A Vagabond Tale
Before leaving this evening fire or warmth and sharing,
I would tell you a true story of family tradition,
embellished, of course, buy poetic draw.
My great-grandfather double bound was an itinerant Irish fiddle player.
He could have been in London in 1825, but it is more likely
that he heard this story at an evening fire
where musicians would gather, and ...
it is a Christmas story, but scarcely limited to that.
This story was told to me by my Grandmother in 1952.
She had been reading to us from Dicken's "Christmas Carol"
when my sister asked, "Is that true, Grandma, was Christmas like that back then?"
"Well you can judge for yourself," Grandma replied. "I'll tell you a story that my Grandma told me, when I sat at her feet, just like you are now."
NOTE: To be read out loud to children - of any age.
A TALE FOR MY GRANDCHILD
Sprigs of greenery and berry-chains hung limp and sad as the freezing fog breathed in and out of the narrow streets. The glow of the gas lamp at the corner of the square seemed barely able to reach the rough stones on the street below, and the usually bright windows from the towering apartments were dimmed with frost and grime. Even the common sound of ships pulling at their ropes in the nearby Thames seemed muffled in the swirling snow.
Only yesterday the tiny square and branching streets were alive with Christmas merriment; carolers, cries of wassail and the laughter of children. Now the bitter cold had silenced even the yelping dogs. If you listened very closely you could hear mumbled sounds from the tavern at the corner. Yet -- yet there was music, soft at first, then louder and more beautiful; a violin, rising and falling in the wind. Hear the sounds of Christmas and other joyous tunes.
A ragged, scraggly man danced into the light of the flickering lamp. His bundled clothes were in tatters and his feet were wrapped in great balls of rags. His head was not even visible beneath what appeared to be a ladies fur muff pulled down on his ears. His hands were in stockings rather than gloves, but that didn't stop his violin from singing into the night. Such beautiful songs, and so sad -- so sad, because there was no one to hear. Still, he danced and fiddled as he did every day. A little tin cup stood on the curb nearby. Brrrrr! Did he have to dance, or freeze and die? Maybe so, but he didn't have to play carols in the night. Yet, he did!
A new sound! Applause? No, only laughter from the tavern as the door swung open. Two men stepped forth, the short, stocky one shielding them from the biting wind with a rich looking bag. He pulled behind him a taller and darker man, garbed in fine clothes and a long fur coat.
"Come quickly, Nicóló," he exclaimed. "We're late." The two struggled slowly toward the docks. They had almost disappeared into the fog when the gentleman slowed and put his hand on the servant's shoulder.
"Stop! Wait here," he cried; then walked alone to where the beggar shrank back into the shadows. The rags hid the fear and surprise, but the jumping bow never stopped.
"By your leave, gov'na," he mumbled, and his dance slowed to a mere shuffle.
"Your audience has left my good man. Any performer should know when to get off the stage, the streets, and go home!"
"Begg'n you pardon sir, these streets are my home." The long silence would have been unbearable except for the hum of the fiddle's strings.
"Why do you play here, then? Why these carols in the night? All alone? Does it keep your fingers warm like your dancing feet?"
"No, my lord. 'tis for joy, why 'tis Christmas!" More silence. The dancing began again and the stranger drew back and watched.
"For joy then, here!" shouted the tall foreigner. He drew his great coat about the narrow, shivering shoulders; and snatched the violin and bow from the beggar's hands. "Get your cup and stand at the edge of the light."
Standing well back in the shadows, the fearsome stranger began to play. No, not softly and lightly as before; but commandingly, like church bells and chimes, maybe an angel choir. The power of the notes was so strong and pure that it seemed impossible they could come from such a puny instrument. The songs were not Christmas carols but sang with such joy that the beggar wept where he stood, not dancing, not cold.
A glow crept over the freezing stones and pushed back the fog. The magestic, swirling melodies hid the sounds of shutters opening and windows rising all over that square. Couples, whole families, leaned out and searched into the gloom for sounds - such sounds - as they had never heard before. On and on the magic notes soared, plunged and jumped in the dark; a song of joy that reached every heart. Then singing began, and laughter too, with the violin supporting them. No one was cold.
Then faint chimes were heard, and a far away bell. The violin softened, and softened, and died. Only the beggar heard the hiss in the dark, "Come quickly, my lord, it is the ship's last bell." Bong, bong. He realized then the magic was gone, and with it the music, such a sound, such a joy! But listen! The tiny chimes continued as coins showered down from the open, glowing windows. I couldn’t help but add my own hand-fulls of change in a shower from my balcony. That ragged, tattered man stood alone in the light of the flame, with the violin again in his stockinged hands. The street filled with bouncing, glittering payment, tribute for what had been heard, and felt by those above.
The beggar began to dance again. He alone watched the two shadows disappear into the fog and heard a strange cry, "Come quickly, Mr. Paganini. Mr. Paganini. Mr. Pag...."