Chapter 9: A state of undress
Mabel went over to the basin and washed her face and limbs quickly, drying herself before sitting back on the bed, arms crossed, waiting for Sarah to no doubt return to help dress her. But minutes ticked by and nothing. Mabel remained poised, glaring at the door despite the silence that resounded.
After a good while Mabel's arms felt a little sore and when no sound came from outside the bedroom door, Mabel arrived at perhaps an ill-fated plan, but a plan nonetheless. She decided if this was Henry's way of forcing her hand when he already knew her answer, then she would have to show him that she had other cards to play. If she was unable to wear her own clothes then she would just have to remain in this nightdress.
Her hair tumbled over her left shoulder, tied neatly with a peach bow that complimented the yellow dress she had worn yesterday. As she looked in the mirror she untied it, allowing her hair to fall loosely down her back. If she were going to successfully embarrass Henry and force him to give her back her case, then she may as well play the part well. She doubted he had ever seen a woman with her hair down, except his mother or perhaps the scarlet women that frequented certain establishments.
She took a deep breath as her hand gripped the door handle, suddenly feeling a little bit less certain of her plan. Was she really so brash? To wander the halls is such a state of undress just to prove a point? A sharp knock startled Mabel away from the door completely, her hand releasing its grip as though lightning had passed through it.
"Um, yes?" She replied, unsure how to address someone through the shut door.
"May I come in for a moment?" Henry's voice travelled through the wood as if he were stood right next to her, a smile blooming on her face at this incredibly helpful turn of events. Now she wouldn't have to embarrass herself in front of his household, merely her intended target.
"Of course," she smiled, taking a seat on the bed quickly before regretting it and standing rather oddly in the middle of the room as the door opened.
Mabel noted that Henry was already fully dressed as the door revealed him, a soft blue pastel jacket flowed beautifully over his upper body, a grey waistcoat peeking out from underneath, covering a crisp, white shirt that reminded Mabel of snow. His eyes were fixated on the floor by his feet as he entered before they fluttered briefly around the room until landing on Mabel.
A blush spread across his cheeks immediately, his footsteps halting abruptly as he spun back towards the door, his hand gripping the corner as he seemed to steady himself.
"You instructed me to enter?" His tone was shocked, his form still as he spoke more towards the door than Mabel.
"Yet you are not dressed?" He asked and the question caused a bubble of laughter to escape from her mouth, her hand coming up to stifle it.
"Yes," she replied, the laughter still in her tone, " for I believe my clothes have simply vanished. All I am left with is this nightgown."
"Did Sarah not inform you about the dress I purchased? As a gift? It is wrapped in the chest, right there," he continued, turning away from the door and towards the foot of the bed, his gaze avoiding hers completely as if the act alone would set him on fire.
"She did," Mabel replied and his movements stilled once again.
"So then why are you still in the nightgown?" He inquired, his eyes still firmly on the chest by his feet.
"For I do not have my clothes," Mabel stated.
"The dress is yours. I bought it for you."
"But as I explained last night, I do not wish for such a gift," Mabel reminded gently, although her movements were heavier than her words, her arms crossing over her chest. She took a step towards him but halted, remembering her state of undress, instead sliding backwards, once again feeling rather awkward stood in the middle of the room. Annoyance trickled over her as she realised Henry was not going to take no for an answer, his gaze still refusing to land on her and in turn ending the conversation.
Yes, it was a nice gesture but that didn't change the fact it was a forceful one.
"It is not a gift. It is a necessity," he replied, furthering her anger at the situation. Mabel saw the smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth, his eyes sparkling a little as he tried to hide the humour from his tone.
"Because my case has been taken?"
"Merely misplaced. I'm sure it will turn up." Henry reassured, his smile growing wider. Mabel raised an eyebrow in his direction despite the fact he refused to look at her and dropped her hands to fall to her hips.
"As am I."
"Then it's settled then. You will wear the gown for today at least."
"No," Mabel stated, causing his eyes to meet hers finally, a tinge of red still speckling his cheeks as embarrassment clung to him.
"No?" he smiled, turning towards her boldly, fighting the awkwardness that no doubt trickled through him.
"Yes," Mabel nodded in reply, fighting the smile that wanted to twist her lips once more. Staring into Henry's eyes seemed to stir something in the pit of her stomach, a warmth pooling out from it that made everything feel better. Even, it seemed, when he was the cause of the annoyance.
"Well, which is it?" Henry smirked, allowing the smile to sweep across his face as Mabel's brow furrowed, the warmth dissipating as frustration stifled it.
"Well, no. I was saying yes to the no?"
"Are you sure? It sounded like you were saying yes."
"No. I do not need a gift, Henry." She retorted almost with a growl, turning from him and towards the window. She hadn't taken a lot of notice of the view the night before but today it provided a welcome distraction. A beautiful gravel path seemed to flow from the building, like a river, beige and white stones carving their way across the lush green grass. Bushes seemed to erupt from the ground randomly and unabashed, as if they were refusing to conform in neat little rows and instead doing what nature did best. Simply growing, little mind for anything else.
