An Orphan Lost
|My father was a hero, decorated
many times both in combat and then later, also on
the open seas. We had a servant in the house, Kirby
by name, and he had also been a hero. Kirby it was
that made my life so miserable that I wanted to just
crawl into a big, black hole and die where nobody
would ever find me. I hated Kirby with such a
bale-eyed intensity that my eyes must have glowed in
the dark every time my tongue muttered his name.
I could not face him. All I could do was run away and hide. But he would track me down and haul me home by my ear. My tears streamed down my face and my nose streamed even worse so that when I was hauled in front of my mother I looked for all the world like some baby that hadn't been changed in a week.
“What is wrong with him?” my mother would ask. She laid there, gasping in the heat like a long, lean trout that has been flicked up on the bank and left to die.
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|Kirby sniffed.. “He is a coward,
Miss Janet. He is very much afraid of a mouse, and
afraid of his own shadow.”
It was true, and she knew it was for she could see the truth of it in my face. Oh, if only I could die; if only I could die and get away from Kirby with his haughty mien and stuck up nose.
Even when there was nobody around he tormented me. His words hacked at me until it felt as if there was nothing left of me but bloody bones on a butcher knife.
I had reason to remember that mouse well. I had been sitting at my little desk and reading from my grammar. At that time I was wearing a great blue shirt that Father had sent me from Honolulu. The collar was loose so I could pretend the more easily that I was a fierce pirate storming across the seven seas with my sharp, evil eyes scanning the storm-tossed waves for any ship that might hold any bounty or booty for my starving crew.
How gallantly I stood before the mast, surely a gleaming example of how bravely my father's son would face dangers of any kind.
Then I heard a scratching on the ceiling and my gaze turned slowly that way when it ceased. Just as my gaze reached that part of the ceiling that stood directly over my head this grey snake fell my way.
I struggled to rise and that was my undoing for that made the collar of my shirt fly open and that snake fell straightway onto the back of my neck and began slithering this way, and that before it split into and there were a thousand live things loosed inside my shirt and fresh up against my flesh.
Scream? Oh, I tell you that I screamed. I screamed loud enough to raise the dead four blocks away. I grabbed my shirt and ripped it open in some hope that I might get those snakes off of me. The grey snake dropped to the floor and writhed away but the flesh on my back and neck was still alive with something cold and slimy. The two maids had been upstairs and I heard their footsteps pounding down the stairs, screaming in terror but rushing to my rescue nonetheless. Very distinctly I heard the back door slam open and there came the horrible clump of Kirby's wooden leg punching on the tiled floor as he too raced to my rescue.
I was still screaming, still wrestling to get my shirt off when the door to my room was flung against the wall and Kirby stood there for a long, intense moment as his eyes searched every shadow for hidden dangers. Seeing nothing, he lunged my way and in a moment he had removed my shirt. There, captured in his hand and still biting, was a little mouse.
Kirby stalked to the open window and threw the mouse outside. Only then, seeing the mouse disappear, only then did my screaming begin to subside.
“For heaven's sake,” my mother cried from her invalid's bed, “Come tell me what is wrong.”
Kirby nodded to the two maids and they hurried out of my room, closing the door behind them as if glad to put some distance between themselves and me. I was still shivering uncontrollably when Kirby lifted my chin with one finger until I was staring into his fierce, angry eyes. “Your father is a hero, but what are you, a coward? A coward, afraid of a mouse?”
It was unbelievable. “There was a snake in my shirt!” I stuttered.
“A snake?” His eyes swept the room contemptuously. “In your mind maybe. Fear will do that to you, make you dream of bogey men and hide your head beneath the covers. Most people don't get scared of bogey men in the dark though.” His eyes swept the room again, and then he swept from the room, leaving me alone with my fears.
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