Life of the Deceived
Image of London Thames Embankment, courtesy of Old UK Photos, image of Puerto Rico courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Ten years later
For many days and many nights, dank wooden walls surrounded me, along with dozens of other children as we sailed the Atlantic to the place we would soon call our new home. When I finally woke up, I was startled once I realized that I was no longer in the safety of my home. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the many others around me, I began to wonder the whereabouts of my sister and three brothers. Though we were chained, I was still able to wander about and after several hours of searching, I soon discovered that they too were killed back home. With each passing hour, I would hear soft cries of sadness and terror. Such sounds surrounding me, it too made me want to shed tears of my own. I was scared, cold, hungry, and thirsty. I wanted to die. In fact, many of the older children that were on board ended up killing themselves or died from illness. We all feared what they would do with us once we reached this city of London. I myself sat in wonder as to why these mice wanted us to begin with. Come to find out it was for work.
All across England, we were sold and given jobs that were assumed suitable for us. For me, it was housework. As a young child, I was tossed from household to household for my lack of understanding the English language and not living up to my owner’s expectations. Indeed I was tolerated by the other members of the staff. In fact, as I was tossed around, those with enough care and patience educated me. I was taught how to properly speak, read, and write. I was never taught anything else the other children of the household were taught such as mathematics or history. My owners said that I had no business learning such things. I was taught to take orders and do them with no complaints.
They did not understand that as I a small child, I had neither the skills or the strength to do all I was forced to do. But I still did my best anyway. The only fresh air and sunshine I ever received was when I hung laundry on the line as my owner’s children played merrily with their toys. Countless times, they had tried to allow me in on their fun and games, but were told to ignore me. That in itself hurt me greatly. I was no longer a living, breathing mouse like them. I was a thing, property.
In fact, what no one besides my owners knew that the day our ship docked, we were all given a number, which was branded into our skin so if by any chance we tried to escape, we would be reported by these mice and hunted down. Would they return us to our owners, we did not know. But we were made quite clear that any disobedience would not go unpunished. We were left clueless after that and for most were left with only our imagination of what they would do.
I had heard of the many stories of the Spanish bringing slaves from Africa to Puerto Rico and with them the Taino, the native Indians of our island to work the fields and build the great forts that now stand proud and tall in the capital of San Juan. If they did not work hard or tried to escape, they were whipped. Sadly though, the Taino refused to take orders from the Spanish and did the only thing they thought possible, they killed their families and themselves. But not all took such extreme measures as they manages to escape from the north into the center of the island where they lived prosperous lives. It was almost certain though that they forever had the painful memories of their old home and how it was taken and corrupted. This is how I felt and this is how I thought if I chose to fight back.
Once in a while, these mysterious mice would visit, making sure that I was up to no good. My owners would give feedback, as well as what they were told from whomever I was employed to prior to them and though what they were told about me were tremendous improvements, they still sneered at me as if they did not wish to hear improvements. I should have been good enough from the very beginning. I feared these mice and each time I saw them, I wanted to run and hide, but I was forced to be in the same room with them and my surprise reviews were given. I only stood still and focused on anything but them.
As they departed, I would always see them pull out countless sheets of paper with numbers on them. My assumption was that those numbers represented all the children they had captured. What worried me the most was the numbers that were scratched out. Come to find out those were children that had died and each time I saw those mice, I saw more numbers crossed out. That soon made me wonder if somewhere down the line, my number would be crossed out, maybe sooner than would be anticipated.
I will not say that my life was horrible, though all my owners were at times unkind, they did treat me with some respect. When ill, I was well cared for and when I was missing home, my family especially, they would comfort me as if I was their very own flesh and blood. But at the end of the day, I knew the horrid truth, I was slave. Just a piece of property that would do as she was told until she breathed her last breath.
“But Mother and Father do not treat you like you are property,” Gabriela, Lord and Lady Cumberbatch’s daughter commented innocently as she sat on the floor by my feet, playing with her doll while I continued sewing her dress. The child, from the day she was born, was a beautiful mixture of her parents. She had light brown fur like her father and just like him, long reddish-brown hair that went down to her mid back. She even inherited his hazel brown eyes which always seemed to lighten up at the most appropriate times.
“No they don’t,” I told her, though deep down I knew the truth. “Your parents have been so kind to me throughout these five years. More than I expected them to be.”
“Do you think about Puerto Rico still?”
It took me a moment to really think that question through. After all the years I have been away from my native homeland, could I say that even now I still thought about it? I did wonder how much it had changed, but that was about it.
“Sometimes,” I finally told her, pulling the needle through the thick material once again. “It’s been so long that I have been away from it than it really isn’t considered home to me anymore.”
“Really?” she asked, almost hurt by my answer. “I would have thought...since it was your home and everything, that you’d be thinking about it all the time. I know I would.”
