This is a story washed up by the tide and written in shells and seaweed…
Birds from a different sea called outside The Garret. The pilgrim woman went down, opened the door and stepped out onto a busy wharf. Nearby, tall houses with pointed roofs stood in two rows like sets at the start of a dance. Green and red, blue and orange; their timbers and window frames shone with bright paint.
Over the chop of the waves against the staithe, fine music jigged and kicked. It led the pilgrim woman along the bright streets to a fiddler. She put a coin in his cap and asked if he knew any stories. He told this tale.
‘This is my love,’ he said and held up his fiddle. ‘She comforts me when I mourn, she keeps me company into the sunless hours and she shares our joys with all who will listen. She is an old and wise lady – and like many such, she gets tired and worn.
One night on a ferry from the Northern Isles, my dearest friend hurt her neck on a tumultuous sea. I had to find help. Such a lady deserved the best of caring and so I took her to the city.
A long walk it was, but I would not pay for transport. Every penny I had to save for her.
I came to the city and sought out the Street of Menders and Makers. A grand luthiers workshop I found there with a gilded sign and clean windows. This, I thought, was the place to treat her best.
I knocked upon the glossy brown door. A young lad came to the threshold, tall and puppet-limbed. I explained my need. He tilted his head and frowned. Perhaps he didn’t understand my accent.
I held up up my case to show him. I felt his eyes on my wind-tugged hair and country boots. He flipped a hand at me.
‘Be off,’ he said, ‘my Master does not get out of bed for such as you.’
Then he picked up a broom and began to sweep the doorstep.
“Better folk than you need to use this entrance.”
The door stood open at the next shop I tried. Smells of wood and resin poured out. Also the music of tools, with the happy chatter of apprentices for harmony.
They did not turn me away. I tipped my purse out upon the workbench to sort out my coins. The master’s guffaw rattled the instruments hanging from the rafters.
“Is that all you have?”
“I can cook and I can sweep and I can run errands,” I said. “I will pay.”
His lips puckered. His beard shook.
“I have lads enough for that: I have no need of your helping. Besides, my waiting list is months long. Go on lad, seek another workshop – and may God go with you.”
Hungry and cold and tired I went from the wide streets to the narrow, from the neat to the crooked, from the spruce to the old. Nowhere could I find a maker I could trust or whose fee I could pay.
“Is there no-one left?” I cried into a half of ale.
A lad I’d seen at the second workshop tugged my sleeve.
“Try round the corner there behind the rose-red door.” He pointed to a narrow passage. “Tell no-one I told you.”
I went. The doorway was low and out of true, the steps beyond narrow, dark and rickety. Upstairs, skylights let sun pour into a whitewashed room, neat and almost bare. A few peg-boxes, scrolls and bridges on the one workbench showed true craft. At least it was not so busy here – we would not have to be parted for too long
An old curtain screened off a back room. A familiar melody passed through, tender and gentle. Whoever put such care into a plain tune should treat my darling fiddle well, however new their business. When the last note faded into the resined air, I coughed for attention. A woman came through the curtain. Another customer. How disappointing
“Lovely,” I said. “Where is the the luthier? I have need of help.”
“Here I am. Let me see what pains you.”
She held out her hand for my case. Could I trust her?
Surely no-one who could bow with such thought would be careless? No-one could coax those notes from catgut and treat my old friend with indifference. I opened the case. She touched my friend as she might console a grandparent for a fall.
Her rates were low enough even for me.
“No-one believes a woman can follow the craft,” she said, “I shall give a special discount for the first customer to put his trust in me.”
It was along and anxious wait without my friend – but I had no time to visit. I worked at an inn – heaving barrels and tending nags. I slept above the stable bone-tired at each day’s end.
The luthier came there.
“I knew you missed her,” she said and handed over the case: cleaned and with hinges polished. “I’ve left a little extra something inside for you both.”
She nipped down the ladder before I had chance to say more than thanks. I laid the case down. The lock sprang open smoothly. The lining shone with new satin and my dear friend lay sleeping – a princess in a fairytale.
I took my bow to her and a tune leapt up. Out of the f holes it danced, lively and youthful. My sweetheart was healed with a new song in her heart.’
The fiddle player rosined his bow ready to play again. A crowd waited for him.
‘And that is the story of this tune – the Trust Polka.’
He started up – and the pilgrim woman took the tale back to give to the seashore lord for her rent.
Image: “Reflection” by Jorden Esser
CC attribution & not for commercial re-use