My Master's Bride
I stared down at the broken mirror in my hand. How could I have been so careless? I had meant to polish the old handheld silver mirror before she arrived, my master's new bride, but somehow the glass had shattered at my touch. I put aside the now empty silver frame, ill at ease. I pride myself on being a rational man, but some long forgotten childhood superstition whispered in my mind that these broken silver shards were not a good omen for my master's bride.
My master's letter had arrived just a few days before. After a few paragraphs on practical matters regarding the running of the estate, he wrote: "I will arrive home rather sooner than I had anticipated. My parents will remain abroad until the spring – the Mediterranean climate is doing wonders for their health - but matters of a personal nature have hastened my own return. It will no doubt come as a surprise to you to hear that I have recently married. I will arrive with my bride at the end of February, and I beg you to take care in preparing the manor for our arrival."
The young master, married! Who could his bride be? The housekeeper, Mrs. Crump, and I spent endless hours discussing the matter over tea in the kitchen. Was his bride perhaps a foreign lady of noble extraction? Or maybe she was English; for had not the master spent the past few months travelling in England after first spending the autumn with his parents on the Italian coast? Mrs. Crump, overall, favored the idea that the master's bride must be a foreign aristocrat, perhaps a French lady with a musical accent, elegant dresses and refined tastes. My own fancy settled on the image of an English bride, a pure and innocent beauty, perhaps the daughter of an impoverished duke.
"I wonder why he married so suddenly, and in winter," mused Mrs. Crump, pouring me another cup of tea. "One would have thought a springtime wedding would have been preferable; the gardens here are charming in May, and the old chapel on the estate is still quite beautiful. Or why not get married in the village church, with friends and neighbors in attendance? Why marry her in secret?"
She put a dish of clotted cream on the table before me, and some of last summer's gooseberry jam. Usually, she saves the jam for the young master, but the news the letter had brought had put her in an unusually generous mood.
Mrs. Crump sighed and mumbled, her mouth half-full of scones and jam: "Mark my words, Mr. Edmunds, there is some mystery about the master's bride. Why the secrecy? Perhaps she is the daughter of a foreign prince who objected to his daughter marrying an Englishman."
"I do not think," I said stiffly, "that any person, even a foreigner, could possibly find fault with the young master. He is a gentleman, and he possesses both wealth and a good reputation." As well as uncommon beauty, I thought to myself, but I did not utter the thought aloud. I reminded myself, as so often before, that it will not do for a servant to dwell on his master's beauty.
The entire staff spent the next few days feverishly bringing the manor to order. Mrs. Crump put the housemaids to work, and my master's ancestral home looked magnificent by the time everything was ready. The silver shone, the furniture gleamed, and every portrait was dusted.
Finally, the sound of a car was heard outside, and we rushed out. The otherwise bleak landscape was covered in snow, and soft flurries were still falling from the stark pewter sky. I was secretly rather pleased that it was snowing; the manor has always looked particularly enchanting to me when shrouded in snow. Not as lovely as in summer, of course, when the roses are in bloom, but winter has a strange alien beauty of its own.
The master stepped out of the car first, tall and handsome. Snowflakes clung to his dark hair, and I imagined that his bride's breath must catch in her chest at the very look of him. Then a slender form emerged from the car. At first, I saw nothing but long golden curls, falling in front of her face. Then she stepped out, guided by the master's hand, and shook her curls out of her face. I heard Mrs. Crump draw her breath sharply at my side. We had both imagined his bride to be pretty, of course, but this... My master's bride was the most bewitching creature I had ever set eyes on, and yet my sense of unease deepened as I saw her. For this was not the refined beauty of an English lady, but the wild and terrifying loveliness of faerie. Her delicate face was pale, and her eyes were a remarkably vivid otherworldly blue. Her golden ringlets fell about her slender form down to her waist. She wore a simple blue coat, and no jewelry that I could see, except for the gold ring on her finger. But there was a magic about her, a wild, haunting beauty, and my master's hand trembled as he helped her out of the car.
The footman rushed out to get her suitcases, but strangely, she had none, except a single traveling bag that could not have held more than a few dresses. My master put his arm around her slender waist and led her towards his family home. Her luminous blue eyes were wide as she gazed at the ancient stone walls. My master greeted us with warmth, and then he said: "This is my bride, Mary."