Her parents never really seemed to realize just how brilliant this little girl truly was, especially her mother. She never seemed to give her the credit she deserved. To her mother, the true qualities of a proper Victorian woman was by how she presented herself physically not mentally. They were to be seen, not heard. But Gabriela was a very special girl. Her sense of logic was highly above an average five year old. It might have to be because of her father for he too is the most intelligent mouse I have ever known. It is because of his brilliance that he has had a well-deserved place working for the parliament for over the last twenty so years.
“You’re right, Gabriela,” I agreed, giving her that loving smile she treasured all too much. “I guess my mind is always elsewhere, that I have never been given much of an opportunity to think about home.”
“Well, perhaps Mommy will allow you to work less so you can.”
“Oh, I don’t think so, sweetheart,” I told her as I finished sewing the dress together. Placing the needle and thread back in the basket, I rose from my seat, the dress hung over my arm.
“But why?” she asked.
Before given a chance to answer, the door to the sitting room opened harshly as Lady Cumberbatch came waltzing in with such elegance and poise. She was a white furred mouse with ebony hair that seemed to fall just so as it hugged around her face in all the right ways. Her eyes were of a rare dark blue. She was what fine women were born to look like and what others wished they could be. Deep down, it made me utterly despise her.
“She knows precisely why, my dear, Gabriela,” she answered, her voice as slimy as a snake’s hiss. “So this is where you’ve been hiding all morning. Well, I cannot say that I am entirely surprised by this. You have been at her side since you were first born.”
“But she knows all too well that you are her mother and that I am-”
“Nothing but a servant and should remember that until the day you die. Just because you can speak, read, and write as well as the rest of us, does not mean that you are one of us. You were born a barbarian and will forever remain as such.”
“Y-yes, ma’am,” said I, looking down at the floor almost with shame.
It was just then a distant door opened, followed by a cheery greeting. Gabriela’s face lit up as she rushed out of the sitting room to meet her father in the foyer. Before I could walk out of the room myself, I was quickly stopped as Lady Cumberbatch grabbed hold of my arm with such a powerful grip that I feared she would break it.
“I know that she thinks highly of you, my dear, but just you remember that you are nothing but a caretaker to her. She is my daughter. If I ever bear witness that in any way, shape, or form you are influencing her with your barbaric ways, I will have you sent to the gallows where you truly belong.” Releasing me with a jolt, she took a deep breath before regaining her composure once more. “Now,” she continued, “do I make myself quite clear?”
“Crystal clear, ma’am,” I answered, feeling intimidated by her harsh words. Not wanting to upset her more, I stood clear as she walked out of the room, meeting her husband just as he came walking around the corner with his daughter laughing happily in his arms.
If only it were me who was your wife, I thought inwardly as I watched him and his wife share a tender kiss. Oh, how my blood boiled with rage. How could such a wonderful mouse marry such a horrid shrew? I’m sure she only married him for his wealth and his title.
“Ah, there she is,” a voice announced, breaking me out of my inner thoughts. “My dear, Paula, what on earth are you doing just standing there?” Lord Cumberbatch questioned. Oh, how my heart raced as he approached me. I could just melt as he smiled that glorious smile. As he embraced me, my entire body became warm. I could stay in his strong arms for all eternity, but I knew that would forever be a dream as he soon released me from his arms.
“Come, go hang that dress in Gaby’s room and meet us in the drawing room.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered, giving a curtsy before stepping out the room as I avoided his wife’s sharp glare.
I watched as the three of them laughed and enjoyed each other’s company as I sat as far away from them as I felt necessary. When Lord Cumberbatch spoke about his day, he mentioned an incident that was too hilarious to not laugh at. But when I did, his wife glared at me with those dagger eyes and I hastily seized my laughter. Though I couldn’t see it, I could feel her devilish grin form on her face before turning back to her husband.
“Darling,” she began, placing a gentle hand on his, “perhaps Paula should go and make us a fresh pot of tea-”
“Oh, nonsense,” he interjected, "surely she has worked quite hard all morning. Have one of the other maids take care of it.”
“But Anthony, it is her job. And I’m quite sure she wouldn’t mind even if she weren’t told.” As she said this, she fixed her gaze back on me, which told me secretly that she wanted me out and away from her husband. Standing to take my leave, I was stopped.
“Paula, sit down,” he told me. “Margaret!”
We all waited for only a few minutes before a short, grey furred mouse approached us. “Yes, sir?”
“If you will, have Agnes make a pot of tea for us.”
“Of course, sir. Anything else, sir?”
“Well, actually-” Lady Cumberbatch began to say before being cut off again.
“No, that will be all. You may go.” With a slight curtsy, she rushed off to the kitchen, but that was before giving me a confused look as she disappeared. Giving his wife an agitated look, his expression softened as he looked down at his daughter.
“So, dear Gabby, what have you been doing all day, hmm?”
“Just playing, Daddy,” Gabriela answered innocently. “Oh, and Paula taught me to crochet.”
“Did she?” Lady Cumberbatch questioned, her voice indicating she was not amused by this little discovery. “And...how long has she been teaching you this?”
