|Some OP Buisness
||[Jun. 4th, 2007|04:39 pm]
OP Quarter 4|
Period 5 Niedbala
When the buggy finally stopped, dusk had already fallen and the ghostly, late winter shadows were playing games on the snow-covered stony drive. The carriage driver opened my door and helped me down. I took in the sight before me: simply but, it was a magnificent mansion.
“Would you like me to help you with your bags, Miss?” the driver asked me.
“No thank you, I can manage,” I said, picking up my two small suitcases. The eerie moonlight hit the side of the building and then ricocheted off onto the snowy shrubbery lining the walkway as I made my way to the front door.
I picked up the large brass knocker and knocked twice. The door was opened almost at once by a tall, thin middle-aged lady wearing spectacles and her dark hair in a tight bun. The woman looked me over in an imposing manner and I could tell immediately that she was not at all pleased with my short, rather scrawny appearance and my ratty old black dress.
“Welcome to Lowell Manor. I’m Polly, Head Assistant. How may I help you?” she inquired.
“I’m here for the position of governess,” I explained nervously, trying to smile.
“You are Miss Abigail Pickens? The seventeen-year-old girl we sent for from Concord?” She looked at me in disbelief.
“Indeed I am,” I said, trying to stand up taller, but one of my bags was weighing me down on one side, and I was tired from the long ride.
“Very well,” she said and reluctantly told me to come in. She led me into a large entry way, mumbling to herself, “I should have known better.”
The sun shone through my window and danced on my face, awakening me from my slumber. I squinted, trying to look around. Polly had given me a quick tour the night before and then shown me to my room complete with a vanity table, lace curtains, and a canopy bed. I had never seen quite a room in my life before. I was used to living in a small, simple house in a small, simple town in Massachusetts. This large, extravagant estate was quite a contrast. The ceilings were high, the rooms were magnificently decorated, and there was a vast library. I hoped that it was full of splendid books about romance, adventure, and everything a girl could possibly dream about.
I rose out of bed and somehow managed to find my way through the maze of hallways and staircases, finally leading to the basement kitchen for breakfast.
“Good mornin’!” a large, jolly dark woman sang as I entered the kitchen. She was busy arranging some breakfast food on a plate. “You must be the new governess!” she continued.
“Why yes, I am,” I smiled. I liked this lady a great deal better than Polly.
“I’m Nan, the cook, maid, and everythin’ else!” she told me, handing over a plate of eggs and toast. “Well don’t just stand there! Sit down and eat, darlin’,” Nan laughed.
“Did you say new governess?” I asked her as I took my breakfast.
“Yes, but only the second in total this year. I guess Forsythia just depressed the last one to bits and she couldn’t stand it any longer. Forsythia went to a private school for girls before…”, she stopped as she handed me my juice. “Well, before everythin’ happened to ‘er health and she got stricken’ with that disease, the Polio”.
“Forsythia depressed her? How so?” I questioned.
“Forsythia’s not the most healthy apple in the bunch, bein’ a cripple and all. She’s just a small moody thing, really, even bein’ almost twelve. And it doesn’t help that ‘er parents are across the world, claiming it’s for business. I think it’s just mighty depressin’ for them to be here with their failure of a child. So she’s left at the manor with us to tend to ‘er, though she doesn’t do much ‘sides sit in corner all alone and read the Ol’e day through.”
“Oh my, she sounds utterly miserable!” I became worried as I tried to envision this child.
“She’s not too difficult though, since she’s usually as quiet as a mouse and does what she’s told for the most part. It’s just sad to see ‘er sittin’ there all day,” Nan explained.
“I would think so”, I said sadly. I finished up my breakfast as Nan told me a little more about the manor and how to stay on the right side of “Strict Ol’ Polly”, then I made my way back upstairs.
I went down the wrong hall and had to turn around and try to find the one leading to the stairs to the next level. Along the way, I somehow managed to find myself in front of a set of grand doors; intricately embossed with a scroll and design from top to bottom. I knew that I should keep to myself and not do anything without Polly’s permission, but I couldn’t stop myself from pushing open one of the doors, already ajar, and peeking inside.
Sunlight was shining into the most elegant room that I had ever laid eyes on. It was a ballroom with a ceiling of seemingly endless height, a marvelous crystal chandelier hanging in the center, a shiny black grand piano in one corner, and enough room to dance forever. I entered, and did a quick twirl in the center. Then hearing a small voice, I spun around quickly.
