11.06.2008

Late Night Confessions and Schoolroom Joys

I forgot to mention, Dear Reader, that I wrote the second half of my diary entry lying in the little bed cubby across from Adelaide. My penmanship was dreadful, as I am not used to writing while lying on my stomach beneath the covers (though I have had much practice reading while lying thus, with a tiny, dim lamp beneath the blankets for company!). Also, my light was faint as I did not want to keep the little girls and the cook and maid awake. Adelaide, I knew, was awake even after I closed the lamp up; eighteen years sharing a room with at least a score of girls has educated me of the sounds a sleeping person makes as opposed to an awake one, and her breathing was certainly that of a wakeful person.

"Adelaide?" I whispered a few minutes after I had closed the lamp in the little built-in shelf at the head of my bed.

"Yes?" I heard her roll over to face me, though it was pitch dark in our tiny compartment and I could not see my hand in front of my face. (This was very strange to me; we always kept a small lamp on at the end of the dormitory for the littler girls who were afraid of the dark. I tried to remember if I had ever slept in the pitch dark, and could not remember a time.)

"May I ask you a personal question? You are under no obligation to answer, and if the question makes you at all uncomfortable, we may both proceed as though I did not ask it at all."

There was a brief pause, but then she whispered, "All right. Go ahead."

I, too, hesitated, as this was a very personal question indeed, and our acquaintance was so short that I was not entirely sure of the propriety of asking such a thing. But logic told me that I would most likely never see her again once I arrived in Reliance, and I must make the most of the time I did have with her. "Why do you not acknowledge your feelings for Mr. Matthews?" I asked softly.

The next pause was so long that I thought she had indeed taken my advice and pretended I had never asked such a thing. I counted my breaths, in and out: twelve, then thirteen, fourteen... and then she replied.

"I do not know if I truly love him," she said slowly, quietly, "or if he is the only young man I have known since I have become a young woman, and therefore I love him... out of necessity."

I pondered this a moment; it seemed to make sense. "But you do not deny that... you do love him?"

Another pause, though not as long. "No," she said. "I do. Or I think I do."

"All I know of love, I learned from copper-novels," I admitted. "I wish I could advise you."

"Thank you for the thought," said Adelaide, "but I think I might be beyond help." Her voice was very small, and more vulnerable than I had ever heard it.

"You love him very much," I whispered. It wasn't even a question.

When she spoke, her voice was very small indeed, and she had dropped all pretences. "Yes. I am afraid that I do."

There was another minute or two of silence. "What shall you do?" I asked.

"I do not know."

"Has he admitted his love for you?"

She made a sound like a laugh, though it was sad. "He does not have to," she said. "Everything he does, every look he gives me, every word he speaks to me is a testament to it."

"I am sorry for flirting with him the other day."

"It hardly seemed as though you could help yourself, you are so naturally charming" said Adelaide, and while I am sure she meant it to seem friendly, there was a slight hint of bitterness in her voice.

"I... I am sorry," I said again. "I realize now it was cruel, but at the time I thought of it only as a test, as I was not yet sure of your affections for Arth--for Mr. Matthews." I imagined that if I could have seen her face, she would have tensed, eyes widening and nostrils flaring, when I nearly called her beloved by his given name. "Forgive me."

"Forgiven," she said immediately, and with warmth. Though the fact that she acknowledged it meant that she realized I had been flirting, and that there was something to worry about. "Let us continue on now only as friends."

"Agreed," I said happily.

All was quiet for another few minutes, and I thought she was drifting into sleep, but then she said, "Bernice... I am sorry for what I said the other day about your family. About them... not coming to find you."

"Do not give it another thought. I realize my situation makes most people uncomfortable. I suppose it would do the same for me, were I in a different situation and heard about a girl who had been orphaned almost from birth. Sometimes I think about it, and realize that it is a tragedy, but I can only feel that in a distant sort of way because I am too close to the situation. Oh dear, that sounded terribly contradictory, didn't it?"

"I know what you mean," said Adelaide. "Anyway, I am sorry. I am sure that you must have relatives somewhere, and since they have not come searching for you, something dreadful must have happened--oh! I do not mean something dreadful like... a death or anything!" she cried, though softly. "I only meant that, as you said, perhaps your parents quarreled with their families, or ties were broken."

"I know what you mean," I said with a little smile, echoing her words of just a moment before. "Do not worry about it, honestly. Let us talk of something else."

"How about you both hush up and go to sleep?" Ethel called from her bottom-most bunk.

Adelaide and I both muffled our laughter in our pillows, but neither of us said another word that night, for fear of disturbing the cook.

