by Cathrin Hagey
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Leonora’s mother despised Leonora’s disposition, slouching shoulders, and hair that resolved into knots at the least provocation, very much, so much that her constant pining for a model child, unable to be fulfilled in the usual manner, provoked her husband to hire a manufacturer of waxworks.
The child of flesh and bone was truly ignorant of the development of a would-be rival for her mother’s affections, and spent her days as always: awaken to the scolding of Violet the nursery maid; break the fast with bread, cheese, and tea; select a pinafore and dress with care; comb out the ever present tangles and brush the hair, capturing it with many pins; go to Miss Brown the governess to receive the daily lesson; have the midday repast in the nursery; walk in the garden in rain and shine where one may learn to be as patient and as yielding as the flowers.
The day of the waxwork doll’s arrival dawned, an event anticipated by the entire household, except for Leonora, who innocently supposed that the cot and toys in her mother’s chamber were for her.
Leonora’s mother, who had yet to fully recover her wits from Leonora’s drawn-out birth, though it had happened a dozen years earlier, was lifted out of bed and carried down the grand staircase and set down in the front hall to receive her gift. She had the fortitude to make up a name, and she christened it Isabel, to the clamorous approval of the household staff, especially Violet who adored her mistress. Leonora’s father, on the other hand, remained mute.
Leonora heard the tumult in the great hall and ventured out from the nursery to watch the proceedings from above, and she might have been forgiven for her transgression if not for her troubling inability to focus, which led her to believe that the spectacular waxwork doll was meant for her.
With a shriek, Leonora tore down the stairs, two at a time, something rarely seen in a great household and not at all a welcome sight. She ran straight up to Mama, who was seated in a fine chair of blue and gold, with Isabel in her arms.
“Thank you, Mama. I will love it forever... But not as much as I love you!” Leonora threw her bony arms around the doll and kissed its apple cheeks. “It’s so beautiful. Isn’t it Mama?”
Violet made a sound with her tongue.
Miss Brown the governess coughed into a silk handkerchief.
Without a word, Leonora’s father went to Leonora, took her by the shoulders, and led her upstairs and back to the nursery. “Stay here until Violet fetches you for Miss Brown.”
“Will I get the doll after my lessons?”
“It isn’t for you. It’s for Mama. What a silly goat you are.”
Leonora watched her father withdraw and heard the click of the nursery door lock.
Isabel was a beauty. Even Leonora, though she had only seen the doll for a few moments, had noticed. Isabel’s waxen form had been molded into a shape that was both childlike and womanly, a tricky feat peculiar to the manufacturer. Her tresses shone like the midday sun, and her blushing cheeks put anything calling itself an apple to shame.
Such was Leonora’s mother’s delight with Isabel that she quite forgot to call for Leonora’s weekly visit to her chamber and, in so doing, that woman was deprived of her true daughter’s doting attention. Leonora would have been alert to Mama’s faded cheeks. No one noticed that Mama was ill until it was almost too late.
A proper sick room was prepared for the lady of the house off the upper hallway. The waxwork figure was left behind in the cot during the preparations. Mama howled for Isabel with an uncanny power for one so sick. But the doctor demanded that Isabel be sent to the nursery, the proper place for a doll in his learned accounting of such things. His order was carried out with hesitation by Violet, who normally obeyed Leonora’s mother in all things.
* * *
Miss Brown, the governess, prepared the day’s lessons as she did most mornings. She was aware that Leonora’s father’s increasingly frequent visits to the schoolroom had more to do with the constrained ampleness of her figure than it did with his daughter’s intellectual advancement, but she believed in doing a job well and had become fond of the awkward, lonely girl, even more so since the arrival of the waxwork doll. Miss Brown was painfully aware of her mistress’s neglect of Leonora.
“Good morning,” said Leonora’s father, entering the cramped schoolroom while the governess was facing the other way, and startling her by brushing up against her backside.
Miss Brown hopped away quickly and lightly. “Are you here to inspect the lessons?”
“No, my dear. I trust you completely. You have done well by Leonora and, lest I forget, by me.”
“It’s my job to help Leonora attain all the necessary accomplishments.”
“Do you think she has the aptitude for it?” Leonora’s father moved to take Miss Brown’s hand, but she deftly flitted away in the manner of a caged finch.
Miss Brown had never understood why everyone but her thought Leonora was a dullard. “Of course she does, sir.”
“I think you’ll be very pleased with Leonora’s improvement, but there is one thing missing that would improve her immensely.”
“And what is that?”
“She needs more time with her mother.”
Miss Brown couldn’t help but notice the color drain from the gentleman’s face. He was spared the composition of a reply when Leonora entered the schoolroom for her lessons, pushing Isabel before her in a wicker pram. Miss Brown shuddered when she noticed the stark difference between the girl and the doll: the former was angular and shadowed about the eyes; the latter was round and glowing.
* * *
Following the governess’ latest refusal to acknowledge his fondness for her, Leonora’s father absconded to his gentlemen’s club. Though the hour was early, his usual cohort was there.
“Is she contagious?” asked one of the gentlemen, referring to Leonora’s mother’s poor health.
Leonora’s father pondered this. “I don’t think so,” was his reply.
“Perhaps you ought to consider removing your daughter to your mother-in-law’s estate. There is an illness making the rounds that has me quite worried for my own dear hearts at home,” said a patriarch of the red-faced, robust-around-the-middle variety.
Leonora’s father weighed the import of this suggestion, namely its emphasis on his care and concern for his own flesh and blood, and found he was wanting. He flushed momentarily. He had entered the domain of domesticity with the best of intentions, had adored his wife and desired her deeply, completely, at the start. Leonora’s arrival had put an end to that.
“Have you heard of this Mesmer fellow?” asked the red-faced gentleman. “I’ve met a Professor Ludlow who trained with Mesmer. There’s this principle of the fluid universe flowing everywhere, even inside our bodies.” He sucked on the end of his pipe for a spell.
“In a well person, this fluid is vigorous, having a strong current, or some such. And a person can, with the proper skill and intention, reverse the flow of strong fluid from his own body to that of a weaker person. It’s a medical fact related to magnetism or something. I’ll give you Ludlow’s card.”
“Never heard of it,” said Leonora’s father.
The red-faced man patted his tummy and nodded sagely. “Get Ludlow to try it on your wife. It’d do her a world of good. It’s called Mesmerism.”
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Cathrin Hagey