Part I: The Widow's Daughter
The year was 1902, and throughout the small town of New Providence quickly spread the news of the widow Catherine Terence's death. The fine young ladies in silk dresses hopped about, gossiping, after church in the town square. Those not so young relied heavily on the telephones and letters that crossed from house to house. One house in particular rose high above the town, the home of the late widow Terence and her daughter, Serafina. The house was decorated with gingerbread trim and a glass rose in the front window. It was filled with precious metals, fine fabrics and such. The house was beautiful, and when the morning sun hit the roof just so, it seemed as if it were made of gold.
Serafina, however, had never ventured outside the house to see the phenomenon, but preferred to stay indoors while her servants waited on her hand and foot. Still, the girl of twelve had never asked for anything in her life, it had just been handed to her. She was the envy of all the girls in New Providence, and it seemed her life was perfect. But one night, the fever came. It struck the Terences, both Catherine and Serafina. It reduced them to thin twigs covered with pale bits of skin. Serafina soon got well, but the elder fell into a deep coma and wouldn't be awakened. The servants could smell death creeping up on the age-old family, but they kept their chins up and never let Sera know that her mother was going to die. She found out soon enough, and figured that she had to move to the home of her last living relative, her father's sister, Agatha.
Sera was not a foolish girl, she heard the hens gossiping noisily outside her window, she knew how much "Auntie Aggie" loathed her mother. She had always felt that the Terence line shouldn't be polluted with common folk like the shepherd's daughter Catherine. She hadn't met her, but Sera thought that her aunt would hate her as well. Catherine had chosen a rather convenient time to die because Sera was going off to boarding school in Elderbrush. She wouldn't have to see her aunt until the summer.
"You will be coming with me, right?" Sera asked one of her servants as she tied a big white bow in Sera's long black hair, while she read through her school textbooks.
"It isn't allowed," the servant said, "you wouldn't want me there. Now come on, perk up dear. I've packed some of your favorite books in your trunk."
"Robin Hood? And King Arthur? Oh, Penny, you shouldn't have!" Sera exclaimed, then dropping her voice slightly, "although I do fear that I shall miss you all terribly. I'm going to be quite alone, and with mother gone, I shall not have anyone to write to."
"You shall make many new friends, Little Miss. Now, does this style please you?" Penny asked, sliding a hand mirror to her.
"You know quite well that I have my hair the same way every day," Sera said.
"Yes, like your mother. I'd say you do resemble her remarkably. Except those eyes. You have your father's eyes."
Sera traced her thin black brows and around her eyes. They were a bright blue with a ring of green flecks on the inside.
"Come on, Serafina!" shouted Mrs. Huddel, the cook.
Sera breathed into the mirror and wrote a greeting in the steam. Then she set the sterling silver mirror back onto the vanity and slid across the hard floor in her lace up white ankle boots. Sera ran out the door, into the waiting horse-drawn cab, and right against the stern face of Miss Kimball.
"Young ladies do not run inside their own homes," Miss Kimball said.
"No, 'I'm sorry, Miss Kimball"' she corrected.
"I'm sorry, Miss Kimball," Sera droned.
"Now look, Serafina, allow me to fix your dress."
Miss Kimball straightened the navy blue tie under the large white collar on Sera's sky blue sailor girl dress and puffed the sleeves that were inlaid with smooth white silk. Her thin lips were pressed permanently into a perfectly straight line. It was no wonder she never married. Miss Kimball was quite boring to be around and was far too concerned with the proper ladylike manner.
She continued her lecture, "when you greet Headmistress Lindsey, I would like you to give her your most flourished curtsy. She isn't used to late enrollees but made an exception for you, hearing of your mother's death. I do not want to hear of any crying or fits. You shall always be on your best behavior. Are you listening, Serafina?"
Truth be told, Sera had wandered off into one of her daydreams. They had become more frequent as the days passed since her mother's death and she had found herself unable to hear or see anything outside of the illusion. Most times she would find herself staring off into space, her mouth open partly. This gave her a glazed expression that would deceive a normal person into believing she was hanging on their every word, but not Miss Kimball.
She felt herself jerked out of a particularly pleasant reverie as the cab stopped in front of an extensive stone manor. The air was thick with the smell of an approaching storm and Sera could hear thunder, still far off in the distance. She didn't have a chance to look around the town of Elderbrush, for Miss Kimball urged her inside the great oak doors.
