Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Spotted Dick"

This poem came out of the September 6, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] kelkyag. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] alatefeline, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] fyreharper, and ng_moonmoth. This poem belongs to The Steamsmith series.


"Spotted Dick"


Maryam Smith was a dutiful heir
to her father's position, and so
she understood the necessity
of planning to provide an heir
of her own to follow them.

This was complicated by the facts
that she had no great fondness
for men in any intimate sense,
that most of them found her
too intimidating to approach,
and that she greatly preferred
the social role of a man, which
made ladies more accessible than
any gentlemen were likely to be.

So Maryam reasoned that it
might be most feasible to pursue
a young widow who was already
in possession of one or more sons.

She watched the society pages for
announcements of deaths and of
individuals re-entering the scene at
the conclusion of their mourning time.

Plenty of her friends were happy
to point her toward this or that lady
drifting along the edges of a party.

"I know just the dame," Old Henry said
at least once a month, patting her hand,
and even though it never quite worked out,
it was most kind of him to keep trying.

The next problem was her cheetah.

Maryam could not reasonably exclude him
from her courtship, because once at home,
her intended would have to deal with the cat --
and Farasat seemed to take every one
of them into immediate dislike.

Maryam could exchange dances
or go out walking as often as she liked,
but the moment she invited anyone
home for tea, then the trouble began.

Farasat chewed up Annabel's boots
and gave Beatrix a fainting fit and
pissed on Matilda's Kashmir shawl.

"I don't know what's gotten into him,"
Maryam grumbled at the garden party
to which the queen had invited both her
and her cheetah. "One would think that
he'd taken a hatred of women in general."

"Well, he doesn't seem to mind us,"
Victoria said, watching the cheetah
chase butterflies about her garden.

As if summoned, Farasat bounded back
to sniff her industriously for evil alchemy,
and then flopped onto his side in a sunbeam.

"Me either," said Charlotte. She gathered
her skirts and crouched down to pet the cat.
"Who's a good kitty? Who's a good kitty?
Oooh, you're just the sweetest thing!"

"Well, then why does he keep spoiling
all my tea dates?" Maryam said.

"I don't know," Charlotte said as
Farasat batted lazily at her skirts
without so much as snagging the lace.
"Perhaps it's the company you're keeping?"

"Philippa was perfectly agreeable,"
said Maryam. "We could have got on
forever without getting in each other's way."

"Mmm, there's something to be said for that,"
Charlotte said with a nod. "My parents
never had the kind of passion that poets
go on and on about, but they are still
the dearest of friends, and that is quite
enough to build a life on, don't you think?"

"I do," Maryam said. "The question is
whether I can find someone of like mind ...
who does not make my pet peevish!"

"Let us know if you wish to borrow a garden
for a courting party or a ball," the queen offered.

"Thank you, Your Majesty, but I am not quite
that desperate yet," said Maryam. "It is all
very well to go on a visit or three, but I think
a whole evening of entertaining hopefuls
would be utterly exhausting."

"It is indeed," Victoria said, fluttering
her fan. "I was ever so relieved
when I found my Albert!"

"Then we'll just have to hope
that Maryam finds hers too,"
Charlotte said with a wink.

By then, Charlotte's brother George
was glaring at them, so they parted
company and went to enjoy the garden.

It was a lovely day, with plenty
of pleasant conversations and
people to mingle with while
strolling along the paths.

But no sooner had Maryam
taken herself and Farasat
to the dessert table and begun
to chat with Iris than the cheetah
pounced upon the lady's purse
and killed it quite thoroughly.

"I don't know why you bother trying
to court anyone," Iris snapped.
"You'll never catch a woman
with that -- that -- spotted dick!"

Farasat sneezed, scattering
fragments of ribbon roses.

"Oh, here," Charlotte scolded,
reaching for the dessert table.
"Come away from that, Farasat!"

"Do not feed him ice cream,"
Maryam said. "It bothers his guts."

"I know," Charlotte said. "Here's
a rice pudding, it has beef marrow in."

As soon as she placed the dish
on the ground, Farasat abandoned
the mangled purse to lap at the pudding.

Maryam sighed, and resigned herself
to a lengthy search for a spouse.

* * *

NOTES:

Victorian courtship involved a lot of elaborate rules. These were primarily aimed at protecting virgin brides and a gentlemen's reputations; they were somewhat more relaxed for widows. The casual search for potential interests was customarily carried out during large public gatherings when people would dance or chat together. Interested parties might then move along to walking together in public, and later to private meetings with a chaperone.

Various pets have influenced courtship for their owners, including cats. People who dislike pets generally will not take up with an animal lover, and most pet owners don't want to date someone their pet despises.

Victorian purses often had elaborate decorations made of beads or embroidery. Ribbon embroidery was especially popular for making flowers, as seen on these purses. Watch a video on making ribbon roses.

Spotted dick is a famous British pudding, made with suet and raisins.

Cats will eat all sorts of things, some good for them and others not. Dairy often upsets their digestion, no matter how much some cats love it; rice is fine in moderate amounts.

Enjoy a recipe for Victorian Baked Rice Pudding.
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