Monday, March 1, 2010

An excerpt

This is from my first novel. It's basically the prologue. Enjoy!
The last drops splashed musically into the puddle under the rainspout. Pristine pools dotted the walkway leading from the back door of the manor. The sun glinted like diamonds off the droplets still clinging to  individual blades of grass. Water stained the good brown earth of the kitchen gardens an almost black color and the early spring blossoms stood at attention under the influence of abundant moisture. Only the clouds on the horizon, now stained bright pink and orange by the rising sun, bore testament of the previous night’s storm.

A small bundle, packed tightly in a wicker basket, lay nestled up against the threshold of the large black door that opened up into the kitchen of Moss Haven Manor. The soft cotton fabric rustled as the contents of the basket shifted slightly and a soft cry escaped the folds.

From inside the house, a mellow toned voice called out, “Camilla! Stop your woolgathering and get me the eggs!”

“Yes, Ma’am. Right away,” a young girl stammered in reply. As the door swung open to let the girl out into the yard the sounds of the kitchen filled the cool air. Pots and pans rattled against each other, followed by a loud crash as several items fell to the floor. In confusion, the girl turned back to the kitchen and tripped over the large basket, nearly dumping the bundle out onto the cobblestones.

An indignant wail came from inside the woven container, startling the girl as she tried to recover her balance. The girl tentatively nudged the basket with her toe, setting the basket to gently rocking. The wail died down to a soft whimper, then disappeared entirely under the movement of the basket.

“Cook, Ma’am,” the girl said, her voice nearly a whisper. “You’d better come look at this. I don’t know what it is or where it came from.”

“Camilla, I don’t have time for your games this morning,” the cook said in exasperation. “Speak up and tell me what is so wrong with the world that you haven’t gone to get me the eggs.”

Camilla carefully lifted the basket and carried it even more carefully through the kitchen door and to the big table in the center of the kitchen. She quickly pushed half-peeled carrots and potatoes out of the way to make room on the edge of the table. The cook wandered over, her agitation at Camilla showing on her face, when another heart-wrenching cry escaped from the wicker package.

"What in heaven’s name….” Her irritation with Camilla forgotten, the cook cautiously poked her fingers into the basket. Her hand brushed a sheet of paper, lying gently on the soft blanket. Camilla watched as the cook pulled the paper out and scanned its content. The cook’s face grew more and more disconcerted as her eyes traveled further down the page. “Oh my! What to do? Quick, fetch the Mistress!” the cook said when she reached the end. Her knees buckled and she sank into a nearby chair, letting the note fall to the tabletop, to await the arrival of the Mistress. Her hands plucked unnoticed at the folds of her yellow apron, her
head shaking slightly in time to the rise and fall of fabric on her lap.

Camilla ran to the far end of the kitchen and rang the bell to summon a pageboy. When the boy arrived, tugging on his scarlet tunic, she hurriedly said, “The Mistress’s presence is requested in the kitchen. It’s very urgent.” After he had left, Camilla went back to the table and peered, uncomprehending, at the neat writing on the small page. “What does it say, Ma’am?” she asked nervously.

“Let Mistress Olivia read through it first. She’ll know what to do,” the cook said confidently. She stared at the basket, almost willing it to disappear.

The cook and scullery maid sat in silence, interrupted occasionally by a rustling or muted whimper from the basket on the table. Neither made a move to exhume the contents, knowing the Mistress would be upset if they changed anything before she got there.

After what seemed an eternity, the Mistress of the house swooped into the kitchen, trailing her two daughters behind her like toys on a string. The Mistress walked purposefully to the table, the skirts of her mud colored dress communicating her irritation with each swishing step. Her daughters followed so closely on her heels that they almost ran into her when she stopped, standing almost knee high to their mother in matching muslin dresses behind her. The orange-brown hair of the oldest girl, the same shade as her mother’s, sat piled in tight curls at the top of her head. The younger girl pulled nervously at strands of her moss green hair; too short to be pulled up, it hung limply around her face. Both wore looks of pampered boredom as they crossed the kitchen floor to the table in the center of the room.

The Mistress picked up the page and read it briefly before turning her attention to the basket resting delicately on the table. “Well, it says her name is Ella,” she said, succinctly. “I don’t know why someone would choose our doorstep to leave a baby, but there you have it.”

She reached into the basket to move the blanket away and look at the small bundle that had caused so much disruption to her household. Camilla and the cook leaned in for a better view while the two girls struggled with each other to see who could catch the first glimpse of the new addition to their home. The mistress grasped the tiny thing in her large gray hands and drew it out where everyone could see. A soft, pink face surrounded by pale gold tufts of hair looked up at her.

“She’s so ugly!” exclaimed the Mistress. She held the smiling baby out at arms length and quickly deposited her in the unprepared arms of the cook. She grabbed each of her daughters by one hand and pushed them behind her, as if to shield them from further exposure to the monstrous sight.

“Don’t let that thing any where near my precious girls. I don’t want it
to contaminate them.” She hurried off, herding her girls in front of her,
already trying to forget the ragged little child left to her unwilling care.

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