Part II: Flora and Fauna
The front hall was unlike anything Sera had ever seen, even in her own house. Statues of angels and famous persons were placed along the hail on marble pedestals. A great brass chandelier hung from the high ceiling. Sera could smell food down one corridor and figured that to be the kitchen.
"Good evening," called a voice from the staircase. It was a woman, tall, blonde and graceful in her long skirts, even on the steep stairs. The woman held the wood railing all the way down to the elegant scroll at the end of the stairs. Not needing a sharp look from Miss Kimball, Sera swept into a deep curtsy.
"My name is Headmistress Lindsey," the woman said.
"Pleased to meet you," Sera said, "I'm Serafina Terence."
"Yes. Girls!" she called and immediately, about fifty students assembled in the hallway. Some were barely up to Sera's shoulder, but others had their hair pinned up, "This is Serafina Terence and she is a new student here. I would like you to make her feel welcome. Now how old are you, Serafina?"
"I was twelve in August," Sera said, not wanting to have all these new people staring at her as if she had grown an extra head.
"Alright. There's no need to be shy. Now, which one of you would like to help Serafina get settled in?" A red-haired girl in the back raised her hand and the other girls made room for her to step forward. "Cornelia Prewett? You may help our new student. Girls, please go back to your six o'clock lessons." The girls filed back in assorted directions and only Cornelia and Sera were left in the hallway.
"We have arithmetic at six o'clock today," she said and turned to leave her to find her own way to the class.
"Shouldn't I find my trunk? All of my books were packed," Sera said. "And my composition books. Won't I need them for class?"
Cornelia turned back to Sera, shot her a dark look and scurried off to another hall. Sera wandered down that hallway and got terribly lost.
"Excuse me?" she asked a laundry maid, "could you possibly tell me where to find my arithmetic lesson? I'm new here and I haven't exactly pinned down where every room in this place was. Miss Kimball says that I've never had a good sense of direction. Even the hallways in my house in New Providence weren't this complicated."
The laundry maid smiled and even in her modest black skirts and apron, she looked quite lovely. She finished placing the fluffy white towels in the linen closet and answered Sera in a sweet, slow voice, "certainly. Just take this hallway down to the portrait and make a left onto that corridor. It's the first room on the right."
"Thank you, Miss."
"No the pleasure is mine in merely serving."
Sera thought along the way that the laundry maid seemed much nicer than the fiery haired Cornelia Prewett did.
The arithmetic instructor didn't take kindly to tardy students. "Serafina Terence, late and unprepared. Now what shall come of that? Could anyone answer that question for me?"
One brave girl in the back stood up and answered, "a demerit, Miss Stuart."
"No, Margaret. Miss Terence needs to learn her lesson properly. Congratulations, you have earned your first detention." Miss Stuart said, placing a stark white paper into Sera s hand as if she had won some great award.
Sera buried her head in her hands when she got into her seat. Cornelia was whispering something to the brunette behind her. She smiled at Sera in a cold way, mocking her, and turned back to the lesson. Fortunately for Sera, that was the last class of the day. Sera's detention was to take place that evening during dinner. Sera barely had time to grab her arithmetic books and her pens before Miss Stuart threatened to give her another detention for being late.
For her detention, Miss Stuart made Sera sit in the classroom for the dinner hour by herself with nothing to do. Easily, Sera slipped into one of her trances and had a wonderful daydream. Cornelia would be pleasantly surprised to find that Miss Stuart's most severe punishment of solitary confinement had no effect on her. Sera broke from the dream after exactly 48 minutes. Or so she thought. Suddenly, she heard a voice talking to her, but it didn't seem human at all. In fact, Sera wasn't even sure she heard a voice. It was in my mind, Sera thought, that's what I get for keeping my head in the clouds.
Don't pretend you can't hear me, the voice said, you can hear me, but can you find me? I saw what happened today. If I weren't so small, I would pluck that Cornelia girl out of this school and through her into the ocean.
Who are you? Sera asked silently.
The name's Harrison. I'll climb up so you can see me.
Sera saw a small shape scurry up her desk and it got into the light of the gas lamp Miss Stuart had lit.
You're a... a... a... a mouse!
