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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by spazmom on 9 March 2007 - 7:37am. |

The winds howled around the house as the young woman inside hobbled to the table, setting down a plate and cup, readying for the day’s meager meal. The winter storms were coming early this year, and she was ill prepared for them. With the school being closed due to lack of students, her income had stopped with them and her prospects were few. Yesterday’s news was the best she’d received in months, and she wasn’t quite sure how to take it.

Distracted from her task of setting the table, she picked up the note that had been slipped under her door while she slept, reading it again in disbelief.

New position available for school mistress in York County. This position must be filled immediately. It is open to any who have had prior experience. Employment terms negotiable upon acceptance of position.

There was no other information with it, but she knew about York County – it lay just west of where she lived and was not large. She felt confident she would be able to locate the school and be qualified. Hadn’t she taught here for over five years? She would still be teaching if not for –

Clenching her jaw, she felt an ache in her heart as well as her leg. It wasn’t her fault, they simply didn’t understand. After the accident, her life hadn’t been the same. The accident still caused her nightmares and she turned in fright every time she heard a horse carriage coming down the road.

She’d been crossing the road to go to the bakers when a wild wagon had careened around the corner and hit her along the left side. There was no one to push her out of the way, no one who came to her aid until it was too late. The wagon wheel had torn muscles and twisted her leg to the point where even after the doctor had repositioned it and gotten everything bandaged, it had never worked properly again. She was forced to walk with a limp, and sometimes when she was very tired, a cane. Everyone seemed - ashamed - of her deformity, even though it was not visible.

She didn’t see how that was possible...how they could think she had changed just because part of her had been injured? But it had taken a long while for her to get back on her feet, and it seemed as if the town had changed a great deal in that time. No one had come to visit after the first month, thinking that she was slow to heal and busy with their own lives. By the time she had healed enough to get up and try moving around, they took to walking along the other side of the road. The townspeople wouldn’t meet her gaze, and the young children looked scared or whimpered in fear.

Had she turned into a monster during her time of recovery? She didn’t understand it. When she looked in the mirror her face seemed the same. She saw no physical difference in herself. Talking to the doctor was futile, as he had no answers for her. Neither did the kindly woman who acted as nurse. She had simply shrugged and said it was how they were. No one would talk to her about it, and her feelings of isolation and loneliness became even more defined. Her heart ached with it during every waking moment.

School had been the only bearable thing for her. She held it in the building that was next to her home, and the children came from town four days a week for 5 hours. It was a joy and a wonder to see their eyes light up when she explained something to them.

Only – after her injury, things started to change – for the worse. The years seemed to get progressively tight as the townspeople seemed even more offended by her halting, limping walk, and started forbidding their children to attend the school. The income she had been making, which had never been plentiful, had now dwindled to barely being able to sustain life.

By the end of last year, she had retained only one student – a young girl named Braidy. She’d haltingly whispered that even though her parents were afraid she would catch something deforming from the teacher, she still liked her and wished she could come. Then she had run home, tears streaming down her face. Jenny had sat in the schoolroom, her heart now as empty as the room in front of her – feeling as desolate as the wild deserts she’d taught her students about.

Through the summer she had planted as big a garden as she could manage, but she hadn’t been able to tend it or care for it very well, not having anyone to help hoe or irrigate it. She had been able to can some, but not enough and she now faced empty shelves and larder with no way to fill them. The cow, the only one left from the family business – a dairy her father had run, had died at the end of summer from some strange disease she hadn’t been able to cure.

She was going to die.

Perhaps she could go beg from the townspeople – the thought snuck in and tempted her for a moment as she sat at the table, looking at her plate with the small amount of garden peas and a slice of bread. She had no where else to turn, all of her family had died. Her help had vanished with the children, and she was left to fend for herself.

She hadn’t thought it would be this difficult – she had thought there would be those willing to help her. However, she also recognized that times had been hard on everyone, not just her, and everyone was struggling to make ends meet. It had stretched the feelings of charity until it really didn’t seem to exist in this part of the world. It was each man for himself, and if you didn’t have, you left to make room for those who still did.

The ability to recognize that this was a difficult period of time for everyone was shrinking daily with her ability to have a way to survive. The bitterness seemed to grow from the inside out, day by day, until she woke one morning and the world looked gray everywhere – inside and out of her little home.

What is the use? she asked herself, laying in bed and watching the storm clouds roll in. It was fitting a storm had gathered as her faith dwindled and died.

She’d had faith once. She’d been taught there was a God in the Heavens as a child by her mother and father. But when they died, a part of that faith died with them, and it hadn’t been nourished by the townspeople either. The last time there had been a preacher in town, they had run him out on a rail, claiming he’d been trying to cheat them out of money rather than teach them about God.

