CHAPTER FOUR

 

               Rosemary checked the lock on the door of her bedroom at the inn, and with the great sigh of relief that always accompanied such an act, unlaced her bodice. She placed it on the foot of the bed, careful to lay it flat so as to avoid a crease.

Kneeling upon the rushes, she reached beneath the simple wooden bedframe upon which lay a feather-stuffed mattress and an old but warm-looking quilt, and retrieved the ceramic pitcher and basin left there for her use. The pitcher had already been filled partway with water, and Rosemary poured a bit of it into the basin, then slipped off her overskirt and located the ale stain from earlier in the night. Balling the skirt up as small as she could, she stuffed it into the small basin, and did her best to scrub the stain from the vibrant blue cloth. When she was satisfied that it had been washed completely out, she wrung the excess water from the skirt and draped it over a small wooden stool to dry.

               The ostler’s wife was a bossy but thoughtful old woman, and upon Rosemary’s arrival had asked what kind of herbs she should like strewn about the rushes on the floor to disguise the scent of the room’s previous inhabitant and the odor of the stables wafting from the ground below. At the time, Rosemary had been so addled that she had declined to reply.

The old woman had seemed a bit put out at Rosemary’s lack of enthusiasm, and had at length chosen winter savory and lavender spike. For the first time since Rosemary had come to stay at the inn, she became aware of the scents, and, deciding that she did not care for winter savory, resolved to request that it be replaced with chamomile or rose petals upon the morrow. She wondered whether all the guests were given a choice of scents, or merely the ones who had enough coin to pay for an upstairs room as had Father Thomas, who had given her this last luxury as – she supposed – both a parting gift and as a means of protecting an unaccompanied woman.

               As she tucked a stray curl behind her ear and gingerly stepped out of both her chemise and under-skirt, she wondered in what room Ariana stayed. The lateness of the hour upon which they parted suggested to Rosemary that Ariana was also staying at the inn, perhaps intending to resume her travels at dawn. Her black mood lifted by the night’s conversation, she permitted herself to wonder fancifully what herbs Ariana would choose to scent her room, if given a choice. Rosemary decided that Ariana would be most suited by sage and cowslips, or perhaps sweet fennel if it were available. Floral and sweet scents suited Rosemary, but she suspected that Ariana would choose a savory scent.

               From her small trunk, she pulled a new, white sleeping gown, and pressed the soft cloth to her face admiringly. She smiled to herself, realizing that she must be feeling better after her talk with the gypsy considering how much delight she was taking in the feel of the cool cotton lawn pressed to her cheek.

Rosemary had always loved fine clothes, though due to the modest style of living that befitted her life with Father Thomas, she did not have as many as she once had. But when she had seen this ribbon-trimmed night rail at market several months ago, she had decided she could not live without it, and had been saving its first use for a special occasion. Rosemary rubbed her cheek against the soft white cloth, and felt that perhaps tonight was the night when the sweetness of her sleep would be enhanced in wearing it. Ah, if I had all the coin in England, I should have a new sleeping gown for every night! she mused, as she slipped it reverently over her head.

                Her father had not been an unusually wealthy man, no more so than any other cloth merchant. But he had lived carefully and without extravagance, with the result that at the time of his passing, he had saved a goodly amount of money. He had bequeathed his savings and several folders of exotic cloth to his only daughter, with the understanding that it would be given fully into her care either upon her wedding day or midway through her eighteenth year, whichever came first.

Rosemary sighed; yet one more way in which she had disappointed her father. Nearly nineteen, and no husband in sight.          

               That, coupled with her parting from Father Thomas, meant that the time had passed when she could continue to spend her days without useful industry. Rosemary’s tears threatened to return in panic as she thought of her predicament. With firm effort, she put such things out of her mind, and thought instead about the gypsy girl, her mind returning to Ariana as it had several times that night. Softly she blew out the single candle set into a wall sconce just beside the door and crawled beneath the wool-stuffed, patchwork quilt upon her bed.

