Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Manuscript (04/29/10)
TITLE: The Mistress
By Ann Grover
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“Ah, Katherine, there you are.” William placed his hands on Katherine’s shoulders, guiding her, no, shoving her away from the desk. “A cup of tea would be fitting, wife.” He settled himself in his chair, dismissing Katherine, and tenderly caressed a clear sheet of vellum.
Katherine retreated, and as she measured tea into the pot, ungentle thoughts whirled in her mind, exasperated and enraged. She roughly lifted the simmering kettle from the stove, splashing scalding water on her hand.
What magic had bewitched William?
Katherine returned to the alcove, steaming cup in hand, and she observed William, watching his quill moving across the page. Already, his hair stood up in a frazzled tuft, making him look like a beleaguered bird as he quivered, then cocked his head in concentration and frantically scribbled. Ink spattered in his eagerness and he muttered, displeased.
“Hmm,” he replied, not looking up.
At suppertime, Katherine noticed rough stubble on his chin and a dribble of gravy on his waistcoat. He murmured as he ate his beef stew and drank his tea, and occasionally he gazed out the window, where he seemed to not see the honeysuckle twining around the window, but instead, a distant vista, and his eyes would suddenly brighten, as if alighting on a faraway vision of wonderment.
In his expression of elation, she glimpsed the irresistible charm that had so besotted her in their youth. She had been impressed by his scholarly ways, his craving for knowledge, and his aspiration to relate his thoughts and theories to others. She would have him, she told her father adamantly, though such forwardness in a girl was unseemly and immodest.
“Mary Holloway was delivered of her baby today,” Katherine said and paused. “Nay, she had triplets.”
“I bought a bonnet, adorned with peacock feathers and tassels of bear fur. It cost fifty pounds.”
“I’m going to China. On a slow boat.”
“As you wish, Katherine. I’ll take my tea in my study.”
Katherine gave him a black look as he left the table, but he was oblivious to her pique; peevishness vibrated in her chest and she stifled a growl of vexation. Shrewishly, she longed to remind him of the loose roof slates, the weeds overtaking the garden, and her own untended heart.
Later, in the darkness, Katherine lay rigid beneath the counterpane and let her breathing slow to a steady rhythm. William slid from the bed and tiptoed downstairs. It was as if...
...as if he’d taken a lover, the way he skulked around, brooding and self-absorbed, hiding in the alcove amidst the stacked books, his mind and spirit elsewhere, anywhere, except with Katherine.
Yet, was not his enterprise like an insistent, demanding lover? A beguiling seductress who had wooed him, and after drinking from her chalice, he had succumbed to the enchantment, enamored and enraptured by the intoxicating promise of gratification and pleasure. But, his desire could never be quenched by mere measured and composed portions; he must surrender to the passion, recklessly and impetuously, again and again until he’d reached the finale, a consummation.
Katherine followed him in the shadows; like a moth, she was drawn to the flickering candlelight in the alcove. As usual, William was hunched over his desk, graying hair in disarray, his nightshirt barely hiding his bony ankles. The quill paused in its relentless cadence as William touched a finger to his brow, the furrow deepened by fatigue and the candle’s gleam.
Katherine’s heart softened, but she still felt an annoying arrow of irritation, the sting of neglect, the anguish of abandonment. He thinks of nothing but his cherished, beloved manuscript.
As if William had heard her thoughts, he set down the quill and turned around.
“My dear Katherine.”
He was limp, spent, hollow looking, as if his essence had been drained away. A sheen of perspiration glistened on his brow, and, and she watched the fevered light in his eyes dull and extinguish.
“It is finished,” he whispered, echoing another great statement of sacrifice and fulfillment.
He arose, and reaching for her fingers, raised them to his lips.
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