Historical Fiction: Bach, Giver of Gifts

It is just past mid-day as you make your way to the marketplace. A bustle of noise, a gaggle of geese, the shout of merchants selling their goods–all of these things fill your eyes and ears. You hoist your basket onto your hip and remind yourself to not go over your budget like almost every week. Your needs are simple: meat, potatoes, other vegetables, and nothing else. Eggs…those can be obtained from a couple houses over after teaching violin lessons.

It has recently snowed, and a thin blanket covers the ground. Various farm animals bleat, bray, or otherwise vocalize to the content of their hearts. You select a few potatoes here, a few carrots there, some slabs of salted beef (dried and tough) and decide that might be all. You can afford more, certainly, but can you afford to carry much else, considering your half-hour walk home? Not to mention the ice on the ground, and the chill in the air?

Handing the coins to the merchants whom you have purchased items from, you decide to head back home. However arriving into the busy square in the opposite direction you see a hurried figure, looking as if he is watching his back. His buckled shoes are dirty and his black frock coat is in disarray; he looks grim but determined. “Ah, mein Herr!” you say with glee, raising a hand in greeting. Oddly he appears dismayed at your call but motions for you to come over.

You walk to where he stands–he is nestled between the corners of some tents. The din of merchants and animals is almost enough to cover his speech. “Quiet, please!” he says impatiently. “Do you…do you see him anywhere?” he asks nervously. “See who?” you ask, curious. “From whom are you hiding?”

“Oh, my fine student—it is no matter,” he says in a hurried manner. It is then you notice that he carries something covered in a white cloth. It appears long and tall, but not heavy. The organist is doing a poor job of attempting to hide this object in his coat, all the while looking like a rabbit hiding from a hungry wolf.

“No matter? No matter? Ah my teacher, this seems like a great matter to me,” you intone with wonder in your voice. “For half a decade I have known you. Rascal that you may have been in your youth–but were you ever a thief?”

He sighs and appears to calm down. “A bad deed done for a good cause, my pupil, perhaps is no bad deed at all,” he say while exhaling. “But my forgetfulness is to be cursed! It is the wedding anniversary to my beloved Anna.” He holds a hand over his and casts his glance to the sky. Grey clouds cover the sun, threatening more snow.

“Ten years we are loyally joined, and all anniversaries I have given her a gift. But this one! So pressed am I with money, so little time do I have—I resort to this gift, which will accompany her as she practices music at the keyboard. A lovely gift to accompany her while she sings as she repairs linens or copies my music or tends to our children or picks weeds from the garden in spring-time…” He glances over his shoulder as he speaks, both hands around this curious object covered in a white cloth.

“Do tell, what is this object?” you inquire, about to lift the cloth but Bach slaps your hand away. You sneeze suddenly. “Is that cat fur on your coat?” you ask, bewildered and intrigued beyond reason. “Oh, hush,” he commands but not harshly. You had met Anna on many occasions, and she did not seem like the kind of woman to be offended should a gift be forgotten.

“If I may, my teacher,” you begin. “I understand your duties and responsibilities. And I understand, too, that Anna has much to occupy her day. But perhaps, if I may be so bold, perhaps the only gift you may bestow on her would not be a trinket or monetary good, but perhaps a helping hand around the household? Your daily tasks are under one category, but it appears your wife has many.” You are about to apologize for your sudden boldness in speech—but Bach’s stance softens, and your words seem to have affected him.

He sighs once more, scuffing at the snow with his foot. “Perhaps you are right,” he says after a few moments. “Why, yes! In addition to this surprise,” he says, pointing at the object, “I will help each evening when I come home. Read to Christiana Sophia, perhaps look over the lessons for my sons—I fear I am no good at knitting, but,” he pauses to light his pipe, ” if I can walk hundreds of miles over many days, then perhaps I can endure to learn to thread a button,” he says in a gruff manner.

Grinning and collecting himself, he smiles at you around his pipe and makes his way through the market. What an odd fellow, you remark to yourself silently, and turn to leave the market. Once you have made it past the square, a sound cuts through the air, raising the hair on your neck. It is a cry of lamentation. Turning round, you see some townsfolk gathered in the middle of the market.

“Ah, it is dead! Oh, no,” a figure says. You realize it is a man on the ground, tearing his wig off and thrashing on the ground like a wounded fish. Tears stream down his face. He continues to cry and an onlooker attempts to console him. “My fellow, whatever is the matter? Stop your crying–cat got your tongue?”

“Oh, the cat got something!” the sad man yells. “I get home after a lovely morning by the river, and…” he waves an arm in an exasperated manner. “Gone! Gone, eaten, devoured, consumed…nothing left but feathers scattered on the floor, with two fat, mischievous cats in the corner! Filthy, flea-ridden murderers!” He stands on his two feet, laboring with each breath. Brushing the snow off his trousers and coat, he adjusts his wig but continues to weep. “Ah, my little song-bird, gone forevermore…” bowing his head, he makes his way further into the square, perhaps to douse his sorrows in wine.

You shrug, not knowing what to make of the spectacle you’ve witness. Finally you make your way home, place the kettle over the fire for tea, and settle into your chair by the window. Snow begins to fall and you sip the warm brew, and mentally prepare yourself for tomorrow’s instruction.

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