The Glass Lady, Pt. 1

A short story.


On the outskirts of a poor village lived a young boy, who without parents or shelter was obliged to search for employment. Every day he made his way from door to door performing odd jobs; every night, exhausted from his work, the youth procured morsels from his earnings and fell asleep on a bed of rushes beside the road.

Most of the inhabitants lived in one-room thatched huts of wattle and daub (those deemed better off had two or three rooms at most), as no one could afford houses of brick. But there was one house, made entirely of glass, that overlooked the village. It was a curious spectacle opulently furnished with beds and tables and chairs. By day its curtains were drawn back to reveal the splendid appointments within, and by night closed fast to permit naught but the glow of candlelight.

The house’s reclusive owner no one had seen, but all the village’s parents had some mean tale concerning him to tell their wayward children (as did gossiping neighbors to their friends). Some said he was an old thief who, having pilfered the Sandman’s sand, melted it into glass to build his house in hopes of picking the pockets of unhappy souls who wandered in and fell asleep.

While the boy was much too frightened to knock on this man’s door for work, his reveries often turned to the subject of living indoors, and in a glass abode. He had once lived indoors, in a damp cellar. But to live in a glass house, he thought, ah!—to sleep in a dry feather bed and laugh at the rain and wind that lashed about harmlessly above an invisible roof—these and similar thoughts amused and vexed him. How insufferable it was to wake up to cold rain and a soaked rush-bed!

The garden in front of the house was a jardin à la française, rich with noble greens and dazzling whites and interspersed discriminately with jutting topiaries; in the center of the garden hung wind chimes, which were made of glass tubes filled with water to varying heights (thereby producing different pitches). The boy had never seen this ornament before or heard its music, and on windy days he found himself tarrying in front of it before making his rounds in the village.

The wind chimes seemed magical, for they produced such deftly improvised melodies that one could not help but sing to its rich counterpoint. The boy had long wished to sing with the village church choir, but the director would never admit him because of his shrill, unruly voice. These wind chimes, he thought, were even more beautiful than the choir, or the traveling bands that sometimes passed through, and by the chimes’ gentle instruction he strengthened his crude voice. Presently he felt that he too could improvise melodies as organically as the instrument of Chance, and he often sang softly during his errands in the village.

But several weeks later the boy noticed a change: the garden, always neatly kept, had begun to looked ragged. The hedges were becoming overgrown and weeds were springing up. Soon the rushes crept up into yard and choked out the wind chime’s music.

The boy felt sorry for the garden and the wind chimes, whose music had cheered his spirits. He was afraid of the mysterious owner, but he knew he should not meddle with his garden without first inquiring of him; after finishing his work one day, he approached the strange house (after hiding away his two coins under a rock) and knocked on its glass door. Through it he could not descry anything except the glow of candles.

“Sir, would you open the door?” he half-cried. There was no answer. “Please,” he continued, “I saw that your garden was overgrown, and I wondered if I could help?” He waited patiently for a few minutes, but still nothing stirred within. He turned to leave when suddenly the door opened, and the boy was startled to see the face of an old woman—hardly the dangerous man everyone spoke of. Her cheeks were glossy with tears.

“I’m sorry,” said the boy, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to disturb you like this. I was just concerned about your garden.”

“Oh no my lad, it’s not your fault,” she said and cleared her throat. “You see, I was robbed about a month ago. Most of my money was taken, and until today I had hopes that I would be compensated for the loss, but alas! I don’t know how I shall manage.”

“Is that why the garden—”

“I can no longer afford anyone to maintain my garden,” she told him, “and who in this poor village would buy such an expensive house so I might put money aside for necessities?” She despaired that she could not hire him, and closing the door softly she left the lad in the waning light of dusk.

The boy felt compassion for the old lady. It occurred to him that while he was confined to poverty, she was trapped in a rich house that could not be traded for even the basics of life. It must be soon when the last of her money was spent, he thought.

That evening after eating his meager portion, the boy decided to take action. At nightfall while the old lady slept, he cleaned and trimmed the old woman’s garden—though he was already exhausted from his day’s work. Far into the night he labored, aided by the glow of candlelight, and when he had finished he lay down on the bed of clippings.

In the morning the old woman was astonished at the boy’s deed and called him into her house. She cried him mercy for selfishness: for though she had little money, she derived much of her sustenance from her garden which supplied her amply. Weakened by infirmity she could no longer tend its crop, but surely the boy could work it and share its produce in return. The boy agreed to this arrangement eagerly.