Please, don't scream. I really hate it when you scream. Then they get old Mrs. Kennly to chase after me with a broom. Sure, the lady couldn't find a mouse if she stepped on him- believe me, I know-but it does get rather annoying.
Sera felt half-tempted to scream. But for some reason, this mouse didn't seem to frighten her. I-low could she be sure that she was communicating with an animal? She could always just be imagining this.
"How can I be sure that I'm talking to you?" Sera asked aloud.
No, kiddo, see, you can't talk in your language, we don't understand that. You have to use thought speak.
Then how come I can't talk to that bird in the tree outside? Sera questioned.
Thoughtspeak won't travel that far. You have to maintain a connection with the person you want to talk to.
Explain this, I never touched you, Harrison. How do you have a connection with me?
Harrison replied, because I made the connection. Animals talk.
So I've heard.
I was in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Iran out arid hid by the stairs. Immediately, I could feel something about you. There's always a handful of you, sprinkled about this world. As soon as I could tell that you were one of the few Mirabilia, I tried to communicate with you in thoughtspeak, but I was only able to reach your thoughts. You were too concerned with what the blonde woman was saying. I could only reach you now because nothing was taking up your attention.
Mirabilia, those are humans who can comprehend thoughtspeak.
"Serafina Terence? Miss Terence?" someone called from the hallway.
I must be going now, Harrison said, and Sera was almost sure that she saw him bow slightly, before he scrambled off the desktop and into a hole in the wood paneling. The door opened and Headmistress Lindsey stepped in.
"There you are. We were about to turn in for the night and you weren't in your room. Young Miss Prewett kindly told me that you might be hiding in here. Trying to escape your bedtime, now are we?" Headmistress Lindsey's stare was reproving and wasn't going to handle resistance very well, even if Sera only tried to tell her about her detention. Serafina glared at Cornelia's evil smile and watched her skip up the staircase, free as a bird, before she was brought upstairs to her room.
"Miss Kimball assured me that you were a well-behaved girl, and I'm hoping that you will be. Tomorrow is your reading lesson, and I'll set your books right here on the table so you don't forget," Headmistress said in a soft, slow voice. It mimicked the laundry maid's voice like a broken phonograph cylinder, the laundry maid's voice lacked Headmistress's syrupy tone and it didn't seem as if she were talking to infants when the laundry maid spoke. Headmistress shut the door and left Sera alone with her emotions.
"She thinks me a fool, just like the rest of them!" Sera spat angrily at the fireplace. "I'll show them... I'll show them good..." but Sera didn't have time to tell the fire of her plan, for she had fallen fast asleep.
Sera got up early and dressed in a striped pink dress with a white lacy pinafore. She pulled on her stockings and laced up her boots. The laundry maid, better known as Cecilia, brushed her hair and tied the floppy pink bow in it.
Somehow, Sera managed to get to reading on time, tossing one of her favorite books on the top of her pile. She found a seat in the back and crossed her legs at the ankles before the teacher came in.
Mrs. Lighthart was not the type of person who Sera wanted to cross. Although she had gotten on the bad side of the majority of the teachers at Elderbrush Academy for Young Ladies, some sort of a cold fire radiated from her eyes as she gazed through her spectacles at the assembled class of about seven girls. She wrote a page number on the slate in the front of the class and Sera could see her grayed hair wisps falling from the knot at the top of her head. The girls each took out a Fourth Level Primer and bent their heads over the printed text. She could hear voices chanting slightly out of unison.
Sera bored of this dull work almost instantaneously and pulled out her copy of The Wizard of Oz. She was deeply immersed in the story and didn't notice Mrs. Lighthart standing right next to her until Cornelia pointed out, "Mrs. Lighthart? I think that Serafina isn't reading along in her primer."
"You know the rules. Give me the book," Mrs. Lighthart said, her cold steel eyes drilling a hole right through her. Then Sera did something she never would have dream ed of doing before.
"No," she said, unsure of herself.
"Well if it's so secret, perhaps you'd like to share it with the class?"
One refusal was almost too much for her; two refusals would not be possible. "All tight," Sera murmured. She stood in front of the class with legs of jelly, but somehow she read through part of the story with little trouble. For a second, Sera saw something that looked like a smile on Mrs. Lighthart's face. Cornelia's, however, was positively livid! Sera smiled with sweet satisfaction as she slid back into her chair.
