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Whiling Away a Dreary Day, noon Sept 18th

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The Crimson Drawing Room


This spacious room lies in the heart of the Upper Ward, and serves as a much-needed refuge from the sometimes inclement weather. The floor is laid with sumptuous carpets of taupe, cream, and gold, while the walls are papered in deep crimson and trimmed with gilded cornice. Several large mirrors, dressed artfully with heavy velvet drapes, are hung about the room to reflect and maximize the candlelight, since there are no windows. There is also an intricate tapestry depicting the four seasons. The ceiling is painted with an assembly of gods and goddesses, intermixed with delightfully cherubic Cupids. Throughout the room there are small groupings of comfortable chairs, all luxuriously upholstered in crimson, often surrounding elegant little tables. There is also a marble fireplace, flanked by Grecian columns, in which a fire may be laid to bring light and warmth to the room.


In a chair, close to the fireplace, the sounds of quiet clacking could be heard sporadically.  Jacqueline had slept in, the exhaustion of all the traveling finally catching up to her.  In a gown of olive green, close in color to her eyes, she sat with a round pillow in her  lap.  Attached to the pillow was a pattern she had sketched out that was pinned in place.  To the pattern, there were multiple threads of silk being held down against it.  Around the pillow, numerous bobbins in a few different colors sat, waiting to be made use of.  As each one was used, when returned to the others, a soft clack would sound as wood hit wood.  


The weather was not cooperating with outdoor activities, so she assumed that there would be people gathering to socialize indoors.  While she waited, she worked.  Idle hands being the devil's tool, as her mother often reminded her.  She chose a green thread to begin a leaf motif.

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Recounting his education in Italy the other night for the lads at the White had made James O’Neill nostalgic for those years. Granted, it had ended in heartbreak, scandal, and his recall to Greyabbey, but that was (at the ripe old age of twenty-three) already something of a theme in the poet’s life. But it was not, for once, a nostalgia for the illicit trysts and moonlight walks, but instead a yearning for life at the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno*, where – in addition to their instruction in the humanities and natural philosophy – guild members who had mastered a particular fine art taught both the children of nobles and their apprentices alike.

Given that a private tutor was also instructing him in the theory of poetics, he had been free to practice the visual arts – crafts that, like music, he found to be of equal importance to literature – to his heart’s content. And, given that this was James O’Neill the narrator is speaking of, this meant that for his duration of his stay in Florence, he had been a young man possessed, finding himself to be above average (for a hobbyist, but no better) at drawing and painting, bored by the principles of architecture (if not the outcome), and terrible at sculpting.

Of primary importance, however, was that he found the first discipline rather therapeutic. And so, given an awkward encounter with Sir Charles Sedley where there ought to have been elation at the man’s glowing review of his book, James sought to revive his old hobby, and to do so where he might run into somebody important and poetically inclined.

Still in his outfit from the Sunday service (a cerulean justacorps cuffed in white silk, stockings the same as the latter and breeches as the former, and a waistcoat in sea foam green), the Irishman was hunched over a notebook, having picked a table opposite a young lady who may as well have not been there for all the attention he was paying. “No, no,” he muttered to himself while noting how the perspective was all wrong, and his lines unnecessarily thick. “Should’ve brought another pencil. Should have bought another pencil, more like.”

For he had few tools at his disposal and much to practice, to regain what knowledge he had lost. Trying again to get his rendition the chair on the opposite side of the room just right, James pressed his pencil to the paper – somewhat too hard, apparently, as the quiet clack near the fireplace was joined with a quiet snap. Milliseconds thereafter, those two onomatopoeic sounds were given additional company, by an Ulster brogue cursing at conversational volume, “Shit. Damn it all.”

