Like many Scots and those of Scottish heritage around the world, I’m getting ready to celebrate Burns Night on Jan. 26 — our committee holds its “Nicht Wi’ Burns” (or Night with Burns) on the Saturday closest to the poet’s birthday, Jan. 25.
Of course, I thought of writing something poetic to honor the occasion. But then I realized that I was ignoring the Scottish writers who I write about more often — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson — and their English colleagues, Dame Agatha Christie and Dame Daphne du Maurier.
In short, it’s past time for another fictional meeting of the committee in my Imaginary Writers’ Room, one of the better corners of my mind.
They hadn’t met since May 2018 (for “minutes,” see this post). But just thinking of Burns Night coming up got Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the chairman of the committee, and Robert Louis Stevenson thinking patriotic thoughts.
“It’s time we had another man around this room, Louis!” said Sir Arthur. “Another Scotsman!”
“You hae someone in mind, Sir Arthur?” said Louis from the couch alongside the committee table.
“Of course!” said Sir Arthur. “Why, it’s late January, Margaret’s time — let’s get Robert Burns in here!”
He wasn’t far away, just walking through the quiet landscapes near the Writers’ Room. He’d been nearby when I glimpsed a mouse in December and part of my reaction wasn’t just calling the superintendent, it was reaching for Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse.”
When the poet walked into the room, smiling a bit shyly at the writers from other centuries, his sparkling eyes lighted on the two ladies on the committee, Dame Daphne du Maurier and Dame Agatha Christie.
With the clarity that my mental rules allow, he greeted them by names and titles, “Dame Agatha; Dame Daphne.”
“But we’re ladies as well, Mr. Burns,” said Daphne.
“Married ladies,” said Agatha. “So watch your step, you rogue!”
“Dames and ladies,” said Burns. “Ah, even here, I’ve learnt to move in high life!”
“Nae so high,” Stevenson reminded him. “Not all of us have titles, ye ken.”
“Ah, I know, Mr. Stevenson,” said Burns kindly, “but we’re all equals here. You haven’t a title, but Margaret knew about you before any of the rest of us.”
“And, as you put it so well, ‘A man’s a man for all that,” said Stevenson.
“So we haven’t met as a committee in a long time,” said Doyle.
“But what’s time to us?” said Burns. “Our time isn’t like Margaret’s.”
“Oh, you know that already?” said Daphne. “We’re used to going over what she’s writing, maybe inspiring something special for her.”
“Och, I do that,” said Burns. “I even inspired her to go back to Scotland once.”
Stevenson and Doyle stared at each other in shock.
“What?” demanded Sir Arthur. “How’d you do that?”
“It was one of my birthday suppers,” said Burns. “So much music, so many poems, and Margaret decided she’d go over to visit a friend who’d moved a few weeks earlier from her part of the world to Scotland.”
“Oh, those were the days,” said Stevenson. “That was a grand trip.”
“You knew?” demanded Agatha Christie.
“Och, yes,” Stevenson said. “Arthur didn’t call the committee together until recently, but we’ve been hanging around Margaret’s mind for a long time.”
(F0r the first committee meeting in June 2017, click the link at “the chairman” in the fourth paragraph of this post.)
“But this birthday business,” said Agatha. “You really have people celebrating your birthday every year, Mr. Burns? Even now?”
“Aye,” said Robert Burns. “I do. People gather round all over the world and recite my poems, sing my songs, and talk about me — every January, even though I’ve left Margaret’s world ‘twa hundred years and more’ ago, as a song says.”
“Birthdays,” scoffed Louis Stevenson. “I gave mine away, ye ken.”
“And what good did it do you?” said Arthur. “You died not long after that.”
“True, but the lass wanted a birthday farther from Christmas,” said Louis, “and I made her happier.”
“We all made people happier,” said Agatha.
“Especially Margaret,” said Daphne. “We’ve made her happier.”
“So, Arthur,” Stevenson said as he turned over on the sofa, “those visitors at Christmas Eve didn’t stay here. What about Mr. Burns here? I could use the company of another commoner!”
“And anither poet,” said Robert Burns. “Those poems in ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ are still among the ones Margaret loves best. Even I see that.”
“Right,” said Louis Stevenson, “but she does call your ‘Epistle to a Young Friend’ her favorite now.”
“So, shall he stay?” said Daphne.
“All in favor, say aye,” said Conan Doyle.
The motion passed unanimously.
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