“What are you doing? “Would you please be so kind as to get out of there? We don’t use that room anymore,” the mysterious voice said.
I went back in the hall and closed the huge doors behind me. I saw a girl sitting there in a wicker wheelchair, which surprised me. I knew it was Forsythia, but I was surprised to see she was in a wheelchair. I had only expected her to have a limp or an arm sling.
“You must be my new governess,” she said quietly.
“Yes, my name’s Abigail. And I take it you’re Forsythia?” I was satisfied with a little nod. “Well we’re going to have lots of fun together. I hope you enjoy learning, because I love teaching. What are you’re favorite subjects? I’ll be sure to spend extra time on those.”
“I like reading, very much so,” she said.
“As do I!” I smiled. “I probably spend a little too much time reading, but I adore it.”
“Writing is alright too, I suppose, and some mathematics are good. But I spend most of my time reading Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. Just about everything under the sun, really.” I inspected her as she spoke. Forsythia had mousy brown hair and large green eyes that seemed to glisten when she named all of her favorite authors. She seemed like a brilliant child, having devoured all of those masterpieces.
It was then that I noticed that her legs looked very weak and seemed to limply hang down from her body in the wheelchair as if they hadn’t been used in a while. I pretended not to notice because if I were in her position I knew I would not like to be stared at like an oddity.
Forsythia and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other, but mostly talked about our favorite stories. Forsythia said that she was surprised that we weren’t going to begin with studying a tiresome list of the European monarchs or delve into perfecting her script. I could tell that she hoped we’d never get to either, but I told her that it was all in good time. Suddenly, I overwhelmingly wanted to help this poor child, and encourage a fascination with her studies. I wanted learning to be special for her, and I was going to put every ounce of my being into it. Forsythia was the kind of girl who deserved that.
The next day I knew that we had to get started on our lessons. I had never taught anyone before, but I started by teaching Forsythia mathematics and we delved into history later on that day. She was a very quick learner and the day went by in the blink of an eye. In fact, the whole week flew by right before me. I could tell that Forsythia had started to consider me a friend more so than as a governess. It was probably because we got along so well and were especially united through our love of literature. When I asked her how she liked our lessons together she said, “Oh, Miss Abigail, I’ve absolutely adored everything I’d learned so far! And you are so unlike any of the other teachers I’ve ever had.”
But Polly cornered me in the hall that night and said, “Miss Pickens, I fear that you are perhaps not what we’re looking for. Forsythia needs a strict tutor and not a friend. The job of a governess is in no way to discuss all of those silly books you waste your time on. If you do not get your act together within the next week, we may have to send you away”, she reprimanded with a cold, bitter look on her face.
Surprised and rather embarrassed, I apologized and went up to my room to ponder everything over. It was then I realized, though, that I didn’t care what Strict Ol’ Polly had said, even a little bit. She could say all she wanted about it, but she still didn’t know what was best for Forsythia. Polly didn’t understand Forsythia in the least, but I did. Just to spite Ol’ Polly, even though she wasn’t aware, I pulled out some of my “silly books” and “wasted my time”; the whole entire night in fact.
By the time of that spring was in the air, Forsythia was beginning to brighten up more than ever and take on the persona that her name inferred. I knew that she had spirit inside of her; she just needed to spend time finding it again. She was no longer the miserable, weak little girl I had first met a few months ago. With her newfound happiness Forsythia was actually starting to look healthier. When I had told Nan about Polly’s threat to me about firing me, she said, “Pish-posh, where’s she gonna find another governess in the beginin’ o’ Spring?” So I wasn’t worried about that anymore.
I suggested that we have a picnic in the town park in nearby Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know that she would blurt out the idea to Polly at dinner one night, though. I had planned on bringing up the idea little by little and when Polly was in the best mood she could possibly be, even being as cold and hard as stone.
“Polly, Miss Abigail and I want to take an adventure!”
“To where, some far away, non-existent land in one of those books of yours?” Polly scoffed.
“No, we want to go on a picnic! It’s springtime and the flowers are blooming, and my yellow ones, the forsythias are just coming out!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling.
“You are not well enough for that. Your parents would not have it. Just look at you,” Polly said.
I would not stand for this a bit and interjected, “Yes, Polly, just look at her! Look how much better she looks. Fresh air and flowers are what she needs right now, not to be cooped up inside. Please?”
