Hey Diddle Diddle
It was a busy night for the small village. The more pious folk were beginning to make their pilgrimages, and the tavern was the sort of place where one could buy a hot meal for very little. The Fiddle knocked at the kitchen door, he always avoided using the door at the front of the tavern. There was always a busy crowd surrounding the door, struggling to push through to reach the stools alongside the old bar at the back of the dining area. Three sharp knocks summoned the cook to let him in the back, eyes sweeping up and down, taking in his greasy hair, cracked lip, and the fiddle that had, like the man who carried it, seen better days. The fiddle was swung over his shoulder and he rocked back and forth on his heels as he waited for the cook to step aside. With a grumble, the fat cook ushered the Fiddle across the threshold and through his kitchen. The smell of roasting meat wafted towards him as he entered the tavern and made his way to the front of the building.
The Fiddle drew up a stool at the bar and slid a six-penny across the cracked wood. The barmaid filled his tankard with stale mead and leaned across the bar to give him a peck on the cheek, her soft lips brushing against rough peppered stubble. He didn’t mind her advances, there was a time when he did, but not tonight. He took a sip of his drink and tucked the edge of the fiddle into the crook of his neck, drawing the bow across the poorly tuned strings. “Come dance, a hey-diddle-diddle,” he began to sing.
The bar-maid skipped around the bar to dance in front of him, and the Fiddle thought back to another bright eyed slip of a girl who had danced with him years ago. Her mother had named her Katherine, but much to her chagrin, everyone had called her Kat.
The Fiddle was not a pious man, he had never been. Kat’s mother, Agnes had not married into wealth and her husband, a leatherworker, had died shortly after Kat was born. She spent her days with the matchmaker arguing over his ‘good matches’ for her daughter. She insisted that Kat was more beautiful than any other girl, that her daughter deserved the best, that she would marry royalty if they were not stuck in that small village in the countryside. Agnes thought that the Fiddle would be a catch, she needed him to be, but he knew better than anyone else, that he was anything but good for Kat.
The crowd grew more silent and attentive as he continued playing. It wasn’t often that a traveling fiddler, or any musician passed through the town. As they watched, the Fiddle was temporarily drawn back to reality, eyes alighting on the barmaid who danced in front of him, along with the other women who worked in the tavern who were beginning to shuffle along with her.
He shook his head and closed his eyes, drawing the bow across the old strings. His family was an old one. They had settled the village, made the first homes there. His father had crafted his very first instrument, the old fiddle and bow that he now played all over the countryside. He had never devoted himself to his father’s trade. It was not a comfortable lifestyle, but he could not give it up now. He went to bed every night with his pockets, and stomach, full and that was all he could ask for now. Although she knew that he would not settle down with Kat immediately, the Fiddle was not an unattractive option, in Agnes’ opinion, for her daughter.
The Fiddle smiled at the bar-maid, her skirts lifting, in the air as she jumped and danced, clapping her hands in time to his jaunty, seemingly nonsensical tune. The other patrons laughed and hid chuckles as he continued singing. He remembered the nickname that the village children had given Agnes, who’d grown large and lazy working in the tavern similar to the one he now found himself in. “The Kat and the Fiddle. The Cow jumped over the moon.”
The Fiddle recalled his wedding day. Kat was beautiful in the only expensive gown she’d ever owned, a creamy dress he’d bought for her as a wedding gift. Agnes had insisted on being the one to tailor it herself. Everything had to be perfect for the wedding. Surrounded by friends and family, they had been married under a nearly full moon in July. Agnes had been more than happy with the dowry he had offered, and had gifted them her only expensive possessions in return, beautiful porcelain dishes, and genuine silver dinnerware. The other people in the village offered what they could, bread, animals, quilts, and chairs, curtains, and new shoes for the happy couple.
