Henrietta was the youngest daughter of the Lovett’s, born the 7th child on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year. She was the only daughter to survive past her teen years. Her older sisters succumbed to many methods of death: one was beaten by her drunken husband, one had died from hypothermia in a row house, one had died from a factory accident. Henrietta survived despite all odds, a curse seemed to linger on the Lovett women.
She was born with an intelligent mind, a love of animals and nature, and she was lovely. Whether she was beautiful was completely decided by the eyes of others. Henrietta cared about her health, caring for her physical appearance as one should. Beauty was completely irrelevant to who she was, despite her mother’s and father’s objections. When she was at the tender age of 20, she fell into the horrible dread of her mortality. She wondered about her life and if anything was truly worth the idea of life. The first mercy granted to her was by a man named Rupert Blackwood. The father to the man she would be married to.
Rupert dressed finely in his plaid vest and matching suit, took the hand of Henrietta as she stepped into the carriage. She was dressed as warmly as possible by her mother and wished well. She would never return to her family and would be married to a man she had never met. Henrietta tried to think of what compelled her to go. Not the marriage, not the idea of life better than she could be provided. Not her depression leads her to simply take life one day at a time. There was something else in her mind, but she did not know what it was. It would not take long for her to find out.
Henrietta watched the outside of the window, hands folded together, clutching a handkerchief. Rupert, who sat across from her in their carriage, remained quiet. He figured it would be highly inappropriate to break her thoughts. It was she who broke the silence, “Mr. Blackwood?” Her voice was soothing like a melody, steady despite her nerves. “Perhaps we should engage in conversation. Even a little will be sufficient.”
“Ms. Lovett, I apologize. I did not wish to disturb you.”
“How could my father-in-law disturb me?”
He smiled, politely. He was so even in every expression. “You are very kind. Would you like to know the appearance of your husband?”
“I do not care about his appearance,” She chose to say. “Tell me about who he is as a gentleman.”
His eyes watched her for a second, “Well, I suppose he is a gentleman. Considerate of his appearance, and his civility in the public eyes. When he speaks, he speaks with such care and gentleness. Though he is quiet, he is deeply reflective.”
“Does he enjoy animals?”
“He is rather fond of cats, and greyhounds. He has always loved greyhounds. He now owns one by the name of Biscuit.” She could not help herself and burst into a giggle. The woman covered her mouth, clearing her throat. “And there are a couple of cats now occupying his home. Edgar and Bast. Bast was a rather interesting choice. But he adores them all.”
“Does he smoke cigarettes?”
“Does he partake of alcohol regularly?”
“Only during social gatherings, holidays, and such.”
“Is he well-read?”
“Yes, quite well. There is a library in his home.” He noticed how she lit up at the thought of it. “He was instructed by private tutors and is very talented as a pianist.”
“Hm, he seems quite wonderful.” She offered, looking at her lap. She looked out again. “Will he be kind?” He seemed completely surprised by her question, replying honestly in the affirmative. “Thank you. That is all I could ever want.”
It was a divine manor, exquisite in every sense of the word. It seemed almost like a castle. Turreted towers, endless windows, it could only be empty with all of its space. It was stretching into the lawn, which was flourishing with roses of all kinds. She gasped at the sight, seeing the magnitude, feeling the odd desire to run through the halls of it. Rupert extended his arm to guide her inside. She obediently slipped her hand around his arm, and they walked together. The doors opened, and she felt the first wave of warmth she had never felt before. It was not dreary but decorated with such a heavy palette of colors. Everything around her in the front hall was deep to her eyes. She blinked for several minutes and looked at Rupert. “I find a woman could create something more homely.”
“Perhaps.” She offered.
“Your husband is...somewhere around here. But I will find him for you!”
“Will I meet my mother-in-law?”
“In due time,” Rupert told her. “Please excuse me.”
He disappeared, climbing the stairs. She watched him go, staying in her spot. She listened around herself, crossing to look out the windows. She crossed again finding a painting of a woman in a wedding dress, sitting while her husband stood directly behind her. Henrietta studied it for a moment, catching a sharp voice behind her. “Ms. Lovett.” The Matriarch of the family stood behind her, stern in every sense. She stood with her shoulders back, eyes direct, wearing a plain purple dress. She seemed….not able to be touched, a creature beyond the mortal plane of existence.
“None other.” She said. The woman took a step forward, getting closer to a better look at the younger woman. She said nothing, picked up her skirts, and walked away. Her footsteps echoed in the corridor, showing the home’s vastness. Henrietta watched feeling a little bit of hot rage seize in her chest. Why on Earth would she do such a thing?
