Little Girl Lost
By David Hartley Mark
The wind howled. Pandora hugged Chloe, her doll, and stood beneath the old oak-tree, but it did no good: the cold gusts blew and blew, piercing knifelike through her thin cotton dress and pinafore. She had done well to pull on another pair of high socks before fleeing her uncle’s house, but wished she could go back now—or anyplace warm.
The snow was falling more heavily. Pandora shivered. She was only eight, but knew full well that, if she stayed in the woods much longer, she would freeze to death. As her fingers and toes became more numb, she began to think, to dream almost, about what it would be like when her uncle and older cousins, Bobby and Paul—they were ten and fifteen; they teased and taunted her mercilessly—came ‘round the bend of Grandfather Oak and found her little body, curled up with Chloe-Dolly, beneath a frozen layer of snow.
Would they brush the hoarfrost gently off her brow? Would they cry? Or would they continue to tease, as they had done so much and so often, just that morning, over their toast and hard-cheese breakfast:
“You’re an orphan, Pandy! An orphan!” Bobby hissed at her, over his glass of milk, “No one loves you.”
“No one,” agreed Paul, who was nothing more than a miniature of his brother, all freckles and red hair.
“Leave the younker alone,” ordered Uncle Clabber, “for she’s hardly worth the spit in your mouths. Are ye done there yet, P’dora? For there’s dishes in the sink piled up all high, and no one save ye to wash ‘em. Mind, you get them done, or I’ve a strap to help you with it.”
“The strap! The strap!” echoed the boys, but Uncle chased them away from the table, and out to the barn, where he set them to feeding the cows and chickens.
Pandora had sat for a bit, crying softly, hugging Chloe-Dolly, her only friend.
It’s too much, she decided.
It was time to leave. Her distant cousin Millicent lived in Downingstown, fifty miles away; she had no idea how long it would take for her to get there, but she had to try.
I cannot stay here, Chloe, she whisper-thought to her best friend, and Chloe’s glass eyes and painted lips seemed to smile in agreement.
Pandora stood by the back door, cracked it open a bit, and listened—she heard her Uncle calling to the boys, and an occasional cry of pain—That means he is strapping them, she thought. Good; I hope he does it good and hard. She touched her aching backside gently where Uncle Clabber had strapped her, just day before yesterday.
I hope he dies, Chloe, she thought to her doll, which she had placed gently on the edge of her trundle bed. Get some sleep before we set out: we will leave soon.
She looked out and up at the December sky: it grew dark early these days.
O Mother, Father, protect me! She prayed to her dead parents, with silent lips, I must leave here—you know what a horrible person Uncle Clabber is.
And so, she had run away, as fast as she could, into the friendly woods, where she had played so many times in the past.
Only now, the dark and the snow and the wind and the freezing cold were altogether conspiring to surround her and Chloe, gathering her in their icy grip. She was getting warmer and colder at the same time; she was sinking down down down into the snow:
Only a bit of sleep do I need, and then, I will continue; just a few minutes’ sleep will do me good. Come, my baby Chloe, Chloe O baby mine; come, and we will lie down, together….
The wind blew.