The Little Boy and His Learning

 Rain streamed from the sky as though a sky god were pouring water out of bathtubs. The earth was drenched, sodden, soaking like a sponge that has yet to be wrung. And an old woman sat at her hearth, feet stretched out to the fire, basking in the glow of orange and gold flickering warmth.

No one was coming today, she knew, and the thought was a welcome one, for she had gathered and picked, crushed and mixed herbs all week long for the aches, pains, and ailments of a needy village. So, when a knock came at the door, it was with a groan and several creaks that the old woman opened it.

            Standing before her was a small boy, sopping wet and carrying a jar.

            ‘What do we have here?’ the woman asked, trying to put some cheer into her voice.

            The boy remained silent, and seemed to think for a moment, before suddenly holding out the jar. At the sight, the woman almost jumped, and certainly she gasped, for inside was a tiny fairy—her wings crumpled, and everything about her just as damp as the boy.

            ‘Oh, ho!’ exclaimed the woman to stop herself from gaping. She reached out to take the jar, but the boy jerked it back to his side.

            The woman cocked a brow, as if to say, so that’s how it is, is it? But instead she said, ‘Come along lad; follow me.’

            Neither minding about the boy’s muddy shoes or his dripping clothing, they wound their way through dried hanging plants, and shelves filled with tonics and poultices toward the back room on which lay a table laden with herbs and instruments and vials.

            ‘I’ll need you to open the lid, laddie,’ the woman said kindly. ‘Have no fear; she won’t fly away. She’s too wet to do anything but get a bit warmer.’

            The old woman fought to keep her wonder in check as she watched the boy open the jar and gently set it on the work table on its side so that the fairy could climb out. And out she came, trembling and shivering with cold and fright, her arms wrapped about her as she stared with scared eyes all around.

            ‘There now, little thing,’ the old woman crooned, as she offered the fairy a linen handkerchief to use as a towel. ‘We’ll soon have you right as rain.’

            The boy’s eyes grew wide at that, and his hand darted out to seize the fairy.

            But the old woman trapped his wrist in her hand. ‘Now, that’s no way to treat a lady, laddie,’ the old woman said kindly. ‘We don’t want to harm her or cause her any more fear, do we?’

            The boy bit his lip, and his small forehead scrunched as though he was thinking deeply. Then he lifted his face and look at the fairy. He shook his head quickly, and offered out his palm. Tentatively, the fairy stepped into it. Slowly, the boy made his way toward the hearth. Setting the fairy on the warm stone, just far enough away from the flames, the boy stepped back.

            And when the fairy had warmed herself, he clasped his hands tight behind his back and watched her go.

            A look of sorrow spread across the boy’s face, and a tear slipped down his cheek.

            The old woman put an arm around the small child, as a tear of her own fell. It had, after all, been a beautiful sight, the little boy and his learning.

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