Adeline – Part 4 of 4

woman in the dark

(Accidentally skipped ahead? Go back and read Part 3.)

Adeline stormed home, confused and shocked and a little angry. She looked down as she left town, paying no attention to who she passed or to how fast she was going or to the ground as it changed from cobblestone to sandy dirt to the red clay. She walked past the Tiller’s farm in a daze—a gurgling, red daze—and she didn’t hear the scarecrow singing his songs about the golden sun and the blue rain falling from the sky.

When she reached fork in the road which led toward her cabin, Adeline ran into the furry leg of another pedestrian. She stumbled backward and looked up, out of breath. It was her neighbor, the centauress. Adeline felt the day couldn’t get any worse.

The centauress grimaced. She crossed her arms over her full-figured bust, adorned in a thick, dark leather bustier embellished with brass rivets. The centaurs always wore their armor, even if they didn’t always carry their weapons. “Hello, human child,” she said.

Adeline gritted her teeth, clenching her fists and concentrating on the knobby, wiry-haired knees of the creature before her. “Hello, Centauress.” She tried to be nice. Her father and Belle always told her to be nice to centaurs because they had very short tempers and were always in bad moods.

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you humans watch where you’re going?” The centauress paused, leaning to and fro, her front hooves clopping back and forth as she inspected Adeline from different, lofty angles. Adeline stood still, enduring the criticizing examination, moving only enough to brush away a lock of hair which blew in her face from the afternoon breeze. “Your face is flushed,” the centauress jibed. “Have you been weeping?”

The girl wiped a hand across her cheek. It was wet. She hadn’t known she’d been crying. “No, Centauress,” she said. “I haven’t been weeping.”

“Well, you look like you have,” the centauress snorted. “Watch where you’re going the next time you’re out. Otherwise, some less kindly creature than I might run into you and then you’ll be in for real trouble.” Adeline said nothing. The centauress began to walk away but lingered long enough to add, “You have a lot to weep about, anyhow.”

Adeline spun around and looked the she-creature in the face. She felt her face shift between hot and cold as she carefully thought about her next words. Finally, she settled on a simple question: “What do you mean?”

The centauress laughed. It was a rumbling, snorting sort of laugh and very unpleasant to hear. Adeline winced. “Don’t be stupid, human child. At your age your father must have told you. Or, at least, that dove.”

Adeline stepped forward. “Why don’t you tell me?” She watched the centaur step backward, looking to either side, obviously surprised by the girl’s eager boldness. Adeline was only a young girl; an uncommon centaur aggressor. But, after seeing that no one else was around and after a moment of what seemed to Adeline some devious contemplation, the centaur puffed out her chest and let out a cackle.

“No. No, I won’t. It’s not my problem. That idiotic bird or your ridiculous father can take that burden.”

“What are you keeping from me? Why is everyone keeping secrets from me?” Adeline burst out yelling. She pointed a dainty finger at the centauress. “What do you know about my mother? What do you know about the Mark of the Dove?”

The centauress stood there, arms crossed, clicking her tongue at Adeline in disappointment. Or disgust. Adeline couldn’t tell the difference. “Your wretched father,” was all she said as she shook her head.

“What?”

“Your wretched father, dear, has been lying to you about your mother. I admit, I hate humans, but at least a centaur has the decency not to sink so low as to blatantly lie to our own children.” Adeline

“Go away, child,” the centauress said flatly, waving a nonchalant hand at her. She turned her massive body around and began walking away, her hooves falling heavily on the hard, clay road. “You’ll find out soon enough,” she yelled from over a cold shoulder. “For now, perhaps you should find bliss in your ignorance, as the human saying goes.”

Adeline watched the vile creature walk away and then, once far enough, shift into a graceless trot. Her long, black, disheveled tail whipped back and forth to the tempo of her gait, and clods of soil flipped up beneath her as she went, leaving a wide trail of broken soil in her wake.

*           *           *

By the time she reached home, the sun was low over the horizon. With the lowering of the sun, the day was cooling; so was Adeline’s temper. She was still angry, but, in her walk from the fork in the road, she’d resigned to the fact that she wouldn’t be able to do anything about her situation until her father came home later that evening.

Her hand was out, about to turn the rickety brass doorknob, when she heard a loud crash inside the vacant house next door.

Adeline paused, not looking up. She knew she was forbidden to go inside, but a mysterious noise in an already mysterious house was simply too enticing. Besides that, she was in no mood to care about the consequences of anything. Adults tell me not to lie and they do it anyway, she thought. Maybe being grown up is about doing things you tell other people not to do.

She tip-toed the few yards over to the dusty window of the small, neglected cottage and crouched below the sill, keeping out of sight of whatever—or whoever—was inside making a racket. She waited a minute or two, listening carefully, squatting there on the ground below the window, to see if the noise would come again.

She pressed her ear against the cold timber front of the cabin. She thought she heard crying; then more clamoring about; then what sounded like a woman’s voice. At the sound of the voice Adeline sprung up, standing off to the side of the cabin and keeping out of sight. The voice was somehow familiar, but Adeline couldn’t place it. Her heart raced. She stood stone still, debating whether to look in the window or to go inside her own house.

Then she lightly laughed at herself. Of course! It was the old man’s daughter, come to visit her cabin. She was inside, grieving her paternal loss. Adeline wished to meet her.

Adeline bashfully tapped on the door. She was excited to finally meet the woman who owned this house; she hoped she was nice, and pretty, and that she liked little girls. For a moment, Adeline completely forgot about her current conundrum. When no response came, Adeline reached for the knob, slowly opened the door, and peeked carefully inside. “Hello?” she said.

“Go away,” said the voice. It was supple, shy; a pretty voice. Its owner hid far back in the recesses of the dank cabin.

“I’m Adeline.” She tried sounding cheerful. She stepped inside, leaving the door open a crack behind her, and began moving forward.

“Stop there!” the woman screamed. “Please…” she spoke again, more calmly, “stop there.”

Adeline halted, eyes wide, and then stood up after a few seconds of silence passed. She twiddled her fingers as she looked around her.

The place was too dark to see much of anything. A single window, similar to the one in Adeline’s own cabin, was covered over with a sheer red handkerchief; the only light came in from behind her, through the cracked doorway. In the dim room, Adeline could see that objects cluttered the floors in no particular order. There were wooden crates stacked high up against the wall, and miscellaneous objects—like books, jewelry boxes, empty Mason jars, clothes, long beaded necklaces, and even a red-haired rag doll—were balanced precariously on a number of them.

