6. and hope themselves relieved,
“Oh, mercy!” Sarah cried out as she rushed forward to join the mob.
“Mother, what now?” Savannah asked as she raced behind her. The two women pushed forward to see. Everyone stood before Old Woman Withers’ house, and Savannah thought that the old woman was screeching omens again.
“Sarah! Oh, good that you’re here!” Suzanne called and gripped the woman by the arm. “Withers has gone and died!”
“Killed? Another one?”
“No, it looks like she died in her sleep. But, Sarah, oh, there’s something else!”
Savannah tried to catch her words as she lagged behind. She saw her mother gasp, a look of complete shock on her face.
The three women stood in the doorway of Withers’ house. Phillip stepped from within.
“I can’t get her to come down.”
“Who?” Savannah asked, confused. Wasn’t Withers dead, then?
“Did you tell her?” Phillip asked Suzanne.
“I just told Sarah.”
Sarah turned to Savannah. “There’s a girl, Savannah. A girl who’s been kept locked up in the attic all this time. For years!”
“And now she won’t come down,” Phillip said.
“I’ll get her.” Savannah said. The others stared at her. She set her arms straight to her side. “I’m sure that I can do it. Please, let me try.”
Suzanne looked at her curiously, then to Phillip.
“The stairs are in the back. Be careful, it’s dark.”
She exhaled and stepped through the threshold.
It smelled like plants and wet earth inside. There were pots and jars everywhere and pictures stacked in messy piles. Every man, woman and child had wondered at some point what it was like inside Old Woman Withers’ home, since she’d stopped inviting people in so many years ago. And so she’d finally died. Savannah wondered just how old she was. And how did she die?
Savannah’s skirt brushed a pot and it tilted almost too far before she caught it. She exhaled in relief and noticed that there was something already spilled on the floor. It was in the shadow but as she bent closer to look at it, she knew what she saw. Paw prints. Big ones. She looked over her shoulder and, seeing no one, smeared them out. No sense in giving the village any more to fret over. She dusted her hands and then she saw the stairs.
They creaked as she ascended and she knew that the girl would hear them.
“Hello?” Silence. “My name is Savannah, and I’ve come to take you from this place. Old Woman Withers has died,” she said as she pushed against the door. It was locked. She sat outside of it.
After counting to ten under her breath, she tapped on the door. Then she tapped again.
An answering tap came from the other side of the door.
“I know how it is to feel locked up,” Savannah said. “To want to get away. Don’t you want to come away with me?”
“But you aren’t going anywhere,” a soft voice replied.
“Sure I am. First, I’m going away from here. I don’t really like it in here. Do you?”
“No. Is she really gone?”
“Yes. Will you tell me your name?”
“Good, Jessica. Do you want to open the door and meet me?”
The door unlatched and Savannah stood. A girl, maybe eight years old, stood there. She had black hair and large brown eyes. Her skin was pale from being inside.
“Hello, Jessica.” Savannah offered her hand and the girl rushed to her, throwing her hands around Savannah’s waist.
Savannah lifted the girl onto her hip – she was dangerously underweight- and descended the stairs.
They all looked on as Savannah appeared with the tiny girl on her hip. Sarah and Suzanne fretted over them like mother hens. Phillip wiped his forehead.
Look at that poor girl!
Withers must have been a madwoman!
What kind of person could have done such a thing?
Oh, how thin the girl is!
Good Phillip found her!
Phillip and Suzanne are such good ones.
I told you that Withers was a nutter!
I didn’t believe her anyway.
Ha! What seer she was!
She was turning us all mad!
Withers is probably to blame for all this anyway!
Good thing the red-haired girl came!
“What can be done with her?” Suzanne asked her husband Philip and Sarah. Jessica was still clinging to Savannah in the next room. “I suppose we could keep her here,” she suggested. Think of all the visitors she’d have…
“Don’t be silly. We’re too old to care for a child,” Phillip sighed. Suzanne frowned.
“Well, she does certainly seem to take to my girl,” Sarah said.
“I suppose,” Suzanne said.
“Would you mind, Sarah?” Phillip asked. “I don’t mean to burden you, but,”
“Don’t think to ask twice,” Sarah said. “Of course I’ll take in the poor thing. What she needs is some good mothering. It will be good for Savannah, I think. Of course, I’ll have to talk to Thomas but I know that the man can’t say no to a child in need.”
“That’s mighty fine of you, Sarah,” Phillip said relievedly. “And of Thomas, too.”
_ _ _
Thomas took one look at the girl and knew that he couldn’t say no. She wouldn’t say a word and stood behind Savannah, both hands on his daughter’s skirt. Savannah had that defiant look in her eye that he knew didn’t come from him.
“I’m more than happy to have another in my family.”
“Oh, father, thank you!” Savannah exclaimed.
“Aye, it’s nothing,” he said, hugging her. “You’re responsible for her, you know.”
“I’ll take very good care of her. I will.” Her eyes almost glowed. “Come on, Jessica. Let’s get you washed up.” Her hand swallowed the dark-haired girl’s as she walked her out of the room.
“Thomas, thank you. It’s best for all of us.” Sarah hugged him warmly, laying her chin on his chest. He looked down into her eyes and smiled.
“Who knew that we’d end up with two daughters?”
“The world keeps giving them to us.”
“Yes.” His smile faltered. “Do you think that we should tell Savannah?”
“About what?” Sarah asked but she dropped her eyes.
“You know very well what.”
“She’s our daughter, Thomas. Nothing can change that.”
“I know it well as you do, but…when I look at that girl, Jessica, I get the odd feeling, an urge almost, to tell Savannah the truth.”
“There are many truths.”
“Not like this one.”
“But what if it makes her hate us, knowing that she’s not our flesh and blood? Please, don’t risk it. My heart couldn’t take the pain.”
Thomas sighed and rubbed his face.
“Then I won’t. I love ye, woman.”
“And I love you.”
He kissed her.