Fiddles and Sticks

Leonora Rita V. Obed

      “Country roads

       Take me home, to the place where I belong.”

      -Bill Duffy, Taffy Nivert, John Denver

Anne Elliott was delighted to see her father smiling. At her. If she was not mistaken, Sir Walter Elliott was absolutely beaming.

“My dear,” he said, as he escorted Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney into the salon of his new residence at Allan Ramsay Gardens. “I knew that moving to Edinburgh would be good for all of us—your sister Mary benefits from the clean air, and yes, we do have an advantage, being so high up Castlehill, and with Lady Russell’s Firth of Forth manse just a cairn away what better remedy could be bestowed—but I never expected you to achieve the impossible. Dare I say it? You have beaten me to the Baronetage. Not only have you failed to read its contents—too stuffy, too boring, for your plebeian taste—but you have also managed to outwit me in the (un)enviable task of gathering up ALL of Debrett’s favoured sons and daughters. As if the very pages of this hallowed tome have come to life and spilled out their dusty contents into physical embodiments of blue-blooded pulchritude. Who would have thought that within one fell swoop of Postgraduate Matriculation at Adam House, that you would manage to make the acquaintance of every one of the aristocratic heirs of the British Isles! I never thought I’d say this, but my darling Anne, I am truly impressed.”

Henry Tilney smiled the wan smile of one caught eavesdropping, and he nodded at Anne, while fiddling with his muslin waistcoat and matching cravat—all worn over a Black Watch kilt (muslin was not a favourable substitute for Scottish wool). He twitched a little: a man so used to genuine Indian muslin found it difficult to adjust to the itch and stitch of a ewe’s clothing. Catherine was poker-faced and gripped her fiancé’s hand tightly. He felt her elbows digging into his ribs. She extended her gloved hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sir Elliott.”

“And a pleasure indeed, Miss Morland, Mr. Tilney, to welcome you to Allan Ramsay Gardens.”

“Will you not be joining us at the Assembly Rooms? Our Gothic Ceilidhs are the biggest social events in the city. The talk of the town. Tatler will be there, as well as London’s finest paparazzi. Genuine artists of the camera obscura. Acrobatics of architecture and ancient poplars: could teach chimpanzees a thing or two about contortionism. The National Trust’s office in New York is bringing over their American delegation: you know how much the Yanks—especially the South Carolinians—love a good round of Gay Gordons.”

“I’d be most delighted, my dear, but I am dining with the Duke of Rothesay, we are securing funds for the restoration of Cawdor Castle.”

“Cawdor Castle?” mused Henry. “My textiles company once hosted an international conference there.”

“And what a superb entrepreneur you are, Mr. Tilney. You are one of the top LLC’s on the FTSE index. It won’t be long when you and your soon-to-be-spouse will be honoured by Her Majesty with an OBE. I do expect to see you at the grounds of Holyrood Palace when Her Majesty pays her summer visit to Scotland. You hear that, Anne? Make sure that you mark that on your social calendar, you won’t want to miss a single opportunity to mingle. And though I’m indeed surprised, I must give you credit for being able to round up all the unusual subjects of pomp and circumstance in Auld Reekie.”

Henry Tilney couldn’t take it anymore. His urge to fidget made him do a spontaneous jump in the air.

“Henry!” Catherine resisted an avalanche of giggles.

“Henry does a fine jig, father,” Anne explained.

“Did Anne tell you that she has joined our Quidditch Team at Edinburgh University?” Henry was feeling better now, and managed to sit on one of the eighteenth century chairs—circa Culloden—which, to his chagrin, itched even more than his kilt, and caused a rash to climb up his leg. He did another jig.

“No. Anne has been so modest lately. If it wasn’t for your visit—and Lady Russell’s Victorious Circle telling me of my daughter’s social whereabouts on Heriot Row—I would never have guessed how far she has ascended the social ladder.”

