CHAPTER NINE

 

Eight months later

 

With lullay, lullay, like a child…. Thou sleepest too long, thou art… be….beg….begu,” Ariana stared hard at the book in her lap, willing the letters to assemble themselves into some meaningful order. With a sigh of frustration, she plopped the open book onto the scarred top of the oak pub table, bracing her elbows on either side of the book and supporting her forehead in her hands. She drew a deep breath and made a weary attempt to drown out the sound of Sarah’s humming as she prepared that day’s dinner in the kitchen to Ariana’s left.

For nearly an hour now, she had plodded with aching slowness through the book of poetry that Rosemary had procured for her, stumbling and sputtering out half-syllables at a time. She was certain that Rosemary was greatly regretting the moment a month ago when she offered to teach Ariana to read. But when she glanced over the candle flame expecting to see her friend leaning back in her chair in a posture of resigned repose, she was surprised to find Rosemary leaning forward with her arms folded upon the tabletop, her eyes wide open and encouraging.

Rosemary reached out a hand and pulled the book towards herself an inch or two to glance at the line, and Ariana noticed with some bitterness that Rosemary was reading the word upon which she had faltered upside down.

“Aye, that is a hard one,” Rosemary said. “The ‘u’ is deceiving. Pretend it be not there, and try sounding the word out. Remember, it shall rhyme with ‘child’- that may assist thee.”

Ariana made a mental note to disregard the ‘u’, and rallied for another attempt. “Beg… begi… be-gi-led… beguiled!” Ariana spoke the word with a tired but joyful note of triumph.

“Wondrous well!” Rosemary exclaimed, slapping her hand on the table and smiling at Ariana. “Thou art getting swifter by the day! Truly, thou hast come so very far! You should be most proud of yourself! Go on.”

Ariana had been about to protest that her eyes had never felt so tired, but Rosemary’s enthusiasm was catching, and she thought that perhaps she could muster the strength for one verse more, at least. She pulled the candle a bit closer, and read on.

“My dar-ling dear… my dai-sy flower, Let me, quo…. quod he, lie in your lap. Lie still, quod she, my pa… my pa…”

“Paramour,” Rosemary said gently, and Ariana tested the word on her tongue, mouthing it slowly to herself and placing her fingertip under each letter as she whispered it before giving it tentative voice.

“Pa-ra-mour, lie still hard-ly, and take… a nap. His head was -”

“Forgive me for interrupting thy lesson, Ariana,” John said as he approached their table. “I am sorry to disturb thee, for it sounds as though thou art making great progress!” He glanced back as Sarah emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel that was tucked into her belt and also approaching their table with a serious look upon her face.

“Our apologies for disturbing ye,” she said as she came to stand beside her husband, “but I wonder if we might have a word with ye?”

The seriousness of her tone caused Rosemary and Ariana to exchange a worried glance, and Rosemary moved the candle to the next table over as Ariana carefully closed her book, and John and Sarah each pulled up a chair and were seated. For a moment they all stared at each other, until Sarah squeezed John’s hand and nodded her head at him. John took a deep breath, and then looked at the girls and spoke.

“Sarah and I have some wondrous news, but it will affect the two of thee, and therefore I feel compelled to share it with thee in all seriousness. We are so very pleased by the work thou hast done here,” he said, and at this, Sarah nodded her assent as John continued.

“Thou both hath drawn in more custom than e’er we imagined in our most fanciful dreams! Thy music has improved each day, and thy reputation is so favored that Tom Hussey says he shall have to close his pub down if he cannot find some way to compete with our business! We could not be happier.”

Here he paused, and Rosemary and Ariana waited, wondering why an expression of such happiness should be spoken with so grave a voice. John looked to his wife, and she placed her palms squarely on the tabletop as she picked up the thread of his thought.

“John and I have long had a dream… we have spoken of it to ye but once before. For many years now, we have wanted this to be more than just a pub, with only our own rooms above. We have ever wanted to expand, to build more rooms above the pub, to build a brand new, larger kitchen and turn our alehouse into a real inn.”

John interrupted his wife, the thought of his dream giving him courage to speak again.

“Always have we envisioned that if we expanded further out into the back and added another story to the top, that we could have twelve, mayhaps even as many as fifteen rooms! And a more substantial kitchen would permit us to fully cater to those patrons who stayed with us! We could own our very own inn, and pass it down to Amy’s husband if he be worthy, and her children and their children!”

