PART IV: The Foul-Weather Visit
Monday morning dawned grim and blustery, and Bea hurried to complete her chores so as to be underway. Martha, a little nonplussed at the severity of the weather, was less enthusiastic. But she told herself it was all for the purpose of looking after Bea, and after all she was a little curious for her own sake.
So it happened that about 11 o’clock they were robed and lanterned, carefully picking their way deep into the wood. Bea was as jolly as Martha had ever seen her, full of conversation, gracefully wending her way among the vines and wet leaves. The two of them kept up a robust pace, and it was not half an hour before they reached the edge of the wood. A clearing in the trees showcased a tiny house – no more than a hut, really – perched daintily at the edge of the lake, with a dock and a rowboat close beside.
Martha surveyed the scene with a judicious eye. The grounds were somewhat untidy, perhaps, but the buildings looked well cared for. And really, I suppose when a man is away as often as Bea says, it’s mighty trying to keep up with the shrubbery.
Bea sighed with a sigh of violent melancholy. “He’s not home,” she said, with a frown flaring her nostrils a little.
“How do you know?” Martha asked. It certainly looked like he might be home. Of course, now that she thought of it, there was no light in the window. This is essentially what Bea pointed out, adding that the chimney, too, was devoid of smoke.
They stood for another moment, in which Martha noted for the first time how the wind was picking up. The mist stung her eyes as it blew into them, and she was obliged to tug her hood down and squint. And it was beginning to be cold. They had better turn back.
Bea had other ideas. “Let’s go inside. He might return at any moment – we surely may have dinner ready for him.”
Martha made a noise to object, but Bea was already determinedly marching to the front door. Martha hurried after, reasoning that another hour couldn’t be too dreadful. And after all, she really was quite curious.
Once the lamps had been lit, the stove stoked and the fire encouraged to a bright and cheerful blaze, the inside of the house was actually rather becoming. Bea gathered ingredients for a meal while Martha wandered around, gathering clues about the man of her sister’s dreams.
The house was remarkably clean as well as sparse – scantly furnished and completely undecorated. No shelves, save one, and it was full of pots and odd cooking utensils, like a colander. “Does he entertain?” Martha asked, wondering that such a man would own such large cooking vessels.
Bea – quite unaccountably – bestowed a disdainful glance on Martha and replied. “Prince remains quite alone. Except for when I visit him – then he boils up everything in the place and serves me a feast! I should do the same for him, except there isn’t much in the larder just now…”
Martha had stopped paying attention a little before this, and continued her perusal. No books in sight, as far as she could determine. How odd to not have books. Nor photographs, or artwork of any kind. What was his family like? Does he not prefer to have their likenesses set about? Or perhaps he had no family.
Or perhaps he simply had no camera. But I don’t think Martha considered that point.
The dinner Bea was preparing wafted tantalizing smells, and Martha began to want food. But of course they should wait for their host before beginning.
An hour drifted by. Then two. The makings of the place were not that interesting, and before long the girls were not only hungry and tired, but bored out of their heads. Even Bea’s spirits seemed to be for heading home. But she was loath to depart without any word to her beloved.
“Write him a note!” Martha suggested in a flash of brilliance. But where to find paper or pen? How curious, that a man might live with no books, no pictures, and nothing to write with. At length the howling wind convinced them to be on their way, Prince or no Prince. Hurriedly satiating their hunger with a few bites of the beef and biscuits Bea had prepared, the girls turned out the lights and ventured back from whence they’d come.
Bea was terse and gloomy all the way back. To be honest, Martha didn’t much notice, so preoccupied was she with making headway through the weather. The mud was become very deep in some places, and they slid more than a few steps when the path turned downhill. As they came to a break in the path, divided by a little stream, Martha slowed. The stream was a very little one – easily hopped across when weather conditions are amenable – but in this slough the banks had swelled and made a great muddy mess alongside it.
Martha caught Bea’s arm as she moved ahead. “Don’t, Bea – let’s find a better place,” but Bea had pulled away and was marching grimly forward. Martha called out again, but Bea merely picked her way through the mud, took a flying leap across the widening gap, and scrambled up the other side. She landed none too neatly, and was rather as graceful as a waltzing hippopotamus in the process, but now here she stands waiting for Martha to follow.
You might now know that taking risks and going on adventures don’t come easily to Martha, and she understands this. But for Bea to show her up like that just wouldn’t do. Surely you understand. Martha went against her better judgment and followed suit.
But the mud wasn’t as forgiving the second time around, and before Martha could get a solid footing to jump from, it gave way in one short landslide down to the edge of the stream. Martha was completely taken by surprise and fell headlong into the water, banging her head on the edge of the lantern as she went. She retained consciousness just long enough to hear Bea cry out and move toward her, and then all was silent.
© Cortney Matz, 2008