Perdita tossed and turned, tossed and turned all night long. Her arms flailed helplessly, her legs entangled in the sheets. Sometimes, if she hit something, she would wake herself, then sit, wild-eyed and bewildered, before sinking down again, drifting back into restless sleep. Sometimes when she woke she had scratches where her own nails had torn the skin. She stared at the dried drops of blood blankly. Then dressed. Perdita just arrived, one day. She stood on the doorstep; she did not knock. It was purely by chance that the door opened and she was discovered there, by her soon-to-be foster parents as they intended to leave their house. Perdita gesticulated wildly, nonsensically, but did not speak. The old man and woman looked at each other over her head (she could barely have been ten years old) then after brief, silent conference, brought her into their kitchen. Here they soothed the child, sat her by the cosy hearth (re-lighting the dying embers), gave her a hot mug of cocoa to huddle into. Gradually, the girl calmed.
The couple made enquiries, but could find no-one locally who recognised the foundling, nor could anyone think where she might belong. The couple had their own suspicions. Her pale, milky skin was covered with livid bruises, visible wherever her clothing did not cover – perhaps she was a runaway maid who had been ill-treated? The theory was flawed, however, as the child showed no implicit understanding of how the broom worked and a floor was swept, or how a rag applied to windows might clean them… The old couple had never had a child, nature had not blessed them; and though they loved each other dearly, there was always a hollow space between them, where a child should have been.
Perdita, they decided, was theirs. They named her Perdita because she was lost, and then found, but in truth she was never really found. Her voice emerged piecemeal, after months of coaxing, but never into coherent sentences, never once suggesting from whence she had come. She spoke with an accent that chimed oddly against the old couple’s dialect, but they could not place it, never having left their own village in their long lifetimes. Their aged limbs creaked as they leaned over to the child who shrank from their touch. But when they demonstrated a chore, such as scrubbing the floor, she would copy the repetitive motion and spend hours on the task, not stopping until the scrubbing brush was physically removed from her hand. Then she would look up wordlessly, and the man, or the woman, would wonder what on earth it was that they had found.
TO BE CONTINUED
See Enchanted Times #1 for the full story, plus a Princess and the Pea cross stitch pattern…