The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross
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There once was a pedlar, well along in years and bearing the alms that aging offers - gnarled hands, a bent back and a well used heart. She lived on a parched bit of acreage, where a little used train track lilted and tilted and crossed a bone dry back road, outside a small village called Gushing Cross.
The old woman spent the better part of her days tilling the dust and wandering among lean shadows in the heat, waiting for rain that never fell, collecting a miscellany of vessels, bottles and hubcaps plucked from the detritus which drifted and collected on the shores of the nearby town.
Hers was a solitary life - spent almost exclusively in the company of a crow who hung around the edge of her days like a stray dog who would not go away, but chose to perch in a half dead fruit tree overlooking her shack.
The old woman was anything but lonely, for she had befriended her solitude almost as another, separate self. She held the night skies in very dear esteem and no word could hold the love she had for the company of stars she could not name while she gazed up into the vast river of galaxies suspended in time. She loved to feel the freight of her existence spilling over the pinheads of light. They filled her deep worn pockets with bright handfuls of possibility....
Days, while scavenging, and while working the thin veneer of dust that passed for soil, she often paused, and, as she stared deeply into the cloudless, infinite blue she sometimes wondered if she was a ghost who had lost her way. She wondered why fate had placed her on this hard baked plot of earth.
At night she dreamed of loam, of thick lush pastures and of ﬂowing water, ﬂash floods, waterfalls, peonies bent with rain and the sweet perfume of lilacs.
One day, folding in to the midday heat, she stumbled up to her porch and, too tired to unfasten the laces of her worn and heavy boots, she slumped into her old rocking chair. Under the ever watchful gaze of crow, she soon succumbed to the tender gravity of sleep, and in this sleep, she had a strange dream.
In her dream she saw a bridge leading to the gates of the faraway Capital City. She heard a bell, and was drawn onto the bridge, to a place below the bell tower. Crow was there, circling and flapping around the tower. He had a gemstone in his beak and appeared to wink at her as he flew past.
The bell tolled again and the sound of it quivered through her. The old woman woke with a shiver. She felt unusual, as though she had somehow fallen into the dream, and could not quite shake it.
Nearby crow cawed from his perch in the half dead tree.
“I must till till the garden before dark,“ she said to herself. With that thought she dismissed the dream, “Hooey. There’s work to be done.“
The following day, after her bottle rounds, she succumbed once again to a midday fatigue and, slumping into her chair on the porch, she tumbled into a sound sleep.
No sooner was she cloaked in the soft canopy of sleep than she dreamed about the bridge a second time. Again crow was flapping around the bell tower.
He winked as he flew past bearing a shiny gem in his beak. Once again she heard the deep throated bell. Stirring from the borders of sleep, she woke and noticed crow, perched above in her tree.
“Ha! You are playing tricks on me”, she thought. ”Bah! I must sort these bottles before dusk.”
That same night she dreamed about the bridge, the gem, the crow and the bell for a third time. When she awoke, she heard crow alighting from the branch outside. This time the dream took hold of her.
Driven by some ineffable purpose, she decided to set out on foot for the Capital City in search of a bell and a bridge, and where she thought she might find the meaning, or the means to put an end to her dream once and for all.
She set off at the first light of day, with a cloth satchel, a few provisions, an empty old tin box, and her stick to hold her to the earth. Guided by the shifting line between the real and the unreal, in her threadbare shoes, she made the arduous journey to the Capital City. After three days of weary travel, she came to the bridge leading to the gates of the Capital City.
As the old Pedlar crossed the bridge, floating somewhere through the din of city sounds, she heard a bell - the sound of it rose like a flame, and though she felt ineluctably drawn to the bell’s source by her curious purpose, the City’s guarded gates prevented her from penetrating the maze of unfamiliar sights and sounds. Feeling weak, and now weary with doubt about her purpose, still, she wandered and lingered and sat on the bridge for three days and three nights.
On the third night, as the old pedlar was about to give up her dream quest and begin the journey back to her withered homestead, the captain of the footguards approached her and asked:
“I have seen you wandering and pacing the shadows of the bridge for days. What brings you to the city?”
And so, alone with the foot guard in this strange place, far from her parched acre, she told him of her dream and journey.
“To think you wore out your only pair of shoes to follow a dream! Such a fool! Did you imagine that dreams are like treasure maps, or the source of good or bad fortune?Imagine such nonsense!”
“Alas dear woman, fortune is not that simple!”
“Why only last night I had a dream about a half-dead fruit tree in the middle of a parched land. There was a shack, and on its porch an old rocking chair. Hanging from the tree was an odd assortment of bottles, below which was buried a treasure. …”
“But I can assure you that I will not wear out my shoes to go in search of it!”
Upon hearing this, a little ripple flickered brightly through the old woman. And her heart, for an instant, stopped mid motion. The foot guard bid her goodnight and with a lingering eye watched as the Pedlar woman and her small bundle disappeared into the night. The old pedlar thought to herself, “I arrived in this place with a dream and leave with another. Life is stranger than I could ever imagine !”
Some small and shining possibility grew within her - it renewed her strength, and shortened her long journey home.
Even her silent and beloved stars seemed polished in the night sky - they blazed and brightened her path. She felt they lifted her, as she walked, and walked.
Arriving home, she lost no time in finding a spade and, heading out to the half dead fruit tree, under the knellof bottles, she began to dig. As she dug down,dust gave way to mud. Digging further, dampness filled the hole. The water trembled and was then loosened from the earth, first a small splash, then a sudden rush of fortune. The old woman devoted her final years to softening her hard baked homestead, weaving ribbons of colour and life into the once bone dry land. The parched earth in her hands
was transfigured with each passing season, and the fragrant acres sing to her still, along the shore of her long sleep.
Word of the treasure spread like water and people trickled from all directions far and wide to visit the old woman’s bountiful garden and to cup the clear ﬂowing blessing which gushed into their hands.
To this day the Old Pedlar is still celebrated, her story passed down through the generations.
If you go to Gushing cross you can read for yourself the plaque that is engraved with her legacy:
This drought starved land’s thirst was quenched by a dream.