Hadrian looks to her only when he knows she cannot see. There are lessons that the eldest child must learn quickly and earnestly, and he had been well-taught, through pinches and scowls, that staring at others is not only immodest, but a gross sign of low class. The curious orbs that shone with childish fascination at the direction of street artists and slumbering vagabonds were quickly shut in pain. There was no other way, Hadrian knew, for the problematic son of an important man. Lessons were learned through rushing hands that could not be avoided. In the bumbling caravan of the Romani people, he is no longer a child, nor under his father’s jurisdiction. But the departure of familiar landscapes do not dispel the vices and virtues of the men who inhabit it- and Hadrian, despite himself, does not deem it proper to stare. Not, at least, when he knows the small girl can see.
He feels guilty, all the while, with secret glances. But he swallows the guilt and allows himself to peer past the pages of the aged book in his hand to take the image of her in. She is delicate, he realizes, and thinly-framed, despite the thick and loose clothing that do not flatter her figure. Her clothes, he observes, is adorned in complex patterns and sways of thread, nothing comparable to the fashion of the French. But the young man has seen England and many islands all the same- and she, he can confidently deem, is incomparable to all. The woman must be from a different place entirely- but he cannot name the place, and the ignorance makes him shuffle slightly in discomfort. He is not the handsome son, nor the one fit for games and brute strength. He is lanky and solemn, and he is nothing if he is not, at the very least, an intellectual. He does not favor, then, not knowing.
There are things, however, that he knows. He knows she does not speak English or French, nor any of the Romance languages. He knows she is alone- her crouched posture and cramped place between two groups of families and friends in the caravan’s buggy is testament to that. And he can deduce, then, from the sores and the faint scars on her thin fingers that she is a working girl- one could assume all the people traveling with the gypsies through the icy mountain-tops are lowly, working people, Hadrian thinks to himself, but he is the living exception. And he is not the only one. The man studies her profile; studies her distant, distracted gaze and the way her pale, sunlight-colored hair clings about her face through the gaps and folds of her warm-looking scarf. She is well-intentioned, he perceives, but quiet. Scared, almost, and worried about something of grave importance. But, most obvious of all, she is alone; alone in company, alone in language, alone in every slight movement of her arms or legs, or the turn of her head and the closing of her eyes.
The girl looks at him, then, and her eyes are a curious grey- but he does not pay mind. He quickly looks down, speedily enough, he hopes, to have avoided her notice entirely. The man looks to the ink words stenciled into aged pages and takes in a painful breath of sheer cold. Hadrian is not a brave man, nor a scandalous one- he will not touch the girl, nor invite her by his side to retain warmth. He will, instead, stay shivering to himself and attempting to read in short spurts between wonders of what is to come and worries of the life he threw behind. From time to time, he will think and look to her, who will be sleeping, or thinking, or bracing herself against the winds. He will watch her, only quickly, until it becomes to dark to see her- and all the while he will be secretly happy that she is alone, because he is alone, too, and being isolated with one other person gives the weary wanderer just a spark of hope that solidarity is possible. It is hope, a feeble and ill-founded one. Solidarity cannot blossom between people who cannot speak to one another- but it is a dream, nonetheless, and dreams warm the heart just as clothes warm the flesh.