His bride looked up at him then, an expression of slight wonder on her elfin features, as if the name took her by surprise, as if it was somehow new and unfamiliar to her.
My master buried his lips in her golden hair and whispered: "Welcome to your new home, my love." He gazed at her with such unspeakable tenderness that I turned my glance away. Hand in hand, they entered my master's ancestral home, followed by the footman with the solitary bag. Were those all her possessions in this world?
When they had passed out of earshot, Mrs. Crump said unevenly: "So that's the master's bride." She added in a whisper: "I do not think she is a lady, Mr. Edmunds, do you?"
I stared after them, my heart heavy with a strange foreboding. "A lady? No, I would say not…"
My master and his bride retired early that evening; they had already dined before they arrived. Mrs. Crump and I supped together, as we usually do, apart from the other servants, but little was said between us that evening. A strangeness had entered the house, and we did not know how to speak of it.
I did not see them again until the following morning when I brought the breakfast tray to their bedchamber. I knocked softly on the door, but there was no answer. Perhaps they were still sleeping. I opened the door quietly. My master was still asleep, all tangled up in his sheets. His eyelashes were dark against his cheeks, flushed with some enchanted dream. He reached out in his sleep and seemed to be searching for someone, but his bride was up already. She was standing by the window with her back to me, fully dressed, in the same simple dress she had worn the day before. The soft morning light gave her golden curls a strange otherwordly gleam. I cleared my throat to make my presence known, and my master's bride spun around, a startled expression on her lovely face. She was holding something in her hand, a small glass vial filled with a golden liquid, but I caught no more than a brief glimpse of the little bottle before it vanished out of sight.
The silver breakfast tray trembled in my hands. Why did I feel so apprehensive? Surely, the little vial must have been a perfume bottle, and the expression of fear that haunted her delicate features for a brief moment must have been caused by my unexpected arrival. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I recalled long forgotten tales of poisons and dark elixirs... I felt an absurd desire to shake my beloved master awake, to warn him against tasting anything this lovely creature ever offered him...
I put the tray down on the bedside table. "Shall I pour the tea, Madam?"
"What?" Her brilliant sapphire eyes looked at me with wonder for an instant, as if she had never before been offered tea. We gazed at each other, perplexed, for an instant. Then she smiled and said softly: "Oh, no, I would like to do that myself. Thank you. I will pour for my husband as well."
"As you wish Madam. Mrs. Crump will be expecting your instructions regarding the luncheon and dinner menu."
"My instructions?" Why did she look so bewildered?
"Yes, Madam. It is customary for the lady of the house to give the housekeeper instructions regarding meal times, the menu, and so forth."
"Oh." She flushed slightly. "Thank you, but I... I would really prefer to leave all of that to Mrs. Crump. Please serve the meals at the times my husband is used to, and prepare whatever dishes he prefers..."
"As you wish, Madam." How very odd, I thought to myself, that my master's bride should care so little for these things. Most new brides are eager to establish their positions in the household and give the servants precise instructions, but she seems flustered at the thought. Perhaps she is unused to servants.
I was about to withdraw when something caught my eye. "If you will pardon me, Madam, something seems to have fallen on the floor."
Something dark lay on the carpet, half hidden under the single bag she had brought with her the day before.
"No!" Her exclamation was sudden and fearful, but I had already put the tray down and picked up the strange object from the floor. How very curious! It was a hawthorn twig, so straight that it seemed to have been fashioned so on purpose. What was it doing here, inside?
"That is mine! Give it to me!" All the softness was gone from her voice now, and for a moment, I felt an odd flicker of fear as her blue eyes darkened with fury.
"I... I beg your pardon, Madam..."
I handed the twig back to her, and she hid it rapidly in some concealed pocket in her dress.
I hesitated. Normally, a man in my position, a mere servant, would not dream of asking a lady for an explanation; it is simply not done. But I felt an inexplicable anxiety for my master, and it occurred to me that my master's bride seemed to have very little knowledge of how things are done, so I decided to overstep the boundaries of propriety for once:
"What was that, Madam? That twig?"
