She has known despair and terror before this. That first black, endless night in the attic, when she lay curled in a circle on the wet floor, the anguished longing in her mind numbing her to its discomfort as she waited…waited…waited for a voice, a sense, a comforting presence that never came. Instead came emptiness, and an agony of grief as grim reality crept over her consciousness as surely as the numbing cold crept over her shivering little form. In her anguish she had cried out a name, many times, without knowing she did so, for she heard not the call of her own voice over the shrieking of her inner torment.
She does not know how she lived through that night. She only knows that she did. And tonight she will also live; tonight, her fear and despair are countered by one more emotion – anger. Fury at the injustice done her, wrath at her own powerlessness. It is anger that compels her to beat uselessly against the door of the attic, anger that prods her to continually protest her innocence, anger that finally turns her, seething, from the unmoved finality of a locked door. It is her anger that keeps her strong, and her fear that wills her to escape.
She will survive.
Trembling, she ceases her useless shouts and backs away from the door, as a loose board in the wall slides sideways and a round, dark face peers through, wide-eyed with terror and misery. Becky.
The little servant girl tiptoes to her, bare feet printing smears on the dusty floor, and takes her cold hands. She pulls up the edge of her shawl, wiping tears from her beloved princess's pale cheeks. "Don't cry." Her rich brown eyes are liquid with sympathy. "I'm sure they'll believe you."
Her friend's frank innocence and tender gestures only bring on another wave of fear. "No, Becky! I have to get out!"
The pigtailed inky head shakes a little in mutual despair. "But how? My room's locked, too." She spreads her arms, and the princess falls into them in a desperate embrace, vainly seeking comfort, her mind whirling in fruitless circles.
A sudden flash of lightning, and an earth-shattering crash of thunder makes her recoil in alarm. The french-doors of her prison flail violently in an onrush of storm-driven wind, spattering the girls with prickling cold droplets. The monkey from next door stands upon the threshold, chittering frantically. He darts away swiftly, traversing his usual highway from rooftop to rooftop, and pauses at the balcony of his own house opposite her attic, gazing back at her.
Opposite her attic.
The monkey could do it. Why not she?
Becky, having gone to the window, gasps. "The police! They're here!"
She does not stop to think. Taking time to consider the danger would cut her nerve, stretched tight as a drawn bowstring. Her eyes dart around the attic, settling on the loose board that has been the doorway between Becky and herself. Now it will be her bridge to freedom.
"Quick! Help me with this board!"
Becky complies, trembling, the whites of her eyes glowing in her brown face. The heavy board clatters, rain-slick, to the mortar, spanning the fifty-foot drop to the alley below. They look at it in apprehension. Becky clings to her already-dripping nightgown. "Don't. You'll fall!"
She shakes her head, drops flying from the tangled strands of hair. "I can do it." I must. "I'll come back for you. I promise." One day. I don't know how, but I'll do it. I will.
I can do anything.
Another embrace, Becky clutching her, in tears. She puts off the brown hands gently, and turns to stare at the window across the alley, the beacon in the darkness. Lightning flashes again, and the wet board glistens like the Indian sea. She takes a deep breath, and thinks of that first night in the attic.
I am a princess. A princess is never afraid.