Continued from part one, ends at the end of Chapter 1.
I’ve woken early, the fingers of the sun just beginning to reach out, penetrating the cracks in between the two velvet drapes that cover my window. I find I’m powerless to return to my blanket of dreams, so I get out of bed, leaving it a mess; if we have the maids, I reason, why not put them to use? It is a cruel logic. The slap of the cold water I splash across my face is enough to wake up the rest of me, and I stare at my reflection, contemplating what I see. A long, rather flat, nose speaks nothing of aristocracy, though my family is rather rich, and my long full lips turned down with concentration, and my eyes atop high curved cheekbones. Disappointed with what I see, I gargle with rose water, hoping to rid my mouth of the taste; somewhere between last night’s soup, and garlic. I stare at my wardrobe full of dresses, and grimace. They are all a little too short. I wrap myself in my dressing gown, and leave my room, my family still asleep in their beds. The long hall that is the upstairs stretches out before me, and I tread it carefully, wary of squeaking or loose floorboards. The thought of me falling through the floor, and landing in Miss March’s bed below is rather funny and I am trying not to giggle. So sorry, it appears that we may want to fix the upstairs floor; good day! The look on her face would be quite comical!
I run my hands along the walls, feeling the grooves and lines flowing beneath my fingers. Scratch, line, bump. Scratch, line, line. Line, bump scratch. Line, line, crumble. I look to my hands, where a piece of the plaster has fallen away. I am in a sort of alcove, before the stairs to the attics. I peer into the small hole I have made, and see not beams underneath, but a gap, and then something brown and rounded- polished wood. My heart picks up pace, excitement starting in the pit of my stomach and working its way upward to my heart, now my throat, as I peel away more plastic, hungry to know the secret of what is beneath. With a light cracking noise, a large sheet of plaster pulls away, sending a shower of dust with it. I cough and rub my eyes, temporarily blinded. When the dust settles and I can look up again, I stare.
It is a door.
Made from a dark wood, polished and beautiful, despite the layer of dust, it is decorated with intricate carvings; a staff, a book, and a key. I run my hand over them, puzzling what they mean for a moment before grasping the handle. I pause, unsure for a moment. Think, Eve. Don’t do anything unwise. There is probably a reason it has been closed off. You don’t know what is behind it! It could be anything! I stand for a second more, weighing my tentative fear against my raging curiosity. The latter end wins. I slowly turn the handle, my nerves steeled for anything.
I poke my head in to see an empty, dusty, attic like room, so small it could be called a closet. I walk in, making no noise, to stand in the center of the room, slightly disappointed at my unexciting find. I walk the perimeter of it, seeing nothing that captures my attention. It is a dark, musty room, with but one window to light it. I stand at this window, and admire the view it allows. It looks directly on the forest behind the cottage, the sea of green trees waving below like waves on the ocean.
I sigh and turn to walk back to the door, but something on the floor glistens dully at a bit of light that has reflected off of it, catching my eye. I bend over and pick it up. It is a silver key, nothing special about it, but the dust on it, like it has been there for years. I rub it on the wide sleeve of my robe, and hold it in the palm of my hand. It fogs with my warm breath, and then flashes lightly. I blink. Blasted dust is making everything look odd! I muse. I pocket it, and leave the room as it was before.
The house is coming to life around me. I can hear the servants on the stairs, and the cook in the kitchen, warming the scones for breakfast. I sigh, entering my room and slipping out of my dressing gown behind the screen, but not before I put the key on the dresser. I struggle with my corset for several minutes, before giving up. To my luck, a maid enters the room. “Would you be so kind?” I ask, turning my back to her, and gesturing widely at the laces of my corset. A blush creeps up the young maid’s face, but she complies readily, pulling until I cannot breathe, and I fear my ribs shall break. “
"Is there anything else, ma’m?” she asks, eyes averted.
“No, that shall be all, thank you,” I manage to wheeze. She nods and leaves, whilst I struggle into a dress of blue silk. At that exact moment, Miss March, the reaper herself, knocks and enters, without waiting for a reply. “Good morning!” I manage to breeze, hoping that she is friendlier this morning. My expectations are not met.
“Good morning,” she says without enthusiasm, as if to say, I would rather be locked in the stocks than be here. “Shall I do your hair?” she asks, not waiting for a response before she starts to fiercely pull my hair back hard. So hard that I almost forget about the pain from my corset. Almost. I steal quick glances at her while she is brushing and winding my hair. Her dark brown eyebrows knit together in concentration overtop of her flat brown eyes as she pulls at my unyielding hair. I glance at her brown hair, the same flat color as her eyes, pulled severely back into a bun, and my hopes for my hair aren’t very high.
“Do you like the house?” I ask by means of conversation. She nods. “I rather like the garden,” I remark. She nods again. I could probably say the Buckingham palace is made of smelly limburger cheese; I think the cottage would be rather nice like that, don’t you? And she would nod right a long; it’s actually quite maddening. It takes me a minute to realize she has stopped working. I glance in the mirror. My hair is pulled back into a twisted bun with a million pins scratching my tender scalp, but overall it is quite becoming. “Thank you,” I manage to stutter, still surprised at the simplicity, yet hinted elegance, of it. Again, only a nod. I shall have to do something about this.