She should have asked me to leave, she should have scolded me for my impertinence in asking, but she did neither. She merely looked frightened and whispered: "It's nothing... simply a reminder of my garden at home, of my favorite tree." She blushed, and as our eyes met, we both knew that she was telling a lie.
At that moment my master stirred and opened his eyes. His handsome face flushed as his gaze fell on his bride. "Mary!" he whispered, still unaware of my presence. "Oh, Mary, I was so afraid I would wake up and discover that you were nothing but a ravishing dream. Come here, my love..."
I withdrew hastily, my mind still ill at ease. They did not appear to notice that I left.
"She is an adventuress, I am certain of it!" Mrs. Crump poured my tea with such indignation that she spilled a little. I hastily wiped the dark drops from my otherwise impeccable suit.
"An adventuress? That is an interesting thought, Mrs. Crump. Pray, how did you arrive at that conclusion?"
Mrs. Crump snorted, her normally good-natured countenance quite fierce. "Our master is a wealthy man, Mr. Edmunds," she said, "and his bride is no lady, in spite of her beauty and her melodious voice. She is not used to servants, for one thing - the housemaid told me that the master's bride had already made their bed this morning, and seemed terribly flustered when the maid came in to do it for her. She seems to own nothing but a few simple dresses, and no jewelry at all. She knows nothing of fine food and wine and has no opinions about luncheon or dinner menus. Mark my words, Mr. Edmunds, my master has been bewitched by some common girl who is after his money."
"After his money?" I repeated her words slowly. Yes, my master possessed a considerable fortune, and it would not be unreasonable to suppose that his mysterious bride had been attracted by his wealth. My master ensnared by an adventuress! A few days ago I would have been horrified at the thought, but now I found myself half wishing it was true. For something weighed on me heavily, a dark intuition that whispered in my heart that my master's bride was something far more dangerous than a mere adventuress. I thought of the little glass vial and shuddered.
I found myself making every excuse to keep as close as possible to my master and his bride. They preferred to spend most of their time together, lost in some enchanted realm of their own. My master did not call on any of his old friends and did not receive any visitors; his bride's presence seemed to be all he craved. They strolled together for hours through the gardens, which were still shrouded in deep snow, and they always retired early to their bedchamber.
But occasionally, my master's business affairs demanded that he take brief trips to the city, and on those occasions, I made certain that I kept a particularly close eye on his lovely wife. I cannot explain why I developed an obsession with following her around the manor, unseen and unheard like a shadow, but some instinct told me that my master's health and safety depended on my devotion to him.
Days and weeks passed, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But then, one afternoon, as I lingered in the shadows by the stairs, I happened to see something very remarkable. My master had been away for the day, and he was due to return that afternoon. I had placed a decanter of wine and a glass on the table by his favorite chair, thinking that he would be in need of refreshment after his journey. Some instinct made me keep an eye on the decanter from my unseen vantage point by the staircase. I must have waited in the shadows for a quarter of an hour when my patience was rewarded: Soft footsteps sounded in the hall, and my master's bride approached the decanter. How startlingly lovely she was, with her golden curls dancing about her as she walked! I should have been enchanted by her almost preternatural beauty, but something about her very loveliness struck me as eerie. She looked around apprehensively, but satisfied that no one was near, she pulled a small vial from her pocket. I noticed, with a beating heart, that it was not the same vial I had observed before; this one was filled with a shimmering pearly white liquid rather than a golden one. She put the vial down on the table for a moment and lifted the crystal decanter. Perhaps she did not know that real crystal is much heavier than glass, for the the decanter slipped from her hands and shattered on the floor. She stood frozen for a moment, staring at the glittering shards and the pool of blood-red wine on the floor. Then she did something quite extraordinary: She pulled the hawthorn twig I had seen previously from the pocket of her dress, pointed it at the mess on the floor, and whispered something under her breath. What happened next was so inconceivable that I had great difficulty believing the evidence of my own eyes. The glittering crystal fragments soared towards each other, and in an instant, a new decanter was formed from the fragments, whole and unbroken. A moment after, the crimson stain had disappeared from the floor, and the decanter was yet again filled with my master's favorite wine. I blinked in disbelief.
