by Sally Wheaton
She loved this time of day, a few quiet moments with her two babies as she put them in their cribs. They looked adorable as they fell asleep and her heart swelled. On an impulse, she picked up her guitar. She wasn’t a great player of course, but she could manage a children’s lullaby and she did enjoy playing. She remembered an old German lullaby she’d heard as a child.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
Your father tends the sheep.
Your mother shakes the branches small,
Lovely dreams in showers fall.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
Across the heavens move the sheep.
The little stars are lambs, I guess,
And the moon is the shepherdess.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
I’ll give to you a sheep.
And it shall have a bell of gold
For you to play with and to hold.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
A movement in the doorway caught her eye and she called out softly not wanting to wake Samuel or David.
“Alex?” She wondered if he had come in early from the fields today. Hearing no reply, she was about to call again, a little louder, when Samuel started his own, unique eighteen month old, half asleep version of the song.
“Sheeeep, babee, sheeeep,”
She smiled, he was so cute when he did that, usually just as he was falling to sleep. She didn’t want to disturb him, and so she started to sing again.
The house was quiet and still, with everyone else working outside in the fields on such a warm and sunny afternoon. Having returned from school, Hannibal was heading outside to help. As he passed his father’s bedroom, something caught his eye through the open door and he halted, tempted.
He gingerly picked up the guitar and turned it over, looking at it. With a quick glance towards the door, he sat down on his father’s bed. He strummed the fingers of his right hand across the strings – and shuddered! That certainly didn’t sound right! He tried it again, but it wasn’t any better. He tried placing the fingers of his left hand on the strings as he’d seen his stepmother do and then strummed again. He grimaced – that was even worse! He pulled a face at the guitar – he was intrigued by it and he wasn’t going to let himself be beaten that easily, that was for sure.
But where to start? His stepmother had made it look so easy, but he was discovering it was anything but easy. He adjusted the position of his left hand and tried again.
It sounded more like a thud than a musical note, more harmful than harmonious. He tried a few more times, with no more success.
“I’ve heard better,” came a voice from the doorway.
Hannibal looked up, surprised to see his stepmother watching him and a little unsure of her reaction. He’d thought she was outside, tending to her vegetable garden.
“Me too,” he smiled tentatively, jumping up quickly and putting the guitar back in the corner where he’d found it, sure she wouldn’t be very pleased to find him with it.
“You giving up so easily?” she asked.
He shrugged. He wasn’t often lost for words, but sometimes around his stepmother he wasn’t sure how to react.
She placed the sleeping baby she was carrying into the crib and then picked up the guitar and sat down on the bed, strumming her fingers across it easily. Hannibal watched her as she played. At first he tried to watch her hands closely, but after a few moments he found himself just listening to the sound of the music.
She stopped long enough to pat the bed next to her. “Come, sit,” she encouraged gently, not sure whether he would and not wanting to frighten him away. He hesitated a long moment but then scurried over to sit next to her.
“There are just a few basic chords,” she began, placing her fingers on the strings to show him. “See? This is how you place your fingers for a G chord.” She played it a few times, then held the guitar out towards him.
“Here, your turn.”
He hesitated for just a moment before smiling and taking it eagerly, settling further onto the bed.
“Hold it like this,” she showed him. “That’s it. Now you have to hold the fingers of this hand on the strings, tightly. That’s it, press hard. Now with this hand …”
It didn’t sound a bit like when she’d played it. He looked up at her.
“Well, it will get better,” she smiled.
He relaxed and laughed and she joined in. “Hope so,” he said.
She moved cautiously closer to him, but he didn’t shy away and allowed her to move his fingers into position on the fret.
“Now you have to move these fingers a bit, see how your fingers are touching the other strings? That’s why it doesn’t sound right. Here, move your hand a bit further round, that’s it.”
He tried again and it wasn’t so bad.
“See, better already?” she smiled.
He smiled back, “I have a long way to go.”
“Of course,” she nodded. “Now, remember to keep your fingers firmly on the strings.”
He tried again, but it was even worse and she watched his face crease into a frown. After a few more attempts, he shook his head and started to pass the guitar back to her. She was disappointed that he wasn’t going to continue. She realised she had been hoping that he would.
“Show me,” he commanded, his eyebrows still knitted together, as he thrust the guitar towards her.
Surprised, she took the instrument from him and demonstrated what she had been trying to show him. As he watched carefully, she realised that the frown was simply concentration, not frustration.
She passed it back to him after a few moments and he tried again, this time with far more success. His face broke into a delighted grin and she was genuinely touched by his boyish excitement.
