Once upon a time there was a poor girl from a poor family, living in a very poor village at the edge of a vast barren plain. This girl was cursed from birth, it would seem, for, whenever the clock struck the hour of half-past-noon, her body would begin to shake and tremble, and jars of jelly would fly from the shelves, and pots of butter would crack, and the thatch of the roof would come cascading down, and plaster would peel from the walls.
“Oh, woe is me,” thought the girl to herself, “for I have been cursed to have a fit of trembles, every day, at half-past-noon; and so I will never marry, for if I grasped my husband at half-past-noon, I would tremble and shake, and break the bones in his precious body. Likewise, I can never have children, as at half-past-noon, just as I am to feed them their bottles, or spoon them their curds and whey, I will have another fit of trmebles, and shake the milk from the bottle, and splash and splosh the curds and whey all over the floor and ceiling!”
And with that, she began to cry, and soon she became so discosolate that her father implored her mother to do something.
“Alas,” said the mother. “There is nought that can be done, my husband. For, when I was pregnant, I went to the witch woman, for thou hast said I should bare a daughter, like as not, as I had, hitherto, borne only sons. And so I went to the woman and asked, ‘Oh, couldst thou not use thy sorceries to ensure I bare a daughter now, instead of the sons I have givern birth to hitherto?’
“And she replied, ‘Why, the thing is simplicity itself!’ And passing her wand over my belly, she spake an incantation, and throwing sea salt and baby’s breath into the air in a pinch, said, ‘It is accomplished!’ Then she said, ‘There is just one thing! Thou must needs leave one dram of goat’s milk and two of cream at thy doorr every night for a fortnight, six months after the babe is born. You must do this every night, and NEVER FORGET, lest ill-tidings fall upon thee!’ And with that, I knew that the thing had been accomplished, and so I left.
“Oh my husband, how I would delight in telling thee I did the thing she asked without fail! Alas, it was not to be! For, as the babe was born, and was our delightful daughter, I grew petty and forgetful, and likened the birth to something, anything but the incantations of the olde witch. I wanted so badly to forget that I had relied on her strange spells, that I soon was lax in leaving out the dram of milk and two of cream, and clean forget them several nights in a row.
“Well, I began to feel afraid, so I started putting them out again. And I thought, my husband, that this should be sufficient in mollifying the old witch. But, one day, while I was slaving for thee in the kicthen, a terrible gust of wind and a smelly smoke wafted up from nowhere; and, who should I see therein, but the terrible form of the old witch herself!
“Her face gleamed with a terrible rage, and she exclaimed, ‘Curses upon thee! thou wast instructed, as per our agreement, that thou shouldst leave for me one dram of milk and two of cream at thy door, every night, for a fortnight, as payment for the infant wench; and did I not, likewise warn thee, if thou shouldst fail to do so, a curse would fall upon thee, so that thou wouldst rend thy garb, and tear thy hair, and curse the day of thy birth?”
“And, fallimg to my knees, I implored her, with upraised, folded hands, as if to heaven, to forgive my impudence, and spare me her wrathe.
“Alas, she would have none of it. Instead, her eyes became blazing coals, and her face a hideous, death-like mask; and heaving to and fro, and smoke flying out her nostrils, she shrieked, ‘I curse thee, thou impudent old wretch, that thy newborn suckling shall have not a day of rest, nor a moment of peace, all the days of her life; instead, she shall tremble and quake ere the coming of midday, when the devil is let loose to walk with earthly feet!’
“And with that, oh my husband, she disappeared in a cloud of reeking smoke.
Well, I cursed my ignorance, and gnashed my teeth, and pulled my hair, and rent my garment fore certain; but, these things were to no avail. For, ever since the fateful day, our daughter has trembled and shaken so that the dishes fall from the shelves, the Bible flaps open like a huge brown bird, the boards of the house crack and creak, the floorboards moan and cry in pain, and the mouth of stove flies open like a snuffling iron snout. Oh, husband, whatever are we to do?”
Well, the husband was most disturbed by all of this. So he paced the floors for a few hours, pulling thoughtfully at his pipe, before exclaiming, “I shall have to take her away, deep, deep into the forest, and leave her for the animals.
For, we cannot very well have her here, where she causes the dishes to fly from the shelves and shatter, the Bible to flap like a bird, the plaster to chip and moan, the floorboards to groan, and the stove to shudder and frown! Come, now, and say your goodbyes!”
And the woman was beside herself with griwf. But, realizing that what the husband said was true, she quickly got hold of herself and, taking a kerchief from the cupboard, wrapped for her daughter some bread and cheese, and then told her, “I am sending all the luck I have in the world with you, though, as you cna see by looking around you, that isn’t much!”
And, weeping madly, she fell to her knees, beating her fists on the floor as the husband lead his poor daughter away to abandon her in the forest; where, he surely must know, she would never be eaten alive by the wolves.
