Victor Celmar was dying. At the young age of seventeen, he could already feel the end drawing near; he guessed he had one day, at most, left. It depressed him that he would have lived his entire life on one estate, and that the room he had stayed in since he was a child would be the place where he took his last breath.
Despite the fact that he knew he was soon to die, Victor decided that he didn’t have to do so with a dry throat, and so elected to ring the bell on his nightstand to get a servant to bring him water. However, it wasn’t a servant who answered his ringing, but a young child who had recently come to live at the estate. She opened the door slowly and timidly (though that didn’t stop it from creaking very loudly) and stepped into the dark room. Victor stopped his ringing.
“Why didn’t you get a servant?” Victor asked.
The girl shrugged; she was new to the estate and, seemed unused to the luxury that came with having a fully-staffed house at her beck and call. However, since her arrival, Victor had tried his best to guide her through the ins and outs of life in the house so that she wouldn’t make a fool of herself. He had even begun to tutor her in drawing, which he himself had always loved. Of course, since his illness had taken a turn for the worse, he hadn’t seen her in a few days. It was entirely possible that this was the reason she came in, if she considered him a friend. Of course, it could have just been out of pity.
Despite the child’s familiarity with him, Victor could see an expression of curiosity on her face become overcast by fear as she peered about the room, unable to make out the large, dark, menacing shapes the furniture took on without proper light. She swallowed her fear and set her face, forcing the cloud that had darkened her expression into the rest of her body. As a result, she began to tremble. However, the child slowly assumed an air of false confidence and bravery.
Victor continued to wonder why she forced herself to do this when she could easily get a servant to; the small favors he had done her, lessons he gave her, and her own pity for him couldn’t have compelled her to do something so obviously unpleasant for her, could they? Victor might have told her to go get a servant, but decided it was amusing to watch the child’s fear slowly grow beneath her guise of calm.
Victor beckoned her toward the bed where he lay (he couldn’t call across the room to her on account of his dry throat). She was an obedient child, so she stepped towards him. However, when Victor leaned forward to ask for a cup of water, she drew back suddenly. He then realized how sickly and horrible he must have looked after being confined to bed for three days.
“I’m sorry for frightening you,” he rasped, ‘but could you get me a cup of water? There’s a pitcher and glass on-” he hacked up some mucus into his hand- “the table behind you.”
As Victor rubbed the slime into his bedclothes (one of the maids would change them later anyway), the child turned around, found the table, and poured him a glass of water. She trembled a little and spilled some on her dress out of fear (though her face remained statically, tensely calm). Then, creeping towards him again, she stretched out her arm and handed him the full glass.
Victor slurped it up greedily; driblets of the water ran down his chin, his neck, and onto his collar. When he was finished, Victor handed the empty glass to the child and leaned back into his pillows. The child put the glass back on the table and was making her way towards the door when Victor stopped her.
“Stop,” (his voice was much stronger and clearer now that he had drunk the water), “would you draw the curtains back from one of the windows as well, please?” Victor was enjoying himself now.
The child’s mild trembling had escalated to shaking, but she tip toed warily across the dark, forbidding room, bumping into furniture as she went, and began to draw the curtains. Her face changed again; it had gone from curiosity to fear to steeliness to obvious anxiety.
The curtains were very heavy and thick, but she managed to pull them away enough so that the room was dramatically changed. It was no longer dark and forbidding, but now, filled with light, its beauty showed through. The ornate furniture, oriental rug, and elaborately patterned bedclothes were all visible. The child’s shaking stopped immediately, her face grew bright and happy, and she turned to Victor and smiled.
“Sit down,” Victor said, happy to have first stirred and then helped soothe her fear, “and let me tell you a story.”