“She’s fantastic at the game, Sir Walter. A beginner, yes, but with an innate talent that will one day merit her the role of Captain.” Henry smiled the broad smile of one being tickled (by a midge? Oh, those pesky insects indigenous to the Caledonian hills).

“I admit I’ve never heard of that oddly-named pastime,” Sir Walter confessed. “Who invented it?”

He didn’t like to admit openly to being in ignorance of something, especially if it was fashionable and pertinent to one’s social status, but Quidditch eluded him: it was never mentioned in Debrett’s Baronetage. Tedious as the task would be, he reminded himself to look through the Oxford English Dictionary when no one was at home. He didn’t like to be caught browsing through such a Philistine volume, but if there was any place that would list such a ludicrous moniker, it would have to be that one. He did recall, however, that Lady Russell had mentioned the role that Samuel Johnson had played in the creation of that dictionary, and after hearing of Johnson’s sojourns through the highlands—as well as the behemoth breadth of his Scottish estate—Sir Walter resigned himself to the fact (comfort?) that perhaps this Samuel Johnson wasn’t so bad after all. At least, he could never be as downright horrible as Thomas Carlyle. That self-righteous curmudgeon, reading books that nobody—even himself—ever read. Though he did have a pastry named after his home: Ecclefechan cakes. Or was it Eccles pies? Whatever. Now as for his bloody wife—what was her name? Oh, yes. Jane. Jane Welsh. But not Jane Austen. Nor Jayne Mansfield, nor, the horrors—Jane Eyre. Oh, those abominable bluestockings! England was so densely populated with them, he was hoping that the few in Scotland would immigrate to Australia or Cuba (it was rumoured that most of the Gaelic bas bleu had exiled themselves to Jericho, Oxfordshire). No one irritated Sir Walter more than pince-nez-ed men and women who shamelessly revelled in their incurable addiction to footnotes, fine print and dust mites.

“A woman named J.K. Rowling takes credit for its inception.”

“Never heard of her. I hope the ‘J’ doesn’t stand for ‘Jane’, that has become such a common name; I believe Kipling is to blame: didn’t he glorify those Janeites? I doubt that a woman with such initials, and with such a dubious sporting pedigree, would be listed in Debrett’s.”

To my knowledge, sir,” assured Henry, “she is not a part of Debrett’s circle.”

“Just what I suspected.”

“Nor would she like to be. She’s not quite Bohemian, but she may appear to be, at least in your eyes.”

“Very peculiar indeed. But I guess that as it’s a game invented by a woman, it wouldn’t be too hooligan-ish.”

“Not anything you should worry about, Sir Elliott,” said Catherine. “It isn’t a rough game. But neither is cricket. We never wear white, though.”

“No rugby ruffians. No hurling hoo-rahs.”

“Not at all,” piped Henry. “In fact, our particular version—unique to Edinburgh University, I am proud to say—employs a scoring system based on Fibonacci numbers.”

“Italian? Bah! Glasgow is full of Italians. Milanese designers. Edinburgh, too. Sculptors. Fringe impresarios, fish and chip artisans.”

“No Castle of Otranto in sight, Mrs. Radclyffe would protest. Our passion for Maths is in homage to the God Particle of Sir Peter Higgs. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics. A great honour for Edinburgh University. He was just knighted, you know.”

“Of course.” Actually, he didn’t know what they were talking about, but he dared not admit this, especially as knighthood was sacred to Sir Walter, and as soon as they left he would consult the Baronetage for details on this elusive Mr. Higgs.

“Papa,” Anne started. She had not called him Papa in years, and this endearment, though almost whispered, startled Sir Walter. Turning abruptly, he almost tripped over the ancient carpet he was proud to inherit from several generations of Elliott. “Catherine, you know, is the President of the Gothic Literature Society.”

“Indeed. Perfect for your doctoral thesis work. Are you still keen on studying the symbolic roles of abbeys in literature?”

“More than ever.”

“Tintern, Downton, Holyrood, Northanger, Linlithgow, Whitby, Abbey Threatre-Dublin, Dear Abby, Westminster.”