I follow her down the stairs and into the dining room, where father and mother are already seated. “Hello, Poppet,” father smiles at me, the pet name he has been using for me my whole life sounds strange after so long. The rest of the meal passes in the chattering of my parents, and the inevitable silence of Miss March. I am content to retreat into myself with my thoughts. They turn back to the mysterious room, and the key. I wonder why it was covered up? Did there use to be something to hide? If there was, why wasn’t it in there? I don’t think it has been opened since it was sealed. At least it didn’t look that way. The possibility that the key was the object to hide passes my thoughts for a brief moment, but then I dismiss it. It’s nothing but a harmless key. My thoughts move on uninterrupted to new possibilities, none of them seeming logical.
“Did you not hear me?” It’s my mother’s voice breaking through my stupor; I look at her in confusion, and she sighs. “I go to town today, and asked if you would accompany me?” she repeats. I look down at the table cloth and nod. Mother’s smile is like a sunbeam cutting through the clouds, and it makes it hard for me to say no. I open my mouth to speak, but it isn’t my voice that comes out; it’s Miss March’s. The sound of it startles me.
“Miss Dalton could use with new gowns; they are all short on the hem.” The shock of hearing the ever silent Miss March overcomes my impulse to glare at the comment. I do need new dresses. Maybe I can see Bella and Genevieve. This hope makes the prospect of visiting London even more attractive.
Several hours later, I am sitting at a café table with Genevieve and Bella. We were lucky enough to have been in the same dress shop.
“I honestly don’t see how you can be so upset. I hear Shropshire is lovely!” Bella says condescendingly. I cannot help but notice the patronizing tone in her voice.
“Yes, but you’ve never been there. No one has.” I’m whining again, I find, and try to cheer up. “Well, at least my chaperone is cheerful and obliging!” I add with a smile. Genevieve chokes on her tea and Bella splutters with hardly contained laughter.
“Cheerful and obliging?” Genevieve squeals, “I’ve seen dead people with more enthusiasm!” she exclaims, attracting the attention of some of others in the café. She immediately contains herself. “Yes, quite,” she adds.
Isabella pretends to stifle and yawn, “I hardly think she will be needed on your excursions here; we shall just have to get rid of her.”
Her words have me sitting up straighter. “Get rid of her? How do you plan to get past my mother, pray tell, with that?”
“Simple; she doesn’t need to know! That or we could just un-employ her…”
Genevieve looks from face to face, “Really, Bella, how do you plan to un-employ a chaperone who you’ve not even hired?” She seems dismissingly amused at the very thought, and I can see how silly and fruitless that would be.
“She’s right, you know, my mother would probably just acquire someone else. Heaven’s she could be worse than Miss March!” All our jaws hang open at the very thought. Bella, naturally, is the first to remember herself.
“Honestly, that cannot be possible!” She pats her hair in thought, mindlessly sighing. “I shall just have to pay you a call, someday, and we shall plan from there!” Genevieve’s face falls at the suggestion- it doesn’t include her. “Oh, honestly, Gen, you would come too! You don’t need to act like such a child!” Isabella sighs in frustration, then perks up again, standing, “As for when we” she emphasizes the word, “visit, it shall have to an opportune time for us to observe and find a way to bring down the offensive Miss March.”
Our long skirts rustle as Genevieve and I stand also, my mother and Miss March herself, loaded with parcels and boxes, having just stepped in. I embrace them both, and we all three step towards where my mother waits, standing by an overburdened Miss March. “Hello, girls,” Mother greets my friends cordially, the picture of womanly perfection. She turns to me, “we must be leaving now, dear; we’ve a train to catch.” I turn to my friends, wistful longing and anger turning on a spit inside me, and embrace them one last time.
“Soon.” Isabella whispers in my ear, eyeing Miss March.
The whole three hours back to Shropshire sees my mother chattering about gowns, teas, and other such tedious subjects to Miss March, who just nods and agrees silently with her. I sigh and look out the window. The slow drizzle coming down is like a grey wet blanket, stifling and sad, that mutes everything but the green, which now seems an even richer shade than ever. My mind wanders aimlessly, making shapes out of the fog that our train speeds past, and thinking about the up coming visit I can expect from my two friends.
“Eva, dear,” It’s my mother breaking my reverie. “What do you think of that blue taffeta we saw today? Would it not look splendid on you? What do you think, Miss March?” Of course, Miss March nods. Mother continues, “I think it would make a lovely ball gown. Would you like that, dear?” It’s not a gift; it’s a bribe- a bribe to get me to accept our new home. But I won’t take it.
“I hardly know, mother, since there isn’t a single occasion to wear it to.” I spit out. The hard look that flits across her face, somewhere between disappointment and anger, is only there briefly.
