Title Going Visiting
Word Count 1736
Disclaimer I invented only Alice
December 24, 1850
When she was smaller, before she turned eight, Alice had been afraid of her grandfather. Some of her friends at school had asked if it was because he was Lord Blakeney, and she was plain Alice Smith. But it was not that at all, and anyway, she called him Granddad. It was not that he was unkind. He always had a smile for her, and usually something good to eat. And he was not gruff, like some old men. He liked to talk, and so did she.
Silly things about him had scared her. The way he wore his hair, for one thing. It came straight up from his head, where the skin was thin and red and old, and you could actually see right where it grew. He had a little bit of a limp, and it made his walk sound funny. That was scary too, although she could not really say why. But she had been little, a year ago, and what bothered her most, then, was his missing arm.
This year, she was bigger. She was almost 10, and she was not afraid of him. She was going to spend Christmas eve day with him. And she was not going to stare at his empty sleeve, and try to imagine him brushing his teeth.
Her mama came in, and woke her, very early, and Alice was permitted to wear the green dress. It had gold buttons, in two rows all down the front, and the bottom reached the tops of her new black boots. She twirled, just a little in front of the hall mirror, to see the skirt flare out. Alice had very yellow hair, and very dark eyes. Everyone said that her hair would turn dark when she got older. But Granddad had said once, that his never had. His had been yellow too. And it was true, she had seen a painting.
She and mama stood on the platform, and the train came, with a huge noise, and a black whoosh. The moving air pushed her dress back against her knees. Alice could see where the snow had melted, along the edge of the track, all beyond the platform, all until it curved out of sight. That was from the heat of the steam.
The snow was thin, and dirty. The white of it, was crowded with black foot-prints, already, so you could hardly see how it had been.
The train trip took a very long time. Alice had brought a book, of course, but it was more fun to look out the window, at the steam that plumed away, and the world wooshing out behind them. The loud sound of the shaking and the tracks made Alice so sleepy. She rested her chin on the window, and it made her head shake up and down, and it made her teeth itch. The glass was cold against her cheek. Mamma was reading. Nobody was talking, because you didn't on the train. It was too loud, and anyway, no one had been introduced. There were two men in the seats behind Alice, she watched them for a while. They were trying to talk, to each other, but everything they said was boring. They were fat, and gray, and even they seemed bored. They kept yawning. She yawned too.
The next thing she knew, Mamma was shaking her shoulder. “Wake up, Alice. We have arrived.” Alice scrambled to her feet. One of her stockings was half down, it had come unhooked somehow. It sagged. But she could not reach under her dress to fix it. It would have to wait. It felt insecure and itchy, and her legs were tired, as they left the train. It was not far to Granddad's house, he lived only a few streets from the train station.
The snow here was deeper. Someone had shoveled a path, where you were supposed to walk, to reach the road. And someone had scattered bread crumbs all over the top of the drifted snow. Little birds were rushing and peeping, brown and red, and black. They were fluttering down to get the crumbs. Alice stopped a moment to watch. The little birds flapped and fought over the best crumbs. Picture books always talked about dear little songbirds. But Alice thought the birds were very unmannerly, and not nice at all.
She stood watching and a different motion caught her eye. Something gray and furry, and hesitant. Not a bird. Not bold like a bird, but so careful. It was a rat. She had only ever seen them in books. She stood, hearing Mamma walking ahead, knowing that she would have to run now, to catch up, but wanting to watch the rat. It had black shining eyes, and little bald hands. It took the bread in its hands like a tiny person, and stuffed it into its mouth. Its nose had tiny whiskers which came forward, as if in delight and surprise. It looked directly at her, just for a moment, and she smiled. It turned away, and its bare tail whisked away, leaving a line in the snow.
Mamma was waiting, Alice ran to catch up. The little birds flew up behind her, and settled again.
Grandads door was red, and it had a wreath on it. It opened, as they came up the steps.
“Good morning Dad.” Mamma said, and kissed his face. He smiled, and the reddish skin of his cheeks wrinkled up.
“Good morning, Alice.” He said, “How was the train?”
“It was fine, Granddad. I saw a rat, eating breadcrumbs!”
“Alice! What a horrid thing to say--”Alice's mother flapped in outrage, “Rats, indeed!”
But Alice's grandfather smiled.
“I used to watch rats too, when I was not much older than you.” He said.
“Was that when you were on ships?”
“At sea. Yes.”
“Rats go to sea on ships?” She could not picture this. They were standing in the hall now, and she was hot and itchy, and her mother was flapping, but she really wanted to know.
“Yes.” He replied. “Rats just love ships.”
“Well, if the two of you are going to talk about rats, I'll just run along.” Alice's mother kissed them both quickly. She dashed out the door. Alice took her coat and hat off, she fixed her stocking when no one was looking.
“Come and sit by the fire.” Grandad said. “I have cocoa ” He walked to the little sitting room, and settled into his usual chair. Alice took the hassock by the fire.
The cocoa was sweet and hot, and there was cream in a little pitcher to pour into it. Alice drank until she was full and warm. There were little cakes, too. He let Alice eat most of them. He smiled to see her do it. Granddad never said that girls should eat dainty.
Alice told him about the little red and brown birds, and how they had flapped so fierce. She told him how the rat had been so shy, and how his whiskers had come forward like a smile. Granddad smiled himself, and looked thoughtful.
“I wonder,” he said, “if you would like to walk out in the snow with me, and see an older friend of mine. He is a doctor, and a very learned man. I know he would like very much to hear your observations about the birds and rats.”
“He is older than you?” Granddad didn't mind questions.
“Yes, even older than me. He was a grown up man, and a doctor already, when I was your age. In fact, he is the man who took off my arm.”
“Really? And he's your friend?” Alice goggled.
“Well, you see, he did a very good job. It has been fifty years, and it has not grown back yet!”
“Granddad you are so silly!”
So in the end, she put on her wet coat, and her hat, and her boots again. Granddad put on a long cloak, that came down to the tops of his shoes. She took hold of his hand, and they went out into the snow.
It was not far to the old man's house. But it was far enough to sting her nose with cold, and make her toes need to wiggle. The day was starting to drip a little. Icicles shone with water drops, and everything was bright.
“We won't stay long,” Granddad said. “He is really very old, and he gets tired easily.” It was hard for Alice to imagine anyone older than her Grandfather, but she nodded, as she hustled beside him.
The door of this house was blue and worn, but it looked friendly. Grandfather banged the knocker, and a plump woman opened it. She wore an apron, and had dark eyes. She reminded Alice a little of gingerbread.
“He's by the fire,” The gingerbread woman said. “He's awake. You can go in.”
The man by the fire was faded and thin. Alice thought of the spiders in the corners of old houses , left vacant over winter. She never minded spiders, even though girls were supposed to. She liked how, if you crept close, and breathed on their webs, just right, they woke up, and pretended that they had been paying attention the whole time. He was a little like that. He had a blanket over his legs, and he was dozing, when they came into the room, but he noticed them right off, and his face sharpened with interest.
“Will!” He said. “How good to see you. I would get up, but--” And he flapped one thin hand in apology.
“Not at all, Sir.” Alice had never heard Granddad call anyone Sir.”
“ Dr. Maturin,” he said ”This is my Granddaughter, Alice.”
Alice made her curtsey, careful as she could, and the old, old, man shook her hand. He smiled, and his smile was not scarey. He had strange pale eyes, but they looked kind, and she thought that maybe they had faded over time from a better color.
“Hello Alice.” He said.
“Alice has been watching birds and rats.” And the two old men smiled.