The Farmer’s Wife
There was no one Thomas hated more in town than Bartholomew.
Often, when carrying the fresh corn and carrots to the market, Thomas would pass Bartholomew’s farm, and would see his large, arrogant figure, hacking away at the land, or squeezing away at his groaning cattle. Bartholomew was always a little late to the market, and was always accompanied by his young wife. The couple rarely spoke any friendly words to the people of the town, and kept their conversation nearly exclusively to business. And yet, for some reason, everyone seemed to love the laconic farmer and his beautiful young wife. Thomas saw no sense in it at all, and sometimes it made him feel like he was going crazy.
There was definitely something suspicious about Bartholomew, and more than a few times Thomas considered that he might be a criminal from the city, trying to keep ahead of the law. It would explain why the couple rarely spoke to anyone, and Bartholomew’s strange style of speaking. Thomas had discussed this with his sisters on many occasions, but they could see no fault in the mysterious farmer. Instead, they criticized his wife, claiming that she had been sleeping around with men in the town, and that blessed Bartholomew was too pure of a soul to be wedded to her wicked self. That was too much for Thomas. There had never been any evidence to suggest what his sisters said were true, and he was sure they were just making things up because they favoured Bartholomew. It was enough to make Thomas want to kick a cow.
“He doesn’t say much, but my, what a soothing, deep voice he has!” exclaimed one of his sisters around the table one evening, in reference, naturally, to that obnoxious Bartholomew.
His other sister lit up. “And he speaks with such elegance! Truly, it would be Heaven to be married to that kind of man. Imagine having that wonderfully warm voice order you around, telling you to get to your housework, and to stop nibbling on the butter!” The second sister let out of a wistful sigh.
Thomas shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you two! There’s nothing great about that Bartholomew fellow.” He took a big bite out of a cob of corn, slimy butter running down his cheek. “He’s just another arrogant farmer who thinks he’s someone special because he owns a big chunk of land. Doesn’t mean anything! What matters is what’s in the heart, what God sees in you. That farmer is a mean fake, is what he is.”
“That’s not true! A lot of people could learn from how gentle and kind Bartholomew is,” protested the first sister. “Just looking into his big brown eyes is enough to make you want to fall in love!”
“Girls, stop your bothering and eat your corn,” called out their father, who was sitting around the corner on the front porch, watching the chickens copulate.
The second sister turned to Thomas and leered. “You’re just jealous of Bartholomew’s pretty wife, that’s all. Just like a man, just looking at a person’s beauty, never considering the amount of corn they pick, or how much land they own.”
“I am not jealous of Bartholomew’s wife!” said Thomas, his face burning red.
“You are! Yes you are!” jeered the first sister, sticking out her tongue.
“I’m not!” yelled Thomas, his face now the colour of a cock’s comb. “I’m not, I’m not! I don’t give a dang about her! I swear it on mother’s grave!”
“Boy!” came a loud exclamation from the front porch, “don’t you swear on your mother’s grave! Only a wicked child would say that. When you swear on your mother’s grave, you better be telling the truth! Otherwise Jesus is gonna whoop you!”
Thomas frowned. “I’m not in love with Bartholomew’s wife,” Thomas mumbled meekly, stabbing into a lonely corn kernel with his fork.
“Yeah, you are, too! You wish you could have a nice, slender, fair-haired wife like that, to stick your children into!” said the second sister. “Maybe you still have a chance too, knowing what folks are saying about the hussy.”
“You stop talking like that!” said Thomas, glaring up at his sister, hate in his eyes. “That Bartholomew’s wife – whatever her name is – is a celestial creature. She would never do nothing like that!”
As much as he may have tried to deny it with his sisters, there was no denying to himself that Thomas indeed had an attraction to Bartholomew’s pretty wife. He knew the rumours about her were unfounded, made up by ugly old wives hoping to discourage their husbands from lusting after her. Thomas knew, just from looking into those pure eyes of hers, crystal clear like no evil had ever passed beneath them, that this woman was a real one. Loyal, faithful, always by your side. Someone to watch over you. She was a creature of the Lord and, Thomas hoped, would one day be his.
What this wonderful woman saw in Bartholomew, Thomas could not imagine. Like most women, Thomas thought, this beautiful being most likely married out of desperation. Perhaps pressured by her family, she was coaxed into making the wrong choice, before she had a chance to breath a bit and fall into a natural encounter wither her true, God-given love – which was, of course, Thomas. Luckily, God always gives a person a second chance, and Thomas felt confident that he would be able to win the lady over, if he could only get to talk with her alone!
