This is the third installment of my short story, Sorrel’s Story.
If you’d like to start at the beginning of the story, you can click on the link below.
Here’s Chapter Two!
“But she is not dead,” the girl insisted to the maid at the door. The maid stood there, her eyes wide with fear and her lip trembling.
“She cannot be, for she promised me that she would always take care of me. No, she can’t be,” the girl said again.
But already her eyes were brimming, and her face splotched. “No, she is not!” the girl said fiercely. The maid took the girl’s arm.
“Yes, Miss, she is,” the maid said quietly.
A tear slipped down the girl’s face. “She promised me!” the girl sobbed. “She promised!”
The girl’s mind was whirling. “What will happen to me? Who will care for me? Who will care about me? But she is dead. She is dead. She is gone forever and ever.”
The girl moaned and dropped to the floor, as white as a ghost. The maid shrieked and called for someone to bring smelling salts. Another maid appeared, and, quickly assessing the situation, set about reviving the distraught girl. The girl came to, but more agitated than before. She lay on the ground, screaming.
“Come back, Grandmother! Don’t leave me here! Take me with you!” She screamed while the minutes ticked by. Then her eyes darted around the room, and her hand reached out for something to hold and comfort her. She found nothing.
Gradually, her screaming subsided into small, exhausted gasps. She curled herself into a ball. Then she was still.
The girl lay on the floor until dusk, refusing to eat, refusing to go to bed. Her feverish cheek caressed the matted and tear stained rug on which she sprawled. The light outside the nursery window was gone, and stars had begun to peek out from the indigo sky.
She lay there, whispering to herself. “You are all alone in the world,” she repeated. Words she had heard often. “All alone,” she said again.
A tear streaked down the quivering nose and dripped to the floor. She shivered, wrapping her arms around herself in the darkness, protecting her haggard body from the world. The world she was all alone in. Suddenly, the girl sat up.
“I will not stay here. There is nothing for me now. No one wants me. No one cares. I shall go away forever and ever. Then they’ll be sorry for me. Then they’ll see that Grandmother shouldn’t have died.”
It is debatable whether the grieving girl’s reasoning was sound. Either way, she allowed herself to be put to bed with such a docile manner that she thoroughly confused the poor maids. They soon discovered why, when the girl’s bed was found empty in the morning.
“Miss Sorrel is missing,” one maid hissed into the other’s ear, somewhat guiltily. “They say she’s run away.”
“I just hope it doesn’t get pinned on us,” the other said unfeelingly.
The first maid nodded, “If it does, I shall feel awful. But where do you think a young thing like Sorrel – Miss Sorrel – would run off to? Do you think they’ll find her?”
“No one wants to take care of her, it seems. No one appears to be searching very hard. Seems to me they’re glad she’s gone.”
With that, the maid walked off to go about her business. The other, first maid, stood there, feeling remorseful.
“I should’ve kept more watch of the girl. Who knew she would fly away like a fluttering little bird when the madame passed on? I suppose I should’ve. If I were a young girl of thirteen or so, I s’pose I would feel just the same. Poor, poor girl.” And the maid went to find someone else to talk to.
Meanwhile, the girl causing all of the fuss was getting off a streetcar with luggage in hand. Chicago bustled around her, and she sidestepped to avoid a pile of horse droppings. Her matted blond hair fell around her face and hid her red, hardened eyes. Resolutely, she crossed the busy street. People yelled for her to get out of the way. Her dress became quite soiled, but she pushed on.
She looked up at the towering buildings, searching for sky. She had to crane her neck to see it. She spotted a carved wooden sign and saw that the store closest to her was a bakery. She pushed her way through the people to the door and from the door to the counter.
“Do you need a hired girl here?” she asked the man at the counter. The man observed her dirty dress and tangled hair.
“Go home,” the man told her, “We don’t need a girl like you.”
The girl’s eyes flashed, and her jaw tightened. “And what kind of girl am I?” she asked hotly.
“Go home,” the man repeated.
