Dear Diary, I have lost track of time. Between my burning throat and feverish head, not to mention the lack of light, I couldn’t tell what time of day it was or how much time had passed.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I was still in Dax’s room… whoever that was. A few times, I thought I saw his white shirt in the shadows, but I don’t even really know if that is him. Most of the time, my head hurt too badly to contemplate on it for long
Sometimes I heard Alice talking in a hushed voice. No one ever seemed to answer her, but I supposed she was talking to white-shirt. She often commented to him that it wouldn’t kill him to actually answer her. To that, I never heard a response. Alice would sigh loudly and busy herself with who knew what.
One time, I awoke to a strange smell permeating the room. It was pungent and tickled my nose. Letting my mind drift, I had the thought that the smell was of the art room back in school. But that couldn’t be right. I wasn’t in Hidden Springs any longer.
Cracking one eye open part way, I saw white shirt, his back to me, painting something on an easel. I had noticed there were paintings all over the room and I wondered briefly if he painted them all. The smell, I realized was a mixture of paint and turpentine.
Studying the back of him, he was still in shadows (how could he paint in the dark?) but I could make out a slender guy dressed in dark pants, his signature white shirt and suspenders. His fingers were slim and artistic and he moved in such a way that I was sure he hadn’t noticed me watching him.
I couldn’t make it out completely, but I think his hair was kind of a sandy color and it was really shaggy and kind of long, haphazardly curling around the collar of his shirt. Curiously, I had the indescribable urge to reach out and touch it because it looked so soft.
Suddenly, I felt self-conscious. Was that a sign I was feeling better? I knew I looked a terrible mess. Should I say something to him to let him know I was awake? But he seemed so focused on what he was doing, I kept my mouth shut. My throat was feeling a lot better and I didn’t think I had a fever any longer because my hair was no longer damp and I wasn’t having chills. But I was still so tired that I closed my eyes again….
The next time I opened my eyes, I was extremely confused. Alice was standing next to the bed and I groggily smiled at her.
“I’m so glad you’re awake,” she said. “Elliott brought you here last night. You’re in the main house now.”
Sitting up, I looked around me. The room was bathed in a dim light from the window across from me. It was an old fashioned looking room, but not ugly. My eyes met Alice’s and she smiled a little.
“I know, you’re wondering who Elliott is, aren’t you? Well, he is Agathe’s younger brother and Dax’s older brother. Agathe owns this farm.”
“St. Cyr?” my voice cracked.
She raised her eyebrows. “So, she speaks! Well, already, you’re more conversational than poor Dax.”
“Agathe St. Cyr wants to see you as soon as you’re well enough,” Alice continued. “Do you remember my name? Alice. Alice Millet.”
I nodded, a frown on my face.
“Don’t worry, Agathe is a bit of a prickly person, but she won’t bite you,” Alice laughed. “Now, you go down the hall to the bathroom and get yourself cleaned up. Your clothes are washed and folded and on the edge of the sink.”
Before heading to the bathroom, I stepped over to the window, glancing outside. There was a little fenced in yard down below, then a beach. After that was the ocean as far as I could see.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Alice said, “you were in such a horrible state and you had terrible knots in your hair. I had to cut them out. I hope you won’t be too disappointed by your haircut. It will grow back.”
A half hour later, when I came back from the bathroom, Alice met me. She had lit the little oil lamps around the room.
“Is it morning?”
“Heavens no!” she exclaimed. “It’s dusk just now. There’s an hour left of sunlight. You must be starving. I’ll warm up some soup for you while you’re talking with Agathe.”
Nervously, I followed Alice down two flights of stairs from the third floor to the main floor. The house, although old fashioned in nature, still had some nice things in it. To my dismay, I didn’t see any electric lights anywhere.
Alice led me to a sunroom and motioned that I should go inside. I was not really prepared for what would meet me when I did. I stopped in my tracks, just inside the door.
The first person I saw was a bearded man with a black hat. His expression was rather grumpy and I thought perhaps it was me he was annoyed with.