Seconds after that, his green eyes darted around the Drawing Room, hoping nobody heard. They landed back on the girl by the fireplace, and his lips quirked upwards as a grimace fought to become a smile but ended up in a stalemate. “Er…”

*Academy and Company of the Arts of Drawing

Edited by James O`Neill
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Jacqueline had noted the man as he entered the room and his concentration on his sketching.  His features put him in the handsome category, she decided objectively.  The muttering to himself was mildly annoying until it wasn't.  She knew the correct response would be a gasp of horror.  Mortification would be better, but she just wasn't up to pretending that much.  "My mam would have had the soap in my mouth so fast if she heard me utter such a word," she said as green met wide hazel eyes, her mouth pinching closed as she willed a blush to her cheeks. The Irish accent was tinged with a hint of her other heritage, just like her Portuguese sometimes got a hint of Irish.  "And on the Lord's day."  She glanced around, appearing nervous that he had been heard.  

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James couldn’t help but laugh as the young lady answered his unintended cursing with a response that surely must have been a joke, for apart from a faint blush, she betrayed no signs of taking actual offense. And she’s an Éireannach*, no less. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d heard a true Irish accent from a well-bred individual at court; seemingly, there were Scots aplenty, but few from His Majesty’s most beautiful island. And fewer still that are of the fairer sex.

Still, there’s something strange about that accent, he contemplated. Must be from Munster. The southerners always did speak most peculiarly in both English and  Irish.

“I’m certain the Lord will forgive me, a chailín*,” the poet said with a smirk, revealing a solitary dimple. It didn't seem that any others had heard, so there was no sense in worrying about a situation he could likely (at least, so he thought) talk his way out of regardless. “I took not His name in vein, and from what I recall of the Good Book, He’s certainly forgiven worse. And most of us commit sins of greater severity on a regular basis, is that not so?”

“Now, a hypothetical court matron, on the other hand…” Another laugh as he took in the measure of the girl he was speaking to, thinking her appearance to be more in line with the Spanish or Italian girls he’d met while abroad with cousin Cassidy. Curious, that. “Soap is my lady mother’s favorite weapon,” he conceded. “As a boy, I feared that even more than a blade, or the shriek of the bean sí* they say stalks the dying members of our lineage.”

Suddenly, he snapped shut the makeshift sketchbook, setting it by his broken pencil with a sigh. This endeavor would be fruitless, it seemed.

*Person from Ireland

*Vocative form of cailín, meaning girl/young lady. Pretty common even in Irish English, as I understand it.


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His laugh let her know she should have gone with mortification, but she could work with him thinking it a joke.  Besides, she had been raised by a soldier and spent the first 3 years of her life in Tangier with the Irish garrison.  Yes, okay.  Not yet time for a sly wink.  Hmm.  Her lips briefly quirked into a smile before seemingly smothered in an attempt at propriety, glancing down as she did so.  Then, in an imitation of an act she had seen her mother perform when she was chiding Papa for his exhuberance in speech that sometimes wasn't company appropriate, she gave her shoulders a small shake, firmed her lips and looked back up.  "He is a loving God.  I'm sure that infraction will barely be a footnote at Judgement time," she said, glancing down again at her handiwork.  Wait.  Was that the knot she wanted to make?  Yes, of course it was.  


"Aye.  I may have had a taste of the soap once."  She paused, a smile flitting across her lips (that had to be the correct expression).  "Or twice."  Then she tilted her head to the side.  "Your family has it's very own bean sí?  None of that for the Fitzgeralds.  My Avô *would tell tales of o homem do saco, The man with the sack, who would grab up naughty children and throw them in his sack, to eat later."  The easy way she slid between English and Portuguese might give a clue as to where the Irish accent adjustment came from.  "Though, if Mother had a spoon in her hand, she had deadly accuracy."  She then looked at the closed sketchbook.  "I take it the chair won?"



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  • 3 weeks later...

There was something about the young lady that James could not quite place, not unlike a vague sense that he was being scrutinized. It was entirely possible, however, that this was also the product of an overactive imagination belonging to a man who thrived under such scrutiny. After all, he had gone weeks now without much in the way of self-awareness, and while the rumbling of thunderclouds still charged the metaphorical air with a certain energizing static, the poet was also becoming dimly aware of his own sense of self again. Dimly.

