Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Three

July 28, 2006

The twins had decided, after putting the donkey in the stable, to look again at the cart.

Carefully, they began inspecting the sides, noticing that one side had been repaired, and the other looked scarred as if it had scraped against a wall for a while.

The front of the cart held a simple bench seat, worn smooth from use, with a box underneath that held a whip and a hoof file and a frog cleaner.

The main compartment in the cart was fitted with holders for a canopy, and tie-down cleats.

There was a good bit of dirt in the corners, and the bottom looked as if it had seen hard use.

At one point, the cart had been painted, inside and out, and must have been quite pretty when it was new.

The twins popped inside the barn and snagged a hard-bristle brush, a bucket of water, and a few rags.

They set to work, carefully removing the grime, first outside, then inside.

Under the bench, wedged between the floorboards, they found a small key.

In the back, a length of rope turned out to be quite strong and they rubbed off the dirt and set it on the fence while they continued working.

The slightly older twin found a large silver coin in one corner as he brushed it out.

The other twin found a small ring -- with an inscription in a foreign language.

They put these finds into their pockets and continued working.

They discovered only a few loose boards that were quickly secured with nails, and soon turned their attention to the wheels.

The wheels were in abysmal shape.

No longer completely round, they were also warped. The iron that bound them had been worn thin and in places was almost gone. One or two of the spokes were missing completely, and several others were cracked beyond repair.

They wondered that the cart had made it home from the Inn, let alone back to their village!

Shaking their heads in amazement, and sharing thoughts, as twins often do, they looked under the cart simultaneously, one from the right at the rear and one from the left near the front.

When the young men looked under the cart, they were astonished.

Not only was the wood completely intact, but it appeared to be brand new!

The iron brackets holding the axle were in perfect condition.

The axle was strong, with iron collars spaced regularly along the length.

A grease bucket hung predictably near the rear, and it also appeared to be new: no dents, no scars. Only a small bit of dust adhered to the forward edge of the bucket.

The twins crawled under the cart and met in the middle.

"What is with this cart?" whispered one.

The other opened his mouth to reply, then shrugged. Each sat silently for a moment looking at the other.

They examined the axle with their hands, as if to test the veracity of their eyes.

They ran their finger tips over the joinery and fittings, checking for flaws.

There were none.

Slowly, they backed out from under the cart and stood up.

Once again, they walked around the cart, examining in detail each corner, each scar, each trace of paint, each road-weary inch.

One twin picked up the tongue. The other took up position at the back. Slowly, they moved the cart from in front of the house to the stable.

Parking it in front of the doors and setting some firewood under the wheels to keep it from rolling, they moved almost in unison -- putting the rags on the fence to dry, dumping the water at the base of a small fruit tree, setting the brush and the bucket on the back steps.

The twin who had slightly darker hair reached under the cart and removed the grease bucket.

Walking toward the barn, he stopped in his tracks and turned toward his brother.

With a look of amazement, he held the bucket out and broke into a great grin.

The bucket did not hold grease. It held a perfectly fitted box, painted dark with glossy paint.

The young men stood silently, looking at each other and wondering what the box contained.

The wind rustled in the treetops, the sun moved lower in the sky, putting the entire yard in shadow.

The twins walked into the house with the bucket and set it on the kitchen table.

Hearing them come in, their brother and sisters joined them and they sat down.

The youngest sister advised them to wait until their mother returned with news.

The youngest brother urged them to open it quickly.

The three sisters who were so close in age just looked at each other and waited.

The slightly younger twin located the latch on the box in the bucket.

The slightly older twin took out the key they had found.

He tried it one way, and it did not fit.

He tried it another way, and it went in but would not turn.

Stymied, he looked around.

The younger sister reached for the box, and her brothers pushed it toward her. Feeling with her hands, she grasped the key and pushed on one side of the box.

The key started to turn, then stopped.

Biting her lip, the girl felt around near the latch, and with a satisfied smile, jiggled it.

The key turned the rest of the way.

She pushed the bucket back to the center of the table, and her three sisters put their hands to their hearts in anticipation.

Her youngest brother was practically dancing from excitement, and the twins were humming nervously to themselves.

One twin held the bucket, the other lifted the lid of the box. They sat down, and poured the contents all over the table.

There, between the children, were small, colorful stones, bits of glittering chain, coin of all shapes and sizes.

The youngest girl put out her hands and felt among them.

She lifted a small carved bird out of the pile and held it to her ear. Experimentally, she put it to her lips.

From the bird came the most lovely, clear tone they had ever heard. In that tone was the warmth of their mother's love, the strength of their grandfather's hands and the joy of a child's first butterfly.

Quietly, then with more excitement, they passed the bird around. For each, the bird gave a different tone -- with its own story to tell.

The rest of the cache remained untouched and forgotten.

And the evening drew slowly in, casting a warm light around the kitchen and caressing the family inside.