The Fairy Tales
"Mrs. Tilney! Mrs. Tilney!"
Five giddy little girls ran into the sitting room adjoining the entrance of the parsonage, searching for Henry Tilney's new wife. In three months, the little girls of Woodston had taken a liking to Catherine, following her after the Sunday services, clinging to her arms, fingers, and legs. They found that the young Mrs. Tilney made an excellent friend and playmate, for she was always willing to admire their dolls and talk to them about their games.
"Hello, Sarah, Fanny, Mary! Jane and Patty! Hello girls!" Catherine exclaimed. "Are you ready for a story today?"
"Oh, yes, please, Mrs. Tilney!" Sarah and Fanny grinned in unison. They were the five-year-old twin girls, along with three-year-old Jane, of Mrs. Charles Browning, who was entering the parlor with Mrs. Robert Jones, the mother of four-year-old Mary and three-year-old Patty.
Catherine looked up and greeted them with a smile. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Browning, Mrs. Jones. How do you do today?"
"Oh, dear Mrs. Tilney, we are in excellent health today," answered Mrs. Jones, her eyes twinkling. "We cannot tell you how happy we are that you invited our girls for storytelling! They have talked of nothing else since Sunday, I declare."
"My girls also have been waiting impatiently for today to come," Mrs. Browning agreed. "They were constantly glancing at the calendar, wanting it to be Thursday! They do like you, Mrs. Tilney! Oh, I almost forgot to ask- how is Mr. Tilney?"
"He is well, ma'am," answered Catherine. "He was obliged to ride to Northanger early this morning. I expect him back early this evening, hopefully before dinner." She paused. "I am worried about the weather. Do you think it looks like rain?"
"Possibly, my dear," Mrs. Browning said. "We were worried this morning, but did not want to disappoint the girls. We will not be burdened by it, though. Our homes are not very far, and the roads do not get very muddy. The carriage will have no problems. But I do hope Mr. Tilney returns home in time, for your sake."
During this exchange, the girls arranged themselves in a semi-circle around a wing chair, chattering noisily. Catherine offered the mothers seats on the far side of the room, where they could work and visit without disturbing the story. Then she picked up a new copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and began to read.
Catherine began with the classic story of Cinderella. The girls listened intently, leaning forward with anticipation, the emotion expressed in their faces altered with the twists and turns of the plot. Catherine's romantic sentiments made her reading full of feeling and emotion, that the girls were captivated, unable to tear their attention away.
...The maiden went to her mother's grave every day and wept, and she continued to be devout and good. When the winter came, the snow spread a white covering on the grave. And when the sun of spring had unveiled it again, the husband took another wife...
...They took away her pretty clothes and made her put on an old grey frock, and gave her wooden shoes...
...Then the girl brought the dish to her stepmother, and was delighted to think that now she would be a able to go to the feast with them. But she said, "No, Cinderella, you have no clothes and cannot dance. You will only be laughed at."...
...She danced until nightfall and then wanted to go home, but the Prince said, "I will go with you and escort you."
He wanted to see to whom the beautiful maiden belonged. But she slipped out of his way and sprang into the pigeon house."...
Catherine had to stop the story momentarily to light a nearby lamp and ask for the fire to be stoked. Dark clouds covered the sky, and the wind was beginning to howl. The girls looked up at her, waiting for the continuation of the story, but now aware of the sudden chill. Little Patty noticeably shivered, and reached for a nearby blanket.
"My, oh my, it is starting to storm," Mrs. Jones mentioned. "Those clouds are so foreboding."
It was now Catherine's turn to shiver. "I wonder where Henry is?" she mused.
The dark rain began to wildly beat against the glass panes of the windows.
"I'm sure your excellent husband will be home soon, dear," Mrs. Browning soothed the almost-frantic Catherine. "There is no good in worrying much about it. Please, dear, continue with the story. It will keep your mind off things." She and Mrs. Jones shared a knowing glance- they remembered the silly anxieties newlyweds felt for each other. Catherine consented.
...When she had washed her face and hands, she went up and curtsied to the Prince, who handed her the golden slipper...
"I loved that story, ma'am!" Mary exclaimed as Catherine finished Cinderella.
"Pretty," Jane said in her three-year-old chirp.
By now the storm was almost at its peak. The women could see the wind whipping across the field outside, and the rain was noisy. "Perhaps we should wait it out a little longer," Mrs. Jones thought. "It might settle down a little, and we will all still make it home before supper."
Mrs. Browning agreed. "It can get no worse." She smiled at Catherine.
"Can we read this one?" begged Sarah.
"The Wolf and the Seven Kids? Oh, I'm not so sure...,"
"Oh, please, Mrs. Tilney!" the girls interrupted.
See no sign of objection from the mothers- they were engrossed in conversation- Catherine reluctantly began the story.
...There was once an old nanny goat who had seven kids, and she was just a fond of them as a mother is of her children. One day she was going into the woods to fetch some food for them, so she called them all up to her and said, "My dear children, I am going out into the woods. Beware of the wolf! If he once gets into the house, he will eat you up- skin, teeth and all...
...the wolf ran to a baker and said, "I have bruised my foot. Please put some dough on it." And when the baker put dough on his foot, he ran to the miller and said, "Strew some flour on my foot."...
...Now the wretch went for the third time to the door, and knocked and said, ╬open the door, children. Your dear mother has come home and has brought something for each of you out of the wood."
