I bought six yearling sheep, once, from a man in dark robes, with face and mustache to match. He was not a shady man: I simply mean to say he wore dark clothing of black and browns, darkened further by an accumulation of much dust, dirt and grime. His face, skin and hair, all naturally dark -- for he was from Spain -- were darkened by a similar measure.
He was a jovial man, if not always kind -- though given to smiling. This last was especially useful in his chosen trade: dealer, in anything that would sell. He never missed an opportunity to spread his mouth, to reveal his small white weapons; for, indeed, he used them as a soldier does his rifle, with finely crafted precision. And like a soldier, he took great pride and care of his instruments of war: always white like pearls and sharp like daggers.
I did not mind this man, nor his idiosyncrasies. Yet neither his charm and easy nature as a man, nor his years of fair dealings as a seller, prevented him from making enemies. His good personality was but a facade, they said, or a worm at the end of a hook. His dealings were so fraudulent as to be worthy of the courts. Three times this man was compelled to visit the local courthouse, three times the case was quickly dropped. Years passed and still they persisted in their cries of "Bribery!", much to the chagrin of the Judge and the other leading citizens of the town. And as for the merchant's teeth, they blamed vanity -- only this terrible vice, they said, could lead a man to gargle his own piss!
That is what some said. I believed none of it, a position I have always been naturally inclined to take in all matters of rumor. I made trade with him frequently, despite these cries of contrariness from those nasty few. Nearly every time the man made a stop in our small town I would buy, on one hand, something useful for the house and home; and on the other, a "useless" trinket or bauble for the family, which nevertheless served to smooth relations with my three little urchins, lead triumphantly by my shrew of a wife.
My dealings with this man went on in the same straightforward and unremarkable manner for years, with no alteration, excepting the steady growth of my children and therefore their increasingly outlandish demands for gifts. Time did its work, and soon it came to pass that my eldest, a sharp-nosed, rough-hewn girl of seventeen years, managed to contrive a man to marry her. This came as a shock to both of her parents -- or at least to me, who, for many years, had wondered if she should find a husband at all, let alone at the "ripe old age" of seventeen.
He was a respectable, well-bred man of twenty-three, from three towns to the west, the eldest son of an Army Lieutenant, and well along on his own course as a soldier. Never had I anticipated such an agreeable match for any of my children, especially for my eldest, who had a personality to match her complexion. Only her eyes, sharp blue and beautiful, seemed redeeming; yet their sparkle and clarity promised a depth and beauty of soul that I knew she could never fulfill. This young man was also nothing to admire, or even to look upon but, as a man, much less is required of him in such matters; besides I am sure I will never have the duty of his marriage bed. I had met him only once and knew little of his character.
In all, it was a dream. Truly it was, for all dreams are equally as fleeting. I soon discovered the source of this remarkable occurrence: my darling wife and daughter had promised this young gentleman, or at least he had come to expect, a dowry of some fifteen thousand -- which, on top of the expense of the wedding and the accompanying festivities, was, of course, to come directly from my pockets.
I wandered around my town and house for many days, always muttering of the terrible expense and trouble of having such ugly, disagreeable children. Many about town, including the Judge, seemed to give me up for mad and dumb, or else to simple senility. But there were two who never faltered in their faith in my sanity: the two masterminds of this plot, my two taskmasters, who had come too far, expended too much effort, to let a man of my mere stature interrupt their plans.
When I had bothered myself in this manner for five straight days, my daughter and wife decided to put this "needless fussing" to an end. They cornered me in our garden -- practically against the wall -- and proceeded to lay out their demands. They did not bother themselves with pleading or begging, or even coaxing. The event felt more like a war conference than a plea for my marriage blessings, and it was clear to all who represented the defeated faction.
They took their turns at berating and reproaching me: for my greed, my inconsiderate behavior, my apathy for my daughter's welfare, and more. In the course of half an hour, my perfectly reasonable position -- that my funds were and always would be rather meager, that I hoped to provide reasonably well for my other daughters, that the couple would surely live happy and fulfilling lives with even half the stated sum -- was irretrievably torn and tattered.
To resist seemed useless now, even to me. The date was set for June 18, less than two months away. The two women set to constant tittering about, and even occasionally making, preparations for the wedding. They had promised to handle all the affairs surrounding the wedding. I could only watch passively as task after task came to rest, as if by magic, in my own grasp. I came to feel like a man in a labor camp with an admission fee: not only was I willingly working toward my own doom, but paying for it, in an all too literal fashion.
Liked the story? Then don't miss A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 2), which some are calling "the exciting conclusion to A Hundred Years' Good Luck (Part 1)!"