CHAPTER TEN

 

One week later

 

               Rosemary inhaled her waking breath sharply through her nose, and blinked her eyes at the morning light. In her peripheral vision she could just see the window over her shoulder, and the angle of the sun streaming through it told her that it was already gone nine o’clock. She had a moment of panic in which she feared that she languished alone in bed whilst the rest of the household, awake and industrious, mocked her for her sloth. But as she rolled from her side onto her back, she found Ariana still slumbering to her left, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Ariana was curled onto her side with her back to the window and one arm flung across her face, shielding her closed eyes from the sun’s intrusive rays. Rosemary snickered softly, acknowledging that even if she was two hours late in rising, at least Ariana was as fatigued by last night’s riotous festivities as she.

               Arching her back and drawing her arms sleepily over her head, Rosemary indulged in a deliciously long, sinewy stretch, shifting her shoulders back and forth and yawning so widely that her jaw popped. As she propped herself up on her elbows, letting the covers fall to her waist, Ariana stirred beside her. Rosemary watched as Ariana scrubbed half-consciously at her nose with the back of her hand and opened one eye at Rosemary, her brows drawing together in a dark scowl. Playfully, Rosemary poked her in the arm, and got a grunt and a glancing swat for her troubles. Twenty minutes after rising, Ariana was sunshine itself…. but until she had fully woken she was as grouchy and surly as a wet tomcat.

Teasingly, Rosemary hissed in Ariana’s ear, drawing back quickly at Ariana’s muffled growl and a second half-hearted swipe of her hand. Rosemary was debating how far to carry the game when Ariana turned over onto her other side, pulling the edge of the quilt over her head and curling beneath it into a tight little ball.

“All right, all right, Miss Mary Sunshine, I give over,” Rosemary laughed, and yawned once more.

She flipped the quilt off of her body and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. As her feet touched the wood floor she realized that even two small hours made a marked difference in the temperature of the room, and she was able to forgo her habitual morning shiver as her bare feet made their first contact with the floor. Lazily she wandered over to the ewer and basin on the dresser, and rinsed her face and hands. She chuckled to herself as she remembered Sarah’s reaction when she had first expressed a desire to have fresh water every morn.

“Whatever for?” Sarah had asked, and Rosemary had found herself at a loss for words. As was the customary Jewish tradition, her father had ritually washed his hands instantly upon rising, in preparation of his morning prayers. Though Jewish women were not bound by the same ritualistic rules, in the absence of a son, Rosemary’s father had encouraged his daughter to join him. She had grown accustomed to the habit, and considered this small act a tribute to her father and his devotion to G-d. But seeing as bathing was an activity seldom indulged in even by the most noble of England’s citizens, she was certain that despite Sarah’s forgiving nature, she was likely to feel uncomfortable with the truth. In the end, Rosemary had told her that her throat grew excessively dry in the night, and if she wished to sing the next morn, it would be necessary to have a few sips of water upon rising.

“Would not fresh ale do?” Sarah had asked, bewildered, but Rosemary had been adamant that only water would suffice. Since Sarah was not herself a singer, she pondered it a moment before concluding that it must be a peculiarity of the art.

So, twice a week, she lent Rosemary a pail with which the girl visited the well, and was kind enough to put some of the water in Rosemary’s room each night while she entertained downstairs. Rosemary had become so accustomed to dipping her hands in the basin upon rising that even after acquiring a bedmate she had forgotten to be circumspect, and Ariana had caught her at it. After watching the morning ritual for several days in a row, Ariana had finally questioned her, and Rosemary was forced to tell her the truth. Much to her surprise, Ariana thought it a marvelous idea, and had adopted the ritual herself.  To Rosemary’s way of thinking, it had made their friendship even more solid, and she was grateful to Ariana for her open mind.

Rosemary scrubbed the water off of her face with her hands, and smoothed her hair from her face. She could hear Sarah humming in the kitchen below, and Amy’s voice speaking lowly somewhere outside the window. She was glad that they had been indulgent, and had let her and Ariana sleep so long.

                She looked to where her clothes had been draped over the back of the chair, and felt a momentary loathing. She had little desire to put on the same clothes she had worn daily for the past two years. This was a morning of fresh starts, and she suddenly felt that a crisp, clean chemise would most properly punctuate the new life upon which they were embarking. Both Ariana and Rosemary were religious in their care to wash their garments regularly, and to pound those bits that could not bear water with stones wrapped in muslin, to take away any stains and smells that might linger. But night after night of performing in an often over-warm alehouse had lent a certain pungency to their raiments, and Rosemary wished she had a new bodice or overskirt to wear this morning. But seeing as she had none, she slipped the night rail over her head and folded it carefully on top of the other neatly packed belongings in her open trunk.

