JB & JB Grim
Take a walk with me and let me tell you a story.
Is it a new story?
It’s a new story.
Does it have a happy ending?
Are you going to make it up or is it true?
You tell me after I tell it.
Okay, I’m ready.
Let’s take this path through the meadow and I’ll begin the story. Do you see that cottage over there with the red tiled roof? Let’s go look into the windows and see what we see. That house is the first part of my story. Just peek in carefully now so that they don’t see you. Tell me what you see.
I see a father and six children.
Do they look unhappy and weary of their lives?
Their house is very small and they are all together in the sitting room, but no, they look most happy and content to be together. The children are playing a game and laughing as one of them holds up a small piece of paper. I wish I could hear what they are saying. The father is writing, no, drawing, at a desk, and smoke is curling up around his head from his pipe. Every now and then he looks up and motions everyone to come see what he is drawing. Everyone comes and looks and then all the children clap their hands and bound around the room.
Look around carefully. Is there not a mother in the room, perhaps lying as an invalid on a bed in the corner?
No. Wait, I see her now. She’s carrying something out from the kitchen on a tray. Everyone gathers around to smell it. Oh, I wish I could smell it. But first, the father is showing her what he drew at his desk. She also claps her hands and does a spin around the room. What makes them so happy? Was the mother supposed to be an invalid? And what is it that the father draws?
I can’t tell you that part of the story yet, but I can tell you that you have seen a happy ending, or, I should say, a happy middle, for those children are still not grown up and that family has many more years to live. But there is another part of this story.
Is it also as happy looking?
Perhaps if we see it only at a distance it will look happy, but we must go and peek into the windows to see it for certain.
Will I get to find out what game the children were playing and what it was the father was drawing?
For the present, let’s continue our walk and unravel the story. We’ll have to begin more at the beginning now that you have seen the end, or the middle. See that house way up there upon the hill? That’s where we are headed.
Are you sure it’s part of the same story?
I’m sure. Let me start at the beginning. There were once two sisters.
Don’t forget to say ‘ Once upon a time.’
All right. Once upon a time there were two sisters. They shared a room as they were growing up, as well as had identical toys. One was a little older than the other but not so much that they couldn’t play together.
Did they look alike as some sisters do?
No, one was dark and the other was light. One always smiled and was helpful and happy, and the other always frowned and complained and demanded to be served.
Oh, I know this part. And a wicked stepmother came and preferred one to the other. Then a handsome prince came and swooped one of them off her feet.
Not quite, but … look out!
What was that?
That was the carriage belonging to the house at the top of the hill. I’m glad I pulled you away in time. It was going at full tilt apparently not caring who was on the path.
Look at it go! It’s really kicking up the dust. Who was in it?
The other sister. She’s always in a hurry. Before I finish the beginning, let’s have a look in her house. Now, at this house you must be very careful about peeking into the windows and you’ll probably have to peek in a lot of them before you can tell me what you see.
In this window I can’t see anyone, but it looks like a very nice house. There is a piano and there are shiny tables and soft couches, but no one is here. Over in this window I see one child sitting by herself at a table eating. The food looks good but she doesn’t look happy. Do you think she was made to eat alone? Wait! She’s getting up and running into that room over there. I have to find that window. Oh, now here it is. Wow! It’s a huge room with shelves and shelves of toys, and there’s a boy running around in the center of it holding a doll above his head. The girl reaches for it, and, oh, the boy hits the girl. And here comes the mother. The one from the carriage, I guess. Her hands are raised and she is shouting. The boy shouts back at the mother and the girl shouts at him and the mother shouts at her and then they all shout at once. Let me look into another window. I’ve seen enough of that one. Here’s a quiet scene. It must be the father. He’s also drawing something at a desk, but it’s a large high slanted desk. His head is bent low and he is going back and forth over a paper with some kind of measuring tool. Oh … what’s this? The mother appears at the door. She doesn’t look happy to see what he is drawing like the other mother was. She is talking and gesturing, and now the father stands up and goes towards her, and … he shuts the door! My goodness, what did he do that for? Now he is sitting down again and working with his tool, drawing lines on his paper.
Have you looked into all the windows?
I think so, except maybe one. Here is one. Oh, there aren’t any people here, just carriages. One, two, three. With just one more there would be one for each person. I’ve peeked into the windows. Now where’s the story? I can’t figure it out.
OK, I’ll back up a bit. Now both sisters got married in the same year. Of course, the older one had always considered herself more worthy than the younger one of marriage and romance. She had always looked for and expected the affections of young men, and when she received such, she shunned the presence of the younger sister, disdaining her very words and actions. In fact, the older sister hissed at the younger to disappear, or at least to freeze in her footsteps so as not to embarrass the older by her clumsiness and bad looks. ‘You don’t want to be a silly distraction to my young man and make him forget that he was about to lavish affection upon me, do you?’
Did the younger sister actually go along with this charade?
She did, unfortunately, but at the same time she felt she truly loved and adored her older sister and therefore didn’t mind doing what she could to help romance bloom for her older sister. The younger sister knew too well how much and how often the older sister dreamed of being found by a prince and of being carried off to a castle where she could live in splendor and comfort and merit the respect of all the others. You see, whenever they had played with their porcelain dolls, which were identical, the older sister had always assumed the role of the girl waiting for her prince and her doll had always been the one dressed in gowns and jewels, and lying upon a bed draped in sheer curtains.
