Mrs Catherine Tilney to Viscountess Eleanor Rolles
I am, of course, still in complete raptures about your beautiful new home and hope you enjoyed your trip to Venice. Henry says the scents in the air there are utterly splendid, and he's certain you were just delighted, but I have a small suspicion he may be teasing me, as I have not the smallest idea of what the air might smell like in Venice. It might equally well be chocolate or something else quite shocking. If the latter, the blame is entirely Henry's.
Oh, I must tell you, we had such fun yesterday! I decided we ought to venture up to the attic of the house, since I have stopped worrying over ghosts (though you must admit the house was a little spooky when I first arrived). It was, of course, dusty and dank and full of spiders (I must confess to having terrified Henry with one particularly large specimen – he quite refused to come back up the ladder until I evicted the poor creature in the garden!). Aside from the dust we found rather a lot of rubbish, but in the end there were a few things worth saving and I felt rather like an explorer pillaging some ancient world of its treasures. The best of them was a utterly beautiful mirror. It looks like something out of a fairytale. I'm quite wild about it, but the house is upside down with repair and redecoration, so it is sitting sadly abandoned in our front parlour with my temporary writing desk. I do hope we don't have to sell it for lack of space, it's really quite enchanting.
Did you read Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron yet? It's rather...well, I don't want to say it's dull, certainly not!! It isn't so very dreadful as I'd been hoping, though. I suppose it's a little hard to take it seriously when someone is pecked to death by pigeons three chapters in. Oh dear! I do hope I didn't spoil it for you Eleanor! Well, never mind. I suppose it's not such a very engaging book in any case.
Are you planning decorations to your lovely new house? Henry leaves everything here entirely to me of course, so I would be most grateful for your opinion on the fabric I enclose – I thought perhaps it might be rather fetching if I used it for the curtains in the rear parlour, but do tell me if you have any better ideas...
Oh dear, I have to start this sheet of paper with an apology, for I'd intended to finish this letter and have it greet you on your return to England, but of course you will be home and I've been so distracted. Henry isn't well. Or, perhaps. I'm not sure it quite counts as not well. He is not precisely himself. I'm not sure what to do... He just seems exhausted. Of course I called for the doctor but Dr. Tenney says it's just a cold and I'm getting myself worked up over nonsenses again (I suppose he remembers the time I read that book with the heroine who goes out onto the moors and catches her death. I was worried every time I got caught in a rainshower for months after, for I had no True and Devoted Love to save me by...well, I can't quite recall what happened, but I'm fairly certain he saved her by doing something Romantic and Devoted.). I need to stop thinking of the world as a very large storybook. Sometimes people just get colds, the mirror we found in the attic is not magical, and I'm certainly not about to get pecked to death by a large group of pigeons!
I'm worried, though, Eleanor. I can't help it. He looks so pale and tired. Please forgive the shortness of this letter, and don't take alarm. As I said, I'm probably just creating a drama out of an incident with no significance! I do hope your return home was not delayed by the snowfall, or anything else and that you and your dear John are very well.
I will write as soon as Henry is well again to tell you what a silly goose he thinks I am.
All my love
She did hope she hadn't distressed Eleanor. Of course it was a cold. Without any sore throat, or sneezing or coughing or... Catherine sighed, sealed and addressed the envelope, and glanced out of the window. Snow again. If this kept up, it would be difficult to get the doctor should Henry get worse.
Three days of fierce snow later and Henry wasn't getting better. He was sitting in their rear parlour, the currently shabby one caught halfway between what it had been as a bachelor's residence and what it would be as a family home.
She advanced a little. Wrapped in his fancy dressing gown (a gift from Eleanor of which he was more fond than he would like to admit) he was dozing in the chair by the fire. Asleep, he barely looked ill. It was all in his eyes, the tiredness, the inability to focus, the sadness he seemed to carry around with him.
“Henry, are you...?”
He opened his eyes with what looked like great effort, and focused on her for a few moments, looking a little confused.
“Are you feeling better, Henry?”
“I feel...like half my soul is missing...” He gave half a smile and closed his eyes. “I've gone mad, haven't I?”
