Excerpted from Bird by Rita Murphy Copyright © 2008 by Rita Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Wysteria did not care where I had come from or where I had been. Nor did she care that I was small and delicate in nature and easily carried off by the wind. She cared only that I stay with her in the great house she occupied on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.
I came to Bourne Manor on a bright morning in the month of February just as the winter snows had settled in for good along the shore, taking up residence in the open fields and across the cliffs. In those days, I was often picked up by the wind and left in odd places because of it--blown into the tops of low trees or caught up in the scrubs or briars--though never before had I been taken so close to the turbulent waters of a lake.
Knocked hard by a gust, left tangled in the branches of one of the lone elms that skirted the bay, I remembered little of what had come before; only a series of faceless relatives and small drafty houses; only a hollow feeling of something that had once been but was no longer.
From that lonely elm, I was retrieved by two of Wysteria's Hounds. Pulled from the branches by their strong jaws. I was lost and Wysteria found me. Or perhaps the Manor itself found me, beckoning me to its gates on that February morning.
The home of Wysteria Barrows was a looming structure that had the appearance of having grown sideways out of the earth. Though firmly anchored, it listed dramatically to the left like an old tree turned by the wind, its foundation clinging to the red stone cliffs for support as a tern might cling in a storm.
The Manor was four stories in height with three turrets, two balconies and a widow's walk at its pinnacle. Its once-ivory paint had been stripped by rough weather, returning it to its natural gray clapboard, and Wysteria had left it so. There were twenty-two rooms in the Manor, five staircases, ten fireplaces and one slender tower on the west wing that held my room, a room with vaulted ceilings and windows that looked out over the harbor and across to the wild Adirondack Mountains. A grand place, my room. And indeed Bourne Manor itself was grand. No grander house could you find in the islands or on the mainland.
As grand as the Manor was, it was always a lonely place, destined from its beginning to be set apart from all other houses. Some said the Manor harbored an ill-gotten fortune within its walls, which carried a terrible and irreversible curse. Others believed that its foundation stones, having been laid crooked, forever doomed it to a perverse and tragic end. Whichever story was true, Bourne Manor knew little happiness within its walls. The four generations of grim ancestral portraits lining the main stairwell bore testimony to this, as did the vacant and lifeless rooms that towered over the cliffs.
The Manor's ballroom had never been used for dancing, as far as I knew, nor the parlors for entertaining guests, for no guests ever came there. To those on the outside, it was a strange and mournful dwelling that made for ghost stories, of which there were many and for good cause. For although no one ever perished unnaturally within its walls that I knew of, the Manor, set out on its own as it was, battered by the wind, invited the spirits of those long departed and of those who roamed the shores in search of a warm fire, as it had invited me. The lost and aimless: to these Bourne Manor gave its shelter.
I was adept from an early age at the art of spinning and making lace. Wysteria, seeing my natural ability to weave, instructed me in the crafting of nets. My slender fingers took easily to this trade, slipping freely through the tenuous holes and seams. Running shuttles and threading meshes came as naturally to me as breathing, and I caught on quickly to the work at hand.
Mending nets for the fishing fleet out of St. Albans was how Wysteria made her living, how she fueled the giant coal furnace in the depths of the Manor, how she kept food in the pantry. With my nimble fingers to weave for her, with my strong eyes to see and tie the knots, Wysteria was free to spend her time with the figures and sums, bargaining with the fleet owners over the best price for our work.
I became an invaluable asset to Wysteria, and I see now that she never would have let me go even if someone had come looking, and perhaps they had. Perhaps a tall man with eyes the same color as mine had come rapping on the front door early one morning, inquiring about a little girl who had been taken from him by the wind. Wysteria would have shaken her head, offered her condolences and sent him away. The Manor was everything to her, and as I could remember no other life, it became everything to me as well. I was warm and well fed, and when a person has known hunger, when she has spent a night in the brambles and awoken to a gray sky with no hope of heat or warmth, small but essential comforts bind her to her keeper.
Whether anyone came to the Manor in search of me, I will never know, but I did occasionally see others as Wysteria and I ventured, as a matter of necessity, to the nearby town of Georgia Plains, a small cluster of buildings and storefronts five miles' walk from the Manor. We were a most unusual couple: she tall and willowy, with a dramatic nest of white hair piled on top of her head, and I small, my gait slowed by the heavy steel-weighted boots she had made for me.
In those early years, when I was still allowed outside the Manor, Wysteria had fashioned, with the help of the local shoemaker, a pair of boots with a steel plate in each sole to keep me anchored to the ground. She insisted I wear them always, as she feared above all else that I would be carried off by another random gust and lost to her forever.
From the Hardcover edition.