Story for the Day: The Holiday in Habherleidh -- Part 1
We know what an atrocious week it has been. Here is a story to hopefully brighten the week coming. Anything that involves children and disparages Bartleby always puts a smile on my face. I hope it does the same for you.
There was a bustle as they entered the village, the anticipation of a sea captain and a giant walking through the gate that excited everyone’s interest: those who were in the secret of Rannig’s situationwished to know if there was any news of his parents, those who had just emerged from their homes and farms to join the holiday revelry in the square exchanged whispers and stares over the appearance of the Lucentian captain and his giant, and a flurry of children swarmed their legs, each child hallooing questions and begging to be picked up and tossed about. Mrs Muilligain came to drive them off and make excuses over their not being troublesome to the captain with countless inquiries about his appearance, but these, as all commands from tired matrons do, went unheeded.
“How comes ye got all ‘em markin’s on yer skin an’ o’?” one of the children cried, stabbing a finger at the carp on Danaco’s chest. “I like ‘em. I want a-inkin’ just like it. How can I get one?”
“How comes ye got ‘em pointy ears?” cried another.
“What’s all ‘em earrin’s for?”
“How comes yer wearin’ so much gold?”
“Why’re wearin’ a sword under yer coat?”
“How comes yer hair is so pretty like a girl’s?”
“Children,” said Mrs Muilligain, with gentle reproach, “it’s very rude to be askin’ the captain all those questions when ye don’t know him that well.”
“But,” the smallest child sniffed, “how’s we gonna get tah know him if we’re not askin’ no questions?”
“Aye, isn’t that how we make friends, by askin’ ‘bout each other?”
Here was a sagacious look. “He has you there, inpala dola,” said Danaco, smiling.
“What’s that mean?” a young boy chimed, his nose twitching curiously about.
“It is a polite appellation given to a handsome older woman.”
This was an answer to satisfy Mrs Muilligain, but while such an answer would work on a wiser head, it would never do for child, for children, once their minds are set going, can never as a right and aprivilage be still again, and a barrage of inquiries issued forth, each of them as ardent and exhilarated as the last.
“What’s an ap-el-a-shion?”
“What’s inpala-whatever? Is it Lucentian?”
“How comes Lucentian sounds funneh?”
“How comes ye speak Common?”
“Nay, why do you speak Common?” asked the captain, breaking through the assault.
The small child who asked the question paused to think about this. “Dunno. ‘Cause I just do,” he decided. “How comes ye speak with that funneh accent?”
“You mean delightful accent, I believe. It is Marridonian, a present from my mother to me when I was your age. Do you like it?”
There was a general nod, though no real affirmative, and then, after a general air of awe and confusion, one of the children asked, “How comes ye speak like yer from Marridon if yer Lucentian an’ o’?”
“An’ o’ what?” asked Danaco, with a sly glance at Rannig.
Rannig knew what was coming, and in an endeavour not to laugh, he pursed his lips and looked at his feet.
“What ‘an’ o’ what’?” the child demanded, his face floddering.
“You keep saying ‘and all’, nabino, if I understand you rightly,” the captain explained, “so what exactly is the ‘and al’l?”
“What’s nabino mean?” asked another child, and before Danaco could reply, “How comes yer Marridon accent is so silleh?”
“Oh, you know how to make assumptions for one so young. And what if it is you who speaks with the silly accent?”
The child’s brows furrowed. “No, I don’t,” he asserted, beginning to frown.
A fever of panic struck Rannig. He stared at the child, who was beginning to wrinkle, and raised a hand to his mouth. “Boss,” said he, in an audible whisper, “he’s gonna start cryin’ in a minute.”
The child was growing distressed, the pouts and glares of vehement dislike were evincing, but even the sight of one child on the precipice of dissension could not discompose the captain. He seemed perfectly easy and subrisive, sanguine almost at the prospect of having silenced his antagonist.
“Oh? Have I spoiled his game?” said the captain, with a mirthful look. “Excellent. Once he is set crying, I think we might unleash him on Bartleby. Do tell me I may, Mrs Muilligain.It shall do the child no harm, I assure you, and will be a great comfort to me to see my old friend so easily discomposed by something so small and shrieking.”
Mrs Muilligain could not help laughing. “Go’long with ye now, captain. Sure, I couldn’t let you do it for all the wantin’.”
“You scorn me, inpala-dola, for the child’s sake, but I have no serious thought of trying it. I should never torment you flock with an old bore like Bartleby. He will snap his books in their faces, and all the dust from the pages shall send them into a fit of the sneezes. They are too good for such a punishment as Bartleby can provide.”
“Who’ssat?” the pouting child asked, brightening somewhat.
“An atrocious and leathery old goblin who lives in a hovel aboard my ship.”
“Whoa…” the children breathed, their eyes widening, and then the accustomary questions followed:
“Is he really a goblin?”
“Does he look like a dried out waterskin?”
“Is his skin funneh colours?”
“Does he have crooked teeth an’ a hooked nose an’ o’?”
“Does he know the Brouneidhs?”
“Does he sing funneh songs and dance around thorntrees and mushrooms?”
Danaco grinned and said quietly to Rannig, “Should we tell them that Bartleby is a magical pumil sort of creature, held together by resin and revulsion, who hoards storybooks and sits on a mountain of sweets?”
“Don’t forget his magical hat, boss.”
Rannig giggled to himself, luxuriating in the notion of Bartleby’s being besegied by so many children, but then, with sudden apprehension, “I’d sure love to see all the young-uns runnin’ around Bartleby, but,” and there was a chary look as he said it, “he might cage ‘em and use ‘em for experimentin’.”
“As any goblin of his distinction should do, for what is a proper goblin is without a few cages, a sprout of hellfire, and a cackle round the cauldron? Only look at these beaming faces,” Danaco proclaimed, motioning toward the children. “They look as though they would be very willing prisoners, if there is a chance of a treat it in it for them. Come, it will be an education, and they might learn something by Bartleby that they can take back to their families—probably some newly concocted contagion, to be spread about those in want of a shorter life-- to be used on siblings and odious neighbours.”
Mrs Muilligain, suspecting the captain’s non-conviction, laughed and shook her head. “Now, captain,” with an arch smile, “as much as I’d sure like to see ‘em rile a-one what deserves it, I wouldn’t set the wee-uns on yer friend for spite.”
“What other reason is there? Malice or retribution is the very best reason in the world to set children on anybody. Sullied hands and eager faces are an old man’s greatest nemesis.”
“Yer too terrible, captain,” Mrs Muilligain simpered.
“Never, inpala-dola. I am always as I mean to be with those who merit my humours. I will go to my ship directly, and I will tell my old friend that we meant to stay here for some time, and you shall see how he acts. Let his behaviour be the guide of your flock, and let them be ever so troublesome to an old man as the greatest amusement to your charming village.”
Mrs Muilligan had a moment’s fear of Danaco inviting all the children aboard his vessel, to be the ruin of a poor old man’s peace at the whim of a playful captain, who would have his way on a solitary invalid, but while she gathered the children and ushered them over to the bonfire, where maple snow was being boasted by a passing vendor, a something like curiosity began plaguing her, the curiosity to see the grotesque old man who would be disheveled by so many children.