Well, the strange duo journeyed high and low. They walked by night, and rested by day. Soon, as they were deep in the forest, down a lonely trail, the man realized it was midday. He said, “Oh, we should not tarry here long, for, we are standing under an acorn tree, and thou art about to be taken with a fit of trembles!”
As if in reply, the unfortunate daughter suddenly began to shake and tremble so violently that the ground felt as if it were moving beneath them. The trees above them, heavy with acorns, suddenly began to rain them down, and the father exclaimed, as squirrels and birds began to fall from the trees,”Come, before we are pelted to death with acorns, or have chipmunks fall upon our brows!” And so they ran down the path, arm in arm, but, before long, they were met with the presence of Tom the Cotter.
Tom said, “Lo, I have traveled high and low, looking for a wife to bear my children and be my mate. And, just a few moments ago, as I traveled, I could feel the ground rumble beneath me, and the trees shake like fingers above me, and I know that I had received a sign from the Lord above!”
And with that, the girl’s father, suddenly realizing the opportunity he had been granted here, said, “Yes, indeed, “’tis a sign from above. Here, take my fine daughter to be the wife of your youth. For, is she not comely and young, prim and demure, and will she not bear thee stout children, and be a good woman and friend?”
And Tom the Cotter said, “Oh, indeed, she is a fine lass to behold! Why, I think she’ll do quite nicely!”
And so, without further ceremony, the young woman was lead off to be married to Tom the Cotter.
After the wedding, as the young woman was being placed in her new position as mistress of the house, Tom the Cotter was home from the fields one day, taking his lunch, when the clock struck noon.
He was amazed to see his wife begin to tremble uncontrollably, shaking violently, so that the dishes fell from the shelves above, the dog hid behind the bureau in terror, the windows cracked in their frames, the plaster fell from the walls, the boards fell from the ceiling, and Tom the Cotter fell from his chair!
“Alas!” he cried, “what deviltry is this?”
And, turning to her new husband shamefully, the woman implored him, “Oh, good my husband, thou hast been decieved most dreadfully. For, I am a woman suffering under the dreaded curse of an ancient witch, who has burdened me grievously! For an imagined slight she has made it so that, at noonday every day, I am took with a ‘fit of trembles,’ so that I shake with such violence that all standing anywhere near me are effected by it!”
Upon hearing this the new husband was wroth; but, straightway divining what he must do, he took the wife by the hand and, leading her out the door, went through the forest until, passing by the shop of Stuart the Smithy, stopped when he heard, “Ho! Who is it leads such a fair and comely maiden outside my door at noon of the clock?”
And to this Tom the Cotter replied, “Oh, ’tis but an errand I am on.” And, introducing his wife, the Cotter said, “Takest thou this woman for thy helpmeet? For, she is a lax and lazy dullard, and her I cannot abide!”
And upon saying this, Tom the Cotter quickly turned and fled back through the forest. (And, after so humiliating himself, he must have decided to move on to another hamlet, for he was never seen in those parts again.)
Well, seeing how beautiful and comely the fine but unfortunate trembling daughter was, he opened wide his door, and said, “Comest thou inside, and be mine helpmeet, oh daughter of Eve. For, I am a lonely smithy, and am wanton, and thus, must have a wife.”
And with that she entered. But, seeing as how it was midday, soon the terrible change began to come over her. Her body began to shake, and tremble, and soon the hammers and saws and instruments of iron began to rattle and shake on the walls.
The Smithy became outraged. “Oh thou miserable and tortured wretch! I cannot keep thee as my wife. Why, to do so would destroy everything in my shop, and ruin me, and would cause me to pull down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave! I’ll have to throw thee out of doors to wander, alone and disconsolate as Demeter looking for Persephone!”
And the Smithy began to move forward. But, before he could reach her to throw her out of doors, the trembling and shaking disloged a heavy iron hammer where it hung from the wall.
It came crashing down on the poor Smithy’s head, sending him reeling back into the fire of his own forge! His head exploded in a ball of flame!
Fearing for her life, Trembles ran screaming from the Smithy shop. She flew through the forest as fast as her legs could carry her, her arms flung above her head, until, stumbling over a craggy bit of rock, she went tumbling, head first, into a sodden bundle of old rags.
To her astonishment, the rags jumped up and yelled.
She sat back heavily on the ground. Getting up before her was the dirtiest, foulest-looking man she had ever seen. His hair was matted and filthy, his beard was long and scraggly, and his body was covered in smelly rags that looked as if they might badly itch. This was Vincent the Vagrant, the village idiot.
“Howdee doo, missy?” said Vernon, beating the dust from his trouser legs. As she looked up into his craggy, care-worn, sunblasted face, Trembles could see that the man had only a few teeth left in his head. His smile, nonetheless, was oddly infectious. She began to smile too.
