"Be quiet!" Steven shouted. "We're running as fast as we can!"
The poppies, now blue in the long shadows of the hills, stretched away in all directions. Steven and Emilia were jogging along a dirt path. Matt's breath caught with sobs. He could hardly get air.
"Stop!" cried Emilia. "We have to let María catch up." The two children squatted down and let Matt's weight rest on the ground. Presently, Matt heard the patter of smaller feet.
"I want to rest too," demanded María. "It's miles and miles. I'm going to tell Dada you slapped me."
"Be my guest," said Emilia.
"Everyone be quiet," Steven ordered. "You've stopped bleeding, kid, so I guess you're not in too much danger. What's your name again?"
"Matt," María answered for him.
"We aren't far from the house, Matt, and you're in luck. The doctor's spending the night. Do you hurt a lot?"
"I don't know," said Matt.
"Yes, you do. You screamed," María said.
"I don't know what a lot is," Matt explained. "I haven't hurt like this before."
"Well, you've lost blood -- but not too much," Steven added as Matt began to tremble again.
"It sure looks like a lot," said María.
"Shut up, eejit."
The older children rose, carrying Matt between them. María followed, complaining loudly about the distance and at being called an eejit.
A kind of heavy sleepiness fell over Matt as he was swayed along. The pain had died down, and Steven said he hadn't lost too much blood. He was too dazed to worry about what Celia would say when she saw the broken window.
They reached the edge of the poppy fields as the last streaks of sunlight slid behind the hills. The dirt path gave way to a wide lawn. It was a shimmering green, growing deeper with the blue light of evening. Matt had never seen so much green in his life.
It's a meadow, he thought, drowsily. And it smells like rain.
They started up a flight of wide, marble steps that shone softly in the darkening air. On either side were orange trees, and all at once lamps went on among the leaves. Lights outlined the white walls of a vast house above, with pillars and statues and doorways going who knew where. In the center of an arch was the carved outline of a scorpion.
"Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" came a flurry of women's voices as they swept down the stairs to lift Matt from Steven's and Emilia's arms.
"Who is he?" asked the maids. They were wearing black dresses with white aprons and starched, white caps. One of them, a severe-looking female with deep creases down either side of her mouth, carried Matt as the others went ahead to open doors.
"I found him in a house in the poppy fields," replied Steven.
"That's Celia's place," a maid said. "She's too stuck-up to live with the rest of us."
"If she's hiding a child, I'm not surprised. Who's your father, kid?" said the woman who was carrying Matt. Her apron smelled like sunlight, the way Celia's did when it came straight from the clothesline. Matt stared at a pin fastened to the woman's collar, a silver scorpion with its tail curved up. Beneath the scorpion was a name tag that said ROSA. Matt didn't feel well enough to talk, and what did it matter who his father was, anyhow? He didn't know the answer, either.
"He doesn't talk much," said Emilia.
"Where's the doctor?" Steven said.
"We'll have to wait. He's treating your grandfather. At least we can clean the kid up," said Rosa.
The maids opened a door to reveal the most beautiful room Matt had ever seen. It had carved wooden beams on the ceiling and wallpaper decorated with hundreds of birds. To Matt's reeling eyes, they seemed to be moving. He saw a couch upholstered with flowers that shaded from lavender to rose like the feathers on a dove's wings. It was to this couch that Rosa was carrying him.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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