In her mind, she recounted the night’s earlier conversation. After her startling crying fit, there had not really seemed much point in dignified discretion, so in addition to telling Ariana about her father, the two had exchanged other tales as well. In the way of giddy schoolgirls and half-drunk men, they had sat huddled together and shared their respective stories, or at least, the bare beginnings of them. Then it had been Rosemary’s turn to comfort Ariana, as the truncated tale of her mother’s timely discovery and Ariana’s subsequent flight had been revealed.

 As Rosemary held the gypsy girl’s hand, she had wondered why the girl’s father had not been mentioned, and why he had not intervened with the council of elders. Mayhaps he, like her own father, was dead? Rosemary puzzled over this. And what would Ariana do now that she had fled? Rosemary recalled that her own father had been one of the only English merchants who felt comfortable doing business with the gypsies. He had told her that gypsies – like Jews – were a communal people. They lived off the money that the men earned by trading horses, fixing pots and pans, and occasionally trading jewelry or precious stones. Their women, though hard-working, had no need of a profession; rather, it was their duty to tend to the raising of the children and the hearth while the men traveled into town for their fortune. Which meant that Ariana was probably not apprenticed to any trade in particular.

Though in sooth, neither am I, Rosemary mused to herself. She pulled the blankets beneath her chin and, for the hundredth time, pondered her possibilities. She was far too well-educated to serve as a tavern-wench or washer-woman. Being of the merchant class, perhaps she could secure a position as a maid to some well-born lady. Though she had no letter of reference to commend her, she was a quick study, and – with the exception of the ale spill earlier (inexcusable!) – was unusually tidy. Too, she could read and write, which might be considered an added benefit to an employer.

               Rosemary heaved a great sigh and rolled onto her other side, pushing impatiently at the pointy end of a feather that had poked through the mattress lining. Did she really want to spend the rest of her days fetching biscuits for some spoiled daughter of lower gentry, fastening dresses made too tight by an overindulgence of sweets and keeping her eyes properly lowered when the master approached?

               In the dark, Rosemary propped herself onto one elbow and searched for the dim outline of her harp in the corner of the room. It was a treasured possession she had owned since childhood, and it never failed to give her comfort. She spent a long time gazing fondly at its majestic curves before lowering herself back down on the bed and burrowing her cheek into a cool spot on the mattress.

 ‘Tis truly a pity that I may not earn a living with my harp, she thought. She had quite a lovely voice, and had been told countless times by Father Thomas that when she played upon the harp and sang, ‘twas like angels were rejoicing, telling over the story of the creation of the Earth.

               In truth, Rosemary felt that when she lifted her voice in tandem with the sumptuous rolling chords of the harp she in some small way transcended the earth, and was privileged for just a moment to sit in the company of some unseen spiritual being. Not next to G-d, necessarily, but some space within His cosmos where the spiritual beauty of the Heavens and the physical reality of the world somehow intersected. Of all the sweetness and joy she had felt as a child, never had she known such perfection as the sound of the harp when blended with human voice. There was some unexplained mysteriousness in the combination, some magic that permitted G-d to commune with His children through music.

 

       Once, in her ninth year, she had taken the harp into the street outside her father’s shop to amuse herself whilst enjoying a rare day of sunshine - and had looked up midway through her third song to see a crowd of people suddenly gathered, gazing at her with utter serenity, their burdens momentarily forgotten. Even the grouchy Widow Anslye, that bristly, brusque old woman who always shouted at children… she simply stood there, her eyes slightly misty, and the barest hint of a smile bending her pale, pinched lips.

Rosemary had realized with a child’s humility that it was not she but G-d’s spirit reaching out through her music that had the power to move people thus, and had resumed her playing with renewed fervor. For three hours she played, every song she knew and even one she made up on the spot.

After a while the people had remembered their duties and had slipped away one by one, but the old widow had stayed until Rosemary drew her weary hands away from the strings, saying she knew no more songs. The old woman had nodded a small, bittersweet nod, and at length, stooped achingly to pick up her basket. Slowly she passed by Rosemary, and did something no one in the village had e’er seen her do: she placed a wrinkled brown hand on Rosemary’s head, and gave the child’s hair the smallest of pats. Then she shifted the heavy basket on her arm, and creaked slowly away.