The girls were preparing for their ten o'clock walk around Elderbrush when Cornelia and her yellow-haired friend Amy cornered Sera by the garden wall near the huge willow and the pond.
"Don't ever show me up in class ever again. I am in complete control of this entire school and even Headmistress will tend to my needs. Scared?" Cornelia asked.
Something dark, something much unlike her nature overcame Sera and she replied, "of what, your face? Yes, I'm absolutely terrified."
Cornelia's burly friend raised her fists and Cornelia stopped her. "You should be," she snarled, "I will become your worst nightmare." She left and Amy pushed Sera into the giant tree before joining the rest of the class. Soon, they had rounded a corner and the class was nowhere to be seen. Sera was completely shocked and bit her lip. It bled a little and she cried for a second before something spoke to her.
Now, now, dear. Don't cry. Cornelia's a horrible person to pick on such a sweet girl like you.
The voice was inhuman and most unlike Harrison's. Still, she looked around for any other animals, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Up here, dearest.
Sera looked upward into the face of the towering weeping willow tree. Sera was a bit surprised, and didn't show it fully. She wasn't naturally jumpy and was used to expecting the unexpected in her parent's manor.
It's completely a lie, weeping willows.
Harrison never told me about plants. Sera said, remembering her talk with the tiny brown mouse the night before.
Oh, dear, that's who told you. Harrison's never been completely reliable. Always so eager to help, but not always equipped for the job. I figured he would leave something out and here I aim Your whole day couldn't have gone like this, could it?
You wouldn't believe me.
Honey, you do realize that you are speaking to a tree that outlives this whole town.
Sera thought for a moment, you have a good point.
I think that someone will be suspicious if they find you here. I wouldn't want you to get in more trouble. You should walk around outside until eleven forty, that's usually when they return. Goodbye.
Wait, Sera said, I don't even know your name.
You won't have to call me by name; I'll always be here. Moon to moon, sun to sun...
Sera placed her hat on her head and crossed the bridge to the gate of the Academy.
Part III: Green Tea
Outside of the school's protective gates, Sera was dropped into a whole new world. The familiar sound of horses on cobblestone reminded her of home. The streets were filled with more people with gray faces and gray woolen coats. She bought a sweet roll from a bakery near a church. It followed a dressmaker's and after that, a series of apartments, or flats, as Sera had heard them referred to before. Soon, the bustling city gave way to small shacks and an abandoned old clock tower. She ate some of her sweet roll and put the rest in her pocket.
Sera took a different route home, past an ancient stationery shop and turned the corner, but a sound stopped her. It wasn't thoughtspeak, but if it was, she couldn't recognize it. She stepped back around the corner and traced the sound to a small cardboard box. It was clean at least, and a crudely written sign read: Free Kittinz. Only one was left, it was a perfectly gray kitten with yellow eyes.
"Hello" she said in a Headmistress-like tone.
"Meow," answered the kitten. Sera picked it up and gave it a little bit of her half-eaten roll. She slipped the kitten into her pocket and ventured down Main Street back to the academy.
After lunch, they had free hour and Sera spent it in her room, talking with the kitten and brushing its fur. She picked up a cream-colored hair ribbon and gave the cat a collar.
All we need for you is a name, she thought, stroking the kitten in her arms. Catherine is nice, that was my mum's name.
As much as I find that amusing, I'd like to remind you that I am a male.
Sorry, I didn't know. That do you think of Grisant? Sera asked.
How did you come across this choice?
Gris is French for gray.
Fine, then. Grisant I am.
You should meet my friend. Harrison? Harrison? There are you?
The small brown mouse crept out of its hole and Grisant dived right at it. Obviously she had made a slight mistake.
"Oh no! Stop, please stop!" she shouted as the cat and mouse jumped across the room, teasing her curtains and knocking pictures off of her desk. Her embossed stationery flew to the floor and she heard the crunch of glass and the two had left black ink prints all across her carpets. Fortunately, her wardrobe was locked or all of her clothes would have been ruined.
Please stop! Sera thought as loudly as she could. The mouse stopped and scurried up to the curtain rod that was partially curtain-less. You two will have to get along somehow. But now, I have to get to my class.