“Better,” he said.
“Much,” she nodded. “All it takes now is practice.”
“Show me another chord?” he asked.
Spurred on by his enthusiasm, she started to show him the C chord, but as she was demonstrating the finger positions, David started to cry. She hesitated, her fingers still on the guitar strings, and stole a quick glance towards the crib. She knew she needed to check on the baby, but she was also unsure of Hannibal’s reaction to the interruption and she was reluctant to spoil what had been a pleasant few moments with him.
Before she could say anything, Hannibal resolved the problem for her by taking the guitar from her hands and attempting the new C chord.
“Like you said, I need to practice,” he smiled at her.
Louisa busied herself with the baby and the chores she wanted to get done before Alex came in from the fields and it was nearly half an hour later when she returned to her bedroom. Hannibal was still sitting on the bed, practising the only two chords he knew, over and over.
She stood in the doorway watching him, watching the look of concentration on his face. He had a strong look of his father she thought. The chords were already sounding much better and he had taught himself to change finger positions from a G to a C and back again. She admired his perserverance and his eagerness to learn, again bringing thoughts of his father to her mind.
She moved towards the bed and he adjusted position slightly to make room for her.
“Time for the next one I think?” she said, sitting down next to him. “Now the D chord is a little harder, because your fingers are so close together, but you only have small fingers so you should manage.”
Louisa stood up from where she’d been sitting on the bed and stretched. It had been a long day today. She’d been trying to help Alex with the final harvesting but with a young toddler and a six month old in tow, it was hard work. She bent down over the crib and stroked her younger son’s cheek tenderly. He was sleeping on his back, spread eagled so as to take up all of the room in the crib, his head falling a little to one side, his baby lips parted. The only time he didn’t have a smile on his face was when he was sleeping, she thought. And sometimes she almost expected him to sleep with a smile. He was a happy, good natured baby and thankfully, not so much work as his older brother. She bent to kiss him goodnight, then turned to her older son, Samuel, now also asleep. She reached to stroke the almost white hair. He looked so angelic asleep, belying the trouble he liked to get into when he was awake. He was an intelligent, inquisitive child, seeming older than his 18 months and already prone to the tantrums of a two year old.
She stood the guitar back against the wall. She enjoyed the evening routine of singing lullabies to her sons and it seemed to settle them to sleep when they were restless.
She caught a movement in the doorway and glanced up, but there was no one there. She guessed it had been Hannibal. She knew he’d taken to watching her sing lullabies to the little ones recently and last week, she’d found him trying to play the guitar. She had shown him a few chords and he’d seemed to enjoy learning, but he hadn’t asked her to teach him anything else since. If she was honest, she was disappointed. The two of them had never had an easy relationship. Alex had said she’d tried too hard at the beginning. Just try to be friends he had suggested. She knew he’d told Hannibal to act as if he wanted to be friends, but she had never really believed that he did want to be friends. At first she had been upset by his reaction to her, almost afraid that if Hannibal didn’t love her, Alex might not, but over the last two years she’d come to understand him more, and to understand how difficult a time it had been for him. She still hoped they could be friends. Sometimes, like last week, she could almost feel that they were, but then Hannibal would retreat again. She tried not to push him when he did that, tried to give him some space, tried not to fuss over him – fussing had been one of his biggest complaints about her in the early days. She smiled as she remembered. He was probably right.
Her fingers traced down the neck of the guitar. She’d enjoyed teaching him to play and she’d like to teach him more, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it. Was he even interested in learning more? She always felt so inadequate when it came to teaching him things. What did she possibly have to teach him? His mother had been a fine, educated woman, had taught him to read and had passed on to him her love and knowledge of books. Alex was … well Alex was just Alex. There seemed to be no end to his talent and knowledge, she herself was constantly amazed at the things he could do and Hannibal loved to spend time with him, loved to learn from him. She’d seen some of that love of learning in him last week. He was a fascinating child, of that there was no doubt. A miracle, he had once told her proudly.
She heard a noise just outside the bedroom door and stepped into the doorway just in time to see Hannibal disappearing out of the kitchen. She took a breath to call him, but then halted and instead just watched him walk out of the door.
“Injuns! Injuns!” screamed Samuel in delight, at the top of his voice, his little legs toddling along as fast as they could, the top half of his body in constant danger of outrunning his legs and toppling over.
“Run Samuel, run! Faster!” yelled Hannibal from behind him, pretending to run as fast as he could, though never quite going any faster than the toddler despite the enormous leaps and bounds he was over-exaggerating. “The Indians are gonna get Samuel, and they have spears!” Hannibal waved the broom around in the air for effect.