“Dr. Tenney says you have a cold, but... Would you like anything?”
“Just sleep, love.”
“Mm. I'll bring you some soup.”
Nothing helped. Catherine had gone from being concerned to being heinously worried. He looked like a shadow, only a reflection of her husband. Snowed into the house and cut off from the village, Catherine felt like she was going mad.
He seemed to sleep, but when he woke in the morning, he'd had no rest. Tonight, Catherine vowed, she was going to stay awake and watch him. Perhaps he was tossing and turning too much, or...
No. She was not going to let her over active imagination get the better of her a third time. Henry certainly wasn't troubled by a shard of glass in his heart like the boy in the Snow Queen, and he surely wasn't being drained dry by some awful monster like in that German poem. She considered putting some garlic flowers in the vase, but where was she supposed to get them in this weather and...
There she went again. No vampires! None at all!
That night, Catherine sat on the bed and watched her husband. Until midnight, all was quiet, but the moment she heard the softly muffled sound of the twelfth chime from the clock in the front parlour Henry rose. She watched in quiet astonishment as he dressed himself and ran a comb through his hair. Mercy? Was sleepwalking his trouble? Perhaps he'd been going outside in the cold and...
Relief ran through her. She was not mad, she had not let her imagination run riot, and everything was going to be perfectly all right. See! She told herself sternly. No vampires!
She followed him down the stairs. Like most sleepwalkers (one of her brothers had been a champion at the profession) he didn't notice her presence, but seemed to know the house perfectly. He didn't stumble, but walked directly into the front parlour. Catherine padded silently along behind him, only to see him take the cover off the orphaned mirror. He stood before it for quite some time, before he spoke, in a voice which sounded not entirely his own.
“Open open green hill, let the young priest in...” The words seemed to Catherine not quite correct, and though the reason eluded her, for the moment, she added softly,
“And his lady behind him.”
The mirror shifted. Henry walked through, and after a deep breath, Catherine passed in behind him, eyes closed, half expecting to bump her nose on the glass and wake up. She did neither. Instead, she opened her eyes on the most fantastic scene. Surely this couldn't be a dream. She didn't think even she had that much imagination.
Snow swirled around her head as she looked out on the torch lit path. As she looked up, she saw they were in the clearing of a great, tall forest. The path led up to what she could only describe as a fairytale castle, its huge gates covered in roses, open for the guests of what had to be an incredible ball.
She and Henry were by no means the only ones to arrive by way of a magical mirror. She glanced around to see perhaps ten identical looking glasses propped up against trees or laying on rocks, out of which had come exotically dressed men and women, all with those blank, sad eyes.
Catherine wasn't especially surprised to find that her nightgown and robe had been replaced by a sparkling blue gown, beautiful, but she suspected impossible to wear to the assemblies in the unlikely even it didn't disappear as soon as she travelled back to their parlous (or, she thought ruefully, when she woke up).
Whatever fancy slippers were now on her feet, they neither made much noise on the soft snow, nor let in any of the cold as she stole after Henry, who like the other people was quickly surrounded by... Well, she didn't want to say fairies. That was silly. Or perhaps it not. After walking through a magical mirror, being magically dressed (in a magical dress), and walking over what was probably magical snow even Henry would have to admit that fairies was just about the most logical conclusion one could make. All right then. Fairies it was. Fairies who made mortals dance. Mercy.
Catherine hid herself behind a door and watched. There she saw the people dancing and dancing. They were plied with food and wine, and when they were exhausted and could dance no more, they would fall upon one of the many gilded couches, where the fairies would fan them, and goad them, and tug at their arms until they rose and could go on dancing.
It was beautiful, decadent, and horrific.
And what could she do? Certainly, if she was discovered she would end the same as Henry, and who knew if anyone would find them before they wasted away. No, there was only one thing to be done, she realised. Saving Henry would be easy enough, but what of the other nine? Catherine felt her heart skip as one of the fairy dancers brushed dangerously close to her hiding place. He smelled of honey and spice and the scent seemed to bring promises of excitement and adventure and romance, if only she would come and dance....
