To God I give the glory and the credit.
To the boy who unwittingly became an Oliver I give a silent bit of gratitude.
To all those who are searching for their voice I give this story.
A black storm cloud of curly hair, pallid features, and dark eyes of perpetual sadness. Small limbs that were always clutching something, whether it be one of her sister's old toys, a thick book of pictures, or her own small body as if she was trying to pull the warmth toward her. The final thing you notice as you observe her is the silence that shrouds her like a curtain. You never hear her chatter or sing like other children do. You never hear her laugh or cry out or even whistle. She simply sits in the corner of the room gazing at you with her melancholy little face until her parents shoo her away to the nursery. An old cross nurse comes and grabs her roughly by her sleeved shoulder, scolding her for once again ruining her parents' visit. She turns and looks at you one final time, her cheerless eyes piercing you with longing for comfort. For justice.
But her parents quickly turn your attention away. Don't worry, they say, that was only their second daughter, Alice. She was the silent one, the runt. They feared she was bewitched the way she always insisted on staring at people. Pay her no mind, they never did. Of course they don't bother telling their eldest daughter Hazel to go back to the nursery. In fact, they give her a place at the table and feed her pastries and sweets and have her sing silly little tunes to amuse them. Hazel's hair is longer with a gentler curve than the other girl's. They look rather similar, you suppose, but Hazel's eyes are bright and merry and her cheeks rosy. Oh, the praise they give Hazel! They forget the other as if she never existed.
If, perhaps, you were compassionate enough to ask of little Alice (which most visitors to the Moore estate were not), they might narrow their eyes at you and say you'd best keep your children away from her. She was a bad influence. They just didn't know what to do with such a wicked little child.
At this point most visitors accept this answer and relay the message to their own children to stay away from the Moore girl, but not you! I am certain that you take pity on her and tell your children they ought to go play with her. Unfortunately, your charity is in vain. For if your children happen to make the excursion to Moore estate they will find that Alice is unable to come outside.
Of course, there's nothing more you can do. It isn't your family's affair, so you hold your children a little closer and are grateful that they are not forced to live the life of little Alice Moore.
And what of the girl, you ask? She continues to sit silently in the nursery clutching that old toy or book, waiting. She isn't certain what exactly she's waiting for. Perhaps, in her heart, she knows that things can't stay like this forever.
Oh, pardon me. It seems I have forgotten one rather important detail about young Alice. She was born with a curse.
When her mother was pregnant with her, she met and befriended an eccentric gentleman who seemed to be a traveling street performer who sang ballads or put on puppet shows or performed illusions who always carried a tambourine. Every morning he'd come by her mother's window and chat for a time. He would tell interesting stories about far off places that she'd never seen. But what made him interesting was the fact that he seemed to know everything about her. He knew her maiden name, her birthday, her favorite color, song, the name of her daughter and husband.
Normally this would frighten her, but the man was oddly fascinating. He never asked for entry into her house or for money or even if she was interested in his wares. He'd only chat a little to amuse her then be on his way again. One day he made the observation that she was expecting a daughter. Of course no one was aware of the sex of the baby yet. Intrigued, she leaned forward and asked her to tell her more.
He said that she would have large, expressive eyes and dark hair. She would be sensitive and perceptive and have a great capacity for understanding and love. Then he added the final fact with gravity and confidentiality.
"Your daughter will be born with a curse," he said, "She will be completely mute. She will not be able to produce a single noise from her throat. Not a cry or a giggle or whistle. What's more, if you should happen to touch her you will be able to hear her thoughts and at times even feel her feelings, but only if the contact is skin to skin."
At hearing this, her mother asked the man to leave her. She could not believe the disgraceful things he dared say about a member of her house. The man, unruffled at this sudden snub, bowed his head politely, packed up his wagon and left the estate his tambourine playing a simple cadence as he did. She never saw him again.
When Alice was born no one heard her cry. Her face was contorted with the effort of heaving sobs, but not a sound escaped her lips. Knowing that the man had been right, both mother and father mourned the birth of a cursed child. The only one that celebrated was little Hazel, who delighted at having a younger sister. Her parents suggested leaving the baby out on a set of church steps somewhere, but Hazel begged them to let her stay until they relented. It was Hazel who gave Alice her name, and taught her to read and write and love God. It was Hazel who played with her and told her stories of trolls and bands of traveling knights and chivalry. It was Hazel who gave her the little silver necklace with her name etched into the pendent. It was Hazel who raised her while her parents shunned her.
Alice for her part tried to focus on the happy things and the love given to her by Hazel, but being a child and sister to the favorite, she longed for her parent's loving attention. She would never get it, but she still she minded them mostly. She listened when her family brought her to the church on Sunday and when Hazel gave her own little lessons for her. She put God above all else, there was little else she had to carry with her throughout the years to give her any hope. The years rolled by in this manner, sometimes crawling and stumbling, sometimes bounding with a speed that frightened her.
Unlike Alice, Hazel, pretty young thing as she, was popular with the other children and, as she grew older, the men. Suitors came so often to call that it was amazing that it took Hazel until she was eighteen years old to be married off. One day a traveling merchant came by and humbly asked for Hazel's hand in marriage. Her parents weren't surprised by this offer, even though they hadn't seen the man before. His courtesy and wealth won them over easily, and it seemed to win over Hazel especially. (little did they know, the man had been by the Moore estate many times before, each time bringing whispered love songs and sonnets to Hazel's window. Hazel had made Alice promise not to tell. Of course she promised, but even if she hadn't, Alice had a feeling that their parents would never hate Hazel the way they did her).
So Hazel married and left home. Before leaving she beseeched her parents to take care of Alice until someone else could. (the word marriage was avoided as it was the trenchant knowledge that she would probably never marry as long as the curse clung to her). Both parents relented and said they would care for her as long as they were able. With that, Hazel swept out of the house with her new husband for a life of laughter and love, leaving a teary eyed Alice waving from the window, a smile bravely painted on her face.
Three days later they sent Alice out of the house with food enough to carry her over until she could reach the next town, a silver chain with her name etched on the charm, and the flippant assertion that they'd taken care of her as long as they were able (meaning as long as they'd wanted). The only tear she shed was for the fact that Hazel's promise had been broken. Without a protestation, Alice walked into the misty night to begin a new life.
She was fourteen at the time.