This is a continuation of a serial story from this art journal.
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Part 3: By Chance, A Meeting
If a lady aspires to virtuous standing ,
She should attend well to her work,
And leave idle contemplation,
And distractions, such as the desire for precious objects
or the attractions of comely men
To the vulgar.
Keep your eyes on your needles, ladies
And your hands on your work.
Pithy Sayings of Lady Margaret Hoby
* * *
When I had told my older sister where I was headed for the summer, the first words out of her mouth were to warn me about the men I’d meet there. According to Prissy, they’d be after me in droves the minute they cast their eyes my way. If only the world thought as much of us as do our ever-loving families! Then again, if it did then restaurant staff would be reminding us to eat our broccoli,and supervisors would check to see that we flossed when we got to work. So maybe it’s just as well that we’re not quite so important as our siblings and parents find us.
“I know how you react to men with accents! Just remember that British men can be terribly controlling,” Prissy reminded me. “And I should know.”
My sister had been married to a one-time citizen of Britain for ten years before she washed her hands of him. I don’t recall that my erstwhile brother-in-law had been particularly controlling, if anything, Prissy was the more controlling of the two. I ascribed their lack of marital stamina to severe political differences, but kept my opinion to myself.
“I don’t have the time, or energy to get married,” I assured her. I’m going to spend the summer sewing, practicing Bartok on the piano, and getting in some sightseeing. I’ve got a new contract starting in four months, that’s not even enough time to jump into the dating pool, never mind locating some man I find appealing enough to want to propose to.
* * *
I had been caught up in my admiration of a series of life-sized mosaics on the landing, when I first passed the gallery guide-attendant. I’d been vaguely conscious of the leggy copper-haired lad’s bountiful smile and cheerful salutation, but museum folk are paid to be gracious after all. Caught up in the tapestries, blackwork embroidery and gilt stitchery as I was, I knew that the young man passed through the hall a few times. But, frankly, I thought he was interested in a couple of boisterous American college girls over near the Renaissance instrument collection.
I became more aware of that giggling pair as they began to struggle into some farthingales they’d discovered in the interactive Daily-Renaissance-LIfe costume-area. The young women began to dissolve into helpless laughter as they commenced photographing each other and composing humorous subtitles to go along with the visuals of their now-expanded figures, that they then texted back home to the U.S. Seeing that no one else was around, I put aside photographing and sketching sewing design ideas on my ipad, and offered my services as a photographer for a sisterly portrait of the two.
“I think we should call this one ‘our new school uniforms’, the taller of the pair gurgled.
“Are you ladies doing study-abroad then?”
“We’re just here for a summer program at UCL.”
The tall form of the guide moved back out of the tapestry niche about the time the students moved on to stare dutifully at the Raphael tapestry cartoons, and I decided I had probably studied every square centimeter of the embroidered purse and headed over to check out the instruments.
The gallery-guide-guy moved over to hover beneath a collection of reproduction lutes hanging in an artful arrangement from the ceiling, as I transferred my lust for beautiful ancient items to a virginal that, the information plaque indicated, was believed to have really, actually, maybe, been played by the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth the First herself.
I looked up from my careful examination of an inlaid bird on the spinet’s case, to find that he was watching me, in a rather obvious manner. I began to wonder if I fit some musical terrorist profile, and considered moving on to study a bass viol in the corner, when he broke the ice by pulling down one of the lutes and plucking out a brief interrogative three note melody.
“So, are you interested in a be-farthingaled photo of yourself for your friends back home?”
Was the kid flirting with me, I wondered? Then, I decided it was simply a part of the stock patter to chat up solitary travelers.
I gave him the sort of middling-interested smile I reserved for the occasional cocktail party, and shook my head.
“Do you play?”
I looked at him more carefully now. There were lines around his eyes. Though he was built like a young man, he wasn’t as young as I’d first thought. “What gave me away?”
“Your left hand was shaping chords, when you were examining the keyboard.”
He had a distractingly attractive lock of golden-red hair that wouldn’t stay put. I tried not to stare. “I was trying to remember how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’, but I forgot to bring along one of those kind of picks Queen Elizabeth would have used,” I responded. I hoped my attempt at humor wouldn’t fall flat.
The lock of hair swayed gently when he laughed “I think you mean a plectra. And by the way, I’m pretty sure the Queen’s Grace was a bigger fan of ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’.”
* * *
To Be Continued