I am writing all of this in the middle of the afternoon, while Adelaide and her siblings are hard at work at their schooling. Three girls and two boys are sitting at the table beneath the handmade alphabet, and I shall now describe the picture as well as the Kynton children.

Adelaide, of course, is already known to you, Dear Reader, so I shall start with the next-eldest, Ella, which is short for Eleanor. She looks very like her sister in that she is thin, tall for her age, (which is fifteen), with blonde hair, blue eyes, and faint freckles across her nose and cheeks. (In fact, all the Kynton look like this, or at least I assume they do, as I have still not met Mr. Kynton.) She is a very intelligent, polite young lady and seems to find me interesting, but is too well-mannered to ask me anything other than to pass the salt at supper last night, and if I could please reach her a book on the top shelf, as I was standing near it at the time and am taller than she.

Next is Samuel, whom they call Sam. He is fourteen, and has been very quiet in my presence, though I have caught him watching me several times, out of the corner of my eye. He is the one that will inherit the train when his father is unable to conduct it any longer. His hair is a darker shade of blond than the girls' and his eyes, too, a darker blue, but he is quite as handsome as the rest of them, for a fourteen-year-old boy.

After him is Francis, called Frank or Frankie, though he thinks he is getting to old for the latter. He is not too polite or too shy to speak to me, and has indeed spent half the morning being shushed by his mother or older sisters for asking me endless questions about the orphanage, how I grew up, what I did during the day, if my mistress (he means Miss P___) was as mean as the books about orphans would have him believe, and ever so many other things.

Last is little Matilda, called Mattie. (I just realized all the children but Adelaide have nicknames. I wonder if it is intentional, for she could be called Addie, but perhaps she does not like it. I shall ask her.) Mattie is a little dear, only six years old. She looks like an angel, pale and small, with round, pink cheeks and lovely blonde curls. She chattered at me all through lunch, telling me about her dolls and her favourite dress, which has pink ribbon trim. Apparently she wishes to show it to me, but her mother says she may not until after she has finished her lessons for the day. She is already quite proficient at her alphabet, as well as simple sums and reading small books; Mrs. Kynton allowed her to sit on my lap and read to me for part of her lessons, which I did not at all mind, as I quite adore her.

Mrs. Kynton is a kind and capable teacher, all the more so because she loves her pupils as a mother, not just an instructor. She encourages where it is needed, and gently chides when necessary, though never raises her voice above a quiet murmur. It is quite soothing to be around her, and it seems as though she knew what I told Adelaide yesterday evening as we prepared the supper cart, for she has given me special attention today, making sure at intervals that I am warm enough, full enough of food, not thirsty, and comfortable enough in the "squashed old dear of a sofa" where I have spent much of my time when not taking the food cart up and down the train with Adelaide. (I have also made progress on book four of the Catherine the Illuminated series, and Catherine is now deep in the bowels of the villain's castle after having her Gift negated by a powerful object in the villain's possession, then taken captive.)

Oh my, Mattie has just come by and shown me her favourite dress. It is a little too small for her, but she squeezed herself into it and came out twirling for me, arms above her head like a dancer. It is white and does, indeed, have ribbon trim, but only by a stretch of the imagination could it be called "pink." Perhaps at one point in its little life, it had been pink, but is now so faded the colour is a shade or two on the tannish side of white. But it makes her happy, so if her mother has taken the trim off some other dress, second- or third- or fourth-hand, to sew onto her youngest daughter's, far be it from me to draw attention to it. I, too, have lived all my life with almost no coloured clothing, as have many many other poor people, due to the import taxes on artificial cloth dye. What few coloured items I have owned have been dyed with natural substances: roots, plants, earth. The shades, of course, are not as vibrant as those dyed with chemicals, but it is better than nothing.

Although, as Miss P___ always said, "Do not whine, girls. White can be bleached clean as snow, and will never fade. It is a practical colour." Whereupon one of us would mutter something akin to, "But it is not a colour," and then we would all giggle.

Now it is time to load the supper cart, so off I must go, after returning this diary to its resting place on the shelf at the head of my cozy little bed. Dear, dear Kyntons, for granting me such a blessing!

_____

Just before bed now. I almost forgot to say: tomorrow we stop in Sun City to restock food, water, and other necessities, and shall be in the station for half the day! The Kyntons have granted me leave to explore the town, as long as I am back by one, and I could not be more excited! I hardly think I shall sleep tonight.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I can not wait to read more! (I hope that you do not miss the train! Could that be the reason that there is no posting for the seventh! )

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