Excerpts for Catherine, Called Birdy


Catherine, Called Birdy


By Karen Cushman

Clarion Books

Copyright © 1994 Karen Cushman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780395681862

Chapter One

September

12TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.

13TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
My father must suffer from ale head this day, for he cracked me twice before dinner instead of once. I hope his angry liver bursts.

14TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Tangled my spinning again. Corpus bones, what a torture.

15TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Today the sun shone and the villagers sowed hay, gathered apples, and pulled fish from the stream. 1, trapped inside, spent two hours embroidering a cloth for the church and three hours picking out my stitches after my mother saw it. I wish I were a villager.

16TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Spinning. Tangled.

17TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Untangled.

18TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
If my brother Edward thinks that writing this account of my days will help me grow less childish and more learned, he will have to write it. I will do this no longer. And I will not spin. And I will not eat. Less childish indeed.

19TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
I am delivered! My mother and I have made a bargain. I may forgo spinning as long as I write this account for Edward. My mother is not much for writing but has it in her heart to please Edward, especially now he is gone to be a monk, and I would do worse things to escape the foolish boredom of spinning. So I will write.

What follows will be my book-the book of Catherine, called Little Bird or Birdy, daughter of Rollo and the lady Aislinn, sister to Thomas, Edward, and the abominable Robert, of the village of Stonebridge in the shire of Lincoln, in the country of England, in the hands of God. Begun this 19th day of September in the year of Our Lord 1290, the fourteenth year of my life. The skins are my father's, left over from the household accounts, and the ink also. The writing I learned of my brother Edward, but the words are my own.

Picked off twenty-nine fleas today.

20TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Today I chased a rat about the hall with a broom and set the broom afire, ruined my embroidery, threw it in the privy, ate too much for dinner, hid in the barn and sulked, teased the littlest kitchen boy until he cried, turned the mattresses, took the linen outside for airing, hid from Morwenna and her endless chores, ate supper, brought in the forgotten linen now wet with dew, endured scolding and slapping from Morwenna, pinched Perkin, and went to bed. And having writ this, Edward, I feel no less childish or more learned than I was.

21ST DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Something is astir. I can feel my father's eyes following me about the hall, regarding me as he would a new warhorse or a bull bought for breeding. I am surprised that he has not asked to examine my hooves.

And he asks me questions, the beast who never speaks to me except with the flat of his hand to my cheek or my rump.This morning: "Exactly how old are you, daughter?"

This forenoon: "Have you all your teeth?"

"Is your breath sweet or foul?"

"Are you a good eater?"

"What color is your hair when it is clean?"

Before supper: "How are your sewing and your bowels and your conversation?"

What is brewing here?

Sometimes I miss my brothers, even the abominable Robert. With Robert and Thomas away in the king's service and Edward at his abbey, there are fewer people about for my father to bother, so he mostly fixes upon me.

22ND DAY OF SEPTEMBER
I am a prisoner to my needle again today, hemming linen in the solar with my mother and her women. This chamber is pleasant, large and sunny, with my mother and father's big bed on one side and, on the other, a window that looks out on the world I could be enjoying were I not in here sewing. I can see across the yard, past the stables and privy and cowshed, to the river and the gatehouse, over the fields to the village beyond. Cottages line the dusty road leading to the church at the far end. Dogs and geese and children tumble in play while the villagers plough. Would I were tumbling -- or even ploughing with them.

Here in my prison my mother works and gossips with her women as if she didn't mind being chained to needle and spindle. My nurse Morwenna, now that I am near grown and not in need of her nursing, tortures me with complaints about the length of my stitches and the colors of my silk and the thumbprints on the altar cloth I am hemming.

If I had to be born a lady, why not a rich lady, so someone else could do the work and I could lie on a silken bed and listen to a beautiful minstrel sing while my servants hemmed? Instead I am the daughter of a country knight with but ten servants, seventy villagers, no minstrel, and acres of unhemmed linen. It grumbles my guts. I do not know what the sky is like today or whether the berries have ripened. Has Perkin's best goat dropped her kid yet? Did Wat the Farrier finally beat Sym at wrestling? I do not know. I am trapped here inside hemming.

Morwenna says it is the altar cloth for me. Corpus bones!

23RD DAY OF SEPTEMBERThere was a hanging in Riverford today. I am being punished for impudence again, so was not allowed to go. I am near fourteen and have never yet seen a hanging. My life is barren.

24TH DAY OF SEPTEMBERThe stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady-dumb, docile, and...





Continues...

Excerpted from Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman Copyright © 1994 by Karen Cushman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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