Miss Anderson's voice created a nice white-noise barrier in history. Cornelia was tailing her, with Amy close behind. Amy must be the brawns, Sera thought, but what does that make Cornelia? She left the class and wanted to make sure Harrison was still alive. She unlocked the door to her room and almost tripped over a servant girl.
"Sorry, I was jus' cleanin' bit o' t'is ink off t'e floor an' yer drapes are all mined. I en't s'posed-"
"It's quite all right. You gave me a fright, tat's all. I think that I'll go into town tomorrow and buy some things. I'm pretty sure tat tomorrow's Saturday," Sera said. She studied the girl's shabby clothes. The servants in her house were always neatly dressed in matching black outfits. This girl's clothing was patched and frayed. "What is your name?" she asked.
"Kelsie Warner," the servant replied, turning her ash-covered face toward hers.
"I'm Serafina Terence."
"Pardon, Miz Terence, I done cleanin' now." Kelsie turned to go and Sera thought for a moment.
"Kelsie, wait. I have something for you." Sera unlocked her wardrobe and picked out her third best dress. It was a green plaid frock and quite stylish for the day. "Here, put this dress on.
Kelsie looked much nicer than before in the dress and she threw her 01(1 clothes on the fire. "I still t'ink t'at Miz Lindsey wun't let me keep it."
"She will," Sera said, and Kelsie left the room, "at least I hope so.
Sera woke up the next morning to Grisant's small body curled up at her feet.
Wake up, sleepyhead! She said.
Grisant's round yellow eyes looked up at her. I'm hoping that you're replacing those curtains.
Well, I've got to draw some money from mum's account. And you will not tear them apart.
You spoi1 all my fun!
Sera laughed and hugged her cat.
Cecilia came up to do her hair and dressed Sera in a checked tartan dress and her black coat. Her first stop was the bank. Fortunately, the bank in Elderbrush was connected to the one in New Providence. Sera withdrew what was left in the account, about 50 dollars. Her mother didn't believe in banks and most of the Terence fortune was cash locked in a safe on their estate. She found a high-rising department store four blocks south of Main Street Bank. She bought herself new curtains, more stationery, and a cat collar and lead.
It was about noon when Sera rented a horse-drawn cab to take her home and she stopped to have lunch at a posh café on Sanders Boulevard. The waiter found it strange that the girl would be out all on her own, but she had the money to pay for her lunch and he thought no more of it. Sera ordered a sandwich and peppermint ice cream. She finished and paid the lunch check with the last of her money. With her purse nearly empty and her stomach full, she set out in the cab for The Elderbrush Academy for Young Ladies.
Miss Kimball's letters came on the fifteenth of November. She reminded Sera that it wasn't proper to run indoors. She demanded that Sera practice her penmanship skills and write her back. Sera did, telling her about her friend Kelsie, neglecting to include the information about her work, and also Cecilia. She thought about writing about Grisant and Harrison, but Miss Kimball never liked animals much, since she and her mother had bought birds to live in the aviary at her house.
Mum always thought she was like those birds, Sera thought, not realizing that she was also talking in thoughtspeak at the same time. She always thought that she was always outside in the open, but always trapped indoors. Like the wire fence in the aviary. Oh, and now Mum rug's dead, so I suppose that she's free now. if Mum were here, I would write home and she would steal me away from this horrid place and these proper rules.
It can't be all that bad, Grisant said, jumping up on her lap.
You wouldn't know.
You really think that I wouldn't understand? I can't even remember my parents. Grisant replied. He was getting agitated with all this talk of pity. His new collar brushed against her bare arms as he rested his head in her lap. In time, Sera curled up in her scarlet-upholstered chair and fell asleep as well.
At dinner one night, Sera received an urgent message on Headmistress Lindsey's special marbled stationery. She had to report to her office immediately. Sera excused herself from the meal and, with Harrison and Grisant tailing her, she entered Headmistress Lindsey's office. She was signing papers and removed her spectacles as she saw Sera enter.
"Good evening, Miss Terence. Would you like some tea? I'm aware that it's far past tea time, but I'm sure you wouldn't reject a cup," she said as Cecilia wheeled the teacart into the office. Sera smiled at her and pulled the delicate china teacup to her. It had a dainty pink rosebud pattern on it. The tea itself was green, like the envy flowing through Cornelia's veins, like the eyes of the sadistic Miss Stuart and the plaid dress she had given Kelsie.