“I just wanted to meet you,” Adeline said apologetically. “I live next door. I…”

“I know who you are,” interrupted the voice again. There was some shuffling about, as if the woman were trying to recede even further back into the darkness.

“Oh! You do? Then you must know Belle, too!” Adeline started chattering. Her father always said she chattered too much when she was nervous. “Belle’s my nanny. Well, she’s really a dove, but she’s away for a while on holiday. Have you met Belle before?”

“We’ve… met.” More shuffling. More moving.

“How nice! I wonder why Belle didn’t tell me about you. I’m always so excited to make a new friend…”

“Please,” the woman whimpered, her voice cracking. “Please, go away. I beg you.”

Adeline felt bad. She stood still. This poor woman, she thought. All alone. No family around to comfort her. Just these sad things stored away in a gloomy cabin that nobody visited. “I’m sorry about your dad,” Adeline said. She was trying to be comforting.

The woman shuffled around some more. “Um… yes…” she said. “Thank you.” Adeline could hear the woman moving across the room. She stumbled over something. A crate fell to the floor and cracked open. Adeline flinched at the noise.

“Here,” Adeline said, “let me help you.”

“No!” The woman screeched and, distracted, tripped over another object in her path. She fell to the floor with a thud as a stack of objects was knocked loose and collapsed on top of her. The woman let out a series of yelps. Adeline leapt to the rescue.

“Oh my goodness!” She approached and knelt down on the cold dirt floor. “Are you okay? Are you…”

As Adeline had bolted away from the entry, a small gust of wind had blown the door open even wider. The sunset light entered into the cabin and cast a wide, glowing stream of orange onto the floor, illuminating the room and falling like fire across the woman’s face.

Adeline gasped. The woman was pretty. No. She was beautiful.

She was a woman of about thirty-four years. Her wavy golden hair, though tousled, shone in the amber light like the fresh honey which dripped from the suckle trees in the summertime. She had lips that looked as soft and supple and pink as rose petals; her eyes, wide and filled with terror, glowed as green as springtime grass. In the center of her forehead was a birthmark so faint it was almost unnoticeable… except in the dazzling brightness of direct sun. It had the look of a bird’s footprint, like a little bird had stepped right there on her face. To curse her.

Adeline trembled. “Oh, my God…” She lost all sensation; from fingers to toes to the top of her head, her body went numb. She couldn’t blink. All she could do was stand there and stare at the glorious, beautiful, and yet somehow gruesome woman sprawled on the floor before her.

“Adeline, please. Please, let me explain…”

There was only one word Adeline could think of, one question that kept repeating itself in her mind as she stared at this wild-looking creature. She asked it.

“…Belle?”

The woman immediately burst out in reckless sobbing. With a hand she covered her mouth as she cried and, at the same time, gave several unrestrained, hearty nods.

*           *           *

What happened after that Adeline couldn’t recall. Her head felt like it was spinning and she ran, screaming, out of that cabin and away from her house and past Malady Tiller’s farm. She didn’t hear the other children who were playing ball on the road calling after her, asking her where she was running to. She didn’t see Mr. Humphrey bolt out of his inn as she ran past, or hear him yelling after her to stop, yelling that it would be okay. All she could think of was that the centauress must have known, Álainn must have known, Mr. Humphrey must have known… her father knew. Everyone had known, except her.

Her only hope lied in the mercury lake. If she could prove that her mother fell in, that she had died long ago, then that would prove what she’d believed as truth all along. The mark on her mother’s forehead was simply a birthmark. Easy as that. Nothing more, nothing less.

She gasped for air. Her lungs burned. Her legs burned. She didn’t care. She kept running.

Adeline reached the lakefront and skidded to a halt. She stared out across the shimmering mercury, thinking how soft it looked and how easily anyone could fall in. She heard Mr. Humphrey calling her name from somewhere behind her. Adeline turned around. He was still quite a distance away, merely a speck on the horizon. But she could see he was running quickly. He understood what she was there to do.

A spark of delight lit in Adeline’s heart. If Mr. Humphrey was fearful for her, then that meant that a person could drown in the mercury lake. That only meant the story was true. Her mother was dead!

She turned back to the lake and watched the heavy edge of the liquid lap at the dense grass on the shore. She heard Mr. Humphrey call for her again.

She had to know for herself.

Adeline dropped all hesitation and ran forward into the lake. She felt her legs go wobbly; she felt she would sink immediately. A rush of joy flooded her and she laughed madly to herself as she fell down into the liquid.

Belle isn’t my mother, she thought. I’m going to sink in this lake. Mr. Humphrey will be here soon to save me. I won’t die. Belle isn’t my mother. My mother is dead…

But there was nothing.

Adeline had lost her balance, but she sat, afloat, on the lake. She watched as the mercury rippled away from the bottoms of her feet, from underneath her hands; she felt like a feather floating on the air. She sat there for what seemed to be a long time, looking around her, waiting for the inevitable, waiting for the mercury lake to suck her in. But nothing happened.

Mr. Humphrey approached the lake’s edge and set one foot atop the mercury. Adeline watched expectantly, but his foot did not sink. He held one end of his cane as he reached the other end out to her.  She stared, mouth agape.

“Adeline,” he called, whispering. She looked up at him. Her face felt flushed and hot, her chest felt empty, as if it would cave in at any moment. She couldn’t breathe and couldn’t stop her chin from trembling. “Adeline, darling. Please.”

Adeline looked down at her feet once more and, wishing she were dead, took the end of the cane in one hand as Mr. Humphrey pulled her along the top of the liquid death toward the shore as if she were a spot of air.

 THE END.

Dear Reader,

This story has been a long time coming. I first used it as a grade in a creative writing class in 2005. In 2006, I edited it as part of my final exam. Today, in 2013, with this new, re-edited, and now public version, I finally feel the tale has reached the apex and depth of its true nature.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this story. Even more, I hope you’ve enjoyed it enough to share it with someone you know or subscribe to my story-blog to be notified when new stories are posted. Some of them are slow to develop; others are more easily obtained. Yes… obtained. Stories are not made, they are not developed, they are not created… they are discovered. Stories and tales of every shade of greatness exist out in the world. It is simply the writer’s job to pioneer, to find those tales, listen to what they say, and write them to share with the world.

I look forward to finding more stories to share with you. I hope you’ll stick with me as I, slowly but surely, discover and piece them together.

Sincerely,

Jessica Woken, Pioneer of Tales.