Quickly, though, I glanced at the woman who must be Agathe St. Cyr. If her brother Elliott seemed grumpy, I was wrong. Next to his sister, he was downright joyful!
Agathe’s narrow, ice blue eyes stared at me piercingly, completely in sync with the downward frown that showed her obvious disgust. Her features seemed even more harsh because her white streaked, blondish hair was pulled so severely from her face and held back with a kerchief.
“I’m Agathe St. Cyr,” she said, her voice firm and unfriendly. “And who are you?”
As soon as she began speaking, I felt terror rip through my chest and I started shaking. This woman looked as if she could chew me up and spit me out.
“Well, girl?” she demanded. “Around here, when one is asked a question, one is expected to respond.”
Her tone of voice and the way she was staring at me made my mind completely freeze in fear. The only thoughts I could really piece together in my mind were again about how stupid I was. Of course they would want to know my name! It’s the first thing anyone ever wants to know about a person. Why didn’t I think about this or prepare for it? Way to go, Blue! Furtively, my eyes moved from her to Elliott, then back again. The only thing I could figure on was that telling these people my real name was definitely out because if I told them my real name, they might recognize me. Although, I could be mistaken about that seeing as how they were so isolated and everything. Then I really began to get nervous, my stomach clenching up uncomfortably, because I realized if I told them my name was Blue, they might not believe that either. I mean, who names their kid that, anyway?
I was so lost in my own thoughts, that I physically jumped when Agathe spoke again.
“Girl, I’m losing patience with you.”
“Uh…uh,” I dumbly stammered. Suddenly, I blurted out the first name that came to my mind, “Hester… uh… Prynne.” As soon as the words left my lips, I wanted to smack myself. Hopefully, on this little island, in the middle of nowhere, Agathe hadn’t had the opportunity to read classic literature.
Panic rose up in my chest and my stomach clenched as I watched their faces. Elliott looked like he was trying not to laugh and Agathe, her eyes never leaving mine, blinked a couple of times as if she was thinking she must have heard me wrong.
“Hester Prynne,” she repeated.
I wasn’t sure if that was a question or a statement. Was I suppose to answer?
Turning toward Elliott, she snidely said, “If she starts wearing letters on that skimpy outfit of hers, we’ll know we are in trouble.”
Elliott guffawed, then quickly sobered up. “Really, Aggie, be nice.”
Dear old Aggie turned back to me then. “Well, Hester,” she began, “I’d like to know where you came from.”
“Aggie, I’ve got work to do. If you need me to take her to the mainland let me or Matthieu know before it gets too late in the day.” He didn’t seem quite as scary then as he had when I’d first seen him.
Agathe only gave him a curt nod and he was on his way without a glance back.
With trepidation building higher and higher, I stood silently as Agathe focused her full attention on me once again. Under the gaze of her piercing eyes, I found it hard to do anything but stare at my feet.
“Come with me,” she finally said.
Agathe led the way to a pretty sitting room full of what appeared to be really old looking, but nice furniture. The first thing I noticed about the room was that there were no electric lights, TV or anything modern looking.
“Pick up your feet, we don’t shuffle through the house. Are your legs so heavy that you can’t pick them up when you walk?”
Stunned, I obeyed her as best I could. I’d never been aware that I shuffled my feet before now.
Motioning me to a wing back chair, I sat down across from her and waited for the questions to come. But instead of questions, she only stared at me for a moment, clicking her teeth together as if she thoroughly disapproved of me.
“Sit up straight, Hester Prynne,” she said. Although her words bit into my delicate feelings, her voice this time was not as harsh sounding. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think she was amused by the situation. She didn’t continue speaking until I’d done what she instructed. “Very good. Now tell me where you came from.”
“Well, the boat brought me here.”
Agathe’s eyes narrowed but she didn’t strike out at me. “Where do you belong may be the better question.”
That was a good question. Where did I belong? I couldn’t go home. I could never face what I’d done to everyone, especially my father. But this place didn’t seem like what I’d imagined either.
Fighting back tears with everything I had, I said, “I don’t belong anywhere.”
She was quiet as she seemed to consider this. “Is it your determined intention not to tell me anything about yourself?”
