1001 English Nights: Part the third

1001 English Nights is a group vignette involving Henry Tilney, minister, man of many bot mots and opinions on ladies’ dress, and his young wife, the former Catherine Morland, heroine of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbery. This special production was composed for September, 2012 ‘s Austenesque Extravaganza.  For the complete schedule go to Austenesque Extravaganza.

Part I of 1001 English Nights, by Amy Smith, may be found at: All Roads Lead to Austen

Part II of 1001 English Nights, by Lory L, may be found at :  Meryton press.

And now………..Part III of 1001 English Nights!

When Henry returned from the parish duties which had drawn him from home, he found Catherine sitting by the window in the sitting-room, fanning herself with a packet of paper. When he greeted her he was surprised to see her blush vividly and stammer a greeting as she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck.

“My dear wife! Why are you so agitated? Has something happened?”

“N-no, indeed not! But you were not here when I awoke and I missed you!” She blushed again, embarrassed by the lack of poise that her mother would gently deplore. Before she could speak the footman came in and announced dinner. She pulled herself up into a dignified stance appropriate for a married woman and added, “Shall we dine, Mr. Tilney?”

Henry gravely answered her, “Indeed, my dear, I am famished.”

Catherine took his arm a little nervously and they went to the dining parlour.

During the meal Catherine kept up a flow of chatter about plans for their house, gossip that the housemaid had shared with her, her plans for some alterations to a ball gown which she was not satisfied with, and comments about the delicious dinner the footman was serving them. When they had finished and the covers were removed, Catherine asked Henry, “Would you like to have your port in here, or would you prefer to join me in the parlour?”

“I will join you my dear…as you know my port has much more flavor when I have you to talk to.” He smiled at his wife and she blushed.

By the time they had settled down in front of the fireplace and she had a glass of port for Henry and a cup of tea for herself, Catherine had recovered some of the aplomb that she had worked so hard to gain since her marriage.

“So what did you do with your day, my dear?” was Henry’s first question after the footman had closed the door behind him.

“Oh, talked to Cook and gave instructions to Betsy about dusting the parlour. Nothing very exciting. Oh, that stain on your shirt from when Balthazar knocked your wine over did not come out. I do not know what to do about it.” She glared over at the Newfoundland, who had opened his eyes at the sound of his name, then quickly added, in a low voice, “Oh…and I worked on my story”

Henry turned his eyes from the offending Balthazar and lifted a brow at his wife, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Really? You must read it to me.”

Oddly, Catherine blushed once again and stammered, “Y-you must read it yourself. I-I would rather you read it yourself.”

Henry smiled wider and said, “Oh, really? Why do you not bring now and I will read it while we have our tea.” He put his empty wine glass aside and poured himself a cup of tea.

Catherine gulped nervously, but nodded and picked up the pages she had been fanning herself with. “Here they are.” She handed them to him a little reluctantly.

With another quirk of his left brow, he took the sheets and settled himself to read.

When he finished he looked up at his wife, two spots of pink in both his cheeks and his eyes a little…unfocussed. “My goodness…this is quite…a vivid portrayal.” He took a deep breath and looked at Catherine again, this time examining her expression intently. Her face was blanched and she could not look him steadily in the eye. Henry took in her expression and her posture, then patted the settee next to him. “Come sit next to me, my dear.”

Catherine did so, and burst out before he could continue, “I’m sorry! I know that this is not a proper thing for a wife…especially a minister’s wife…to write! It just happened and when I was done I was so…flustered that I could not change it right away.” She twisted her handkerchief around and around until the lace edge was on the verge of tearing free.

She opened her mouth to speak again, but Henry gently placed a finger over her lips.

“You are correct that it would not do to have anyone else read your writing, but I must admit that I found it very…stimulating. Perhaps we should keep any further pages locked in your trunk where the maids cannot find them.”

“You…you do not mind that I wrote them?” Catherine frowned, not quite understanding the expression on his face.

“No I don’t mind, my love. I just do not want to share the tales that my Scheherezade spins.” He drew her onto his lap, his fingers tangled in her hair.

“W-who is Scheherezade?” Catherine was having difficulty remembering what they were talking about with Henry’s gaze burning into her eyes.

“I’ll tell you later,” he whispered before his lips met hers.