Summary:Lindy continues the strange tale she began in part 1.
Find part 1 here.
The Key (And Lindi’s Tale Begins)
A long time later (a good fifteen minutes of play-explore-bicker-with-their-cousins time) Rosalind started talking again (in that same strange, sure voice) and this time, they could not make her stop. Oddly, it did not worry them quite so much as it did the first time- children changed all the time- they just figured that she had maybe been holding in this story for a while and now she was ready to tell it. Also, it was kind of a good story, so they let her tell it, each of them still playing at sorting the crazy assortment of stuffs that were in the shed.
“Might be best if I started from the true beginning of the tale- who I am and where I am. My name if Katherine Dalton. Katie-girl to my mother, although she is gone now, gone to see Jesus and the Angels. She died before- when we still lived in the country house and my father still grew wheat. Now, we live in Elizabethtown in the newly reformed Royal English Colony of New Jersey and Father is a merchant. He owns great ships with his business partners and they bring all kind of good things from England to sell in the shop they run in town. I am his only daughter and nearing my seventh year.
“I do not like the town house (so close to the next nearest house that I can see into the Henry Wright’s bed chamber from my own, and so loud with the passing of people and horses on the street) nearly as much as I loved the country house (wide and quiet- smelling of honeysuckle in the spring and ripe golden wheat at the harvest, smelling of mother). Father used to come in from a long day in the fields working with the servants and kiss mother’s cheek, tousle my hair and call us his ‘darling girls’. Now Heather, an old Scotswoman has charge of me. She is indentured to my father, who bought her contract from a man who treated her ill. She is kind and speaks with a lilt soft and strange, but she is deaf in one ear from having had them boxed by her old master too many times and she is not in any way like my mother. She also has charge of the kitchen and the other serving maid, so she has little time to spend on games and sweetness with me the way mother always did.
“Father has said that next spring, he will get me a tutor so that I may learn the ways of society and be a proper little woman instead of always running out with young Henry Wright (who is a year younger than me, but already has a tutor because he is a boy) and getting all covered in filth in the gardens. But, I do not wish to be a proper little woman (sewing and dancing and playing the pianoforte). I wish I could stay as I am (playing and singing and frolicking about the house and the nearby streets) or return to the country house. Still, I do think it may please me to have someone other than Heather pay some mind to me. Father has stopped noticing me, even when I come to the dinner table unwashed and smelling of the horses I sometimes brush in Henry’s father’s stables.
“Maybe how I wish for Father to pay some mind to me is why I felt so pleased when Jonah came around. I first saw him as a quick as a wink flash rushing past the Wrights’ stable and into the brush that lines their back gardens. I was certain that his intention was not to be seen at all, but perhaps (like all the other adults, save Heather when she remembered) he did not see me, so small as I am. Perhaps he thought he had made his mad dash without being seen. Still, he did not seem to be doing harm to a soul or even Henry’s family’s property, so I did not alert Henry to what I had seen. I just turned back to the nervous mare I was next to and kept brushing her.
“When next I saw him, two days later, he was doing some little bit of harm in that he was taking a still warm loaf of bread from our kitchen (Heather had set it out near to open window to cool) but Heather had made six good loaves and he was pilfering the smallest if them. Heather did not keep very good count of things as it was (Father often took her to task over some such mistake, but he never beat her). The loaf would not be missed much and the man looked hungry, so I again kept silent. A little bit of harm to Father’s household moneys seemed nothing to the harm letting a man starve would have been.
“That evening at dinner, I hid my helping of potatoes and half of my overly large serving of roast beef in the pocket of my apron. Then I went to my bed chamber early, telling Heather I had a sick stomach from eating so heartily. She was still at work in the kitchen, cleaning the pots from the last meal and setting up the bread for the next morning to rise over the night, so I was able to hide my pilfered food before she came in with the bed warmer to tuck me tight into my bed for the night.