So Thomas devised a plan. He would stay up all night, and then around an hour before sunrise, sneak onto that old, unbearable Bartholomew’s property and steal his bride away, and bring her back to his house. There, she would recognize how they were truly meant to be together, or so Thomas had hoped.
As planned, Thomas didn’t sleep a wink that night. He stayed up all night, staring up at the ceiling in his room, turning around his plans in his mind, flipping them left and right, backward and forward, like a cow patty on the stove top. He believed he had a foolproof plan worked out. First of all, Thomas knew that Bartholomew had dog. He had heard it multiple times, walking past the farm at night. In order to deal with that ordeal, Thomas would bring a chunk of cheese to feed it. Moreover, Thomas always knew that farmhouses usually croak and groan when you creep around them at night, so he made sure to wear his fluffy, rabbit-skin slippers so that he made as little noise as possible.
Taking these provisions, Thomas crawled out of his family’s farmhouse at some point he assumed was close to sunrise, before Bartholomew and his wife would wake up. Just in case, Thomas grabbed a knife from his family’s kitchen, and stuck it in the side of his pants. It made him feel manly.
Amongst the still chirping of crickets, Thomas crept through the road’s darkness, darting his way this way and that toward Bartholomew’s house. He saw a few frightening shadows, and drew his knife thinking they were street robbers, but they were just cows staring idly from behind a fence. Thomas never liked cows, but he sure liked their milk, and it would have been a shame to puncture one.
Eventually Thomas got to the property of big old Bartholomew. He started walking toward the field, when he heard a bark, and saw something start running forward at him from behind. Thomas turned around to see a big, black dog rushing at him. Quickly, Thomas grabbed his satchel and pulled out a chunk of cheese, throwing it at the dog. Smelling the food, the dog immediately stopped to sniff it more carefully. The dog then began to lick, and then cautiously taste the meal, completely forgetting about Thomas, who had then proceeded to keep running toward the farmhouse. He took one last look at the dog while running away. There was something familiar about the beast, but he couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was.
The front door was locked to him, as it usually was, but Thomas knew that the back door was probably open. Naturally, it was. Thomas quietly slipped through the back entrance and into the farmhouse, always careful to avoiding making too loud of steps as he edged himself forward in his fluffy slippers toward his bright goal in the shrouded night.
The house was two storeys high, and Thomas suspected that Big Bartholomew and his wife probably slept together, and did God knows what else, on the second floor. Thomas turned a hot red, imagining that arrogant buffoon next to that woman, his large, greasy hands wrapped around her body. He frowned, and continued forward, motivated by the promise that perhaps it would soon be his own greasy hands wrapped around his beloved.
Thomas found the stairs and began to ascend, taking care not to produce any creaks. Whenever a creak did inevitably ring out, he paused to wait for a few moments before continuing, lest a sequence of noises awakened the slumbering giant and his sleeping beauty.
Thomas finally came to the master bedroom. The door was slightly opened, allowing Thomas to just barely see the couple’s bed in the sparkling of the moonlight. Thomas persisted, and stepped into the room.
As soon as he entered, Thomas heard a voice.
“Stay where you are. Don’t move, boy.”
Thomas stood still, his face suddenly becoming very cold. It was Bartholomew himself.
“I heard the bitch making a fuss out there. I’m reckoning you threw some kind of meat out there to keep her distracted. Good thinking. But one thing you couldn’t guess was that old Bartholomew here has ears like a bat.”
Bartholomew snapped his fingers, and a bright flame appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, filling the room with a faint, shadowed illumination. Thomas saw that there was a candle sitting at a table nearby. It didn’t look like the wife was anywhere to be seen.
“Please, take a seat,” said Bartholomew, who Thomas now saw was holding a knife in one hand. Thomas began to panic.
“Don’t kill me sir! Please!” said Thomas, who then got on his knees and was begging. “I didn’t mean no harm! I was just lusting after your wife, is all! I didn’t mean to do you no harm!”
Bartholomew laughed. “Lusting after my wife? That dumb old bitch? Why, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time!” He then held his hand out. “Now, boy, hand over that knife.”
Thomas took a deep breath, reached into pocket, and grabbed the handle of his father’s knife that he had brought. He hesitated a moment before handing it over. Should he fight? No, Bartholomew was much larger than him, and, besides, they were in his house, and he had the advantage.
