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The gravestones were black.
Jetty crosses, ebon urns and tablets, sable angels folding sable wings over somber stones ... A Devil's graveyard; a cemetery of Satanists.
In actual fact Susan did not find the sight at all sinister. In the mellow summer sunshine, nestled cozily among emerald grass, the black stones had a certain bizarre charm. As Susan looked down on the cemetery she felt not a single premonitory shiver. Which only goes to prove that premonitions, like history, are more or less bunk.
She had an excellent view from one of the bridges that arch superbly over the gorge separating the lower section of Edinburgh from the high ridge of the old city. Edinburgh is three different cities: the drab, sprawling suburbs of the recent past; the elegant, formal squares of the eighteenth century town; and, dominating the skyline, the tangled closes and wynds of the ancient capital. From the heights of Castle Rock, more than four hundred feet above sea level, the old streets slant down toward the foot of Arthur's Seat; and the mile-long slopes are crowded with buildings whose turreted, gabled, and towered roofs form a skyline unsurpassed in any city of the world.
Susan had fallen in love with it that morning, when she came out of the station after the all night train ride from London. The weather had been fine; the stone battlements of Edinburgh Castle were outlined against a translucent sky, and the tall old houses reached up out of lavender shadows like elderly aristocrats stretching toward the warmth of the sun. Susan was staring bemusedly out the taxi window when the driver's sour voice shattered her reverie.
"Aye, aye,gawk awa'," he remarked disagreeably. "Rich, spoiled Americans, wasting guid siller on pleasure and paying nae heed to the struggles of an oppressed people ... "
"I've come here to work," Susan said, with perfect good humor; it would take more than a grumpy taxi driver to destroy her mood on such a morning, and the man's accent delighted her. "I'm an archaeology student, and I expect to spend the summer on my hands and knees, digging. And living in a leaky tent. At least I assume it will leak. I'm not getting paid, either. I saved the plane fare by baby-sitting and doing housework last summer. Who's oppressing you?"
It was tantamount to removing a plug. The tirade continued all the way down Princes Street. When they turned into the neatly squared-off streets in the "new" city, Susan interrupted. She suspected that the lecture would have continued indefinitely if she had not.
"You're a Scottish Nationalist," she said, pleased. "How fascinating!"
"Fascinating!" The driver's voice expressed ineffable scorn; no one in the world can express it better than a Scot. "Five meelion souls writhing in the mailed fist o' Sassenach oppression, and ye call it -- "
"We broke away from the Sassenachs ourselves," Susan reminded him. "What are you mad at me for? I don't know much about the subject -- at least I didn't, until a few minutes ago -- but you ought to expect an American to be sympathetic about home rule."
The driver was silent for a moment, maneuvering the car through a crowded intersection.
"Aye, weel," he said thoughtfully. "That's true. Nae doot I've been a wee bit unfair. But ye'd be better off studying some moder-r-rn history, instead of delving in the past."
"But it's Scottish history we're digging up," Susan said. "Macbeth and Duncan -- the Picts -- Robert the Bruce ... Aren't you proud of your history?"
It was an unfortunate question, for it started another lecture that lasted until they drew up in front of the small, unpretentious hotel Susan had selected to fit her limited budget. The driver was in a better mood by then, however; he gave Susan a meager smile as he turned to open the door for her, and when she offered him a tip, he waved it away.
"A wor-r-king pairson should not be extravagant," he announced. "Keep yer siller, lass. And apply yer mind to serious matters."
Eight hours later, leaning on the parapet of the bridge, Susan smiled as she remembered the conversation. It had been an engaging introduction to Edinburgh; and the ensuing time had confirmed her affection for the city and its inhabitants. She had stopped in the hotel only long enough to unpack. The streets drew her, and she had been walking ever since, with a short stop for lunch. Her legs ached from the unaccustomed climbing.
Like most tourists, she had headed first of all for the old city and the Royal Mile; but, unlike the majority of visitors, she knew all the famous landmarks and the stories connected with them. She had been infatuated with Scotland for as long as she could remember. It was one of those unaccountable attractions, for to the best of her knowledge she had not a drop of Scottish blood in her veins. She liked to think of herself as a reasonable romantic, who could enjoy the legends and traditions without believing in their reality; and she told herself firmly that it was not some mystical theory of déjà vu, but rather prolonged study, that made every view seem familiar to her doting eyes. From the Castle, through Lawn-market, the High Street and Canongate, the thoroughfare called the Royal Mile slopes down to Holyroodhouse, the palace that has housed so many of Scotland's ill-fated kings -- and her most ill-fated queen. Mary, Queen of Scots, the femme fatale of royalty -- how many men had died for her legendary charm? Rizzio, her favorite, stabbed to death under her very eyes -- and one of the murderers Mary's own husband, Darnley ... Darnley himself, the victim of one of history's most mysterious unsolved crimes ... Bothwell, Mary's third husband, probably the murderer of her second husband, dying mad in a Danish prison ... And the young men who had conspired to rescue Mary from her prison, and who had perished horribly under the ax and on the rack.Legend in Green Velvet
. Copyright © by Elizabeth Peters. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.