Rupert gave a little call, returning with his collected son. “Here you are, my dear. I hope he is to your liking.” The young man stood at his full height, looking like a giant in comparison to his wife. His hair was blonde and messy, eyes a bright evergreen, he seemed unbearably shy in his every movement. “This is Merritt Blackwood, we call him Merry.” The father presented him, standing beside them as they greeted the other.
Henrietta managed to form a hello, feeling her embarrassment flood her senses. In her mind, she had imagined him older than her. A refined older man, looking similar to his father with their matching grey hair and lined faces. But he was young, handsome, and so bright. “Mr. Blackwood is very nice to meet you.” Her face became a little pink, trying to maintain her dignity.
Merritt, now joining her in a similar demeanor offered with kindness, “Ms. Lovett I am quite honored you are here.” He gave a little bow, hands not leaving from behind him.
Rupert bit his lip to back his delight at the sight of these two awkward young people. “Merry, why don’t you show Ms. Lovett around?”
The modification did not leave as they walked through the corridors. The staff watched them, bursting into giggling as they walked past. Henrietta tried to focus on the rooms around her, but it was all for not. “Are you often so quiet when you are beside a woman Mr. Blackwood?”
“Only around handsome women, Ms. Lovett.” He replied, shocking himself with his gall.
“Ah, yes, thank you.”
“No, Mr. Blackwood. I am not annoyed by your compliment.” She reassured him. In hopes to not stir her courage any further, “I find you quite handsome.”
He was thrown through a loop, stumbling on his own two feet, hastily recovering. “May I call you Henrietta?” He nearly exclaimed, his courage was climbing ever so slowly.
“Yes. May I call you Merry?”
“Yes, of course. May I show you your wing?”
“May I see the library instead?”
“Do you enjoy literature, Henrietta?” He loved the way her name rolled off his tongue.
“I adore it.”
“You may consider it yours. Take from it whenever you want.” He ushered her there, showing her the room as it encompassed a room of its own. She wished she had eyes all around her so she could see more of it. The room was giant, windows on every side so the natural light could illuminate it. Books were all to the ceiling. It was a world of knowledge she had longed for her entire life. The woman’s eyes felt teary from her happiness. It was the first time Merry had smiled at her directly.
Henrietta spent the rest of the day in the library, beginning first with the novel Pride and Prejudice. She drank down the beauty of Jane Austin’s words, finishing by dinner time. She was ushered by a maid named Dorothy to the dining room. She whispered a quick “Good luck,” and escaped to gossip with her peers. Henrietta saw the family already there, Mrs. Blackwood at the head of the table. Her husband beside her, the son across from him. Henrietta took a step into the lion’s den. The table sat down, beginning dinner with a silent note. Merry looked at her, smiling with such intimacy. He leaned over whispering to her, “You are captivating.” The woman blushed again, looking at the table, thanking him as that was all she could muster.
The Matriarch’s eyes focused on the woman, starting the discussion between them. “Ms. Lovett?”
“Do you find this home acceptable?”
She mulled on the thought, trying to determine what she was meant to say, “It is unlike anything I have ever seen.” The men looked between them.
“Are you the youngest of the family? Do you have sisters in society?”
“No, sadly I am the only daughter in my family now living. My four brothers are all living and in society with families of their own.”
“You are the only daughter alive?”
“Yes.” Henrietta managed. There was a pause in the room. The matriarch seemed quite sad by that idea.
“What do you believe is essential to the family?”
“Essential? I do not understand?”
“What benefits the family in its entirety? What will create the ideal family?”
“I...perhaps, the family is a unique concept, considering every individual in it and what their role is. The mother is the foundation. The father is the leader. The sons and daughters will create and form their own families. It is the parents who will ensure each child will become a functioning member of society. Able to be adjusted to social conversation, and met with kindness.”
“Would you say your family was met with such an idea?”
“My mother is brilliant, able to adapt despite all hardship, chin held high. My father is hard-working wanting only to ensure his family’s livelihood-”
“Answer the question, Ms. Lovett.”
She cleared her throat, taking a long sip of her drink before replying, “No. I was forced into the role of mothering my brothers, expected to be a daughter of perfection, deprived of my education to meet the needs of others.”
“And look at where you are now.”
The woman set down her silverware very sharply, “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Blackwood.”
“You should be honored to be here. The only daughter left, you must provide a son to create a far better family. What woman would you be?”
“I would be a woman of my own accord. As I’m sure you are, and as I am.”
“You speak so freely for someone so young of an age.” She answered. “How could you be raised to be so brash? Where your sisters the very same-”
Henrietta stood up, hands grasping her dress skirts, voice shaky from her anger, “Mrs. Blackwood….” She resisted her tears the best she could. “How dare you say such a thing!” Rupert’s eyes were so wide they showed all of their white exteriors. Merry leaned back in his seat, flicking back and forth between them like a tennis match. “The nature of my upbringing was indeed flawed but that is not your concern. Nor will I sit here and listen to it freely! What woman are you to dismiss the experiences of another! The...the audacity of you Mrs. Blackwood!” Her hands shook, her bottom lip began to quiver from her choked back tears now rolling down her face. There was a heavy silence at the table. Rupert turned to look at his wife, who had said nothing. Merry’s smirk was wide.
