First chapter of "A Butchers Tale"
By: Joe P. Attanasio
This was my first attempt at writing a novel. I was 62 years old and had just retired from my profession as a meat-cutter and manager.
My writing skills have improved but I have never revised this story. I present it here as written in 2011.
This is a historical adventure. This is the story of a passionate and idealistic young man named Joseph in fourteenth century England. He gives up his career as a butcher with his trade guild in York and follows a young woman, Dorothy, and her family into the border country to the north. Dorothy and her family are going to take over the farm they inherited when her uncle died.
The English-Scottish war is heating up and the border region is very unstable. This is the time of Edward I, (Longshanks), and William Wallace. Every effort has been made to ensure the historical events and flavor of the times is accurately portrayed.
For those that are familiar with the reference; this story resembles a fourteenth century version of “Little House on the Prairie” written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
My name is Joseph and I was born in Brighthelmstone on the southern coast of England in the year 1281. I am a journeyman butcher and was taught the trade by my father. I don’t remember my mother; she died when I was only four years old. My father died two years ago in the year 1298 and I moved to York. I am tall and strong and no stranger to hard work. I have brown wavy hair and blue eyes. I got a job working in a butcher shop and joined the butcher’s guild.
It was May in the year 1300. The butcher’s guild was participating in the annual Mystery Plays again this year. I am working on making props and helping to decorate the pageant cart. The cart will be moved throughout York so many people can see the performance. We are doing the biblical scene of Adam and Eve this year. Another butcher from our shop, and a friend of mine named Thomas, is playing Adam.
I was painting signs one day when Thomas walked up talking with the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. “Joseph, I want you to meet Dorothy she will be playing Eve.” I stood up and smiled and bowed, “Pleasure to meet you Dorothy.” She smiled and bowed her head slightly, “A pleasure to meet you too, Joseph.” Her golden hair hung gently on her shoulders. She had light blue-green eyes that sparkled with youth and vibrancy. Her skin was smooth and ivory colored. Her lips were plump and inviting. They said goodbye and they both walked away talking.
I watched Dorothy as she walked. She had a very nice shape and her hips swayed with grace and charm as she disappeared around the corner with Thomas. I would sure like to be in the Garden of Eden with her I thought, as I went back to painting.
I saw Thomas and Dorothy here and there as we prepared for opening day and every time I could not help but admire Dorothy’s beauty and grace. It felt like a sweet fresh wind blew past me whenever she was around, arousing my senses.
It was one week before the pageant when Thomas had a terrible accident. He was preparing a large sow for slaughter, when the sow slipped and crashed against him; it pushed him through the fence and a broken board pierced his chest. I went to see him at St. Leonards Hospital and he was pale and weak. He was in very serious condition and not expected to live. I knew the priest had already heard his confession as one could not be admitted for care until that was done.
“Joseph, I want to tell you two things. Dorothy is sweet on you and she asked me not to tell you. She said her heart skips a beat whenever she is near you.” Thomas coughed a few times then cleared his throat.
“John the director was in to see me already. I told him he should consider you to take my place in the Mystery Play. I told him you could play my part and that you and Dorothy had feelings for each other and that would enhance the performance. He is not convinced as he has never seen you act but I know you can. He is willing to see you try it.
Go to my house and take the script and look it over. It is not hard to learn. There is not that much dialog and if you practice it before you see him you will convince him you can act the part.” I assured Thomas I would do my best and that helped him relax a bit.
I went and got the script and sat there practicing the words and pretending I was talking to Dorothy. It was not difficult to remember the words and I learned them all easily. There were only five parts, the Narrator, God, Adam, Eve and the Serpent. I had to learn the cues from the Narrator, God and Eve. The Serpent never talked to me only to Eve. All I had to do was deliver my lines with the right feeling.
Dorothy entered Thomas’s house as I was preparing to leave. “Thomas told me I might find you here,” she said with a sad look on her face. “I hope Thomas does not die, he looks pretty bad” she added.