“Missy, I see that you’re a feller down on his luck, just as am I. Come! We’ll sit on yonder wall together, facing the passersby. And we’ll hoot, and we’ll holler, and we’ll beg bread, and we’ll beg cheese, and they’ll throw tomatoes and raw eggs; and if they aren’t too rotten, we can eat our fill of those.”
And so, starving as she was, she decided to join Vincent atop the wall. All day long they wailed like banshees, and clucked like chickens, and barked like dogs, and crowed like roosters, and grunted like pigs, and generally, played the daft fools so well that disgusted travelers, when passing by, would,
indeed, throw eggs and acorns, tomatoes and old, rotten fruit. Occasionally, too, children passed in little gangs to tease and throw rocks.
Whenever food was thrown, in between throwees, Vincent would climb down from the wall and collect the boiled eggs and old raspberries, and acorns, and half-rotted tomatoes, and gather them in his apron, and then the two of them would eat. But, thought Trembles, it is, none of it, very good.
All the same, she was happy enough to have it.
Well, everything was going along swimmingly until the next day, when noontime came. Then, Trembles began to shake and tremble as always, and the wall that her and Vincent the Vagrant sat on began to crumble and sway.
“Oh my!” exclaimed Vincent. “Young lady, this is no good. No good at all! Why are you doing that? You must quit doing that!”
But it was too late, for the wall soon came tumbling down, dashed into smithereens. Clouds of dust flew upward, and Trembles coughed to clear it from her throat.
When the dust had finally settled, she was amazed to see a little knot of villagers gathered around.
“Look!” one of them exclaimed, pointing, “Vincent the Vagrant! Why, HE’S DEAD!”
A little tow-headed boy with snot dribbling from his chin stepped forward and excaimed, pointing, “She did it! She killed him! I saw it all!”
“It’s Trembles,” excalimed another. “She’s cursed!”
“She starts to tremble and shake, and things fly all over the place, as if there is an earthquake.”
And, so, not knowing exactly how best to deal with trembles, the mob of villagers quickly bound her head and foot, and the Burgomaster, a rather fat, pompous and stupid fellow, exclaimed, “Come! We’ll imprison her in the old stone tower in the middle of the cursed, thorny vines! Then, if she is guilty, she will be eaten by the ogre.”
And one man peeped out, “What if she is innocent?”
The Burgomaster considered a moment, putting his fat finger to his wobbly chin, and then said, “Then, surely, she will not be eaten. Instead, she may jump down from the tower window, and thus find the mercy she was denied in life.”
And another villager said,’But…but if she jumps she’ll be killed!”
To which the Burgomaster replied, “That, my friend, is no business of mine!”
And so they carted Trembles off to the stone tower, which rose great and grey and grim in the center of a huge forest of thorny bushes and vines. (How, precisely, they got her to the tower, and inside, without having to pass through the forest of murderous thorns, we are not told. Rest assured, however, the thing was accomplished.)
Trembles sat in the uppermost room of the tower, weeping. She was cold and hungry and alone, and knew that she would, most assuredly, die here, alone and unloved. Soon, she heard heavy steps outside, and the heavy wooden door suddenly flew open.
Standing there, horrible beyond horrible, with bald, peeling head, red eyes, blazing lips, huge, tusk-like teeth, filthy beard, ragged clothes, and hobnailed boots, was the Ogre, who lived in the tower, having been banished here by magic spells, many years ago.
“You!” he growled, pointing one filthy, scaly, crooked, claw-like fingernail at her. “Don’t go thinking you’re gonna sit around here all day weeping and wailing and not doing any work! No! Thou shalt earn thy keep by the sweat of thy brow! Seest thou that spinning wheel, yonder?”
And, spittle flying out his mouth, the Ogre pointed his crooked, filthy, claw-like finger at the wheel; which, as it was really the only other item in the room, was rather hard to miss.
Trembles nodded tearfully. Beside the wheel was a huge pile of flax.
“Thou shalt toil day and night, spinning this magic wheel, spinning this flax into gold! And thou durst not ever cease, for I’ll be coming up here to make certain thou art working most dilligently. And if thou shirkest thy toil, I shall grind thy bones to powder, and thy flesh to clay, and eat thee for dinner that night!”
And with that the foul, reeking Ogre blew out the door. Weeping bitterly at her sorry lot in life, Trembles sat at the spinning wheel and began to spin the flax, which she was amazed to see actually did turn to long, ropy strands of gold as she worked.
“Oh, wailings and lamentations! MIsery and hardship seem to be my lot in life! Whatever shall I do? For, if I work ceaselessy spinning flax into gold, I shall surely drop dead from exhaustion, hunger or thirst! Bit, if I stop, the Ogre will find out, and he’ll grind my bones, and drink my blood, and bake me in an oven, and turn me into stew!”
