Wednesday, 5 January 2011

For Love or Money

Rooftops with gulls and sea - by Diana Heyer  and used with permission.
A tale inspired by the song, 'Annachie Gordon'.

My grandmother told me this when I was lying in bed with a bad cold. She fed me her soup with chunks of bread and gazed out of my window over the frosty rooftops with the gulls perched on the posts at the roof ends and the sea and sky beyond. I think she intended it as a bedtime story to help me sleep, but I somehow never forget it when I look out of my window towards the sea.

A long time ago in our town, there lived a man who had a daughter. This daughter was as beautiful as a summer morning and twice as sweet as strawberries. She was tall, well-figured that is to say neither skinny nor too plump but well-figured, so grandma said. This daughter was called Rachel and she went around with as likely a group of young women as you could imagine. Rachel's hair was dark like molasses, her eyes blue as the sky on a winter's day and every young man longed for a kiss from her bonny lips.

However, it seems also that further inland on a hill lived a Lord, a rich and powerful man with a big house with many towers and much land. This Lord had heard of Rachel and when first he saw her, he fell deeply in love with her, so bright and beautiful was she. He went to her father and asked for Rachel's hand in marriage saying that she should have all she desired if she would wed him. Rachel's father agreed to the marriage for the Lord was very rich and he hoped to do well by his daughter.

But when he mentioned it to his housekeeper she shook her head and said that ill would come of such agreement. Had not Rachel her own heart and mind? Should she not find the love she sought?

The father dismissed the very idea; Rachel was his daughter and she would do as he bid her.

That very moment, Rachel was in a cafe in the town and sang softly to her friends how her heart was with a sailor and it would not remove from him for he was both handsome and bright. More than that, he loved her and was sworn to wed her when his ship returned. Her friends agreed with her saying that he would entice any woman with his looks and charm. They did not speak of wealth or lands, only of love, for such is the way with the young.

So you may imagine her horror on returning home when her father informed her that she was to wed the Lord on the Hill.

"I am to wed my handsome sailor when he comes home from the sea," Rachel answered as if that were an end to it.

Her father grew angry then and stood firm upon the floor, saying, "Madam would you try the tricks of some common wench? You care nothing for a man who cares so very much for you. You will leave your young sailor and marry the Lord on the Hill. Your sailor may be pretty but where are his lands and riches? How will he keep you when you are wed?"

Rachel flew into a rage and replied that she with her good sailor she would beg for her bread. Not for gold at her brow nor fringed gowns would she wed the Lord on the Hill. Should she be forced to wed the Lord, she would never bear him any children nor bow her knee. She would die if she could not wed her true love.

"Oh foolish father that loves not wisely," the housekeeper murmured, "Foolish to forget the wife he loved and who has died. Did he wed her for her wealth or her for his?"

But having his anger roused, the father became stubborn and so Rachel was brought to the church and wed to the Lord against her will. Nor would she say 'I do', nor look at the Lord, but bowed her head and wept for her true love. When she was brought to the Lord's house upon the hill she went to her chamber and cried all alone. That evening on the wedding night, the Lord bid her gently,

"Come to bed fair Rachel, my honey, my sweet, for to style you my mistress it would not be right."

"Oh it's mistress or Rachel it's all the same to me, I'll never share your bed, Lord though you be," she answered and slept upon the floor.

The Lord was hurt and angered, yet he could not force her to share his bed, that would be dishonourable. So instead, for the love he had for her, he gave her many large pillows and a quilt to keep her warm. He hope she might not hate him he said and that he loved her passing well. Rachel said nothing but cried herself to sleep thinking only of her true love.

In the morning her father came and was furious to hear of Rachel's behaviour. He called upon her friends to come and loosen her gown but all refused and Rachel fell into a faint with horror at such a suggestion saying,

"See how I'm dying for my true love."

Indeed, the day that Rachel married was the day that she died. A cold, ice-blue frozen winter's day. The day that her sailor came home on the tide. Then Rachel's friends met him dressed in crow-black silks and lace, wringing their hands and saying to him,

"Woe to you sailor for staying from the sands, so long upon the sea and far from the land. Your Rachel was married by her father and now she is dead."

The sailor's face grew pale like the early morning sky and his grey eyes were like storms that flashed with both anger and pity. He bid her friends take him to where his love lay and there they led him. Still she lay, cold and pale that he wept to see her and bid her friends leave him with her.

"Foolish father yet who meant so well. Young sailor weep not, your darling yet lives, only listen to me," said the housekeeper when Rachel's friends had gone.

Then she took him to a secret door in the tomb and showed him how it led to an old jetty by the sea. There lay a boat all ready to sail. The housekeeper returned to Rachel and opening her mouth a little, poured a few drops of some dark liquid in. For a while Rachel did not move, then her mouth opened and she breathed as if she were merely sleeping. The sailor took her in his arms and down to the boat. There he lay her in the cabin and thanked the old housekeeper.

"Where did they go?" I asked grandma

"Nobody knows my dear, but I do recall reading a story in a French newspaper once about a wedding. Perhaps that was where they went. It is the housekeeper who was more interesting. She was an old woman like me, but she wore an old green dress and a faded red apron and her eyes were blue like the sea. Soon after Rachel and her sailor departed, the sea burst into the town and washed the streets clean. The old housekeeper was never seen again. Perhaps she turned into that seagull who has just flown towards the sea," grandma said taking my tray away and pulling the duvet up over me.

3 comments:

Freyalyn said...

And I think this tale will stay with me too.

pebbledash said...

I love this Griffin, thanks so much!
Diana x

Griffin said...

Freyalyn,

It's clearly stayed with me because I got the bones of it from the song Annachie Gordon, which I have sung by The Unthanks.

Diana,

Thank you for letting me use the photo. It has such wonderfully cold blues in it and is almost like a painting. Hugely evocative.