Samuel shrieked with glee as he tried to go even faster. “Injuns ged Sam’ul! Shears!” he yelled.
“You’d better hide Samuel, you can’t out-run the Indians!”
“Atun Injuns!” Samuel cried as he ran into the storehouse.
Hannibal crept up to the door. “I know you’re in there Samuel, you’d better come out,” he called.
“No, No, No, No!”
Hannibal smiled. He could hear Samuel jumping up and down inside the storehouse, unable to contain his excitement. He knew what was coming and the end part of the game was his favourite.
“If Samuel’s not gonna come out,” Hannibal began in his most frightening, threatening Indian voice “then the Indians are gonna come in and get Samuel.”
“Gej Sam’ul, Gej Sam’ul.” Samuel was almost beside himself.
“But you forgot the Indians have spears!” Hannibal pushed the broom handle just inside the storehouse.
“AAArgh!!!” Samuel screamed.
“Did they get you Samuel?”
There was no sound at all. Hannibal smiled. Samuel was very good at this part.
“Samuel? Did the Indians get you?”
Hannibal waited for a long moment.
“Samuel?” he put a little worry into his voice. “Samuel are you in there?”
Still no reply.
“Samuel? Did they get you? The Indians, did they really get you?”
Hannibal stood to the side of the door and leaned his head around into the storehouse. “Samuel? You in here?” he whispered.
“Unbeknownst” to Hannibal, Samuel quietly, at least as quietly as an eighteen month old could, crawled out of the storehouse, right under his step-brother’s nose and somehow managed to avoid being seen. Then he continued all the way around the outside of the storehouse until he came up behind Hannibal.
Hannibal waited until he heard him come up behind him. Samuel wasn’t quite old enough to stay quiet for very long and Hannibal could already hear him giggling at what was to come.
“Samuel?” Hannibal called again into the storehouse. “You in there? Did the Indians get you?”
“NO!!!!!” Samuel screeched so loudly Hannibal was sure the whole of Kansas could hear him. As Hannibal turned in mock horror, Samuel dived on him and the pair rolled to the ground, wrestling.
“Gej Injuns! Gej Injuns!” chanted Samuel as he raged the battle. Samuel’s laughter was infectious and soon Hannibal was laughing right along with him, until eventually he was laughing so hard that he couldn’t carry on and had to give in and let the toddler climb on top of him and hold the spear to his chest.
“Samuel? It’s time to come in now,” came Louisa’s voice from the house.
“Better go in Samuel, else the Indians might really get ya!” Hannibal teased him playfully.
Samuel clambered off him and pushed himself to a standing position, then he grabbed Hannibal’s hand and started towards the house.
“Chime jed” Samuel said seriously, nodding.
“That’s right, time for bed,” Hannibal agreed.
“Habul charm jed”
“You want me to come?”
“Habul shink innen”
Hannibal frowned, he hadn’t quite got that last bit. Samuel’s speech was sometimes completely unintelligible, though he clearly knew exactly what he was saying himself. Hannibal was better than most at understanding him, but sometimes even he was stumped.
Samuel led his big brother towards his bedroom, where Louisa was just tucking David into his crib. She turned and lifted Samuel onto her hip, kissing his neck. Hannibal started to leave the room, but Samuel objected.
“No!” he said, frowning. “Habul wash day shink innen Sam’ul” He paused, then added with certainty. “An dayit.” Clearly it was quite obvious to him, though it wasn’t to anyone else. Hannibal looked at Louisa and she shrugged, not having understood either.
“You want me to stay?” asked Hannibal.
“Yes!” beamed Samuel, jumping down from Louisa’s arms and patting the bed, indicating for Hannibal to sit there. Hannibal did as he was told and sat on the bed while Louisa prepared Samuel for bed. When he was ready, she picked him up and snuggled him. He giggled and threw his arms around her, cuddling her back.
“You ready for a lullaby?” she asked him.
“Which one tonight?” she asked.
“Sheef, Bay-bee, Sheef” he answered.
“Sleep, Baby, Sleep? OK,” Louisa replied. “That’s my favourite too. In English or in German tonight?”
She picked up the guitar, but as she sat down, Samuel wriggled out of her arms and pushed the guitar towards Hannibal.
“Hangbul” he said.
Louisa looked at him puzzled. “You want Hannibal to play?”
Samuel nodded. Hannibal glared at him threateningly and then shook his head, frowning.
“You want Hannibal to play the guitar for you?” Louisa asked again.