Mrs. Blackwood burst into a laugh, pleased, “Merritt!”
“You will have this woman’s hand in marriage by the end of the week or I will consider it the highest of disrespect to me.”
“Yes, I will do my best.” He agreed, removing his handkerchief from inside his pocket to give to Henrietta.
She did not understand for a moment, seeing how her mother in laws expression had changed into something of joy. She took the cloth and wiped her face, sitting back down. “What is this?”
“Think of it as an….induction into the family. Why on Earth would I want my son to not marry a woman with passion? One with the ability to be fearless?” Her similarities to Merry were striking when she grinned. “Completely unnecessary, I say!”
“I….I do not believe if I were not one of passion that would make me any less worthy of your son’s attention.”
She laughed again, “Yes I know. But I believe every woman is capable of such passion. She merely shows in different ways. I like the ones that aren’t afraid to be outraged, a mad woman is my favorite kind. If she isn’t mad about something then she isn’t paying attention! Now, what are you angry about?”
“Women can not vote.”
“Good! What else?”
“Animals are beaten, left to die in the streets, and cruelty is often!”
“Yes, yes, keep going!”
They continued to speak, Merry watched them go with only excitement.
The next day she met Edgar and Bast, laying in the sun in the library, both inky black. She bent down to pet them, receiving their attention. Merry returned with Biscuit, a long handsome animal with a prominent pointed nose. She kissed the animal who whined with the thrill of her affection. They took the boy outside and watched him run about the lawn. “Henrietta?”
“If you like animals, would you like more of them?”
“Yes, many of them!”
They spoke nearly all day, finding the other had much more in common than they realized. Both were lovers of the arts, wanted to assert themselves further into politics, and they found the other braced the realization they were doomed to die one day. “I think of it quite a bit.” Merry murmured, fearing she would reject him.
“Do you ever imagine you are dead? Or why you can not see your future?” She asked him. He looked at her, relief flooding his every shaken nerve. Someone understood. “When my sister Eliza died, everything fell into me. Women are not as protected and it encompasses every woman! What…..what is the point of the existing sometimes?”
“I do not properly understand,” Merry offered softly. “But I want to.” He extended his hand, waiting for her to take it.
She took it and decided she would never let it go.
Henrietta awoke in the middle of the night, feeling her stomach churn. She threw back her covers as her skin prickled. Her feet touched the cool floor, debating to leave the room. She heard a soft murmur outside of the door which propelled her. The door creaked open and the smell of something vile hit her. It was the smell of unwashed humans. She entered the corridor, looking around to detect the scent’s location. “Hen,” murmured a voice beside her ear. “Hen!” She twisted around and saw the faded silhouette of Eliza. Her skin was shredded starting at her legs, her dress was stained from the blood.
“Hen!” She looked over and saw Emma, skin black and body naked.
“Henny!” Then came Jane, beaten. Her neck had the marks of large hands around them.
Henrietta felt her terror rake through her, trying to breathe, trying to resist everything around her. She could not move, she could not scream. She begged for someone, anyone to come and find her and save her. They echoed her name, entering her mind, all of them got closer and closer. She collapsed into the floor, bursting into tears, “I can not help you! Please, what do you want!?” She wept. Henrietta melted into her hands, burying in her knees, begging it all to stop.
“What are you crying for? Aren’t you happy to see us?” asked Jane, bending over. Henrietta peeked from her fingers, seeing something much more familiar. Jane with soothing eyes and long hair, wearing her most favorite brown dress. Emma with her freckled skin, strong arms, and legs. And Eliza, delicate and small in her structure. Her smile, though, was giant.
She continued to cry, “You’re all dead!”
“Well, yeah,” said Emma. “Doesn’t mean we ain’t real.”
“Don’t cry Hen,” said Eliza.
“What is this?” She whimpered out.
“What do you reckon?” joined Mrs. Blackwood, scanning the women around her. Henrietta’s eyes got wide, tears slowly dissolving. “Smile my dear! Not many of us get the chance to see our sisters again.”
“You can see them?”
“Of course! Can’t you?”
“A curse is a curse, my dear. I know your pain all too well.” The sisters looked at her, seeing Henrietta stopped crying. Blackwood bent down, grazing a tear on her cheek.
“Is that why you want me to marry your son?”
“God no! That’s your decision, not mine! But I like seeing a kindred spirit,”
“I want to marry him. But will you...teach me what this is?”
“Henrietta, I most certainly will.”