a ghost of an affair
THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “A Ghost of an Affair”
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In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that delights with “vivid, pithy prose animating each quirky flight of fancy.” (Publishers Weekly)
A Ghost of an Affair
Most ghost stories begin or end with a ghost. Not this one. This begins and ends with a love affair. That one of the partners was a ghost has little to do with things, except for a complication or two.
The heart need not be beating to entertain the idea of romance. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the nature of the universe.
To think otherwise is to miscalculate the odds of love.
Andrea Crow did not look at all like her name, being fair-haired and soft-voiced. But she had a scavenger’s personality, collecting things with a fierce dedication. As a girl she had collected rocks and stones, denuding her parent’s driveway of mica-shining pebbles. As an adolescent she had turned rock collecting into an interest in gemstones. By college she was majoring in geology, minoring in jewelry making. (It was one of those schools so prevalent in the ’80s where life experience substituted for any real knowledge. Only a student bent on learning ever learned anything. But perhaps that is true even at Oxford, even at Harvard.)
Andrea’s rock-hound passion made her a sucker for young men carrying ropes and pitons, and she learned to scramble up stone faces without thinking of the danger. For a while she even thought she might attempt the Himalayas. But a rock-climbing friend died in an avalanche there, and so she decided going to gem shows was far safer. She was a scavenger, but she wasn’t stupid.
The friend who died in the avalanche is not the ghost in this story. That was a dead girlfriend and Andrea was depressingly straight in her love life.
Andrea graduated from college and began a small jewelry business in Chappaqua with a healthy jump-start from her parents who died suddenly in a car crash going home from her graduation. They left a tidy sum and their house to Andrea who, after a suitable period of mourning, plunged into work, turning the garage into her workroom.
She sold her jewelry at craft fairs and Renaissance faires and to several of the large stores around the country who found her Middle Evils line especially charming. The silver and gold work was superb, of course. She had been well trained. But it was the boxing of the jewelry—in polished rosewood with gold or silver hinges—as well as the printed legends included with each piece that made her work stand out.
Still, her business remained small until one Christmas Neiman Marcus ordered five thousand adder stone rings in Celtic-scrolled rosewood boxes. The rings, according to legend, “ensured prosperity, repelled evil spirits, and in seventeenth-century Scotland were considered to keep a child free of the whooping cough.” She finished that order so far in the black that she only had to go to one Renaissance faire the following summer for business.
Well, to be honest, she would have gone anyway. She needed the rest after the Neiman Marcus push. Besides, she enjoyed the faire. Many of her closest friends were there.
All of her closest friends were there.
All three of them.
Simon Morrison was the son and grandson and great-grandson of Crail fisherfolk. He was born to the sea. But the sea was not to his liking. And as he had six brothers born ahead of him who could handle the fishing lines and nets, he saw no reason to stay in Crail for longer than was necessary.
So on the day of his majority, June 17, 1847, he kissed his mother sweetly and said farewell to his father’s back, for he was not so big that his da—a small man with a great hand—might not have whipped him for leaving.
Simon took the northwest road out of Crail and made his way by foot to the ferry that crossed the River Forth and so on into Edinburgh. And there he could have lost himself in the alehouses, as had many a lad before him.
But Simon was not just anylad. He was a lad with a passionate dream. And while it was not his father’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s dream of herring by the hundredweight, it was a dream nonetheless.
His dream was to learn to work in silver and gold. Now, how—you might well ask—could a boy raised in the East Neuk of Fife, in a little fishing village so ingrown a boy’s cousin might be his uncle as well—how could such a boy know the first thing about silver and gold?
The answer is easier than you might suspect.
The laird and his wife had had a silver wedding anniversary, and a collection was taken up for a special gift from the town. All the small people had given a bit of money they had put aside; the gentry added more. And there was soon enough to hire a silversmith from Edinburgh to make a fine silver centerpiece in the shape of a stag rearing up, surrounded by eight hunting dogs. The dogs looked just like the laird’s own pack, including a stiff-legged mastiff with a huge underslung jaw.
The centerpiece had been on display for days in the Crail town hall, near the mercat cross, before the gifting of it. Simon had gone to see it out of curiosity, along with his brothers.
It was the first time that art had ever touched his life.
He had been bowled over, knocked about, nearly slain by the beauty of the thing.
After that, fishing meant nothing to him. He wanted to be an artisan. He did not know enough to call it art.
When he got to Edinburgh, a bustle of a place and bigger than twenty Crails laid end to end to end, Simon looked up that same silversmith and begged to become the man’s apprentice.
The man would have said no. He had apprentices enough as it was. But some luck was with Simon, for the next day when Simon came around to ask again, two of the lowest apprentices were down with a pox of some kind and had to be sent away. And Simon—who’d been sick with that same pox in his childhood and never again—got to fetch and carry for months on end until by the very virtue of his hard working, the smith offered him a place.
And that is how young Simon Morrison the fisherlad became not-so-young Simon Morrison the silversmith. He was well beyond thirty and not married. He worked so hard, he never had an eye for love, or so it was said by the other lads.
He only had an eye for art.
Now in the great course of things, these two should never have met. Time itself was against them, that greatest divide. A hundred years to be exact.
Besides, Simon would never have gone to America. America was a land of cutthroats and brigands. He did not waste his heart thinking on it, though, in fact, he never wasted his heart on anything but his work.
And though Andrea had once dreamed of Kathmandu and Nepal, she had never fancied Scotland with its “dudes in skirts,” as her friend Heidi called them.
But love, though it may take many a circuitous route, somehow manages to get from one end of the map to another.