With a cautious reluctance, Thomas handed the knife over.
“Please, sir, don’t kill me. I’ll work on your farm, I’ll give you all my money! Just don’t kill me! I’m too young to die!”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll kill you, boy,“ said Bartholomew, grabbing the knife and sitting down on the side of the bed. “But you certainly need to explain yourself. Tell me again why you came here? You wanted to put a knife in my back and steal my woman?”
Thomas shook his head. “It’s not like that at all! I wasn’t going to lay a finger on you. I just wanted to take your wife away, and convince her that I was her true love.”
“You really thought that dumb idea was going to work?” asked Bartholomew, starting to chew on a handful of tobacco.
“I don’t know,” said Thomas, tears starting to stream down his eyes.
Bartholomew stuck his fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle, and suddenly Thomas could hear eager footsteps begin to scurry their way into the farmhouse and up the stairs.
“Here’s the bitch right here,” said Bartholomew as the big, black dog entered his bedroom. She jumped up on the bed, and stood there, panting happily, looking up to her master wither her big, brown eyes.
“Sir, that’s not what I was talking about,” said Thomas. “I was talking about stealing your beautiful wife, not this here dog.”
With an ironic grin, Bartholomew patted the dog on her head. “Just wait a few moments, boy. Sunrise is almost here, then you’ll see more clearly in the light of the Lord.”
Just as Bartholomew said it, Thomas saw the first rays of the sun start to enter the farmhouse, snuffing out the power of the candle on the bedside table. Just as soon as the light hit the dog, Thomas was amazed to sees its shape morph into that of a young woman.
“This here is my dog,” said Bartholomew, spitting a wad of wet tobacco onto the floor. “But during the daytime she becomes my wife. It’s a simple bit of magic, boy.”
Thomas, still on his knees, stood, staring at the woman who just appeared before him, a woman who had just a few minutes before been a dog.
“I’m a wizard, boy,” said Bartholomew. “Don’t let anyone know it, or I’ll turn you into a toad. It gets mighty lonely out in these fields, and so I decided to make me a woman out of a dog.”
“I see,” said Thomas, a wild look in his eye.
“But I have plenty of dogs. If you want her, she’s yours,” said Bartholomew. “Just let that be a covenant between us, that you don’t go running your mouth about your friend Bartholomew the magician. Do you hear me?”
“I hear you sir.”
“You’re not going to tell anyone you pal Bartholomew is a magician?”
“I swear on my mother’s grave I won’t, sir. I won’t tell a single soul that my pal Bartholomew is a magician.”
Bartholomew pat the woman beside him on the head. “Very well. Alright, Molly, back to being a regular old doggy.”
Bartholomew snapped his fingers, and the woman turned back into the black dog. She started to lick the farmers hands.
Thomas went back home that morning, his new dog Molly following him close behind. She was very well behaved, and didn’t get distracted along the road, even when they were heckled by bothered cows and sheep.
When Thomas got back to the farm, his father was waiting for him on the front deck, his arms crossed and his eyebrows furrowed.
“What have you been doing all morning?” asked his father, sounding upset. “And where in Heaven did you get that dog?”
“Bartholomew the magician gave it to me,” said Thomas.
“You dumb boy, Bartholomew isn’t no magician, he’s just a good-for-nothing, two-bit wannabe landowner. Now, you go chase that dog away, or I’m going to whoop you, boy.”
Reluctantly, Thomas took the dog back to the country road. He sat down with it for a moment.
“I’m not sure if you can understand me or not,” said Thomas as he stroked the dog’s hairy head, “but you need to go back to your master now. Your true master, Bartholomew. You can’t stay with me anymore.” Thomas began to cry. “I just wanted you to know how much I loved you. Back when you were a human being, of course, not as an animal. Lord, were you purdy. But I guess all that beauty was just from the magic wasn’t it? It was just Bartholomew’s magic after all, huh boy?”
The dog enthusiastically licked Thomas’s face. He lurched back, disgusted.
“Yuck! I don’t need no dog slobber on my face. Get out of her, fella! Get!”
With tears in his eyes, Thomas pretended to attack the dog, trying to scare it off down the road. “Get out of here! I don’t want to see you no more!”
Whimpering, the dog ran back down the country road, occasionally looking back, its ears drooping down in confusion and shame.
Wiping a mixture of snot and tears onto his sleeve, Thomas returned to the farm to start his work for the day. He was extremely tired, and the entire world appeared to be vibrating with energy.