Leonie was a big disappointment. She had always been considered the most marriageable of the Callister sisters, but when her fiance, the wealthy industrialist Ernest Goot, actually got to know her, with her obstinate melancholy, it fell apart and the whole affair was called off.
Now she was back in the midst of her family, a failed venture. Her father, the distinguished George Callister, was a gentleman with several prospects in shipping, but in his free time he was an avid horses and turf man. He thought of the beautiful thoroughbred mare he had bought last year and expected to win many races. Sadly the horse had some complication, a vague lack of spirit that meant it would not race. Now when he idly watched Leonie slouching around the house he saw only the horse. Yet he had brandy and cigars, and long nights of gambling with the chaps at the club to distract him.
It was the women of the family who bore the brunt of the failure. The younger sister Gertrude was furious, she knew that the quality of the Callister stock was now in ill-repute, and being bitterly aware of her lesser beauty, perceived her chances of gaining a quality husband severely damaged. Therefore she treated her sister with barely concealed hostility and disdain for her apparent distress.
Leonie herself, always sighing and staring out into the void, only felt these barbs like the minor annoyance of midges by the lake. In her mind were golds and reds - the heaving hulk of the bulls and the gleaming moon reflected on the sacrificial dagger. The dark figures of her family moved around in a drab grey fog, overlain with the rich, bright flashes. In her eyes the petty gestures of her sister took on a sublime dignity, and her modest bourgeois clothes unravelled into luxuriant cloaks of gold, inlaid with emerald serpents. When her father returned from the office, smug and aloof as ever, she saw his carefully combed beard become matted and wild, and his complacent expression took on a primal majesty. These visions would float into her mind unexpectedly and she would be silent and transfixed, almost smelling the maddening aroma of spilt bulls blood upon the soil of the sacred grove.
These visions brought her elation, but from outside it appeared as if she were vacant and morose. It was only when they were absent that she really did feel morose. It was at these times when her mother, Violet, thought that perhaps there was hope for her after all. Leonie would move around a little more and keep herself busy with chores. If only she could get over her languid spells perhaps she’d still make a nice little wife after all. Had they aimed too high with Ernest Goot? Maybe a senior clerk or respectable shopkeeper would be more suitable.
Violet could no longer stand to see Leonie moping around, so she began to insist that she follow her on all her errands in town; to the grocers, to the bank, to the tearoom to meet with the other society ladies. One day she decided that they would leave their small provincial town for Glasgow, to visit The Barras market and buy incense for the saint days.
In her usual somnolent manner Leonie floated behind her mother as she vigorously bartered with stall owners. Then she saw the Jewish cloth merchants shop, a grotto of unreal colour; rich purples, reds and golds, embroidered satins and silks, scrunching rolls of velvet. In a trance, unnoticed by her mother, she entered. The little merchant nodded at her indifferently as she strode past and turned the corner into the heart of the dazzling store. She reached up and clasped at the luxuriant fabrics, pulling them down upon herself, draping them upon her shoulders like robes. The merchant was alarmed as the wild woman emerged, stepping forward with the unconquerable glower of an ancient goddess, the bright mantle of silks and velvet hung loosely on her limbs. Seizing a pair of cloth scissors lying nearby, she paced out magnificently towards the cattle market.