“N-not long,” I said, worried that my few lessons were uncalled for.
“She’s been teaching me for a few weeks now,” the child said after me. “I wanted to make something for Mommy.”
“That’s wonderful, sweetheart,” he father said, oblivious to his wife’s reaction. “When it is finished, you’ll have to show us, won’t you?”
“Of course!” I couldn’t help but smile at the excitement on Gabriela’s face. Almost anything could bring such happiness to her. Even...she could make her days seem brighter. I was lost as to how since she hardly paid attention to her own daughter since she was born. Technically I have been the only mother figure she’s ever had.
I was pulled out my thoughts when Margaret came in with a large tray with a pot and three teacups. Placing it on the table in front of them, I sat quietly as she poured the hot tea into the cups with such elegance and grace. “Will that be all, sir?” Margaret asked after placing the pot down onto the tray.
“You forgot a fourth cup, Margaret,” Lord Cumberbatch pointed out with slight agitation. I felt so horrible as the poor mouse looked at him with such confusion.
“Sir,” Margaret began, “there is only you, your wife, and your daughter. Unless...”
“You are correct, Paula is joining us for tea,” he said. “So please fetch another one.”
“Y-yes, sir.” A quick curtsy, she was gone. I know she was probably wondering why Lord Cumberbatch was treating me differently than they others on the staff. All I know is that he has always treated me in a different manner since I came to be here five years ago. To be honest, as much as it made me feel some reassurance that there was indeed someone in this world that did not see me as a thing, but an individual; I still felt uncomfortable with just that.
The rest of the evening seemed to go on quite slowly for me as I continued my chores in silence. To the best of my ability, I kept clear of Lady Cumberbatch for I knew her husband’s stunt in the drawing room angered her. She couldn’t stand me as much as I couldn’t stand her, and there were countless times she made that known. The only problem was that I could not express my hatred for her for I did not know what would happen if I did. Would I be sent to another household where I would suffer through more torment and abuse, or would I be taken away by the police and locked away in the gallows where then I would wait to be executed? I did not wish to test that theory so I allowed her to lash out at me whenever she pleased.
Once dinner was finished and all dishes from the dining room were cleared and washed, I was able to relax before I had to put Gabriela to bed. As I made my way to my bedroom, I heard a sudden noise from behind me. Being curious, I stopped quickly and looked. I was confused when I saw no one there. Shrugging it off, I went on my way. I was when I reached the door to my room that I was soon stopped when my door was forced shut before I could make it inside. Turning around, I was face to face with an irritated Lady Cumberbatch.
“You...,” she began, her voice of rage and hate, “I see what you are doing, you little wench,” her voice quiet so no one would dare hear her.
“What...w-what are you talking about-?”
“You think I haven’t noticed, you pathetic waste of space!” She paused suddenly, looking behind her in high hopes that no one heard her. Turning back to me, she continued, “I refuse to be embarrassed the way I was this evening. Regardless of what my husband says, I run this household. So when I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it. Do you understand me, or are you having trouble comprehending?”
“Y-yes--yes ma’am, I understand. "Forgive me for my disobedience.”
Backing away from me, she collected herself yet again. “Good, because I have no problem throwing you out onto the street where I can be sure that you will never work for anyone else ever again. All I have to do is make up some believable lie and I know Anthony will fall for it.” Grinning sinisterly, she turned to walk away before making a parting query, “Why else do you think you came to work here in the first place?”
My heart raced with fear as she vanished down the hall and possibly downstairs where her husband and daughter still remained. I felt powerless. Exactly how many others worked for her before me, I wondered? Were they like me, slaves taken from their homeland or English women simply working for work. Either way, if I did anything to jeopardize my position here, I knew I would be tossed out of here with no mercy. Holding back my tears, I rushed into my room, locking it before running to my bed and throwing myself onto the lumpy mattress. It was only then that I allowed my tears to fall while they soaked my pillow.
As much as I despised working here, especially knowing that it was for that wretched Lady Cumberbatch, there were still reasons that I wouldn’t mind working here for the rest of my days. From the moment Gabriela was born, she clung onto me like I was her own mother. For the first few years, she wouldn’t go near her mother without crying. Lady Cumberbatch spent most of her days with other women of her class, mostly Parliament wives, instead of spending time with her own daughter. The only bonding they had when she would feed her. But Gabriela has always been that strength I needed to get through the day. Lord Cumberbatch was too my reason for putting up with her as well for though I was basically a slave, he still treated me with care and dignity. Never once did he ever say such cruel words to me. He always told me that no matter how bad things got for me, that there were still those who cared about me, even if they weren’t my own blood kin. This meant that though I no longer had my own family, he and Gabriela were willing to be family to me.
Keeping this happy thought in mind, my tears soon ceased as I was finally able to drift off into a peaceful slumber. There, I could see the clear blue ocean, gold sandy beaches, and the tall green trees of Vega Alta, the place I once called home.
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