Deanna Madden: Helena Landless

Отправлено 25 февр. 2018 г., 04:47 пользователем Sven Karsten   [ обновлено 25 февр. 2018 г., 04:47 ]

When I was six, I saw a man bitten by a cobra. It happened in the marketplace in Colombo, where my brother Neville and I had been taken by our ayah, a young Indian woman who was hired to watch us. The cobra belonged to a fakir who earned a few rupees by charming it out of a basket. That day a circle of people had gathered around him. The crowd seemed as mesmerized by the fakir's flute as the cobra that was slowly rising from the basket. It was as if time stood still. The only thing that moved was the cobra, and it rose so effortlessly that it hardly seemed real. It reminded me of a rope trick I had seen another fakir perform. Only this time in place of the harmless rope end was the flat hooded head of the cobra. I watched, entranced, until the music died away. We all held our breath, waiting for something to happen. Then the cobra lunged at a man in the crowd wearing a white turban. The man screamed as the cobra sunk its fangs into the arm he had raised to shield his face. The basket was knocked over, and people scattered in all directions. Our ayah hurried us away and afterward begged us not to tell what had happened. We never told, but for a long time both Neville and I were haunted by bad dreams. To this day it is one of my most dreadful memories of Ceylon.

Neville and I were born in Ceylon, he six minutes ahead of me. Our father was an officer in her Majesty's service who died so young we couldn't remember him. Our mother remarried because she had no way to take care of us, let alone herself. She died when we were six, leaving us orphans at the mercy of our stepfather, a tyrant who begrudged us food and sometimes beat us. When he died thirteen years later, we were sent back to England to be wards of Mr. Honeythunder, a philanthropist who took an interest in orphans of the empire. Mr. Honeythunder had no intention of taking us into his household. Even before we arrived in England, he had made arrangements for us. He had found a cleric in Cloisterham, a sleepy cathedral town some three hours distant from London, who would tutor Neville, and a seminary for young women located near the cleric where I could study as well. This was his plan for us until we would come of age, at which time he would wash his hands of us entirely.

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