What part did the younger sister’s doll play? Couldn’t hers have been another would-be princess waiting for another prince?
Perhaps between two other sisters it could have been so, but between these two sisters, only one was allowed to be the future princess and the other had to be her maid. This was the only story the older sister would agree to when they had played together, otherwise, she wouldn’t play and the younger sister truly thought she enjoyed playing dolls with her older sister, and so she consented. Besides, it didn’t matter to her that she was the maid because she knew it was only a game. She was a very attentive maid and even was the one to usher the prince into the chamber to find the waiting princess doll.
If I had been her I would’ve said that my doll had to play the princess part at least half the time. Why was she willing to be the maid and not try to get the prince for herself?
Clothes? What do you mean?
The older sister’s doll had the proper princess clothes and the younger sisters’ doll had only the simple cotton dress that she came with from the doll maker. The older sister had pointed this out to her when the younger had suggested that she be the princess for once. The older sister’s doll had a box full of gowns and shoes and jewels which she had come by and she refused to share them with the younger sister’s doll, and so convinced her that it was clothes that decided the roles.
This is unbelievable. Couldn’t the mother make the older sister share? They did have a mother didn’t they?
They did have a mother and, by the way, we’ve come on our walk to another house. It’s right here along this path.
I can’t see it clearly. There are too many carriages in front of it.
Let’s slip around the back and see if we can peek into the windows from there.
It looks like someone is about to get married.
And so they are. Tell me what you see.
I see a dark-haired girl wearing a beautiful full-skirted wedding gown turning around and around in front of a mirror, and a light-haired girl standing behind in a very simple wedding dress. The one in the wedding gown has stopped looking at herself and she’s looking at the one in the simple dress. She makes her turn around and around and then—I can hear them—she says, ‘Remember how we always promised to be each other’s maid of honor. Isn’t this a convenient way to work it out? Here put these flowers in your hair so you don’t look so plain. Besides, we’re saving Mother a lot of money.’ Now I see a mother coming into the room. She looks like she’s going to either burst with a smile or cry. I can also hear her speaking. She says, ‘Oh, my oldest daughter is getting married. What a special day this is. The first wedding in the family.’ Then she turns to the one in the simple dress and says, ‘You’ll be glad that you agreed to let your older sister have a double wedding with you and say the first I do, even though yours was planned for so long. It’s just like you to be understanding and flexible. You’re still having your wedding and helping out your sister since she had such short notice. I know I don’t need to remind you how unhealthy it is for a family if the younger daughter marries first. Sometimes the older sister becomes an old maid and never leaves home. Too bad you couldn’t be wearing a more ornate gown like your sister, but that’s the one you chose, after all.’
Well, I can’t believe what I’m seeing and hearing. I hope this is a made-up story, because if it isn’t, I’d like to get in there and set them straight.
I’m afraid you can’t do that. If you stepped into the story, it would all disappear and you would never get to find out what game those children were playing and what that father was drawing.
I’d like to at least go up to that girl in the simple dress and tell her there’s a happy ending, or a happy middle.
Why? Do you think she expects there to be a sad ending to this story?
Well, she looks content enough but I can’t figure out why she doesn’t put her foot down and quit letting those two push her around.
At the moment, it would destroy her because, you see, she really does think that she is serving the older one of her own free will and in so doing, preserving what friendship they have.
Did I hear the mother say that she had been planning to get married for a long time?
Why did she wait? Why didn’t she jump at the chance to play the princess role in real life, scoff at the idea that clothes decide who the princess is, and leave the older sister on the shelf?
To her this was no competition, and she wasn’t intending to put anyone on the shelf. Besides, the younger sister and her bridegroom had to wait for him to finish his education before they could marry. It wasn’t an easy time for her. The older sister and the mother often tried to change her mind.
Tell me what they did. I’m sure it was crafty.
First, they gave her a poisoned apple to eat and then they put magic combs in her hair …
They did not! You’re telling tricks from other stories.
You’re right. The tricks the mother and the sister used were not the kind that could be coughed up or pulled out of the hair. Their tricks were much more sinister because they had started their tricks a long time ago. From the time when the younger sister was very young, the mother had only praised her when she was happy and helpful and giving and forgiving. If she was any other way the mother turned a coldness towards her that made all the light go out of her life. However, when she became happy and helpful and giving and forgiving again, all darkness vanished and the home was a safe and cozy place once more. Now the mother wasn’t this way with the older sister. She allowed her to be cold and calculating and demanding and begrudging, and the lights would also go out in the home if the older sister were challenged in this regard. The only way for peace and light to live in the home was to please the older sister and therefore please the mother and, since the younger sister preferred peace and light to darkness and strife, she fell into their trick at a very early age.
I wish I had been there to tell her what was happening. That is a very crafty trick, but what good did it do them?
It served them, because they liked to be very busy, and the younger sister was always there to assist them. To top it all off, she assisted full of smiles, convinced that she was important in keeping the home full of light and peace. Her aim in life had been narrowed down to helping them with their lives and it seemed to her that theirs were very important lives to help. Now, what was I getting at? Oh, yes, how they tried to keep her from marrying her bridegroom. Can you guess?
Well, first the older sister would’ve acted unhappy about it in order to make the mother unhappy in order to disturb the peace in order to make the trick work. Thus the younger sister should’ve given up what made the peace fly away.