Story Credits and Notes:

Acknowledgement to the song in Part 1:

Artist: Sting; Album: (1994) Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994; Song Title: Fields of Gold.

Some facts about liquid mercury:

http://www.marin.edu/~jim/photos/spain/almaden5.JPG Read the final paragraph of this man’s exploratory journey through Spain as he discovers “the liquid mercury is so heavy that a steel ball floats on it.” http://www.marin.edu/~jim/photos/spain/spain2.html

“Back in 1972 (October issue to be precise) National Geographic Magazine published a photograph of a man sitting on a pool of mercury. And I do mean on, not in. I’ve never forgotten that photo, and finally dug it up again (from their CD-ROM collection): (image pictured above).
“Of course, no one in their right mind, then or now, would expose themselves to this much mercury. But, man, doesn’t it look like it would be an incredible experience? Mercury is so dense, and clings to itself so strongly, than the man floats on it like styrofoam floats on water. The pressure inside a pool of mercury rises 13 times more rapidly than the pressure in a pool of water (because it is 13 times more dense). Imagine sticking your arm straight down into a pool of mercury: The pressure on your hand would be as high as if it were 20 feet under water. What must that feel like?” (http://www.theodoregray.com/PeriodicTable/Elements/080.s8.html, Copyright 2003, Theodore W. Grey)

Adeline – Part 3 of 4

(Accidentally skipped ahead? Go back and read Part 2.)

Adeline exited the building, unsure of whom to go to next. Besides finding out what the Mark of the Dove was, a jumble of other questions zigzagged in her mind and she was having a difficult time sorting through them, figuring out which ones needed to be answered first and which ones were not very important at all. She tried to clear her head.

The revolving door slowed itself to silence behind her Adeline stood out on the white-picketed porch of the Inn at the top of the steps and watched the people in the street, finding some solace in their unassuming day-to-day activity.

A chubby lady across the street in a long, pale blue floral dress and wide-brimmed yellow hat was crouching, fussing with the red bow tie around her son’s collar. Her son was small, probably a couple of years younger than Adeline, and was squirming, making the task all the more difficult for his mother. He appeared to be on his way to school—a pair of books hung from a book strap in his left hand and a shiny red apple was clutched in his right. One of his tall white socks drooped, gathering at the top of his ankle around one of his brand new dark blue penny loafers. The boy caught Adeline looking his way. He pouted and scrunched his face at her.

A gentleman riding a tall grey gelding trotted by. He sloppily held the reins with one hand and his round bowler hat atop his head on with the other. He bounced about in the saddle a ridiculous amount, obviously having a hard time staying seated. As the horse approached the florist’s cart parked just a few yards away in front of the pharmacist’s, the man jerked the reins back and nearly fell forward over his mount’s neck. Either he was not very good in the saddle or the horse had some training left to go through. Adeline watched the man dismount and, in the process, get one foot stuck in a stirrup. He bounced on a leg, trying to maintain the hat on his head and a little bit of self-respect, as the florist hurried around his cart to assist and the horse stood, its head turned to the side, looking on in wonder at his clumsy rider’s antics.

A crashing noise turned Adeline’s head to the left. A produce cart had toppled in the middle of the road; one of its wheels had come unhinged from the axle. The young couple handling the cart scampered in opposite directions. The young man grabbed fistfuls of his red hair, ran to the side of the cart and moaned and shook his head at the dislodged wheel. The blonde-haired woman, probably his wife and donned in a drab grey dress and tomato-stained apron, chased after the oranges, eggplants, apples, and heads of cabbage bouncing and rolling across the cobblestone street. A pile of green lettuce heaped onto the ground beside the fallen cart; droplets of water from a fresh washing had shaken from them and left dark spots on the road’s stones. Adeline started to move to help but stopped when a woman emerged from the Red Cottage Store.

She was a stately lady, tall and slender, and she carried herself well. Her face was pale but pretty and powdered, her skin slightly drawn and wrinkled around her eyes and thin, red-painted mouth. She was old. Her hair, though full and curled and pinned up loosely in a bun at the back of her head, was startlingly white. She wore a red dress with long sheer sleeves which showed off the still-firm muscles of her arms. Big white buttons sparkled in the daylight at her wrists. Adeline thought they might be mother-of-pearl. The dress’ bodice was low-cut and corseted with white, eyeleted cotton. The skirt was constructed of dozens of cascading layers of the same sheer, red fabric as on her arms, each layer drifting of its own accord, giving the effect that she was floating across the road on an imperceptible breeze. In a clenched fist she held a large wooden mallet and, settled crosswise from her shoulder, was a small sackcloth satchel. As she marched toward the cart, mouth firm and chin high, her black boots clicked on the cobblestones and her shoulders were rolled back, as if she were on her way to make demands of an emperor.

Adeline held her breath. She was the most beautiful and regal lady Adeline had ever seen.

Adeline watched as the woman approached the cart and assertively handed the mallet to the young man. She said something to him as she pointed at the axle, he nodded, and then she bent over to drag the fallen wheel out from under the cart. The man called after his wife, who was forlornly cradling a bundle of cabbages to her breast. The wife set the vegetables on the road beside the lettuce heads and came swiftly over. After some brief instructions from her husband the wife nodded. She took the wheel from the woman in red, the woman in red took the mallet from the man, and the man grabbed hold of the bottom of the cart and lifted it up. The wife placed the wheel alongside the axle and, with a few mighty swings of a thin yet powerful arm, the woman in red slammed the wheel back onto the axle. She then pulled out a round of thick copper wire from the satchel and bent the wire around the axle with some precise tappings of the mallet head. After some quick additional hammering, the wheel was set firmly into place and the cart was again standing and functional. The woman in red looked over her handiwork and, without so much as a smile at the young couple who were nodding their heads at her in gratitude, marched away and disappeared into the Red Cottage.

The instant the woman closed the door Adeline knew she was the one to speak to about her mother.

*           *           *

Adeline peeked in one of the round windows. Through the glass she saw rows and rows of trinkets and oddities and everyday things, like blankets and shoes and a dozen little mechanical bears on a high shelf wearing red vests and hats and holding tiny brass cymbals in their hands. On the walls hung myriad of paintings of fields of red daisies or scarlet hot air balloons floating high up in the clouds. On the farthest wall Adeline spotted the crown of a great big grandfather clock with a family of cardinals nesting on top. Despite the amount of merchandize surrounding her, the store felt bright and spacious. The little round windows, which sat low enough to the ground for children to peer through, were many and close together. They allowed in ample daylight and, from inside, a good view of the goings-on on the street outside.

