A little girl in an extremely gray dress stood on the steps of St. Abeona’s Boarding House and Asylum. She had a square piece of paper stuck to her front, pinned in place with a sharp bit of metal. She tried not to fidget, or the metal would poke her. She waited.
The good monks of St. Abeona’s Boarding House and Asylum were mostly asleep, and the ones who were still up and saying their lovely holy words were far too deep in the stone building to peer out any sort of window. So it was Miss, the landlady, who looked blearily out the windows in the front room every few minutes – it was her night to keep watch for burglars – and it was Miss who very nearly didn’t see the tiny figure standing in the dark.
I don’t know the girl’s intended name. I don’t know what her parents called her. It didn’t matter, and it would never matter again. The landlady marched down the wet lawn, snatched the paper and stared at it. The little girl watched carefully. She hadn’t been able to read the words, though there didn’t seem to be many of them. Maybe this lady would help.
Miss screwed up her eyes in the dim light and read aloud: “THIS CHILD IS INSOLENT.”
Miss glared helplessly for a long while at the girl, and was sorely tempted to turn her away. The hardworking monks of St. Abeona’s boarding house didn’t need yet another mouth to feed – certainly not one who couldn’t pay rent. But that would be, if not blasphemy to Abeona, at least naughty. And what if the girl’s parent was hiding in the bushes, waiting to see if their shivering waif was accepted? Things like that happened. If she turned away the girl now, who knows who might see?
You and I know that insolent means rude, the kind of rude that gets you sent to stand in the corner and think about your actions. Some parents call it back-talk. Others call it giving lip. Either way, insolent is a fancy adjective that implies bad things, all round, if you are a child.
You and I know this, but Miss, who had never been much of a reader, did not. In fact, she completely misinterpreted the note.
So the girl was invited inside, and named Insolent.