That’s exactly what the mother and the older sister were depending upon. They had laid their trick so carefully for so long, and it had always worked before. You can imagine how sorely aggravated they were when it didn’t work this time. The older sister was openly jealous and demanded to see the younger sister more often. The mother claimed to need the younger sister’s help because her important life was suffering. They turned their coldest shoulders towards the younger sister, but she resisted giving up her plans to marry.
Oh, I’m glad to hear that the younger sister figured it out and didn’t give in.
She didn’t exactly figure it out. Though the younger sister was positive she had found her partner for life, she thought she could keep the two in balance by continuing to be the sister who was helpful and happy and giving and forgiving. The mother and the older sister wanted her to go on in that way because they needed her for their own lives and were afraid of her future husband in case he might not allow her to continue to serve them. In fact, he had no such designs. He only loved the younger sister as purely as can be imagined and when she was with him she felt a new part of herself peeping out. After she had been with him, the mother and the older sister detected this new part of her peeping out and then they accused, ‘Aha, you must be careful of him. We are sure he only wants you to become his slave and to serve his interests. He thinks he’s a very important fellow, we can tell, and whenever you are with him, you are like a flower that wilts. He makes you less than you are.’ At these words the younger sister wavered and wondered. She valued very much peacefulness and light, but ever since she had found her lifetime partner, it seemed to her that peacefulness and light were more often restless shadows.
Oh, those two connivers. How do they have the boldness to lie? What’s going to happen? Is the younger sister going to believe them?
I’m sad to tell you.
Oh, please make it happy, don’t let those two win.
Do you think I’m making this up or telling you a true story?
I can’t tell, but in case you’re making it up, let me suggest that the younger sister should have herself a good think and shut the door on those wretches.
Maybe later, but for right now in the story, why don’t we leave the wedding window and look into this window on the farther side of the house?
What’s she doing in bed?
The younger sister. She’s lying there as pale as vanilla pudding. I’m confused. Is the wedding still going on?
It won’t happen for a year. We move around in time very easily in a story. Is anyone else in the room?
I see a much younger version of the man who was the father from the first cottage. He looks like he’s saying good-bye to her. They look very sweet together and the younger sister looks as radiant as vanilla pudding can.
Is that it? Just the two of them looking like sweet desserts?
No, you won’t believe this, but the mother is standing outside of the room. I can see the tip of her shoe sticking out across the doorway. Is she so desperate that she must eavesdrop?
Keep watching and keep me posted.
All right. Her toe isn’t moving, but I can see that the future husband is leaving, perhaps for a long time. He’s got a satchel of books and a suitcase.
Most likely he’s going back to the University.
Now everything’s moving fast. The shoe quickly disappears from the doorway. He leaves. The pudding has lost its shine. The closet door opens, and out slithers the older sister. This is a great story. How do you think all this up? Now, the older sister is at her bed and says, ‘You look awful. I didn’t mean to listen but it’s clear that he wants to master you. You shouldn’t be mastered by anyone. The next time he comes he’ll have to deal with me first.’ Before the younger sister can say anything, the mother comes sailing into the room with a fistful of letters. She’s saying, ‘I’ve never seen you looking so worn out. If he would stay away I think you could get well.’ And before the younger sister can reply her mother’s reading bits from each letter. One person says, ‘Tell her that her aunt hopes she gets well soon and learns to stand up for herself.’ Another person says, ‘Sickness doesn’t run in our family so something must be terribly wrong.’ The next letter says, ‘Women in our family are strong and we know she won’t be down long before breaking things off with him.’
Well, what does younger sister say to that? And what’s the older sister doing?
The older sister is picking up the rose that the departing future husband left on the bedspread and she’s trying to get it into a vase. No, what’s she doing! She’s, she’s snapping the stem. The rose droops over like it’s ashamed. I can see her, but she’s hidden from the younger sister’s view by the mother who is sitting upon the bed and opening letters. The younger sister only says, ‘I think I could sleep.’ But the mother wants to read her bits from more letters to encourage her. The younger sister listens meekly and smiles frequently. Then one letter promises to send her some flowers. That makes her look at the rose in the vase and then at her older sister, who looks mad and says, ‘He’s even too cheap to buy a proper rose.’ Now as if by a pre-arranged signal, both of them leave. They seem to be connected in everything they do.
What do you think of the younger sister?
I’d like to get in there and tell her that I saw the older sister snap the rose and that I saw the mother’s toe in the doorway, and I’d like to find out if she knew the older sister was in the closet. She doesn’t seem to speak up for herself enough.
It might seem that way, but some people speak in other ways. Did she go to sleep?
No, she’s writing a letter.
It’s not good manners but just this once, you are allowed to read a letter that is not written to you. But don’t ever try it outside of a story.
Wow, she writes in fast speed. It’s addressed to her Intended. The first page is already full of wedding ideas—the date, colors, music, flowers, and food. The second page is recounting all the words of wisdom from her relatives. It seems she thinks they really care about her though she thinks most of them have never been in love. She has even written that the older sister was hiding in the closet, which must be not taken too seriously since the older sister is just protective and concerned about her since she is sick. Will the letter get sent or will those two censor it?
Oh, no. Letters are sacred and cannot be tampered with. That would be an obvious interference, and as you have seen, they are quite adept at covert practices.
The situation seems unbearable. Someone needs to help her see through them.
