It is night, and our old house by the river is finally quiet. The baby has
stopped its crying and been soothed back to sleep. Only the gentle lapping of
the River Thames can be heard outside my window. London is wrapped in a deep
sleep, waiting for the watchman to call in the new day.
I have lit the first of seven candles to write my story by. On the table
next to me is the silk purse that holds my mother's pearls and beside it is
the ebony box whose treasure I am only now beginning to understand. Next to
that, shining nearly as bright as the moon, stands a pair of silver shoes.
I have a great many things to tell, of how I came by the silver shoes and
more. And this being my story and a fairy tale besides, I will start once upon
a time . . . .
My name is Coriander Hobie. I am the only child of Thomas and Eleanor Hobie,
being born in this house in the year of Our Lord 1643. It is just a stone's
throw from London Bridge, with the river running past the windows at the back.
To the front is my mother's once beautiful walled garden that leads through
a wooden door out on to the bustling city street. The garden is all overgrown
now; it has been neglected for too long. Once it was full of flowers and herbs
of all description whose perfume could make even the Thames smell sweet, but
now rosemary and nettles, briar roses and brambles have reclaimed it as their
It was this garden, the like of which no neighbors had ever seen, that
first set tongues wagging. My father had planted it for my mother, and built
her a pretty stillroom that backed on to the wall of the countinghouse. My
mother in her quiet way knew more about herbs and their powers than anyone
else, and together with her waiting woman, Mary Danes, she would spend hours
in the stillroom, making all sorts of potions which were distilled and stored
in tiny bottles. When I was small I used to hide under my mother's
petticoats and listen to friends and neighbors as they brought their ailments
to her like posies of sorrows, to be made better by one of her remedies. Later
on, when I was too big to hide, they came to ask her other things, for by this
time her reputation as a cunning woman with magical powers had spread as
thistledown does, blown on the hot winds of gossip.
My first memories are of the garden and of this, my old bedchamber, whose
walls my mother painted with fairy places and imaginary beasts. She wrote
under each one in her fair script, and for every picture she had a story, as
bright in the telling as the colors in which they were painted. When I was
small I used to trace the letters with my finger, to feel how the spidery
writing was raised above the wood paneling, and I would say the names to
myself like a magic charm to keep harm at bay. All the pictures, like the
garden's blooms, are gone now, washed and scrubbed away. Only the faintest
trace of the gold letters remains. They still shine through, like the
I used to believe that my mother's life had started with me and that
before I made my entrance into this world there was nothing. Nothing, that is,
until the midsummer's day when my father, Thomas Hobie, first saw my mother
standing under an oak tree on a country lane.
This is the story he told me, and the story I loved the best. When he was a
young merchant with a head full of dreams, he put his hard-earned savings,
together with what money his father had left him, into a ship bound for
Constantinople, banking on her returning with a cargo of silk. Alas, news
reached him that she had been lost in a great storm at sea, so that now he
owned nothing but the clothes on his back.
In despair, my father walked out of the city and some ten miles into the
country, on the chance of being able to borrow money from a distant cousin, a
Master Stoop. When he arrived he found that Master Stoop had given up the
never-ending struggle with the living and had joined the ranks of the dead,
leaving a wife and several small Stoops to be looked after.
From I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. All rights reserved. Copyright Sally Gardner 2005. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Dial Books for Young Children.
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