Story for the Day: The Bangstraw and the Whistle -- Part 1
Frewyn has many national instruments, including the 8-string Frewyn fiddle, the warpipes, and the mandolin, but while there are many instruments that can boast of being in the official running, the bangstraw and the tin whistle, though beloved, are considered to be on the peasant end of the instrumental hierarchy of the kingdom. The bangstraw, which is something like a banjo, was supposedly invented in Marridon by farmers and somehow made its way down to the fields of Sethshire, where it was popularized by farmhands and carried across the country. The tin whistle has a similar story, but was brought to Frewyn by sailors instead of farmers. Both instruments are played in traditional sets, though outside of the kingdom they are disparaged and disregarded as having no merit in the musical community. Those who can play them well, however, must certainly prove these claims wrong:
Calleen and Breigh carried the chief of the conversation, talking of the dairy and of Glaoustre, of the state of the roads from Sethshire to Tyfferim, of the good weather they had coming in to Tyfferim, of how they must have gloried in the sun’s ascent of early morning, Calleen addressingboth her children, Cabhrin hardly saying anything, and Breigh always speaking where his brother was silent. Jaicobh saw it-- he could not but see how apprehensive and reserved Cabhrin was when called on to speak to the table. When speaking to Breigh, Cabhrin could say many things, but when speaking to his mother or to the party as a whole, Cabhrin looked only at his plate, the teapot, and his cup, giving a few chary glances and nervous smiles to Jaicobh, but attending his mother when she spoke while fiddling with his fingers in his lap. He was fearful of saying anything that might offend, or he was anxious for approval, but why Cabhrin should be anxious around Jaicobh was unconscionable to the man who had told Adaoire to make a point of inviting him. Perhaps it was being in a new house that was distressing him, or perhaps seeing his mother loved by someone who was not his father was painful for him. Whatever Cabhrin’s difficulties, Jaicobh should not advance them, and while Breigh was telling his mother of a few new apprentices he was training, Jaicobh inched his chair closer to Cabhrin and said, “Hope you brought yer whistle along.”
Cabhrin spied Jaicobh from the corner of his eye and seemed surprised. “You do?”
“Sure. I was hopin’ you were gonna play a few tunes. Just had my old bangstraw restrung and I got a few new rounds I been practicin’ I wanna try out.”
“Well,” said Cabhrin, with almost a cautious spirit, “I didn’t know you wanted me to play,” and after a moment’s reflection, he smiled to himself and turned toward Jaicobh with renewed zeal. “Sure, didn’t know you played much, Mr Jaicobh. Didn’t see you play at the weddin’ and all.”
“Well, I kept the ol’ bangstraw at home. I play it for the grandwee-uns when we’re together on holidays, or when we’re playin’ at the keep, but I didn’t think a weddin’ was right for it. I know everyone else brought their instruments, but I’m a rough player. I just pick out tunes once in th’while.”
“Go on now, Jaicobh,” said Calleen plaintively. “Sure, you can play better than anyone. I wanted him to play at the weddin’ but he said the bangstraw wasn’t nice enough.”
“It’s good for the taverns and the farms. I know the boys in Sethshire on the farms play them round the fires at night.”
“But you never went to Sethshire for farmin’, Mr Jaicobh,” said Cabhrin. “You always stayed here.”
“Aye, Playin’ was somethin’ I picked up from yer great uncle Sheamas.”
Cabhrin looked bemused. “Sheamas? You mean my Da’s old uncle? The one what never had no wee-uns”
“Aye, he taught me a bit,“but I never much played it when he was around. After he and my Ma passed on, I played a bit more, durin’ the evenin’ hours in the winter. I played for Bou when she was younger, and I started pickin’ it up again after Maddie passed on.”
“You sure must know a lot of tunes, Mr Jaicobh,” said Cabhrin, “if you played with my great uncle.”
“Well, I don’t know that many. I just like practicin’ a few. You’ll have to show me some of those sea tunes you know. So,” returning to his first question, “did you bring yer whistle with you?”
Cabhrin looked solemn and hung his head. “No, Mr Jaicobh. I left it on the ship.”
“Good.” Jaicobh instantly stood from the table. “Now I can give you boys yer presents.”
Cabhrin’s brow bent. “Presents?”
