The Drizzler

Armour's the jewel for me of them all.
Somewhere in my new novel about the life and times of Robert Burns's wife Jean Armour, there's a reference to the practice of 'drizzling' and 'drizzlers'. When I first heard about this, the eighteenth century – and largely female – practice of snipping precious metal embellishments from male garments, with or without the wearer’s permission, and selling the gold and silver to be melted down, I was intrigued by the notion and of course, it found its way into the novel. You'll have to read the book if you want to know who, when and where! I say in the end note to the book that everything either happened or could have happened, so you'll have to make up your own mind about certain events. Although you might be surprised ...

Anyway, a good long while before I wrote the Jewel, I was so intrigued by the notion of drizzlers that I wrote a poem in the persona of one of them. I thought you might like to read it, so here it is.

THE DRIZZLER

The play’s the place for this game,
crowded halls, assemblies, balls.
I keep a pair of scissors in my
needle case, birds of steel, their
beaks as sharp as my tongue and
a spool for winding my booty on.
My skirts are a garden,
how my nimble needle flies.
A froth of smuggled lace at my wrist
hides my hand from prying eyes.

Peacocks are my prey.
Rich young men or old no matter
so long as their coats are fancy.
Roses, purls and picots are good,
dangling spangles are easy,
acorns are fine, fringes are better
but I have grown so bold that
I have slit silver buttons from their
waistcoats beneath their noses
and I remember one young buck who
wore medallions of beaten gold
with cupids and I had them I had them but
I was sorry to send such cherubs for melting.

Some women call their pillage flirtation.
What can their gallants do but submit?
But the covert assault excites me more.
I gauge them from behind my fan.
Up close, their hearts beat far too loud to
hear the slice of blade on blade.
They never see my work.
They’re watching the shady cleft
between my breasts, they never catch
the swiftness of my hand
between their baubles but
with their warm lips on mine
I’ll palm my shears and
clip their treasures one by one.

My mother died when I was
much too young to grieve.
My father pays lip service to thrift while
donning his powdered wigs, his velvets,
his hose, his ruffled linen shirts.
So I’ll take what’s offered elsewhere
snipping in secret, concealing my
rich pickings in my sleeve.

Later, I’ll tease my stolen gold from
silken thread and take it to the old woman
who weighs it on her scales and
hands me a few coins instead.
Pin money. It’s never enough
but the thought of this subtle robbery
makes me flush and catch my breath.
I’ll prick their vanity with my tiny shears.
A small piracy.
We are drizzlers.
We are buccaneers.




Comments

DawnTreader said…
Oh, I had somehow managed to miss that this book was out... Downloaded to my Kindle now, looking forward to reading it! Loved The Curiosity Cabinet and The Physic Garden.