Someone does, but not directly. He draws her so tenderly to be his companion that she can never believe he wants her for a slave. All she can imagine is going through life with him. Eventually, she overcomes her sickness at just about the same time as she decides to turn a deaf ear to everyone’s warnings.
So she does tell those two to take a hike!
Never. That would be entirely out of character, and the people in my stories are always in character. She merely is determined to get married, but she seems to be devoted to everyone at the same time. This is frustrating for the older sister and the mother because they are unsure whether she has discovered their methods or not. You see, they expected her to do what they would have done had they been treated as they treated her. And not until they put the question to her about sharing her wedding day did they know if they still had her in their trickery.
Oh, and they did. It’s obvious from the wedding window where she was in the background and the older sister was being the beautiful princess. That was a real low spot.
You’d never have gotten the younger sister to agree with you on that. She was impossibly happy that day. Regardless of the conspiracy of others, that was the beginning of her life.
Is that when they moved into that little cottage in the meadow that we saw?
Oh, it’s much too soon for that. That happened only after … well … let’s walk into the town over there and look into a window of a building. There’s something going on in there and if you look, I can tell you the next part of the story.
This is definitely not a house. It’s a kind of office. Men are sitting at desks drawing on large pieces of paper. A few women seem to be helping the men by bringing them more papers. Oh … I don’t think I should tell you what I just saw. I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with this story. But just the same, it did happen, and you did tell me to look into this window.
You’d better tell me because you never know.
Well, one of the men who is drawing, well, when the woman came to his desk to give him some papers … uh … he grabbed her hand before she could let go of the papers and kissed it, and then she pulled it away and looked angry, but the man just smiled at her and raised his eyebrows up and down.
Well, for certain it’s not what I wanted you to look into the window to see, but nevertheless, you saw it. Perhaps it’s part of another story that’s being told. But look around the room and see if you see anyone you’ve seen before.
Oh, yes, I can see through an open door to a private office. There I see the younger sister and her husband. They have just laid a bag of money on the desk.
Who’s behind the desk? Anyone familiar?
Yes, the father from the second house we saw, the older sister’s husband, the one who was drawing at his high table while his children were fighting, who shut the door on his wife. But what is going on? Why are they giving him money?
They aren’t actually giving him the money. They are asking him to build them a house. He’s an Architect and he builds houses for people, but he usually builds grand houses with pillars and porticos and curved staircases and circular drives. They only want a cottage.
That’s kind of nice, isn’t it, for him to do that for them? Why is it that I feel that something not nice is going to happen? Is he going to really build it? Is he going to leave out something important when he builds it?
You ask a lot of questions.
I guess I’m just prepared for some kind of trick because obviously the younger sister is not serving the older sister and the mother, and it just looks like that man behind the desk is smiling too much at them. He wasn’t smiling when he was in his house, and he was involved in stealing the wedding day. I suppose, it looks somehow unnatural that he’s being so nice and attentive.
We can come away from the window now. You’ve seen the next part of the story, plus a little bit from another story, I must say. Now I’ll tell you that the younger sister and her husband agreed to let the Architect build their house because he told them that he had a special way of making a fabulous house for a small amount of money. Of course, he said he was accustomed to building very large houses for very rich people, but as a favor to them as family of his wife, he would agree to build them a house, even though he said it would take him as much time and effort to build a small one as it did to build a very large one.
That can’t be true, can it?
No, but what did the younger sister and her husband know about building houses? The truth was, the Architect was in a bit of a slump with no large houses to build, and the older sister was afraid of him failing and being without work, so she hatched the idea that he could build small houses as favors to poorer folk. It would make the Architect appear generous and keep the money coming in.
By the way, did anyone ever stop to think that a lot of small houses together might surpass the income of the larger ones?
No one really knew how many small houses there were, but it was only maintained that the older sister’s husband was doing a great and generous service for less well-off folk. The younger sister and her husband had been happily living on the second floor of a rented house in town, but the younger sister saw a chance to serve the older sister by giving the Architect business, and she hoped there might be some reciprocation.
Is that some special feature on a house?
No, silly. That means since she did something thoughtful for the older sister, she hoped the older sister would do something thoughtful for her, such as begin to accept her husband instead of despise him.
I wish she could just see through the schemes and live her own life.
If she could, there would be no story to tell and this would be a very boring walk.
I hate boring walks.
I know, so back to the cottage and the small bag of money. The Architect promised to do his best with such a small sum.
Oh, I get the most awful feeling that something is going to happen with that small house.
There is something that happens with that small house but I don’t think you can guess it. First, the Architect chose a beautiful piece of land to put the cottage on. The older sister whispered to the younger that this was a coveted spot by those who wanted to build big houses, but the Architect was giving it to them because he was so generous and wanted to see them living in a good spot for raising children. The hopes of the younger sister rose upon hearing this, and she concluded that her husband must not be despised anymore. She felt extremely happy and hopeful about the future and even confided in her older sister that her husband hoped to start a school in their town. So when the Architect told them that there was a delay because certain materials could only be ordered in large amounts and that he had to wait for more orders to build more small houses, neither the younger sister nor her husband knew to be suspicious. And even when he solemnly apologized that it was going to cost more than he expected, they completely trusted him, even when it caused them to go into debt. You see, he told them that he could still build them a house with their small bag of money but with the rising costs of building materials, it would only be a one-room bungalow. He would be glad to do it, but he foresaw a problem because that particular piece of land came with a legal requirement to build a house of a certain size. If a smaller house was put there someone could come along later and have it removed so they could build a bigger one. His advice was to take the long-term view of things and go into a little debt in order to avoid being chased off that land in the future.