Just as suddenly as he was there, he was gone, his scent vanished and her head cleared. Lord if he'd known she was there she would never have stood a chance. It hardened her resolve. There was only one way out of this.
At last, she heard the sound of the cock crow and the guests made all haste to their strange horses, and fine carriages. In the press of bodies, she was thankfully anonymous, and if the smell of spice and honey passed across her senses once or twice, she was at least unable to locate its source, even if she could not prevent herself from trying. She rushed to the gate, catching her dress for a moment on a rose thorn. She ripped it free, snapping off a flower in the process.
Out in the clearing the snow suddenly seemed to feel cold, and though the pink of the rising sun tinted the sky, the lanterns had blown out, leaving the clearing to semi-darkness. The magic, she supposed, was failing. Better get home before her magical dress unravelled, then, for who knew if she'd be like Cinderella in a nightgown, or worse, if her real world clothes hadn't managed to make the journey.
Catherine found Henry, and walked with him through the mirror, stealing one last glance at the other enchanted humans. She wondered if she would be able to locate them in time, or at all. It should be no one's fate to waste away.
Back home, and back in her nightgown, Catherine sighed, then guided Henry back up to bed. Once he was safely sleeping, she padded down the stairs to the front parlour. There stood the mirror, looking for all the world like a very normal antique. Perhaps she might have been able to convince herself that everything was all a dream, save for the presence of a rose at the foot of the gilded frame, wrapped in a scrap of sparkling blue silk, and infused with the scent of honey and spice.
She smashed the mirror.
It wasn't a very elegant solution, but it would work, seven years of bad luck be damned. She would probably need to think of something else if she wanted to rescue the other nine victims of the fairy court, but that would have to wait.
The following morning, Catherine sat herself in front of the fire, cracking nuts, and half heartedly reading Miss Butterworth (really, who wrote that book?) and smiled as Henry entered, looking utterly miserable, but considerably better.
“How are you feeling this morning.”
“Better. Or worse. I'm not sure.”
He sneezed to make the point and sat down in the opposite chair. Catherine set her book down and padded over to him to smooth his hair fondly. Of course he didn't remember a thing.
“You've been sleepwalking in the snow, my dear. No wonder you've been feeling so terrible. Oh, and I'm afraid you must have knocked over that lovely mirror, it was smashed all to pieces when I came down this morning.”
“Oh, well,” he sniffed, and she passed him her handkerchief before he did something uncouth. “I suppose it's no loss, if I didn't know I had it in the first place.”
“I am glad you're feeling better, Henry.”
“I'm not! I'm very ill!” he coughed again, and looked up at her with mischief in his eyes. “In fact, if I don't get hot tea soon, I might...just...expire!” He said, punctuating his words with the kind of overly dramatic swoon Miss Butterworth had just performed in her novel.
“Hot tea it is, then. Shall I read to you – It's Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, and you'll think it's silly, so I imagine you'll enjoy ridiculing it very much.”
She was almost out of the room when she heard him say “I love you, Catherine.”
His voice was full of emotion, and something she couldn't quite describe. Perhaps not all of him had forgotten, after all.
Viscountess Eleanor Rolles to Mrs Catherine Tilney
I'm so glad to hear that Henry is well, and that he is back to scolding the world for its ignorance, just as we would like.
What a strange object you found though – a rose that never seems to fade! John suggests that it might be some side effect of freezing, but now that the snow is melted I suppose we can't test the theory. Perhaps more will come though, it's scarcely even winter.
I wholeheartedly agree with you about that fabric you sent – it will look quite splendid as curtains.
We had a similar excursion to yours, a few days ago, and cleared out what was at one time the Blue Room (though now I think it is rather more the Grey and Dusty Room), in anticipation of a Certain Use to which we dearly hope that room will soon be put. I didn't feel much like an explorer or finder of treasures, though we did find a rather interesting old book, of which neither of us can make head nor tail.
The writing in it is so strange and old we can't read it. There are a few pictures of people in very peculiar outfits. I'm sure John (and Henry!) would ridicule me if I told them, but I truly do think they look like fairies...