The kids cried, "Show us your feet first, so that we may be sure you are our mother." He put his paws on the window sill, and when they saw that they were white they believed all and opened the door.
Alas, it was the wolf who walked in. They were terrified and tried to hide themselves. One ran under the table, the second jumped into bed, the third got into the oven. The fourth ran into the kitchen, the fifth got into the cupboard, the sixth into the washtub, and the seventh hid in the tall clockcase. But the wolf found them all but one and made short work of them. He swallowed one after the other...
Suddenly, a gust of wind ran through the room, blowing out a few of the candles.
The girls began to scream. "The wolf! The wolf!"
Catherine started. A figure appeared in the foyer.
"Ahhh!!!!" the girls screeched, running to hide.
There was Henry Tilney, sopping wet and exhausted, standing with an expression of utter amazement and good humor. He looked at his wife, who was frantically trying to calm the children under the table, while their mothers were dragging the others out from behind the sofa. The book on the table was opened to The Wolf and the Seven Kids, and he realized what he was mistaken for. Henry Tilney as the Big Bad Wolf, ready to eat guests in his own home? He burst out laughing!
His laughing quickly subsided when his wife gave him a frazzled glare, and quickly turned to greet Mrs. Browning and Mrs. Jones. "Well, I see I have interrupted a story, and even managed to play a part," Henry said, his eyes crinkling. "How has your visit been, Mrs. Browning, Mrs. Jones?"
"Well, sir, we enjoyed our visit very much, and the girls did, too, except for the scare we suffered," Mrs. Jones laughed. ╬But I think we must end our visit presently. I believe Mrs. Tilney is in need of rest."
Catherine was busy hugging and dressing the girls, soothing their nerves, and expressing a wish that they would come back for another story, preferably when the weather was fair. Her concern for her young friends had prevented her from greeting her husband.
The carriage was called, and the families were sent off under a sea of umbrellas. Only then did Catherine's shoulders slightly sag.
Catherine watched the carriage down the road. She then turned to finally greet her husband, but was surprised when she discovered he had left the room. "He was just here," she quietly pondered.
"Henry?" Catherine called. She walked down the hall toward the bedroom. He most likely was changing out of his wet clothes, she thought. She opened the door of the room, glanced in, and called again, "Henry?"
But there on the floor was a white lilac cluster (youthful innocence).
Then she noticed a pink ranunculus lying ten feet away (I am dazzled by your charms).
What could be the meaning of this? Catherine wondered. Where could he be?
The trail continued down the hallway. Lily-of-the-valley (return of happiness), then a violet (faithfulness). Why did I not notice these in the hall before? thought Catherine.
Then, at the door of the dining room, another iris lay, a fleur-de-lis (flame).
A white dittany (passion) was halfway between the door and the table.
Catherine was giddy, smiling broadly. One would not think she had just suffered through a crisis. Her steps were light, her heart beating wildly, and her head among the clouds.
She glanced at the table, where a bouquet of flowers (gallantry) was in a vase. The bouquet consisted of roses (love), forget-me-not (remembrance), and may hawthorn (hope).
The pianoforte began to play as Catherine noticed an ivy geranium (I engage you for the next dance) at her plate.
Henry, in full evening dress, entered the room from the other entrance, and greeted his wife with a bow. "Good evening, dearest. I was hoping that you would find your way here." He tilted his head and smiled, his still-damp hair flopping over to one side.
Catherine, with her arms full of flowers, grinned. "Oh, Henry, where did you get these?" she said, motioning to the flowers in her arms.
"I called on Sir Thomas on my way home, to discuss some parish business, and found him in his hothouse. I never realized that Sir Thomas was such a botanist. He has an extensive collection of rare and exotic plants, as well as native ones, in the hothouse, and quite the garden outside. The idea to bring home flowers for you that did not necessarily match, but had meaning, was formed while I was talking to him," Henry explained. "The weather was so bad that I was worried they would be ruined before you received them, but they did well."
He paused, looking at his wife intently. "This would look better here," he said as he placed forget-me-not in Catherine's hair. "Although, it looks rather pathetic and shabby when compared to you."
Catherine blushed. "I am afraid my dress does not do justice to the flowers- I am not dressed for dinner yet."
"Afternoon or evening, you still look beautiful. But, perhaps you might want to go dress," Henry said. "And when you return, madam, I would be honored if you would dance with me."
Catherine grinned, biting her lip, and consenting, ran off to dress herself.
The shock Henry Tilney received on the return of his wife was considerable. Her dress was maroon, complementing her dark hair, in which the flowers he gave her were arranged as a crown. Her cheeks were rosy with excitement, and her mouth was set with a little smile.. He unconsciously straightened up, catching his breath.
"Oh, my, Catherine, you look stunning."
She gazed at him, not with her typical wide-eyed look of innocence, but with one that sparkled with expectation. "Thank you, Henry," she responded, absent-mindedly twirling a curl at the bast of her neck. "Or should I call you Prince Charming? Because I feel like royalty right now."
"I would rather be Prince Charming than the wolf that eats little goats, my dear," he teased, reminding Catherine of that afternoon's events. He smiled. "Are you ready for the ball, Cinderella?"
Henry took her hand and led her to the parlor, where Mrs. Herring, the housekeeper, was playing a waltz. There Catherine's day of enjoyment, and of stress, melted away as she danced a fairy tale dance within the arms of her handsome prince.
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