Work Header

On Doorways, Glass, and my Good Wife

Work Text:

After that I had diligently laboured, for many years and at no small danger to my health, to discover a spell of summoning that might repair the sad lack of so profitable a working in this our English magic, it was I will freely confess a blow of sorts to hear noised about in the great mouth of the commons not so much my most active and forceful spell, but certain sly words concerning my household. To wit that I have been led at the nose by a shrew, that I have been no true man of learning but a blockish book-scrabbler, that my own good wife has performed certain acts of magic which will remain unspoken.

I give no regard to the words of foolish gossips, for the wisest man may be mocked aloud in the marketplace, and the most vile calumny may be bruited abroad as a thing of perfect verity. But I would have it known that in no wise do I lack authority in my household affairs: those babblers who mistake wisdom and discretion for sluttery and ill-management should yet beware, lest they hear the sound of bells around them in the night.

For let it be understood that by withdrawing myself somewhat from everyday business, I have opened doors of glass to other worlds, where stairs run up and down like thoughts in a fool's brainpan, and I have heard such things as man may speak of only in the tongues of ravens. As well it may truly be said that it is beyond the wit of the most of women to open these doors, much less to call any thing through them. For women being tender and gentle creatures have not the stomach for such deeds, nor the understanding neither, unless it be allotted to them to go beyond the usual powers of their sex. And the sort of woman who will chattter continually up and down like a magpie till the ears jangle and did once, on Michaelmas day the year of our lord 1541, use a deal of papers with notations of great worth and profit upon them to line dishes for pies: such a woman has no more magic in her than a very stock or stone.

So now I may set forth with perfect surety that, contra the rude commonality, it is a thing impossible for my wife to have called forth a fairy servant on her own account, much less so brave and famous a fellow as she is said to have kept company with, that creature sometimes called Red Jem, or else the Man of Teeth. For the cleaning and upkeep of a household is declared by many great authorities to be not only the duty but the pleasure of a woman; the work for which God and nature has fitted her, and in no wise worthy of the calling up of a lord of fairy to be a manner of house-goblin, a sweeper of floors and a haunter of corners.

And it is the more certain that no such fairy sir would consent to toil in a hot kitchen, or by any other means to prepare food for my table. For though it is true that my good wife and the kitchen girl Anne, or it may be Anna, have in recent weeks laid strange flesh and curious subtleties before me, like fair castles made in white sugar, or the cries of old children, such pleasant trifles are nothing more than a species of sweet reward for my twelve long years of labour, two more even than was the lot of bold Odysseus. Now did not that quick-tongued gentleman go voyaging, some say far as Fairy, some say far beyond the shores of Hell? And did he not on his return find his wife chaste Penelope awaiting him, yet fair and true? And was there not on this occasion great rejoicing and an overturning of his prating enemies, and did not his wife lay her hand upon his and bid him be of good cheer, for certain she was most proud of his ways and works? Then in such a wise on my return from years of searching was I made much of by my household, with shining food and, through the house, a kind of gleam: for did I not return with such a spell in hand as will transform all English magic, root and branch?

And if it sometimes seems that I perceive my own flesh beginning now and then to slide and vanish, like to a thing seen sidelong in a glass, or, true, a little like that beast I ate, that lay so fat and glossy half-seen on the table, if this is true (and who shall say it is), it signifies nothing of importance.

For though I may have at some times heard in my own house the sound of sad music, and seen by the casement a kind of smiling creature in a coat of red feathers, this is only the merest fancy, summoned as it were by my long studies and deliberations, which may breed dark vapours in the clearest head. And though they shall say in the streets that my wife has gone into the glass with a gentleman of fairy, yet I will set it down here that she has left only to visit with her sister, or it may be her cousin. For women will make these little journeys, setting all at sixes and sevens while they are away. And in any case, though the unkind may say that I have summoned only horns with all my learning, I have devised such a spell as has the power to call her back at any time I desire, should I make choice to cast it. For while it is true, in a manner of speaking, that I am alone, since the girl Anne or Anna is a creature full of silly fears and will not come, yet the house is not empty. Even now, as I lift my pen, I hear music, and my good wife chittering in the other room. And I see my own hand here before me, clear as glass.