Sarah broke in again, her eyes bright with excitement. She leaned in and spoke in a lowered voice, as though what she had to impart was a special secret.

“Our own inn! We have wanted this from the day we were wed, and all that prevented us was lack of money!”

She and John locked eyes, and the spark and youthful hope within their glance seemed to Rosemary to strip away their years. In their excitement, they seemed a newlywed couple of barely two and twenty, with their whole lives ahead of them, the possibilities in their union limitless. Sarah’s round face shone like a bride’s, and John was looking at his wife as though she was a newly acquired treasure, as though his hopes and dreams were brightly pinned to the smock of her apron.

“Well, John and I were balancing the books last night, and -”

“With gratitude to both of thee, we have enough money to make our dream come true,” John broke in, the broad grin on his face belying the softness of his voice.

“Oh, John, ‘tis wonderful!” Rosemary leapt from her seat to throw her arms about his neck, and Ariana grasped Sarah’s hand. After returning the hug, John patted Rosemary’s seat to encourage her to sit and hear the further news. Rosemary sat, and again John spoke.

“Gramercy. I am glad thou art so happy for us! I hope thy happiness will not be diminished… it is with humble gratitude to thee that we are able to make our dream reality. But Sarah and I have talked; in order to build the inn that we want, we will need to tear much of the existing building down and build anew. We estimate that the pub will be closed for nigh to a year, whilst these renovations are being put in place. And seeing as the pub will be closed in that time -”

John’s voice trailed off, and Sarah was forced to finish his sentence. “During that year, seeing as the pub will be closed… I am much afraid that we shall have no work to offer ye.”

Sarah smiled sadly, and put her hand on Ariana’s arm. Ariana drew in her breath, and looked over to Rosemary, her blue eyes wide with alarm. After a moment, Rosemary spoke.

“How soon do you expect to begin your renovations?” she asked in a carefully controlled voice.

John and Sarah exchanged a glance, and John said, “In a fortnight or less, I expect. Marry, if thou needst additional time to find some other employment, I am certain we could postpone the work an additional week or two, long enough for -”

“Nay, prithee do not delay on our account. Ariana and I have spent very little of our earnings in the past eight months, and I am sure it will be enough to maintain us until such time as we find employment elsewhere. If, as you say, our reputation has spread, I have no doubt that we will find ourselves in demand, and we will find gainful duty ere long!”

Rosemary smiled, and reached across the broad oak tabletop to grasp both John’s and Sarah’s hands. “I am so happy for thee! Imagine, thy lifelong dream come true!”

John’s face relaxed into a real smile for the first time since they sat down, and Sarah eagerly squeezed Rosemary’s hand, and turned her sparkling brown eyes on Ariana.

“Faith, thou art more than welcome to return after the inn is completed! We would be most pleased to have ye sing for us again in a year’s time, Marry, ‘twould not be the same without ye!” Sarah exclaimed, relief causing the words to tumble from her lips like the forward rush of water cascading over rocks in the rapids.

“Aye,” said Rosemary, “We shall certainly write to let thee know where we end our journey, so that thou mayest contact us as soon as the building is complete.”

She glanced over at Ariana, who since Sarah’s declaration had sat in mute stiffness, her eyes troubled and her lips drawn into a thin straight line. With a carefully controlled casualness that belied the anxiety she also felt, Rosemary moved to stand behind Ariana’s chair, gently placing her hands on the girl’s shoulders and attempting with her own broad smile to deflect attention from Ariana’s pallor.

“Come,” she said. “I know thou surely hath much work still to do in the kitchen. Truly, this is wondrous news! Come, Ariana, help me straighten the chairs, and let us resume thy lesson in our room.”

Sarah hugged Rosemary, and with the obliviousness that is common to those absorbed in their own great joy, squeezed Ariana’s shoulders and swished merrily back to the kitchen as John kissed Rosemary’s and Ariana’s cheeks and headed out of the pub towards the street, calling Amy to come in from her play.

Wordlessly Ariana pushed in her chair, then scooped up her book, pressing it close to her chest as Rosemary straightened the remaining chairs and lifted the single candle, protecting its flame with a cupped hand as she walked towards the stairs. Ariana trailed mutely behind Rosemary all the way up the stairs and into their room, but as Rosemary shut the door and set the candlestick on the dresser, the book fell from her arms, and her panic bubbled into voice.

