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Past is Prologue (JaOctGoHoNo)

November 01, 2022 02:41AM
Blurb: Two girls walk the woods near Northanger Abbey, separated by time, united in the same space. Which is alive, and which is not?

Many years ago there was an abbey, not so great as a castle nor humble as a cottage, built to last centuries. The women who lived there did not take but gave their lives away, cloistered and productive, a family formed by faith rather than birth. The youngest girl had been only ten years old when she joined their number. Three years later, on the eve of her birthday, someone else came to live and rule in place of the abbess, and all their vows were absolved by the king.

The young girl would be sent away from her home, her sisters, and even stripped of her name, returned to plain Maude by royal decree. As the king's men loaded carts and shouted orders, she fled into the copse just north of the abbey, up a hill, weeping for fear of what would become of her. She prayed that the Lord would not banish her into lonely solitude, amid hateful heathens and angry tempters, striving to remain His with none but divine encouragement. If only she, like Gideon, might receive a sign!

Suddenly footsteps behind her stopped her own, and she hid for fear of chastisement by whatever rough man was sent to fetch her back. But no curses or shouts greeted her. Instead, there was a girl walking nearby, clothed all in black, her dress and visage strange but her obvious sorrow hauntingly familiar.

There were no other novices Maude's age, but perhaps the other girl was from the nearest village. Just as she would cry out to her, sunlight broke through the trees, as if a cloud had shifted away, and the dark garments glimmered with an odd sheen, like a spiderweb suddenly gone gray and near invisible. In fact, the girl herself was beyond pale: it was as if she were not altogether present.

Maude's heart sped through its paces at the thought that this girl was dead, a phantom, something loosed upon the earth like the horsemen of the final judgment, no doubt brought on by the devil ruling in London who had set himself against God's Church.

She nearly ran away, but morbid curiosity, and the sure knowledge that she would never be allowed to return, kept her still. Maude took a quiet step, then another, following the ghost. The girl was no terrible sprite, at least. In fact, her cries were almost musical, and begged pity from all but the stoniest heart. Maude could not help praying for this wretched soul, who sighed through the wood so sadly, and demanded nothing at all.

Then the girl stopped, turned, and stared right at Maude, her face grown firmer with clear surprise bordering on horror. She looked about to scream, and Maude held her hand up at once. "Hark, I am your friend," she said without thinking, soothing, like she would the lambs it had been her duty to care for and calm. "Peace unto you."

"Who ... who's there?" the ghost asked in a trembling voice.

"Fear not," Maude answered with a smile, calling the catechism to her lips like the old friend it was. "Trust, and believe, and ye may be saved. For the dead are but the living taken from this world and into a better. Your sorrows will not remain forever." These memorized platitudes failed her at the last bit, convicted as she was by her own fears and griefs, and she strove to speak from the heart as well as her memory. "What is thy family? I will carry tidings to them if possible, any message you wish to give, for the unburdening of thy heart."

The ghost shrank back, but did not retreat, and the two girls stared at each other a moment. At last, with obvious hesitancy, the sprite answered, "I am Eleanor Tilney; please tell my mother that ... tell her ... I—"

She turned her head, wary, and looked about to bolt. With what she hoped was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Maude took her hand, and felt it shockingly warm rather than immaterial. "I promise thee, if thou will believe, you will see your mother again one day."

The insubstantial Eleanor had closed her eyes, but they flew open at this last utterance, and she gasped. "Truly?"

"Aye," Maude was certain of the resurrection, if nothing else. "Cling to the hope He alone may bring, my sister."

New tears prickled at the ghost's large shimmering eyes. Maude felt a few on her cheek as well, but no longer for herself. Perhaps, like Esther marrying the pagan, the brides of Christ were to be scattered to do His work. How wonderful he had allowed her this vision to see it!

"Eleanor!" a voice, male but not harsh, broke the communion of the two girls, and the ghost jerked her hand away to look back. In that moment she faded from view, the sunlight creeping back into shadow, and Maude only heard a faint "Henry?" before the apparition vanished altogether.

Maude and her former sisters left Northanger Abbey that day, never to return. One of the women had family to take her in, and invited the girl to abide with them. On the way they learned that their old home was to be converted into a private residence for a man named Tilney. It was a sign, a clear sign, and one Maude took to heart. The epistle promised God's grace could interpret the soul's groaning, so she prayed that whatever sorrow befell that family, the Lord would mend it one day. It was hard to have no means of sending words of comfort to the grieving mother, whoever she was, but Maude contented herself with begging the Lord to speak what words she could not, and chose the vessel to bring those tidings of comfort out of her own paltry efforts.

Their new home was not cursed but welcoming, with a different church, but the same Savior guarding them all. As the years passed Maude forgot about the ghost girl, or only remembered it as a dream, something to comfort her in this new calling. One day she surrendered her name again, and stood in the church next to a man grown quite dear to her. And her heart at last understood the meaning of Nativity when she beheld her own newborn child, wrapped in swaddling and laying on her breast, then christened before heaven. She said a few of the old prayers over this boy, although long since accepting the law of the land as her own faith. Christ and his saints and the Blessed Virgin knew what they were doing, they could see her regardless of the size of the cross or the words she used, and they would care for her son too.

"I thank thee," she whispered late after the babe was asleep, slipping beside her patient husband on their simple pallet, cleaving to his honest self in the dark like the helpmate God had made him.

"And what is it I have done to be thanked?"

"Shown me the greatest gift," she answered with the trust borne of love.

"And I'll show you again," he whispered back, that same love embracing her anew.

It was not so bad a life as she had feared, being Mistress Richard Morland. It was, in fact, altogether fine.

A/N: a very late entry to this year's wonderful prompt, and completely unbetaed. Title from The Tempest Act II.

Past is Prologue (JaOctGoHoNo)

MichelleRWNovember 01, 2022 02:41AM

Re: Past is Prologue (JaOctGoHoNo)

HarveyNovember 05, 2022 02:47AM

Re: Past is Prologue (JaOctGoHoNo)

Shannon KNovember 05, 2022 02:28AM

Re: Past is Prologue (JaOctGoHoNo)

Steph DNovember 03, 2022 12:22AM

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AlidaNovember 01, 2022 11:08AM

Re: Past is Prologue (JaOctGoHoNo)

UlrikeNovember 01, 2022 09:01AM


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