Far away and long ago, in the tiny land of Bleshy, lived a nice old man in a nice old cottage, who hoped to live out his last few years in peace. He had raised his children, buried his dear old wife, and was very, very tired. He longed for nothing more than to wander down by the sea shore each day, feed the birds, and maybe catch a few fish now and then. “I need no excitement,” he would often say to himself, or to the birds, or to the fish, “For my life has already been quite exciting enough. What I need is rest, sunshine to warm my old bones, and lots of good silence so I can read my books in peace.” And that is exactly what the nice old man had, day after day after day.
But one day, the nice old man had to leave his little cottage by the sea and go into town. The cupboard was getting bare, and he especially noticed that his supply of tea was getting low. That had to be remedied, for the old man dearly loved a warm cup of tea on cold evenings. So into town he would go, once he got his old mule Sam hooked up to the wagon. “Come on, Sam, we wouldn’t want to do without my tea or your oats, now would we?” So, once old Sam was hooked to the wagon, into town they went.
Once the nice old man got into town, he went over to the general store, and began to gather his supplies. He brought everything up to the counter, had it totaled all up, and reached in his pocket for money to pay the bill. Now, most customers in the tiny land of Bleshy paid for their supplies on credit, but not the nice old man. He had been very wise and frugal with his money throughout the years, and because of that, he was able to pay for the things he bought with money right on the spot, and so he did.
Now, this caught the attention of a certain woman who happened to be in the store at that time. She was middle aged, which meant that she was still young enough to be the old man’s daughter. She had a child of her own, but no husband. Rumors swirled about that her husband, and her husband before him, and her husband before that husband, had all gone quite mad, and run babbling incoherently into the hills, never to be heard from again. But the nice old man knew none of this as she approached him at the counter.
“And hello, kind sir,” she said, “what brings you into town on this fine day?” Now, when a question like that is asked of a gentleman, good manners require that he answer it, and ask the same of his questioner, and so he did. “I am in town on this day buying supplies to take back to my home by the sea. And what brings you into town on this fine day?”
“Why,” she replied, “I am in town on this fine day because of my poor, sick little daughter.” At that point, she burst into tears. “Oh, BOO HOO HOO,” she cried, “The doctors have told me that my little girl is very sick, and may not live, unless… oh BOO HOO HOO!” Startled, and concerned for the health of a little girl that he had not yet met, the nice old man asked the question that you or I would have asked. “Unless what? What is it that needs to be done in order for your little girl to be made well?” At that question, she smiled. Anyone prone to suspicion would have regarded it as a sneaky, almost sinister kind of smile. But the nice old man was very trusting, and he just saw it as a smile. “Oh, my daughter needs but one simple thing, and the doctors have assured me that she will be made quite well. She simply needs to spend an extended amount of time down by the seashore. The salt air will heal her lungs, she will be able to breathe again, and all will be well. If only I knew someone who lived in a nice little cottage by the sea!” A bit taken aback, and unsure of what to say, the old man sputtered just a bit “Well, I, uh…” and that, dear reader was one of the last few words he ever said. “Oh Yes!” she replied, “Of course we would be glad to come and live with you at your home by the seashore, how very kind of you to offer! But I am a woman of high morals, so of course we will need to be married first. I happen to be on a first name basis with the Justice of the Peace, and I know that he will be glad to perform the service right away. Come with me, and we shall be married at once!” “But” he began to say, but was immediately interrupted. “Oh there’s no need to thank me, I am more than happy to extend you the courtesy of becoming your wife. Come with me, and we shall wed at once.”
From the general store to the Justice of the Peace was 3 blocks, which equaled 97 steps, which allowed for 1327 words from the woman. From the Justice of the Peace back to the wagon, dragging her befuddled new husband behind her was the same 3 blocks, the same 97 steps, and a different set of 1327 words from the woman, the man’s new bride. Along the way back those 3 blocks, 97 steps, and 1327 words, people asked the old man what was happening, but he was unable to utter any response over the incessant prattling of his new and unwanted wife. The trip back to the little house by the seashore was much the same: 4 miles, 39 minutes, and 129,347 words, none of which were his. Along the way, she stopped the wagon to pick up her daughter from a little shack by the side of the road. As they climbed into the wagon, the nice old man was startled to realize that the daughter did not seem to be sick at all. A bit insane, perhaps, but not sick. In fact, the only problem she seemed to have was that she had been driven quite mad by her mother! But her mother was still talking, and seemed oblivious to the old man’s concerns. Her constant barrage of verbosity drowned out the sound of birds, bees, wind, stream, and everything natural and pleasant. Squirrels ran and hid as they passed by, mother bears groaned in anguish and hurried their cubs off into the trees, even skunks seemed frightened by the constant barrage of words coming from the woman in the wagon. As for Sam, the old mule, the old man was pretty sure that he was trying to bray in protest, but he could not hear any sounds from Sam over the sound of his new wife. All the way to the cottage, all the way into the cottage, all through the day, and on into the evening the noise continued. The old man longed for night to fall hard so that finally, in sleep, he could get some peace and quiet.
But alas, that was not to be. No sooner had everyone gone fast to sleep than the woman began to talk again, and the old man realized in horror that she even talked in her sleep! Flying ponies, mystical dragons, mixed up sermons by the village friar, incoherent strings of words poured forth, all through the night. Sam the mule drowned himself in the water barrel. The rooster did not crow to herald the coming of morning, he had flown away during the night, never to return.
Days passed. Weeks. The cottage by the seaside was soon devoid of all life. Sea gulls had crossed the sea, crabs had buried themselves deeply in the sand, even the fish had moved out to far deeper waters. The old man’s few remaining hairs fell out, deep bags formed under his eyes, he drooled a bit, even in the daytime, but his wife simply continued her constant assault on silence. And that is how a fourth man ended up in the cave in the mountains, beside three that had come before him. None of the four ever spoke a word to each other, and they all lived their last few days happily ever after, in absolute silence.
(© Dr. Bo Wagner 2012)
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