For a long time Rosemary remained sitting in that spot, staring up into the clouds, until her father came to tell her that it was time to hie home. In silence, he watched her gather up her harp and stool, and they began the long walk home, neither of them speaking as they usually did to pass the time.

Her father was especially patient with her all that night; he had seen Widow Anslye’s pat through his shop window, and was content to leave Rosemary to her silent thoughts, sensing as fathers do that something monumental had changed in his daughter that day. He had kissed her forehead gently as he tucked her into bed that night, and for the first time since her mother had died, Rosemary was so absorbed in her thoughts that she did not whine for him to stay just a bit longer.

    Absently she had watched her father leave, taking the soft glow of the candle with him. As she curled her tiny body up beneath the covers and felt her eyelids begin to droop, a final thought had come to Rosemary, and she had suddenly known with unshakable certainty that music was a gift G-d had given to His children, to heal their souls and bring them closer to each other. Even then as a child of nine, Rosemary had realized too that G-d had placed in her the ability to wield that precious gift, and as she drifted into sleep, she had felt both humbled and strangely exalted.

              

Rosemary again looked to the outline of her harp sitting in the corner of her room at the inn. If she could spend her days in music, ever entering that place of sweetness and serenity, she would think her life truly blessed. But could it possibly be that this gift could become not merely a source of pleasure, but her livelihood as well? Rosemary’s heart surged with hope.

                But that was no employment for a woman traveling alone: flitting from town to town, straining to procure jobs in all manner of inns, never knowing what sort of man would suddenly rise from his table and take an impure thought into his head regarding the minstrel sleeping alone and unprotected in her room.

Not the sort of thing one did if one was the careful sort, Rosemary thought.

               Suddenly, she sat bolt upright in bed. The girl, Ariana… as the two had been talking and becoming more relaxed, Ariana had slipped a cord from around her shoulder, and lay what she was carrying by her bench. Rosemary had not thought much of it at the time, but now her memory refreshed for her that it had been a cloth-covered tube, in which lay nestled a shiny silver flute! And moreover, the girl had laid the flute next to a guitar, which had been propped against the wall, just near the wainscoting! Her friend the gypsy was a musician!

               In an instant, every fiber of Rosemary’s body was alive and racing. What if she were not traveling alone, but with her newfound friend?

Unless she was much mistaken, the girl was also seeking employment, and what more marvelous way of earning one’s keep than traveling with a friend and making music? Over and over Rosemary turned the possibility in her mind, her hands twisting at the quilt in her excitement. Granted, two women journeying alone with no man to escort them was still a precarious existence, but much less so than traveling single! And it would be far more enjoyable, far more meaningful than being a lady’s maid: already Rosemary could envision lilting harmonies as two voices blended together, the harp marking time with arpeggiated chords while the sweet strains of the flute wafted above the heads of enraptured, music-gentled listeners. Ariana, with her eerie fortune telling, seemed the spiritual sort… was it possible that she, too, had found that elusive serenity when she played upon the flute? Would she also gladly give her life for the privilege of making music and finding that miraculous space every day?

               For a brief moment, it struck her as odd that she should be planning her lifelong employment with a girl she had met only hours before. Mayhaps her trusting nature was misleading her. Outside of the story of Ariana’s flight, she knew very little about the girl. But Rosemary had always trusted her instincts, and upon deeper inspection they were telling her that, strange as it seemed, she and the gypsy girl were meant to meet. Though she knew not why, she was suddenly filled with the absolute certainty that this was a path they were both meant to take.

               Rosemary lay back down and curled deeper beneath the covers, a joyful smile upon her face and the wheels still turning in her mind. Hardly able to contain her excitement, Rosemary pressed her lips together and thought,

Tomorrow, even before the sun rises, I will seek out Ariana and hear her thoughts.