"Thank you, Headmistress," Sera murmered.
"I heard that your mother died shortly before you came here."
"She left you a great family fortune."
Again, Sera nodded. She didn't want anything to do with Headmistress Lindsey and her stern, gray blocks of ice that she called teachers.
"What would you do if it was gone?"
Sera inhaled sharply, she had never known a life without riches, without silk dresses and fancy parties.
"I'm terribly sorry," Headmistress said, "But the money is gone."
"How could that be possible?" Sera asked.
"There was a fire in your house. According to this," she said, picking up a newspaper, all of the doors and windows were locked, and no one survived. Your governess, Miss Kimball, gave me enough money to admit you and would pay me at the end of December. We'll have to take some of your things as payment."
"You may work here, there's an opening for a cook's helper."
"What happened to Kelsie?" Sera asked.
"She was caught stealing.., a green plaid dress."
Part IV: Mrs. Willswood's Carriage
As quickly as she had become an orphan, young Miss Serafina Terence was now unemployed and penniless. She had barely been in school a month and now she was expected to live on the streets.
I was on the streets since I was a small one, Grisant said, always there with his not-so-helpful words. The gray kitten darted around the nearly empty room. Headmistress had taken nearly everything, except her black mourning dress; her navy play dress and her black winter coat. Sera found a ten-dollar note in her purse, but it wasn't enough at all.
She left the warm, richly furnished academy for the cold, snowy streets of the city of Elderbrush, Grisant in her rucksack and Harrison still living with his family in the kitchen. A dirty snowball whizzed past her ear and Sera turned to find Amy and Cornelia rushing inside the great oak doors. Two months ago, Sera had to be nearly kicked inside those doors. Now she had been kicked out.
For a few days, she wandered around town, occasionally sleeping in the abandoned clock tower or on someone's front porch. One day, Sera headed into the bakery and bought a loaf of French bread with the very last of her money. That night, she and Grisant curled up in an alley and fell fast asleep.
When she awoke, covered in a fresh dusting of white snow, the first thing that she heard was the crack of a whip and a horse's cry.
"She en't moving, Mrs. Willswood," called the driver. Sera roused Grisant from his dream and looked closer. The wheels were barely into the puddles of mire and the old dappled mare refused to budge.
A woman stepped out. Her hair was brown and streaked with gray. She wore the black clothes of a widow, the clothes Sera had seen far too often, though not anymore. The woman looked angry, but also sad in a way. Sera tried to hide in the shadows, but Grisant was meowing with hunger.
Keep quiet, Grisant, Sera said. At the sound of her own language being spoken, the mare's ears perked up and Sera realized she had been spotted.
"Girl," the woman said, 'yes, you. Help my driver push this cab out of this pit. I'll give you a dollar."
Sera knew her calling when it came. Instead of going to the back with the driver, she went to face the mare, much to the dismay of the agitated passenger.
She really wants you to move, Sera said, patting the horse.
I'm getting too old for this. She has other horses, but she only uses me to pull this carnage.
Why? The girl asked.
I was her husband's horse, the mare replied.
"Excuse me," Sera said to the widow, "this mare is getting far too old to pull this cab. She says that shell make it to your house and then she won't be able to do much else." With a few comforting words, the mare pulled along out of the rut and onto the street. The widow got inside the carriage and addressed Sera.
"You know, I have an opening in my house. Our former servant girl had to leave when her family moved to Westerfens. Would you like to work for me?" she asked.
Take the job, Sera! Grisant said from inside her rucksack.
"I suppose I could, but on one condition."
"I want to be able to keep my kitten. He's my only companion since my mum died," Sera said.
"I'm terribly sorry. A few years back, my husband and my brother died. It was before your birth, I'm sure. A short time ago, my sister in law died as well."
Sera felt a pang of sympathy for this lonely lady, she was probably in her forties and yet she didn't have any children or relatives. The carriage pulled off, and immediately, Sera felt as if she didn't belong in this rich world anymore.
Well, at least now we'll have a home, right? Sera asked Grisant.
I suppose it's better than the streets. But then again, what if she lives in a shack filled with serial killers?
You're so incredibly helpful, Grisant.
Your sarcasm amuses me. However, one cannot live on laughs alone.
