It was the year of 1873, and young Basil Edwards of the village of Cambridge had much to do. The fourteen year old was a busybody for one his age, and he was rushing more than he should have.
Basil’s mother fell ill with pneumonia over a week ago. He had to get home to take care of the ever-giggling William, Basil’s younger brother. He ran as fast as he could to the little house next door to the only church in the village. The Edwards’s were the lucky ones . . . unlike the other families, they weren’t overrun by others like them. They may have been poor, but Basil’s mother worked to make ends meet.
After this winter, little Willie and I will be in an orphanage, Basil thought darkly. Mother likely won’t survive the winter.
Sarah worked anyway. She didn’t seem to worry so much of herself. As long as her boys were well supported until Basil was ready to apprentice under a shop owner in London, she would be happy.
Basil didn’t want to work as an apprentice. He wanted to be an author.
Basil finished his chores late that night, and he’d put his younger brother to bed earlier than usual. He waited to hear his mother – coughing from the cold air she inhaled – to enter the house before he headed to the room he shared with William.
He sat down at his old desk, pulled out a blank notebook from his only drawer. He dipped his quill in the little inkwell he had. With the light of the short candle he kept, Basil began to write.
* * *
The next morning, Basil took his story to show his mother. He’d gotten so far with it before his imagination came to a halt. He was proud of his work. It helped him to relax after the night before.
Lucky for him, his mother was making her morning dose of herbal tea, lemon juice, and honey. Little Willie was dozing off as he sat in front of his porridge.
“Mother, I think I might have written something you might like,” Basil announced, waving his notebook in the air.
Sarah smiled as she poured her tea into the lemon and honey mixture. She looked a little better when she smiled, meaning she was happy to hear what her eldest had wrote. “Read it to me, dear. I’m a little busy at the moment,” she replied.
Basil began to read his story. He knew his mother loved historical writings, and the idea he had was perfect for both her, William, and himself.
Basil’s story was one about adventure, knights, and fantastical beasts. He even added a little magic into it to make it a little more entertaining. He stopped halfway through his second page. Writer’s block had gotten to Basil as his noble knight approached the dragon’s den. It frustrated him he couldn’t find the right words to describe it.
His mother smiled kindly at Basil. William laughed and clapped his hands. Basil was proud of himself. His mother and brother loved it.
“It’s lovely, Basil,” Sarah said.
Basil began to feel uneasy. His mother was going to offer criticism. He knew it wouldn’t be the greatest feeling in the world, to be called down because of some part he didn’t quite write right.
“Mother –” Basil began, but his mother cut him off.
“What place would it have in the real world, darling? I’m being honest when I say it’s lovely. It is, dear. I’m just not sure where it will fit.”
Basil couldn’t answer that question. He couldn’t find the words to say to answer her question. He loved his mother, but his story seemed a little important at the moment.
“More!” William exclaimed, reaching out to Basil. Basil hugged his younger brother.
“After school, all right? I must be going.” Basil’s heart was sinking. His mother loved his story, but she didn’t appreciate it. Basil felt as though he would cry.
And Basil left for school with his simple lunch and notebook with a heavy heart.
* * *
The day passed in a blur. Nothing his teacher said stuck today. All Basil could think about was how to continue his knight’s story.
At precisely three o’clock, Nicholas Washington dismissed his students. Washington was a cheery young man, about twenty-two years old. He was tall and lanky with dark hair that hung in his eyes, a scraggly beard, and kind green eyes. Basil respected this man. He was the best teacher a student could ask for.
As Basil headed for the door, Washington called, “Master Edwards.”
Basil turned to face the school master. He wasn’t in the mood to talk today. He wanted to get working on his story.
Washington got to Basil’s eye level. Basil knew, judging by the look in his teacher’s grey eyes, this was serious.
“Master Edwards, why are you so glum? The last time I saw you, you were happy as a lark. Tell me; what happened?”
Basil looked down at his worn-out shoes. Nicholas Washington was one of the best teachers he had the pleasure of knowing, and Basil knew Mr. Washington cared for him and his family. His mother was sick. He barely had time to do his homework between caring for little Willie and his evening chores. He hardly slept since his mother got sick, worrying tirelessly over her.
“Mother’s sick,” Basil said sadly. “I’m sorry I can’t get my homework done. There’s just too little time to do it.”
Washington felt terrible for the boy. He couldn’t blame Basil, considering the boy seemed to have the world on his shoulders. Washington, being a compassionate soul since moving to Cambridge, decided to help the boy out.
“Come in for a cup of tea. I’ll help you catch up on your studies,” Washington said, standing up.
“Mother will worry where I am,” Basil replied. His grey eyes were huge with worry.
“Your mother won’t worry if you tell her you’ve been caught up with your homework,” Washington asserted firmly.
Basil clutched his notebooks. Here goes nothing, the boy thought.
* * *
Over tea Basil barely touched, Washington had Basil caught up with his homework. Basil felt a little less ashamed. Maybe this was the time Basil could talk about his story without being criticized.
“Sir, I started writing a story last night, and I would like your opinion on it,” Basil said timidly.
Washington looked at him. The school master’s green eyes were wide with surprise. “A story, you say? Let me look at it.”
Basil handed Washington his notebook. Washington skimmed it through and handed it back to Basil.
“Master Edwards, I must say, I’m impressed,” Washington commented. “Your spelling and grammar are correct and precise.”
Basil smiled shyly. “Thank you, sir.”
“But I must ask you: What happens to the knight as he comes to the dragon’s den?”
Basil shook his head. “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out, sir. No words come to mind.”
“I see. Would you mind if I suggested some ideas?”
“Not at all.”
Washington talked about having the knight be made into a cowardly character. He also discussed having the dragon being a rumor: the knight enters the dragon’s keep and finds absolutely nothing.
Basil liked this idea, so Basil headed home to complete his evening chores, put William to bed, and finish his story.
* * *
Twenty-Five Years Later
Basil walked through a London book shop, pleased with what he found. His collection of short stories of knights and fantastical beasts were sitting on one of the shop’s front shelves. Basil smiled to himself.
His career began as a fourteen-year-old boy with big dreams.