Boy, I can’t tell if they are stupid or the Architect is smart.
Well, sometimes, if people truly possess virtues and don’t merely make a pretense of having them, someone who is cunning can use those virtues against them and make them look stupid.
I don’t really like to hear the moral of the story. That usually means it’s over. Did they get out of this mess?
Unfortunately, the younger sister and her husband had to live abroad for many years to make money to cover the debt that they owed on the small house.
Where did they go? What did they do?
They sold themselves into slavery as ship rowers and rowed around the world for seven years.
You’re pulling my leg. They wouldn’t do that.
Because I have a hunch he’s quite talented.
He is. What do you think he does?
Well, in their cottage he was drawing something—something that made everyone happy. I think he’s an artist, isn’t he?
Aha! You guessed it. In fact, he is a very talented artist and they all must go to Paris so he can teach because there is a much higher demand for art instructors there than anywhere else. Even though it is his dream to make art more available in his hometown and even open a school for the arts, he has no choice at this juncture.
Hey, aren’t we in the same meadow where we started this walk? Where’s the cottage? What’s that huge building doing there?
Ahhh! That’s the question that will start me on the next part of the story. That’s a new cathedral. Let’s pause here and look at it. You can’t see it so well if you are up close. Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t its architecture match the surroundings?
Well, personally, I liked the cottage but I can agree that it is a magnificent building. How did it get here? Did a good fairy come and cause the small humble cottage to grow into a huge glorious church because the Artist had been so noble in his sufferings?
Your head is too full of fairy tales. No, there is a much more realistic explanation. Want to peek into some more windows? Woops, there are no windows. We’ll have to settle for this door. Just remember to be silent, and don’t try to enter the story no matter what you see.
OK. Hey, it’s not finished inside. It’s still being built.
That’s right. Do you recognize anyone?
There’s the Artist. He’s opening a roll of paper and showing it to a man in a long robe. He’s gesturing towards the ceiling and to the walls, and he looks very excited like he did in the cottage. But the man in the robe doesn’t look happy. How can that be? He’s positively frowning and shaking his head. Who is he?
That’s the Bishop. He’s the one who wanted to build this cathedral.
Oh, my gosh. There’s got to be some mistake. He’s violently shaking his head. He’s rolling up the Artist’s papers. He’s bending them in half. He’s throwing them on the floor. I’ve got to go in there. That’s unbelievable after the Artist was so obviously enthusiastic.
Stand back and be quiet. Here comes someone.
Why, it’s, it’s the Architect. Maybe he’s going to help.
Maybe, maybe not. Just watch.
All right. He—the Architect—walks up to the two of them. He has a funny look on his face. He doesn’t even look surprised to see the papers on the floor. I think he’s smirking, in fact. He looks like he’s imploring the Bishop to reconsider … no, no, no, not imploring. He’s apologizing. He’s apologizing to the Bishop for the plans of the Artist, but he’s not looking at the Artist at all. He has turned his back towards him. He also is shaking his head over the plans and gives them a kick with his toe. The Artist, however, is watching the Architect very closely. His eyes are going back and forth between the Bishop and the Architect. Now he looks as if he just figured something out. Here he comes out the door. No, there he goes back in again. Ah, he had to go back for his drawings. Now, look out! Here he comes again. Let’s follow him!
Wait a minute. Who’s telling this story?
Well, you were doing a good job until now, but I think the story will tell itself if we just follow him.
If we follow him now we’ll get ahead of ourselves.
Why, where’s he going? Isn’t he going back to his wife and children in the cottage?
He doesn’t have a cottage. Don’t you remember that his cottage used to be in this meadow?
Oh, that’s right, and I had thought that his fairy godmother promoted him to a castle, before I looked in the door, that is. Now I’m confused. Okay, you can tell the story again.
Well, I’ll try to tell it.
I hope you can hurry it up because I have to know if he’s all right.
You’ve gotten a little more involved in this story than I had imagined. I just meant to entertain you for an afternoon’s walk.
Well, in that case, you should’ve told me Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Hansel and Gretel, or some other made-up story.
But this is just a made-up story.
No, it’s not.
So, you’ve decided and we haven’t even come to the end yet. What made you decide?
The way you acted at the cathedral door. I think you were surprised at what happened. I don’t think you knew that part of the story. In fact, I’m sure I heard you gasp, and when you took my hand to walk away, you were quivering.
Can’t a person quiver when they see something treacherous happen?
Of course, but they usually don’t if they are making up a story to entertain someone for an afternoon’s walk. So, please, proceed with this true story at your convenience.
Now you’re a little too cavalier. This is the most difficult part of the story.
Perhaps you have a window for me to look into.
That’s a good idea. But I’m afraid you’ll have to look into it with your mind’s eye. Remember the first window at the cottage? Well, that was just before the cottage was given up by the family so that this cathedral could be built.