Have you tried? The cat said. The carriage gave a lurch and the footman opened the door.
Part V: Day Off
They stepped out onto the driveway of a grand stone house. It had a brass plaque by the gate that read "Lantern Manor, 1841." Sera was pulled off into a side wing by the cook, a plump woman whose broad skirts were like a circus tent.
She was scrubbed with yellow soap and murky water until a week's worth of dirt and grime were off her. The cook burned her ragged dress and gave her a plain gray dress of thin wool and boots of stiff black leather. Her hair was cut and wrapped up in a blue kerchief.
"Now you work," the cook said. She wasn't at all unkind, but merely wanting everyone to do his or her share of work around the house.
Sera went to bed late that night, her hands pink and callused from the harsh soap they used to wash the floor. This routine continued day after day until, finally, Sera received a day off.
I, for one, am glad to not fall into that water bucket, Grisant said.
Do you think that Cecilia has a day off? Sera asked.
How am I supposed to know? Grisant answered, licking his fur.
I think that I want to see her, Sera said, brushing her short hair and trying to look acceptable. The last thing Sera needed was for Cornelia to see her with her blistered hands and uneven haircut. She gathered her rucksack and went to the cab.
It was to her good fortune that she chose that day to visit her old friend because the cook, Mrs. .Jameson, was going out to buy some things for the grand Christmas dinner at Mrs. Willswood's house. Sera, of course, would be sleeping during the event and not able to even breathe the smell of expensive perfumes and pipe tobacco, the smells she had grown up with.
"You get off here," the cook said when they reached the front of the academy. Sera checked the time on the bakery clock and figured that the girls would still be on their ten o'clock walk.
She had time to say hello to the weeping willow and Harrison's family outside. Sera saw the hall was decked out in holly and evergreen boughs. Cecilia was found stocking the closets with festive red and green linens for the guest rooms. Many of the girls had wealthy and impressionable fathers who owned businesses all around the Elderbrush area.
"Hello, stranger," Cecilia said.
"Hi. I wanted to come visit you, since I don't belong here anymore.
"This is really a bad time, Headmistress Lindsey's got me working twice as hard as before. Mary, our dish girl, is buried under piles of dusty gold utensils and the fine china," Cecilia replied, brushing some brown hair out of her face. She was dressed in a new black dress with gold-colored buttons and a lace collar. She put the last of the plush towels into the small closet, as if she were delaying or thinking how to add her last thought. "Mr. Prewett is coming," she continued.
"That horrid girl Cornelia's father?" Sera asked.
"Yes, I think so. He has a younger daughter as well, I think that she is eight. Wretched little girl, she's quite spoiled and she's prone to having all sorts of fits and tantrums when she doesn't get her way. I think that her name is Anna, but I'm never exactly sure, as the teachers are always yelling at her so loudly, it's hard to make sense of it all. She's a snobby and selfish wreck." Cecilia concluded, turning down the next hallway.
Quite a family resemblance, Grisant said.
That's cruel, Sera answered with a reproving glance.
The truth hurts, kiddo.
Who are you calling kiddo? Sera asked.
Sera continued on to the front hall and was just leaving when Cornelia found her. Fortunately for Sera, Amy wasn't there.
"What makes you come back?" Cornelia sneered.
"Obviously not your hospitality."
"My daddy's here and he has a lot of influence in this town!"
"Well he isn't here now, is he?" Amy turned the corner and glared at Sera with cold eyes. Besides, I'm just passing through."
"I'll make sure you don't go unnoticed."
"Cornelia, dear," said a tall dark-haired man dressed entirely in silk, "is this your new friend? Rachel, this is another one of Cornelia's little friends."
A red haired woman in fashionable attire stood by the man.
"Well, not everyone can have Nellie's taste in fashion, but I'm sure we've heard of your family. What house do you live in?"
They must've heard of the fire by now, Grisant said. Say that you're Mrs. Willswood's daughter.
That would be lying, Grisant!
Not technically, she asked you where you live.
"Oh, Lantern Manor," Sera replied, biting her lip.
"I didn't think the widow had any children. I didn't see any of hers at the picnic last summer.
"Oh," Sera said, "I was in Europe. Plus, I don't get out much."
"That's nice. Why don't you eat dinner with us?"