And she began to weep loudly and long,. And she wept all the night through.
That morning, just before dawn, a young nobleman came riding by on his noble steed, when he heard the tears and imprecations of the so-distressed damsel.
“Hark!” he exclaimed, cupping his hand with his ear. “Methinks me hears the sorrowful tears of some distressed damsel, some unmerry maiden who requires the immediate attention of a strapping young palladin to come to her aid in her hour of distress?”
And, following the sound of her weeping, and the plop-plop of her copious tears on the stones below her window, the young nobleman used his sharpest dirk to cut a path through the thorny brambles; although, to be honest, it was damn hard work, he was stuck more than once, bled all over his sharp, expensive leather jerkin, and carefully avoided looking at the hanging skeletons of men who had braved the thorny jungle before and had not survived. Finally, dripping with sweat, sore and bleeding, the young nobleman stood beneath the high window of Trembles.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Why weepest thou so, oh sweet and bounteous young maiden? Dost thou not know that in Spring the roses bloom, and the trees grow full, the snow melts and the weather brightens? Happiness waxes and weariness wanes.
Wealth increases, and merriment reigns?”
But, alas, the poor maiden could not halt the flow of her tears. She exclaimed, choking on her sobs, “Oh, my Lord! I am a poor unfortunate girl held captive here for a crime she did not commit. Now I am doomed to spend the rest of my days spinning flax into gold, lest the ogre of this foul tower keep come and gobble me up straigtways. Og, coudst thou not see fit, oh brave and noble man, to climb up this golden spun flax, as if it were a sort of rope, and rescue a maiden sore beset in this cruel world, plagued by one terrible tragedy after another!”
And, upon saying this, Trmebles threw down a knotted rope of spun gold, affixing the other end to a hook in the wall opposite. (The hook was, most likely, used to chain up prisoners in the terror in years gone by.)
She then went back to the window and called down.
“There my Lord! It is really quite strong and secure. I think that thou shalt surely not fall and tumble to thy death if thou dost climb to my rescue. But, do hurry! The hour grows late, and something tells me the ogre comes!”
And, never having seen a maiden quite so lovely as Trembles, the handsome young nobleman grabbed onto the golden rope, and slowly and carefully began to make his ascent. He huffed and he puffed, and he was already quite tired from having to have had to cut his way through the thorny brambles.
“Oh, my Lord! Dost thou come?” asked Trembles, cautiously. The young nobleman answered in the affirmative, exclaiming, “Never fear thou miserable maid! I shall be there in one, two, three shakes of a horse’s tail!”
Finally, sweating and heaving, and scratched and bleeding from head to foot, the young nobleman climbed up to the window, seated himself on the ledge, and finally entered the tower room in a bleeding, filthy heap.
“Oh!” exclaimed Trembles in exultation. “Oh my handsome, brave and bold savior! Come to me! I want to throw my arms around you and smother you in kisses!”
But, before she could do this, the door of the tower room blew open; and, standing there, smoke blowing from his nostrils and his eyes blazing in fire, was the Ogre!
He pointed his clawed fingers at the two, and yelled, “You think to escape me, is that it? You shall not, I swear. leave this tower alive!”
The vicious Ogre flew forward, his teeth bared and his claws gripping a heavy hammer with which to crush his enemies. The young nobleman was prepared for this , though, and, with a speed and strength that Trembles could not have believed he posssessed, he drew his sword and, with a magnificent swing, chopped the charging Ogre into two bloody, horrible halves (so that one half of him fell one way, and one half the other).
Trembles, who had been holding her breath in terror, said, ‘Oh, my, thou hast slain the most terrible Ogre, oh my Lord! I did not think, truly, that the thing were possible! But, come, let us now leave this terrible, terrible stone tower, and be away!”
“Yes,” said the young nobleman. “I shall make thee my wife, and thou shalt bear me a son, an heir to my fortune and lands. We both shall live ever after–happily. Now, come, it is almost midday…”
But, at hearing that it was almost midday, the unfortunate Trmebles suddenly remembered her curse. Her heart caught in her throat as her body began to shake horribly. Suddenly, the force of her shaking was so powerful that the stones of the tower began to fall from the ceiling and wall, and the tower bgan to wobble first one way, then another.
The shaking and trembling then brought the tower crashing down, killing the two young romantics within, before they even had a chance to truly be in love.
“Oh my!” cried Sue. “That was terrible! Terrible! Terrible ! You’re a horrible, horrible person, Peter Sampson, and I hope your life is like one long winter which never finds Spring!”
And she folded her arms across her chest, puffing her bottom lip out in defiance. Peter laughed, shrugged, and looked far, far below them.
“Sorry if my story upset you, Sue. But, hey, look, it’s out house! Down below! And Bub Drubb, bailing hay!”