Yes. You see, they had come back from Paris to live in the cottage, and the father—the Artist—struggled to start a school for artists. He couldn’t manage to enroll many students since art was considered a frivolous pastime. But fortunately, he owned the cottage since he had worked in Paris for so many years. He reasoned that if he could just take on a few students they could manage to survive. The whole town knew of his struggles, and while town folk praised the theory of being an artist, they actually thought he should have stayed on in Paris where artists seem to be thicker and obviously paid better, or that he should go into some other business. Some even suggested that since he seemed to like to paint, he could contract with the Architect to paint the houses he built, especially the big ones.
But why would he give up the one thing he owned?
For the cathedral. It will help to understand that the Architect was quite well known both for his architectural designs and his ability to build quickly and cheaply. The Bishop was on a budget and in a hurry. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Architect was approached by the Bishop to build the cathedral. The Bishop asked the Architect to not only design a modern cathedral but also to build it and have it’s interior painted. The Architect thought immediately of the Artist in the cottage, and why not? They had their wives in common. They lived only a stone’s throw from each other. And the Architect knew the Artist was truly gifted. He told the Artist that the Bishop wants someone who can make the interior truly a place of beauty and splendor so that all who enter will be transported to heaven itself. The whole town admired the generosity of the Architect in giving the leg up to the Artist.
I have my suspicions.
Of course you do. That’s because I’m a very good storyteller.
No, it’s because I’m a very attentive listener.
All right. Now that we are both pleased with ourselves, let me continue. The Artist approached the task with reverence. He had only ever dreamed of such an opportunity. It seemed to him that now he could give full rein to his artistic vision and craft, and for such an admirable purpose, too. It was such an honor to be asked to transport people to heaven with your art. So, he began to make his drawings, consulting often with the Architect who told him what the Bishop wanted. At the many and various stages he climbed the hill to the Architect’s house to lay out his designs. Though he had to suspend his teaching in order to make the detailed, intricate drawings that the Architect said the Bishop wanted, he knew that when the job was done he would be paid. And then he began to think that even if he weren’t paid, he would still be willing to do the job.
I smell danger coming. He’s too idealistic.
Perhaps. But wait until you hear this. One day, while the Artist was working on his drawings in the cottage and before any ground was broken for the cathedral, the Architect solemnly told him some hard news. He acted extremely reluctant to come out with it, leading the Artist to believe that the whole cathedral might be in jeopardy. The Artist was so distraught at just the thought that he vowed he would do anything he could to solve whatever problem there might be. And then the Architect came out with it. The Bishop had chosen the very land for the Cathedral that the Artist’s house sat upon.
Now isn’t that a coincidence?
Did I mention that the Bishop had also asked the Architect to select the best location?
No, you left that out.
So I did. Well, so did the Architect, in fact, when he told the Artist. But what do you think the Artist did when he heard?
I suppose I know. He gave up the cottage for the greater glory of building a cathedral that would transport people straight to heaven by its magnificence.
Don’t make it sound so insignificant. That’s exactly what he did, and he did it willingly and joyously, and no hardship mattered to him in this sacrifice. In fact the whole family was happy. You saw them through the window. They knew then that they were giving up the cottage. There was no sadness there. For them, their part in giving up their cottage was all part of a bigger picture where people make sacrifices for the good of others. In truth, they had no fear about their future. They only felt satisfaction that they had done what was right.
Oh, those poor dears. They must have been at the back of the line when skepticism was given out. You should have let me enter the story when I asked you. I could have saved them a lot of trouble.
Now listen to yourself. Would you really want to change them? Why do you think you are so interested in this story? Isn’t it because there is something noble and innocent about these people?
Yes, but it’s frustrating. I mean, to give up your house and to think you’re doing it as a service to others. Even I know how others take advantage of such a sacrifice.
Maybe you do know, but remember you just want the story without any moralizing. It turns out that the Artist gave up his cottage and moved his family to a very small place in town. He watched the cathedral going up and was thrilled to see every new piece put in place.
Did the Artist have any ill feelings towards the Architect?
No. He spoke of the Architect in superlatives and never doubted that the design and the location were of one inspiration. Then, the day happened that you saw in the cathedral door. The Architect had set them up, as you might have guessed. Neither the Bishop nor the Artist had ever met since the Architect had been the sole communicator between them both. All discussions had gone through him. And the Artist certainly did not suspect the Architect of bringing him to ruin through the job he had given him. But clearly, the Bishop expected something far different than was shown him on that day in the unfinished cathedral, and the Artist was not even aware that he, through the Architect, had demanded higher pay from the Bishop. In fact, the Bishop reacted so violently against the Artist’s plans and fired him so vehemently because of the many other things he had heard about him—things about his character and practices, especially in regard to money matters. Why have you stopped walking?
How can you tell me this in such a matter-of-fact way?
This is just the way it was.
But, this is betrayal at its most insidious. This is outrageous. You haven’t done it justice. You should’ve spoken with more emotion. I mean, this makes the blood boil. The Architect entrapped the Artist, preyed upon his need to work, exploited his innocence and good-heartedness, tricked him out of his house, told lies about him, and then allowed the Bishop to make the fatal blow without stepping in to accept any of the blame. What kind of way is this for people to act, especially those charged with building a cathedral? I just think you have lost sight of the travesty of this story. I’m very disappointed with you as a storyteller, and I have to just sit here a moment and get over it.
Don’t cry. It’s going to be all right. I promise you.
