This is a story of a little girl and a raccoon. They met each other a long time ago, and by the time I began to ask questions about them, almost everyone had forgotten about their story.
Indeed it might have been all but lost without the unfortunate event of Cricket Manor house fire. Cricket Manor was the oldest house on Ruskin Road. It had been converted into an archives museum for a short time before being bought by a Madam Irene. The museum had quickly been shut down closed, and, until the fire, The old house sat forgotten for some time.
It was on a fateful afternoon in November when Madam Irene had forgotten to put the screen over the fire place, and a log rolled out over her beautiful Persian carpet and caught the house on fire.
Now fires are mysterious forces, destroying much, but leaving new paths, or perhaps, old paths, exposed. The fire of Cricket Manor was no exception to this rule. It took out the western wing of the manor, the kitchen and parlor as well as some of the rooms in the second and third floor. It had nearly reached the library before the fire crew had it put out.
The fire did not burn the library, but it had left it exposed to wind, rain and snow. And books do not make friends with these.
It was under such conditions that I received a phone call from and exasperated sounding fire inspector. He was huffing as if he had run from the manor wreck to the fire hall just to make this call.
"uhhuhuuhuughh ghhughh," sounded the heavy breathing on the line ask I picked up the phone.
"Hello?" I said
"So sorry to hhughhh uuuhghhh, bother you at such a late hour, er, hhgghhhu, but I'm looking for a Ms. Uuhhgge errr,.. Alexandhughhrr...
"Alexandra. Speaking" I said, holding the receiver a safe distance from my ear until he sounded less like an amateur jogger.
Fortunately, he had caught his breath. "Forgive me. I was referred to you by Madam Irene. You've heard the news?
"Yes, just horrible."
"I'm afraid library has been exposed to the elements and, well, we have covered the bulk of the books, but.. I'm afraid to say, Alexandria--
"Right, right, forgive me. Yes, anyway, there are several boxes of books that need an emergency home. And one box.. Well, er.. Contains damaged books."
"Ah. Is Madam Irene wanting me to see if I can repair them?" Apparently one class in book repair made me the "Neighborhood Book Repairer"
"Well, yes, but really, between you and me, Alexandria, it looks pretty hopeless.. And I can't see that it's worth anyone's while, really. There are just a few binders of taxes, some old cards, a few novels and journals. It's probably not worth much money"
"Perhaps not, inspector, nevertheless, I will take a look at them."
"Very good" he replied. " I will send my crew around with the boxes shortly."
And so it was that I found myself at Midnight on a Tuesday cleaning up muddy boot tracks that had managed to find their way beyond the front hall, into the kitchen and bathroom, up the stairs and into the small guest room. For every clump of mud I cleaned up there was a box of books I had to move around. The amount of books that had been dropped off at my house far exceeded the mental picture I had formed while in discussion with the Fire Inspector.
There were books on flowers, books on languages, books of poetry and books of art. Topics ranged from the collected works of Shakespeare to very practical "How-to" book on feeding tropical fish. I could have spent months looking through each volume, but I was drawn instead to the three boxes that say near my kitchen table containing the books that needed repair.
The first box was indeed full of soggy paper. I did my best to separate the sheets, but for the most part it was useless. After saying what I could, I opened the second box. The smell of leather filled the kitchen as I pulled out exquisitely made hand bound journals.
"'Probably not worth much' indeed!" I thought to myself as I leafed through one of the hand written records. "The only reason these won't bring in any money is because it would be a crime to sell them!"
The third box contained only a few books. Instead, it was full of smaller boxes. I opened one to find a little nest. Another had some leaves, and another tree bark. Curious, I picked up one of the leaves. I did not recognize it immediately. It looked like a leaf from a Rowan tree, but it was hard to tell because it was so withered. I put it back into the box and turned my attention to a little paper bag tied with a string. Opening it I found a collection of letters, each of them addressed to Madam Irene, but her address was written as "Cricket Cottage by the "Pine Forest" on the "outskirts of Datuland".
I sat down to read the first of these letters, but soon found myself lost in the middle of a longer story. One which I have searched long and hard to find, and which, finally, I am able to piece together enough to re-tell.
So, here it is, dear reader, the story of Lilli and Datu and their adventures together in Datuland.