“It’s a brilliant idea, Polly, oh please let us!” Forsythia begged.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do but it’s not going to work. Forsythia is remaining inside. A number of things could happen that could impair her even worse. She is a poor little thing and a cripple at that. She doesn’t have enough energy to go on a useless picnic.”
Forsythia’s face sank, reminding me of the way she had looked when I first met her. I had begun to think that the only reason Forsythia had been miserable all along was because of Polly’s cruelty towards her. I knew that she was implementing Forsythia’s parent’s wishes way too far.
“Miss! Miss!” Nan came into my room early a week later. “Quickly, wake up!”
I rose out of bed and looked at her, puzzled.
“Strict Ol’ Polly has gone to see her sister ‘n won’t be back ‘til this afternoon, but I ‘ait quite sure when. If you two hurry you can go do your picnickin’ for a while. Yes, I heard your conversation from the kitchen the other night,” she answered even before I asked.
Forsythia and I quickly got ready while Nan asked the neighbor to take us to one of Pittsburgh’s parks, since he was already headed there for a few hours.
“I haven’t ridden in a buggy in the longest time,” Forsythia told me as she looked out of the window at just about everything, fascinated. “I think the last time was when I was diagnosed with Polio and my parents took me into New York City to get some treatment. It didn’t work though.”
Ididn’t quite know what to say so I remained silent. It was the first time she had openly discussed any of that with me and I knew it was painful for her, but it was a step that brought us even closer.
“Is there anything special you would like to do today, while Polly’s gone?” I finally spoke.
“Yes”, she told me. “More than anything in the whole entire world I would like to dance, but that’s not going to happen, is it?” she asked me.
“I…I’m afraid it probably won’t. I’m sorry, dear. But why do you want to dance so badly?”
“Because I was meant to be a dancer. My mother was the most elegant ballerina and it was her dream that I dance, too. It wasn’t that it was only her wish, though, it was mine too. I adored every lesson and practice I had, and the costumes were just marvelous as well. Remember that room with the high-ceilings you were in when we first met, and I told you to get out? Well, that was my practice room,” she explained solemnly. I understood now.
“My mother and father and I used to go see brilliant ballets, like Coppélia and Swan Lake. My middle name is even Giselle, so of course that one is my favorite. Just when I was about to start dancing Pointe last year, I got Polio. It was terrible…almost the most tragic thing in the whole entire world”, she finished, a bit dramatically.
“I wish I could do something, anything, for you,” I told her.
“It’s all right I suppose. I can still become the next best thing perhaps, a writer,” she smiled.
“And I’m sure a very good one at that,” I smiled back.
The picnic turned out to be perfect. Nan had packed all of our favorite food and had even made a special cake for us. We had fun picking flowers, especially the yellow forsythias, and making wreaths and bracelets and necklaces out of them. Forsythia said that she used to keep a few of her namesake flowers stuck behind one ear each Spring. I gathered up a bunch in a bouquet to take home and then checking my pocket watch realized that we needed to leave soon.
I was rushing to pack everything up when suddenly I saw that Forsythia was lifting herself up and out of her wheelchair. With her legs wobbling beneath her, she held fast onto the wooden arm.
“Forsythia!” I rushed over and steadied her. “What are you doing?”
“I just need to twirl around once, and feel the breeze in my hair and see the world in motion spinning around and pretend I am a ballerina. Just once,” she said, about to fall over.
“I know I sound like Polly,” I said, “But you’re too weak! You’ll collapse! And look at you now, trying to stand! You can’t do it,” I told her.
She ignored me and let go of the wheelchair. Something magically that only happens in the books we both read seemed to happen. For one fleeting moment in time, Forsythia revolved around in a circle, almost lifting off of the ground as her dress twirled out from her body, flowers falling out from her hair. But then, as quickly as she was up she was down again, fallen onto the ground in a heap.
“Forsythia!” I cried and ran over to her.
“I’m fine,” she told me and somehow managed to get back up and into the wheelchair with little help from me.
“Are you sure?” I asked, still worried.
“Yes, very, Miss Abigail. Don’t worry,” she said as she wheeled and I walked to find the neighbor’s buggy, and she did actually seem all right.
Summer came and went by, Forsythia rarely being let out of the house. Thankfully, Polly never found out about the picnic for I knew that if she had, I would be fired. The only time when Forsythia was allowed to escape Lowell Manor was when Polly was out. We continued our lessons, though, so Forsythia would keep herself occupied. Her parents sent a letter once over the summer, saying that they were going to visit in August, but they never came and I don’t think any of us expected them too. I had learned that they had never come back since they left after Forsythia could not be treated for Polio. I could understand that her mother was disappointed that Forsythia had not become a famous ballerina like herself, but I could not understand why she left her forever. No matter what happened, a mother was supposed to stick by her daughter’s side, but apparently her mother was off someplace in Paris, teaching ballet.