As Adeline was looking around at all the trinkets the woman in red emerged from a room in the back. She held a crystal vase of red and white speckled carnations out in front of her; the flowers dripped water onto the carpet from their fresh rinsing. The woman was whistling softly to herself then stopped abruptly in the middle of the aisle when she noticed Adeline. She didn’t smile.

“Oh,” she said. “Why hello.”

Adeline said nothing. She stared at the lady and watched her as she continued on her way toward the front of the store to set the vase on the checkout counter. She gave the flowers a fluff before wiping her hands on her dress and turning to face Adeline again. She knelt, slowly, gently, as if Adeline were a cornered kitten, and a soft grin spread across her face.

“My goodness,” she said. Adeline thought she saw the woman’s eyes mist. “I never thought you’d come.”

Adeline thought for a moment. “You know me?” she said.

“Oh, darling, yes! Of course I know you. Your mother and I were great friends,” she said, standing. “And your father comes in every now and then to buy things. Like your new shoes, for instance.”

Adeline looked down at her feet and nodded. Her red shoes sparkled as she turned her feet this way and that. She looked up at the lady, who was still grinning down at her. Adeline was suddenly unsure of why she had come. She looked around her and spotted a painting of a white dove holding a red ribbon in its beak hanging behind the big brass cash register. Adeline pointed. “I have a dove,” she said timidly. “But she’s not white. She’s grey.”

The lady let out a weary sigh, but her smile didn’t fade. “Yes. I’m aware of the dove you call Belle. I watch you when you walk by. She rides your shoulder.”

Adeline nodded, not thinking to wonder how the lady had known Belle’s name.

“Come,” the lady said. She walked a few steps away toward the checkout counter and patted her hand upon the red leather top of a wooden bar stool. “Sit.” Adeline did as she was told. She stared at the woman and her long, white hair which draped across her shoulders and flowed behind her when she walked.

“You took down your hair,” Adeline said, climbing up onto the seat. The lady laughed. She pulled a small, red bowl of small, red candies out from a drawer and set them on the countertop. The lady rested her elbows on the counter and her chin in her hands, watching Adeline and waiting. Adeline picked a candy and tasted it, never taking her eyes off the woman. It was cinnamon; sweet and a little spicy on her tongue. She sucked on the candy until it was gone. The woman watched her in silence. “What’s your name?” Adeline finally asked.

“Álainn.”

Adeline scrunched her nose. “That’s a weird name.”

Álainn simply shrugged, a crooked smile gathering across her face like a quiet storm front sneaking its way into a valley. She plucked a cinnamon candy from the bowl and popped it into her mouth. “Why did you come to see me?” A squeaky-wheeled cart rolled by outside. Adeline turned to watch it pass. It was the cart of the old soup woman, Canh; she lived in the forest with her herd of goats and sold fresh, hot soups to the pedestrians. The pots, ladles, bowls, and spoons hanging from hooks on the side of her cart clattered as it bounced down the road.

“I thought you could tell me about my mother.”

“Oh, darling…” Álainn took Adeline’s hands into both hers and cradled them, holding them for a few seconds as she closed her eyes and muttered something too quietly for Adeline to hear. Adeline panicked a little as a trickling warmth enveloped her fingers; the warmth grew, creeping up her hands and up her arms and eventually wrapping her entire body. It felt like the warmth of an afternoon sun. Adeline suddenly felt safe there, sitting on a stool in the Red Cottage with the strange lady who had a strange name. She didn’t want to leave. Finally Álainn looked up and said, her voice like soft butter, “Darling, I can’t.”

The warmth disappeared instantly. Adeline pulled her hands away. “Why not?”

Álainn sat up straight and rolled her shoulders back. The caring, like the sunshine warmth, had disappeared from her face. She was once again the cold, stern woman Adeline had seen out on the street, commanding the young couple to action. The woman with the purpose and the tied up hair and the heavy mallet and the serious frown. “I just can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Álainn took the bowl of candies and locked them back into the cupboard. She pulled back her hair and fixed it with a few pins from her apron pocket into a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She dusted off her apron and made her way to the back of the store, her red skirt streaming behind her, trying to catch up.

“Well,” Adeline called out after her. “What about the Mark…”

“You’ll show your way out, won’t you, dear? I have a lot of work to do.”

(Ready for the end? Read Part 4…)

Adeline – Part 1 of 4

Adeline in red

The mourning dove spoke to ask her what she was doing.

“What do you mean?” Adeline combed the ends of her long auburn hair with her fingertips as she sat looking out across the mercury lake. She was sitting cross-legged on the crest of a small hill which stood between the lake and town, about fifty yards from the shore. Her eyes glazed over as she stared. The lake glowed pewter, a giant pool of metallic death, and shimmered like a million diamonds in the bright light of the waning afternoon sun. Everyone said not to step foot in it. ‘You’ll die. It’ll suck you in like a giant blob,’ they warned her. She was a curious girl. But, being only seven, how could she argue?

Besides, her mother had been gulped by the lake. Adeline remembered the story well. “She was curious, like you,” Adeline’s father always smiled at her and pinched her cheek as he explained the circumstances; he always started the conversation with a smirk of pride and then, his exuberance fading, with the dullness of longing. “She was kneeling to look at her reflection. The lake grabbed hold of her and pulled her in.” Her father choked up at that part. Adeline tried not to look at him when he did; she didn’t like it when people stared at her when she cried. He would go on to tell her how much he missed her mother, how he felt helpless to do anything to save her. Supposedly Adeline had been two years old at the time, but she didn’t remember anything. She’d heard the story dozens of times, if not more. Though it had been years since the event her father’s guilt and sadness, it seemed, couldn’t be alleviated.

The dove spoke up again. “You’re thinking about going near it, aren’t you?”

Adeline dropped her hands to her lap, ignoring the bird on her shoulder. The dove pecked her earlobe.

“Ow!” Adeline yelped.

“Don’t,” the bird warned. “You know what happened to your mother.” Adeline again responded with silence. “You’d better not be thinking about it,” Belle scolded, pecking the girl on the lobe again.

“Ow! Belle! Quit!”

“Fine.” The bird stopped. Adeline rubbed her ear, now glowing pink. “Let’s go. It’s getting dark, anyway.”