Leave me alone. You can’t tell me a story like this and then pretend that it’s nothing. What’s to become of the Artist and his children and his wife? Do you think they are not going to suffer and be forever humiliated? I remember how he looked when he walked away from the cathedral. There was something in him that was crushed. I’m afraid he will give up painting all together and the happiness of his home will be destroyed, and maybe even he’ll die of despair. Some artists do die of despair, you know. And his children were so happy, but all that is impossible now.
Look; don’t cry. Really, you got more involved than I thought you would. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you. Maybe you want to hear Little Red Riding Hood, and then we’ll go home to tea.
You must tell me where he went when he left the cathedral. You said you would. And I want you to tell it with emotion. None of this cold-hearted narration. I’ll stop you if you disappoint me.
You are a demanding audience. I’ll try to give you what you want. The interview inside the cathedral had become known all over and it was accepted as fact that the Artist had tried to elevate himself both professionally and financially through the charity of the church. He was too stunned to give any kind of defense. You may not believe this, but since he had felt that he would be glad to do the job for nothing, if that were required, he came to believe he should do it for nothing, and because he enjoyed it so much, the remuneration really meant nothing to him. So when it became the crux of the gossip about him, he actually felt a true remorse that he had not done it without pay.
But he did nothing wrong. It was all because of the Architect and what he told the Bishop.
Yes, and after that day, the Artist was no longer welcome in the town. And he was penniless. And he was in debt. And he had a large growing family to take care of. And he had lost faith in all of humanity and gave up art. His whole world crashed and crumbled and turned inside out. Almost in a daze he sold everything he had and kept only those things he and his family needed immediately. With that amount of money he bought tickets on a ship that took them to the first of many places where he would work in a variety of jobs for long years to come. To say he lived an uncertain life is putting it mildly. During it all the whole family experienced everything together, all of them rising up in hopeful times and sinking low in times of despair. They suffered many deprivations, but what they suffered the most from was the betrayal.
What did the Architect and his family do all this time? Didn’t they care? Wasn’t there any sense of honor?
The Architect, his family, the younger sister’s mother, the town, the Bishop, the cathedral—everything went on with no sign that anything inimical had happened.
Untoward. Indecorous. Unfavorable.
Oh, unfavorable. So, is this the end? I was led to believe that this story would have a happy ending.
Well, you know stories. One person’s happy ending is another’s demise. Just think of your nursery stories. It all depends on whom you’re rooting for.
I suppose then that the Artist died in ignominy in a far off land, but in some twisted way that was a happy ending because he gave what was necessary to build a beautiful cathedral in an idyllic location; and many people will remember him with awe and respect, that is, after some historian clears up the record about his alleged desire for more money. And the Architect lived a wonderfully prosperous life, which looked like a happy ending, but in reality, he never had another moment of peace after what he had done to the Artist.
So is that ending acceptable?
To a story connoisseur, such as I consider myself to be, it’s only marginally satisfactory.
In that case, would you like to hear the actual end of the story?
Oh, I’m so glad there’s more. I was a bit worried.
The Artist ended up in a far away country, but not in the same happiness as he had lived in Paris. Now he felt like a foreigner, not just in that country, but in the world. They still had a happy home, but it was a poor home. One day something happened. He got a letter that had traveled all over the world to reach him. It had gone first to one place, then got forwarded to another, and so on and so on, traversing all the places he had previously lived, until the face of it was so covered with postmarks that where it had originated was a mystery to the Artist. One corner had gotten damp, smearing the sender’s name as well. It was a thick piece of correspondence. The whole family gathered around to see this world traveler opened up. Besides, it had arrived at a most propitious moment.
Auspicious. Providential. Favorable.
Ah, favorable. Go on.
The letter told a most interesting tale of an earthquake, a fire, and a brick falling on the head of a Bishop. It also told of an investigation into the original construction of a certain cathedral by a certain Architect to find out what corners had been cut, making the whole structure crack. Since the Architect was indirectly involved in the death of the Bishop, a certain house on the hill was discovered empty one morning, the occupants and their fast carriages but a blur on the horizon.
So it was a victory letter?
Well, not exactly since the author had no sense of triumph. The earthquake had cracked, the fire had gutted, and the falling brick had left him in charge of the cathedral since he was a priest under the Bishop who had been felled, and thus the correction of all the aforementioned problems fell upon him. No, the letter was in large part an explanation, a pleading, and a request. The Priest had been but a seminarian when the Artist had been driven away from the town by the scandal of the cathedral business. He had remembered it always, but had had no forum to look into the matter until the death of the Bishop. His investigation had led him to the interesting discovery that the Bishop had in reality asked the Architect to build him a cathedral that was absent of any artwork. He had wanted the architecture itself to be the sole art, and for it to be so lofty and awe-inspiring that the peaks and sheer height replaced the need for any other expression. He wanted it to be modern. The Bishop’s only need for the Artist had been to apply a coat of paint to the vast interior surfaces that were created by the Architect. The Architect, of course, was the only one who knew of the Bishop’s real desire, and he built just what the Bishop wanted. As we know by the way the Bishop met his end, the structure was too ambitious and constructed too quickly. The writer of the letter had managed to repair the earthquake damage but had to lower the ceiling and remove the loftiness, resulting in an unadorned domed surface. He confessed that he was writing to the Artist because he had once caught a glimpse of the Artist at work and had seen something on his face that made him think the Artist could see into the next world and convey what he saw, using the earthly elements of which paint and brushes are made. So the Priest was asking the Artist to do the original work he had been commissioned to do.