She and Ariana had packed the majority of their things yesterday afternoon, and all that remained to be done was to collect a few days’ provisions which Sarah was no doubt preparing now in the kitchen and acquire transportation to London, which John insisted he would arrange. Rosemary slipped on her worn cobalt chemise, and as her head popped through the collar she saw that Ariana had woken and had swung her legs over the side of the bed where she rested a moment before wearily pulling herself to her feet.

Yawning, she trotted past Rosemary to the basin, where she, too, rinsed her face and hands as Rosemary pulled on her pale yellow underskirt (noting that it had once been yellow, at least, but now was more a dingy, off-ish white) and swung her hair to the side as she bent over to slip her feet into her sandals and tie the laces around her ankles. After drying her face on her sleeves, Ariana sniffed at the wrinkled front of her chemise, and uttered a small, “Ugh” at the staleness of the cloth. Rosemary looked up from tying her sandal lace and said,

             “I was just thinking that very thought myself.”

Ariana, still not fully awake, gave a muted grunt in reply and began to dress, her eyes still half-closed.

“What thinkest thou of adding some burgundy to thy blue and silver?” Rosemary asked, and Ariana looked up as she fastened her worn navy overskirt over the light blue, embroidered underskirt.  “’Tis only that my father left me several folders of cloth as well as the gold. One bolt is a beautiful shot silk; I think he did intend it for my wedding dress. The others are heavy brocades, far too weighty for the season, or costly sarcenet, but one is a crimson cotton lawn and might make a fine chemise or overskirt. I was thinking that in honor of our new life, I might have a new chemise made. What say you to a new overskirt?”

Ariana’s bright blue eyes - showing signs of wakefulness at last – lit up as she exclaimed, “T’would be wonderful! I have not had a new piece of clothing in… years, many years!”

“Nor I,” Rosemary said. “Let us hurry and get dressed, then. Once we reach London, we shall locate a seamstress or tailor, and have ourselves one fresh piece of clothing, at the least!”

Having something to look forward to at the end of their trip helped to speed them at their task, and within minutes they were dressed. Their few remaining belongings were stuffed into Rosemary’s trunk, which Rosemary sat upon while Ariana struggled to fasten the latch.

              Deciding to leave the trunk and the instruments in the room until such time as the hired coach arrived, they straightened the bedclothes and then descended the stairs to the kitchen below. Sarah looked up as they entered the kitchen, her broad face stretching wide in a beaming smile.

“Ah, lookest thou, they have arisen!” she cried, and quickly dusted her hands on her apron.

She opened her arms, and both girls went to embrace her at once. Ariana took in a deep breath – she would truly miss the smell of freshly baked bread, fermenting ale, and honey that always seemed to surround Sarah wheresoe’er she went. As for Rosemary, she snuggled into Sarah’s meaty arms and generous bosom, loving the warmth and comfort she felt there. She had never known a mother, but imagined that the feelings of safety and contentment that came from being enveloped in Sarah’s warm, pillowy hugs must be something akin to a mother’s love. When Sarah pulled back to look at them both, her brown eyes were already misty, and she waved an embarrassed hand in front of her ruddy face.

“Tsk! Look at me! Pay ye no attention to that, ‘tis merely the onions in the meat pies is all.”

Rosemary and Ariana exchanged a glance, and giggled at each other as simultaneously their own eyes began to water, too.

“’Twas some show ye gave last night, lasses,” Sarah said, speaking over her shoulder as she turned back to the counter, where she had been folding a few days worth of food into a large square of cloth.

“Tis a wonder ye are awake at all! Ye played beautifully, both of ye. Never in all my years have I seen a man carry on with such blubbering and tears as Auld Robb. He were sorry to see you go, and no mistake. The others, likewise. They love ye, those men, even the rough sea folk love ye. Ye do not know what ye and thy music have given to the people of this town.” Sarah’s voice wobbled, and Rosemary felt the heat on her face that she knew preceded tears.

“No more than they, and you, have given back to us,” Ariana said, her voice also breaking, and Rosemary nodded her assent.

“Well, ‘tis my fervent hope that ye shall both come back to play for us once the building is complete. But enough! This farewell be far too maudlin for my taste. And I refuse to think of it as farewell, in any case – I shall simply wish ye G-d speed until we meet again.”