Sera's lip bled a little and she swallowed. "Alright. I suppose I could."
"But you don't know her! She's not a Willswood! She's a Terrence. She's Catherine Larson Terrence's daughter!" Cornelia shouted.
"Hush, Nellie. Why don't you take your friend's bag and hang it on the rack. There's a good girl," Mrs. Prewett said.
Sera could swear that she saw Cornelia smirking as she placed her rucksack on the hook.
The Prewetts, Charles, Rachel, Cornelia and Anna Rose, ate in another room, placed with the finest china and crystal glasses. Sera tried to pace herself, but it had been almost a month of eating nothing but bread and milk and occasionally a vegetable. After dinner a dessert course was served with tortes and eclairs and everything Sera had missed since the fire. It was like being given a second chance to live. Sera prepared to leave, but sensed that something was wrong. Something was missing. She figured that the food must have gone to her head, so she picked up her rucksack and left.
She had barely left the gate when Cornelia screamed; the doors burst open and the men cried, "Stop, thief!"
Run, Sera, run! Grisant shouted. The cat darted ahead and Sera ran towards the Lantern Manor.
Part VI: Family Resemblance
Sera scrambled up the stairs and into the front hall of Mrs. Willswood's house. Outside, it had just begun to rain hard and the men were close behind. Sera ran up as high as she could on the stairs, blazing past countless servants and knocking down a vase in the hallway.
Soon, she could spot Grisant running into a dark room. Breathing hard, she hurried up the last bit of the stairs and bolted the door.
Oh, Grisant, what am I going to do? What to do?
Don't ask me, I'm a cat.
Your sarcasm isn't helping.
So I've noticed.
Lightning flashed by the window and Sera could see something on the wall. Was it a person; was it a ghastly being? She shivered and heard the men break down the front door. Someone downstairs screamed. She lit a candle and found a picture hanging on the wall.
"I remember this picture," Sera said, "I remember! I was only four or five, but mum had me in this frilly white dress and I was behaving badly. I had wondered why we never got to keep this picture, I didn't know that it was a present."
You know, Grisant added, I think that widow Willswood said that she had a sister in law who passed away a short time ago.
Sera rummaged around until she found what she was looking for. It was an ancient leather-bound diary and on the first yellowing page was a stamp that read Property of Agatha Terence.
"It could be possible," Sera breathed. She dropped the book as the door of the room broke off its hinges. The widow ran forward and shielded the girl from the men.
"Auntie!" Sera shouted.
"What are you talking about?" the woman said, confused.
"Auntie? It's me, Serafina, your niece. I'm Catherine's daughter."
The woman's face lit up and she breathed, "Serafina." The woman and the small girl embraced, completely forgetting their present predicament.
"What do you want her for?" Agatha said, her eyes filled with that passionate fire that was so often in Catherine's.
"She stole from my daughter, Nellie. Her necklace," Charles Prewett said.
"I stole nothing!" Sera exclaimed.
"Ow! Get off me, you horrid creature!" Cornelia yelled. Obviously, she had been hiding at the door frame, wanting to hear what they would do to Sera. Grisant had nipped her ankle and Charles pulled her into the light and a gold locket fell out of Cornelia's hand. Cornelia kicked at him and Sera pulled her kitten out of danger.
"Good job, Grisant!" Sera said. Thank you, my dearest friend.
"Come, we have no further business here," Charles said, waving the men towards the door that once was. "Now for you, Nellie..." Sera strained to hear her punishment, but they were out of earshot.
Her aunt Agatha had full custody of her from that point on, and Sera was once again in her world of silks and jewels, but something still lingered in the back of her mind...
"Why did you hate my mother?" Sera asked one warm March day during afternoon tea. She smoothed her yellow tea dress with her gloved hands.
"I personally thought that she was insane," Agatha said, dressed fashionably in amethyst-colored silk. Minute ivory pearls accented the neckline. She placed her teacup on the saucer and followed the swirling liquid with her deep blue-gray eyes, "She was always raving on about how she could talk to these animals and your father thought it was charming. I however, thought she was some sort of witch."
"Not witch," Sera mumbled, "Mirabilia."
"What's that you say?" Agatha asked.
"Nothing Auntie," Sera replied sweetly, and she shared an unnoticed smile with the gray kitten on the porch railing. Some things are better kept a secret.
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