“Amazing, Papa, it shows that you’re reading far beyond the Baronetage. I am delighted.”

Did he blush? Anne wasn’t sure if her father was ashamed, embarrassed, or—was that a wrinkle in the eyes—a silent pride in his own liberal progress.

“But as I was saying, Catherine is an incredibly clever girl, she not only organizes charity events—such as the Teviot Row Crystal Ball at The Witchery, Black Cat Animal Rescue Masquerade on Calton Hill—but her propagation of Gothic Literature and its Variations, from the Druids to Harry Potter, has encouraged literacy, imagination, and surprisingly, a love of Maths amongst the youth of Edinburgh.”

“A love of Maaths? That is indeed a remarkable accomplishment. A great way to learn about making money. But tell me, what is the connection between ghost stories and Maths?”

“Oh, Anne, please, you’re making me blush. I wasn’t always clever, Sir Walter, I’ve come a long way from when I just read Gothic novels for the sake of escapism and frivolity, but Henry has really believed in me, and assured me that just as his passion for muslin and textiles could bring him vocation and prosperity, so I too, could follow such a path. And this was when I decided to matriculate at University, and not only read Gothic Literature, but create a Society in alliance with the Quidditch Team, to consecrate a marriage of true minds, tor, to bring education back to the Liberal Arts, as it was studied by Plato, Kepler, Eriugena, Ibn Arabi, Joachin of Fiore, among others.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music and Cosmology, or, The Quadrivium. First formulated and taught by Pythagoras as the Tetrakys circa 500 b.c. A time when all were equal, materially and morally and women had equal status to men. This is why our Quidditch team is co-ed, and we employ the Fibonacci sequence to score the game.”[1]

“Fibonacci? You’ve mentioned that twice. Must be very important. Explain this conundrum to me.”

“Uh,” Henry began. “I do believe, but please don’t quote me on this, I do believe that we chose the Fibonacci sequence because it is the closest thing we have to a mathematical illustration of reincarnation, which, when taken in the context of Gothic literature such as the Harry Potter series, is quite pertinent, especially if you want to discuss such dubious persons like The One Who Shall Not Be Named.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Catherine. “Just as reincarnation is one life plus the next one, Fibonacci illustrates the overlap—the layering and bleeding—of a past life onto the present one.”

“Rubbish!”

“Sorry, did I say something unseemly?”

“No, Henry, not at all.”

“Rubbish!” shouted Sir Walter. “I am a Christian man, I will not stand for this New Age/Sorcery nonsense!”

“Please come to our game, father,” pleaded Anne. “That will be the best way for you to see the Fibonacci sequence in action: much better than any abstract attempt on our part to explain it. Saturday. The Meadows. We will be playing against Strathclyde University. Lady Russell and Mary in proud attendance.”

“Brooms?” Lady Russell sniffed. “You actually ‘ride’ on these, as you try to score? Harrumph! Channels of Enchantment, I must leave at once, I cannot be seen by my respectable friends to be witnessing such a spectacle of sorcery—which, I thought, we had eradicated entirely in England after the Second World War—I am an esteemed Christian woman and will not tolerate such fiddlesticks.”

“Lady Russell,” Catherine spoke calmly. “Please take a deep breath and think about this objectively. Brooms, cauldrons, kettles, scythes, pitchforks, fiddles and sticks—these are the tools of Domesticity and Agriculture, they are associated with women and farmers: hardworking folk who excel in the underrated arts of fertility and foraging. Do you not think it strange and unfair that such tools of housekeeping, cuisine, and harvest, should be unjustly demonized and assumed by the patriarchy to always be symbols of alchemy?”

“Tradition deems them evil, and I don’t challenge sacred dogma.”

“Well, I can’t say I have an opinion,” declared Mary.”I’ve never held such objects in my hands, thank goodness.”

“Anne,” asked Henry. “What do you think?”

Unbeknownst to them, Anne was quite nervous. Her starched-ironed Quidditch uniform was moistening with sweat.  She had noticed the Captain of the Strathclyde team eyeing her. He had spoken to her father, and introduced Sir Walter to his teammates.