With the garden now providing his portion, the boy no longer needed to go into the village, and by and by the woman prevailed upon him to stay in her house rather than sleep on rushes. He loved his work tending the garden and singing with the wind chimes.

Like the garden the boy’s spirit and body grew under the old lady’s motherly affection, and on his birthday the woman gave him a present she had wrapped in some curtain fabric. As he pulled away the fabric his eyes widened with ecstasy.

“The wind chimes! Oh, they are beautiful! But can they possibly be for me?” He told her how much he loved listening to its music. “I can even sing like them…” Unabashedly he sang to her, and to his delight the old lady clapped approvingly rather than stopping her ears. “Goodness child, you sing just like a lark!” she cried. “Perhaps God may grant you a future in music—where did you learn to sing so?”

“It’s all because of these wind chimes,” replied the boy. “They have helped my voice by making such wonderful sounds I cannot help but sing with them. Did you make them?”

The old woman shook her head. “They were made long ago; I still recall the story of their making—though I leave it to you whether or not to believe it. It concerns another boy (about your age, I’d say). But it’s a long tale.” At this playful hint the boy curled up on the couch opposite her and closed his eyes.

“The world might have deemed this boy poor by its standards, but he was certainly rich in the things that please the Father. From birth his bright eyes exuded wonder at every charm of nature and humanity, and that feature made him a quick learner. His village was poor like ours, and more so: most residents spent their days gathering food from the wild, rather than sewing curtains or tending gardens.” She winked at the boy.

“Now the village sat at the foot of a high mountain next to the shore, trapped between the sea and earth. And it happened one day as the boy was gathering wild roots beside the mountain road that he heard rattling wheels and espied a carriage descending the mountain road. As it neared him he saw that it was constructed of metal and ornately engraved about the doors. Its passenger was a fair, tall lady clad in a blue satin dress and christened with golden hair. Seeing him in the thicket, the lady hailed him and asked whether the village inn was near. The boy was so taken by her beauty that he dropped his roots and, motioning for her to follow, ran ahead of her toward the village (in spite of her entreaties to ride in her carriage).

The innkeeper was elated to have a guest in his sordid accommodation (which had been vacant for months), even more so when the Lady insisted on paying him more than the usual price. By evening the entire village was gossiping about their strange visitor.

The next day found the women and children gathering their baskets for the day’s work; the boy was among them. Walking past the public square he saw the Lady again, sitting on a little wooden stool with a briefcase at her side. His family urged him to move on, but instead he lingered behind and ran up to her.

“Hello,” he said sheepishly.

The Lady looked up from her work. “Well hello, little one. I thank you for helping me yesterday; it was a extraordinary gesture of you.”

“What are you doing sitting here?”

“Going about my work.”

“You work?” the boy asked curiously. He had never imagined that a woman with a carriage worked.

“Why of course! The Father made the body to work. Though not all bodies labor alike…” She pulled out some dried grasses from her case and began to weave them into a curious shape; she formed a sort of bowl and installed a handle that arched from either end; the boy instantly recognized it as a basket, like the one he used to gather food. Satisfied with her work she gave the basket to him.

“Come tomorrow and I will show you how to make other things with your hands,” the Lady said.

“I don’t think my mother will let me stay from the gathering,” the boy shrugged, “but I shall try.” At that moment his family entreated him to keep up with the group, and he bid the beautiful Lady farewell.

The next morning as the people mended their old baskets for gathering, the Lady again sat in the square. The boy was warned not to linger from work, and he went out with his family as usual. However, at the midday break he rushed back to the square to find a dozen neighbors around her, watching intently as she wove a basket far more elaborate than the one she had shone him the day before. He ran straight up to her.

“Hello little one,” she smiled.

“Hello,” he replied less sheepishly. “Can you show me the basket now?”

“Well I’m afraid I am in the middle of teaching your neighbors another kind, but afterward we shall work on the other one together.”

After she had finished her demonstration, she taught the boy how to make his first basket. The next day, he ran again to the square during his break. The Lady was teaching how to make soaps, which she said cleaned better than only water. The time passed quickly and he was later scolded for neglecting his work. Over the week the Lady’s crowd of pupils grew, until nearly half the village spent their break learning her crafts. Although his parents initially disapproved of the way she detained workers from gathering, they soon joined the boy in lessons and saw the usefulness of her handiwork.

The Lady’s favorite material to work with was glass—something the boy had never seen made. He was delighted at how sand from the seashore could be made into that clear, hard substance that favored richer dwellings. That a gentle lady could work with cruel heat and crude tools gave her a magical rapport with her watchers, and her animation for the art was such that they began to call her the “Glass Lady.”