“I wouldn’t know, there might arise an occasion; the country is not void of assemblies,” through slightly clenched teeth.
I stare on, cool as I can manage to look, though I’m seething inside, “Yes, mother, assemblies- we might even get to dance in between chasing chickens! My voice has gone up slightly, and I try to calm myself.
Mother closes her eyes briefly, as if seeking patience from deep down. I wait to be reprimanded for my less than respectful reply, my impertinence, anything, but she just sighs, “Really, Eva, I’m in no state of health to deal with you right now.”
Of course not, Mother; we wouldn’t want you to appear as if you’re in good health! How silly of me! I want to bite back, but where would that get me? No where. So I lay my head against the cool glass of the window, and fight the tears that well up and threaten to pour down like the rain outside.
My room seems inviting after three hours on the train, and even the rain has slowed to a think, drizzly, fog. I look about for something, anything, to pull my mind from the state of boredom it’s currently in; my eyes rest on the key, and I’m pulled back to its mystery. I stare at it, possibilities swirling through my head once again.
What are you for? I stare at it harder, and my eyes begin to droop- the long trip and the argument with my mother weighing on me, until I finally fall asleep.
I’m dreaming; such things! It’s frightening and wonderful at the same time. I’m running through a forest, green and lush, with branches and the cool, packed earth beneath my bare feet. The freedom I feel is indescribable, I’m bathing in it, running for no other reason than to go as fast as I can. I stop in a clearing, look down, and see the key in my hand, glowing softly. Confused, I look up and see a girl, no, a woman, with a smile on her lips and her arms outstretched. Suddenly, the smile has disappeared, and she is staring in horror at something behind me. I turn slowly, and see what is causing her so much terror. A shadow behind me is looming higher and higher, convulsing and twisting. Moving. I hear a scream and realize that it is my own. Something is hurting me! I look down at my palm to see the key, black and hot, burning my hand, but I can’t let go! I turn back to the shadow, ten feet tall and about to consume me, when the woman is suddenly in front of me, the panic clear in her eyes. The shadow’s roaring drowns out all of her words but one; Go!
I’m awake, panting, the key in my hand. I can remember dreaming, but what about I don’t recall. Whatever it was has perspiration beading across my forehead. I place the key by my wash stand, and splash the cool, reviving water on my face, and breathe deeply. It was only a dream, Eva, that’s all; nothing to get scared about. With a silence that surprises me, Miss March is suddenly at my door.
“Yes?” I jump, startled; trust the ever silent one to scare me!
“You are needed downstairs for tea, miss.”
I nod cheerily, vowing that I will somehow make her smile. “I am sorry for any delay; I was a bit indisposed. You didn’t have too much fun without me?” Her calm, blank, gaze meets mine, but there is no Haha, Miss Dalton! Or, How funny of you! Just her watery, accusing, stare. I breeze past her, my former fears forgotten.
Downstairs, mother is gracefully pouring herself some tea from a dainty floral teapot, into a matching tiny teacup. I’ve never understood why we use such small cups for tea, when one can get even more from a nice heavy mug, but I keep this to myself. “Good afternoon, mother.” I’m trying to push past our latest argument on the train ride home.
“I do believe it is closer to evening, dear,” she says, taking a small sip from the miniscule cup. I glance at the timepiece and see she is correct- I have slept longer than I meant.
“Forgive me for sleeping so late- I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” I pour myself some tea and take a sip, lifting the saucer with the cup the way I have had drilled into my head a thousand times- the way a proper lady should.
“Sleep is good for your health,” Mother states dismissively, “I would not mind having a nap myself.” She pulls her shawl tighter around herself. She suddenly looks so small and frail, sitting there, as miniscule and thin as the teacup she sips from. I feel beastly for the way I treated her earlier, and want to tell her so. I glance at Miss March; a problem. I do not want to apologize in front of the chaperone. A plan forms in my head, and I act upon it.
“I am a bit chilled; Miss March, would you be so kind as to fetch my shawl?” I shiver a bit for added effect. The Glacier’s eyes narrow slightly, but I meet her gaze innocent as could be. Go with it! Go with it! I will in my mind. She nods and rises to get it. As soon as she is partway up the stairs, I turn back to my mother, and smile slightly. I take a deep breath, “Mother?” I ask.
“Yes?” she responds, looking up at me.
"I wanted to ask you…that is, I would…” I trail off, not sure how to put it. I suddenly don’t know how to apologize.
“Yes?” She prompts again.
“It’s just that…I…think the blue taffeta would make a lovely dr…”
A high pitched scream interrupts my poor excuse for an apology. We both look up at each other, a question mark in our eyes. The scream happens again, this time a high keening; it sounds panicked. Suddenly it hits me; Miss March! I leap up from my chair just as my mother rises, pull up my skirt, and dash upstairs as if the hounds of hell were chasing me. Something was terribly wrong with that scream. I make it to the top of the stairs, and dash into my room to find Miss March, white as a ghost with her eyes wide, her mouth a perfect O with no sound coming out. She’s staring at something in her hands.
It’s the key.