The dove, named Belle, had been appointed Adeline’s nanny since she was three, when her father had depleted all his savings and was forced to return to work at the lumber mill. He was the Head Sawman and they were having some difficulty with this year’s crop of rubber trees. They couldn’t get them to cut straight; the trees kept bending and wrapping themselves around the blades.

“Adeline,” he called her into the living room. It was a small cabin—one bedroom at the back which father and daughter shared, an attached outhouse, a large pantry, and one open room at the front which served as main living area, kitchen, dining room, laundry, and whatever else they needed it for. Adeline was in the bedroom, playing with the dollhouse her father had crafted from scraps of balsa the past summer. She came running out, mud on her red ruffled dress from a little excursion this morning to feed the hens, and halted to a stop when she saw the dove sitting politely on the cuff of her father’s checkered long-sleeve.

“Daddy…?”

“Adeline,” he said, kneeling. He held his arm perpendicular to his chest out in front of himself. The dove fluffed; a white down feather drifted silently to the floor. “I’m going to have to go back to work, starting today.” Adeline’s eyes grew. She glanced back and forth between the bird and her father. “This is Belle. She’ll be keeping watch over you from now on.” The bird hopped onto Adeline’s shoulder and cooed pleasantly into her ear. Adeline was skeptical; she wasn’t sure what to think and leaned to the side trying to get a good look at the dove without touching it.

“Daddy…”

“Adeline, sweetheart.” Her father brushed her tangled hair aside from her face. “Belle comes highly recommended. Remember Teddy, who used to live in the house next to us? Belle took care of him before he and his parents moved away. You’ll be fine.”

“Teddy smelled funny.” Adeline, still leaning to one side, stuck out her cherry-red lower lip. “And he wasn’t very nice, Daddy.”

“I know, Addie.” Her father sighed and rose to grab his heavy coat from the hook near the front door. He shook the coat and a cloud of dust welled up around him. He hadn’t worn it since his wife had died. He bit the inside of his cheek, focusing on more urgent matters. Winter was coming. There were trees which needed harvesting. “Belle will be here with you until I return. If anything’s the matter, she’ll fly to the mill and fetch me, alright?”

Adeline’s eyes widened again at ‘fly’. “Is she very fast?”

“I’m the fastest there is.” Adeline jumped, tripping over herself and fell over onto the floor with a thud. She’d never heard a bird talk, didn’t know it was possible. Belle, quick to react, jumped up off the girl’s shoulder then flew, hovering in the air a moment, before lowering herself to the floor, wings whistling.

Adeline’s father laughed, kissed his daughter on the top of her head, and left.

With Belle on her shoulder, Adeline walked the trail leading toward their cabin. They passed, first, the honeysuckle forest where the trees dripped so much that they had created a honey marsh in the small basin, which was overrun with bees, and bears, and anything else with an insatiable sweet tooth. They went through town via Main Street, a cobblestone road about thirty feet wide and two hundred feet in length with shops all along the edges. It turned into a dirt road at both ends and was marked by signs that said either “Welcome!” or “Thank you for visiting!” depending on which way you were headed. As they passed by the small two-story inn, painted white and decorated with long boxes of daisies along its porch rail, Adeline smiled, quietly wondering if Mr. Humphrey—the nicest man Adeline had ever met—could spare a moment right then to give her the usual complimentary ice cream cone. Belle shifted her weight nervously on Adeline’s shoulder. Adeline dismissed the potential for a treat; the dove seemed eager to be home.

Across from the inn was the Red Cottage Shop which only sold things that were red. Adeline looked down at the sparkly red shoes she wore that her father had bought for her birthday last week. The toes already had mud on them—mud had always liked Adeline—but they still sparkled like fresh pixy dust.

Just beyond town was Malady Tiller’s farm, where the scarecrow without a name who never stopped singing danced from sun-up until sundown, gallivanting through his fields, keeping out intruders. Adeline listened hard to hear him over the sound of the wind rushing through the field, the high stalks of corn whistling in the breeze and their little tufted tops dancing to a tempo of their own. “You’ll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barleyyyy!” the scarecrow sang. “You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we walk in fields of goooold!” Adeline craned her neck. The scarecrow sprung through the field, only visible when he was at the apex of a leap and only recognizable by the crown of his tan hat made from woven and dried leaves of corn.

“Hello Scarecrow!” Adeline yelled when she finally spotted him. She knew, though, he couldn’t hear her. Scarecrows didn’t have ears. Belle fluffed her feathers and tucked her head into her shoulders, eyes squinting. She didn’t like the Scarecrow’s singing.

Beyond Malady Tiller’s farm was Adeline’s cabin. They called it a cabin but, truly, it was only the front of a cabin; the back half was more of a cave tucked into the side of a hill thick with turf and mossy boulders. It was an odd structure, their house, but Adeline had always liked the smell of the walls and ceiling: clean and tart, a cool autumn day eating a green apple.

There were three cabins like hers in a row, Adeline’s in the center. The Centaurs, who were patronizing creatures and not friendly at all, had lived on the right side since Teddy’s family moved away. Their cabin was slightly larger, but not by much. She didn’t speak to any of the Centaur family, especially the colt about her age who made trouble chasing rabbits and foxes through the Scarecrow’s corn field. Adeline squinted at the house, irritated by the thought of her irritation. She looked away from the Centaur’s home to the cabin on the left of hers. That one had been vacant as long as Adeline could remember. Her father told her once that an old man had lived there until he died in his sleep, and had left the house to his daughter in a will. The daughter, though, had never come to see the property. But she paid taxes on it and, because it was rightfully hers, Adeline was forbidden from sneaking around or inside it, as she was prone to do with vacant homes.

Upon entering her own den, the small kitchen—which doubled as a dining area—waited on the right. It consisted merely of a short pot-bellied stove surrounded by mounds of its own dusty grey ashes; a faded burgundy-colored rug (Adeline guessed it had once been a red rug from the Red Cottage Store) atop which sat a small wooden butcher’s block island and its two tall barstool companions; and, in the counter nestled against the wall, a makeshift sink made from a bucket which sat in a hole cut into the wooden top and an accompanying half-full pitcher of murky well water.

To the left was the living area. It was a small space, modestly decorated with animals carved from wood sitting about, a bearskin rug draped over the floor, and a large painting of purple mountains hanging above a sizeable brick fireplace. Facing the fireplace was Adeline’s father’s green-jacquard leisure chair and a small side-table which served as a cabinet for a few books and assortment of playing cards. Away in the corner, on its own rainbow-colored rug and nested in between a few boxes of toys and various playthings, was Adeline’s sitting chair draped in last year’s birthday gift: a ribbon-fringed red blanket.

