Mai Madness – Historical Storymaking

Now, instead of creating story from the bible, we look at history. We take an event and a relatively unimportant person, and make them play a pivotal role. It gets us thinking about the stories that happen in everyday life, only that “everyday life” happened at a remove of time and space. (Honestly, it reminded me a little of fan fiction, where “canon” is the history itself.)

“The Visit of Pervii Pyotr”*

Mrs. Mary Johnstone, chatelaine and chief servant to Mr. John Evelyn, was not happy. Someone had failed to close the linen closet door tightly and one of the cats had gotten in and gave birth all over the guest sheets. They were the new set, too, with embroidery on the edge in little Lilly Finch’s delicate hand. Lilly would be devastated. Mary didn’t know how to tell her, poor lamb.

“Mrs. Johnstone! Mrs. Johnstone!”

“Tommy Nevil. How many times must I remind you to not run in the house!” Mary snapped, whirling on the boy.

Tommy was running so fast that he nearly tripped over her skirts as they twirled in the hallway. “But Mrs. Johnstone!” he panted. “Please! It’s the Butler. He’s in a right fury, he is, and the hedges are all gone!”

“The hedges…” She glared down at the boy. “Are you telling your stories again, Tommy Nevil?”

“Honest, I ain’t, Mrs. Johnstone! Please! The Butler’s goin’ ter get his horse whip, he is, and there’ll be Hell to pay!”

“Tommy!” she gasped. “You take that back this instant!”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnstone, I don’t mean te swear. But please, you have to come!” He tugged on her topskirt, his face shining with sincerity.

“Oh, all right,” she surrendered. She slipped the hall keys back on the ring at her belt and let it fall with a faint clink. “Let’s go see his Lordship.”

Tommy flashed her a guilty grin at her nickname for the Butler and took off down the hallway.

“No running!” she shouted after him.

He skidded to a stop, glancing over his shoulder, and then took off at a fast walk. He disappeared around the corner and she could hear the sound of his running feet out of sight down the next hallway. Then a door slammed to the outside and she could hear his voice in the distance, hollering for the Butler.

Mary blinked as she emerged into the chill morning. The sun shone down on the gardens of Mr. Evelyn and she smiled, heart touched anew every time she saw the view. Then she faltered and stopped, the smile evaporating.

Every one of the hedges in view from the house was…gone.

“Dear Lord,” she gasped, starting forward again. “What in the world…?” She hurried around the side of the manor house to the path that led to the main gardens. The devastation was worse there, two wheelbarrows on their side. One’s wheel lay several feet away, the obvious victim of a collision. An empty whiskey pot lay on its side, broken neck sparkling with the last drops of the alcohol, and she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I’ll kill ‘em!” The Butler was below her, near the barn, a long horse whip clenched in a ruddy fist. “Every last one of ‘em!” he bellowed, stomping up the path toward her. “Out of me way, woman!”

“Simon Kelligan! What do you think you’re doing!” she shouted in her best imitation of Father O’Malley.

Kelligan faltered, but then his face darkened. “It’s nothing for you te worry yerself over, Mary. Out of me way!” He started up the path, obviously expecting her to move, but she held her ground.

When it was clear she wasn’t to move, he slowed and then stopped, staring up at her with a mix of fury and uncertainty on his face. “Mary…”

“You can’t,” she whispered urgently. “The Master will be here this afternoon! What if he hears you?”

“What if he sees that?” Kelligan roared, gesturing with the whip at the nearest demolished hedge. “I’ll give ‘im their heads in recompense!”

“You’ll do no such thing,” she snapped. “Embarrass the Master like that. What would your wife say?”

Simon deflated. His arms fell to his sides, the whip dragging on the ground forlornly. “Mary…”

She stepped forward. “I’m sorry, Simon, truly I am,” she told him softly. “But think! The boys will be up soon and if they see you carrying on… Please don’t yell again,” she begged.

He blew his breath out angrily but, thankfully, didn’t shout. “They’ve destroyed Master’s hedges, Mary. Look!”

“I know. I know, Simon. We’ll figure it out, we will. But that Russian is here by order of the King, Simon! The King!”

Simon stared up at the house, furious, but finally thinking. “I swear, Mary. On my wife’s very grave! If he touches another thing, human or inanimate, on this estate…”

“Shh, Simon,” Mary urged. “We’ve already sent the girls away. They’re not interested in boys, thankfully. Just wait it out. When the Master sees, he’ll take care of the problem. But don’t you go gettin’ involved.”

Simon glared at her, but much of the heat had settled in his eyes. He turned and saw Tommy. “Tommy Nevil!” he barked. “I told you to fetch John Murphy, didn’ I?”

Tommy jumped and scrambled back from the Butler, out of range of a drubbing. “Aye, sir, ye did. But he’d’ve boxed my ears for me if I did’na hear tha end o’ this.”

“You little imp…” Simon moved forward but Tommy was faster. The boy scampered away, down the hill toward the house of the Horse Master.

“Oh, Mary,” Simon murmured, tears in his voice. “What are we to do?”

Mary put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “They won’t be here forever, Simon. This, too, shall pass.”

Simon sighed heavily and patted her hand. He turned and made his way back down toward the stable, his steps heavy. He paused on the way to collect two more whiskey bottles discarded by the drunken Russians. Mary turned back to the house to prepare Tsar Peter’s breakfast.

“Please, Lord. Let them leave soon,” she prayed, collecting a broken flagon and two silver spoons lying in the grass on her way back to the house.

*Author’s Note: The term “Pervii Pyotr” is transliterated from Russian, and literally means ‘first Peter.’ It refers to Peter the Great.

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