CHAPTER FIVE

 

              As soon as she heard the first crow of the cock, Rosemary’s eyes snapped open, and within an instant she was out of bed and stripping off her night rail. She had hardly slept a wink since her revelation last night, and yet she felt more refreshed than she had all week. She peered between the cracks in the shutters… no, it did not appear that the dawn would give way to a sunny day; it was as dreary and gray as it had been all month.

But Rosemary’s mood was not altered. Had she been asked, the sun was so bright as to be blinding that morning. She rushed through her morning ablutions, taking only a joyous moment as she dressed to notice that she had successfully washed out the ale stain upon her skirt from the previous night.

A good omen, surely!

Hastily, she pinned her hair back at the sides, and tightened the laces on her bodice. Throwing open the shutter so as to air out the room in her absence, Rosemary quickly unlocked her door and flew down the steps of the inn, flying out the door and around the corner to the tippling house, from which she could already smell the breakfast being prepared by the ostler’s wife.

              Upon entering the room, she located the old woman stirring a thick pot of porridge over a low-burning fire. With haste, Rosemary ran over to her and breathlessly asked,

“The gypsy girl, the one who arrived last night… where doth she sleep?”

“Why, child, good morrow!” the old woman replied, taken utterly aback at the transformation before her, for the morose young woman of last night was now a bright-eyed, scrubbed maiden. “An’ look at ye! Ye look fresh as a rosebud this morn! What didst thou dream that hath transformed ye?”

Rosemary fidgeted in her impatience, but remembered to be polite. “Good morrow to thee as well, goodwife. No dream as yet, but mayhap one to come! The gypsy girl?”

“She be in the stable, I expect… that be where she were headed last night for to bed.”

“The stable?” She had expected that Ariana would at least have a room, even if it was a small one. Granted, she was a gypsy running away from home, probably not even remotely wealthy… but the way she carried herself, somehow it did not seem right that Ariana would sleep in a stable.

“Aye, of course! Where else for a gypsy but the stable? You expected her to be in the master’s suite, I suppose?”

The ostler’s wife cackled at her own joke, though more in merriment than unkindness. The old woman scratched at her hip with the stick end of her wooden spoon and was about to speak more when Rosemary interrupted her with a quick, “Gramercy,” and lifted her skirts to speed out of the alehouse.

The ostler’s wife watched her go, thinking that she must have been visited by some paramour in the night for her cheeks to go from the pallor of the past week’s to this morning’s flush. Shaking her head and resuming her stirring, the old woman looked off to the sideboard, where her husband stacked the eating trenchers, and thought to herself that her own cheeks had been looking a wee bit pale as of late. Smiling to herself, she thought that she just might see if the old man were up to rectifying that after his chores that afternoon.

               Rosemary skidded to a halt just outside the stable. She had no desire to frighten Ariana by bursting in and disturbing her sleep. She took two deep breaths, then opened the heavy stable door…. to find Ariana already wakened and fastening her belt about her waist.

“G-d grant ye good day, friend!” said Rosemary, her surprise showing in her voice. Ariana looked up and was pleased to see how vibrant Rosemary looked. In the stale light of the tippling house last night, Ariana had guessed the woman’s age at five-and-twenty, or perhaps even older. Now, in the morning light, she could see that the woman was closer to her own age, mayhaps only of eighteen or nineteen years.

“G-d ye good day,” she replied in kind, smiling back at Rosemary.

“I see thou art preparing for travel,” Rosemary said, stepping into the stable and carefully avoiding a pitchfork that was stuck crossways into a bale of hay just near the door. As she glanced about the stable, she was pleased to see that, while not as luxurious as an actual room at the inn, it was at least clean and well kept inside. She could see a loft accessible by a wooden ladder; she supposed it was there that Ariana had made her bed. The horse stalls to her right were clean, the smell of ‘horse’ being naturally all-pervasive, but the smell of manure fortunately at a minimum. It pleased Rosemary to think that Ariana had not spent the night in some filthy stall, and she regretted that she had not known earlier about Ariana’s modest accommodations, for she would have gladly offered to share her room had she but known.