Beside the front door was a small window of frosted glass, about twelve inches square, which pointed directly out toward the mercury lake. It was pure cruel coincidence, her father had said, that the thing which killed Adeline’s mother stared at them from afar through the only window they had. But, still, sometimes on late spring mornings, when Adeline woke up early enough, the sun would reflect off the lake like a mirror and shine in through the window onto the opposite wall, where it lit up with the light of heaven a photograph taken of Adeline’s parents before she had been born.

She’d stared at that photograph so many times in the blinding light of those early dawns. Adeline’s father had not changed much since it had been taken. The only differences being that, now, he had only a few more wrinkles on his face and a few more silver hairs. In the photo his broad forehead reflected the flash of the camera; he had a mop of curly black hair that he had let grow longer back then, and a moustache that curled slightly upward at the ends. He was smiling broadly, his white teeth gleaming, his nose wrinkled just a bit. He appeared to be laughing, giddy with love. It was, after all, his wedding day. Adeline thought he was the most handsome man there ever was.

But, in those early mornings, when the beam of crystal clear light lit up the photo as if it were alive, Adeline liked most to stare at the image of her mother.

She was a woman of about twenty-four years. Her wavy golden hair shone like the fresh honey which dripped from the suckle trees. She was all at once smiling and kissing her new husband on the cheek with lips that looked as soft and pink as rose petals; her eyes were turned toward the camera, glowing green as springtime grass. Her dimples—one at the center of each cheek—accented the corners of her smile. In the center of her forehead was a birthmark with the looks of a bird’s footprint, like a little bird had stepped right there on her face to bless her. The mark was so faint it was almost unnoticeable, except in the dazzling brightness of direct sun.

Adeline wished she could look like her mother when she grew older, bird print and all. Her father told her she would, but Adeline wanted to see for herself. They had no mirrors in their house. “Mirrors promote vanity, Addie,” her father would warn her. A tone to his voice obliterated any argument. “Remember Narcissus?”

In fact, the whole town didn’t have mirrors set low to the ground for children to use. They were always hung high, for adults. At the hotel once, Adeline tried to sneak a chair underneath a high-hung circular mirror in the lobby. As she was about to climb up onto her pedestal and old woman rushed up and snatched the chair away, saying, “Mirrors were not meant for your children.” Adeline did not try to move any more chairs after that.

Adeline sometimes caught a glimpse of herself in a pan of water or in a chunk of ice that she tried to make smooth by alternatively breathing on it and polishing the melted ice with the palm of her glove. But, no matter how hard she tried, the images were never clear enough. The water always splashed, the reflection whirred; the ice was never flat despite Adeline’s most ambitious attempts and her reflection came out skewed. In fact, Adeline couldn’t find a single pane of unfrosted glass anywhere in town that she could use. Frosted, all of it.

“Don’t worry, dear,” Belle would coo to comfort her then snuggle against Adeline’s neck, giving her a bird’s version of a hug. The downy feathers tickled Adeline’s chin. “You’re a beautiful girl. You’ve got long hair like your mother, long and wavy like soft clouds on windy days. How can you doubt your father?”

But it wasn’t her beauty that Adeline was concerned about. That much she could tell from murky reflections in puddles and mottled images in ice-mirrors. She wasn’t afraid of being ugly. She was afraid she didn’t have a birthmark. She was afraid she wouldn’t be like her mother.

(Ready to read more? Here’s Part 2.)

Adeline – Part 2 of 4

Belle

(Accidentally skipped ahead? Go back and read Part 1.)

Winter was coming. The cold winds were blowing down from the north and, more importantly, Abominable Snowman and his family were moving back into their igloo nestled at the foot of the mountain nearby. Their seasonal migration from the far-away Northern continent meant that the cold was too intense there, even for them.

Adeline liked the Snowman family. They were all so burly and fluffy white and so different from human people that Adeline couldn’t get enough of them. She wished they never had to leave. Mr. Abominable wasn’t very social and tended to hide in his icy office all day, planning next year’s disruptions on the Eskimos and northern tribes. His daughter, Abysmal, however, was great fun and only a year older than Adeline. They played together in the snow and, when the blizzards blew too arrogantly, Abysmal’s mother, Deplorable, made excellent penguin and corn chowder for them to eat. Sometimes Abysmal would visit at Adeline’s house and they would play checkers together, sitting on Adeline’s rainbow rug. Abysmal loved checkers and was very good at the game. Still, checkers matches were rare; Adeline had to put out the pot-bellied stove the day before her friend came over because, otherwise, the cabin would be too warm for comfort for her guest. Her father only permitted it once or twice a winter. It was too difficult, he said, to get the fire started up again.

One afternoon, when a snowstorm was being especially disruptive, the girls were engrossed in the tail-end of a checkers match when Abysmal noticed the photograph on the wall off to the side. She pointed at the picture with the black nail of a furry, white hand. “Who is she?”

“That’s my mother.” Adeline tucked her red blanket closer around her neck, wishing she could start up the fireplace.

Abysmal got up to take a closer look. She tilted her head and squinted. “What’s that on her face?”

“Her birthmark.”

“Oh…” Abysmal said absentmindedly, continuing to stare at the photograph. Adeline stared for a moment as her friend’s eyes blinked and she cocked her head from one side to another, and then twisted herself to glance behind her, at the sleeping mourning dove nested in the waning sunlight coming through the tiny window. Abysmal let out a quiet gasp. Adeline turned around and watched the snowgirl’s eyes widen as she took a step back. Without a word Abysmal reseated herself, her mouth slightly agape and her eyes still wide, glancing nervously at the floor. A long silence followed as she studied the checkerboard. At least, Adeline assumed she was studying the checkerboard. Finally, Abysmal spoke up. “She’s very beautiful.” She reached to move one of her pieces directly in the line of fire of one of Adeline’s red tokens. Adeline gave her friend a lingering glance. Abysmal didn’t look up at her. Adeline jumped the piece then removed the dead black token from the board into a small pile near her foot.

“My father says I’ll look like her when I grow up.”

Abysmal stopped for a moment to look at Adeline. Adeline didn’t know what she had said that was wrong—perhaps it was still too warm in the cabin and Abysmal was uncomfortable—but her Snowman friend stared at her, confused, as if Adeline weren’t sane, a hand hovering over the checkerboard.

“What?” Adeline asked, more frightened than upset.

