Aldrich awoke with a start. Sweat trickled from his brow. Instinctively, he reached up and placed his hand over his left eye. Then slowly he sat up and looked around the room.
The moonlight poured into the room through the open square window, lighting the floor. Aldrich could see his two sisters sleeping on their pallet on the other bed in the room; Hope was nearly lying on top of her older sister. The two boys were on a pallet on the floor.
Aldrich put a hand against the wall, gaining comfort from the familiar, rough boards, and lay down again with a sigh. It had been a dream that woke him – the same dream that haunted him for as long as he could remember. Voices, a flash of light and pain, and then darkness. And he always woke up in a cold sweat.
What did it mean?
Aldrich remembered the time he had asked his wise friend, the old hermit, about it.
“What are dreams?” Aldrich had asked.
“That is a question that has yet to be answered – though many a philosopher and doctor and spiritual man have searched the subject,” the old man said complacently as he stirred a broth over his tiny fireplace. Then he pattered barefoot into the yard and loaded his arms with pieces of chopped wood. “Some say dreams are from God. Others say dreams are but the act of a creative mind rearranging the information you have given it over your lifetime,” he continued, his voice sounding strained as he carried his heavy load back into his hut and dumped it by his fireplace.
“I have a dream,” Aldrich said, slowly. “Voices, blinding light and pain, darkness…and then I wake up.” The boy ducked his head. “It frightens me.”
The old hermit studied the boy for a moment without saying anything. Then he turned back to his broth. “It may not be a dream,” the old man said, “but perhaps a memory.”
“A memory?” Aldrich queried. “While I sleep?”
The old man stirred his broth without looking up. “A memory,” he repeated. For a moment, he was silent and the only sounds to be heard were the rhythmic sound of the spoon scraping the bottom of the pot and the chirping of birds outside the hut. “What happened to your eye? The left one…the one that is white,” the old man asked.
Aldrich’s hand went self-consciously to his face. “It’s blind,” he answered in a low tone.
“What happened?” the old man repeated, still stirring his broth.
Aldrich shook his head. “I don’t remember,” he said.
“Or maybe you do,” the old man said, lifting his eyes to meet the boy’s.
Aldrich’s eyes opened wide at this thought. He had never considered the possibility before.
The old man lifted the spoon to his lips, blowing across the hot liquid until it had cooled. Then he sampled it, nodding and smacking his lips in satisfaction. For a moment, the boy wondered if the old man had ended his talk, but then the old man spoke one more time.
“There’s no need to fear it,” he said. “Let the dream come…and see what else you remember.”
The dream still came with a sense of terror, but Aldrich found that it ended when he awoke. He was no longer afraid of the dream itself, but he was no closer to finding out what it meant. The voices in the dream were blurred so that he could not understand the words. And the dream was too short to afford many other clues. Aldrich rubbed his forehead fitfully and rolled onto his stomach.
Sleep refused to return to Aldrich. He lay quietly until a purplish hue in the east began to erase the stars from the sky. Then he quickly pulled his clothes on and stepped over his sleeping brothers. If he got his chores done early, there would be time for lessons with the old hermit this morning.
Ducking under the curtain that covered his doorway, Aldrich stepped into the tiny kitchen. His mother was already up, quietly gathering breakfast preparations. She smiled at him and motioned for him not to wake his brothers and sisters. He nodded and smiled in return, pointing out the door. She nodded, tucking her red hair behind her ears and wiping her hands on her apron.
Outside, Aldrich sucked the cool air into his lungs. He loved the forest life. Already it was coming alive. Birds were chirping. Aldrich’s dove pigeons were cooing. After breakfast, his brothers and sisters would feed the dove pigeons and gather their eggs to sell at market. Aldrich shouldered an axe and walked to the woodpile.
The little woods-cow leaned her head over the side of her small pen and lowed a greeting. She would calf soon and would remain in her pen until she did. It wasn’t safe to let her wander deeper into the forest to have her baby.
Aldrich set a log upright and lifted his axe over his head. He was a tall boy for his eleven years. He would never be as big of a man as his papa, but a life of work had put muscles on his young form. He swung the axe down with confidence, splitting the log in two. His mop of roughly cut dark hair fell across his face as he bent to set his split log upright. Then he raised his axe over his head and swung again.
When he had split enough, Aldrich lifted his load and carried wood back to the house. As he put the axe back in its place, he overheard his parents talking inside the kitchen.
“I don’t like him spending so much time with the hermit,” Papa growled.
Mama made no response, but Aldrich could hear her setting wooden plates on the small table.
“The fewer people we have contact with the better,” Papa continued. “And what’s he going to do with booklearning? It’s asking for trouble, that’s what.”
Aldrich heard the rattle of the big spoon against the pot as Mama poured porridge into each plate.
“If we get caught over this…” Papa said, raising his voice.
“We won’t get caught,” Mama’s soft voice interposed. Her footsteps crossed the floor, and Aldrich knew she had gone to her husband’s side. “We’re safe here – you know that.” For a moment, it was quiet in the kitchen. Then Mama spoke again, her voice as muffled as if her cheek was pressed against her husband’s shirt. “I feel like we owe it to him,” she said wistfully. “After all, we were a part of bringing him to this world.”
“We didn’t have much of a choice,” Papa retorted, but he sounded in much better humor than before. Aldrich breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that, for the moment, his lessons with the hermit would continue.
“Get the rest of the children up, Mama – daylight’s wasting,” Papa ordered. Then he raised his voice, “Boys! On your feet!”
Aldrich stomped his feet against the threshold and ducked inside the hut with his load of wood. His mama smiled at him.
“Hurry up! Breakfast is getting cold,” Papa said, sitting down at the small table.
The younger children stumbled out of the tiny bedroom in various stages of sleepiness. Only a year younger than Aldrich, Patience alone emerged with her golden hair combed. Justin, Jacob, and little Hope all had tousled hair and sleepy eyes, but the sight of breakfast brought them to life quickly.
“Mind your manners, Jacob!” Patience scolded, as her 7-year-old brother lifted a spoonful of steaming porridge to his lips. “Papa hasn’t said the blessing yet.”
“I was only smelling it,” Jacob protested, squirming hungrily in his seat.
“Heavenly Lord and Father, we thank Thee for Thy many blessings,” Papa prayed as every head bowed. “Amen.”
For several minutes after the prayer, the only sound was the sound of eating. Papa finished first and pushed his chair back from the table.
“Justin, I promised the Georges you would have that harness mended by noon today. I’ll take it to him after lunch. Jacob, you might as well start your planting without your brother since he has to finish the harness. Patience, help your mother,” Papa assigned as he pulled his boots on and plopped his hat on his coarse blonde hair. “Aldrich, tell the hermit you won’t see him next week. They’ve called for all able bodies to do the planting for the town. There will be a few shillings in it for us, and Lord knows we need them.”
“Yes, Papa,” the children chorused.
“Me?” Hope pleaded. Her name had not been mentioned in her papa’s list, and she didn’t like it.
A smile tugged at the corner of Papa’s mouth and he bent over and kissed the top of her tousled red hair. “Hope, be good,” he said, and she was content.
|If she were wearing a peasant girl dress, this might be Hope.|