12.07.2008

Hand Speech and Shabby Shelters

It began to snow this morning, tiny, light flakes, and has continued all day. I do not know what we shall do tonight when we set up our little camp. I do not like the idea of waking up covered in a mound of snow, having it soak into my clothes and freeze me. While we are moving, it is not so bad, but sitting here writing this during our mid-day "meal" (as much as a stale roll and some very old, hard cheese can be called a meal), snow is already starting to cover me.

Speaking of our meals, we have indeed been living on the sack full of bread our last hostess provided to us. The apples were gone as of the day before yesterday, and today will see the last of the cheese. (Bless that good woman for her charity. I am sure she gave it to us against her husband's wishes, just as she insisted we sleep in the attic instead of the tool shed. She knew we had nothing, thinking we had been robbed, and gave of what little she had to total strangers. Though rolls and apples and cheese is not much, it is far more than the nothing we would have had if not for her, so I should not complain.) Thankfully, tomorrow evening we will be in town once more, and able to buy real food.

As for drinking, we have had naught but water a couple of times a day, and that but scarcely. Occasionally we come across a little stream, and there we drink as much as we can hold, for we know not when we shall next find water. If we can, we follow the stream for a time, though in order to take the most direct path to the city, we must soon diverge from it. Once we sipped old rain water from a basin-shaped rock, but it tasted of dirt and mold, and was probably not safe, so we took no more than our initial taste. I say again I will be so very glad to be able to go into a kitchen or water closet and merely turn on the tap for as much clean, fresh water as I want.

Enough complaining. Time to brush the snow from my coat and hair, and get on our way.

_____

To keep ourselves amused (and moving) this afternoon, Mr. Miller and I worked on more hand speech. It would look very odd, I think, to anyone watching, but we make sense to each other. We now have hand words for snow, clouds, rain, trees, ground... anything we have been seeing for the past several days, really. The academy is a "roof" made over the head with both hands. "Town" is a horizontal circle made by waving the outstretched hand at about chest height.

Other words are harder. Objects and people and places are easy, because one can mime the action a thing is used for, or "draw" something in the air that is reminiscent about the thing, but words like "when" and "arrive" are more difficult, though the context of our conversations usually means we can do without such words. For example, Mr. Miller pointed to me, then himself, then made the "town" motion to mean, "When we arrive in town." He went on to pretend to eat and drink while nodding heartily, the "yes" meaning he would be glad to do those things. I very heartily agree.

There are some things he still must spell, though half the time we come up with a hand word for the thing on the spot. For the rest, however, he has taken to asking for my hand, then spelling the word on my palm. It seems very intimate to me, but we have no other way of communicating unless we stop and I take out my diary and pen from inside my case, which is inside my bag, which is too inconvenient. He is my dearest friend right now, and anyway, who is to see us?

We are currently huddled under a rather odd shelter right now. Mr. Miller took several fallen branches and leaned them against the trunks of a couple of trees that grow close together, then piled smaller sticks across it, tying it here and there with bits of the twine from his pocket. He then piled handfuls of dead leaves atop all of them, making sure to stuff them especially in the cracks between sticks. It took quite some time, but as we reached our "campsite" near the edge of the forest with two full hours of sunlight left, it was all right. I did try to help, but as I was not sure how he meant to do what he meant to do, I could not be of much assistance. Instead, I gathered firewood, and any branches that looked like they might be useful to his building project.

Now it is dark, and snowing rather heavily, and we are feeding a very miniscule fire with a little pile of twigs nearby. It is thankfully producing very little smoke, and what smoke there is dissipates up near the "roof" anyway. I am a little afraid of the whole structure catching fire in the middle of the night, but Mr. Miller has assured me it will not be so, and anyway, we are still taking watches, just in case. For a time, I sat hunched over with my back against a tree trunk, but that became too uncomfortable, so now I have tucked myself in the shallowest end facing the fire in the middle, and Mr. Miller is lying across the fire from me. I am still cold almost to my bones, and I feel filthy and smelly, and the ground is hard, but somehow this seems... cozy, almost.

