Alchemy

Alchemy by Maureen Duffy

Book: Alchemy by Maureen Duffy Read Free Book Online
Authors: Maureen Duffy
too I have never danced.’
    ‘It is only to put one foot before the other in time to the music. Give me your hand. You will soon learn. Was there no dancing in your father’s house?’
    ‘His only visitors were old grey physicians like himself.’
    ‘Dancing is good for body and mind. You will see you have only to observe what others do and all is easy.’
    So I learned to lead my lady by her soft hand, to turn her about and gaze into her face and bow, and all the while my heart felt caged in my chest like some animal that would break forth. When the music stopped I bowed deeply and handed her to her chair where she sat fanning herself while she watched the other dancers. ‘We must have back the dancing master who taught my children so that you may learn new steps to please me, Amyntas.’
    ‘As my lady pleases.’
    ‘Your lady does please. There is no one else here I care to dance with.’
    Though my head swam with pleasure at this, nevertheless I saw that such a liking was dangerous if perceived by others, for now Mistress Griffiths approached and asked if she might borrow my lady’s dancing partner and on permission being given she said as we took our place: ‘Do not count on my lady’s favour to last for ever, boy, pretty as you are. Great ones are ever fickle and you will find yourself soon cast aside when your beard begins to grow and pustules come on that pretty cheek.’
    I quickly learned that where it had been my lady’s pleasure to encourage me, it was Mistress Griffiths’ to cause me to stumble. My lady had put out her hand to guide me even as she made it seem that the taking was mine. Mistress Griffiths held back so that I did not know which way to move until I got the trick of watching my neighbour from the corner of my eye.
    ‘You have much to learn of women as well as dancing,’ Mistress Griffiths said as we bowed to each other at the end of the coranto.
    ‘You must dance with the other my ladies Amyntas, or they will be jealous. But you must return to me again.’
    So I took out each one in turn and whether it was the music, the motion or the touching of hands and meeting of eyes, I feltmyself lifted up in an eager body, proud and full of a new quick spirit that found an answer in my partners. Then I thought of Thenot’s words in praise of Astrea that she was both a ‘manly palm and a maiden boy’ and that I was myself indeed the two in one. And I found that I could cause the maidens I danced with, apart from Mistress Griffiths, to raise their eyes to mine and then to cast them down again simply by my own gaze upon their faces.
    My lady too observed all this which was a kind of play acting, and whispered laughing. ‘Have a care, Amyntas, or you will have all the ladies in love with you and what does the player say: “that they had better love a dream”.’ Then she sighed. ‘How my brother would have smiled to see his Arcadia played out in this sport of ours. But you must beware Mistress Griffiths who is not as enamoured of you as the rest or inclined to fall under your spell. Her eye is on marriage for wealth and position not an idle dalliance with one of neither. She may yet unmask you and then I cannot save you.’
    I should have taken warning from this but I was too dazzled and besides she said it laughing as a thing of no importance and as if she jested merely.
    The next day I took a quiet horse and rode into Salisbury, pausing on the brow of the hill before the city to look down at the spires of its churches rising above the huddle of roofs, and, taller than all, the great needle of the cathedral piercing the winter sky. I rode down to the market where stalls were set up for the goose fair with all manner of birds, fishes and sweetmeats for the Christmas feast.
    I was afraid the noise would alarm the horse so I dismounted to lead it. Suddenly a young pig that had been tethered by a leg to a post bit through the thong that bound it and set off through the market square with a hue

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