Many years ago, long before email was a twinkle in the eye of Mr Berners-Lee, people wrote letters. Of course you may not know what letters are, being so very young my dear, but you see instead of printing out emails, people in the olden days used to take a blank sheet of paper and use a thing called a pen.
Why yes, just like old Mr Adams and that barmy old Mr Sethna use. They would do what was called 'writing', which is a little like typing, only you draw the letters on the paper. Yes my dear it did take very long and that is why nobody except artists and potty old writers use it.
Now if you are quite comfortable and can manage to stop hitting George with that cushion, I will tell you about writing letters. There, that's better. No, George... don't do that. Now then - a little quiet if you please.
In the olden days when people used to write letters, there was a young man who having lost everything in the recession... what, George? A recession was when people who had something were suddenly left with nothing. I will explain it to you more when you are older. Now where was I? Oh the recession, yes well this young man had actually quite a lot, but lost everything. He sat out on the edge of the pavement with only the clothes on his back and a rucksack over his shoulder. In the rucksack he had a book of postage stamps and his writing box, which was from his great-grandma. He also had a flute that his beloved had bought him out of love for him.
He was feeling somewhat sad and out of favour with the world and men's eyes when he remembered his beloved. But she was a long way away and all he could do was write letters to her.
After a while, he decided to go and seek his fortune for there was none to be had in the Big City. It was late summer and winter was on it's way, so he hoped he might find work quickly. He walked and walked and the city gave way to the suburbs. As he walked he played his flute. People smiled to hear the tunes he played and some gave him a little of the money they had. He knew they had little so gave it back to them and asked if they knew where he might find work. They did not know, so he continued on.
Leaving the suburbs he came at last to the countryside and found it as green and alive as he had imagined it. There was barely a soul to be seen, but still to keep his spirits up he played his flute. He played a love song to remember his beloved and remembering her, he wept. He was afraid that he might never see her again. Thinking of her, he stopped and sat by the side of the road. He put away his flute and took out the writing box. He wrote a letter to his love telling her all that had happened and how he missed her. He placed it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and put away the writing box in his rucksack. Once more he went on his way looking for a post box.
He posted the letter at the first box he found and as he went along whistling to himself, he met an old woman in a green dress with a red apron. On her back she was staggering with a bundle of something. The young man offered to help her and she handed him the bundle, which he put on his back and walked alongside her. This old woman had a huge nose and eyes like dinner plates that were green as emeralds. She did not look like his beloved that is certain. Still, she took his hand and they walked along together like this. She asked him where he was bound and what had happened and he ended by telling her everything. For if she looked somewhat odd, she seemed kind enough. When she heard that he was looking for work she squeezed his hand and said,
"If you will work for me for six months I will pay you so that you need never worry for anything again."
Well the young man was delighted but no fool, so he asked what work she wanted him to do. She required him to shake the feathers from her bed every morning. To sweep the house and keep it clean and not to eat anything from her larder or he would never see his beloved again. Well the young man was so delighted to have the offer of a job that he accepted. The old woman winked one of her huge eyes and the next thing the young man knew he was standing in the porch of a lovely house. He did not notice that the timbers of the house were bones or that the lanterns outside the house were two skulls with glowing coals for eyes. He did not notice the large black cat with eyes like moons sitting by the fire. Even when it got up and strode in three circles before settling to sleep.
The next morning, he awoke early and the old woman gave him a large loaf and a jug of beer telling him that it must last for the whole day. The loaf seemed big enough, but the jug seemed very small. Nonetheless the young man accepted it with good grace. The old woman left the house and the young man ate a hunk of bread and drank a little beer for his breakfast. He put the loaf in his pocket and the jug of beer on the windowsill. Then he shook the old woman's bed until the feathers flew. He swept them out of the house and cleaned the house with some vigour so that when the old woman returned the house was as clean as a new pin. As she had told him, he had made the loaf and the beer last the whole day.
The old woman had brought him a whole roast chicken and a bottle of wine for his supper. She took from her larder the finest food and wine and ate the lot. The young man was astonished, but he recalled what she had said and ate his own supper with grace. After supper he took his flute and played for the old woman who was delighted and thanked him with a kiss. Her kiss reminded him of his beloved and he excused himself to write a long letter to his love. The following morning he asked the old woman if he would post the letter for him and she kindly agreed.
Once more he placed the loaf in his pocket and placed the beer on the windowsill. He was almost finished shaking the bed when the huge black cat got up from beside the fire and placing its forepaws on the windowsill drank his beer. The young man was astonished, but let the cat drink the beer wondering what he might drink for his lunch. Still, he continued to shake the bed until he was finished. He ate some of the loaf for his lunch but it left his mouth dry, still he said nothing.
He took up the broom and swept the house. He wished he had argued with the cat, but it would have meant nothing he told himself. When he had finished sweeping the house he sat and wrote another letter to his love. To his surprise, the cat leapt out of the window and when it returned some moments later it had a jug of warm fresh milk that it gave him. He thanked the cat and drank a little of the milk before offering the jug to the cat.
"You are a kind gentleman so I will tell you something. When you are offered the jug of beer, give it all to me and I will bring you good fresh milk. For you should know that you are in the house of old Mother Holle. She likes you very much and the beer is meant to make you forget your beloved a little more each day. When you have forgotten your beloved Mother Holle intends that you should work for her for eternity. Still, she means well. If you eat from her larder you will eat the food of the dead, which will kill you."
The young man asked the cat about the letters he had written and the cat winked. The letters had been thrown into the sea, but the cat had sent them with a flick of his great tail to the young man's beloved. The next six months passed quickly with the young man doing as the cat told him and writing letters to his beloved.
At the end of six months, Mother Holle sighed and kissed the young man softly. She knew that her plan had failed but she also admired the deep faith of the young man in his love. She gave him a small box and told him not to open it until his beloved had kissed him. She whispered a word and swept him out of the house. He seemed to fall a little way and found himself standing in a charming garden with flowers and a fine green lawn. It was spring and the air was crisp but pleasant. The young man turned to find a lovely house behind him. Three charming cats were sleeping on the lawn basking in the sunshine. A car drew up and his beloved got out. When she saw him she ran into his arms and kissed him. He held her close and tight and they went into the house together.
She put a fine box on the table with a brass front, brass handle and a slot at the front. Above the slot was the word 'Overseas' and when she unlocked it out fell all the letters he had written to her. She could not write back to him for he did not know the address of Mother Holle. He opened the box Mother Holle had given him and it was filled with gold. He laughed then and thanked Mother Holle.
How and why and where and when,
My tale is gone again!
My tale is gone again!