Sarah tied the ends of the food bundle together with a decisive pull, and then held out the bundle to Ariana.

“Now, there be plenty there, enough to last you at least until you get to London. Thou hast some Coulter’s bread, dried venison and sausages from the winter stores, a bit of cheese, some freshly made meat and onion pasties, four apples, and a handful of figs.”

“Figs!” Rosemary exclaimed, and Sarah beamed.

“Aye, as a special treat. Best eat those first, they shall not last ye more than a few days. I have a flask for each of ye as well, some cloved mead that John especially prepared for ye.”

They heard Amy’s voice outside the door of the kitchen, and a moment later, her tiny face appeared, animated and glowing with excitement.

“’Tis here! I mean, father is here! He bids us all come outside!”

“All of us?” asked Ariana, as Amy disappeared in a whoosh of flying skirts. “What is outside?”

“Oh, I know not,” Sarah said lightly, but there was merriment in her voice. “Mayhaps he hath caught a rabbit for our stew and wants us to admire his hunting skills.” Sarah took the bundle back from Ariana, and after placing it carefully on the counter, gestured the girls to the door. All three women walked out of the kitchen, but before they could go outside they were stopped by John, who was holding the alehouse doors shut behind him, and who had an odd light in his eyes.

“Ariana, Rosemary,” he said, “Sarah and I cannot give thee thanks enough for all the hard work thou hast done. Thou hast helped about the house, been like sisters to Amy, and given us beautiful music every evening. But more than that, thou hast given my wife and me the means to achieve our dream. With the money thou didst bring into our pub, we can at last begin building our very own inn, and no words could carry our gratitude close enough to the mark.”

Ariana blushed and Rosemary held up a protesting hand, but John shook his head. “Nay, forgo thy modesty. It is truly through the magic of thy music that we are able to see our dream take form. Therefore, Sarah and I thought it fitting that we present thee with a most special parting gift.”

Even as Rosemary opened her mouth to protest that a gift of any kind was unnecessary, John swung open the great double doors, and sunlight poured into the room. What they saw next made Rosemary’s jaw drop, and caused Ariana to instantly burst into tears. Just beyond the doors stood Amy, shifting her weight from side to side with excitement and holding tightly onto Morley’s reins. Morley was expertly bridled to a beautiful, if small, covered wagon. It was painted a merry shade of yellow with trim of forest green, and the small window in its side bore a curtain of brocade in the same elegant green.

Rosemary simply stood and gaped at the wagon, trying to take it all in at once. At the front was the footman’s seat, the plank of smoothed wood that served as the driver’s perch, preceded by a wooden railing with a small knob around which the driver might wrap the reins when the wagon was at rest. Below the seat was a wooden floor board, and as Rosemary walked around to the front, she could see that a small hatch behind the seat would enable the driver to swing the hinged panel outwards and climb into the enclosed wagon without dismounting and going around to the back. The large, sturdy wheels and the fresh paint gave the wagon a very homey feel. The spokes of the wheels had been painted a pale blue, and as Rosemary circled around the back, she saw that two small double doors and a slender footrest allowed access to the wagon from the rear.

Ariana was still sobbing, but had walked over to the wagon, one hand covering her eyes and the other palm pressed against the brightly painted side. Rosemary bit her lip, her own eyes welling with tears, and looked over to where John stood with his arm wrapped proudly around Sarah’s shoulders.

“John, Sarah… I cannot believe my own eyes, I… Gramercy.”

John walked slowly to her and took Rosemary into his arms. Ariana, her face streaming with tears, turned and walked to him as well, and Rosemary and John both opened their arms to include her in the hug.

“Thou hast earned it, every last splinter of wood in it,” John said, kissing each of them on the tops of their heads. “May this wagon carry thee both to thine own dreams as thy music hath carried us to ours.”

Ariana sobbed into his shirt, and Rosemary simply let him support her weight, as her knees had begun to tremble. Rosemary felt Amy’s small arms winding about her waist from the back, and Sarah came over to stroke Ariana’s hair.

For a few moments no word was spoken, but then Sarah cleared her throat, and said, “Come. The day is only so long, and ye must not tarry if ye are to reach Dorset by nightfall. Amy, if ye would help Ariana with her flute and guitar, John and I shall carry the trunk down. Rosemary, if ye will retrieve the food from the kitchen and get thy harp, we shall have ye packed in no time.”