Well, she would be more than pleased to share her room in future nights, if Ariana could not afford one of her own.

“Wherefore art thou up so early? Is thy travel urgent?” she asked. If Ariana had some place she needed to be, it could spoil everything.

“Nay, I am traveling no place in particular,” Ariana replied, swinging her guitar over her shoulder and securing the strap. “Merely someplace away, someplace for a new life.”

Rosemary saw her chance, and leapt at it. “That is precisely what I have come to speak to thee about! I… have had a thought which I think may please you, and perchance offer money as well!”

Ariana’s eyebrows rose, and she showed by nodding that she would hear Rosemary’s news.

“I could not help but to notice,” Rosemary began, “that thou art fond of music!”

 She gestured to the guitar on Ariana’s back, and to the flute that lay in its carrying tube by Ariana’s feet. “Know you what manner of employment awaits you when you complete your travels?”

If Ariana thought the conversational leap from travel to music to the state of her employment was strange, she did not comment, but instead replied, “Nay, I know not. But I will surely find some industry in the town.” She thought for a moment before adding, “Though in sooth, I know not what.”

               “Ah!” said Rosemary, her heart beginning to race now that she was warming to her topic. “Indeed, I did think the same! ‘Tis why I have been at this inn these eight days… pondering mine own fate. I have a great love of music, like my father, and by appearances,” - and here she gestured to the guitar slung upon Ariana’s back, - “like thee! But mostly my father was a mercer, and though I know a bit about fabrics, I am not apprenticed to such a trade, nor am I particularly suited for anything else. I have been turning it over and about in my mind, trying to think to what employment I ought to set myself… and then, Ariana, it came to me!”

Rosemary’s face shone with delight and anticipation. “Ariana, mayhaps I can earn my keep with my music!”

Ariana smiled delightedly. “I wish you good luck, friend! May it make you happy all your days!”

“But I have not yet come to the greatest point!”

Rosemary fought to steady her voice. “To make my fortune as a musician is the greatest life of which I can dream. And yet, it is no life for a woman traveling alone.”

             Ariana’s understanding and expectant nod encouraged Rosemary, and she continued excitedly, “But what if I were not alone? What then? What if…” Rosemary struggled valiantly to contain herself.

“What if I were not alone, Ariana? What if we two traveled as one, passing our days in happy companionship and playing to our heart’s content at night? Ah! -  wouldst thou join me, Ariana? Thy flute and my harp… can you not see it? What say you?”

Rosemary was nearly breathless with anticipation. So when she saw the light go from Ariana’s eyes it came as a great shock, with confusion and apprehension warring for a place of supremacy in the pit of her stomach.

“Ariana?” she asked quietly, sensing the girl’s indecision. “Perchance I am in haste, and thou hadst other plans?”

“Nay,” Ariana shook her head. “Nay, as I said before, no particular thing calls to me.”

She drew a sigh, and made as if to continue, but stopped.

“Then..?” Rosemary began. “If you are drawn to naught else…?”

“I am drawn to my freedom.”

Ariana adjusted the guitar strap on her shoulder and twisted the silver ring on her finger. For a moment she stared at it pensively, and then continued,

“I have ne’er been alone, not ever as long as I have lived. When my mother first told me I would have to leave, the thought frightened me like no other. I thought I could not possibly survive outside the camp. But when I took that very first breath of air, alone, it felt…. I was no longer afraid. I felt strong, powerful! Free.”

Around and around she twisted the ring on her finger, beginning to understand what her mother had been trying to tell her.

