Posted on 2016-04-13
At the sound of the piping voice, Catherine Tilney paused, her fingertips just brushing the doorknob. She looked over her shoulder, raising the candle so that she could see into the dim interior of the room. "Yes, love?"
"Would you tell us a story before we sleep?"
"A story?" Catherine echoed, her voice full of amusement at the request. "My goodness, another one? Did I not just tell you a story last night?"
"Oh, yes, Mama," came another voice from the bed. "And it was wonderful! Can you tell us a different one this time?"
Catherine laughed and turned away from the door, coming to set her candlestick carefully on a little table. Six eyes peeped at her from the bed, eager and waiting. "I very much fear I have three greedy little children. Always wanting more stories."
"Oh, yes, Mama!" "Please, Mama!" "Ma-ma!"
With an indulgent smile, Catherine sat down on the bed and eased her way into the welcoming arms of her young children. They piled on her and snuggled into her, excited for the treat. "What shall it be about tonight? A wicked witch, perhaps? Or maybe a monster that lives in a damp, dark cave?"
"Oh, no!" cried her daughter, tossing her curls back and looking up with pleading eyes. "Please, can we have a story about a princess?"
"A princess?" Her mother thought for a moment. "Well, I am unsure I know a story about a princess. But I do know one about a girl who meets a prince."
"Is he a handsome prince?"
"Was he strong and brave?" asked her older son.
Catherine pursed her lips. "Well, you will simply have to find out. Now, how does it start? Hmm...'The End,' I believe."
A chorus of "no's" greeted this sacrilege, and Catherine laughed. "Oh, yes, that's right. It begins like this: Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived a young girl."
"Was she beautiful?"
Catherine ruffled her daughter's brown hair and kissed her lightly. "She was a pretty girl, yes, though perhaps not as beautiful as some of the fairest maidens of the land."
"Was she rich?" asked her son.
"Oh, no," Catherine replied. "She was poor, of course, as all young girls in these tales are meant to begin, though she had never known a day of true want in her life. Certainly, though, she was more than rich in the friends, family and love that surrounded her.
"But yet still the girl was dissatisfied. There was something greater she was missing, she was sure. There was something out there: some mystery to discover, some horror to appall -- for she had read, you see, of all the monsters and dragons and evils that lived in the world, and believed that surely her life could not be complete without uncovering one. She wanted magic, she wanted castles, she wanted a prince, she wanted to be a heroine. She wanted an adventure.
"But for many years, she did not have adventure. She lived in the same house, in the same village, in the same county where she always resided, among the same people of whom she knew everything there was to know. And so she waited, and waited, and grew ever more unhappy with her lot.
"One day, however, as she played in the yard, an old woman and an old man came to the house. 'Girl,' they said, 'we would like to take you on an adventure.'
"Oh, this was the girl's very dream come true! The old man and woman, you see, were quite rich, and told her of the many things she would see and experience in the great, wide world beyond. Well, how could she refuse such an opportunity? Here was excitement, here was adventure! She packed her bag as quickly as she could.
"And so off they set. Out into the world they went, where the girl saw buildings, so much bigger than those she had ever seen, and carriages, so much finer than she had ever ridden in, and people -- oh, the people she saw! So many of them, too, and soon the girl began to feel small. Here she had been seeking adventure, but she had not realized how big the world was and how little she was. She knew no one, was certainly nothing to the riches and beauty and connections she saw all around her. How could there be any magic, any castles, any princes for her here? How could she be a grand heroine in any story, when she was surely no more than a pebble beside this crown of gems?
"But, then, one day, she met a gentleman."
"Was he the prince?"
Catherine smiled, her gaze turned far away. "Indeed, he was. He was quite handsome, and well dressed, and spoke well."
"Did he fight off a dragon?"
"My goodness, you are bloodthirsty," Catherine said, hugging her son close. "No, he did not fight off a dragon that night. Instead, he did something much more important: he spoke to the girl."
"How is that more important?" he said, screwing his face up.
"Because it put our heroine in the middle of a new story. It made her fall in love. Just a little bit, but enough that she knew she wanted to see him again. And to her amazement, he wanted to see her again, too. Suddenly she was not too small, too insignificant.