After a final squeeze, the hug was concluded and each set about their given task. With great bustle and efficiency the trunk was loaded into the wagon, and Ariana saw that should they fail to reach Dorset before the inn closed that there was just enough room inside for one of them to bed down for the night whilst the other drove or slept upon the footman’s seat.

Rosemary climbed in and placed her harp on its back against one wall, covering it with a quilt to protect it and pushing the trunk up against it for stability. Carefully, she took the guitar from Ariana’s outstretched hands, and laid it on the floor against the opposite wall, then walked back to the doors to take the flute from her as well. Short as she was, Rosemary still had to hunch over a bit as she moved around inside the wagon, but even so she was amazed at how much space there was inside. John and Sarah had truly given them a gift, for this wagon would provide them not only with transportation, but shelter as well.

               Before too long, the trunk, the instruments, the flasks with cloved mead, and the food that Sarah had packed had all been loaded into the wagon. Realizing that there was nothing left to delay their final farewells, Rosemary suddenly slowed her efficient pace. With the air of a child dawdling on his way to the schoolhouse, prolonging his moments of freedom with wayward and dragging footsteps, she slowly climbed down from the wagon and closed its double doors.

Softly she sighed and turned around, her eyes meeting Ariana’s. By her expression, she could see that Ariana’s thoughts mirrored her own. She gave the girl a wistful smile, then grabbed her hand and pulled her gently into the pub. Her eyes took a moment to adjust from the unusually bright sunlight outside to the dimmer atmosphere of the pub, but as she regained her focus she could see Amy standing at the far end of the room in the doorway of the kitchen.

Amy’s red-rimmed eyes told Rosemary that the child had quickly gotten over the excitement of the new wagon and had finally realized that her friends would be leaving. She had been crying, and she had one fingertip between her teeth – too old to suck upon her thumb, but still youthful enough to be comforted in similar manner. Ariana saw her too, and her heart twisted; Amy’s posture made her look far younger than her ten years. As she and Rosemary approached the kitchen, Ariana opened her arms and Amy slowly walked into them. Though she did not take her finger from her mouth nor raise the opposite hand to wind it around Ariana’s waist, she leaned into the hug, resting her head on Ariana’s collarbone and sighing deeply.

Rosemary stroked Amy’s soft brown hair, and then poked her head into the kitchen and called for Sarah. Both Sarah and John appeared simultaneously, and stepped out of the kitchen into the cooler air of the pub to say their goodbyes. Amy stood back as Sarah, Ariana, John, and Rosemary hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks, but when that had been done, Rosemary knelt in front of Amy, putting one hand upon the child’s shoulder and letting the other cup her tiny face.

“Worry not, sweet girl. I vow to thee that we shall see each other again. Now prithee, wilt thou not smile for me?”

Amy looked at her with watery eyes, her expression blank and her finger still in her mouth.

“I pray thee, Amy, but one smile? Let us part with merry hearts, that they may be merrier still when next we meet.” she cajoled, and Amy finally let her finger drop, giving Rosemary a small, tearful smile.

“Gramercy,” Rosemary said, smiling herself, and rose, turning to Ariana.

“Shall we be gone?” she asked, and Ariana nodded her assent, and then bent to kiss Amy’s soft cheek.

Followed by Sarah, John, and Amy, they walked back out into the street, and climbed into the footman’s seat, with Rosemary at the reins. John came around to Rosemary’s side and placed a hand on the wooden railing.

“G-d ye good speed,” he said, and Sarah, by Ariana’s side, added, “Ye shall be in our thoughts. G-d grant ye peace until ye return.”

“And thee,” Ariana replied, and then both John and Sarah stepped back, giving the wagon room to depart.

               Rosemary touched her fingers to her lips in a final farewell, then, lightly tapping Morley’s back with the reins, cried, “Hyah!”, and the wagon pulled away.

Ariana turned around in her seat, leaning far over the side to see John put his arm around Sarah, and raise his other hand in farewell. Amy raised her hand as well, and then a curve in the road took them out of Ariana’s sight. Slowly she twisted to face the front, and looked over at Rosemary. Feeling Ariana’s eyes on her, Rosemary turned her head and smiled. Briefly, Ariana leant her head on Rosemary’s shoulder, then sat up again and leaned back against the front of the wagon. She felt the vibrations of the wood in her back, and sighed deeply – a sigh not of weariness, but of quiet expectation. She looked at the homes and shops as they passed, and knew that they would indeed return again… but not before their success elsewhere would escort them like maids in waiting. All of Plymouth would know her name ere she returned.