The hole in her heart seemed even larger today as she contemplated the chill in the room and the storm howling outside. She felt as if it consumed her and there was no ability to feel the cold for the chill inside was greater than the chill outside. Looking up, she could see her face reflected in the window where the darkness of the clouds made nothing viewable outside. Her face had been lovely once...the skin had been smooth and clear, her cheek bones high and her lips full and red. Her eyes had been full of life and she remembered how her mother used to tease her that her eyes looked like the swirls of chocolate they made in the winter for Christmastide. Her hair had been thick and full, the color of maple sugar when it was cooling.

Now all she saw was a face devoid of happiness, empty of hope. Deep lines ran from her nose to her mouth where it sat in a perpetual frown. Her eyes had lost their luster – it had been a great while since anyone had suggested they were lovely, and her forehead had lines running along it from the many hours of worrying about her situation. Her hair was pulled back and thin, the result of too little to eat. The bones of her pale face stood out starkly against the darkness of the room, and she closed her eyes to the site.

It was too much to think she could have kept her looks through all of this, although the hope of marrying had been something she’d given up on long ago. When none of the eligible young men in town would even return a greeting, she knew there was no chance of happiness. At least in the County over the hills she would be able to start anew. Perhaps there was a chance that she would meet someone there...

The hope flared weakly in her chest, but soon died with nothing to feed it but empty dreams. She knew there was no hope. She rested her head wearily on her cold hands, closing her eyes to the room around her and its dark loneliness. She didn’t think she could stand it any more. She had to get out of here before she totally went mad and starved to death. They would find her in the spring, should anyone care to come looking for her. She rather thought they wouldn’t, and her house would end up falling down around her ears – decayed though they would be. A fitting memorial and grave – her own home.

She stood up and strode haltingly to her wardrobe, flinging it open to gaze at the clothing inside. Nothing was remotely new anymore – it had been years since she had been able to afford cloth to make something new for herself. She had patched and reworked the ones she owned until they no longer resembled anything but a worn piece of cloth. The dress she was wearing now was the best of them all – which didn’t say much for itself, but it was all she had. She grabbed the carpet bag from off the top of the wardrobe and wrenching the clothes off the hooks, started stuffing the items in. She had one other pair of shoes – those she had kept for best. They were only slightly less worn than the pair she had on, but they would do for the walk ahead.

She walked to the small table where her toiletries were kept, and picking up her pins, small bits of jewelry left from her mother and comb and mirror, she resolutely dropped them in the bag. In doing so, she bumped the cane that leaned there should she need it.

The cane. It was a mystery. It had appeared on her doorstep after she’d gotten back to her home after recuperating in town the months following the accident. She had been given a cane from the doctor, but it had been a flimsy slight thing that she’d been afraid to lean on. The one she found outside her door was waist high and carved with fanciful figures, dark, thick and strong as a piece of oak. It was an amazing piece of work, and she cherished it – knowing that someone had spent a great deal of time making it before giving it to her. Her heart ached for a moment with the thought that someone had cared for her but never came forward and then she stomped down on the feeling, closing her eyes to the tears that were trying to escape.

She was going. She would leave in the morning, unless it snowed. She had no choice. She had to get through the forest before the storms snowed her in and she died. She didn’t want to die. Not yet.

She knew her way through the forest. Hadn’t she gone there often enough as a child? The forest had been her favorite place. She’d felt totally safe there, and sometimes – her thoughts caused her to pause mid-step in going back to the table to sit down. Sometimes she had thought someone was with her. Someone who seemed to play with her, invisible games that made her laugh and dance through the trees.

She shook her head and went back to the table, sitting down to force the food down her throat. She didn’t want to eat it, she knew it would not taste good, and yet she knew she needed all the strength she could get from it. She would be wrapping up what was left to take with her in the morning. She looked at the free standing fireplace that was cold, and sudden inspiration hit. With a sudden gleeful laugh, she stood up and flung the chair she’d been sitting in to the floor. At least tonight she would be warm!

She broke up the chair she’d been sitting in. It wasn’t as easy as she had thought it would be because her father had made all the furniture in the small house, and he’d done a good job of it. She broke up the table next, and that actually caused her to work up a bit of a sweat, warming her to the outside. Her heart was still cold.

Her heart was full of the ice of barren loneliness and she thought nothing of the heritage she was burning. Nothing of the rocking chair her mother had rocked her to sleep in. Nothing of her parent’s bed as it fed the now glowing stove and warmed the small room. She shut the door to the rest of the house, intending only on keeping this one warm. Her face was flushed from the unusual exertion along with the toasty warmth of the room, and she collapsed into the last chair left – her father’s chair – which was very heavy and would have been close to impossible to break up.

There. It was done. There would be nothing left behind her when she left. No one would have anything to scrounge when they discovered her gone. Yes, she still owned the property, but little good that did her when no one would purchase it. Sometime in the future she might be able to come back, but why?

“Why?” she cried out, tears suddenly filling her eyes, and cracking through the ice in her heart. “No one cares!”

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