The girl turned on her heel and marched out to the street. She scanned the storefronts, marching onward. The butcher was next.
The girl strode inside and looked the butcher in the eye. The man was wearing a smock covered in blood and looked quite menacing. The girl kept her gaze. “I’m looking for work. Do you need a hired girl?” she asked him clearly.
“No,” the man growled.
The girl left, but not before giving him a look that would’ve curdled milk.
Outside, the girl sat down on her luggage and bit her lip, thinking. Then she slowly combed her hair with her fingers and smoothed her dress. She opened her carpet bag and pulled out a rumpled hat and hair pins. She put these in, after calming herself with a few deep breaths.
The air was cool for April weather, and the sky was a grayish blue, as if it couldn’t decide between rain or shine. It was overall a lovely morning, around seven o’clock, but to the blond girl sitting all alone on the curb, it seemed black as night.
The girl stood up slowly and hauled the carpet bag with her. She didn’t know where she was going, but she hoped she could find work somewhere. An old wooden building sat on the corner of South Avenue, and the girl found herself walking toward it. Hopeless and lost, she decided to give it a try.
She hid her bag behind a bush, smoothed the bun she had just put in, and shook the wrinkles out of her skirt.
She forced herself to look pleasant and respectable, and climbed the creaking steps. Her arm was up to knock on the smooth wooden door, when it flung open, and someone fairly flew out. The girl turned to see a lanky boy speeding down the sidewalk, his brown hair in his eyes, and his head turned her way.
“Excuse me!” he called apologetically. “I’m late.” With that, he was gone.
The girl smoothed her dress again, her feathers ruffled, and knocked on the door. She stood there, heart pounding, for what seemed a lifetime. Finally, a plump, middle aged woman with a ruddy face answered it. The girl cleared her throat. “Do you run this -”
“Boarding house,” the woman smiled.
“Do you need a hired girl to clean?” the girl asked quickly. She began to turn away, already guessing the answer.
“Well, it depends. I can’t pay more than about seven dollars a week,” the woman said. “But, dear me, this old place could use it. Why? You applying for a job?” the woman laughed delightedly. “It’s been a long time since we had somebody who wanted to work here,” she chuckled. “Well, if you can clean, you’ve got the job.” The woman beckoned for the girl to follow her inside. “Oh, I forgot. I’m Mrs. O’Keily. And what’s your name?”
The girl’s fingers tightened on her skirt. “Sorrel. Sorrel -” she paused and her eyes rested on the doorknob the woman was holding. “Lock,” she finished. The woman, Mrs. O’Keily, nodded, and they both went inside.
The front door led into a dark hall, with closet on the left and a wide and worn staircase on the right. Mrs. O’Keily led to the rambling kitchen, at the back of the building. “This is where I spend my time,” she told Sorrel. “It’s likely I’ll die here,” she laughed. Sorrel winced. Mrs. O’Keily didn’t notice.
“Now, here’s where all the dusters, brooms, and the like are kept,” she told Sorrel, showing her yet another dusty closet. “And if you can clean this place up nicely, we’ll see what we can do about hiring you. How’s that sound?”
“Good, thank you,” Sorrel managed.
So she set to work. She had never in her life held a duster, except to play with. Sweeping was a foreign concept. But she needed the money. So she wiped down everything in sight, and awkwardly swept up the dirt, leaves, and crumbs that managed to wedge themselves in every corner. When she was finished, it was far past lunch, and she was extremely hungry.
Mrs. O’Keily came to look over her work. “Have you had a job like this before?” she asked, a twinkle in her eyes.
“No, but I learn quickly,” Sorrel said determinedly.
Mrs. O’Keily didn’t say anything more about it except, “I’ll teach you a few things, and the job’s yours.” Sorrel smiled for the first time that day.
“Thank you. I’ll do well. Just wait and see,” she promised.
And so began her life at the little old boarding house on South Avenue.
That’s it for this week!
What did you think of Chapter Two?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
– Ellie 🙂