“Pretty much,” I said with a little relief because for once, I could answer her honestly. And, I mean, what could she really do to me?
For the first time, I saw some uncertainty in her cold eyes. But it was only there for a minute, like a storm passing through and quickly clearing up. “Answer me this. Why have you come here? To Winchester?”
I started to slump forward in the way I normally sit, but caught myself and sat up stiff as a board again in the chair. “Well,” I started, not sure where I was going with it, “didn’t you summon me here?”
In response, Agathe’s face scrunched up into a horrible looking scowl. “Well, I – ” she stammered, clearly at a loss.
“If you didn’t invite me, then who did?” If I’m being as honest as I promised I would be here, I’d have to admit that it was kind of funny seeing her so bewildered.
“I am quite sure no one here would have invited you to the island. You must be mistaken.”
Triumphantly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the now even more tattered note. I hadn’t planned on showing the note to her but the way she was treating me, like some kind of trespasser, I couldn’t help myself. Besides, she obviously hadn’t sent it but she might know who did. And wasn’t that why I was here in the first place? To find out who sent the note to me and why?
She took it with trembling hands and as she read the few simple words scrawled on it, her jaw began to drop lower and lower.
“This is impossible!” she declared, turning her harsh eyes toward me again.
Realization dawned on me and my heartbeat began to speed up. “You know who wrote that!”
Tucking the note into one of the pockets on her apron, her expression turned grim, her mouth just a thin line across her face. “Do you remember how to get to the kitchen?”
“Yes, but – ”
” – Go there now. Alice will be there and will give you something to eat. Tell her you are staying here temporarily and that you must have the proper attire.”
“But – ” I started to protest again, but those ice blue eyes of her silenced me like nothing else could.
Needless to say, I hightailed it to the kitchen where Alice, indeed was. As soon as I entered the room, the smell of freshly baked bread made my stomach growl so loudly, I was sure she had heard it.
“Sit down, Hester,” Alice said, “you must be starving.”
All I could think was that Elliott had already started telling people my name. Word sure got around fast!
Sinking onto the bench at the table, I ate an entire piece of bread in gulps.
“Good heavens!” Alice exclaimed. “You didn’t even wait for me to butter it. There’s jam, too.”
She pushed the butter and jam closer to me and I slathered both onto the next piece. As I started eating it, I glanced around the kitchen. Everything just looked so old. There was a canning station and an old wood burning stove…
… and a pump on the sink! I’d only ever seen one of those in a museum on a class trip. What was wrong with these people?
“Slow down or you’ll make yourself sick.”
Feeling fuller now, I did as she asked. “Um… I was told to tell you something about proper attire.”
Alice stifled a laugh behind her hand, her eyes dancing with amusement. “I’ll go into town and get you some material. I can tell just by looking at you how much you’ll need.”
Impressive, I thought. “Should I go with you?”
Her pretty eyes grew huge and again, she was holding back an astonished laugh. “Oh no… you can’t go to town looking like that!” With horror, she belatedly realized what she had said. “Oh, Hester, I’m so sorry. I only meant -”
“- That I’m not properly attired,” I said with a small smile.
She let out a sigh of relief that my feelings weren’t hurt. “Yes.”
I looked closer at what she was wearing. “Do I have to dress like that?”
“If Agathe said so, you must. Do you know how to sew? I have so much work already what with everyone helping over at the Delattre place. Old Treves Delattre took a bad fall and his wife just had a baby, so everyone who can be spared is working his farm right now. So you see, I cannot take the time to do this for you as much as I would like to.”
“I know how to sew if I have a pattern. My grandma taught me.” Oh, Grandma, how much I must have disappointed you! Choking back a sob, I asked, “You do have a pattern, don’t you?”
“Oh yes, we can manage that.” She returned to the stove where a stew of some kind was bubbling in a big pot.
“But where is your sewing machine?”
Without turning to look at me, she laughed again. “It’s right in front of you, silly! Do you not see it?”
Dear goodness, I thought. That’s a sewing machine?
Just then, I had a feeling all of this was going to be even harder than I’d originally thought.