“Anne? Anne”

“Oh, sorry. I am a proud Quidditch player and Gothic Literature scholar. The Mission Statement common to both is the propagation of heroism, the realisation that I am the Heroine of my life, a defender of all heroic/quixotic paths. It is high time that we question the malevolent connotation that tradition has granted to such arbitrary feminine symbols and admit that without brooms, fiddles, sticks and cauldrons we would all starve. What is so wrong with a broom? It sweeps the floor. What is so evil about a pitchfork? It gathers up hay. Fiddles we associate with gypsies and the demonic Paganini, but also, with ethereal Bach and the heartthrob Joshua Bell. Why have we taken such humble, mortal instruments for granted? Within their patterns is proof that as above, so below. The broom, for instance, is like a pineapple, which, to quote the Quadrivium “displays a kiveky 5:8:13 phyllotaxis at 5 near-horizontal spirals, 8 45 degree spirals and 13 verticals….Humans use the same numbers (in a fourfold manner). We have 5 fingers/toes in each quarter, a pattern repeated in our mouths as 5 milk teeth in each quarter, replaced by 8 adult teeth, 13 in all per quarter.”[2] Alas, the Fibonacci numbers in practice. On that note, let the Games begin.”

Score: Edinburgh University. 1+1=2. The opposition’s captain faced her, ready to score. 1+1=2. One man, one woman. Anne Elliott. Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Score: Strathclyde. 2+3=5. Herself. Wentworth. Plus Lady Russell, her father, her sister. A man, a woman, plus the persuasive influence of family. Pervasive, persuasive. Anagrams of each other.

Edinburgh: 5+3=8. God in three persons. The Quadrivium writes: “Five marries male and female—as two and three in some culture, or three and two in others—and so is the universal number of reproduction and biological life. It is also the number of water, every molecule of which is a corner of a pentagon. Water itself is an amazing liquid crystal lattice of flexing icosahedra, these being one of the five Platonic solids, five triangles meeting at each point….Dry things are either dead or they are awaiting water.”[3] Praying for Frederick’s return. 8 long years of her life.

Edinburgh: 8+5=13.

“Anne?”

“Frederick…..”

“I’ve been away, Anne, working in Santo Domingo, teaching Maths, Physics and Sailing to the youth of the Dominican Republic. I competed in several regattas over the years. I am the Captain of the Casa de la Trova yacht. I have purchased an estate in Cramond. What I’ve always wanted: to live by the water, to see the swans in front of my window each morning. I am reading Physics at Edinburgh University. The God Particle fascinates me.”

Game at a standstill. 8+5=13.

Eight is two times two times two, and as such is the first cubic number after one. As the number of vertices of a cube or faces of its dual, the octahedron, eight is complete…Within architecture the octagon often signifies the transition between Heaven and Earth, as a bridge between the square and the circle…Eight is particularly revered in the religion and mythology of the orient. The ancient Chinese oracle, the I-Ching, is based on combinations of eight trigrams, each the result of a twofold choice between an unbroken or broken line, made three times.[4]

Her life at a standstill. Two times two times two. The possibility of her and Wentworth married had lingered on her mind. Almost eight. Seven years had gone by since she had last seen Wentworth. Where did time go? Why could one only move forward in time but never backward? Why could one not retrieve the lost time, the stolen time? She thought of her father’s obsession with ancestry, pedigree. Climbing a social ladder, but never climbing down.

He handed her a flower. Robinson’s daisy. Li patterns that would have made Alan Turing swoon.

Wentworth?

Anne, watch out!

Henry, help, she’s been Snitched!

 

Anne woke to see Sister staring at her. The nurse was smiling, cooling her feverish face.

“You’re at the Royal Infirmary.”

“But Frederick.”

“Lady Russell and your father want you to be moved to your sister Elizabeth’s estate in the landlocked borders. No protests!”