Well, finally, something that sounds like justice.
However, the date on the letter was a matter for concern.
Oh, no, not another problem.
You remember how it had trailed his path. The Artist wondered if the Priest still needed him or if he hadn’t possibly given up and commissioned someone else already. So the Artist put that letter in his pocket and considered what he should do. It would be a risk to return to the cathedral town if that were the case.
Is this where the propitiousness comes in?
Aha, so you remembered? By the way, am I telling this with enough emotion?
I won’t complain.
It happened that just when the letter arrived, the Artist faced several dilemmas. He had been away a long time, his children were nearly grown and needed to be in their homeland, and the people of that land were becoming xenophobic.
Ooh! That sounds like a nasty disease. Was it contagious?
That’s no disease. But it is contagious. It means the people of a place become fearful or hateful of anything or anyone that is foreign. When it happens it’s better to be the most despised of the native people than to be a foreigner. Anyway, the Artist and his family faced a difficult time no matter which way they turned. Their options were few. Besides, it wasn’t easy to travel in those days, a very circuitous route sometimes being the only choice, which made it dangerous as well. He had many heavy concerns. To start with, he could not sell what they had because no one would buy anything from a foreigner to avoid being accused of having sympathies towards foreigners. So he just left everything behind. It was even dangerous to give it away. He bought the best tickets he could, hoping to reach the cathedral town in time. It was a long trip, and it became longer and longer because of having to avoid certain dangerous locations in the world, not to mention that he had to work all along to pay for the next leg of the trip. The world seemed a most cruel place. It caused one to wonder if anyone in Heaven was watching or not.
I’ve begun to wonder that myself.
But the Priest had stubbornly waited upon the Artist, turning down many other artists with long lists of credentials who had arrived in the flesh ready to paint. He was reluctant to admit to anyone why he was not hiring any of them, and everyone became impatient with him. The town just wanted to put the whole matter behind them, and the unpainted interior was a most visible reminder of all that had gone on. Though the Priest had no assurances that the Artist had even received the letter, he promised the town that a master who was already familiar with the cathedral had been commissioned to do the work and was merely on his way, but he didn’t dare tell them whom. Only long after the Artist had returned, and after those with long memories and suspicions had been quieted, and after the Artist had almost finished the work, did the Priest tell why he had been so sure and so stubborn on this point, and then he only spoke of it to the Artist. The Artist was cleaning his brushes at the end of the day and it was dark in the cathedral. Just a candle burned. The Priest wasn’t sure how the Artist would accept the story he had to tell, so he approached the topic carefully. He knew there might be old wounds that would get opened up or regrets that were impossible to correct.
Could you please hurry up? I can’t stand the suspense.
Well, so much for trying to go for effect. Next time I will tell you The Three Little Pigs and you will be one of them.
Sorry. It’s just that I’m so impatient to find out, and I hope nothing else disastrous is going to happen.
The Priest told the Artist how he had been walking around the cathedral one day after the structural restoration had been completed, simply to reassure himself that the whole building was sound and that all scars from the earthquake had been healed. It was on this walk, while his gaze was drawn skyward, that his toe kicked against a piece of red roofing tile. It actually punctured his shoe, wounded his foot and drew blood, which so angered him that he searched the grass until he found what had cut him. Then he asked, ‘Now what is this doing here? There are no such tiles on this cathedral. Who is using this ground as a place to discard broken materials?’ When he sat down on the ground with that shard of tile in his hand, he didn’t get up for a long time, and when he did, he was determined to send the Artist a letter and ask him to return. That half buried piece of tile reminded him that the Artist had actually given up his own house—to which this red tile used to belong—so that the cathedral could be built—the building of which forced the Artist to leave—and that led the Priest to the conviction that the only artist who could restore the interior with any kind of vision and put the whole matter to rest was the one who had given up everything to do it and the one who had had everything taken away from him because of it.
What did the Artist say? Was he upset to hear about his cottage?
He was only silent. The candle burned and crackled. The Artist took his clean brushes and dipped them into the paint. He went back to work.
And the Priest? What did he do? He must have been confused.
No, I think the Priest understood the Artist’s response. He left him there.
Some people just don’t speak when you want them to. I would love to know what he thought.
Then, a most amazing thing happened. The Artist finished the fresco that night and just as he made the last stroke, there was another earthquake and the cathedral collapsed all around him and on top of him and he was buried under rubble.
Tell me you’re kidding.
I am. It was the disaster you were dreading, wasn’t it? Actually, the cathedral became a Mecca for artists of all sorts. In fact, the worshippers seemed to look up more than they did when the high ceiling was there. However, the Artist’s health suffered tremendously. He had worked tirelessly in the drafty cathedral, very often working thirty-six hours straight if it meant finishing one scene. So by the time he was credited as the father of the re-renaissance of cathedral art, he was confined to his home and his pipe. Many people tried to see him to learn from him, but he saw few people and gave instruction to none.
In a sad way this sounds like the happy ending.
It is the end, and our walk is finished at the same time. What a coincidence.
Wait a minute. The walk is over and I never found out what game the children were playing in that cottage. You promised I would.
Oh, you’re right. I did promise. To be quite honest, that was just some game we kids made up on the spot to occupy ourselves until the cookies came out of the oven.
Did you say ‘we’?