It was a dark stormy night and the frigid air clung round me like death’s hand. I shivered in my nightgown as my hand trembled clutching the candle holder as I walked down the corridor to my bedroom. I had just put my hand on the door knob when the front door opened to the howling wind outside and a bellowing made me jump almost out of my skin and drop the candle.
“Barnabas! Will you come down here please!”
I peered over the banister to see my father’s face red as thunder looking up at me.
“But- but I was just going to bed Father. It’s late—”
“I know very well what time it is my boy, now come down here at once. I want to speak to you!”
Slowly, I made my way down the stairs, trembling with cold and apprehension. I knew I must have angered my father, but I didn’t know why. He’d been away for two days on business and I’d hoped to be in my warm bed asleep before he returned. He often returned in a bad mood when he had to travel in bad weather.
“Did you or did you not tell that hussy that you are going to marry her one day?”
I wrinkled my face up in confusion. What was a hussy?
“I- I don’t understand,” I managed at last, my voice cracking in a squeak.
My father glared at me.
“Now don’t come all that with me. You know of whom I speak!”
“But I’m just ten years old father! I don’t want to marry anyone!”
“That is may be, but did you or did you not tell that wretched girl in the village that you will marry her one day?”
“I don’t know who you mean father.”
My father snorted and tossed his head in the air and then looked down at me imperiously.
“Remember who you are speaking to and remember the family name. Be careful how you answer me boy. You know I cannot abide those who tell stories!”
My father was a prideful man who wanted the Collins name to be one of honor and honesty. I understood that, but at this moment I simply had no idea what he was talking about.
“I am sorry Father, but I really don’t know–”
My father raised his hand as though to strike me across the face. Instinctively I stepped back before his hand met my cheek.
“That abominable creature who parades herself around the village dressed up with ribbons and bows and goes about dancing to that dimwit who plays the fiddle! That’s who I am referring to! Word is going round the village that you are going to marry her Barnabas! Oh I know it is ridiculous- as if you would marry that awful girl who is six years older than you are and a common peasant, but I really cannot have such talk about my son in this way. It shames the family!”
“Oh her–” The image of a tawny haired girl who everyone said was a harmless idiot, whose name I wasn’t sure of- was it Betty, or was it Netty?
“Yes, her – Hetty Hicks! I was told in the inn tonight that she was buying new ribbons for her hair for when you got betrothed! They were all laughing. I never felt so embarrassed in all my life. ”
“Well, I haven’t seen her lately Father, honest!”
“Oh so you admit to talking to her then do you?”
“Only to say good day Father, she smiled at me when the fiddler was playing and I laughed at his antics. He’s funny.”
“The man is a fool!” My father shook his head. “I have no idea why he is allowed to parade about as he does, inciting people to stop their work and to act like imbeciles.”
He looked at me again. “So you deny telling this creature that you will get betrothed to her?”
I nodded my head. “Yes, I honestly did not. Hetty must have been telling tales! I told you- I’m too young and I don’t want to get married.” A sudden chill made me shiver. “Maybe not even when I’m a man- even then!”
“Then who will carry the family name Barnabas? You are the only child I have left after the twins died.”
I lowered my head thinking of the night my mother lost a boy and girl, so malformed as to be hardly called babies.
“I’m- I’m sorry about them. I wished they had lived.” My lower lip trembled. I had so wanted not to be an only child.
My father waved his finger at me. “Well just you mind who you talk to down at the village. Keep away from those imbeciles. If they can make up tales like that, who knows what else they might say about you and this family.”
“Yes Father,” I replied meekly. “Please may I go to bed now? It’s very cold and I’m tired.”
“Yes, go on with you.” My father began taking off his coat and muttering to himself about fools, idiots and imbeciles.
I dashed up the stairs not wanting to hear another word of it. Perhaps he was right about those villagers, but at least they were good natured I thought. I smiled to myself as I got under the blankets and leaned over to the candle and blew it out.
As I lay my head on the pillow the darkness enveloped me and I fell into a dream. A man stood at the edge of a cliff as the wind whipped frantically around him, pulling at his cloak savagely.
The fiddler danced perilously near the edge laughing hysterically.
“She’s gone! She’s gone! Won’t see her again. The rocks have her now!”
The man rounded on him furiously, fire in his eyes.
The fiddler looked back at him terror in his eyes. “Stay away from me!” he shrieked, dropping his fiddle and running as if the Devil himself were after him.
The other man turned to look at the fiddler and then looked down at the rocks below.
“Oh nooooo–” he groaned, his shoulders heaving in deep grief.
Then there was an almighty bang like thunder, and I sat up, now wide awake.
Voices rose cutting into the darkness, the sound of a vase crashing onto the floor. I lay back down sighing as I heard my mother weeping. I longed to leave my warm bed, and throw my arms round her and tell her it would be allright, but I did not dare. For we both knew it would be a lie, another story I was telling both myself and my dear Mother. I tried to go back to sleep, but the yelling of my father and my mother’s cries assaulted my ears and heart. I tried to think of a happier time, a time when my father had been away for three months and it was just me and her. Well, there was Aunt Abigail, who often scolded me for taking the last slice of cake, but she was always in her room reading the Bible and sewing stockings for the church to give to the poor.
“Oh Barnabas, you do have a way with words!” My Mother smiled, stroking my hair. “ And such a beautiful voice to do it with too. That was a wonderful story. Wherever did you get that idea from?”
“I’m not sure. But I wanted it to have a happy ending, even if it seems improbable.”
“You mean you don’t believe in happy endings dear?”
“I’d like to, but it seems to me that they only happen in stories, which is why I wrote this one just for you Mother.”
“Thank you darling,” she smiled and kissed the top of my head. “You are so thoughtful and clever, such a clever boy. I know that you could be happy one day, no that you will be–”
At that she turned away, so that I didn’t see the tears glistening in her sad eyes. But it was too late- I had already seen them.
I squeezed my eyes tight shut, trying to not to see the images in my dream. Was that a story too? Dreams often seemed like stories to me. I had no idea where this one came from- it was so strange.
Eventually sleep claimed me and I fell into another dream, another story. This time there was a man wearing strange clothes and talking to two women in a big house I’d never seen before. They were dressed strangely too-, but they were pretty. The blonde haired one seemed very scared at the story the man was telling but the other one was listening fascinated.
The man stood in the shadows, so I couldn’t see his face, and I couldn’t hear his story either. But I knew it was a frightening tale.
When I awoke, I had forgotten this dream, this story, and it wasn’t until many many years later that I remembered it. I couldn’t remember the women listening to the man’s story, but the story itself made itself known to me. Perhaps I’d known it all along- after all it had been my dream.
A story or the truth? Maybe it was neither, but I told it all the same.
Contrary to my father’s wishes, I became a master storyteller. I shall speak more about this another time.