Once upon a time there lived a widow with five children. The eldest was Julian, a shiftless young man more inclined to hide in the haymow than clean the stable. Clothide, sixteen, wept and moaned about her clothes, hair and their lack of wealth. Twins Roger and Ronald were eight, naughty boys behind in their schooling who would rather fight one another than do sums. The baby, Ella, gave her mother the least trouble, usually upon soiling her nappies and when teething.
The widow Jane wasn’t a widow at all but the abandoned wife of a wastrel. Hanging the laundry to dry, she lamented her sad fortune to the morning dew. In the evening as she dumped the stove ashes she looked to the stars. “Fairy godmother, incline your ear to my plea,” she cried. “I need some help with these children and a few quid in the bargain.”
Her prayers were answered in the form of her fairy godfather. Yes, I said godfather. Everyone knows fairy godmothers of the Victorian Era were good for twaddle. Most of what they did was have vapors, organize picnics and advise on the fashions of the day.
On the morning of the Ides of March, Luigi came through the gate and Widow Jane shaded her eyes to get a better look. This man was the answer to no prayer. He was short and bow-legged with straggly gray hair and tobacco stains on his chin. He had a cultured voice, however, and proper manners. Introducing himself as a teacher, he asked only food and shelter in exchange for educating her mob of young. A bargain was struck. “If you don’t mind sharing the attic room with Julian?” she asked.
Luigi did but bowed and smiled. “Of course not, dear lady.”
While the widow cooked the afternoon meal, he gathered the children in the front room and kept his voice low. “Listen, you guyses,” he said. “I’m from a faraway land called Joisey and I’m here to be godfather to your mama.”
They all stared at him with gaping maws for he was talking most strangely. He shook a clenched fist at them, warning, “If youse should ever get the idear to rat on me I’ll give you a mouthful of bloody Chiclets. Capisce?”
Stricken with fear, the children agreed, for the godfather’s demeanor was fierce. At supper that night he sat between Roger and the baby in her high chair. The unruly twin kept snickering with his brother and kicking Clothide under the table. Just as he was about to make his “see food” joke with Julian, Luigi calmly pinched his neck in such a manner as to make him choke. As the lad coughed and spluttered Luigi reached up and slapped his back. Tearful, he got such a look as to make him behave the rest of the meal.
The godfather set about to get the attic room all to himself by means which do not bear repeating here. Suffice it to say, a mere night after Luigi’s arrival Julian announced at breakfast he was going to London to find work. He would either send money home or never return. Recognizing a win-win situation when she saw one, Jane packed him a lunch and kissed him farewell.
Clothilde was a veteran weeper, complaining about her rough, reddened hands, the too-tight shoes she wore and a decided lack of young, eligible men in the area. At breakfast she pissed and moaned so long Luigi begged leave to go to the nearby village to attend to some business.
Of course, he had no business in the village. When he reached the home of Squire William he put a spell on the man. “When you awaken, you’ll go to the house of Widow Jane and ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage,” Luigi whispered in his ear as he slumbered.
And that is exactly what the squire did. Clothilde wailed loudly for the squire was thrice her age. Luigi gave her a reason to squall, meaning she needed a pillow to sit on at supper. The squire settled a generous dowry on the widow, which she sensibly pocketed, and Clothilde wed the squire two months later.
Since the twins were of a tender age, Luigi was willing to work with them. Too much spirit had they, and Luigi despaired of being able to bring them to heel. He looked into his bag of tricks, took out his tommywand and went ‘round to a neighboring land. When Farmer Grunkin woke, he saw a finger on a trigger and a stern but smiling face. Quickly he agreed to let the man have his milk cow.
Luigi returned before first light with the milk cow and danced around the fire, singing an arcane song. The widow was overjoyed to hear about the new milk cow and even more so when the cow gave birth to two calves. Luigi got a good price for them after they were weaned and persuaded the widow that the gold might best be spent on Catholic boarding school for the lively boys. When they arrived at school and saw some luckless fellow nailed to the plus sign, they came to visit at Yuletide much better behaved.
With only the babe remaining, and a farmstead as well, the widow became quite a catch. Her neighbor died peacefully in his sleep, without assistance from Luigi, leaving behind his farm and a middle-aged son. All on his own the son had the brilliant idea to marry the widow and join their farms as one. The widow saw this as a fair prospect but, by and by, her husband returned.
She was sitting in the doorway one morn, sewing, when she heard a drunken voice singing: ‘Ah near to my fair one, it’s so good to be, to be!’ The lout reeled up the walk, his shoes muddy and his breeches torn. ‘Give us a kiss, then, luv!’ he crowed, throwing his arms wide.
To say the widow was alarmed is to say the least. He had lost several teeth, adding to the stench of his breath. Avoiding his grasping hands, she leaped up and ran in the house and clasped Ella to her bosom. Ignoring her and the baby, he went about the kitchen until coming across the cooking sherry. He downed it and promptly passed out from drink on the floor.
Luigi promised the widow he’d take care of the problem. Patting her shoulder, he sent her upstairs and tricked the husband into coming out to the barn with him by means of a bottle of rum. Once he’d clouted him over the head with a shovel, once! twice!, he tossed him in the pigpen. Luigi had forgotten to feed them that morning and the grateful swine gobbled the husband.
He failed to show up later, of course. The next morn, Luigi conjured a signed writ of divorce. Joyful, the widow married her farmer and the day of their wedding she took Luigi’s face between her hands. In a quavering voice she asked, “How can I repay all your kindness?”
Luigi blushed and told her, “Fahgeddaboudit.” With that, he bent low over her hand, kissed it, then disappeared in a puff of smoke.
And the widow, now again a wife, lived happily ever after.
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