"But you do. Your case-" Henry started before Mabel cut him off, pulling her gaze away from the beauty and tranquillity that lay outside her window.
"Is missing, yes I am aware. I'm sure Sarah will be able to find it. In fact, perhaps if I aided her, we would find it quicker?"
"In your nightgown?"
"If it hastened the process."
"You wouldn't. Think of poor Harold."
"Oh, well now I feel as though I must," she smiled, making her way towards the door as Henry's face twisted from amusement to worry. He reached his arm out, his hand falling just above her elbow, the feel of his skin on hers stilling her movements. Her gaze fell to where his hand lay before slowly drifting up to his eyes, her breath catching as silence echoed around the pair. She turned towards him so little space existed between them, lost in him for a moment. Mabel hasn't noticed before but his dark blue eyes had flecks of golden brown around the pupil. Rays of gold spiralled outwards so each looked like they had captured the sun or a starburst. Mabel had never seen eyes so beautiful.
"Did you not like the dress?" He asked, his voice barely a hushed whisper but loud enough to shatter the silence, the question ruining the moment Mabel thought they were sharing. She stood out from his hold, his grip releasing without any effort on her part.
"I have not even looked at it, Henry."
"Well then, if you just look at it perhaps-"
Mabel ignored Henry's attempts to persuade her once more and continued walking towards the door. Her footsteps didn't falter as she arrived into the hallway, the brown and white bannister framing the edge, intricately carved wooden bars captivating her attention. Her hand danced upon the smooth brown surface as she turned, a little unsure as to where she might go. Henry's footsteps became an echo to her own so Mabel hurried hers along despite not knowing which direction to turn.
The upper half of the walls were painted a pristine white, the dado rail and bottom half the same duck egg blue that graced the downstairs hallway. The dado rail seemed to cut the entire wall gracefully in half, doorways and furniture interrupting its soft line in random places across the hallways entire length.
Mabel came to a halt at the top of the staircase, white steps pooling out by her feet leading down to the floor below and the front door.
"Mabel," Henry called out to her but she ignored him, her hand gripping the bannister as her bare sole dangled above the first step.
"Please, just wait."
Mabel's resolve faltered for a moment, her foot remaining floating above the staircase. Without having to turn around, she felt his nearness, the thin fabric of the nightgown providing little protection against the sensation of the world upon her skin. Before he fully reached her, she forced herself forward, the sound of her footsteps surrounding her as she continued down the stairs.
"Mabel. Come back upstairs," Henry reprimanded and Mabel spun upon the bottom step, eyes colliding with his as she glared.
"I will not. Unless you tell me where you have hidden my case."
"Do you not feel that you are, perhaps a touch overreacting? You have a perfectly suitable dress upstairs."
"I want my dresses."
"Your case has been mis-"
Before Henry could continue his lie, Mabel turned from him and turned to her right, heading back towards the beautiful drawing room that she had been sat in yesterday. Her footsteps felt loud around her, little other noise to drown them out. She had no idea where Sarah even was, or where the servants quarters lay, so she didn't know any other room apart from that one.
Henry's voice followed her, his tone filled with anxiety as it reached her ears. She refused to dwell on it though, no doubt he was merely fearful of what her current situation looked like. An unmarried woman wandering the halls of his home in such a state of undress. Poor Harold may have a heart attack when he laid eyes on her. The image brought a small smile to her face that she quickly fought against. A heart attack wasn't a cause for merriment.
Mabel walked into the room briskly, her gaze behind her watchful, in case Henry caught up to her. Her hair whipped in front of her as she turned her attention forward, her gaze landing on the beautiful green wallpaper before drifting towards the two chairs that lay ahead of her.
A scream escaped Mabel and her movements halted as soon as her eyes fell upon the green double chair. It was not empty as she had assumed it would be, for sat upon it was a rather gorgeous looking woman. Her dark black hair was styled upwards, green gems and silver like beads woven throughout. Blue eyes similar to Henry's stared back at her, her rose-pink lips twitching a little as if perhaps she fought a smile but her face showed little else.
The woman rose slowly, her gaze drifting over Mabel, her stunning pink gown billowing about her as she stood from the green seat. Mabel remained frozen, completely lost for words as the stranger came closer, hand outstretched.
"That was quite the commotion. I suppose you have composed yourself a little now?" The woman asked as she took Mabel's hand softly, a small smile dancing across her lips. Mabel nodded, unsure what words would escape if she opened her mouth.
"Mabel, you must go back to your room before someone was to see you."
Henry's voice reached her before she saw him, the sound carrying itself down the hallway alongside his footsteps.
"Little late for that dear. She has already made my acquaintance," the woman smiled, hand still gently gripped around Mabel's.
"I have?" Mabel asked, words a harsh whisper before Henry made it into the drawing-room.
"Oh of course, silly me, I haven't actually introduced myself yet, have I, dear? My name is Emelia Thomas. I am Henry's mother."