“He is young and strong and he is in a good hospital getting good care. All we can do is pray to God he will recover.” We talked for a while and she agreed to run through the lines with me. She read all the lines but mine to help me learn my cues. She made her voice deep when she was the Narrator and I had to smile the first few times. I forced myself to concentrate on the lines instead of us being alone there. After some practice she agreed to see the director with me, so off we went.
John consented to hear us act our parts together. We really played well off each other and John saw the love we had for each other and liked what he saw. John told me I had the part. We had the wardrobe altered as Thomas was shorter than me. We covered ourselves with loincloths decorated with greenery but after we sinned we were embarrassed by our nakedness and had to wear more clothes. Dorothy and I rehearsed our lines together even though we knew them so well already. We just liked being together and we were growing very fond of each other. We also worked on decorations and props.
We kept quite busy that week and finally it was time for the pageant to start. We had 6 shows each day. It was a very hectic schedule but we learned to hurry between shows and it was so much fun. People always crowded around to see the shows. Our show was one of the most popular. People would follow our cart for miles just to watch our show.
Dorothy would pick the forbidden apple and offer it to me. Dorothy would tempt me to sin every show and I would try to resist every show. I always gave in to her temptation on stage. I was tempted by Dorothy off the stage also and would eagerly do whatever I needed to be with her. We resisted temptation and we kept our relationship professional.
After eight days and 48 shows we finished the plays for this year. After the final show the troupe had a huge celebration. John the director announced that Thomas was getting better but it would take him a long time before he could return to work. Everyone was pleased with the success of our show and the mood was quite happy.
Dorothy pulled me away from the others and asked, “What are your plans for the future now that the show is over?”
“I really don’t have any plans but I hope to be able to spend some time with you!” I said staring into her beautiful eyes. “I have grown quite fond of you as I am certain you know.”
“I am quite fond of you also Joseph.” She smiled so sweetly at me. “I wish we could be together but I am going to be leaving York. My Uncle William died a short time ago; he owned a small farm near Jarrow along the Tyne River. My father has agreed to take it over. It is far to the northeast and I am going there to help my mother and my father run the farm. I told my father we really liked each other a lot and I want to be with you. He said you were welcome to join us if you wanted. I understand that you have a good job here and would probably want to stay.”
I did not need any time to think about it. I wanted a change and I wanted to be near Dorothy. “I will call on your father tomorrow and offer to help your family move. I am willing to go work on the farm for a while and see if I like it. At least I will be near you. I can always come back to York and butcher again if it does not work out.” Dorothy put her arms around my neck and gave me a hug and a kiss on my cheek and said, “Joseph I am falling in love with you and want to be near you always. I am so happy you are coming along to Jarrow!” I smiled and kissed her on her lips. “I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.” I confessed.
Dorothy’s father’s name is Luther. He works at the lumber mill just outside the north-east gate. I found him at the mill that morning. He is a short and stocky man about 40 years old. He has long white hair and a soft voice. He was very fit for his age and strong from all the hard work. I had met him a few times in the past and we got along good together. He saw our play five times.
“Dorothy told me you were going to come along and help with the farm. I can promise you food and a dry place to sleep but I do not know about paying you until we get settled there.”
I told him, “I am fine with that. I have saved some coin and am not worried about being paid for now. I love your daughter and just want to be near her. I will work hard for you but I must confess I do not know much about farming. What can I do to help you get ready to go?”
He told me, “Talk to my wife Catherine and she will give you a list of things you can do to help.” He added, “I am no stranger to farm work but there is a lot I do not know either, we can learn together.”
Catherine and Dorothy were sitting together talking when I arrived at their house. It was easy to see where Dorothy got her good looks. Catherine has short white hair and is rather petite in size, her cheeks are rosy and her beautiful blue eyes sparkle like sapphires. She is a bundle of energy and high spirited.
Dorothy stood up and said, “Joseph, I want you to meet my mother Catherine.”
“It is nice to meet you Catherine. I saw you watching our play with Luther. I hope you enjoyed it.”
“I enjoyed it very much.” She added, “I wish my son Sean could have seen it too. He would have been so proud of Dorothy. He is an archer fighting for England in the north of France.”
“Is Sean younger or older?” I asked
Dorothy answered, “Sean is my big brother. He is two years older than me. He has been a soldier for 5 years.”