Then my master's bride took the small vial from the table and poured its pearly contents into the decanter. The wine glittered for a moment with a strange unearthly shimmer before returning to its ordinary crimson hue. She put her head a little to one side and regarded the contents of the decanter with a small smile that chilled me to the bone.
A moment after, my master arrived. He gathered his bride in his arms and kissed her tenderly, burying his trembling hands in her golden hair. "Mary... Oh, Mary..."
"You must be tired after your long journey, my love," she said softly. "Here, have some wine..."
I hurried out from the shadows then, but I was too late: She had already poured him a glass of wine, and he had raised it to his lips and sipped from it.
"Edmunds?" My master looked at me with mild astonishment. "Where did you spring from?"
I reached out for the glass he was holding. "I... I do not think that wine is any good, sir. Let me get you something else..."
"What? Oh, nonsense, it tastes fine." And before I could stop him, he drained his glass.
He looked curiously at me. "What's wrong, Edmunds? Why are you staring at me like that? You look as if you have seen a ghost or something."
"It is nothing, sir," I whispered.
The wine did not seem to have made the master ill. He appeared to be himself, except for a slight flush on his cheeks. He dismissed me with with an impatient wave of his hand and turned at once to his bride. As I left, I heard him whisper to her: "Here, my love, I bought you something." There was a slight rustle of paper, and then I heard his bride say: "Diamonds? But what will I do with those?" She sounded bewildered, and my master laughed: "Wear them, Mary, my lovely angel, like ordinary mortal ladies do. Here, let me help you with the clasp..."
A few days later, I was carrying the breakfast tray up to their bedchamber when I met my master on the stairs. He was already dressed. "No breakfast for my wife this morning, Edmunds," he said cheerfully. "She is not feeling well. I will take my breakfast in my study. She needs to sleep undisturbed for now."
I carried the tray to the study and set my master's breakfast out there.
"Do you wish me to call the doctor, sir? For your wife?"
"What? Oh, no need for that. Mary is not ill, merely in need of rest in her... current condition."
Her condition? My heart felt curiously heavy at what should have been joyous news. "I see, sir. Allow me to offer my congratulations, sir."
"Thank you, Edmunds." My master seemed quite dazed with happiness. Why could I not feel happy for him?
He gazed dreamily out the window. The snow had begun to melt, and tiny buds had appeared on the cherry tree outside the study window.
"Perhaps we can have a swing put up in the cherry tree. The baby will be born in midwinter, but by next spring, he will be able to smell the flowers in the gardens. When are babies old enough to play on swings?"
"I really could not say, sir."
"He won't be old enough to ride for a few years, but he will want to have his own pony, I'm sure..."
I smiled then. "Perhaps it will be a little girl, sir."
"Yes, of course. But for some reason, I have a feeling it will be a boy. Oh, Edmunds, this is almost too good to be true! It's all like a wonderful dream: First Mary, my beautiful angel, and now the baby..."
I hesitated for a moment before asking: "If you will pardon the liberty, sir, may I be so bold as to ask where you met your bride?"
A frown fell over my master's handsome features. "Mary? I met her... Well, it's difficult to say..."
My master looked oddly lost for a moment. "You know, Edmunds, it's the strangest thing... I feel as if I have been in love with Mary all my life, and yet I cannot remember exactly when and where we met. When I look into her sapphire eyes, it is as if there is no other reality. I have tried to recall when I first met her, but whenever I try to think back, I see her face in my mind, and I get lost in her beauty... I have a vague recollection that I once met her in a country lane. And her name was Mary, or something like it... Oh, I don't know."
He looked up at me. "Strange, isn't it, Edmunds, what love can do to a man?"
"Yes, sir," I whispered. "Very strange indeed."
By the afternoon, my master's bride felt better, and they went for a walk together through the grounds. Golden crocuses had begun to appear where the snow had melted away, and the gentle breeze carried with it a scent of spring and new life. I watched them through the window as they strolled together under the trees.
As soon as they were out of sight, I hurried upstairs to their bedchamber. I had to act quickly, before they came back. It took a while before I found the vials; she had hidden them well. Nothing in her bag, nothing under the mattress or in any of the drawers. I finally found the vials in a box concealed under a loose floorboard. There were several dozens delicate little bottles in the box. Some of them contained the pearly white liquid I had seen before, while others shimmered with something golden. I carried the box up to my own room near the attic and locked my door behind me. My heart hammered in my chest as I lifted the tiny bottles out of the box and placed them on the floor. Then I stepped on each bottle in turn, until my floor was covered in a sea of glittering glass and swirls of gold and white. I would have to ask the housemaid for a mop later on.
