on the other side of the glass (everything is green)
There was a girl Hamish loved, a long time ago. He can no longer remember her name.
Hamish had just had his tenth birthday, the girl was maybe eight, maybe nine, and they sulked at each other throughout the tedious afternoon spent waiting for their fathers to finish discussing their business.
Hamish thought she was very odd, and it wasn't until she stuck her tongue out in parting that he realised, actually, one day he was going to marry her.
There were other girls his mother tried to push at him, prettier girls, girls with fortunes or titles, but they were never quite right. They never had the same dreamy look, they never stuck their tongues out like they weren't afraid in the slightest of the title Hamish was going to have to wear one day, they never laughed like they didn't care who they were with. They never treated Hamish like an ordinary boy.
Much to his mother's despair, it had to be that particular girl, or it would be no one.
(He forgot most of this, but he always remembered that his should-have-been marriage was not an arranged one, not as his actual marriage was.)
Hamish's wife is pretty, quiet, proper, knows her place in society and what is expected of her and doesn't find it an onerous burden. She is very difficult to distract, as he has discovered to his cost several times. Her smiles are polite and perfunctory and maybe Hamish doesn't like them, but he does his best to ignore it – marriage is a very careful balancing act between two parties after all.
Her hair is a very pretty blonde, but it is not quite right (though why it is wrong he can no longer say).
He almost never thinks of the girl he should have married.
(This may be a lie, but if so it is an old one and therefore not worth bothering about.)
He has long since realised that he would not have been the best husband for that dreamy-eyed girl, but he would have tried his best and maybe he could have been a good one. She would not have been a good wife for him, and would not have cared to try at all, but he would not have minded. He would have tried, of course, to have her take note of what was right and proper, but he had not gone into his proposal expecting to win that fight – that was the point, really.
Ladies can be eccentric. The wives of lords can be as eccentric as they like. England likes a touch of eccentricity in its upper echelons. A girl of upper class one step departed from trade stock, who declines a lord? Who goes on to travel the world as a business-woman, without a chaperon of any kind? Simply mad.
Everybody was so careful to tiptoe around the subject, but Hamish did not weep, wail, or gnash his teeth. He sent flowers with his pitiful hopes attached to them – he had some idea that she understood the language of flowers, he recalled a remark on how roses were actually quite bitter things – and he wrote a dozen letters and crumpled every one. He wasn't very good with words, and anyway – anyway. His pride hurt, yes – it is a matter of opinion whether he ever got over it – but he knew the girl he'd wanted to marry just enough to know he should have expected it.
The sort of girl that dreams of flying doesn't want to wear the ring of aristocracy. It's much too heavy.
And really, if she didn't want to even try, there wasn't much he could do, was there? There would be no wedding night, no awkward breakfasts where they tried to learn each other through conversations over toast, no careful adjustments as they learned each other's preferred times and activities, no gradual understanding of each other's quirks and foibles and no acceptance of them.
He had wanted her more than anything, but she said no, and Hamish has to be a gentleman as well as a lord. It was probably a good thing she said no anyway.
(Sometimes he imagines her sitting opposite him at the breakfast table, and sometimes he feels something in him curl up and whine at the memory of her smile, but that doesn't mean a thing.)
His children had a pet rabbit. His children also went through a phase when they thought dressing animals in miniature versions of human clothing was the proper thing to do. He has never forgiven his wife for going along with them in such a foolish matter.
The tailor who indulged the ridiculous request went out of business a year later. It had absolutely nothing to do with the way the sight of white rabbit blinking at Hamish while wearing a blue coat made him think of things better forgotten.
Why is it that everybody thinks it's alright for children to believe such nonsense? It's a silly idea, and if they're not careful they will keep their imagination long after they should have left it behind with the playroom.
His children still ask after the rabbit occasionally.
(Whatever happened to that girl? Her name
– was it Alice?)
There is a legend in Hamish's home county about a girl who disappeared on her wedding day. They say her bones were beneath an old tree, and they say her lover killed and buried her there. He may have been a dapper gentleman called Mr Fox or maybe that's a different folk story, but everyone agrees he dressed well, so there was almost certainly a top hat somewhere. They say her dress is white when they see her dancing her strange dance in the moonlight, but Hamish knows it is a pale blue.
"I love my love with an H," sing the children on one side of the skipping rope, "because he is Happy--"
"I hate him with an H," return the children on the other side, "because he is Hideous--"
"Messengers to and fro, one to come and one to go!"
"One to fetch and one to carry!"
"One on the Hill and one below!"
They call the names of the messengers – do they say Haigha or Hamish? The first name is never very clear. The second always is. "Hatta, Hatta, Hatta," they chant, shrieking with laughter.
(There's another song they sing, with two of them playing the messengers announcing the arrival of a queen, but Hamish only ever hears a few words as he hurries by – the Red Queen, the White Queen and me, come and dine with the Red Queen, the White Queen and me.)
Hamish is nothing if not conscientious. He visits the sanatorium twice a month, despite how much it disturbs him. His family have always been patrons of the more unfortunate.
He pays no particular attention to a woman with shorn blonde hair who claws repeatedly at reflective surfaces.
There was a girl Hamish would have married, a long time ago.
He knows she said no, which is why he remembers her at all – nobody has said no to him since, even when they really should have. (He lost so much money on that horse, damn Ashby and his 'certain thing'.)
His never-was fiancée is a legend in certain circles. He does wish he could recall her name. Nothing is ever quite right when he tries to remember her.
(Was her name Liddell? Kingsleigh? Or Kingsley? Allison or Alice? Was she a Lady or a Miss? What colour were her eyes, blue or brown? Why does it matter?)
Hush-a-by lady, in Alice's lap! Till the feast's ready, we've time for a nap: Till the feast's over, we'll go to the ball - Red Queen, White Queen, and Alice and all!
Hush-a-by lady, in Alice's lap!
Till the feast's ready, we've time for a nap:
Till the feast's over, we'll go to the ball -
Red Queen, White Queen, and Alice and all!