The next two weeks passed quickly and it was time to leave York. I pulled a small cart with our belongings along the well-travelled road out the north gate of York. I wondered how long I would be gone from the great walled city. It took us three days to reach the busy port of Sunderland at the mouth of the Wear River on the North Sea. We found an inn each night and did not have to search for a room among the many farms on the way. The next morning when we started out we knew we would sleep on the farm that night. We bought some bread and mead and other food to take to the farm.
The coast fell behind as we climbed the hilly terrain between the Wear and the Tyne rivers. Dorothy had not been to the farm for six years and was excited to be going there. Her Uncle William had died two months ago and was the last of his family. He was buried on the farm by a young man from a nearby farm that helped him with the chores. Dorothy and her parents were very excited as we neared the farm. We crested a hill on the worn wagon trail and Catherine pointed toward the river, “There it is! There it is, over there by the river.” I could see three structures clustered together near the river. One large one that I assumed was the barn.
When we arrived at the farm Luther and I took a look around while the ladies stayed in the house tidying it up. The house was bigger than most we saw on the way here. It had a hearth and an oven in the main room and two smaller rooms for sleeping. There was fresh straw on the beds. Behind the house was a tall wild field going down to the river. It was mixed with brambles, small trees and even some big trees. There was a hen house with about 25 chickens. The barn was large and there were two oxen inside. Each ox had a stall for itself. There were sacks of grain in the barn and straw. In the corner was a bin filled with hay.
On one side of the barn an herb garden was growing. A large open area led up a slight hill to a hardwood forest and had been planted with barley. A wheat field was growing behind the barn and led all the way to a wagon road along the river. It was July and the wheat was getting tall. There was no one around but us. Luther and I were inspecting the grounds. There was no well on the farm. Apparently all water was drawn from the Tyne River. There was four buckets of water on the north side of the house and Luther told me to always keep those full in case the thatched roof caught fire.
Luther was somewhat familiar with farm life and was explaining how some things would have to be done. He explained that the chickens were free range and allowed to roam the farm to feed with supervision then closed back up in the hen house to keep them safe. There was a leather yoke for each oxen and a work cart for hauling. The manure from the oxen stalls would be spread in the fields to enrich the soil for the crops. He told me the farm could be run by one person most of the time but you needed help for plowing and harvesting.
We heard a man yelling and we could see a young man walking toward us from the river. “Hello!” he yelled as he waved his right arm from side to side. I waved back in recognition and he stopped yelling and approached us. “I am George. I live a few miles up the river and had been helping William on the farm here ever since his son died. I was told a message had been sent to his brother and was expecting you.
Luther said, “William was my brother. I am Luther. This is a friend of ours, Joseph. He is going to help us run the farm.”
“Let me show you around,” George said. George was about my age and almost as tall. He had short brown hair and brown eyes. His shoulders were very broad and his neck was thick. He looked very strong. He had a friendly face and a warm smile.
Dorothy and Catherine came out of the house and George took one look at Dorothy and kept staring at her with a huge smile stuck on his face, he tried to speak but no words came out. I could tell that he was captivated by her beauty. Catherine broke the silence by saying, “Hello I am Catherine and this is my daughter Dorothy, it is nice to meet you.”
George looked at Catherine and said, “My name is George, I live a few miles up the river and I was helping William.”
Catherine invited us all into the house to eat bread and drink mead.
We sat and talked with George for a long time. He had three brothers and two sisters and lived on a farm up river with his father. His mother passed away four years ago. He was friends with William’s son Arthur and when Arthur died a little over a year ago he started helping William with the farm. He told Luther that he would introduce him to all the people he needed to know in Jarrow to manage the farm. I could see George was taken with Dorothy’s beauty. She looked especially radiant today. Being out in the countryside seemed to agree with her, perhaps because it made her happy.
Luther and I followed George around the farm and watched him do the daily chores as he talked and talked about the farm and Jarrow and William. We promised to come up and meet his family someday soon after we got settled. George said, “I will be back in the morning and we can all go to Jarrow, it is not a long walk.” Then he went home for the night.
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