_____

It is my watch, now. Before I fell asleep (Mr. Miller always takes the first watch) we talked for a while. I told him about dearest Maggie and all the little adventures we had together. I described Saint Anne's to him, from the cellar with the dirt floor, to the dormitory at the very top and the windows I would climb out of to sit on the eaves. He looked surprised at that, after how I had behaved on the Erebos, but then I explained to him how my fear of heights was feigned on the ship, and why, and he smiled. "IMPRESSIVE," he wrote on my palm.

"Not really," I said, blushing, and tried to pull my hand back, but I could not. Mr. Miller kept it between both his own. Our eyes locked for a long moment. I was not sure what to think. As often as he had touched my hands today to spell things out for me, this seemed different. A little thrill of warmth shot through my body, like the feeling I got when our fingers brushed as we shared the bag of almonds on the omnibus, what seems like ages ago now.

He wore, as always, his old white fingerless gloves. They were stained with brown dried blood, and his knuckles were still healing from the fight. His fingernails were short, with dirt build up around the edges. It did not look like a gentleman's hand at all. But he had never been anything but a gentleman to me. True, he was rather cold to begin with when I met him on the Erebos, but I was a captive and it was only to be expected. As soon as I showed him the slightest kindness, however, he returned it back to me tenfold, sharing my meals with me, accompanying me on our walks, and planning to rescue me if we had indeed landed in Franklin Bay. He has been my protector, my companion, my friend. If not for him, I would have turned myself in to Belleclaire and his men at the academy when I saw them; I could not survive this on my own!

I suppose the thought of it all became too much to bear, for my eyes filled with tears. When he showed concern, however, I smiled. "Forgive me," I whispered. "It is only... I do not know what I would do without you. You have been a better friend than I could ever hope to ask for, Mr. Miller."

He stared intently at me for a minute, then he lifted his hand to write on my palm, through the fabric of my dirty, torn white glove. "Z-E-B," he wrote, before I understood. "E-D-I-A-H," he finished, and I whispered his name. He smiled, more with his eyes than anything, and his mouth said "Bernice." Neither of us moved our hands from where they had become entwined.

There was nothing further to be said after that. And, Dear Reader, I must admit that I was a little glad the tiny fire was between us. I wanted warmth and comfort and closeness in a way I have never wanted it before, and so it was well that we could not lie any closer than we were.

However, the fire later proved to be a problem. I think I fell asleep holding his hand and must have unconsciously moved toward him, for I woke to the smell of smoke and something hitting my stomach. I seemed to have rolled into the fire and singed my coat, and Zebediah was trying to put it out! The shock of it forced me to recoil backwards, and in doing so, I hit the edge of our little structure and most of it clattered down on top of us!

For a moment, all was quiet. Then a stick fell from where it had been teetering precariously atop the pile of branches, and I laughed once, loudly, into the still night. And again, and then again, until I could not stop laughing. Of all the idiotic, clumsy things to do! I lay on my back, a branch pinning my arm across my chest, and thinking what a sight I must have been, asleep and on fire, and laughed and laughed. It seemed Mr. Mill--Zebediah was coughing, after a moment, but when I managed to turn my head and look at him through the tumble of sticks and leaves, he was grinning, his eyes squinted shut. The coughing sound was his laughter, as his throat could not produce the usual sound.

Once we had recovered, our hysterics having died off into giggles, then smiles, we helped each other up and hastily cleared off the branches and things, wincing as we discovered bruises where the branches had hit us. The snow had stopped while I was asleep, and the sky was mostly clear, so there seemed no point in rebuilding it. I lit the fire again, and piled some of the fallen sticks nearby for fuel. "Go to sleep," I urged Zebediah once we were settled. "I'll try not to incinerate myself again." Smiling, he lay his head down on his arm and closed his eyes.

My watch is nearly over now, though I am loathe to wake Zebediah. The sun should be rising in a few more hours, and the fire is not doing much to keep us warm, anyway. I will let it die out, then get another bit of sleep myself.

2 comments:

Jenny said...

Hahahaha! What a sight you must have been. I'm glad you are 'happy' and comfortable with Mr. Miller. It would be truly hard to go through such trials with someone you didn't like at all.

I hope your coat isn't too singed :(

cher said...

You are such a brave adventurer and you do seem to keep your wits and your wittiness about you - but I really do understand about the dirt and grit and smelliness. I once camped for 9 days without a proper bath......

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