I sank down on my bed, half triumphant and half terrified at what I had done. Through my small window, I saw my master and his bride in the distance. They had paused under a tree, and he appeared to be kissing her. I glanced at the mess of shattered bottles on my floor. How golden it was, the strange shimmering elixir that was seeping into my floorboards, like the hue of her hair... My beloved master has been bewitched, but I will set him free...
The next morning, one of the housemaids came running into the kitchen as I was arranging the breakfast dishes on the silver tray.
"What is it, Alice?" I asked softly.
Alice looked half amused, half frightened. "Oh, Mr. Edmunds, the master's wife is in a fine state this morning. Something has gone missing from her room, and she is throwing a fit about it. It's not even her diamond necklace; I saw that sitting on her bedside table - just some perfume bottles, apparently. She has always seemed so soft-spoken and shy, the new mistress, but she screamed at me with such fury I was scared almost out of my wits."
"Did she now?" I said calmly.
"Why would someone steal her perfume?" The maid shook her head, perplexed. "It doesn't make any sense, does it?"
"No, it doesn't."
I spent the rest of the morning in the kitchen, polishing silver. I did not bring the breakfast tray up, and nobody seemed to miss it the commotion that raged upstairs that morning. I heard agitated voices from upstairs and the sounds of something heavy, as if every piece of furniture in the bedchamber was being moved in turn.
By midday, the house had grown quiet. I arranged the light luncheon that had been prepared for my master and his bride on the silver tray and went upstairs. My master's bride was lying on the bed, but there was no sign of my master himself.
An strange change seemed to have come over my master's bride. Her lustrous golden hair had grow dull, and her once so luminous blue eyes now appeared more grey. Her radiant beauty had faded, and she looked tired and careworn, as if she had aged a decade in a few hours. She looked up when I entered.
"Mr. Edmunds? Have you seen him?"
"Seen whom, Madam?"
"My husband," she whispered. "He went out a few hours ago, and he is not back yet..."
"I am afraid not, Madam." I put the silver tray down on the bedside table and withdrew.
My master did not return until the following day. Soon, shouts and sobs were heard from upstairs, and his bride left about an hour later. I was barely able to recognize the haggard creature that followed the footman to the car. There was no trace of her former beauty left now; the witch (for a witch she had been, I am sure of it) looked plain and thin and shabby. My master joined me at the window, and we watched her in silence as she stepped into the car. She appeared to be weeping now, and my master turned his glance away until the car was out of sight. How pale my poor master looked!
"A glass of brandy, sir?"
"What?" My master stood in silence for a moment. Then he said: "Yes, please do bring me some brandy. Thank you, Edmunds."
I brought him the brandy, and he drained the glass rapidly. The color was coming back to his face now.
"It is all over, sir," I said softly. "You were under some dark spell, but you are free now."
"Yes, I know." He gazed out the window. "None of it was real... Her angelic beauty, my obsessive love for her... All elixirs and potions. It was all some dark enchantment, cast by that witch... I finally recognized her this morning."
"Recognized her, sir?"
"Yes. I had met her before you know, when she was her true self. She is the daughter of that mad old tramp who lives outside the village, old Gaunt... People always said his hideous daughter was a witch. It seems that they were right."
We stood in silence for a moment. Then my master sighed. "I wonder what will become of him..."
"My son. Her child..." My master's voice was a whisper now.
I poured my master another glass of brandy. "The child, sir," I said calmly, "will turn out to be a dark and evil creature like his mother. He will be nothing like you. You did the right thing when you sent her away, sir. I do not think you will ever see her or her child again. Everything has been put right again, Mr. Riddle."
My master smiled at me then. "Yes, I think it has."
And I went back to my duties, relieved that my master's ordeal had come to an end. I did not tell him of my own involvement in the matter, and I do not think I ever shall. I do not need or expect his gratitude; it is enough for me to know in my heart that due to my actions, some great evil has been prevented.