Learning to Speak and Job Satisfaction

During our walk this morning, Mr. Miller taught me some of the hand speech he used to use on the Erebos to make himself understood, and we also made up quite a bit for our own use. We had a very good time, and I laughed often, mostly at myself for my absurd guesses as to what he meant. When I seemed to be utterly lost, Mr. Miller would stop and write the word in the dirt at our feet, then make the gesture again so I learned it. I will here relate all I can remember, so I can continue to communicate with him by means other than writing.

Stroking his upper lip just beneath his nose means "Captain Belleclaire," for this is the same gesture the Captain himself did often, smoothing his mustache. That one made me laugh most heartily, for Mr. Miller was so like him in expression and bearing when he made the gesture that I could not help but laugh.

A circle made by touching his fingertips to the tip of his thumb, then flying it through the air at about eye level means "dirigible." He designates the Royal Erebos by making a swirl with his index finger, which I eventually recognized as a lowercase "e." The Grand Tourbillion, which we still speak of occasionally, is designated with what I first thought to be a cross, but I now know to be a "T."

He twists his hand in front of his eye, as if rotating a screw, to indicate Professor Eberhart. Mrs. Dogwood is "said" by brushing his hands over his thighs, the way she brushes off her apron every ten seconds, as if terrified a spot of dust might suddenly appear if she is not vigilant. A little salute means Captain Winters, for to do the full-on, right-angled salute as the books display would be too big a gesture for hand speech, and seems too dramatic. Anyway, the subtle little touching of the forehead seems to suit the real Captain Winters better.

Many other gestures are easy to understand. With a lot of actions, Mr. Miller can simply pretend he is drinking to signify "cup" or "tea" or "coffee" or "drink," depending on the context. The same goes for eating, writing, reading, and so on, though he could also mean "fork" or "food" for eating, "pen" for writing, or "book" for reading. Again, it depends upon the context of the conversation, but so far, I have done rather well in understanding him. (At least, we have not had any very great misunderstandings thus far.)

I find it amusing that I have caught myself several times making the hand gestures as I speak to him; touching my upper lip when I say Belleclaire's name, or "writing" on my palm when I speak of my letter to everyone at Saint Anne's. (I did indeed send it, and that same morning I received a wire, saying, "Glad you have arrived. Stop. Hope your journey went well. Stop. We all miss you Pause especially Maggie Pause and we send our love. Stop. We await your letter eagerly. Stop.") Mr. Miller, of course, uses the hand speech because he cannot speak words with his mouth, but there is no reason I should use hand gestures, as I can speak perfectly well. I suppose it is because of his example, seeing him use the hand speech many times throughout the day, that I have picked it up as well. I have only just stopped myself from doing it a time or two during my lessons with Professor Eberhart, thankfully, as it would be quite embarrassing to do such a thing in front of him.

Lunch now; I shall write more later, though I shall make myself finish hemming two more napkins before I write anything more. As Professor Eberhart is paying my expenses to stay here, I feel I really must do a little something to "earn my keep," as Miss P___ used to say.


Between all this writing, and all the sewing I have been doing, I think my hands must have become quite strong! I feel sure I could tenderize meat without a mallet, or knead bread dough without becoming fatigued. Perhaps I would have to do this all with my right hand, however, as my left hand merely holds down the page and grasps the fabric to be sewn, respectively.

As I have been attempting to "earn my keep," I have just found out at lunch (with much confusion with hand gestures, and rather a lot of writing on the table top with his finger) that Mr. Miller is doing so as well. Professor Eberhart seems not to know what to do with him, but he does trust him, after their talk the other night, so Mr. Miller has been put to work doing odd jobs around the school in order to stay on here until another arrangement is reached. (I refuse to let myself think about that, and shall not even write any more about it.) He swept the steps to all the entrances to the building this morning, and helped the groundskeeper rake up fallen twigs after the wind we had last night. This afternoon he is to work on a couple of the doors to the guest rooms which stick closed and must be shoved open with a shoulder or a swift kick. He seems to find satisfaction in these jobs, and appears pleased with the work and with himself, which gladdens my heart to see.

I asked him at lunch if I might accompany him on these jobs, but he told me (eventually--I am still getting the hang of his "speaking" in hand speech along with finger writing) that they are his jobs alone, and he must prove himself to the professor and to Mrs. Dogwood and to the rest of them (the groundskeeper, the cook, and so on) that he is a worthwhile man to keep around, which I certainly understand. In fact, I finished three napkins before I wrote here, Dear Reader, to follow his good example. (I do rather hope, however, that after this batch is done, Mrs. Dogwood has something other than sewing for me to tend to. It is rather tedious, and as the sun sets quite early, I have very little good light in which to sew, as I use lamps or the light of the fire in the evening to sew by.)

And with that, I have vowed to finish all the napkins by the time I go to bed tonight, or if not, by tomorrow lunchtime at the absolute latest. There really is a good satisfaction in an honest job well-done. Oh, Miss P___ would be so proud of me!

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