Her daughter looked thoughtful. "So did they fall in love just like that? And then get married? That isn't much of a story."
"Is it not?" Catherine asked.
Her children shook their heads, and she leaned in close and whispered, "Then it is very good that it is not, indeed, the end of the story. For, you see, they were still unsure it was love. So the prince invited the girl to his castle, and she agreed, for she certainly wanted to learn more about him and maybe fall more in love with him, but also because here was an adventure. A castle! A grand, mysterious and perhaps dangerous castle.
"What would she find there? Would she find dungeons, with skeletons of people imprisoned long ago? Ghosts? Secret passages? Ancient societies and intrigues? The girl began to explore, and to search out the answers to the mysteries in her imagination. Down hallways, up staircases, in rooms long abandoned. Was that a creaking sound? What was behind the old tapestry? In the wardrobe? Behind that door?
"It was nothing -- nothing, that is, but the prince, who looked at the girl sadly, oh, so sadly. 'Am I not enough?' He asked her. "Is not my love enough of an adventure, that you need to seek out more?'
"The girl was ashamed, so very ashamed, and knew not what to say. The prince left the castle, and she knew she had lost him. For how could he love her, a girl so foolish that she had seen ghosts in the shadows and mysteries in the perfectly plain and had completely ignored the most beautiful adventure that could have changed the course of her life? He was right: here she had been searching for something gothic and thrilling when the only adventure she needed was to unravel his love for her."
Catherine's voice had grown soft and reflective, and the children leaned into her, wrapping their little arms around her. She smiled and kissed them each on their heads. "Adventure isn't always about opening a door and finding a villain, or a new world, or a mysterious creature behind it," she said. "Sometimes the adventure is simply in opening the door.
"And our girl knew that now, but it had come at such a cost. She could only hope that the prince would return and that she could apologize.
"But he didn't, and she was left alone in the castle. Twilight came, and with it the arrival of the very adventure she had sought before. For there, to the castle, came a dragon!"
"A dragon!" her son exclaimed and her daughter cried, "Oh, no!"
"Oh, yes, a great, frightening dragon who ranted and raved and blew flame. He chased her, and there was no prince to defend her. She fled from the castle in terror, fled all the way to her home. Back to where she had been safe, but also back to where she had no hope of ever seeing her prince again.
"But after she had wept bitterly over the loss of her love, she wiped her eyes and picked up her skirts and returned to her life, her very normal, quiet, very un-adventurous life. Her friends asked her if she were disappointed in the great, wide world beyond, but no, she told them, she was not. She was disappointed in herself. For her opportunity for adventure had passed her by and she surely did not have a second chance at it.
"Or did she? For one day, along the path that led to the world beyond, a figure approached. To her wondering eyes, it was the prince! Her very prince, and he came to her, and knelt before her, and asked her if she would forgive him for leaving her to face the dragon on her own.
"'But do you not hate me?' the girl asked, fearing his answer.
"No, he replied, he did not. He loved her so much, more than any silly, foolish notions could ever destroy, because she was more than her silly, foolish notions. She was beautiful in her wide-eyed wonder of the world, in her simple desire for adventure, in the love she had for him, and that was enough."
"And did they get married?" Catherine's daughter asked, looking up at her in awe. "Did they live happily ever after?"
"Is that what happens in bedtime stories?" her mother replied, the corners of her lips lifting. When the little girl nodded eagerly, Catherine squeezed her children in a warm hug and whispered: "Then, indeed, they lived happily ever after. The end.
"And now, to sleep," she said, slipping from the bed and retrieving her candlestick. The children settled themselves back under the covers and Catherine kissed each of them in turn on their foreheads and then went again to the door. She opened it softly to find a handsome gentleman in his dressing gown lounging against the wall opposite, his eyes twinkling.
"I'm a prince, am I?" he said, laughter in his voice.
She shushed him, quickly closing the door behind her. With her free hand she swatted him as he chuckled. Undeterred by her pique, he led her down the hall to their own room in the parsonage, where he took her candle and set it upon a table, and then took her in her arms. "I liked it," he said. "It was a very good fairy tale."
"It wasn't a good fairy tale," she replied. "It was the best."
He raised his brows in surprise. "Oh? And why is that?"
"Because," she said before kissing him, "it came true."The end