“What – whatever will become of us! Rosemary! I – I cannot even think…I felt as though I had finally found a home! I was so happy here -”

“And so we shall be happy elsewhere,” Rosemary said softly, avoiding Ariana’s eyes but gently guiding her friend into the single, rickety chair and kneeling at her feet. She reached for Ariana’s hands, and resting them in Ariana’s lap, looked up into her friend’s face, carefully pitching her tone so as to soothe Ariana with her voice.

“Didst thou think we could stay forever? In sooth, I did not expect to leave so soon, but if it were not this, it would be for some other reason. Mayhaps Amy would have no luck finding a husband, and the whole family might move to London to broaden her chances. Mayhaps one of us might take ill, and we would be required to travel to Lourdes to take the waters. Mayhap we would simply grow tired of our surroundings, and think it time to move on. Didst thou think to live here till thou didst perish?” she asked gently.

Ariana stared at her friend, the calm in Rosemary’s face mystifying her.

“Art thou not in the least afraid?” she whispered, and Rosemary’s brows knit even as a small smile of self-mockery played about the corners of her mouth.

“Aye, Certes, I am afraid!” she said, her voice cracking momentarily before she let her breath out in a small, amused sigh. “I am more… rattled by their announcement than I would like even thee, my dearest friend, to see.”

She took another breath and squared her shoulders. “But first and foremost, I could not let my own apprehension mar their joy at realizing their lifelong dream! Didst thou not see their faces? I warrant they have never been so happy! How dare I let my own fear disrupt this happy moment for them!”

Again, she paused, and then continued on. “Am I not nervous? Aye, in sooth! Have I a crystal ball to assure me of our success in our journeys?”

Her tone turned slightly playful as she added, “Thou art the soothsayer, not I! It is perfectly possible that we shall travel from town to town, failing to find employment, and we shall be forced to beg in the streets!”

At Ariana’s indrawn breath, Rosemary shook her head at her own impetuous words, and sighed impatiently.

“It is also possible that we shall find employment in the first pub at which we inquire! Perchance in our travels thou shalt meet a wealthy Baron, and he shall make thee his wife… in which case I should certainly hope that thou wouldst at least employ me to serve thee thy fine supper upon thy linen tablecloth and thy golden trencher!”

Ariana gave a small laugh, and with a playful voice, Rosemary pressed on.

“It is even possible… dare I say it?… that one of the King’s courtiers will hear us playing in the street, and will commend us to His Majesty! Mayhaps you and I shall meet our calling as musicians in the Royal Court! T’would be the first time a gypsy and a Jew ever held such honor, I warrant, but there be a first time for all things, am I not right?”   

   Ariana was smiling now, the fear gone from her eyes, and Rosemary sat back on her heels to regard her friend thoughtfully. Her voice dropped into a lower octave as she asked, “When thou didst leave thy mother’s side, didst thou know what thou wouldst find?”

Ariana’s eyes closed with pain, and she shook her head.  “Nay. I had no thought but to run. I’ faith, I did not want to leave her, but she insisted. She was so frantic, I could not deny her, even as my heart cried out that I should not leave, that I could not -”

“Belike the way you feel now?” Rosemary interrupted gently, and Ariana stopped in mid-thought and gaped at her friend, unsure whether she should be angry or confused or both.

“Forgive me,” Rosemary said, squeezing the hand that she still held in Ariana’s lap. “I do not mean to preach, nor to pry. I am simply thinking…. When we both left the inn in Somerset, neither of us knew where the road would lead us. We could not have dreamt that it would lead us not only to employment at which we excelled beyond all reasonable expectation, but back into each other’s company! These past few months have given me more joy than I could have hoped for…”

“The same for me,” Ariana whispered, and Rosemary continued.

 “Therefore, who is to say what joy may await us hence? Mayhaps it will be struggle and pain. But I think not. We are talented, driven, and we do have each other. Our chances are good. Aye,” she repeated, nodding her head with a sigh. “I am as apprehensive as thou art. But thou art here with me… and I have faith that together, we can do most anything! Do you not feel it, too?”

“Aye,” Ariana replied, realizing that it was true: suddenly she did feel like her possibilities were limitless!

“Come,” Rosemary said, rising to her feet. “Thou sadist thou had a new song thou didst wish to teach me before tonight. Give me a moment to tune my harp, and then show me this marvelous tune.”

She held out her hand, and Ariana took it, pulling herself up, and, feeling suddenly pounds lighter with relief, reached for her guitar in the corner.