“I have all my days been defined by the others in the camp, and in a small way, I accepted their definition. Never have I had the opportunity to… define myself. I fear that if I agreed to go with thee -”

               Ariana’s voice broke, for indeed, Rosemary’s proposition had come nearest to anything yet to describing a perfect life for her. Truly, she loved her music like she had loved nothing else in this world… until today. Today, she was not a half-breed gypsy girl but a woman with no ties to camp or kin, and the possibilities awaiting her on the open path seemed suddenly sweeter than aught else she could imagine. To earn her keep as a musician might well prove to be the stuff of dreams. But how could she give up this one chance to define herself as she saw fit? She had never been outside of her gypsy camp, except for a few trips to the market with her mother. All she knew of herself was how she appeared through gypsy eyes. She had never thought of herself as a separate entity - and yet, perforce, now she was as separate as she could be. The prospect was frightening, but also liberating. And she was loath to give that up.

“I am sorry, Rosemary. I truly wish thee the best of fortune in thy travels. And please believe that it is my most sincere hope that our paths cross again. But I feel compelled to see what shall befall me alone.”

Rosemary looked at the ground, feeling a tremendous loss, and yet understanding Ariana’s decision. “Is thy mind truly fixed, then?”

              Regret filled Ariana’s eyes. To earn one’s living with music, she thought, and even with freedom beckoning to her she felt a tug. But at last her eyes met Rosemary’s, and she gave a small nod.

Rosemary sighed, and then pulled Ariana to her in an embrace.

“Thou art a brave girl… and I am doubly sorry to see you go. Thou art certain?”

She felt Ariana nod again over her shoulder, even as the gypsy girl’s arms tightened about her as if to deny that nod.

“Then I wish thee the best of fortune, as well,” Rosemary said quietly, pulling back to look at Ariana. “And if it be G-d’s will that we should meet again, I shall welcome thee like a sister.”

              Ariana smiled and wiped at her nose. She was really quite saddened to leave Rosemary; there was a bond there that, under different circumstances, she would be eager to pursue. But today the possibilities of the path outside the stable doors beckoned to her.

              Rosemary watched silently as Ariana balanced her toes upon a crosspiece in the wooden slats that made up the stable walls, the better to hoist herself upon the horse. Grabbing a fistful of the beast’s mane, she swung herself up onto his back, and gently tapped his side with her heel to encourage him out the gate. Rosemary walked slowly alongside the good-natured horse, trailing her hand on his warm brown hide just behind Ariana’s leg.

As they stepped out into the misty yard, Ariana paused and looked down at Rosemary, who returned her gaze with mournful green eyes. Wordlessly, she held out her hand, and Rosemary reached up to grasp it. As Rosemary looked into the eyes of the gypsy, she still could not shake the feeling that she and Ariana were meant to meet, that their friendship was in some way predestined, and would have far more than a casual impact upon them both.

Ah, well, she mused, if it be part of Heaven’s design, then surely Heaven will arrange for us to meet again.

Smiling, she gave Ariana’s hand a squeeze. “May G-d grant thee safety and peace until we meet again.”

“And thee,” Ariana replied, squeezing back. For a moment they simply held hands and looked at each other, until Ariana turned her head to take in the path to her right, which led deeper into Somerset, and farther away from her gypsy home. With a sigh, Rosemary released Ariana’s hand.

“Go,” she said softly, and gently slapped the horse’s rump. As the horse trotted away, Ariana waved over her shoulder and steered the horse toward the path.

            Rosemary stood in the muddy courtyard watching until Ariana faded from sight, then she looked back towards the inn, where she could smell the porridge still cooking in the alehouse. A gloom settled upon her, and abruptly she could feel the ale that had comforted her in the past week beckoning to her again. It would be so simple to merely return to the alehouse and drink and drink until she was as Ariana had found her, as if this fleeting moment of hope had never occurred.

Yes, that was what she would do. She had coin enough to keep her quite thoroughly satiated with drink for some months, and by the time she had spent even a quarter of it, Ariana and the silly dream of being a minstrel would be naught but a vague memory.

The idea pulled deeply at her and she took a step towards the inn, when the realization of the intensity of her desire shook her to her very bones. She halted in her tracks, stunned at her own thoughts.