Autumn soon fell as did the crisp leaves, and Forsythia watched them tumble from the trees as she sat by the window and read even more novels. I suggested to Polly that she might run out of books to read and that we should take a quick stop to the Pittsburgh library, but she said that she’d simply have more books sent if Forsythia absolutely felt that she needed to read that garbage.
Somehow that Fall, I finally convinced Polly to let us go to the library because I said that Forsythia could not be kept inside any longer. She wanted to go outside and see the snow and downtown Pittsburgh. We only went for two hours, under the strict rules of Polly, but Forsythia had a marvelous time nonetheless.
“Oh, Miss Abigail, thank you so much for this!” Forsythia grinned as she left the library with a dozen books in her lap, her cheeks rosy from the cold winds.
“You deserved it,” I said. “But I still can’t believe we managed to convince that old grouch to let us get out of there!” I said and we both laughed.
I was given a two week-long winter break for Christmas, in which I visited my parents back in Concord. When I returned, however, I was sorry I had left at all.
As I entered the manor, I came upon a man sitting in the front hall, talking with Polly. “What’s going on?” I asked.
Nan came out from the kitchen and replied, “I fear she has taken ill, Miss Abigail. She has something dreadful called Scarlet Fever, and the doctor doesn’t quite know how to treat it.”
“What?” I asked disbelieving, for I knew this sickness was very serious.
“It’s all your fault”, Polly snarled at me. “It was that silly library trip in out in the cold that did it!”
“No!” I shouted, running up the stairs to Forsythia’s room.
“Miss Abigail, don’t go up there! Don’t you enter her room, you’ll be sick too!” Nan called after me but I didn’t listen.
“Forsythia!” I cried as I entered her room and saw her just lying there, limp, under bundles of covers. “Speak to me!” I said, but she just moaned. She was very pale except for the red patches on her cheeks and forehead, probably from the fever.
“Abigail? Is that you?” she finally managed to whisper weakly, and then fell asleep right after.
“How did she get this? Why did she deserve this? It’s not fair! Oh God, help her!” I cried out loud as I knelt by her bed and prayed with all of my heart and soul.
I spent every waking moment of the next few weeks with Forsythia, by her bed, reading her stories and telling her tales, but she rarely responded or even recognized me. The doctor visited every day and did what he could, but said that she was getting worse and worse, and was probably too weak to make it through. I refused to accept that and pretended that she would be okay with all of my might.
I needed to get out of the house for a little while and so I went for a quick walk. When I came back in, I could tell that something was wrong.
“Oh, Miss!” Nan latched onto me right, shaking, as I walked into the front hall. “It happened just now!”
“NO!”I shouted. It couldn’t have! She couldn’t be-! I couldn’t say the word.
“I’m so sorry, honey, it ain’t right at all, it doesn’t do the world justice! Forsythia was the loveliest child ever ‘n I don’t know why she went this way”, Nan cried. “I went in to give her some porridge ‘n her fingers and forehead were all cold. Her little heart had stopped beatin’, and my mind knew it, but I didn’t want to believe. I didn’t want to believe it was true!”
“Call the doctor! Have him do something!” I yelled.
“I’m afraid it’s too late. You know that, honey,” Nan said, embracing me.
“Nan!” I wept into her sleeve. “If only I hadn’t gone away to visit my parents and left her here! I feel absolutely miserable. It’s all my fault!”
“Don’t say that, Miss Abigail. Now you listen to me. It would have happened either way and I don’t want you going and getting’ falsehoods drilled into your brain”, she told me.
“But if I had been here, it would have been different, Nan. I just know it”, I said.
“You know nothing of the sort, Abigail. You had a right to see them, and the two events are completely unrelated.”
The funeral was that weekend, and only consisted of the household staff, a sparse number of neighbors, and the minister. Forsythia’s parents stayed in Europe and I wondered if they had even cared when they had found out.
Everyone in attendance was sobbing except for Polly, who stood there as stiff as could be, acting like her normal self. But I wondered if she was feeling sad at all on the inside. I wondered if the little girl named Forsythia had changed her life at all, had made her heart just a little bit softer, or had made her smile at least once when no one was looking.