Friday, 8 October 2010

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 19

Since our foray to the neighbouring hilltop in pursuit of the watcher, Consuela (my Tejana maid) and I have become somewhat closer. Being involved in the same armed operation, even in an amateur capacity, breeds a kind of comradeship amongst those who are bound together by the ethos of soldiering, and that is how it has become with me and Consuela.

Before our dawn-time excursion in camouflage we were mistress and maid, except that I allowed her to challenge me intellectually and philosophically from time to time. Since then it is as though an unspoken agreement has been forged that we are sisters-in-arms. Occasional glances and smiles pass between us that did not do so before. There is a military crispness now when, during her daily domestic duties, she addresses me as “Ma’am”, as well as a new warmth. At moments of informality she calls me by my given name, just as she did on the captured hilltop when I arrived with my AS50 over my shoulder.

Yesterday evening I asked her to join me for dinner and for drinks afterwards (on this occasion I did not expect her to toil in the kitchen, but instead arranged for outside caterers to deliver our food). Consuela wore an evening dress that seemed to shimmer like silver; I could hardly take my eyes off her, so different was she from the camouflaged soldier of a few days previously. I was watching her almost feline grace as we moved from the dinner table, and I noticed that she was staring intently at her wine glass, two small furrows of concentration appearing between her eyebrows. She looked up and caught my quizzical gaze as we seated ourselves, I upon my chaise longue, she upon the fiddle-backed nursing-chair.

“Do you know what you have here?” she asked, holding up her glass.

“Enlighten me,” I said.

“I’m surprised you don’t realise. This is a late eighteenth century, trumpet-bowl wine glass – one of a pair, as I can see by the one you are holding – and the engraving around the rim is especially interesting. Liberty and Property. The glass is clearly of English manufacture, but the slogan… yes… this must have been made to order by an American colonist, maybe just before what you call the Colonial Rebellion in the seventeen-seventies. Maybe it was never shipped, maybe news of hostilities reached the craftsman and the glass remained here in Britain, for the slogan is clearly a political one, such as a gentleman of substance in the New World might use as a toast.”

I considered this, and said, “Are you sure it is not rather late nineteenth century, and pertinent to Lord Elcho’s Liberty and Property Defence League? After all, we are in Scotland, and Wemyss – Lord Elcho – was fairly local.”

Consuela shook her head.

“The design, the quality of the glass and – yes – the lead content… it is so clearly eighteenth century. These were packed with your general glassware, amongst the things you picked up from the charity shop last year. Do you realise how much these two glasses are worth? At least three thousand pounds, I would say!”

I looked at my glass, studied it. Consuela is very rarely wrong about such things. As she had drained her glass, I went over and gravely took it from her hand, motioning her to follow me outside. There, in the gloaming, I dashed both glasses against a stone, ground the shards into tiny pieces under my heel, and covered them with good, clean, Scottish earth. Consuela stood quietly all the while, although there was an initial tension in her body, as though she had been poised to stay my destructive hand.

Briefly I caught her eye, then I looked back at the disturbed ground, my nostrils filled with the scent of the turned soil.

“Consuela,” I said. “The ‘property’ of which the slogan speaks is that ‘property’ which lived and breathed, and which toiled for cotton and for indigo, and which had no right itself to liberty. I would not touch such a thing with my lips, and will never do so again – can never now. ‘Touch not the unclean thing’ as the Good Book says. I mean no disrespect to the land of your birth and upbringing, Consuela, but do you realise how close it came to having that ‘property’ enshrined in its Declaration of Independence? It was only through the agitation of Thomas Jefferson that his own words ‘the pursuit of happiness’ were substituted, and though Jefferson himself held such ‘property’ it did at least trouble his conscience.”

“Ma’am,” said Consuela. “You’re a hard woman, but a true and just one.”

She came over to me and slipped her arm through mine. Together, as the evening sky darkened, we watched the stars – the comforting familiarity of Orion and the Plough… and there, there was honest, constant Polaris alone in his fixed position in the firmament. A late bird cried. At the northern horizon there was the first hint of a shimmering, blue curtain, as the Aurora Borealis bestowed its peaceful blessing on our world.

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