“Once Heather was gone back below boards to her glass of beer and her own bed, I hopped back out from under the covers and dressed myself to go outside. Tucking the food, still wrapped inside my apron into my coat, I put my shoes back on. Then I relit my taper from the banked fire in my bed chamber’s fireplace and found my way slowly to the stairs. It was a stroke of luck that Heather is half deaf, since I had to pass her chamber on the way. I was out the servant’s door to the back garden before I remembered that I had no way to know where to find the poor man I wished to feed. And, I was certain that he would not want to be found by me, since he had stolen from my family. I stood in the cold night air for a long moment puzzling on that problem and I nearly gave up and went back in to the warmth of my bed for the night. Then I recalled the snow that had fallen early that morning and how the man had stood at the kitchen window to get the loaf of bread.
“A moment’s searching of the ground beside the window, my candle held low to the ground, allowed me to find a large set of footprints left in the crisp coating of snow. This trail I followed back through the gardens and through a gap in the hedges between our garden and the one behind it. Stepping through the hedge, my skirts were caught up by the branches and my legs and arms were scratched by the hedge thorns. I wondered how a man so much greater in size than I was could get through such a gap unhurt. Perhaps he did not. Perhaps he went through nonetheless to get at the food Heather left out so temptingly on the sills. On the other side of the hedge, the footprints became muddled and I was certain that the man had often walked the small lane behind the hedge (it ran the length of several houses, lined in some places with hedges and in other places with fences). Having come this far, I was hesitant to turn back, so I took a breath of cold air, turned deliberately to the right and stepped carefully down the lane hoping to find some sign of where the man I was looking for had gone.
“I did not have to go far. The Wrights’ stable was just a short distance from where I had come through the hedge. The rear wall of the stable bordered the lane and through the gaps in the wooden slats of the wall, I could see candle light. I stepped close to the wall and peered through one of the gaps (my face pressed to the scratching wood). I expected to see Will, the stable boy, sitting up with a sick mare or some such thing as should have been there, but I did not. The man- the hungry thief- was sitting in the hay, his back to the wall I was looking through. He was shaking with the cold (his teeth making a fast clicking sound with it as well) and trying to warm his bare hands- holding them up to the flame of a single taper. Not at all certain of the best way to approach him, I nonetheless slipped around the side of the stable (squeezing myself through another small space- between the hedgerow and the corner of the stable) and around to the front so I could go inside.
“He looked up startled when I had gotten very close- he was ready to run from me if he had to. I could see it in his face. ‘Don’t go!’ I said in haste before sending him a smile that was quick and bright. ‘I have brought-‘ I pulled my apron out from within my coat and held it out towards him. My hand was shaking (it was the cold, not fear that made it shake). He gazed uncertainly at it for a moment before reaching his hand out to take and unwrap it.
“‘Thank you,’ he whispered hoarsely once he had seen what was inside, and he sat down to eat it at once.
“Less than an hour later, I was sneaking the extra quilt from the chest in my bed chamber down to the cellar (along with some apples from the pantry and a pitcher of water I drew from the well outside) so Jonah, my new friend, would not be cold and hungry any longer. I knew he would be safe from discovery there, for Heather never went down the stairs to the cellar. She said they were too steep for her weak knee. Instead she always sent me after whatever she needed.
“Over the next days, I found ways to care for the man I would secreted in the cellar, bringing him foodstuffs and some of my father’s old clothing to keep the chill off. I did try to bring him above boards- my father perhaps could give him employment (or Henry’s father might- Jonah told me he had worked with horses). But, he would not go and, after I would heard of how his old master- the one he had run away from- how his old master had treated him so ill, I did not push him to risk being caught and returned there. But, more than food, Jonah seemed starved for friendship. He just wanted someone to talk to, someone who would not treat him as if he was an animal or a naughty child (a feeling I wholly understood). And so, we spent hours together (the long morning hours during which I was usually restless and waiting for Henry’s tutor to finish giving him a proper education for the day and allow him out to knock on our servant’s door and ask me to come play out in the gardens).
“We filled those hours with storytelling- myths of Africa and his lost happy family there and the beauty of South Carolina and Bible tales (the sole good to come into Jonah’s life in South Carolina was learning of Jesus and how he saves- he even took a baptism and a new name from the Bible). Along with the tales, Jonah taught me games from his childhood days and did parlor tricks (that he learned in South Carolina, when he served in his old master’s house). He spent all of one morning teaching me how to make it seem that I had swallowed a coin and that it later could be pulled from my ear. And, between Jonah in the mornings and Henry and the horses after noon, my winter days passed quickly (as they had not since before we had left the country house).”