“Aye, presents. Just because yer older doesn’t mean you don’t get presents. I’m a Grandda. I got present-givin’ rights.”
“Ma,” said Breigh, with gentle reproach, “What this now about presents?”
“You hush yerself now, Breigh,” said Calleen, in a defensive tone. “Yer always sendin’ us somethin’ when we say not to. Now here’s yer own back.”
Breigh and Cabhrin would have demurred, but it was useless to protest against such paternal consideration. Their mother and Jaicobh would insist, and there was nothing they could do but sigh and be grateful. Jaicobh went into the bedchamber to fetch the gifts when Cabhrin suddenly exclaimed, “Wait—how is there a present for me? How’d you know I was comin’?”
“Well,” said Jaicobh, returning with two small boxes in his hand, “we would’ve sent it to you if you hadn’t come, but I figured you show up sometime.”
He shrugged and reclaimed his seat at the table, and after perusing the labels on each of the boxes, he put the larger one in front of Cabhrin and the smaller in front of Breigh.
“Go on, boys,” Jaicobh urged them. “Don’t have to be shy at the table,” and then, quietly to Cabhrin, “You can guess what yers is.”
Indeed Cabhrin had no idea what his present could be, and with profound indebtedness and some bemusement did Cabhrin open the box. He removed the lid and placed it aside, and within was a long and thin article shrouded in a red packing cloth. He touched it, the item’s hard surface shrouded by a silken texture, and when he pulled back the paper, what was his amazement upon finding a Frewyn whistle there, laying in argentine triumph on a red cushion. “This is never for me,” was Cabhrin’s first exclamation, said with a scoff and a look of disbelief.
“Aye, it’s for you,” Jaicobh insisted. “Yer Ma had it made for you.”
Cabhrin gaped at his mother and awaited further explanation.
“Sure, I knew you’d like it,” said she, with a coy sense of satisfaction. “The one you have is good, Cabh, and I know yer captain gave it to you, but if it’s so meanin’ful to you, you oughta have one for carryin’ around and have the other one for safe keepin’. This one you can bring with you whenever you come ashore, or if you don’t want to take it on the ship with you, you can leave it here, to play whenever yer visitin’.”
Cabhrin heard only half of his mother’s speech; he was far too engrossed in his gift to give her all the attention she deserved, its silver sheen and unexceptionable make whelming his senses: its long frame and well crafted fipple, with its smoothed mouthpiece and rounded corners, claimed all his interest, his fingertips grazing the chamber and smoothing over all the minutiae of its construction. The engraving along the body, the interwoven lines braiding around the holes and joining at the bottom was all his regale, and he breathed in awe and marveled at being the owner of such a treasure. He turned it on its side and examined the back: instead of finding the usual manufacturing line leading from the head piece to the bottom where the metal had been tempered and tapered, there Cabhrin found his own name engraved into the sliver. His fingers followed the imprint while his mind was in a torrent of sanguine misery, overjoyed that such an item should have been so tailored, and in agonies that his mother should have done it, rendering it inconsolable that he should accept it. Affluence had never been theirs as a family; they were always used to lay by as much as they could and live as well as possible on a small income, and though they never wanted for anything as children and scarcely sought material comfort as adults, Cabhrin felt such a gift was a real indulgence. There were houses and businesses between the families, and everyone was very liberal with their resources, the children of the family providing everything in the way of fare and entertainment, and the grandchildren between the two families never doing without, but pleasant relations, kindly conversancy, and appreciation of one another was the currency which purchased affection in their house. Presents, though always given, were fashioned at home and never purchased, and any present Calleen could make to her children had always been made by herself, but here was such a magnificent exhibition of craftsmanship and such an extraordinary piece that Cabhirn could not but feel atrocious for complying with its receipt.
“Do you like it, Cabh?” Calleen asked, looking expectantly across the table.
“It’s silver, Ma…” was all Cabhrin’s answer.
“Well, the one you got on the ship is tin,” said Jaicobh, taking the whistle from the box. “We thought we’d do somethin’ different.”
Jaicobh held the whistle out to him, and it gleamed in the soft light, begging to be picked up and played and recognized. Cabhrin reached out and touch it, but drew back his hand, feeling that if he should take it up, he would be obliged to keep it and purchase all the compunction to compliment his acceptance.