“Nothing. Sorry.” Abysmal finished reaching and moved a token on the board. She jumped Adeline’s line and crowned her piece. “Yes. You’ll look just like her when you grow up.”

*           *           *

That evening, after the snowgirl left, Adeline, her father, and Belle gathered around for dinner. Adeline was sitting on her stool, her feet dangling and swinging back and forth high above the old rug. She was staring at her bowl of stew when her father asked what was on her mind. She confessed the day’s checker game and mentioned how Abysmal had looked at her.

Her father chuckled, nearly choking on a potato. “You’re being silly, Addie,” he said, wiping his face with a cloth napkin and coughing a little. “Why in the world would she look at you like that?”

“Maybe it was the cold,” Belle insisted. “Coldness can make a creature see things that aren’t really there. And it was awfully cold in here.” Belle fluffed her feathers in recollection. “I don’t see how those Snowmen do it.” Adeline’s father nodded in agreement, muttering something over a mouthful of carrot and celery about how it would take all night to get the house warmed back up. Belle cooed and went back to pecking at her dish of grass seed. Adeline sat, quietly, feeling forgotten.

“Maybe,” Adeline whispered. She nudged her potatoes around with her fork. Her father and Belle continued their discussion about the cold.

In bed later that night Adeline was having a rough time falling asleep. She’d never known anybody to stare at her the way Abysmal had. Except, she gasped, instantly remembered, the time Mr. Humphrey came for dinner one time and saw the photograph on the wall. “Why!” he had said, stepping closer to it. “What a pretty lady!” At that moment he had paused, his face suddenly pale, and looked apprehensively down at Adeline standing by his side, who was grinning proudly up at the photograph of her mother. When she’d looked over at him, he’d had a funny look on his face. “Wait a minute…” Mr. Humphrey hadn’t had time to finish his thought. Adeline’s father called him outside to show off the new axe and grinding stone he’d just bought.

*           *           *

The next morning Adeline woke up earlier than usual. She tiptoed past her father’s bed, past Belle crouched up on her perch, and into the living room. She stood before the photograph and studied her mother’s image closely. What could it be, she thought to herself. Did she look nothing like her mother, after all? Would she grow up to be boyish and square-shapen, not curvy and soft like her mother had been? Was she some illegitimate child?

She couldn’t get the stares out of her mind. First Mr. Humphrey, then Abysmal, both after looking at the photograph. The meaning evaded her. The truth evaded her. She felt frightened, deceived. She felt her face growing warm and her heart race. Lies? Tears began to well. She wiped them away with the sleeve of her nightgown and took a deep breath. She was a big girl. She mustn’t over-react. She tiptoed back into her bed. As she tucked the covers around her chin she decided: today, she would go to see Mr. Humphrey.

*           *           *

The revolving door of the hotel cast flashes of white on the tiled floor as it spun, the panes of frosted glass reflecting the sunlight like someone was taking pictures from a giant camera. It was a small hotel, maybe only twenty rooms, and smelled like fresh-cut cantaloupe at all hours of the day and night. The walls were coated in decorative paper; little blue nymphs danced across a pale green background, their private parts gracefully adorned with yellow sashes, as they threw yellow and orange flowers from their woven picnic baskets. The lobby was furnished with a few padded waiting benches and matching high-back chairs with lion-claw feet, and a tall desk where people came to check-in to their rooms. Mr. Humphrey was always behind that desk, recording in a ledger the day’s transactions. Past the lobby was the ice cream bar which smelled of peppermint and toffee and caramel and hot chocolate fudge, the place where Adeline came often to retrieve her free scoops. But, she reminded herself, this was not a day for ice cream.

Adeline approached the desk. She had to stand on her tip-toes in order to see over the edge. She saw only the top of Mr. Humphrey’s tell-tale top hat, a black silken one with a red band around it near the brim, and the silent fluttering of a peacock-feathered ink pen. She could hear his pencil scratching dutifully on the ledger. Adeline cleared her throat. Engulfed in his task, he didn’t notice her. “Excuse me?” she said.

“Ah, yes!” Mr. Humphrey jumped, still staring down at his ledger, and scribbled a few more numbers into his book. “Excuse me, yes, who…” he looked up. “Ah! My darling girl! You’re early today for your ice cream. It’s only ten in the morning! I haven’t yet had the chance to open up the register back there.” His moustache leaned back and forth like a wiry grey seesaw on his upper lip. He pursed his lips and squinted his eyes to mere slits at her. “Ah, well.” Mr. Humphrey burst into a grin and hopped out from behind his big desk. He was a pudgy man, and very short, not much more than a foot and half taller than Adeline. He carried a sturdy black cane and waddled with a certain quickness which lent his polished black leather shoes to appear as dark blurs beneath him as he sped off toward the dining room. Adeline rushed after him, pulling on the elbow of his blue-striped shirt.

“No, Mr. Humphrey. I’m not here for ice cream.”

The man stopped at a slight skid and cocked his head toward the girl. His moustache giggled again. “No ice cream? Well, then, my dear, what for then? Candy this time, eh?”

“No, sir.” Adeline pulled her hand away from his sleeve. She rolled her shoulders back and straightened her posture, then cupped both hands around her mouth and leaned in. Mr. Humphrey turned his head and leaned his ear toward her. Adeline whispered, “I’m here to ask you something.”

The innkeeper straightened and removed his hat. He stuffed his cane in the crook of his armpit and held his hat in the hand of that arm as he scratched the top of his bald head. Only a few lonely strands of hair were combed over from one side to cover his pink scalp. Big tufts of black hair salted with grey stuck out from behind his ears and, where his hat had covered him, the hair was plastered down, shiny and flat against his skull, its shape assisted by a coating of the musky styling pomade he was prone to overuse. “A question?” His free hand maneuvered from his head to his shirt pocket where it twiddled with a pair of reading glasses that Adeline had never seen him wear. “Isn’t that what your father is for?”

Adeline considered lying for a moment and then remembered about Pinocchio. “I can’t ask him,” she said plainly.

Mr. Humphrey’s eyes blinked in quick succession. “Why not?”

“He won’t tell me what I want to know,” she said, shaking her head. Then, thinking again, she added: “And he’s at work.” The innkeeper grinned a little, appeased.

“Oh. Well…” Mr. Humphrey stood, fiddling with his glasses, and broke out into a light sweat. His face turned red. Adeline didn’t know whether it was out of anger or embarrassment, but she hoped he wasn’t mad with her. She hid both hands behind her back, crossing the fingers of one, and made a private wish that he’d tell her what she came here to find out. Mr. Humphrey dropped his hand suddenly. “Where’s Belle?”

