I shook my head and he shrugged in response. I stood, staring after the wailing children until they rounded the corner of the herb-garden wall. As soon as they were out of sight I turned to the dog and buried my face in her coat. I did not cry. But I shook and held tight to her. She stood steady under my grip, and turned her head to whine and then nuzzle my ear.
“You take care of her, Daisy.” Lin’s voice was deep, and perhaps something more passed between him and the dog than what I heard. I only knew that she was warm and unthreatening and seemed to have no desire to move away from my desperate hug.
When finally I lifted my face from her coat, Lin was gone. I will never know what he made of that encounter. I gave Daisy a final hug and she licked my hand. Then, seeing that I no longer needed her, she trotted off to find her owner. And I made my way back to the house and up to my chamber. I thought of what I had done. None of the children would dare speak of it to their parents: They would have to explain why I said what I said. Shepherd Lin would, I decided, keep it to himself. How did I know? He had told me to watch my own back, and advised me to get a dog. He expected me to handle this myself. And I would.
I considered his advice about the dog. No. My father would want to know why I wanted one. I could not tell him, not even through my mother.
After my encounter with the children, I took Lin’s advice. I stopped following them and avoided them when I could. Instead I began to shadow my father, to see what he did all day while my mother was about her familiar routine. I flattered myself that he did not notice his small shadow, but later I would discover he had been aware of me. His long hikes about the estate to check on things were taxing for my small legs. If he took a horse, I gave up at once. I feared horses, with their long knobby legs and sudden snorting breaths. Years ago, when I was five, he had put me on one, to teach me to ride. In my terror and distress at his invasive touch and at the height of the animal’s back, I had snapped myself out of his grip and vaulted over the animal and onto the hard-packed earth. My father had been terrified he had injured me, and had never attempted the experiment again. In my garbled way, I had made excuse to my mother that it had felt rude to sit on someone and expect her to carry me about. And when my mother gave my father that explanation, he had become even more pensive and reluctant to expose me to horses. As I followed him now, I began to regret that. While I dreaded my father’s touch and the overwhelming surge of his thoughts into my mind, I still wished to know more of him. If I had been able to ride a horse, I could have followed him. But letting him know that presented difficulties.
Since discovering I could draw, he had begun to spend more time with me. Of an evening he would bring his work to my mother’s sitting room. I had my own little table there, with my own inks and pens and paper now. Several times he had shown me moldering old scrolls with faded illustrations of plants and flowers and letters I did not recognize. He had conveyed to me that I should try to copy what I saw, but this was something I had no desire to do. There was so much already stored in my mind, flowers and mushrooms and plants I had seen that I wished to capture on the paper. I did not share his obsession for writing again what had already been written; I knew that disappointed him, and yet it was so.
My father had never understood my mumbling tongue, and even now I did not speak to him much. I hesitated to draw his attention to me. Even to be in the room with him challenged me. When he looked at me or focused his attention on me, the sheer power of his drenching thoughts terrified me. I dared not let him touch me, and even to meet his eyes was to feel the pull of that whirlpool. And so I avoided him, as much as I was able, even though I know it hurt him and grieved my mother.
Despite that, he began to try to play with me. He came one night to the fireside with no scrolls to copy. He sat down on the floor near my little table and patted the hearth next to him. “Come see what I have,” he invited me. Curiosity overcame my dread and I left my inks and ventured to stand near him.
“Here’s a game,” he told me, and lifted a kerchief that covered a tray. On it were a flower, a white pebble, and a strawberry. I looked at it, mystified. Abruptly, he covered it. “Tell me what you saw,” he challenged me. I looked at my mother for explanation. She was in her chair on the other side of the hearth, her hands busy with some needlework.
She raised her brows in puzzlement, but prompted me, “What was on the tray, Bee?”
I stared at her. She lifted a rebuking finger and raised her brows at me. I spoke softly without looking at him. “Flowa.”
“What else, Bee?”