Samuel nodded again, completely ignoring Hannibal’s look. “Sheef, Bay-bee, Sheef,” he confirmed.
Hannibal looked nervously at Louisa, unsure of her reaction.
“But Hannibal can’t play Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” Louisa smiled.
“Can,” Samuel said certainly.
“Samuel dear, I don’t think … ”
Samuel pushed the guitar further towards Hannibal. “Flay. Sheef, Bay-bee, Sheef” he commanded.
Louisa looked at him uncertainly. Hannibal was torn between embarrassment and a strange, yet not unpleasant, almost kind of nice feeling that Samuel wanted him to play.
“Can you?” she asked.
Hannibal met her eyes defiantly. “I don’t sing,” he said, doing his best to mimic his father’s voice-that-you-don’t-argue-with.
Louisa struggled to suppress a grin. “How about you play and I sing?” she suggested.
Samuel stood his ground, standing between them, his hands on his hips. “Hangbul shing Kinine,” he stated, completely oblivious to Hannibal’s discomfort.
Louisa raised her eyebrows. “Hannibal sings Kindlein?
“The German version?”
Hannibal’s eyes widened as he looked at Samuel, and this time he more than equalled his father’s do-not-argue-with-me-voice. “I do not.”
They stared at each other for a few seconds and then Samuel’s bottom lip started to quiver. Hannibal rolled his eyes.
Louisa couldn’t contain the giggle this time, but stopped herself immediately and looked nervously at Hannibal. He looked from Louisa to Samuel and back again, and then finally he laughed. Louisa let out the breath she realised she had been holding and laughed with him.
“Together?” she asked and he nodded.
He sighed and nodded. “Just, ” he paused.
“Just don’t tell anyone I did this.”
She laughed again. “I won’t tell a soul, but,” she lifted Samuel and placed him in the small bed “I’m not so sure you can rely on this little one.”
She ruffled the toddler’s hair and tucked him in and as she sat down, Samuel beamed happily up at Hannibal, waiting for his lullaby. A memory of eagerly awaiting a story flitted briefly across Hannibal’s mind and he smiled and resigned himself to his fate.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
Der Vater hüt’t die Schaf.
Die Mutter schüttelt’s Bäumelein,
Da fällt herab ein Träumelein.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf!
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
Am Himmel ziehn die Schaf.
Die Sternlein sind die Lämmerlein,
Der Mond, der ist das Schäferlein.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf!
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
So schenk’ ich dir ein Schaf.
Mit einer goldnen Schelle fein,
Das soll dein Spielgeselle sein.
Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
By the end of the three verses, the two little boys were sound asleep and Hannibal watched as Louisa tucked them in and kissed them goodnight.
“You did a good job” she commented as casually as she could.
Hannibal nodded but didn’t reply. What would she say? He knew what he wanted her to say, he wanted her to say that she would teach him more, but he wasn’t sure she wanted to. He could ask her of course, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.
He looked across the room towards the two sleeping little ones, avoiding her gaze.
“I mean it,” she said, trying to sound reassuring yet knowing she sounded uncertain. She mentally scolded herself. She didn’t want him to think she was uncertain that he’d done a good job, because she wasn’t. He had done well. What she was uncertain of, was what to say next. She took a breath. “Hannibal?”
He looked at her, again without answering.
She shook her head and he looked away again. A few awkward moments of silence followed. She watched him carefully, and realised he felt as unsure as she did. He looked very young in that moment, suddenly not at all like his father, but just a child. He was only a child she acknowledged. He was only just 9 after all.
“I did mean it,” she said, more confidently this time. “You played very well.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled without looking at her.
“Course, there are a few more chords to learn.” She sounded nervous even to herself and she almost regretted the words immediately, he wouldn’t be interested.
He looked up at her suddenly. Was she going to say it? He gave a tiny nod and waited, still looking at her, searching her face.
He was looking at her so intently, and suddenly she didn’t regret the words.
“If you’re interested in learning them, of course, it’s, it’s …” she faltered, unsure now of what to say.
She’d said it. Well, almost. She sounded as awkward as he felt. But she had said it, at least, it was what she meant.
“I’d like to learn,” he said, looking away again.
She let out a sigh of relief. He did want to learn.
“It’s not easy, it can be tricky.”
“I know,” he nodded.
“You have to practice a lot.”
“I’ll do that,” he smiled at her.
She smiled back at him. The child had disappeared again and in his place sat once more a younger version of his father, confident and assured.
She settled in closer to him and reached her arm around his back so that she could place her fingers on the strings to demonstrate the next chord.
“Right, the next chord only uses two fingers …” she began in earnest.