
A fortnight passes. We neither see nor hear from Christopher Quinn. The weather has turned abruptly too hot for an Irish summer. The fields burn with colour; the gorse seems to melt in the fierce light; the garden is so thronged with midges that we work inside.
We have put our desk before one of the large front windows, through which we can see the well, a green tangle of spruce, a fuchsia tipping its bright flowers on to the gate. Sometimes a hare bounds across the garden. A thorn tree extends a low branch on which the robins bounce.
One morning, we compose these paragraphs:
In the grey hall, her nobles (including her half-brother James with his tight smile) toast her: ‘To our Queen, the most beautiful lady in Christendom!’
Mary smiles. But she is saying to herself, ‘In those words lie my problem. These men regard me as a woman first. Wise of Elizabeth, to remain a virgin. They regard her as monarch first.’
She presses a hand to the back of her neck. The crown is beginning to hurt.
Andrew yawns. ‘Sorry. It’s so hot. Would you like a coffee? No; too hot.’ We gaze out at the garden, at the robin bouncing on its favourite branch.
Andrew says, ‘Shall we go to the pub?’
‘It’s only three o’clock. Let’s go this evening, when it’s cooler. We can have dinner at Driscoll’s.’
Driscoll’s, the village chipper, doubles as a proper restaurant in the evening. They serve simple things: baked salmon or lamb chops. Andrew suggests we call on Donal Coughlan in the meantime. Donal seems lonely in the large, scrubbed kitchen of his farmhouse. Often, when we visit, we find him in darkness except for the ruby glow of his Sacred Heart lamp. He forgets to put on the light.
‘Andrew, you go. I feel clammy from the heat. I want to have a shower, and wash my hair.’
I watch Andrew cross the road. His walk reminds me of a little boy, the careful way he puts his feet down. I have my shower, bundle my wet hair in a towel, throw on a light dress and prepare a pitcher of iced water with lemon.
I read a few pages of Stefan Zweig’s Mary Stuart biography. I swallow some iced water, and fall into a half sleep. The towel tumbles from my head, and I shake out my hair and remember how my mother plaited it when I was a child, that familiar tug against the scalp. I think of Anne Boleyn and Mary Stuart and their heavy head-dresses and unprotected necks: Within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a king…
Andrew says we all hold a pattern in a deep part of our mind, something we gazed at as children until it was graven on our memory. For Andrew, the pattern is water flowing over stones.
For me, it is more a feeling. When I close my eyes and regard the reddish darkness before them, something, an image, nearly emerges.
At this moment, behind my closed eyes, the darkness is lively, and once again I almost see a pattern there. My eyes open. I look at the clock. Hours have passed.
Andrew has left his phone in the kitchen. I walk to the window and look out at a beautiful landscape deadened by heat. Birds sing. I comb a hand through my hair, which is no longer wet.
Farmer Coughlan returns to his chair. His kitchen smells of pipe smoke, turf and buttermilk.
I ask, ‘Donal, was Andrew here?’
‘He was. We drank a small whiskey. It would be about an hour ago.’
‘An hour ago,’ I repeat stupidly. ‘Did—did he say where he was going, afterwards?’
It is six o’clock, the Angelus. Donal removes his soft black hat and squashes it with both hands between his knees. We bow our heads. After the minute of prayer, he returns the cap to his head and answers, ‘No, girleen. I supposed he was going home.’
I am trembling slightly. ‘Have you seen anyone about here this afternoon? A tall, fair-haired man, perhaps?’
He shakes his head. ‘Ah, no. I have been inside all day and have seen no one. Perhaps Andrew went into the village?’
‘Perhaps.’ I am still trembling.
I walk back to the road. Midges pelt my face.
Two gruesome possibilities have occurred to me. Perhaps Andrew called on Christopher Quinn after all, and Quinn… hurt him. Or else Quinn might have waylaid Andrew as he was leaving Donal’s house, and… I refuse to think at all anymore, but call Andrew’s phone which rings and rings in the empty kitchen. I wonder should I drive to Christopher Quinn’s house but remember that Andrew likes to explore the hill behind Donal’s farm from time to time. Perhaps, on impulse, he went walking there. So I return to Donal’s drive and walk beyond the house to his green gate, which I open, and I climb the hill with its hummocks and tussocks and rough stones. A pheasant bolts within a whirl of wings; a rabbit regards me for an instant before bounding away. The sky is still bright, the midges still swarming, but it is cooler now.
It would be possible for Christopher Quinn to harm Andrew. The idea would come to him naturally: He failed to respect my genius. I’ll show him. Or: Danielle convinced him to drop me. Let me deprive her of him. Then she’ll know how it feels.
I have climbed so high, I can see Dr O’Connell’s yellow house enfolded in the neighbouring valley. The light has softened to pewter.
There is no one about, not a soul, and suddenly, standing there in the evening light, I am refined to pure fear. I am like a blade, glinting – or some clear liquid, distilled. Poitin marinated in sloes. Every other aspect of my nature, every nuance of my character, has disappeared. I am merely a distillation of fear. It beats in my blood and I scream, ‘Andrew! Andrew!’
Wondrously, there is an answer.
Mary Seton holds up a looking-glass, in which the Queen regards her almond-shaped face above the ruff. She says, ‘One advantage I have over my cousin is that, being Catholic, I can obtain Venetian glass. How does the Queen of England manage to regard her face and form?’
Mary Fleming answers, ‘They say she has only beaten copper.’
The Queen smiles at her four Marys. ‘In which, I imagine, it would be difficult to discern her hair from the surrounding colour.’
They giggle. They are still young girls. But the Queen grows sober. ‘Do I look severe enough? I’d like Master Knox to see that Catholics can dress plainly, too. We are not fashioned from incense and cloth-of-gold.’
John Knox is powerful, dangerously so, because he is the most intransigent of all her subjects. He seems to hate beauty. And he worships not the God of love but some other, perpetually furious deity. In any case, she will receive him now, in the hope that they may find some common ground. She sighs. She is too untried to handle this gnarled bitter man. She thinks There is too much evil in the world.
I was right. Andrew decided to clear his head after his whiskey with Donal by walking up the hill. He did not see the stone, half-concealed in bracken, over which he fell. I ring Dr O’Connell who arrives in his car and declares it just a sprain, ‘though a bloody painful one, I’m sure’, and takes us to the village hospital where Andrew’s ankle is x-rayed and bandaged. Then we go home, where we realise we are famished.
So I scramble some eggs, and put the kettle on because Andrew’s leg will heal, and he and I will continue to tell sad stories of the death of kings (and queens), and Christopher Quinn will continue to be a braggart and is probably a sociopath and may, one day, hurt someone, but at this moment we are safe and we eat soft scrambled eggs and Irish brown bread thick with butter, and we drink tea and afterwards some wine and we laugh with anxiety and with relief because, after all, there is nothing for it.
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