Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Old Cottage

I had wandered into the forest far deeper than I intended. The familiar track had long gone from under my feet. A mist had descended cloaking each individual tree in its ghostly shroud. Usually I can pick out the individual characteristics of separate trees and form a mental map of where I am but these reference points were much obscured. One tree began to look much the same as another. A large forest is not a good place to get lost.
I wandered on. Surely I would find a track, then follow it and it would lead somewhere? I tripped over fallen trees hidden in the undergrowth. I made detours around bogs and mires, groped though dense patches of ground mist and arrived in a small clearing. In the centre stood two forlorn looking stone gate stooks and beyond them the remains of a long since abandoned cottage. The roof had caved in decades if not centuries ago and the walls were clad in a thick covering of lichen and green moss. Curious, I made my way over to the ruined building and passed between the gate stooks.
Strange, isn't it, when just as you're looking for a comfy place to sit down, - in this case a convenient large stone, - you find there are two. I sat on one then fished around in my bag for my last remaining sandwiches and flask which now being half empty at least afforded some lukewarm coffee. I needed to get my bearings.
A jam and peanut butter sandwich in the middle of a forest miles away from anywhere. A moment of bliss. Just me and nature. I was in the forest on its own terms. I wasn't all that surprised to find this old guy sitting on the other improvised stone seat beside me. I offered him a sandwich and a swig of rapidly cooling coffee which he gratefully accepted.
"D'you know this area?" I asked.
"Should do," he replied, "I live here". I looked at the cottage and dismissed the idea he meant exactly here. But he went on to say, "I have always been here. There was a time when this old house had people in it but it wasn't always a such happy place.

"There were two sisters who lived here once, quite some time ago. In a way, they're still here." He nodded over towards the gate stooks. I shivered. The man kept his silence for a few minutes then when he reckoned I was ready to hear his story, he related the rest of the tale.

"These two sisters lived together reasonably happy for a number of years. Then one summer's afternoon a young girl strayed into this clearing. She was obviously lost and nobody really knew how she found herself so deep in this forest in the first place. But she needed somewhere to stay and was grateful for the hospitality of the two sisters. Her overnight stay became two nights then a week and soon she was watching the leaves turn to gold. She was only too happy to help with the household chores. However, as time passed the two sisters got a little too used to having a willing servant and took her a little bit too much for granted. They made demands on her and before long she was doing all the work in and around the cottage. She had to ask permission to do anything of her own. She was often beaten if things were not done either well or quickly enough. She was not quite so well fed as the two sisters and soon got weaker which is not a good way to be at the onset of winter. But these two sisters seemed not to care. This young girl had become little more than a slave.
"Autumn gave way to winter and by December the entire forest lay frozen in winter's icy grip. Christmas and Yuletide came and went. But there was no seasonal cheer for our young friend. The two sisters had a good time of it though. They ate and drank and laughed and played. But if the young girl asked for only a little food and warmth it was grudgingly given and she was given a beating for being so presumptuous. Even when tired and exhausted from overwork and lack of food and sleep she had to serve every their whim. The beatings got worse. She could barely remember the coming of the new year. She had been beaten to near unconsciousness. It was all of two weeks before her bruises subsided.
"By now it was mid January. The whole forest lay under a muffling blanket of snow Blizzards continued to rage. It was no time to venture out. Even to reach an outbuilding became something of an expedition. The two sisters sat each side of the window watching the snowflakes make their frenzied dance in the howling storm. All three of them had been confined to the cottage for several days now. "I'll be glad when it's spring," said one sister.
"It'll be nice to have some flowers in the house," mused the other. "I know," she said," she can go and gather some for us." The sister tuned in her chair and pointed her finger at the shivering bundle by the fireplace, "YOU! Go and get us some spring flowers, now!" she demanded.
"But its deepest winter." the girl bleated. The sisters jumped to their feet in unison and raised their sticks ready to strike. "Go!"
The girl knew by now better than to refuse no matter how unreasonable the demand was. She grabbed a threadbare blanket and fled out of the cottage and into the howling blizzard.

To be continued......


Thumbelina said...

Aha! Now I remember this one methinks. But looking forward to the next installment. Just going to read the post below now...

Swearing Mother said...

Aha! Next installment eagerly awaited.

I'd better get my thinking cap on then if I'm to reinvent myself too!