Anne feigned sleep and waited for Sister to leave. She found the bag containing her Quidditch uniform and cleated footwear. She walked to Frederick Street and took the bus to Cramond.

Right there, near the dock which ferried tourists to Dalmeny House was the Casa de la Trova. She rowed towards the yacht and once there stripped herself of the uniform, showered and dressed in a wooly jumper and twill trousers. Frederick’s clothes. Still smelling of Caribbean rum, salt, and fish.

Anne wanted to be ensconced in water, cocooned in its tides. Catherine had talked about selkies, sea people, how humans had drowned during the Great Flood, and those who had survived, transformed themselves, into mermaids and mermen. How P.T. Barnum managed to capture one of these sea creatures—a statuesque mermaid—and preserved her body in his museum; then one day that museum burned down, without a trace of the selkie DNA for posterity to study or appreciate.

“That which is familiar,” mused Catherine.

“What?”

“That which is familiar, that’s what Barnum wanted to do to the sea people—imprison them in his museum, so that they would become familiar, so that they would lose their uniqueness and just become a part of the ordinary lives of humans. Anytime they wanted, people could just walk in and gawk at the mermaid. Take her for granted, strip her of all sea-ness, Greenwich scars, maritime roots, until she got so grounded in her glass cage that she’d be persuaded into believing that that’s what she was—that which is familiar.”

Henry smiled: “That which is familiar, rhymes with The Witch’s Familiar. Our ubiquitous Black Cat!”

Anne thought of her father’s house, which was so much like a museum, with his antiques and near-blasphemous idolatry of the past. She could see, for the first time in her life, just how much her father, siblings, and Lady Russell had moved her further inland and landlocked, away from the water, currents and intrepid winds that might have carried her Leeward towards Wentworth, and his Dominican shores. She thought of her tears, drying and flicked away, scorned by her family. She thought of her wish to go swimming, diving, fishing, all wild notions brushed off as ‘common’ and beneath her class. The fluidity of her gait, stunted to mere dances at Kellynch. It was only Quidditch, with its synthesis of flight and fish-choreography, that saved her. Dry things are either dead or they are awaiting water.

What did Wentworth tell her about the God Particle? Excitation/Persuasion. That moment before the Snitch hurled towards her head and knocked her down. The moment you become overwhelmed by that which surrounds you. Similar to The Witch’s Familiar, but an active engagement, not just a passive surrender to a stifling force.

He used an Ogden Nash poem to explain it to her—

      Is time on my hands? Yes it is, it is on my hands and my face

      and my torso and my tendons of Achilles

      The clock has stopped at Now, there is no Past, no Future,

      And oddly enough also no Now.”[5]

 

This is why she came to Edinburgh. Redemption. The God (Particle) of forgiveness, of leveling all lost time to Now, so that her awkward feet and naïve eyes caught up with her Old Soul and hyper heart and –now!—in Wentworth’s arms, as he held her tightly and steered the yacht called Casa de la trova in the rhumba-wave of the water where Cramond kissed the shore at the very moment when his heart kissed her heart and the air lost its grip on the birds which lost their grasp on the fish and Time became fluid in her hands his heart her hair his chin her lips her cheeks his ring finger of Eternal Reckoning.

_________________________________________________

[1] John Martineau has edited a modern version of THE QUADRIVIUM: THE FOUR CLASSICAL LIBERAL ARTS OF NUMBER, GEOMETRY, MUSIC AND COSMOLOGY (New York: Walker and Company, 2010).

[2] P. 324

[3] P. 20.

[4] P. 26

[5] From the poem, “Thoughts thought while waiting for a Pronouncement from a Doctor, an Editor, a Big Executive, the Department of Internal Revenue or any other Momentous Pronouncer” by Ogden Nash. The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash.  With an Introduction by Louis Untermeyer (New York: Pocket Books, 1959). P. 154.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

About the Author:

Leonora Rita V. Obed resides in West Trenton, New Jersey and has lived in Scotland and Canada. She was born in the Philippines.

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