“It’s the first day of autumn, Mr. Humphrey.” The innkeeper stared blankly. Adeline sighed. “It’s Mourning Dove Mourning Day.” Adeline whined a little as she explained: “She’s at the dove cemetery out in the woods, mourning her dead brothers and sisters and parents and aunts and uncles? After that she’s going to go to a big dovey party with all the other mourning doves to celebrate that they’re still alive. Don’t you remember? You ask me every year.” Adeline scrunched her face and crossed her arms over her chest. Belle was always very descriptive about the dove holidays and rituals and had, every year but this one, been very strict about not allowing Adeline to join her. This year Adeline had not asked to go. Belle hadn’t asked why. Adeline supposed the dove had assumed she had finally gotten the point across to her charge. It was a convenient enough assumption for Adeline’s purposes, but she planned on resuming her inquiry to tagalong next season.

“I see.” Mr. Humphrey proceeded to finger his moustache. He replaced the top hat onto his head and shrugged his shoulders, the red from his face faded. “Well, then, I suppose I’m next in line, aren’t I?” Mr. Humphrey reached out his hand to Adeline and, lightly grasping her wrist, led her to an upholstered bench at the edge of the room. She sat by his side. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?”

“I wanted to ask you about my mother.” Mr. Humphrey’s face exploded in scarlet. He fiddled with his cane. She nonetheless continued without too much pause. “You visited one time and saw that photograph on our mantle and looked at me funny. Why did you do that?”

The innkeeper fidgeted. Adeline saw beads of sweat collecting where his hat met his head. He grabbed an orange paisley handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed at his face. Adeline was worried he might have a heart attack. She had learned about heart attacks in school. She began to regret having come here to bother her friend.

“Mr. Humphrey?” She looked at the poor man, panting a little, dabbing at his face, and looking down at the tiled floor. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, dear. Just fine.” He breathed heavily and, after a few more dabs and lickings of his lips, looked at her. “Hasn’t your father already told you about your mother?”

“He told me that she worked at the mill with him before they were married and that, after that, she just stayed home to keep house and raise me.” Adeline swung her feet back and forth; she wasn’t tall enough for them to reach the floor and noticed Mr. Humphrey’s feet only just barely reached. “And he told me that she got sucked into the mercury lake when I was two, but I don’t remember any of that so I’m not sure for sure.”

“What is this? You don’t believe your father?”

Adeline hung her head. It was her turn to stare at the tiles. “No, sir. I don’t.”

“Hm.” He swished his moustache as Adeline continued to swing her feet beneath her. “What more do you need to know?”

Adeline looked up at the innkeeper. “Did you know my mother?”

“No,” he said, almost reflexively. He opened his mouth to say something more, then closed it before letting out another word. “I’m sorry, Addie.” He patted her on the back, returning the handkerchief back to his pocket. “I didn’t know her. She never came into my inn, you see?”

Adeline squinted. “Why not?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. She just didn’t.” He moved in his seat a little, just enough to look over her head and out the Inn’s front window, to the Red Cottage store across the street. Adeline felt the tingle of a lie. She stared at his nose to be sure. It didn’t grow. Mr. Humphrey turned his eyes from the window and back to the girl. “I used to see her going in and out of there.“ He pointed across the street. “She liked to buy things there, I suppose. She seemed to go a lot. Liked red, I guess. Then one day she just didn’t come back. She was just gone.” He paused a moment and let out a deep breath. He turned to Adeline with a gloss draped over his eyes. “That’s all I know,” he shrugged.

Adeline sat quietly for a little while, looking down at the shadows of her feet shooting over the cold tiles as she swung them. Mr. Humphrey’s nose wasn’t changing; he must be telling her the truth. She suddenly felt empty inside. She had thought she really might find out more about her mother from her friend.

“I’m sorry, Adeline.” Mr. Humphrey patted her on the back a couple more times. “I wish I could help you more. Fact is, nobody really knew your mother well.”

Adeline stopped her feet and turned to him. “Why not?”

“Well,” Mr. Humphrey lifted his hands and clasped them over his bulging belly. “She was what you would call a ‘loner’. She didn’t have many friends and didn’t speak to very many people. She was like a ghost, really. Just in and out of the Red store.” Again he pointed across the street. “She was beautiful and your father loved her very much. That’s all I know.”

Adeline nodded, feeling the warmth of hope slowly draining out of her body. She imagined it pooling on Mr. Humphrey’s shiny floor. She felt bad for making it dirty. Mr. Humphrey gave her shoulder a little squeeze and lifted himself from the bench. He quietly returned to his station behind the desk; he propped his cane against the side and lifted his feathered pen, dropping his gaze to fix his concentration on the unfinished paperwork. In a few moments Adeline approached the desk again. This time Mr. Humphrey noticed her immediately.

He slowly placed the pen in its holder and raised his eyebrows at her. “Yes, dear?”

“One more question.”

“You are a brave girl,” he muttered. He leaned forward on his elbows. “What is it this time?”

“Do you know what that mark is on her forehead?” Mr. Humphrey’s smile disappeared. Adeline’s face flushed and she pursed her lips at him. “In the photograph, Mr. Humphrey. I know you saw it!” She couldn’t control herself. She knew it was rude to yell at people, especially adults, but did it count when they were fibbing to her about something important? “Do you?” she pressed. “Do you know what that mark is?”

His shoulders slouched. “Yes,” he mumbled. “Yes, Adeline. I know what it is.” Mr. Humphrey held up his hand to calm the irritation building in the air. Adeline bit her lip. Her face felt hot and puffy, the way it felt when she was about to cry. She didn’t want to cry. She was too angry to cry. “That mark on your mother’s forehead is, well…” Mr. Humphrey paused. A heavy sigh fluttered the peacock feathers. “That, Addie, is the Mark of the Dove.”

Adeline cocked her head to one side. She felt the puffiness fading, but it was replaced by a coolness that left her feeling nothing. While she was relieved that Mr. Humphrey had given her an answer, she was also bewildered by the flood of additional questions his answer had poured onto her head, but one stood out over them all. “What’s the Mark of the Dove?” she whispered.

Mr. Humphrey kept an eye on her for another moment before waving her away with his hand and picking up the feathered pen to return to his work. “Go, dear,” he said gently. “No more questions. I’ve got work to do, and I’m very tired.”

(Ready for more? Here’s Part 3…)