They had been married only a few weeks, but work called to him. He left often to travel the countryside, leaving Kat alone at home with her mother, who dropped in every week to visit her daughter and help her maintain the home. The Fiddle didn’t like leaving Kat home alone, so their next door neighbor, the Fiddle’s uncle Gilbert, promised to keep an eye on Kat and Agnes for him while he was away. Gilbert was older than every other man in the village, but the years had not curbed his appetite, every young woman and girl called him the Dog. No one walked past his home at night. Still, he knew everything about the village and was tolerated by everyone because of it. Every hint of gossip, every widow’s knowing wail, the first cry of every babe, the Dog’s ears heard it first.
The Fiddle’s eyes snapped open as he felt cold eyes staring at him, but it was only a few of the more religious folk who had taken their seats in the corner of the tavern, and did not seem to be enjoying the music. He ignored them. “The little Dog laughed, to see such sport.” People crowded around him, hands clapped in time with the music but all the Fiddle could hear was the thumping of his heart in his ears and the strings of the fiddle wildly singing as he caught his breath to begin singing again and was lost in memory.
Agnes had grown increasingly angry with the Fiddle as he was constantly gone from his home with Kat. After nearly two years they still had no children. Agnes seemed anxious to become a grandmother and grow their family, but neither Kat nor the Fiddle particularly wanted children until they could commit to their own life together. She knew that unless Kat had a reason, she would never settle down in the village to live in her own shadow.
They had nearly saved enough money to leave the village at last, and move their small family away from Agnes’ clutches to start their own traditions. The Fiddle did not know how Agnes found out, it was most likely through Gilbert, but she had planned on keeping her daughter, and the Fiddle’s money, under her thumb as long as possible. She began to drop by every day, instead of once a week. Kat had mentioned it in passing but something still hung unsaid in the air between them, some sense of danger, of dread. Something that Kat had been too afraid to voice.
The night before he left for the last time, he awoke in the middle of the night. He thought it had been a dream. Agnes stood in the corner of their cabin, silent and still. He rubbed his eyes and had lain back down, thinking it was only a part of a dream, but looking back now, he had wondered why she hadn’t just killed them both then, why she chose to wait.
The Fiddle had left, uneasily. But he had only needed a little more money before he and Kat could leave. He had not expected that everything in his life would change while he was away from home.
He passed Agnes’ darkened home as he entered the village, there were no candles lit inside, no lantern in the window. It was not unusual that she was not home, but for some reason, the fact that she wasn’t filled him with a looming sense of dread. As he continued down the lane, he noticed that Gilbert’s house also appeared empty. He was not even sitting on the porch outside, watching people as they walked down the lane. As he finally reached their home, crossed the threshold of their house to darkness, he felt the rising panic bubbling to the surface as the awful darkness surrounded him.
He lit the candle on the heavy kitchen table and gasped, the room was nearly empty, there were no pans on the old iron stove, no pots hanging from the rafters. The chairs around the table were cracked and broken, lying in pieces on the floor. The dinnerware Agnes had gifted them at their wedding was missing from the cabinet which hung open on a broken hinge. Candle in hand he crept forwards towards the bedroom door that swung open with a gentle push. His hand shook as he raised the candle and screamed at the awful sight. Kat was lying in their bed, covered in blood. Gilbert’s body was propped up in the corner of the room. Agnes was nowhere to be found.
The village scoured the countryside, but Agnes had simply disappeared, she was nowhere to be found. Every tavern and inn the Fiddle visited, he searched the crowd for that face. But he had never found her, found justice.
He finished the last verse of the tune, “The dishes ran away with the spoons.” He packed quickly and pocketed the coins that had been thrown around the bar towards him as he played. He didn’t stop to talk to the barmaid as she tried to grab his arm, instead, he pushed her away and slipped through the crowd towards the door as she tried to run through them after him.
The Fiddle swung the heavy case of his violin over his shoulder and clutched the large knife at his belt. There were still two more inns in this village, and another tavern as well. There was still a chance.