Rosemary habitually took extreme pride in maintaining a genteel control over her mood and appearance. An Ayshes Chayil, a Jewish woman worthy of note, was one who never lacked self-control or self-respect; it was a value that had been imparted to her from her earliest years. Her behavior in the past week had been all the more appalling to her for the fact that it was so very out of character, and so far from the ladylike poise she endeavored always to maintain. It pleased Rosemary to think of herself as gracious, feminine, and always in immaculate form, yet in the last week she had been anything but.

 I was slovenly, drunk, and had as little hold over myself as a babe. Is that what I propose to return to? She shivered in disgust. That, she thought, is the talk of a woman weak in wills and in wits.

Resolutely she scrubbed at her arms to ward off the chill, and turned her back on the alehouse door. Deep in thought, she picked her way through the mud puddles until she reached a rough wooden fence outlining the ostler’s property.

Stepping on the lower beam, she lifted herself to sit upon the top beam of the fence, steadying herself with her hands. Pensively she watched the chickens pecking at the feed spread by the ostler’s wife. In the distance, she could also see the ostler’s middle son, the skinny, freckled one, struggling to carry two sloshing pails of water from the well. Rosemary hooked her toes behind the lower beam and placed her hands on the upper beam beside her hips. She tilted her head all the way back to stare at the pale gray sky, and sighed.

All right, G-d, if not back to the alehouse, then what?

Should she hold fast to the plan, albeit without Ariana? She had no doubt that if she would only be allowed the opportunity to play for an employer that she would be given a job on the spot. She remembered the faces of those who had gathered outside her father’s shop that day, and had a humble yet realistic understanding of peoples’ powerful reaction to the sounds of the harp when coupled with a woman’s voice.

But to go it alone?

She kept coming back to that one word, that one fact barring her from progress. Alone meant traveling unprotected. Alone meant a more isolated existence than Rosemary knew if she could bear. Alone was… frightening.

               Then a song that she had not thought of in close to ten years swirled itself about in her brain, shaking off the dust of the forgotten until suddenly the words were crystal clear, her father’s voice ringing with passion and sincerity in her mind. Vividly she could see how his body had bent in the dance-like movements with which he had bowed the violin as he sang. Kol Haolam kulo gesher tsar me-od… vihayikar loh lifacheid klal. The whole world is a very narrow bridge… the important thing is to remain unafraid.

                Once, when young Rosemary had been terrified by a particularly violent storm, her father had taken up his violin and had sung this song of courage to her. He had started slowly - the melody like a lullaby, soothing her with its fluid tempo. Then gently he had begun to build, his voice rising in intensity as he increased the speed, his body swaying fervently as he drew the bow back and forth over the strings, until his voice had drowned out the thunder, until the lightning only seemed to illuminate the stage which he commanded.

Rosemary joined her tiny child’s voice to his, and as the thunder clapped and roared outside their window, its force shaking the walls, Rosemary had lifted her nightdress above her knees, and with bare feet danced round and round their small house, her father following her and encouraging her rapturous triumph. Together they had whirled about the house, happily shouting their defiance of the din outside and singing until they were hoarse. When she had finally exhausted herself, Rosemary collapsed onto her father’s bed, flinging her arms wide in gleeful, if tired, abandon. Her father had laid the violin and bow gently upon the dressing table, and gathered his daughter into his arms.

As she drifted off to sleep in her father’s warm bed, she had heard him say, "You see, Rochelita, there are many scary things in this world. But if you are to succeed, you must never fear them so greatly as to be immobilized by them. The whole world is a shaky bridge… but you must have faith that if you so desire, you still can cross it.

               Rosemary looked out into the courtyard, at the inn that had been her home for the past nine days, since she had been too frightened to leave it. But seeing it now, she knew that she would bid it and the kind ostler’s wife farewell upon the morrow. Resolutely, she jumped down from the fence, and, lifting her skirts just enough to avoid sullying them in the mud puddles, and made her way back towards her room to begin tidying her things in preparation for travel.

True, it was a daunting prospect. She would have to arrange for a carriage to take her into the town, and a hundred other small details would have to be settled before she could venture out to earn her keep as a musician. But Rosemary had a full day yet ahead of her…. and she was no longer afraid.