For that sense of self ever brimmed with righteous self-confidence, and he laughed off her comment about the Almighty being a loving divinity. It wasn’t out of any lack of faith, per se, but rather that the sentiment seemed unnecessarily trite. “I’d certainly hope so, a chailín, I would. A spot of profanity would be dreadfully boring to punish me over, is that not so?”

“Especially given –“ A pause, and James took a breath, realizing where he was before crossing a line in such a public spot. “Ah…agus fágaimíd siúd mar atá sé*,” he hastily concluded, in part thinking to see if the lass was familiar with Gaeilge.

“Strictly speaking, the White Lady haunts the kin of The O’Neill Clandeboye, but I like my telling of the tale better. The tales of the Fair Folk do not imply that they make much of the distinction between those of us along Loch nEachach and those of us along Loch Cuan.” He raised an eyebrow in return as Lady(?) Fitzgerald offered her own folk tale. “Ha, is that a common belief among the…Portuguese, is it? Delightfully morbid, that.” He knew enough Spanish to hazard a guess as to her second (or third?) tongue. The conversation meandered again, back towards his sketching, and the poet pursed his lips.

“For the time being, I fear. My artistic inclinations are literary, and this is but a hobby.” James sighed. “One I am horribly out of practice with.”

*Equivalent to “we’ll leave it at that”, sort of like flippantly saying “don’t worry about it”

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Not being as in touch with emotions as most everyone else, Jacqueline had to learn how to mimic them during her childhood.  It seemed to bother people when she didn't laugh or smile or frown or whatever other silly reaction was expected in different situations.  But she had found that by pretending to have such reactions, people tended to relax around her.  It could be quite bothersome as actual emotions, she had seen, caused people to act irrationally.  Of course, when they did so, sometimes scandalous things happened.

The Gaelic words were some she had heard before, but didn't understand.  Some of the soldiers who had followed her father home to Ireland sometimes spoke to each other in the language when she or her mother were around.  She frowned, as was expected.  "I'm afraid I don't speak Gaelic," she replied, then put on a puzzled expression.  "What does that mean?"

One corner of her mouth lifted in a smile that quickly disappeared as her expression returned to peaceful.  "Indeed, I'm certain your tale is the better telling.  Those directly involved likely would make it sound boring," she said with a nod.  When he ventured a guess at what language she had been speaking when naming the Man with a Sack, she nodded.  "Aye, Portuguese.  While my father is Irish, Mother is Portuguese.  It's why my father likes to tease me about my accent.  "Not only do you look like yer Mam, ye speak like her too, me wee one'," she said in a fair imitation of her father.  

Being out of habit of a hobby wasn't something she understood too well.  Trying to eavesdrop and making bobbin lace were her only two hobbies.  She glanced down at her project, expression going blank.  Why in the world is that thread...  Looking back up, she said, "It seems even when you are in practice, it's quite easy to do something wrong."

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  • 1 month later...

“You’ve no Gaelic?” James asked lightly, the initial amusement in his eyes giving way to a sympathetic frown. “A sad tale, that. A lass of your heritage ought to know the language of the bards and the ard rígh Érenn*.” He was no fanatic or separatist – indeed, he loved England just as much as he loved Ireland, which was to say deeply – but he felt keenly the pain of a dying culture. “It means…”

A chuckle, although at what was left unsaid. “It means ‘we’ll just leave that as it is’, or to tell somebody not to worry about something one is acting suspicious over. Although surely a young lady like yourself has no need for such evasive language, hm?”

Another laugh, perhaps by now making it clear that James did not particularly notice or care if he was amusing her – and then again as she joked, for even if his mood grew uncertain, the energy behind it had not left. “I spent but a week in Portugal, but it seemed to be a lovely place. The O’Neills have had kin in Spain for seventy years now.” Specifically, since Tyrone was defeated by Mountjoy – perhaps this one’s ancestors had left Ireland similarly. “What brought your father abroad, then?”

As to hobbies, the poet frowned again. “I mislike that answer. When I create, it ought to be perfect or ought not be at all.


*High Kings of Ireland

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