There Was An Old Woman Part 2.
The Old Woman knew she would not have any more visitors for the day. She set the pie down atop the table to cool before opening the door to watch the wind blow clouds across the mountaintops. It would not be dark for several more hours, so once the pie was cooled, she covered it carefully with cloth and tucked it in a basket so she could carry it down to the village. Every once in a long while she would make the trek down the village path herself to check on those who had come to visit her.
The Old Woman made it to the village before the bells in the chapel tolled four times. She knew that the miller’s calloused hands would be the first that she saw, and sure enough, as she stumbled on a loose stone in the dusty street of the village, the miller’s strong hands grabbed hers and held her up. She nodded to him with her eyes cast downwards and exclaimed, ‘Thank you! I knew I’d need a strong man to help me as soon as I got here.’ She felt his smile and she continued, ‘I’ve brought you a pie, your second daughter will love it, and you should tell her not to forget to brush a few drops of oil onto the dough.’ The miller smiled. When he was a boy he too went to the Old Woman to ask about his mother. She had liked him and frequently visited him whenever she traveled down to the little village.
The Old Woman made her way down the street. There was a vendor set up at the edge of the square, a man who she had not yet met. She had met everyone, in one way or another, before today. She made her way over to his little wagon and studied the shelves of wares and trinkets he had set up under his tent. Wandering traders in those parts were rare, and he had already gathered a considerable crowd around his little shop. Suddenly the Old Woman gasped, and all heads turned towards her. Her eyes snapped up and locked on the eyes of the wandering trader, his mouth hung open slightly as her grey eyes bored into his soul, he gasped slightly and the crowd shifted uneasily.
A wizened old hand held up an exquisite string of rosary beads, they were wooden, hand carved, and freshly shined with a little bit of cedar oil, but to her, they were unmistakable. ‘Where did you ever find such a beautiful trinket?’ The Old Woman forced the words out painfully.
The trader trembled and shook as his mouth moved, he tried to cover his mouth with his hands but he could not find the strength to move them from his sides as his lips formed the words of their own accord. There was dead silence as he struggled to speak under her stoney gaze. ‘I stole them.’ he admitted, and shook harder and the crowd drew closer, hanging onto every word that seemed deafeningly loud in the quiet street. ‘I stole them from an old man, he was walking along the path through the mountains towards the village when I spotted him in front of me. He sat with me on the wagon for a while as we traveled. I saw the beads in his hands, I knew they would fetch a pretty penny.’ Everyone in the village knew the old man, he had had no family but his wife since his parents died. But she had died in childbirth and he had never brought himself to truly love anyone else but her all his life. The restlessness of the crowd grew with each word that the man spit out unwillingly. ‘I pushed him from the cart, and then I took the beads, and left him there.’ He finished with a gasp and collapsed.
The villagers stood in stunned silence and the Old Woman dropped her head again and stared at their feet. There was silence for just a moment before they swarmed the wagon and carried off the trader. If there was any God he believed in, everyone knew he would reconcile with him before daybreak the next day.
The Old Woman didn’t bother doing any more shopping, she still had the beads in her hands from the wagon, and everyone else around her seemed to understand that this was as it should be.
She made her way back up to her home under her hill in the mountains, No one used the mountain path for many many years.
Until one day, a young man made his way up the village path, in his arms, he carried a sleeping baby girl, a baby girl who never cried or shouted or grew restless in his presence. The man couldn’t knock on the door, but I didn’t have to, the door swung open in front of me as I reached it and the Old Woman smiled as she looked at your hands carefully. ‘That is a beautiful baby,’ she said and ushered me in with a gentle hand on my arm. She took you from me gently as we sat by the fire. It smelled like warm apples inside her home. ‘What did you want to ask me?’ she asked as she looked into the fire, one of her wrinkled fingers was clenched in your tiny fist as you gurgled and laughed at her.
‘My wife visited you, when she was just a child herself,’ I said, ‘I need to know, will our baby be happy without her? I don’t think I could ever love someone as much as I loved my wife. But if she needs me to, I will love another mother for her. Will my baby be happy?’ I asked her.
She sighed, I think she knew that this question would come one day, and looking over your tiny brows and rosy lips she knew the answer. You smiled at her and laughed, it was a beautiful sound. She laughed back as she answered, ‘Your daughter will know nothing but happiness and care. That I can promise you.’ She kissed your forehead and gently placed you back into my arms. She didn’t have anything else to say to me, and I knew that it was the whole truth. We would both still be happy, and I would grow old and gray, and one day I would die, surrounded by the only family that mattered.
The Old Woman herded me to the door and slid the handle of a heavy basket on my arm. ‘Fresh pie!’ She said, ‘tell your daughter that she’ll need just a spoonful of salt in the crust.’ and I left down the village path. But she never traveled the village or mountain paths again, and I never had to go back to her home under the hill.”
The man pulled his daughter close and rubbed the wiry grey hairs that peppered his beard with a rough hand. “I didn’t miss anything did I?” He asked the girl. She smiled up at him, “You forgot to explain the curse Papa!” She said excitedly, “You forgot to say what you saw when you looked at her gray eyes in her little home under the hill!”
The man sighed, “Another night then,” he said, standing up from his chair on the stoop of their house that looked out over the mountains and brushing his lap off. The girl sighed but turned to go back inside.
As he knelt down to pray before bed, he took out an old glossy strand of hand carved rosary beads and bowed his head to pray. “One day, let my sins be forgiven, one day let my sins be outweighed, so that one day I may enter the kingdom of my Lord.” he prayed.
In his sleep he cried out, plagued by nightmares, but his daughter slept soundly in the next room. If she woke in the night she smiled to herself as he called out the name of her mother, “He looked into her eyes and saw my mother’s reflection” she reassured herself and drifted back off to sleep murmuring the rhyming verse, “There was an old woman, who lived under the hill, and if she’s not gone she lives there still. Baked apples she sold, and cranberry pies, and she’s the Old Woman that never told lies.”
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