What does she think I am? Her personal listening doll? If she wants somebody to listen to her unconditionally she aught to get herself a dog. A nice little white lap dog that has mean little eyes when it is looking at anyone but her. That would be fitting, I think.
“I think it is high time you were properly socialized. I’m going to talk to your father the next time he comes home. I’m going to take to the city and get you new clothes and you are going to learn to be a proper lady.”
I didn’t say anything. I was too busy watching the little grey mouse on the mantelpiece. It was peering into a little glass vase that I had put wild flowers in. I wonder if it smelt field mouse, because all of a sudden its fur went up along its back and its little tail went out straight and it let out a little squeak. My governess did not hear it over all her talking. This is probably a good thing, because she doesn’t like mice. Finally, her rant rambled into nothing and she left the room. I went over to the mouse—just two steps—and scooped him up before he could be frightened of me.
“You’re not safe here, little fellow,” I whispered to him, stroking his soft little head which was shaking with fear. “This is Miss. Margie’s domain and she’s an evil hunting wildcat. She’d swallow you whole if she saw you.”
I carried the him out of the house by way of the little side door in the spare parlor and brought him across a little strip of grass and opened the door into the large shed next to the greenhouse. That door is too big for its frame and hard to open. I almost lost him while struggling with that silly door. But at last it was open and I was in.
I loved this little shed. It smelt of stale dirt and pine needles. I think the pine needle scent came from the wood it was made out of, because there had never been a pine tree inside it. But lots of stale dirt—tracked in on peoples feet or stuck to the ends of shovels where it hardened until it could be knocked off and would fall to the ground like the crumbly cookies.
I set the mouse free, once I had closed the door and he immediately scampered away to hide. “I’m sure you’ll make lots of new friends here,” I called softly after him. “Make sure you don’t hang out with the wrong crowd though. Gerald says one should be careful who one chooses to befriend.”
Two days later someone arrived at the estate, but it was not my father. It was a traveling toy maker. He made all sorts of wonderful things: a little wooden boat for the gardener’s son, dolls made of cloth and straw for the twins daughters of the head cook and a little wooden puppet for the butler’s son. For a few coins per toy, two meals and an indoors to sleep in for a night, he was worth the children’s happiness. Or so the head cook must have figured when he allowed the toy maker to stay. The head cook had always doted on his daughters and they were spoilt little girls.
I was there when he handed out the toys in the kitchen that night. I’d snuck in and was standing very still, partly hid by a big barrel. My governess had taken to drilling the head cook once a day until he confessed that I had been to see him and play with the kitchen children. Then she’d yell at me and lock me in my room for a little while. I just escaped through the window, but I figured I should make myself scarce in the kitchen, just the same. At least until things calmed down and my governess forgot to ask about me.
But I couldn’t resist being there to see the toy maker and his wonderful toys. I didn’t think he’d noticed me, until he said, “And for the lady of the house, little miss, won’t you come out?” He was looking right at me. I came out of hiding. Whatever he was going to give me would be worth some yelling and locked up time.
He pulled from the depths of his bag something sparkling and made of glass. I came closer, my mouth open a little in awe. It was a beautiful glass slipper. It was mostly clear white glass, but swirly, sometimes flowery patterns of deep blue and a very pale blue ran along one side and down to the toe of the slipper.
“Did you make this?” I asked, carefully taking the slipper in my hands as though it might shatter into a thousand pieces when I touched it.
“Well, no. Not this one.”
“But you’re a toy maker.” I said, looking up at him accusingly.
“Yes, but sometimes,” he shrugged. “I also did not make the story that goes with it. The person who gave it to me told me that it is a lost slipper. And that whoever finds the young woman it belongs will find what he or she most truly desires.”
“Wow,” said the gardener’s son.
“Can I see? Can I hold it?” asked the twins.
I clutched the glass slipper to my chest as my governess stormed in. She must have got wind of our little gathering in the kitchen. She had seen the transaction.
“I don’t know how much you are asking for that glass do-dad,” she exclaimed in her bossy voice as everyone stepped aside for her, “but we are not willing to pay. Arabella, give it back to the man right this instant.”
I didn’t move.
“It is a gift to the little girl. A pretty, harmless little gift for a pretty little girl,” said the toy maker. “It was given to me and I will take no money for it.”
“Arabella, give it back to the gentleman now.”
I didn’t want to get into a fight I knew I wouldn't win. Besides, I’d had an idea. So, very reluctantly, I handed the man the glass slipper. He slid it into his coat. I stared at him hard for a moment, then turned and ran out of the room, leaving my governess standing there looking silly.
The next morning, as the toy maker was walking down the path away from the main grounds I ran up to meet him. I think I must have been smiling mischievously, or maybe just grinning ear to ear, because he laughed when he saw me.
I keep the beautiful little slipper, carefully wrapped in an old slip which I ripped in a fight with a mean rooster, in a hidey place in the attic. I take it out now and then to look at it and gasp as the sunlight plays over its smooth surface.